The Book of Iod – Henry Kuttner
Chaosium – 1995
Last year I set out to investigate the expanded mythos of H.P. Lovecraft’s small circle of friends. I had read Clark Ashton Smith’s most Lovecraftian tales before, and my next step was to examine August Derleth’s Cthulhiana. Unfortunately, Derleth’s stuff was pretty boring, and I decided to give the ol’ Yog-Sotothery a break for a while. I recently read T.E.D. Klein’s awesome Dark Gods collection, and his Lovecraftian tale ‘The Black Man with a Horn’ convinced me to get back into the mythos.
Henry Kuttner was 25 years younger than H.P. Lovecraft, and the two only made friends shortly before the elder’s death. Kuttner was clearly a big fan of Lovecraft’s fiction, and he wrote several Lovecraftian tales himself. Lovecraft, ever the supporter of young writers, read these tales and provided feedback to Kuttner.
Chaosium’s 1995 edition of The Book of Iod contains 13 stories, 10 by Kuttner, 1 by his friend Robert Bloch and 2 by Kuttner’s fans. Later editions only contain 10 stories. (I don’t know which are omitted, but I’d hope it’s the non-Kuttner ones.) This book was pretty good.
Honestly, after reading Derleth, I was expecting the rest of the expanded mythos to be boring crap. Derleth was a cool guy in a lot of ways, but his writing was horrendously formulaic. It would be a complete lie to to say that these stories Kuttner are hugely original, but they are least varied. One, ‘Bells of Horror’, is about a cursed set of bells that make people try to blind themselves. Another aptly titled tale, ‘The Frog’, sees an undead witch that has turned into a frog go on a violent killing spree. ‘Spawn of Dagon’ is a swords and sorcery type of thing about a hero named Elak, but it was one of my favourites in the collection.
Some of the stories are so shamelessly Lovecraftian that they almost read like rewritten versions of Lovecraft’s work. ‘The Black Kiss’ comes directly from ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’. ‘The Salem Horror’ is ‘The Dreams in the Witch House’. ‘Hydra’, ‘The Secret of Krallitz’ and a few of the other tales also felt remarkably familiar. Still though, Kuttner was about 21 when he was writing these tales, and after he wrote them, he’d send them to Lovecraft in the post. Pretty damn cute if you ask me.
My favourite story in this collection was ‘The Invaders’. It’s a fairly standard “Oh no! I have opened up a rift to another dimension and bad things are coming through!” story, but there’s one scene in which a man returns from the rift after being dragged through against his will. It ain’t pretty.
Zuchequon, Vorvadoss, Iod and Nyogtha are the four scary entities that Kuttner contributed to the mythos. There’s also the Book of Iod, Kuttner’s addition to the profane library of eldritch arcana. Aside from couple of stories added on to the end of this book, I don’t know if these monsters and this text show up in many other places.
Kuttner stopped writing Lovecraftian horror a few years after Lovecraft died, but he continued to write for another 20 years or so. I know Ray Bradbury thought very highly of his writing. Also, my favourite horror novel, Matheson’s I am Legend, is dedicated to Kuttner. I don’t think that the tales in The Book of Iod were considered his best work when he was alive, but I thought they were highly enjoyable. I am thinking about tracking down the rest of his Elak stories next.