Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos...a book review
Edited by Robert M. Price
October 2002 – Ballantine Books; ISBN 0-345-44408-6; A Del ReyTrade Paperback , 352 pages; Price $14.95
Reviewed by Marianne Plumridge –November 2003.
First Published by www.infinityplus.co.uk 2003
“Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos” was last published in 1992 by Ballantine Publishing Company. This current edition by Del Rey, sports a spiffy new cover and binding, but not much else. This does not diminish the content, though, by one iota. A well-rounded collection, it begins with a charming Preface by Robert Bloch. Following this, is a lengthy Introduction by Robert M. Price, in which Price discusses the history of Lovecraftian style literature; makes comparisons between the so-called heirs to H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy of dark terror fantasy fiction; and muses on the earnest rivalry between August Derleth and Dirk W. Mosig, and other writers, who contested Derleth’s interpretation of Lovecraft’s created mythos. Curiosity, fascination with the supernatural and ancient things left over from the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and great, all-encompassing horrors simply ooze from the pages that follow.
The first two entries in this anthology are by Robert E. Howard. ‘The Thing on the Roof’ dates from 1932, while the ‘Fires of Asshurbanipal’ was updated from its original form and re-published in 1972, and is now referred to as the ‘non-supernatural version’. It makes me want to go dig up the original short story just to find out what was missing. Anyway, as much as I do love the stories and Howard’s easy storytelling style, I find that the use of language is somewhat pale in comparison to Lovecraft’s rich tapestry of text. The atmosphere and setting (ie. Mood) are a tangible thing, almost a character in themselves, in the works of the master, but never quite as deep in Howard’s tales.
Clark Ashton Smith’s entry, ‘The Seven Geases’ is written in formal English and contains many words no longer in common usage today. The use of these words creates a picturesque feel to the text, as does the author-created names of peoples and places in the story. One tries not to trip over them during reading, but it is difficult as so many of the vowel sounds are similar. Anyway, I didn’t think that this was a fully well rounded story, despite the palpable ‘journey motif’ and the beautifully exotic grotesqueries described along the way. The opening pages might have been that of a novel, so much was related about the arrogant protagonist, but this gets lost on his geas-driven journey into the labyrinthine bowels of the Earth and its various gods and sorcerers. The journey itself is almost an allegorical study of the so-called pinnacle of human perfection forced to tread back through the steps of evolution, only to be pronounced that he is not a worthy heir to all that the creator god has given birth to throughout the ages. However, he is barely aware of it because of his utter exhaustion. When it would seem that the protagonist is to regain the outer world, and with it a profound humility and wisdom, he is summarily and inexplicably cast down a hole to his death - as if he were just so much waste and flotsam. Hmm. Then again, that might be a lesson in itself.
‘The Fane of the Black Pharaoh’ written by Robert Bloch, is an excellent inclusion in this anthology. This story opens slowly but grows more swiftly in terror until the ultimate realization of the protagonist. No, I won’t spoil it for you, but as in a movie, the watcher/reader wants to scream the proverbial “don’t go into the woods!” or in this case, “don’t go into the tomb!” at the protagonist. Nicely evocative of 1920-30s Egypt overall, coloured by the residual Victorian and Edwardian pre-occupation with the spiritual and the supernatural.
Henry Kuttner’s stories, ‘The Invaders’ and ‘Bells of Horror’, are two superb entries in this collection. They keep the terror levels in constant suspense. The reader and the protagonists never fully see the monsters: just the disturbed wake of their intrusion into the fabric of reality.
August Derleth’s “The Thing that Walked on the Wind” and “Ithaqua” are too much the same story and plot, let alone told in the same fashion, to properly stand out in this collection of tales. The following, sensationally titled, “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” co-authored by Mark Schorer fits much better. In this entry, the Old Ones are summoned to destroy the evil Elder Gods beneath the castle on Lake Dread.
I could go on about each story, but I won’t. Suffice it to say that there are several stories that follow a similar formula: of the narrator looking back over something horrible that has occurred and he has had to kill the protagonist to ‘save’ them, or such, or failed to ‘save’ them, as it were. Other stories that stand out from this are: the clever “Aquarium” by Carl Jacobi, uniquely told from a female point of view – at least in this anthology; Henry Hasse’s “The Guardian of the Book” is about one man’s battle with his own natural curiosity and the horror of what awaits him, should he give into it; the complicated “Lord of Illusion” by E. Hoffman Price; and the truly cosmic, ‘be careful what you wish for’ theme of Richard E. Searight’s ‘The Warder of Knowledge”.
The various references to Lovecraft’s creations, like the ‘Old Ones’, the ‘Necronomicon’, the Arabic sorcerer ‘Alhazred’, 'Cthulhu', and so on, are evident throughout the successive tales, reflecting the exchanges of ideas and characters between the correspondent authors and Lovecraft himself. Which is really what this collection is all about, and the subsequent growth of ideas from correspondence to full-fledged stories
All in all, this is a wonderful compendium of dark terrors, and I’m so glad that it is back in print. So pull the bed covers over your head, switch on the flashlight, and read away…