Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 2

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

The story so far: in 1969 August Derleth’s Arkham House publishing company put out Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos; though in subsequent years it would be revised by Jim Turner, this was mostly am embellishment on the original outline of the anthology set up by Derleth.

A few years later, August Derleth died. Whilst no one individual would replace him as self-appointed Pope of the Cthulhu Mythos fandom, Arkham House continued as a company under the auspices of his heirs and continued to make Mythos material a significant component of their catalogue. And that meant that sooner or later, an attempt at a sequel anthology was made…

New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Coming nearly a decade after Derleth’s death, Arkham House decided to put out in 1980 this anthology of all-original Mythos stories with an intent of representing where the state of the art stood, much as the original stories in Tales represented the state of the art in 1969. The anthology was edited by Ramsey Campbell, who even at this early stage of his career could justifiably be seen as perhaps the biggest new talent in horror out of the crop of new writers showcased in Tales.

In his introduction, Campbell broke from the old Derlethian party line by noting that there is no settled “canon” for the Mythos, and that it’s better to emulate Lovecraft’s command of atmosphere, originality, and masterful command of story structure than it is to blindly follow his prose style or rehash his plots. These days, all of that is well-known and well-understood, but it was decidedly worth saying at the time, especially in an Arkham House release – and the fact that Arkham House were willing to put out such an introduction says something about how they had emerged from Derleth’s shadow in the intervening years.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 2”

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 1

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Despite the fact that even during Lovecraft’s own lifetime the Cthulhu Mythos was well-established as a multi-author shared world type of affair, and despite the fact that the various contributions to it tended to be in the short story format, it took a surprisingly long time for a fully Mythos-themed short story anthology to appear. In the first few decades of Mythos fandom, when August Derleth exerted a lot of influence over the field and Arkham House as close to being the de facto “official” publisher of such material as anyone could claim to be, Arkham didn’t really put out any all-Mythos multi-author anthologies, unless you count books put out under H.P. Lovecraft’s byline that included falsified collaborations by August Derleth or essays by Lovecraft Circle members. Instead, Mythos stories were sprinkled among other material in Arkham House’s genre anthologies.

That changed in 1969 with Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos; this inspired a trickle of other all-Mythos multi-author anthologies, like the Lin Carter-edited Ballantine Adult Fantasy series entry The Spawn of Cthulhu from 1971 (an anthology now largely redundant due to the material mostly being reprinted in other, more easily-available sources), or the DAW Books release The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976, to Arkham House’s own New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos from 1980. In the 1990s, the pace of such publications picked up, in part because of figures from fandom like Robert M. Price gaining prominence as anthologists and in part because of Chaosium starting up their own fiction line as a tie-in with the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

The anthologies I am going to review in this article series will cover Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and subsequent Arkham House releases that can be seen as sequels to it, as well as two series of anthologies that can be seen as attempts by prominent Lovecraft critics to craft their own take on Tales – one anthology grouping is by Robert M. Price, whilst the other is by S.T. Joshi.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 1”

When He’s Right He’s Right, When He’s Wrong He’s Frank Belknap Wrong

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

It’s been said of Frank Belknap Long that he is famous mostly by association. Whilst this may be an unfair fate, there’s a ring of truth to it. Long was a close friend of H.P. Lovecraft, and hanging out with Long was one of the few bright spots in Lovecraft’s otherwise miserable stint of living in New York City. It was Long and his family who, having expressed concerns about Lovecraft’s well-being if he stayed in New York, encouraged Lovecraft’s aunts to invite him back to Providence, kicking off perhaps the most intensive burst of high-quality creative work he would ever produce. And it was Long who wrote the first stories to borrow ideas and the names of various plot trappings from Lovecraft – the first, in other words, to partake in the interchange of ideas that Lovecraft called “Yog-Sothothery” and August Derleth would christen as the Cthulhu Mythos.

Long’s status as a Mythos author would be enshrined by Derleth with the inclusion of two of his stories in the anthology Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, but the exchange of concepts had been noted by Lovecraft previously; in one tale, Long alluded to a version of the Necronomicon associated with John Dee, and when Lovecraft wrote his History of the Necronomicon – the closest thing to a “writer’s Bible” the Cthulhu Mythos has, in the sense that it represents the only time Lovecraft chose to clearly state the canonical “facts” about an aspect of his fiction – he decided to incorporate that by having Dee produce an English translation of the legendary tome. Moreover, the particular tales selected by Derleth for inclusion in the anthology – The Space-Eaters, where the Necronomicon reference comes from, and The Hounds of Tindalos – represent Long’s attempts to specifically tackle Lovecraft’s nihilistic philosophy and cosmology.

Both stories also offer character portraits of Lovecraft himself; indeed, The Space-Eaters has a narrator called Frank and his buddy, an intellectual horror author named Howard, and you don’t need to look too hard to work out who they are supposed to be. Long depicts Lovecraft with the sort of warts-and-all harshness that characterises a true friend’s loving tribute, and sets Lovecraft and himself against an alien threat with an interesting memetic component to it (in that it insinuates itself into your brain to appear in terms you can understand).

Continue reading “When He’s Right He’s Right, When He’s Wrong He’s Frank Belknap Wrong”

Dissecting Lovecraft Part 8: Supernatural Horror In Biography

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

Having covered much of Lovecraft’s work from the early 1930s, we’ve now come to the point when he put the final touches on Supernatural Horror In Literature, so this seems to be the best time to take a good look at it. It’s easily the most widely reprinted of Lovecraft’s essays, and to be honest it genuinely deserves to be because it’s far and away the best of his nonfiction writing and represents a useful early survey of the genre as it had developed up to the time Lovecraft wrote it. He had begun it way back in 1925 during his New York stint, but revised it and added new discoveries of his when the prospect of it being republished came up; several versions available, including the one in the second volume of the Collected Essays series, helpfully indicate where the new insertions are.

As the title suggests, the essay is about the literary merit of the weird tale. Lovecraft suggests that only a few readers will really appreciate such material, because most people are too bound up in the daily routine to get much out of literature that does not deal with real life and won’t be especially sensitive to transcendental themes. This may have been accurate enough at the time of writing – and goodness knows Lovecraft was in a better position than many to appreciate how limited the audience for Weird Tales and other such outlets for supernatural horror was.

Continue reading “Dissecting Lovecraft Part 8: Supernatural Horror In Biography”