Plundering the Lovecraft Estate

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.

Though Robert M. Price was line editor for Chaosium’s Cthulhu Mythos fiction line for most of its early years, he wasn’t the only anthologist allowed to put out work through that avenue. Thomas M.K Stratman’s Cthulhu’s Heirs, from 1994, was one of the first collections in the series. Though it does include a few reprints, most of the material it contains is original to it, the intention of the anthology being to present a new cohort of Lovecraftian writers for a new millennium.

That said, it has certain issues – enough that it’s not wholly surprising that Stratman hasn’t produced any further anthologies since. For one thing, in his introduction he shows a startling ignorance of his subject matter; he cites Zealia Bishop as a Lovecraftian writer, but shows no apparent awareness that whilst that statement is technically true, it’s also asinine. Yes, Lovecraftian stories did appear credited to Bishop – The Curse of Yig and The Mound. They’re Lovecraftian because they were entirely written by Lovecraft himself; Zealia Bishop was a revision client of his and so far as can be made out, Bishop actually contributed nothing to the stories in question beyond, at most, a vivid central image around which she asked Lovecraft to construct a story.

Stratman’s introduction goes from being just a bit clueless to being outright astonishing when he openly admits admits that contributors to the anthology were subjected to numerous delays and paid only minimum rates. Maybe this was his way of protesting against the circumstances he was working under, but it honestly doesn’t read like that. I’m not sure how it was supposed to read, but in context it feels like Stratman is trying to thank his writers for being patient with him; however, openly declaring “I run late and I don’t pay well” is a terrible idea for an editor. It’s tantamount to an overt declaration that he’s a shitty editor to work for and you’d be better of submitting your stories to anyone else with more credibility and standing than him, because if you give him your story you won’t get so much money for it and it might take ages for it to actually get published.

Continue reading “Plundering the Lovecraft Estate”

Disciplined Anthologies

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.

In the heaped masses of Cthulhu Mythos-themed short story anthologies that have been published over the years, The Disciples of Cthulhu from 1976 (originally published by DAW books, reprinted in the 1990s by Chaosium) occupies a special place. It might not quite be the first such anthology to come out independently of Arkham House (in the sense of not either being published directly by Arkham House or being a reprint of an Arkham House release); Ballantine’s Adult Fantasy line had released The Spawn of Cthulhu in 1971, edited by the line’s mastermind Lin Carter. That said, Carter was not exactly a stranger to Arkham House, and Spawn entirely consisted of reprints, the majority of which were decades-old tales from Lovecraft’s peers and influences.

However, there’s every reason to believe the claim of Edward P. Berglund, editor of The Disciples of Cthulhu, that it was the first professional collection of all-original Mythos stories. Moreover, I would add something to that: it’s one of the first major expressions of the post-Derlethian Cthulhu Mythos. Coming out as it did five years after Derleth died, it’s a collection produced by someone who consequently had absolutely no need to keep Derleth happy, and features a set of authors that Derleth was in no position to veto the involvement of (what with him being dead and all). Whereas Derleth had previously acted as a gatekeeper for the Mythos playground, Disciples found a range of new voices invading it and making it their own.

Let me get the Boy’s Club assessment out of the way first: every single one of those voices was male, and that’s annoying. It’s especially annoying when in 2003 Chaosium had Berglund do a sequel volume and he almost-but-not-quite turned in another woman-free collection (I’ll dig into that point a bit deeper later). Taking a certain level of sexism as read, does Berglund at least show taste in the stories he picks? Let’s have a see.

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Starry Wisdom, Vapid Songs

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.

So, a while back it was suggested that I should cover Alan Moore’s various Cthulhu Mythos works, Moore having gotten deep into the Lovecraft tribute business right about the time I was doing my epic Lovecraft review and its various followups. To tell that story, though, I have to go back a little and tell the story of The Starry Wisdom, a curious little volume issued by Creation Books in 1994. Creation Books, back in the day, was a publisher that was vaguely associated with Creation Records and specialising in cult and underground books; edited by D.M. Mitchell, The Starry Wisdom has gained a reputation as perhaps the weirdest and most out-there Cthulhu Mythos anthology you can find, incorporating as it does texts from other authors (such as William Burroughs or J.G. Ballard) who, whilst not writing directly in the Lovecraft tradition, seem to conceptually butt up against it here and there, as well as contributions from the world of comics (both in terms of comics authors turning their hands to prose and some of the stories being presented in graphic novel format) and industrial music (Michael Gira of Swans has got a rant in here, for instance).

What it does, in short, is mash up extreme stories by traditional Mythos authors, Mythos-adjacent stories from extreme authors, and generally go broad as broad as you can in terms of what can constitute a Cthulhu Mythos story without losing sight of Lovecraftian cosmic horror altogether, and by and large it’s a great little ride. Heck, they’re even able to get a half-decent story out of Robert M. Price: his contribution, A Thousand Young, is an intensely sexualised story about a Shub-Niggurath cult posing as a society of modern-day Sadean libertines. The cod-Lovecraftian prose that Price seems to like to write in, when applied to this subject matter, actually seems weirdly apt for its confessional format. Here, supernatural horror is largely incidental to the horror of what narrator does in pursuit of his purported spiritual goals – Price once again scraping his way to a good story by engaging with his theological and philosophical interests in an imaginative manner.

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Hastur Be Seen To Be Believed

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.

In the 1990s Chaosium decided to put out a series of Cthulhu Mythos short story anthologies as an adjunct to the Call of Cthulhu RPG. To oversee the line they engaged the services of Robert M. Price, who at the time was prominent in Lovecraft fandom as the editor of Crypt of Cthulhu. The Price-edited entries in the series tended to fall into one of two categories; compilations of works by a particular prominent Mythos author (such as the Lin Carter, Robert Bloch and Henry Kuttner collections I’ve covered previously), and “Cycle” books.

These latter tomes were based around the idea of choosing a particular Mythos entity or subject and collecting together the major stories that dealt with the concept in question, as well as stories which seemed to influence the original conception of the idea in question. In principle, this is actually a pretty good idea, because it would allow you to place Lovecraft’s stories in the context of the broader tradition they were a part of. The concept stumbled when Price took the approach of building these cycles around individual creatures and entities, rather than around broader themes.

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Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 6

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: Arkham House puts out a string of major state-of-the Mythos anthologies – Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and Cthulhu 2000 – and come the 1990s Robert M. Price delivers a response in the form of the two-part set of Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos and The New Lovecraft Circle, put out originally through Mythos upstart small press Fedogan & Bremer.

As it turns out, Price wasn’t done yet…

Acolytes of Cthulhu

Ranging from the pulp era to contemporary works, Acolytes of Cthulhu doesn’t bill itself as a followup to Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos or The New Lovecraft Circle, but it was prepared for the same publishers originally (Fedogan & Bremer) and has a sufficiently similar approach that I’m willing to consider it a sequel to that set. In his introduction, Price talks up Lovecraft fandom as a substitute for religiosity, and if that weren’t bizarre enough proceeds to push a geek supremacist argument framing Lovecraft fans as having discovered Lovecraft during adolescence and identifying with his solitary preferences, an elite of people who “get it” set apart from the drone-like zombies of the mundane masses. This is where I say “speak for yourself, Price”; what he proposes here is exactly the sort of closed clubhouse approach that makes fandoms toxic.

He then slams cosplayers at conventions, suggesting that they render the whole thing frivolous and mundane, and also criticises attempts to win mainstream respectability for Lovecraft. (This was before the Library of America put out a Lovecraft volume.) Because it’s not enough for us to be Lovecraft fans, apparently – we have to be fans within the set bounds of Price’s sensibilities, keeping things just respectable enough for quasi-academic blowhards like Price to feel like scholarly gentlemen but not respectable enough to get the attention of experts who’d recognise Price’s Lovecraft scholarship as the slipshod amateur work it is.

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Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 5

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: Arkham House’s major multi-author state-of-the Mythos anthologies – Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, and Cthulhu 2000 – held a special position in Cthulhu Mythos fandom, but come the 1990s this was challenged by other sources.

One of those was Robert M. Price’s two-part alternate take on the original Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, the first half of which – Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos – dredged up some diamonds but was also hampered by some utter dross, included more out of historical interest than out of any actual quality involved.

The New Lovecraft Circle

The second half of Price’s attempted riposte to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos follows the lead of the second half of that tome, focusing on authors who had not been in correspondence with Lovecraft in his lifetime. The title is a nod to Lin Carter, a friend of Price whose work Price has tried to keep in the public eye even when the results aren’t actually that flattering to Carter and who had identified a set of new authors such as Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley as constituting a sort of “New Lovecraft Circle”, though I am not sure there is sufficient social glue between these writers (beyond that which naturally exists between writers working in the same genre for the same general audience, feeding from the same trough as it were) to really compare to the circle of friends around Lovecraft.

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 5”

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 4

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: August Derleth’s put out the original Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthology through his Arkham House publishing imprint, and after he died the original Tales was revised by Jim Turner. Arkham House attempted to follow it up first with New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by Ramsey Campbell, which was a bit hit-and-miss, and the rather more successful Jim Turner-edited Cthulhu 2000.

However, Arkham House’s star was well and truly fading by the 1990s, despite these Mythos-related efforts and others (such as the issuing of new editions of Lovecraft’s works with the texts corrected by S.T. Joshi). With the death of August Derleth and the copyright on Lovecraft’s work coming closer to lapsing worldwide, the fandom was less inclined to look to the publisher as being the be-all and end-all of the Mythos; the backlash against Derleth’s heavy-handed pronouncements of canon gathered pace, and new sources of Lovecraftian writing and criticism appeared here and there. In addition, Jim Turner’s personal take on the Mythos and his lauding of high literary value and science fiction-oriented works over pastiche earned its own backlash.

Against this background, a new publisher arose – Fedogan & Bremer. This small press aimed to produce books more oriented towards the old style of Arkham House, before Turner’s custodianship took the publisher on a different path from the one it had taken under August Derleth. (This was not an overly adversarial situation, though – they saw their books distributed via Arkham House, for one thing.) Like Arkham House, some of their material has disappeared into the aether whilst others have been reprinted as trade paperbacks by other publishers – with a few even making it into Ballantine’s line of Lovecraftian releases, putting them on the same level as their issues of Arkham House material.

Among the more prominent Fedogan & Bremer releases are a number of anthologies edited by Robert M. Price, who at this point had established himself as a loud voice in Cthulhu fandom. Up to this point, Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos had tended to represent an unattainable high point in the ranks of Mythos anthologies; Price tilted directly at this windmill..

Continue reading “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and Its Imitators, Part 4”