The Disciples of Cthulhu

The Lovecraft series and now we’re getting into Lovecraftian authors rather than the Gentleman from Providence.

Raw Feed (2005): The Disciples of Cthulhu, ed. Edward P. Berglund, 1976.Disciples of Cthulhu

“Editor’s Foreword”, Edward P. Berglund — Brief summation of the various waves of H. P. Lovecraft imitators.

“Introduction”, Robert Bloch — Bloch talks about how the reputation of his old mentor, H. P. Lovecraft, has been on the ascendant unlike the celebrated mainstream authors of 1929 the year Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” was actually published. He talks briefly about the religion/cult of Lovecraft of which he is one of the oldest members.

The Fairground Horror”, Brain Lumley — In his biography of Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi singled out Brian Lumley as symbolizing the worst of the Lovecraft imitators. I have a fond spot for Lumley though.  After being introduced by a friend to Lumley’s first two Titus Crow books (the best ones of the series), I read all the Lovecraft fiction I could find thereby filling in the gaps from reading a lot of his short stories earlier but none of Lovecraft’s novels. However, this biter-bitten story simply seemed, with its Cthulhu idol in a carnival funhouse, a takeoff on the Hazel Heald — H. P. Lovecraft story “The Horror in the Museum“. Lumley also seems determined, as Joshi noted, to work in as many references as possible to names in Lovecraft’s work.

The Silence of Erika Zann”, James Wade — Certainly not written in H. P. Lovecraft’s style and not using any elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, this story doesn’t really work. Basically, it’s about the daughter of Erich Zann, as in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann“, encountering an extra-dimensional entity called to Earth by the strange properties of her psychedelic rock music (the story is set in a psychedelic club in San Francisco). The combination of too-explicit prose with, paradoxically, too vague of an explanation, doesn’t work.

All-Eye”, Bob Van Laerhoven — An uninteresting encounter with a Cthulhu-type entity in the wastes of Canada.

The Tugging”, Ramsey Campbell — In his biography of H. P. Lovecraft, S. T. Joshi says Ramsey Campbell is the best writer working in a Lovecraft vein (evidently less so these days, but he started out doing Lovecraft pastiches). This story shows how to do a Lovecraft inspired work. While Lovecraft and his friends like Frank Belknap Long and Robert Howard used Lovecraft pseudo-deities as an in-joke and to give a patina of mythological and historical depth to their stories, modern imitators of Lovecraft are now hurt by trying to use those Cthulhu “gods” in the same way. To be sure, Campbell mentions R’lyeh and some of the fake books and places that are part of the Cthulhu mythos. There is even a Lovecraftian cult. But Campbell doesn’t try to imitate Lovecraft’s language or his later realistic technique. However, he does use the Lovecraftian devices of great cosmic changes dreamed of by the protagonist and his father (the protagonist’s mother resents this bond between father and son), the aforementioned cult, and a wandering planet, beyond Pluto, that promises an apocalypse. Through this, he manages to suggest approaching menace, wondrous dream prophecies, secret occult histories, and Lovecraft’s characteristic cosmic indifference.

Where Yidhra Walks”, Walter C. DeBill, Jr. — This is an adequate horrible-cult-in-a-small-town story. The fact that the cult is associated with snakes and the setting is Texas shows this story was obviously inspired by the Zealia Bishop-H. P. Lovecraft collaboration “The Curse of Yig“.

The Feaster From Afar”, Joseph Payne Brennan — The only thing of interest in this story of a writer being killed by horrors in a New England forest is that it is set on the same ground as H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror“.

Zoth-Ommog”, Lin Carter — This is a terrible story. This story typifies what is wrong with many H. P. Lovecraft inspired works: an obsession with the names and pseudo-mythology of Cthulhu and no concern with creating a horrifying or even creepy atmosphere. Carter reels off the names of the various Cthulhoid deities (both created by Lovecraft, his friends, and August Derleth) as if he was carefully creating some secondary fantasy world. Lovecraft’s mythology does not exist to create a Tolkeinesque secondary world but to suggest past and present cosmic intrusions into our world. This is a boring, forgetable story.

Darkness, My Name Is”, Eddy C. Bertin — This story was interesting for awhile, but it is marred by a vague ending — though, by that time, I probably didn’t care enough to decipher it. I liked the protagonist going to an obscure German town to get the secret of immortality but discovering an ancient cult. But the story degenerated into a ying-yang tale where good and bad Cthulhu gods are somehow needed to maintain some undefined cosmic balance.

The Terror From the Depths”, Fritz Leiber — This story is something special. It shows what a writer as skilled as Leiber can do. He does what other average or poor stories in this anthology do — images, characters, gods, books, plot devices — from Lovecraft and some of his disciples and creates a mélange that is a takeoff on H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth“, an evocative story of an approaching horror, and something of a tribute and obituary for the man he corresponded with. It may be that personal acquaintance (as much as any correspondent, many of whom never met Lovecraft, could be said to know Lovecraft) with Lovecraft helped. I smiled when Oswald Spengler, who Lovecraft read and admired, was mentioned. And the colors the narrator mentions are specifically mentioned by Lovecraft. The story is told using a typical Lovecraft structure: an account of events, here written in the last hours of his life, by the narrator. Lovecraft appears as a character here as do several of the protagonists from his stories. But Leiber cleverly does a mélange of Lovecraft homage, pastiche, and biography. Lovecraft’s conversation, his letter writing, the places he liked to travel, are assigned to the character of Albert Wilmarth from Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”. The narrator, as Wilmarth actually remarks at one point, is to be thought of as sort of a double to Lovecraft in his shaky health and poetic interests. Lovecraft himself shows up as a character, a writer allowed to detail the various adventures — though Wilmarth says his work has “lurid extravagances” and that no findings were suppressed — of the Miskatonic University faculty. They think his tales may prepare the world for their findings later on. Unfortunately, as Wilmarth notes, they are not sure what they have found, what conclusions to draw, if the Cthulhu entities exist yet today. Shoggoths may be haunting the narrator in a plot reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. Poetic interludes throughout the account relate the voices the narrator hears. The family estate he lives on, built by his stone mason father who built a huge stone mansion with carvings in the basement reminiscent of R’lyeh, seems riddled by underground tunnels possibly dug by shoggoths who may have taken his father in a freak accident when he feel in a hole in the Earth. Near the end of the story, with news of Lovecraft’s hospitalization weighing on Wilmarth, the narrator gets a strange letter from his father relating how he once astrally left his body to form a carnal union with a girl he loved who died of consumption. Impressed by the beauty of the strange underground world he saw, he urges his son to join him. It is much like the call of heredity that the narrator feels at the end of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (and the odd taint of sexual corruption may be a reference to Lovecraft’s father dying insane from syphilis). But the narrator of this story does not take the dive into an alien world. He kills himself with acid. The date of his death is March 15, 1937 — the day Lovecraft died. An impressive story and tribute from a friend of Lovecraft’s. It also features, as a friend of the narrator’s father, the real life artist Simon Rodia, builder of the Watts Towers.


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