Filler content with HPL – Part 2

And following on from yesterday’s blog post, here are four more reviews comprising the second part of a feature on the work of H. P. Lovecraft that originally appeared in Black Static #46:-

LOVECRAFT: THE MAN AND HIS MONSTERS (continued)

Pete Von Sholly provides a second introduction of sorts to THE DUNWICH HORROR (PS Publishing jhc, 112pp, £18), telling of the circumstances in which he first encountered the story and the effect that it had on his development as a creative individual. Also by way of bonus material we have an essay from Donald R. Burleson looking at the presence of the mythic hero archetype in the story and another by Peter Cannon drawing comparisons to Melville’s Moby Dick. And, by way of a final cherry on the cake, we have ‘Lustcraft’, in which writer W. H. Pugmire talks with wit and wisdom about perversity in Lovecraft’s writing in general and Dunwich in particular. The story itself concerns the strange offspring of Lavinia Whateley and how her son Wilbur delved deep into occult knowledge, even seeking out the dreaded Necronomicon, but something even more terrible is waiting in the wings. Much of what’s on offer here will now seem par for the course as regards horror fiction, with accursed families who deal with outsider powers and monsters on the loose having become a staple of the genre, but what makes it stand out is the way in which Lovecraft captures the feel of haunted New England, the wildness of the landscape, a place in which barriers wear thin and anything may be encountered. Equally powerful is the way in which myths and legends, magic and folklore are woven into the narrative, giving a solid underpinning for all that takes place, while the evocation of the monsters, both the giant Wilbur and his hideous brother, are strongly done

For THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME (PS Publishing jhc, 128pp, £20) bonus material consists of an essay by Paul Montelone, ‘The Vanity of Existence in The Shadow out of Time’, that was perhaps a little too academically weighted for my liking, while W. H. Pugmire considers the story primarily as Lovecraftian horror, taking to task those who thought HPL would have turned to science fiction had his career not been so tragically cut short. Perhaps the most unusual bonus though is Pete Von Sholly talking about his plans for a series of monster model kits similar to the old Aurora kits of yesteryear, but casting the net a little wider, including a Yithian, a photograph of which is used to accompany the article. One weeps for missed opportunities and the worlds of might have been. The story itself concerns the Great Race of Yith, who can project their intelligence through space and time, ensuring the survival of their kind by shifting en masse and taking up residence in the bodies of some other species. On occasion they increase their knowledge by possessing certain individuals, and this is the fate of the story’s protagonist, who slowly comes to an understanding of what has happened to him and the dire implications for mankind. The story is blue sky thinking come high concept in the central idea of a race using others basically as body suits, a staggering theme for the author and one that he gradually unfolds before the reader’s disbelieving eyes, so that we can’t help but admire the cosmic scope and sheer audacity of HPL’s vision.

There’s a fascinating Foreword by film maker Brian Yuzna telling of his love for THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH (PS Publishing jhc, 168pp, £20) and the obstacle fraught road that led to him eventually filming it as the underrated Dagon. There’s also a critical appreciation by Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price in which he nails the biggest problem with the story, that of the first person narrator having an apparent change of heart at the end, one that runs entirely counter to everything he has previously told us, and also looks at the antecedents of the story, the works that may have influenced Lovecraft in his writing. Two of those stories, ‘The Harbor-Master’ by Robert W. Chambers and ‘Fishhead’ by Irvin S. Cobb, are reprinted in the book, and each is a delight to read. Shadow tells of a visit to the rundown seaside town of Innsmouth, where the natives are inbred and the Esoteric Order of Dagon holds sway. But before our hero sets foot in the town he is first warned off by a loquacious station master who, in an aside that brought a smile to my face in light of the comments made above, tells us that “the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice”. Yeah, well. Even though he doesn’t credit the legends of local people interbreeding with the Deep Ones, aquatic beings who live in the seas off Innsmouth, our hero learns rather more than is good for him and has to run for his life. Everything here works splendidly well, with the frightful vision of a tainted humanity brought to compelling life on the page, Lovecraft carefully building his story so that the reader is primed to accept the revelations that come. It is a tour de force of invention and horror fiction, providing the template for so much that has come after.

AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS (PS Publishing jhc, 194pp, £20) has by way of bonus material the text of ‘In Amundsen’s Tent’ by John Martin Leahy, a 1928 story from the pages of Weird Tales which Pete Von Sholly feels certain was an influence on Lovecraft’s work, and to back him up in this there are critical assessments of the work by both Joshi and Robert M. Price. Lovecraft’s story concerns an expedition to the Antarctic that stumbles across evidence of an alien race that once ruled on Earth, uncovering hints of the monstrous thing that destroyed them and which may still be lurking in the depths of the tunnels beneath the ruins of their abandoned city. It is a compelling story, one in which Lovecraft’s vision of cosmic horror and the unimportance of mankind in some greater scheme of things which we can only glimpse comes fully to the fore. The build-up, setting, characterisation etc. are all magnificently rendered, with the picture of scientific enterprise and the thrill of discovery gradually giving way to horror strongly realised. Pedants may cavil at some elements, such as how much information a scientist can gleam from cursory inspection of cave drawings, and it’s hard not to smirk just a little at the thought of giant albino penguins, but such objections pale into insignificance next to the grandeur of the Old Ones and the feelings of repulsion engendered by the monstrous Shoggoths. A seminal work of horror fiction, one whose influence is readily seen in films such as Carpenter’s The Thing, Mountains has lost none of its power with the passage of time.

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