Beneath the bloated, fungoid moon…
🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
“As the ghastly light shone hideously down from the bloated, fungoid moon, the alien and unnameable creature from another aeon revealed itself as so loathsome, blasphemous and hellish that it would drive me to the uttermost edge of madness if I were to describe it…”
OK, I made that sentence up, but I bet anybody who’s read HP Lovecraft was fooled for a moment. 😉
This book brings together some of HPL’s stories published from about 1926 onwards. Each story is extensively and interestingly annotated to tell when it was written, where published and how it fits in not just to HPL’s own “Cthulhu Mythos” but also the wider landscape of “weird tales”. There is also an excellent introductory essay by Roger Luckhurst which tells us about HPL’s life and puts his work into the context of the period in which he was writing. Luckhurst’s argument in part is that, love him or hate him, HPL has remained an influence on writers of weird fiction up to the present day. He credits HPL with being one of the main writers who moved horror away from the human-centric gothic tale, with its vampires, crucifixes and garlic, to a universe where man is an insignificant and helpless part of a greater whole.
I admit it – I thought the stories ranged from loathsomely mediocre to hellishly poor myself, (even though I’ve always been partial to mushrooms). Luckhurst quotes Edmund Wilson on the subject of HPL’s tendency never to use one overblown adjective when four would do… “Surely one of the primary rules for writing an effective tale of horror is never to use any of these words – especially if you are going, at the end, to produce an invisible whistling octopus.” My feelings precisely!
However, whether a fan of HPL’s style or not, the introductory essay and annotations provide interesting insights into a genre that has had considerable influence over the years and those alone make the book a worthwhile read, hence my four star rating.
The stories are: –
The Horror at Red Hook – based on HPL’s experiences in New York, a story of demon-worship and with a lot of racist undertones. Luckhurst’s introduction makes clear that a belief in racial superiority was part of what made HPL tick and this is the story where that comes through most clearly.
The Call of Cthulhu – Hellish, blasphemous aliens from space and the story that started the “Cthulhu Mythos”, which most of the rest of the stories build on. One of the better stories.
The Colour Out of Space – A meteor crash brings loathsome aliens to a village in New England. (Poor New England – all the aliens seem to end up there – if you live there, just one word of advice…RUN!!!) This is quite a good story but meanders on for way too long, which seemed to become a recurring feature of HPL’s work. This has the first example in the book of one of my favourite HPL techniques – to describe a horror as ‘indescribable’ – well, that helps!
The Dunwich Horror – one of my favourites. Alien child born to village woman – he is loathsome, blasphemous AND hellish! There are a couple of effective plot mechanisms in this that I liked – the use of ‘party lines’ where people can hear over the phone as horrors happen to their neighbours, and the legend of whippoorwills waiting to take the souls of the dead.
The Whisperer in the Dark – another goodie! (Relatively speaking, that is.) Aliens followed by a cult of humans closing in on the one man standing against them – unusually, this one has a neat and effective ending. The notes to this one are also particularly interesting, showing the crossover between the imaginary worlds of fellow weird tales’ writers and also showing how traditional folk tales have been altered to tie in with more modern beliefs, such as space, time travel etc.
At the Mountains of Madness – ancient aliens in Antarctica. Incredibly long and very, very dull. Page after page of wandering around ancient ruins. This one was rejected by Weird Tales and only published in a cut version in Astounding Stories and it’s very easy to see why.
The Dreams in the Witchhouse – short and pretty good! Missing children, haunted dreams, a rat with the face of a human. Much more of a traditional, almost Gothic, story.
The Shadow over Innsmouth – what can I say? Hideous, blasphemous, fishfrog aliens (don’t giggle – they were almost quite scary!) in a devilish pact with the townsfolk of Innsmouth in New England. This one would have been quite good if it had been about half as long, but instead of ancient ruins this time we wander for hours round a half-empty town.
The Shadow Out of Time – a man haunted by dreams of a loathsome alien culture and terrifying fungoid monsters. A lot of wandering around ancient ruins again in this hugely overlong tale, not to mention a bloated, fungoid moon – I kid you not!
Just as an addition to this review, any Lovecraft fans should check out the trackback link below – a great kickstarter project to produce an Art Zine based on Lovecraft’s hellish, loathsome and truly blasphemous creations. It looks as if it’s going to be fantastic! Many thanks to The Grinning Skull for the heads up.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher.