Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Horror

I've been reading H.P. Lovecraft, and I say: meh. Maybe it's a mistake to read an author in a large volume of his collected works, but one can only take so many pulpy tentacles and Unspeakable Rites and ineffable foetor and blasted New England heaths before the style grows predictable. You want real terror? Let me tell you about the other night when the baby suddenly started to gag and choke and I couldn't find the aspirator. Compared to that, Cthulhu ain't even in it for fear.

Neil Gaiman understands. In fact, he has delved into some cursed and nightmarish arcana, and has presented the public with I Cthulhu, the dead god's dictated memoirs.
We are going out, said Hastur to me. Would you like to accompany us?

We? I asked him. Who's we?

Myself, he said, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep, Tsathogghua , Ia ! Shub Niggurath, young Yuggoth and a few others. You know, he said, the boys. (I am freely translating for you here, Whateley, you understand. Most of them were a-, bi-, or trisexual, and old Ia! Shub Niggurath has at least a thousand young, or so it says. That branch of the family was always given to exaggeration). We are going out, he concluded, and we were wondering if you fancied some fun.

I did not answer him at once. To tell the truth I wasn't all that fond of my cousins, and due to some particularly eldritch distortion of the planes I've always had a great deal of trouble seeing them clearly. They tend to get fuzzy around the edges, and some of them -- Sabaoth is a case in point -- have a great many edges.

But I was young, I craved excitement. "There has to be more to life than this!", I would cry, as the delightfully foetid charnel smells of the swamp miasmatised around me, and overhead the ngau-ngau and zitadors whooped and skrarked. I said yes, as you have probably guessed, and I oozed after Hastur until we reached the meeting place.

As I remember we spent the next moon discussing where we were going. Azathoth had his hearts set on distant Shaggai, and Nyarlathotep had a thing about the Unspeakable Place (I can't for the life of me think why. The last time I was there everything was shut). It was all the same to me, Whateley. Anywhere wet and somehow, subtly wrong and I feel at home. But Yog-Sothoth had the last word, as he always does, and we came to this plane.
Yep, that about sums it up.

Gaiman also reveals a fascinating bit of lost history:

Nice to see "I Cthulhu" in print at last: the only other Lovecraftian article I plan on doing at some point is annotating some correspondence that has come into my hands relatively mysteriously. Which is to say, it is not generally known that the H.P. Lovecraft letters we know and love are incomplete in one important respect.

In the late twenties and early thirties a young English writer -- who, like Lovecraft, thought little of writing twenty thousand word letters -- was in New York , working on his own books and writing the librettos to musicals.

That Lovecraft, a devoted anglophile, was a fan of the man's work is unsurprising. That P.G. Wodehouse was a fan of Weird Tales is perhaps more so. How their lengthy correspondence got into my grubby little hands I do not wish to go into at this point. Suffice it to say that I possess not only their only collaborative novel (alternatively titled The What Ho! On The Threshold and It's the Call of Cthulhu, Jeeves ) but also fragments of their musical, Necronomicon Summer , in which the heroine is called upon to sing those immortal lines:

I may be just a bird in a gilded cage

A captive like a parakeet or dove,

But when a maiden meets a giant lipophage

Her heart gets chewed and broken, like that old adage

-I'm just a fool who

Thought that Cthulhu

Could fall in love!

The similarities between the two authors -- not only in names, but also biography, both of them having been brought up by aunts for example (one of a legion of similarities) leads one to ponder why the collaborations were a failure and covered up by both men, and why they conducted their work together in such secrecy. Certainly the novel throws a fascinating light on both their obsessions (the sequence in which Aunt Agatha is revealed to be Nyarlathotep, and the Wooster-Psmith expedition to the thrice accursed plains of Leng, enlivened by their running battle over Bertie Wooster's bow-tie, spring to mind immediately).

When it is fit for publication; when copyright is cleared; and when the significant question of whether these are the Wodehouse-Lovecraft Letters, or the Lovecraft-Wodehouse Letters (or whether, as been suggested, one should compromise into, for example, the Lovehouse-Wodecraft Letters) has been fully sorted out: then I can assure you that your publication shall be the first to know about it.

Now that's a volume of collected works that I could sink my tentacles into.


CMinor said...

Well, that would be a read.

In the meantime, you might enjoy
The Misadventures of Hello Cthulhu

mrsdarwin said...

I'm loving it!

Jaibee said...


That sounds like a word I would come up with! :)

My (ex)husband got me that same collected works of Lovecraft, although I have to say I have yet to sink my own tentacles into it too far.... :)

TJR said...

Before he wrote prose fiction, Neil Gainman wrote Comics. He wrote the award winning comic series Sandman for DC Comics. He won a Hugo Award...Or was it the Nebula?....I can't remember which....Anyway, The awards committee didn't know that his story was a comic book so after he won, they changed their rules so that no comic book author could ever win again.

Sandman was a good series that mixed Fantasy and horror. My favorite story was the one where Lucifer decided he was tired of it all and wondered if he really wasn't just God's pawn. So he quits and leaves Morpheus (the Sandman) with the keys to the kingdom of Hell. I really enjoyed that story.

TJR said...

If you want a really good (and intelligent) horror story, watch the movie 1409

This is a really good movie that takes horror into the realm of sophisticated suspense. It also a thoughtful movie about dealing with bad memories and the need to confront those memories head on.

Bernard Brandt said...

If I may suggest, Scream for Jeeves, by Peter H. Cannon, is also a superb pastiche of Lovecraft and Wodehouse. It's also roaringly funny to anyone who is in the slightest familiar with either or both of them.

You can find it on Amazon, here, ( it looks as though it is either OOP, or so expensive that you may want to have someone loan you a copy. Expensive as in: "I say, old blot, $96.00, is a bit pricy for a good Dom Perignon, let alone a blasted book."

Donovan K. Loucks said...

You're right that reading too much Lovecraft all at once can give you a poor impression of his work. But, which collection are you reading? There are good and bad collections, and then there are those that are advertised as being by Lovecraft but which are actually by August Derleth...

Donovan K. Loucks
Webmaster, The H.P. Lovecraft Archive

mrsdarwin said...


I'm reading The Dunwich Horror and Others. I enjoyed The Dunwich Horror on its own, and there were several other Cthulhu-ish stories that seemed to stand above the others, but my favorite was The Terrible Old Man. Truth to tell, I found that the creepiest of the whole collection.

Did Lovecraft write any non-horror fiction? I find his slightly scholastic style amenable (one of the things I liked best about The Dunwich Horror was the almost procedural tone, and the way he captured the speech of the townspeople) and I'd be curious to read any of his more understated works.

TJR -- I don't necessarily want to be scared! I don't mind that Lovecraft doesn't scare me. It's just that I can't suspend disbelief in something so patently alien as Cthulhu -- it doesn't even keep me up at night.

That Wooster-Cthulhu pastiche looks absolutely hysterical. If I can ever get my grubby little hands on a copy I will count myself fortunate in the extreme.

Donovan said...

Well, Arkham House's The Dunwich Horror and Others is pretty much a best-of, so I can't fault that. "The Dunwich Horror" is actually considered by many to be one of Lovecraft's poorer tales because it's a bit more formulaic and has a good-versus-evil element that's missing from much of his fiction. But, if you like "The Dunwich Horror", then perhaps you'd like "The Thing on the Doorstep" and even "The Shadow over Innsmouth". "The Terrible Old Man" has an EC Comics feel to it, so maybe you'd like "In the Vault".

Near the end of his life, much of Lovecraft's fiction became a blend of horror and science-fiction. Perhaps you'd like his At the Mountains of Madness, which is considered by many to be his best work. Personally, my favorite is The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, though it might be too much for someone new to Lovecraft. (I actually disliked it when I first read it many years ago.)

TS said...

Oops! Misread 'tentacles' as
'testicles'! (Hate when that happens.)

Bernard Brandt said...

I'll try this one more time. The previous two the damned comments box ate my comment. Humph!

At any rate:

Dear Donovan:

Good to see someone from the estimable website up and about. Love the site. Pity, though, that you no longer host the e-writings of HPL there. I would think that as the time limits on copyright are the author's lifetime plus fifty years, and as HPL bit the big shuggoth in 1933, that those texts should be public domain by now. What gives? Arkham House, maybe?

Dear Mrs. Darwin:

I'll do what I can to shoot a copy of Scream for Jeeves your way. BTW, do please send me your e-mail address. Mine is bfbrandt AT hotmail DOT com.

Bernard Brandt said...

Oh, and by the way, I picked up this little number while I was at a few days ago.

Enjoy. Or else.