Saturday, July 13, 2013

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, edited by August Derleth, is a collection of stories set more or less within the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. The 1975 Panther paperback I bought a while back comprises the first half of the collection, with three stories by Lovecraft himself and nine stories by other writers. Most of the authors represented here were known to Lovecraft, at least by correspondence.

I don’t propose to say anything about the three Lovecraft stories. Quite enough has been said about him already. Suffice to day that I’m very much a fan of his writing.

The two stories by Clark Ashton Smith, The Return of the Sorcerer and Ubbo-Sathla, are of course excellent. Smith’s stories always had such a strong flavour of their own that it is hardly fair to describe him as a Lovecraft imitator. Smith was that great rarity, a true American decadent (far more so than even Lovecraft himself).

August Derleth is best remembered as the man largely responsible for bringing the name of Lovecraft to the reading public. His two stories, The Dweller in Darkness and Beyond the Threshold, are perfectly competent mythos tales although they do lack the authentic weirdness and extravagance of Lovecraft’s own writing.

Henry Kuttner’s The Salem Horror is less impressive although it’s an entertaining enough riff on the Salem witchcraft legacy.

J. Vernon Shea’s The Haunter of the Graveyard is an oddity, a very mediocre story about a TV presenter of horror movies who becomes obsessed by an old graveyard.

Robert E. Howard, in The Black Stone, has no problem at all in conjuring up a Lovecraftian  atmosphere and his story includes the kind of linkages to the past that characterise some of the best Mythos stories. Howard naturally adds much of his own flavour, with a lot more sex and action than Lovecraft’s work, and he is a sufficiently dynamic writer to ensure that he puts his own stamp on the story.

Both Smith and Howard had their own approaches to fiction which come through very strongly in their stories but at the same time they both understood very clearly what Lovecraft was striving for. This raises their stories well above the level of mere Lovecraft pastiche. By comparison Derleth’s stories seem to be little more than imitation Lovecraft, albeit very competent imitation Lovecraft.

Frank Belknap Long’s two stories, The Hounds of Tindalos and The Space Eaters, are another matter entirely. Both are highly imaginative and both certainly qualify as weird, but with a weirdness all their own. While Lovecraft’s own tales can be regarded as a blending of gothic horror and science fiction Long’s stories are more overtly science fictional, dealing with esoteric concepts like non-Euclidean geometry. They make an interesting variation on the more standard Mythos stories.

Overall a reasonably good collection and probably not a bad place to start if you want to explore Cthulhu Mythos stories by writers other than Lovecraft.

1 comment:

  1. I haven't read Lovecraft for years. Thanks for the review.