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A Monster Index for Shub-Niggurath, Cthuhlu or Azathoth: A Review of Lovecraft’s Monsters

Monday, June 9th, 2014 | Posted by James McGlothlin

Lovecraft’s Monsters-smallI love H. P. Lovecraft. Moreover, I think he is the foremost horror and weird writer of all time! I’m not going to attempt to defend that claim here other than to say that I personally love his writing style (purple prose and all), his creatures, his gods, his mood setting — all of it! Thus, as I’ve said in another review, I’m pretty much a sucker for any book advertised or alluded to as “Lovecraftian.” It should be no shock then that I bought the recent anthology Lovecraft’s Monsters.

This book is edited by the multiple award-winner SF&F editor Ellen Datlow. Datlow typically compiles her anthologies around certain themes. The title Lovecraft’s Monsters should thus be fairly self-explanatory. But in detail, each story in this volume contains a monster that is from, similar to, or inspired by one of H.P. Lovecraft’s horror stories.

New to Lovecraft and his monsters, you say? Ever wonder who Shub-Niggurath, Cthuhlu, or Azathoth are? Ever curious as to what shoggoths, “deep ones,” or the Hounds of Tindalos are? Wonder no longer! There is a helpful “Monster Index” compiled in Lovecraft’s Monsters, by Rachel Fagundes, that introduces all such beasties. Besides identifying which stories within Loveccraft’s Monsters contain these creatures, the index also points to where they are first found in Lovecraft’s original stories.

I should also point out that this is a very attractive book with creepy illustrations throughout provided by John Coulthart. In fact, there is one illustration for each story and poem (Gemma Files provides two poems here). Coulthart’s work provides the cover illustration as well. These are nice little extras not usually offered in anthologies.

But of course no anthology is worthwhile without some good stories. And thankfully Lovecraft’s Monsters does not disappoint. There are some very well-known authors here, including Neil Gaiman, Joe Lansdale, Caitlín Kiernan, Elizabeth Bear, and Laird Barron. Most of the stories are reprints, including some older works such as Karl Edward Wagner’s. But with the exception of one story, I had never read any of these tales before.

Let me highlight a few of my favorites. I especially enjoyed “Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole” by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley, a re-imagining of the tale of Frankenstein, picking up where Mary Shelley’s book left off. Said monster continues his trek through the frozen tundra in search of happiness and possibly redemption, while being haunted by the ghost of Frankenstein. It’s something of a fantasy tale but artfully weaves in ideas of hollow earth theories and references to Charles Darwin, Moby Dick, and various other nineteenth century oddities. Excellent story!

Joe R. Lansdale’s “The Bleeding Shadow” is also a great story and very much in line with many of his other horror tales. Lansdale’s horror stories often take place in southern or western settings. Lansdale has a gift for what I like to call Cajun horror, Kentucky-fried horror, or perhaps Texan-noir horror. In similar fashion, “The Bleeding Shadow” is about a blues player in New Orleans who has made a record (set in the 1930s) that apparently opens dimensional gates for horrific beings to enter our world. This is a very creepy and engaging story.

I think the best story in Lovecraft’s Monsters was John Langan’s “Children of the Fang.” This is one of those stories that jump between different time periods, where each snapshot throughout the past gives us more insight into the mystery of what is going on in the present situation. The execution of this time-shifting method is done very well. Langan slowly exposes a family secret that builds to a horrific conclusion.

Caitlín Kiernan’s story “Love is Forbidden, We Croak and Howl” is a very short story, but probably the best written one in the anthology. It’s a sort of Romeo and Juliet snippet of forbidden love. It centers upon the brief encounter of a ghoul and a “deep one” (for the uninitiated, see the “Monster Index”). Despite the disgusting nature of said creatures, Kiernan gets you to feel the flutter of hoped-for love and the disappointment of love-lost.

Overall, this is an excellent anthology of horror stories. That being said, I do have one small bone to pick. The book is definitely what it advertises itself to be: an anthology of Lovecraft’s monsters. But personally, I find the most engaging thing about Lovecraft’s horror stories is the mood or what is often called “cosmic indifference” or “cosmic horror.” Some of these stories definitely fit that model, but others, not so much.

Also, it is highly tenuous whether some of the creatures presented within these stories are really Lovecraftian monsters. “Red Goat Black Goat” by Nadia Bulkin is a great horror story. But is the monster there really Shub-Niggurath? And “Black as the Pit, From Pole to Pole” has only a few scenes or references to “elder things.” So the stories can be a bit shoe-horned into fitting the theme of having Lovecraftian monsters.

Not really a big deal. But I make this point in case you’re looking for an anthology that is purely Lovecraftian — you’ll feel gypped if that’s the case. But if you’re looking for a good horror anthology, one that focuses upon monsters, this one should be right up your alley. I highly recommend it!

Lovecraft’s Monsters was published by Tachyon Publications on April 15, 2014. It is 379 pages, priced on their website at $16.95 for the paperback and $9.99 for the digital edition.

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