Somewhat fanciful Brundage cover for “Hand of Glory”
This is the first in a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for awhile now, a detailed look at a single issue of Weird Tales magazine where I do a short analysis of each story, the famous, the infamous, and the forgotten. Just to make things a little confusing, I rate these stories, unlike movies, on a 1-5 scale, with the lower the number, the better the story. You can look at these ratings as A-B-C-D-F, or Excellent – Good – Mediocre – Below Average – Poor.
I wanted to start with a memorable issue, so I chose the July 1933 entry, one of the best I’ve read so far. I’ll start with a short overview and then get into the specifics of each story.
This issue is at the beginning of the Unique Magazine’s (as it sometimes called itself) Golden Age (roughly the early to late 1930’s) with a total of four of the nine stories penned by what I like to think of as the Holy Trinity of Weird Tales writers, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The ubiquitous Seabury Quinn is also present with one of his ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories, along with tales by early giants of science fiction Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. Sheridan Le Fanu contributes a classic reprint. The final story is by Harold Ward, a fairly prolific pulp writer noted for complicated plots often bordering on the incoherent.
The Howard story is one of his slightest, but moderately effective. The Smith, set in what is probably the first shared-world universe in science fiction — the Cthulhu Mythos — is also rather slight, but vastly more imaginative. The Lovecraft story under his byline is one of his classic Cthulhu Mythos tales. His second story in this issue appears under the name of Hazel Heald, which requires a bit of explanation.
I spent the past year in the frozen tundra on a quest not for gold or oil, but rather that elusive will o’ the wisp men call Ha of Saskatoon. I barely escaped with my life, a sad and broken man. Over the course of many months, I poured through John D. Haefele’s exhaustive tome, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos which the redoubtable Don Herron bequeathed to me in an effort to restore my shattered mind. Having recently closed the book for the final time, I come forth with this my 250th article. A mere trifle for the more prolific blogger, but a milestone for this shadow of a man who once was.
Now in absolute fairness I should disclose a few facts before continuing. First off, I am not an H. P. Lovecraft cultist. I like aspects of the Mythos more than I do his actual fiction. This will be heretical to many, but I did not come upon his prose until later in life – long after Roy Thomas introduced me to his work in various comics he authored for Marvel in the 1970s and well after the time I had absorbed bits and pieces of the Mythos unknowingly while devouring Robert E. Howard’s stories in the pages of the Lancer or Ace Conan paperbacks with their stunning Frazetta cover art which, like that of Boris Vallejo and Neal Adams, frequently displayed brazen muscular buttocks in a fashion that touched something primal and possibly even impolite in my already warped adolescent brain.
I must also refrain from joshing my readers that a particular Lovecraftian scholar earned my enmity like no one since S. J. Perelman when I purchased a pricey, but beautifully bound and illustrated Sax Rohmer collection that was published in recent years only to find said literary critic’s introduction to the same was dismissive, condescending, and pompous in the extreme. It took much restraint not to craft an analogue for this bloated windbag in my third Fu Manchu book and allow the Devil Doctor to feed this bleating goat’s delicate parts to starving centipedes. Despite the appeal of such a notion, I chose instead to let karma find him and that it may have done with Haefele’s scholarly work.
What if there were no life hack to divert the apocalypse?
What if the Inquisition were right?!!?
Obviously he’s onto something. It is all pretty horrifying and creates a wonderful double bind; we readers simultaneously want the protagonist to satisfy our curiosity, and at the same time want them to flee the horrid fate that will result.
However, I think there’s more than Horror at work.
Before I go on to explain why, go and watch his short Lovecraftian film HOWTO Demon Summoning so we have a common reference point (and because it’s funny and horrific, and makes surprising use of CGI given Hugh is an indy filmmaker).
The Spawn of Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft and Others
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books (274 pages, October 1971, $0.95)
Cover by Gervasio Gallardo
Lin Carter edited more than one anthology for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Up until now, I’ve not discussed any of them. One reason is that where I am sequentially, there have only been two. The other reason is it’s easier to discuss a single novel than the contents of an anthology.
I’m going to break with that practice for this particular entry in the series. Carter has built a thematic Mythos anthology with The Spawn of Cthulhu. Taking references to the work of other writers referenced in Lovecraft’s short novel “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Carter then proceeds to include either the story referenced or other stories written about the Old Ones mentioned.
I’m going to include some mild spoilers in this post. If that is of concern to you, then let this paragraph serve as your warning. The discussion will start after on the other side of the Read More link just below.
Let’s start with “The Whisperer in Darkness,” shall we? It’s 85 pages long, by far the lengthiest story in the book. The story concerns a folklorist at Arkham University named Wilmarth who is writing a series of newspaper articles debunking sightings of strange bodies seen in swollen rivers and creeks after a particularly bad storm in Vermont. The articles generate some lively discussion in the paper, and are eventually reprinted in Vermont papers.
I was first introduced to Mike Vosburg’s work through my love of Sax Rohmer. His wonderful artwork graced Master of Villainy, the 1972 biography of Rohmer by the author’s widow and Cay Van Ash. Later, I would discover Mike’s artwork also appeared in The Rohmer Review fanzine.
Many more years later, I was fortunate enough to have Mike provide the back cover illustration to my second Fu Manchu book. He also gave my daughter a gift of autographed copies of some of his professional work, which made her feel like the luckiest nine year old girl on the planet. I don’t claim to know the man well, but I adore his work and know him as a genuinely kind and generous artist.
There are several styles of interactive fiction games that can be found on the Internet, and while I’ve spent quite a bit more time with the Choice of Games catalog of adventures (my bias as one of their writers), I’ve also dabbled in a number of other games. Some of them are a bit more like CRPGs (computer/console role playing games) than storytelling, and combine words, pictures, and strategy games with the plot — they’re story heavy, but you as a player don’t really drive what happens next. Others, however, are quite a bit more open-ended, and Fallen London is one of those. In fact, Fallen London‘s greatest strength — the sheer quantity of it’s material and its open-ended paths — is also its greatest challenge.
In Fallen London, you begin as an escapee from new Newgate prison in a Victorian-feeling England that is populated by devils, rubbery men (reminiscent of Lovecraftian horrors or illithids from Dungeons and Dragons), people who have died but haven’t quite given up on moving about, and other strange things. You are, of course, a criminal, but it’s up to you to decide just how much you’ll continue to be one. You choose tasks, in text accompanied by small illustrations, that challenge and improve your basic statistics: watchful, shadowy, dangerous, and persuasive. The punishments for failure can be madness, death (though that’s not as permanent as you’d think), being the center of scandal to such a degree that you have to flee to a “tomb colony,” and suspicion to the point where the police arrest you. Thankfully, it takes quite awhile to build up enough failures to face any of these consequences, and sometimes being in prison or in a tomb colony — or even going mad or dying — can be just as interesting as the rest of the game. The “storylets” (as the folks at Failbetter Games, the company that makes Fallen London and other interactive worlds) help you both explore the world and build your skills, until you become a Person of Consequence (having raised one of your stats to over 100).
Directed by Andrew Leman; starring Matt Foyer, Chad Fifer, Noah Wagner, Ramon Allen Jr., and Ralph Lucas.
I cannot say I’ve ever been impressed with any film I’ve seen purporting to be based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft, as they have all tended to stray pretty far from what makes Lovecraft’s stories interesting in the first place. And they generally show the limits of their budget as well as being both poorly shot and acted. But then I heard about this little gem, distributed by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, that adapts Lovecraft’s foundational short ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ in as loyal and accurate a way as possible. Not only that — and here’s the really interesting bit — the movie itself is a black and white silent film, as if it had been filmed at the time of the story’s publication in the 1920s.
The choice to make this a silent film was a smart one. Firstly, it does help evoke the period of Lovecraft in a way no film before it ever has (all of the ones I’ve ever seen where contemporary pieces, for a start), and also makes it feel like a world apart from our own. In leaving some things unseen and unsaid, and in creating an at times stylized environment, this film activates the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks — and speeches or effects which would seem silly or dreadful when laid bare in a modern film are instead left in the shadows. In surmounting the very limited budget for this project, the choice could not have been better.