The Disciples of Cthulhu
Second Revised Edition
Memory is a funny thing, isn’t it? If pushed I would have said that I discovered Lovecraft through one of the anthologies that I recall appearing in the ’seventies. Yet I’ve just noticed that Edward P. Berglund, the editor of The Disciples of Cthulhu described his first edition—published by DAW Books in 1976– as ‘the first professional, all-original, Cthulhu Mythos anthology.’
Since I was definitely reading HPL several years before that, then my memory is letting me down. I also have a vague recollection of picking up the paperback collection of his ‘revisions’. Was that it? Does it matter?
Well, not really, since the book I have at hand is the revised one from Chaosium Fiction and is listed on the spine as Cthulhu Cycle #10. It’s one of the better Lovecraftian anthologies although, as ever, far from perfect. For a start, whose bright idea was it to open with one of the worst tales in the collection, Brian Lumley’s The Fairground Horror? If they were trying to say to prospective readers: Look, the Mythos is a brain-dead vehicle for daft concepts but you’ll fly through the stories in ten minutes, then I guess they picked the right guy to open.
Brian Lumley always comes across to me as a good bloke and I wish that I could read his stuff with more enjoyment, but his Mythos stories (with the exception of the first half of The Burrowers Beneath) just make me cringe. Perhaps one day I’ll go back and try to read them as Quatermass-type tales; and perhaps that’s the way that I should have been reading them all along. With his idea of scientific foundations battling extraterrestrial horrors, that certainly works for his many fans. I just don’t get them, though. This one is set in a fairground…naturally…and is just plain embarrassing.
Much better is The Silence of Erika Zann by James Wade. It’s a sequel to HPL’s Music of Erich Zann and has the old musician’s granddaughter causing quite a stir in hippy-era San Francisco. Very retro and I really like this one…man. One to be read with the incense burning your nose and the Velvet Underground’s demented ‘European Son’ blistering your eardrums.
Next up is a very atmospheric piece from Bob van Laerhoven called All-Eye, set in the Canadian wilderness and carrying shades of Blackwood’s hoary old classic The Wendigo. Very tasty, until it goes completely ape-shit at the climax.
And so to Ramsey Campbell. This famous Liverpool writer began what was to become an illustrious career with very superior HPL homages which he set in a fictional English background that almost rivals the good old Miskatonic-Arkham area itself. Campbell was never just satisfied with imitating the Master and here we see a young reporter uncovering the early 20th century days of a Mythos cult. A high point in the collection, as is the next outing by Walter C. De Bill, Where Yhidra Walks. I guess that this could suffer comparisons with many a tale that has a young man stumble onto the site of an age-old cult, with echoes of even Lovecraft’s own masterwork The Shadow over Innsmouth; but it has a dark power all to itself.
A new story included in this edition is A. A. Attanasio’s Glimpses. Unfortunately, despite its early promise this is another tale that just goes over-the-top in the ‘cosmic’ stakes as it progresses.
‘Take that, you yellow-skinned devils!’ said Chuck Norris
When I next read Robert M. Price’s wonderful Dope War of the Black Tong I thought that I had found my favourite tale out of this collection. Here we have an absolute shit-kicker of a story from someone who just loves the genre and has immersed himself not only in HPL but also in the great Robert E. Howard, amongst many others.
“Throwing off concealing blankets and shawls, a handful of powerful, armed Orientals, their nationalities obscure in this rich gloom, sprang like Siberian tigers to meet the challenge of whatever army it was who had invaded their secret privacy. And it was an army: an army named Steve Harrison.”
I’ll have a bit o’ that! Pesky Eastern devils! And I want Chuck Norris playing Steve!
Price takes Howard’s two-fisted hero Harrison and throws him in with Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak, spices with some Seabury Quinn and a big dollop of Lovecraftian background. He gives us a tale that will have you smiling at Tcho-tcho driven references both obvious and obscure, thrilling to some great fight scenes and despite the humour he manages to keep it all rather reverential. He never sneers or looks down at his material and this in itself is remarkable considering what he has given himself to work with. A cracker of a yarn, and worthy of vintage ‘Weird Tales’ itself!
Bringing us back down to Earth (well, kind of) is Eddy C. Bertin’s Darkness, My Name Is. It’s another tale that could seem derivative—actually, it is—but as its investigator searches for a temple complex in an isolated part of Germany and uncovers the obligatory ancient cult, the atmosphere is tightly maintained and is yet another first-class story in what is by now a recommended anthology.
And then, wrapping it up just when I had thought that my favourite tale was the Price one, along comes Fritz Leiber’s The Terror from the Depths. Well, Price’s is the most purely enjoyable and I’m puzzled at why Leiber chose such a pedestrian title, but this one may just be the best of this fine collection. If you didn’t think that it was possible to take Lovecraft’s horrors, slap them out in the California sun and the Hollywood Hills and still keep their raw power, then think again: because Fritz Leiber doesn’t only do it, he manages to make it look effortless.
LOVECRAFT IS DEAD STOP THE WHIPPERWOOLS DID NOT SING STOP TAKE COURAGE STOP
Yeah, this one stays with you.
If you are starting out to explore Lovecraft and his universe and can’t get a hold of any edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, then you could do worse than to start with this anthology. Only…skip The Fairground Horror, all right?
Next: Lovecraft’s Legacy