Lovecraft at Large:
Returning to HPL by way of The Wrath of Angels, Joyland, Kraken and The Teleportation Accident
When I tentatively wrote the first few articles for this blog last September it was my intention to do several that related to the ‘30s writers H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. As timing would have it, however, this corresponded with one of those periods that hits even the most rabid fan every so often—and I found myself going through a stage where I couldn’t work up a great deal of enthusiasm for either.
Which is OK, of course. There is something seriously wrong with a person who only reads Lovecraft or Howard. Or for that matter who only reads Dickens or Dumas or whatever-you’re-having-yourself. They are out there, though; and for some reason Lovecraft in particular attracts them. Each to their own, of course; I just don’t think that it’s very healthy. And here’s another weird thing: I’ve come across plenty of strange people who believe that Lovecraft’s fictional grimoire, the Necronomicon is real (despite HPL’s repeated disavowals) but I am yet to meet someone who thinks that there’s a case to be made for the existence of Robert E. Howard’s Nemedian Chronicles.
Does this mean that Howard fans are in the main more sane and balanced than admirers of Lovecraft? Whoooahh, hoss! I’m not getting into that. I like them both.
But…at the risk of putting my own mental stability up for questioning I must confess that of late Great Cthulhu has been calling to me; has been beckoning me back to the fold. How else can I explain the fact that with every book I pick up I seem to come across a reference to the Prince of Providence? Here are just a few recent examples, ye doubters.
John Connolly’s dark investigator Charlie Parker finally got back on form last year. He had been hit-and-miss there for a while but outing number eleven, The Wrath of Angels, saw a partial return. And early on in the bloody proceedings we were treated to this exchange:
“‘You been to Providence before?’ asked Barbara.
“’Couple of times when I was a student. I was a Lovecraft fan.’
“’Yeah? I never really got Lovecraft. He was too hysterical for my liking, too overblown.’
“’That’s not an unfair criticism, I guess’, said Caroline. ‘But perhaps he was that way because he understood the true nature of the universe, or thought he did.’
“You mean ancient green demons with weird stuff covering their mouths?’
“’Hah! Not like that, although who knows? No, I mean the bleakness of it, its coldness, its lack of mercy.’”
Oh baby, you just summed up some of the appeal which drew me to him as a teenager.
But was one reference enough to make me believe that I was hearing the Call of Cthulhu once more? Well, I don’t know; but then there was a throwaway remark in Stephen King’s new thriller, Joytown. He’s talking about themes posted by students who never existed to a professor who never existed:
“One, I remember, was titled: ‘Sex Stars of the Orient’. Another was called: ‘The Early Poetry of Cthulhu: An Analysis.’”
Slight? Well, maybe. After all, the Maestro of Maine often finds a chance to drop in a little homage to the Great Man.
But surely the old squid-god wasn’t just calling to me, it was bloody screaming, when it told me to pick up China Mieville’s Kraken. Bloody Hell, what a colossal kick-in-the-ghoulies this book was!
See, I’d never heard of Mieville before. And I just thought in my innocence that this was a kind of mystery novel about how some bad guys had gotten a giant squid out of the London Natural History Museum, tank and all. What I didn’t know is that Paris Mieville has one of the weirdest, most completely out-there imaginations I’ve come across in a while. In fact, because I was expecting something straight I ended up punch-drunk and sensory overloaded.
You know how sometimes a reader will say that London or New York or Tokyo almost became a character in the book? Well, how about if I tell you that London really is a character in Mieville’s mad, mad world of cults and surreal hit-men. But was HPL speaking to me through Paris?
“’We’re the bloody cult squad, Harrow’, Baron said. ‘Why do you think we’re called in? Who do you think’s responsible for what’s going on?’
“’Teuthies.’ Varda smiled. ‘Worshipers of the giant squid.’
OK. This had my attention. Then Varda gave us a bit of his squid-philosophy:
“’Come on,’ said Billy. “This is batshit.’ He pleaded. ‘A religion about squid?’
“The little room felt like a trap. Baron and Vardy watched him. ‘Come on now’, Vardy said. ‘Everything’s fit to be worshipped…. You’re sceptical? Au contraire: it’s a perfect god, Billy. It’s the bloody choicest perfect simon-pure exact god for today, for right now. Because it’s bugger-all like us. Alien. That old beardy bully was never plausible, was he?’”
There’s more; so much more; but I was already reeling at this stage. The next time I tackle Mieville it’ll be whilst wearing a full suit of armour. And yes, Cthulhu himself even gets name-checked more than once. Those guys who believe that the Necronomicon is real? They’ll be sucking this up.
So what are the chances? Three books and three Lovecraft references. And now this one that I’m only half-way through. It’s called The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beaumont and get a load of this:
“Blimk wrote the address on another business card and Loeser paid him for Dames! And how to Lay them. ‘Do you have anything by that Lovecraft fellow?’
“Blimk went into the back room, looked through a filing cabinet, and returned with a magazine. ‘This one’s my favourite. The Call of Cthulhu. You can borrow it but I need it back after.’ It was a tattered copy of Weird Tales from 1928. This time, Lovecraft’s name was only listed in small type on the cover, the editors apparently having been more excited about an opus called The Ghost Table by Elliot O’Donnell, which was illustrated with a picture of a man with a pistol protecting a woman in a blue dress from a malevolent clawed heirloom. They would never have stood for that sort of thing at the Bauhaus, thought Loeser.”
And thus I admit defeat. It’s time once more to answer the Call; the Call of Cthulhu. It certainly can’t all just be a coincidence; but where to begin? Ah, but of course…
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far…”
Ah, HPL! I’m back!