An Occasional Look at Lovecraftian Anthologies
O.K. This is going to be the first in a series of reviews covering the many, many Lovecraftian anthologies on the market.
It would be completely redundant of me to regurgitate the well-known Facts in the Case M. Lovecraft (1890-1937). Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s massive impact on 20th century imaginative fiction is at this point indisputable and shows every sign of continuing on as much if not more vigorously in the 21st century. His name long ago began to be dropped into conversation even in mainstream literary society. Look at Joyce Carol Oates’s outstanding essay on him; or name checking by the likes of that late, great American gadfly Gore Vidal. Just two characters that you wouldn’t associate with a pulp writer who died almost unknown outside of his small, very limited but enormously enthusiastic circle of enthusiasts.
Although Lovecraft was inspiring imitators even during his lifetime, it was really with the explosion of interest in pulp writers like HPL, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith during the fantasy paperback boom of the sixties and seventies that he came into his own.
As anyone who picks up Lovecraftian anthologies with any kind of regularity will know, the field is notoriously hit-and-miss. The style runs the gamut from brave and innovative attempts to expand the form all the way through to utter dreck like the later Lin Carter tales, which sometimes appear to be little more than a check-list of Cthulhu Mythos deities. Many don’t even seem to attempt any kind of reconciliation with Lovecraft’s concepts, completely missing what D. M. Mitchell called, in his fine phrase, ‘a vision of cosmic alienation’.
The granddaddy of all the anthologies is Arkham House’s excellent Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. Sadly, my 1969 edition is lost in the mists of time, but I replaced it in the late eighties with the rather wonderful edition which updates itself with some new writing. It is a great place to start if you haven’t read HPL before. It covers several decades, going from unbelievably dated rubbish like Frank Belknap Long’s The Space Eaters through some of Robert Bloch’s more interesting homages and Robert E. Howard’s excellent The Black Stone all the way forward to Stephen King’s fine tale Jerusalem’s Lot; and with stories like Colin Wilson’s The Return of the Lloigor and Richard A. Lupoff’s head-wrecker (in a good way) Discovery of the Ghooric Zone. These two in particular were not satisfied with simply reshuffling the basics of the genre but in experimenting and pushing the boat out a bit. Alongside these and others there are two essential Lovecraft pieces—The Call of Cthulhu and The Haunter of the Dark— so August Derleth’s dream child remains the One-Stop-Shop for HPL beginners.
And keeping that in mind I am going to start elsewhere…
Next Week: The Disciples of Cthulhu — Second Revised Edition.