Return to Lovecraft Country
15 Frightening Forays into the Lovecraftian Landscape
An Occasional Look at Lovecraftian Anthologies: 7
Hmmm… ‘Return to Lovecraft Country?’ I’m not quite sure that I’ve ever left it for long. Well, perhaps for as much as a year at a stretch. But forty-five years ago a boy of twelve walked through an angle that made no sense in the physics of this world and emerged onto a landscape where everything was…oh, just different.
Since then I’ve rarely strayed far from the Miskatonic Valley and the sinister town of Arkham, with its gambrel roofs and ancient mysteries; or the rotting coastal town of Innsmouth and the decadent descendents of old-time seafarers who still dwell there. Nor have I ever failed to keep Festival in haunted Kingsport by celebrating the true Yuletide.
It is evoking the spirit of this Lovecraft Country – which of course is as much one of the mind as Bradbury’s October Country – that editor Scott David Aniolowski hoped to achieve with this collection. And as always with any anthology there were a few misfires – but there were also several very palpable hits as well.
Located in Arkham, Connect the Dots is an eerie little piece by Donald R. Burleson that sets the mood with the smallest peek into a place where things are just that bit askew.
And they are reflected even more bizarrely in Don D’Ammassa’s Dark Providence when we visit the mirror city that may just have given a certain Howard Phillips Lovecraft his terrifying inspiration.
Sitting in on a conversation with The Arkham Collector would be a perfect afternoon for a book-lover such as Your Humble Narrator, even if I did find Peter Cannon’s conclusion a bit odd. Although not as odd as all of Fred Behrendt’s In the Times After, the collection’s first real dud for me and which features…versions of HPL and his wife Sonia.
Close Encounters of the Yog Kind
Which leads me nicely to the first hit: The Doom that Came to Dunwich by Richard A. Lupoff.
Cordelia Whateley (of an undecayed branch of the infamous Whateley family) is a young student of anthropology who decides to do her master’s dissertation on what really took place in the town of Dunwich back in 1928. Because of course it couldn’t have possibly been what HPL outlined in his classic The Dunwich Horror. Could it?
She discovers that a military style facility calling itself the Dunwich Research Project has been set up just outside of the town; and it is one of those scientific centres that makes you wonder what these supposedly brilliant people are using for brains. Jeepers Creepers, we’re only the humble readers and even we can tell that this is going to end badly. Why can’t they?
I’ve actually read this short story a couple of times over the years. Sure, it is a bit hokey in scenes and overly melodramatic – but is well worth it for the truly awesome description of Yog-Sothoth returning from the stars. The image of It coming over Sentinel Hill just reminds me irresistibly of the Mother Ship-conclusion to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
Except, of course, that this is quite definitely the Anti-Close Encounters. Try playing this yoke a pretty tune and you’ll lose more than a hand.
Mollie L. Burleson’s Keeping Festival takes us on a nice little break from the cosmic horror as she goes down Marblehead-way, including a wish-fulfillment Yuletide stroll with the Old Gentleman himself.
Then in Frank the Cnidarian Benjamin Adams gives us a tongue-in-cheek warning about the dangers of wedding into incestuous old Innsmouth families. Let’s face it, you know that your marriage is in trouble when the rival for your wife’s affections is her repugnant, frog-like father. Me, I would have taken that for a bad sign – but, given my history of romantic entanglements, what do I know?
Playing it straight – hellishly so — is Tuttle from James Robert Smith, a nasty little piece that has those annoying back-to-the-earth hippy-types learning the error of dropping acid in the domain of Shub-Niggurath, the Goat with a Thousand Young. The yuchhh factor is fairly ramped up here and it’s a goodie.
The Horror at Columbia Terrace is obviously part of a series and I hate coming along late; but it’s an OK piece from C. J. Henderson and acts as a sequel to HPL’s 1925 New York romp, The Horror at Red Hook.
Daisy Does Dunwich
With The Hitch Gary Sumpter gives us a sterling example of men who let the Baldy Fella do too much of their thinking and definitely don’t read enough horror stories. I’m as partial to a hot little country gal with Daisy Dukes and a body made for sin as the next dirty old man; but what if she was hitching in Arkham Country, hailed from a place called Witches Hollow and had a come-on like this:
‘”Thes hyar’s Black Pond,” she announced with a casual wave of her slim hand. “Tain’t no good fer swimmin’, mind, but sometimes I like tew cum down hyar an’ jest set a spell. Papa dun’t like me comin’ hyar after sundaown, he says it’s sacret an’shouldn’t be disturbed.”’
What’s that? Black Pond? Sacred? Shouldn’t be disturbed? Real nice meeting you. You can make your own way back, right?
Needless to say, that’s NOT what Our Hero said…
Now, while my innate and unapologetic cowardice would have me running a mile from young Daisy and her invitation to watch the sun set on Black Pond, I might have a slightly harder time in resisting that tantalising little turn off the main road in Robert M. Price’s The Shunpike.
When I hitched around Europe and North Africa as a handsome young thing in the late 70s, my inability to walk past half-covered side roads led me to some interesting adventures. And in literature I’ve likewise never been able to resist a story that features a small, forgotten community and picturesque little time-lost villages. The Shunpike, despite its overblown ending, is a good one.
Van Graf’s Painting, from J. Todd Kingrea is a story that I find terribly moving and upsetting, as a young man begins to live the lives of the characters in a haunted painting. I didn’t find it particularly Lovecraftian but again it is good.
But there’s good – and then there’s The Events at Poroth Farm by T.E.D. Klein. First published in 1972 by Necronomicon Press, this is one of the finest Lovecraftian homages ever written; and one of the others, in case you’re interested, is Black Man with a Horn, also by Klein. In fact, it isn’t really fair to make It sound like a pastiche: the forty-page Poroth Farm is well able to stand on its own in any company.
It is one of those lost little community affairs that I’ve already indicated I’m so fond of, this one being the town of Gideon, not far from New York yet a world and a century away. And as well as writing a truly eerie story (yeah, sometimes they forget to blink) Klein had the clever conceit of having the protagonist as a reader of weird literature. One of the best things that this did was to turn so many people onto the lamentably semi-forgotten Welsh master Arthur Machen in general and his superb The White People in particular.
The Events at Poroth Farm is damned near perfect. Yet incredibly editor Aniolowski managed to maintain the standard with the next one, Thomas Ligotti’s hideous The Last Feast of Harlequin, which I mentioned when reviewing Cthulhu 2000 on this blog. Until these two the rest of the tales had been commissioned for this volume. The Last Feast originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction for April of 1990.
The Curious Case of Mr. Carter
After the near perfection of Poroth Farm and the twisted nastiness of Harlequin, Aniolowski made the decision to wind up a pretty decent anthology with the painfully mundane Lin Carter tale, Strange Manuscript Found in the Vermont Woods.
Now look, I’m not one of those Lovecraft-heads who starts frothing at the mouth with the mere mention of Carter’s name – Jeez, that guy brings out the worst in them. I may completely loath anything he touched concerning Robert E. Howard’s Conan character, but his Lovecraft pastiches –and they really are pastiches in the worst sense of the word — truly don’t get on my nerves all that much. I just take them for what they are. They seldom amount to much more than a listing of Mythos Deities and Tomes hung on the barest threads of plotlines, but they can be like slipping on an old and comfortable pair of shoes at their best – although at their worst they almost read like parodies.
It may be the week that’s in it, with the regrettable release of Blair Witch, but it’s just occurred to me that Carter’s type of story is the literary equivalent of ‘found footage’.
Whatever the case, I made my peace with them a long time ago.
But if Return to Lovecraft Country wound up on a conventional note, there is nothing – and I mean absolutely bloody nothing – conventional about the next anthology up for review when I see you again — same Lovecraft time, same Lovecraft channel!
Next: The Starry Wisdom.
Return to Lovecraft Country
Trident Entertainments 1997