Sonntag, 10. Juni 2012

Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Volumes 1 & 2

“Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Volumes I & II”
 Edited by August Derleth
Published by "Beagle Books.  May &August 1971 
Cover price: $0.95 each 
                                        My 3 copies

                                           Beagle Books


                                                             Grafton Books UK edtion.

Volume I

Volume II
  • The Shambler from the Stars by Robert Bloch
  • The Haunter of the Dark by H.P. Lovecraft
  • The Shadow from the Steeple by Robert Bloch
  • Notebook Found in a Deserted House by Robert Bloch
  • Cold Print by Ramsey Campbell
  • The Sister City by Brian Lumley
  • Cement Surroundings by Brian Lumley
  • The Deep Ones by James Wade
  • Return of the Lloigor by Colin Wilson
  • Biographical material

„Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos Volumes I&II“were my introduction to the non-HPL “Mythos” Stories. They were originally published by “Arkham House” in a single volume and later broken down into 2 volumes first by “Beagle Books” and then later by “Ballantine Books”.
What’s also so significant about this anthology is that it came out before H P Lovecraft and his “Cthulhu Mythos” was a multi media million dollar industry that they are today. HPL was much more of insider phenomena back then.
I first read these stories the in the old early 1970s Ballantine editions with the “bizarre” “John Holmes” covers, and no, not that John Holmes. Considering the mood and subject matter, I find the covers to the Beagle editions much more appropriate and attractive. The Beagle covers are just oozing with a Freaky-Deeky/1960s/Cosmic Horror/Bad LSD Trip/Hieronymus Bosch vibe that fits the material like a glove. And of course that musty old book smell makes the experience complete. Like someone once said, “It stinks so good!”

If anyone knows who the cover artist is I’d sure appreciate it if you could let me know so I could give the person credit.

Here’s a quick summary, just in case someone is new to this stuff and has no idea what the “Cthulhu Mythos” is. H P Lovecraft wrote horror stories during the 1920s and 1930s. Most of these were printed in “Weird Tales Magazine”. He did something that was pretty novel for back then. He created his own mythology to use as the background to many, but not all of, his stories. The premise is that gazillions of years ago the earth /& Universe) was occupied by god like beings who, because they were so rotten and pissed off an even more powerful group of beings, got banned, for eternity, to other dimensions. They continuously try to break back through so they can rule the earth again and reshape it to their liking. This is very bad for us. And for whatever reason they are constantly assisted by loyal extra-terrestrials, Magicians and cultists. This is basically SF-Horror since the supernatural rarely has anything to do with the stories. Lovecraft was one world class letter writer and corresponded with dozens of fans and authors who became known as “the Lovecraft circle”. Mr. Lovecraft, by giving these folks permission to use and expand upon his ideas, ended up creating the first “shared universe”.

The books open up with a short introduction by “August Derleth (God Bless his soul) where he explains the “Mythos”. Sadly he has to go and compare it to “the Christian Mythos”. How he came to this conclusion remains a mystery to this day.I read once that Lovecraft himself claimed that his deities are beyond good and bad and operate on a completely different moral plain than we do and that the universe and “powers that be” are totally indifferent to humanity. As much as I admire Mr. Derleth as a writer, editor, publisher and champion of Lovecraft and many other horror writers, this attempt to place the Mythos into the boundaries of Chrisitan morality all but completely ruins the Mythos stories he wrote himself. Mr. Derleth has also taken a load of criticism which continues to the present day because of his so-called “Post-Humus collaborations” with H P Lovecraft. What he did was expand some fragments and storie ideas that were left behinf after HPL’s death and call these then “collaborations”. He even went so far as to include Lovecrafts name in the by line. Since then he’s taken quite a bit of pre- and post-humus shit this.  Considering everything that he has done for all of us I‘ve easily forgiven him for this!

Thirteen of the stories are from original members of the “Lovecraft circle”, 3 are from modern Lovecraftian masters and I haven’t a clue as to where “James Wade” fits into all of this. And when I say modern masters I mean that they are post pulp writers, even though they were fairly new when this volume originally came out back in 1969. I’ll go more into this later.

And now the stories!!

“The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft.

“That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.”

"Ph'nglui Mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn."
("In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.")

CoC pretty much sets up HPL’s vision in its entirety. This is the story that gets the ball rolling as far as the Mythos is concerned. Read this story and you can follow ever other story in these two volumes.

Cthulhu? Check!
Necronomicon? Check!
Being driven insane by dreams? Check!
Cults? Check!
Xenophobia? Check!
Tale told in flashback through diary entrees? Check!

Enough said.

“The Return of the Sorcerer” by Clark Ashton Smith.

Scholarly guy takes on a job as private secretary to some crazy old reclusive guy who needs his collection of books on and of black Magic to be organized. Old guy´s brother has gone missing. Things go bump and thumpity thump in the night. Of course it turns out the the old fellow is a fratricidal wizard using forbidden tomes. His missing brother was even more adept in the black arts and said dead brother has been in the process of rejoining his own dismembered corpse. Hilarity ensues.

To be honest this is one of the weakest Clark Ashton smith stories I’ve ever read. Now, if you are a CAS fan then you already know that weak CAS is pretty damn good so long as you don’t compare him with his other works. This is the same problem John Carpenter has. Do his later films only suck when compared to other JC films or not. Bad JC is still heads and shoulders above the competition. He only starts to blow when compared to his first 10 years of film making.  This is exactly the case with “RotS”. It’s a fine story if you are not familiar with all the truly amazing stuff that Mr. Smith was writing at the time.

Trivia: As an in joke HPL refers in a few of his stories to a dead Atlantean priest named “Klarkash-Ton”.

“Ubbo-Sathla” by Clark Ashton Smith
A fellow places himself in a trance to be able to more or less astraly project his conciseness back to the very beginning of primordial times to retrieve some tablets left by   some gods from even before the beginning of time. Our travelr meets up with “Ubbo-Sathla” who is the beginning of all life. The man becomes so enthralled that he stays and reverts to primordial ooze!
This isn’t the best story in the book, but at least Mr. Smith is using that wacked out genius of his to come up with the crazy plot line.
“For Ubbo-Sathla is the source and the end. Before the coming of Zhothaqquah or Yok-Zothoth or Kthulhut from the stars, Ubbo-Sathla dwelt in the steaming fens of the newmade Earth: a mass without head or members, spawning the grey, formless efts of the prime and the grisly prototypes of terrene life . . . And all earthly life, it is told, shall go back at last through the great circle of time to Ubbo-Sathla.
—The Book of Eibon.“

“The Black Stone” by Robert E. Howard
I covered this story in depth a few months ago and I won’t repeat myself all that much. I will say though that Robert E. Howard takes the Mythos and owns it! This is a perfect Lovecraftian concept being filtered through the juices of REH’s brain!  Usually an HPL hero ends up either insane, eaten or both. Howard`s hero seems, by the way he describes the events, to have gotten off with only a mild erection. Go Bob! Bob Howard wrote several Mythos stories all of which fall into the “Two Fisted” category of story telling. Nope, you won’t find any girly men in his stories. These guys fight back. Luckily for us, Brain Lumley resurrected this type of Mythos story.
This is the best non-HPL story in the entire collection.

“Hounds of Tindalos” by Frank Belknap Long
“The Space-Eaters” by Frank Belknap Long
Mr. Long was another member of the original circle who knew HPL during his life.
Both of the above stories a good examples of Mythos stories that don’t slavishly imitate Mr. Lovecraft’s style or writing.
“Hounds” is a nice little story about extra/inter-dimensional creature which can travel between and through angles. Nice idea and fun story that ends with the grand-daddy of all bad Mythos techniques!
“God, they are breaking through! They are breaking through! Smoke is pouring from the corners of the wall. Their tongues-ahhh-“
Have you ever asked yourself who in the hell continues to write in their journal as they are being eaten alive? I guess Mr. Long didn’t ask himself this question.
Don’t feel bad though. He wasn’t the only writer who’s done this.
“Space Eaters” is, I think, the 2nd best non-HPL story in the entire collection. What is so interesting is that it doesn’t take place in the universe of the Mythos, but in ours, where the Mythos is only fiction. What is doubly cool is that he doesn’t fall back on the old “HPL was trying to warn us but disguised the truth a fiction”. This also get used quite a bit also by some writers. I won#t say more since I also intensively covered this story back in April.    (THAT’S A HINT FOR YOU TO GO READ SOME OF MY EARLIER POSTS!)

The Dweller in Darknessby August Derleth
Beyond the Thresholdby August Derleth
These are two entertaining stories by Derleth. Neither of which is one of Mr. Derleth’s post-humus “collaborations” with HPL. That a point in his favour. What I like about “Dwellers” is that it has “Nyarlathotep” hiding out in the Wisconsin woods.  Wisconsin being Derleth’s New England makes for a nice change of scenery. Oh yeah, Mr. Derleth was from Wisconsin.  In “Beyond” we return to the woods of Wisconsin only to run afoul of “ITHAQUA”, the walker of the winds! Ithaqua is Derleth’s version the the “Wendigo”. Go and find a copy of   Algernon Blackwood’s “Wendigo” to see how this got started. I actually liked this one quite a bit. Later on Brian Lumley picked up the Wendigo ball and ran like hell with in a whole series of stories.

“The Salem Horror” by Henry Kuttner
 Henry Kuttner, before he became the über-famous SF writer and (husband of and) collaborator with the great C. L. Moore, was a member of the original Lovecraft Circle and was writing tons of stories for the shudder and horror pulps. He wrote several Mythos stories before moving on to SF greatness. He even added several of his own deities to the Mythos and used “Salem” as his own version of “Arkham”. Another of his Mythos stories, “The Graveyard Rats”, has recently been in included in “The Centuries Best Horror Stories” from Cemetery Dance Publications. As much as I enjoy “The Salem Horror” it basically come off as a poor mans version of “Dreams in the witch House”. It does have a nice nod to Robert Bloch by naming a character “Abigail Prinn”. You have to go to the Robert Bloch section to understand this “insider joke”.

“The Haunter of the Graveyard” by J. Vernon Shea
This is an odd one. Mr. Shea was also one of the original Circle’s members, but this is the only story of his that I have ever read. Secondly, this story seems to be originally written for this anthology since it’s not listed on the copyrights page and seems to be set I the 1960s since it‘s protagonist is a television “Creature Features” host. It’s a nice little story about a poser TV show host who happens to be an admirer of HPL and also lives next to an abandoned cemetery. The cemetery is also accursed by a group of dead cultists. This works much better as a straight up horror story which happens to have a few HPL references. It’s good fun and the guy does get eaten at the end.

“The Shambler from the Stars” by Robert Bloch
“The Haunter of the Dark” by H.P. Lovecraft
“The Shadow from the Steeple” by Robert Bloch
“Notebook Found in a Deserted House” by Robert Bloch
You could fill an entire Blog just writing about Robert Bloch and HPL. Mr. Bloch started out as very young HPL fan-boy and went as far as to get HPL’s written permission to kill off Lovecraft in a story. Lovecraft returned the favour and killed off Bloch in the next story. Later on, when he was a much more mature writer and had found his own voice, Bloch returned to the mythos with two very fine stories. These are all very worthwhile stories to read, even if they are fairly pedestrian “Yog-Sothothery”.

Now we’ll move on to the newer generation of Mythos authors….

Cold Print” by Ramsey Campbell
“Cold Print”, is in my opinion, the first great modern Mythos story. Mr. Campbell started his career as a teen aged writer of HPL pastiches set in the UK which impressed August Derleth so much that he had them all published in “The Inhabitant of the Lake”. That’s pretty impressive. I’ve always liked those early Campbell Mythos stories. They managed to be both goofy and truly scary. That’s not an easy stunt to pull off, especially when you’re just a teen. “Cold Print” was written after Mr. Campbell had found his own voice and style. It’s a great Mythos because of this and not in spite of it. It takes place in Liverpool at Christmas time where our protagonist is out searching for hard to find gay S&M porn novels. This alone gets right in your face since sexuality never, up to this time, reared its ugly head in the Mythos universe. Anyways, our hero finds a “special” back alley book shop that doesn’t exactly cater to his tastes. He ends up getting a hand joy. Just not the kind you might think I mean. This story is so creepy that it’s actually a little bit hard to read. It’s great, but actually too unsettling to be “fun”. Fantastic story though. It’s stuff like this that has made Mr. Campbell one of the all time great horror writer ever.

“The Sister Cityby Brian Lumley
“Cement Surroundings” by Brian Lumley
Brian Lumely was another writer who was “discovered” by August Derleth. Mr. Lumley was an MP Sgt. In the Royal Army who was stationed in Berlin at the time. He was such a fan of HPl that he wrote, for the fun of it, some Necronomicon fragments and sent them to Mr. Derleth. August Derleth was so impressed that he asked for more and a best selling author was born. I like Lumley so much because his stories and novels are pure plain pulp fun! Once he found hid own voice he started writing a sort of balls to the wall “two fisted” Mythos stories. His heroes didn’t die screaming. They went out with fists swinging and both barrels blazing and sometimes took the fight to the Mythos and not visa versa as was the status quo. “Sister City” is a follow up to “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and is ok, but not yet the Brian Lumley that we all know and love. “Cement Surroundings” though is what I consider to be the very first story outlining Mr. Lumley’s very own take on the Mythos and introduces us to his subterranean Cthonians and “Shudde M’ell.  This one is fun, over the top Mythos insanity.
“The Deep Ones” by James Wade
Aside from the biographical entry at the end of the volume, I have no idea who James Wade is. It seems that he wrote “The Deep Ones” especially for this anthology and isn’t a reprint. What his connection to the whole thing is remains a mystery to me. It’s a pretty good story though. Dolphin research goes badly, very badly. It turns out that they are in league with Cthulhu and the “Deep Ones” and the only group on to them is a hippy cult tripping on LSD (this is the 1960s you know.). But do the researchers at the Institute listen? Noooo! Dolphins also like having sex with human females (this is the 1960s you know.).

“Return of the Lloigor” by Colin Wilson
I like this story also. Basicaly Mr. Wilson creates a mirror Mythos that is the reality that HPL was only hinting about in his stories and disguised as fiction. Well as you know it, an eccentric explorer discovers the truth and tries to warn us all. He dies at the end. The story is well written and clever, but for some reason not very satisfying. Mr. Wilson has written much better stuff.

Well that’s it! I’m tired and don’t want to type anymore!
So go home!
The show’s over!
Cthulhu Fhtagn Baby!


  1. Loved these as a kid, & these are the editions I owned, having found them in my used bookstore of choice in Texarkana. A couple of years later I wound up exchanging several letters with J. Vernon Shea. I'm pretty sure that a mention of 'SALEM'S LOT in his Esoteric Order of Dagon zine (I was never a member of the apa, but he sent me at least one issue), OUTRE, is what introduced me to a young writer named Stephen King.

  2. That's pretty interesting regarding Mr. Shea. I've only read one other story of his. "The Old Lady'S Room". It's in the Derleth editied anthology. "Over the Edge".

    Take care.