Hi! This is my attempt at starting a small blog about, what is in my eyes, the golden age of Horror Anthology Paperbacks and a huge passion of mine. Update: I've realized that what is even more important is the people have to be made aware of these wonderful stories before they disappear forever. Most the the stories I mention here haven't been reprinted in over 40 years and most likley will never been seen again. They will be lost to us once these books are gone and forgotten. How sad.
Richard Matheson passed away 2 days ago on the 23rd of June 2013. He was 87 years old.
This is pretty much the end of an era when you consider that he was one of the last living writers to have contributed to Weird Tales Magazine during it’s original incarnation. Mr. Matheson’s first published story was “Born of Man and woman” which was originally published in the July 1950 issue of “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction”. This would be 63 years ago next month. During the ensuing 63 years Mr. Matheson published 28 novels, the last of which, “Generations appeared in 2012. 21 collections of is short stories have also been published over that last 6 decades! If this literary legacy wasn’t awesome enough, he also wrote 22 screen plays during this time. Many of which were based upon his own novels and short stories. Many of these films have reached legendary status such as Duel, The Incredible Shrinking Man, I am Legend (filmed 4 times), The Roger Corman/Vincent Price/Edgar Allan Poe classics; House of Usher and, The Raven , The Night Stalker and Trilogy of Terror. Who can ever forget the Zuni Fetish doll chasing Karen black around that apartment or Bill Shatner freaking out on that airplane as it gets taken apart by that gremlin directly outside his window seat? I was once asked to describe Mr. Matheson’s stories and I simply (if not completely accurate) said “Ray Bradbury with Teeth”. Mr. Matheson’s stories mostly dealt with horror in modern suburban settings. Very bad things happened in this universe to those who mostly didn’t deserve it. For a younger TV audience I’d say that you could sum up lots of his work as “Mad Men meets Hell Raiser”
Many of his stories were very hard going for me a youngster. Not because of his straight forward and unadorned writing style, but for the world he presented. It was a world of suburban families, modernity, station wagons and barbeque parties where just beneath the surface or around the next corner lay both natural and supernatural horrors. These stories were dead(ly) serious with no easy resolutions or happy endings. This isn’t to say that Mr. Matheson didn’t have a wicked sense of humor. You just had to look at his screen plays to see how funny he could be. Just take a look at “The Night Stalker”, “The Raven” or “Comedy of Terrors”. These are genuinely funny films of the blackest sort of humor.
Even if he is unknown to non-genre fans, Mr. Matheson’s work has become so iconic and culturally all persuasive that he has even been copied on the Simpson’s for one of the Halloween shows. That has to be the final proof that you have left your mark on our culture.
It’s genuine proof of Mr. Matheson’s talent and vision that even stories, novels and screen plays that he produced in the middle of the last century still maintain an edge and a relevancy that speaks to readers today in the second decade of the 21st century. Don’t forget that many of his most famous works were produced during the age of Eisenhower and they are just as powerful today as they were then. That to me, is a genuine timelessness that few other authors can match.
God bless you and thank you Mr. Matheson. Where ever you are.
You have enriched my life, greatly entertained me and lastly; you’ve scared the shit out of many a time.
Disciples was a rarity when it first came out in 1976. As the editor Mr. Berglund
states in his introduction;
"Whether or not there is a market for the Cthulhu Mythos stories,
established and amateur writers will continue to write them for their own and
their friends' amusement and enjoyment. It is inevitable that one or more
readers of this volume will be influenced into trying his hand at writing
within the Cthulhu Mythos genre."
He went on to later state (In
the Chaosium edition) that Disciples was „the first
professional, all-original Cthulhu Mythos anthology". This is very easy to
believe since Mythos fiction was not the huge industry 37 years ago that it is
today. Aside from one story I feel that Disciples is a wonderful collection,
aside from one story which we’ll get to later on. It’s a great mixture of well
and lesser know authors.There are even
three stories within the covers that have gone on to become fairly famous among
Lovecraft and Mythos fans. I’m talking about the stories penned by Mssrs.
Lumley, Campbell and Leiber. For my tastes the stories have also aged very well
except for the one story which, as I said earlier, we’ll get to in a few
The cover by Karol Thole is kind of odd. At first it’s a very striking
illustration, but the more you look at it the uglier it becomes. I can’t quite
put my finger on it but the more I stare at it, the more Cthulhu looks like one
of those dog things from “Ghost Busters”.
Now let’s take a look at the contents.
“The Fairground Horror”
Horror is a fine example that proves that when Mr. Lumley sticks to Mythos
orthodoxy he can do no wrong. I’ve read this several times over the years in
various anthologies and I always enjoy returning to it. I love stories with fair ground settings and Horror is no exception. A side show
proprietor and full time cultist travelling with a carnival uses Cursed
artefacts in his side show to supply certain Mythos deities with a steady
supply of fresh victims until his brother and a psychic investigator bring his
operation to a blood and gruesome end.
Like I said, I liked this one
a lot. Especially because Mr. Lumley didn’t take the August Derleth path of
splitting the deities into good guys and bad guys, or make them elementals.
This is purely straight up Mythos and it works extremely well. Mr. Lumely has
never let me down as far as supplying entertaining stories goes.
“The Silence of Erika Zann”
Silence is the only other James Wade story aside from “The Deep Ones”
that I have ever run across. I wish though that he had written more such stuff.
Silence is a very neat follow up to “The Music of Erich Zann”.
Silence takes the setting of
the original and moves it up to San Francisco of the 1960s and the counter culture movement. It seems that Erich
Zann’s grand daughter, Erika, is also an incredibly talented musician and
singer in an electronic avant-garde group. The music performed by her group is
so powerfully moving that it drives audience members insane. And with this
being San Francisco during the late 1960s, it doesn’t help that most of the audience at her
performances have been ingesting huge amounts of psychedelic drug. One thing we
learn in the story is that, before being literally consumed by her own music,
Erika has been getting her back up and arrangements from a “black man”. And you
catch on pretty quickly that by “black man” they don’t mean African-American. I
liked this story quite a bit even though the only thing I could think of while
reading it was “Austin Powers”. Luckily in this case, that helped more than it
Bob Van Laerhoven
All Eye takes place in
the wilds of northern Canada which is another
one of my favourite horror story locations. And since it’s in the wilds of
northern Canada we all know which
baddie will be making an appearance. Eye is a fairly short, but atmospheric and
suspenseful story. The ending is a good surprise which I honestly didn’t see
coming.The story is quite simple in its
execution. A couple of air/nature
elementals are playing cat and mouse games with a lost explorer and his
The Tugging is one fine story!
We get to see the cross over transition of Ramsey Campbell the excellent HPL
imitator to being RAMSEY CAMBELL!Tugging contains heavy Mythos and Mr. Campbell’s trademark decaying
urban horror. We discover first hand through the investigations of a local
reporter what an early 20th century cult and a mysterious planetoid
that is approaching the earth have to do with each other.
Its stories such as this one that made me become the huge Ramsey
Campbell fan that I am today.
"Where Yidhra Walks"
Walter C. DeBill, Jr.
Yidhra is my 2nd
favourite story in the collection. It’s basically a take on “The Shadow over
Innsmouth” by HPL. This time the setting is in the desolate hills of rural Texas. A man becomes
stranded in a small farming community and discovers why the townfolk don’t care
too much for outsiders. Take Shadows and
set in the south west and instead of mutant fish men and their god you have
snake men and their god. This is a very effective tale in spite of its core
theme being fairly derivative. I enjoyed the hell out of it though. And it has
a fairly happy end.
When you see the name „Joseph Payne Brennan“you know that you are in for
a good time. And Feaster is no
What I really like about Mr.
Brennan’s tales is that in comparison to HPL who described New England as being visually
attractive, Mr. Brennan describes of a New England that is harsh and
desolate. Mr. Brennan’s locations are not places of scenic beauty.Feaster
tells of what befalls a writer who rents an isolated hunting cabin for the
fall and winter. The area seems to be haunted by mysterious deaths/murders. It
seems that lone wanderers and livestock are found dead with innumerable tiny
holes bored into their skulls through which their brains have been extracted or
eaten. Damn, that creepy as all hell. I
love Mr. Brennan’s ability to build a strong atmosphere of desolation, a superb
sense of place and a good dose of grisly death. That’s just the way I like my
horror stories. Thank you Mr. Brennan where ever you are!
I better qualify what I’m about to say. I love Lin Carter. I think he
was one of the greatest genre editors that there has ever been. And as far as
I’m concerned he was also a very entertaining, if derivative, writer. I have an
entire shelf on my bookcase that belongs solely to his novels. I honestly like
him. I’ve even defended him numerous times online. If you asked me his
reputation isn’t as great as he honestly deserves. Now that I’ve made my
position concerning Mr. Carter perfectly clear I sadly have to say that it’s
stories like this one that make him such a such an object of derision and an
easy target to kick around.
I hated this story. It brought the entire collection to a dead stop.
This is just my opinion and mine alone. It’s an opinion that is more subjective
Seriously though, this story brought the entire collection to a dead
stop. Mr. Carter was always honest in that he was always upfront in saying that
he wrote what he loved. This is obvious when you look at the break down of what
ERB’s style Pellucidar.
ERB’s style “Planetary Romance”.
Leigh Brackett’s Mars.
Clark Ashton Smith pastiches.
“Dying Earth” mash-ups of Clark Ashton smith and Jack Vance.
Doc Savage Pasiches.
Lovecraft /august Derleth pastiches.
Zoth Ommog is a double
whammy of the worst sort. It’s an honest to God pastiche of a pastiche. In this
tale Mr. Carter does his take on August Derleth’s take on H. P. Lovecraft. If
you don’t already know it, what Mr. Derleth did was try to force the “Cthulhu
Mythos” into a moralistic framework by dividing the entities into forces of
good and evil. This basically goes against the grain that HPL set. HPL stated
over and over that morality is a purely human concept and that the Mythos
deities were totally indifferent to man-kind. These were beings outside of our
moral concepts. HPL believed the universe to be completely indifferent to Homo
sapiens, our needs, desires, dreams and our very existence.
Sadly, as far as I’m
concerned, Mr. Carter takes Mr. Derleth’s worst excesses and cranks them up to
11. So we end up with a cookie cutter Mythos tale.
The entire story isl told as a flashback police statement told in first
person regarding a fire and murder in the museum. Now that’s an original idea!
A young researcher from a private museum in California takes over his
bosses work after his boss goes insane and lands in an asylum. At the behest of
his crazy superior the young man studies his ex-bosses secret notes and files
only to discover (Gasp!!!) the horrible truth that is out there all around us. A
statue that was unearthed on a pacific island and about to be put on display in
the museum is actually a portal to another dimension, the avatar of one of the
ancient Mythos creatures and if put on display in the museum it will probably
come to life and bring about the end of the world!!!!!!!
In other words, He discovers the MYTHOS!!!
What we then get is almost 15
pages of Mythos background ala August Derleth. We are filled in on almost every
single deity. Their alignment to good or evil and their complete genealogy!
Seriously, he lists the familial relationships between every single Mythos
being, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousin and parents! ‘We find out which
of the four elements the particular deities are identified with. Carter then drags in every single tome of forbidden
knowledge that ever appeared in a Mythos tale. Book of Eibon, Unaussprechlichen
Kulten, The Pnakotic Manuscripts, Kultes des Ghouls, The Eltdown Shards, De
Vermis Mysterious, The Book of Iod, The G'harne Fragments and even "The Revelations of Glakki"!! The only
book that doesn't get mentioned is Lumley's Cthatt Aquadingen, which is odd
since Mr. Lumley also created the above mentioned G'harne Fragments! And
it doesn’t stop here. Our young researcher then travels to Arkham Massachusetts to visit the MiskatonicUniversity where Mr. Carter
then proceeds to roll out every Lovecraft character that was ever associated
with the University. What then follows is excessive amount of passages from ALL of the forbidden Mythos related
tomes explaining even more of the Mythos theology.
Finally upon returning to his
home in California the story comes
to a fairly abrupt end. The young man enters the museum at 4:00A.M. He discovers that the night watchman has been
murdered, a deep one praying to the statue and that the statue HAS COME TO
LIFE!! Luckily the young man has in his possession a Star Stone/Elder sign that
was presented to him as a parting gift from the staff of MU. He simply throws
the star stone at the statue. A dimensional portal opens up, swallows the
statues, melts the deep one and sets the museum on fire. The young researcher
after being charged with murder, theft and arson is found unfit to stand trial
and spends the rest of his days in a rubber room.
Seriously, I wanted to at
least enjoy this story. If you’ve been following my posts you’ll have noticed
that I have never before savaged a story like I’m doing now. It’s been ages
since I’ve reacted this hostilely to a story.
I’ve even coined my own
phrase for this kind of crap (And I wish that could copy write it.). I call
this kind of stuff “Derleth-scapades”
I’m also a huge Derleth fan. He’s written some of the best pulp horror tales
out there. He was also a giant as editor and as publisher. But sadly, just like
Lin Carter he had some serious weaknesses that easily overshadowed his
strengths and genuine talent.
“Zoth-Ommog is sooooo bad
that it almost sinks the entire anthology. We’re extremely lucky that the Fritz
Leiber closes off the collection and saves the day.
"Darkness, My Name Is"
Eddy C. Bertin
After the train wreck of Mr. Carter’s August Derleth pastiche, Darkness was a real palate cleanser.
This is a nice atmospheric story that does a pretty good job of turning the
hill region of German Franconia into Lovecraft country. Mr. Bertin is pretty
successful at doing this. The only problem I had it that even though I’m from Ohio I’ve lived over
here for 22 years now as a civilian and was stationed here with the Army for 6
before that. Anyways I live in Franconia and the “Jura Gebirge” he describes are highlands and not the true mountains as he describes
them. He also adds lots of text quotes in German that even though they are a
huge step above Hollywood Deutsch, they aren’t all that correct.
They story though is an excellent
one. Once again we have a writer/researcher investigating some German Mythos
texts. This leads us to an isolated Franconian village were once an ancient
temple complex existed. The villagers meet once a month under the full moon to
worship on the site of the destroyed temple. They seem to do this in their
sleep since they never have any memory of it afterwards. All they know is that
they shun the hilltop and avoid all contact with the outside world. This reads
a little bit like Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone”. I will say though that
it’s more than original enough to stand on its own and the comparison only
comes to mind afterwards. I liked this one quite a bit also. It’s a 100 times
better than the Carter tale that preceded it.
Terror is one of the
finest Mythos Tales that I have ever read. Fritz Leiber, even though he
corresponded with Lovecraft when he as a young man never wrote any Mythos
fiction until much later at a time when he was a long established master of
Horror, fantasy and science fiction. Mr.
Leiber was one of the few writers back then who could write a Mythos tale that
was thoroughly modern and lacking all gothic trappings that tend to burden some
HPL inspired stories. Terror manages to mix both a modern Hollywood Hills
setting with all the trapping of a genuine HPL story. We have insanity, death,
weird architecture, Hidden tunnels, subterranean, Miskatonic University, UCLA,
Psychedelic Drugs, chewed of faces and eaten brains.
I can’t describe this tale
any better. Fritz Leiber has always been beyond my ability to describe on more
than superficial terms. Even though this is 100% Mythos as HPL laid it out and
very orthodox in its interpretation, Terror
is first and foremost a Fritz Leiber story. And trust me; once you read it will
be a long time before you forget it!
Well that it for this time. “Disciples of Cthulhu” is a very enjoyable
anthology that is well worth digging up. It was even reprinted a while back by
Chaosium in a revised edition which might be easier to find than the DAW first
I’m sorry that I’ve been negligentand haven’t posted in two weeks. We’ve finally had some decent weather over here and I’ve been hard pressed trying to catch up on my gardening and I’ve also been busy trying to scan my entire paperback collection and posting it on Tumblr for those who only want pretty pictures. I’m working on a post for this coming weekend.
And lastly I want to let you all know that I’ll also be a guest blogger over at “Black Gate Magazine”. So please check it out if you have time and interest.