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Sonntag, 23. Juni 2013
The Disciples of Cthulhu
THE DISCIPLES OF CTHULHU
Edited by Edward P. Berglunf
DAW Books. August 1976
Cover Art by Karel Thole.
Editor's Foreword" by Edward P. Berglund
"Introduction" by Robert Bloch
"The Fairground Horror" by Brian Lumley
"The Silence of Erika Zann" by James Wade
"All-Eye" by Bob Van Laerhoven
"The Tugging" by Ramsey Campbell
"Where Yidhra Walks" by Walter C. DeBill, Jr.
"The Feaster from Afar" by Joseph Payne Brennan
"Darkness, My Name Is" by Eddy C. Bertin
"The Terror from the Depths" by Fritz Leiber
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 minutes.
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 harmed.
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 rescuer.
This one is actually scary.
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.
"The Feaster from Afar"
When you see the name „Joseph Payne Brennan“you know that you are in for a good time. And Feaster is no exception!
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 than objective.
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 he wrote….
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 Miskatonic University 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.
"The Terror from the Depths"
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 edition.
Take care and thanks for stopping by!