Synopsis: The nephew of an eccentric Professor of Anthropology discovers the horrors of the inter-galactic, flying cephalopod worshiping “Cthulhu Cult” while investigating the circumstances of his grand-uncle’s death. First-rate, tongue-twisting horror.
My Take: While I’m not much of a science fiction fan (relative to its real adherents), as a general principle I do try to give the seminal authors of all genres the benefit of the doubt. Most of the time, if you’re the best of breed in one genre, you probably have something to offer people outside of your niche. As a result, H. P. Lovecraft has always been on my list of authors to give a try.
His work, most of which was released in the mid-1920s has been deeply influential both within the Sci-Fi community (frequent references to his work on Boing Boing is a testament to this) and a broader fraternity of artists who take a darker perspective on the progress of human civilisation (including Stephen King, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Guillermo Del Toro, and Jorge Luis Borges). Writing before the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror genres were even recognised (they were collectively referred to as simply weird fiction at the start of the 20th Century) Lovecraft has subsequently become a canonical writer in all three.
So with this in mind, thanks to my trusty Kindle, copyright expiry and Project Gutenberg, I recently sat down with Lovecraft’s most famous work “The Call of the Cthulhu”. TCOTC tells the story of a young man who stumbles across a pre-historic blood cult that worships extra-terrestrial beings who look like a cross between a squid, a dragon and a man and inhabited the earth before mankind. In the abstract, it all sounds more than a little absurd, but Lovecraft is a dab hand at the art of story-telling and “The Call of the Cthulhu” unfolds with impressive suspense through three independent, documentary style narratives. While each narrative largely stands alone, as each develops, the narrator reveals a bigger, horrifying picture to the reader.
Lovecraft’s admiration of Edgar Allan Poe and the influence that the great author had on his work is obvious in TCOTC. Despite its globe-wide setting, the book’s first person retrospective format gives the story a dark and claustrophobic feel. Overall, it’s first class horror. Amusingly enough, despite its fame and cultural influence Lovecraft himself was not particularly enamoured with TCOTC describing it as:
“rather middling—not as bad as the worst, but full of cheap and cumbrous touches.”
I think Lovecraft is being a bit hard on himself here. Yes, it’s a bit absurd – but it’s well told and atmospheric – more than enough for a good ‘weird fiction’ tale.
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” Lovecraft’s protagonists are nevertheless driven to this “piecing together,” which becomes a primary plot device in many of his works.