To Fight the Black Wind

Hermetic Library Fellow T Polyphilus reviews To Fight the Black Wind by Jennifer Brozek.

Brozek To Fight the Black Wind

This Arkham Horror novella is the one trained on psychologist Carolyn Fern, and it takes her from Arkham Sanitarium to the Dreamlands, a milieu that H.P. Lovecraft highjacked from Lord Dunsany, and which has featured occasionally in Cthulhvian gaming over the last few decades. Author Jennifer Brozek handles the story nicely, composing it in the form of Carolyn’s journal, as she moves through the events that demonstrate to her that it’s not her patient that’s pathological–reality is!

Despite the incidental presence of Arkham Horror characters, this story has less in common with the other novellas in its series than it does with The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe, a short novel by Kij Johnson published a couple of years earlier. In both stories the protagonist is a woman, and there is an important focus on the heroine’s relationship to a younger woman who helps to define the heroic task. Johnson offers a little explicit commentary on her own feminine appropriation of the Dreamlands, relative to their prior status under the domination of masculine authors and characters, while Brozek simply tells a story centered on women in the Dreamlands. (Both books pass the Bechdel test with flying colors, of course.)

The “Black Wind” of the title turns out to be a cover-name for an Elder God of great notoriety and familiarity to readers in this genre. Lovecraft’s Cats of Ulthar are conspicuous in this book: they talk, and they have individual names reflecting attributes that they embody or foster, such as Comfort and Foolishness. Brozek also uses the notion of “Ulthar” as the deity worshiped in Ulthar–a scarce conceit evidently not original here, but originating in the Sussex Manuscript of mythos votary Fred L. Pelton.

The glossy trompe-l’œil scrapbook pages at the back of the book (a standard feature of this series) are for the most part fairly continuous with the body text, since the larger part of them are just more of Carolyn’s journal. Foolishness the cat turns out to be one of the alternate signature cards for the Carolyn Fern character in Arkham Horror: The Card Game. Like Norman Withers in his novella Ire of the Void, these cards are for a character not yet otherwise available for the game. Carolyn is a healer who gets bonuses whenever she restores sanity to herself or another character, and I suspect she will be most useful in games featuring three or four investigators where she can play a useful and focused supporting role. Still, I think that my daughter will want to try Carolyn out in one of our two-player games; the dream cat is likely to prove irresistible. [via]