Tag Archives: h p lovecraft

The King in Yellow

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The King in Yellow by Thom Ryng:

Thom Ryng's The King in Yellow

This stage play text was written to fulfill a literary hoax, one that in fact helped to inspire the notorious Necronomicon of Lovecraft. In the weird fiction of Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow was a play with a degenerative effect on the morals and sanity of its readers. Thom Ryng is not the first to flesh out the text of the play; in his introduction he suggests that he is perhaps the eighth, and he refers specifically to two earlier attempts: one by Lin Carter and one by James Blish. (I’ve read both.) In the first edition of the Ryng text, the conceit was that the text had been recovered from a 19th-century French edition. In this softbound reprint, editorial and authorial matter confesses its actual late-20th-century composition in the distant wake of Chambers’ fiction. It has been produced on stage at least once, if we are to believe the current edition.

Materially, the book is a sturdy softcover volume with a generous font size. I was a little disappointed that the cover had the false Yellow Sign originally designed by artist Kevin Ross and corrupted in the editorial process for the Chaosium role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. (Chambers’ original Yellow Sign was probably the “inverted torch” insignia that appeared on the binding of early editions of Chambers’ story collection The King in Yellow.)

There is a vein of socio-political commentary that is disturbingly prescient (the author implies that it could have been causative), considering that the book was written in the 1990s. Readers are also furnished with a Hasturian incantation to achieve magical invisibility.

When I read this book, the experience was attended with appropriate inter-textual synchronicities. The Oedipus eyes of Thales echoed my recent philosophical reading in Nietzsche criticism (to wit, The Shortest Shadow and Foucault’s Lectures on the Will to Know). Also relating to that reading, but opening onto a perpetual return to a secret place, is the play’s portrayal of Truth as a phantom who is martyred.

Overall, I was suitably impressed, instructed, and infected by Ryng’s deposition from the ether of this dread volume. [via]

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Bones of the Yopasi

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Bones of the Yopasi, Arkham Horror: The Dark Waters Book 2, by Graham McNeill:

Graham McNeill's The Bones of the Yopasi from Fantasy Flight Games

 

The second volume of McNeill’s Dark Waters Trilogy set in the Arkham Horror milieu is an improvement on his first, in both style and substance. The first was passable, but the second was better. I actually got the impression that he had been reading some Lovecraft in between writing the two books, an impression bolstered by inclusion of features like an homage to the non-“Mythos” HPL story “The Outsider.”

Ghouls of the Miskatonic (the first book) was set mostly in Arkham, and in its sequel the focus transitions to Kingsport. At the same time, the plot pulls ever closer to the events described in “The Call of Cthulhu,” with Brown University professor George Gammell Angell becoming part of the team of investigators. The integration of various Dreamlands concepts is done in a way that meshes fairly artfully with the Cthulhu-oriented main plot, and there are still a couple of conspicuous episodes (including the final climax) of gory horror. There’s also some further exploitation of the “Arkham Horror” game characters, with author Gloria Goldberg receiving a conspicuous introduction.

Without going into particulars, I will note that at the end of this book there is a plot twist that I had been expecting since fairly early in the preceding volume, so it certainly didn’t come as a surprise. I’m not sure how McNeill was to have done a better job setting it up, but the whole thing was pretty transparent to me. (A related spoilering note is in my LibraryThing “Comments” field.) At the end of this one, though, I have no idea where the final book will go, other than to fulfill and complement the narrative of “The Call of Cthulhu.”

As with the first book, the cover art is very attractive and fitting. Game publisher Fantasy Flight does fine presentation, especially when it comes to Yog-Sothothery. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

The Dreaming Jewels

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Dreaming Jewels; The Cosmic Rape; Venus Plus X by Theodore Sturgeon:

Theodore Sturgeon's The Dreaming Jewels

 

This Book of the Month Club edition contains three unrelated novels by Theodore Sturgeon. The third of them, Venus Plus X, I originally read in a battered used paperback, and I’ve already reviewed it separately.

The Dreaming Jewels (also published elswhere as The Synthetic Man) was Sturgeon’s first novel. Written circa 1950, it is also set in mid-20th-century America, with an emerging substratum of non-human strangeness. “Yet—how many men walked the earth who were not men at all; how many trees, how many rabbits, flowers, amoebae, sea-worms, red-woods, eels and eagles grew and flowered, swam and hunted and stood among their prototypes with none knowing that they were an alien dream, having, apart from the dream, no history?” (181)

The comparisons I found myself making for this story were not to other pieces of science fiction, but rather to the horror genre. Without even engaging any extraterrestrial scenario, Sturgeon manages to evoke a cosmic indifference more effectively than H.P. Lovecraft ever did. And, by way of further contrast, he succeeds in making his characters both more detestable and admirable than any Lovecraftian people. Sturgeon had had plenty of experience in his short fiction at drawing vivid personalities, and it shows in this novel.

There is one element of the plot in the closing pages that I was not able to quite reason out: a happy twist for which I can imagine a justification, but which the text doesn’t seem to square away as well as a reader might desire. The prose throughout is graceful and efficient, and The Dreaming Jewels is a speedy, pleasurable read.

The Cosmic Rape remains on my TBR pile for the time being. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Nemo

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Nemo: Heart of Ice (League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill from Top Shelf Productions:

Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's Nemo from Top Shelf Productions

 

I was reminded once or twice while reading this book that Warren Ellis’s Planetary is a more effective 20th-century version of Alan Moore’s 19th-century League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than the latter’s own actual later League books are. Still, I enjoyed Nemo: Heart of Ice. It’s a beautiful hardcover on heavy stock at the price you might pay for a small trade-paper collected volume. The colors are especially beautiful, bringing out O’Neill’s art to great effect.

The story is both a sequel to Verne’s 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (with Nemo’s daughter Janni as the captain of the Nautilus, as established elsewhere in the League continuity) and a prequel to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, all wrapped up in “science hero” competition and animosity. It’s a quick but enjoyable read, and makes a curious little annex to the sprawling series by Moore and O’Neill. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Ghouls of the Miskatonic: Book One of The Dark Waters Trilogy by Graham McNeill, from Fantasy Flight Games:

Graham McNeill's Ghouls of the Miskatonic from Fantasy Flight Games

 

McNeill’s Ghouls of the Miskatonic is the first book in a trilogy premised on the “Arkham Horror” Lovecraftian gaming franchise. Derlethian might be a better adjective, in that both the typical gaming dynamic and the flavor of this book are closer to a Derleth pastiche like The Trail of Cthulhu than they are to HPL’s own Yog-Sothothery.

I haven’t played Arkham Horror itself, but I have played the lighter-weight spinoff Elder Sign, which I find quite enjoyable. Two of the characters available to players in Elder Sign are featured in Ghouls of the Miskatonic (Amanda Sharpe and Kate Winthrop), and these two—and probably others—are also Arkham Horror characters. I was a little surprised at the extent to which my interest in these characters was enhanced by prior game play. The novel also makes reference to Miskatonic University personalities established in the literary originals of the “Mythos”: Henry Armitage, Laban Shrewsbury, and others.

Ghouls of the Miskatonic is set in Arkham, Massachusetts, in 1926. That places it in the year following the main events described in Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (but before the narrator’s discovery of them). McNeill puts a lot of emphasis on Prohibition and other features of 1920s America that aren’t as evident in the “native” accounts of Lovecraft and his peers. Some of this works well. There is an occasional clinker in diction or dialect, and although anachronisms are mostly kept at bay, the assumed co-ed character of Miskatonic is a little off-kilter, as other reviewers have noted.

The story starts off from every which way; at least half a dozen seemingly independent plot strands are brought together over the course of twenty chapters. In the process, the extremely diverse cast of heroes are brought into social relation with each other as well, so that by the book’s conclusion there is a little band of defenders: three students, an anthropologist, a scholar of ancient religion, a journalist, a photographer, a Pinkerton, and a hoodlum. As the first volume of the “Dark Waters Trilogy,” I actually had to wonder if this wasn’t programmed by McNeill on the model of The Fellowship of the Ring!

The narrative is all provided in a pulpy third-person omniscient style, and while the characters’ feelings are described extensively enough, there’s not much to draw the reader in to share those feelings. A good helping of graphic violence is available, for the benefit of those who are drawn to the combat element in the games, I suppose. The cover of the book is both attractive and a clinically accurate depiction of the scene described on page 200. The volume does provide a plot resolution, while leaving a few key questions unanswered, allowing the demand for a sequel to be posed in the epilogue. It was a fast read, and I’ve already acquired the second book—though I’m not too proud to admit that a contributing motive for the latter was to secure the proof of purchase that will entitle me to a promotional component to be added to my copy of the Elder Sign game. [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Darker Than You Think

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Darker Than You Think by Jack Williamson:

Jack Williamson's Darker Than You Think

 

According to “John Carter,” the pseudonymous author of Sex and Rockets, the Jack Williamson novel Darker Than You Think had a profound impact on O.T.O. Br. Jack Parsons IX°.

The monster-type of the novel is a sorceror-lycanthrope-vampire, representing the genetic recrudescence of a pre-human race that has interbred with and become submerged in humanity. These other-people are called “witches” in the story, which might largely account for Parsons’ affinity for the terms “witch” and “witchcraft,” despite their forceful rejection by Aleister Crowley.

The book stands in many ways as a precursor of the Anne Rice formula of “anti-horror,” in which the sympathetic protagonist is a praeterhuman monster at odds with humanity. Particularly like Rice’s Interview with a Vampire, the Williamson story indulges in an initiatory plot-line, in which there is a gradual induction into monsterhood. There is also a thematic and mechanical correspondence to certain initiations and epiphanies described in Lovecraft’s stories (e.g. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “Dreams in the Witch-house”), where the narrator’s horror is compounded by discovering his identity with the object of his fear.

The character of April Bell is the unequivocal scarlet initiatrix of the protagonist Will Barbee. She is the Babalon who rides him as a Beast, most conspicuously when he takes the form of a huge saber-tooth tiger and and carries her naked through the night—an image repeatedly used for illustrations in the various editions of the story. (See Sex and Rockets, pp. 59 & 210, and the current Tor edition of Darker Than You Think, pp. 135 & 143, for different versions of this “Lust Trump.”) Of course the names are interesting as well: “Will” is English for Thelema, and “April” is the month of the writing of The Book of the Law. Darker Than You Think is full of an apocalyptic tone, embodied most clearly in the imminence of the reign of a witch-king called the “Child of Night.” (C.f. Liber LXVI, v. 2)

All of these correspondences must be chalked up to inspiration, rather than study. Only after writing Darker Than You Think, Williamson met Parsons, and eventually attended an Agape Lodge O.T.O. function, where he was favorably impressed by lodgemaster Wilfred Smith. But he never pursued any formal studies, and was left with the impression that Crowley was best characterized as a “satanist.” [via]

 

 

The Hermetic Library Reading Room is an imaginary and speculative future reification of the library in the physical world, a place to experience a cabinet of curiosities offering a confabulation of curation, context and community that engages, archives and encourages a living Western Esoteric Tradition. If you would like to contribute to the Hermetic Library Reading Room, consider supporting the library or contact the librarian.

Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult

Thomas Jude Barclay Morrison offers a critical perspective on the influence of H P Lovecraft’s fiction at “Debunking the Lovecraftian Occult” which may be of interest.

“The both delightfully and horrifyingly bizarre spectacle that we laughably refer to as “the modern world” is graced by the presence of a perhaps surprisingly large number of Lovecraftian occult ‘orders’, and an ever-growing body of writings concerning the practice of Lovecraftian occultism. This literalising of Lovecraft’s tales of crazed and diabolical cultists enslaved by monstrous, ancient god-like entities has to qualify as one of the most curious cultural phenomena, even by the standards of the already highly curious subculture of contemporary Lovecraftiana. I would therefore like to take a few moments of your time, dear reader, in which to survey this singular scene, and to challenge, perhaps, some of the presumptions and misconceptions that underlie it—please do not be alarmed, the process will be almost entirely painless, and I can assure you that you will feel much better in the morning.” [via]