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Tag Archives: Bad Lovecraft

Feel free to listen to listen to the following while reading this post:

Yep, it’s yet another installment of “Things that irritate the Cultist about modern mythos fiction”, except for I can’t fully place the blame on post-Lovecraft writers. Lovecraft himself started this particular trend*, and by god, I just don’t like it.  Not one bit.

The trend I refer to is the depressing tendency for a huge number of Lovecraftian stories to invoke one of the following tropes:

  1. At the end of the story, the narrator reveals that he is in fact in an insane asylum, and can’t get anyone to believe a word of his story, despite the odd, potentially supernatural, clearly unusual nature of his infraction.
  2. Alternatively, the story begins with the narrator fretting about how he will surely be locked up in an insane asylum once he puts this story to paper, so unbelievable is the tale he is about to tell you.
  3. The narrator is fine, but he isn’t at the center of the story he just told you–the brunt of the horrible, terrible, unthinkable experience fell upon his close friend or relative, who now wastes away in an insane asylum.
  4. A whole bunch of things happened that were creepy and amazing and impressive and delightful to read about, and then at the very last minute, literally in the last two or three paragraphs, something happened that drove someone absolutely insane (and they are now in an insane asylum).  No one is quite sure what that something is, because the insane fellow can’t manage to string a coherent sentence together.  (I’m looking at you, At the Mountains of Madness.)

I’m not trying to insinuate that the loss of sanity isn’t an important component of a lot of mythos fiction–the bleak, impossibly vast nature of the cosmic entities (along with a sense of humanity’s complete powerlessness) combine to make madness inviting, far more preferable to the alternative**.  But…I have weird suspension of disbelief issues.  Which is not to say that I have trouble suspending disbelief, but rather that tiny details succeed in kicking me out of the warm glow of fantasy/sci-fi/horror.

Which is to say: If you act normal, behave normally, can put together a coherent/logical/convincing (if bizarre) story, command respect, and are a member of the academic elite (as so many of Lovecraft’s protagonists are), I find it very, VERY hard to believe that EVERYONE will immediately shun you the moment you step forward with your weird, unbelievable tale, let alone make a discrete call to the doctor who will trundle in the white coats and sippy cups at a moment’s notice.  (Seriously, is this how psychiatry worked in the early 20th century?)

Which is also to say: Even if someone is acting weird and/or criminal (for instance, if he just randomly shot his best friend) BUT there’s also something extremely strange about the case (let’s say, just for the sake of argument, that the putrefying corpse of his best friend’s wife has randomly shown up on the presumed-insane individual’s doorstop, with no sign of human intervention), I find it extremely hard to believe that literally no one would think about the case beyond, “Whelp, that was weird!  A truly strange coincidence that happens to align with your bewildering story perfectly!  Hope the food in the asylum isn’t too bad!”

Which is very seriously to say: There is literally NOTHING more disappointing than ending a story with “And then someone saw something SO BAD that it immediately drove him insane, but we have no idea what it was.  Whelp.  The end!”

(I’m not joking, not even a little bit.  Come up with a worse ending than that.  I challenge you.)

At_the_Mountains_of_Madness_-image002

I’m also not trying to say that incorporating the need for (or inevitability of) insanity is simple.  It’s very hard to tell a first-person narrative of insanity that straddles the line between coherency/disbelief and incoherence/verisimilitude.  I think it’s well worth the effort, though–when the balance is perfect, the uneasy feeling it creates is second-to-none.  Furthermore, I don’t necessarily think that a sight or experience that results in insanity necessarily mandates a clear, easy-to-visualize description.  It just absolutely shouldn’t be the last-minute twist to a story.  (Do I seem a little hung up on At the Mountains of Madness?  Maybe a bit.  I read it when I was 15 or 16, and I STILL remember that moment of letdown at the end.)

While “The Repairer of Reputations” definitely stands out as featuring a superb unreliable narrator, I think that insanity in general has been handled much more masterfully by modern writers.  The stories I’ll talk about on Friday showcase some of the most impressive improvements on the original source.

The Cultist

* I think he started it?  Maybe?  I’ve got an anthology of Lovecraft’s favorite horror writers I’ve been meaning to read, so when I’m finished with that I may be able to make a more educated case, but right now the only Lovecraft predecessor I can think of who pulled out the “I’m so utterly INSANE!” stops was Robert W. Chambers, who noted in the afterward to “The Repairer of Reputations” that the narrator died in an insane asylum.  I’m reasonable okay with this.

**To quote Captain Ahab:

Thy shrunk voice sounds too calmy; sanely woeful to me. In no paradise myself, I am impatient of all misery in others that is not mad. Thou should’st go mad, blacksmith; say, why dost thou not go mad? How can’st thou endure without being mad? Do the heavens yet hate thee, that thou can’st not go mad?

***Wellllll…I heard a rumor that not only was Guillermo del Toro was going to make the story into a movie, but that Cthulhu would show up. Everything happening + Cthulhu randomly showing up at the end and driving the one guy who saw him insane=Possibly a more disappointing ending. Possibly.

First of all, sorry about missing the Monday post.  I have no excuses.  But I’m back now!  And I’m here to whine about stuff again!

Specifically, I’m here to kick off my new series: Problems in Lovecraftian fiction!  (Or, more informally, Things in mythos fiction that drive me up the fucking wall, and what can be done about them.)

I’m not trying to be a total jerk about it. World-building in fantasy and sci-fi is hard, but on some level, I think that utilizing the world and characters of another writer can be harder. Creating something new within pre-established boundaries results in numerous pitfalls that can (and do) trap even the best writers. So, in this series, I’ll be discussing a handful of what I think are the most common issues that reduce the appeal of modern Lovecraftian fiction—by highlighting both stories that fall prey to these problems as well as stories that blaze new paths to avoid them, my goal is to ultimately come to a better understanding of what makes good horror.

At this point, I think it’s fair to say that I am highly specialized in modern weird fiction.  And, to be sure, specialization has many rewards, but I’ve found that with the rewards come unexpected trade-offs. As I read more and more Lovecraft/Lovecraft-inspired anthologies, I began to realize that stories that I would have loved unreservedly in the past were now inspiring a kind of dull frustration. To highlight what I mean, I ask you to examine the following phrases:

Bug-eyed. Pop-eyed. Fish-eyed. Something about him reminded me of Peter Lorre. Glassy stare. Her face was reminiscent of Betty Davis. Squat. Recessed jaw. Protuberant eyes. I didn’t like the way they never seemed to blink. Frog-like. Clammy hands.

Bug-eyed. Pop-eyed. Fish-eyed. Something about him reminded me of Peter Lorre. Glassy stare. Her face was reminiscent of Betty Davis. Squat. Recessed jaw. Protuberant eyes. I didn’t like the way they never seemed to blink. Frog-like. Clammy hands.

If you haven’t read much Lovecraft, you’ve probably sussed out that these traits are all describing a very specific, probably somewhat moist and amphibious character, but you don’t really see a problem beyond that (and thus you think I’m a huge snob). If you’re familiar with Lovecraft’s works but don’t’ read a lot of mythos fiction, you’ve probably recognized these qualifiers as a way of characterizing an inhabitant of Innsmouth, but again, you don’t see what the big deal is (but here I am making a fuss, and therefore I am a huge snob). So, to be completely fair, I should clarify—I don’t mind these descriptors in and of themselves, but they can be easily problematic.

I feel a little guilty pointing this out, because the stories themselves are often fantastic and beautifully written—and it is truly a problem on the part of a very specific class of reader who knows too much through experience.  For example, take a few of the stories from The Book of Cthulhu. Here’s a line from the beginning of “Bad Sushi”, by Cherie Priest, as a chef catches a glimpse of the new delivery boy bringing a shipment of fish from a mysterious new seafood company:

He walked like a sea lion, with a gently lumbering gait—as if he might be more comfortable swimming than walking. His big, round eyes stared straight ahead as he made his deliveries.

So, while we’re surely intended to recognize the delivery boy as weird or off, he’s juuuust a little too familiar to the experienced mythos reader. And sometimes that’s okay, depending on where the story will go.  For example, if it takes place in Innsmouth, I think all bets are off, and it’s okay to describe the inhabitants as they are.  But if the story relies on surprise, like in the case of “Bad Sushi” (just who is behind this mysterious seafood company, anyway?), the punch is completely gone, and the dramatic buildup suffers terribly.

IMG_7018Innsmouth Bus Driver, by Casey Love

But herein lies one of the catch-22s of Lovecraft mythos fiction. Here I am whining about a rather blatant application of dramatic irony (*I* know these people aren’t fully human, but our fearless protagonist hasn’t got a clue! WHOA!) and, at worst, a complete spoiling of a surprise.

But can you really write mythos stories about Innsmouth that don’t involve a few of these qualifiers?  I can only imagine the tone my complaints would take then.  WTF, you know, this is Innsmouth, why is everyone just trotting around like everything is normal.  How were we supposed to know those were Deep Ones?  You can’t just spring that shit on us.   To be fair, this is a problem with short fiction in general, summarized neatly by Chekov’s gun, which I will write more about later: if you don’t drop enough hints at the beginning, the ending will be surprising in the most unsatisfying way possible. A crappy deus ex machina.

A prime example of Chekhov’s gun.  Except for not really.  Mostly I just love this sketch and was waiting for an opportunity to post it.

So, what can be done?  How can Innsmouth mythos fiction be written in a way that it’s approachable for the newcomer and yet still surprising and frightening to someone familiar with Lovecraft’s universe?  It is difficult, but by no means impossible.  And, more importantly, it’s unbelievably fantastic when the subject is handled well.  A handful of weird fiction authors have succeeded masterfully, and I’ll write about a few of my favorite examples on Friday.  Stay tuned!  (And if you have any personal favorites, feel free to add them to the comments!)

The Cultist

A note on this week: As I wrote a few days ago, I’m pretty uncomfortable with the apparent tendency of Lovecraft scholars to write off Derleth entirely. But I knew almost nothing about him as a writer, so I picked up The Watchers Out of Time and The Cthulhu Mythos. Having read an arguably representative sample of his weird fiction, I realized my feelings toward his work were extremely complicated, difficult to organize into a single post. As such, this week’s longer posts (and now, a bonus post on Monday!) will be devoted to Derleth.

Lovecraft scholars don’t like Derleth. Just on principle, this struck me as tremendously wrong—like remembering someone who risked life and limb saving Mozart’s original scores from a fire as, first and foremost, a person with a terrible ear. Don’t we owe him at least a little of our respect and consideration?

But, there’s a key difference between respecting a person and insisting he’s a great writer. So, while I definitely want to honor Derleth and give him his due as a key figure in the history of modern horror for the role he played in popularizing Lovecraft*, I also wanted to take the opinions of those far more learned than I into consideration. So, in today’s posts, I’ll try to address what I see as the main academic criticisms of Derleth’s fiction.

Criticism: It seems that Lovecraft wanted the central figure of his horror stories to be Yog-Sothoth, a mysterious, all-powerful cosmic entity. Derleth shifted the focus away from Yog-Sothoth to emphasize Cthulhu: hence, the Cthulhu Mythos instead of Yog-Sothothery.

Do I agree? Not really, though I see how it raised the potential for future problems

Why? Yog-Sothoth sees all and knows all. He grants his followers knowledge, but too much knowledge brings certain doom—given this aspect of his nature, I completely see why Lovecraft wanted him at the forefront of his mythos, as it encapsulates the key aspects of his horror philosophy. But, in terms of seizing the public’s imagination…Remember my post in which I complained that squids aren’t scary? Well, get a load of Yoggy**:

Imagination called up the shocking form of fabulous Yog-Sothoth—only a congeries of iridescent globes, yet stupendous in its malign suggestiveness.

Yep. He’s literally made out of bubbles.

mrbubble_logo

I’m the gate, I’m the key!

Derleth, I think, was much more politically savvy than Lovecraft. He worked as an editor for the Madison Capital Times, and so I think he had a much better idea of how to get attention. So, in addition to toning down the unbelievable racism and sexism, he also found a figure that was much more conventionally monstrous, and thus more likely to grab attention. And in that, he succeeded tremendously. But therein lies the key, unavoidable problem in making Cthulhu the central figure: he IS much more conventionally monstrous. By focusing on him, you’re running the risk of cheapening the mind-bending, cosmic element that makes Lovecraft horror so great.

Criticism: Derleth focuses too much on the battle between good and evil. Many of his stories involve blatant references to Satanism in the same breath that they mention Cthulhu. In doing so, he puts the mythos in distinctly Judeo-Christian terms: it oversimplifies the themes immensely, and cheapens them.

Do I agree? Yes, although I’d argue that excellent mythos fiction *can* embody themes of good and evil.

Why? From a fan’s uninformed perspective? Honestly, it’s just really jarring. Black masses, demon familiars, witches and sorcerers…I love mythos fiction for its sheer inventiveness, and none of these things are particularly novel. They can be made to be novel, absolutely—but Derleth doesn’t really seem to strain himself to try. So, I would have to agree: whenever the focus is on devil-worshippers and whatnot, the stories themselves just seem much, much less compelling.

But! Two points in Derleth’s favor. The first is the fact that, despite several criticisms I’ve read, the sense of inevitable doom remains the same regardless of whether or not the abomination is evil or just incomprehensible. Most of his protagonists don’t make it out unscathed—the narrator might be fine, but the unsuspecting/undereducated victim that saw fit to monkey around with skin-bound tomes is almost certainly fucked beyond any recognition. And I would argue that themes of good and evil can be blended seamlessly into a great mythos story. It’s very easy to mistake the Lovecraftian abominations as evil: they’re so destructive (and their cults are so bloodthirsty) that of course they seem almost satanic in nature. And even if they’re not evil, those surrounding them usually are. Take T.E.D. Klein’s Black Man with a Horn, one of my favorites of all time. It begins with a missionary fleeing a group of, in his words, the most purely evil people he had ever encountered. Straightforward, Judeo-Christian—but it’s an amazing story, because the theme of good versus evil is used to advance the plot, not define it. And it does make sense. Evil-doers, potential evil-doers, evil cults, or sorcerers—why wouldn’t they be attracted to a source of inconceivable, destructive power? The problem with Derleth isn’t that he incorporated religious struggle—it’s that he didn’t do it in a very interesting way.

Criticism: Seriously, WTF is with all the elementals?

Do I agree? No in principle, yes in practice

Why? This requires a bit of clarification. Derleth liked to define his abominations as of the earth, air, fire, or water. For example, Cthulhu is a water elemental (obviously); Ithaqua (basically the Wendigo) is an air elemental; and C’thalpa (Ithaqua’s mortal enemy, don’cha know) is a fire elemental. I HATE this. I don’t get the point, I don’t think adds anything to my understanding of the story, and whenever it comes up, I feel like I’m watching Captain Planet.

captain planet

 

Ithaqua!  Ithaqua cf’ayak vulgtmm!  Cthulhu fhtagn!  Shub-Niggurath!  C’thalpa!  With our powers combined…

But…as I’ve said many a time, the beauty of Lovecraft’s writing is how flexible it can be. So, in principle, I fully support Derleth’s right to experiment with this. But—I am only about halfway into The Cthulhu Mythos at this point. If the heart elementals show up, I might have to quit.

I’m ending on a snarky note, but on Monday, I’ll tell you about the one story Derleth wrote that made me completely re-think his work. Stay tuned!

The Cultist

 

*I will actually be giving a talk to this effect in the near future! Look for a short video sometime in September, assuming I figure out how to work a camera and upload a movie to the internets.

**Forgive me, oh Yog-Sothoth, and accept this paean in your honor.

A note on this week: As I wrote a few days ago, I’m pretty uncomfortable with the apparent tendency of Lovecraft scholars to write off Derleth entirely. But I knew almost nothing about him as a writer, so I picked up The Watchers Out of Time and The Cthulhu Mythos. Having read an arguably representative sample of his weird fiction, I realized my feelings toward his work were extremely complicated, difficult to organize into a single post. As such, this week’s longer posts will be devoted to Derleth.

Well, you were warned: Today and Friday, I’ll be discussing that which drives me nuts in Derleth’s fiction. Friday will be all about the content—specifically, the changes Derleth made to Lovecraft’s original vision that really seem to irk serious Lovecraft scholars. Today’s post is about things that irk me*:

Nothing is allowed to stand alone: One of the things that kind of grew increasingly irritating as I read more and more was Derleth’s dogged determination to link every part of the mythos together. Pretty much every protagonist encountered in a Derleth mythos story is, in some way, tied to the residents of Innsmouth or the Whateleys. You can’t just have a story about Cthulhu—it has to be noted that he’s allied with Azathoth and Dagon and everyone else, and he’s the half-brother of Hastur, and the lot of them were expelled into space by the beneficent Elder Ones (more about that on Friday). Lovecraft is definitely guilty of mythos info-dumps in his incantations and scrawled notes written by people going insane (“AAAAAAHHH ai’alghyay’a Nyarlathotep Chthulhu Tshup Aklathep**” and so forth), but Derleth is determined to tie everyone together into one delightful infernal family. And I don’t think it always works so well. By emphasizing the pantheon—family ties, inner battles, and the like—we’re putting the unthinkable into deeply human terms. I think the overall effect is weak.

Derleth is VERY concerned that you’ll find the unthinkable a little too thinkable, and as a result, everyone’s priorities are skewed: The abominations of Lovecraft are unknowable and incomprehensible. We know this because everyone who encounters one either goes completely insane or completely fails when he tries to put words to paper. (Yes, the “It was just so terrible there’s literally no way I could be expected to describe it” does get old, but it is, at least, completely in line with the universe Lovecraft created.***) Derleth really, really wanted his abominations to be equally incomprehensible. He did this by making his protagonists tell you that they really, REALLY didn’t understand what was going on. At all. Despite the fact that point #1 (the fact that all of the gods are organized into neat lineages, with clear goals and motivations) necessarily refutes a complete lack of understanding. Even more weird, the protagonists are all very clear that the HORROR of NOT REALLY GETTING IT is far worse than the horror of, say, getting their face eaten off. It’s a little perplexing when the narrator pauses while getting menaced by Nyarlathotep and his faceless, formless minions to fret that his true fear is that he will never fully comprehend the situation.

You’ll only be surprised if you’re not paying attention: I’m not sure if it was the style of the times or he had little faith in his readers (or he was afraid that they’d be lost by Lovecraft’s subtlety), but Derleth is by no means a master of foreshadowing. And by that I mean, he foreshadows all the damn time, in the most obvious possible way, and uses these hints over and over and OVER again in all of his stories. It’s really kind of disappointing. The Watchers Out of Time ends with a fragment that was uncompleted when he died, but I was not perturbed by the lack of an ending.  I was 98% confident that I knew where the story was going. AND ALL OF HIS STORIES ARE LIKE THAT. I can’t even blame being too familiar with the mythos because he goes off-script too much for that to be the reason. But let’s see…Let’s say you’re a Derleth protagonist. You’ve bought a mysterious, evil professor’s house. The professor died, recently, but no one really saw his body, and he was buried on the grounds. You keep smelling the scent of reptiles (whatever that might be), and then you find all his old notes indicating that the secret to immortality might lie in attaining a semi-human, semi-reptilian form. You keep seeing this strange figure haunting the grounds, and you suspect that your neighbor is parading around in a reptile mask to mess with you. (I’m not even making this up.) If you register one ounce of surprise when an ageless, half-man half-lizard creature shows up to reclaim his property, you pretty much deserve whatever’s coming, abomination-wise.

Everyone is an idiot: BUT EVERYONE IS ALWAYS SURPRISED. Many of his stories feature the world’s most moronic protagonists. To be fair, this gets a bit better as time went on and his work got stronger, but it’s still unbelievably off-putting. Everyone tries to explain away their TOTAL CREDULITY—I’m a man of science, I’m a logical person, I know this sort of thing isn’t real even when a freaking tentacle is making its way through the foyer and a succubus has taken up residence in the attic—and it falls unbelievably flat. Derleth also has an annoying habit (probably taken from Lovecraft, though I don’t honestly remember seeing it that much) of concluding each story with a sentence in italics that ends in an exclamation point, regarding some summarizing detail of the inexplicable horror just to drive the point home.

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. You remember that story above, with the reptiles and silly lizard mask? How do you think it’s going to end? Well…

flogging_a_dead_horse

Just a little more…

All this I saw before a merciful unconscious overcame me,–for I had seen enough to recognize what lay in that coffin—him who had lain there in a cataleptic torpor since 1927, waiting his turn to come back in a frightfully altered form to live again—Dr. Jean-Francois Charriere, surgeon, born in Bayonne in 1636, “died” in Providence in 1927—and I knew that the survivor of whom he had written in his will was none other than himself, born again, renewed by a hellish knowledge of long-forgotten, eldritch rites more ancient than mankind, as old as that early vernal earth on which great beasts fought and tore!

(To the narrator’s credit, this is a hell of a long thought to think before succumbing to unconsciousness.)

But. If someone were to ask me why Derleth was a pale imitation of Lovecraft, I’d show him or her this post, but nearly all serious horror authors would indicate that I’ve been griping about the peeling wallpaper when the whole damn foundation is set to crumble. Stay tuned for Friday’s post…

The Cultist

 

*Because of course a biology grad student who has read a bunch of horror fiction and has OPINIONS on it, goddamn it, deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as S.T. Joshi and Robert M. Price. Why the hell not?

**The Infernal Star Toad with A Million Young, who kills its victims by showing them pictures of its children until their brains implode. From Terry Pratchett’s Moving Pictures.

***I like to think that “The Unnameable” (1923) is more or less a deliberately raised middle finger to everyone who complains about this sort of thing: in this story, H.P. Lovecraft Randolph Carter is talking to a friend who kind of pooh-poohs the notion that some horror can’t be readily perceived by the five senses****, and, as a result, spends the night at an abandoned house where an inexplicable presence is said to lurk. And, wouldn’t you know, they get attacked, and in the final passage, his friend is forced to recognize that Carter is ACTUALLY 100% RIGHT, BOOYAH.

It was everywhere — a gelatin — a slime — yet it had shapes, a thousand shapes of horror beyond all memory. There were eyes — and a blemish. It was the pit — the maelstrom — the ultimate abomination. Carter, it was the unnamable!

****There are in fact way more than five senses*****. For example, touch can be broken down into a number of components (pressure, heat, pain) that count as individual senses. The sense of proprioception lets you know where your body is in space, the sense of balance keeps you upright…but we will give Lovecraft a pass on this one.

*****When I was in grade school, my school counselor told us all there were actually SIX senses—sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste, and YOUR FEELINGs. Make of that what you will.

One of the things that I love the most about modern mythos stories is their sheer creativity. I am not a purist in any sense of the word. I’m much less impressed by stories that replicate Lovecraft’s tone and structure perfectly than stories that toss elements of his fiction into the most unlikely settings and somehow—how?—make it work. The weirder the premise, the more intrigued I am. A detective story and tribute to Arthur Conan Doyle in a world where Queen Victoria is an elder god?  Amazing.  A history of the Cold War in which the USSR and USA struggle to weaponize the technologies and powers written about in the Necronomicon? It’s one of the bleakest, realest stories I’ve ever read. And while I can be critical, I do try to keep a lid on my own judgment unless I’m explicitly reviewing a book or story—I’m certain that half of the stories that I hold closest to my heart would make a serious Lovecraft scholar vomit, so who am I to roll my eyes at something that might be just as dear to another cultist?

In summary: I started this blog to celebrate weird fiction, not to shit on it.

But, you guys.

I just read the worst piece of Lovecraftian fiction ever written. The. Worst.

And ordinarily, I would just keep this to myself, because I aspire (in general) to not be a complete asshole, either by ruining works of fiction by picking them apart or insulting authors who love this genre as much as I do, but ultimately I decided to write this post for three reasons:

  • The work was published in 1949, so I’m well past any risk of spoilery.
  • The author died in 1966, so I’m doing nothing to discourage or insult an active writer.
  • It is so sincere in tone and so astoundingly bad in content that it has brought me tremendous, unironic joy, and I wish to share it with you.

 

I won’t hold you in suspense any longer. The worst piece of Lovecraftian fiction in existence is “The Final War”, by David H. Keller. It’s a very short piece, but I promise you, it will linger in your mind long after you’ve closed the book, or thrown it across the room in disbelief or disgust.

A brief biographical note, derived entirely from Wikipedia: David H. Keller was a practicing psychiatrist who wrote for pulp magazines under a variety of pseudonyms. As per a sci-fi historian: “Keller’s conceptual inventiveness, and his cultural gloom, are worth more attention than they have received; it is also clear that he fatally scanted the actual craft of writing, and that therefore he is likely never to be fully appreciated”. (Read: creative enough, dreary enough, but a crap writer.) He was something of an early Lovecraft historian, as he was apparently the first to posit the “influential but wrong” hypothesis that Lovecraft inherited syphilis from his parents.

This last bit is the part that boggles my mind. He loved Lovecraft, he clearly appreciated the man, and yet “The Final War” reads like a short story by an Edgar Rice Burroughs fanatic who once heard the name “Cthulhu” and thought it sounded cool.

“The Final War”, by David H. Keller, MD: A synopsis

A scholar sits alone in his library, reading a grimoire* bound in the tanned skin of some unfortunate sacrifice. He learns of hideous interplanetary beings, of cold, fungus-laden worlds, of “living things with shapes that could only be imagined by the opium eater”. He becomes horrified as he learns of the doom that will soon claim all of Earth.

And then he learns of Great Cthulhu.

You know about Cthulhu, right? No, you don’t.

Oh really? Well did you know that Great Cthulhu currently rules Saturn, after enslaving the beautiful men and women of Venus, forcing the brilliant scientists of Mercury to create technological atrocities, and forcing the armies of Mars into battle on his behalf?

marvin martian

You have defied the Great Cthulhu.  This makes me very angry, very angry indeed.

But you know what he looks like, surely. A winged squid? A many tentacled and taloned beast? What the hell are you smoking?

Cthulhu has many shapes but usually assumes that of a gigantic toad, with hypnotic eyes, poisoned claws, and an intelligence which defies earthly mind to understand.

Wait…wait…

hypnotoad

But if his mere appearance isn’t terrifying enough, Cthulhu will attack with “spaceships, mechanical armies, poisons and obscene weapons”. You know, as he does. But—what if we’re somehow able to route his technological horrors? Don’t think Cthulhu’s tricks end there, dear reader:

If all these fail, he will, in the end, transform himself into a beautiful woman, and, thru [sic] her seductive beauty enslave and torture their souls.

Yep.

Darn tootin’.

But! Earth is doomed. Perhaps not quite in the manner that Lovecraft envisioned, but doomed nonetheless. But do these heroic men give up? Do they curl into the fetal position and wail and whimper at the infinite blackness lying just outside their consciousness. Or, more realistically, does everyone shrug and ignore the one poor Cassandra who knows the truth, going about their daily business until suddenly they’re swept into the cold, warty clutches of the OverToad?

No! They do not! Everyone listens to this man with the skin-book, and within hours, the world is at work! The UN erects an experimental laboratory! Astronomers scan the skies for spaceships! Biologists prepare anti-serums against potential biological threats, which, coming from Saturn, surely is close enough to the threats we face on earth that we could prepare for it. (And you thought the Independence Day OS issue was bad enough.) So…we prepare, and wait. And Cthulhu does not disappoint.

“I will destroy their cities!” Cthulhu boasted to the lesser Gods. “I will make their earth a waste place. Finally, in their despair they will lose the power to resist and will seek only death, not realizing that I will take their souls and torture them in many obscene ways thru [sic] an eternity of years.”

Cthulhu, it appears, is a bit of a dick.

And this is no idle brag—he has prepared a space ship, and is sparing no expense.

At the appointed time, he went to the tube which housed the ship and for the last time went over every detail of its construction. Once again he correctly charted its course so that it would land in the rich corn belts of the United States.

Shit. It’s heading right for us! To the Midwest! I’m impressed that he’s so detail-oriented, honestly…I hadn’t really known Cthulhu to do anything more than sleep, destroy minds with his incomprehensibility, and inspire deadly cults intent on honoring him. He’s a very Type A Lovecraftian abomination.

But fear not, dear reader. We are prepared. Many die in the atrocious, very-much-like-War-of-the-Worlds war that followed, but we prevail! But Cthulhu does not give up easily. Do you know what he does next, to enslave our minds and torment man? If you’ve read any Lovecraft mythology whatsoever, I bet you do. As per pretty much every Cthulhu mythos story in existence, he lands on earth, splits into a male and a female, impregnates himself, and gives birth to a beautiful woman.

Duh.

What on earth will we do? How will we survive the onslaught of this very beautiful woman? Fear not, I say again. The scholar knew that this was coming, and he devised a plan. A cunning counter-strategy, an inescapable trap. As the woman makes her way from the desert in which she landed, she is confronted with a strange sight:

Suddenly the Woman saw a gigantic hand rearing out of the sandy desert. It was a very masculine hand with short, stubby, powerful fingers. The back was covered with hair; the palm was soft.

“What a beautiful hand!” exclaimed the Woman. “I could rest in that hand while the fingertips caress my lovely body”. She crawled into the hand and cuddled on the soft palm.

“Love me, you wonderful, masculine hand,” she commanded.

The fingers and thumb closed on her, slowly crushing her to death.

The end.

SONY DSC

My hero

If this was written with an ounce of irony, a trace of mockery, I think I would have thought much less about this work. BUT IT’S NOT. The author is so clearly sincere and genuine that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I haven’t been able to get it out of my skull for two weeks now. It’s still bothering me. I don’t know that it’ll ever stop.

…so actually, maybe this is the best Lovecraftian piece ever written.

I’ll end this post with a challenge: Has anyone encountered a piece of Lovecraftian fiction—whether that be video game, short story, novel, or movie—worse than this? Comment away, I’m a glutton for punishment.

The Cultist

 

*A textbook of magic, pronounced “grim-war”. Not trying to be a jerk, I didn’t know that word either before I started writing this post.