Acolytes Of Cthulhu: Short Stories Inspired By H.P. Lovecraft edited by Robert M. Price (book review).

Robert M. Price edited the ‘Crypt Of Cthulhu’ magazine for its entire twenty year run and largely off the back of that has become one of the best-loved members of the Lovecraftian fan community. Rigorous and scholarly he may be but he lacks the academic prickliness of some of those active in the field, happily dressing up for fan conventions or chanting weird rituals, he’s a regular fixture in that part of HP Lovecraft fandom that enjoys playing around with the absurdities of the genre while still holding the writer in justifiably high regard.


It’s this sense of fun that makes ‘Acolytes Of Cthulhu’ a more immediately likeable collection of short stories than, say, the more serious anthologies edited by the likes of ST Joshi. Where Joshi invariably focuses on the cosmic horror aspect of weird fiction, while actively rejecting what he sees as the trite trappings of the Cthulhu Mythos, Price happily dives into the murky depths of the Mythos, giving readers the chance to enjoy the fun, if less cerebral, reward of being shocked by the appearance of a monster or lunatic cultist.

At the same time, this anthology isn’t shackled by the desire to focus on one particular aspect of the Cthulhu Mythos, which has been the hallmark of certain anthologies over the last few years, repeatedly digging up stories connected, however tenuously, with one of Lovecraft’s more famous inventions (the succession of Innsmouth-centred collections spring to mind). Instead, this collection is simply one weird story after another, their only connection being the shared Lovecraftian universe that they occupy or at least seem to occupy…

Some of the contributions might be surprising. ‘There Are More Things’ by Jorge Luis Borges is a story first published in Spanish in 1975 and in English two years later. That a novelist of Borges’ calibre would write a story dedicated to Lovecraft and unquestionably in the Lovecraftian tradition is not well known outside of the more scholarly circles of the community and, even better, it’s an engaging pastiche of Lovecraft that doesn’t try to be anything other than an engaging short story. The ending, while not quite a cliff-hanger, certainly invites the reader to imagine what happens next in much the same way as, say, Lovecraft’s ‘Dagon’.

Randall Garrett’s ‘The Horror Out Of Time’ is, if anything, an ever better example of the sort of thing Lovecraft strove to do, with a twist ending that sends you right back to the beginning of the story to get you re-reading it to see if you missed something. No, you probably didn’t, but Garrett did such a great job of misdirecting the reader that the surprise, when it comes, don’t lose any of its power second time round. It’s a great little story, and one of the best in the book.

Joshi’s contribution, ‘The Recurring Doom’, is a bit more self-consciously modern or perhaps I mean post-modern than most of the other stories in this collection. In some ways, it mimics the approach Lovecraft took in ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ in combining a retrospective narrative with an extensive series of clippings and excerpts contemporary to the events being told. But it also name-checks a whole series of places, books and people featured in other Lovecraftian stories, though inevitably with the same dry, slightly ironic tone that Joshi frequently uses when talking about the literary merits of the Cthulhu Mythos in the real world. Actually, Joshi does more than simply name-check things: he’s actively creating an alternate world where the events Lovecraft wrote about in the 1920s and 30s didn’t quite happen as he told them. Instead, we’re left with the possibility that those people who knew about the various Mythos threats in Lovecraft’s fiction weren’t able to expose them or deal with them, hence the short story’s title, ‘The Recurring Doom’, reminding the reader of how close we came, and will come, to humanity’s final end!

All told there are twenty-eight short stories in this anthology, first published in 2001 and republished in this Titan paperback edition in 2014. The range of authors is impressive and includes a few almost contemporary with Lovecraft himself, such as David H. Keller, whose story ‘The Final War’ was published in 1949 and is a barely comprehensible piece of almost psychedelic Cthulhu fan-fiction. Edmund Hamilton’s ‘The Earth Brain’ from 1932 works a little harder at creating something deeper and the parallels between this story and Lumley’s ‘The Burrowers Beneath’ are striking, even though the subterranean horrors suggested by the two stories are fundamentally different in nature. Indeed, Price has unearthed quite a few authors here that even well-read fans of Lovecraft might not have heard of, ensuring that this volume contains few stories published elsewhere these days. In short, this anthology is excellent value and makes for some very pleasurable reading. Highly recommended.

Neale Monks

October 2015

(pub: Titan Books, 2014. 468 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-7816-526-3)

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