Cthulhu: Dark Fantasy, Horror & Supernatural Movies by Gordon Kerr (book review).

May 14, 2021 | By | Reply More

From the striking front cover painting of Cthulhu literally eating the world through to the mind-flayer smoking a pipe on page 89, ‘Cthulhu: Dark Fantasy, Horror & Supernatural Movies’ is a richly and sometimes bizarrely illustrated guide to the most famous godlike entity in popular culture.

It really is popular culture we’re focusing on here, rather than the more cerebral and frankly, less fun cosmic horror discussed by the likes of ST Joshi or Robert Waugh. As John Harlacher puts it in his foreword, when it comes to Cthulhu, ‘Some say the horror has been sucked out of his rage’.

Regardless of what HP Lovecraft was trying to convey when his short story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’, was published in 1928, the eponymous monster has been adopted by writers, artists, filmmakers and even game designers in a most extraordinary way. This is the story Gordon Kerr tells, starting off with a potted history of Lovecraft himself, particularly his influences and interests.

One of the myths Kerr dispels is the one about Lovecraft ‘inventing’ tentacled monsters out of nothing, sharing the opinion of Robert M Price that Lovecraft would have been influenced by Tennyson’s poem ‘The Kraken’. Similarly, Kerr draws parallels with the works of Arthur Machen and Guy de Maupassant, both of whom presaged Lovecraft in their use of, for example, books of forbidden lore and telepathic aliens.

On the other hand, many readers might well raise an eyebrow at Kerr’s mention of the so-called ‘Simon Necronomicon’, a book generally considered by scholars to be, at best, an elaborate hoax rather than a ‘real’ book in any meaningful sense.

The development and structure of ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ is briefly described across a few pages, including the celebrated if quaint sketch of the Cthulhu figurine that Lovecraft himself drew for Robert Barlow in 1937. With that done, and about one-fourth the way into the book, Kerr turns to the influence of ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ more generally. He kicks off with the Cthulhu Mythos itself, a phrase that Lovecraft never used himself, but coined instead by his literary executor, August Derleth.

One thing Kerr does make clear is that the Derleth conception of the Mythos is rather Christian in its outlook, with a straightforward match-up between evil Old Ones on the one hand and the more benign Elder Gods on the other. There’s little evidence for this in Lovecraft’s fiction or letters and most writers since Derleth have tended towards a more amoral context with the Mythos monsters being, at best, as indifferent to humanity as humans are to ants.

Kerr quickly runs through those of Lovecraft’s stories and novellas most intimately connected with the Mythos, offering up a paragraph to each, detailing their publication date and other particulars. What’s perhaps more interesting is his selection of works from other authors, including such luminaries of the genre as Neil Gaiman and Stephen King. For those reading about the Mythos as relative newcomers, he lists a few important anthologies including stories by the likes of Poppy Z Brite and WH Pugmire.

The second half of the book expands the Mythos into other media. Film is the obvious place to start and Kerr obliges, but one of the odd things about the Cthulhu Mythos is how few straightforward adaptations there have been. So, this is more a review of films with elements of the Mythos or even Lovecraftian themes generally. Kerr is on safer ground with board and role playing games, of which several Mythos-inspired examples exist.

Artists have also been strongly influenced by Cthulhu and his Mythos, and the book offers up a very generous selection of examples. Indeed, ‘Cthulhu: Dark Fantasy, Horror & Supernatural Movies’ is more a picture book than anything else. Kerr certainly surveys the Mythos in popular culture broadly, but never in any great depth. There’s enough to spark further research, for sure, but this isn’t a comprehensive reference volume in itself.

That’s by no means a criticism though. For under a tenner you get a hardback book thoroughly illustrated in full colour throughout, with plenty of interesting information presented in bite-size chunks, it’s a great book to gift someone with an interest in the genre.

Neale Monks

May 2021

(pub: Flame Tree, 2014. 128 page illustrated squarish hardback. Price: £ 9.99(UK). ISBN: 978-1-78361-218-5)

check out website: www.flametreepublishing.com

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Category: Books, Fantasy, Horror

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