Shadows Over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones (book review).
‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s best known stories, featuring many of his most enduring themes, including a decaying New England town, its decadent population and, of course, strange and horrible monsters. Of course, below the surface. the story is even darker than it seems, dealing with themes of genetic purity and miscegenation, reflecting as it does Lovecraft’s own fears and anxieties about racial identity and the ‘melting pot’ that was (and is) America.
Needless to say, such a dark and twisted tale has attracted many other writers over the years and ‘Shadows Over Innsmouth’ is an anthology volume that contains Lovecraft’s original story alongside sixteen others, including stories by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley and Neil Gaiman. The book also includes a three-page essay by the editor, Stephen Jones, on the publication of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ in 1936. Uniquely, among Lovecraft’s work, it was the only one to be published as a book in his lifetime, everything else was published in either pulp magazines or what was called the ‘amateur press’ at the time, essentially groups of like-minded individuals who submitted, edited, printed and published collections of their own works on a periodic, sometimes even regular, basis.
In any case, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is in many ways a seminal Lovecraft tale because of how skilfully it works on two levels. On the surface, it’s a well-crafted horror story about humanoid sea monsters, known only as the ‘Deep Ones’, that aim to infiltrate humanity through a slow process of bribery and intermarriage. As with many of Lovecraft’s tales, there’s a protagonist who only learns the truth bit by bit and though he (and we) seem to be free from the Deep One’s plots at the end, there’s a nasty twist ending that makes it very clear that humanity has had, at best, a reprieve, not an escape.
But at a deeper level, the story deals with Lovecraft’s deep-seated racism. Fundamentally, Lovecraft believed that the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races, from which he was descended, were the best and that intermarriage with other races would lead to an overall weakening of humanity. In short, he opposed miscegenation, something that was not uncommon at the time among his social class, but Lovecraft certainly exhibited these beliefs to a greater degree than most.
Some of the stories in this collection tap into these themes deeper than others, while a few are, perhaps disappointingly, lightweight. The Neil Gaiman story, ‘Only The End Of The World Again’ is one such example. Gaiman placing what appears to be a werewolf in the crumbling town of Innsmouth to see what (literally) gets coughed up. It’s more a pastiche than anything else, gently mocking the Lovecraftian trope that involves cultists bringing about the end of the world. In ‘The Big Fish’, Kim Newman (writing as Jack Yeovil) plays a similar trick, kicking around some of the ideas in Lovecraft’s original story in a pulp detective fiction setting. Like Gaiman’s story, it’s entertaining stuff, but without much depth. Ditto Kim Newman’s other contribution to the anthology, ‘A Quarter To Three’, which is more a vignette than anything else, a night time scene in a diner in Innsmouth.
Brian Lumley’s ‘Dagon’s Bell’ is a longer story and one that’s been reprinted in a number of other volumes. It’s a classic Lumley tale in many ways, using Lovecraftian monsters and, to some degree, themes and tropes, including vivid descriptions and a twist ending, but Lumley’s protagonists are altogether more heroic than Lovecraft’s, something not all readers welcome. Basic Copper’s ‘Beyond The Reef’ is a bit closer to the spirit of ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ and, using that favourite standby of Mythos writers, the mishmash of perspectives offered up through snippets from documents alongside the basic prose text.
Overall, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is an interesting collection of stories, varying considerably in style and originality. Few of the stories truly break new ground, though ‘The Homecoming’ by Nicholas Royle is perhaps the exception, being set in Romania at the time of Nicolae Ceausescu’s downfall. It’s a story of violence, cruelty and confusion more than anything else, with the Deep Ones present only as a background menace, hinted at here and there. But otherwise most of the stories are, for good or for bad, typical Mythos fare that hardly rival, let alone develop, Lovecraft’s original story.
(pub: Titan Books, 496 pages paperback. Price: £ 8.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-34544-407-3)
check out website: www.titanbooks.com