Posts Tagged ‘Cthulhu’

I found out about this novel on Facebook, which was billed as a Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos-meets-YA sort of story, and wondered how that would work. When the opportunity came, I downloaded it onto my Kindle and started reading. And my, I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.

Awoken follows Andromeda “Andi” Slate, an average teenager who isn’t to thrilled about living in Portsmouth, New Hampshire but deals with it with the help of her good friends. One night, she has a dream about seeing a giant tentacled monster and being rescued by a handsome youth. The next day, she and her friends get their hands on an infamous book of eldritch magic known as the Necronomicon, and do some reading from it. Within a day, a new teacher arrives at Andi’s school, as well as a strange new student who looks like the handsome youth she dreamed about. What happens next will not only change her life, but will decide the fate of the universe.

So if the handsome youth bit didn’t clue you in at all, yeah, there’s a pretty big romance aspect to this story, bigger than what I’m used to reading (especially in a Lovecraft-themed story). However, it’s a romance story between a human girl and a Great Old One (basically an ancient demon-god, if you don’t speak Lovecraft), one trying to balance the desire for the end of the world with his newborn desire for a human girl! I’ve never seen that before!* Romance isn’t something you normally associate with the Great Old Ones, who are notorious for seeing humans only as snacks (when they see them at all). It’s so weird, it kept me interested even though I don’t usually go for romance! Definitely one of the good points of the story.

So what were the other good points? Well, I liked Andi for the most part. Besides one or two problems, she was a very likable character, even when in the middle of an annoying teenage mood. The story was also very well-written, with very few typos and a distinct voice for Andi that kept me wanting to keep reading. I also liked how Elinsen made the works of Lovecraft accessible for her audience, who probably wouldn’t be big fans of Lovecraft and his Victorian-era speech patterns, though she manages to slip some of those words in, like cliquant and voltaic. Despite a few changes here and there, the Cthulhu Mythos is pretty much intact and treated with reverence, and the usual tropes that Lovecraft fans enjoy are there: cults, ancient beings, the idea that certain truths cause madness, Azathoth threatening to wake up, etc. The author also manages to slip in references to HP Lovecraft and his works (Portsmouth is secretly Innsmouth, Andi fears water, a reference to a racist writer from Rhode Island, Cthulhu’s relationships with the opposite godly sex, a cat, etc.), as well as references to Stephen King and even one reference to Supernatural that made me laugh out loud.

However, I did have some problems with the story. A major one was the male lead Riley (name based on a famous underwater city), and his relationship with Andi. Look, I know that in romance the asshole with a secret heart of gold is a popular trope (I’ve seen it in a few manga), but Riley is super-unlikable. And yeah, he’s secretly a terrible god who sees most humans as ants, but I can’t help but hate him as a protagonist. And his relationship with Andi is so abusive for a good chunk of the book. It’s supposed to come off that he’s protective of her, but doing things like commanding Andi to do things and intimidating her with his mood shifts just scream abusive creeper. What’s even worse is that Andi, once she falls for the guy, can’t extricate herself from him. It’s like an unhealthy obsession, to the point where she’d rather die or go completely mad rather than live without him (and that’s not teenage histrionics, she really feels that way at one point). It’s almost like she’s the ultimate worshipper for a Great Old One, and I just want to tell her that even taking out the god part, her relationship isn’t normal or healthy! How crazy is that?

I also wanted more from the main antagonist. We only see what she does in the name of her apocalypse, but I could’ve used more from her. Who was she really? Why did she do what she did? How did she become a worshipper of the Great Old Ones? I would have loved to see that explored a bit more in the story, and sadly we didn’t get that.

Ultimately though, Awoken is a different take on the Cthulhu Mythos, and I enjoyed myself despite the issues I had with the story. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give the novel a 3.2. If there was a sequel, I’d consider reading it (though four years after publication and no updates from the author on her social media since October 2013, I’d say that’s not going to happen). If this sounds like your sort of thing, take a dip into the madness and see for yourself.

Now if you need me, I’ll be playing Hide n Seek Across the Dimensions with Nyarlathotep. Hail Cthulhu, and I’ll see you around.

*Please be aware, I haven’t read all of Lovecraft’s bibliography, so if this does happen somewhere in his stories, I haven’t gotten to it yet. So don’t spoil it for me, okay?

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There’s been a battle raging among horror fans and horror writers for years. A fierce battle with all the monsters, deaths, and mysterious disappearances that one can expect from such a group. This battle is played out in bookstores and on bestseller lists, in interviews with magazines and television hosts, and even on message boards (because this is the age of the Internet, so why not?). The debate is: which is better, horror stories where the supernatural is the cause, or where humans are the cause?

Surprise to say, this is an actual debate among fans of horror. What makes for a scarier story, one where the horror is caused by something supernatural, or when it is caused by a human like you or me?* Or perhaps some combination of the two? Each side has their own pros and cons, and depending on which you prefer, can have a huge influence on what you tend to read and, if you’re a creator, what you put out in the world. Authors themselves tend to deal in both kinds, but if you observe an author long enough, you start to notice their preferences. HP Lovecraft and Anne Rice seem to go more for horror, while Jack Ketchum likes human horror. His Royal Scariness Stephen King has a lot of supernatural forces in his work, but there’s definitely a partiality towards human-based horror. One needs only read Misery to see that. Even in his more supernatural stories, there are usually human characters who are only to happy to cause pain and death, whether of their own volition (Carrie’s mother and Chris Hargensen in Carrie) or under the influence of a much more powerful force (Henry Bowers and Tom Rogan in It).

A great example of supernatural horror.

So is there a better source for horror? Let’s take a look, starting with supernatural-based horror. Honestly, this one’s easy to explain the appeal: whether it’s been called Satan, Lilith, dark faeries, demons, yokai, or a hundred other names, humanity has been scared of some possible other out in the universe. Something greater than human beings, possibly very malevolent, and ultimately difficult to understand. The only way to survive is to run, placate the monster, or find some way to fight back, and the last one often comes at a high death toll. There’s also greater room for imagination with supernatural stories. You can take forces right out of mythology, use them as they’re typically portrayed, or change up their mythologies. Sometimes you even come up with original creatures, like Stephen King’s Langoliers or the entity formerly known as It. There’s a lot of freedom and potential in supernatural based horror.

On the other hand, there’s a chance that you can fall into a trap of relying too much on a mythical creature’s established mythology. And if you try to create something original, you find it’s extremely difficult to do so. Not only that, but with something non-human, there’s the risk that, unlike a human villain, the reader will have difficulty connecting with them. Some readers really enjoy connecting with villains, which in this instance makes Cthulhu a bad villain choice.

My own human-based horror.

Human-based horror, on the other hand, is a lot more personal, and very true to life. Despite our lofty ideals of goodness and perfection, one needs only look at the news to know that humanity is capable of dark thoughts and acts.  Human-based horror taps into that, delving deep into what humanity is capable of without a supernatural cause or encouragement, as well as how characters and we the audience react to it. It’s a powerful, visceral way to tell a story, and is often quite effective at scaring us with not only the acts of the characters, but at what we ourselves are capable of.

And that unfortunately is also the con of human-based horror. No one likes to be exposed to their darkness or flaws, and this form of horror gets deep into those. Which for some readers can be more disturbing than they would like. Hell, for some writers it’s more disturbing than they would like, sending them to parts of their imaginations they would rather leave alone. And exposure to this sort of horror can not only leave readers scared, but depressed. I’ve written before about how the escape into imaginary horrors can be therapeutic, and sometimes people prefer an escape that doesn’t remind them of the reality they’re escaping. Or as someone from one of my writer’s groups put it, “If I wanted human horror, I’d put on CNN.”

So which is better? Well, I say neither. Like I’ve just shown, both have their pros and cons, as well as their supporters and detractors. Personally, I (and most of the members of one of my writers’ groups) prefer supernatural horror, but we all agree that the occasional jaunt into human-based horror and vice versa are great. Hell, one of my novels, Snake, is human-based horror, and it’s one of my favorite stories.  So in the end, whichever you prefer to read or write, make sure to every now and then dip into the other so as to better appreciate both once you dip out again. And if you write, whatever you write, remember to keep practicing both types, so that someday you can write it well.

What’s your take on this debate? Which is your favorite?

*Still debatable if I count as human, though.

So I started up a binge on H.P. Lovecraft again right after the new year. I’m not sure why; maybe I was just in the mood for him, or maybe something I read made me think of good old Mr. Lovecraft and I wanted to pick him up again.Or maybe the YouTube video where I discovered Uzumaki mentioned him, and that did it. Whatever the case, I’ve noticed that the gaps between my binges are shortening with every binge. I first put him down in September 2015 after first buying my edition of his collected works, picked him up again in June 2016, put him down once more the next month and picked him up again in January 2017. I wonder when I’ll be in meeting Mr. Lovecraft again? Early summer, maybe?

Now if you don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is (and there seems to be a lot of you who don’t), let me tell you about him. Lovecraft was a writer from New England who wrote in the early 20th century, and is considered the father of cosmic horror, a sub-genre of horror that deals with man’s inconsequential place in our universe, and that some revelations about that are so powerful, they cause you to go mad (it’s the kind of stuff that keeps you up at night if you think too much about it).

I started reading Lovecraft two years ago because I heard he was very influential on some of my favorite writers and filmmakers, and each time I delve into his work I like to write my thoughts on him (see Parts 1 and 2 here). So what did I think this time around?

Well, I have to say, the further I get into Lovecraft’s work, the easier it is to read. I’ve mentioned before that he writes like he’s living in the 1820s rather than in the 1920’s, but I think as time goes on, he learned to write in a more contemporary style while still sounding like he was a contemporary of Poe. I’m not sure that the collection I have of his work is chronological, but if it is, then I’m definitely seeing him develop into a better writer. I also think I’m getting a better grasp at what makes Lovecraft so memorable. Before, I probably would have used generalizations, such as “he’s creepy” or “vaguely disturbing.” Now, however, I’m able to point out what exactly about the story sticks in my mind and why it is successful or not successful, such as the mysterious nature of the monsters in one story or the twist at the end of the story in another.

I also think that the stories written in this period (assuming that the stories are ordered chronologically, of course) are much better than his previous works. I got to read one of his famous stories “The Call of Cthulhu,” and I found it very interesting. Not just because it contains one of Lovecraft’s most famous characters, but it has the essence of his cosmology and philosophy in that story. The idea of man as the insects of the universe, and greater beings just waiting to come back and take over is succinctly and powerfully presented through the narrator’s encounters with the titular demon-god’s cult.

Got to read the story with this guy.

 

I also really liked the short story “Pickman’s Model,” about an artist who draws very disturbing paintings in an old colonial home. It was well told, and I really enjoyed the twist at the end, which even I didn’t see coming.Same with “Cool Air,” a short story about a doctor living in an apartment building. I read the list at the end of that story, and I was like, “Damn! That’s actually very clever.”

If there was any story I did not like, then it was the last story I read by him this particular binge, and also the longest. “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a novella that felt like an acid trip ending  in a Lewis Carroll ripoff.* It was too long, silly trying to be serious, and like I said, the ending rips off Lewis Carroll in the most obvious way. I kind of wish I had skipped over this one.

All in all though, I’m really starting to gain a healthy respect for H.P. Lovecraft. He added a lot to the horror genre, even if he didn’t live to see his influence, and I can see why he’s still read today. I don’t know when I will pick up his work again, but I have a feeling I am in for a treat when I do.

In the meantime, I found out there’s a movie version of “Call of Cthulhu,” so I will try to get my hands on a copy of that. Hopefully I’ll get it soon, and when I do, you’ll hear my thoughts about it.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope to have a new author interview out Friday, so keep your eyes peeled for that. Until then, pleasant nightmares.

*Weirdly, it wasn’t acid he was on. LSD wasn’t invented until year after Lovecraft died, so there’s no way he could have gotten his hands on it. Or Lewis Carroll, for that matter. Which begs the question: if those two were high when they came up with their respective stories, what were they high on?

So I recently got back into reading The Complete Fiction of HP Lovecraft, after about a year’s gap since I last dove into his work on my Kindle. I actually got from 15% to 32%, which for a 1112-page book is pretty good, if you ask me.

Now, if you don’t know who HP Lovecraft is, he was kind of the King of American Horror between the reigns of Edgar Allen Poe and current monarch Stephen King, though he didn’t really achieve any sort of fame or influence until after his death. When I read him last year, I found his style old and outdated, and while some of his stories were actually pretty creepy, others were just strange or boring (see my thoughts in Thoughts on Lovecraft: Part 1).

So what were my thoughts one year later, having read several more stories? Well, he still prefers to write like a contemporary of Poe, one of his main influences in writing, which I find still rather irksome (I could parody it here, but I did that well enough in Part 1, so why try and repeat it?). I’m not that big a fan of that style, as I find it stuffy and somewhat boring, so occasionally that made for an annoyance to get through.

And Lovecraft is still a proud and unrepentant racist and xenophobe. Seriously, “The Horror at Red Hook” manages to drag so many non-white ethnicities, including Kurds and Yazidis, through the mud.

And he’s the only author I’ve ever met who’s used the word “eldritch,” meaning sinister or creepy (why didn’t he just use those words?).

But other than those problems, the tales I read in this section of the book were much better than the ones I read in the last one. Sure, the short story “Azathoth,” which was the first mention of the Elder God, is actually just a fragment of a novel Lovecraft never got around to finishing, which was annoying. Imagine, I get to the end of that short piece, and I was like, “Wait, that’s it?” Thank goodness for Wikipedia, which explained to me why I shouldn’t be so angry.

And there was that story, “Imprisoned with the Pharoahs,” which got a little dense with the language and made it annoying to get through, though as a fictional account of one of Harry Houdini’s adventures, it is pretty cool in retrospect.

But other than those two, these were very good stories. They were creepy, dark, and had some pretty nice twists and turns in them. I can see why a few of them have been adapted several times into movies or radio plays and the like. “Herbert West–Reanimator” is a fun tale about one man’s growing obsession with overcoming death and extending life (very Frankenstein), and how that obsession causes a domino fall of events that shows the readers the price of obsession. “The Lurking Fear” felt like a Stephen King novel from an earlier age, filled with elements of insanity, the supernatural, and insane tastes. And “Shunned House” needs to be made into a movie by Blumhouse Productions, because it is freaking scary! It’s a vampire novel that hearkens back to the days when vampires were barely human, and is probably the best of the stories by him I’ve read so far. Imagine a movie version, with James Wan in the director’s seat! No one would see it and think of vampires with Twilight or any of that other sentimental crap out there ever again.

Eek! Rats in the walls! Now I can’t sleep.

Also, “The Rats in the Walls” is great if you want to scare anyone around a campfire. Just saying.

You know, the more I read of Lovecraft’s work, the more I see why he’s been so influential. Sure, his early stories could be rather pointless or silly, and never approached scary, with the exceptions of a few, like “The Tomb” and “The Temple.” But as time went on, as tends to happen, he got better. He figured out what worked and what didn’t. He learned how to get into our heads and make us tremble, make us wonder. He pushed the envelope for his day, introducing elements of cannibalism, satanism, gods that care nothing for us except maybe as snacks. And he did it so well.

And even now, after I’ve decided to take a break from him, I still find myself getting inspired by him. I’ve already gotten a few new novel and short story ideas from his stories, particularly “The Lurking Fear.” I have no idea when I’ll write them, but I think that when I do, they may even chill me.

So yeah, I think I’m definitely a Lovecraft fan now. Last year I wasn’t so much of a fan, but now I think I am. He’s definitely grown on me. And I think I may visit him again someday, perhaps even before the end of the year. Especially if he gives me so many good ideas. And if you like a good scary story and can handle some old-timey writing style, then I suggest you visit Mr. Lovecraft too.

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got my own stories to work on, so I’m going to get on that. In the meantime, I hope you have a scarily good time, my Followers of Fear. Until next time!

 

You know what there are a lot of these days? Fictional universes where characters from a variety of diverse works are all brought together into a single work or series of works where they interact with one another in various ways. From HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, to the many different iterations of DC and Marvel comic book worlds and their film and television counterparts, to the shared elements of Anne Rice’s vampire and witch series and Stephen King’s interconnected multiverse and then some, there are a lot of these shared universes these days. Heck, there’s even theories from everyday people about how different works by certain creators are all secretly part of the same story (examples include this Pixar theory and this theory on the majority of Joss Whedon’s work).

So I’m wondering, what is the reason behind all of these interconnected story worlds? What makes storytellers and creators of all different mediums want to have such expansive universes where everything is secretly connected and you have to create a huge conspiracy layout on your wall with tape and string and stuff?

Well, I think some part of it is money. At the end of the day, most storytelling is a business (except for maybe some of what appears on YouTube), and if two characters in separate stories are making profits for a creator or their business, they may try to bring the characters together if it’s feasible and if the fans want to see it. Heck, that’s kind of the reason for most comic book crossovers and the movies based around those crossovers. Fans enjoy seeing Superman and Batman work together or Tony Stark mentor Spider-Man or whatever, so the companies give them what they want and get a profit back.

That’s not to say that all of it is money or that money’s the biggest motivator (unless you’re a Hollywood studio, of course). Another big part of it is the creators. They love their characters, and many would like to see those characters they’ve invested time and effort in come together in an awesome story. How would they play off each other? What sort of trouble would they get into with each other and how would they pull themselves out of it? And how would they grow after meeting each other? I think a lot of writers create these crossovers just so they can answer these questions. They may make multiple volumes to continue asking those questions, adding new characters or situations to continue creating exciting new stories and dynamics. It can be pretty enticing to do that with characters you love so much, and I bet audiences enjoy it as well.

In fact, I’ve imagined doing that with Snake and Laura Horn. Yeah, I have. I’ve mentioned before that I’ve wanted the story of the Snake to continue, and I’ve planned sequels not just for Snake, but for LH as well, including one where the two characters meet and get into a crazy adventure together. And I may be a few books and several years from that crossover, but it’s there if I want to write it, and eventually I will write it. It just sounds like too much fun to pass up.

snake front cover

I really have to get around to that sequel someday soon.

Another reason that creators may do crossover works is just because it makes things easier. Now, I hear you typing in the comments already “How the heck does a crossover or shared universe make things easier?” I know it seems counter-intuitive, but let me give an example: Anne Rice introduced in Queen of the Damned, the third book in her Vampire Chronicles, the Talamasca, an international organization of scholars interested in studying the paranormal. Now, try as I might I could not find any information on why, but when Rice wrote her Mayfair Witches trilogy, she brought in the Talamasca society. Why? Because at some point in the first book she details the entire family history of the Mayfair family and its dozen-plus matriarchs and I guess it made sense to just bring in the Talamasca as an explanation as to why there was an entire history of the family when the family itself isn’t very interested in its history. And it helped with the later books in certain ways to have the Talamasca. See? It was easier to bring in an existing fictional organization concerned with the paranormal than make up an entirely new reason for a third party to document an entire mystical family’s history.

I’ve also heard that’s why HP Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos. He didn’t intend to create an entire cosmology, he just decided it might be easier to work with some familiar characteristics when creating all-powerful monsters, and from there it wasn’t too hard to make the jump to connecting Cthulhu to Yog-Sothoth and any of the other Old Ones. Now, I’m no Lovecraft expert, but I’d buy that explanation.

King’s references are so crazy! Check out this chart!

Of course, some authors do it because it’s fun to have a shared universe, for a variety of reasons. You can return to familiar characters and locations by doing so. You can make your readers marvel and go back to another story to say, “Hey, that matches up with so-and-so.” You can create a cosmology or a special reason why a character or characters or place or places appears in so many stories (I’ve got a character or two like that, I just haven’t been able to put them into any works yet. I tried with the human Barbie story and Evil Began in a Bar, but I couldn’t fit them into the former and I haven’t figured out how best to edit the latter yet, so…). And sometimes, it’s just fun to mess with your readers and make them wonder what the heck it all means (I’m pretty sure that’s the reason Stephen King references his other works so much, and the Dark Tower books simply grew out of a desire to create a complex story out of all that messing about).

Whatever the reason someone creates a shared universe, it’s pretty clear that there are plenty of reasons to do so, and that shared universes are here to stay. And whatever the reason behind them, as long as they’re done with love and people enjoy them, I see no reason not to keep doing them. Besides, I may have one or two I’d like to create someday.

Do you have a shared universe in your fiction? Why’d you create it? What has been the result of that?

For a while now I’ve been reading The Complete Collection of HP Lovecraft on my Kindle. I figured it was about time, seeing as I haven’t been very exposed to his work up until this point, and the man has been a huge influence on greats like Stephen King, Allan Moore, Guillermo del Toro, and quite a few more. And since I am always looking to learn from other authors, I figured I should spend ten dollars of Amazon gift cards and see what happens.

Well, you get what you asked for. I didn’t realize that when I bought the collection, that it was 1112 pages! The length in itself is not such a problem, I’ve read books that long before. The thing is, Lovecraft…well, he’s hard to get through sometimes, and for a number of reasons. For one thing, there’s his style, which goes a little something like this:

And as I treaded up the stairs, filled with an anguish that panged the organs within my bosom to no end, I found my wife waiting for me in her chambers, her frown prominently featured upon her face. And I knew that my life had been transferred into a situation seriously detrimental and quite hazardous to my health, for that face on my wife at this hour could only mean that she had discovered my liaisons with Ellen the hotel maid from down in the village. I had endeavored to keep our trysts unknown from all but the walls of Ellen’s room, however it seemed that I was not secretive enough, as evidenced by the porcelain my wife volleyed at my head.

Okay, that’s a bit of a parody, but you get my point. Who talks like this?

Also, some of his early fiction isn’t that good. “Memory” is just a weird little flash fiction piece about a ruined city and a conversation between two beings about the city; “The Street” is about the houses on the titular street killing Communists after the street goes from a nice neighborhood to a slum; “Polaris” and “The White Ship” are obviously both dreams taken too literally, and “The Tree” is just not scary.

Also I noticed that so far, very few women appear in the stories. Several characters are mentioned as having wives, but so far the only woman who has any actual significance is the titular character of “Sweet Ermengarde”, and that’s a story parodying popular romantic melodramas of the day! But given that Lovecraft had a strained relationship with his mother, a turbulent one with his wife, and was dominated by his aunts in the later parts of his life, maybe that has something to do with it.

Lovecraft makes you wonder if maybe this guy is coming for you.

However, while I have my problems with Lovecraft’s early work, I have to admit that some of his stories do hit the mark, and even are a little scary. “The Tomb” is definitely somewhat chilling, as is “Dagon” and “The Picture in the House” (the former bears resemblance to Cthullu stories, while the latter has implications of murder and cannibalism). And I actually very much enjoyed “The Temple”, which was very strange and creepy.

I can’t say about the rest of his work, but for the early stuff I think what makes the successes so great is that they leave impressions on you. They make you think to yourself, “Imagine if that actually happened. That would be kind of creepy…” And then you take a look around yourself to make sure that a slippery slimy creature or some guy with wicked magic or something isn’t near you. Lovecraft is very good at leaving those sort of feelings with you. He makes you wonder, makes you think that there’s something just beyond the corners of our eyes or in the darkest parts of our world that we don’t understand, can’t understand, and that any interaction with that something or somethings would be very dangerous for us.

So there is definitely a reason why HP Lovecraft has stuck around and become well-known as a writer of weird and terrifying fiction. And as I progress from his early work to the stuff that he’s more famous for, like “Call of Cthullu” or “The Colour out of Space” or “History of the Necronomicon”, I’m sure I’ll find more reasons to like this guy (hence the reason this post is titled Part 1).

In the meantime though, I think I’ll take a break from his stuff. Like I said, he’s great when he’s good and I’m already learning a lot from him and seeing some of his influence on my work already, but he’s dense and hard to get through, and after so much of prose like my parody paragraph, I need a break if I’m going to continue someday. Besides, I finished on “The Nameless City”, which has that famous quote in it. You know the one:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die.

I can’t think of a better stopping point than on a creepy story that has that weird couplet in it. Can you?