Mythos delvings

This year has mainly been taken over by The Mound, one of Lovecraft’s “revisions”, for Zealia Bishop. Lovecraft and Bishop collaborated on three stories in total, this being the middle one, and from Lovecraft’s letters, it seems to be the case that he wrote it on the back of a single line of story idea.

The novella takes place in Oklahoma, the same area as their first collaboration, The Curse of Yig. I haven’t read that one for years, though I think this story has far more of the typical Lovecraft elements that we know and expect, which perhaps lends credence to the idea that it is almost entirely his own work. The story weighs in at almost 30,000 words, and I’ve read that would have been worth roughly $145 at the time if published, though Lovecraft only charged his usual fee of $20, perhaps because Zealia was still in his debt from last time. At any rate, we follow an unnamed anthropologist from Virginia who is investigating stories about paranormal goings-on at a mysterious mound. We learn of some of these goings-on before the narrator heads out there, armed with a talisman from a local Native chieftain, and promptly discovers a metallic case containing a parchment in Spanish. The majority of the story deals with the narrator’s translation report, as we learn of a Zanacoma, a member of Coronado’s party, who learnt of fabulous gold cities under the surface of the world, so goes in search of them and ends up finding a race of beings who live in a city they call K’n-yan. Zanacoma is treated as a valuable resource to learn about the surface world, as the natives here sealed themselves off from the surface after the fall of Atlantis. Their society has become decadent, and we learn all sorts about the subterranean realm, including its relationship to Yoth and N’kai. Zanacoma attempts to flee after many years, and his manuscript ends on a troubling note. The narrator therefore decides to head out to see whether he can prove the manuscript right or a hoax, and indeed it does seem to have been correct, as he delves into the mound and discovers Cyclopean carvings and ghost sentinels…

I quite liked this one, in the end! It’s very long, of course, with the bulk of the story taken up with the reported narrative of Zanacoma. That was interesting, though it is really the frame narrative of the anthropologist that provides most of the horror, I would say. True, encountering underground dwellers who worship Yig and Cthulhu (sorry, Tulu here) is very disturbing, but that was more of a mystery/thriller, to me. Of course, the story is quite rich for its length, and we get a lot to enjoy from the wider mythos. The natives apparently used to worship Tsathoggua, and that deity’s creator Clark Ashton Smith later used this story to further his creation’s lore. K’n-yan is used fairly extensively throughout the mythos stuff I’ve come into contact with, most recently with The Forgotten Age campaign for Arkham Horror LCG, which blends this with other tales for its story. While some of Lovecraft’s collaborations tend to be a bit hit and miss, I think this has definitely got a lot to make it worth a read. I’d put it off for years simply due to its length, but it is quite good!!

Much shorter is The Festival, which is a tale of someone who travels to Kingsport for the Yule festival of his ancestors. Very fishy, especially when the group of folks he meets with takes him down into the earth to a subterranean cavern, where odd flying beasts (possibly byakhees, for gamers out there) take the others off into the sky – no wonder he ends up in the hospital. We’ve been to Kingsport before, of course, but the description of the town here is said to reflect Lovecraft’s first visit to Marblehead, which created quite the impression. We also get a lengthy quote from the fabled Necronomicon itself, which is always worthwhile reading. It’s an oddly nice story to read specifically at Christmas time, given its setting and all – something otherwise not prevalent in Lovecraft.

Lovecraft apparently wrote The Transition of Juan Romero as proof of how someone could churn out a weird tale in an afternoon, and while he showed it to his friends, he never tried to publish it. He apparently hated it, and it only exists because later in life one of those friends asked for a copy. The story is actually not that bad, I thought – it’s a classic sort of tale where miners delve too deeply and open up a chasm too deep, which prompts the titular Juan Romero to “answer the call” of those drums in the deep. There’s a lot of overblown suspense, a lot of “it’s too horrible to tell you” and such, but I always think that’s kinda what these pulp stories are about, you know? It’s always interesting to read a Lovecraft story where the narrator isn’t basically Lovecraft, after all.

The Other Gods is another short one, and forms part of the ‘dream cycle’ that I read way back when I started these mythos delving blogs. A priest thinks he knows all about the old gods of earth, and wants to visit them when they come out to play. Scaling a mountain when the mist thins, it isn’t the old gods that he sees, but instead the other gods. It’s very fantastical, and drops lots of Dream-Quest names like Kadath and Ngranek, and we also have mention of the Pnakotic Manuscripts.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from The Temple, but it was quite an atmospheric tale that was oddly reminiscent of a disaster movie, for the most part. The Captain of a German U-boat narrates a tale of discovering what they think is a dead body with an ivory statuette on it, but as the sailors throw the body overboard, it seems to look at them, then to swim away. Catastrophes then result as the boat’s engines explode, and most of the crew go mad. The Captain shoots pretty much everybody, but then the boat’s drift takes them to the submerged city of Atlantis. The isolation seems to get the better of him, and his will is eroded as he feels compelled to visit the temple near the boat, with a frieze identical to the ivory statuette. Wonderful stuff! It was almost immediately reminiscent of Dagon, but I thought it was very interesting how the story developed. The captain is a bit of a caricature of Prussian superiority, and at times I wanted to laugh aloud at how far into that type Lovecraft leans. I think I was expecting a dreamlands-type of story, but instead we have something very different!

I’ll finish this year’s mythos blog with From Beyond, a piece firmly in the weird science mould similar to Herbert West and others. The narrator goes to visit his friend, who he hasn’t seen for ten weeks, and is shown a machine that seems able to enhance a person’s perception of the world beyond the five senses. His friend turns out to be a tiny bit bonkers, though, especially when he seems to want to kill the narrator. A gunshot rings out, and the machine is destroyed. I quite enjoyed this one – it’s very Lovecraft, but the narrator’s friend is so vicious and, well, mad, that it’s still a bit out of the ordinary! I do like these Lovecraft stories about weird science and laboratories in the attic, it’s all extremely suggestive. Interestingly, a lot of the substance of this one seems to have been derived from an actual scientific treatise published in 1919, and the notes in the Penguin version quote at some length to give an idea of how Lovecraft got his material. It shows how widely read the man was, really!!