Beyond Lovecraft

Hey everybody,
Christmas is coming, and inevitably I’m getting into the mood for some mythos tales as I play more of the Arkham Files games and get into that side of things, but I thought it might be interesting to see beyond Lovecraft and investigate some of the authors that have contributed to the mythos, specifically of course, the games!

Let’s start with Robert E Howard, the man who is credited with single-handedly creating the Sword & Sorcery genre. Conan the Barbarian was perhaps his greatest creation, although Howard also wrote weird tales, and weird West stories, and created Solomon Kane and Kull. 

The Haunter of the Ring is an interesting little story that deals with something more akin to black magic than actual cosmic horror. A Hungarian occultist calls forth the dark powers of the haunter to exact his revenge upon the man who stole the woman he loved, by using her as his instrument of vengeance. He gives her a ring that temporarily allows the haunter to take over her body, whereupon she tries to kill her husband. Very weird, some nice mythos elements from aspects such as the magical dabbling, but I think overall it lacks that sort of thrill from the stories that deal with the ancient ones.

The Horror from the Mound is one of Howard’s weird west stories, and concerns the down-on-his-luck cowboy Steve Brill, who notices how his Mexican neighbour skirts a mound and questions him about it. With dire warnings not to investigate it ringing in his ears, Steve impetuously digs up the mound, though is initially dismayed to find it seemingly empty. However, following a shadowy shape to his neighbour’s house, he witnesses the old Mexican being murdered. Returning to his house with the written notes from the Mexican’s hut, Steve learns the mound was constructed to contain the body of a vampire, at which point he looks up and sees said vampire looking through his window! It’s a fantastic pulp story, and is full of suspense and horror. Definitely recommended!!

Next up, we have the almost controversial figure of August Derleth. The man who is responsible for preserving and publishing much of Lovecraft’s work after his death. Derleth had attempted to bind Lovecraft’s mythological creations into a cohesive narrative, the Hastur mythos, though in life Lovecraft rejected the idea. In the years following Lovecraft’s death in 1937, however, Derleth wrote stories that worked towards a single coherent pantheon of Great Old Ones and Elder Gods. Many have since denounced this move, of course, leading to a somewhat chequered reputation for him. 

The Return of Hastur is an odd duck. It has a poor reputation among Lovecraft devotees for being the story that first attempted to classify the mythos by elemental means. An elderly scholar dies, and asks that certain books be destroyed, along with his house. However, his nephew contests this action but subsequently grows to rue that decision, as he learns that his uncle had made a pact to provide a haven for the return of the ancient one, Hastur. For a good chunk of the tale, it actually reads very much like a Lovecraft story, but there are several unfortunate parts that really try too hard to force themselves into the mythos, that it reads like bad fan fiction. I think it was also a very poor decision to include an actual reference to The Call of Cthulhu as a weird tale itself, as it just rang too false for me. I’m not sure that the story deserves quite the amount of hate that has been directed towards it, but I’m equally disappointed that the story is effectively worse for trying too hard.

The Dweller in Darkness bears a very strong resemblance to Derleth’s earlier The Thing that Walked on the Wind, having the setting of a cabin in the woods in the author’s native Wisconsin. The narrator is on the trail of a disappeared academic, and goes up to a cabin on the shunned Rick’s Lake with a fellow graduate student, in an effort to pick up his trail. The trail leads them through several Lovecraftian tropes, we get a link between Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep, and the new Great Old One, Cthugha, a fireball which is depicted in opposition to the other two in Derleth’s pantheon. There are definite shadows from Lovecraft, particularly The Whisperer in the Darkness (recording the otherworldly voices via dictaphone, for example, and the conclusion describing the footprints). I did think it was a good story, and better than the other one, as this definitely tried more to be its own thing. I suppose I just feel disappointed when Lovecraft’s stories are brought into the story as support for the eldritch horror that lurks.

Finally, we come to Clark Ashton Smith, another of Lovecraft’s correspondents, whose reputation rests as much on his poetry as his weird fiction. Prolific as a writer, Smith created the prehistoric world of Hyperborea, as well as the “Dying Earth” continent of Zothique, writing many tales in these and other settings.

I read The Seven Geases specifically because I wanted to read the first mention of Atlach-Nacha, the “dream weaver” that looms large in the mythos. I had no real idea what to expect, if I’m honest, and the tale is definitely one to be filed under W for weird! It forms part of Smith’s Hyperborea story cycle, the legendary continent once situated in the present Arctic before the Ice Age. The land is lush jungle, populated by dinosaurs and the ape-like Voormi, before human settlers arrived from elsewhere on Earth. One such settler, Lord Ralibar Vooz, is leading a hunting expedition onto Mount Voormithadreth when he interrupts the sorcerer Exdagor, who places upon him a “geas” or curse, to present himself to the subterranean god Tsathoggua as a sacrifice. It turns out, however, that Tsathoggua is quite full from a recent sacrifice, so sends Vooz under a second geas to the spider-god Atlach-Nacha, who is far too busy spinning his webs to deal with Vooz’ arrival, so sends him to the “antehuman” sorcerer Haon-Dar, whose minions imprisoned within the walls and floor of his palace would not be properly sated by eating Vooz, so he sends him to the Serpent People, who are advanced scientists and already have a human specimen, but don’t have any use for him, and on it goes. 

The story is meant as a comedy, with a fairly silly and blunt ending that made me wonder just what on earth I’d been reading! But when I understood that it’s meant to be a sort of darkly comic parody, I could actually appreciate it as quite enjoyable. It’s particularly noteworthy as being the first mention of both Atlach-Nacha and Abhoth (who places upon Vooz the seventh geas) in the mythos, Ancient Ones who loom large within the wider Cthulhu mythos. While other writers have more fully fleshed-out Atlach-Nacha into the “dream-spinner” we all know and fear, Abhoth is pretty much here what he/she has always been since.

The Hunters from Beyond is much more ‘classic’ mythos, dealing with strange, extra-dimensional beings who have been serving as models for an artist, although recently they have been acting with a bit more independence. It sounds familiar because it is modelled after Pickman’s Model, of course, but I thought it worked quite well with a certain element of suspense brought about, not because the end was in any real doubt, but more because of the expectation of it, if that makes sense. It’s also worth noting the narrator is one Philip Hastane, who has cropped up as an ally in a few Arkham Files games to date!

I’ve definitely enjoyed delving beyond my favourite, HP Lovecraft, though I will certainly be taking the time this Christmas to once more delve into the mythos and read some more weird fiction!

Dipping into Madness…

Hey everybody,
Today is once again game day here at spalanz.com, as I was lucky enough to get some time to myself yesterday where I could actually play some games! I know, it was quite spooky really! My daughter is now thirteen months old, and is certainly in more of a routine where I can plan stuff like this, so it was definitely time to grab that while I could!

I managed two games, along a similar theme, and it was just glorious.

First up, we have Eldritch Horror. This is one of my all-time favourite games of globetrotting mystery and supernatural dread, although it suffers somewhat for being such a juggernaut to set up! This time around, it took some time for me to get back into the swing of things, although I think it was literally just one round for each of the investigators – Mark Harrigan and Diana Stanley – before it all came flooding back, and I was off! I chose these investigators because I had finally actually read that little introductory blurb at the start of the rulebook, where it seems to be the pair of them looking into the weird occult mysteries of the world…

I followed this up with Arkham Horror LCG, a game that I have been trying to get back into for a couple of weeks now. I have built two new decks since I last played back in the summer of 2019 (when I actually ran through the entire Dunwich Legacy campaign). Roland Banks is the first investigator that I ever used, and even though I’ve not exactly played this game a lot, I have something of a soft spot for him all the same. Akachi Onyele is usually a very powerful investigator in the other Arkham games, though I’ve played two games with this duo now and it’s clear already that she really needs the right spells out to be any good. That’s probably a bit harsh, but in the game yesterday, I noticed particularly how she just couldn’t really do anything before I had Wither out, whereupon she became more of a tank than the Guardian investigator!

I’ve really gotten back into the whole Cthulhu mythos and Arkham Files games lately, and part of me is now really annoyed with myself for having sold off my Arkham Horror 2nd edition collection last year. I got a good price for it, don’t get me wrong, but it was such a good game, and I never got round to featuring each one of the expansions on the blog before it went.

However, I’ve found myself looking into getting the 3rd edition for Christmas, so that will be quite nice when the festive season is finally here! Definitely need stuff to look forward to as we’re on the cusp of a new lockdown, as well!

Eldritch Horror was just lovely to get back on the table, I must say. I’ve still got a couple of expansions for that game to feature up here, so I’m thinking that I’ll get back into the tradition of looking at those roundabout Christmas time! Indeed, playing yesterday’s game was mostly about getting back into the game so that I could look at playing the expansions – seems like I’ve only played some of them once or twice, but The Dreamlands box is still in the shrinkwrap! I’m really behind with the times here.

I kinda fell away from the Arkham Horror LCG last year, thinking that I was barely playing it anyway, so didn’t buy any of the Dream-Eaters cycle as I had three full campaigns still to play through. However, I’m now thinking that I need to catch up with it all! I’d spent a few days recently looking into it all as if from scratch, and have sleeved all of my cards and bought the ‘Return to’ boxes to make sure everything is stored up properly, so I’m really finding myself quite hungry for more now!

Having taken that time to get to know the game again, though, I can definitely see myself playing this one for a long time yet. It seems as though the Dunwich Legacy campaign is fairly tame in comparison to some of the later ones, and a lot of people seem to favour the Path to Carcosa set, so I’m thinking that my next proper foray will be there – everything is ready for me, anyway!

Interestingly, now that Lord of the Rings has finished, I’m finding myself almost moving away from that game in favour of this one. For sure, I’m not going to be sacking off my collection of the older game, as I’ve had far too much fun with it over the years to want to be without it, but I think that game did seem to suffer a little for the designers’ efforts in making it more challenging. Mirkwood and Dwarrowdelf are still the high watermark for me, although I’ve not played so many cycles from the game I could be selling it short. However, with Arkham, it seems to have been designed as fairly tough from the outset, but the variable difficulty of the Chaos Bag allows for it to still be enjoyable. In fact, as I think I’ve talked about before, the game really benefits from not being a simple kill-the-monsters sort of thing that Lord of the Rings can sometimes become – the encounter deck for Arkham is very often full of treachery cards, with just a couple of enemies to keep things interesting. There are so many different moving parts in the game that keep things moving, so that the formula allows for much greater variety on the whole.

Like I say, I’m not getting rid of Lord of the Rings, but I do feel that Arkham Horror has overtaken it in my affections lately!

A catch-up!

Hey everybody!
It feels like it’s been a while, doesn’t it? After celebrating my blog’s sixth birthday, it seems like other things have come into play, and I’ve not had a great deal of time for much else… well, let’s see, shall we?

To start with – check it out! I’m calling these chaps done for now – last weekend, there was a painting competition at my local Games Workshop (that is, a competition that was held via facebook, given the current climate). The brief was to paint an infantry unit at minimum squad size, and while there are perhaps a couple of details I could improve upon, I still like the fact that I’ve managed to get these done! The start of my Blood Angels – so let’s see what comes next, eh?

In the meantime, I’ve decided to resurrect this old project, and have been putting some details on to the chap in the middle there with the plasma gun. They’re real nice models, as you can see, and while the trim there is quite fiddly, it’s nevertheless really gratifying when these things start to come together like this! Of course, it’s going to make it difficult to keep going with the entire platoon, for sure, but it’ll be worth it!

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This week, I’ve started to read The Emperor’s Legion, the first book in the Watchers of the Throne series by Chris Wraight. I’m only about a third of the way through it, but already it’s gotten me really hooked! I’ve felt a little let-down with some of the 40k novels that I’ve read lately, so it’s really nice to finally be enjoying one again! The book has three point-of-view characters, one of whom is a Silent Sister, and one a Custodian Guard. I’ve been considering building up the Custodians that came with the Battle of Prospero box back in the day, and I’ve also thought about getting on with the Sisters of Silence that have been built since 2016!

Yet again, lovely models!

Let’s move away from plastic now, and instead take a look at some paper products! Arkham Horror LCG is something that I want to keep playing, but haven’t really had a great deal of time for since baby Phoebe came along last year! I did manage to get through the entire Dunwich Legacy campaign before her birth, though, and it’s certainly whetted my appetite, and while I’d been buying all of the cycles without playing, the most recent cycle, the Dream Weavers, was the first one that I didn’t get. I was actually thinking about calling it a day with the Circle Undone, but now that we’re off to Innsmouth, I’m thinking I may need to invest in this one, as well!

The expansion feels like it’s a bit of a return to some aspects from the classic board game, with blessings and curses, and flooding locations!

As the Lord of the Rings LCG appears to draw to a close with the Vengeance of Mordor cycle, the fourth pack of which arrived last week, I think it’s time to get back into this game above all, and get playing more once again. I’m hoping that I can persuade Jemma to join me on this venture, as well – husband and wife against the shadow of Sauron, what could be better?

I’ll be sure to update you all with progress, at any rate!

Magic the Gathering is something that I’ve definitely moved away from in the last year or so. I think War of the Spark was the last set I bought cards from, and haven’t actually played the game for a long time! However, Ikoria has caught my eye because (a) it has massive creatures, and (b) we’re seeing a return of the Tarkir shards! There’s a massive creature in the Mardu colours (red, white and black – my favourite!) that is a “dinosaur cat nightmare” – I mean, what’s not to like?!

The Shards also get Ultimatums, there are new tri-lands with the land types so that you can tutor for them; the Tarkir dual lands are back, and we even get a new Narset planeswalker card! There are a lot of nice cards in this set, and a lot of them would fit nicely into decks that I remember playing and enjoying from back in the day. I need to fight the impulse to get some of these cards!! But they’re so nice…

Oh, Ikoria is testing my resolve not to buy more cardboard crack!


Finally, let me go off-topic now, and fill you in on what I’ve been doing in the couple of weeks since my last blog. I’ve started work on another blog – though don’t worry, I’ll still be sharing my ramblings with you all here! I’ve been learning French once again, after having gone sixteen years since I did my A levels, and thought it’d get me into doing a lot more with it, as I try to put everything that I’m learning into practice! So I’ve started a blog as I try to make sense of it all, which can be found here, if you’re interested in that kind of thing!

Apparently, it’s summer now…

Hey everybody,
It’s been raining something terrible here in the UK for the last week or so, which has left me with a lot of indoor pursuits to take my mind off the fact we’ve had more than a month’s rainfall within hours. I’ve already talked about getting back into Magic, which has been very exciting as I’ve been rediscovering that classic. I’ve got quite a bit more to discuss on that, of course, so those blogs will be peppering my site over the coming weeks and months. I’ve already got some lined up, to keep things going while I move house (though when, exactly, that will be, remains to be seen!) so I thought I’d check in with everything else that has been going on!

First of all, I’ve really gotten back into painting, and have been really getting somewhere with my Skitarii army ideas from days gone by. I’ve been toying around with quite a number of list ideas, though for now I’m trying to focus on painting up what I’ve got built, and ensuring I can bring down the pile of shame into something more akin to a proper army.

I’ve managed to get two lots of five troops, along with one HQ and one elite slot finished. Once I’ve finished up the Tech Priest Enginseer and the next ten Vanguard painted up, I want to move back to making the two lots of five troops into two lots of ten, which I’ll probably do alongside another character model. I’ve also built up five Sicarian Infiltrators, which I really like – especially that Princeps model! I love the insane technical details on these models, and I’ve really enjoyed painting the abundance of clips and plugs and screens on the Enginseer, so I’m expecting to enjoy him as well!

It’s my plan to get 500 points of AdMech painted up soon, so that I can start to play games with them. I don’t have an Imperium army that I can play with, so I’m looking forward to seeing how they work. Once I’ve got those 500 points finished, I can keep painting and adding to the collection, but at least it will be an army that is seeing some action, at last!

Skitarii list 500 points

My thought process here is to keep adding units that interest me, or that I feel that I need, once I’ve been able to try the army out and see what it’s all about. I’m guessing that heavier artillery will be a requirement, and I’ve already started to put some paint on the first Dunecrawler twelve months ago, so hopefully that will be making an appearance before too long!

On the subject of painting models, I’ve also been fidding with some Necromunda miniatures, the Delaque gangers that I’d built back in December. I want to get into this game so badly, but finding people to play with has been proving a bit more difficult than I’d thought – hopefully soon, though, I’ll be able to get either the Delaque or Van Saar models to the table and try it out! I just hope I actually enjoy it!

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I’ve also been reading Warhammer 40k novels quite voraciously, as I try to work my way through quite the backlog that I have! The Space Marines Legends series was a short-lived set of hardbacks that focused on a single Space Marine hero from one of the popular first-founding chapters. I’d read the first book in the series, Cassius, back in 2017, and was quite impressed overall. Lemartes takes us to the Blood Angels, and discusses the cursed sons of Sanguinius with the dual flaws of the Red Thirst and the Black Rage. We follow a Chaos incursion on the planet Phlegethon, which the Blood Angels are sent to put down. The Death Company are unleashed on the cultists, along with those brothers from the Fourth Company who are particularly susceptible to the Red Thirst. When the cultists bring down the wrath of Khorne on the planet, these brothers almost lose themselves, but fortunately the unbridled fury of the Death Company is able to bring down the greater daemon Skarbrand.

It’s an enjoyable enough novel, though it felt a little bit like a non-event in the grand scheme of things. I also read Azrael recently, by the king of the Dark Angels, Gav Thorpe, but I was particularly unimpressed with this one. It just felt interminable, and the plot was particularly uninspiring overall. Also dealing with a Chaos uprising, and showing Azrael’s ascent to Supreme Grand Master of the Chapter, I was hoping we’d get to see a lot more of the inner circle, but instead it all just fell a bit too flat for me. Ah well!

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A bit more recently, we have Cadia Stands, which is something of a tie-in to the Gathering Storm series that brought 7th Edition to a close. The novel deals with, well, the Fall of Cadia, as the forces of Chaos emerge from the Eye of Terror for Abaddon’s Thirteenth Black Crusade. Yes, he’s had a Thirteenth Black Crusade before, but this is a different Thirteenth Black Crusade. I really found myself enjoying this book, as we followed groups of Cadians around the planet. I thought it was really quite interesting to see how the soldiers reacted to the increasingly Chaotic events on-world, as some struggled to evacuate from the warzone.

The book has been followed up by Cadian Honour, which seems to follow up on one of the soldiers featured in Cadia Stands, Minka Lesk. I’m not normally one for Cadian stories, as I’m not a fan of the army in-game, but I enjoyed this one enough that I’m thinking I’ll probably give it a try soon!

Arkham Horror LCG

From 40k to Lovecraft, and it’s been quite an adventure this afternoon, as I’ve finally started playing the Dunwich Legacy!

I’ve been playing this game for what feels like a long time now, but have never made it past the Core Set. Back last October, I finished the core set campaign, Night of the Zealot, and so built up some decks with the new cards and thought about starting up the Dunwich Legacy, but other things seemed to get in the way. Well, I’m pleased to report that I’ve finally made it to Dunwich!

I’ve played the first scenario, Extracurricular Activity, using my Jenny Barnes and Ursula Marsh decks. I know Ursula is a more recent investigator, but the deck was built, so there we are! I really enjoyed it, seeing how the game has evolved from the core set already was quite interesting. There is a strong discard theme in the first scenario, at least, which I wasn’t expecting – I didn’t quite see my decks completely discarded, but even so, it was something I wasn’t really prepared for, and the hate leveled at investigators by the Agenda for having a large discard pile was really something!

Arkham Horror LCG Dunwich Legacy

Overall, I’m really enjoying this game. I’ve been buying everything for it as it has been coming out up until the current cycle which, due to real life intrusions, I hadn’t been aware had been released! When I popped by the games shop recently, it turns out pretty much the entire cycle has been released now, though I’m fairly sure I’ve only picked up the deluxe cycle.

FFG have recently announced a fifth deluxe expansion, The Dream-Eaters, which has also taken me unawares! The way the campaign works for this expansion is quite unique, as it features scenarios set in the real world and in the Dreamlands, and you choose one of the two for your investigators to follow. There is still talk of a cohesive eight-part campaign, though, so it sounds as though it will still be a traditional cycle. I may even have caught up with it all by then, and be able to play this one as it happens!

While I am loving this return to the Arkham Horror LCG, and finally getting round to seeing what I’ve been missing all this time, I’m also excitedly awaiting A Shadow in the East, the next deluxe expansion for Lord of the Rings. I haven’t played that game for a long time now, I know, but it is still up there for me, and I look forward to getting my grubby little hands on it!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
It’s time to continue the tradition of the Christmas Lovecraftian delvings, and look at some of the short stories that I’ve been reading by the light of the Christmas tree. This year, I’ve been re-reading some old favourites, as well as investigating some little things that are new to me!

Let’s start with the always-wonderful Thing on the Doorstep. I first read this about five years ago now, and it was one of the few Lovecraftian tales that genuinely chilled me. It tells the story of Edward Derby and his ill-fated marriage to Asenath Waite, one of the Innsmouth Waites who has some very peculiar ideas about transferring consciousness (among other stuff). Over the course of the tale, Edward Derby becomes increasingly insane, it seems, convinced that his wife has some kind of hold over him, only to be revealed that she has indeed – through some foul sorcerous deeds – been taking control of her weak-willed husband. Even a marital separation can’t prevent Asenath from possessing Edward, and she eventually seems to have taken permanent control of his body. It’s up to the narrator to sort things out, by shooting his best friend before it’s too late – but what on earth is that thing crawling on his doorstep..?

It’s one of my favourite of his tales, with a very definite tie in to the Arkham line of board games etc – I remember a game of Arkham Horror where I had both Asenath and Herbert West as allies, making for a particularly hilarious game as I thought of the mischief each would no doubt be plotting behind my hero’s back! I also remember playing a game of Eldritch Horror with Charlie Kane travelling the globe and using Asenath for spell-casting… Anyway!

A short tale, The Statement of Randolph Carter is a bit of a spooky tale that seems to be told as a kind of confession. It concerns the nocturnal adventures of the titular Randolph and his occultist friend Harley Warren, as they attempt to access the underworld following Warren’s researches in a peculiar Arabic tome. Harley goes deep into a tomb in a graveyard somewhere near a cypress swamp, and screams for Randolph to flee before never being seen again. Randolph, for his part, loses part of his memory of the event, and the story is effectively his testimony as to what happened to Harley in the swamp. It is the first time the character of Randolph Carter appears in a story by Lovecraft, though he would reappear in later writings – including the famous Dream Cycle.

Continuing the link with the Arkham games now, The Unnamable is a short little tale that is set in the graveyard of the New England town, and details a debate between two gents on the nature of the supernatural. It has the hallmarks of a sort of campfire ghost story to it, and references several locations within the town that will be familiar to fans of the boardgame as being locations to be investigated. Notably also, the narrator is again Randolph Carter.

Herbert West – Reanimator is another classic that I’ve read before, chronicling the black-hearted career of Herbert West and his attempts to return people from the dead. Notably, Herbert and the narrator attended Miskatonic University in Arkham, the first time this venerable institution was mentioned in a short story by Lovecraft. West and his assistant have a series of near-successes across six short installments, each ending with a particularly gruesome climax. The tale had been serialized, which leads to some slightly annoying recaps at the start of each section, but the story itself is just wonderful gothic horror. We see West, always keen to have the freshest corpse possible, actually kill someone in order to then bring him back from death, before finally being abducted off into the bowels of the earth by his failed experiments of the past. Wonderful stuff!

Also serialized was the short story The Lurking Fear, which is a sort of classic haunted-house-on-the-hill type of tale. The house had been shunned by those living in its shadow, who were convinced some fell beast stalked within. The intrepid narrator attempts to get to the bottom of the matter with predictably morbid and horrific results. Again, it has that sort of sensationalized ending to each of its four parts, and while I wouldn’t say it was quite as classic as Herbert West – Reanimator, it was nevertheless a decent enough read!

He is a weird little tale, which is similar in parts to Cool Air that I read a couple of years back. The narrator follows a mysterious gentleman who appears to have preserved his life for more than a few centuries, and proceeds to show him some eldritch magic or other, including visions of the past and future New York, with dire warnings about the rise of the Chinese that, unfortunately, shows some of Lovecraft’s darker side.

Weird, but then, I suppose that’s the point of these stories!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
Continuing my tradition of reading more Lovecraftian weird tales over the festive break, I thought I’d provide another run-down of the stories I’ve been enjoying in the third annual ‘Mythos delvings’ blog entry!

The bulk of this year’s reading has been taken up with The King in Yellow, RW Chambers’ collection of short stories that revolve around the mysterious, diabolical play that has the power to drive people to insanity just by reading it. The book is a collection of ten stories that reference to a varying extent the play, and was published in 1895, when Lovecraft was just 5 years old. The stories vary considerably, but I have to say that my stand-out favourite is the first, The Repairer of Reputations. It’s a story that has all of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, with a narrator that slides into insanity over his perceived rank of the King of Carcosa. The story has got an element of early science fiction to it, set in 1920s New York and contains startling reference to America’s victory over Germany in a world war, as well as describing America as having produced a nobility following some kind of cleansing of foreign elements. A particularly morbid aspect is the legalisation of suicide, and the story involves the opening of a “lethal chamber” where folks can go to kill themselves with ease. We follow the narrator, Hildred Castaigne, as he seeks to secure his succession as king in the Imperial Dynasty of America, with the help of the eponymous Repairer of Reputations, Dr Wilde. Hildred seeks to remove his cousin Louis from the “succession”, but is thwarted and cast into an asylum, where he dies. The story is an excellent study in weird fiction, and the horror comes out as we see Hildred slowly spiral into madness. There’s an excellent description of a mechanical safe that he uses to store his diadem, but which Louis dismisses as a biscuit box, and I’ve subsequently read that the lethal chamber could actually be a subway station, as seen through the deluded eyes of Hildred. It’s certainly one of the best short stories I’ve read in a long while!

While I did like the stories in this book, it was more because I’m a longtime Lovecraftian gamer, and so got to see who these people are who turn up in the games, such as the aforementioned Hildred Castaigne, Jeanne d’Ys, et al. However, it has very little in common with the Mythos overall, except for the odd exclamation about the lake of Hali and whatnot. Hastur is just another of these exclamations, and it doesn’t feel like Chambers really had any sort of idea for the concepts other than throwing them out as weird-sounding stuff. Of course, Lovecraft used the word as well, without much expansion, and it was August Derleth who eventually turned him into the elder god that we gamers are familiar with today. The concept of The King in Yellow as a play that causes insanity is interesting, but again, isn’t really fleshed out other than mentioning it offhandedly. It’s something very similar to Lovecraft’s own Necronomicon, which also causes madness in its readers, though I do feel that Lovecraft provides more meat for those bones. Perhaps it’s just my over-familiarity with Lovecraft as opposed to having just last week read Chambers.

Lovecraft hasn’t been neglected, of course, as I’ve been reading quite a few of his shorter stories. To start with, The Tree is perhaps one of the most un-Lovecraftian stories I’ve ever read, dealing with a pair of sculptors in ancient Greece. As a classicist, I liked it, but as a fan of weird fiction, it didn’t really feel all that, well, weird. It’s a short story, though. The Cats of Ulthar is perhaps one of Lovecraft’s more famous stories, showcasing his love of felines in a creepy little tale about the community of Ulthar, where an elderly couple kill any cats that turn up near their hovel. When a traveler’s kitten disappears, this couple is suspected, and the guy calls down a curse on the two; all of the cats in Ulthar disappear for a day, then return much fatter than they were previously. Turns out this mysterious traveler caused the cats to eat the couple…

We’re off to Kingsport for the next couple of stories, starting with The Terrible Old Man, which tells of an attempted robbery on one of the denizens of the town, only for the robbers to disappear, turning up as mutilated corpses in the sea. The story is nice and short, and has just the right amount of suspense and creepiness to it that makes it delightful. The Strange High House in the Mist is almost a sequel, dealing with the philosopher Thomas Olsen’s intrepid exploration of the strange house of the title. Olsen is hosted by the weird occupant for several hours, as he talks of the past and whatnot, before having a fantastical encounter with the god Nodens. Olsen returns to Kingsport, but even the Terrible Old Man notices the difference in him. It’s an odd story, again fairly replete with lore for an enthusiastic Arkham Horror player!

The Horror at Red Hook is a tale I’ve read before, and features our good friend Thomas Malone from the Arkham Horror base game. The story details some black magic goings-on in the Red Hook area of Brooklyn, and revolves around the strange case of Robert Suydam, who is revealed to be an occult practitioner using magic and human sacrifice to retain his youth. As one does. The story is interesting to me, as it features a police inspector as the main protagonist rather than the usual idle intellectual; I’ve mentioned before how many of Lovecraft’s stories usually derive their horror from the fact that these intellectual types are at risk of losing their mind, a much more valuable commodity than physical harm. The story is an interesting one, though does suffer from some of Lovecraft’s strident racism. As with most of these things, though, I read them for the enjoyment of seeing stuff from the board/card game universe.

The Rats in the Walls is another that I’ve read before, and reminds me of a somewhat disastrous date I was on back in 2011 or 2012. The story, anyway, is set in England, in the wonderfully gothic “Exham Priory”. The tale basically deals with rats in the walls, which prompt the unnamed narrator to dream of his family’s ancient and morbid history. Basically, the De La Poer family kept human cattle in an underground city to serve as a stock of flesh to satisfy their cannibalistic urges. The narrator, following an expedition into the lower levels of the house, goes insane at the revelations of his family’s history, and is committed to an asylum, shortly after which the Priory collapses. It’s got perhaps more of the gothic horror to it than the more usual cosmic horror, though we do get a gasp of Nyarlathotep towards the end. The expedition under the Priory has all the suspense of classic Lovecraft, however, and the physical descent beneath the foundations nicely mirrors the figurative descent into the family history – and into madness.

I’ll finish with The Shunned House, which is another of these classic horror story types that Lovecraft does so well. The unnamed protagonist becomes fascinated by the history of a house on Benefit Street in Providence, RI. Along with his uncle, he looks into the history of the Harris family, and discovers all kinds of peculiar goings-on with the members of that family. Turns out the house is built on top of the burial site of a French daemon-worshiper, who has been leeching the souls of the house’s inhabitants since the eighteenth century. The protagonist and his uncle spend the night in the cellar, and his uncle is claimed by this diabolist, leading the protagonist to pour a load of sulfuric acid into the hell-pit, cleansing the house. The story is just great, with the sort of increasing build-up of suspense that Lovecraft does so well. It’s a straight-up ghost story, without any of the cosmic horror attributes of the Cthulhu mythos around it, but even so, it’s definitely worth having a read!

Mythos delvings

Hey everybody!
Continuing with my tradition of reading Lovecraft at Christmas, I thought I’d present another little look here at some of the tales that I’ve been enjoying this year!

To start with, I’ve had a look at Under the Pyramids, a tale ghost-written by Lovecraft for Harry Houdini in 1924. My main reason for this was the purchase of the expansion to Eldritch Horror for Christmas, but I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The story isn’t too bad, a classic Lovecraftian story that sees the protagonist (Houdini himself) exploring Egypt on his way to an Australian tour, only to be bound and gagged by a band of Arabs and dropped into a cleft in the earth. Being Houdini, of course, he manages to escape, whereupon he wanders the dark corridors underneath an ancient temple, and encounters the horrible mutant-mummies worshipping the fearsome monster that inspired the building of the sphinx. Lovecraft’s usual protagonists tend to be bookish professor-types, so having the celebrated magician is a novelty. Overall, a fairly enjoyable tale, though I can’t say it was as good as some of Lovecraft’s other stories. Despite an obvious knowledge of Egypt, I feel that the attempt to superimpose his usual brand of cosmic horror onto an established culture fell a little short.

Continuing with reading the “collaborations”, I’ve also taken a look at The Horror in the Museum, one of Lovecraft’s “revisions” to a story by Hazel Heald. This story is a curious beast, describing the protagonist Stephen Jones as he accepts an offer to spend the night in the waxwork museum of George Rogers. Rogers attacks Jones, before being himself killed by the elder god Rhan-Tegoth, to whom Rogers had been sacrificing his “guests” for years. The story ends as Rogers becomes another exhibit in the museum. I say it’s a curious beast because the inclusion of the elder god seemed a bit strange, almost forced, when considered around the story of the museum. However, it’s an enjoyable-enough story, and one that fans of Lovecraftian boardgames will no doubt appreciate for its tale of Rhan-Tegoth, who was featured in Innsmouth Horror. I also feel that it’s something of an important story in the wider terms of the mythos – Lovecraft made his living through revising other peoples’ work as much as selling his own to magazines such as Weird Tales, and this story seems to be one of the more prevalent ones. The contents of the museum are equally like a roll-call of the mythos, featuring statues of Night Gaunts, Chaugnar Faugn, and Cthulhu himself.

Back to Lovecraft’s own work now, and let’s start with Cool Air. It’s a fairly creepy tale, while remaining quite innocuous at the same time. It tells the story of a chap who moves into an apartment in New York underneath a doctor, and the two hit it off after the narrator is treated for a heart attack. The doctor lives in an apartment that is entirely refrigerated, and when the system breaks down, it eventually transpires that the doctor died 18 years previously, and had managed to cling on to life by keeping his apartment so cold. It’s a fairly straightforward story, and to some extent you can totally see the end coming. But yeah, it’s certainly an interesting story.

While Cool Air might seem less like a Lovecraft story simply because of its lack of mythos-related stuff, Pickman’s Model is certainly more on track. We follow the narrator, Thurber, as he visits his artist friend, Richard Upton Pickman, in his Boston studio. Pickman is famous for his grotesque faces, much like Goya, but part of this story involves a visit to his basement studio, where the proceedings are interrupted by a weird scratching sound. Pickman discharges a revolver at whatever it is that makes a scratching, while the narrator checks out Pickman’s latest work, a diabolical image, the model for whom apparently exists as a real entity. It’s the usual suspenseful story with a mind-bending denouement, as the narrator finds a photograph of a monster Pickman was using to paint the work from. It’s a short, yet really good story, one that I can definitely recommend. Pickman himself is figure so closely connected to the mythos in the boardgaming world that I was just as excited to finally learn about as for reading the story on its own merits!

Beyond the Wall of Sleep involves an intern at a mental hospital where a murderer is brought in, who turns out to be having some disturbing dreams. The intern uses some telepathic radio equipment he built in college to try to communicate with the man, and learns he is playing host to an extra-terrestrial being. It’s an interesting story, with some really interesting ideas, though it does seem a little off somehow. I think the idea of strapping these radio things to their heads and communicating telepathically is a bit goofy, but the whole thing about a patient at an asylum being possessed by a star-being is very Lovecraftian, and very much in keeping with the whole gothic horror stuff. Definitely worth checking out at least the once.

Returning to Eldritch Horror tie-ins, The Outsider is a curious tale that seems to recount a dream, having a healthy dose of horror and non-sequiturs. The Outsider of the title narrates a tale of loneliness, as he lives alone in a vast, crumbling castle. One day, he climbs to the top of one of the towers, where he enters a strange, marbled world of an old churchyard. Exploring his surroundings, he finds a strangely familiar castle, full of the sounds of revelry. However, upon climbing through the window, the revelers scatter in terror. It turns out there’s a disgusting abhuman creature in there. The twist is that he was looking in a mirror, of course. The story is one of Lovecraft’s most-reprinted, apparently, the dream-like quality accounting for reams of commentary. I quite liked it, for my part – the twist at the end is masterful, explaining a lot of the earlier dream-like story and tying it all together quite neatly. At the end, a couple of references are made to Nephren-ka and Nitocris, the latter having appeared in Under the Pyramids in the underground chamber scene.

Finally, and something of the main event of this season, was The Haunter of the Dark. Lovecraft wrote this story in 1935, in response to a letter in the Weird Tales magazine that suggested he wrote a story killing off the author Robert Bloch (author of Psycho, among other things), who had himself killed off a Lovecraft-inspired character in his own story, The Shambler from the Stars. The author Robert Blake moves to College Hill in Providence, RI, and is drawn to the steeple of an old church he can see across town. He investigates the dilapidated church, discovering a curious stone among some other occult artifacts, along with the classic Lovecraftian library of books such as the Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Following this expedition, Blake comes increasingly under the spell of a mysterious entity that only comes out in the dark. After a series of storms knock out the electricity in the town, some sinister activity at the church precedes the discovery of Blake dead, presumed of electric shock. This one is what I would call classic Lovecraft. The suspense that comes through as Blake explores the church, then the tension during the night of storms – it’s all just classic gothic horror!

A great selection this time round, I have to say!

Let the Dark Waters flow!

Dark Waters Trilogy

Happy Halloween everyone!

As the night draws in, I thought it’d be fun to take a look at a great little trilogy from one of my favourite genre writers, Graham McNeill – it’s the Dark Waters trilogy!

Released from Fantasy Flight Games between 2011 and 2014, the trilogy takes place in the Arkham Horror universe, and features characters from that game as well as introducing a new, central character Oliver Grayson, a professor at Miskatonic University. The series follows him on the trail of a mystery that starts with the disappearance of some female students on campus, and uncovers a plot to destroy the world.

As a tie-in, the novel has a lot of ground that it sometimes feels like it needs to cover, however it actually turns out to be a really great story. The first novel actually features a sequence that is strongly reminiscent of the actual Arkham Horror gameplay mechanics! Certainly appeals for fans of the game. Something else that appeals to the gamers is the opportunity to get game extras by sending off a coupon in the back of the novel – the first two books, at least, had this, where you could get cards for both Arkham Horror and Elder Sign:

Dark Waters Trilogy

A nice touch, I thought, and well worth getting if you enjoyed the books. Which leads to a weird kind of cyclical argument for recommending these things. Most of the people who bought these books, I gather, did so for the cards on offer, without reading them. However, I’d say that you’d get more out of seeing these things come up in-game if you’ve read the books.

The books are a great adventure romp set in the world of Arkham Horror, a bit like a cross between Indiana Jones and Buffy the Vampire Slayer (specifically Reptile Boy from season two) though perhaps a more suitable comparison could be Jules Verne’s ‘gentlemen adventurers’. It’s certainly an enjoyable trilogy, much more straightforward fun than Lovecraft’s cosmic horror.

Have a happy Halloween, everyone!

Mythos delvings

Hey everyone!
I’ve mentioned Lovecraft quite a few times on this blog since it began, most often it seems in relation to a board game or other. However, I’m also a big fan of his writing for its own sake, and not just the inspiration for some awesome games! For a number of years now, it’s been something of a tradition for me to read a couple of the weird tales over the festive period, stemming back to the time I read The Shadow over Innsmouth by the light of the tree. Fantastic times, I must say! So I thought I’d ramble on a bit today about those tales I’ve been enjoying this festive break!

To start with, I read The Dreams in the Witch House. There are some aspects of the Arkham Horror board game that I’ve been intrigued by, as I hadn’t come across them in my survey of Lovecraft, and the Witch House is one of them. In this short story, we see less of the cosmic monster-gods, and more of the almost mundane-by-comparison witchcraft. Though this is still Lovecraft of course, so it’s got that wonderfully gothic twist. We also get to see a lot of Arkham, as the story follows Walter Gilman’s traumatic experiences lodging in the witch house. It’s a pretty good story, anyway, and while it deals with an ancient witch rather than Cthulhu or Shub-Niggurath, it’s still unmistakably Lovecraft. Critics have judged it harshly – one putting it on a par with The Thing on the Doorstep as one of his worst, but then I really liked that story, too!

The arrival of Mountains of Madness this Christmas had prompted me to look more into the origins of Ithaqua, one of those stalwarts of the mythos pantheon as far as the games are concerned. I’ve therefore spent more time this year reading non-Lovecraft mythos fiction than ever before, starting with August Derleth’s The Thing that Walked on the Wind. Derleth was a correspondent of Lovecraft’s, and has come under much fire for his treatment of Lovecraft’s work after the latter’s death in 1937, principally for his meddling with Lovecraft’s Ancient Ones into an almost religious pantheon. For all the criticisms, however, we owe Derleth an debt of gratitude for preserving Lovecraft’s work from the obscurity that may well have befallen them.

Derleth created the deity Ithaqua as a sort of ice/wind elemental spirit, thereafter trying to shoe-horn Lovecraft’s gods into similar positions (Cthulhu as a water spirit, for example). The Thing that Walked on the Wind is quite a chilling tale (pun intended) that deals with the bizarre goings-on in the far north. Derleth later reworked the story as The Snow Thing, which is, as you might therefore expect, basically the same story, though with a little more detail this time. However, there is an overriding feel to this version akin to the Bayou investigation that forms (if I remember correctly) the second section of Lovecraft’s Call of Cthulhu. An investigation into disappearances reveals a primitive cult of an ancient godlike entity, this time among the snow rather than the swamps. That shouldn’t detract, of course, and they’re actually interesting stories in their own right.

Derleth was inspired by the Algernon Blackwood tale The Wendigo, which is the first tale in the Ithaqua cycle omnibus. A short story that deals with a hunting party in Canada, there is a classic suspense feel throughout this one, and it’s tempting to suggest it is superior to Derleth’s efforts on this basis. However, Derleth has the pulp charm working for him. Blackwood’s story is based on the Native American legend of the snow-beast, and while the majority of this story uses suspense, we do have a pretty horrible sequence just before the final denouement. It’s a classic tale, and definitely worth digging out if you can!

Tales like the Wendigo show that stories of suspense can be more effective than the classic style of horror story, full of monsters and dismemberment. However, we’re back to Lovecraft now for another subgenre, the dream-fantasy. I read four of what are termed Lovecraft’s “Dunsany tales”, named after the Irish Lord Dunsany, the fantasy author of the Pegāna stories. There is a distinctive sort of charm to early, pre-Tolkien fantasy – Robert E Howard’s Conan stories also fall under this bracket, of course. While I’ve not yet read anything by Dunsany himself, I get the impression that his stories have the dream-fantasy quality, where the tinge of horror comes from the fact that a presumed sane individual is experiencing things that are, by all accepted laws, impossible.

To start with, I read The Nameless City, which is one of these short Lovecraft stories that has so many references that come in his later work, it’s shocking to think it’s not more widely-known. Notably, we have the introduction of Abdul Alhazred, later to be attributed as the author of the fabled Necronomicon, though here as the writer only of the famous couplet:
That is not dead can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die

The story is very strongly reminiscent of the central episode of At the Mountains of Madness, with a trip through ancient ruins and bas-reliefs depicting the history of a vanished race. Reference is also made to Lovecraft’s earlier tale, The Doom that came to Sarnath. A story about a once-great city and its downfall, I felt a strong impression of parallels to ancient Rome here, though the Biblical history of Babylon appears as a strong reference. Again, this tale abounds in references to later works, notably The Quest of Iranon, which I found by turns to be fairly shocking! It has that formulaic pattern to the narrative that evokes the oral poetry tradition of ancient times, which definitely adds to the feel of the tale. The final story in this quartet is Polaris, which is very short, but important for being the introduction of another of Lovecraft’s ancient tomes, the Pnakotic Manuscripts. I found Polaris to be almost too-fantastical, if I’m honest, which made it hard to follow at times.

All of these tales are commonly part of the Dream Cycle, an almost-infamous term in the mythos that is more strongly applied to the later works, starting with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. I have yet to read the Dream Cycle, so that’ll likely be one for next year!

The Dreams in the Witch House
The Ithaqua Cycle
The Thing on the Doorstep (features Quest of Iranon)

A jaunt in the mountains

At the Mountains of Madness is a 1931 novella from the eldritch pen of HP Lovecraft. I’m a huge Lovecraft fan, as you may be aware, and like to read at least one of his short stories over the festive period. Last year, it was finally the turn of the epic Mountains of Madness!

It’s the tale of an academic expedition to Antarctica, following up on a previous expedition that discovered a collection of ruins beyond a range of impossibly high mountains…

Mountains of Madness

There’s a really great atmosphere for the most part of this story, though it does unfortunately seem to flounder a little about two-thirds of the way through. Part of the team goes missing, so the others look for them and find their camp abandoned, with some intriguing specimens that subsequently go missing. Searching for the specimens, the first team discover the city and then spend a massive chunk of the narrative making copies of the wall carvings they find there.

Evidently, the city is the home to some particularly foul beings they call Elder Things, and the scientists delve deeply into the city, where they find dead specimens, giant albino penguins, and are eventually chased through the chasms by a Shoggoth.

Mountains of Madness

The tale is a bit like a classic disaster movie, with that impending air of doom hanging over from almost the get-go – except for that damn sluggish segment where they take notes! I mean, they know something is up from the missing research team and the escaped specimens, yet they take their time in the caverns taking notes! It just felt a bit… stalled…

However, it’s possibly the seminal Lovecraftian work – after Call of Cthulhu, I suppose – and you can’t really pass over reading it at least once. Though, obviously, I’ve now spoilt the ending for you. But you should still give it a try –