Mythos delvings

Hey everybody,
It’s been another exciting Lovecraft season – in fact, it’s almost been like some kind of Lovecraft overload this last few weeks, as I’ve read all manner of weird fiction from both the master and several other mythos authors! After my two-part blog exploring some of the wider Cthulhu mythos stories, including some really significant works such as The Hounds of Tindalos, it’s time to once more immerse myself in the “baroque prince” himself.

This year, I’ve read The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the longest piece Lovecraft wrote, which has the distinction of having its own blog entry back in November, which you can check out here. Going right to the other end of the spectrum, I’ll start this year’s foray with several shorter pieces, beginning with the fragment Azathoth. This is just three paragraphs from a proposed novel by Lovecraft that date from 1922, intended to form a story “in the 18th century manner”, with Lovecraft mentioning Vathek as a literary inspiration. It is quite flowery and very evocative in its language, describing a character who is tired of the current age where imagination and dreams have died. It is possible that the themes it would have explored were later taken up in the Dream-Quest, though Lovecraft mentions in a letter the possibility of there being a more Arabian Nights flavour to the work. It is notable for containing the first mention of the blind idiot god Azathoth, although only in the title.

Slightly longer is Nyarlathotep, a “prose poem” from 1920 which offers a pretty grim picture of human society, with a lot in common with He. Nyarlathotep is presented almost like a travelling salesman, albeit one who has woken up from millennia asleep in Egypt. He offers society a very dismal picture of life, and his revelations cause all manner of mass hysteria in the streets. I’ve read that it’s possible the story is meant as something of a parody of Nikolai Tesla’s electrical demonstrations, although I don’t know if that was the intention. I have read this story before, though, and remember being really quite baffled by it then as well – it is very weird, and I think a good example that shows how Lovecraft used these bizarre names for effect and colour, without really a great plan behind them. 

Another “prose poem” is Ex Oblivione, which dates from the same year as Nyarlathotep but has a much more Dreamlands feel to it. A bizarre dream-like sequence from the narrator, telling of a dream of a bronze gate that he wishes to explore beyond. When reading papyri that speak of the gate, he discovers beyond it lies oblivion, and so takes a drug to induce him to dream again. Very odd, whether the gate is meant to be a metaphor for sex or otherwise!

Dagon is another short story and was one of the first tales Lovecraft wrote as an adult. There are, nevertheless, many of the hallmarks of Lovecraft’s style already visible here, such as the narrator near to the breaking point when he relays his story, the half-glimpsed slimy monster, the endless, madness-inducing blank vistas. It describes a seaman who escaped capture by the Germans during WW1 and coming across an expanse of rotting mire possibly thrown up from the ocean floor, walks in search of shelter. He finds a monolith carved with strange figures and runes, which attracts the attentions of a huge sea creature which appears to worship at the stone. Having been rescued at sea, he has taken to using morphine to forget what he saw, but when that proves ineffective, he decides to commit suicide. What a ride. Dagon, of course, would later surface as a religious cult in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, though the creature in this tale is possibly a member of the species and not the creature Dagon itself. Parallels have also been drawn with The Call of Cthulhu, which many think of as a re-writing of this story. It’s one that I’ve read before, but I honestly didn’t remember any of it from that earlier read!

Another story that I’ve read previously is The Music of Erich Zann, during the time when I used to read Lovecraft by the light of the Christmas tree. The story takes place in what is possibly Paris, where a poor student rents a room below the “genius” Erich Zann, a viol-player (not a violinist, as is often said, but apparently a genuine player of the viol, the forerunner of the cello). Zann plays in a cheap theatre orchestra, then comes home and plays utterly bizarre music through the night, which the student finds beguiling. Wishing to hear more, he presses Zann for a performance but is alarmed at Zann’s reaction to his request for the weird music. It seems the musician is playing his music to ward off some supernatural terror, which lurks beyond the garret window – though after the merest glimpse, the student abandons the house and can never return. It’s a story that Lovecraft said he liked a great deal, though later in life he worried that he had not been as explicit in what the horror Zann faced actually was. But it’s that subtlety that has otherwise given it critical praise. I do like it, its French setting lends it something of the air of The King in Yellow. I remember the Call of Cthulhu LCG had Erich Zann as a Hastur-aligned character, though cases have been made that Zann is facing off Nyarlathotep and, possibly, Azathoth itself (weird music vs weird music?) I suppose it doesn’t really matter – the atmosphere is key, as always, and the sense of weirdness comes through very clearly, without needing to resort to anything further. It’s almost like Lovecraft lets us decide in our own imaginations what is happening here, and I like it!

A bit more prosaic horror comes from The Hound, which is a story of grave-robbers haunted by that which they disturb. I believe it is intentionally over-the-top, as we follow the story of a chap who, along with his friend, has grown weary of what life can offer, so has started robbing graves. You know, as you do. When they dig up a similarly-depraved individual, they find a curious amulet which they take, but which prompts a giant hound-like creature to start haunting them. When the narrator attempts to return the amulet following his friend’s gruesome demise, he finds the hound-like beast occupying the coffin, and flees the graveyard, writing this story before he plans to shoot himself. I thought this one was more generically-scary, and aside from the language, it didn’t really feel a great deal like Lovecraft himself – until we get to the fact that this is the first time he mentions the fabled Necronomicon! Yes, the storied tome of unspeakable horror from the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, gets its first mention in print in this story. From reading around on the internets, it seems this is really the only reason to read this one. Ah well!

Sticking with some more prosaic horror, The Beast in the Cave was written when HP Lovecraft was 14. It’s actually not bad, either – I mean, I wrote a clarinet sonata when I was 14, but I don’t think I would ever be brave enough to publish it! HP, on the other hand, was churning out horror stories… This one is a fairly interesting one, as well – a chap gets distracted while touring a show cave, and having heard of colonies of people isolating themselves in the caves, goes off looking for evidence. His torch goes out and he hears something running up to attack him, so throws some rocks and manages to knock it senseless, whereupon the tour guide comes back and together they kill it. But the horror – it is clearly a mutated man! As I say, it was quite fun, all told!

To finish, though, I have re-read The Colour Out of Space, one of the big stories from Lovecraft’s later period (if such a thing can be said to exist). I call it a big story, though it isn’t long per se, it just seems to loom large within the Cthulhu mythos with which I am most familiar. The story is set against the backdrop of a reservoir being built, where, 40 years prior, Nahum Gardiner and his family saw a meteorite hit their land, thereafter the ground became tainted with some noxious substance and nothing grew well. The animals died, or ran off, and the family grew steadily mad, with their distant neighbour Ammi Pierce telling all of this to a surveyor for the reservoir after he has seen the acres of “blasted heath”. The reason for this tragedy is described as a “colour”, though one of unearthly hues, which had leeched from the meteorite into the ground, and driven the family mad when they drank water from the well. The story is pure, classic Lovecraft in so many ways, and features several hallmarks of his writing such as the “backwoods” informant, the indescribable horror, the science element, etc. Indeed, the story is often billed as sci-fi rather than horror, although Ammi’s account of his search through the Gardiner house really is classic horror – it is a classic blend of the two genres. The story was Lovecraft’s attempt to portray a truly alien adversary – the titular “colour” is just truly bizarre, almost like a cloud of vapour, which begs the question how is it sentient? Truly other-worldly. This one is what I would describe as one of the classics of Lovecraft’s tales, among the pantheon with The Dunwich Horror, The Shadow Out of Time, and so on, one of the real heavyweights. I’m surprised, really, that I don’t really remember it from the last time that I read it. It has a very disturbing atmosphere to it, which continues to build and build – it’s really very good, and while it might not have Cthulhu or any of the other famed elder gods taking part in the proceedings, but it definitely succeeds for me!

That’s it for another year!

November Retrospective

Hey everybody,
The end of the year is fast approaching, and it’s been really great to have these monthly retrospective blogs to look back on the progress that I’ve made with all manner of projects – hopefully they’ve been as interesting to read as they have been to write!

For November, the pace seems to have been a bit slow, as we slide towards the festive season. I’ve been reading a lot of weird fiction this month, which has shown itself in two blogs covering a variety of stories from contemporaries and followers of HP Lovecraft, before then the man himself popping up last week with The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I do love a bit of cosmic horror, and I think it’s been good to read some of the more extended mythos stuff this time around. It’s all very uneven, of course, and a lot of these stories could hardly be called masterpieces, though they are fun, which for me is the main thing. I am planning to read more of Lovecraft’s own horror stories over Christmas, of course, so do stay tuned for the traditional Mythos Delvings blog!

Reading so much weird fiction has, of course, gotten me back into playing the LCG. Having kinda planned out a series of games with Trish and Agnes, playing through some of the standalone scenarios, I’ve since pushed this idea to the side in favour of an actual campaign once again: The Innsmouth Conspiracy has well and truly started! I’ve built new decks, for Stella and Zoey, and hope to finish that in the coming week or so. I’ve got next week off work, so fingers crossed I can have more games then, if nothing else!

I have been trying to get somewhere with my painting though, and after a month off in October, I’ve been back to the Genestealer Cults, getting more Neophyte Hybrids painted up alongside an Acolyte Iconward and a Clamavus. These characters weren’t part of my original scheme, so it may mean that I end up not completing the 500-point list by the end of the year – that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking to it! I’m hoping to move onto the truck next, and still have the 5 Hybrid Metamorphs to do something with. So, we’ll see how far we get. But hopefully it’ll be a nice-looking little force, so I’m excited for that!

The Genestealer Cult hasn’t really been languishing for it, but I have moved on a little bit to another little project. After starting to read the third novel in the Grey Knights series, Hammer of Daemons, I’ve obviously moved on to these fellas once again, as it’s now a bit of a tradition for me to see how far I can get with them! I’ve got another 5-man Strike Squad on the table currently, along with a Brother-Captain. My painted Grey Knights are currently somewhere on a par with my painted Genestealer Cultists, in terms of size, so I suppose there’s a nice symmetry there in terms of building up both of the smaller forces. While I did initially think 9th edition might mean a slimming-down of my backlog, both of these armies are quite beautiful, and I really feel that I want to keep them.

My big news for November is that I’ve actually played my first game of Warhammer 40k this year, at last! Lockdowns do get in the way of these things, don’t they? JP and I took the tried-and-tested Chaos Space Marines vs Necrons out for a spin, but as ever, we spent most of the evening talking about all manner of junk and didn’t get much gaming actually done! I’m still not wholly sure about 9th edition, if I’m honest – I think it might be the subject for another blog, but I’m still not entirely in love with it. Which is slightly concerning, because if the recent pattern still holds true, we’ve only got about 18 months left before 10th edition rolls around…

It hasn’t even changed a great deal from 8th edition, really, it’s just the additional stuff in the rules have made it feel like it’s an overly complicated game now. When I sat down with the core rules a while back to try to make sense of them, it really surprised me just how little has actually changed. It certainly isn’t the seismic change from 7th to 8th that I experienced as my first edition change, but there’s something just stopping me from really enjoying it. I think this is probably something to explore in another blog, though. I might have a smaller-scale game with the Genestealer Cult and my mate James’ Black Templars soon, though, so maybe playing with a smaller model count might make things a bit better to understand, etc! Of course, that has its own problems when playing with an older Codex for the Genestealer Cult. Hm.

At any rate, I have been thinking that I would like to get more of my Necrons painted – I do have a lot of Necrons painted, for sure, but I need another ten Immortals, 5 Lychguard and 5 Tomb Blades to be finished before I can say that I’m happy with the force as it is. I’ll then be turning my attention to the stuff that I currently have painted, but which could be done better – some stuff like the Annihilation Barge could do with a bit of work to make it a bit more visually appealing, I think. So, I’d like to try and get the models that I think of as “finished” up to a better standard. Then there’s all manner of other units I need to turn my attention to.

I’m really chuffed to have got my hands on the new set for Warcry, Red Harvest, and have already started to build up some of the models from it. The design team are really knocking it out of the proverbial right now with this stuff, and I am utterly bowled-over by how good this stuff is. I think the terrain is what got me interested in this box, but the actual game content seems to be really great, too. It’s always nice when you get something like this – essentially a box of plastic – and there is a great rule set to go alongside it! My current plans, though, are to build up the new Tarantulos Brood warband, then potentially try them out in some regular games of Warcry with the core set stuff. It might be quite some time before all of that terrain is built, after all!

I have no more plans to attach to any of my hobby things right now, though. I think I just want to concentrate on getting my Genestealer Cultists done, and seeing where I can get to with the Grey Knights and the Necrons. If I can build and/or paint anything else, then that’s a bonus for me! I’m looking forward to making my way fully through the Innsmouth Conspiracy, and will have some more thoughts up here when that is all said and done. Who knows what else the month of December may hold? I do have some time off to look forward to, so there could be many exciting things yet to fill 2021!

The Case of Charles Dexter Ward

Hey everybody,
While I normally wait until the very end of the year for my mythos reading blogs, as I wrote the other week, I have been indulging myself a little early this time around, and have been reading the longest piece of fiction from the pen of HP Lovecraft: The Case of Charles Dexter Ward!

This novella comes in slightly ahead of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and At the Mountains of Madness. Never published in full during his lifetime, it is a curious story in parts, and is firmly in Lovecraft’s vein of witchcraft and alchemy rather than the more cosmic horror – although the story does mark the first mention of Yog Sothoth in his output. The tale chronicles the madness of young Charles Dexter Ward, something of a bookish antiquarian who discovers an ancestor so abhorred that all mention of him was struck from the historical record, which naturally sparks his curiosity. His research is broad, and he unearths a lot of history which begins to consume him – quite literally, as it turns out. His ancestor, Joseph Curwen, was linked to the Salem Witch Trials, and moved to Providence to effectively start over as people became curious about his longevity and perpetual youth. After more than a century, when the rumours became too many to ignore, it was pitchforks at the ready, and Curwen was apparently killed. Well, once Charles discovers some of his paperwork, and retreats to his laboratory in the attic, things get a bit messy and the rumours start to fly in present-day Providence, leading his family doctor to investigate what’s going on. Turns out, Curwen body-snatched Charles from beyond the grave, and was born anew. It’s up to the good doctor to put an end to it all.

What a wild ride! This story seemed somehow very cinematic, whether it was because of Lovecraft’s choice of the omniscient narrator this time, rather than first-person narration, or just the fact it was a much more low-key cosmic threat? Sure, Yog Sothoth is up there in the spheres, and Curwen and his mates are digging up famous folks to bring them back to life in the pursuit of their knowledge. But it’s not all cyclopean madness from outer space, you know? The historical touches were really nice, and it was interesting to see how the story of Curwen’s life in the 18th century could be seen to mirror the present-day narration with Charles. I did feel quite sorry for the central protagonist, though it’s arguable that the stuff in which he was dabbling could only have led to one conclusion, and he really ought to have known better. But it’s almost a case of curiosity killed the cat here. I was a little unclear on the whole premise of who was who, at one point – there’s Charles, his new associate Dr Allen, and then there’s Curwen’s reincarnated spirit. Which might have been intended to be Dr Allen, but then it seems that Curwen’s spirit inhabited Charles’ body, as they were so alike anyway. So who was Dr Allen? And what did the family doctor find behind the portrait? Not sure on a lot of that. Apparently Lovecraft never revised this, though, so maybe it would have been cleared up if he had come back to it?

There is a bit of a walking tour of Providence that forms the majority of the preamble, which I’ve read some negative reviews for, though personally I don’t mind it so much. It’s all part of Lovecraft’s style, after all, giving us these verbal street maps and so on. There is a touch of the autobiography in here, as well, and the excellent notes that accompany the Penguin Modern Classics edition are really quite exhaustive in providing the background on the real people and real places that Lovecraft uses to give the tale that air of authenticity. I would say that it’s definitely worth reading, even if you prefer your Lovecraft to have huge mythos beasties and the like, because of its place within Lovecraft’s canon at large. I’m certainly glad to have finally gotten round to it, at any rate. There are some flaws in there, some plot elements that could perhaps have benefited from more development (the vampirism in particular), although I accept that a lot of Lovecraft’s style comes from hints and suggestions, and he leaves it up to us to decide what form the horror should take. The sense of atmosphere that comes out of the piece though – in particular in building up to the confrontation with Curwen in 1771 – is really very nicely done, and I thought the suspense as we learnt more of the past was really good. Dr Whittle’s exploration of the catacombs towards the end was just pure Lovecraft, and I think was the highlight for sure. Overall, I think it’s a good weird tale, I enjoyed the magical elements as a change to the more fantastical story elements.  

What’s Going On?

Hey everybody,
It feels like it’s been a while since I had a catch-up blog here, though it’s not exactly like things have been hectic or anything, so I’m not sure what’s up with that. At any rate, November is quickly slipping away and it won’t be too long before I’m here with my penultimate Retrospective post of the year! That said, I thought it might be nice to just take five minutes and ramble about what’s been going on, almost to move me along with some things so that the Retrospective post will actually be a decent read!

I’ve been very heavily immersed in weird tales the last couple of weeks. I’ve been reading a wide variety of weird fiction by many contemporaries of HP Lovecraft, and have also made an early start on reading more by the man himself, stay tuned for a blog coming next week on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward! It’s always nice to read some of these stories at this time of year, as it seems really cosy and whatnot, now that the days are shorter and colder. Just the ticket for reading about weird and fantastical goings-on!

Perhaps inevitably, then, I have returned my attentions to the LCG, and have built up a couple of decks for tackling The Innsmouth Conspiracy! I finally picked up the first mythos pack for the cycle a good few weeks ago now, after feeling a bit disappointed during its release that I couldn’t play it because of missing that pack. I’ve had the Stella Clark pre-built deck sleeved up for about 12 months now, but after a half-hearted attempt with her and Winifred Habbamock at the Excelsior Hotel, which felt like it was going nowhere fast, I have changed the deck a little bit, including some cards which I think (hope!) will play better with my overall plans for her. I’ve paired her with Zoey Samaras from The Dunwich Legacy, too, as I had read on reddit that she was a decent companion. But I suppose it doesn’t really matter a great deal, as my pair of Daisy and Ashcan Pete for the Carcosa cycle really shouldn’t have been anywhere near as good as it turned out!

I’ve retired my idea of playing Trish and Agnes with the standalone scenarios, as well, favouring instead the idea of playing a proper cycle (I have enough of the unplayed, after all!) and slotting in some of the standalone stuff when I feel like it. We’ll see how that goes, anyway! For now, though, I’m very excited to be getting into another campaign for the winter season!

While I might be poised to start playing the Arkham Horror LCG once more, I have for now turned my attentions back to Warhammer 40k, and to the Grey Knights, no less! It’s another of my winter traditions, it seems, to be thinking about the incorruptible Chapter 666, and for the last couple of years I’ve been reading the novels in the Grey Knights omnibus. Hammer of Daemons is the third in the trilogy, and while I’ve only just started to read it, I am quite excited already to be seeing where this one goes!

I didn’t really get very far at all with my Grey Knights last year, in terms of painting them, so it’ll be interesting to see what progress is made this year, if any! I don’t think I’m going to be getting rid of these chaps anytime soon, though. I haven’t yet picked up the codex, unfortunately, but I’ve been hearing some very interesting things about how they play now in 9th edition, so I am curious to see what I can do with them on the table.

After basically taking October off in terms of painting, I have once more been painting miniatures, both Necrons and Genestealer Cults – my dreams of a 500 point force fully painted by the end of the year are still alive, people! I’m hard at work on another 10-man Neophyte squad, although I have somehow along the way also picked up the Acolyte Iconward, and the Clamavus, both of which I’m also painting as I go. It’s been quite the slog, if I’m honest, but I’m trying to make myself do a little bit each day, and so far, as you can see, they’re not looking totally terrible. I think a few more sessions can see the squad finished, if not the two characters, as well. Fingers crossed!

My biggest, and most exciting news, though, is finally getting in a game of 40k this year! Necrons vs Chaos Space Marines, me and my buddy JP back gaming, even if neither of us was really clear on the rules and spent the first 4 hours of our game day just talking about nonsense and general catching-up. We played one full round, after which I think I was ahead on points, though it was getting pretty late for a school night and we had to call it a day around midnight. A lot of fun was had, a lot of hobby love was rekindled, and we’re intending to play again soon, hopefully with the same armies and terrain set-up! Much to my chagrin, I hadn’t really looked at the models I brought with me, so ended up with a mixed squad of Immortals representing all-tesla chaps. So I’ve been building up five more Immortals, all-tesla, all the time. That will give me a massive blob of 40 Immortals, 20 each of gauss and tesla.

It actually prompted me to look into the possibility of an all-gunline Necron army, using the models that I either have ready or have on the to-build or to-paint pile. I can squeeze almost 2000 points of this stuff out of Immortals and Warriors, Tomb Blades, and the supporting artillery of a Doomsday Ark, an Annihilation Barge and a Triarch Stalker. Interesting… maybe one day I might try it!

I do like the Tomb Blades though, even if they are just horrendous models to build and to paint! I’ve got five tesla bikes, and three gauss bikes, all of which need painting, but I think I might make more of an effort with these at some point, because they have been a tremendous threat on the table – not because they’re particularly amazing, but their speed makes them look like a threat, so they formed a fairly decent distraction while the Praetorians I brought went up the other side of the table and ended up with Slay the Warlord between their pistol attacks and voidblades!

Despite seeing some really curious comments about Necrons being underpowered online, I thought that the new codex made them perform really well in the partial game we played a fortnight ago. However, I suppose that is against an army that is still using an 8th edition book.

Fingers crossed we can get in that rematch game soon, anyway! Stay tuned for more Genestealer Cults updates, and the exciting start of my Innsmouth Conspiracy campaign!!

Beyond the Mythos: 2021 edition (part two)

Hey everybody,
I quite enjoyed my November mythos dive last year, reading some of the weird fiction of Lovecraft’s circle and broadening my horizons accordingly! So much so, I thought I’d do it again! This is part two of a two-part series covering some of the wider mythos tales out there, you can read part one here. Much like last time, I’m once again going to cover one of Lovecraft’s collaborations to mix things up a bit, but first, let’s head to Lovecraft’s disciple, August Derleth. The man who, along with Donald Wandrei, almost single-handedly ensured the survival of Lovecraft’s work and name as an American author by collecting and publishing a volume of his work, founding a publishing house along the way specifically to do so, he is nevertheless divisive among Lovecraft scholars for his later development of the Cthulhu mythos into something that many see as far-removed from Lovecraft’s own vision.

So let’s take a look at The Dweller in Darkness. It’s one that I’ve read before, and one that I find really quite nicely evocative of the great white north. We have legends of Rick’s Lake, where people have gone missing in curious circumstances for a while – the reappearance of a frozen missionary, said to have disappeared 300 years ago but whose remains are determined to have only been dead five years, intrigues a local academic, who heads up there and promptly goes missing, too. His graduate students from the university follow his trail, and set up a Dictaphone to record the eerie nocturnal sounds. The story has got a lot to like about it, there is a lot of atmosphere here and a lot of local colour. Derleth was well-known for this aspect of his writing, of course, and it’s something that I recall from having previously read his tales. Where it falls down, for me, is how Derleth seems fond of using Lovecraft and his writings as a factual source, and not fiction. Here, the missing academic had asked for his students to send him a copy of The Outsider & Others, the first volume of Lovecraft published by Arkham House. It always wrenches me out of the story, but it seems to be a hallmark of his style – Lovecraft himself appeared as a character in The Return of Hastur that I read last year. The story also has a fairly substantial discussion of Derleth’s ideas for the Cthulhu mythos pantheon, where the Great Old Ones are set in opposition to each other as elemental deities. To some extent, it feels like name-dropping rather than anything more. The story ends with the students calling down Cthugha, the fire god, to destroy the area around Rick’s Lake, which it transpires is the earthly haven for Nyarlathotep – after having been advised to do so by the desperate voice of their professor on the Dictaphone. As I said, there is a lot to enjoy here, it somehow just falls a bit short because of the use of Lovecraft himself, as I said.

From Derleth to the man himself now, and one of Lovecraft’s collaborations. The Electric Executioner is one of those titles that has intrigued me since I came across is years ago. A collaboration with Adolphe de Castro, it tells the story of a mining investigator tasked with finding a missing mine worker, who has absconded to Mexico with a lot of the company paperwork. Hardly the most auspicious start to the tale, but on the narrator’s train ride in to Mexico City, things take a sinister turn when he is suddenly joined in his otherwise deserted compartment by a man with a large suitcase. The man overpowers him, and tells him that he has been selected as the first human test subject for his electrocution device, a device that has been shunned by the state of New York as a method of execution. The man is more than a little deranged, and seems to be trying to bring about the return of Quetzalcoatl to the world, determined to kill everybody before the feathered god returns. The narrator manages to stall enough before launching into some faux-Aztec patois, which causes the man to inadvertently kill himself with the device. But that’s not all – the man disappears from the carriage, and when the narrator is told that the mining thief has been found dead in the mountains. It turns out the mine thief is none other than the chap from the train, so how did his body get from the carriage floor to that cave system? It’s okay – a little creepy, but nothing really as exciting as I was perhaps hoping. The mine thief chap does make some ritual mumblings which sound like Aztec-inflected versions of the usual Lovecraftian cult chants, including a “Cthulhutl” and “Yog-Sototl” which made me smile. Ultimately, it does feel a little bit silly, the way the narrator is able to convince the madman to model his execution device.

Interestingly, though, this story is one where we can see the original, as it had been published previously by de Castro as The Automatic Executioner. It is quite an interesting read, to see what Lovecraft added to the original. Mainly, it seems to be the atmosphere and tension, although it also seems to be the case that the narrator is watered down a bit to emphasize the difference between himself and his would-be attacker. The odd cultist reference is just peppered in for effect, and the final act with the discovery of the body is increased for further horrific effect.

To Clark Ashton Smith next, and a couple of stories that have that curious early fantasy feel to them. Ubbo-Sathla is a short story that tells of a man who finds a strange, pulsating crystal in a curio shop in London, takes it home, and gazes into its depths. He is aware of the pre-human civilisations of Hyperborea, and has read of such times in the Book of Eibon, and so gradually finds himself being subsumed by the stone until he loses all sense of self, travelling back in time to the very birth of the world, when the god Ubbo-Sathla exists in yeasty splendour. Fairly interesting stuff, if a little bit gross when describing the big god guy. Notable for being a bit of a crossover with Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, the story starts in the best tradition of weird tales, but quickly turns into that kind of dark fantasy that is common with CAS.

And speaking of dark fantasy, The Dark Eidolon is a short story from Smith’s Zothique series, which are a kind of future-fantasy that imagines a continent emerging somewhere in the Indian ocean, taking in parts of India, Arabia and Australia/Indonesia. While it is couched as a future (“Dying Earth” is the term that I’ve seen on Wikipedia, a setting at the end of the Earth’s lifespan) there is that element of Arabian Nights-style fantasy that seems to be prevalent in the fantasy of this time. The story details the revenge of the sorcerer Namirrha, who was almost trampled to death by the horse of the Prince Zotulla. Namirrha throws in his lot with the archfiend Thasaidon and builds a palace right next to Zotulla, from whence he sends ghostly horses each night to terrorise his foe. Thasaidon refuses to outright destroy Zotulla however, as destruction of Zotulla and his realm will deprive the fiend of many subjects. Namirrha then sells his soul to Thamagorgos, Lord of the Abyss, and invites Zotulla to his palace for a feast. There, Namirrha is attended by all manner of zombies and half-rotten ghouls, before forcing Zotulla to drink a poisoned draught that places the emperor’s spirit in a statue of Thasaidon, while Namirrha himself takes over Zotulla’s body. Thasaidon, furious at this turn of events, gives Zotulla the power to kill his body, driving Namirrha back into his own skin with no memory of these events. Namirrha proceeds to attack himself in madness, while the demon horses of Thamagorgos destroy the entire land. The story is quite grisly, to say the least, and definitely tends towards the bombastic at the end! Borne out of a need for revenge, the lengths Namirrha goes to are quite extraordinary, if I’m honest – especially the morbid feast and the destruction of the entire land. It’s interesting, I suppose, because it’s probably the most pulp-y story that I’ve read so far! I tend not to think of Lovecraft’s stories as being the kind of adventure-serial pulp stories printed like Zorro and Flash Gordon back in the day, but they do all belong to this kind of genre!

Let’s talk about the older generation for the moment. Ambrose Bierce isn’t particularly remembered today, but he did come up with the names Carcosa, Hastur, Hyades and others that so captured the imagination of Lovecraft and later mythos writers. An Inhabitant of Carcosa is one of those stories that is often quoted as the inspiration of the name but doesn’t really develop any ideas in the way they were later used. The unnamed narrator finds himself in an unfamiliar wilderness and is worried about how he came to be there – as his last memory was of falling asleep with a fever. Further exploration shows an area with old tombstones, and while resting beneath a tree, notices a stone with his own name, date of birth and date of death. He realises that he must be amid the ruins of ancient Carcosa, and has clearly died from the fever. I liked this story quite a lot – it was interesting for seeing so many references to stuff like Carcosa and Hali, which were taken up in later works such as The King in Yellow and yet have been altered from their original setting here.

Haïta the Shepherd is a strange tale, notable for the introduction of Hastur, who is here a benevolent shepherd god. Haïta, who has hitherto been a pious worshipper at the shrine of Hastur, threatens to stop his devotions unless Hastur helps to save his flock from drowning. Haïta is visited by a mysterious maiden who disappears as soon as she questions him, but a hermit he cares for identifies her has happiness. There’s a classical feeling to this story, and it reminds me a little of some of Lovecraft’s more pastoral works. It is a bit curious, I think because of the name of Hastur looming in the background there – having all of the baggage of the Cthulhu mythos that has come along since, and seeing what that has made of the name, it lends an atmosphere to an otherwise fairly placid tale. I suppose it goes to show the imagination of some of the mythos writers, who could turn out so much from so little.

I’ll finish with Robert Bloch. Bloch was another of Lovecraft’s proteges, and of course later went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter, after gaining notoriety from his novel Psycho. Lovecraft used a fictionalised version of Bloch in The Haunter of the Dark, Robert Blake, after Bloch himself had used a fictionalised version of Lovecraft in The Shambler from the Stars. The story almost appears autobiographical, as the narrator is a young student who is also struggling to make it as a writer of weird fiction, despite several rejections. He determines to gain occult knowledge in order to perfect his craft, and obtains a copy of De Vermis Mysteriis, an occult tome introduced here by Bloch and analogous to the Necronomicon. Reaching out to a “mystic dreamer” from New England, the two meet and pore over the work, but unfortunately, said mystic dreamer reads a passage aloud and accidentally summons a vampiric daemon creature, which devours him. The narrator, in panic, burns the man’s house down and flees. The story has that element of Bloch’s sense of humour in how the horror comes through an accidental daemon summoning, and I feel there is something akin to Clark Ashton Smith’s humour there. The star vampire is of course familiar to any Arkham Files gamer as one of the stable of monsters. Lovecraft enthusiastically approved the idea of killing off this fictionalised version of himself, and his sequel The Haunter of the Dark was written shortly after this tale was published, almost as a direct sequel. Bloch then wrote a sequel to Haunter, closing out the trilogy with The Shadow from the Steeple. But I think I’ll save that one for another time…

Beyond the Mythos: 2021 edition (part one)

Hey everybody,
Welcome to the first of a two-part blog series charting my wider reading within the Cthulhu mythos this year! After my first exposure to writers within the mythos last year – authors from Lovecraft’s circle such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E Howard and August Derleth – I thought it would be nice to do the same thing again this year, branching yet further, and have spent a couple of weeks almost immersed in these weird, weird tales! I’ve read so many that it would probably be too unwieldy to confine to a single blog post.

Without further ago, let’s dive in!

The Horror from the Hills is the novella by Frank Belknap Long that introduces Chaugnar Faugn to the mythos – the weird elephantine deity from the Far East. What is thought to be a statue or idol of the deity is brought to a museum in New York, under a cloud of some brutal killings. When the museum curator, Algernon Harris, notices the trunk has changed position after one such murder, we go into academic overdrive as he tries to dig deeper into the whole affair. Visiting the psychic Roger Little, he and the museum’s director learn of dark beasts in the Spanish Pyrenees, which seem to be linked with Chaugnar Faugn’s legend. All hell breaks loose when Harris receives a call to say the idol has disappeared; Little, learning of a killing spree around the city, unveils his ‘entropy machine’, a device that can send things back through time. The three chase Chaugnar Faugn down the eastern seaboard, attacking it with a green light that is eventually able to break down the god’s corporeal self to send it back through time to a point where it hadn’t existed, though Little fears that it is not the last that the Earth has seen of Chaugnar Faugn.

Somewhere in this story there is a really good mythos tale. I think part of me was put off by the fact that it runs a bit too long, unnecessary for some parts, and another part of me feels distinctly turned off by the sort of casual racism that’s even more rampant than in Lovecraft. It’s always interesting to read tales that have had a major impact on the mythos that are not by Lovecraft, of course, and I am glad to have read it to see what it’s all about. But I do feel as though some fat could have been trimmed – the story is almost famous for including verbatim a dream that Lovecraft told to Long, and while it’s interesting to have that in facsimile copy, I feel a bit like it was unnecessary. You almost end up reading this for the meta reason of reading the dream, and not because the story is actually good. That sounds a bit harsh, actually. Like I say, there is a good tale in there somewhere – I think I’d have preferred it to have been a bit leaner in the telling.

I’ve also read The Hounds of Tindalos, also by Long, which has the distinction of being the first mythos tale to be published by someone other than Lovecraft. It’s a bit barmy, if I’m honest, and deals with Halpin Chalmers and his efforts to time travel through the use of an exotic drug from the East. Chalmers goes back, but is spotted by some supernatural beasts, the Hounds, who can attack people by entering our dimension through angles (as opposed to the curves of time that, apparently, Einstein propounded). As such, Chalmers softens all of the angles of his room with plaster of Paris, but he delves too deep and the plaster crumbles, and the Hounds get him.

While being slightly bonkers, not least for all the scientific theory put forward in the story, it’s nevertheless kinda fascinating to read. I know of the Hounds from their many, many appearances in the Arkham Files series of games, and indeed they’re later mentioned by Lovecraft himself in The Whisperer in Darkness. The story is told alongside some newspaper snippets, giving it a sort of documentary feel, which I really enjoyed. However, I’m not a big fan of Long’s style here – not many people simply “say” things; instead, we have far too many “murmurs” and the like, which gives the impression that the protagonists are all muttering to each other. I’m all for literary variety, but why can’t people just have their speech reported, and be done with?

There are common elements between both Long stories that tie themselves strongly to the Cthulhu mythos, such as the weird science and the horror of creatures from other times and dimensions. That Long and Lovecraft were friends probably accounts a lot for this (it was apparently Long who persuaded Lovecraft’s aunts to take him back in after his marriage ended). I wouldn’t say that Long simply reproduces Lovecraft, though – I think there is a definite sense that this is a different author, if only because Long can’t seem to sustain the baroque, florid language that is so often Lovecraft’s hallmark.

Henry Kuttner is a new discovery for me this mythos season. Another of Lovecraft’s circle, Kuttner wrote quite a few short stories for the mythos. The Secret of Kralitz is a story somewhat in the mould of Lovecraft’s genealogy-type stories, where a family secret is passed down the generations. It’s short, and has some tangential links to the mythos as the protagonist learns of his family’s unholy alliance with Cthulhu etc. It was Kuttner’s first story that has links to the mythos, though he had been selling stories and poems to pulp magazines for years by this point. The Salem Horror is by far my favourite of his stories that I’ve read so far. It’s got strong overtones of The Dreams in the Witch House, though being set in Salem gives it a lot of atmosphere with very little work. The author Carson is renting the so-called Witch House in which he hopes to finish his current novel – though it proves difficult because of the noisy street outside. Following a rat into the cellar, he finds an underground room that is promptly dubbed The Witch Room, having stone mosaics in the floor, and also a curious metal disk. The Room attracts several mystics, including Michael Leigh, who takes a particular interest. When the grave of Abigail Prinn, the former occupant of the house, is robbed and her body disappears, Carson is overcome with a nervous exhaustion and retreats to the solitude of the Room, only to witness the mummified cadaver of Prinn attempting to bring forth the gelatinous mass of Nyogtha – to be thwarted by the timely return of Leigh.

While perhaps a little derivative of Dreams in the Witch-House, I still found this to be a really enjoyable tale, and very atmospheric. There are letters from Lovecraft to Kuttner where the former gives him notes, including geographical, and helps with the tone. We’re basically reading pulp stories from their 1930s heyday, so we can’t really expect high art! It was good, I thought, and I’m definitely intrigued to read more of his work.

Let’s mix it up a bit next, and move to Lovecraft himself!

Out of the Aeons is one of Lovecraft’s collaborations with Hazel Heald, which bears something of a familiar sense to the earlier Horror in the Museum, both stories being concerned with mummies as museum exhibits. The story was published in 1935, and is quite notable for its long central discussion of the Nameless Cults of Von Junzt, which details the prehistoric cult of Ghatanothoa, a Medusa-like ancient one whose gaze turns a person’s body to stone, yet preserves their mind intact. Creepy! It’s all brought about when a mummy is discovered on a heretofore undiscovered Pacific island in the 1870s. The mummy is installed at a small museum in Boston, and is largely unnoticed until the 1920s sees a sensational account of it published in the newspapers. A swarm of visitors ensues, many of which are described in Lovecraft’s less-than-charming manner, and it seems like these cultists (for want of a better term) are trying to revive the mummy. See, Von Junzt relates the story of an ancient civilisation of Mu, dating roughly 200,000 years prior, that worshipped Ghatanothoa. A priest of Shub-Niggurath attempts to destroy Ghatanothoa’s power over the people with a magical warding scroll, which is replaced by the High Priests shortly before he goes off to confront the deity. The popular press naturally speculates that the mummy is this priest, and that the so-called true scroll still exists, and will bring him back to life. A series of disturbing events takes place in the museum, culminating in the death of two intruders, one of whom seems to have been petrified when the mummy’s eyes suddenly open. See, the mummy is indeed the priest, and upon his retinas can be faintly seen the outline of Ghatanothoa, caught in that moment before his own mummification. As the mummy is examined in the museum laboratory, it is discovered to have a perfectly-preserved brain, after all these millennia.

What a wild ride! This story is replete with references to the mythos, including the Mi-Go of Yuggoth, who of course remove the brains of their test subjects. Coincidence? I get the impression, at times, that Lovecraft is almost more free and easy with his references when revising other peoples’ works than when writing his own. Nameless Cults is the creation of Robert E Howard, so it’s nice to see it explored in this one a bit more fully.

Speaking of Robert E Howard, I’ve been reading more of his weird tales – and man, they are weird! The Children of the Night is one of these early mentions of the Nameless Cults tome, although mentioned in passing as a vehicle for a story that is much more racially motivated than even Lovecraft often wrote! The story begins with a circle of scientist-philosopher types discussing the possibility of surviving ancient cults in the world, with the narrator paying particular attention to the physical attributes to one of these chaps in the circle. When they start passing round a flint axe head, the narrator is attacked and seems to hallucinate a past life, where he was a warrior tribesman who tried to purge the forest of a sub-human culture referred to as the Children of the Night. Coming to, he struggles with the present reality and attempts to kill the guy who hit him. It’s all overlain with racial commentary that was quite prevalent at the time, though as we look back through the lens of where such talk took us, it can make for some very uncomfortable reading.

The Black Stone, also by Howard, is the second of these early mentions of the Nameless Cults. More of a Lovecraftian story than others I’ve read by Howard, it deals with the narrator’s trip into a small village in Hungary to study a fabled black stone, mentioned in several accounts with teasing, tantalising references to archaic rituals and subsequent madnesses. On hearing some of the history of the village and the surrounding valley, the narrator spends the night in front of the stone and witnesses an obscene ritual that culminates with the sacrifice of a baby and a young girl to a horrific toad-like monstrosity. Thinking it just a dream, further investigation shows that, in actual fact, such rituals were a regular occurrence before the Turks invaded. While the narrator himself manages to cling to his sanity, it otherwise has many of the hallmarks of the classic weird tale, and has much in common with the work of Lovecraft.

The third Howard story that I’ve read this time around is The Thing on the Roof. It’s a short tale of two scholars, one of whom (Tussmann) goes searching for a temple in Honduras after reading about it in the Nameless Cults. Within the temple is the mummy of the last high priest, around whose neck is a carved toad amulet which is talked of as “the key”. The reports of hidden treasure are, it seems, exaggerated, but he has brought something back home with him – a hideous commotion sounds from the roof, and Tussmann’s body is found with the head caved in, and the jewel stolen. The room is wrecked, and a strange gelatinous secretion is found around the window. Very atmospheric. Very nice! I did quite enjoy this one, there are a lot of classic mythos bits and pieces in here. It also ties in with the Black Stone, and the toad-like god. Very nice, indeed!

Now Reading

It’s a rainy Saturday in November. The small people are snoozing, and the light is already beginning to wane at 2pm. So I’ve lit some candles, and have settled down with some Lovecraft!

I’ve been reading a lot of Cthulhu mythos stories lately, so you can look forward to a few blogs coming up soon that go through all manner of corners, from Lovecraft and beyond!

But now, it’s time to embark upon The Case of Charles Dexter Ward…

October Retrospective

Hey everybody,
October has been and gone, and it really seems to have been in the blink of an eye this time! I honestly didn’t think it would be over so quickly, but here we are, once again time for a retrospective blog! It doesn’t really feel as though I have all that much to report this month – it might just be that I’ve been asleep for a week or two in the middle of the month. I mean, not much to report + not feeling like an entire month has passed. Hm.

Arkham Horror 3rd edition

This month, I’ve been attempting to write a game blog every Tuesday, like in the old days with my Game Days. I was quite pleased to finally get my Arkham Horror 3rd edition blog written up, as I had originally played that back in January and had been meaning to write up my thoughts on it all year! I also think that I need to play that game more often – writing the blog reminded me of how good it all is, really, so I would definitely like to try it out again soon! I realise that I say this a lot about stuff, and then never get to do so, but fingers crossed that I’ll start having evenings again before too long!

Arkham Horror is still quite the juggernaut of the “serious” board game landscape, in my mind. The amount of stuff that goes on within the game is really quite something, and yet it doesn’t feel quite like it takes over, somehow. I think there’s just the right amount of depth and game to keep it nicely balanced. I think the only down side to the game is just how long it takes – between set up and actually playing the game, it isn’t exactly an easy game to make time for. But I’m kinda glad for that, because those are the sorts of board games I do find myself enjoying, on occasion. Stuff like Runebound from back in the day could take you a good couple of hours, if you wanted, and it’s nice to have a game that can absorb you like that.

Not quite the other end of the scale, but I’ve been playing a lot of the Hellboy board game as well, after talking about it in my board game ramble last month. It’s definitely a game that I needed to get to grips with, and despite only chalking up another three plays with it, I think I’ve spent enough time now with these boxes to understand what it is that I’ve got – basically, I have a lot of options for a fairly neat and straightforward game system. The massive box full of miniatures, the decks of cards that I wasn’t entirely sure about – pretty much all of that now does make sense, and while I’d hesitate to say I’m an expert, I have more of an understanding of the wider game, beyond the tutorial, so that’s definitely good! It’s also been good to play with the Conqueror Worm expansion, and see stuff beyond the frog monsters of the core set. While I haven’t had the opportunity to play it yet, I’ve also been setting up my own random case file deck, stacking it with certain enemies to get some variety involved for me! So that is something to look forward to!

It’s been really nice to get some board games played this month, as it’s something I’ve really missed. I mean, 40k is great and all, but it can be nice to “get back to my roots” as it were! True, I haven’t really been playing the full breadth of games that I used to, but it’s been good regardless! In addition to a lot of Hellboy, I’ve also managed a game with Arkham Horror LCG, playing one of the standalone scenarios. Back in March, I played the Return to Night of the Zealot campaign with Trish Scarborough and Agnes Baker, with the idea that I’d link up a couple of the standalone scenarios as well. It’s only taken me 7 months to get back to this idea, but I’ve played The Curse of the Rougarou, and it was quite an interesting one.

Curse of the Rougarou was, of course, the first “expansion” for the game, coming out not long after the core set and, if memory serves, before The Dunwich Legacy began. It’s a very early scenario, and I think it really shows its age now with some of the newer stuff that we’re used to. The scenario is in two stages, the first where we’re trying to find the voodoo priestess Lady Esprit, who has some information for us about the killings in New Orleans. Once the first act advances, the Rougarou itself is placed onto the board, and a second encounter set is shuffled into the deck, which ramps things up a little. Where I think the design falls down a little is the fact the Rougarou itself is placed on a location, and one of the objectives can be to defeat it. By knowing where it is, that kinda removes the sense of investigative dread that I think the scenario was trying to evoke. If there had been, perhaps, three cards placed face-down, and one of them was the monster but the other two were some kind of decoys, maybe that would have been a better way of doing it? For the most part, you have some low-key swamp leeches and otherwise evocative “ripples on the surface” treacheries, but the Rougarou itself doesn’t seem to want to fight you – indeed, you need to spend clues to engage, and then he runs off when he takes damage, leaving a trail of clues in his wake! During the early stages, I was tooling up my investigators to deal with the threat, and with Trish’s evade shenanigans to keep it there, whereupon I just whaled on it and possibly managed to defeat it? I’m not sure – I certainly forgot the bit about needing to spend clues to engage it, but if Trish evaded first, and used those effects to deal damage, before then fighting an exhausted enemy – does that count? Did I play it right? Not sure how the rules interact on that one, so I went with it and put it down to Trish being a super spy, she was able to find the trail of the beast, then Agnes came in with all the spectral power of Hyperborea behind her to finish it off!

Agnes, you may recall, died during the Night of the Zealot’s Return, but I’ve decided to keep her around because she’s a mystical character, and so has come back from her experience stronger than ever before (she had a Crystalline Elder Sign in her opening hand, which I think is a very thematic aspect to her story!)

It was an enjoyable game, not least because it was my first game with it for 7 months, but I can’t help thinking that the design has moved on, leaving this as something of an odd duck overall. I do like the storyline, and I do like the idea of chasing the monster through the bayou, but from this vantage looking backwards, it just feels like we’ve been spoilt so much by the other campaigns. A product of its time, maybe? Compared with the core set campaign, it’s head and shoulders above. But – assuming I played it correctly – the card pool has grown so that things are a lot more manageable nowadays. It’ll be interesting to see how Carnival in Venice plays, at any rate!

What else has been going on?

Oh yes – I think I might be starting a new army! Well, I probably will be starting a new army, but anyway. During the dim and distant past, I was very much into the Lizardmen for Warhammer Fantasy (I’ve talked about this a bajillion times, how the artwork from Warhammer Invasion got me sucked into this world, and how the rest is history…) Back in 2014, when I was making my first tentative steps in the hobby, I did actually make something of a start with them, as well, but it never got off the ground, and I moved around so many different projects that they were eventually sold off. However, I’m really feeling in the mood for building up a small force of them.

I don’t want to go crazy right off the bat – I’m thinking literally a Start Collecting box and that’s it for the time being. In terms of colour scheme, I think it might be nice to go green rather than turquoise, but I’ll see what I feel like when I have the models. It’s an exciting project, at any rate, and I think it might be good to have a new army to work on – hopefully they’ll go as great as the Ossiarch Bonereapers, and I’ll have loads of new minis painted up in next to no time! Ha!

Weirdly, though, I’ve not actually picked up a paintbrush at all during October. After deciding to make a real push with my Genestealer Cult, and after deciding to make an effort with my Tyranids, I haven’t actually done anything this month! It really seems to have flown by for me, and I think having some parenting adventures that have kept my evenings otherwise occupied, it has led to this dearth of hobby over the month. The only thing I have done is to build up the Delaque specialists box during the middle of the month – some very weird miniatures in that, let me tell you! Of all the games, I’m really hoping to get some more time for Necromunda soon – it’s been a fair few months since James and I had that initial game, and I really hope that things settle down enough for me that I’ll be able to get a rematch in before the end of the year, with or without painted specialists! I’ve not really made any effort to look at the House of Shadows book yet, other than a few cursory flick-throughs, but hopefully it won’t be too long before I’ll be playing for real, and can get to see what I’ve been missing! Fingers crossed.

It surprises me, in some respects, when I look through my logged plays on boardgamegeek, there is no Warhammer 40k at all this year. Indeed, hardly any of my logged games have been with real people! While to some extent that’s the pandemic for you, in my case it’s also the down side to having two children under two years of age! Whenever I say, “I hope to play this more” and the like, it’s really a prayer for bed time to go nice and easy, and for them both to just sleep through the night! Hopefully that’ll come to pass soon, though, and normality can resume! Fingers, as ever, are crossed!

Next month, then, I’m really hoping that I can get back into painting minis, and I’m also hoping to play either Arkham Horror again, or at least play the case file I created for Hellboy. Stay tuned!

Mythos delvings

It’s been good to get back to the mythos! It’s been a couple of years since my last blog post that chronicled my Lovecraft reading by the light of the Christmas tree, and with this season’s glorious return, I’ve got quite a few good ones lined up!

To start with, I re-read The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This is the one that kinda started it all for me, reading weird fiction over the festive season. It also somewhat coincides with my recently discovered surge in interest for the Arkham Horror LCG, which of course is currently in an Innsmouth cycle. The story concerns an unnamed narrator as he is doing a spot of sightseeing and genealogical research along the New England coastline, and decides to visit the coastal town of Innsmouth, almost against the advice he is given. The atmosphere of the story is really wonderful, and I’d forgotten a lot of what makes this a great story. Sure, some of the foreshadowing is a little heavy-handed at times – the big reveal that the townsfolk are basically communing with the fishes can be guessed from very early on – but the attention to detail in the descriptions of the dilapidated town is very striking. Innsmouth certainly looms large in the mythos, and I feel as though this tale is one of the cornerstones of Lovecraft’s writing, much like The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu, and needs to be read by everybody with any sort of interest in this genre.

2020 has been a weird time, of course, so what better time to read some truly weird stuff? This year, I finally made it to another of the juggernauts of weird fiction: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath! Man, this story is weird. I’ve read that it was never published or revised by HP in his lifetime, so who knows whether he would have made any changes or alterations had he decided to do so. At times, it is quite difficult to follow, as well – something I think he himself was quite concerned about. The premise is fairly simple, if a bit fantastical: Randolph Carter (a recurring character in HP’s writings, although I’m not sure he is fully intended to be) wishes to find the location of a beautiful sunset city that he has visited in his dreams, and so he decides to petition the Great Ones who live in Kadath to allow him to enter the city in his dreams. The whole story is told as Carter is dreaming it, and we go on quite the ride through the Dreamlands! Carter visits the forest of the Zoogs, who direct him to the city of Ulthar, the cats who live there being old friends of his. Finding the clue of a carving on a mountainside, Carter is abducted while trying to travel there, and is taken to the moon by the moon-beasts, servants of Nyarlathotep. The cats rescue him, and he travels to the mountain carving where he recognises the features as similar to the merchants of Celephaïs. However, he is abducted again by the night-gaunts, who take him to the Underworld where he is rescued by the ghouls, including one who was formerly Richard Pickman. The ghouls lead Carter through the city of the Gugs and back to the forest of the Zoogs, who are plotting an attack on Ulthar. Carter warns the cats, who in gratitude help him find Celephaïs, where the trail leads north to Inganok. There, Carter is again abducted and taken to a monastery in the Plateau of Leng, and barely manages to escape from the dreaded High Priest Not To Be Described. In his escape, he rescues the three ghouls who helped him through the city of the Gugs, and after a lengthy battle between the ghouls and the moon-beasts, Carter enlists the support of the ghouls and the night-gaunts in flying to Kadath, where he finds a pharaoh-like being who identifies Carter’s dream-vision as his own native Boston. The being reveals himself as Nyarlathotep, who tricks him into flying not to the sunset city but instead to the court of Azathoth at the centre of the universe – and then Carter remembers this is all a dream and wakes up.

Quite the ride! I don’t normally go into full synopsis mode for these mythos blogs, but I felt that it was almost a requirement here, for the depth of story involved! The Dream-Quest is told in one long narrative of around 100 pages, and like I said at the start, it is weird. I read it in sections over a couple of evenings, which is entirely possible as, while there are no chapter subdivisions, there are plenty of paragraphs which begin “The next day…” and so forth. There are so many allusions to other parts of the wider mythos, and names and locations that loom large for me as a fan of the board and card games based on Lovecraft’s work, that I found it quite exciting to be reading something that has been such an integral part of this world for so long.

It also helped that I found myself playing the Dreamlands expansion for Eldritch Horror around the same time, which is something else that has been put off for far too long now!

The story is quite interesting, to me, as it represents the sort of fantasy stories that were prevalent pre-Tolkien, with a lot of influence from The Arabian Nights. Rather than having fantasy equals orcs and goblins, and that sort of medieval feel to it, instead we have exotic locations and truly fantastical creatures. It’s a recurring theme of many of the stories in the Dream Cycle, and I suppose it interests me because it represents what is actually possible within the wider genre of fantasy. I feel as though I’ve been conditioned, almost, into thinking of fantasy in those realms of medieval Europe, so it is really nice to see beyond that, I must say!

Keeping with the Dream Cycle, I also read Celephaïs, a short tale of a man who pursues his dream of the imagined city of Celephaïs, to the point where his own life wastes away and his body washes up on the shores of Innsmouth. The man’s name is not given, though in dreams he calls himself Kuranes, and is a figure who also features in the Dream-Quest. With being fairly short, it wasn’t as weird as the novella!

Shorter still, What the Moon Brings is based off a dream Lovecraft had, and describes something of a surreal landscape, which looks different and “hideous” compared with the light of day. This theme of the transformation of the familiar into the horrible continues, as the landscape becomes more and more twisted. The ending is quite abrupt, making you wonder if the narrator has died.

The Crawling Chaos was a little disappointing, at first, but I think I’d misled myself with this one! The story is one of HP Lovecraft’s many collaborations, although this one appears to be mostly the work of Lovecraft, based on an outline described to him by Winifred V Jackson. The story is only a short one, and describes something of an out-of-body experience following an accidental overdose of opium on the part of the narrator. It reminded me a little of the scenes in Beetlejuice, where they step out of the house and the sand-snake-creatures are running amok. Considering the title of the story is most often associated with Nyarlathotep, I think I was expecting an appearance, but never mind! For completion’s sake, I also read The Green Meadow, the second collaboration between the two. Based on a dream related by Jackson, the story is said to have been recovered from a curious notebook of some otherworldly material, discovered in a meteorite but written in classical Greek. The narrator floats on a slowly disintegrating island towards a green meadow, discovering the dream city of Stethelos before the text disintegrates into illegibility. Not what I would call my favourite of Lovecraft’s stories, though it does have that dream-like quality that shares something with What the Moon Brings.

To finish, this year I also re-read The Whisperer in Darkness. One of the towering greats of Lovecraft’s work, it leans more towards science fiction than the classic horror, although of course there are a number of elements of suspense as the story grows. It is also significant within the wider mythos for containing a great deal of references to ancient gods and creatures, and the like. It concerns the narrator, Albert Wilmarth, and his investigations into some strange sightings following the Vermont floods of 1927. He begins to correspond with a native of the area, Henry Akeley, who has witnessed the curious and horrible creatures that inhabit the wild hills of Vermont, and chronicles his ongoing battle with them as the creatures become aware of him. About halfway through, the tone of Akeley’s correspondence changes, and he invites Wilmarth to visit him. Naively, Wilmarth agrees and is quite shocked to find Akeley in poor health, though his host is able to whisper of the things he has learnt since he has called a truce with the aliens. Wilmarth is horrified to discover that the aliens plan to take Akeley back with them to their planet of Yuggoth (identified with the newly-discovered Pluto) and invite him to join them, also. In classic Lovecraft style, Wilmarth escapes in terror before the aliens get him, barely managing to keep hold of his sanity. Of course, we never really get definite descriptions of these things, but the story features a catalogue of names such as Hastur, Shub-Niggurath, Yuggoth, the Mi-Go, Hali, Carcosa, etc. There are suggestions that the Mi-Go are the alien, fungoid worshippers of Nyarlathotep, although everything is quite vague and it’s almost impossible to pin anything down for definite. It’s all for texture, with Lovecraft, and it works so well to promote that weirdness that we love him for. There is also a wealth of local colour thanks to Lovecraft’s visit to the state in the late 1920s. It really suffuses the latter part of the story, as Wilmarth travels to Vermont. This tale is rightly one of Lovecraft’s finest, even if Wilmarth is a bit of a gullible one!

Horror in your Dreams!

Hey everyone,
It’s game day here at spalanz.com, and for today’s festive offering, I’m attempting to revive my custom of playing Eldritch Horror! There are still a couple of expansions that haven’t yet made it onto the blog, so today I’m going to investigate The Dreamlands, a big box expansion that first came out back in 2017.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

As with both of the previous big box expansions, Mountains of Madness and Under the Pyramids, The Dreamlands comes with a new side board for the main game, featuring locations from HP Lovecraft’s Dream-Cycle stories such as Ulthar and Dylath-Leen. Travel between these boards is, however, much easier than previously seen, as an investigator can either spend 1 clue or test Will -1 while performing a Rest action, and immediately move to the Enchanted Wood location. During set-up, three gates are drawn from the gate stack, ensuring each is for a location not on the Dreamlands board – these locations then receive Dream Portals which also link the boards together. It’s all quite thematic, and depending on where the locations of the Dream Portals are, can make things fairly straightforward to travel back and forth.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

The expansion is very much in the vein of more of the same, as we follow the now-established formula for these things, with two new Ancient Ones, about eight new investigators all from the Arkham Files universe, more cards for the base game locations as well as item decks, and then cards for the new board, and in this case an Expedition-style deck called the Dreamquest deck, which functions in the same way as previous iterations by giving you more complex encounters to follow. There are, of course, Prelude cards that allow you to determine how you’re going to use the new content if you like to structure things that way, and there is a small deck of Adventure cards that work with the Dreamlands board if you aren’t using a Dreamlands Ancient One.

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands

For my first game, I went up against Atlach-Nacha, created by Clark Ashton Smith as the spider god who spins a web between Hyperborea and the Dreamlands. I seem to recall always being fairly creeped-out when playing against this Ancient One in Arkham Horror, though that’s likely due to my arachnophobia. Here, Atlach-Nacha feels like a fairly straightforward Ancient One to overcome – it is more than likely down to the Mysteries that I drew, of course, but I didn’t feel like there was a great struggle as I went around the boards. True, only one of the three mysteries that I drew required me to have Research Encounters, so whereas normally I can be a little bit frustrated with the lack of clues spawning and so forth, here it didn’t really come to pass. I was also very lucky with Luke Robinson gaining the friendship of the cat unique asset which grants you five clues, as this happened just when I needed it!

Atlach-Nacha

The second Ancient One included in the box is Hypnos, who I’m fairly sure has been upgraded from simply a Herald (or was he a Guardian?) in Arkham Horror. Hypnos always works with the Dreamlands board, and has some fairly interesting mechanics for advancing his mysteries. He also has three separate decks of special encounters, which is really neat!

However, I feel like neither of these Ancient Ones is particularly nasty.

I don’t mean this to sound in any way disdainful when I say that this expansion gives us more variety without really breaking any of the rules of the base game, because it really isn’t a bad thing. Eldritch Horror has, in many ways, provided nothing but more of the same in each expansion. The Focus mechanic is back from Mountains of Madness, and that is pretty much the only change from the base game. Everything else is self-explanatory once you start playing, and while we get some tweaks on existing concepts (more Conditions that are actually boons, for example), there’s very little to confuse the uninitiated.

The eight investigators included are all familiar faces with new artwork, some of them are quite welcome having been staples from the core set of Arkham Horror, but only now making their appearance here.

There isn’t really a great deal more that can be said, if I’m honest – the expansion provides much of what we’re used to seeing from Eldritch Horror at this point, and continues the trend as we would expect it. The side board is interesting, with some thematic stuff going on to enjoy, and overall any fan of the base game will appreciate this for its strong ties in to the theme of the source material. I don’t think I’d say it is my favourite of the Eldritch Horror expansions, but it does its job well, and that’s all that we can ask!

Eldritch Horror: The Dreamlands