Sunday, 2 November 2014

Exclusive Review - Letters to Lovecraft

Edited by Jesse Bullington

Published by Stone Skin Press

‘Like cultists poring over a forbidden tome, 18 modern masters of horror have gathered to engage with Lovecraft’s famous essay, 'Supernatural Horror in Literature'. Rather than responding with articles of their own, these authors have written new short stories inspired by Lovecraft's treatise, offering their own whispers to the darkness. They tell of monsters and madmen, of our strange past and our weirder future, of terrors stalking the winter woods, the broiling desert, and eeriest of all, our bustling cities, our family homes.’

I’m a Lovecraft fan. I was introduced to his work through the tabletop roleplaying game ‘Call of Cthulhu’ way back in the 1980s, and I got into his work soon after. I’m a huge fan of his Mythos, especially because it doesn’t directly deal with the physical, blood-spattered type of horror that seems to permeate popular culture these days. It’s horrific in the sense that it utilises the fear of the unknown and that sense of hopelessness that gives you the chills, as if everything is out of your control and that reality isn’t what it seems. That’s what makes his work appeal to me; Lovecraft never needed to talk about flailing entrails, torture or screaming cheerleaders being dragged to a very visual fate. He hinted at what was in the darkness, which was terrifying in itself, so on those occasions when the monsters are revealed the terror is multiplied.

Lovecraft wrote essays about the nature of horror and that’s what this book hooks on to. Eighteen authors have all taken snippets from Lovecraft’s essays and created their own short stories based on these quotes. Although not all are typically Lovecraftian they do latch on to that sense of terror and fear that can only really be felt when you do not fully understand what it is that you are terrified of.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from the stories but once I got past the opening two stories, ‘Past Reno’ and ‘Only Unity Saves The Damned’, I got a feel as to what the book was going to offer; a lot of psychological horror. In fact, the second story ‘Only Unity Saves The Damned’ by Nadia Bulkin, which is my favourite story in the collection, captures that perfectly and intertwines what I‘d call and almost Edgar Allen Poe (which is strange, as the book is Lovecraft-inspired) feeling of darkness with modern day found-footage mockumentaries and video hoaxes. It’s a wonderful - if wonderful is the right word - tale of being trapped in a small town and the dispossessed trying to carve their own sense of identity. If I had to choose a story that captures the mood and atmosphere the anthology was going for then I’d have to say that this was it. The final two pages still make me shudder, truth be told.

‘The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.’

This is incredibly true and as one of Lovecraft’s most famous quotes it permeates every one of the stories in this collection, regardless of the part of the essay that the author chose.

The book has an informative introduction by editor Jesse Bullington talking about Lovecraft’s legacy, his less-than-acceptable views on the world, his legacy and how it is perceived today and his essay ‘Supernatural Horror In Literature’, the work from which the authors selected their passages and wrote their stories. I’m sure that reading his essays would cast more light on the themes and drives of the stories but each entry has an introduction that details the selected passage and a short note from the author explaining why they chose that particular piece and how they used it to mould their story. This is more than enough to be going on with and gives you all the framework you need to understand and appreciate the work.

Letters to Lovecraft is a very good book. There isn’t really a bad story in the collection though they do vary in quality – I can’t say that I really disliked any of the chosen stories – and while some of the stories might not link directly to the Mythos it’s not the cosmic horrors that exploded from Lovecraft’s mind that are the driving force behind these stories, but the theme of unknown horror that he tried to explain in his essay. To that end, each of the authors have contributed excellent stories and it’s more than worth the attention of both Lovecraft and general horror fans

Letters to Lovecraft is available on the 1st December 2014 and is recommended reading on these cold, lonely winter nights.