Monday, November 28, 2011
By any measure, H.P. Lovecraft functioned well as an amateur historian, or at least as a great admirer of the past. Innsmouth Free Press' new anthology, Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time, does a superb job of reviving the Lovecraftian appreciation for bygone epochs. Unlike alternate anthologies based around a specific time, place, or theme, Historical Lovecraft places original horrors all across the map.
Horrors New and Old
Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles have used their editorial talents to great effect with this volume. The book is a balanced collection of tales from all eras: ancient, medieval, and modern. Rather than centering around HPL's own colonial New England or familiar European locales, we are introduced to the antiquated natives of cultures all across the world, and experience fear through their unique perspectives.
The impressive and diverse lineup of Historical Lovecraft begins in the paleolithic era with Andrew G. Dombalagian's tale, “The God Lurking in Stone.” A mentally retarded man haunts his sister as he communes with gods far older than mankind. More familiar ancient places come alive in the succeeding millenia.
In “If Only to Taste Her Again,” E. Catherine Tobler brings a horror from the Nile to the court of Egyptian ruler Hatshepsut, while Daniel Mills' “Silently, Without Cease” pulls back the curtains on a portrait of dying Byzantine Emperor Justinian as he bargains with a personification of the ravaging plague. Both authors excel at authentically duplicating the historic scenery and infamous personages that have ascended into the ranks of legend. Toler and Mills effectively twist the already nightmarish mysteries of the past into contorted abominations reflected back through a decidedly Lovecraftian prism.
Moving on, a Spanish Inquisitor attempts to interrogate a blasphemous horror from the New World in William Meikle's brilliant tale, “Inquisitor.” This story nicely illustrates the cross cultural potency concealed in many of these tales, which inject real terror into history's crucial transforming times and places. Inquisitors are certainly interesting on their own, but the hapless churchman who encounters something worse than a demon in this story also experiences a fate a hundred times more entertaining than a re-hash about the evils of extreme Catholicism with a Lovecraftian edge.
Strange, Far Places
The major driver behind the success of the stories in Historical Lovecraft is the editors' commitment to bringing together a truly global sampling of Lovecraftian horrors. For instance, Sarah Hans' “Shadows of the Darkest Jade” follows two Buddhist monks who encounter a far away village seething with evil. Hans shoves us into ancient madness without turning back.
“An Uninterrupted Sacrifice” brings forth the unusual offerings inspired by religious practices in ancient South America. H.P. Lovecraft would probably find it difficult to imagine a story based on his work without a Westerner in sight. This story proves that good Lovecraftiana can arise from authentically alien sources, and places like ancient Peru actually serve to enhance the exotic feeling.
Travis Heermann's “An Idol for Emiko” returns us to Asia, this time during the rise of Japan's Tokugawa Shogunate. More than mere samurai and oriental wonders are on display here. Lovecraft's infamous deep ones make an appearance, filling a small coastal village with predictable horrors, but getting to the gruesome end has never been stranger through early modern Japanese eyes.
In more modern times, “Red Star, Yellow Sign” by Leigh Kimmel infuses Lovecraftian themes into a relatively obscure historical event: the murder of Leningrad Mayor Kirov during the Stalinist era. The incredible mystery and myriad conspiracies surrounding Kirov's demise are made stranger still by introducing R'lyeh into the equation. Kimmel thoroughly captures the paranoia and totalitarian horror intrinsic in Soviet society, and her firm historical knowledge and knack for horror makes this a candidate for best story in the book, amid strong competition.
It seems that history and Lovecraftian horror will always walk hand in hand, since it has been that way from the beginning of the Cthulhu Mythos. Fortunately, the historic backdrops only grow richer and curiouser as time passes. Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Horror Through Time furthers that evolution along its natural track, and for this reason, it's not to be missed.