Murray Ewing's Alice at R'lyeh Reviewed

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Given the strangeness of Lovecraft and the surrealism of Lewis Carroll, it was probably inevitable that some Lovecraft adoring Mad Hatter would attempt to pair the two together. Murray Ewing is that Hatter, impressing his dream of an encounter between Alice and H.P. Lovecraft onto the pages of Alice at R'lyeh. The odd rhymed story that results is available as both a slim illustrated booklet and a free online project.

Ewing's knowledge of his fictional and non-fictional subjects provides an authentic backdrop to an otherwise playful setting. Mercifully, this does not venture into full blown "Cutethulhu" territory--despite the potential for it. Instead, Alice at R'lyeh drifts out as a whimsical, lighthearted piece spotlighting collisions between Cthulhu and the Cheshire Cat as much as the clash between the worldviews of Alice (or is it Lewis Carroll?) and H.P. Lovecraft. Ewing effectively conveys this philosophic disconnect best in this passage:

"But this monster is merely the mask of what's worse —

"The faceless monstrosity of the cold universe!

"The meaninglessness of our bleak situation

"The smallness of Man amidst dark obfuscation!"

"What you say," ventured Alice, "may be true, in its way,

"Though with 'nonsense' for 'meaninglessness', if I may

"And for 'bleak', I'd put 'curious', for it seems so to me

"That the world's full of wonders, not monstrosity.

This ideological depth appears sparsely in the booklet, but it is sufficient to qualify the work as a lightweight tract on the Cosmic and the mundane, a humorous weighing of Lovecraft's mindset against the ultimate surreal whimsy. Fascinating philosophical diversions aside, Ewing is a careful writer who never strays too far from his main presentation: a comedic meeting of Lovecraft and Alice.

It could not have been an easy task to authentically blend the language of Lewis Carroll with that of HPL. Somehow, however, Ewing does an adequate job. Lovecraft's mannerisms and diction are right out of real life, while Alice is a convincing transplant straight from the world of her creator. For the bulk of the work, the quasi-juvenile tone of Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland dominates. This will not appeal to devotees of serious, sophisticated weird fiction. On the other hand, those who appreciate a good Cthulhu joke, the lighter side of Lovecraft, or Carroll's rich surrealism should glean much enjoyment from Ewing's stanzas.

As much as Murray Ewing is to be applauded for conspiring and compiling this odd little treat, it is not flawless. One need only pry their own mind for rhymes to words like Cthulhu, chortlewidth, or Jabberwock to see what I mean. Ewing's bold diction and his dedication to upholding the Victorian niceties of Alice as well as the long-winded speech of Lovecraft results in some choppy lines throughout the narrative. The poem also feels like it could be a bit longer, if Ewing so chose. The story rapidly halts not long after the main action occurs: a rising of Great Cthulhu and the appearance of the Cheshire Cat. Still, these minor drawbacks can be dismissed without too much trouble when remembering that this is intended to be an in-joke for fans of HPL and Lewis Carroll more than anything else.

Several black and white illustrations by Ewing round out Alice at R'lyeh, pushing it into the realm of multi-media project rather than mainline poem. Though all of its contents can be enjoyed for free at the author's website, serious thought should be given to purchasing one of the physical copies. In the years to come, Ewing's creative volume will continue to be a humorous and unexpected collectible in the broadening universe of Lovecraftiana, and may one day take on a not-so-funny price tag as a highly sought curio of whimsical weirdness.

-Grim Blogger

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