Off the Shelf

The Disciples of Cthulhu - Second Revised Edition

By Marcus Pan

In February of 1929, in a little-known pulp horror fiction magazine called Weird Tales, there appeared a short story that would infuse itself into modern culture, literary circles, cults of magic - even popular music, movies and children's cartoons. Talking of a great squid-headed beast that lived in an ancient underground city called R'lyeh, the story bespoke in its title that name of a creature that has spawned an entire mythos of fiction after it - including the fabled Necronomicon, one of the greatest literary hoaxes of all time. The name of that story was The Call of Cthulhu and the author was a hard-life young man from Rhode Island - Howard Philip Lovecraft.

Since that story in 1929, Lovecraft began what can be called a "domino series" of literary genius. Much the way Star Wars and Star Trek novels built upon themselves, adding to the history and the timelines of their respective illusionary universes, the Cthulhu Mythos grew and grew. It was originally called by that name not by Lovecraft, but by a man who later created the Arkham House publishing group specifically intended for Cthulhu Mythos stories, one August Darleth. He chose the name because while the creature known as Cthulhu was by far not the strongest of the ancient beings Lovecraft created, it was nonetheless one of the first to bear mention and the most well known.

In later years, Lovecraft continued his domino series adding short stories, serials, novels - among the most notable were The Haunter of the Dark, The Hound, The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness and many more too numerous to list here. I'll provide some resources for the Cthulu Mythos later on where you can look up further information on the stories including a Cthulu Universe timeline that stretches from 1,000,000,000 BC to 16,000 AD (in the former the Great Race of Yith arrive on Earth and attack the Cone Creatures, and in the latter the cryptic words: Nug-Soth Lives).

CthulhuWhat's amazing about Lovecraft and his creation is that while Star Trek, Star Wars, Thieves World and all the other fictional universes that are added to by author after author, Lovecraft didn't keep the universe from any writers. He didn't control it - instead he let it build, blossom, go through changes and the writers that flocked to his world are numerous and, to this day, continue strongly. Legends Magazine will feature a short story from a new Mythos author, Bruce Turlish,, entitled The Final Pronunciation with illustrations by Mike Strick in an upcoming issue (possibly this one, as I don't schedule that far in advance). With all these writers adding to the universe with their own original works, artists taking up pencils and paints to vividly depict the great beings Lovecraft talked about and all the pop-culture references that have come about, it is undoubtable that you have been exposed to this behemoth storyline at some point in your life. Don't believe me? Lovecraft inspired items include all the Dunwich Motels and Hotels once can find on the highways of the US; the songs The Thing That Should Not Be (Master of Puppets) and The Call Of Ktulu (Ride the Lightning) by Metallica; the punk band Darkest Among The Thickets creates music that is nothing but Mythos inspired; the afternoon children's cartoon The Real Ghostbusters, featured an episode where Cthulu rises from the ocean and had to be fought by them; the cult classic movie Army of Darkness (a.k.a. Evil Dead III) included the Lovecraft-inspired Necronomicon book (though it was spelled Nekronomikon in the film); to this day I run into stupid teenie boppers claiming to practice "dark arts from the Necronomicon." There are other examples, including the popular Call Of Cthulhu role playing game, TSR's original Deities and Demigods handbook included the Elder Gods of Lovecraft's, and at least three current-running magazines and electronic zines dedicated to original Cthulhu Mythos stories.

But on to the book, The Disciples of Cthulhu - Second Revised Edition. Included here are nine mythos stories not by Lovecraft, but his followers who continued the mythos. Edward P. Berglund writes the preface both to the revised and original edition and Robert Bloch gives us an excellent introduction that includes a short history of Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. On to the stories.

The Fairground Horror by Brian Lumley
Bringing up a Something Wicked This Way Comes feeling, The Fairground Horror is the story of a man who changes the name of his traveling fair funhouse to "Tomb Of The Great Old Ones" where he includes some artifacts from his suddenly-disappeared brother on display. In hopes of attracting learned men in the occult field the proprietor, Anderson Tharpe, wants to unlock the secret of some books that his brother left. What unravels is a well-told horror tale of a man possessed by greed - and later possessed by something else. Heedless of the warning signs; dreams, reactions of animals, etc.; Anderson seals his own fate by delving into mysteries that he should have kept his nose out of.

The Silence of Erika Zann by James Wade
One of the more simplistic, and one of my favorite, stories here. In The Silence of Erika Zann we are treated to a musical act called The Electric Commode who played in a 70s club called The Purple Blob. The musicians used instruments that didn't look like normal instruments - and played music to which was attached strange effects. Was it just the music, or was something else dancing to the strains created by The Electric Commode just before the place burned to cinders?

All-Eye by Bob van Laerhoven
Rather short and extremely obvious as it runs its course, All-Eye is the story of a lost college student being chased through the woods in Blair Witch Project style. He comes across a man who helps him - at least at first. In the woods of North America there lies a cave that is said to hold an artifact of great power. This student came here to find it. Instead he helps someone else to it.

The Tugging by Ramsey Campbell
The only Cthulhu Mythos story that was ever up for one of science fiction's greatest awards - the Nebula - it didn't make the cut. An astronomical story with a genealogical bent, in the end only a man named Ingels finds out the truth about a "wandering planet" that is slinking it's way through our solar system. He finds the hideout, hidden up in an old furniture store, where a cult performed their observations and predicted the coming of this planet. Filled with arcane books and dusty tomes and a single telescope pointed to the right coordinates, Ingels is quite appalled when the planet gives him a wink.

Where Yidhra Walks by Walter C. Debill, Jr.
In an obscure town called Milando there is a hideous cult that still practice ancient rites to an even older god a la Children Of the Corn. Told in the first-person view of a young man named Peter Kovacs, he learns just how close to their strange god the town's cult really is. One of the few characters in Mythos stories to make it out alive in the end, he nonetheless witnesses quite a few strange and unexplainable happenings during the stormy season before he finally dashes off and swims across the low-water crossing that had locked him into the nightmarish town in the first place.

Glimpses by A. A. Attanasio
Haunted by dreams and visions that insist that he visit his eccentric uncle, Gene Mirandola heads off to do so in the woods where he lives the life of a hermit. Taking back a strange circular stone to a friend of his uncle's in London, Gene throws himself into the tutelage of this man, Souvate, and takes on the life of a sorcerer. Together they travel through time to another place where Gene attempts to rescue his uncle's soul - we never find out if he makes it, I assume no, and suddenly we continue with Souvate through time again to the future. The main character, Gene, is suddenly not part of the story. That irked the hell out of me. Anyway, in the future Souvate is found by some government men who attempt to discover the secrets of the circular stone and nearly bring down the world around us in the process.

Dope War of the Black Tong by Robert M. Price
A terribly cheezy action story about a rogue investigator on the drug-strewn streets of the city. As it turns out, there's a new drug that was intended for use in old rituals to the Elder Gods, and not for general consumption. Somehow it falls into general use on the streets, and Bruce Willis-style cop Harrison and an old Chinese sorcerer, Zarnack, attempt to put a stop to its general use. Each with their own painfully obvious and predictable agendas.

Darkness, My Name Is by Eddy C. Bertin
A story that starts and ends somewhat nonsensically, it is the tale of a man who, like in Where Yidhra Walks, finds a town still under the influence of an older godhead. He performs his own rituals on the monthly night when the cult meets on the hill to try and put a final stop to the cult. He doesn't make it through the night, and he fails miserably. But it is a rather well done, suspenseful story of his attempts to discover and then put an end to the cult in the small German town of Freihausgarten. A nice hint of reincarnation at the end, too. One of the highlights of this collection.

The Terror From the Depths by Fritz Leiber
Saving the best for last, The Terror From The Depths is a great story that builds to its climax nicely and leaves just enough questions at the end. The story is of a man who lives in California, and who seems to be more sensitive to the unnaturalness of the world than most. Haunted by dreams (a popular medium of Elder God communication) he discovers, beneath his father-built home of exquisite masonry and workmanship, there are tunnels that lead to who knows where. The house falls in on itself in nice Carrie style in the end. It is a very well-written story that settles extremely well into the Lovecraft timeline even though it touches upon historical pieces of his universe.

My Favorite Cthulhu Resources on the Web
If these aren't enough for you, hit any search engine on the web and search for Lovecraft, Cthulhu, etc. There's more Lovecraft and Cthulhu Mythos websites than you can shake a face tentacle at.

Reader's Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos - http://www.toddalan.com/~berglund/
The NetherReal - http://www.netherreal.de/
The H.P. Lovecraft Archive - http://www.hplovecraft.com/
Cthulhu For President - http://www.cthulhu.org/
Mythos Online - http://victorian.fortunecity.com/lion/157/

"The Disciples of Cthulhu - Second Revised Edition"
Published by Chaosium, Inc.
Copyright © by Contributing Authors
ISBN 0-56882-054-2
Prefaces by Edward P. Berglund
Introduction by Robert Bloch

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