Truth is Order and Order is Truth, by Nadia Bulkin

“You live in a monster’s empire. You’re only upset because you’re not the biggest monster anymore.”

Nadia Bulkin, “Truth is Order and Order is Truth”

“Regarding the setting for tales—I try to be as realistic as possible.”
—H.P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, December 29, 1934

Last year I had the pleasure of reading some of the stories contained in the Valancourt BOOK OF WORLD HORROR STORIES, VOL. 1, and remarked that while they were excellent, the preponderance of them were located in Western European cultures. My hope for the forthcoming Vol. 2 is that we get to read more stories from Africa and Asia, whose myriad cultures with which I am vastly less familiar. I was therefore delighted to find this present story, set in the author’s native Indonesia, in BLACK CRANES: TALES OF UNQUIET WOMEN (Omnium Gatherum Media, 2020), which editor Lee Murray sent me for review.

Nadia Bulkin is an accomplished author who has been on my radar screen for years, but for one reason or another, not an author I’d read until now. It was long overdue. What I knew of her proved true in this story; hers is a powerful voice of politically oriented horror. The particular genius of this story is that she brings her voice to bear while retelling Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” and, at the same time, she flips it on its head. While “Shadow” is one of my favorite HPL stories, I am not unaware of its xenophobic edges. Much like Ruthanna Emrys did in her novel WINTER TIDE, Bulkin here both humanizes and empowers her version of the Innsmouth residents, centered on her protagonist, the young, Indonesian princess Dhani. In other words, she flips the roles of protagonist and antagonist from the original Innsmouth material while telling a story that is uniquely and wholly her own. In additon to BLACK CRANES, this story can also be found in her own collection, SHE SAID DESTROY, published by Word Horde in 2017.

“My mother’s death had undone me. I’d believed she would live forever. With that rule broken, nothing else seemed real.” Dhani is in line to succeed to the throne of some indeterminate portion of what I would call the Indonesian islands. Her father is already dead, having been killed when he was thrown from his elephant mount. In the political backdrop to the story, there is a power struggle between Dhani’s mother and the country’s Prime Minister, Jaya Megalang, who “had a far stronger voice and reach.” Dripping venom, Dhani says, “Amassing power was not a skill I’d been taught between courtly dance and batik painting.” Her father sired several other progeny by concubines, including the male heirs, Arda and Murti, who Megalang was now trying to use to turn the country against Dhani. But then Dhani’s mother dies of a mysterious illness and just like that Dhani finds herself on the run with a handful of faithful followers while Megalang’s grip on the troubled nation tightens into a choke hold. He had leveled accusations of shamanism and sorcery against Dhani’s mother to the desired end, and continued to do so now against Dhani, but what he could not possibly understand was just how right he was and how badly that positioned him.

“Mother Hydra” by Deviant Artist, JasonEngle.

Beyond shamanism and petty sorcery, Dhani can trace her family tree back to Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, the mysterious underwater god-like beings worshipped in Lovecraft’s Innsmouth. In that original tale, they are to be feared, loathed, and shunned. Here, Bulkin centers them in the narrative in a story whose feminism is both powerful and authentic. The stakes are high for Dhani and she is not sure she can make it. In the midst of her claiming her identity and power, questions of worthiness almost overwhelm hers, “Every forward step brought me closer to my greatest fear: I would make a terrible queen.” Towards the end of the story a much more cosmic perspective comes into play and Megalang is reduced to an historical footnote.

It is no secret that many writers suffer from imposter syndrome and I have to wonder (if you replaced “queen” with “writer” in the above quote) if some of that isn’t going on here as well. If I can offer any encouragement from my perspective, this is a masterfully written story of feminine empowerment, political striving against the machine, a sort of reverse cosmic horror, and a very welcome entry into the modern Lovecraftian mythos. Bulkin paints with her words and you can see and hear this world unfold around you as you read. Here, writing of a villager Dhani encounters, Bulkin says, “Its voice was too pure for its soggy corpse-skin.” In only ten words, the reader has now heard something, seen something, and felt something unsettling. Or here, as Dhani reflects on her mother, “Once you have looked into her eyes, once her fingers have grazed your scalp, she is hard to shake. She was my mother. I should know.” Again, not only do we see and feel something as a reader, Bulkin couples the unsettling nature of those feelings with an inexorable miasma of familial devotion. The complications of Dhani’s family tree are felt through these and other aching lines of searching, discombobulated emotions. Dhani knows who she is and she is getting comfortable with those facts, though she is perhaps not there yet.

“The Innsmouth Look” by Kari-Lise Alexander. Used with permission.

In 1934, H.P. Lovecraft wrote to a Finnish fan, Emil Petaja, answering a question about the source of the settings of his stories. He informed young Petaja that they were based on real towns, but twisted into his own nightmarish visions. Lovecraft wasn’t humble about it either, calling his Kingsport “fabulous.” I suspect he tried to be as realistic as possible because that helps a reader suspend disbelief and get lost in the narrative. Bulkin does the same thing here in “Truth is Order,” making her native country the only possible setting in which to tell this story. This is as much a story about the land as it is one about the characters, and it’s not heard to read in it the pain that must be felt by the people who have lived through decades of colonialism, political unrest, religious strife, and war. None of that is touched on directly in the text, but it’s all right there, like Mother Hydra, just below the surface. Perhaps a comment on privilege is a part of what Bulkin is trying to say: monsters lurk in these depths, and though you the reader may choose to enter at your own risk, she the author, by virtue of her birth, must swim them. I am so glad I finally read a Nadia Bulkin story and I can promise you, it will not be my last.

This review was composed while listening to the Spotify playlist called “Indonesian Traditional Music” compiled by user su_ross.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

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The Church in the Mountains, by Gemma Files

“Ever find yourself remembering stuff you know can’t possibly be true?…I mean—things you think you saw once somewhere, like on TV or whatever, when you were a kid; spooky shit, disturbing, real nightmare fuel. Only you can’t tell if you actually really did see it, looking back, or somebody just told you about it, and it got inside you that way…if you even just dreamed it, maybe. Like the whole thing actually came from you, only you can’t remember how, or why.”

—Gemma Files, “The Church in the Mountains”

“…and last year an alleged Frankenstein on the screen would have made me drowse had not a posthumous sympathy for poor Mrs. Shelley made me see red instead. Ugh! And the screen Dracula in 1931—I saw the beginning of that in Miami, Fla.—but couldn’t bear to watch it drag to its full term of dreariness, hence walked out into the fragrant tropic moonlight!”

—H.P. Lovecraft to Farnsworth Wright, February 16, 1933

Today is Ash Wednesday, a day on which many Christians the world over will consider their own mortality and smudge ash on their foreheads as a memento mori. It is also February, which is Women in Horror Month. Could there be a more auspicious day on which to consider a story from horror maestra Gemma Files’ newest collection, IN THAT ENDLESSNESS, OUR END, which from its title onward seeks a teleology of human finitude? IN THAT ENDLESSNESS, OUR END is her fifth collection, this one having just been released by Grimscribe Press (2021), to whom I am grateful for a free e-arc in exchange for this honest review. Knowing that Ms. Files’ is, more than just a cinephile, a real scholar of cinema (you have read her amazing novel EXPERIMENTAL FILM, right?) I decided to review this story which not only features some Lovecraftian themes, but centers on a film. Lovecraft himself, I was a bit surprised to learn, was not a particular fan of the cinema. My surprise stems not so much from the fact that he went to movies and didn’t care for them so much as it does that he went to the movies at all. For a man who subsisted on beans, I would have thought the cinema an extravagance. Digging a bit deeper, it seems he went most often as a guest of Frank Belknap Long, and that reluctantly, describing the experience in his letters as needing to be “dragged.”

One does not have to spend much time among fellow Lovecraftians, particularly on the internet, before one comes across the often tongue-in-cheek supposition that HPL wasn’t writing fiction, but merely fictionalizing a reality humanity was not yet ready to grasp. (Sadly, it seems that for a few this isn’t very tongue-in-cheek at all.) Lovecraft himself toyed with the notion in stories like “Pickman’s Model” and the theme has been picked up by his successors, perhaps most successfully in Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Pickman’s Other Model (1929),” expertly explored here by Bobby Derie. In “The Church in the Mountains,” Files puts her cinephilia to work for her and plumbs the same depths through the lens of film.

The story’s opening calls to mind the beginning scene of the 1931 Dracula Lovecraft walked out on, with a lone traveler arriving at a gothic site in the mountains. In this case though, it’s a young woman returning home after receiving news of her mother’s death. Her aunt, an evil step-mother type figure, greets her coldly and you begin to get a feel for how this story will go. Or so you think you do. Before you know it, an off-stage director calls “scene!” and the camera pans out enough that you, the reader, can tell what you just read was a part of a movie and not the story at all. Rather it was the story Sharla, our protagonist, was recalling. Files expertly layers these levels of narrative throughout, developing a pattern that from the outset upends a reader’s expectations and only deposits them on unsteady ground. It turns out she’s recalling the film because she’s trying to remember where she saw it, whether it’s from her childhood or maybe something she saw on TV reruns at some point. Or maybe even something she dreamed. Reality blurs in the way that it does when you can’t remember something precisely, and the further the story progresses, the fuzzier things get. By the end you are unsettled as a reader, unsure of where you stand in relation to the story and in that confusion there lies a sense a dread you were unaware was even being evoked. It’s masterfully done, but I have come to expect mastery from Gemma Files.

There’s an expository feel to the scenes from the movie which feels natural, but the feeling is entirely different in the Sharla scenes. (This becomes a difficult distinction by the end, but it’s still present.) Files’ write the latter scenes in dialogue-heavy way that draws you in and pulls you along. You’re a part of this conversation, this exploration, which makes it all the more disorienting when the scene changes. These two parts of the story are told with different voices and in the hands of a lesser writer would not so naturally be distinguished. But Files is a practiced hand and so even without the marked section breaks, this structure would be recognizable to a careful reader.

She bends tropes to her will in a way that increases their fearfulness and cosmicism. “…a haunting doesn’t have to be a ghost or rattling chains, a spooky old house, whatever—it could be a memory, an idea. The very definition of a haunting is something that keeps on coming back to you again and again.” Great. Thanks. Now I’m worried about my memories. Did I read that story about the creepy dude who haunted a video file passed around the internet, or did I actually see it? Her blend of vintage and modern is equally as well done, giving us a spooky, traditional gothic setting but also taking us into the back room of a VHS collector’s house. Though the more directly Lovecraftian elements (like cults, sacrifices, and horrible discoveries about the family) appear on the gothic section of her stage, it’s the modern setting that produces the most fear, again, as reality distorts. In mind-bending flurries, she shows us that “Every image is a story, every story a door, most especially those tales you aren’t supposed to tell at all, outside the walls of your family home…and doors open both ways, always.”

Exceeding. Art Credit: Pierre-Alain D.

Humanity is finite. In the most direct sense, our individual bodies will become dust, and most of us never quite get a grip on that. In the more cosmic sense, humanity has no guarantees of being eternal, as the Old Gent was fond of pointing out in his fiction. We are finite and we have spent lifetimes both fighting that fact and searching for meaning within it. At the beginning I highlighted a religious holy day because both religion and horror have explored human finitude, if from different angles. It’s an interesection in which I’m particularly keen on spending time. This collection represents a new exploration of that theme of finitude, asking us what must die that something new may be born? Is our reason for being to pave the evolutionary road for something greater? Is transcendence communal rather than individual? In addition to the present one, in stories like “This Is How It Goes,” and “Worm Moon” Files delves deep into the human psyche in search of answers. I can’t say for sure if Files’ finds the answers she’s looking for, but what I can say is that she certainly seems to suggest that the cycle of death into life is a necessary one. As long as that continues, there will be an endlessness of being, though we ourselves will meet our end. If you’re interested in that search, I cannot recommend IN THAT ENDLESSNESS, OUR END highly enough.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

The Band Plays On by Alan Baxter

“The sign said ‘Gulpepper, population 8,000,’ Torsten said. “That’s not a tiny hamlet.”
“Did you saw the bit underneath?” Simone asked. “Someone writed it on.”
“What bit?”
“It said, ‘But the dead out number the living.’

—Alan Baxter, “The Gulp”

I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men…”

—H.P. Lovecraft, “Fungi from Yuggoth” (IV. The Recognition)

Recently, I’ve been curious about the relationship between horror and heavy metal music. What is it about either the genre of literature or the style of music that lends themselves to one another? Why are so many heavy metal bands drawn to horror imagery and so many horror fans drawn to heavy metal sounds? The cynical answer is, of course, marketing and dollar dollar bills, y’all, but in “The Band Plays On,” Australian horror maestro Alan Baxter provides an answer that gives credence to the worst nightmares of 1970’s and 80’s suburban moms. The story is found in the number three slot of his newest publication, THE GULP: FIVE TALES OF HORROR, which was self-published by Baxter in January 2021. I’m grateful to him for providing me with a free e-arc in exchange for an honest review.

The stories in THE GULP all take place in or around the fictional town of Gulpepper, Australia, affectionately known as ‘The Gulp.’ Strange things happen in ‘The Gulp’ that no one can explain and that the residents are eerily comfortable with. I was immediately reminded of Twin Peaks and the town of Haven from the Stephen King TV series of the same name. From the first story, told from the perspective of outsiders to ‘the Gulp,’ we are warned that people can flat out disappear there, that the town swallows some people, lending a darker shade of meaning to its otherwise cute nickname. In the second novella, told from the perspective of two residents of ‘the Gulp,’ we are shown just how strange, and indeed how hungry, things can get. But it’s not until this third story that events take on a cosmically sinister tone.

“Patrick noticed his fingernails were painted blood red. In fact, all the band had blood red nails. And the deep black makeup around their eyes wasn’t just smudged kohl, but jet black with dozens of thin filaments, like capillaries, spreading out around the orbit of the eye and over the cheekbone.” This third story is about a group of young vagabonds who catch a concert of the band Blind Eye Moon on their travels through Australia. Patrick, Ciara, Torsten, and Simone get singled out by the band at the show as outsiders and invited over to the band’s house (don’t all bands live together?) for an after-party. They readily accept, end up partying too hard and staying the night. The night turns into several days that get progressively weirder for Patrick, though his fellow wanderers seem quite fine with hanging with these weird rockers for a week or so. Obscure meals are cooked, neon-green shots are thrown back with abandon, and nightmares reign over the night. Patrick clearly wants to leave, and Edgar, one of the band members, even suggests he do so, “The Gulp has a habit of swallowing people…but sometimes it spits one out.” That was one of the creepier lines in the whole story for me, and I found myself rooting for Patrick to be able to break the spell and get out of dodge.

Swedish metal band, “Ghost,” which in some ways is an analog for “Blind Eye Moon.”

One of the great things about this story was how believable it was; yes, the characters make bad choices, but people make bad choices all the time. In this case, they were bad choices I could understand, even though they’re the type that make you stand up in the theater and scream, “Don’t go in there!” Sometimes those are the most fun movies and there’s a similar fun factor here, too. Who wouldn’t want to spend a few lazy days and hard nights partying with your new favorite band? This particular band’s commitment to their creepy horror affect, though, begins to strain credulity which gives rise to much of the tension in the tale. Baxter directs the reader’s attention to this problem too often though, turning a cautionary observation into an obviously winking, kohl-smudged(?), eyeball.

That literary flashing neon sign was my only problem with the writing, however, as the rest of it flows naturally and effortlessly from his pen. The vagabond youths sound like naive college kids while the slightly more mature band members come off as experienced manipulators. This is a writing challenge and Baxter nails it. The dream sequences, another pit of despair into which writers can fall, are pulled off with aplomb. They are neither too long nor too lurid but provide just the right level of weirdness to amplify the growing horror of the narrative. “The wind was cold and heavy, pendulous clouds, arcing with streaks of purple lightning, filled the lowering sky. He almost felt as though he would be able to reach up and touch them. Gaping red wounds opened in the clouds and things fell, far out near the horizon.” Those sequences are where the story takes on its most Lovecraftian tones, though not in an overt way; there is no Mythos here. But the cosmic chords HPL plucked, as well as a note or two from Robert Bloch’s set list, resound.

Like the Old Gent’s vision of Providence gave the backdrop to so many of his stories, Baxter’s Australia features here. When the geography of a story is so important to it’s success, it is mandatory that the story be told in such a way as to be impossible to take place elsewhere. Local jargon aids Baxter’s efforts here. The handful of specifically Aussie terms sprinkled throughout support and do not detract from the overall effect, and there’s a helpful glossary in the back if you want to look some of them up. Even though I’ve never been to Australia, I definitely felt like I was there while reading THE GULP.

In the end, these are addictive stories of abiding darkness that won’t come out in the wash. The pages turn themselves and the images within those pages return to haunt your dreams. Discovering how each story relates to each becomes a compulsion and you will find yourself simultaneously repulsed by ‘the Gulp,” and desirous of visiting. Finally, I think ‘The Gulp’ is to Baxter what Arkham was to Lovecraft and I sincerely hope this isn’t the last time we’ll get to peep into the windows of this creepy town.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

Dagon and Jill, by J.P. Mac

“Going forward, there could be a small problem with Dagon and Jill in the chapter where young Jill lures a homeless man out onto a pier, then shoves him into the water…This is a wonderful empowerment metaphor about the rewards that come from facing scary things. However, legal is worried some might view it as mean-spirited. Could you include people from other cultures and races, who are also shoved off the pier, so as not to single out the homeless?”

—J.P. Mac, “Dagon and Jill”

All life is fundamentally & inextricably sad…That is why I consider all jauntiness, & many forms of carelessly generalised humour, as essentially cheap & mocking, & occasionally ghastly & corpselike.”

—H.P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, February 27, 1931 (emphases original to Selected Letters, Vol. 3)

It ought not to be a surprise to even casual fans of Lovecraft that humor was neither his interest nor his forte. However, in the event you doubted that, in the event you thought, “No, the Old Gent surely enjoyed a chortle as much as the next bloke,” his above quotation, taken from a 1931 letter to Frank Belknap Long, should serve to clear up any misconception on the matter. Lovecraftian humor is indeed very hard to pull off but, when it is successful, it is uproarious. JP Mac’s story, “Dagon and Jill,” had me actually laughing out loud. It can be found in Mr. Mac’s self-published collection, DEATH HONK, but don’t think this is an entire volume of humor because it is not. Our present story, however, is, and I believe it represents the first time on this blog that I’ve looked at a humorous work. In order to appreciate the humor you do have to be versed in your Lovecraft, but that should not be a problem for regular readers.

“Humpty-Dumpty After That Fall”
Art Credit: Denise Bledsoe

“Dagon and Jill” is structured as a contemporary epistolary exchange between Ezra Whateley and his editor, Martin Gelb-Crispling. Ezra, obviously a descendant of Old Wizard Whateley (likely from Wilbur’s line, right?) who was one of the principal figures in “The Dunwich Horror,” is attempting to publish a series of children’s books. Their titles are “Dagon and Jill,” “The Shadow Over Humpty-Dumpty,” and A Children’s Necronomicon,” and Gelb-Crispling is trying to market them to the Los Angeles Unified School District’s religious diversity program, “Different Voices, Different Ways.” While Gelb-Crispling believes heartily in the project, particularly with its possibilities of being included in a large religious diversity program, his legal team is concerned with some of the content. I was already laughing at the idea of a legal team having issues with such a book, but the reason Mac provides (given in the opening quote) is what really got me going. The humor in the story continues in this original vein, and indeed pushes the envelope, but for me it rode that edge successfully and never crossed into the distasteful. One of my favorite parts was when the editor writes how his own kids enjoy the books: “My Shannon must have four salt shakers and twenty candles in her room. I hear her up there pronouncing those jaw busting spells you so love to write. Shannon even goes online and chants with other kids. They’ve started a Facebook page.”

Art Credit: Eric Baxter

Amidst the humor there is a decidedly dark edge to the story mostly found in Ezra’s letters. His are written in dialect, much like “The Dunwich Horror” featured the same, and also in an old-fashioned manner. He addresses Martin Gelb-Crispling as “Goode Martin,” for example. Ezra’s shrouded goal is to bring about the return of the Great Old Ones; he actually doesn’t care at all about the selling of books, only the wide distribution of them. Gelb-Crispling begins to be concerned when reports reach him of some kids acting out the gruesome things about which they read, to the detriment of at least one postman.

Mac’s writing is crisp, skilled, and on point. The two different narrative voices he has to deploy are well-realized and serve to put you in the story, almost as if you’re a law enforcement officer, sorting through old letters trying to track down the origins of a ghastly mess. The contemporary setting is also well done, with Mac putting down just enough references to modern technology and pop-culture to assist the humor without being over bearing. This story is also just the right length, which is to say it is brief. Had it carried on much longer the humor would have worn thin and become groan-worthy, but Mac restrains himself to a good end. I can’t say that it will be for everyone, as Lovecraftian stories are pretty niche to begin with before approaching Lovecraftian humor, but if you’re an HPL fan and are in the mood for a quick story that provokes some good laughs, give it a try. And, if you’re looking for something more traditional or creepy, the collection does feature mostly dark works, including one other Lovecraftian tale.

Despite what Howard said to Long, he wasn’t dour all the time. So, after my sign-off I’ll leave you with a photo of Lovecraft genuinely smiling, standing next to his friend William J. Dowdell.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar

In His House, by Richard Thomas

“It’s not hard.
I just need you to listen.
And keep listening.
That part is essential.
I need you to recite a few strange words the morning sun, or the afternoon doldrums, or the long, ever-expanding night. Wherever you are, whenever you are, whoever you are.
In his house, he waits dreaming.”

—Richard Thomas, “In His House”

Is there a better way to round out the year of reviews than with the big “C” himself? I didn’t think so, either. This review also introduces us to a new anthology, and an author I’ve not reviewed before, but one with whose work I am familiar. Richard Thomas is well known in the horror fiction community not only for his fiction, but probably more as a teacher of fiction. He is the host and professor of Storyville, an online writing workshop with multiple class offerings for any experience level. In addition to that, he also teaches several classes through Lit Reactor, another online writing community. The present anthology in which Thomas finds himself published is THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX, published in 2020 by Justin Burnett and Silent Motorist Media. Featuring stories from heavyweights like Brian Evenson, Nadia Bulkin, and Stephen Graham Jones, this anthology also introduces readers to a great selection of newer and/or lesser known authors, like K.A. Opperman, Devora Gray, and S.E. Casey. THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX takes as its theme the unwritten, forbidden text. Lovecraft invented perhaps the most well known example with the Necronomicon, but Howard’s Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Clark Ashton Smith’s Liber Ivonis, and Chambers’ insanity-inducing play The King in Yellow are all familiar examples as well. THE NIGHTSIDE CODEX expands on those ideas as well as introducing new ones, and not all of them are what you might expect. Burnett promises us that “musical scores, ancient glyphs, curbside ‘religious’ pamphlets, and real medical texts,” all lurk within.

“In His House” begins with the address, “Hello my friend,” alerting the reader to the epistolary format but also gently introducing the idea that this will be a story written in the second person. Admittedly, the second person is not my favorite point of view from which to read a story (it increases the difficulty level of the willing suspension of disbelief exponentially for me), but Thomas pulls it off pretty well. We go on to discover that the letter we’re reading has been around for a while, and distributed throughout multiple media formats. It is at the same time a plea for help and a gospel of sorts. “However it got to you, thank you for taking the time to read it. My fractured soul depends on your help here, your involvement, your support.” Veteran mythos readers will immediately recognize the next line, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn,” though if this is your first foray into the Cthulhu mythos (and I doubt it) you might find yourself not only tongue-tied but a bit confused. “Translated,” it means, “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

R’lyeh by Deviant Artist DQuaro

Over the course of the letter, the reader encounters both a sense of calling and inevitability. You were meant for this. You didn’t find this letter, it found you and now you cannot help but read it. In the reading of it, you bind yourself to the task to which it calls you; through the inadvertent recitation of the Cthulhu cult’s chant you have drawn the sleeping old one’s eye towards you and now assist in his awakening. It is, at the same time, both a bit silly and an enormous amount of fun. Thomas wraps his cosmic dread around such gems as “I want to talk to you about our Lord and Savior—the High Priest of the Great Old Ones, The Eternal Dreamer, The Sleeper of R’lyeh.”

In some ways, I read the story as a love letter to a forgotten feeling of adventure and discovery. When I first discovered Lovecraft, I was in middle school and I didn’t get it at all, but something about it stuck with me. It was almost as if I knew there was something special there, but I was not yet ready to unlock it. So when I came back to HPL in high school, I not only read the stories but researched the concepts. Tell me you didn’t do the same? Anyone else hold their breath a little when you found a “copy” of the text of the Necronomicon? I mean, I printed mine out, hole-punched it, and clipped it into a dark blue three-ring binder on the cover of which I drew my best elder sign. I was careful to never read the words out loud. I mean, I knew it was fiction, but what if it wasn’t, right? Thomas’ story taps into that same feeling and I really enjoyed it.

HPL’s own sketch of Cthulhu, to young Robert Barlow. Safe to say future artists would capture more of the cosmic horror Lovecraft intended.

Thomas’ writing is very accessible, bearing none of the hallmark’s of the Old Gent’s purple prose, but neither would you expect it to coming from an instructor of letters. If there is poetry to be found here, it is in the structure of the tale and not in the words deployed. He makes liberal use of single sentence paragraphs that generally accomplish their goal of slowing you down and calling attention to the gravity of the situation. Like those short paragraphs, the story as a whole is also very brief, leaving little room for either fluff or error, and Thomas’ deftly avoids both. There is a beautiful agony in the letter as well. Its in-text author is torn between evangelistic glee and his own horror at that to which he is luring the unsuspecting reader. This liminal narrative space was my favorite aspect of the story and where I think Thomas shines the brightest as a writer because I suspect that feeling is a very difficult one to accomplish.

In the end, this was a fun jaunt into the concept of the unwritten and forbidden text. Like most mythos work, it wasn’t particularly revelatory, but neither did it need to be because of the way it played with the already established concepts. If it had been longer it would have grown tiresome, but that’s where Thomas’ mastery comes into play. He knew exactly how long a story like this should and could be and he didn’t write it one word longer. Such self-aware economy is enviable. I look forward to digging into more of the stories in this volume. The premise is extremely promising to fans of cosmic horror and printed-off Necronomicon readers everywhere.

Until next time, I remain yours in the Black Litany of Nub and Yeg,
~The Bibliothecar