Dagon’s Bell, by Brian Lumley

“Then I remembered something he had said. “David, you mentioned two manifestations of this—this ghostliness. What was the other one?”
“Eh?” he frowned at me, winding up his window. Then he stopped winding, “Oh, that. The bell you mean…”
“Bell?” I echoed him, the skin of my neck suddenly tingling. “Which bell?”
“A ghost bell!” he yelled as he pulled away from the kerb. “What else? It tolls underground or under the sea, usually when there’s a mist or a swell on the ocean…”

1635159[1].jpgAlongside such venerable names as Clark Ashton Smith, Lin Carter, Robert Bloch, and Frank Long, one of the other early mythos writers was Brian Lumley. He would, of course, go on to fame in his own right with his best-selling Necroscope series, but it was writing in Lovecraft’s world where he cut his teeth. He created the original character Titus Crow who, quite opposite HPL’s more academic characters, was a man of action who greeted bad guys and monsters alike with persuasive displays of force.  If you find you’re interested in a more action-oriented approach to the mythos, you might want to look up those books, but this present story, however, does not feature Crow. Dagon’s Bell, which I found not in the pictured volume, but in the “Shadows Over Innsmouth” collection edited by Stephen Jones published in 2013 by Titan Books. Originally, however, it was published in two parts in “Weirdbook,” numbers 23 and 24, in 1988.  It definitely falls more into the category of pastiche, though not totally as it picks up a bit after the Shadow Over Innsmouth left off, and in an original location. The seeds of Lumley’s own creativity and originality are here, but Dagon’s Bell relies heavily on HPL’s work. Not that that’s a bad thing at all!

f4865a24edeb1c63e3fc6e58f57ce52d[1].jpgWilliam Trafford is our protagonist who gets, with an old school chum named David Parker, caught up in a great misadventure on the north-east coast of England at a place called Kettlethorpe Farm. One of the things I really liked about this story was how it developed. It starts off fairly innocuously, building little clue by little clue towards a horrible set of realizations. In some ways, it reminded me of the pattern of discoveries made in The Call of Cthulhu. “It strikes me as funny sometimes how scraps of information—fragments of seemingly dissociated fact and half-seen or -felt fancies and intuitions, bits of local legend and immemorial myth—can suddenly connect and expand until the total is far greater than the sum of its parts, like a jigsaw puzzle.” Accordingly, it is also a bit longer than most of the other stories I’ve been reviewing here, checking in at around 42 pages. It’s organized in short chapters though and, because of the way that it builds, makes for compulsive reading.

There’s loads of mythos stuff in here for fans to enjoy, everything from deep ones to degenerate, ancient bloodlines, while introducing new elements like the eponymous bell (which, by the way, was decidedly creepy) and something called “deep kelp” which rose from the bottom of the sea at certain times of year to blight the surface waters with its noxious miasma. Those certain times tended to be around lesser known Christian holidays, like Roodmas (September 14, celebrating the alleged finding of the “true cross” by Helena, Constantine’s mother, in Jerusalem in 355). This taps successfully into the common idea that these holidays were really taken over by Christianity once it developed as a global religion, but that they already existed, for some good reason, as sacred days of certain special, and older, observances.

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CGI art by Martin Punchev
Kettlethorpe Farm, which Mr. Parker has purchased with his new wife, seems to have been built for purposes other than raising a young family, hale and hearty. It’s built in a U-shape, facing the sea like arms outstretched in embrace, and underneath it, the entrance hidden by one of the buildings on the property, lies a great series of caverns. By now you’ll be able to guess what inhabits those caverns. They call to the newly anointed Mrs. Parker and she hears them, hears them and is unable to ignore their siren sound. Her health deteriorates as she is only ever able to focus on things below and not more mundane stuff, like eating. Mrs. Parker will not leave and when Trafford asks why, her husband replies: “The place is like…like a magnet! It has a genius loci. It’s a focal point for God-only-knows-what forces. Evil? Oh, yes! An evil come down all the centuries. But I bought the place and I shall cleanse it—end it forever, whatever it is!” Here we get a glimpse of Lumley’s preference for more direct men of action, and then we’re launched into the deep delve that will see the story through to its frantic end.

Lumley’s writing is very mature, controlled, and precise. He knows what he wants to do with words and the effect he desires them to have. There are occasional moments of logophilic joy. See, “…that sluggish stream, bubbling blindly through airless fissures to the sea.” The sounds are performative; they do what the words describe. The double “G’s” in sluggish slows down the sentence, and thus describes the stream in the way he means.  Your head almost physically bobs up when pronouncing the quadrilogy of “B’s” in bubbling blindly, forcing an embodiment of the way this water moves, before gliding easily into the sibilants of the conclusion. It’s great stuff!

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“Bell” by Deviant Artist: alexandreev
If you’re a Lovecraft fan, it almost goes without saying (I’m sure there’s an oddball out there) that you’re a Shadow Over Innsmouth fan. Here, you are in luck, for there’s just a lot to like in this story. Sure, it’s pastiche, but again, you liked the original for a reason, so don’t be silly and lay off something as fun as this because it isn’t original enough. It’s plenty creative, and brilliantly plotted. And, as a bonus, there’s no long, rambling section of infodump by a drunk in the middle, written in almost nigh unreadable dialect. Though there is a nod to ole Zadok Allen, which made me smile at least. I believe most HPL fans will enjoy this one, but I guess I should say that if you’re not an HPL devotee, or not familiar with Shadow Over Innsmouth, then there’s probably not a whole lot of reason that you’d really enjoy this one, unlike some of the others I’ve reviewed. Like most things, read the original first. As a final piece of parting advice (though I suppose it should go without saying, but I’ll not bear that responsibility for the sake of brevity), when purchasing real estate by the seaside, avoid property built over buried temples from which emanate—on a quarterly basis—horrible, ghostly visages of possibly Phoenician gods to the distant sound of a discordant bell. There, now you can’t blame me.

This review was composed listening to some of the greater organ works of J.S. Bach, in minor keys.

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

Miasmic Words of tempting: “I seem to recall loading my shotgun—several times, I think—and I have vague memories of discharging it a like number of times; and, I believe that David, too, used his weapon, probably more successfully. As for our targets: it would have been difficult to miss them. There were clutching claws, and eyes bulging with hatred and lust; there was foul, alien breath in our faces, slime and blood and bespattered bodies obstructing our way where they fell…”

Devil’s Bathtub, by Lois H. Gresh

“The ice scraped the fur from his skin, and he smelled his own blood and it scared him. And that’s when his bones shattered. The dog was aware that his body was a limp sack filled with mush. He didn’t understand.”

91bbKUt-kBL[1]At the Mountains of Madness is not only one of HPL’s longest stories (it’s really a novella), but also one of his most popular. There are perennial rumors of a del Toro helmed film adaptation, and so let me add my meager voice to the mix, I desperately would love to see that. Many, many Lovecraftian stories take Mountains for their base and a lot of them are collected in a single volume (well, now two it seems) called “The Madness of Cthulhu Anthology” Volume One, collected by that inestimable Lovecraft scholar, S.T. Joshi,  published in 2014 by Titan Books.  This present story is an example of one written by a seriously heavy-weight author, and one which I just couldn’t get into, even after a re-read.  Lois Gresh, according to her blurb, is a New York Times best selling author of over twenty-five books, and sixty short stories. She’s published in tons of languages and appears in many noted anthologies. So, her writing credentials (or at least, publishing credentials) are established. And let me say up front, I don’t think it’s the writing that bothered me in this story, so much as it was the plot itself.

At the Mountains of Madness is a harrowing tale of adventure, horrific discovery, and enormous implication. It’s one of HPL’s magnum opi, along with The Shadow Out of Time, which describe humanity’s rather insignificant place in the scope of the cosmos. Both stories are told with sweeping scope against a cinematic backdrop. Perhaps that background led me into this story with similar expectations, however unfairly, of scope and setting. Devil’s Bathtub, though, has a very narrow focus, as perhaps it rightly should, but for me I found it to be one which I wasn’t overly interested in.  It tells the strange story of a father and young daughter who reside at Vostok glacier outpost in Antartica, along with a few research assistanimage[1].jpgts. (Problem numero uno for me: what’s this guy doing with his kid in Antarctica? I don’t care who you work for, that probably isn’t going to happen, correct me if I’m wrong.) They’re investigating a strange circumstance near the South Pole where there seems to be a semi-sentient black ice/slime hybrid. “The ice is four hundred years old…and deep beneath it is the lake, filled with two thousand two hundred feet of liquid and life we don’t understand yet.”  Their poor dog wanders too close to the stuff and gets incorporated into it, broken down but yet still alive. It’s a bit squishy and would be terrifying if it weren’t slightly humorous. Humor I’m sure the author didn’t intend. I get trying to use a dog to tug on the emotions, but, for me at least, I have to be emotionally invested in the animal and it’s relationship to it’s human first  for that work. You can’t just toss a dog in the story and expect me to get all Old Yeller-y immediately.

What happens to the dog foreshadows, with a stunning degree of accuracy, exactly what happens to the guy and his daughter, as this slimy stuff converts them into the building blocks, quite literally bricks, of whatever it is it’s constructing. Perhaps this is the stuff of a shoggoth, perhaps not. “She looked down. Saw bright blue eyes, he whites huge around tiny irises. Stark terror. Dad. But he wasn’t really there. Only his eyes, and they were plugged into the sides of the wall like light bulbs.” And that’s really it, my chilly reconnoiterers. I didn’t find a grander, overarching theme. I couldn’t locate a clever sense of cosmic dread. There may have been a hint of a presence of a possible Lovecraftian monster, but maybe not. antarctica-29[1].jpgFor a story that talks about drilling deep into the ice, I found this to be a very surface level skate around the mythos pond. It’s possible it’s trying to say something about humanity’s insignificance by breaking the humans down into their constituent parts and using them to make something else, but if it is, to what end? There wasn’t enough of a “so what?” factor in this story to make me care about it and none of it left me with any kind of feeling of awe or dread. I hate to say it, but this has been the weakest Lovecraftian story I’ve read so far.

The writing here is unnoticeable, in both a positive and a negative sense. It doesn’t stand out as excellent prose, though it is functional and in a way, you sometimes want prose to disappear into the background of a story so the reader can get lost in the fiction. But then again, it’s also good to have a sentence or three that makes me, the reader, want to stand up and read it out loud in a public place. This didn’t do that. I have read other stories in this collection and they’ve been better, so I’d say the collection itself is definitely worth it if you’re considering whether to buy it or not. But I’m also saying if you do, maybe don’t start with this story.

I wish I had more to say friends, but sadly, I do not. The material didn’t provide it.

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

Limp prose about cold places and broken bones: “Her bones rattled and crunched, and oh yes, she should be dead, but here she was, a limp sack of skin filled with the debris of bones and organs and muscle. What had happened to her? What was she?”

 

Survivor Type, by Damir Salkovic

“Molly was kneeling by the window, her rifle cradled in her lap, her face lit by the red glare of the night. A strange cacophony came from outside, a wailing chant that was half screams and half laughter, accompanied by the rumble of drums and the shrill of pipes and flutes. The infernal din curdled Nick’s blood: he crept to the window and what he saw froze him in place.”

hinnom-008-cover.jpgLike many of you fellow cosmic trespassers, I have, from time to time, wondered what if Erich Zahn had broken a string; what if the strange alchemy of Armitage and Co. had failed and the powder was ineffective; what if Cthulhu rose and the armies of Y’ha-nthlei flopped ashore? In other words, what if Lovecraft’s monsters and gods won? In our last story, we saw a glimpse of that that didn’t quite meet with my expectations, enjoyable though it was to read. Tonight’s story, on the other tentacle, presents a vision that I can at least buy into. It’s a glimpse of a mythosian victory that is truly terrifying and very creative. I have to say a word about where I encountered this story. Hinnom Magazine (this issue was #008) is a relative newcomer on the horror zine scene, and I’ve only recently encountered it. When I saw what C.P. Dunphey and friends were trying to do I immediately became a subscriber. Their covers advertise the magazine as “the world’s most popular magazine of weird fiction and cosmic horror,” and while I think that’s more aspiration than truth at this point, I’m excited for that possibility and for a true successor to Weird Tales, of blasphemous memory. I’m on board and hope to see it come to pass. Do yourself a favor and check it out. Alright, on to the story.

I have to admit, when I first started reading I thought, “Oh no, here we go, another post-apocalyptic, Walking Dead type, survival story.” But by page 2, I saw how wrong I was. It is a post-apocalyptic survival story, but the reason for the apocalypse wasn’t political strife or even an errant tweet from an orange haired moron. It was the rising of what I’ll take to be an Old One that triggered the nuclear codes to be used – “…the bombers diving out of the the sun, trying to nuke the thing in Yokohama Bay.” Post-Nuclear-War-Landscape-Wallpaper-800x600[1]Apparently this happened in more places than one around the globe, and, before you can say “Geiger Counter,” everybody with nukes is slinging them around and voila!, nuclear wasteland. But the nukes were ineffective.

Nick, the protagonist of our tale, is wandering about the western USA when he finds another group of survivors (this is where I groaned about a possible Walking Dead scenario) who actually take him in after, oddly, checking him for ritual scars. My eyebrow raised. After they bed down for the night, it all goes to hell. Something comes. And while at first you may be tempted to believe, as I did, that what came was “the thing” this story was about, you’ll soon realize it is just one of many things, in a country taken over by things, on a planet now possessed by things. But this first one was definitely a cool, cosmically terrifying thing: “The creature moved like an oil slick, a huge, shapeless, ebony mass. It had already seeped over the glass front of the store and was crawling over the roof, the steel framework groaning under its bulk. Behind the horror lay a trail of devastation, asphalt and rock melted as if with acid.”

Narrowly escaping this slippery abomination, several of the survivalists accompany Nick as he flees. Later, they have an encounter that reminded me of nothing less than a scene from Turkish horror film Baskin (seriously, do not watch this unless you have a strong stomach, and in fact, the rest of the story here is only for the strong of stomach). There’s a lot of body horror over the next few pages and while that isn’t Lovecraftian, Salkovic had already established his story in a Lovecraftian setting and so the mash-up actually created something new for me. I’m sure he’s not the first person to have done it, but I enjoyed it. “Some of the horrors were composites, two or three or half a dozen cultists strung together into one shuffling, mewling whole…” I still see that when I close my eyes and think of this story. This whole scene was really effective from both a Lovecraftian and a horror point of view, and was easily my favorite part of a really good, well-written story.

Salkovic’s prose is gorgeous in its grotesqueries. He was really able to put me right in the midst of this scary, dark, lethal world where the elder gods have risen and the remnants of humanity are on their way out, whether they choose to worship or no. Check this out, “Its head was shrunken and lined, the drooling mouth wide, the eyes stitched tightly together, black, viscous tears tickling from the corners.” This is the cultist’s priest-thing for crying out loud.

Though it seems to be in a position of honor and even of adoration, it’s not a glorified image at all, not an image of one who has been somehow rewarded for faithfulness despite the end times.

I truly appreciated the combination, which was fresh for at least me, of typical Lovecraftian tropes (insane fluting cultists, tentacles, an Azathoth sighting I think, visions of cosmic enormity) and evocative, bloody, body horror. He excels at causing you to think about the words on the page and then you can’t help but shudder at the sheer awfulness of it. Like I said at the beginning, it’s a vision of the Lovecraftian Mythos victory that resonates with me a whole lot. And one in which I’d like exactly no part. In the midst of all that, the writing even manages to squeeze out a bit of emotion, like when he says, “They would believe him, the small, wiry woman and the man with the burned face. They needed to believe something.

If I take exception with any part of this wonderful story, it’s that the ending was not what I expected and not totally in a good way. I don’t want to spoil it for you, so I’ll just say this: how it concluded was not, in my opinion, sufficiently foreshadowed. Now before you say, well now wait just a second, if you totally foreshadow the ending it’s not a surprise! True, true. But here—and again, this is purely my opinion—parts of the story do not set up the ending to be plausible. If you get a chance to read it, I’d be fascinated to hear in the comments what you think about this: if this ending is true, then why does Nick respond the way he does in certain other, previous, situations?

I don’t want to make too much out of that because it’s a subjective observation. This is a wonderful story with impressive and affecting prose, memorable scenes, and a fascinating and believable vision of an end in which the mythos does what we all fear it might do. If you like the sound of that then let me encourage you to check out what the good folks over at Gehenna and Hinnom are doing, not only with Hinnom magazine, with but anthologies as well.  Send them a few bucks, because if you, like me, want another Weird Tales-like zine in true print form, we have to support it.

This review was composed listening to the sanity cracking monophony of “Azathoth” by Cryo Chamber.

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

A Study in Emerald, by Neil Gaiman

“My dear Lestrade. Please give me some credit for having a brain. The corpse is obviously not that of a man—the color of his blood, the number of limbs, the eyes, the position of the face—all these things bespeak the blood royal. While I cannot say which royal line, I would hazard that he is an heir, perhaps—no, second to the throne—in one of the German principalities.”

511NAV28TQL[1]Some of the works I’ve been reviewing here have come from collections put together by their authors, while others have been edited according to a theme. Sometimes that’s been a more general theme and at other times they’ve zeroed in on a particular HPL story. The collection today’s story comes from is closer to the latter, but with a twist. We’re combining universes in a proton-smashing literary fusion event! As the dusk jacket asks, “what would happen if Conan Doyle’s peerless detective and his allies were to find themselves faced with mysteries whose solutions lay not only beyond the grasp of logic, but of sanity itself?” In some of the forums I look at from time to time and on some of the Lovecraftian podcasts out there I’ve heard a lot of folks asking the same question, “Is this collection worth while?” I admit, I was skeptical at first as I felt my purist blood rising, but then I thought, quite simply, “why not?”  While I have read only two stories in the collection so far, I have enjoyed them a lot. I do have to admit though that I am only a Holmes fan in theory. I’ve never read a single Sherlock Holmes story. I’ve seen a variety of TV shows and films, and listened to a bunch of stories on tape an age ago when I was a child, but I’ve not once read the stories out of a book, nor do I have a grasp on Holmesian canon. I suspect that if I did, I’d enjoy this collection a lot more. Great care seems to have been taken to present the stories in chronological order according to Holmesian canon, but that care and detail is largely lost on me.  I’m here for the Lovecraft.

The opening story in the collection is a fun one, if a bit of an odd ball. Its author, Neil Gaiman, is likely no stranger to most of you, so he doesn’t need much introduction. And, if you’re a Conan Doyle devotee, the story itself will, strangely, not need much of an introduction either.  “A Study in Emerald” is a riff on the first Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel that introduced Holmes and Watson back in 1887 called “A Study in Scarlet.” Benedict Cumberbatch’s Holmes on the British TV series Sherlock engages this case in that show’s first episode, though there it is called “A Study in Pink.” Our story opens with Holmes meeting Watson for the first time, just as the original story does. sherlock[1].jpgEverything you could want out of a Sherlock Holmes story is present in Gaiman’s offering: the insanely insightful Holmes, the ascerbic Dr. Watson, quick witted banter, mystery, murder, and baffling clues. One of the parts of this story that I loved the most was its window dressing. Prior to each chapter opening, there was a little advertisement that gave a hint that things were not all as they ought to be in typical Sherlock adventure.  Everything from a drama troupe advertising a play entitled “The Great Old Ones Come,” to (my favorite) an ad for a professional ex-sanguinator from Romania named V. Tepes to help with your arthritis! If you don’t know, this is the Romanian name of Vlad the Impaler, as in, Dracula! I thought that these ads were a really fun inclusion and they reminded me of the ads present in the stories from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s “Dark Adventure Radio Theater” productions. However, as I said, this was just a bit of clever window dressing and didn’t do enough to really indicate we were in a Mythos story. So, how exactly is this a cross over story that begins an entire collection of cross over stories?

Well, what we find out before too long, intrepid reader, is that in this version of Sherlock’s London, the Great Old Ones have come and conquered seven hundred years before!  No one is left out, “…the Queen of Albion herself, and the Black One of Egypt…followed by the Ancient Goat, Parent to a Thousand, Emperor of all China, and the Czar Unanswerable, and He Who Presides over the New World, and the White Lady of the Antarctic Fastness, and the others.” 

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“…the Ancient Goat, Parent to a Thousand…”
But, are you ready for this, they (or at least the British Old One) seem to be largely benevolent rulers! I don’t know about you, but this was the part that really threw me off and for this sole reason I don’t know that I would have chosen it to lead off the collection. I get that you want a powerhouse author to kick off your book, but in my humble opinion, I wanted something a bit more true to Lovecraftian form. None of this is to say that this is not a creative, fun, or interesting story. It is all of that and more – truly, this was a joy to read, even as a Sherlock novice. Gaiman’s a consummate writer and he puts you right there in the story quite easily, no matter how familiar it might be to you. But I just couldn’t wrap my unmalleable mind around a beneficent Old One! For crying out loud, she heals Watson’s war wound! “Then the limb uncoiled and extended, and she touched my shoulder. There was a moment, but only a moment, of pain deeper and more profound than anything I have ever experienced, and then it was replaced by a pervasive sense of well-being. I could feel the muscles in my shoulder relax, and for the first time since Afghanistan, I was free from pain.” At least, I suppose, her limb uncoiled rather than reached out. All that being said, it does have this going for it: I didn’t see it coming! If you’ve read this story, I’d love to know what your reaction to this odd turn of events was, so please leave a comment.

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“A Study in Emerald” by Deviant Artist: kelseyleah
If you’re at all nervous about this anthology and the whole cross over idea, don’t be. It’s fun. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about? I do have to say the other story I read in this collection (“The Weeping Masks”) was a lot creepier, though less overtly Lovecraftian. You can almost never go wrong with Neil Gaiman (except for Good Omens – and I know I’m in the vast minority here, but that book did nothing for me) so I get why they chose him for the lead story. However, I am hoping the remainder of the anthology is a lot more like “The Weeping Masks” than this one. I really look forward to seeing the deerstalker capped one take on the Mythos in a more traditional form. How will his unbreakable logic hold up to the mind-shattering knowledge of the cosmos? Will he be able to name the Unnameable? We shall find out, and I hope you’ll join me.

This review was composed by listening to my sick child laboring to breathe. Perhaps it was the croup, or perhaps it was her gills breaking open.

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

Logical fallacies of an incomparable mind:  “…there are those who do not believe that the coming of the Old Ones was the fine thing we all know it to be. Anarchists to a man, they would see the old ways restored—mankind in control of its own destiny, if you will.”

 

 

Howling in the Dark, by Darrell Schweitzer

“I am certain only that we came to a high, dark place beneath brilliant stars and perched at the edge of a precarious precipice, so that with the slightest tumble, not to mention an intentional leap, we could have hurled ourselves off into the black sea of infinity forever.”

Well, I have to confess (I feel comfortable doing that with you, my fellow cultists, and pray that trust is not misplaced) that when I looked in my notes and saw the title of this next story that was up for review I had a brief moment of panic because I didn’t remember the first thing about it.  I thought, ‘Have I gotten too far ahead in my reading that I’m beginning to not be able to recall the ones I’ve finished?’ But then I looked at my list, and no, I remembered each other one that was on the list. So, I’m afraid the first thing I have to say about this story tonight is that for me, it was not very memorable. Even when I went back and looked at it again, I have to say that not only was it not very memorable, but I wasn’t all that interested in it. So, that’s my confession to you, and you’ll have to decide for yourselves whether my feeble brain is just too addled from blasphemous texts and forgotten rites, or whether this story just doesn’t cut the mustard. Leave me a comment and let me know what you think.

b69062dd20873d040269e11d4f7f7b43[1]It’s a tough call to make, I assure you, as our author is not only a well respected and very prolific author in the field of weird fiction, but he was, from 1988 to 2007 the editor of a little magazine you may have heard about called Weird Tales. I came across the story in Black Wings of Cthulhu, Vol. 1, edited by none other than the estimable S.T. Joshi, the preeminent Lovecraft scholar, and published by Titan Books in 2012. Since then, this venerable series of Lovecraftian anthologies is up to volume six, so it’s only natural that not all stories will resonate with all readers.  This one tells the tale of Joseph (who goes unnamed until the end) in the first person, who lives a somewhat tragic life and is taken on noctural journeys through time and space by a spooky “stone man whose eyes do not really glow.” You get the sense that perhaps he is really going on these weird trips, but perhaps he is not; perhaps he is just wandering around outside, silently suffering some sort of mental break from reality on account of his circumstances.  His mother hints at this possibility when, after she catches him wet and cold from being outside, she asks, “Are you crazy? You’ll catch your death of cold!” But when the narrator could provide no explanation, “Mom began to talk about doctors and psychiatrists.”

The stone man takes him on trips through the blackness of night with increasingly regularity, seemingly coinciding with the progressively horrid conditions of his life.  He was beaten regularly, his parents screamed at each other, his sister gained obscene amounts of weight without end. 5078971[1].jpgFurther and further afield he is taken, but perhaps it is just further and further down into a severely depressed psyche. “If we are to achieve our place in the whirling darkness beyond the stars, he explained to me, inside my head without words, we must become nihil, nothing.” Eventually two of his family members suicide and the flying demons of his night jaunts close in. He is institutionalized, spends time with doctors for whom he doesn’t have much respect, and is finally released. He must have achieved some sort of equilibrium as he marries, has a daughter, and moves away. But the stone man and all the inhabitants of the darkness, his darkness, follow him.  More tragedy strikes, and finally, the descent into madness, or to the lost plateau of Leng, is near complete.

Like I said, this one really didn’t do a whole lot for me, nor can I really recommend it with any force. It’s well written, I’ll give it that. Schweitzer knows his craft. It just left me cold in the end, and not in a particularly Lovecraftian way. (Lovecraft’s stories actually never leave me cold. I always end up feeling something: awe, wonder, fear, and so on.) Perhaps, though, that is the point of this, to be an exposition on numbness, that particular demon of depression.

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“…we hurled through infinities without number until we came at last to a flat and frozen plain, beneath two black suns, and we knelt down and abased ourselves…”
I’ve never suffered from it, thank the dim star of Carcosa, but I know many who have and do, and it’s no joke. If that was Schweitzer’s goal, I’ll hand him credit where credit is due, he succeeded in writing a story about depression that left me numb, cold, and unfeeling. And I didn’t like it. Again, though, maybe that was the point. Beyond that, it’s not particularly Lovecraftian, nor is it startingly scary in any way. But it might be a good story, despite not fitting in this genre in my modest opinion. I suppose you could argue that the Lovecraftian nature of it comes in the expansive visions of the cosmos to which the narrator is exposed: “Now the stars swirl around us in a vast whirlpool, and then there are more dark dust clouds whirling, obscuring the light, and we pass through, borne by our captors, for I believe that is what they are, the ones to whom we have surrendered ourselves.” It’s beautiful, evocative imagery, but for some reason, it just doesn’t scream HPL at me.  Put another way, were this story not in this book, I’d likely never associate it with Lovecraft.

That about does it for this review, but before I go, let me say this again. Depression is no joke. If you’re suffering from it, you do not have to do so alone. Reach out. Tell someone you trust. Leave a comment for me if all else fails, for heaven’s sake. There is help. If you’re thinking of harming yourself, that is not the answer. This is National Suicide Awareness Week, and so for my part, I urge you, if you’re having thoughts of suicide, call this number:

1-800-273-8255

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This review was composed listening to Maurice Ravel’s “Miroirs,” “Pavane pour une infante défunte,” and my personal favorite, “Gaspard de la nuit,” which is an insanity all of its own.

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