“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…”
Alongside 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!
William 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.
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!
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,
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…”