The Madness of Cthulhu Anthology
The Madness of Cthulhu, Book #2
By S.T. Joshi
Following in the footsteps of the legendary Howard Phillips Lovecraft is no small feat. Considered by many to have pioneered the art of horror and the supernatural in literature, his stories still resonate with the tales of cosmic horror today. It was with this Knowledge that I started into the second volume of stories “inspired” by H.P. Lovecraft: The Madness of Cthulhu. While a reasonable number of prolific authors called to the task, only the longer pieces pulled through.
From a writer’s point of view, it is very easy to fall into the formulaic when writing a “dedication” piece. With Lovecraft, The formula was often best described as, “Man tackles the unknown; man finds out something he was not meant to know; man goes mad.” Sadly, some, if not all, of the shorter pieces followed this pattern verbatim, with no meat on the skeleton. The longer works had enough time to develop character and background to make a passable effort. These stories, were the glue that really held the whole together.
The writing is modern – probably what turned my interest away from the works in general. H.P. Lovecraft was an incredibly gifted author who had a grand design of Victorian Horror literature (prominently driven by Edgar Allen Poe –progenitor of the modernist short story) and an incredible grasp of the English language. Sometimes in The Madness of Cthulhu, the stories are hampered simply because the art of the short story has changed drastically from the roaring twenties that Lovecraft was writing in; drawing upon the rich history of his New England environs. Perhaps cosmic horror can be written (and I have seen it performed well, here) in a modern short, but lovers of Lovecraft will undoubtedly find themselves pining for the turn of the century Gothic tales.
As most of the stories these days are thematically active and protagonist driven, unlike their Victorian and Edwardian counterparts, the stories do have their own feel. It’s a different feel, however; one borne on waves of post-modern philosophy, which was just beginning to see the light of day in Lovecraft’s time. As such, most can be read without the moniker of a Cthulhu overhead. In fact if these stories weren’t offshoots of Lovecraftian themes, they would make a great (well some would) collection of modern cosmic horror. Some of the stories (notably the first two) literally are not worth the ink they’re printed with. They just lack imagination and any desire to tell a tale.
The myriad stories that comprise the book The Madness of Cthulhu: Volume Two are not all bad. Like most anthologies, you take the good with it. There are, of the 14 short tales in the book, I’d say 2/3 of it is worth the read, if you do your best trying not to compare it with the master architect. The majority of its contents, are solidly based stories that by no means should be taken as canonical (albeit the fact that Lovecraft himself drove other authors, of his choosing, to write tales in this dark universe – notables like Clark Aston Smith, and Robert E. Howard, for example). They can be incorporated into the canon, but as a post-modern take on a bygone age.
Lovers of Lovecraft have been warned. Lovers of horror fiction will be pleased for the most part. While some stories are very strong, others are weak even among their contemporaries. Overall, though, The Madness of Cthulhu: Volume Two will give all readers something to talk about – good or bad.