Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Lurker at the Threshold

H.P. Lovecraft & August Derleth The Lurker at the Threshold (1945)
I haven't read Lovecraft in ages - ages probably equivalent in this case to about two decades, and it seems this figure still stands even after reading The Lurker at the Threshold which amounts - according to some bloke on the internet - to about fifty-thousand words of which a little over a thousand derive from a fragment penned by Chuckles before his untimely demise. Said fragment was subsequently expanded to novel length by August Derleth. One might at this juncture frown upon Derleth's sauce - although I'm told it's delightful with pheasant - but I'm not convinced this was undertaken entirely in the spirit of milking a dead cow, despite appearances. Aside from anything, the two of them were good friends - albeit solely through the postal service - and Lovecraft's name might quite possibly have vanished into pulp magazine obscurity were it not for August Derleth and Donald Wandrei publishing posthumous collections of his short stories. Furthermore, Derleth was himself not lacking in talent and contributed much to the Cthulhu mythos even to the point of providing its overarching title, to my mind an improvement on Lovecraft's preferred Yog-Sothothery which just sounds like some sort of weird and messy criminal offence. If anyone was qualified to write this novel then it was probably Derleth, and given how much use it makes of the mythos in question, it would  have been worse form to omit Lovecraft's name from the cover.

That said, for all his talents, Derleth was quite a different sort of writer to his friend, and whilst he pulls all the Lovecraftian moves you would expect, it's still not really the same. This isn't necessarily bad, for Derleth adds flourishes that Lovecraft would not have considered for one reason or another, writing from a slightly more worldly, even mainstream perspective.

The only problem is that The Lurker at the Threshold is still very much the generic Lovecraft tale and as such might arguably work better in short form. The innocent inherits the house that no-one dare discuss, assumes all those tales about his deceased relative summoning tentacled types to be bullshit, but little does he realise...

Lovecraft wrote this same tale over and over, mostly getting away with it through the sheer poetry of his prose and the immediacy of tales which demanded no suspension of disbelief lasting much longer than an hour; but after a hundred pages of our hapless and transparently doomed hero desperately maintaining that nothing funny is going on and certain nameless monstrosities from beyond the dawn of time can probably be put down to poor digestion, he begins to look like a bit of an idiot.

The Lurker at the Threshold is enjoyable enough depending on how much you're into Lovecraft, but most readers will probably be better off with the short stories.

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