Wednesday, 22 October 2014

New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos

Ramsey Campbell (editor) New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1980
I can't quite tell whether I'm burned out on Lovecraft and his adjective-heavy tales of gambrel roofed houses inherited from shunned uncles containing unholy books so rare and forbidden that only four thousand copies of each were ever bound, these accursed copies now residing in the countless dark libraries of the legions of shunned and shadowy uncles of New England whom no mumbling villager will discuss with impunity; or whether it is simply that this collection just isn't very good. I suppose the cover might be a clue. There she was just getting ready for bed in her fishnet stockings and suspenders when —eek!

If Crouch End isn't the first Stephen King tale I've read - as it may well be - it will probably be the last. I know The Shawshank Redemption and The Shining were great, but those were films which may have been adapted from slim pamphlets of disappointing limericks for all I know, and that one with the big clown spider thing defeated with the devilishly clever plot twist of having some kids pull its legs off was frankly rubbish. Crouch End derives from when King spent some time in London and is accordingly crammed with as much local flavour as possible;

Vetter was dotty, all right. He was also a bloody fag-mooch. Fags didn't come cheap in this brave new world of socialism and the welfare state.

Oh Stephen, you bloody plonker! Pull yourself together, bloke. Crouch End, were it not for gratuitous references to council flats and fish and chips every other sentence would be Terrance Dicks, which falls somewhat short of that which I'm fairly sure was promised by King's reputation.

Unfortunately, the rest isn't significantly better, mostly variations on the usual H.P. sauce about dark texts and nameless shit transposed to a modern setting and generally lacking the lyrical flourishes which made Lovecraft's own repetitive reworkings of his one story a little more readable. Basil Copper's Shaft 247, for example, reads like Lovecraft adapted as Pertwee era Doctor Who, and I swear I had to flip back a couple of times to remind myself of which one I was reading. In fact I've forgotten which story I was referring to since writing that sentence.

I say, the rest isn't significantly better, although there are thankfully two exceptions - T.E.D. Klein's Black Man with a Horn and Ramsey Campbell's own contribution. The former is a rambling and yet thoroughly absorbing tale told through a train of thought pursued by someone claiming to have known Lovecraft, so it retains a sense of humour and exhibits a degree of self-awareness which elevates it above the karaoke turns of the preceding pages, if anything making them look all the more crappy and juvenile. Campell's The Faces at Pine Dunes fares similarly well through doing its own thing, invoking that characteristically English frisson of horror for which Stephen King was probably fumbling, and not worrying too much with ticking every last one of the usual Lovecraftian boxes. New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos has been amongst the blandest things I've read this year, but Klein and Campbell shine so unusually bright as to blot all the other crap from memory, whatever it was.

No comments:

Post a Comment