Sharpening the Blades Against the Infinite Blackness

HP Lovecraft

The world of Howard Philips Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors continues to exude it supernatural influence over contemporary horror scribes. In many ways, Lovecraft’s askance perspective on the rudiments of the horror genre is even more current than it was in the early decades of the 20th century, when he first penned his ‘weird tales’, largely for a pulp magazine with that same name.

Unlike the more conventional exponents of the horror genre, Lovecraft’s suggestion that the universe is indifferent to our plight – and even that it was timeless alien beings, like the now-famous Cthulhu, who created us by ‘accident’ – makes for a jolting change from the Christian-inflected good vs evil narrative that dominates the classic horror narratives.

But in many ways, Lovecraft was a ‘man of his time’… if not arguably an even worse exponent of the worst possible attitudes you can imagine that phrase is often poised to justify. The New England recluse (whose dates are 1890 to 1937) was an incorrigible racist, and his paranoia about ‘miscegenation’ – in places like New York in particular – actually informs his fevered prose.
Swords V. CthulhuHowever, the legacy of his strange tales lives on, and it has been taken as a springboard for contemporary genre authors to ply their trade on – and this includes authors with entirely polarized political ideas who probably wouldn’t be caught dead even sharing a beer with Lovecraft were he alive today. Two such authors are Molly Tanzer (Vermillion, ­The Pleasure Merchant) and Jesse Bullington (­The Enterprise of Death, ­The Folly of the World), who have now teamed up as an editorial team to deliver Swords v Cthulhu, an anthology of 22 stories penned by their contemporaries and published by Stone Skin Press, who some years back published the equally pulp-inflected collection Shotguns v Cthulhu.

­The collection allows for a broad interpretation on the ‘swords’ brief, and in fact its tagline merely reads ‘swift-bladed action in the horrific world of HP Lovecraft’.

Jason Heller’s ‘The Daughter of the Drifting’ posits a merciless world in which the demonic logic of Lovecraft’s creatures is given full vent (with the added dynamic of actual combat thrown into the existential morass), while Nathan Carson’s ‘­ The King of Lapland’s Daughter’ also values action and grit, as gender switched to give us refreshing female protagonists where we’d previously find pale imitations of Conan the Barbarian instead.

Feminist revisionism is crossed with literary revisionism in Natania Barron and Carrie Vaughn’s stories – where the Song of Roland and Tennyson’s evergreen poem ‘­ The Lady of Shalott’ are given the Lovecraft treatment to highlight the deficit of female representation in our literary forbears.

But there’s playfulness and humour on offer too, as with Orrin Grey’s ‘A Circle ­ at Ever Returneth In’, which is actually structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure story, and Caleb Wilson’s ‘Bow Down Before ­ e Snail King!’ whose strange but schematic universe recalls the experience of playing Dungeons and Dragons (or World of Warcraft, as the case may be).

It’s not all just fun and games and clever postmodern tricks though. Jeremiah Tolbert’s ‘­ e Dreamers of Alamoi’ taps into the more immersive vein of Lovecraft’s work – that of the ‘Dreamlands’ – to craft an otherworldly story of haunting poetry, while L. Lark adapts the Lovecraftian ‘mythos’ of invented gods to create something more closely resembling a fairy tale with underpinnings of the coming-of-age story.

With pirate stories and tales from Ancient Rome also thrown into the mix, Tanzer and Bullington ensure that there’s something for everyone here. While the prevalent tone of brazen pastiche often runs the risk of pushing the anthology into the realms of fan fiction, the work is often solid enough to ensure that this cleaves close to the pure enjoyment that fan fiction also implies.

© 2016 – VIDA Magazine – Teodor Reljic