[25 July 2006]
H.P. Lovecraft was all but unknown during his lifetime in the early 20th century, but today he is practically a household name among fans of horror fiction, role-playing, and even video games. A prolific writer, it is Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos that have earned him the greatest fame. Batman fans should be familiar with the name “Arkham”, which was taken from the name of the fictional town where many of Lovecraft’s stories were set.
Lovecraft’s “insanity horror” has been immensely influential among contemporary writer of both horror and non-horror fiction alike. His brand of terror is more subtle and profound than the typical psycho-killer or monster tales that the word “horror” generally brings to mind. While zombies and madmen with chainsaws can surely be daunting if presented correctly, a certain amount of suspended disbelief is always necessary. What can be truly terrifying on a completely different level is the crumbling of reality. Or, more accurately to Lovecraft’s style, the inability of one’s mind to protect him sufficiently from the horrors of true reality. Lovecraft wrote in his 1926 story, The Call of Cthulhu, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents… some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
It may be that it took a truly scientific age to fully appreciate Lovecraft’s ideas—and his fears. Maybe that is why there is now a Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, numerous film adaptations, and even a recently released Call of Cthulhu video game for Xbox (These could also be attributed to the apparently dwindling supply of original source material for film and videogame makers). To add to the mass of Cthulhu related accouterments, Boom! Studios has released a collection of Lovecraft-inspired comic book stories appropriately titled, Cthulhu Tales.
Cthulhu Tales consists of six short, unrelated stories, ranging from funny to grotesque in their approach, and sometimes embracing both. The background on Lovecraft provided, above, is to present a reasonably accurate picture of the essence of hisfiction. From this I hope that you will have some idea of what I mean when I say that most of the stories that compose Cthulhu Tales flow well in this vein. They are not all written as Lovecraft would write (though some try), but the proper Cthuloid spirit is present.
The first story, The Beach, is a Cthulhu tale in the traditional sense: A somewhat disjointed and bizarre account that ends with insanity and horror rather than any real sense of closure. The next tale, Love’s Craft, is similarly baffling, but ends less abruptly. A clunky rhyme scheme meanders throughout the narrator’s thought boxes and narrowly succeeds in creating an ominous ambiance.
Other stories are much the same, with some more or less peculiar. Not all deal directly with Cthulhu, though all are set in a world where madness slowly overtakes those who care to pay it any attention. For instance, Quality Time is reminiscent of the film The Shining, with the vehicle for insanity resting at least partially on (or being manifested through) a child, though no mention of Cthulhu or other aspects of the Cthulhu mythos are mentioned. Likewise, in The Oddly Amorous Phineas Flynn and the Troublesome Trouble He Got Himself In—which I feel is the centerpiece of Cthulhu Tales—Cthulhu is not directly invoked, though things unnatural and inhuman certainly play a role.
The artwork in Cthulhu Tales is respectable at the very least, and at times quite impressive. A wide range of styles are employed—enough so that at least one style will likely please even the pickiest connoisseur of comic book art—and each artist compliments his writer commendably. The gritty tales of death and madness enjoy dark and foreboding art, while the more humorous stories make their point with somewhat caricaturized visuals.
A person unacquainted with the writing of H.P. Lovecraft will certainly find it harder to appreciate Cthulhu Tales than someone who has read even two or three of his short stories. The Tales are not necessarily an accurate portrait of Lovecraft himself as a writer, but rather, displays the attitude of the Cthulhu mythos. I would hesitate to recommend this book to someone who hasn’t read any of Lovecraft’s works. It is very much aimed at an audience with some background knowledge of the subject matter. But to someone with At the Mountains of Madness or The Call of Cthulhu on their bookshelf, it is an interesting read and, if nothing else, a fine collectible for any Cthulhu fan.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/cthulhu-tales-1/