Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Different people have different opinions on how involved Lovecraft was in the creation of the Cthulhu Mythos. Some people say he purposely and skillfully created one of the world’s first shared universes, others think he was just to polite to tell people not to use his ideas. The truth is probably somewhere between the two extremes. He differently did encourage his inner circle to use some of his creatures and forbidden tomes in their writings, but how open he was to this whole Mythos concept isn’t clear.
We are also dealing with two different concepts, The Cthulhu Mythos and Lvecratian tropes. The CM has become the shared universe that has been developed from HPL’s original writings. It is built on cosmic entities and ancient books, that were created or inspired by Lovecraft. LT’s are the concepts that Lovecraft espoused, cosmicism, the bleak New England landscape, the amorality of the universe, a wainscoting universe hidden under our noses. A lot of people who took upon themselves carrying on Lovecraft’s legacy focus on one but not the other. It is import to state just using the name of one of Lovecraft’s many gods or aliens or dark books, in a story does not make it either Lovecraftian nor part of the new corpus of the Mythos.
Unlike all of Lovecraft’s work, most stories by later writers are not in public domain. So you cannot find them for free on the internet. But since there are literally thousands of new Mythos stories you can get trade paper backs pretty cheaply.
I recommend anything by Chaosium (who also prints the CoC RPG) They have titles on most of the deities, major mythos writers and anything else that makes sense to combine in an anthology. Ones I have read are Mysteries of the Worm (Stories by Robert Bloch), Singers of Strange Songs (Stories inspired by the writings of Brian Lumley) Tales out of Innsmouth (Deep One stories) Songs of Cthulhu (stories about sound) Disciples of Cthulhu I & II (Potpourri), The Necronomicon (Stories and essays about The dread book) The Tsathoggua Cycle (about the god created by Clark Ashton Smith) The Book of Iod (based on writing of Henny Kuttner) The Spiraling Worm (Interconnected short stories about special ops versus Mythos threats) The Dunwich Cycle (more than just the Horror from that town) Nameless Cults (The mythos writing of Robert E. Howard) The Ithaqua Cycle (August Derleth’s wind walker) Made in Goatswood (Stories based in Ramsey Campbell’s Severn Valley), Frontier Cthulhu (Mythos stories set in America’s frontier) and The Anarkos Cycle (About the South Pole). There are many more and I am eagerly waiting for the arrival of their Yithian collection from Amazon.
Other good modern anthologies are The Children of Cuthlhu published by Ballantine Books, Cthulhu 2000 published by Del Rey, Hard Boiled Cthulhu by Dimensions, High Sea Cuthlhu by ESP, The New Lovecraft Circle by Del Rey, Shadows Over Innmouth By Del Rey, Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos by Del Rey, World’s Greatest Horror Stories published by Barns and Noble, Weird Tales by Barnes and Nobles, Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by Del Rey and Return to Lovecraft Country by Triad. All are good but my highest recommendation goes to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
Here are some specific stories I suggest.
Black Stone – Robert E Howard originally published in Weird Tales November 1931. Robert E. Howard is best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian. But he wrotein a bunch of different genres from horror, to boxing stories, to historical fiction to traditional westerns. Two really good Cthulhu anthologies of his writings are Chaosium’s Nameless Cults, and the David Drake edited Cthulhu: The Mythos and Kindred Horrors by Baen Books (which I just saw a TPB version on Amazon for a penny + shipping), and Tales of the Cuthlhu Mythos. Black Stone however can also be downloaded on line at the Gutenberg Project.
This is probably Howard’s truest Mythos story. A young poet sleeps next to a black stone and is driven mad by his dreams. Howard needed a name for the mad house in this story and so he named it Arkham Asylum, after the primary setting of his friend Lovecraft. In the 70’s Denny O’Neil will use the same name as the insane asylum for Batman. (Lovecraft used it also in The Thing at the Doorstep)
Notebook Found in a Deserted House –Robert Bloch, originally published Weird Tales May 1951. Bloch is best known for being the author of the novel psycho, you know the one that Alfred Hitchcock based his movie on. The first thing I ever read by him is his non-Mythos story Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper. Bloch is the only person that Lovecraft dedicated a story to (The Haunter in the dark, where he gleefully kills of a Bloch avatar named Robert Blake). This is my personal favorite Mythos story and can be found in both Mysteries of the Worm and Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos.
The story is the found writings of a boy named Willie who witness his rural family being attacked and destroyed by the creatures of the Mythos. The story has some detractors though in his use of Shaggoth’s as conjured nature spirits. Chaosium created a new race on the descriptions of his monsters called The Dark Young of Shub-Nigguroth.
Lair of the Star Spawn – August Derleth & Mark Shoer– Originally published in Weird Tales August 1932. A lot of Mythos fans don’t like Derleth because he tried to make the Mythos into a battle between good and evil. (And a lot of other sins I will write about latter) But if you are as a prolific a writer as he was, then not all of your stuff is going to suck. I like this story. Yes it is a good v evil story, but when the good guys show up they are energy beings that ride cigar shaped flying motorcycles. How awesome is that? I think that these Star Warriors would make awesome RPG creatures but to the best of my knowledge they never show in any version of the CoC RPG, probably because they are to traditionally good. This story can be found in Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos.
Horror at Martin’s Beach (originally published as The Invisible Monster) – Sonia Greene – First published in Weird Tales November 1922. This tale is often credited to Lovecraft, but was in fact written by his wife Sonia Greene and then edited and revised by HPL. To the best of my knowledge Lovecraft never held a regular job. He lived mainly off a pittance inheritance and work as a freelance editor/ghost writer. Many of the stories he worked on he would add Mythos references. This is to me the most faithful of these stories to both The Mythos but also to the Lovecraftian Tropes. (Well since it was written by the only woman he romantically kissed we shouldn’t be surprised.)
Story wise think of the shark in Jaws as a forty foot sea monster that can turn invisible and hypnotize its prey. Then when its offspring is killed by a fisherman, it going to get revenge and doesn’t care how many others humans it has to kill to get it. It can be found in most Lovecraft Revision collections including, The Horror in the Museum and The Loved Dead and Other Revisions.
The Great God Pan – Arthur Machen –First published in The Whirlwind 1890 Written the same year Lovecraft was born this is a classic example of how stories written before HPL has been co-opted into the mythos. It influences not only his story The Dunwich Horror but also Steven King’s story “N”. The term ‘Seeing the great God Pan” was a Victorian expression for having your eyes opened to the supernatural. It is an eerie story about a woman who has a forced operation that allows her to not only see but to give birth to a non-Earthly entity’s child. Lovecraft describes it as thus “No one could begin to describe the cumulative suspense and ultimate horror with which every paragraph abounds”. Though he dose chide Machen for being a bit melodramatic. This story is available on line for free from Project Gutenberg, it is also in Chaosiums’ The Dunwich Cycle.
Jerusalem’s Lot -Steven King Originally published in Night Shift 1979. Though King’s Novel Salem’s Lot and follow up short story, One for the Road, are fairly traditional vampires story the prequel is pure Mythos. It tells the towns history before they dropped the “Jer” form the town’s name. The Hero discovers a copy of the Mythos book Devernies Worm, and even though he finds the word Nosferatu on the wall, the creatures are much closer to Brian Lumley’s mythos worms the cthonians. Classic King with a mythos twist. This story can be found in both the Anthologies Night Shift and Tales of The Cthulhu Mythos.
The Courtyard. -Allan Moore- Originally published in Starry Wisdom: A Tribute to HP Lovecraft. – 1995. Allan Moore is best known as a comic book writer of such classics as The Watchmen and V for Vendetta. He is also a big Lovecraft fan. This was originally a prose piece but was adapted into a comic book in 2003 by Avatar. There is full length graphic novel sequel called Necronomicon.
The title comes from a poem by Lovecraft and tells the story of a racist undercover DEA agent who is tracking an ancient prehumen language that is being trafficked like a drug, in Lovecraft’s old stomping ground of Red Hook New York.