Strange Aeons

by Henry on September 28, 2004

Teresa Nielsen Hayden reminds us that Charlie Stross has a strong claim to the title of Supreme Cthonic Entity of the Order of the Shrill for his Oliver-North-discovers-the-Cthulhu-mythos-and-likes-what-he-finds short story, A Colder War, available in its entirety online. Stross describes it as a dry run for his novel, The Atrocity Archives but the two are very different in tone – A Colder War is chill and disturbing, while “Atrocity Archives” is jaunty and irreverent – British bureaucratic incompetence battles against eldritch powers and survives, just about. It’s quite amazing how adaptable H.P. Lovecraft’s oeuvre is, and how well it has survived as a set of cultural tropes, despite its dodgy politics and dodgier prose style. To name a few other unorthodox contemporary riffs on Lovecraft: P.H. Cannon’s Scream for Jeeves (Lovecraftiana redescribed by P.G. Wodehouse), Nick Mamatas’ Move Under Ground, which has Jack Kerouac going up against the Great Old Ones,[1] and my personal favourite, William Browning Spencer’s Resume with Monsters, which blends the Cthulhu mythos with the misery and drudgery of dead-end jobs in a sharp, funny and effective romantic comedy. Really. As it happens, I came across two copies of “RwM” in a second-hand bookshop yesterday – will happily send one each to the first two people to ask for them in comments.

fn1. I started reading this a couple of months ago and still haven’t finished thanks to other books and work commitments; Matt Cheney gives it a good rating here).

{ 26 comments }

1

Nick Scholtz 09.28.04 at 12:58 am

“I came across two copies of “RwM” in a second-hand bookshop yesterday – will happily send one each to the first two people to ask for them in comments.”

Wow. Really? Does that apply to lurkers? I want one.

2

PZ Myers 09.28.04 at 1:01 am

Me, too, please!

3

Henry 09.28.04 at 1:02 am

Yep – send me your mail address and I will send it on.

4

brian 09.28.04 at 1:16 am

As adaptable as the Lovecraft’s mythos is, I have yet to see a movie that does it any justice.

I’d love a copy of Resume with Monster. I’ll email you my contact info. Thanks!

5

brian 09.28.04 at 1:17 am

Damn, too late. Now I’ll have to hunt up my own copy.

6

Patrick Nielsen Hayden 09.28.04 at 1:40 am

By “A. L. Cannon’s Scream for Jeeves” you presumably mean P. H. Cannon’s Scream for Jeeves.

In a demonstration that there are actually only 15,000 people in the world, Teresa and I used to work with Peter Cannon, in a publishing department overseen by H. P. Lovecraft uber-expert S. T. Joshi. What could we possibly have been doing, you ask? Ghost-editing for Harold Bloom. As the blind god Azathoth is known to regularly gibber, I Am Not Making This Up.

7

rea 09.28.04 at 2:11 am

“As adaptable as the Lovecraft’s mythos is, I have yet to see a movie that does it any justice.”

Ghostbusters II?

8

KCinDC 09.28.04 at 2:30 am

There’s also Shadows Over Baker Street, with Holmes and Watson investigating Lovercraftian horrors — an anthology that includes stories by Neil Gaiman, Barbara Hambly, and others, some good, some less good.

9

Miriam 09.28.04 at 3:07 am

As adaptable as the Lovecraft’s mythos is, I have yet to see a movie that does it any justice.

Like Necronomicon, yecch. I tried watching it this weekend out of curiosity–there are some good actors lurking about in it, like Obba Babatunde, David Warner, and the late Tony Azito–but my goodness, that was a mess. (Literally, what with all the limbs and tentacles scattered about.)

10

Miriam 09.28.04 at 3:07 am

As adaptable as the Lovecraft’s mythos is, I have yet to see a movie that does it any justice.

Like Necronomicon, yecch. I tried watching it this weekend out of curiosity–there are some good actors lurking about in it, like Obba Babatunde, David Warner, and the late Tony Azito–but my goodness, that was a mess. (Literally, what with all the limbs and tentacles scattered about.)

11

Henry 09.28.04 at 3:30 am

bq. There’s also Shadows Over Baker Street, with Holmes and Watson investigating Lovercraftian horrors

Yeah – I completely forgot to “link to”:http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/StudyinEmerald.asp Neil Gaiman’s _A Study in Emerald_, which is also available on the web, and which is also well worth a read. I haven’t read the other stories in the anthology – but I thought Gaiman’s piece was a lot of fun.

Nick, Paul – email me your snailmail addresses.

12

Cosma 09.28.04 at 3:36 am

Let’s not forget the science fictional re-interpretations, none of which exactly re-use the specific characters and props from Lovecraft, but are definitely variations on his theme, with ancient alien Powers menacing humanity in more or less subtle ways. I can think of three off the top of my head. My favorites are Alastair Reynolds Revelation Space and sequels, which open with archaeologists excavating a city of the Old Ones and disturbing Elder Things. (Reynolds gets bonus points for depicting various fragments of humanity in the process of turning into Lovecraftian monstrosities themselves.) Thomas Harlan’s Wasteland of Flint has a very similar theme, where the Lovecraft is hybridized with Carlos Castaneda (motivated by a never-fully-spelled-out alternative history where the Aztecs conquered the world, with the Japanese as junior partners). And of course there’s Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep… None of these have any supernatural elements, but that just accords with S. T. Joshi’s interpretation of Lovecraft.

13

Kip Manley 09.28.04 at 4:04 am

Playing around in the Mythos is a lot of fun, I must say (I acted in a student film whose basic premise was college kids discover Necronomicon, dark wackiness ensues. Never finished, so its ability to do justice is up in the air, but the script was a nice blend of horror and comedy for that dark, pre-Buffy day)—and for those who want to go on a fuck tha tragedy of the commons kick, it’s notable that the reason Lovecraft’s ideaspace thrived is because he opened it up to his friends and neighbors, and (beyond the initial thrilling push he gave it, granted) the Elder Gods draw most of their eldritch power from their mongrel, cross-bred state.

(I’m hoping Atrocity Archives is better than Colder War, which I read for the first time this weekend—nice enough, but it read a bit much like isolated outtakes from a (cool, granted) Delta Green game. Oh, and while we’re on about excellent role playing games derived from Lovecraft, here’s what’s just about my favorite: School Colors Out of Space.)

14

John Quiggin 09.28.04 at 6:38 am

Thanks for the link, Henry A Colder War was great!

15

John Kozak 09.28.04 at 9:27 am

As a fairly straight adaptation, I liked “Dagon”, Brian Yuzna’s Catalan relocation of “Shadow over Innsmouth”. I suppose there must be other examples of American classics transposed to a non-US setting (Hollywood backwards) but I can’t think of any…

16

bob mcmanus 09.28.04 at 9:45 am

Dagon was ok had some Lovecraftian elements.

Cast a Deadly Spell was a 1991 HBO movie with Lovecraftian elements that was pretty entertaining. All you need is ancient evil and fog-ridden farmhouses, keep thinking I am forgetting something that has the mood of Lovecraft.

“examples of American classics transposed to a non-US setting (Hollywood backwards)”

Picked up Bunuel’s Fall of the House of Usher 1928 for a couple bucks this weekend, but haven’t watched it yet.

17

Alison 09.28.04 at 10:58 am

I think the best Lovecraft-style film is ‘In the Mouth of Madness’ by John Carpenter. Carpenter isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and his work is very variable, so you may disagree. It gave me the authentic creeps.

18

Larry 09.28.04 at 3:07 pm

Wow… I’ve been out of touch, just found this reference on my del.icio.us Cthulhu filter. Thanks for the links.

I’m serializing a Cthulhu Saga where our favorite elder god stands in for the World Worm and is caught by Thor.

Excerpts can be found here:
http://www.livejournal.com/tools/memories.bml?user=mckenzee&keyword=Cthulhu&filter=all

19

Paul 09.28.04 at 3:53 pm

As a fairly straight adaptation, I liked “Dagon”.

Ok, at first I thought you were referring to Fred Chappell’s book of the same name, which rewrites Lovecraft as an American Southern gothic.

I’ve never seen a really satisfactory Lovecraft movie, either (as groovy as Army of Darkness is), but the Atlanta Radio Theater has done some spooky audio dramatizations.

20

George 09.28.04 at 4:17 pm

Three notes:

1. Any chance “The Atrocity Archives” also draws inspiration from JG Ballard’s “The Atrocity Exhibition”? I thumbed through a rare copy of the latter at City Lights a few years ago and was, let’s say, taken aback.

2. Re contemporary takes on Lovecraft: I recently looked through a graphic novel about the young HP Lovecraft himself. I forget the name, but pretty neat — though I wouldn’t want it in the same house as my wife and/or toddler.

3. Re film takes on Lovecraft’s ethos: Todd McFarlane’s “Spawn”?

21

George 09.28.04 at 4:52 pm

Re Spawn: okay maybe not, actually.

22

Redshift 09.28.04 at 4:56 pm

I would also recommend Esther Friesner, who has written such wonders as “Love’s Eldritch Ichor”, about an aspiring romance novelist from Innsmouth and another whose title escapes me at the moment, which is a Lovecraft mythos story written in the style of Jane Austen.

23

Steve 09.28.04 at 7:14 pm

And there’s the great Howard Waldrop’s Mary Shelley-H.P. Lovecraft mashup, “Black as the Pit From Pole to Pole” (written with his occasional collaborator Steven Utley, a Google search informs me).

…another whose title escapes me at the moment, which is a Lovecraft mythos story written in the style of Jane Austen.

That sounds inspired, on a level with Miss Austen’s tale of Patience and Terminus.

I suppose there must be other examples of American classics transposed to a non-US setting (Hollywood backwards) but I can’t think of any…

Bernard Tavenier’s adaption of Jim Thompson at his most unhinged in Coup de Torchon? He moves the setting of Pop. 1280 from the small-town South to equatorial Africa.

(And finally as re: Lovecraft’s dodgy politics, the only good bit in Warren Ellis’s sadly uninspiring Planetary/Authority teamup was the Lovecraft’s characters assertion that the Elder Gods were spawned from “Negro eggs”.)

24

burritoboy 09.28.04 at 8:33 pm

examples of American classics transposed to a non-US setting (Hollywood backwards):

The most prominent example is the French use of American literary noir and pulp sources:

Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player from David Goodis’ novel

Corneau’s Serie Noire from Jim Thompson

Dassin’s Rififi, directed by American Dassin from Le Breton’s book, which is heavily derivative of American noir books

Tavernier’s Coup de Tourchon, as has already been mentioned

Visconti’s Ossessione, from The Postman Always Rings Twice

Kurosawa’s High and Low, from an Ed McBain novel

25

Steve 09.28.04 at 9:24 pm

Kurosawa’s High and Low, from an Ed McBain novel

Did the question of whether Kurosawa based Yojimbo on Red Harvest ever get settled? I seem to recall a lawsuit a few years ago.

26

bonzo 09.29.04 at 1:10 am

There’s also Gaiman’s Robert Nye pastiche autobiographical sketch of Great Cthulhu (with the little Wodehouse musical that follows it)

http://www.neilgaiman.com/exclusive/essay07.asp

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