June 11

(I wrote this whole great entry, and then, while re-reading it to see if I'd spelled anything egregiously wrong, my computer had an Unfathomable Disk Error and I lost everything. So here goes, again. I'll try to recreate the gist, even at the cost of the eloquence)

It was August Derleth who called (the majority of) Lovecraft's stories "The Cthulhu Cycle"; Lovecraft himself favored the term "Yog-Sothothery". That phrase is more appropriate (Cthulhu is the most famous of Lovecraft's Nasty Old Buggers, but Mr. Tentacle-Face isn't as ubiquitous as Yog-Sothoth), and it's also funnier, which is why I favor it.

Del Rey, who's put out some cool editions of Lovecraft stuff in recent years (often with cover paintings by John Jude Palencar, who does horrifically surreal to perfection), is currently taking submissions for an anthology called "Children of Cthulhu" (natch). Of course, I wrote something to send to it.

The guidelines specifically forbid pastiche-- they don't want the fifty-cent adjectives and piled-up vaguely-nasty-sounding nouns-- they want stories told in the author's own voice that deal with Lovecraft's frequently recurring themes and his confusing, chaotic world. The guidelines are interesting-- in the space of a couple hundred words, the editors manage to convey criticism of everyone who's tried to codify Lovecraft's works and make sense of his world. I mean, look at Call of Cthulhu (which is cool, don't get me wrong-- in what other RPG is the goal to stave off for as long as possible the inevitable descent of your character into madness?)-- they have alphabetical bestiaries of Lovecraftian creatures, complete with stats! That's all wrong (though necessary, for the game-makers' purposes).

The great thing about Lovecraftia, for me, is the total alien-ness of the monsters, be they extra-terrestrial or occult or extra-planar or otherwise. Humans can't guess at their motivations, and we wouldn't understand them even if they were explained to us. There are all these incredibly powerful, dangerous things out there, going about their business, occasionally impacting humanity in bewildering ways. Some people fear them, some worship them as gods, some see them as stepping-stones to personal power, and most are blissfully ignorant of their existence. You can't determine how many hit-points Cthulhu has; that's not even the right sort of question.

Who founded Carcosa? Where does Randolph Carter really go when he dreams? What does The Black Goat With A Thousand Young want out of life? People have written essays on this stuff, trying to make sense of it, trying to create a consistent myth cycle-- when the whole point is the inconsistency, the fact that Lovecraft's world can't be wholly described. Because then you could begin to understand it, and it wouldn't be scary. Lovecraft contradicted himself constantly, and most of the exposition in his stories comes from unreliable sources-- poorly translated books written by madmen, memorates given by people with broken minds. To make matters more deliciously confusing, Lovecraft threw open his world and invited other writers to tell their own stories within it, thus inviting more contradiction.

It's altogether wonderful.

So this weekend I wrote a story about Dagon-- or at least a story glancingly related to the events that take place in the Lovecraft story of that name. I like my story, and I think it might be the first Lovecraft-derived tale to begin at a child's birthday party. My story features a disgraced academic with odd theories, and a cult of fanatics dabbling with Things Best Left Undabbled-With, and inscrutable carvings, and even tentacles, of a sort-- but it's definitely not your typical "Seeker after occult lore discovers unspeakable volume of ancient lore, conjures up Cthulhu and all Hell breaks loose" (that's the way the anthology guidelines describe the usual Lovecraft pastiche, which is what they don't want). My protagonist is a sixty-five-year-old woman with off-and-on arthritis, and she's a tough and fascinating lady. I tried to have fun with Lovecraft's tropes... Plus, my story isn't so stepped in Lovecraftia that I'd hesitate to send it elsewhere if the anthology doesn't want it (and the guidelines warn that they have limited space for the unsolicited submissions of eager young pups like myself).

I dig Lovecraft. Wandering around the Goldsboro Public Library as a youth, I came across a collection of his stories. I read "Pickman's Model" and "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and I was hooked. I didn't know what "stygian" meant, or "eldritch" or "cyclopean," but it didn't matter. All I knew was that this Lovecraft guy wasn't afraid to take me into the shadows, and that his good guys (when there were good guys) didn't always win (and usually didn't know what they were fighting), and that, even though he seldom showed his monsters, they were nevertheless the scariest creatures I'd ever encountered. Now, all growed-up, I could complain about his prose and quibble with his characterization, but I never would. Lovecraft woke my sense of wonder to dark, strange, wondrous things, and part of me has stayed in those eldritch (heh) dreamlands ever since.

I'm glad of the excuse to write a story stemming directly from Lovecraft's work.

Heck, the anthology's accepting submissions until August.

Maybe I'll write another one.



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