Lovecraft as character; a roudabout review of Shadows Bend


From Elder Gods' Rave #21, March 1, 2001

I suppose it was really inevitable that Lovecraft has become a character in other writers' work. After all, he allowed himself to appear, barely veiled, in Bloch’s "Shambler from the Stars." And with Derleth dropping his name hither and thither in his own weird tales in an effort to drum up interest in Arkham House, Lovecraft could be said to have passed virtually directly into fiction on his death.

Lovecraft has showed up in several books and a fair number of short stories. Obviously, I can only speak for the ones I’ve read, but it would be interesting to compare the presentation of the Old Gent. I expect one could learn a lot about various authors in this way.

About ten years ago, I read "Gilgamesh Redux" in Janet Morris’s Crusaders in Hell. In this story, Lovecraft and Robert Howard, dead and in Hell, are send as emissaries from one armed camp in Hell to another. I seem to remember "Two Gun Bob" having a good time using a Thompson submachine gun on a demon, but they really are incidental characters. It’s a light story, but I remember it both for Lovecraft’s appearance as well as the involvement of Gilgamesh, whom I find very interesting.

I haven’t yet read Lovecraft’s Book, by Lupoff, although it’s on my ‘to buy’ list.

Grant Morrison’s "Lovecraft in Heaven" is as close to horrifically unspeakable as I can think of in Lovecraftian literature. What leads people to mix explicit sex with Howard Phillips Lovecraft? But I’ll lay that rant aside for another time.

Lovecraft, or rather "Howard Phillips" puts in a memorable appearance in Christopher Moore’s Practical Demonkeeping, a book which I greatly enjoyed. Although Lovecraft has a minor part, that of an eccentric cafe owner in a small town just north of Big Sur, California, he is an integral part of the story. Personally, I would love to be a regular at HP’s and order an Eggs-Sothoth with a side of the Spuds of Madness every morning.

Aside from the title, there isn’t a single reference to Howard Phillips Lovecraft in The Wizard of Lovecraft’s Cafe by Simon Hawke, and I’d rather drill holes in my head than read that book again. Edmund Wilson once called Tolkien "juvenile trash," but I think he would have changed his mind about it if he’d read this book. Still, the Wizard of Lovecraft’s Cafe serves as encouragement to me: If Hawke can get these books published, I can get mine out. All I have to do is finish it.

Much better is Gahan Wilson’s "HPL." I’ve been fortunate enough to meet Wilson, once, and his genuine sense of humor and wonder are exceeded only by his artistic talents. Wilson is also a profoundly good writer, and his story of a Lovecraft who lives to see literary fame and fortune is obviously heartfelt, and wondrously creepy at the same time.

Having rambled too far afield, I come at last to the actual review of this David Barbour and Richard Raleigh’s Shadows Bend, which is a light piece of freshman fiction. It’s not a bad read, but if the authors were trying to write a tale in Lovecraft’s mode, then they have managed to miss the mark. However, they at least have done their homework. I had just read De Camp’s Lovecraft: A Life, as I had received copies of both for Christmas (it’s good to have friends who know what you like). While the book has other faults, the authors had definitely read and taken notes from De Camp’s biography. Early in the book, several mentions are made of Samuel Loveman, who apparently gave Lovecraft several outre gifts. A fictional gift, a Kachina with Cthulhu’s face, becomes the McGuffin through which Lovecraft becomes involved in this supernatural plot.

But while Barbour and Raleigh get many of the details right, they to get the atmosphere of the book all wrong. While the two authors are pursued by the minions of Cthulhu, Cthulhu in this case seems much more nature-oriented than what I believe I’ve seen in Lovecraft’s stories. Lovecraft and Howard are pursued by hordes of spiders, desert animals, and later, scorpions. The minions of Cthulhu seem to be able to manipulate the weather, conjuring thunderstorms and dust devils with which to torment our writer-heroes. The woman with whom they are traveling becomes possessed. These fairly standard supernatural acts simply do not align with what connect with my own feeling of what servants of Lovecraftian entities. They aren’t from outside time and space, they’re just magical, mutable creatures who chase our heroes from state to state. Their actions seem empty, almost perfunctory. They lack any real sense of menace, partially because the authors never directly associate the earliest attacks on the writers with their mysterious pursuers.

Most details are spot-on, as far as I can tell. The authors got the monotonous driving from the San Francisco Bay Area to New Mexico dead on. I did it in a rented truck, and it was a horribly, deadly boring drive. I can only imagine what it must have been like without the benefit of highways.

On the other hand, the ending does get overbearingly sentimental. I’ll admit to being a romantic, and even a bit sensitive (I cried the first time I read "To Arkham and the Stars"), but the ending was simply too sweet for me. This does not make it an entirely lousy book, but the plot is revealed as essentially toothless. Combine this with the definite lack of the weird atmosphere Lovecraft worked so hard to create in his stories, and the uninspired characterizations of Howard and Lovecraft unfortunately make this a book that’s not really worth seeking out, unless you are a true blue, must-have-everything even tangentially touching on the Mythos Lovecraftian fan. Otherwise, it’s an average read, with few chills.