Lovecraft in Popular Culture; the Works and Their Adaptation in Film, Television, Comics,
Music, and Games by Don G. Smith
Originally for the Crouchmass, 2006 mailing of the Esoteric Order of Dagon (#134)
|I was robbed. This is just about as far
from a scholarly work as one can imagine. First of all, it takes a fair amount of nerve to
charge twenty dollars for a book that isn't even two hundred pages. As I'm sure the
members of the EOD can imagine, this is a rather broad topic to be covered in so small a
book, and Second of all, this is in no way a scholarly. Perhaps I have been spoiled by the
learned discussions often laid forth in these pages, but Smith's analysis is superficial,
lacking in shcolarship and understanding of Lovecraft, and shockingly incomplete.
I mean, if you're going to publish a book with the audacious title HP Lovecraft in
Popular Culture, you'd think that the author would make some real effort in order to
get your hands on the relevant pieces of popular culture. Instead, this book offers us a
bad compilation of things books or websites have already done, and better.
The book is prefaced with very lose, five page biography and description of Lovecraft. It is without a doubt the barest biography of Lovecraft I've come across. Of course, it probably doesn't have to be astonishingly detailedwho in their right mind is going to pick up a book with this title not knowing who HP Lovecraft is?
The next section is a summary of Lovecraft's stories, which seems rather pointless, especially since he hasn't managed to get his hands on Marginalia. And if Don Smith is really going to write brief summaries of all these books, why doesn't he go the distance and find all the stories? There is nothing here from Marginalia, and it isn't mentioned in his bibliography. I fail to find the blessed point of a scholarly' book that can't even bother to find all of the relevant titles for the author whose name is in the title of the book.
Following this is a section is a similar treatment of selected, apparently at random, "Cthulhu Mythos" stories. All bibliographies of the "Cthulhu Mythos" are idiosyncratic. This is at least partially because the phrase has vastly different meanings to various people. At any rate, Smith lists several of the more famous authors who have worked with Lovecraft's legacy, summaraizing the ones he has read with a paragraph. How is it, then, that Smith couldn't even be bothered to dig up a volume of Ramsay Campbell's stories? Campbell is listed, but there is no summary of the story, indicating that Smioth hasn't read them. In the beginning of the chapter, Chris Jarocha-Ernst's A Cthulhu Mythos Bibliography & Concordance is mentioned. Why would I bother with Smith's book when the Bibliography & Concordance is so much more complete?
The longest section of this book, more than a hundred pages in this slim, 170 page book, dedicated to films and television based on Lovecraft's work. The analysis done here is inferior to Andrew Miglore and John Strysik in The Lurker in the Lobby, which is a longer, larger, more complete, better written book that costs about the same. And it has pictures from the various productions. Strangely, Mr. Smith assigns every film a rating; 1½, 2, etc. But unless the reader goes through all of these and sees that none of them is above three, they have no idea what scale these are on. The introduction doesn't say how he is rating them. The ratings strike me as facile and even unnecessarily confusing. Re-Animator rates a three, but it makes a world of difference if this is on the scale of three or five.
It is in the next section, on films inspired by Lovecraft but not directly adapting his stories, that I find my answer. Howard Hawks's The Thing from Another World gets a rating of four. So we're apparently working on a four-point scale. It would have been nice to know this in the last chapter. True to everything in the book so far, this chapter is spotty. Again, there is nothing here that wasn't done better by either the Unfilmable website, or Lurker in the Lobby. Why yes, you are detecting a motif in my review.
Next is a brief section on Lovecraft adaptations on television. While Witch Hunt, the sequel to Cast a Deadly Spell has an entry, Cast a Deadly Spell, which actually used names if not actual trappings of Lovecraft's work, is not listed.
Following this is a section that nearly redeems itself: Lovecraft in comics. Here, at least, the author has done his research. He mentions, although apparently hasn't gotten his hands on, several very early comics that adapt Lovecraft's work, beginning with Vault of Terror #16, which adapted "In the Vault." Credit where credit is dueI hadn't heard of these early adaptions by EC; I understood that adaptations started with Marvel Comics' 1968 issue of Creepy, which adapted "Rats in the Walls". However, there has again been some laxness in locating issues mentioned in other sections of the book. Smith notes in his Re-Animator write-up that a comic version of the film was available at the time of release, 1985. However, we find absolutely no comics mentioned in between 1984 and 1991.
Next is a section discussing music inspired by Lovecraft. Smith spends the majority of this chapter discussing the soft-rock band H.P. Lovecraft, and then spends half a page on a few other obscure bands, none of which are The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. HPLovecraft.com has a better music section, and it's free.
The game section concentrates solely on the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game. In fact, it is a rather pleasant and accurate review, something I was rather not expecting. However, there is no mention of any other game at all. And this despite the back cover blurb specifically mentioniong video games. Where is the discussion of Atlas Games' Cults Across America, Pagan Publishing's Creatures and Cultusts, and The Hills Rise Wild, the Evil Polish Brothers' Cthulhu Mash, or Hogshead's De Profundis, not to mention such computer games as The Hound of Shadow, Alone in the Dark, Shadow of the Comet, Prisoner of Ice, Eternal Darkness; Sanity's Requiem, and Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth?
This is a very sloppy work, and a real insult at the $20 that McFarland Publishing is asking. Other books describe what Smith sets out to describe better. Websites such as HPLovecraft.com are available that are more complete on every single chapter with the single exception of the comics chapter. Skip it.