H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Dunwich Horror Review

The Dunwich Horror (first published in Weird Tales 1929)

by H.P. Lovecraft

dunwich horror

by Santiago Caruso

The novella begins with a prolonged setup of the Massachusetts town of Dunwich and the surrounding features such as Round Mountain, The Devil’s Hop Yard, and Sentinel Hill atop which a strange ring of stone columns thought to have built by now extinct tribes of Indians. It is perhaps these stones that started the stories of witches and devils that haunt the areas around Dunwich, however, what is know is the general disdain travelers have for loitering in the town any longer than they absolutely have to.  The Dunwich folk are mostly composed of but a few families such as the Bishops and the Whatelys.  A few of the branches of these familial trees have fallen into degeneration over the decades.  It is one such family that story revolves largely around.

Wizard Whately and his albino daughter, Lavina, bizarre and deformed part of the degenerated Whatelys living our at a farm near Dunwich.  The xenophobic townsfolk usually take little interest in affairs others, but the birth of Lavina’s son is of note for several reasons.  For one, the boy is a bastard with the father unknown by any in Dunwich.  Cursorily, Lavina doesn’t shun the boy, but in fact, seem proud of the goatish looking baby.  The other oddity is the the boy’s, Wilbur,  astonish rate of growth and mental development.  By a year and half the boy had grown to the size of a child normally thought to be four.  Wilbur began speaking at eleven months seemly skipping lisping and forming sentences almost immediately.

Wizard Whately began odd projects soon after Wilbur’s  birth.  He found renewed wells of stamina to repair and make additions to his old dilapidated home.  Old Whately also began to purchase additional cattle though the surrounding folk noted that his herd size never appeared to increase.  For years after none of the people of Dunwich paid this branch of Whatelys any mind as was common for them to mind their business.  However, ten years after the birth of Wilbur, the boy who have the appearance and demeanor of a man aided his grandfather in restoring the old barn on the property for some strange purpose.  It was later in the spring that old WIzard became worn out and sick.  The Whippoorwills had gather in frightening number at the Whately farm.  According to Wizard to try an take his soul as he died.

With the death of old Wizard Whately, it was up to Wilbur to finish what sinster task his grandfather has started.  To do so required an earlier edition of the Necromonicon written by the Mad-Arab Abdul Alhazred for a passage written on page 751.  Wilbur writes many universities and even visits Arkham’s own Miskatonic University to get his hands on own.  It only by Dr. Henry Armitage’s refusal that the boy is unable to get the required knowledge from the book.  Yet something urgent is requiring Wilbur to return to home…

The Dunwich Horror is a departure from Lovecraft’s normal first person narrative.  Although, the author doesn’t stray that far from it.  The story is still told in a typical account style writing that gives feels like Lovecraft wanted to have it told from single source (such as a newspaper reporter) but could make all the elements he wanted fit.  This does allow the story to give the reader information  and immediate tension not usually found in his story.  Because the story isn’t written after the fact, the climax can actually generate a more visceral experience that typically found in H.P. Lovecraft.  Not withstanding first short chapter, the Dunwich Horror has an easier narrative for readers new to H.P. Lovecraft to follow.

Elder Signs

Bottomline: The Dunwich Horror is one of my top five favorite Lovecraft tales.  It makes a good entry into reading the author as the story is about villains trying to bring about the end the world and academicians attempting to stop them. Six out of six elder signs to keep the gate and the key of Yog-Sothoth sealed away.

Advertisements
Standard
H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Colour Out of Space Review

The Colour Out of Space (originally published in Amazing Tales in September 1927)

by H.P. Lovecraft

Image

By Darksorrow 666

The narrator of this short story is a man sent to New England to survey land for a new reservoir.  Even from the city of Arkham the narrator is told this area known as the Blasted Hearth is evil though the younger folk don’t known why and the elders won’t say other than, “strange days.”  Curiosity gets the better of the him, and he finally gets the name of someone that might talk about those strange days.  He warned not to believe Ammi Pierce’s crazy stories about the past and the desolate area known as the Blasted Hearth.  Instead, the narrator seek Mr. Pierce out immediately.

Using the reservoir surveying as guise to ask about the story behind Blasted Hearth and the strange days, the narrator talks to Ammi and discovers the old man to be far more intelligent that he was led to believe.  Ammi states it would be better for what had happen during those strange days to be under water.  Without much prodding however, Ammi retells the story of Gardner Farm as well as its fall.

Image

by Rafa García de la Mata

Decades ago in 1882, a strange meteorite fell on the Gardener Farm and intrigued professors from Miskatonic University to study it.  The meteorite seemed to shrink in size after hitting the Earth according to Nahum Gardener.  It was composed of a malleable material that was warm to the touch and seemed to completely inert to acids and many other chemicals.  In fact many of the test performed by the professors yielded result not like any material known.  After gouging deeply into it, the University geologist discovered a strange substance that could only be describe as a colour, though it was not like any in the known spectrum and entirely impossible to describe.  Only one of these colour globules were found within the odd meteorite.  After a thunderstorm the meteorite was struck by lightning according to Nahum and the professors could not find any remains of the meteorite.

It was this that Nahum’s farm began to produce huge, mutated crops that completely inedible.  Disgusting in taste the entire crop was useless.  Soon after, the animals began to act strange and the livestock also impossible to eat as the meat took on a horrid taste.  After more than a year, the surrounding vegetation grow strange.  The flower bloomed colors unlike they ever had and even the grasses were prismatic in their array of colors.  The Gardener’s were not immune to what ever was causing this strange growth.  Nahum grew taciturn though most though it was from the hard times at his farm.  Mrs Garden fell into a madness, and the Gardener child became ill and died.  By harvest, the Gardener Farm and the area surrounding the farm the vegetation was crumbing to gray ash like powder.  Like the color and life had been sucked out.  That was forty-four years ago.

The Colour Out of Space is brilliant blend of science fiction and horror.  I always put myself in the shoes of Nahum Gardner who not only is his livelihood falling apart, but his family is either becoming ill and dying or insane.  The Colour’s effect happens over the course of a couple years forcing Nahum to endure the menace and dread of such a tragedy far more than a simple serial killer or mad man chasing after the protagonist.  He is truly helpless against this force from beyond the stars that even the brightest minds of Miskatonic University can’t understand.  What is most frightening is that the Colour may continue to expand, perhaps faster, even after the reservoir is place over the Blasted Hearth.  I always took the strange effect the Colour had on the environment as well as the heat from the meteorite to be a sort of radiation.  Or even the Colour itself being or giving off toxic radiation that mutated and drove mad living things before draining the life and color out them.

The Colour, like the Nothing is the Neverending Story, is purely literary concept as Lovecraft goes out of his way to make the reader known it was a color know like any known shade or type.  I can’t help to at least think a little of the impossibility of such an idea as I’m fascinated by electromagnetic radiation including the visible spectrum of light.  However, I don’t let that bother me from such a chilling tale.

Image

Bottomline:  The Colour Out of Space is a tale that even to this day gives a heavy gut from the tragedy and horror it produces.  The idea of a thing so subtly destroying your life without concern and perhaps one day becoming a threat to the entire world is a spine chilling one.  I give The Colour of Space 6 out of 6 magnetic field producing elder signs.

Standard
H.P. Lovecraft, Pulp Story Review

The Call of Cthulhu Review

The Call of Cthulhu (originally published in Weird Tales 1928)

by H.P. Lovecraft

Image

by Neil John Buchanan

The short story begins with a short diatribe on the mercy of ignorance written in the first person of the narrator (presumed to be Francis Wayland Thomas of Boston).  He is the great-nephew of the deceased Doctor George Gammel Angell, Professor of Languages at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island (note of trivia: this is Lovecraft’s hometown).  The narrator is Professor Angell’s sole heir and executor.  While searching through the deceased files and and boxes, the narrator discovers a lock box without an obvious key.  Curious, he solves the puzzle of where the key is found opens this box to discover various manuscripts, articles, and papers on people having strange dreams and even more bizarre cults as well as a clay bas relief of modern construction of exceedingly ancient hieroglyphics and design.Image

Among the papers and manuscripts in the lock box is the account of its sculptor an Anthony Wilcox of the Rhode Island School of Design written in his dead great-uncles own hand.  It seems that Wilcox created the bas relief after a fit of nightmares of a strange  city of unimaginable size with colossal lumbering things miles in height.  In this terrible city Wilcox heard a language unknown to him but didn’t seem human.  The only words he could make out were, “Cthulhu fhtagn.”  Wilcox later falls into a strange fever-like delirium for more than a week where the young man plagued terrible visions of this same strange place with the sounds “Cthulhu” and “R’lyeh” are most repeated.  When the fever breaks, Wilcox hads no memories of the previous days.  The narrator’s uncle learns that Wilcox malady was isolated as many poets, painters, and other artist had similarly fallen a fever-like delirium with similar accounts all occurring within the span of little more than a month.  And all stopping on April 2 the same day as Wilcox’s recovery.Image

The next bit of evidence found within the lock box the narrator introduces is that of an account from Inspector John Raymond Legrasse of the New Orleans police.  He was investigating a strange statuette that had seized after what most called a voodoo cult.  However, what Inspector Legrasse saw during that raid was far more sinister than he could imagine in the blackest part of Africa.  The statuette was craved to look-like a thing with a vaguely humanoid form with a octopus-like head with a mass of tentacle feelers and narrow wings.  The work seemed to be centuries old yet no expert could recognize the school or culture it cold be part of.  Even the soapy green stone with flakes of gold seemed unlike anything known in modern geology.

It wasn’t until Inspector Legrasse collaborated with a Professor William Channing Webb, a professor of anthropology at Princeton made any sort of connection.  Professor Webb while touring Greenland and Iceland to study the native peoples, came across a similar strange tribe or cult of West Greenland to that of Inspector Legrasse.  Both cults were chanting the same phrase, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” which the professor had translated as, “In the house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”

The Call of Cthulhu is an interesting way to structure a story with much of it done via the narrator relating the artifacts and notes to the reader as he finds and examines them from his dead great-uncle’s lock box.  Lovecraft also selects some fantastic locations for many of the accounts within the story such as the swamps of Louisiana, the tundra of west Greenland, and even the south Pacific.  Even today these places invoke a sense of mystery and isolation from the rest of the world.  I also enjoyed how Lovecraft feeds the reader just a little more about Cthulhu and what is occurring slow building the story and giving everything involved, such as the dreamers and cults, a grounded surrealism to it.  The way that Lovecraft chooses to tell the story is genius; as the reader and the narrator investigate the clues and evidence before engaging in humanity’s fight against Cthulhu.  Lovecraft alludes to the idea that like the narrator, Francis Wayland Thomas, finding his deceased great-uncle’s notes and thus becoming involved.  We the reader, having read his account and seen the evidence, take his place as he took his great-uncle’s in death.

It has been some years since I read this story, and I will honestly say I forgotten nearly all of the first chapter.  What remember most about this story was the raid of the cult in the swamp and the encounter with the sailors near the end.  The Call of Cthulhu is not one of my favorite Lovecraft stories.  Unfortunately, I did find the framework of the story more interesting than the story itself.  However, if you like the idea of the Cthulhu mythos this story is mandatory reading.

Image

Bottomline: It is a very innovative way of telling a story.  Lovecraft outdid himself in attempting to create a coherent series of events of near end of the world.  I give The Call of Cthulhu 6 out of 6 elder signs sealing the ancient one away until the stars are right once again.

Standard
Board Games, H.P. Lovecraft

Arkham Horror Review

     Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight Games in a cooperative Lovecraftian board game written by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson and published in 2005.  It is based on the earlier 1987 Chaosium gamed based on the Call of Cthulhu tabletop role-playing game.   It plays from 1 to 8 players (ages 14 and up) in 2 to 4 ([sic] plus) hours.

600full-arkham-horror-cover

     The premise of the game is that is 1926 and dark shadows grow in the fictional Massachusetts city of Arkham.  Great and powerful entities known either as Ancient Ones (AO) or Great Old Ones (GOO) slumber in dimensions beyond time and space waiting until the stars are right to awaken.  It appears that this time is now.  Strange eldrich gates to other worlds are opening in Arkham and bizarre, insanity causing monsters are pouring out them.  It is up to a small group of investigators (the players) to seal these gates and halt the encroachment of the Ancient One from entering and destroying our world.

arkham-horror-intro

Arkham Horror board set up

To play Arkham Horror, the players select one of the 16 investigators in the game, from a hard-boiled private investigator to crotchety old university professor and even a wandering stage.  magician.  The investigators must prevent one of the 8 ancient ones from awaking by collecting clue tokens, entering gates to other worlds, exploring other worlds, and closing and/or sealing these gates.  If the investigators can seal 6 gates or close all the gates while possessing 1 gate trophy (earned by closing gates) per investigators the player beat back the Ancient One putting them back to rest for a while longer.  If the investigators cannot do this, they must battle the ancient one (with the exception of Azathoth that awakens and ends the game) in a last ditch battle for mankind.

ah_cthulhu

Cthulhu’s Ancient One Sheet

I’m not going to get much more in detail on the specifics of the game mechanics and rules as there are many and they are not particularity unified.  I will say that the game is composed a five phases: Upkeep, Movement, Arkham Encounters, Other World Encoutners, and Mythos.  Dice rolls are made with a standard d6 typically looking for a 5 or 6.  Most the time a single success is requires except the case of [X] were X equals the number of successes required.

Upkeep Phase is where the investigators can adjust their skills increases one at the cost of another.  Additionally, Upkeep is the phase where players maintain some of the special powers or effects such a Blessing witch makes dice probabilities easier.

Movement Phase is where the investigators can move around Arkham or Other Worlds.  It is also the phase where players initiate combat or evade with the monsters in Arkham.  It is important to note that Evading and Combat checks are different that Sneak and Fight checks which use each skill respectively.

Arkham Encounter Phase is where the investigator draws the color coordinated card to the location there are at (unless they are in a street location).  They read and perform the action described in the text of the card that matches the location that are at.  It is also this phase that investigators at locations with open gates are pulled into Other World locations.

Other World Encounter Phase is where the player draws Other World Encounter cards until they match the colors at the gate their investigator is at.  They read the text for the location or Other if the location is not on that card and perform the action(s) described.

Finally, the Mythos Phase is where the players draw a Mythos Card and perform the actions described on it in proper order.  This is often another gate opening up or it the location already has an open gate a monster surge.

JennyBarnes

Investigator Sheet

This game is one my favorite board games.  I really like the Lovecraft theme as well as co-opt games.  Unlike some other board game players, I enjoy the random luck element of both the dice rolling and randomness of the cards.  I see it as crisis management as you have to plan on things not going your way even when percentages are heavily in your favor.  I think the game does a good job of balancing beneficial encounters with detrimental ones (although I count neutral ones as beneficial).  I also like the various sub-stories found on many of the location cards; though sadly many places in Arkham don’t visited ever outside of seeing what kind of encounters happen there. I never read the cards before the game, so I little idea what kind encounters happen at Ma’s Boarding House or at the River Docks.

While I really like this board game, it has many flaws that I think could have been fixed.  One thing I would have done different would be to make the street locations on the game board the space where the Arkham Location Encounter Cards kept.  The game board is already gigantic and the game has literally hundreds of pieces.  To help reduce the already cyclopean footprint of this game I would have put some the pieces on the board itself.  Perhaps that would have made the game more busier than the creator wanted, but I don’t think so.  One thing I have noticed it Fantasy Flight Games love lots of little tokens and Arkham Horror is no exception.  I wonder if it could have been possible to place spinners (or some other integral tracking) on the investigator sheet.  The back story would have to be in a smaller font or one a second sheet, but after all the tokens are placed on the current sheet it isn’t going to be picked up until after the game is over anyway.  More teamwork between investigators would have been nice.  I would liked the idea of being able to combine dice pools when investigators are working on the same task such as fighting monsters or even closing gates.  It doesn’t come that often, wouldn’t be difficult to house rule in, I don’t even think it would fundamentally change the game beyond making it a hell of a lot less risking taking down the really tough monsters (I’m looking at you The Beast).

In just about everything else, there are parts of Arkham Horror I’m not a fan of.  Like so many other reviewers, I think the game’s setup/tear down time is a little long in the tooth and often times the game itself runs a little (lot) long.  I have played in a game that stalled out 4/6ths (4 of the 6 sealed gates accomplished) through with no clue tokens on the board and too strong of monsters to bring down (was battling Shub Nigguarath) that took near 6 hours ending in a battle with the Ancient One.    I will also say the game becomes fairly easy once you know which gate locations are the most common.  My group picks the investigator they want to play rather than randomly.  While I don’t think anyone picks their investigator purely on power, we do tend to select ones that work in concert with each other.  Another thing to note is the rule book is not particularly well composed.  It would have been incredibly helpful to have a cheat sheet on the phases with notes on the most commonly missed things during phase.  Hell I don’t know if I would have mind a couple of notes on the game board such as how many monsters in a monster surge or how The Sky and Outskirts work.  The Terror Track is almost always a non-issue to the point I still don’t know if we are using it correctly.  It seems like by the time it kicks in you know if you lost or not.

Elder Signs five

Bottomline:  I really enjoy Arkham Horror even if  it does have quite a few problems.  I will openly admit though, without the Lovecraft theme, it would not be the case. I give it 5 elder signs out of 6 not quite sealing away the Ancient Ones for good.

Standard