Authors: Ramsey Campbell
New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos
Edited, with an Introduction by RAMSEY CAMPBELL
The late H. P. Lovecraft was a mythmaker, a visionary, a conjurer of dreams. As a self-professed outsider in his own century, Lovecraft invested his inner visions with such intensity that he was able to will an entire world into being: Great Cthulhu, the blind idiot god Azathoth, the sea-sunken realm of R'lyeh, the infamous Necronomicon. Mythic deities and alien landscapes emanated in eldritch array, like a litany of maledictions, from the pulp magazines of the era that published his fiction.
New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos is a celebration of Lovecraft's achievement, a tribute to this most influential of twentieth-century American fantasists, by such present-day masters of the genre as Stephen King, Basil Copper, Ramsey Campbell, and T. E. D. Klein. The stories in this anthology are thus intended as satisfying contemporary entertainments and as a collective testimony to the darkly enduring power of this strange Rhode Island recluse, the man with the cosmic mind.
Also published by Grafton Books;
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (edited by August Derleth)
A Division of the Collins Publishing Group
TORONTO SYDNEY AUCKLAND
A Division of the Collins Publishing Group
8 Grafton Street, London WlX 3LA
A Grafton UK Paperback Original 1988
Copyright c Arkham House Publishers, Inc 1980
Printed and bound in Great Britain by Collins, Glasgow
Set in Century Schoolbook
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publishers.
This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the publisher's prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
To the memory of August Derleth whose idea this book was.
Table of Contents
What was the Cthulhu Mythos, to begin with?
The question needs to be asked for clarity's sake, for the Mythos has been so elaborated and overpopulated, reworked in attempts to give it unity, explained and contradictorily reexplained, that it is now impossible to distinguish a total structure - by no means wholly a bad situation, as I hope to show. So what was the Mythos in the first place?
August Derleth has pointed out that it was not a planned development on Lovecraft's part; indeed, Lovecraft never even gave it a name. Rather it was a step in Lovecraft's search for the perfect form for the weird tale. By 1923, in 'The Rats in the Walls,' Lovecraft had refined his method: the story's movement has far less to do with plot than with a gradual accumulation of telling detail, presented with relentless logic; the story moves single-mindedly toward terror. Yet in 'The Shunned House'
the search continues; the detective-story structure which Lin Carter has analyzed, and which has its roots in Machen's 'Great God Pan,' is yet more skilfully used, but Lovecraft is still seeking a background which will make his horrors both plausible and suggestive. He found it not in occultism, which he thought banal, but in a subtle, often vague, blend of science fiction and the supernatural. In 'The Shunned House' it is the weakest element in a powerful story: the explanation of the haunting, with its 'certain kinetic patterns' continuing-to function in 'some multiple-dimensioned space along the original lines of force,' seems a muddle. But only three years later the same method, perfected, could produce a masterpiece in 'The Colour Out of Space': the not; subtle Mythos story - one that never mentions a Mythos name, which has led some commentators to exclude it from the listing - and, in my opinion, the finest. It is certainly the classic solution to Lovecraft's problem of combining the tale of terror with science fiction.
Lovecraft required a background against which to present his elements of terror, an accumulation of detail which needed only to sound convincing, and he found it in science. His Mythos was never coherent nor did it need to be. Its function was to suggest, something larger and more terrible than was eye: stated. In recent years the Mythos at times has seemed in danger of becoming conventionalized. This is ironic since Lovecraft's intention and achievement was pre. cisely to avoid the predictability and resultant lack of terror which beset the conventional macabre fiction of his day. I must own up to my share of the responsibility for this state of things; like many a beginner in this field, I found it easy to imitate Lovecraft's more obvious stylistic mannerisms and some of his ideas. But alas, few of Lovecraft's imitators - particularly in the fanzines - are influenced by his best qualities, his skill in organizing his material and in atmospheric preparation, or his originality. And it is all too easy to convince oneself that a tale that reads vaguely like Lovecraft is an achievement.
In today's overcrowded Mythos it is nothing of the sort.
For this and other reasons, in this anthology I have tended to favour less familiar treatments or uses of the Mythos. There are a couple of traditional stories, one a completion of a Lovecraft fragment, but in the main these tales are contemporary. They contain few erudite occultists, decaying towns, or stylistic pastiches. They are themselves: new tales.
One - perhaps the only - merit of the overcrowding of the Mythos is that is it now impossible to devise a coherent pattern linking all its aspects, even if anyone were foolish enough to try. This leaves writers free once more to return to the first principles of the Mythos - to give glimpses of something larger than they show, just as Lovecraft did. Indeed, one of our tales hints at the ultimate event of the Mythos without even referring to the traditional names. I hope that readers will find in this book some of the sense of terror and awe that Lovecraft communicated so well.
- RAMSEY CAMPBELL
Crouch End by STEPHEN KING
By the time the woman had finally gone, it was nearly two-thirty in the morning. Outside the Crouch End police station, Tottenham Lane was a small dead river. London was asleep . . . but London never sleeps deeply, and its dreams are uneasy.
PC Vetter closed his notebook, which he'd almost filled as the American woman's strange, frenzied story poured out. He looked at the typewriter and the stack of blank forms on the shelf beside it. 'This one'll look odd come morning light,' he said.
PC Farnham was drinking a Coke. He didn't speak for a long time. 'She was American, wasn't she?' he said finally, as if that might explain most or all of the story she had told.
'It'll go in the back file,' Vetter agreed, and looked round for a cigarette. 'But I wonder . . . '
Farnham laughed. 'You don't mean you believe any part of it? Go on, sir! Pull the other one!'
'Didn't say that, did I? No. But you're new here.'
Farnham sat a little straighter. He was twenty-seven, and it was hardly his fault that he had been posted here from Muswell Hill to the north, or that Vetter, who was nearly twice his age, had spent his entire uneventful career in the quiet London backwater of Crouch End.
'Perhaps so, sir,' lie said, 'but — with respect, mind — I still think I know a swatch of the old whole cloth when I see one . . . or hear one.'
'Give us a fag, mate,' Vetter said, looking amused. 'There!
What a good boy you are.' He lit it with a wooden match from a bright red railway box, shook it out, and tossed the match stub into Farnham's ashtray. He peered at the lad through a haze of drifting smoke. His own days of laddie good looks were long gone; Vetter's face was deeply lined and his nose was a map of broken veins. He liked his six of Harp a night, did PC Vetter.
'You think Crouch End's a very quiet place, then, do you?'
Farnham shrugged. In truth he thought Crouch End was a big suburban yawn — what his younger brother would have been pleased to call 'a fucking Bore-a-Torium.'
'Yes,' Vetter said, 'I see you do. And you're right. Goes to sleep by eleven most nights, it does.
But I've seen a lot of strange things in Crouch End. If you're here half as long as I've been, you'll see your share, too. There are more strange things happen right here in this quiet six or eight blocks than anywhere else in London — that's saying a lot, I know, but I believe it. It scares me.
So I have my lager, and then I'm not so scared. You look at Sergeant Gordon sometime, Farnham, and ask yourself why his hair is dead white at forty. Or I'd say take a look at Petty, but you can't very well, can you? Petty committed suicide in the summer of 1976. Our hot summer.
It was . . . ' Vetter seemed to consider his words. 'It was quite bad that summer. Quite bad. There were a lot of us who were afraid they might break through.'
'Who might break through what?' Farnham asked. He felt a contemptuous smile turning up the corners of his mouth, knew it was far from politic, but was unable to stop it. In his way, Vetter was raving as badly as the American woman had. He had always been a bit queer. The booze, probably. Then he saw Vetter was smiling right back at him.
'You think I'm a dotty old prat, I suppose,' he said. 'Not at all, not at all,' Farnham protested, groaning inwardly.
'You're a good boy,' Vetter said. 'Won't be riding a desk here in the station when you're my age. Not if you stick on the force. Will you stick, d'you think? D'you fancy it?'
'Yes,' Farnham said. It was true; he did fancy it. He meant to stick even though Sheila wanted him off the police force and somewhere she could count on him. The Ford assembly line, perhaps. The thought of joining the wankers at Ford curdled his stomach.
'I thought so,' Vetter said, crushing his smoke. 'Gets in your blood, doesn't it? You could go far, too, and it wouldn't be boring old Crouch End you'd finish up in, either. Still, you don't know everything. Crouch End is strange. You ought to have a peek in the back file sometime, Farnham. Oh, a lot of it's the usual . . . girls and boys run away from home to be hippies or punks or whatever it is they call themselves now . . . husbands gone missing (and when you clap an eye to their wives you can most times understand why) . . . unsolved arsons . . . purse-snatchings . . .
all of that. But in between, there's enough stories to curdle your blood. And some to make you sick to your stomach.'
Vetter nodded. 'Some of em very like the one that poor American girl just told us. She'll not see her husband again — take my word for it.' He looked at Farnham and shrugged. 'Believe me, believe me not. It's all one, isn't it? The file's there. We call it the open file because it's more polite than the back file or the kiss-my-arse file. Study it up, Farnham. Study it up.'
Farnham said nothing, but he actually did intend to 'study it up.' The idea that there might be a whole series of stories such as the one the American woman had told . . . that was disturbing.
'Sometimes,' Vetter said, stealing another of Farnham's Silk Cuts, 'I wonder about Dimensions.'
'Yes, my good old son — dimensions. Science fiction writers are always on about Dimensions, aren't they? Ever read science fiction, Farnham?'
'No,' Farnham said. He had decided this was some sort of elaborate leg-pull.
'What about Lovecraft? Ever read anything by him?'
'Never heard of him,'' Farnham said. The last fiction he'd read for pleasure, in fact, had been a small Victorian Era pastiche called Two Gentlemen in Silk Knickers.
'Well, this fellow Lovecraft was always writing about Dimensions,' Vetter said, producing his box of railway matches. 'Dimensions close to ours. Full of these immortal monsters that would drive a man mad at one look. Frightful rubbish, of course. Except, whenever one of these people straggles in, I wonder if all of it was rubbish. I think to myself then — when it's quiet and late at night, like now — that our whole world, everything we think of as nice and normal and sane, might be like a big leather ball filled with air. Only in some places, the leather's scuffed almost down to nothing. Places where the barriers are thinner. Do you get me?'