Friday, June 22, 2012

Review: Black Wings of Cthulhu

"What I have learned is that Lovecraftian themes and motifs can be incorporated in tales of many different types — ranging from pure science fiction to hard-boiled crime fiction to delicate prose-poetry to pure fantasy."
                 -- S.T. Joshi, interviewed by Lynne Jamneck (Weird Tales)

Joshi is right, of course. The Lovecraftian mood lends itself to a variety of different genres and tastes, as is evidenced by the range of authors collected together in this volume from Titan Books. Caitlin R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, Nicholas Royle, Brian Stableford, Norman Partridge and Donald Burleson (who, like Joshi, writes critically about Lovecraft) are only a handful of the writers who have contributed to Black Wings of Cthulhu.

These stories are not specifically built around Cthulhu himself, but offer a wide glimpse into the universe of a writer who has by turns been labelled racist, misogynist and sexist. Regardless of one's personal feelings about Lovecraft, the amount of literature that keeps being produced directly influenced by his own work and sensibilities highlights the attraction of the Lovecraftian philosophy to contemporary reading audiences.

The stories in Black Wings of Cthulhu range from the noire-ish "Engravings" by Joseph S. Pulver Sr, to the surrealism of  W.H. Pugmire's "Inhabitants of Wraithwood", to the beautifully paired back restraint of Caitlin R. Kiernan's "Pickman's Other Model". Pugmire's story is in fact more reminiscent of Lovecraft's Dream Cycle stories than any related to the Mythos Cycle. Kiernan is not the only writer who expands on the Pickman character, as evidenced both by Pugmire's contribution, as well as Brian Stableford's "The Truth About Pickman." Lovecraft's own "Pickman's Model" is a favourite amongst many Lovecraftians, and these stories are sure to be satisfying reads for those wanting to know more about the strange painter and his disturbing creations.

One of my personal favourites is "The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash" by Ramsey Campbell. Written in epistolary format, the story takes the form of correspondence between a seemingly disturbed amateur author and Lovecraft himself. For those familiar with Lovecraft's letter writing habits (he was prolific, trust me), the story tackles ideas related to the powerful nature of language and the affect of this power in the form of literature. Ramsey's story is a perfect example of the allure Lovecraft's work still holds today for both readers and writers.

The twenty-on stories in Black Wings of Cthulhu are unique, sometimes puzzling, but very successfully manages to remain fresh in their interpretations of the Lovecraftian mood. As previously stated, they are not retelling of original stories, but function rather to expand the universe created by Lovecraft himself, something he would, I am sure, have approved of wholeheartedly. Indeed, they are, rather than Cthulhu himself, the wings that make the beast take flight.

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