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The Mask Of Cthulhu (1976)

The Mask of Cthulhu (1976)
3.73 of 5 Votes: 5
0586041397 (ISBN13: 9780586041390)
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The Mask Of Cthulhu (1976)
The Mask Of Cthulhu (1976)

About book: August Derleth saw himself as H.P. Lovecraft's natural heir, weaving his stories into the Cthulhu Mythos and incorporating the 'dreadful events in Innsmouth' and other incidents from the original corpus. At one moment, he suggests, in a fit of in-joke paranoia, that Lovecraft and others died young because they knew too much - a nice little conceit.He has been much and rightly criticised on two grounds - for being derivative but, more seriously, for attenuating the raw cosmic horror of the original (as if he had failed to understand its essential bleakness). He constructed a mythological fantasy of good and evil much closer to the religious tradition and to fantasy than true horror. A Sumerian would have understood his Elder Gods and Ancient Ones, whereas only a modern mind could have comprehended Lovecraft himself.The Mask of Cthulhu, a collection of stories from Wierd Tales, stretching from 1939 to 1957, epitomises those failures and yet, perhaps, the reaction has gone too far because too much was expected of Mr. Derleth. His early championship of his master helped to ensure that Lovecraft became a cultural phenomenon, heir to Poe in leading the American tradition of horror and influencer of popular culture. Although his writing is not great, by the standards of pulp fiction, Derleth is solid, clear and, at times, can write very well and suggestively. There is a minor and unexpected erotic charge in the final story - The Seal of R'lyeh - and the community threat to the 'hero' to The House in the Valley is well drawn.The chief difference from Lovecraft is one of perspective. He is more likely to be 'simpatico' to the person drawn to the evil which he can treat more ambiguously as just the not-good of another - as if alien creatures have rights too. Lovecraft is determinedly judgemental. These evil forces are dominant but they are evil, or at least anti-human rather than just non-human, to Lovecraft. The alien is generally to be extirpated. The American Government in Innsmouth would have had every right to slaughter the half-breeds whereas Derleth sometimes sees them as sentient 'others' to which he, like some of his heroes, are drawn. Abominations or just different? - Derleth's ambiguity shows a culture in change between judgementalism and relativism.His weaknesses are intellectual and imaginative rather than purely literary and he still deserves to be remembered as the leading member of the 'School of Lovecraft'.The stories themselves are like watching re-runs of favourite TV shows. They are comfort food for horror fans. The first stage in a process with all horror tropes that has a visceral original eventually end up with a child's cartoon or toy. From Dracula to Count Duckula and so from Innsmouth to cuddly Cthulhu knitted toys. Derleth is the first unfortunate stage in taming Lovecraft as Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula was in taming the Nosferatu.His stories are the sort that remind you why you wish Lovecraft had lived longer and written more. As the years go by, it becomes ever clearer that the gap between Poe and Lovecraft is reflected in a gap between Lovecraft and whoever is to be the next great innovator in horror. Sadly, it is not Stephen King (though he is another writer who is over-diminished by literary snobs) and it is not yet Thomas Ligotti who is too much in the shadow of his Master and whose corpus seems small and too out-of-the-way. Someone out there, in some American High School, is turning their Goth mind to dark matters that must be written down ... lest he go insane :-)

No one does Lovecraft like Lovecraft, alas. But since I've pretty much exhausted that well, I gave this a try. The stories get better as they go along -- these were written over a considerable timespan and you can see Derleth improve as a storyteller and prose stylist from piece to piece -- but he never quite gets the Lovecraftian atmosphere right. Partly, I think, it's because he's an over-explainer. Lovecraft's narrators stumble on ancient horrors and don't really know anything about them, but every one of Derleth's heroes manages to acquire or borrow the entire library of banned occult books in the Lovecraft corpus and they all become experts on Derleth's version of the mythos lickety-split. And when something is explained at great length, it just stops being unnameable, unimagined horror and gets very prosaic.The stories were originally published separately, in various issues of Weird Tales, and I'm sure they were more effective as stand-alones because they all have the same basic plot and mention the same events from Lovecraft stories. Someone rents or visits or inherits a creepy house, which turns out to have Cthulhu or one of his buddies lurking in the basement. He starts reading the banned, legendary, horrifying books that always seem to be just lying around in heaps, and gets sucked into worship or propitiation of the Ancient Ones. In almost every story, Derleth stops to trot out his revised story of the Lovecraft mythos, which does get richer and more fully thought out in the later stories. The last of the stories is the best -- he steps far enough away from Lovecraft's originals to actually take the part of the blasphemous creatures from beyond time and space, and the result is kind of eerie and sexy and intriguing.
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J.w. Schnarr
A quick run down of every story in this collection:I arrive at the house of some long dead/estranged/missing relative. The neighbours hate and fear the house, and don't trust me. When I poke around, I find the secret occult library with every book H.P. Lovecraft ever mentioned in his stories. Somebody/something dies, and all eyes turn to me. I know not why.I have dreams about Cthulhu.When I awaken, I find those dreams are real!!!!The end.Maybe I should have written ***SPOILER ALERT!!!*** across the top of this review.
I enjoyed this book. None of the stories were outstanding, and many of the stories had a similar structure. The writing was serviceable, not outstanding, and not as ornate as Lovecraft. He has also combined Clark Ashton Smith's Elder Gods with Lovecraft's Mythos and tried to unify everything, but he tends to overuse the same beings over and over again without really adding anything new. But on the whole, these stories were fun, if uninspired, and I enjoyed reading this book. Just don't start the book expecting writing like Lovecraft's, because that just isn't here.
Just a point of clarification: The book "The Mask of Cthulhu" is actually a sub-book of "Quest for Cthulhu", both of which are a series of short stories inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's own stories. The breakdown is:Quest for Cthulhu 1) The Mask of Cthulhu A) The Return of Hastur B) The Whippoorwills in the HIlls C) Something in Wood D) The Sandwin Compact E) The House in the Valley F) The Seal of R'lyeh 2) The Trail of Cthulhu A) The House on Curwin Street B) The Watcher from the Sky C) The Gorge Beyond Salapunco D) The Keeper of the Key E) The Black IslandLet me begin by being positive and saying a Thank You to August Derleth for his work in preserving HPL's legacy. Now that that is out of the way, let me be clear: August Derleth is a TERRIBLE author and his Lovecraft-inspired writings are absolute RUBBISH next to HPL. I can do no better than quote Clark Ashton Smith, who told Derleth in a very pointed letter: "you have tried to work in too much of the Lovecraft mythology and have not assimilated it into the natural body of the story."That simple sentence alone describes EVERY mythos-based story in this entire book. Derleth has no subtlety. Whereas HPL would build up a story, and sprinkle a little mythos around, building up suspense and terror, Derleth instead BLUDGEONS the reader with name dropping. Every story mentions at least a half dozen to a dozen of the Great Old Ones. Every villain seems to have every book ever mentioned by HPL. Was there some sort of mass paperback offering?Further abominations by Derleth, in simple list form:1) He treats HPL as a character in his stories. This trick is a MAJOR distraction. It would be like an author writing a follow-on to the Harry Potter stories mentioning JK Rowling as a character. It DOES NOT WORK.2) He makes up a nonsensical "elemental" categorization of the Great Old Ones. Cthulhu is suddenly a "water elemental" and Hastur an "air elemental". Lovecraft has NONE of this in his stories. 3) He confuses the Great Old Ones and the Other (nee "Outer") Gods. Blasphemy!4) He counts Dholes as some sort of servitor race when HPL himself mentions them only as the enormous worm creatures in the underworld of the DreamlandsEtc etc etc.If you are looking for good fiction that is true to the spirit and style of H.P. Lovecraft then you should avoid Derleth at all costs.
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