By Mike Griffiths
Lumley, Brian. Haggopian and Other Stories. Solaris: December 2009. 606 pages. ISBN: 978-184416-762-3.
This review refers to the 2009 paperback edition by Solaris.
“And those rubbery appendages drew the crushed bodies back into the inky darkness, from which there instantly issued forth the most monstrous nauseating slobbering and sucking before the writhing members once more snaked forth into the dawn light.”
– “House of Cthulhu”
Haggopian and Other Stories is a collection of Lumley’s earlier Cthulhu Mythos stories. These 24 stories were originally printed between 1969 (“Cement Surroundings”) and 1989 (“Synchronicity or Something”). They include such classics as the cover story “Haggopian”, “The Thing From The Blasted Heath”, and “House of Cthulhu”, which has been reprinted no less than 10 times.
When it comes to writing horror, Lumley is prolific, to put in mildly, and this is his 30th book to be published. Much of his work has focused on vampires and other creatures not completely associated with the Lovecraft Mythos. However, when it comes to paying an honourable tribute to Lovecraft, there are few than have done better.
One of the things I appreciate about Lumley’s approach is his constant attempt to find original methods of bringing the horrors of Lovecraft forth, while still staying true to the Mythos. Hundreds of authors continuously attempt to recreate Lovecraft’s legacy, and most do a fine job, but many often tend to get trapped within a formulaic structure of what they think a Lovecraft story should contain. This is not an issue with Lumley, for he takes the concept and finds dark recesses filled with new horrors and exposes them to the world.
I felt I was in the presence of a master as I read through these tales. They were each truly disturbing and, as the winter winds whipped my house in the darkness, I rechecked to make sure I had weapons handy.
I found the cover title story, “Haggopian”, one of the most unnerving of the tales and I can see why it was thus honoured. In this story, an unfortunate accident allows a sea lamprey to feed off Dr. Haggopian. This horrifying event had side-effects no one could foresee, such as the curse of evil dreams that haunts Haggopian with visions of R’lyeh and other sunken terrors. Soon, the horror intensifies and the narrator discovers that allowing the lamprey to feed on him has become an addiction for Haggopian and this is just the beginning of the once-proud doctor’s downfall.
One surprise for me was the story, “The Night Sea-Maid Went Down”. This tale takes place on an oil-drilling platform in the seas north of England. Hmmm, isolated and alone, surrounded by nothing but the hidden depths, I am a bit scared just writing about it. Things only get worse when they drill too deep and awaken something. When Elder Things start to appear in the core samples and the fog rolls in, it quickly goes beyond nightmare into wide-eyed horror.
It is quite possible that Lumley has a good dash of hydrophobia. This only makes this worse for me, because I am of that bent myself. While reading through this, I had bursts of paranoia and could not help but wonder why I had been picked to read this book. Could people, or maybe things, be plotting against me? A very Lovecraftian feeling, indeed.
There is no doubt that Lumley does Lovecraft justice and this story collection is a fine additional to any fan’s library. If there were any complaints worth mentioning, it would be that his introduction is too short and it might have been interesting to learn more concerning the author’s personal motivations. However, Lumley does make up for this by providing a detailed introduction to each story. At some six-hundred pages, this book will leave any Cthulhu Mythos fan pleased and yet begging for more.