Review: Lovecraft’s Monsters

By Allen Griffin

Datlow, Ellen. Lovecraft’s Monsters. Tachyon Publications (April 15, 2014) Paperback: 432 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1616961213.

There is little doubt that H.P. Lovecraft’s Mythos has penetrated the Western world’s popular culture, from Cthulhu’s cameo on South Park to plushy toys adorned with tentacle visages, H.P.’s monsters are ubiquitous.

However, many who see these images are unaware that they are even derived from a corpus of literature at all. Meanwhile, within the literary sub-genre of Lovecraftian horror, the monsters themselves seem, at least somewhat, to have been pushed to the side. The spotlight in the stories is often given over to philosophical pessimism and great torrents of atmosphere. While these are certainly not new additions to the legacy, this anthology does attempt to redress the balance and bring the monsters back.

With Ellen Datlow at the helm, there was never really any doubt about the quality of the selections on hand and while this is a reprint anthology, the stories selected are not the same titles usually present in other Mythos titles. Some of the best Cosmic Horror authors are on hand, including Laird Barron, Nick Mamatas and John Langan, to name a few. The stories themselves are culled from a variety of sources such as “Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole” by Howard Waldrop and Steven Utley, which was originally published in 1977 in New Dimensions 7, or Thomas Ligotti’s “Sect of the Idiot” published in 1988 in Robert M. Price’s Crypt of Cthulhu .

And what about the monsters? In the forward provided by Stefan Dziemianowicz, he points out that Lovecraft used his monsters to give form to the formless and incomprehensible. That principle also applies to these stories, but here, the various authors are able to bend the monsters to their needs.

In “The Same Deep Waters as You,” Brian Hodge uses the residents of Innsmouth to touch on issues of climate change and animal rights, while in William Browning Spencer’s “The Dappled Thing,” issues of Colonialism are touched upon. Perhaps most fascinating is Fred Chappell’s “Remnants,” in which the world is slowly transformed by the Shoggoths and the Old Ones into a place not just antithetical to human existence, but completely alien and unknowable to humanity at all. It certainly brings to mind some of the philosophies put forth in Eugene Thacker’s In the Dust of this Planet, a book that came out a year after this story was first published.

The same theme is also present in Waldrop and Utley’s “Black as the Pit, from Pole to Pole.” The main protagonist in this story is no less than Frankenstein’s monster, who is contrasted with Lovecraft’s monsters, the former representing the horror of humanity gone wrong while the latter shows forms of life with no basis in our understanding.

Lovecraft’s Monsters is certainly a worthy addition to any horror library. The tome can be read for sheer enjoyment and the quality of the writing certainly holds up, or one can use the stories as a vehicle to contemplate the role these Mythos creations play in each piece. When one sees the metaphorical weight assigned to each creature, one can begin to see Lovecraft’s horrors in their own lives, be it in the form of cosmic insignificance or humanity’s extinction. And these musings, in the form of our own perverse fascination, are what keep us coming back for more.

Bio: Allen Griffin is a writer and musician living in Indianapolis, Indiana. His work has appeared in several places, such as The Mustache Factor and Innsmouth Magazine, and in several anthologies, including Ominous Realities and Splatterlands, published by Grey Matter Press. He also plays bass for Profound Lore recording artists, Coffinworm.