Welcome to Week 79 of my horror short fiction review project! This week we have a new collection that we’ll be working our way through: the old Chaosium anthology The Hastur Cycle. I think I’d have to say that my favorite tale of the week was Ramsey Campbell’s “The Fit.” While there are a couple tweaks I’d have made to the story, it’s got some very interesting elements.
Alone with the Horrors, by Ramsey Campbell (Tor, 2004)
A teenage boy is staying with his young, attractive, seamstress aunt in a fairly rural area. A nasty old woman who is said to be a witch lives nearby. The aunt and the old woman quarrel, then the old woman disappears (we eventually find out she seems to have drowned in a small pond near her home). Some small but strange things begin happening, and it seems apparent that the old woman was a witch, and has control of fabric, even from beyond the grave. While the ability to manipulate fabric could be considered silly or even lame, it works here in the story. There’s also significant sexual tension between the boy and his aunt, which enlivens the story, but isn’t really tied in with the central conflict, it’s simply going on simultaneously. There are some interesting elements here, not bad.
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, edited by Paula Guran (Running Press, 2016)
“The Cthulhu Navy Wife” by Sandra McDonald
A silly little vignette (it’s not a story) that was mostly a waste of time. What seems to have happened is that McDonald found a guidebook for the waves of naval officers from the 1950s, pulled out the quaint and chauvinistic bits and then changed “U.S. Navy” to “Cthulhu Navy” and “United States” to “R’lyeh” and made essentially no other changes. I’m not kidding. The premise is apparently that Cthulhu has awoken, taken over the world, and has a navy, just like the U.S. Navy, that patrols the oceans and has bases with sailors and their wives living there. Vaguely reminiscent of Welcome to Night Vale, but not really silly enough or over-the-top enough to be interesting.
The Hastur Cycle, Second Edition, edited by Robert M. Price (Chaosium, 1997)
Introduction by Robert M. Price
A very good learned discussion by Price. While I’ve heard it said that he’s never read a Mythos story that he didn’t like—which may well be true—he’s also a very thoughtful scholar. The only downside to the introduction is that it is much more about HPL’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” than anything that Chambers wrote, to the point that the King in Yellow hardly makes an appearance in the introduction. That’s a missed opportunity. I’d have very much welcomed a serious essay about the Carcoa/KiY Mythos rather than what we see here, because Hastur is only mentioned very briefly in “Whisperer,” almost as a throwaway line. We really need an essay about the meanings and possibilities of the King in Yellow: for example, a piece that explores the idea of a madness-inducing meme and why the King in Yellow actively seeks to cause insanity in mortals and bring violence and terror to them—after all, this is clearly a very different sort of entity than Cthulhu or the Great Old Ones, which are cruel from a human perspective, but also alien and indifferent to humanity’s welfare in the way that humanity treat, say, ants. Still, this was an enjoyable piece. Also includes a good discussion of August Derleth’s ham-handed attempts to more decisively link Hastur and Cthulhu.
“Haïta the Shepherd” by Ambrose Bierce
Here is the first of two stories by Bierce from which Chambers cribbed the names Hastur, Carcosa, etc. that came to form the heart of his short but powerful King in Yellow Mythos. To be clear though, while this is the story that first used the name “Hastur,” it has no bearing on the actual King in Yellow Mythos. This is a brief tale about a naïve shepherd boy who worships the gentle, pastoral god of sherpherds, Hastur. Haïta is innocent and completely ignorant of his own origins or the larger world. While tending his flock, Haïta meets a beautiful but capricious maiden three times before she suddenly departs each time. He seeks guidance from a wizened hermit who lives nearby. Very little substance here, but a nice little allegory about the fleeting nature of happiness.
The Crawling Chaos and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Vol. 1, edited by S.T. Joshi (Arcane Wisdom, 2012)
“The Crawling Chaos” by H.P. Lovecraft and Winifred V. Jackson
The narrator is given a near-fatal overdose of opium when he’s sick (got to love old-school medical treatments) and is transported into the far future. There he witnesses the complete destruction of the Earth by Nyarlathotep before he returns to his body. There are some appealing elements here, but it’s really just a vignette/set-up for an interesting set-piece rather than a coherent story as such.