We live in a Golden Age of pastiches and new tales of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. It seems as though every week a new collection of “Lovecraftian” fiction is released, containing new and reprinted stories of the Mythos by the famous and not-so-famous. Relatively few of these works are novel-length (appropriate, I suppose, since most of Lovecraft’s work is sub-novel length), and while some rival or exceed Lovecraft’s own work, most others are less than memorable. Brett J. Talley’s THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE is a welcome exception.
Please not: spoilers follow, but only in a cursory, plot-summary sense.
Our story begins with the precocious Miskatonic University student, Carter Weston, tasked by one of his professors with retrieving a powerful occult tome, the Incendium Maleficarum, before it can fall into the wrong hands. Before Weston can get very far in his quest, he encounters a gathering of fellow travelers who relate their own tales of past encounters with the macabre. The novel is thus comprised of four seemingly disparate stories related on a dark and stormy night, along with the hoary framing device of a young man sent on a quest to retrieve a MacGuffin who encounters the travelers. Talley uses this to good effect here. Weston eventually realizes that he has a date with destiny and must play a critical role in stopping a great evil from the depths of time (is there any other kind?) and travel halfway around the world to stop a certain Great Old One with whom we are all familiar.
There are a number of “Easter Eggs” hidden throughout the text for fans of Lovecraft’s setting as well as other classic works of horror. Perhaps most obviously, the protagonist’s name – Carter Weston – evokes Lovecraft’s own “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” We encounter Drs. Seward and Harker, who should immediately remind you of the characters from DRACULA (Talley’s characters are not the same as our fearless vampire hunters though). An evil abbess, by the name of Bathory is surely intended to remind the reader of the “vampiric” Elizabeth Báthory. The infamous, real-life Danvers State Insane Asylum (rumored origin of the pre-frontal lobotomy and mentioned in Lovecraft’s “Pickman’s Model”) also makes an appearance here. The Flying Dutchman makes an appearance, and the evocative names Kadath (from Lovecraft’s Dreamlands) and Lenore (from Poe) are used. Last but not least is everyone’s favorite fictional university, Miskatonic University, which is used to good effect, as is its Chief Librarian, Henry Armitage. There are undoubtedly others that have slipped my mind, but these stand out and are certainly representative of the kinds of small finds that observant fans of weird fiction can expect to find here.
I should note that Talley’s use of language evokes a subtly Lovecraftian feel without resorting to ridiculous over-use of some of Lovecraft’s favorite terms: eldritch, foetid, gibbering, noisome, rugose, squamous, etc. His tone is evocative of Lovecraft’s work without being slavish.
Lovecraftian purists, take note! Talley has created his own unique vision of the Lovecraftian universe in which God – that is, the Christian God – exists and has real power, as evidenced by the final tale in THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE. Personally, I think this works well and isn’t at all heavy-handed or preachy. But it’s also not exactly the sort of tale that Lovecraft himself would have written.
I give this one four stars out of five. I know that some Cthulhu Mythos purists may not appreciate it, but I had fun with it and found it to be an engaging read. I hope to see more Lovecraftian fiction from Talley. I recommend THAT WHICH SHOULD NOT BE to readers who are looking for some newer Lovecraftian tales, as this is one of the better novel-length efforts I’ve come across in years. Because it neatly ties in some other more traditional horror themes and tropes (e.g., the wendigo, the Flying Dutchman, evil cultists and psychopaths) with the Cthulhu Mythos, I think that fans of horror fiction who have not yet encountered the Mythos should enjoy this one as well.
Review copyright 2012 J. Andrew Byers