For the last couple of months I have been re-reading my Cthulhu Mythos collection. After I finished the works penned by Lovecraft, I moved onto Brian Lumley’s Mythos Omnibuses. I found myself mildly disappointed by them.
In the manner of authors everywhere, instead of moving on I found myself wondering why.
I really like Lumley’s Necroscope series, I enjoyed a collection of his short stories I read earlier this year, and I am not having the same reaction to the earlier Titus Crow stories, so it wasn’t an issue of writing style.
From a technical perspective the book is free of clangers, so it wasn’t an unconscious judgement on the structure.
Then I read Lumley’s introduction to ‘Lord of the Worms’ in The Compleat Crow:
I think this novelette says a lot about the difference between H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘heroes’ and mine. Crow doesn’t faint and he doesn’t run away. In fact, I didn’t even allow him a single gibber in his unrelenting battle with the monstrous.
– Brian Lumley
Everything became clear. My issue with the Titus Crow cycle was it wasn’t actually a Mythos story.
As a tale of humanity fighting a growing multi-dimensional threat with the aid of other races it is a very enjoyable romp, reminiscent of a 1950’s serial or the later series of Star Gate.
However, where it differs from epic ‘plucky humans against the monsters from space’ tales is in setting: the Titus Crow cycle is set in the Mythos, a world where human experience exists as a thin veneer over powers so immense and incomprehensible that the darkest threats are evil only in the same way flies tell tales of the demonic squasher with it’s single giant square paw.
To drive away the minions—or even the passing glance of a distracted power—with little understood fragments of that preternatural reality behind our own is a great victory already. To defeat the deities of the Mythos with bombs and psychological warfare is to reduce the Mythos to another villain to fall before our manifest destiny.
I enjoy epic fantasy, where great evils are defeated by scrappy insurgents, as much as the next speculative fiction reader.
However, I go to the Mythos for tales of protagonists discovering threats that cannot be truly defeated and pressing on anyway. Protagonists defined not by fainting or by running away, but by getting up again or by coming back.
So, for me it is not the virtue of not allowing the ‘hero’ to gibber but the vice of not forcing them to gibber more that defines the omnibuses.
Do you think good authors are good whichever worlds they write? Do you think authors should put even more effort into not transgressing the expectations of established worlds?