NEW TALES OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS
Edited by Ramsey Campbell
Arkham House Publishers, 1980, 335 pages

Reviewed by David Conyers

This is a retrospective review, since this collection is no longer in print. Despite its difficulty in availability, New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos edited by Ramsey Campbell remains one of the best collections of Lovecraftian tales ever assembled. This success is probably due to many contributing factors, but amongst them, certainly Campbell as an editor had a lot to do with it. Other major success factors would be that the authors really know their subject, and that the stories are long enough to develop well the plot, character and ultimately, the horror. Of particular interest was that most stories were set in places outside the usual haunts of Arkham, Innsmouth and other popular fictional towns and locations adding variety and wonder to the strange worlds of the Cthulhu Mythos.

CROUCH END by Stephen King: The collection opens nicely with a tale penned by the world's best known horror writer, Stephen King. In this tale set in contemporary London an American tourist recounts the experience of a horrific night in a parallel dimension and the loss of her husband in that strange and bizarre world. The dimensional rift in question is linked to the real suburb of Crouch End, which has always been associated with strange disappearances, according to the constables who question the wife. Very eerie descriptions and the sense of isolation come across well in this tale.

THE STAR POOLS by A.A. Attanasio: The second best story in the collection. Starting simply enough with a New York drug smuggler, he finds a strange stone in a river that sends him into a coma and off to a bizarre labyrinthine world home to Nyarlathotep, Lovecraft's messenger trickster god (Nyarlathotep features several times in this collection). Part crime thriller, part voodoo mystery, the action inevitably leads to Haiti and to the very violent and unbeatable monsters that live in the hills beyond the slums of Port-au-Prince. Attanasio writes extremely well in this action-paced page-turner, a highlight in this excellent collection.

THE SECOND WISH by Brian Lumley: I find Lumley's Mythos tales to be of an inconsistent quality but this one is excellent. A British couple, together not because of love but for mutual fulfillment of personal desires, are on holiday in Stregiocavar, Hungry which first featured in Robert E Howards “The Black Stone”. Together the couple visit an old crumbling castle which once housed worshippers of dark gods, and perhaps still does. The twist in this tale's ending is unexpected, executed well because the couples' fate is tied explicitly to their own failings as human beings.

DARK AWAKENING by Frank Belknap Long: From the man who brought us the classic “The Hounds of Tindalos”, but unfortunately his tale in this collection fails to live up to his established reputation. A young boy almost drowns in the ocean, only to be saved by the narrator who happens to have just struck up a conversation with the boy's mother. Once rescued the boy finds that he cannot open his hand, that he found something that he won't let go of despite his will to do otherwise. Enjoyable, but unfortunately surrounded by much better company.

SHAFT NUMBER 247 by Basil Cooper: With no mention of Mythos entities anywhere or any direct references to books, characters and alien locations common to so many Mythos tales, yet in theme and content the Mythos prevails. Everything is implied; a small society lives (we suspect) underground, forever watching to see if whatever lurks outside may one day get inside and destroy them all. A fine Mythos tale.

BLACK MAN WITH A HORN by T.E.D. Klein: The third best Mythos tale and the best Tcho-Tcho story ever written. The narrator, a writer in his twilight years meets a strange missionary on an airplane flight home, who recounts the bizarre and unsettling behavior of a tribe in the highlands of Malaysia. Calling themselves the Chaucha, these people are the Tcho-Tcho who worship just about every Mythos being that ever existed, often with very disgusting and disturbed rituals. In this story they are followers of an aspect of Nyarlathotep called Shugoran, a boogeyman who comes for his victims in the night. Developing slowly yet intriguingly, no mystery is ever properly explained adding to the bizarrenss. Like many of Lovecraft's protagonists, the narrator one knows he too has learnt too much, and that the Chaucha are coming for him. Certainly one of the better Mythos tales ever written.

THE BLACK TOME OF ALSOPHOCUS by H.P. Lovecraft and Martin S. Warne: Another tale about Nyarlathotep, about a man who delves too deeply into forbidden knowledge only to find himself propelled into Nyarlathotep's home star system and world of Sharnoth, destined for a very unpleasant fate. Lovecraft has written a lot better, despite Warne's revisions. A nice tale but nowhere near Lovecraft's best.

THAN CURSE THE DARKNESS by David Drake: This is easily the best tale in the collection and one of the best mythos tales ever written. Drake takes us into King Leopold II's Congo Free State, where ten million Africans were slaughtered by a handful of white colonists in the space of a few decades. Barbaric colonial activities are rife, but despite their horrific achievements the Europeans are not the only horrors in the rainforest. The Congo people have turned to the worship of Nyarlathotep because he promises to protect them from slavery, malnutrition and murder at the colonial hands. Naturally his worship doesn't offer a much better fate. In this tale, the white heroes out to save the world from Nyarlathotep, in his guise as the tentacular horror Ahtu, are just as monstrous themselves. And so the question is asked; if people are this barbaric, are they worth saving? One of the few Cthulhu Mythos stories set in sub-Saharan Africa, this story alone makes the collection worthwhile.

THE FACE AT PINE DUNES by Ramsey Campbell: Early Campbell Mythos perhaps should not have seen print, but this tale is one of his finest along with “Cold Print” and “The Tugging”. Campbell is very good at incorporating the dark undertones of humans corrupted by their own failings into his Mythos tales. In this story a young man doesn't really understand the strangeness of his parent's way, and yet he is destined to become just like them, just as victims of sexual abuse often become rapists themselves. This tale certainly highlights why Ramsey Campbell is often considered the best Lovecraftian writer of his generation.

The edition I reviewed was published by Grafton Books in 1988, and featured the best Cthulhu Mythos art that I've ever seen, those by Tim White who did covers for a half dozen other Mythos collections released at the same time. Perhaps he will return one day to do more Mythos art; one can only hope that he does. It was his art that drew me to this collection in the first place

Although out of print, in many ways the collection Cthulhu 2000 is the reprint of New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. That collection features “Shaft Number 247”, “Black Man with a Horn”, and the “Face of Pine Dunes”, but none others. This reviewer wishes it had been the other way around, in that this collection was reprinted with the inclusions of F. Paul Wilson's “The Barrens”, Kim Newman's “The Big Fish” and Michael Shea's “Fat Face”, and then we might have the finest collection of Cthulhu Mythos tales ever assembled.

 

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