Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Chaosium Mythos Covers and the Chaosium Mythos Fiction Project

   I'm not sure if I'll ever complete my Chaosium Mythos Fiction Project, something I abandoned after only four posts (not counting an early non-project review I did of the The Scroll of Thoth). Even though I made it to the most excellent Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch, struggling through the most execrable The Xothic Cycle by Lin Carter knocked the wind and the snot out of me. 

   Still, they those books, all 33 of them, call to me, chillingly, enticingly, from their place on the top shelf, every now and then as I walk past them to the attic. I hear their papery whispers summoning to pull them down and peruse secrets man was not meant to know. To once again hear the Dhol Chants, wander the streets of Ulthar, and spy upon the towers of Y'ha-nthlei beneath the ocean's waves. You know, the normal stuff books do.

   Lately, as I've been listening to podcast about HPL, those voices from above have pulled with a little more vigor. Some of the collections are really very good; especially the ones inspired by Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley's Mythos stories. There's a lot of dross between those covers, but there's also some really top-grade stuff, some of it by people no one's ever heard of. I'd really like to go back to the project, but we'll have to see what happens.

   Robert Price and all the other editors did a really good job scouring the world for great stories. A lot of the bad stuff, especially in Price's volumes also arises from the desire to present a complete history of Mythos fiction, meaning whether you want it or not, August Derleth's and Lin Carter's stories get included. Like 'em or not, they're important to the development of Mythos fiction as its own genre. 

   It doesn't just stop there, though. Price in particular was intent on using the collection he put together to explore Lovecraft's fiction as part of a greater context that stretches before and after his stories. For an full example of what I mean, read the post on The Hastur Cycle. Price includes writing from Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, and Robert Chambers and shows exactly where some of HPL's ideas and names came from. I don't agree with everything he says, but in the scheme of Mythos fiction, they're important collections and his arguments bear listening to.

1. Chaosium's Mythos Fiction 11/9/2014 
2. Chaosium Mythos Fiction: Have You Seen the Yellow Sign? : The Hastur Cycle, edited

The Covers: The early releases' covers were by Dreyfus, aka Andrew Caines. They're not bad, but not anything we haven't seen before. They made the books look more like gaming supplements than fiction.  

It was with the later edition covers by H. E. Fassl that the series took on a distinctive look. I don't know what techniques he employed. It looks like he sculpted sets and figures and made dioramas he then photographed. The sculpted pieces remind me of Clark Ashton Smith's creations. However he did them, they possess an eerie, organic quality that is deeply weird. They're a far cry from the pulpiness of the first covers or the later one. Instead, Fassl's work looks to the surrealness of Mythos fiction. Funny enough, though, my favorite is one that doesn't appear to be a diorama: Nameless Cults. Just what the heck is that screaming mouth mounted on, an egg? Very, very freaky. It's a shame they weren't able to have him do all the covers and give the entire series a unified, and very particular look.


  1. Harry Fassl passed away, which is why his work did not appear on later covers. I introduced him to Chaosium when I commissioned him to do the cover for my Ramsey Campbell Goatswood tribute anthology. He built little sets out of odd things he collected (the little gnome figure on the cover of the Goatswood book is a Victorian inkwell) as well as sculptures he did himself and then photographed them. He was a great guy and a fantastic artist.

  2. Sorry to read that. I'm glad he was able to do as many covers as he did. They are truly marvelous. That is one messed up inkwell.

  3. I like the Fassl covers -- some remind me of the famous Salvador Dali film. The thing on The Disciples of Chthulu II is clearly the molted skin of a cicada. Creepy little bugger.

  4. There's nothing much like them, especially in these dark, photoshopped days we live in. Good eye on the cicada. Yeah, finding their husks when I was little always creeped the heck out of me.