Sunday, November 9, 2014

Chaosium's Mythos Fiction

   Way back in October 1993, Chaosium, publisher of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, started publishing what was to become a long line of short story anthologies centered around various elements of Lovecraft's fiction. From the very first book, The Hastur Cycle, edited by Robert M. Price, it was clear this was going to be an intriguing series. Not only was it going to include Lovercraft's own stories and those of authors inspired by him, it was also going to include other writers who had served as influences on him. This meant Bierce, Dunsanay, Machen and Chambers were going to get a chance to be read alongside the Lovercraft stories they helped inspire.

   I've managed to get my hands on the most of the series. I bought most of them in the  NYC Compleat Strategist as they were published. They looked more like game supplements than fiction anthologies and were stacked on the shelf right next to the CoC rules and supplements. Later ones I picked up via Amazon. 

In certain cases I didn't pick up second editions (The Book of Eibon) when they became available, while in others I did (The Hastur Cycle, and Encyclopedia Cthulhiana). I only bought the new editions when they had something extra to offer. The Hastur Cycle wasn't able to get the rights to Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Feaster from Afar" the first time around.

Maybe the book collecting gods think that's sacrilegious but I've always been more interested in the contents of a book than the cover. The Tindalos Cycle, published not by Chaosium but by Hippocampus Press, I'm only finally getting while typing this. I also never bought The Klarkash-Ton Cycle: Clark Ashton Smith's Cthulhu Mythos Fiction as I already owned the magnificent Night Shade Books omnibuses and I can't justify the replication. Again, those book collecting gods must be looking to toss a lightning bolt or two my way.

 It's an amazing series. Price is one of the leading authorities on HPL's fiction and weird fiction in general. He's not the sole editor of the series but he seems to have been the driving force behind it. He brings a fan's love of the stories and some often pretty serious literary theorizing to his essays in each collection that lacks (mostly) the often arrogant style of S. T. Joshi, the other great HPL authority. I sometimes think Joshi dislikes pulp fiction and want to elevate HPL above his origins while Price seems to revel in the good, pulpiness of many of the original Mythos stories. That said, the volumes of Robert W. Chambers and Arthur Machen's fiction are edited by Joshi.

   The stories, mostly reprints, are a great amount to one the greatest surveys of Mythos fiction. Stories by Chambers are contained in the same volume as ones by Karl Edward Wagner, Richard Lupoff, Lin Carter, and Lovecraft himself. Several of the volumes are reprints of earlier significant volumes of Mythos stories. If you want to see how this sub-genre of weird fiction was born and evolved over the decades this is one of the greatest ways to do it. 

1. The Hastur Cycle, ed. Robert M. Price
2. Mysteries of the Worm by Robert Bloch
3. Cthulhu's Heirs, ed. Thomas M. K. Stratman
4. The Shub-Niggurath Cycle: Tales of the Black Goat With a Thousand Young, ed. Robert M. Price
5. Encylopedia Cthulhiana by Daniel Harms
6. The Azathoth Cycle: Tales of the Blind Idiot God, ed. Robert M. Price
7. The Book of Iod by Henry Kuttner
8. Made in Goatswood: New Tales of Horror in the Severn Valley, ed.  Scott David Aniolowski
9. The Dunwich Cycle: Where the Old Gods Wait, ed. Robert M. Price
10. The Disciples of Cthulhu: 2nd Revised Edition, ed. Ed Berglund
11. The Cthulhu Cycle: Thirteen Tentacles of Terror, ed. Robert M. Price
12. The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab, ed. Robert M. Price
13. The Xothic Legend Cycle: The Complete Mythos Fiction of Lin Carter, ed. Robert M. Price
14. The Nyarlathotep Cycle: The God of a Thousand Forms, ed. Robert M. Price
15. Singer of Strange Songs: A Celebration of Brian Lumley, ed. Scott  David Aniolowski
16. The Scroll of Thoth: Tales of Simon Magus and the Great Old Ones by Richard L. Tierney
17. The Complete Pegāna: All the Tales Pertaining to the Fabulous Realm of Pegāna, ed. S. T. Joshi
18. The Innsmouth Cycle: The Taint of the Deep Ones, ed. Robert M. Price
19. The Ithaqua Cycle: The Wind-Walker of the Icy Wastes, ed. Robert M. Price
20. The Antarktos Cycle, ed. Robert M. Price
21. Tales Out of Innsmouth: New Tales of the Children of Dagon, ed. Robert M. Price
22. The Book of Dzyan by Madame Blavatsky
23. The Yellow Sign and Other Tales: The Complete Weird Tales of         Robert W. Chambers, ed. S. T. Joshi
24. The Three Impostors and Other Stories: Machen 1, ed. S. T. Joshi
25. Song of Cthulhu: Tales of the Spheres Beyond Sound, ed. Stephen       Mark Rainey
26. Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard, ed. Robert M. Price
27. The Book of Eibon, ed. Robert M. Price
28. The Disciples of Cthulhu II, ed. Ed Berglund
29. The White People and Other Stories: Machen 2, ed. S. T. Joshi
30. The Terror and Other Stories: Machen 3, ed. S. T. Joshi
31. The Tsathoggua Cycle: Terror Tales of the Toad God, ed. Robert M. Price
32. The Yith Cycle: Lovecraftian Tales of the Great Race and Time Travel, ed. Robert M. Price
33. The Tindalos Cycle ed. Robert M. Price
34. The Klarkash-Ton Cycle: Clark Ashton Smith's Cthulhu Mythos Fiction

Those are the books I have and the ones I consider the real series started all those years ago with The Hastur Cycle. Chaosium published a few novels under the series banner but I've dismissed them. They don't serve as part of the massive survey of Mythos short fiction. All are otiginal, contemporary works and haven't had any time to play in the development of this massive body of communal work that goes back over eighty years.

There are also a few anthologies that have been produced without the guiding hands of Robert Price. They also don't look as good as the ones he oversaw. For both those reasons I haven't bothered buying them.

Keith West's review of Lin Carter's The Spawn of Cthulhu got me thinking about "The Whisperer in the Darkness", one of my favorite HPL stories. That in turn got me thinking about this series. It's on the top shelf so I don't pull any of its volumes down that often. Considering the time and effort I spent acquiring the books that seemed a little sad. 

So I'm going to start rereading them and reviewing them. I'd love to read one a week but I know that's not going to happen. I'm too slack and I don't want to fall behind in my other reviewing plans and obligations.

I'm also not sure if I'll review all of them. Some, like The Book of Eibon and The Book of Dzyan are really collections of "esoteric wisdom", explicitly fictional in the first and purportedly true but obviously nonsense in the second. I'm probably not going to do more than skim them. I've already read and reviewed Richard Tierney's The Scroll of Thoth several years ago (didn't like it), so I'm not going to do it again.

However this works out, it's going to be a fun project and I hope folks find it interesting. 


  1. (last comment got swallowed, trying again - apologize if it pops up twice)

    Ironically, these started to come out just after my first round of Mythos reading waned. I binged on HPL, read everything by him (available at the time, which was most of his output.) I read some stories around the fringes by other authors. Then I was onto other readings (what and who I don't even recall.)

    Now that I'm back in a Mythos mood, I've been acquiring these Chaosiums over the past year. I've mostly been ordering directly from them and almost always getting the half-price "Boo-boo Books" (shelf worn - but for the most part they are perfectly fine.)

    The original early titles aren't available new and are pricey used. Some have gone on to 2nd and 3rd printings. I mostly prefer the old covers. (though Nameless Cults could stand new artwork. Then again, a bunghole with teeth is rather terrifying. ;) )

    They are starting to create ebooks, now, too, which is great. They are about half the price of the print books, too (so far.) If there is one thing about the Chaosiums I don't like - they cram a lot in with small fonts. I need glasses for fonts like that now. Ebooks are a welcome option.

    1. Damn, "bunghole with teeth" just made me laugh out loud - glad I wasn't drinking something. I haven't looked at the Chaosium site in some time. It was always pretty lousy in the past. If there are e-books maybe that's how I'll pick up the some of the newer ones. Years ago I was talking to Jonathan Strahan (I know his wife) about these and he said they did away with those early covers because they looked too much like game supplements. I liked the second set of covers with the photos of weird clay models myself.

      These came along just as I was starting to get back into Lovecraft and Mythos fiction. Growing up I read the HPL stuff out of my local library (the Arkham's with the Finlay and Coye covers), and the various anthologies like Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and The Shuttered Room. There seems to be a rising tide of Mythos interest right now and it's got me stoked to go back to the Old Man and all his "children's" stories.

  2. Thanks for the shout-out. I've only got one of these, The Book of Iod because Kuttner. As my interest in the Mythos has grown over the last few years, I'm considering picking some of them up. I'll be looking forward to your reviews.

    And I agree with Paul. I need glasses to read even reasonable sized font these days unless I want to hold the book out to arm's length. Ebooks are a good thing.

    1. The Kuttner, like the Bloch, were reall eye-openers when I read them twenty years ago. I knew both men had written Mythos stories but the only ones I'd read were Bloch's "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" (imperfect but maybe my favorite Mythos story not by HPL) and "The Shadow from the Steeple.". Sure they're early works, but both books are a blast.

      And, yeah, even when I get my cataracts fixed I'll still need reading glasses. The ability to bop the font up is the most valuable thing about e-books.

  3. Coincidentally, I had already put in another order when you posted this. Arrived yesterday. The Yith Cycle, The Book of Eibon and Cthulhu's Dark Cults have now been added to my collection. :)