The Book of Cthulhu: Can It Help You? Can It Hurt You? Will It Improve You? For those who have been asleep for a long time or simply mindful of Much Different Things"”like daffodils, 30 Rock, or cat videos"”H. P. Lovecraft (1890 - 1937) was perhaps the most influential twentieth-century American author of weird fiction. Lovecraft's fiction did not become popular overnight: he had a cult readership during his lifetime, and readers could be put off by a worldview that reflected the idea of "cosmic horror." Lovecraft believed that the universe was a cold, hostile place. Despite this, he became increasingly popular, to the point that creations like the Cthulhu Mythos have entered our common lexicon.
The Cthulhu Mythos story cycle has taken on a convoluted, cyclopean life of its own"”as evidenced by this latest anthology edited by Ross Lockhart, The Book of Cthulhu, which includes material by the likes of Caitlin R. Kiernan, Joe R. Lansdale, Elizabeth Bear, and Charles Stross.
These semi-confessional accounts of horror, terror, and the unknown inspired by Lovecraft are"¦. oddly inspirational and life-affirming. It's not just that nothing really makes you appreciate Something like life more than being chased by some oozy Shadowy Nothing through a dark forest strewn with odd ruins. A deeper impulse seemed at work, too, in many, many of the stories. Why, there was even what appeared to be useful advice for the modern reader!
Could it be that the lessons taught by Lovecraft were less mechanistic and existential, less hideous and ritualistic, than I had thought? I had to get to the bottom of this strange phenomenon"”by interviewing the editor...
Amazon.com:The Book of Cthulhu is an anthology of tales inspired by Lovecraft, and yet it's rumored you're touting it as a self-help book, too. Was Lovecraft known for his good life advice?
Ross E. Lockhart: While H. P. Lovecraft is best known today for his weird fiction, one should keep in mind that his tales only represent a small percentage of his writing. If you only look at the fiction, the best take-away advice might be epitomized by The Case of Charles Dexter Ward's "Do not call up that which you cannot put down."
Within Lovecraft's letters, however, one can find plenty of solid life advice, on a variety of topics, including diet and exercise ("How the pounds flew! I helped the course along by exercise & outdoor walks, & every time my friends saw me they were either pleased or frightened at the startling shrinkage" "” letter to Maurice Winter Moe, June 15, 1925), men's fashion ("One can never be really at ease with less than four suits"”two of each weight, so that one of the right sort can always be ready in good condition for whatever occasion may require it." "” letter to Lillian D. Clark, June 5, 1925), and frugal living ("With bread as a basis, I can certainly keep food down to 15Â¢ per day, except for a weekly spaghetti-meal to break the monotony." "” letter to Lillian D. Clark, Sept 28-30, 1925), not to mention other subjects, including literary matters.
Amazon.com: What kinds of general life lessons should readers take from your Book, because it sure seems like there are a ton?
Ross E. Lockhart: While editing The Book of Cthulhu, I started to think of the book in terms of "Better Living through Cosmic Horror." The world can be a cruel and terrible place. Humans are quite accomplished at doing horrid things to one another. Sometimes we need to unplug from the world and lose ourselves in a good story. Not only do the twenty-seven stories collected in The Book of Cthulhu provide a sense of escapism that can help keep one sane in a mind-numbingly insane world, but these stories were hand-chosen to showcase values that will be important as the Old Ones rise to prominence: diligence, awareness, providence, and an understanding of one's place in the Cosmos.
After all, if weird, gibbering, alien god-things are coming from the fringes of reality to devour us, the least we can do is to stop worrying so much about trivial, meaningless material things and philosophical and ideological differences. At least 'til we're lunch.
Amazon.com: Some of these titles, I admit, do seem to suggest that they might offer advice on various topics. For example, Cherie Priest's "Bad Sushi," Brian Lumley's "The Fairground Horror," and Michael Shea's "Fat Face." Do you have any personal favorites?
Ross E. Lockhart: It's hard picking favorites, as Book of Cthulhu represents the best of the last thirty-five years of Cthulhu Mythos short fiction. But I will single out three stories: John Hornor Jacobs' "The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife," Molly Tanzer's "The Infernal History of the Ivybridge Twins," and Laird Barron's "The Men from Porlock" as stunning explorations of Family Values, such as would make a dyed-in-the-wool conservative such as H. P. Lovecraft quite proud.
Amazon.com: Any exercise advice amongst these stories? And how many of these tales advocate running as a good cardio exercise for readers?
Ross E. Lockhart: I'd say running"”and walking, for that matter"”is an excellent way to keep in shape. The stories in Book of Cthulhu, on the other hand, aren't really about running away, rather, these are, for the most part, stories about standing up and facing inevitability"”facing down horror with dignity, courage, and perhaps even curiosity"”even though you feel like running.
Amazon.comIf the Old Ones were to speak directly from the pages of your anthology to give self-help advice to humans, what do you think they might say?
Ross E. Lockhart: "Keep eating sugar, salt, fat, and high-fructose corn syrup, humans. We want you tasty and easy to catch."
Amazon.com: I'm told that Thomas Ligotti's email in accepting your reprint offer told you his story contains a message of "Look on the bright side"”life is wonderful, and to be lived to its fullest," and told you "Find love, be fruitful. Enjoy each moment. Look at me! I'm dancing! I'm dancing!" Is this true?
Ross E. Lockhart: I can neither confirm nor deny this, nor can I address the rumor that Thomas Ligotti is actually is a pseudonym for Dr. Madan Lal Kataria, the Guru of Giggling. What I can say is that given the prevalence of clowns and puppets in his work, Mr. Ligotti is a writer that takes humor very, very seriously.
Amazon.com: In what emergency situations do you think your anthology would be most useful?
Ross E. Lockhart: The Book of Cthulhu is 540 pages, just over an inch and a half thick, and weighs just under two pounds. If faced with an undead necromancer, small shoggoth, or immature Deep One, The Book of Cthulhu would make an excellent bludgeoning device. As is often the case, results may vary with the Kindle edition.
Amazon.com: Who wins a mixed martial arts match between a couple of drunken shoggoths and a resurrected August Derleth, Lovecraft's protÃ©gÃ©? And why?
Ross E. Lockhart: Derleth. He never met an ending he couldn't change.
Amazon.com: A little game of "versus," with you picking your favorites"¦. Yog-Sothoth or Christopher Walken?
Ross E. Lockhart: That's a hard one. Yog-Sothoth is the Lurker at the Threshold, the Key and the Gate, conterminous with all time and space, a fictional deity that has appeared in plenty of pulp fiction, whereas Christopher Walken has appeared in "The Deer Hunter," "The Dead Zone," and "Pulp Fiction." I'd call it a draw.
Amazon.com: The weird writer Clark Ashton Smith or a sinister vase full of wildflowers?
One was the Keats of the Pacific Coast; the other is liable to attract bees. Advantage goes to Smith. And not just because I've worked in some capacity on four of the six volumes of Clark Ashton Smith's Collected Fantasies published by Night Shade Books (with the sixth, The Miscellaneous Writings of Clark Ashton Smith, due out in December).
Amazon.com: Oh, c'mon, what've you got against wildflowers?!...Next, Laird Barron or a rabid woodchuck?
Ross E. Lockhart: Laird Barron. Most rabid woodchucks are terrible writers. Laird, on the other hand, is a Shirley Jackson Award winner. And a helluva guy.
Amazon.com: A monkey's paw or a Deep Fried Old One?
Ross E. Lockhart: May I commend you on the W. W. Jacobs reference? Hands down, the monkey's paw.
Amazon.com: Finally, in the context of today's complex socio-economic problems re the industrial and military complexes in this country and elsewhere, including our current surfeit of mimes, what is Lovecraft's lasting legacy to both the subtext of our current situation and also calamari?
Ross E. Lockhart: In his story "The Call of Cthulhu," Lovecraft predicted that "someday the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." Looking at the world today, and some of the gibbering madness that passes for political discourse, I think Lovecraft would agree that many have already gone mad. And avoid the calamari; you don't know where"”or who"”it's been.