Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Ramsey Campbell and the Cthulu Mythos


Some writers start young. I've been reading an early collection Ramsey Campbell's, the Inhabitant of the Lake, which was published when he was 18.

It's a collection of Cthulu mythos stories; the mythos being a shared fictional universe based on  the writing of H.P. Lovecraft.

I'm a great fan of the mythos stories, both Lovecraft's originals and the various pastiches that followed. Like many others, including Campbell, Lovecraft's style of cosmic terror and awe made a deep impression when I was a teenager (However, and unlike Campbell, I had neither the wit nor the confidence to translate this influence into stories at that age).

Campbell's youthful stories seem to me remarkably accomplished. On the whole, they successfully capture the sense of creeping dread and otherworldliness that were a feature of Lovecraft at his best, although Campbell himself complains that they are too derivative.  This might be true, but they still work as stories and are very entertaining.

The edition I've got (Indian Drugstore Press, 2013), also includes some correspondence between Campbell and August Derleth, who, under his imprint Arkham House, first published these stories in 1964.

Derleth was a writer, editor and a friend of Lovecraft's who was also his literary executor. He was responsible for the Cthulu mythos stories after Lovecraft's death, and published several anthologies featuring contributors like Robert Howard, Clarke Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch and Colin Wilson.

The best mythos stories all contain what Campbell described in an interview as the notion of alienage as a 'metaphor for something barely glimpsed, something larger than the text -- a cosmic horror with a visionary quality.' (In Looking for the Aliens by Jenny Randles and Peter Hough, 1991, p. 18).

This 'visionary quality' seems to be the summit to which any writer of weird fiction should aspire.

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