Kootulu is King of Hell: A Review of Cthulhu Fhtagn! edited by Ross E. Lockhart

Cthulhu Fhtagn! Weird Tales Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft
Edited by Ross E. Lockhart
Published by Word Horde

Available Here

If you’re like me, you’re burned out on Lovecraft.

That’s not to say that I don’t still read him at least once a year. Or that I’m suddenly too-cool-for-school when someone says “Lovecraftian fiction.” I discovered Lovecraft sometime early on in college, and thought I was the only one tracking the man’s bizarre work, which resonated with me in a way that few “old” works could.

That was naïve of me. Lovecraft and his legacy are now bigger than ever, which is, of course, a double-edged sword. I liked Cthulhu before it was cool, and all of that. But I am increasingly skeptical of the words “Cthulhu”, “weird tales,” and “Lovecraftian”, and no longer drawn in by those signifiers as I once was.

It’s with that disclaimer that I’m glad I gave Cthulhu Fhtagn! a chance. Word Horde (and its editor, Ross E. Lockhart) have an iron-clad reputation for quality, and they didn’t disappoint with this offering, well-worn territory or no. The stories here are all befitting the impressive roster, and you’ll find more than a few that you’ll like, and probably just as many as you’ll love. Many of the stories are classically Lovecraftian (in the best possible sense), and a few take those ideas, or parallel those ideas, and have some fun in the process.

This is a big book, with very diverse offerings. Yes, people discover Strange Things or Places and meet Terrible Fates, Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors find purchase in bizarre and clever science fiction venues, and poetic, dreamlike terrors haunt these many pages. There’s even some grotesque body horror, political posturing and allegory (your mileage may vary), fantasy, and meta-narratives here, some directly referencing the characters and motifs of Lovecraft, others content to chart their own paths.

My favorite stories were those that didn’t take themselves too seriously, and had more than a little fun with the ideas (and maybe even the character) of the Old Man himself.

“The Lurker in the Shadows” by Nathan Carson tackles two towering figures of pop horror—Lovecraft himself, and Stephen King—and imagines what if Lovecraft had found health, wealth, and literary success in life long enough to mentor and meet the young would-be [K]ing. It’s a story that is both a love letter to the work of both men, while still a clever and sinister weird tale in its own right.

“The Insectivore” by Orrin Grey is less a Lovecraftian pastiche and more a Bradburyian one, with all the trappings of youthful innocence crashing against the walls of reality.

“Aerkheim’s Horror” by Christine Morgan is an anachronistic Viking adventure saga gone wrong, with lots of fighting and blood and guts to keep up the pace.

“Love Will Save You” by Cameron Pierce is a haunting, disturbing, maybe even symbolic tale about floating orbs and lusts of the heart.

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“Assemblage Point” by Scott R. Jones is a wicked, delightful little meta-story, which simultaneously mocks and embraces weird horror tropes. In the hands of a lesser writer, the concept could have slipped into condescension. Instead, the story is creepy and memorable.

Then there’s the final story, “Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form” by Laird Barron. I can’t say as I understood what, exactly, it was all about—but it was a fun read, and full of wild imagery: a Charlie’s Angels-style super team of assassins, ex-cons, and martial arts experts, a malignant entity inside of a doll, psychic powers, and overcoming childhood trauma.

The best story—in this reader’s opinion—is “The Curse of the Old Ones” by Molly Tanzer and Jesse Bullington. It’s funny, bizarre, and a page-turner. It features some very, very beloved figures of mid-century horror cinema dealing with our favorite occult terrors. It’s written with the pacing and flourish of a Hammer Studios or William Castle film. I had a smile on my face pretty much the whole time I was reading it. Kootulu is King of Hell!

So are you tired of Lovecraftian fiction? No? Then buy this book. Yes? Get this book anyway. These are all Lovecraftian stories, then, even if more than a few of them, this many generations hence, have moved well past the tropes and conventions the Old Man developed. This book shows us some of the best that pastiche, tribute, and evolution of the Lovecraftian Weird Tale can offer.

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