Black Wings of Cthulhu, edited by S.T. Joshi
Seventy five years after his death, H.P. Lovecraft’s influence remains strong, with writers such as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman citing him as a major influence. Black Wings of Cthulhu collects together 21 stories inspired by the master of horror himself, collated and introduced by the Lovecraft expert, S.T. Joshi.
The collection of stories varies greatly in tone and setting (both in terms of location and time), but all are linked by themes, and occasionally the style, of Lovecraft himself. Some stories are modern rewrites, such as Caitlín Kiernan’s ‘Pickman’s Other Model (1929)’, which takes the original story of the same name and expands upon it. Regular readers of the author will feel comfortable with these stories as they often also imitate the original language. Other tales have only a passing resemblance to an original, such as ‘Rotterdam’, where a film-maker searches for locations that invoke a Lovecraftian atmosphere for a project he is working on.
In fact, this is predominantly the case; while a few tales have mentions of Lovecraftian characters or his gods (the artist Pickman appears several times, as well as Cthulhu and some of his weirder creations), the majority of these stories are original, paying homage through their theme or the atmosphere created by the writer. Several of the tales feature Lovecraft himself as a character, a ghost floating through the story. This is an apt metaphor for the collection: Lovecraft’s influence is glimpsed as a shadow or ghost, perhaps, but there is very little pastiche or direct referencing to his own work.
This is a collection that emphasises the ‘weird fiction’ for which Lovecraft is best remembered; very few of these stories can be called horror, but all have elements of the grotesque and downright strange. The more successful of these move away from Lovecraftian gods and play upon this strangeness, with stories such as ‘Substitution’ bringing an almost-Kafkaesque absurdity to play. The notion of art and madness is drawn out too, particularly well in ‘The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash’, a story made up of ‘found’ letters sent by one of Lovecraft’s fans. It is a strong collection of very enjoyable, incredibly varied and occasionally disturbing stories that will keep fans of ‘weird fiction’ very happy.