Don’t Drink the Water.


The Mask of Cthulhu by August Derleth (1936-1953): Or, a minor Cthulhu Mythos collection of five stories from Ballantine’s paperback horror line of the 1970’s. Derleth was inordinately fascinated with Lovecraft’s fictional New England seaport of Innsmouth, the subject of Lovecraft’s late-period novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” in which miscegenation between humans and frog-like Cthulhu-and-Dagon worshippers known as the Deep Ones has led to a certain dangerous wackiness about the inhabitants of Innsmouth. That dangerous wackiness leads to the only U.S. Armed Forces vs. Batrachian Horrors action that I know of in Lovecraft’s entire oeuvre, as the U.S. Navy opens up a can of whoop-ass on the Deep Ones, and indeed Innsmouth itself.

Squamous, batrachian horrors living in or under houses with gambrel roofs make appearances in several of the stories collected here, pretty much always up to no good (and by ‘no good,’ I mean ‘plotting the destruction of all of humanity’). Derleth’s tendency towards liter-mindedness, lengthy stretches of exposition and a somewhat unLovecraftian bipolarization of the ancient aliens into Good and Evil camps makes his stories less horror than dark, tending-toward-epic fantasy. It actually makes me wish that Derleth had gone all out with ‘his’ version of the Mythos and come up with some sort of epic, lengthy take on Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones.

One of the curiosities of Lovecraft’s work that gets repeated here is Lovecraft’s association of the whippoorwill with evil — in the Cthulhu Mythos, they seem to operate as sinister psychopomps and harbingers of doom. It’s the sort of curious construction that makes me think Lovecraft was kept awake at some point by a particularly vociferous whippoorwill and decided to get his revenge in writing. Recommended.

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