1/09/2011. Contributed by Neale Monks
pub: Subterranean Press. 230 page deluxe hardback. Price: $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-1-59606-411-9.
check out website: www.subterraneanpress.com
Although HP Lovecraft did write a few pieces that might be described as comedic weird tales - 'Herbert West - Reanimator' is perhaps the premier example, on the whole, he isn't much known as a humorist. But writer, editor and Lovecraft scholar Peter Cannon seems to believe that weird fiction can be used to satirise Lovecraft's approximate contemporaries, and within the pages of 'Forever Azathoth' are collected several stories that are not only pastiches of Lovecraft's work but also that of F. Scott Fitzgerald and PG Wodehouse. Whether any of these stories is truly funny is difficult to say - this reviewer didn't find himself laughing out loud terribly often - but they're all cleverly done and betray Cannon's deep understand and affection for Lovecraft and his works.
The collection is divided into three sections, the first entitled 'Forever Azathoth', the second 'Scream For Jeeves', and the last, 'Parodies And Pastiches'. The first two are made up of related stories, 'Forever Azathoth' being concerned with the characters that Lovecraft introduced in 'The Thing On The Doorstep', while 'Scream For Jeeves' has Bertie Wooster and his trusty valet finding themselves involved in a series of mythos-related escapades. This reviewer has to confess to not being a particular fan of 'The Thing On The Doorstep' anyway, and found 'Forever Azathoth' rather difficult reading. In a nutshell, it involves a succession of personality swaps between individuals, together with assorted murders, deceits and other crimes. The whole thing was confusing and didn't really seem to have much point beyond misleading the reader.
'Scream For Jeeves', on the other hand, contains three rather charming tales that set the lightness of Wodehouse's world against the dark world of Lovecraft. The first of the three stories is essentially a re-telling of 'The Rats In The Walls', the second 'Cold Air' and the third, 'The Music Of Erich Zann'. All three stories are amusing and easy to read, but the third story, 'The Rummy Affair Of Young Charlie', is especially fun, involving as it does not just Erich Zann but also Charles Dexter Ward and, in one of his most notorious disguises, Sherlock Holmes as an elderly American! What works surprisingly well is the way Wodehouse's characters seem totally au fait with the Cthulhu mythos and think nothing of mentioning shoggoths or nightgaunts. The overall effect of these allusions is knowing without being forced, something that is much to the Cannon's credit.
The final section is a collection of seven unrelated tales pastiching other writers as well as notable Lovecraft stories. Some are straightforward squibs, of which 'Tender Is The Night-Gaunt' is perhaps the most fun, mixing the events in Fitzgerald's story with numerous and often rather bizarre elements from 'The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath'. In 'All Moon-Beasts Amorphous And Mephitic', Cannon instead mixes the Dreamland elements with James Herriot's novels about the life of a Yorkshire vet, collectively known as the 'All Creatures Great And Small' stories. Other stories are more straightforward mythos tales or simply bits of weird fiction. 'Old Man' for example is a lovely story that appears to be about people at first and then turns out to be about cats, before eventually blurring the boundaries between the two species entirely. Lovecraft adored cats and were significant characters in several of his stories, and Cannon has crafted in this particular not just a fun pastiche but an affectionate tribute as well.
Taken together the pieces that make up 'Forever Azathoth: Parodies And Pastiches' are uniformly well-written even if this reviewer didn't enjoy them all to the same degree. Lovecraft fans will adore Cannon's carefully written prose, his constant use of Lovecraftian phrases, styles and the breadth of his scholarly knowledge. At $40, this isn't a cheap anthology, but it's one that most Lovecraft fans will thoroughly enjoy.
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