Book: Black Wings IV: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror




S. T. Joshi


S. T. Joshi is the author of The Weird Tale (University of Texas Press, 1990), The Modern Weird Tale (McFarland, 2001), and other critical and biographical studies. His award-winning biography, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (Necronomicon Press, 1996), has now been expanded and updated as I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (Hippocampus Press, 2010). He has edited Lovecraft’s stories, essays, letters, and revisions, as well as works by Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, and other writers.



IF ANYTHING HAS BECOME EVIDENT IN THE FIRST THREE volumes of the Black Wings series, it is that the Lovecraftian idiom is endlessly malleable, and suited to a variety of genres and subgenres. H. P. Lovecraft, although a strong proponent of what he called “weird fiction,” himself spanned a surprisingly wide spectrum of genres in his own brief career, starting out as a writer of relatively conventional tales of the macabre and gradually expanding his scope to embrace the literature of cosmicism—a distinctive fusion of science fiction and horror that has become his signature contribution to the field. Today, we can find Lovecraftian elements in stories ranging from hard-boiled crime to pure fantasy, and this volume displays the extent to which motifs, themes, and imagery from Lovecraft’s tales can infiltrate tales that would otherwise have little relationship to one another.

One of the central aspects of the Lovecraftian tale, however, is the quest for knowledge, especially knowledge of ancient cultures and objects. Lovecraft himself was focused on this theme because it allowed him to broach the “conflict with time” that he claimed was one of the most vital motivating factors in his own imagination. For Lovecraft, cosmicism was not only spatial but temporal; and the suggestion of immense gulfs of time beyond and behind the fundamentally brief span of human history was a powerful tool for the fostering of his trope of cosmic insignificance. In this volume, the diverse explorers in Fred Chappell’s “Artifact,” Richard Gavin’s “The Rasping Absence,” Lois H. Gresh’s “Cult of the Dead,” Ann K. Schwader’s “Night of the Piper,” and Donald Tyson’s “The Wall of Asshur-sin” find more than they bargain for as they probe the remote corners of the earth.

The cosmicism of time extends both into the past and into the future. Several writers, perhaps taking their cue from Darrell Schweitzer’s recent anthology Cthulhu’s Reign, have speculated on the dire consequences that would result if the Lovecraftian “gods” (really alien entities from remote corners of the universe) were to become dominant on the earth. Thus we have Caitlín R. Kiernan’s grim but cosmic “Black Ships Seen South of Heaven,” Cody Goodfellow’s disturbing “Broken Sleep,” and Melanie Tem’s cheerless and harrowing “Trophy.” Perhaps Will Murray’s tale of governmental espionage, “Dark Redeemer,” ought to be considered in this light. John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey transport us to outer space in their science fiction/horror hybrid “Contact.”

The sense of place was all-important to Lovecraft, because he himself recognised how much his own character and predilections depended upon the New England topography and history that gave him birth. W. H. Pugmire has made a specialty in evoking the constellation of Lovecraftian cities in New England, and “Half Lost in Shadow,” a perfumed prose-poem set in Kingsport, is no different. Jonathan Thomas uses Lovecraft’s (and his own) native city of Providence, Rhode Island, as the setting for the unnerving tale “We Are Made of Stars.” Topography figures in a very different sense as Jason V Brock evokes mediaeval Prague in “The Dark Sea Within,” while Gary Fry finds weirdness in the British countryside in “Sealed by the Moon.”

The Lovecraftian book—nothing less, indeed, than the iconic Necronomicon—is the basis for Darrell Schweitzer’s pungent vignette “A Prism of Darkness.” Lovecraftian “gods” lurk in the background of Stephen Woodworth’s “Revival,” and the dreams that were so essential to the igniting of Lovecraft’s own imagination are the focus of Simon Strantzas’s “In the Event of Death.”

The final contribution to this book calls for especial notice. We are in the midst of a renaissance of weird poetry, and much of the credit is owed to Lovecraft. He himself was only a middling poet, but his weird verse—notably the sonnet-cycle Fungi from Yuggoth—has inspired generations of poets who came in his wake. In our time, such skilled versifiers as Ann K. Schwader, Wade German, and Leigh Blackmore have found the Lovecraftian poetic idiom a felicitous means for expressing their own visions of awe and terror, and Charles Lovecraft, in “Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount,” has done the same. His P’rea Press seeks to preserve the centuries-long tradition of weird verse, and his own contributions to the form are worthy of our appreciation as well.