Cold Print contains a number of stories based on and influenced by Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. I find Campbell unique among those writers who have followed in the footsteps of the master of the macabre, and the author's introduction to this volume of short stories is quite illuminating. Campbell based much of his early work on standard Lovecraft themes and styles. Over time, however, he found himself rather frustrated with the types of Cthulhu Mythos stories being written by modern writers, feeling that most of them dealt far too much with the genealogies of the old gods lying outside space and time and concentrated far too much on exaggerations of the writing style of Lovecraft. His insights give me a much greater appreciation of the later works collected here, particularly The Voice at the Beach, of which he seems to be the most proud. Campbell most appreciates Lovecraft's ability to suggest far more than he showed, and in his own emulation of this central theme his later works strike some, such as Lovecraft authority Lin Carter, as insufficiently Lovecraftian. While other writers have expended a great amount of effort filling in the gaps of Lovecraft's list of monsters and otherworldly forces, Campbell has tried to dramatically expand the original vision of the Mythos.
The progression of Campbell's writing is easy to discern in these pages. The oldest of these fifteen stories, dating back to the 1960s, are grounded in the traditional Lovecraftian universe. What you find here are dark, corrupted churches where dark deeds have shunned the light of Christianity, ancient, reptilian gods buried deep in the ground struggling to reemerge with the help of frightening acolytes, lives preserved for hundreds of years by means of secret rites best left undiscovered, frightening journal accounts of hideous revelations leading to the ultimate sacrifice of those who stumbled upon ancient knowledge accidentally, a plethora of references to dark tomes such as the Revelations of Glaaki, and explorations of obscure references to the insect-beasts from Shaggai and entities such as the blind god Azathoth and Daoloth, the Render of the Veils.
Eventually, the stories began to change as Campbell sought new inspiration from the Mythos in the 1970s and 1980s. Among the Pictures Are These, for example, is not a story at all, but rather a description of a number of dark sketches drawn by the author in his youth. The Tugging is built around the sharing of dark dreams by father and son, and an esoteric calling from the dream world that determines the protagonist's thoughts and movements. The Faces at Pine Dunes remains firmly entrenched in modernity, as a young man seeks to understand his parents' incessant traveling and, more importantly, their decision to remain outside the dark woods of Pine Dunes; the story's culmination before a bog from which a gurgling, mud-drenched entity emerges betokens a human's return to that which lies outside more than an invasion of unworldly forces striving to regain control over our world. The Voice of the Beach is clearly the most important story to be found here. A cursory reading results in disappointment because it mentions nothing about Old Ones or dark grimoires filled with forbidden writing, nor does it showcase the type of all-pervasive menace Lovecraft constructed his dark tales around. A rereading of the book's introduction, however, allows one to place the story in the context of Campbell's unique vision. This remarkably new and abstract form of Lovecraftian art betrays hidden wonders writhing below a surface seldom scratched by other writers in the field.
I actually enjoy reading Mythos tales told in the traditional vein, and for this reason I find Campbell's earlier stories much more fun to read than his more esoteric, later ones. However, I am much more impressed by the later tales reflecting a totally new type of storytelling based on the original influence of Lovecraft. Campbell's criticism of those who search for the heart of Lovecraft and the Mythos in genealogies of the Ancient Ones and in the traditional writing style of the Cthulhuian canon, refusing to consider untraditional stories such as those Campbell has contributed, is very telling, enlightening, and inspiring, and I for one can only praise Campbell for the groundbreaking contributions he has made in the field of Lovecraft-influenced horror.
on 5 July 2011
This is a collection of short stories situated in the narrative universe of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos, although in a different region: the Severn valley rather than the New England, a choice more in tune with Campbell's background. The fan will find the familiar blind idiot god Azathoth and the Mi-Go from Yuggoth, as well as new creations like the Insects from Shaggai and the perversion deity Y'golonac; the newcomer will discover a vast and powerful creation, so terrible as to be beyond human comprehension. In my experience, a chilling read for a hot day at the beach.
This collection of short stories contains the entirety of Campbell's debut anthology 'The Inhabitant of the Lake' (1964) plus a handfull of additional later tales, all of which are heavily inspired and dependant upon H.P. Lovecraft's 'Cthulhu Mythos'.
As Campbell himself admits in the introduction the early stories are not amongst his best work, being somewhat formulaic second-hand Lovecraft pastiches. The strength of Campbell's descriptive writing shines through, but taken en masse these tales are all very similar: character visits shunned location; reads up on local history; encounters monsterous creature. The better stories (such as 'The Voice of the Beach') draw on the themes of Lovecraft's work to create something new, but this collection should best be read as the patchy early work of a great horror author who hadn't yet found his own voice at the time.