Title: Black Wings of Cthulhu vol. 3
Publisher: Titan Books
S.T. Joshi, one of the leading figures among H. P. Lovecraft’s scholars (he has written perhaps the most definitive biography of Lovecraft), is the editor of the third volume of the Black Wings of Cthulhu series. This volume consists of 17 stories, some of which are written by familiar authors who have participated in the previous volumes of the series.
Like any collection of different authors it suffers from the mixed blessing of being a potpourri. On the one hand we have variety of writing, which eliminates the fatigue that is caused by some voluminous books, on the other hand not all texts are of equal literary value or originality. This of course does not mean that they are not noteworthy, just that for some participants there is room for improvement.
In this volume the guest of honor is From Beyond, which is one of Lovecraft’s classic stories and has also been adapted into a movie. Two rather good texts are based on it, Jonathan Thomas’s Houdini Fish and Brian Stableford’s Further Beyond, the first and the last tale in the volume respectively.
Alternative realities and other dimensions are an intense pattern of the collection (after all, From Beyond’s Tillinghast had managed to render visible the creatures that lived in different dimensions right next to ours). Heroes travel between dimensions until whatever lives in the space between those dimensions chases them back into their own world in Darrell Schweitzer’s Spiderwebs in the Dark, a traveler who for a while finds himself in another era witness a primeval horror in Mollie L. Burleson’s Hotel del Lago and in Donald Tyson’s Waller a disease leads the hero into a parallel world where people worship the Old Ones and he is hunted.
Naturally madness couldn’t be missing, or alternatively a different approach to reality and its changes. Richard Gavin’s The Hag Stone follows such a path and so does Caitlin R. Kiernan’s One Tree Hill, where dreams mingle with reality and the narrator’s questions remain unanswered. In Mark Howard Jones’s The Turn of the Tide reality shifts, or the way in which we perceive it changes when a Great Old One half-awakes from his slumber.
Two stories really won me over however. Peter Cannon’s China Holiday is the first. Continuing the tradition of Shadow over Innsmouth, the Deep Ones are trying again to influence the world through the miracle of China’s rapid development. Why do I like this story so much? Because Cthulhu mythos can no be bonded by time. As easily as Lovecraft could write stories about the beginning of the 20th century, so we too can also place his creatures and ideas in ancient times or even our own. And it is just as easy to tie up parts of the mythos with events of yesterday and/or today.
My other favorite story was Sam Gafford’s Weltschmerz where the hero lives in a boring reality filled with compromises. Essentially, doomed to live a routine, he hates himself and those around him without even knowing it and when a new acquaintance gives him the chance to set himself free he discovers that the monster hides inside him.
Just like it can happen to any of us.