A new, and highly personal, take on the legacy of the Cthulhu Mythos emerges shuddering and gibbering from the R’lyehian depths in the bloated tentacular shape of Cthulhu Fhtagn!, conceived and collated by Ross E. Lockhart, whose stature as an anthologist and creator of The Book of Cthulhu I and II, Tales of Jack the Ripper, and The Children of Old Leech, approaches legendary proportions. And here are 19 examples of Cthulhoid weird filtered through his own unique perspective.
Lockhart explains the genesis of the anthology in terms faithful to the spirit of H.P. Lovecraft, that disciple of the oneiric: it came to him in a dream. In said deeply disturbing dream, Lockhart learned the truth of that “famous chant” familiar from cultic threnodies across Mythos literature “Cthulhu fhtagn”: “if you slightly rasp the final syllable, it means ‘Cthulhu’s home’.” Hence this collection. “Of hundreds of stories I read, the stories I loved … all shared a common thread. Houses – and the expectations and definitions of home – figure loomingly in these stories.”
And the list of contributors looms just as ingly among the towering figures of modern weird fiction and Lovecraftian literature: W. H. Pugmire, Orrin Grey, T.E. Grau, Anya Martin, Molly Tanzer, Scott R. Jones, Laird Barron, etc. etc. Lockhart rightly states that these tales are “built by some of the finest writers working in dark fiction today.”
That said, my one objection to the whole collection, and thesis, is that a few of the stories, although absolutely not all, just do not rise above the level of generic Yog-Sothothery – that is, Lovecraft’s own term for the monsters, deities, buzzwords, and assorted Cthulhubabble that spawned so many collectibles, card games, plushies, decorated underwear, and other geeky memes that give the whole Cthulhoid sub-sub-genre a life of its own far outside narrow literary circles, but also that occasionally induce a shudder of something other than horror when read as literature, or even as good horror writing. I’m certainly not about to name names, but there’s just enough of that going on in this anthology to pull it down a notch or half in my eyes, when compared to some less generic and more uniquely imaginative excursions into the impeccably Lovecraftian realms of cosmic horror.
That makes for a rather uneven anthology, wavering between the ho-hum and the OMFG. The tail-end piece “Don’t Make Me Assume My Ultimate Form” by Laird Barron, subject of Lockhart’s own tribute anthology The Children of Old Leech, is a superb example of the latter – not a tentacle or a Capitalized Unpronounceable Sanity-Busting Deity in view, but plenty of utterly original and unsettling Frikkin Weird Stuff. (Imagine, if you can, Kill Bill rescored into a Lovecraftian road trip, and that’s what you got here – not half bad.) So is Cody Goodfellow’s unbelievable, hallucinogenic “Green Revolution.” Or Anya Martin’s creepy piece of unhinged domestic abuse, “The Prince of Lyghes.” Or Scott R. Jones’s blacker-than-dark pilgrimage “Assemblage Point.” If tales such as those are anything to go by, then Old Slobbery has plenty of life left him in yet.