Ever since writing the script for “The Music of Jo Hyeja” I’ve been caught up in a welter of Lovecraftian writing: revising an old story that I realized worked better as a Lovecraftian tale, drafting others, and playing with ideas for a feature-length film Lovecraftian screenplay set in South Korea.
I certainly don’t want to get stuck in this mode: I have my own stories to tell, my own worlds to create. But the Lovecraft thing has been crawling around in my unconscious for a while now, and it’s infested a lot of what I’m working on, and I figure, like a fever, maybe the best thing I can do is let it run its course, and get it out of my system for a while. Besides, it can be fun to spend time in the world invented by another, to make small contributions to that world, one shared by many other SF authors.
One of the things I’ve been thinking about is how the Cthulhu Mythos (and the fantastical elements therein) embodied one set of things for Lovecraft, but other things for other authors.
The most commonly-discussed example is that of August Derleth, whose (essentially Christian) moral bifurcation of the Lovecraftian mythos–and thus elementalizing of its deities– many Lovecraft fans decry with all their strength. I’ll be honest, I haven’t read much Derleth, and what I have read I don’t remember too well. But I think most authors who take up the Mythos do their own thing with it. A celebrated example in recent years is Charles Stross’s Laundry series, where the big bads–the Cthulhoid monstrosities–seem to stand in for the inhuman processes of the Cold War and of whatever it is that has replaced the Cold War since its apparent conclusion. William Browning Spencer’s Resumé With Monsters comparably used the Mythos to embody the horrors of a dead-end job and of life in the soulless corporate world of America.
In my own messing about with Lovecraft’s Mythos, I’ve tended more towards a blending of the darker and horrifying side of things with the Dreamlands work that came earlier in Lovecraft’s career, and which, though it has its dark patches, is on the whole more of a fantastical adventure setting. This is partly because I feel like not much has been done with the Dreamlands stuff (and I haven’t really run across any aside from Lovecraft’s that I liked–I have enjoyed some of Brian Lumley’s work, but not most of the overly Lovecraftian stuff), and because I think a lot more can be done with it…
I can understand why many do not feel drawn to the Dreamlands, given their archaic-fantastical setting, their detachment from the modern world, their reliance on the (now) over-used concept of the dream-voyage. Even Lovecraft himself apparently didn’t think much of “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” for example. But for me, part of the allure lies in depicting a Dreamlands that has changed over time. For example, Ulthar in my short story “Of Melei, of Ulthar” explores the setting in a far different period of its history than Lovecraft showed us–a foreign occupation has turned Ulthar into a colony under foreign rule, and this has affected how the residents of the city see the place.
There is also the fact that, for the residents of my Dreamlands, they regard their world as the real one, and ours as the fantastical one… which makes sense, since their dream voyages often take place in some version of our world. Not the version we live in, of course: just as the Dreamlands are in a different stage of their history, so is our world… generally, in a state where humans are dying out or long gone, and in which climate change has turned into climate disaster.
In the story I’ve been working on, this connection is more explicit, though I don’t want to go too far into it. I will say one thing, though: it’s useful, when working on this kind of thing, to think in analogies. The Lovecraftian equivalent of the Cold War is? (Read Stross’s Laundry novels, and you’ll see what it is.) The Lovecraftian equivalent of wage slavery is? (Read Resume With Monsters if you’d like to know.) And the Lovecraftian equivalent of the climate change endgame, with methane clathrate outgassing so heavily we get locked into runaway climate change? Of the techno-trash that is rotting in dumps and junkyards around the world, leaching toxins into our soil and water? Of the looming potential for human extinction in the next century or two?
Well… I’ll let you know when my story is finished, or probably just if and when I’ve actually sold it to someone, but those are the Lovecraftian analogues I’ve been working out so far, because I think those are some of the anxieties that haunt us today, which are bound to immense, uncontrollable, uncaring forces in nature… and of course, the sordid and pathetic human foibles that invite those forces into our world, to… er, to chew us up and spit us out in pieces.
We’ll see. The draft I finished is rough, but at least the whole narrative is there now. Now I can fix it.