Black Wings of Cthulhu 21 Tales of Lovecraftian Horror By S. T. Joshi (Editor) Paperback | Kindle Titan Books Release date: March 20, 2012
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft all know about the Cthulhu Mythos and chances are even if you’re not that familiar with Lovecraft’s tales of terror, you’ve probably heard of “Cthulhu.” That’s because everybody loves Cthulhu (seriously, people love him/it!). So typically when a Lovecraft-inspired anthology is produced, the publisher will go right for more Cthulhu, not only to draw in the average reader, but also because contemporary authors can really make their mark with today’s readers if they offer up a great Cthulhu story.
While slapping a Cthulhu label on a book might be a good marketing strategy, Black Wings of Cthulhu, an anthology of 21 short stories inspired by Lovecraft’s original tales, instead encompasses a lot of aspects of Lovecraft’s writings. Don’t worry, Cthulhu and friends are surely represented and while it’s in the title, it’s not the main focus of this collection — although the big guy is front and center on the book’s gorgeous gold-etched cover.
This new trade paperback edition from Titan Books (a reprint from the hardcover edition published by PS Publishing) contains original stories from authors like Caitlin R. Kiernan, W.H. Pugmire, and Adam Niswander, as well as other writers like Joseph S. Pulver, Jr. and William Browning Spencer who are better known for their Lovecraft expanded-universe fiction. The book’s editor, S. T. Joshi, who was asked by Guillermo del Toro to consult on the filmmaker’s planned big-screen adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, is an authority on the late author who penned the well-received Lovecraft biography, Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft. For this anthology, Joshi wanted stories, along with the straightforward Cthulhu Mythos ones, that explored Lovecraft’s theme of cosmicism, where human laws and interests have no bearing in the grand scheme of the universe, and that humans themselves are basically insignificant. With each tale in Black Wings of Cthulhu, the insignificance and helpnessness of humans becomes more frighteningly apparent.
Some of the short stories will fill you with dread, though they are compelling enough to make you keep reading, just to find out how it all will end, like the three entries that revolve around the character Pickman – “Pickman’s Other Model,” “Inhabitants of Wraithwood,” and “The Truth about Pickman,” the first of which opens this anthology. After reading that first story, I immediately felt the need to skip ahead right to the other two. Who knew I’d want to know so much about Pickman, the Bostonian artist whose paintings were brilliant yet disturbingly graphic? But, I did. These entries were some of my favorites in the book, as was “An Eldritch Matter” and “Susie,” both of which had descriptive narratives similar to that of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Some stories were just too brutally real for me, like “Violence, Child of Trust,” where the heinous actions of humans against humans would overshadowed the supernatural or alien aspects. Part of what made Lovecraft’s stories so terrifying was what they implied and what they left up the reader’s imagination, so after reading the author’s stories for years and growing up on graphic horror films, I fear that my imagination brings me to places I’d rather not go. Hence, why reading select portions of Black Wings of Cthulhu before bed was not one of my best ideas.
Part of the fun in reading an anthology like this is figuring out which original story is the basis for the new story. There’s lots of references to Lovecraft characters and situations here. In some selections, the inspiration is obvious, like the ones with Pickman; in others, I was left wondering what exactly they were about, but for the most part, the average Lovecraft fan will recognize a lot of what’s going on.
Of the 21 tales, I surprisingly found all of them compelling, which isn’t always the case in an anthology like this. I usually find myself skipping around a lot, trying to find an author’s style that I enjoy, but with this book, I was able to read the stories in the order, except for the times I wanted to skip ahead to a related tale (like I mentioned before with Pickman). All of the stories are very well-written and lovingly steeped in Lovecraft lore – Lovecraft himself even appears in some of the entries! I highly recommend Black Wings of Cthulhu for fans of Lovecraft, and feel that even readers with a passing knowledge of the source material can enjoy the offerings of this 500-page anthology.
“Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” by Caitlin R. Kiernan “Desert Dreams” by Donald R. Burleson “Engravings” by Joseph S. Pulver, Jr. “Copping Squid” by Michael Shea “Passing Spirits” by Sam Gafford “The Broadsword” by Laird Barron “Usurped” by William Browning Spencer “Denker’s Book” by David J. Schow “Inhabitants of Wraithwood” W.H. Pugmire “The Dome” by Millie L. Burleson “Rotterdam” by Nicholas Royle “Tempting Providence” by Jonathan Thomas “Howling in the Dark” by Darrell Schweitzer “The Truth about Pickman” by Brian Stableford “Tunnels” by Philip Haldeman “The Correspondence of Cameron Thaddeus Nash” annotated by Ramsey Campbell “Violence, Child of Trust” by Michael Cisco “Lesser Demons” by Norman Partridge “An Eldritch Matter” by Adam Niswander “Substitution” by Michael Marshall Smith “Susie” by Jason Van Hollander