Thursday, 27 June 2013

The Abyss by Robert A.W. Lowndes

First published in Stirring Science Fiction, February 1941.

In my review of AlanMoore’s Neonomicon over on the Zone, I mention H P Lovecraft’s role in the early days of fandom. By the time he started publishing stories in Weird Tales he was already a stalwart of the American Amateur Press Association and related small-circulation pamphlets and publications, the equivalent of fanzines or these days websites like Lightspeed and Strange Horizons. For HPL, It was an outlet for Lovecraft-the-hermit’s bottled social instincts and in that controlled environment he thrived.

I’m sure all this was a key driver of the spread of the Lovecraft mythos. Seeing his ideas in other stories was a kind of a social reward for HPL, and so he encouraged it. He could be generous with time and encouragement, too, and that’s how the mythos story came in to being: HPL was the first SF writer to officially endorse fan fiction.

Lowndes is not without some chops. He starts on the right note:
We took Graf Norden’s body out into the November night under the stars that burned with a brightness terrible to behold and drove madly, wildly, up the mountain road. The body had to be destroyed because of the eyes that would not close, but seemed to be staring at some object behind the observer, the body that was entirely drained of blood without the slightest trace of a wound, the body whose flesh was covered with luminous markings, designs that shifted and changed form before one’s eyes.
The story’s replete with the necessary yog sothery – the dread Necronomicon and Book of Eibon put in an appearance, and Lowndes adds his own mysterious tome, The Song of Yste, from which he quotes liberally.

All the pieces are in place and it has a certain bizarre dream-like quality, but it doesn’t ever really takes off. Lowndes went on to become an editor of horror magazines and so clearly understood the necessaries, but perhaps he just never had the unhappy gristle of the sort that drove HPL on to such depths of gothic despair.

Our old friend An H PLovecraft Encyclopedia tells us that Lowndes got early encouragement from HPL and became a big deal on the fan scene in the 1940s. HPL was just two years dead when this story was published but already the Lovecraft circle had expanded outside of just the Weird Tales crew.

There are those who say that HPL’s enduring appeal is based on the power of his writing. Others will point to the role of the Call of Cthulhu RPG. I think one of the main reasons he endures is that Lovecraftiana endures in the roots of classic Anglo-American SF and the Lovecraft pastiche is one of the folk traditions that I think define genre SF. If you get the Lovecraft joke, you’re a proper fan.

It’s something that appeals to the gamer, puzzle fan type personality, the stereotypical SF fan. It’s still an initiation rite for a certain sort of writer. Not only is it an impenetrable and intriguing game that plays by it’s own obscure rules; it’s a shared set of ritual signs and greetings that says, ‘I am one of you.’ When a writer – then and now – writes a Lovecraft pastiche, it’s a way of informing their audience that they’re just like they are.

Themes: science-fantasy, Lovecraft pastiche, weird.

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