The Cry of Cthulhu

Review: The Cry of Cthulhu, Byron Craft, 2013. 

Cover by Tom Sullivan

This  ur-text for much of Craft’s later solo writings in the Cthulhu Mythos ranges from the last days of the Third Reich to the eve of the Vietnam War’s Tet Offensive to 1980s Germany and points far beyond in time and space.

Essentially, this is a haunted house story and a haunted world story. After all, aren’t most Lovecraft stories hauntings of a sort?

Not only is this the start of the Mythos Project serie, but the Windlass device, such a central part of the Time Loopers anthology and Craft’s story in it, “The Comatose Man”, is a crucial element. Professor Ironwood of that story shows up as do the pilot demons and Tanists of Craft’s Arkham Detective series.

The book has an interesting history. It started out as a screenplay adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” that was turned into the novel The Alchemist’s Notebook which then was retitled. Evidently, according to an interview I found with Craft, the film project halted when he and his partners wouldn’t sell the script to producer Dino De Laurentis. The novel even has some reproductions of pre-production artwork by Tom Sullivan.    

The book, between the foreword and afterword from Ironwood, is composed of three first person narratives: a transcript of Faren Church’s recordings, the notebook of his wife Janet, and the journal of alchemist – and Faren’s great-uncle – Heinrich Todesfall. 

Ironwood tells us he stole the “Alchemist’s Papers” from Miskatonic University in 1984.  Rather like the narrator of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, he is an academic, a physic professor, at Miskatonic University, and he believes, reluctantly, horrifying truths must be revealed: 

that the individual stories of Faren and Janet Church, and Faren’s great Uncle Heinrich Todesfall, constitute a warning to an already endangered world and should not be suppressed. The rampant ignorance in the world has left me no alternative but to come out of hiding and go public with the documents. 

This novel is quite different in tone and emotion from the pulp action of Craft’s Arkham Detective series. It produces genuine terror and suspense over a long period and some surprises even after the climax.

The main story setting, the 1960s to early 1980s, is a somewhat unique historical time period for Mythos stories.

I can only speculate that Craft chose Germany as the primary location because it would be cheaper to produce a film set mostly there rather than the far-ranging locales of Lovecraft’s story, particularly its finale in the Pacific Ocean.

The Churches’ individual accounts are recorded in extremis.

Janet tells of her early days with Faren. It was love at first sight when she went away with him in the late 1960s. The charming Faren supported their travels through America by photographing sites of local interest. Then he was drafted into the Vietnam War, a war he didn’t support – not for pacifist reasons but because of the ludicrous strategy of de-militarized areas and no-fly zones.

Back from the war, Faren is a listless figure. He gives up photography and works at various odd jobs.

But salvation comes in the form of a job ad that seems tailor-made for Faren and, coincidentally, he inherits his great-uncle’s estate in Germany.

But the isolated house has an evil reputation among the locals. There are war graves on site and Heinrich’s massive and strange tombstone.

There’s also local doctor Peter von Tassell who seems rather condescending to pregnant Janet and evasive about his friend, the late Heinrich.

Heinrich’s house has strange rooms and, perhaps, a presence, and, in all those days when Faren is far away at work, Janet becomes more troubled by what she sees and experiences. But Faren just pretends nothing much is wrong even though he himself has had disturbing experiences, learned strange things.

In fact, the whole plot is dependent on almost every character – Peter, Faren’s boss, and Faren – not being truthful about what they know and their agendas. In lesser hands, that could be unconvincing and strike the reader as all too convenient, but Craft makes it work.

So what of Cthulhu? Well, Cthulhu is a factor in the story. But the main “deity” is Yath-Notep, seemingly an invention of Craft’s. Craft reasonably justifies his conceit of making him and Germany the center of the story with the idea that the Necronomicon became corrupted in parts with various translations.

It all reaches a crescendo one night as the planets near alignment and the dead and other things rise from the soil of Germany.

It’s an impressive Mythos novel in its suspense, structure, and setting, and well worth a look for the Mythos fan, a combination of the gothic and Lovecraftian, a haunted house story and alien science.

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