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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

GUEST POST: To Mythos or not to Mythos By. C.T. Phipps

I had a very difficult choice when I was writing my novel Cthulhu Armageddon and that was whether to make it a Cthulhu novel altogether. This isn't because I didn't want to play around with H.P. Lovecraft's creations, I most certainly did, or that they weren't an essential part of my story, they were. No, the problem with the choice to use the Cthulhu Mythos boiled down to controversy, expectations, and originality.

The controversy issue is one which I remain keenly aware of as a matter of sensitivity. The World Fantasy Award dropped Howard Phillips Lovecraft as the face of its prize last year for reasons of, well, the fact HPL was a big racist. How much of a racist he was is controversial but I don't really think it should be. Howard was always upfront about his beliefs, wrote about them a great deal, and themes of alienation along with xenophobia are constants in his writing. As far as we can tell, he never acted upon these beliefs but they remain an integral part of his style. It's telling Conan author Robert Howard, a man of his time as well, thought HPL was extreme.

My own politics are on the progressive side and they influence my writing. My concerns when writing a Cthulhu novel weren't whether or not I should shun HPL's creations: I don't think that at all since if I'm going to do that then the literature of the past 2000 years is going to be a problem. Everything from the works of Aristotle to Edgar Rice Burroughs were written by people who did not share my opinions or values. I can appreciate Lovecraft's gifts for creating monsters and modern mythology without defending his beliefs on race.

No, the larger issues of controversy was the fact I didn't know if I could resist commentating on it while I was working. Some of the most interesting Mythos fiction in recent years is Post-Lovecraftian fiction. The Litany of the Earth by Ruthanna Emrys and The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. Both stories comment on the racist underpinnings of the Cthulhu Mythos while coming at it from a place of love. The fact both are written by the sort of people Lovecraft would have difficulty with but were deeply influenced by his writing is no coincidence.

In the end, I decided to continue forward with the awareness I was going to be making a commentary on Lovecraft's writings simply because of the way I approached the story. Cthulhu Armageddon is a story which takes place in a post-apocalypse New Old West (or New Old East since it's in the ruins of Massachusetts). The protagonist is black, his companion is Eurasian, and the most horrible thing about the more humanlike monsters are their actions rather than the very thought of pure human blood being sullied.

Which brings me to the issue of expectations and the problems thereof. Is there only way to do H.P. Lovecraft's stories? Am I obligated, when playing around with his creations, to attempt to faithfully reproduce the nihilistic materialist universe? Bluntly, my inclinations to writing tend to involve shooting horrors in the face rather than endless destruction. Even if shoggoths are immune to bullets, I'm more of a fight than flight response. Brian Lumley, of Necroscope fame, provided me my inspiration as he wrote a seven book series about his heroic science heroes punching the Mythos in the face. If it was good enough for him, it was partially good enough for me. After all, my books were horror.

Just action horror.

I wanted to have characters which were part of an adaptive human race. I wanted the Great Old Ones to be neither good nor evil but like a meteor strike or zombie plague. I wanted to tell a story about how we dealt with an amoral force which destroyed the Earth. There would be horror in the sheer devastation but also a question of how humanity dealt with such nastiness by facing it.

To me, there's a lot of existential merit in the Cthulhu Mythos. If nothing we do matters, doesn't that mean all that matters is what we do? Humanity might never reclaim the world from the horrors beyond but how they dealt with each other was still a valid question of morality. Also, I wanted chase scenes with heroes on horseback as tentacled horrors followed them.

Finally, I had the issue of originality to consider. Did I really want to go through Lovecraft's world and use his creations versus making my own? In that, I give credit to Howard Phillips for being very generous with his creations. He openly shared his ideas and allowed other writers to use them in the manner they saw fit. There's no shame in wanting to play in another author's world if they're uncomfortable with it and I wanted to add my own spin on it rather than just pirate from the ruins.

In short, despite my apprehensions, I wanted to write my post-apocalypse Weird Western with Lovecraft's creations. I wanted it to be a mixture of my writing with the world as envisioned by the author and see what the resulting work was. I wanted to critique the areas I disagreed with while celebrating the ones I enjoyed. I like to think I've succeeded and if you ever want to see gunslingers vs. Deep Ones, then pick up my book and give it a whirl.


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Esoterrorism
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with C. T. Phipps
Read "Giving Back Vampires Their Bite" by C. T. Phipps (guest post)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: C.T. Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a lifelong geek. He is a regular blogger, reviewer for The Bookie Monster, and recently signed a deal with Ragnarok Publications to produce the urban fantasy series, The Red Room. C.T. Phipps is also the author of The Supervillainy Saga, the first book of which, The Rules of Supervillainy, was released in 2015.


Unknown said...

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