From Publishers Weekly
The Cthulhu Mythos-the myth pattern spun from the alien entities, forbidden books, and haunted New England towns of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction-is a popular fiction phenomenon that has inspired thousand of horror tales from fans and professionals writing under Lovecraft's spell since the 1920s. In this opinionated but entertaining study, the world's foremost Lovecraft scholar closely scrutinizes the Mythos and finds much to criticize. Separating out as the "Lovecraft Mythos" the stories in which Lovecraft developed his unique mythology, Joshi (H.P. Lovecraft: A Life) sees a distinct difference from the Cthulhu Mythos as practiced by most other writers, primarily in the absence of a cosmic perspective that gives the fictional horrors intellectual weight and gravity. Joshi lays the blame for the Mythos reducing Lovecraft's work to its most superficial aspects on Lovecraft's disciple August Derleth, who misinterpreted the intent of his mentor's work and created the template from which most Mythos fiction ever since has been struck. Though written for the small subculture of horror enthusiasts who will find its arguments provocative, this volume nevertheless offers cogent analyses of hundreds of horror stories that constitute an essential reading list for further study.
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Joshi divides his highly opinionated (and justifiably so) study into nine chapters. The first three deal with the Lovecraft Mythos an already well-defined term in Lovecraft studies which applies to the works of the (frankly inimitable) Providence writer himself, and his invented pseudomythology of gods, books, and sites which, to a greater or lesser degree, crop up across the whole of his oeuvre. The next two chapters cover Contemporaries (that is, contemporaries of Lovecraft): Long, Bloch, Wandrei, as well as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner, and Fritz Lieber. There follows a chapter on The Derleth Mythos, which critically examines Derleth s fatally flawed conception of the Lovecraft Mythos, and a chapter titled Interregnum, which interrogates works by writers such as Colin Wilson and Ramsey Campbell that preceded Lin Carter s study. The final two chapters, The Scholarly Revolution and Recrudescence, deal in short compass but with remarkable insight with the thirty-odd years of Cthulhu Mythos fiction that have appeared since the early 1970s, taking us up to 2008 with commentary on Mythos works of writers such as Richard L. Tierney, Thomas Ligotti, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Brian Lumley, Wilum Pugmire, Donald Tyson, and others. n his introduction, Joshi makes no bones about his expectation that written work attempting to continue Lovecraft s legacy should be possessed of intrinsic literary merits, making clear that his study will seek to distinguish between the scope of Lovecraft s achievement and what others have written in imitation of or homage to him. Joshi notes the tendency for literary neophytes to produce work of vastly variable quality, which often amounts to no more than a tepid rewriting of Lovecraft s own stories, stories that usually lack the cosmic perspective so central to Lovecraft s own views. In the chapters dealing with Lovecraft s own work, many perspicacious comments highlight aspects of tales that many of us have read, and read about, many times over; one of the delights of Joshi s criticism is that he continually re-evaluates the tales in the light of all current scholarly knowledge. Nor does he always assent to popular interpretations of them, making novel suggestions such as that the monster seen by the narrator of Dagon is not the object of worship, but one of the worshippers. The volume is valuable for Joshi s accumulated new insights into Lovecraft s work alone, and his assessment along the way of various opinions expressed by other Lovecraft scholars ranging from, inter alia, Will Murray through David E. Schultz to Robert M. Price. But of course the bulk of the study is given over to elaborations of the Mythos by other hands. While of necessity many story plots must be recounted, the joy of Joshi s retellings is his contextualisation of them, as he discusses how a given author developed his or her contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, and the critical appraisal of the literary merits (or otherwise) of each tale. The discussions of the stories of Long, Bloch, Lieber, and Kuttner are particularly enjoyable, as Joshi interweaves his unparalleled knowledge of publishing minutiae and timelines, the derivation of terms and entities, and the relation of information from Lovecraft s letters, to the literary cross-fertilisation that went on between Lovecraft and his fellow Weird Tales writers. The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos provides a rewarding, enjoyable, and cogent analysis of a literary phenomenon of modern literature. This entertaining and important study ought to find a place not only on the shelves of every serious reader of Lovecraft, but in the humanities and specialist fantasy collections of university libraries. --Lovecraft Annual 2009 - Leigh Blackmore