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The Watchers Out of Time: Fifteen soul-chilling tales by Paperback – October 14, 2008
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“Lovecraft is the twentieth century’s dark and baroque prince.”
About the Author
Almost completely ignored by the mainstream press during his lifetime, H. P. Lovecraft has since come to be recognized as one of the greatest writers of classic horror, on a par with Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft's mentor. H. P. Lovecraft's work has been translated into more than a dozen languages, his tales adapted for film, television, and comic books, and he has been the subject of more scholarly study than any other writer of horror fiction save Poe.
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Derleth is not a bad writer, but he is a bad mimicker of Lovecraft. So the most Lovecraftian of the stories are probably the worst. "The Shadow out of Space", for instance, is essentially the same plot as "The Shadow out of Time", only all the mystery and creepiness sucked out.
Probably the best of the Lovecraft-ish tales is "The Shuttered Room", which does a pretty good job of combining The Dunwich Horror and Shadow Over Innsmouth.
Far too many of the tales (including that one, actually) use the same exact plot: Person inherits a property, then discovers that the person he inherited it from was up to no good, which continues to happen beyond the grave.
Lovecraft almost used that device a couple of times, but he changed things a bit (like in The Call of Cthulhu, the person simple inherits some notes), when Derleth uses the devices, there's no subtlety.
One story, "The Lamp of Alhazred" is a very nice homage and tribute to Lovecraft. There a few other Innsmouth ones, one actually pretty decent ("Innsmouth Clay")
The title story is unfinished, and on the face of it, seems to have a very similar plot as "The Lurker at the Threshold" (a novel by Derleth under Lovecraft's name), only told from the narrator's point of view and set in Dunwich.
All in all, if you are a Lovecraft fan or a completest, it's worth picking up. But for most others it a pass.
Let us start by looking at the diction describing two monsters appearing in these pages:
"There, squatting in the midst of the tumbled bedding from that long-abandoned bed, sat a monstrous, leathery-skinned creature that was neither frog nor man, one gorged with food, with blood slavering from its batrachian jaws and upon its webbed fingers-- a monstrous entity that had strong, powerfully long arms, grown from its bestial body like those of a frog, and tapering off into a man's fingers, save for the webbing between the fingers..." ("The Shuttered Room,"158)
"This was the thing I had killed. Half-man, half-saurian, it was a ghastly travesty upon what had once been a human being. Its clothes were split and torn by the horrible mutilations of the flesh, by the crusted skin which had burst its bonds, its hands and unshod feet were flat, powerful in appearance, claw-like. I gazed in speechless terror at the shuddersome tail-like appendage which pushed bluntly out from the base of the spine, at the terrible elongated, crocodilian jaw, to which still grew a tuft of hair..." ("The Survivor," 24)
The first creature is a froglike monster (and therefore an amphibian). The second is a crocodile-type monster (and therefore a reptile). Derleth is thus perfectly correct to use "batrachian" ("amphibious") to describe the first creature. But in the buildup to the second tale, Derleth not only uses reptilian adjectives but also "batrachian" and "ichthic" ("fishlike") to describe his monster. The words may be visually impressive, but the biology isn't very sound.
But when we get to "The Fisherman of Falcon Point," we are clearly back to the word as it is meant to be used, describing a strange company of creatures off Devil's Reef, "neither entirely human nor entirely batrachian, amphibian creatures that passed through the water..." (165). They are gilled but leave webbed footprints on land.
The word "rugose" ("ruffled") has only one specialized use in the book that I know of-- but a noteworthy one. "Rugose cones" (102) is repeatedly used to describe the giant aliens from the library in "The Shadow Out of Space". I have not checked to see if Lovecraft used the word in "The Shadow Out of Time," but I bet he did.
"Eldrich" (meaning old and uncanny) is a word that Derleth loves to use. A partial listing of this word includes: "eldrich things" (4), "eldrich rites" (15), "eldrich customs" (32), and "eldrich books" (99). Perhaps I should say to readers at this point that "eldrich" never modifies _anything_ good. So if you are approached by a dark stranger with reptilian eyes and cold, fishlike breath and webbed fingers who offers you a position as a member of an eldrich organization, _turn him down flat_. Then pack your bags and get out of town while the getting is good.
I was never able to detect the use of "cyclopean" in this collection. But I did detect the use of "megalithic" (117) masonry to describe the alien architecture in "The Shadow Out of Space" and several uses of the word "colossal". Nor did I spot the use of "antediluvian" (before the flood). But there was a pretty impressive description of the "primeval Old Ones" (25). Here are some other Lovecraftian words that I have culled from the collection at random: "miasma" (13), "hallucinatory" (14), "gambrel-roofed" (25), "compendious" (31), "leathern" (58), "mummified" (58), "subterranean"(87), "phenomenom" (76), and "cataclysmic" (92).
So how well does August Derleth do when it comes to handling Lovecraftian diction? Pretty well, actually. I suspect that he uses some of the words a bit more than Lovecraft himself actually used them in his own stories. There are a few places where he slips over the meaning of the words. But not many. On the whole, his usage of words like batrachian, saurian, eldrich, ichthic, rugose, and subterranean seem to be those of a writer who knows their meaning.
You can argue that Derleth's diction is not as _creative_ as that of Lovecraft. But this is surely nit-picking. It is certainly a fairly good imitation. In this collection, you will find an assortment of Elder Gods, eldrich rituals, and batrachian, saurian, ichthic, and skeletal creatures. Plus several witches and warlocks. They may not be authentic Lovecraft stories. But they are authentic Lovecraft imitations.
*See my reviews of _The Survivor & Others_ (1957), by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth and _The Shuttered Room and Other Tales of Horror_(1971), by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth