Robert M. Price
Editorial Note: The following interview dates to 1984. It has not been updated as far as Lumley's works coming out, but is being reprinted for his views on the Cthulhu Mythos, its fans and critics, and his fans and critics.
CRYPT: As you know, Lovecraft/Cthulhu Mythos enthusiasts are a fantatical bunch. And your own work in the Mythos has prompted both effusive praise and vitriolic criticism. Is there anything in particular that you suspect tends to cause one or the other reaction? E.g., is a certain type of person liable to be a Lumley critic instead of a Lumley fan, and vice versa?
LUMLEY: De Camp and Carter's Conan tales grate on the nerves of Howardians; the "new" adventures of James Bond irritate Fleming fans; August Derleth's pastiches and posthumous "collaborations" take a lot of stick from so-called Lovecraft purists. So why shouldn't I also cop it? On the other hand, why should I? Maybe I'm seen as some sort of plagiarist, like I'm in it for the money. What the fans should realize is this: that to get involved with HPL
and the Mythos to the degree that I have been is to be or to have been one heck-of-a-fan in my own right! I couldn't know the stuff as well as I do or write Mythos the way I do if I didn't love it as well as anyone around. Anyone
who says I don't is saying that Fantasy & Science Fiction, and Whispers, and Weirdbook, and DAW, and Jove, and Arkham House, etc., etc., etc., don't know their Deep Ones from their fungi! "House of Cthulhu" and "Born of the Winds" were nominated for World Fantasy Awards. "House of Cthulhu" and "Haggopian" (Whispers and Fantasy & Science Fiction) went on into the Year's Best Horror series. In fact "House of Cthulhu" was scheduled for both Year's Best Horror and Year's Best Fantasy, but since DAW did both books it could only appear in
one of them. In France Albin Michel has all five of my Titus Crow books in print. They are due to appear in Germany (again), and Burrowers is coming in Italy.
As for being in it for the money only: I got $400 advance for The Caller of the Black. I got only $1,500 for The Burrowers Beneath! Not that that's a complaint (at the time I'd have been happy with half that!); on the contrary, I enjoyed writing them and I am still in debt of Derleth and Wollheim for publishing them.
Vitriol . . . usually this has been from supposed and largely self-acclaimed Lovecraft "authorities" who never met the man or ever corresponded with him and are not creative writers themselves but truly fanatical "fans." Say one word against their hero (even a true word) and they would decapitate you! Let any publisher omit or misprint one word of one of HPL's stories and they faint in horror, moaning like souls in the torment of hell. So weak and ineffective are they in their own personal lives that they can barely exist without their spotless hero in his life -- which is the reason it must not be allowed to suffer from the tainted, tampering touch of any Johnnie (or Lumley) come lately. Oh, I'll explain the vitriol: these people eat, drink, sleep and fart HPL -- to his detriment! What they are chiefly, I believe, is this: they are frustrated would-be fictioneers! Can you seriously imagine any person who so loves Lovecraft and his work -- a person, that is to say, with an ounce of creative talent, with an ounce of imagination -- can you honestly imagine such a person who would not try his hand at writing a Mythos or Lovecraftian story? Of course they would -- but they can't! And so they decry and deride those of us who can.
Vitriol? . . . Jealousy! I mean, some of them would so dilute or diffuse the Mythos that it cannot be added to or extended . . . by such devious means as re-titling it (of all bloody awful things) the Yogge-Sothothe Cycle of Myth . . . ! As HPL himself might well say, what sort of hysterical Yogg-Sothothery is that?
As for the people who approve my work in this vein: they are quite simply readers. Not critics, not HPL-stricken fungous beasts, not frustrated, uninspired would-be scribblers who can't construct a single paragraph of gripping fiction, and not psychological "analysts" of a man dead these forty-five years, but readers! Fans I love; I was/am one myself. Fanatics . . . ? Hell-wind, titan blur . . . ugh . . . chchch . . . the three-lobed, burning green eye . . .
I have more friends than enemies; more readers than critics; more fun than foul-ups . . .
CRYPT: What do you see as the chief purpose of a Mythos story? Is the author trying to give the reader a fright? Is this even possible with the Mythos anymore? Or are Mythos stories an exercise in "camp": a happily predictable, nostalgic romp through familiar territory? Or something else altogether?
LUMLEY: The chief purpose of any story is to be entertaining. A horror story gives a certain frisson -- a difficult trick in these days of real life horrors. A Mythos tale is a combination of the two -- still more difficult in an era when vampires, ghouls, werewolves and zombies (not to mention sentient octopi, clusters of glittering globes and big frogs) must of course take a back seat to ICBMs and mushroom clouds. Then again, when you think of mushroom clouds . . . perhaps there was something in HPL's "fungi" after all! Anyway a good Mythos tale should not be completely predictable, nor should it be camp, but if it is capable of promoting nostalgia in the reader, well, that's a good sign. It seems the writer is close. But what a Mythos tale must be above all else is a story -- not just a mish-mash of Mythos references, hints and allusions. A good many "fan" writers seem to believe that if you write three or four thousand words of gibberish from the Necronomicon you have a story. Not so. Nor is it good enough any more to write a horror story and then throw in a few Mythos trimmings. I've tried it; it doesn't work.
CRYPT: What is your favorite type of horror tale? Do you enjoy reading Mythos stories more than other types? Do you prefer Poe, Machen, HPL, etc., to horror in a modern setting?
LUMLEY: My favourite type of horror tale? I don't know if "type" comes into it; there are those stories I like and those I don't. Perhaps my tastes are best illustrated by a list of favourites, not complete by any means and by no means in order of preference: "Count Magnus" (James), "The Black Stone" (Howard), "The Yellow Sign" (Chambers), "The Voice in the Night" (Hodgson), "The Haunter of the Dark" (HPL), "The Colour out of Space" (HPL), etc. Interesting to note that Derleth published all of these at one time or another. I suppose our tastes were pretty much alike. Anyway, I could extend it but I think you have the idea. In my opinion these are the cream of horror, the very essence of the genre. For sheer fantasy and wonder I would plump for Dunsany and CAS. I do prefer "antique" horror and fantasy to modern-setting stuff, yes.
CRYPT: What are your favorite Brian Lumley stories? Which do readers seem to enjoy most?
LUMLEY: Readers seem to like the Titus Crow shorts, and my stories based on oceanic horror. Crow: his shorts are not among my personal favourites, but I think the best of them is probably the novelette "Lord of the Worms." The Clock of Dreams and Beneath the Moors are probably my favourites among my published novels, emphasis on "published." "No Way Home," "Haggopian," "Whisperer," "House of the Temple," "Born of the Winds" would be among my best shorts and novelettes.
CRYPT: Readers have sniffed out various sources for your character Titus Crow, including Dr. Who, Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and Derleth's Dr. Laban Shrewsbury. It is obvious that Titus Crow stands in the broad tradition of "psychic investigators" like Carnacki and Jules de Grandin, but what specific
sources inspired Titus Crow?
LUMLEY: Readers have doubtless linked Crow with Dr. Who because of the time-clock; but the dear old clock was alive and well way back in 1934-35 in the superb Price-Lovecraft collaboration "Through the Gates of the Silver Key." And of course Crow is more occultist than scientist. As for Mervyn Peake: I blush to admit it but I still haven't read Gormenghast! The names were coincidental, that's all. Dr. Laban Shrewsbury? No, for I was never too keen on him. I like to see a man (or character) build as he goes. Crow started off small, got bigger, emerged full-grown. He established himself in the stories. They were vehicles. Shrewsbury seemed to come life-size right from square one. As for how Crow came to be: I wanted a pyschic (of sorts) sleuth who knew his Mythos. The shorts allowed Crow to accumulate bits of lore here and there, until he was ready to tackle the CCD from a position of stature in supernatural knowledge and erudition. His source . . . I'm not sure. But I've always had a soft spot for Van Helsing . . .
CRYPT: Can you give us a sneak peak at the long-awaited novel Return of the Deep Ones?
LUMLEY: No, I'm afraid I can't. Except to say that this is probably the closest I've come to HPL's original principles and conceptions, with perhaps the sole exception of Beneath the Moors. Fantasy Book has purchased Return of the Deep Ones for serialization. I've worked on the three parts so that each is integral, but of course it is best read as a novel. And it's a gripper; you can R'lyehpon it. Dave Carson will illustrate it in his best tentacular style.
CRYPT: Can you think of any other questions we should have asked you?
LUMLEY: Yes, you might have asked me about unpublished tales. Several of these are Mythos styled. Paul Ganley is ready to blast off with The House of Cthulhu & Other Tales of the Primal Land. I have a new tale in seventeen thousand words called "Dagon's Bell." "Necros" is a Lovecraftian tale due to appear in France but not yet in the States. Then there are three novels (yes, a trilogy) set in Lovecraft's dream worlds: Hero of Dreams, Ship of Dreams, Mad Moon of Dreams.
Finally, there's the Psychomech trilogy. Psychomech comes out over here in February '84 (Granada). Psychosphere should follow shortly thereafter. Psychamok! (or Brainquake) is due sometime after that. A total of about 330,000 words of Horror/SF, set in the present and immediate future, and not an "eldritch," an "outre" or an "unnameable" in sight!
Created: December 2, 1997; Updated: August 9, 2004