|DELTA GREEN: COUNTDOWN, Dennis Detwiller, Adam Scott Glancy, and John Tynes (with additional material by Adam Crossingham, John H. Crowe III, Daniel Harms, Davide Mana, Graeme Price, and divers hands). Cover painting by Blair Reynolds. Interior illustrations by Toren G. Atkinson, Dennis Detwiller, Heather Hudson and John T. Snyder. Seattle: Pagan Publishing, 1999. 424 pages. $39.95 ISBN 1-887797-12-2.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
[Reviewed by Michael Tice]
If you love Delta Green, then Delta Green: Countdown is likely to answer your prayers for more detail, more background and more ideas to infuse into an ongoing campaign. Like DG, Countdown is a sourcebook, not an anthology of adventures. The bulk of this weighty tome, roughly two hundred pages, is devoted to meticulous background information on eight organizations involved in Mythos activity in some way. Some will clearly be antagonists for Delta Green teams, others may be uneasy allies. In this business, there are no staunch allies.
Twenty pages are devoted to the "Hastur Mythos." From the very first issue of The Unspeakable Oath, Pagan Publishing's flagship magazine of Lovecraftian role-playing, it has been clear that John Tynes feels a very personal connection with Hastur and the congeries of ideas that surround Him. This chapter elaborates those earlier articles, and provides a beautiful blueprint for how to send investigators into the domain of the King in Yellow.
Then there follow several appendices. The first discusses the introduction of psychic powers into the game. The second consists of several expert scientific reports on Mythos entities prepared by Professor Emerson. These would make excellent prop handouts, when the agents ask their superiors, "What do we know about fish-men?"
A short appendix adds a few skills to the repertoire of the DG operative. Another hundred page appendix gives thumbnail sketches of international and (mostly non-US) government agencies who might become involved in Mythos shenanigans. These listings follow the model used in DG for US agencies.
Finally, there are three adventures, totaling some seventy pages of text. The third of these is touted as a mini-campaign, but I think the prefix micro- is more appropriate. Or rather, this adventure, "Dead Letter," would serve as the introductory adventure for a campaign featuring everyone's favorite South American immigrants.
The Finer Points (including some spoilers)
Astute readers will have noticed my use of the conditional: "If you love Delta Green, . . ." Frankly, I do not, and I want to make my bias clear before continuing with my review which is by no means a negative one. Indeed, I know that John Tynes and I have somewhat different philosophies when it comes to gaming. I don't intend to assert that I am right and he is wrong, but simply to acknowledge that role-playing is an art that allows for several different Schools. Perhaps some will mock my assertion that role-playing is an art, but for those who have experienced a really good game run by a master, whether it be Gamma World or Elfquest, will know whereof I speak.
For me, part of the horror of a Call of Cthulhu game stems from the fact that there is generally no one to turn to for help. In some cases, one can call on the police to arrest a murderer, or disband a cult, but usually the investigators must go toe to toe with the Mythos and use their own resources and ingenuity to defeat it. They are the representatives of humanity, the scrappy underdogs, who have to face down the ancient evil and defeat it. After a few introductions to the Mythos, the investigators learn that they cannot go to the authorities with their wild and improbable stories. And they inevitably begin to utilize extralegal means for solving their problems, further isolating themselves from society. This theme of isolation, or alienation, is noted by Tynes as central to the experience of the "The Hastur Mythos," and yet the existence of an organization like Delta Green tends to undercut these feelings.
One may say what one likes about the interagency suspicion and rampant paranoia within the not-quite-organization that is Delta Green, but the fact remains that there is some larger entity that the investigators can go to for help. Having an FBI badge can open a lot of doors. They know that there are bands of capable people organized to fight off the menace of the Mythos. And that's a comforting thought. Why offer comfort to investigators? Well, the answer is so that you can have a different kind of Call of Cthulhu game. It's not one that appeals to me, but the enduring popularity of the X-Files demonstrates that I may be in the minority. Delta Green is perfectly suited for running games in that sort of milieu.
A second major philosophical difference involves the level of background detail necessary for running a game. If you look at other Pagan products, like Coming Full Circle or Mortal Coils, you'll notice that some of the adventures are heavy on background, light on plot. John ably defended this view after my review of Mortal Coils, and I've little desire to hash that out again.
However, most Keepers will modify adventures to suit their own needs, or to fix perceived errors or stupidities. The more detail there is, the more chance that something needs to be changed, but those annoying details may be locked in by the huge web of circumstance that the writers
To be more specific, I find the idea of ancient occultist Nazis boring. So the Karotechia section of DG is just a big waste of time. Adventures in which they appear may require a lot of retooling before they are acceptable. Every time I see MJ-12 in DG, I want to giggle, since the organization is predicated on a well-known set of fraudulent documents. "The Fate" is the Mafia crossed with Nyarlathotep cultists -- yawn. Dozens of pages are devoted to these
I'm very pleased to say that the featured organizations in Countdown are much more interesting. PISCES is a UK-version of Delta Green. Unfortunately, PISCES has been infiltrated and perverted in just the sort of way that Delta Green operatives fear that Delta Green might someday be. The Army of the Third Eye acts as a foil to PISCES, but is just as likely to be
targeted by Delta Green as an unfriendly organization as PISCES itself. An introductory news article and "briefing" set up many ideas for the launching of a campaign focusing on the actions of PISCES, but the Keeper is left to come up with his own situations and adventures.
GRU SV-8 is a Russian counterpart to Delta Green. The Skoptsi are everyone's favorite cult of self-castrating Russians. I would have liked a sidebar discussing the genuine real-world Skoptsi, as distinguished from the Mythos-fueled version. In fact, in many places I would have liked a brief statement of the facts upon which the fantasy is based. In many places, authentic pieces of history are referred to, and linked to the fabric of the Mythos. Things as topical as Kosovo, Air America and the resumption of Native American whaling are referred to in the same breath as the Great Old Ones. This is the same sort of verisimilitude that made Lovecraft's stories so effective, but I wish the authors had provided sources and bibliographies to demonstrate what's real and what's not. (The section on Tiger Transit does, in fact, share some details about the real life CIA-run airlines on which it is based, as well as the real-life nefarious tobacco company shenanigans that form part of the story.) Perhaps it's churlish to demand a bibliography in a work that is already massive, but I would trade GRU SV-8 for a bibliography in a second.
The OUTLOOK Group is an interesting bioscience corporation. They are ambivalent enough that they could be considered friends or foes depending on how they are presented. Phenomen-X is a tabloid TV show that focuses on the paranormal and unusual. They learned just a little bit too much in Groversville, Tennessee. Again, a useful group whose connection to DG operatives can go either way. The D Stacks of the American Museum of Natural History contain those Damned Things that Science Cannot Explain! Presented as a helpful resource, the D Stacks seem to me to be the perfect place for some sort of horrible accident to occur. Another section dwells on the ghouls who dwell beneath the Big Apple.
I enjoy John Tynes elaboration of "The Hastur Mythos" very much. Within it are contained the seeds of a genuine mini-campaign. One focused on the disturbing nature of the surreal as it pierces into one's daily life. Although couched in Delta Green terms, the ideas presented are much more universal than the world of DG. I see this as a definite plus, as it can form the basis
of a series of linked adventures in any CoC campaign, or perhaps an Unknown Armies
campaign, where it might fit even better. A description of the King in Yellow Tarot will appeal to those who like that sort of thing.
As a thorough materialist and skeptic when it comes to the paranormal and supernatural, I eyed the appendix on psychic powers with some trepidation. Fortunately, my fears were largely ungrounded. John H. Crowe III has offered clear and useable game mechanics for introducing psychic powers into the game. I am delighted that some skeptical statements grace the material, such as the fact that there is a Psychic Surgery power and a Psychic Surgery skill, the latter being the sort of stage magic fakery that earns the bread of many a Philippine psychic surgeon (and has killed people who have ignored conventional treatment -- comedian Andy Kaufman among them). Keepers are free to make vapid nonsense like iridology and cereology genuine or bogus in his game world. My soapbox is starting to show, so I'll just be quiet and not mention other quibbles like the repeated misspelling of the word haruspicy. Oops. Well, Crowe provides
a bibliography, so I praise his extra effort, especially since he knows so much about firearms.
As I mentioned before, there are a hundred-odd pages of info on international agencies. Full credit for completeness, but the value of the information is not very high in my opinion. A few notes on the firearm laws in the UK and Canada are very welcome.
Finally, the scenarios. "A Victim of the Art" by Dennis Detwiller concerns a string of grisly murders on Long Island. As such, it could easily be transferred into a non-DG scenario. A plus in my opinion. The scenario is well drawn: very clever operatives will get the ideal clue while slower investigators will have to suffer through a few more deaths. A nice addition would have been the names and circumstances of these later deaths. Also, the "best" solution leaves something to be desired. As stated, the monster loves to eat people, so the elimination of the macguffin should not stop the deaths. So the players get to go up against the evil -- so much the better.
"Night Floors" by Detwiller also has a nice feel. Plenty of creepy details as the investigators look into the disappearance of a young artist. Again, the use of this scenario to a non-DG setting would be simple. The adventure also would serve as a great introduction to a Hastur Mythos campaign. On the minus side, there are no good solutions to the problem, and there is not much complexity to the whole setup.
"Dead Letter" by Adam Scott Glancy is a much more substantial adventure (though not quite a mini-campaign in my opinion). It would be more difficult to convert this adventure to a non DG setting, but not impossible. The hook is that Postal Inspectors have discovered a package with something rather grisly inside. Long time fans of Pagan Publishing should have no difficulty determining what's inside the package. Converting the adventure might be as simple as allowing the package to reach its destination, and having the recipient contact the investigators to look into the matter. Investigation will take the PC's to a chemical laboratory on a reservation in Montana, where unusual chemicals have been prepared at the behest of the Karotechia. Until an accident. I like this scenario a great deal, even if it has Nazis in it. The use of neo-Nazi types is a chilling, but deft, touch.
All in all, Delta Green: Countdown is another quality product from Pagan Publishing. The art is consistently wonderful -- I was particularly struck by some of Detwiller's sharp foreground/hazy background illustrations . . . a beautiful effect. And Toren, I love you, man. There are just a few things missing from Delta Green: Countdown that ought to be there -- a bibliography, and a collation of the new Mythos tomes and spells presented throughout the text. If you're into the Delta Green ethos, this is just the thing for you. If you aren't, then the hefty price tag may not make it a worthwhile purchase, since not all of the material is generic enough to be used in a standard Cthulhu Now campaign.
These two booklets can be ordered through Tsathoggua Press.
|BEYOND THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, Epic Antarctic Campaign & Sourcebook, The Starkweather-Moore Expedition of 1933-34 by Charles and Janyce Engan (with additional material by Michael Blum, John Goodrich, Phil Anderson, Marion Anderson, Mike Lay, Rob Montanaro, Frederic Moll, Mike Hodge, Steve Hill, Sophia Caramagno, Daniel Rohrer, Reginald Winston). Cover painting John T. Snyder. Interior illustrations by Paul Carrick and M. Wayne Miller. Maps and diagrams Michael Blum. Oakland: Chaosium Inc., 1999. 438 pages and loose map. $39.95. ISBN 1-56882-138-7.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Cover illustration © John T. Snyder.
|MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION PACK, by Charles Engan (with additional material by Michael Blum, Jan Engan, John Goodrich, and Chaosium Inc. Cover illustration by John Snyder. Graphics by Lisa Disterheft. Oakland: Chaosium Inc., 1999. $19.95. ISBN 1-56882-145-X.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Expedition patch © Lisa Disterheft.
[Reviewed by Michael Tice]
Whew! There's barely enough room on the title page for all those names. So many people were involved in its production, let's hope there are enough Lovecraftians left to buy this thing.
Yes, it's big. Very big. But is it any good? In a word, yes. The campaign follows the travails of the Starkweather-Moore Expedition in its attempt to pierce the mysteries of Antarctica. Among those mysteries is the investigation of just what happened to the failed Miskatonic Expedition of 1930-31. Professor Dyer's manuscript, i.e. HPL's "At the Mountains of Madness," has not been publicly released, and a more conventional explanation has been disseminated. However, many questions still remain, and the investigators are among those chosen to look into the matter.
In a very real sense, and this is where the campaign succeeds the most; Beyond the Mountains of Madness is a true sequel to Lovecraft's novel. It may be in the form of a role playing campaign, but it is a sequel nonetheless. Occasionally this is a liability, in that the adventure assumes the investigators will choose a certain course. At a few places, I think the investigators will confound these expectations. Fortunately, the campaign abounds with enough description of the principal actors, their motivations and timelines for their actions, that going off the clearly marked trail probably won't cripple the campaign.
Perhaps the finest praise I can offer is that at several points as I read through the adventure, I wanted to be there so bad I could taste it. That first sight, through a frost-clouded airplane window, of the City of the Old Ones! On the whole, the campaign is excellent -- in what follows, I may tend to focus on the details that annoyed me, but don't lose sight of the fact that this is a thrilling adventure, a worthy successor to Chaosium's previous triumphs: Masks, At Your Door and the Orient Express.
The Finer Points (including spoilers, so don't read if you're gonna play)
The campaign is designed for the usual group of six investigators, though the situation of an Antarctic Expedition can easily accommodate more or less, inasmuch as the Starkweather-Moore Expedition (SME) will number thirty or forty people. I suggest using entirely new characters for the campaign, though a couple with knowledge of the Mythos would not be unwelcome. However, it would be hard to get the average group of private eyes, flappers and librarians involved in an Antarctic Expedition. The first few segments of the campaign involve the expedition leaders' efforts to recruit members, and they are only interested in serious applicants with useful skills. What do the characters have to offer? Scientists, engineers and pilots have an obvious place, but there is room for others as well. Some might make interesting choices: dog handler, mountaineer or cartographer. The investigators learn a little bit about the men behind the expedition and a littler bit about the previous Miskatonic Expedition. Running note: have Starkweather turn down the applications of one or two of the players (especially any female characters) and add some drama to a last-minute selection.
There follows a great deal of logistical labor that should not be glossed over. Instill in your players the idea that their lives will depend on what they take with them to the Antarctic. Logistics is a serious business. Get them involved in knowing what supplies the expedition has. The campaign does a good job of forcing the investigators to do so. Don't skip this section.
Murder, kidnapping and sabotage alert the players that this is no ordinary expedition. Inquisitive players may learn a little something about the previous Miskatonic Expedition, and may gain a useful ally in Nicholas Roerich, the philanthropist and painter whose forbidding mountainscapes inspired some of the imagery in Lovecraft's novel. The introduction of Roerich into the adventure is just the sort of real-world connection I love in Call of Cthulhu adventures, at least when handled deftly as it is here. Other information leads the players to Poe's "Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." The supposition that this work is based on fact is a less successful intrusion of the 'real world' on the campaign, even given the tenuous link between Poe's work and HPL's novel. Of more immediate interest to the players is the knowledge that other Antarctic expeditions are also getting underway; suspicion and paranoia are inflamed.
The ship travel from New York City to the Antarctic is enlivened by lessons in Polar Survival, lessons in ballroom dance, further sabotage and an age-old naval ceremony that I was pleased to see included in the campaign.
At last, one hundred pages into the book, the expedition arrives at the Ice and establishes a base camp. Again, I urge Keepers to dwell on the many details involved in setting up the camp. The Appendix on Polar Survival should be read by the Keeper before every game session. Wear down those miserable humans with frostbite, chillblains and snow blindness. Torture them until they think they're almost dead. And then spring the monsters on them.
An uneasy truce between the various expeditions ensues. No trust exists -- they are only brought together by the certain realization that non-cooperation can mean death under the extreme circumstances of the Antarctic.
From base camp, portions of the SME and other expeditions locate and land near Lake's camp. Discoveries there are hideous and thought-provoking. Some of the true story of the MU expedition is revealed. The investigators are then among the few who take flight for the Miskatonic Mountains . . . i.e., the Mountains of Madness.
From the human-populated world, to the base camp on the Ross Ice Shelf, to Lake's ill omened camp, through the pass in the Mountains of Madness, the players leave behind safety bit by bit, until there is no margin for error left. Frozen, and existing only on as much oxygen as they can carry up to the extreme altitudes of the Miskatonics, the players tread a dangerous path. One that needs no calamitous events to be life-threatening. But calamity is at hand, from various sources. We all know about the fantastic city that exists on that frigid plateau. But the investigators are forced to investigate beyond that point, into lands unvisited by even Danforth and Dyer. What could be worse than what those shattered men experienced? The threat of the Unknown God.
One tip for running this section is that when (not if) you reread "At the Mountains of Madness," read it with the interpretation that the Elder Things are the protagonists of the story. They are very sympathetic characters, and terribly alien at the same time. I've always felt sorry for the poor things: woken up and kidnapped by monkeys who were systematically vivisecting them. Getting a good grip on Old One psychology is a necessity.
The thematic climax of the campaign comes as the humans are forced to fix a piece of Old One machinery. I found the solution to be a bit of a cheat, and not likely to be very satisfactory to the players.
During the denouement, the players struggle just to survive Antarctica and get out alive. They have a marvelous opportunity to emerge as heroes or as villains, depending on the choices they make. They may also have to decide just what to report to the outside world. Like Dyer and Danforth, they are part of a select few who know the truth; what do they do with it? Some tasty role-playing should emerge from this section.
An 'epilogue' adventure is rather reminiscent of John Carpenter¹s remake of The Thing. It left me, if you'll pardon the expression, cold. It is easily excised if it offends you.
This brings us to page 285; the remaining 150 pages are appendices. As mentioned before, the appendix on Antarctic Survival is full of useful details that must be incorporated into the campaign. Brief historical timelines of Antarctic exploration offer much for the imagination as well. "Appendix 3: Deep Background" contains some interesting notes on Elder Thing writing, but really offers no useful way to incorporate it into the adventure. Manifests of the various expeditions and stats for their members will be constantly in use. Handouts, maps and a beautiful character sheet emblazoned with the SME logo round out the package. The tipped-in map displays the paltry knowledge available to the Expedition about Antarctica. I almost hate to let my players draw all over it, but so be it. As much as I like BtMoM, I'm not buying another one just for a pristine map.
A Few Paragraphs of Kvetching
There is not as much art in the book as one might expect. Several scenes are well illustrated by large drawings, but I wanted more. There are dozens of tiny little portraits of all the expedition members, but I think that fewer, more detailed portraits of the important NPCs would have been better.
The prose at times reads very much like a novel. I think more editing might have resulted in a slimmer book. If you're not going to instruct Keepers to "Read the following to the players," then descriptions should be kept to a functional minimum, and the Keeper should be allowed to wax poetical on the fly. At certain crucial times, NPCs are given particular lines to say. These are good for establishing character, but you should allow the PCs to react before making the NPCs chime in.
On the whole the editing and consistency is fantastic for a book of this length. At one point, one expedition knows who is responsible for a certain act of sabotage . . . later, they seem to have forgotten it. A trivial point. The other thing I noticed may be an abandoned plot idea. I call it "The Importance of being Vredenburgh." Vredenburgh is the name of a character in Poe's 'Pym.' In the campaign, Vredenburgh is also the name of someone trying to obtain the last chapters of the Pym Narrative. And Vredenburgh is the name of the captain of the ship that takes the SME to Antarctica. However, there is no apparent significance to this unlikely coincidence.
I just got the ancillary Antarctic Expedition Pack, and really cannot see that it justifies its price of $19.95. There are some cool things in here, though. A nice Keeper's map of Antarctica with all the neat things marked. Four (?!?) boarding passes for your four favorite players. A temp tattoo, expedition decal and expedition patch. A nice prop of the unpublished chapters of the Pym Narrative -- it is printed on a folded uncut folio page. And all the newspaper clippings are present, with authentic (and largely Antarctic-themed) advertisements on the reverse sides. Why, oh why, could they not have included copies of the other handouts? The Keeper screen has excellent art of strangely symmetrical mountains, and has the additional advantage of keeping the Frostbite Table and the Aircraft Failure Table within reach at all times.
You can obtain Beyond the Mountains of Madness at , , .
You can obtain Miskatonic University Antarctic Expection Pack at .
|THE ANNOTATED H.P. LOVECRAFT, edited and with an introduction by S.T. Joshi. New York: Dell, 1997. 360 pages. $12.95. ISBN 0-440-50660-3.|
This originally appeared on the alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup.
Cover illustration © Nicholas Roerich.
[Reviewed by Michael Tice]
Four of Lovecraft's finest pieces appear in this volume: "The Rats in the Walls," "The Colour Out of Space," "The Dunwich Horror" and "At the Mountains of Madness." Noted Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi has provided introductions and textual notes to the stories. Tiny tributes to Lovecraft from contemporary authors are also squeezed into the interstices, including Brian Aldiss' delightful "The Adjectives of Erich Zann." Joshi has also provided a few selections from Lovecraft's letters on the subject of weird fiction. As a final lagniappe, Joshi includes a brief essay on Lovecraft's work in film and television.
Joshi's status as a commentator on Lovecraft's life and work is well-established. The editorial work he has performed on the Arkham House editions of Lovecraft's ouevre will guarantee his
eternal reputation in Lovecraft scholarship. His biography of HPL, despite somewhat limp prose, will surely remain the definitive work. Later writers may refine or correct it, but Joshi has set down the basic corpus. It is unfortunate, therefore, that the book under review suffers from so many flaws in conception, execution and production.
The Finer Points
Joshi’s introduction is an excellent précis of his Lovecraft biography. Twenty pages take us from cradle to grave, providing a brief but excellent introduction to Lovecraft’s life and work.
Next, we are presented with several of Lovecraft's best works, annotated by Joshi. Although some of the annotations are thought-provoking or illuminating, I did not find as much here as I had hoped or expected. One wonders how Joshi perceived his target audience. I imagine the likely market for the book to comprise literary-minded folk who are already Lovecraft devotees. As such, they want insight into how Lovecraft put his stories together, and the connections that exist between various Lovecraft stories. This Joshi handles fairly well, with excerpts from Lovecraft's letters that bear upon particular passages, or with discussions of the first appearance and development of common Lovecraftian elements such as Arkham or the Necronomicon. His glosses of obscure or antiquated terms is also helpful. Unfortunately, at times Joshi refers the interested reader to other Lovecraft scholarship, giving references to various journal articles. If one had access to that journal, one would not need an Annotated Lovecraft.
However, since his audience is likely to be reasonably well-educated and literate enough to read and enjoy Lovecraft's stories, I found myself insulted by the vocabulary that Joshi chose to gloss. Such definitions comprise a large portion of Joshi's annotations. Readers will be treated to explanations of such recondite words as 'plethora,' 'opalescent' and 'Stygian' (where Joshi only includes its etymology, neglecting to note its secondary meaning of 'dark or gloomy' which appears pertinent given the context of its use: "sightless Stygian worlds"). These are perhaps the most irritating glosses, but there are many others that I felt were unnecessary. All of Lovecraft's favorite words are also glossed -- eldritch, cyclopean, foetor, etc. These are words that most Lovecraft devotees ought to know, though I can't fault Joshi for glossing them, since many are indeed obscure.
On the other hand, certain words and phrases did not merit a gloss in Joshi's opinion. One such is 'hare-and-hounds,' which appears in "At the Mountains of Madness" (p. 253 in this edition). Maybe I grew up in the wrong part of the United States, but I had no idea what this referred to until I checked a dictionary which confirmed my guess from the context of the passage.
Joshi's glossing of scientific terms is generally good, but often appear to betray a lack of understanding of the term, outdated information or outright errors. My own background in physics perhaps makes me sensitive to these subtleties. For instance, his gloss on 'new elements' states that at the time "The Colour Out of Space" was written, 90 of the 92 naturally occurring elements had been discovered. Although Uranium is the last naturally occurring element, and its atomic number is 92, technetium (atomic number 43) does not occur in nature. As its name implies, it was created artificially; all of its isotopes are radioactive. Perhaps this is hairsplitting, but Joshi goes on to say that 'at least' thirteen more elements have been created artificially. The actual number is closer to twenty. He finishes off by stating that 'some scientists' believe the maximum number of elements is 168. I have no idea where he got this idea, unless it is from the fact that some periodic tables finish up their last period with element 168, but this has everything to do with the typography of the table and nothing to do with the actual existence of elements.
Occasionally the scientific glosses are unilluminating dictionary entries, particularly the various paleontological terms from "At the Mountains of Madness." "mososaur: An extinct Leipdosaurian [sic?] marine reptile known from the Cretaceous; ancestor of various species of lizard." If you were really interested to know what this is, you would need to know what a Leipdosaur (or more probably Lepidosaur) is. I admit that my curiosity is not that intense; I would have settled for "Cretaceous ancestor of certain lizards."
Another warning I would issue about the annotations is that most occurrences of the word 'clearly' seem to grace assertions that I would be inclined to describe as 'doubtful.' A notable instance is his gloss on 'arras,' which Joshi states is 'a clear nod to Poe.' But owners of drafty castles (or priories) have always dressed the walls in tapestry. Nor does the Delapore arras perform any function other than as descriptive detail. One might just as well say that it is a clear nod to Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which play Polonius conveys himself behind an arras.
I made my own small discovery as I attempted to check various facts. At one point in "At the Mountains of Madness," our narrator burbles, "Corona Mundi ... Roof of the World ..." Joshi footnotes the first term as referring to a mountainous region of present-day Tadzhikistan. However, I found that Corona Mundi is also the name of a philanthropic organization founded by Nicholas Roerich in 1922:
In 1920 the Roerichs came to America. The paintings of Nicholas Roerich were exhibited with success in dozens of towns and cities, new assistants and helpers appeared. Roerich continued his cultural and educational activity. In 1921 Master Institute of United Arts was opened in New York. The most important goal of it was seen by Roerich in driving peoples together through culture and arts. About the same time a union of artists "Cor Ardens" was established in Chicago, and in 1922 an international cultural centre "Corona Mundi" appeared. In November of 1923 the New York Roerich Museum was opened, it contained a rich collection of the artist's works. That year, on the 2nd of December 1923 the artist's dream came true, and the Roerichs arrived to India.
Roerich, of course, undertook many expeditions into mountainous regions of Asia, and painted the forbidding landscapes which so inspired Lovecraft's great Antarctic novel. Apparently, the Corona Mundi organization still exists, with headquarters in Switzerland. Lovecraft's use of the term probably stems from his admiration for Roerich.
But this is neither here nor there. It is The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft I should be discussing. The excerpts from Lovecraft's correspondence (concerning his conception of weird fiction) are interesting when placed together. They demonstrate the consistency of Lovecraft's views, though I think that limiting those views to the word 'cosmicism,' as Joshi is wont to do, is an oversimplification.
The 'bonus' essay on Lovecraft in film and in TV covers information that has been covered many times before. Nevertheless, Joshi's amateur film criticism is quite good, meaning that his opinions generally agree with mine. It was refreshing to hear that Joshi likes Re-Animator and The Resurrected.
Finally, a few words on the physical book itself. Although the back cover declares that the book is 'generously illustrated,' I was annoyed by the fact that the illustrations are not graced with captions. Thus, in order to determine just which Antarctic explorer is the jaunty fellow in the oil painting on page 182, one must refer to the list of illustrations at the beginning of the book. That said, I did enjoy the several Roerich paintings reproduced in the book (in addition to the one reproduced in color on the cover). It must also be uniquely frustrating for Joshi that the texts of the stories are corrupted with typos. Many of them are of the "from/form" variety that pass through spell-checkers, but would not elude a careful proofreader. My favorite is from note 130 on page 250, where Joshi refers to Lovecraft's famous story, "The Rates in the Walls."
In summation, a major disappointment. Even if the various typos were fixed, and captions added to the illustrations, the amount of insight to be gleaned from the annotations may not make the volume worthwhile to the Lovecraft devotee.
You can obtain this at , , .
Created: December 5, 1999; Updated: August 9, 2004