(a review)
James Ambuehl

THE DISCIPLES OF CTHULHU, edited by Edward P. Berglund. Oakland: Chaosium Books, 1996. 258 pp. $10.95. ISBN 1-56882-054-2. (Revised and reprinted from The Disciples of Cthulhu, edited by Edward P. Berglund, DAW books, 1976)

I remember when I first encountered the original edition of this book. I was on a family trip somewhere, and having just recently read all of the major Ballantine Lovecrafts, including Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Volumes One and Two, I walked into some nameless bookstore and immediately asked the proprietor if he had anything on Lovecraft or the Cthulhu Mythos. He produced a stack of Lovecraftian fanzines, and a paperback with a haunting portrait of Cthulhu etched against a dark, stormy sky on the cover: The Disciples of Cthulhu. I passed on the fanzines (and I am still kicking myself today for such a blunder -- no telling WHAT was therein!), but immediately snatched up the book. I have vague memories of being bored nearly to death by the trip, visiting relatives I didn't even know I had, but I do remember that throughout it all The Disciples of Cthulhu helped me to keep my sanity. It was one of my first Mythos books, aside from the Lovecraft and Tales, back when I used to be able to keep my Mythos collection in a small box under my bed (now it takes up two bookshelves, three file cabinets and numerous carefully-indexed boxes!), and it's always been one of the very best books in my collection, a highly-treasured friend which I've returned to time and time again.

First of all, let me start off by saying that even if you do have the original printing of Disciples, you will still want to pick up this new edition for there have been a few contents changes (and the illustrations by Earl Geier at the end of the stories are very worthwhile too!). As editor Berglund describes in his "Preface to the Revised Edition," some stories from the original had to be dropped. First off, Lin Carter's "Zoth-Ommog" had to go ... since it was later reprinted by Chaosium in the Carter collection The Xothic Legend-Cycle, which I also heartily recommend! Second, Joseph Payne Brennan's "The Feaster From Afar" (again later reprinted in the second edition of The Hastur Cycle) had to go, since at the time of the book's assembling there seemed to be no heirs to be found for the author's literary estate! But luckily, this has now been rectified, and you can all look forward to his fine Ithaqua tale "Jendick's Swamp" (from the Greystone Bay book Doom City, edited by Charles L. Grant, TOR Books, 1987) to be reprinted in the forthcoming Ithaqua Cycle volume!

But as replacement for the two stories Berglund reprints A. A. Attanasio's "Glimpses" from Nameless Places (edited by Gerald W. Page, Arkham House, 1975) (the editor explains that the story's original home was to be Disciples!) and a new tale from Robert M. Price featuring a team-up between Robert E. Howard's hard-boiled P.I. Steve Harrison and Lin Carter's Dr. Strange-styled magician, Anton Zarnak -- both Mythos superheroes extraordinaire in their own rights. Surprisingly, such a teaming works well, as evidenced here by "Dope War of the Black Tong."

Brian Lumley's "The Fairground Horror" (slightly revised for its appearance here) is a very engaging tale about a man who tries to exploit the Cthulhu Mythos to his own ends. To my mind it is as fresh and relevant today as it was twenty years ago, and proof positive that even in the beginning Lumley knew what he was doing and did it better than most! "The Silence of Erika Zann" by James Wade, however, does seem a bit dated with its "acid rock combos" and "hippie free spirits" -- but despite this, this sequel to HPL's "The Music of Erich Zann" is an intriguing update to the Master's works. Wade really had a lot to say in the Mythos before his untimely death in 1983. Especially worth reading is his story "The Deep Ones" in Arkham House's original edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969).

"All-Eye" by Bob Van Laerhoven is a strange piece, sort of a "Wendigo meets Cthulhu" set in the northern wilds of Canada. And considering that the author is a Belgian friend of Disciples contributor Eddy Bertin, and likely has never set foot in the Canadian wilds, it is surprising that this tale is so colorful and atmospheric. Van Laerhoven really makes the woods come alive with menace!

"The Tugging" by Ramsey Campbell is one I'm sure you're all familiar with, yet to my mind it is one of his best tales, a very able blending of his earlier rural Lovecraftian-style with his own later urban style -- and his addition to the Mythos of the entity Ghroth is most welcome indeed!

"Where Yidhra Walks" by Walter C. DeBill, Jr., is one of the finest Lovecraftian stories by one of the finest Lovecraftian authors EVER . . . and you should be as excited as I am that Chaosium plans to bring out a collection of his works in the future! Very able to stand alongside Campbell, Lumley, Rainey, Pugmire and the like, DeBill is one author whose work REALLY deserves a collection! The tale here adds some much-needed sex appeal to the Mythos with the very sensuous and alluring (yet horrible!) goddess Yidhra.

A.A. Attanasio's "Glimpses" is an amazing work, a successful blending of Mythos horror and the science fictional themes he loves so well! In fact, not being a particular fan of science fiction myself, I'd be hard-pressed to try to describe just what happens in the story. But I think a hard science fiction fan would enjoy it immensely! Price's "Dope War of the Back Tong" I mentioned before, but let me just say that though the tale deals with the Tcho-Tcho cult that worships Lloigor and Zhar from Derleth and Schorer's "Lair of the Star-Spawn," the tale is not without its element of humor. Not that it's a parody or anything, but it does contain some very BAD puns!

Eddy C. Bertin's "Darkness, My Name Is" is a piece no Mythos fan should miss! This atmospheric tale attempts to turn the countryside of Germany into something akin to Lovecraft's Arkham, or especially Dunwich, and succeeds admirably! Bertin has written some other very remarkable tales, notably "The Gibbering Walls" in Crypt of Cthulhu #65 (June/July 1989), and "Concerto For a Satin Vampire" in the Esoteric Order of Dagon Amateur Press Association, mailing # 40 (October 1982), and, of course, "Eyurid," with the Dutch artist Tais Teng from his own press Dunwich House in Belgium in 1980, (all of which deserve a wider reprinting) yet to my mind the tale here is his best yet. But "Eyurid" is a very close second, which tale of reincarnation illustrates admirably the life and death and LIFE of HPL himself!

And last, but definitely not least, we have Fritz Leiber's "The Terror From the Depths." This seems to me to be the perfect tale to end the book on, for along with its new Mythos ideas and themes (the poet Fischer and the Winged Worms of Cthulhu) it presents a bit of nostalgia -- bringing into its fold Lovecraft's Albert N. Wilmarth, as well as covering the senior staff of Miskatonic University, and even interjecting Lovecraft himself into its Hollywood hills milieu! This, along with Leiber's other Lovecraftian story, "To Arkham and the Stars" (The Dark Brotherhood by H. P. Lovecraft and Others, Arkham House, 1966; reprinted in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos by H.P. Lovecraft and Divers Hands, Arkham House, 1990), seems to point to the fact that Leiber himself created the Wilmarth Foundation (at least in theme, if not the name!) of Mythos warriors, later utilized by Brian Lumley in his Titus Crow, and related novels.

So there you have it: one of the best straightforward and unabashed Cthulhu Mythos anthologies ever! Berglund should be congratulated, as should Chaosium for having the foresight to reprint it! And best news of all, Berglund tells me he's hard at work on The Disciples of Cthulhu II!

If you ever see the old DAW paperback, I urge you to pick it up. The cover painting by Karel Thole makes it especially worthwhile. But in the meantime, get the newly-updated edition. You won't be disappointed!

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© 2003-2004 Edward P. Berglund
Review by James Ambuehl: © 1997 by James Ambuehl; reprinted from Nightscapes, September 1997 (# 3)

Created: May 3, 2003, Updated: August 12, 2004