The Call of Kathulos: Secret Oceans and Black Seas of Infinity


In his first letter to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard informed HPL that he considered the Man From Providence to be superior to Machen or Poe. In other words, the finest horror writer of them all. In another letter (ca. June 1931), Howard wrote to Lovecraft that “the three foremost weird masterpieces” were Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” Machen’s “The Novel of the Black Seal” and last, but not least, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Thus, it is not surprising that some trace of REH’s enthusiasm for HPL’s landmark tale might be found in Howard’s own yarns.

“Skull-Face” would seem to echo with whispers out of R’lyeh. That is not to say “The Call of Cthulhu” was Howard’s only source of inspiration for his tale of Kathulos of Atlantis. Far from it. Over at the Official Robert E. Howard Forum, I went into some depth regarding the influence of Sax Rohmer’s writings upon “Skull-Face.” As I’ll demonstrate below, it appears that a Rohmer novel might have exerted some influence upon “The Call of Cthulhu” as well.

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The Call of Kathulos: Kull, Skull and “Call”

I’m Deuce Richardson and I’ll be your blogger for this evening. I’m a native south-east Kansan and grew up working on my parents’ farm/ranch, the fourth generation of Richardsons to do so. At the age of nine I discovered Robert E. Howard and haven’t been right in the head since. Subsequent to graduating high school, I attended Kansas State and then Pittsburg State University. After that, it was time to get to work. In early 2005, I leapt into the twenty-first century by purchasing my own computer. That eventually led me to becoming a member on the Official Robert E. Howard Forum. Membership there landed me in various places like Cross Plains, Texas and then, surprisingly, here. Enough about me. On with the show.

Ever since a certain “Mr. O’Neail” wrote in to Weird Tales wondering, there has always been a question hovering, bat-winged, over Robert E. Howard’s novella, “Skull-Face”: Was REH’s “Kathulos” (and the tale thereof) influenced, somehow, by Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”?

Howard had this to say in a letter to HPL (ca. August 1930):

A writer in the Eyrie, a Mr. O’Neail, I believe, wondered if I did not use some myth regarding this Cthulhu in “Skull Face”. The name Kathulos might suggest that, but in reality, I merely manufactured the name at random, not being aware at the time of any legendary character named Cthulhu — if indeed there is.

That’s that, I guess, but… all indicators point to Robert E. Howard reading “Call of Cthulhu” before he ever started composing “Skull-Face.” In a letter to Weird Tales, Howard demonstrates he’d already savored the darksome pleasures of “CoC” (published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales): “Mr. Lovecraft’s story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ is indeed a masterpiece, which I am sure will live as one of the highest achievements of literature.” (ca. April 1928)


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Derleth Be Not Proud: S. T. Joshi’s The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos,


Part One: Hypersensitive, Not Hyperborean

Part Two: Cry ‘Havoc!’ and Let Slip the Hounds of Tindalos

Part Three: Autochthonic Masses Howling and Wet-Mouthed

He tried to struggle through Lovecraft pastiches, but at the first painfully serious reference to the Elder Gods, he felt some important part of him going numb inside, the way a foot or hand will go to sleep when the circulation is cut off. He feared the part of him being numbed was his soul.

Joe Hill, “Best New Horror”

The Disciples of Cthulhu. The Quest for Cthulhu. New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. Cthulhu 2000. In His House at the Federalist Society, Dead Chthulhu Waits Dreaming. The Children of Cthulhu. Cthulhu’s Heirs. Fall of Cthulhu Volume I: The Fugue. Acolytes of Cthulhu. High Seas Cthulhu. Frontier Cthulhu. Cthulhu’s Dark Cults. Age of Cthulhu: Death in Luxur. Hardboiled Cthulhu. The Strange Sound of Cthulhu. Cthulhu Has Two Mommies. Eldritch Blue: Love and Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos. Song of Cthulhu. The Spiraling Worm: Man Versus the Cthulhu Mythos. Gumshoe Trail of Cthulhu. Cthulhu on a Hot Tin Roof. Cthulhu Fhtagn, Baby! And Other Cosmic Insolence. The Conquering Sword of Cthulhu. Our Mutual Cthulhu. The Cthulhu Also Rises. Bright Lights, Big Cthulhu. And that list is limited to books that give the most Cosmic of Cephalopods star billing, a titular mention! The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all the contents of today’s Mythos.

Thirty years after August Derleth was driven to conclude, while introducing Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, that “Certainly the Mythos as an inspiration for new fiction is hardly likely to afford readers with enough that is new and sufficiently different in concept and execution to create a continuing and growing demand,” M. le comte’s “new and sufficiently different” desiderata have been more honor’d in the breach than the observance, yet we’re clearly dealing with a recession-proof industry. No doubt a bit of cooling-off has occurred since the irrational exuberance of the Nineties, when the fellahin flocked to Robert M. Price and wild beasts licked his hands, but if we recall Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” and a disclosure by Henry Akeley to Albert Wilmarth — “They could easily conquer the earth, but have not tried so far because they have not needed to. They would rather leave things as they are to save bother” — some of us might be tempted to interject “Save bother, hell! They’re sitting on their pseudopods because there’s money to be made!”

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Saunders on Lovecraft


C’mon…you know you want to click.

Cyäegha #2

If you recall, last April I wrote on this blog about Cyäegha, the new UK-based Lovecraft ‘zine edited by Cimmerian reader and Lion’s Den contributor Graeme Phillips. If you were a bit slow on the draw with Cyäegha #1, sorry — it’s now sold out. But issue #2 has been released, and you can check out the list of contents here. The reprinted pieces in this ish from Eyurid: A Lovecraftian Portfolio (Dunwich House, 1980) merit special mention, as that tome was only available in a 120-copy limited edition and has been out of print for years.

I should also mention that Cyäegha artist Toren Atkinson (that’s his work on the cover above) is the lead singer of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, who will be performing live on Saturday December 6 at The Rio Theater in Vancouver BC. Visit for more information.

Larry Fessenden and the Spirits of the Lonely Places

Deep silence fell about the little camp, planted there so audaciously in the jaws of the wilderness. The lake gleamed like a sheet of black glass beneath the stars. The cold air pricked. In the draughts of night that poured their silent tide from the depths of the forest, with messages from distant ridges and from lakes just beginning to freeze, there lay already the faint, bleak odour of coming winter.

Algernon Blackwood, “The Wendigo”

The small screen can deliver big scares; Eric Kripke has been proving that more often than not for two full seasons and a strike-shortened third with Supernatural. That show, in which two brothers drive the unluckiest backroads of the American night while being driven by a family mission that asks too much of them, crashes through The CW’s sugar-and-spice-and-spite like a classic rock power chord. And at least half the episodes of Mick Garris’ Masters of Horror were good unclean fun; sixty minutes without commercials can amount to the functional equivalent of a novelette, if not a novella. When Showtime wasn’t interested in a third season, the MOH auteurist anthology approach lived to affright another day as Fear Itself, eight episodes of which aired this summer before NBC switched to scaring us with flexi-dwarf gymnasts instead. As soon as the opening credits of “Skin and Bones,” the episode shown on the night of Thursday, July 31, revealed that the director du semaine was Larry Fessenden, I began hoping for a particular monster with which Fessenden has worked almost as often as did Scorsese with De Niro. . .the rottenest tooth in a knowing primordial grin, the blackness at the core of the rampaging blizzard.

At the start of “Skin and Bones” (written by Drew McWeeny and Scott Swan. who also scripted one of my favorite Masters of Horror episodes, the John Carpenter-directed “Cigarette Burns”), the ranch-owning but city-dwelling Grady Edlund has been missing for 10 wintry days. He returns as the only surviving member of a party that unwisely elected to ride the high country in the teeth of a storm, and even while indoors, bed-ridden and being cared for by his wife, sons, and brother, reeks of . . .externality, of having come back wrong. If Famine rather redundantly put itself on a starvation diet, the result might look like Grady, who is played by Doug Jones, an actor-turned-human-canvas worthy of the best efforts of a Bernie Wrightson or Gahan Wilson, perhaps even a Goya or Bosch; as Larry Fessenden proudly notes of his “Skin and Bones” work “He is the special effect.”

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“Very strange looking fish….”


If only H. P. Lovecraft were alive to see this, it could have given him enough story plots to last a lifetime:

Mysterious Creatures Found in Antarctica

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) — Scientists investigating the icy waters of Antarctica said Tuesday they have collected mysterious creatures including giant sea spiders and huge worms in the murky depths.

Australian experts taking part in an international program to take a census of marine life in the ocean at the far south of the world collected specimens from up to 6,500 feet beneath the surface, and said many may never have been seen before.

Some of the animals far under the sea grow to unusually large sizes, a phenomenon called gigantism that scientists still do not fully understand.

“Gigantism is very common in Antarctic waters,” Martin Riddle, the Australian Antarctic Division scientist who led the expedition, said in a statement. “We have collected huge worms, giant crustaceans and sea spiders the size of dinner plates.”

The specimens were being sent to universities and museums around the world for identification, tissue sampling and DNA studies.

“Not all of the creatures that we found could be identified and it is very likely that some new species will be recorded as a result of these voyages,” said Graham Hosie, head of the census project.

The expedition is part of an ambitious international effort to map life forms in the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean, and to study the impact of forces such as climate change on the undersea environment.

Three ships — Aurora Australis from Australia, France’s L’Astrolabe and Japan’s Umitaka Maru — returned recently from two months in the region as part of the Collaborative East Antarctic Marine Census. The work is part of a larger project to map the biodiversity of the world’s oceans.

The French and Japanese ships sought specimens from the mid- and upper-level environment, while the Australian ship plumbed deeper waters with remote-controlled cameras.

“In some places every inch of the sea floor is covered in life,” Riddle said. “In other places we can see deep scars and gouges where icebergs scour the sea floor as they pass by.”

Among the bizarre-looking creatures the scientists spotted were tunicates, plankton-eating animals that resemble slender glass structures up to a yard tall “standing in fields like poppies,” Riddle said.

Other animals were equally baffling.

“They had fins in various places, they had funny dangly bits around their mouths,” Riddle told reporters. “They were all bottom dwellers so they were all evolved in different ways to live down on the sea bed in the dark. So many of them had very large eyes — very strange looking fish.”

Scientists are planning a follow-up expedition in 10 to 15 years to examine the effects of climate changes on the region’s environment.

No word on whether any of the scientists have developed the Innsmouth Look. Incidentally, I love how they sneak in “the Antarctic Ocean, also known as the Southern Ocean” for those readers who slept through geography (or who are running for president.)

Ze, Mozadrim, Vachama Vongh Razan*


The Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith has long since figured in a first-rate post by Leo, but acquisitions for my weird fiction library sometimes require me to pinch the first and best Republican president right off the face of every penny, and it wasn’t until last month that I lucked into an affordable copy at The book really is a garden of unearthly, flower demon-type delights, so many thanks to editors Scott Connors and David E. Schultz. CAS shows that the baleful late Thirties zeitgeist is not lost on him with this fine Howardian sentiment near the end of a September 9, 1937 letter to Robert Barlow: “Incidentally, the word ‘civilization’ would make a jackal vomit in view of the general situation.” And another aside to Barlow in the same letter is as amusing as Howard’s sly suggestion that Lovecraft should fictionalize one of his own “sex adventures” in order to crack the spicies:

HPL, however, should have written [a story about the Last Sabbat] himself. I can’t hope to compete with him when it comes to New England setting and atmosphere; though perhaps the actual orgies of the Sabbat would be a little more in my line.

But what really caught my eye were several letters that may well have been discussed to death in Esoteric and Dagonian precincts; S. T. Joshi certainly cites one on page 639 of his Lovecraft biography. Still, it seems to me that the cumulative impact of the letters in question and a possible extra resonance for Howardists just might justify a blog-post. I’m referring to nothing less than an early attempt by CAS to save Derleth from himself — and more importantly, save Lovecraft from distortion and dilution.

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Mysteries of Time and Spirit, One in Particular

What a relief it is to turn from the troll droppings and toxic testosterone of the Novalyne-Killed-My-Favorite-Writer mouth-breathers online to words written by those who were actually alive and alert in 1936. The first few references to Robert E. Howard in the 2002 Night Shade Books volume Mysteries of Time and Spirit: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Donald Wandrei, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, are merely incidental, then, in a letter dated October 19, 1932, Lovecraft tells Wandrei “Just got a fine set of rattlesnake rattles from Robert E. Howard. His letter accompanying them is a veritable prose-poem with the unconquerable serpent as its theme.” How much would those rattles, known to have been handled by 2 greats, fetch at a weird fiction-themed memorabilia auction today? Ah well, chances are they would have been “borrowed” in the late 70s and never returned to whoever was their rightful owner at that point…

On March 28, 1932 HPL is still coming to grips with “a 22-page (closely typed) argumentative epistle from Two-Gun Bob, the Terror of the Plains.” On December 6, 1935, he dismisses most of the new Weird Tales: “Nothing of any merit in it except Klarkash-ton’s “Chain of Aforgomon”—that is, nothing short. Two-Gun’s serial may be good, but I never read serials until I have all the parts.” (By the time of his June 20, 1936 letter to CAS, Lovecraft had the complete Hour of the Dragon, which he pronounced “really splendid” despite some reservations about chronic carnage and the nomenclature that always affected him like itching powder poured down the back of his collar). In that same letter he reacts with amusement to “how quickly [in “The Challenge from Beyond”] Two-Gun made a rip-roaring sanguinary Conan out of the mild & scholarly George Campbell.” And then, much sooner than would be preferable, Letter #234, from Lovecraft to Wandrei on June 24, 1936, is the next in the sequence. After expressing concern about an accident that befell Wandrei’s sister-in-law, Lovecraft writes “A more tragic and less remediable blow is one which has just hit weird fictiondom in a very vital spot—a disaster which I can scarcely bring myself to believe.” He himself has learned the news “in the form of card (without particulars) from Miss Moore.”

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