That Which Should Not Be
Brett J. Talley
$12.95, October 7, 2011
Review by Darkeva
H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulu Mythos is an awesome feat of world-building in the same rank as J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth – rich, vastly complex, full of unique characters, and unlike anything that came before it. The Great Old Ones, which are a mixture of fallen angels and extraterrestrial life forms, dominate Lovecraft’s works, as well as the philosophy that humans are oblivious to the real purpose of life, unable to understand the universe. His ideas continued to influence writers long after he passed away in 1937, having a huge impact on the “weird tale” in particular, but extending even today where he holds a special place of reverence in the hearts and minds of genre fans (most recently, CW’s Supernatural had an episode in the sixth season that prominently featured him in the storyline)
Still, there’s a method to the madness of his characters, and consistent, underlying philosophies that make it seem like Lovecraft could give Nietzsche a run for his money. Like all other literary behemoths held in the same regard (Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, etc), there are always inevitably those who try to emulate a writer’s style, either through homage, or pastiche, or both.
Brett J. Talley has achieved something in-between. That Which Should Not Be, a novel written in the style of a Lovecrafting Cthulu epic, pays tribute to the dark scribe with a tale that could easily have been a continuation of At the Mountains of Madness, and indeed, reads like something Lovecraft wrote himself. It even uses the same terminology and concepts found in a Lovecraft novel (as an aside, all of Lovecraft’s works appear to be public domain). Because of this, some diehard fans may be vehemently opposed to reading Talley’s novel, but one needs to put that feeling aside beforehand. I went into the novel expecting a few references here and there, and an imitation of style and form, but ultimately, what I got was a multi-layered, engaging story told in an interesting way.
The protagonist of That Which Should Not Be is a man named Carter Weston, who David Ashton, a lawyer from the firm of Lovecraft Hartford and Shanks, insists was insane and went off his rocker before he died. Of course, not everything is as it seems, as we learn when Weston takes us back into his past and reveals that his professor, Atley Thayerson, tasked him with finding a book called the Incendium Maleficarum, which loosely translates to inferno of the witch. Dubbed the grimoire of all grimoires in magic circles, Thayerson tells Weston to find it no matter what the cost, but he can’t go himself because others know he’s looking for it and would try to stop him. So Weston makes his way to Anchorhead, where he meets Captain John Gray.
The book then launches into separate accounts of different men’s experiences with the Book, the first of which is a wendigo story with some interesting mythology thrown in that I thought added a nice touch. In the second portion, the American Daniel Lincoln’s story reveals a Carpathian town where Dan meets a Scotsman, Charles, as well as a couple, Vladmir and Anna. They all get taken in by a generous Abbess and the sisters in her order, but Walpurgis night is coming up in a few days, and midnight masses become an obvious lead-in to shady goings-on at the castle where they’re all staying. When it becomes apparent that a satanic cult is running the show, Daniel does his best to get the hell out of there with his love interest, a novice named Lily, but the Abbess has something much different in mind.
The next portion deals with William, a medical student who finds out firsthand the tragedy of what happens to a psychiatrist who goes completely mad, which leads to him being the lead suspect in a murder investigation, only there’s more satanic trickery at play, which reveals more about the Book, the Incendium Maleficarum, and that brings the reader full circle to Carter Weston’s timeline again.
What he finds is far worse than what one devilish tome contains. We get a neat history of the Book, and learn that it has passed the hands of both Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, but because it can’t be destroyed, Weston can’t just abandon it in a ditch somewhere and hope no one else finds it.
I would encourage fans of Lovecraft’s fiction to check out That Which Should Not Be, which ends up not as a pastiche or knock-off but rather as a loving and dedicated tribute that presents a new story in another author’s world.