Welcome to the second installment of the new column, “Unwelcome Tenants,” where Andrew Byers explores the contributions of British author Ramsey Campbell to H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  This piece will discuss two of Campbell’s Mythos stories, “The Room in the Castle” and “The Horror from the Bridge.”

“The Room in the Castle”

“The Room in the Castle” can be found in:

inhabitant-lake-arkham-house–The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (Arkham House, 1964) and The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (PS Publishing, 2011)
–Cold Print 1st edition (Scream/Press, 1985); 2nd edition (Tor, 1987); Expanded edition (Headline, 1993)
–Dark Feasts: The World of Ramsey Campbell (Robinson, 1987)
–Alone with the Horrors: The Great Short Fiction of Ramsey Campbell, 1961-1991 (found in the Arkham House, 1993, and Headline, 1994, editions but not included in the 2004 Tor edition)

The story we know as “The Room in the Castle” began life as “The Box in the Priory” in 1960 — when Ramsey Campbell was only fourteen years old — and was his first effort to expand on various Mythos references (in this case, some of Robert Bloch’s work).[1]  It was completed in November 1961.  The story is an obvious attempt to ape Lovecraft’s writing style and certainly benefits from Derleth’s editing (the original draft as “The Box in the Priory” is reprinted in full in PS Publishing’s The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (2011).

Our narrator Parry (we never learn his first name) is a scholar doing research in the British Museum for a friend who runs across a series of legends describing a general avoidance of a certain hill outside the town of Brichester.  Though the legends are mixed in with a great deal of the traditional kind of folklore one might find in any long-inhabited rural area, it becomes clear to Parry that a being called Byatis is at the heart of the problem.[2]  Stories about Byatis go back to the Roman occupation of Britain (tying in with the overall Roman origins of Campbell’s Severn Valley setting), when Roman soldiers were said to have released Byatis from behind an ancient stone door in the hill where Byatis had been imprisoned by some unnamed people in antiquity, suggesting an indeterminate but ancient origin for Byatis.  There are other stories about Byatis through the ages, but at some point in the 1700s, Sir Gilbert Morley, a local aristocrat who owned a local castle of Norman origin, began dabbling in the sorcerous arts and found a way to imprison and control Byatis, who had inhabited the area for centuries.  Morley lured travelers to their doom and sacrificed them to Byatis, who fed on them, growing in size while remaining imprisoned in Morley’s cellar.  Eventually Morley disappeared; his fate is unknown, though consumption by Byatis seems likely.  Being the naturally curious sort, Parry decides to investigate further.  Fortunately, while Parry is a proper Lovecraftian scholar, he is also a man of action, almost in a Howardian fashion, and decides to do something about Byatis.

Campbell name-drops a number of Lovecraftian elements — the Necronomicon, Cthulhu, Shub-Niggurath, Dagon, and Daoloth (and Campbell’s original creation Glaaki, but more on that being in later stories) — but these are mostly just mentioned in passing.  One of the main sources of information for Parry is the eldritch tome De Vermis Mysteriis.[3]  One legend described Byatis as having “but one Eye like the Cyclops, and had Claws like unto a Crab…[and] a Nose like the Elephants…and great Serpent-like Growths which hung from its Face like a Beard, in the Fashion of some Sea Monster.”  Ultimately, when Parry does finally encounter Byatis, he glimpses only part of one of these facial tentacles, suggesting a truly vast size for the beast as a whole.

The story is filled with a blend of traditional legends, peasant superstition (Parry’s friend’s housekeeper gives him a “star-stone” emblazoned with the Elder Sign and referenced again in “The Horror from the Bridge, see below), and references to Christianity, making Parry’s job of sorting out the true nature of Byatis and how it might be stopped all the more difficult.  Despite the Christian references, Mythos elements seem to be far older, with Christian elements and symbols apparently having no effect in confrontations with Byatis.  Like Cthulhu and some of the other Mythos beings though, Byatis can be harmed — at least for a time — by something as simple as gasoline, which Parry uses to good effect when he decides to act (alone) against Byatis.  In that sense, “The Room in the Castle” has a happy ending in that Byatis is at least temporarily stopped, though it is clear that a being so enormous cannot easily be permanently slain.  Parry must live with his new-found knowledge that Byatis — and perhaps other “folkloric” creatures — are not simply tales repeated by superstitious peasants.

[1] Ramsey Campbell, “Afterword,” in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (PS Publishing, 2011).

[2] Note that the serpent-headed deity Byatis was invented neither by Campbell nor Lovecraft; it was first mentioned in Robert Bloch’s story “The Shambler from the Stars” (Weird Tales, September 1935), though Campbell developed Byatis to a far greater extent than did Bloch.

[3] Like Byatis itself, De Vermis Mysteriis (translated as Mysteries of the Worm) was created by Robert Bloch and appeared in “The Shambler from the Stars,” said to have been written by the necromancer and alchemist Ludwig Prinn. The tome has appeared almost ubiquitously in Mythos fiction, later appearing in stories by Lovecraft himself, who corresponded with Bloch; August Derleth; Robert M. Price; Brian Lumley; and Stephen King, among many others.

 

“The Horror from the Bridge”

“The Horror from the Bridge” can be found in:

the-inhabitant-of-the-lake-other-unwelcome-tenants-paperback-ps-publishingThe Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (Arkham House, 1964) and The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (PS Publishing, 2011)

Cold Print 1st edition (Scream/Press, 1985); 2nd edition (Tor, 1987); Expanded edition (Headline, 1993)

A bit of an homage to Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror,”[4] sharing some elements of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, and inspired by one of Lovecraft’s own uncompleted story fragments in his “Commonplace Book”: “217 Ancient (Roman? prehistoric?) stone bridge washed away by a (sudden and curious?) storm. Something liberated which had been sealed up in the masonry of years ago. Things happen.”[5]  Just as with “The Room in the Castle,” we are treated to a lengthy history of supernatural goings-on, this time compiled in the researches of Philip Chesterton, a scholar who resigned his post at the British Museum to better keep an eye on the activities of a family of sorcerers residing in the decaying town of Clotten.  Ostensibly drawn from a typed manuscript found in Chesterton’s estate after his death, he himself becomes the primary antagonist of the sorcerers by the end of the tale.

The story begins in 1800 when a mysterious man named James Phipps moves into a house near the river in Clotten because “his unorthodox scientific researches were distasteful to the inhabitants” of Camside.  That should have given the neighbors pause, shouldn’t it?  Phipps becomes extremely interested in local legends of a supposed city of demons living under Clotten, with the entrance to their city buried somewhere under the river.  He increasingly becomes fixed on a local bridge and what may be under it.  Five years later, Phipps departs Clotten for a time, returning with an equally reclusive wife from Temphill; a year after, a son, Lionel, is born.  As Lionel matures, it becomes clear that he is being trained by his father and aids the man in his research (the exact nature of which remains unknown to the townsfolk).  The Necronomicon and the Book of Eibon are both mentioned in passing as sources of occult knowledge on celestial bodies (presumably the pair seek to perform certain occult rites when the “stars are right.”)[6]

The elder Phipps died in 1898, though the son continued his father’s research in earnest.  A nosy neighbor revealed several arguments between Lionel Phipps and his mother suggestive of a rather sinister origin for the mother: not only had she been part of a Satanic cult in Temphill before her marriage, but presumably like Phipps’ father, her life has been preserved beyond its normal span, with continuing treatments needed to preserve her semblance of life.  It may actually be that the increasingly frail mother was little more than a reanimated corpse by the twentieth century.

Derleth’s vision of a universe in which the Great Old Ones (i.e., Cthulhu and his ilk) were actively opposed by the Elder Gods is very much in evidence here.  The race trapped under Clotten’s bridge was apparently imprisoned there by the Elder Gods under a seal that will be swept away or destroyed when “Glyu’uho” is “rightly placed.”  Glyu-uho is another name for Betelgeuse in the fictional Naacal language, serving as either the home star of the Elder Gods or at least the location of a portal to their home dimension.  The scholar Chesterton becomes increasingly concerned about Lionel Phipps’ efforts to free these beings.  The creatures are hideous, alien monstrosities, apparently possessing “eight major arm-like appendages protruding from an elliptical body, six of which were tipped with flipper-like protrusions, the other two being tentacular.  Four of the web-tipped legs were located at the lower end of the body…[t]he other two near the head….In place of eyes, there was an abominable sponge-like circular organ…over it grew something hideously like a spider’s web.  Below this was a mouth-like slit…bordered at each side by a tentacle-like appendage….”  Chesterton makes clear that he views the creatures’ threat to mankind as an existential one: they are parthenogenic, he claims, and if even one is allowed to escape it will be capable of spawning many more of its race, eventually eclipsing humanity and taking over the Earth.

The story culminates on the night of September 2, 1931.  Chesterton is aided by three young men armed with rifles — they are little more than passers-by who volunteer to help — in stopping Phipps from opening the seal and freeing the alien city’s inhabitants.  I am struck by the mundane means by which a variety of mortal Mythos protagonists have been able to defeat powerful alien entities: just as Campbell’s earlier narrator used a few cans of gasoline to thwart Byatis, and even mighty Cthulhu was temporarily damaged when he was rammed by a ship in “The Call of Cthulhu,” here we see a handful of young doughty young men who obviously have no idea what they’ve gotten themselves into saving the day with rifle fire accompanying Chesterton’s incantation.[7]  This final confrontation is also interesting because Phipps believes that his foes are actively in league with the Elder Gods when they confront him, saying: “So…this is the total of the strength which can be mustered by the great Elder Gods!…What do you know of the Great Old Ones — the ones who seeped down from the stars, of whom those I have released are only servitors?  You and your Celaeno Fragments[8] and your puerile star-signs — what can you guess of the realities which those half-veiled revelations hint?”

At story’s end, it is entirely unclear that the threat from the beings trapped under Clotten’s bridge is ended; indeed, there is circumstantial evidence from several strange happenings since 1931 that they still exist, awaiting a time when they might be successfully freed.

[4] Campbell also notes that he borrowed elements from HPL’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Dweller in the Gulf.”  Ramsey Campbell, “Afterword,” in The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants (PS Publishing, 2011).

[5] Campbell has stated that a number of his Mythos stories were inspired by entries in H. P. Lovecraft’s “commonplace book,” an older term for a collection of ideas, quotations, letters, trivia, and the like.  These were common in bygone ages when scholars, readers, and writers sought to record ideas and information they might later want to reflect on and refer back to.  (I have such a collection of ideas and writing fragments myself – my wife uncharitably describes them as my “scribblings of a madman” – and I suspect that many writers may also.)  Lovecraft kept a commonplace book, listing 221 ideas for stories, some of which he later developed and most he did not.  He described his commonplace book thusly: “This book consists of ideas, images, & quotations hastily jotted down for possible future use in weird fiction. Very few are actually developed plots – for the most part they are merely suggestions or random impressions designed to set the memory or imagination working. Their sources are various – dreams, things read, casual incidents, idle conceptions, & so on.” [http://grimreviews.blogspot.com/2008/05/hp-lovecrafts-commonplace-book-online.html]  Bruce Sterling has also transcribed and published on Wired the contents of Lovecraft’s commonplace book, available here: http://www.wired.com/2011/07/h-p-lovecrafts-commonplace-book/  A collection of short stories based on some of these story idea fragments was published in 2010: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004APA1DW

[6] The Necronomicon is well known to all Mythos readers (indeed, mentioning it is almost de rigueur for Mythos writers) and the Book of Eibon, introduced by Clark Ashton Smith in his story “Ubbo-Sathla,” almost equally well known.  Lovecraft himself referred to various translations and editions of the Book of Eibon in several of his stories, and Smith published two of the infamous book’s chapters as the stories “The Door to Saturn” and “The Coming of the White Worm.”  Lin Carter and a number of other writers have expanded on the contents of the book, with the complete contents later collected and published by Chaosium in 2002 as The Book of Eibon, ed. Robert M. Price.

[7] When musing aloud about training his three helpers to assist him with the incantation, Chesterton mentions “Yr-Nhhngr,” which is a set of formulae referenced in “The Dunwich Horror.”  Yr and Nhhngr are later used again by Derleth in The Lurker at the Threshold, expanding on a brief scrap of text by Lovecraft, as places beyond Kadath where demonic entities dwell and Lin Carter in “The Thing Under Memphis.”

[8] An occult tome created by August Derleth and referenced in several of the stories later included in Derleth’s novel The Trail of Cthulhu.  The title is an obvious reference to the name Celaeno, used several times in Greek mythology; may be most applicable here to the star by that name in the Pleiades cluster of stars (perhaps the home of some entity who provided knowledge later recorded in The Celaeno Fragments?)

About Andrew Byers

Andrew Byers is a fan of all things horror, a book reviewer, a writer, an editor, and owner of Uncanny Books, a small press dedicated to horror, science fiction, fantasy, and pulp fiction.

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