Dreaming in Darkness
Aaron French, Adrian Chamberlin, Jonathan Green, and John Prescott
World Horror Con 2013 edition
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings
Not long ago, I completed a 10,000-word novelette for the forthcoming anthology Space Eldritch II, a continuation of my entry for SEI, “Space Opera.” As a result, my mind has been on things-Lovecraftian for that last little bit.
One can understand my pleasure, then, at receiving a review copy of a parallel anthology containing four novellas, evocatively titled Dreaming in Darkness, with an equally evocative (and on its own merits, stunning) dust jacket by Nebezial and full-color interior illustrations by James Powell. Just looking at it—and through it—began to satisfy my craving for the inexplicable, the eldritch…and the Elder.
But an even greater pleasure awaited as I began reading the four long stories, each incorporating Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos in unexpected and fascinating ways.
Aaron J. French’s “The Order” provides an excellent introduction to the tales. It begins resolutely in the here-and-now, with a retired New York policeman being called to investigate a crime perpetrated in the august Metropolitan Museum of Art. As horrific as the murder of a security officer appears, Carl Sanford fears that it only represents the surface of something more monstrous, more hideous than he can imagine. When an obscure seventeenth-century painting also shows up at the scene, he realizes that somehow, in ways that he must decipher and understand, the death is connected to one of the most intriguing moments in esoteric history—the 1620 Rosicrucian Revival of Hermetic mysticism and magic in Heidelberg, embodied by the court of Frederick V, Elector Palatine, and Elizabeth Stewart, daughter of James I of England,.
With admirable skill, French seamlessly incorporates historical elements with fictional, as the erudite studies by Dame Frances A. Yates of Renaissance alchemical systems and symbolism become keys to—well, what else, in a Lovecraftian tale—the return of the Great Old Ones and the subjugation of humanity. Having worked intensively with the period, and particularly with Yates’ books, during my own academic career, I am impressed with the way elements as arcane as Heidelberg’s Alchemical Garden and the Dionysian hierarchy of Angels transform into scenes of other-worldly forboding and despair. The story is top-notch, and the accompanying illustration dead on the money.
In Adrian Chamberlin’s “Shadrach Besieged,” the author visits another of my favorite historical periods—the chaotic, nearly anarchical 1640s and the English Civil War. The tale begins with the Fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in 1099 and the flight of a young Saracen following the slaughter of his master. He bears something unnamable with him into the desert, desperate to both hide and preserve it. Alas, however, he is overtaken by a small troop of Christians, his prize is taken, and he is brutally killed…in a manner of speaking.
Over half a millennium later, a mysterious figure confronts another small troop, this time Parliamentary soldiers. Joining them, he and the rest of the company are assigned to assault the ruined monastery at the ironically named Fairlight, now the stronghold of a group of Royalists. Unfortunately, to approach the structure, they must pass through a forest of dead trees…and in doing so disturb the progeny of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, Shubb-Niggurath, beloved of Nyarlathotep…and the Great Old Ones become an integral part of the Civil War itself.
“The Serpent’s Egg,” by Jonathan Green, eschews historical periods and instead uses the Mythos to transform another piece of fiction, Bram Stoker’s “The Lair of the White Worm” as well as Ken Russell’s subsequent “abomination of a movie” based on the Stoker story. Using language at once reminiscent of Stoker and Lovecraft, Green follows a budding novelist into the north of England, to the ‘original’ site of the horror and the legendary home of the “Lambton Worm.” At Lambton Castle, he is befriended by the superficially friendly lord of the manor, Tristram Lambton; as time progresses and his researches into the legends of the area deepen, however, he begins to unravel secrets best left forgotten and discovers a horror beyond his understanding … leading to the appearance of the “gods of oblivion” and a Brian Lumley contribution to the Mythos, the great worm Shudde M’ell.
The final story, “New Heavens,” by John Prescott, takes an entirely different tack on Lovecraft. The three preceding tales all explored ramifications of the Great Old Ones returning to earth, invoked by madmen brandishing esoteric talismans or intoning mysterious chants. Generally—in Lovecraft and his followers—at the last moment something unanticipated occurs and the monsters are sent back to the dimensionless spaces they inhabit; or, if they succeed in breaking through, that moment signals the end of the story.
“The New Heavens” reverses the movement. Instead of humans inviting Evil into human spheres, Evil instead simply transports the planet and its inhabitants—sans the moon and other solar neighbors—to a new dimension. Instead of the central characters struggling to inhibit the incursion of new gods, they must now struggle to find a way, the only way, to return the earth to its rightful place. Otherwise the monsters surrounding them will continue to snack on people, feeding their insatiable appetites for blood and gore. The only question is…can three humans succeed in subverting the plans of the Great Old Ones?
All four tales perform intriguing and successful twists on traditional components of the Mythos, bringing them to life in unusual yet highly effective contexts. The blend of verbal and visual throughout highlights the stories and makes Dreaming in Darkness a pleasure to read and to enjoy.