Monday, June 7, 2010


I’ve been working on a couple of stories recently that I’ve been, in my own mind anyway, referring to as Mythos Sword and Sorcery. Basically it’s my attempt to fuse a bit of Lovecraft with the tradition of S&S and heroic fantasy.

Mind you, it’s nothing new: Clark Ashton Smith did it with his Hyperborea stories (although Smith was adding to the Mythos rather than taking from it), Brian Lumley did it with his Primal Lands stories, Conan in his original, Robert E. Howard, incarnation often encountered creatures that Lovecraft would have known, and sword-wielding heroes have always battled against dark and mysterious forces.

It did get me thinking, though, about how these tales might differ from my other stories (and from the stories of those that have trod this particular ground before me). Hopefully, it’s mood and tone that will set them apart.

In a sense the difference between Lovecraft and his contemporary Robert E. Howard was mostly one of tone. In general, Howard’s work is more up tempo, more optimistic than Lovecraft’s – this is not to say that Howard didn’t write downbeat, pessimistic stories, but as a rule of thumb if you were the hero (particular a series character like Conan) there was a good chance you would make it through to the end and beyond.

With Lovecraft, though, it’s rare that his characters escaped unscathed – either physically or, more usual, psychologically – and the worlds he created are darker than Howard’s, a purgatory rather than a playground.

Now I’m fully aware that some of my own work tends to look on the darker rather than the lighter side of things but, as a rule of thumb, I rarely try to push a story in any one direction, preferring to let it unfold naturally.

But in the Mythos S&S stories I’m taking a leaf out of HPL’s book: for the characters, doom is not only inevitable but unavoidable and the universe cares little for the affairs of human beings. It’s not so much a sense of inbuilt pessimism rather than an acknowledgement that the heroes cannot win.

In a way, I suppose that is one of the fundamental differences between horror and fantasy – in horror the protagonist is almost always doomed to fail (or to die or be tortured or discover that he is the heir to a terrible secret), whereas in (heroic) fantasy the hero is almost always doomed to succeed (or marry the princess or defeat the dark lord or have his destiny fulfilled).

It’s interesting to start a story knowing that the hero can’t win, since the normal way in S&S is for the hero to cut his way (often literally) through any obstacle; he may have the occasional setback, if only to add to the dramatic tension, but there is literally nothing that his wits and sword cannot overcome. But for the hero of a Mythos S&S story every setback is just another step along the path to his own destruction, every obstacle serves to obscure the truth of his situation until that final moment of terrible realization.

Of course theory and practice don’t always coalesce but in the few stories that I’ve been working on (one of which, The Song of Tussugaroth, will appear in an addition of Innsmouth Free Press later this year) have fitted the concept extremely well so far.

So Nameless Horror is just a state of mind after all.

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