Years before giving birth to this blog, I read some of the more famous of Kuttner's Lovecraftian stories, like "Spawn of Dagon" (a Weird Tales cover story), "Bells of Horror" (which has one bizarre and horrible scene that remains strongly impressed on my mind) and "The Salem Horror," so this week I read stories which have not been as widely anthologized: "The Eater of Souls," "The Frog," and "The Hunt." All of these appear in The Book of Iod, a 1995 production of Chaosium, available on hoopla for reading on your mobile device. If you are interested in Kuttner's horror writing but are reluctant to be a genre fiction free rider, consider supporting the good work of Haffner Press by purchasing their volumes Terror in the House: The Early Henry Kuttner, Volume One and The Watcher at the Door: The Early Henry Kuttner, Volume Two, wherein these three stories, and a multitude of others, appear.
This is a sort of dreamy mood piece, a legend told among indescribable aliens on a world "beyond Betelgeuse, beyond the Giant Stars," who now live in peace but in the past suffered the oppression of a half-demon, half-god creature that looked like a white spider and lived in The Grey Gulf, an "abyss from which men say the nearer moon was born...." This tormentor could summon to itself innocent victims, whose souls would be added to his weird entourage. The legend relates how a monarch, ignoring the advice of his sorcerous advisers, journeyed to the bottomless pit to confront the Eater of Souls and sacrificed himself to liberate his people.
This brief piece is all style and images; maybe we should think of it as a prose poem. I like it.
"The Frog" (1939)
Norman Hartley is a New York City artist who can't get any work done because his friends are always dragging him to night clubs. So he rents an old house in the country. Oh, Norman, I could have told you leaving the Big Apple was a mistake! In the yard of his rental is an ugly stone with weird carvings on it; the local hicks claim it is the headstone of the burial site of an old witch whose father was a swamp monster, but our Norman doesn't believe in superstitions and the hideous rock offends his artistic sensibilities. ("It throws the garden out of symmetry.") So he hires some out-of-town laborers to remove the stone. Oh, Norman, I could have told you engaging in some amateur landscaping was a mistake!
Competent but not spectacular. Weird fiction scholars may note the theme of miscegenation, a common one in Lovecraftian literature; I personally had hopes that Kuttner would push the theme of urban vs rural divide a little harder.
This story is set in the same country village as "The Frog," which I thought was fun. Researcher into the occult Will Benson has moved out here to conduct his experiments in peace. His cousin, Alvin Doyle, is coming for a visit with a pistol in his pocket--if Doyle kills Benson then he, Doyle, will be in line for a sweet inheritance! But, wouldn't you know it, Benson is in the middle of summoning the ancient god Iod, Hunter of Souls, when Doyle arrives. Benson ushers Doyle into the pentagram and continues the "experiment," which once started cannot safely be halted.
But Doyle is a cold-blooded murderer, not a superstitious scientist, and he doesn't give a rat's ass about this goofy experiment. He shoots Doyle dead and departs, oblivious to the fact that the pentagram has been broken. On his long drive home he gets sleepy, so pulls over to take a nap. He dreams that he is being transported between different alien worlds, all with different colored skies, different terrain and flora and fauna, all of which Kuttner describes in vivid technicolor-- writhing vegetation!--towering ebon skyscrapers!-- teeming throngs of grotesque beings! When Doyle awakes he sees floating above him Iod itself, an indescribable monster with semi-transparent reptilian skin through which can be seen glowing crystalline forms, an alien entity equipped with a faceted eye and a slimy tentacle. Iod sucks out Doyle's soul but leaves Doyle's consciousness in his inert body, so that Doyle must experience his own burial and decay in the grave, must endure an eternal existence of total insanity!
This story is just alright. The noteworthy part is the long travelogue of scary alien planets, but this lengthy section is really just filigree that has nothing to do with the actual plot.
I think something special is going on in "The Eater of Souls," but "The Frog" and "The Hunt," while acceptable entertainments for those of us who have already had our tickets for the Lovecraft train punched many many times and are fully committed to this sort of material, are just ordinary horror stories of their type.
More Lovecraftian shenanigans in our next episode!