22 October 2007

The Starry Wisdom

The Starry Wisdom is one of the more unique collections of Lovecraft-inspired fiction that I've come across. Instead of simply new variations on the seeker running into monstrous entities with unpronouncable names or even a collection of stories trying to bring Yog-Sothothery into the 20th (or 21st) century (a la The Children of Cthulhu), The Starry Wisdom's goal is to view the Lovecraftian mythos through the eyes of the sort of late 20th Century occultism which has itself been much inspired by the Old Gent. Or as editor D.M. Mitchell states:

My aim is to dig deeper and access the subterranean channels of archetype and
inspiration with which Lovecraft was connected... the current of semi-occult
symbolism and shamanic imagery.

While a worthy goal, the collection fails to consistently live up to it. As with a lot of collections, it's hard to avoid the feeling that some of it is filler. Far too much space is devoted to unengaging prose poems more interested in the connection between sado-masochistic impulses and Crowleyian notions of magick and the new aeon than to anything more Lovecraftian than the usual name dropping (Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, Old Ones, etc.) Additionally, there are several stories of fairly good quality which seem almost wholly unconnected to Lovecraftian themes at all, further contributing to the sense of padding. That leaves about half the collection, which thankfully has some pretty strong pieces. Among the standouts were stories by Grant Morrison, Robert M. Price, Alan Moore, D F Lewis, Brian Lumley (although he seems much too convential considering the goals of this collection), Don Webb, and D.M. Mitchell's own "Ward 23". Additionally, there are three illustrated/comic book-style stories. John Coulthart's adaptation of "The Call of Cthulhu" is "worth the price of admission alone." The other two "Third Eye Butterfly" and "Pills for Miss Betsy" are less overtly Lovecraftian while still evoking a certain Lovecraftian dread. The book concludes with a collection of three essays concerning the relationship of Lovecraft's fiction to modern occultism, which will likely be of more interest to the student of ceremonial magick than to the casual Lovecraft fan.

One of the failings of the collection is a rather superficial handling of "the current of semi-occult symbolism and shamanic imagery" in Lovecraft's fiction. The stronger works, such as Morrison's "Lovecraft in Heaven," Moore's "The Courtyard," or Lewis' "Meltdown" approach HPL's imagery with a knowledge of the tradition of weird fiction which he was working in. The prose poems, on the other hand, seem to take Lovecraftian themes as an entry for dwelling on their authors' own "semi-occult symbolism" which could be interesting for someone interested in the psychosexual baggage of modern occultism, but is much less so for anyone interested in the Lovecraftian tradition.

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