Missed Episode One? Look here.
"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."
Lost, child? Don't be afraid. You can navigate by using the side bar to the right, under the picture of that curious fellow. Read about what has been written, and what is being written, by looking over the Blog Archive or "Things Lurking in the Dark." Be sure to check out the novella, "Unquiet Slumbers," posted in its entirety.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Missed Episode One? Look here.
Friday, July 24, 2015
It's a bit unfair to B.E. Scully to kick off my review by saying the book was a disappointment, because ultimately the blame doesn't lie with the author, it lies with other reviewers. Verland has been on my radar for some time, at last since I reviewed Michael Rowe's Enter, Night back in November, 2014. In that time I read a number of reviews for Verland, many of them united in trumpeting the novel as a departure from the romantic vampires of Anne Rice, Charlaine Harris, and Stephenie Meyer. Several described it as a return to the traditional vampire, a la Stoker or King. I suppose this just goes to show how far things like Twilight and The Southern Vampire Mysteries have really lowered the bar, because once again in Verland we have a sympathetic, attractive vampire protagonist wrestling with his transformation, looking for meaning, and stealing a page from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, caught up in the schemes of the novel's true antagonist...a human being. The titular vampire is never even a threat.
Friday, July 17, 2015
Thursday, July 9, 2015
It starts with the "Numenera Main Theme," the fantastic "Restart" from DigitalRepublic.
As they head for an inn to plan, panic electrifies the streets. The sky overhead darkens as if by eclipse, while bright flashes of heat lighting flicker and dance. A smell of ozone fills the air, and static electricity seems to trickle over everything. A voice speaks, simultaneously in both ears...to every man, woman, and child in Qi. Possibly even the Steadfast...
I am in Truth he that is called Durranet VI, Keeper of the Keys of Saint Calaval, who Sought and Found the Truth. I am the Father of the Steadfast, who has ascended to the Throne. Let all who would Speak the Truth and Seek the Truth know me, and witness the Truth of these words.
O my Sons and Daughters, I am in fear. The Eidolon of Those Who Went Before has shown me the Storm. I have seen the Lightnings and heard the Thunders. I have been torn by the howling Winds. It rises in the North, O my Steadfast, across the fields of Cloudcrystals, it grows in the black hearts of those who reject the Truth. It is a seed, a cancer growing in the minds of the Barbarians who cling to superstition and deny that great and glorious First Truth, the words that bring solace and comfort to all Mankind...Nothing Cannot be Understood. The spirit worshippers, the Gaians, those who deny the Eidolon who raised Men from the Drit, they sharpen their swords, yea verily even now they sharpen them! They assemble their legions, and they are coming for your children, your lands, your blessed Order of Truth. Like a living darkness exhaled from the jaws of the Traducer they spread across the sky, blotting out the Light, the Sun, the Truth. I say unto you, my Steadfast, they come out to extinguish that Holy Flame Saint Calaval returned from the Dying and Reborn Sun.
They come! They come! But to all of you I say in Truth, NOT ON MY WATCH.
O ye Nine Rival Kings, from Navarene to Milave, from the Sea Kingdom to imperial Pytharion, all of you who make your habitation between the Black Riage and the Secret Seas, lay aside all differences and be as One in the Truth! One Body, One Spirit, One Kin, holy and pure and True. Hear the call of the High Father Above to defend what is right and real. Arm and armour yourself for the Crusade! Raise your armies, ye Princes of Men, lift your weapons ye Knights, gather and form O Soldiers! For night falls and the Sons of the Light must rage against it. The Jihad is upon us for the sake of Truth!
The skies lighten, the words fall silent. Life returns to normal, but all is changed. The Amber Pope has never before spoken to the masses this way. Who are these Gaians, these enemies of Truth?
The characters ponder this, but also how to pursue their quest. Are the two connected? It would seem a stretch, but the Wastelander's strange visions urge him to think so. They debate whom to turn to for aid...one of the Nanos has contacts in the Order of Truth, and they are always keen to sponsor investigations into new numenera. And yet, under the laws of the Steadfast, the Order has the right to select any numenera recovered for itself from any expedition it sponsors. This leads to the other alternative.
The Jack knows of a collector, an extraordinarily wealthy and reclusive man in Qi by the name of Drakoven. The story goes that he sponsors expeditions for numenera all the time, and charges only one price. Anything recovered must be given to him and "scanned" by a strange machine in his possession. It is then returned unharmed to those who recovered it. Darkoven seems interested in knowledge only.
They go to him.
(This will turn out to be one of those choices that shifted the entire direction of the campaign)
Drakoven (Level 6, 7 regarding numenera) is a quiet, still man in simple black, neither overlarge nor imposing, but radiating a chill nonetheless. He meets them and after examining the crystal reveals a portal in his possession. He sets the coordinates to those in the crystal. They have but to prepare and step through...
Once ready they find themselves on the base of a smooth, black, inverted pyramid, high above the seas. On the centre of the the monolith is a door that opens every 39 seconds and stays open exactly 13 seconds. They jump through.
The gravity reverses, so now down is up and up is down. They are in the centre of a black metal labyrinth.
Once inside they find a fearful anomaly...the interior will not conduct sound of any sort. Not a word, not a tap, not a scream. Navigating the maze to its centre, they find a large round room filled with smoky black quartz crystals, some are several meters high, others litter the ground. It is a treasure trove. They find several Mass Nodules, Disrupting Nodules, and Invisibility Nodules. They even recover a Thought Storage Sphere. Strangest of all, in the bones of a long dead explorer, they find a curious cube or carved brass the size of a fist. Before they can investigate, the horror within the Shadow Table descends....
It is a Wraith, a thing of tenebrous shadow devouring living matter to exist in this dimension. Level 5, Armour 2, Damage 4. They must defeat it to survive...
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
Saturday, March 28, 2015
in keeping Lovecraft's work alive, Derleth--a devout Catholic--also added to and tinkered with the mythos, turning it into a radically different vision than that of Lovecraft.
Describing a cosmology that marries Derleth to the Enuma Elish, the author of this Necronomicon writes of two warring pantheons of deities, the primordial Ancient Ones and the younger Elder Gods who defeated and imprisoned them. The Ancient Ones are led by Tiamat, the ancient Sumerian goddess of chaos and the seas, and her mate Absu (lord of subterranean waters). These are, of course, authentic Mesopotamian deities, but to their number the text adds a host of clearly Lovecraft-inspired horrors; Iak Sakkak (Yog Sothoth), Azag-Thoth (Azathoth), Ishniggarab (Shub Niggurath), and of course Kutulu (Cthulhu). These ancient beings are convincingly Lovecraftian. They are alien, inhuman, immense, and possessing monstrous power. But against them are the Elder Gods, led by the Babylonian god Marduk. He and his fellow "Zonei" are each associated with one of the Hermetic planets (Nanna with the Moon, Nebo with Mercury, Inanna with Venus, Shammash with the Sun, Nergal with Mars, Marduk with Jupiter, and Ninib with Saturn). They defeat the Ancient Ones, steal their power, and imprison them. Then their father Enki fashions Man (a point we will get to shortly).
Now, these Elder Gods have very human attributes and concerns. Nebo is patron of the sciences, for example, while Inanna oversees love and war. All of this completely flies in the face of Lovecraft's mythology, where the "gods" are utterly alien and man is entirely insignificant to them. This is the whole point of Lovecraft's horror; it rejects the traditional notion of cosmic powers at war over Man's soul. For Lovecraft, the universe neither notices us nor cares. Humanity simple doesn't matter. And this, more than anything, is where the Necronomicon betrays itself as "Derlethian" rather than "Lovecraftian," because in its pages Man is a the very centre of the cosmic struggle;
And was not Man created from the blood of KINGU
Commander of the hordes of the Ancient Ones?
Does not man possess in his spirit
The seed of rebellion against the Elder Gods?
...Created by the Elder Gods
From the Blood of the Ancient Ones
Man is the Key by which
The Gate of IAK SAKKAK may be flung wide
Far from being insignificant, Man is the centrepiece of the entire system, born of the Ancient One's blood and the breath of the Elder Gods he is the key that can release the Ancient Ones from their prison. While Lovecraft struggled to create a mythology completely divorced from humanity, this Necronomicon returns to the very path he was departing from. If we are to believe this is the "real" Necronomicon, the one that inspired Lovecraft's work, it is very difficult to explain why it more closely resembles the bastardised version created by August Derleth.
As we touched on briefly in Part One, one of the interesting features of the Necronomicon is that it speaks with two contrasting voices. One the one hand we have it's author, the Mad Arab, who represents a very traditional viewpoint (from the Western esoteric viewpoint, that is). For the Mad Arab there is a human race created by the gods and playing a central role in the cosmos, seven hermetic planets associated with fairly traditional correspondences that enclose and protect the world, and forces of Light and Darkness at war with one another. Humanity is, naturally, urged to side with the Light in this struggle. These are the same sorts of things we might find in Agrippa, Levi, or any of the medieval grimoires.
The Ancient Ones are not unspeakable horrors that must be kept imprisoned, but a Power, a force venerated in the East but demonised in the West.
Against this we have the voice of the editor, Simon, who speaks from a very nontraditional viewpoint. He espouses views that started with Aleister Crowley and flowered through modern occultists like Austin Spare, Anton LaVey, Peter Carroll, and (most specifically) Kenneth Grant. This is a view that transcends notions of Light and Dark and Good and Evil. Where the Mad Arab has a very dualistic 'us against them' mentality (the 'Christian Myth' Simon mistakenly ascribes to Lovecraft), Simon seems to see the Elder Gods and Ancient Ones as part of a single continuum. When discussing the traditional viewpoint of the Mad Arab, for example, Simon calls everything into question. Note the use of quotation marks and the statements made in the follow section;
There was a battle between the forces of "light" and "darkness" (so-called) that took place long before man was created, before even the cosmos as we know it existed. It is described fully in the Enuma Elish and in the bastardised version found in the NECRONOMICON, and involved the Ancient Ones, led by the Serpent MUMMU-TIAMAT and her male counterpart ABSU, against the ELDER GODS (called such in the N.) led by the warrior MARDUK, son of the Sea God ENKI, Lord of the Magicians of this side, or what would be called "White Magicians"--although close examination of the myths of ancient times makes one pause before attempting to judge which of the two warring factions was "good" or "evil"...
"Light," "Darkness," "so-called," "White Magicians," "good," "evil..." Simon is clearly skeptical of the Mad Arab's traditional assumptions. He is consistent in this. When writing of Enki's opposite, the Ancient One AZAGTHOTH, he calls him the Lord of Magicians, but of the "Black" magicians, or the sorcerers of the "Other Side." Again, "Black" and "Other Side" are enclosed in quotation marks. And shortly after these comments, Simon sets aside a chapter of his Introduction to discuss the worship of the Ancient Ones in which it sounds suspiciously like he is defending the idea;
S.H. Hooke, in his excellent Middle Eastern Mythology, tells us that the Leviathan mentioned in JOB, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, is the Hebrew name given to the Serpent TIAMAT, and reveals that there was in existence either a cult, or scattered individuals, who worshipped or called up the Serpent of the Sea, or Abyss.
Bear in mind Simon's counterpart, the Mad Arab, speaks of these worshippers too, but always with absolute horror. They are the "wreakers of havoc," "the ensnarers, the piers-in-wait, the blind fiends of Chaos," "secret priests initiated into the Black Rites, whose names are writ forever in the Book of Chaos." Simon begs to differ;
It is this TIAMAT or Leviathan that is identified closely with KUTULU or Cthulhu in the pages of the NECRONOMICON...(t)his monster is well know to cult worship all over the world...the Dragon or Serpent is said to reside somewhere "below the earth;" it is a powerful force, a magickal force, which is identified with mastery over the created world; it is also a power that can be summoned by the few and not the many. However, in China, there did not seem to be a backlash of fear or resentment against this force as was known in Europe and Palestine...In the West, the conjuration, cultivation, or worship of this Power was strenuously opposed with the advent of Solar, Monotheistic religions...
These "Solar, Monotheistic religions" are what Simon meant with the phrase a "Christian Myth of the struggle between opposing forces of Light and Darkness." It is a dualistic struggle Crowley would have called Osirian and which Simon enthusiastically dismisses;
The wholesale slaughter of those called "Witches" during the Inquisition is an example of this, as well as the solemn and twisted--that is to say purposeless and unenlightened--celibacy the Church espoused. For the orgone of Wilhelm Reich is just as much Leviathan as the Kundalini of the Tantrick adepts, and the Power raised by Witches. It has always, at least in the past two thousand years, been associated with occultism and essentially with Rites of Evil Magick, or the Forbidden Magick, of the Enemy, and of Satan...
Instead of a cosmic struggle between the forces of Good and Evil, Simon sees in the Necronomicon something completely different. The Ancient Ones are not unspeakable horrors that must be kept imprisoned, but a Power, a force venerated in the East but demonised in the West. The perception of them as Evil is one fostered by two thousand years of priestly propaganda.
In Part Three, we will be taking a closer look at this idea, tracing it through Crowley, Spare, and Grant.