THE DEEP ONES: "The Howler in the Dark" by Richard L. Tierney

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THE DEEP ONES: "The Howler in the Dark" by Richard L. Tierney

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May 18, 2015, 12:00 am

Apologies for the late posting. I'll be reading online.

May 18, 2015, 8:33 am

I finished reading this yesterday in The New Lovecraft Circle.

>2 KentonSem:

No worries, Kenton. Hope all is well on your end.

May 18, 2015, 9:04 am

Interesting that Tierney gets mention on the cover, but not for this story.

May 18, 2015, 9:40 am

>3 artturnerjr:

All ok, Art. Thanks!

>4 elenchus:

CoC #24 was a special "Richard L. Tierney Issue".

May 18, 2015, 9:49 am

Thanks for that link to the Tierney Issue. The interview is interesting, and it points me to Tierney's essay, "The Derleth Mythos" which is also in that issue. Apparently Tierney lays out the crucial differences between HPL and Derleth in terms of their approach to Cthulhu, perhaps getting to the underlying cosmic indifference. I'll read the story first, though.

May 18, 2015, 12:13 pm

I gotta say, that interview doesn't make me inclined to read any more of Derleth's Mythos fiction than I already have!

May 18, 2015, 12:52 pm

>7 artturnerjr:

Interesting that he seems to have spoken with Derleth on the subject of HPL. I'd actually like to read one of those Red Sonja novels. His description of the Ace editors adding "scuzzy expletives" is pretty amusing.

Edited: May 18, 2015, 2:12 pm

>8 KentonSem:

Yeah, me too. Looks like they're out of print, but not hard to get ahold of - Amazon has used copies of The Ring of Ikribu (the first book in the series) available for under four bucks:

Edited: May 18, 2015, 7:48 pm

>8 KentonSem:, >9 artturnerjr:

I'm something of a Tierney fan. I've got all of those Red Sonja novels, and I liked them OK, but not as much as his Yog-Sothothery.

ETA I'll be re-reading out of my copy of Crypt of Cthulhu #24.

May 19, 2015, 2:47 pm

From the Wikipedia entry:

The Drums of Chaos (2008) is the author's magnum opus: an epic alternate history dark fantasy Cthulhu Mythos novel featuring Tierney's best-known characters, Simon of Gitta and John Taggart. Set in the Holy Land during the time of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, Simon of Gitta is on mission to avenge the deaths of his parents, seeking revenge in blood against the Roman officials who committed the murders. As he travels the Holy Lands with his mentor Dositheus, and their student Menander, they become entangled in a complex plot designed to call down a monstrous alien entity to herald a new aeon on Earth. John Taggart, the time traveler from Tierney's The Winds of Zarr becomes involved with Simon of Gitta, as their separate quests converge toward a common goal of saving the very Earth.

Anyone read the Simon of Gitta stories? Sounds intriguing that this character would meet up with John Taggart (presumably the same from "Howler").

Edited: May 21, 2015, 10:57 am

>11 elenchus:

Yes, I've long ago read (and reviewed) The Scroll of Thoth, and "The Seed of the Star-God" in Crypt of Cthulhu #24 is a Simon story that I've nominated (fruitlessly) before. I've also read The Gardens of Lucullus (a crossover novel with Glen Rahman's character Rufus Hibernicus), and The Winds of Zarr. I have a copy of The Drums of Chaos rather near the top of my TBR pile.

ETA: My Tierney reviews

May 19, 2015, 3:15 pm

LT reviewer carpentermt certainly liked The Drums of Chaos, and his review of The Scroll of Thoth tracked fairly closely with yours. I'll finish this story (I'm about halfway through now) and decide if further adventures are in the offing!

May 19, 2015, 4:35 pm

>13 elenchus:

You can read "Seed of the Star-God" online (linked in #12 above), and it's pretty representative of the Simon stuff.

I really differed with the other LT reviewers (including carpentermt) in liking Tierney's House of the Toad, but I stand by my review there.

Edited: May 20, 2015, 11:22 am

"Howler" is relatively early Tierney, I think. It shows a less polished prose style and less depth of research in his usual interests. In particular, there was a deep mythical and historical vein that he failed to mine here.

The idea of the the head as a magic idol has a long and interesting history: One of the earliest cases is the head of Orpheus, who is supposed to have founded the Mysteries in Greece. He was dismembered by bacchantes, and his head and his lyre floated down the river Hebron, out across the sea to land on the isle of Lesbos, singing and giving oracles all the way. The head was buried there, and a temple of Bacchus or Dionysos was built there as a place of prophecy.

In primitive Christianity there seem to have been allusions to the magical use of the head of John the Baptist. In the Apocryphon of James, Jesus says to James,
Do you not know that the head of prophecy was removed with John?
When you realize what the head is, and that prophecy comes from the head,
Then you will understand what this means: Its head was taken away.
At first I spoke with you in parables but you did not understand.
Now I am speaking with you plainly and you still do not perceive.
Accounts like this one were interpreted by some early observers of Christianity to refer to a cult of the head in which Jesus had actually obtained the head of John the Baptist and used it to produce magic oracles. All of this seems right up Tierney's alley, as defined by the Simon stories.

Much later, there were legends about the Franciscan Roger Bacon, who gained a reputation for sorcery. One of his works was supposed to have been a bronze head that could speak and answer questions about the future.

Aleister Crowley at the Abbey of Thelema in Cefalu devised a version of Bacon's magick head to manifest the goetic spirit Belial, whom Crowley called a "not-God" and his "own especial daimon." This "Brazen Head" was to be in a special temple waited upon by a Virgin Priestess and a young boy, and equipped with a telephonic "membrane" so that Crowley, the Pontifex of the daimon, could remotely command and converse with the postulants in the temple -- postulants who could be fooled into thinking the demon Belial was mightier than the demon Crowley. Tierney's familiarity with Crowley and Thelemic magick is on display in The House of the Toad.

Of course, the final disclosure of "Howler" (as well as the title!) is very reminiscent of Lovecraft's "The Whisperer in Darkness," though (I think) significantly less eerie. I was quite prepared for it to be a naked brain driving a speaker, or something along those lines.

Edited: May 20, 2015, 10:00 am

In the Crypt of Cthulhu interview, Tierney himself instances this story as the one thing he'd written that came closest to pure Lovecraft pastiche. It gains some interest from that, but accordingly, it shouldn't be taken as representative of his other work.

May 20, 2015, 10:50 am

Well, after hearing Robert M. Price rave about Tierney's fiction on his podcast*, I have to admit that I was a little disappointed in this, my first story of his. It was a bit Lovecraft-by-numbers, so much so, in fact, that I kept expecting some overtly parodic/comic element(s) to crop up, but alas, it was not to be. Having said that, I am certainly willing to give his stuff another go, based on >15 paradoxosalpha:'s and Dr. Price's assessment of his oeuvre.

PS I did think that "Baron de Taran's Frankish mother was of the d'Erlettes of Averoigne, a lineage and a region both long associated with sorcerous practices" was an amusing conflation of different strains of the Mythos/Yog-Sothothery.


May 20, 2015, 10:50 am

I'm going to have to come up with a term for that sort of ending, it's almost a trope of the literature at this point. I referred recently to the Poe-like tendency to make a revelation which in fact is obvious but implicit well before the story ends, and that happens again here. I found the dialogue between the Constable and the narrator pretty chilling in itself, the recitation of the Hail Mary pretty effective along with the mounting hysteria in the Constable's voice. It made the explicit revelation in the final paragraph pretty ho-hum, if not exactly a letdown. Certainly it didn't add anything.

That said, I enjoyed the tale. In parts the prose was clunky, but overall it maintained an agreeable tone and atmosphere. Think I'll follow up on the essay, as well as the Simon of Gitta story linked above.

May 20, 2015, 10:55 am

>15 paradoxosalpha:

Appreciate that background on the Brazen Head theme, that's precisely the sort of historic / theological material I look for in supernatural tales. Put me in mind of the history of automata, among charlatans certainly but specifically among chess afficianados. I know you read that Victorian Chess Master book from a few years back, paradoxosalpha, I was thinking of that and liked that there was no "illusion" here, but the real thing.

May 20, 2015, 5:18 pm

I was waylaid by events and still haven't been able to find time to read this! Hopefully tonight.

May 20, 2015, 7:35 pm

The "Derleth Mythos" is a taut but interesting essay: editorial, really. Anyone find fault with Tierney's argument? I assume in the the interim there are stories which take care to follow the HPL outlook and not cast Cthulhu as a cycle of Good vs Evil, unless such stories are all of an older vintage.

May 20, 2015, 9:33 pm

>21 elenchus:

The notions of "The Derleth Mythos" are now completely mainstream in HPL criticism, and even widely held among fannish readers. It seems hard to believe that it was a provocative position in 1984, but it was.

Like REH's Conan, the Yog-Sothothery of HPL suffered under a systematizing commodification that severely obscured its original literary contours during the 1960s through the 1980s -- to the extent that it was visible at all.

May 20, 2015, 9:50 pm

>21 elenchus:

No, I think it's pretty much spot on. That essay is a hugely important contribution to Lovecraftian scholarship; iirc, no one before Tierney had drawn the demarcation line between HPL's worldview and Derleth's (and the way that each affected the artificial mythology started by HPL), and even if they did, they did not do so in such a pithy and lucid fashion. The essay's influence was not necessarily immediate in its effect on Mythos writers, but today, largely due to its influence (direct or indirect), it is unusual to find Mythos fiction that does not embrace HPL's cosmicism more than it does Derleth's more bipolar view.

May 20, 2015, 10:24 pm

I'm all the more impressed, then: to outline a novel position so simply and yet for it to endure, that's a genuine accomplishment.

I've read about a third of the Simon story in the same issue of The Crypt of Cthulhu and finding it pretty interesting, so perhaps I'll become something of a Tierney fan, myself.

May 21, 2015, 2:09 pm

I read this one fairly recently, in Necronomicon, but had forgotten pretty much all of it. On re-reading I'd have to agree with the "Lovecraft by numbers" judgement. I suspect "The Hound" and "The Rats in the Walls" leant some inspiration. Constable Dunlap's predicament at the end, I have to confess, made me think of b-movies rather than of a mystical tradition of oracular or otherwise magical heads. The details of the English (or Scottish - re. the Crypt of Cthulhu interview) setting didn't quite ring true for me.

Edited: May 22, 2015, 11:10 am

>17 artturnerjr: so much so, in fact, that I kept expecting some overtly parodic/comic element(s) to crop up

The title made me wonder if there was some camp intent here.
howler n. a stupid but funny mistake or error

May 22, 2015, 11:15 am

>18 elenchus: I'm going to have to come up with a term for that sort of ending ... a revelation which in fact is obvious but implicit well before the story ends

When the revelation is really effective, it's anagnorisis. For the kind that falls flat from telegraphy, it might be a leaked or even ironized anagnorisis?

May 22, 2015, 11:23 am

After a quick online search, I think anagnorisis is very close to what I'm thinking. (Another sign I need to be better acquainted with rhetoric and literary device, whether Aristotelian or other.)

I can appreciate that ironised anagnorisis might have a similar structure to these underwhelming endings, but I'd think there would need to be intent on the part of the author, or if unintentional then I suppose some sort of genre commentary going on. My experience has been closer to the leaked variety, I think. It's a failing on the part of the narrative, whereas irony would be more of an addition or layering element.

May 22, 2015, 12:35 pm

>26 paradoxosalpha:

It's interesting in this regard to consider >25 housefulofpaper:'s observation that HPL's "The Hound" seems to be an inspiration for this tale, as HPL scholars such as S.T. Joshi have found that story to be self-parodic.

May 22, 2015, 8:42 pm

Finally got around to reading this, and I liked it. Presumably I liked it the first time I read it about seven years ago -- and then completely forgot it.

>28 elenchus: I agree. Thanks for the useful rhetorical term, paradoxosalpha.

>18 elenchus: Yes, the alternating howls of despair and chanting the rosary was effective.

>15 paradoxosalpha: There is also the whole legend of the god Baphomet's severed head being worshipped by the Templars which links (though Tierney doesn't seem to be really alluding to this given that the head is a victim, not an object of devotion) to the Baron being in the Crusades. I haven't checked if this legend has any history pre-Dan Brown whose popularity generated so much bogus Templar lore. I suspect it does because I believe it is used in a story of Tales of the Knights Templar.

I liked that the sorcerers were not involved in some grand scheme but just having the last word in a legal dispute.

May 22, 2015, 9:33 pm

>30 RandyStafford: the whole legend of the god Baphomet

Oh, yes. In the medieval trial of the Templars (I haven't read Dan Brown, but I'm conversant with the actual history), the idol "Baphomet" alleged to be the object of their secret worship was variously reported to be like a painting on a beam or a wall, a reliquary, a cat, two or three cats, a skull, or (perhaps most commonly) a bearded head.

May 22, 2015, 9:47 pm

>31 paradoxosalpha: Yeah, the Templar history I know is pre-Dan Brown, but I haven't read any in a long time. You really have to be careful, these days, in the Templar histories you read.

May 25, 2015, 12:24 pm

>26 paradoxosalpha:

I just realized that the title is also an allusion to HPL's description of Nyarlathotep in "The Rats in the Walls": "the mad faceless god {who} howls blindly in the darkness to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute-players.

Oct 7, 2015, 10:15 am

I just finished reading Tierney's Drums of Chaos and posted my review.

Oct 7, 2015, 10:26 am

>34 paradoxosalpha:

Excellent review. It doesn't surprise me to hear that Tierney trumps Lumley in this instance.

Oct 7, 2015, 11:36 am

Nice review, indeed, and I also enjoyed that by carpentermt. Did you have the same issues with spoilers, paradoxosalpha, or did you heed the warning not to read the introduction beforehand?

Oct 7, 2015, 11:48 am

>36 elenchus:

I read Price's intro, but I didn't feel as spoilered by it as carpentermt did. I also didn't think it was as useful for contextualization as he seemed to.

I mean, what are "spoilers" in a novel where you know from the outset that Jesus is going to be crucified, etc. etc.?

Oct 7, 2015, 1:40 pm

>34 paradoxosalpha:

Good one, PA. I'm (obviously) fascinated by all things Lovecraftian and (perhaps less obviously) fascinated by early Christianity, so I'm sure I'd find Tierney's book to be a compelling read.