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The Trail of Cthulhu by August Derleth

The Trail of Cthulhu (1962)

by August Derleth

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: The Trail of Cthulhu (1-5)

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English (3)  French (1)  All languages (4)
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An interesting book in that it can be considered either an episodic novel or a series of linked short stories, tells the typical Derlethian story of Great Old Ones trying to bust out of their confinement and the human beings who struggle to defeat them. Although the theme is heroic, the stories could use a little more action and less exposition. It's also hard not to compare Derleth's fictions to those of Lovecraft he so closely models on, and Derleth's suffer in the process. ( )
  CarlosMcRey | May 22, 2013 |
Not properly a novel, The Trail of Cthulhu is more of a "story cycle": a set of five novellas, with linking narratives, in chronological sequence. Each was originally published separately. There are five protagonists, one for each story, but some feature in each other's tales. The humans in this book are much more active in their antagonism toward the Great Old Ones (Cthulhu and his cousins) than Lovecraft's own precedent-setting fictions would have allowed. As the title implies, Derleth's heroes take the initiative to track down these beings in an effort to rescue humanity from their inevitable reconquest of Earth. The stories are almost entirely plot-driven, and the characters are tepidly drawn. Derleth has no evident skill at dialogue, and he avoids it as much as he can. Still, it's all digestible fun for those who have a taste for this flavor of nightmare, from human sacrifice in New England to nukes in the South Pacific. The net effect is like nothing so much as an account of a great campaign in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.

Even for a confessed pastiche with some genuine innovation, the writing is often painfully derivative. The third story begins with this sentence: "It is singularly fortunate that the ability of the human mind to correlate and assimilate facts is limited in relation to the potential knowledge of the universe even as we know it--to say nothing of what lies beyond." Even for the reader unaware that this prose is a virtual plagiarism of the opening sentence of Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu," the fact is exposed when Derleth uses that very sentence as an epigram for the fourth story!

An appendix is Derleth's "Note on the Cthulhu Mythos," in which he attempts to demystify the lore generated by the Lovecraft Circle regarding eldritch prehuman forces. The "immediately apparent" similarity of the Cthulhu stories to "the Christian mythos," emphasized both in this short essay and in the text of Derleth's fiction, is an equivalence of Derleth's own invention, just like his attribution of certain Great Old Ones to the classical elements of fire, water, air, and earth. Although it may be something of ignotium per ignotius in a quick book review, it strikes me that Derleth is to Lovecraft much as Kenneth Grant is to Aleister Crowley. Both are self-appointed successors eager to remake their mentors in their own image. Just as Grant (himself no mean Lovecraft fan) is determined to reduce AC's Thelema to an outre form of Indian Tantra, Derleth is intent on making HPL's Cthulhu into an aquatic Satan on steroids.

While the "Note on the Cthulhu Mythos" carefully points out that Lovecraft never took his own writings as anything other than fantasy, the stories of The Trail of Cthulhu represent HPL as a researcher into the genuine occult who cloaked his findings as fiction. In neither case does Derleth admit to the abundantly demonstrated fact that Lovecraft was a mechanistic materialist convinced that there were no "higher powers" with any fondness for humanity whatsoever.
4 vote paradoxosalpha | Dec 2, 2009 |
Colin Wilson's STRENGTH TO DREAM is helpful here. He also has a contribution to the CTHULHU mythos. What hasn't he done? ( )
  Porius | Nov 23, 2008 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
August Derlethprimary authorall editionscalculated
Hermstein, RudolfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
White, TimCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To the memory of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, in whose work is to be found the beginnings of this novel
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Evil is the special province, surely, of the student of divinity.
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The Trail of Cthulhu is a series of interconnected short stories written by August Derleth. The stories chronicle the struggles of Laban Shrewsbury and his companions against the Great Old Ones, particularly Cthulhu.

The stories were originally published in Weird Tales from 1944 to 1952


The House on Curwen Street
The Watcher from the Sky
The Gorge Beyond Salapunco
The Keeper of the Key
The Black Island
A Note on the Cthulhu Mythos
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