Friday, August 30, 2013

H.P.'s Big Adventure

  It took me a little while to get a handle on S.T. Joshi's new novel The Assaults of Chaos. Given the general premise and the colorful cover, I was expecting a pulpish romp. I saw fairly quickly, however that this wasn't the direction Joshi was heading in. He was going for something a bit more literary.
   The book begins just before World War One,  when Howard Philips Lovecraft was still a young man seeking his path in life. All of his famous stories and creations are still ahead of him. For the moment he is trapped at home with an ailing mother and no clear direction for his life. If like me, you've recently read Joshi's biography of Lovecraft, I Am Providence, you may get a feeling of deja-vu during the opening chapters of the book, as the author gives a truncated but fact filled account of Lovecraft's early life.
   Things pick up when Lovecraft's father, long supposed dead, turns up alive and apparently in need of Lovecraft's help. He urges his son to accompany him to England where the two of them will join with a group of others as champions against a menace to mankind in general and England in particular. Their weapons? Their imaginations.
   Again I as expecting a little more action, but I slowly came to realize what Joshi was doing. He was writing the exact sort of adventure that H.P. Lovecraft would have wanted to experience.
   Lovecraft journeys to his beloved England and teams up with a group of his favorite authors, including Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Lord Dunsany. They aren't the sorts of heroes that Robert E. Howard would have written of, but rather the sort that Lovecraft created. Studious intelligent men, pitting their wits and their formidable imaginations against cosmic evil.
   When the various authors appear, Joshi has tried to make them speak very much in their own real words, pulling their dialog from actual letters, essays, and such. A nifty approach.
   Joshi may upset some fans of Lovecraft by his introduction of a romantic subplot for Lovecraft, but I thought it a nice touch.
   Anyway, though not the fast paced adventure I was expecting, The Assaults of Chaos is well written, well researched, and a lot of fun, and definitely something that fans of H.P. Lovecraft will want to add to their libraries.


Paul R. McNamee said...

I suppose a fisticuffing H. P. Lovecraft would be a stretch but it would also be fun.

Thanks for the review.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

In his memoir about Lovecraft, Frank Belknap Long says that he always thought Lovecraft's perception of himself as a 'weakling' was all in his head. Long says that HPL had surprisingly broad shoulders and was very capable of physical exertion when he wanted to be. He even says he thought Lovecraft could have handled himself in a fight if it had come to that. So who knows? We may see the two-fisted adventures of HPL yet.

Magister said...

There is a photo of Lovecraft and Long playfully fisticuffing, so it isn't that much of a stretch of imagination.

Mike Davis said...

"Things pick up when Lovecraft's father, long supposed dead, turns up alive and apparently in need of Lovecraft's help." <--- bit of a spoiler, isn't that? I'd rather not know that before reading the book.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Sorry, Mike. I guess I was thinking of it as a plot point, but I suppose it is a bit spoilerish. Usually I post warnings on newer books.