Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Alchemist's Notebook

   Though I can tell you just how I discovered the writing of Robert E. Howard, I can't recall exactly how I started reading H.P. Lovecraft. Oh, I can tell you the name of the first Lovecraft book I read, but not why I decided to read it. I think Stephen King's 1981 non-fiction book, DANSE MACABRE had something to do with it. However, just this week, and rather by accident, I was reminded of another piece of the puzzle. A movie that never got made called THE CRY OF CTHULHU.
   I'd read about the projected movie (pun intended) in Starlog Magazine issue #24 in 1979 and I recall looking at some pictures of stop motion monster models and wondering what was the deal with this Lovecraft guy. I'd seen paperbacks at the bookstore with his name on them, but the covers had never appealed to me. Still, the article gave me the idea that there might be something interesting about Lovecraft's creations. I'd actually forgotten this until someone posted the three page article over on a Lovecraft Facebook group and then it all came back to me. Funny how memory works.
   That would have been the end of it, except being me I did some internet searching for more info on CRY OF CTHULHU and I learned that Byron Craft, the writer of the screenplay for CRY, had turned the script into a novel called THE ALCHEMIST'S NOTEBOOK and that the book was available for the Kindle. I read the plot synopsis and it sounded like fun, so I ordered the book and gave it a read.
   It was indeed a lot of fun, though I had a couple of issues. Nothing major and I'll get to them in a moment. The main story idea is about a young couple who inherit an old house near The Black Forest in Germany. They fly over and begin to renovate the house but then strange things start to happen.
   The novel is written in three sections and the first, narrated by the wife, is probably the creepiest. Left at home all day while her husband goes to his new job, she begins to experience strange dreams and to see some odd things. This section builds the tension sort of like a Gothic romance novel, with the young woman wondering about her sanity.
   The second part is the text of the diary of the titular alchemist and this is probably the most Lovecraftian part of the book with references to Arkham, Innsmouth, Miskatonic University, and The Necronomicon. So far, so good.
   Part three, the husband's story, was where things started to fall apart for me. The first several pages lose the creep factor that the first two thirds of the book had built up and become more fantasy like. It reminded me more of August Derleth or Brian Lumley than Lovecraft. Nothing wrong with either of these writers, but the concepts of good elder beings, bad elder beings, and Elementals are Derleth's for the most part and not the stuff I really like about the extended Cthulhu Mythos. That's my main quibble, and as I say, it's no big deal. It didn't keep me from enjoying the book.
   In fact, I enjoyed it quite a bit, because the Lovecraft references do fly fast and furious and there are cool nods to many of Lovecraft's stories, without being and adaptation of any of them. Had this actually been a movie it would have been the most Lovecraftian thing put on screen up until that point. Pity that it never got out of pre-production. Anyway, THE ALCHEMIST'S NOTEBOOK is a fun Cthulhu Mythos novel. Fast moving and doesn't take itself too seriously. Craft says he's writing a sequel and I'll check that out too.

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