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Sunday, 14 May 2017

Your First Call of Cthulhu

From its cartoon artwork and its simple prose, it would not be unreasonable to suggest that H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is a book for children. After all, from the various Call of Cthulhu ABC books to the delightful Where’s My Shoggoth?, there have numerous attempts to meld the Cosmic Horror of Lovecraft’s fiction with the children’s author of your choice. Some are simple as the Mythos ABC books, whilst others are clever parodies, such as TinTin meets Lovecraft and Ken Hite's Where the Deep Ones Are published by Atlas Games. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is somewhere in between.

Published by Chaosium, Inc., what H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers does is bring both the prose style and the art style of Theodor Seuss Geisel—or Dr. Seuss—to the works of H.P. Lovecraft, or rather to his signature horror story, ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. Thus it tells of how Francis Wayland Thurston inherits a box of notes belonging to his uncle, Professor George Gammell Angell and amongst them he finds a sculpture of a strange thing somewhere between an octopus and a dragon, as well as notes of an outbreak of mass hysteria and the sculptor’s dreams of “great Cyclopean cities of titan blocks and sky-flung monoliths.” Further notes relate how Inspector John Raymond Legrasse foiled a strange cult dedicated to the ‘Great Old Ones’—in particular, ‘great Cthulhu’—and how Gustaf Johansen, a Norwegian sailor, encountered this being in a strange non-Euclidean city on an uncharted island and seemingly killed after ramming it with a ship. And of course, how Francis Wayland Thurston now fears for his own life…

What author and artist R.J. Ivankovic does though, is present the story in the rhyming cadence of Dr. Seus. This sounds like a very bad thing, but this is not the case. The prose flows in a way that Lovecraft’s sometimes heavy style does not, undulating up and down in the constant rhythm of anapestic tetrameter, popularised by Clement Clarke Moore, but familiar with anyone who has read The Cat in the Hat or Green Eggs and Ham. What this means is that H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers can be easily read aloud.

Then there is the art. It is inspired by and perfectly apes the style of Dr. Seus and covering the page in great swathes of colour, with blues and greens taking on ominous tones as they depict great Cthulhu himself, the dreams he sends, and other outre elements. Although cartoon-like, this art never shies away from portraying the horror described in the text. Neither is explicit or overbearing, but the combination is moody and effective at showing and suggesting something beyond our understanding. Perfect then for depicting a short story that is all H.P. Lovecraft even in a new form.

This combination though, explains why H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is not a book for young readers and it may even be just ever so weird and ever so unsettling for beginning readers. It is very probably a book that parents would want to check first before reading to—or allowing to be read by—their children. This was the conclusion of a field test with a real live parent and is more indicative of the strength of the combination of words and art than a criticism.

Despite the cartoonish art and the simplified prose, H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu for beginning readers is not a silly book. It is instead a horrifying homage to two revered American authors.

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Chaosium, Inc. will have a stand at UK Games Expo, which will take place between June 2nd and June 4th, 2017 at Birmingham NEC. This is the world’s fourth largest gaming convention and the biggest in the United Kingdom.