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Forever Azathoth: Pastiches and Parodies
Peter Cannon
Subterranean Press, 230 pages

Forever Azathoth: Pastiches and Parodies
Peter Cannon
Peter Cannon was born in 1951 in California. He is considered an H.P. Lovecraft scholar and an author of Cthulhu Mythos fiction. He first made his name in Lovecraft studies with his graduate theses written in the 70s -- A Case for Howard Phillips Lovecraft (Honors thesis, Stanford, 1973) and Lovecraft's New England (M.A. thesis, Brown University, June 1974). Two essays on Lovecraft appear in S.T. Joshi's critical anthology H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism (1980), respectively examining the influence of Vathek and of Nathaniel Hawthorne upon Lovecraft. Cannon later published a definitive critical study on Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft (Twayne's US Authors Series No 549, 1989). His fiction includes Pulptime (W,. Paul Ganley, Publisher), in which Lovecraft, Long and Sherlock Holmes team up to solve a mystery; Scream for Jeeves: A Parody (Wodecraft Press, 1994), which retells some of Lovecraft's stories in the voice of P. G. Wodehouse's Bertie Wooster. An omnibus of these two titles has been issued as The Lovecraft Papers (Science Fiction Book Club, 1996).

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Past Feature Reviews
A review by Richard A. Lupoff

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This book by Peter Cannon sent me scurrying to the dictionary. Yes, an actual dictionary made of paper and ink. It had been a while, but my old friends Mr. Merriam and Mr. Webster were quick to forgive my long negligence and happy to welcome me back. I wanted to look up metafiction and several subsets of that concept, and the first thing I discovered was that metafiction isn't in my favorite dictionary. Even my computer's usually good-natured software didn't want to accept the word. Tried to tell me I meant met a fiction, which I did not mean at all.

What I meant was fiction about fiction. Something like recursive fiction. Something like Robert A. Heinlein's Glory Road in which the protagonist ultimately discovers that he has "fallen into a book." Or the Captain Marvel comic book story that I read as a child, in which the cartoon characters at a rival publishing house go on strike, and Good Ol' Cap has to mediate between them and the editors before they'll go back to work.

But if I couldn't find a definition of metafiction I did find one for meta and one for fiction, and putting them together worked pretty well. Then I went on to several forms of metafiction that I've come across in the past. A few, even, that I've practiced myself. Here's what I found:

Metafiction. (See meta and fiction)
Meta. More comprehensive, transcending -- used with the name of a discipline to designate a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one.
Fiction. Something invented by the imagination or feigned -- an invented story.
Parody. A literary or musical work in which the style of an author or work is closely imitated for comic effect or in ridicule.
Pastiche. A literary, artistic, or musical work that imitates the style of a previous work.
Satire. A literary work holding up human vices and follies to ridicule and scorn.
Homage. Something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another.

Do you see where I'm going with this? I'm trying to get a handle on just what Peter Cannon is doing in Forever Azathoth. And, in fact, has been doing in various magazines, anthologies, and books for the past several decades. Cannon is obviously a fan of H.P. Lovecraft's work and is fascinated by the whole Lovecraft phenomenon.

Why, three quarters of a century after Lovecraft's death, is the New England recluse more popular than ever -- certainly, far more popular than he ever was in his lifetime? Why has Lovecraft's influence so permeated popular culture that my little granddaughter plays with a cuddly soft Cthulhu doll? Why do strangers stop me to compliment me when they recognize my Miskatonic University sweatshirt? Why do motion picture audiences burst into applause when Lovecraft's name appears on the screen at the beginning of films adapted from his stories?

And why -- this is most to the point -- why do so many authors admire and emulate Lovecraft's creations that he has become easily the second-most imitated author in the world, second only to Arthur Conan Doyle? Sherlock Holmes metafiction is still more voluminous than Cthulhu-inspired work, but the old tentacled critter is slithering up right behind Sherlock and may overtake him any day now.

Why?

Maybe it's Lovecraft's deep cosmic philosophy. At least some critics argue as much. Maybe it's the weirdly compelling pantheon that he created -- inspired, at least in part, by his predecessor, Lord Dunsany. It's really hard to say, but there is something undeniably compelling about Lovecraft that has caused others to create fiction under his spell, from contemporaries like Robert Bloch and Fritz Leiber to latter-day admirers like Stephen King and Peter Cannon.

The stories in Forever Azathoth all qualify as Lovecraftian metafiction, ranging from parody to pastiche to homage. Cannon adds spice to this stew by calling in elements from authors as disparate as William Faulkner and James Herriot. The most surprising and surprisingly successful combination is Cannon's importation of P.G. Wodehouse's air-headed Bertie Wooster and Bertie's "gentleman's gentleman," the unflappable Reginald Jeeves, into the world of Lovecraftian weirdness.

Cannon's story "Nautical-Looking Negroes" is a seemingly straightforward extension of what may be the seminal work of all Lovecraft's oeuvre, "The Call of Cthulhu." But maybe Cannon is putting one over on us with this story. With Lovecraft (and with Peter Cannon) it's sometimes hard to tell.

The funniest story in the book, to this reviewer, is "The Undercliffe Sentences," homage to one of Lovecraft's most talented latter-day acolytes, Ramsey Campbell, and hence second-generation Lovecraftiana. Perhaps it was the almost painfully hilarious -- and accurate! -- sense of "been there done that" that makes the story work so well for me.

On the other hand, the most serious story in Cannon's book is also one of the most successful. It is well known that Lovecraft was himself a lover of cats, in particular one large, friendly, black tom of his acquaintance. Cannon's story "Old Man" would very nearly bring tears to the determinedly unsentimental Howard Phillips Lovecraft. As it did to mine.

I will not say that every story in Forever Azathoth is wholly successful, but for any devotee of Lovecraft it will surely provide some pleasant hours. At the end of which, the reader will more than likely head back to his personal library and reread a favorite story by Lovecraft himself.

Copyright © 2012 Richard A. Lupoff

Richard A. Lupoff is a prolific and versatile author of fantasy, mystery, and science fiction. His recent books include a novel, The Emerald Cat Killer, a multi-genre collection of stories, Dreams, and the forthcoming novel Rookie Blues. His chief contribution to Lovecraftiana is Marblehead: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft, available at www.ramblehouse.com.


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