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Shadows Bend
David Barbour and Richard Raleigh
Ace Books, 311 pages

Cliff Nielsen
Shadows Bend
David Barbour and Richard Raleigh
David Barbour lives in Sacramento, California, with his wife and daughter. He works for a law firm. Richard Raleigh lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with his wife and daughter. He is a folklorist and translator, as well as a professor of literature and creative writing. Both authors have been fans of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard since childhood.

ISFDB Bibliography: David Barbour
ISFDB Bibliography: Richard Raleigh
Shadows Bend website
The H.P. Lovecraft Archive
The Robert E. Howard Archive

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Victoria Strauss

Though Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan the Barbarian, and H.P. Lovecraft, originator of the Cthulhu Mythos, carried on a lively correspondence for a number of years, they never actually met. According to L. Sprague de Camp, biographer of both men (as quoted in the Afterword of Shadows Bend), their admirers "have ever since thought it a pity that these two exceptional men failed to shake each other's hand." But what if Howard and Lovecraft had met? And what if the impetus for their meeting had been a series of events eerily resembling Lovecraft's own weird fiction? That's the premise of Shadows Bend, which propels Howard and Lovecraft on a supernatural road trip, with nothing less than the future of the world at stake.

The book begins with Lovecraft on a bus, travelling to Texas to enlist the help of Howard, whom he thinks is the only person who might possibly believe the frightening tale he has to tell. Arriving precipitously at Howard's home in the middle of a violent storm, Lovecraft blurts out his story. A collector of antiquities, he recently acquired a Kachina doll whose features, strangely, recall those of the Old Ones of his fiction -- ancient, powerful extraterrestrial beings who became trapped on earth and now lie sleeping in deep hidden places. Inside the doll's clay head he discovered a bizarre alien Artifact, imprinted with the face of Cthulhu, most powerful of the Old Ones. Since then he's been pursued by horrible nightmares and a sense of being watched, and by the dread that elements of his invented mythos are somehow taking form in the real world.

Howard agrees to help, and together they set out to consult their friend, fellow weird fiction writer Clark Ashton Smith, who claims to have found an actual copy of a translation of the Necronomicon -- a book that Lovecraft always believed he himself invented, as part of the imaginary world of his stories. Along the way they're joined by a mysterious red-haired woman named Glory, and encounter an ancient Indian shaman, who has strange things to tell them. Dodging attack by hordes of maddened animals, eluding pursuit by two ghastly minions of Cthulhu, it becomes clear that Lovecraft's fear is fact: his fiction isn't fiction at all, but a glimpse of a dark, hidden reality, that is now emerging to menace all the world.

While there's enough adventure and paranormal weirdness here to satisfy any horror buff, with a rip-roaring subterranean confrontation at the climax, Shadows Bend is clearly aimed primarily at fans of Howard and Lovecraft. Barbour and Raleigh, who have obviously done their homework, present these two very odd men in lavish detail -- from Howard's quick temper, dependence on his mother, and ineptness with women, to Lovecraft's hypochondria and many personal eccentricities. There's plenty of Cthulhuvian lore as well, linked interestingly with Hopi mythology to explain why a gate to the netherworld might be located under the Southwestern desert; and Howard gets to behave in a Conanesque manner when confronted by various menaces.

Still, despite the detail, the characters never really come alive. This goes not just for Howard and Lovecraft, who seem less like flawed human beings than contrived compendiums of quirks and oddities, but for Glory, whose complicated mix of background, personality, and motivation never add up to believability. But what's really missing from this book is any real sense of the friendship between Howard and Lovecraft. Their differences are made clear, as are the ways in which they might annoy one another with their various peculiarities, but Barbour and Raleigh never manage to convey a genuine feeling of warmth or connection between them. Most of the time, they just seem like bad-tempered strangers in a car, rather than allies bonded by a long correspondence and a shared passion for imagined worlds, not to mention the terrible experience and forbidden knowledge of the fictional events of Shadows Bend.

Readers interested in another view of Howard may want to seek out the 1996 indie movie The Whole Wide World, which covers more or less the same time period, and offers (I think) a more complete and sympathetic portrait of this fascinating and unhappy man.

Copyright © 2000 by Victoria Strauss

Victoria Strauss is a novelist, and a lifelong reader of fantasy and science fiction. Her most recent fantasy novel The Garden of the Stone is currently available from HarperCollins EOS. For details, visit her website.

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