Alan Moore’s Neonomicon

Alan Moore's NeonomiconThis Christmas I received Alan Moore‘s Neonomicon as a rather excellent gift from my Father.

I’m quite a fan of Alan Moore’s work, being more literary in my upbringing I’ve taken more to his stories and characters than their artistic representation, whether in comic and graphic novel or in their film translations.

From The Ballad of Halo Jones to From Hell and Watchmen, I always find Alan Moore’s work thought provoking and inspirational.

Neonomicon is one of Moore’s most recent works, going hand in hand with it’s prequel, The Courtyard.

Both stories are included in the Avatar Press publication that my Father gave me.

It seems not only an understatement to say that Neonomicon is heavily influenced by the mythos and works of H. P. Lovecraft but more of a case of seeming to have missed the point of the work all together.

For one, the title itself (Neonomicon, the Book of New Names) is a reversal in concept of the Necronomicon (The Book of Dead Names) that is so frequently referenced in Mythos works.

As Neonomicon self-references:

…it’s almost like some big literary in-joke…

In Joke

The work is so full of Lovecraftian references, both overt and covert, that a Courtyard Companion has been written to collate and discuss those found in the prequel work.

Pushing Lovecraft to one side for a moment, the base story is sound enough.

The F.B.I. are investigating serial homicides that share identical methods but unrelated perpetrators.  The initial investigation of the prequel is picked up later by younger, fresher investigators (always a vulnerable breed in classic Mythos tales) who carry the story from investigation to investigation, right through to the story’s conclusion – and the reason for the graphic novel’s titular pun on the fictional Necronomicon of Lovecraft’s work.

There are equally good references to the contemporary occult scene, with mention of the works of Kenneth Grant.

Without becoming too wrapped up in over-analysing Neonomicon, the use of real world occult references is particularly gratifying for me.

Lovecraft himself fabricated many occult references within his work, as do many who work with Lovecraftian themes: Di Vermiss Mysteris, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Cthaat Aquadingen, the Necronomicon are just some that have been used by Mythos authors over the years.

Even films like Ghostbusters had their “Tobin’s Spirit Guide” to add a sense of academic relevance within the story.

Moore has turned this round by citing an actual British magician with methods and beliefs close to those of the Cthulhu Mythos.

He could just as easily have referenced Phil Hine‘s Pseudonomicon, Dave Evans’ work on magic throughout the 20th century (The History of British Magic After Crowley) or any number of other modern occult texts.

Alan Moore is considered something of a star of the contemporary occult scene himself.

This integration between the fictional medium of the graphic novel and the real world existence of actual magical practice just adds to the atmosphere arising from the overall theme of awakening and enlightenment evoked by the early sections of the work.

This ability to reach out and grab the reader has been well commented on in an analysis I discovered in YouTube:

And;

The book might not be for everybody though; in the latter third of the story, things become a little more shocking.

Lovecraft taught that horror is in the mind of the reader or viewer; Jacen Burrows artwork depicts what lies in the mind of the protagonist early on but later allows us to share the more mundane horror of murder and rape before the story transcends both to achieve an almost numbing sense of indifference to humanity.

All that being said, I really enjoyed Neonomicon and look forward to reading it again and again, finding something new with each re-visit.

English: Alan Moore speaking at TAM London 2010
Image via Wikipedia

I also have high hopes for its future, most of the works I could cite for Moore have been translated to the big screen; he is responsible for the creation of the John Constantine of Constantine, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, V for Vendetta as well as Watchmen and From Hell that I mentioned earlier.

I think I would like to see a transition of Neonomicon to film but I think it would probably be too short.

My first reading of Neonomicon must have taken around 90 minutes at best.

All in all I wouldn’t recommend Neonomicon to everybody; if you’re not a fan of the comic book style or you’re easily offended by sex and nudity then you may find it a little much.

However, if you’re already a fan of comics, Alan Moore or Lovecraft then I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I have.

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Sexuality in Supernatural Horror

Plush CthulhuAs Hallowe’en approaches it seems as good a time as any to write this… although I will warn you, it could be construed by some to be a fairly adult topic.

I’ve been chewing over this topic, on and off, for over nine months and for one reason or another I’ve procrastinated and put off writing about my thoughts on the subject.

I think the reason for my procrastination is the sensitive nature of sexuality as a discussion point.

Sexuality is, by its very nature, a very personal topic.

Normally I’m more than happy to put my neck on the line when discussing something as trivial as personal politics; I’m certainly not precious about offending people with my views on more grass roots politics but as personal as it is, sexuality is not something that I class as political.

If somebody thinks poorly of me because of my political opinions then I couldn’t care less; if somebody thinks poorly of me because they think I’m judging their sexual preference then I’m more concerned.

I would be deeply offended if somebody judged me for my heterosexuality and equally offended if somebody assumed I was judging them for their own sexual preference.

With that caveat in mind, I’d like to raise the subject of Sexuality in Supernatural Horror.

Towards the beginning of the year I purchased a multi-region cinema system. This opened up a whole range of films that I had been unable to view since adopting my Xbox as my primary means of watching DVDs.

I set about watching a wealth of low budget, region 1 encoded, Lovecraft related movies.

I should take a moment to explain that I do have a “thing” for the depiction of the supernatural in horror – regardless of the medium.  I have seen some truly awe inspiring movies and read hundreds of novels and short stories that others might pass of as cheap, pulpy, tat.

One of the films that struck me – by title, blurb and cover – as being  must see was the 2007 release of a film titled Cthulhu.

The blurb reads

A Seattle history professor, drawn back to his estranged family on the Oregon coast to execute his late mother’s estate, is reaquainted with his best friend from childhood, with whom he has a long-awaited tryst. Caught in an accelerating series of events, he discovers aspects of his father’s New Age cult which take on a dangerous and apocalyptic significance.

CthulhuThe cover shows a shaven-headed figure staring off into the distant ocean at dusk.  A very atmospheric shot.

The overall plot of Cthulhu has a definite “Shadow Over Innsmouth” feel to it and is executed wonderfully.

The scenes towards the end of the film are probably the best I have seen in a Lovecraftian movie; striking, moving and disturbing – everything you would want from this kind of movie.

It is at this point in my review I should raise the inclusion of sexuality, not because I feel a personal need to do so but because it plays such an important role in the film itself.

The films lead character happens to be homosexual.  The film opens with him talking with his partner, just an ordinary day in the life of a couple.  There is comfort given over the loss of a loved one and the disappointment of a couple about to spend a brief time apart.

This is striking in contemporary cinema because it is such a break from the norm and so used am I to the portrayal of heterosexual relationships in movies that I have to admit, I was – I don’t know – surprised? Is that the right term? – somewhat surprised, despite the trailers that had preceded the film.

The production company, Here! films, appear to be a company producing predominantly LBGT focussed movies – and very well made ones if Cthulhu is anything to go by.

The lead’s sexuality then goes unmentioned for most of the film.

There is an obvious rift between the lead and his Father, some of which being down to an objection by the Father to his son’s sexual preference.

There are also a couple of scenes of intimacy, both in flashback and modern time, between the lead and a former lover who is still resident in his home town.

Finally there is quite a disturbing scene involving where the lead is forced into a sexual encounter with  a woman.

By that point in the film, the initial “surprise” had given way to immersion in the story; the lead’s sexuality had become just another facet of the lead that I understood to be just that, a facet of the lead.  It is a credit to the film makers that they could evoke such disturbance in the mind of a heterosexual male, empathising with the plight of the on-screen homosexual male.

As you can probably tell, the film had quite an effect on me; enough that I am still able to evoke the atmosphere of the film and write about it now, nine months on.

After watching the film, my initial reaction was one of shock; a similar kind of shock to that which I encountered after watching Trainspotting for the first time.

I guess this is most likely down to the cultural difference and the fact that, no matter how open minded I believe I am, I just wasn’t prepared for such a frank depiction of male of homosexuality.

As such, I’m glad I watched the movie.

Once the initial culture shock had worn off, I found myself questioning the overall relevance of sexuality to the genre of supernatural horror.

The old Hammer movies would often include scantily clad maidens and reveal the odd piece of female nudity here and there but that is what British horror cinema was like back then.  I think there was even a hammer movie with a slightly sapphic theme… was it Twins of Evil? I’d have to search out the disc and watch it again.

My point is, the female nudity of Hammer was less about sexuality and more about exploitation and cheap thrills.

In fact, any sexuality hinted at in films I have seen to date have been attempts by the writer to pigeon-hole characters to stereotypes in the mind of the viewer.  Regardless of whether that character is hetero or homo.

The reason that I was so surprised by Cthulhu was simply because the film was depicted from the point of view of  a gay man.  Any other film I have seen has always been depicted from the point of view of a straight man or woman.

Had it been a standard hollywood blcokbuster, the film would have been almost identical – only depicted from the point of view of a straight man.  Scenes would have been cut that caused the viewer to see through the eyes of the gay lead.

There would have been no flashback to a scene of mutual masturbation with a childhood friend and Tori Spelling would have probably just flirted with the lead rather than pressing her suit in such a forceful manner.

All that being said, I come back to a question of relevance in supernatural horror.

If sexuality had played no part whatsoever, or at least as little a significant part as it does in any mainstream movie, I think Cthulhu would have been just as good a rendition of a Lovecraftian story.

Granted, it probably wouldn’t have inspired me to write about it outside of a “Top 5 Lovecraftian Movies I’ve Seen This Year” themed blog but the movie would stand well either with or without references to sexuality.

DagonIt is a shame that some viewers might be put off watching Cthulhu because of it’s homosexual content but I’m a strong believer in freedom of thought as well as freedom of speech.  There are equally good films along a similar theme; the excellent film Dagon for instance – which, interestingly enough, also contains scenes of female nudity.

I’ve written far more than I thought I would on the subject and I truly hope I haven’t offended anyone with what I have written.

I’m still on the look out for good Lovecraftian movies, regardless of any other themes or sub-themes they carry outside of supernatural horror.

Lovecraft and Pedantry

I took a visit to Waterstones today.

Huddersfield has two.  One in the town centre and one in the Kingsgate Shopping centre – the former being a far better store.

Whilst in the top Waterstones I noticed that the layout had been altered since my last visit.

This led to an enjoyable re-exploration of the store; more so as friends of mine work there.

I was recently given a book token as a gift and so was looking for anything interesting that might jump out.

I have a fairly predictable routine in book stores.

Science Fiction Fantasy, then horror, then graphic novels and roleplaying games and finally philosophy, spirituality and occult.

A lot of stores don’t have the latter but the better of Huddersfield’s Waterstones does.

Whilst attempting to move from the science fiction/fantasy section to horror, I was blocked by two young gentlemen.

They looked like students and roleplayers to boot.  (It takes one to know one).

Rather than bully them out of the way (as I did later in the day when looking for a Rider/Waite Tarot deck in the Kingsgate Waterstones) I stood and waited for them to finish browsing.

On the shelf were two impressive, black bound hardcover compilations of stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft: The Best Weird Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft (Gollancz S.F.)

Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre

I have both, I’m quite a fan of Lovecraft as are many that people I know.  These two compilations are really well put together and part of a set covering the works of a number of other similar authors.

It was with horror that I listened in on the conversation the two were having.
Oh look, Lovecraft
Exclaims the first.
Hurr Hurr … I LOVE Lovecraft
His friend replies.  The first reaches to take the black bound compilation entitled “Necronomicon”.
What’s that… the necmuh  erm necromah… erm neh…
Without turning the first chap replies,
‘Necronomicon’
His friend leans over and nods,
Oh yeah… that’s his best one isn’t it, the Necronomicon?
The first chap looks at his friend in shock.  As do I.  I mean, the Necronomicon is a reference to the fictional book that has played a part in so many mythos stories and spin offs… it’s hardly Lovecraft’s “best one”.
Really?
The first one replies
I quite like ‘The Raven’
It is at this point I decide it is best I leave before my inner pedant, Saint Patrony himself, lets loose on the pair.  I’m not quick enough though, I still manage to hear his friend’s final response.
Yeah, that’s his best work… the Raven.
I’m still seething now…

Kraken Rum – Lovecraft in a Bottle

Kraken - BottleLast year, a good friend of mine alerted me to the existence of Kraken Black Spiced Rum.

We were both taken with the look and feel of the product’s website and more importantly, the imagery and design of the bottle itself.

A quick search about wholesalers and distributors in the UK proved that the only way we could acquire a bottle would be to order from the States itself.

The cost of both the Kraken gift set and postage was initially prohibitive and so we gave up on the idea.

Alcohol is expensive enough in the UK without importing it in; we decided to wait for a UK release.

Kraken - ReverseThis month I discovered that a number of UK outlets are now selling Kraken.  I purchased a bottle from TheDrinkShop.com (I’ve only ever used them for Absinthe or Asbach Uralt previously).

The rum itself looks wonderfully dark, like ink, but I can’t bring myself to open it for a taste… yet.

As I hint at above, the company’s website is a treat.  Amongst its distinct antique style it makes good use of technology to showcase a little of the history and mythology surrounding the Kraken.

The artwork and typeface is superb, the same can be said for my imported bottle.

A search, through google’s shopping option, shows a number of other sources in the UK but I find TheDrinkShop.com to be reliable and easy enough to use – if a little steep on its shipping costs.

The KRAKEN Black Spiced Rum 70cl Bottle is also available from Amazon, albeit shipped by TheDrinkShop.com

Kraken - LabelKraken - Kraken

The Hounds of Tindalos

The Transition of Titus CrowI’ve long been a devotee of the Cthulhu Mythos; in fact a number of unfinished posts for this blog have been Mythos themed.

This January just gone I have had something of a Mythos renaissance.  I finally regained use of a multi-region DVD player and had some success in tracking down a number of US release only Mythos DVDs.

Even better, I’ve read through Brian Lumley‘s Primal Lands and Mythos sequences, back to back.

I love Lumley’s take on the Mythos.  General Mythos stories tend to have the protagonist left gibbering, driven to insanity by the unspeakable horrors they have witnessed.

Whilst this does still happen in Lumley’s tales, there are heroes to stand up to the oneiric machinations of Cthulhu and his kin.

Hound of TindalosIt was during this last series that I was reminded of the Hounds of Tindalos,  temporal vampires that leech into our world through acute angles.

In Lumley’s Mythos sequence, these fluttering hunters of the fourth dimension plague Lumley’s heroes, literally hounding them through time.

I remember the feeling of sheer desperation the first time I read The Transition of Titus Crow, as the hounds push Titus Crow from one well thought out trap to another.

Later in the series, Crow’s friend, Henri-Laurent de Marigny, is likewise hounded but deals with them in true Lumley hero style.

The Hounds of TindalosThe Hounds of Tindalos were first introduced to the Mythos by Frank Belknap Long in his short story of the same name.

The tale is a favourite of mine; ahead of its time with regards the combination of occult thought and methodologies to scientific theory and practice.

The musings of Long’s ill fated Chalmers at the story’s opening, echo my own opinion on scientific thought.  In fact the Chalmers character reminds me somewhat of 1930s Peter J Carroll.  Of course Carroll would likely deal with the Tind’losi Hounds in a manner that any Lumley hero would be proud.

Whilst musing over the Hounds of Tindalos, and the feeling that their initial pursuit of Titus Crow left me with I was reminded of a similar feeling of relentless pursuit that I encountered in my youth.

Hounds of LoveYears before first reading anything remotely Lovecraftian, I remember feeling that same sense of desperation from Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love.

Released in 1985, (I think), I would have probably encountered the song a couple of years later, on a VHS version of The Whole Story.

The pursuit of Kate and her lover, in the video, fits well with the theme of the song.

Although, I’m fairly sure that Kate’s intention was more to show the inevitability of the eventual submission to love’s pursuit in the heart of a romantic (or at least that’s what the song means to me, when I’m not likening it to the futile evasion of some dark eldritch horror).

It’s in the trees… It’s coming!

I think the opening line is taken from Night of the Demon, in turn based on MR James’ Casting the Runes.

Synchronous that the two sources of such a powerful sensation of unending pursuit share such a similar name.  So much so that I had to google to check if there had been some kind of Kate Bush Hounds of Tindalos/Hounds of Love parody; sadly nothing more than this hounds of history link.

And so in lieu of a version that is to hand and with deference to the wonderful Kate Bush and the works of Lumley and Long; I have attempted to create my own Tind’losi version of the song.

The Hounds of Tindalos (To Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love)

“They’re In My Dreams!
They’re Coming!”

When I Was Asleep:
Dreaming Strange Dreams,
Afraid Of What Might Be

Dreaming In The Dark,
Hiding In The Dream,
And Of What Was Following Me…

The Hounds Of Tindalos See Me.
Have I Always Been A Coward,
And I Don’t Know Where to Go From Here.

Here I Go!
They’re Coming For Me Through My Dreams.
Help Me, Someone!
Help Me, Please!

Take The Corners,
And Mould Them Into Curves,
And I’ll Be,
Safe For The Moment.

They’re Forming Cracks,
Led By Dholes.
I Try To Smooth Them With My Hands.

My Fragile Heart,
It Beats So Fast,
And I’m Ashamed Of Running Away.

From Nothing Real?
I Just Can’t Deal With This,
But I’m Still Afraid To Be There,

Among The Hounds Of Tindalos,
And Feel Their Presence Reach For Me.
Have I Always Been A Coward,
And Now I Know It’s Too Late For Me.

Oh, Here I Go!
Don’t Let Me Go!
Hold Me Down!
They’re Coming For Me Through My Dreams.
Help Me, Darling,
Help Me, Please!

Take The Corners,
And Mould Them Into Curves,
And I’ll Be,
Safe For The Moment.

I Know It’s Too Late For Me.
I Know It’s Too Late For Me.
I Hear The Hounds Of Tindalos, Yeah!
Tind’losi Hounds!

Take The Corners,
And Mould Them Into Curves!

Do You Know What I Really Hear?
Do You Know What I Really Hear?
I Hear The Hounds Of Tindalos, Yeah!

The Atrocity Archives

The Atrocity ArchivesLast night, on the recommendation of a friend, I read The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross.

What a good recommendation that was. Essentially a collection of consecutive novellas, The Atrocity Archives is an amalgam of spy thriller and supernatural horror, all wrapped up with an early cyberpunk feel. This is the first of three books following tech-occultist Bob Howard as he begins field work for “The Laundry”, a UK intelligence organisation focusing on the suppression of certain occult threats to our world.

The world Stross portrays is very similar to our own, only with an emphasis on a link between science and magick; mathematics and physics being directly accountable for occult events. We find entities used in The Laundry’s phone system, zombies controlled as security guards and a variety of interesting field items. The Laundry is kept busy by the natural re-discoveries of dangerous occult memes by everyday techies/occultists like you or I. Whilst the people of the past may summon an entity by means of animal sacrifice, the same effect can be achieved by means of a accurately positioned laser grid or with the correct application of capacitance. It’s interesting to see how Stross’s ideas could fit so easily into contemporary occult practice.

Stross manages to merge the shadowy worlds of espionage and Lovecraftian horror in a way that impresses me more than other similar works. I think my experience on IT help-desks makes me more sympathetic to the world that Bob Howard protects; that and Bob’s lack of any superhuman ability. The Laundry is far more convoluted and bureaucratic than Brian Lumley‘s E-Branch (don’t get me wrong, I love Lumley’s work – E-Branch especially) and Stross’s tale is far more relevant to today than Robert R. McCammon‘s The Wolf’s Hour or The Night Boat (again, both excellent works).

The horror in The Atrocity Archives is not limited to themes of eldritch magicks and foul tentacled elder gods. We also find horror in the descriptions of our own world’s history; Nazi atrocities, modern day acts of terrorism and the hopelessness of a bureaucratic workplace. There is humour too, the kind of dry, quotable humour that many tech geeks would appreciate.

The third book, The Fuller Memorandum is due out some time this year but the second, The Jennifer Morgue, is available and on its way to me soon.

Yog Sothoth

Yog Sothoth - The Key and The GateA good friend of mine posed a question this morning:

Q. Do you think Yogg-Sothoth was an Old One or an Elder God?

My initial response was to cite my belief that the two terms are, not necessarily, mutually exclusive.

Yog SothothI’ve always considered Yog Sothoth to be something more than the likes of Cthulhu and Azazthoth – in the same way that Nyarlathotep is something less. After all, Yog Sothoth is the Lurker on the Threshold – this eldritch entity that inhabits the Bits Between the Bits.

Cthulhu is nothing more than an aeons dead dreamer who struggles to get up in a morning and Azathoth is merely an, albeit cosmic, interstellar ball of blind rage.

A brief google shows that most followers of the Cthulhu Mythos seem to view Yog Sothoth as an Elder God or at least an “Outer” God… Nyarlathotep and Azathoth are also deemed to be Outer Gods; Azathoth is even placed alongside Yog Sothoth. So I accept that my initial reaction was incorrect.

One good thing to come out of this brief study is that my assumptions surrounding Tsathoggua (probably my favourite Cthulhu Cycle Deity) are correct. To my mind, Tsathoggua is the definitive Old One. Good old St. Toad.