Saturday, February 16, 2013

Memories of Glaaki

The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell (1964; revised edition 2011): Ramsey Campbell's first published book was the Lovecraftian horror collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, published by Arkham House in 1964 when Campbell was 18 (!!!). This 2011 anniversary edition from Great Britain's PS Publishing (the anniversary being 50 years since Campbell first put pen to paper on the stories herein) is a terrifically well-produced and generous piece of work.

It's obviously best suited to Campbell completists, but it also offers a great deal of insight into the development of Campbell as a writer and into the methods of H.P. Lovecraft's posthumous Boswell, August Derleth, who co-founded Arkham House to keep HPL's work, and the work of other horror and dark-fantasy writers, alive.

The original cover illustrator actually got the title agreed upon by Campbell and Derleth wrong, as Campbell explains herein. The intended title is restored here. Along with the original contents of the volume, we also get new commentary from Campbell (Derleth died in 1971), the original versions of several of the stories, a story published elsewhere by Arkham House as a 'teaser' for Campbell's collection, and reprints of several of Derleth's letters to Campbell about the stories Campbell had submitted. Oh, and there are extremely apt new illustrations that capture the flavour of such classic Weird Tales illustrators as Lee Brown Coye.

Campbell's still very much a developing writer here, paying homage to the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and other Cthulhu Mythos scribes. But the original and published versions of several of the stories show how quickly Campbell was capable of developing, especially after he took Derleth's career-changing advice and created his own English environment for his Mythos stories.

Campbell's imaginary Cotswolds city of Brichester and its surrounding, demon-haunted towns of Temphill, Goatswood, and Clotton would serve Campbell well as he swiftly moved from pastiche writer to idiosyncratic, unique wordsmith. Campbell's unique narrative viewpoint would develop with great rapidity -- by 1968, he was writing stories that were recognizably 'Campbellian.' But one can see some of that individuality surfacing in this collection; flashes of what's to come.

Campbell's commentary on his own stories depicts a Derleth who was astonishingly generous with his time -- Campbell got Derleth to read several of his stories with a simple letter. It also takes the reader through some of the missteps that remained in the published versions (Campbell notes, for instance, the peculiar ability of a couple of his protagonists to fall asleep in situations during which no normal human would fall asleep, or his peculiar ideas about American regional history that ended up putting a decaying, ancient castle in rural Massachusetts).

But there's a lot that's compelling about these early efforts, especially for anyone interested in the Cthulhu Mythos and/or Ramsey Campbell. And the volume itself from PS Publishing is a handsome piece of work with surprisingly good copy-editing for this day and age. Kudos! Highly recommended.

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