I was going through the usual last-minute Christmas shopping frenzy last week at a local chain bookstore which was nestled in Roseville, one of the first ring suburbs of Minneapolis. Whenever I am in these bookstores, I tend to make a direct path to the science fiction and fiction sections, even if I ultimately will buy something else. Usually, my goal is to make a fairly clinical survey of what is being published and what is being sold. I prefer to do my actual shopping in any one of the fine local shops around the Twin Cities. I hold plenty of well-earned prejudices about chain bookstores.
Which is why I was shocked to see a lone copy of The Starry Wisdom sitting askew on the anthology shelf. It looked out of place, rare, perhaps mysterious. With a constellation of occult and horror luminaries spread across the cover, I had to give it a look. Within a few moments of picking it up, I was at a table with the first pages waiting for me. I had forgotten about the shopping I was supposed to be doing.
I am not all that interested in writing a review of this anthology here and now. The book did pull me in, and I finished over half of the book before I remembered what I was there for. So, the stories and the presentation are something to be admired. What was most exciting for me was the sense of discovery, no, of encounter, which I can't say I've had with many books lately. Moving through these pages was a journey, a journey which was unhindered by my own genre assumptions.
While reading these stories I realized that I missed having this kind of communion with a book. Reading provides all sorts of rewards, but this uncanny and strange aspect is seldom present. As a superstitious person, I tend to think this is a result of the authors themselves believing what they are writing, perhaps not in the banal daylight, but certainly while they labored under the writing and editing of the fictions. Perhaps it was a result, in this particular case, of editor D.M. Mitchell's willingness and desire to seek the truth that propelled H.P. Lovecraft's elaborate and obsessive stories.
I am not defending the notion that H.P. Lovecraft fell victim to his own imagination. There's been some suggestion that in his later years, Lovecraft became more and more convinced that his creations were real and communicating through him. This is possible, the same case has been made against another genre visionary, Phillip K. Dick. I don't believe that Lovecraft sincerely believed Cthulu waited under the ocean to return one day, but I can believe that he became overwhelmed by the forces he was trying to express in his fiction. Good horror takes itself and it's subject seriously, so like that adage about chasing monsters, it isn't too surprising that some might fall victim to the same abyss they seek to illuminate.
In the wake of reading The Starry Wisdom, I felt a longing and homesickness as I recalled how long it had been since I had felt this kind of power in a book. I need stories to reach as deep as they can go and clutch at my bones. I need reading to be an experience in itself, not merely an simulacrum of experience. I expect that this hunger is what drives much of my writing, this quest to transcribe the ineffable or the unnameable into a manageable format. This attraction toward the dark heart of these stories is not some new feeling, rather it is a welcome, if bittersweet, reminder of all that has driven me to write. The magic of this communication is the same as the first time I read Edgar Allen Poe, Thomas Ligotti or Clive Barker. Not a strange, unknown chill, but the paradoxical comfort of returning to the murky home of imagination's original darkness.