Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Door to Infinity: Mythos without Lovecraft [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I got my start in the Mythos business by playing Call of Cthulhu, a role-playing game in which private detectives, soldiers, dilettantes and hobos face off against cultists with one goal: to return the Great Old Ones to the earth. This fun blend of adventure and horror was created by Sandy Petersen and Gene Day and based on the works of H. P. Lovecraft.

The game led me to read virtually every story Lovecraft wrote. And what you don't find are adventures featuring private detectives, soldiers, dillentes and hobos facing off against cultists with one goal: to return the Great Old Ones to the earth. Lovecraft's protagonists are usually people much the same as Lovecraft himself: New England gentlemen, librarians and writers. A few stories - such as "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror" - feature "cultists," but usually in the background.

So what gives? Some of this is the gamification of the Cthulhu Mythos by Petersen. To make the game fun to play, you have to DO something. He included the 1920s Private Eye and other historical professions such as the Hobo and former veterans of WWI. But this was all the way in 1982. Did anyone ever try the Mythos adventure back in the day? Plenty of people wrote pseudo-Lovecraft including August Derleth, Robert Bloch, C Hall Thompson, Henry Kuttner, and Frank Belknap Long. And these were just the ones in Weird Tales. But did anyone ever write a Call of Cthulhu (referred to as CoC from now on) style story to inspire Petersen fifty years later?

Just one writer, a contemporary of HPL with a long list of credits all his own, Edmond Hamilton. The story was "The Door to Infinity" and of course it appeared in Weird Tales (August-September 1936), six months before HPL's death. Hamilton got his start in WT in August 1926 with "The Monster-God of Mamurth", a tale of an invisible temple and its giant spider god. Most of Hamilton's reputation in 1936 rested on his Science Fiction which included gigantic space battles, giving him the sobriquet of "World Wrecker Hamilton". So why would he write a CoC style tale?

The reason is simple. Hamilton was versatile. He wrote all kinds of Science Fiction and Fantasy for WT. He wrote Heroic Fantasy in "Lost Elysium" and "Twilight of the Gods", monster SF in "The Metal Giants" and "The Star-Stealers", lyrical Fantasy like "He That Hath Wings" (inspiring Angel of the X-Men), Animal SF in "Day of Judgment" (Kamandi before Jack Kirby), horror tales like "The Vampire Master" as Hugh Davidson, space opera in "Corsairs of the Cosmos", and every kind of fantastic story you can think of. Hamilton was a writer up for anything, even a Mythos romp.

"Door to Infinity" has two heroes, Inspector Pierce Campbell of Scotland Yard and handsome, young American, Paul Innis. Campbell and Innis have to track down the dangerous Brotherhood of the Door when they steal Innis' wife, Ruth. The agent of the Brotherhood is Chandra Dass, an evil Malay with plenty of henchmen. The two heroes are captured and sent to their deaths down a trap door to the Thames. Only Campbell's resourcefulness saves them, allowing the duo to chase Dass along the river and discover the secret headquarters of the cult in a limestone cliff. Once inside, posing as cultists, the two men find that the Brotherhood has several sacrificial victims, including Ruth, who will supply the energy to open a dimensional door. Paul Innis sees:
The spherical web of wires pulsed up madly with shining force. And up at the center of the gleaming black oval facet on the wall, there appeared a spark of unearthly green light. It blossomed outward, expanded, an awful viridescent flower blooming quickly outward farther and farther. And as it expanded, Ennis saw that he could look through that green light! He looked through into another universe, a universe lying infinitely far across alien dimensions from our own, yet one that could be reached through this door between dimensions. It was a green universe, flooded with an awful green light that was somehow more akin to darkness than to light, a throbbing, baleful luminescence.

Ennis saw dimly through green-lit spaces a city in the near distance, an unholy city of emerald hue whose unsymmetrical, twisted towers and minarets aspired into heavens of hellish viridity. The towers of that city swayed to and fro and writhed in the air. And Ennis saw that here and there in the soft green substance of that restless city were circles of lurid light that were like yellow eyes.

In ghastly, soul-shaking apprehension of the utterly alien, Ennis knew that the yellow circles were eyes—that that hell-spawned city of another universe was living—that its unfamiliar life was single yet multiple, that its lurid eyes looked now through the Door! 
Sax Rohmer
Out from the insane living metropolis glided pseudopods of its green substance, glided toward the Door. Ennis saw that in the end of each pseudopod was one of the lurid eyes. He saw those eyed pseudopods come questing through the Door, onto the dais.

The yellow eyes of light seemed fixed on the row of stiff victims, and the pseudopods glided toward them. Through the open door was beating wave on wave of unfamiliar, tingling forces that Ennis felt even through the protective robe. 
Campbell's trusty revolver takes out the web-wires and the door closes. A big shoot out and a fiery escape and there you have it. One quality CoC adventure.

Was this Hamilton's best work? No, CoC aside, the whole set-up reeks of Sax Rohmer and Fu Manchu. Campbell is Weyland Smith-fantastic and Paul Innis is too handsome and too American. Weird Tales readers in 1936 would have been quite familiar with Fu Manchu, since Rohmer had resurrected his 1917 character and had been writing new Fu's all through the 1930s: Daughter of Fu Manchu (1931), The Mask of Fu Manchu (1932), The Bride of Fu Manchu (1933), The Trail of Fu Manhcu (1934), and President Fu Manchu (1936). Rohmer's racism is also evidenced by the dastardly Chandra Dass.

What I find so interesting about this story is how close Hamilton comes to Lovecraft but does not cross over into the Mythos. Was this because Lovecraft hadn't invited him to join his circle? (I wonder what HPL's reaction to the tale was?) Was it because Hamilton had had no real interest in the Cthulhu Mythos? Did Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales request this tale? Perhaps Hamilton just got there on his own, for Wright never rejected any story by Hamilton in their twenty-four years of working together. Wright allowed Hamilton great freedom and the rewards were many. The tentactular beasties are squamous and eldritch enough for Lovecraft but in the end they are aliens coming from another dimension. The Mythos magic just isn't there. For us time-traveling back to the days of the Pulps, "The Door to Eternity" makes a great "what could have been". Who knows, I just might get that old box set out and chase some cultists around London or Arkham or even Hamilton's own Ohio.

Read "The Door to Infinity" at Project Gutenberg.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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