Shared Universes in Horror Literature: From Cthulhu to Sha’Daa
by Anthony Servante
A Servante of Darkness reprint from The Black Glove Blog (October 2011)
Welcome to the Darkness, dear readers. Today we concern ourselves with Shared Universes in the Horror genre, especially with otherly creatures and monsters, with a little bit of religion thrown in.
We begin with HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu and August Derleth’s expansion of the series into the “Cthulhu Mythos.” In the short story, The Call of Cthulhu, first published in Weird Tales (1928), Lovecraft described his malevolent creature as “…an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque scaly body with rudimentary wings”. His monster was part of a bigger world, an underwater empire where it was trapped, called R’lyeh. Accompanying the imprisoned creature are the Deep Ones. This group of monsters echoes the fallen angels described in Milton’s Paradise Lost: Satan as the snake-like creature surrounded by Astaroth, Belial, et all, now transformed from heavenly winged beings to slithering foul creatures inhabiting Hades, the prison for them created by God. And as the religious followers chose to worship Christ and loathe the hellish behemoths of the Underworld, so too did sects and cults emerge in countries across the globe to worship rather than loathe the Cthulhuian beasts. And as Christians await the End of Times, that is, the Coming of the Antichrist, the Leviathan rising from the sea to signal the reemergence of Lucifer, the Cthulhu followers expect the return of the tentacled dragon and its fellow creatures to annihilate mankind, nay, all living things. From the monster came the world of the monster and its inhabitants, a place of dread for mankind but without purpose for man.
August Derleth expanded Lovecraft’s religious scenario in his short story, The Return of Hastur, to include more Christian elements. It was more apparent in Derleth’s revisions that Cthulhu represented evil—Hastur filling in for Satan’s right-hand demon, Astaroth—and good was represented by the Ancient Ones. Mankind was not an inconsequential prize, a victim of circumstance, as depicted by Lovecraft; under Derleth’s guidance, Mankind was the prize. In The Trail of Cthulhu (1944-1952) Derleth represents man’s role in the universal struggle, when he creates the characters, Doctor Laban Shrewsbury and his associates, who prepare for the coming of the trapped behemoth, representative of the many religions that prepare believers and followers for the Second Coming of Christ and the rising of the Antichrist from the depths. Derleth’s version of Cthulhu was more relatable to believers of God and the Devil, with Mankind caught in the middle of their struggle to gain men’s faith and souls. As such, Derleth is closer to the Christian writings of CS Lewis, especially in The Chronicles of Narnia (although Narnia is not a shared universe), than to Lovecraft, who saw Mankind’s role in the Cthulhu myth as amoral, almost without value or worth.
In the Adversary Cycle (AC) by F. Paul Wilson, the struggle between opposing forces also views Mankind as fuel rather than the goal of their galactic war. However, Man has a role in the struggle, closer to Derleth’s interpretation than Lovecraft’s. The AC consists of The Keep (1981), The Tomb (1984), The Touch (1986), Reborn (1990), Reprisal (1991), and Nightworld 1992). Note that although the six books comprise the core world of the AC, the first three were written as standalone novels. But Wilson had one of his “dreaded epiphanies” and created the universe of the AC., incorporating the first three books to conform to the new universe that culminates in Nightworld. Wilson explains,
"In 1987, after finishing BLACK WIND, I started on REBORN. I'd outlined it years before but it didn't gel. I wanted it to look like a ROSEMARY'S BABY or an OMEN but actually be something different (just as THE KEEP looks like a vampire novel for a while, but it's not). I wanted to use an evil entity other than the tired old Antichrist, but who? Then I realized I already had that entity in Rasalom. I needed a suburban setting convenient to Manhattan, and realized I already had one in Monroe where THE TOUCH took place. I became intrigued by the challenge of tying those novels, and THE TOMB as well, into Rasalom's reincarnation, bringing the books full circle.
Things grew from there. The result was an outline for a 1,000-plus-page novel. Nobody was going to publish that, so I broke it down into a trilogy and sold it that way. But it remains a single novel-a roman fleuve, if you will." Wilson further expanded this universe by extending the Repairman Jack role that began in The Tomb into a series of books filling gaps between the standalone book and the events leading to the end of the world as Mankind knows it” (Repairmanjack.com FAQ).
F. Paul Wilson
In essence, Repairman Jack parallels Dr. Shrewsbury, the middle-man between the battle between good and evil—only in the AC, the struggle is not so simple. But, as in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, Mankind bears no direct influence on its destructive path; nor is it closer to Derleth’s version of the underwater creature where Mankind is the goal. In the AC, there seems to be a balance between the entities that one side (evil, per se) seeks to tilt in its own favor, whereas the opposing side (good, per se) only seeks to keep the balance. This is of course a layman’s simplistic summary of the AC, but we are here about monsters, so let’s get to it. These are the creatures from the Otherness:
§ Chew Flies - The most prolific of the horrors described in the book, the "Chew Flies" (as young Jeffy dubs them) are flying creatures, vaguely resembling anglerfish, whose large mouths are filled with glass-like teeth. The teeth tend to fall out when the creature is struck, and the characters form makeshift swords by attaching scavenged Chew Fly teeth to wooden sticks in order to defend themselves.
§ Stab Flies - Appearing at the same time as the Chew Flies but somewhat less common, the "Stab Flies" (again named by Jeffy) have no mouth, but their head is formed into a large, hard proboscis with which they can impale a victim in order to extract blood to feed upon.
§ Glob Flies - Similar to the Chew Flies, the Glob Flies have a shapeless gelatinous head which oozes acid.
§ Jelly Blobs - Tentacles masses which drift lazily in air, bristling with stinging feelers.
§ Crawlers - These creatures resemble jet-black millipedes the size of a man, but are carnivorous and reproduce by laying eggs in human bodies (in the manner of numerous types of flies which parasitize caterpillars). The remarkably tenacious Hank Treece finally meets his end at the hands of a "queen" of these creatures after escaping seeming death three times in preceding chapters.
§ Sky Leviathans - Titanic creatures who inhabit the night sky and fly around the world to stay ahead of the sunrise, they are not concretely described but are large enough to swallow a passenger airplane whole.
§ Rasalom - The ancient sorcerer responsible for the onslaught of Darkness spends most of the book in a cave deep within the first of the immense pits which opens in Central Park (they do not actually lead down into the Earth, but rather into the Dark Dimensions). In the final scene, he emerges only partially transformed, into a huge beast with several gangly arm/legs and a central body with at least one vast eye (Thank you, Wikipedia).
In Nightworld, these monsters resemble the fellow creatures of Cthulhu (Rasalom, in this case) or as in the Christian version, Satan and his minions. So, F. Paul Wilson created his own shared universe by uniting his stand-alone novels into the overall world of the Otherness. Although he has not opened the door to sharing his universe with other authors, I believe the manner in which this universe was created counts it as a shared world. NOTE: Since this article first appeared, the Adversary Cycle has continued to grow into its own universe with Wilson incorporating former writings with new books to expand his shared world.
Sha’Daa, however, is a shared world collaboration founded by Michael H. Hanson. Influenced by F. Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle, Hanson had a “dreaded epiphany”, as Wilson calls it. Hanson explains, “I guess it was a combination of factors. I was feeling a bit depressed and did not have the drive to expand my outline into a fully-fledged novel. Also, I had been a real admirer of the shared-world anthology known as WILD CARDS. Also, in a conversation I had with famed author F. Paul Wilson, I found out that his first three books THE KEEP, THE TOMB, and THE TOUCH, were also written as standalone books, but afterwards he conceived of a way to make them part of a single, cohesive series. All these factors just kind of gelled in my head, and I came up with the idea of "The Sha'Daa," where I could say that many of my already published horror stories are actually directly tied to the concept of this 48-hour apocalypse that happens on the Earth once every 10,000 years. I then came up with a half-dozen short story scenarios that I felt would make a nice book, and suddenly got the idea that I could turn this into a long-running anthology series like WILD CARDS, or THIEVES WORLD, or HEROES IN HELL, etc.” (2011).
Thus, the first book was written. Michael H. Hanson’s SHA’DAA Tales of the Apocalypse (2009) reached print followed by SHA’DAA: Last Call (2010) Altered Dimensions, both edited by Edward F. McKeown. There are more books in the works. Hanson, with the help of authors, Edward F. McKeown, Deborah Koren, Arthur Sanchez, Nancy Jackson, Lee Ann Kuruganti, Wilson G. Marsh, Jamie Schmidt, Duncan MacMaster, Adrienne Ray, Robert Adams, T. Anthony Truax, Paul Barrett, Jordan Lapp, Sarah Wagner, Bruce Durham, Michael H. Hanson (himself), and the late James Wasserman, returned the shared universe to the mythos of Cthulhu by way of the Adversary Cycle. While Hanson admired the shared fantasy and science fiction worlds, he used the SHA’DAA to depict the earth caught between evil and good entities of enormous destruction, while keeping his authors locked into the mythos by use of the Salesman, who represents the catalyst that ties the two entities in their struggle, just as Dr. Shrewsbury did for Derleth and Repairman Jack did for Wilson.
The SHA’DAA represents an opening in a dimension that allows Cthuluian creatures to enter Earth’s dimension, wrecking havoc and horror. It is as if Hell had opened and Satan’s spawn were unleashed on the world. What makes this universe different from the AC or the Cthulu Mythos is that the humans here have effect on battling the creatures. Their roles are more active than passive. Many of their actions indeed invoke the Sha’Daa. Each story of the Sha’Daa details a battle with a monster or being by various protagonists from different backgrounds. Aligator and ape-headed monsters are heading for New York City, with only a handful of heroes to stop them, monks and demons do battle, giant snakes and spiders are fended off by brave humans, a teacher with students fends off giant plants that zombify their victims, scientists fight giant green orbs that kill in various ways, and various other human versus monster scenarios that extend the shared world of Sha’Daa beyond the Adversary Cycle or the Cthulhu Mythos. While not every story advances the mythos to greater comparisons, a drawback to any ‘shared world’ anthology, the horrific foundation is concretely established for further adventures into Mike Hanson’s mythos.
Michael H. Hanson
While Lovecraft fashioned an amoral universe where a terrible tentacled titan awaited its chance to destroy Mankind, Derleth added religious, mainly Christian, elements to the Cthulhu Mythos to make it a more good versus evil world; Wilson combined Lovecraftian and Derlethian elements to construct the monsters and mythos that culminates in the classic Nightworld, where good and evil are beings that view humans as pawns in a bigger game, as Wilson’s humans take back seat to the ultimate battle between Rasalom and Glaeken (although the updated version of Nightworld, which incorporates the events of the Repairman Jack series, may alter the role the humans play—we’ll see). With SHA’DAA books one and two, Michael H. Hanson builds a shared world where all elements are combined: from Lovecraft, Derleth, to F. Paul Wilson. And it is the right combination for a new dimension to be enjoyed not only by fans of shared worlds but also by fans of horror, fantasy, and science fiction as well.
See you next month, dear readers, as the Servante of Darkness visits Horror and the E-Publishing Explosion with special guests from today’s Horror scene. NOTE: This series became the Cybernocturnalism interviews, parts one, two, and three, with part four in the works. Also look forward to my review of Sha'Daa: Pawns (2012).