Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Cthulhu Expert Kenneth Hite 's Stocking Stuffer Lovecraft -- Antarctic Express and Where the Deep Ones Are.

At the past two Gen Cons, Atlas Games has released a children's adaptation of a Cthulhu mythos story scripted by Cthulhu expert Kenneth Hite.

In 2008, Atlas Games release Where the Deep Ones Are written by Hite with art by Andy Hopp. Where the Deep Ones Are is a retelling of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" as transformed through the lens of Where the Wild Things Are.

In 2009, they released The Antarctic Express which took Lovecraft's classic At the Mountains of Madness and slightly changed the tale to match up with the recent holiday classic The Arctic Express. Express was illustrated by Christina Rodriguez.

The combination of Lovecraftian elements with children's stories is not one that would come naturally to the mind's of most people, but Kenneth Hite isn't most people. For years, Hite wrote a column entitled "Suppressed Transmission" ("Of course you know about the Suppressed Transmission") where he demonstrated both a vast catalog of knowledge and an ability to tie seemingly unrelated subjects together with a deft writing hand. When he ceased writing the column for Pyramid Online, the internet lost one of the best post-Fortean modern Fortean columns ever written. Hite is also a great advocate for the independent roleplaying game scene and a dyed in the wool Lovecraftian -- who apparently also shares a love of children's stories.

Hite is the only person I can think of who could have created Where the Deep Ones Are and The Antarctic Express to show us what you would get if you combined Charles Fort, H. P. Lovecraft, and Maurice Sendak.

I am of two minds with regard to what I think of the books themselves.

As a fan of Lovecraftania and products that combine nostalgia for ones childhood with geek elements, I think these books are magnificent. They certainly belong in the book case of any fan of H. P. Lovecraft, or of anyone who has a quirky/cynical sense of humor. Hite is quite a capable writer and Michelle Nephew (the editor) found the perfect illustrator's for each volume. Andy Hopp's surreal and slimy artwork -- which I first encountered in the Low Life setting for Savage Worlds -- fits naturally with a squamous and rugose transformation of "Wild Things." I am particularly impressed by Christina Rodriguez. Her ability to draw in the style of Polar Express while simultaneously drawing my favorite representations of Lovecraftian Shoggoths is quite a feat. Her representation of the Shoggoth is fantastic...best...Shoggoth...ever.

As a parent of 19 month old twin girls, I found the books to be a mixed bag.

Where the Deep Ones Are has found its way onto my daughters' bookshelves and will be read to them as a part of their regular rotation of bed time stories. In this book, Hite perfectly balances the yearning for adventure experienced by children with the Lovecraftian weird elements. Deep Ones never achieves the nihilistic horror of a true "weird tale," instead it errs on the side of wonder. This, combined with Hopp's entertaining and interesting illustrations, makes for an ideal childrens' book.

Antarctic Express has found its way onto MY bookshelf, right between The Moonstone and The Last Man. The book does capture a lot of the tone of Arctic Express, but it also perfectly captures the weird horror elements of Lovecraft's tale. The final page, where the title character is driven insane, is a bit out of place in a bed time story for 19 month old twins. Oh, and Rodriguez's penguins are downright creepy (much creepier than the Shoggoths) -- which is great, but adds to my "not for 19 month old twins" knee jerk reaction. The girls will have to wait before I read this book to them until I can explain madness to them, or at least until they are four or five years old. Hite's writing in this book is also very effective at capturing a nice horror tone. My thoughts are that Hite erred too much on the side of accurate translation and too little on the side of childhood adventure with this volume.

I hope that Hite continues to create volumes in this series, as they are a unique entry in the field of childrens' books. They aren't quite up to the over all quality level of Jane Yolen's "Dinosaur" series -- but then again, not much is.

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