Sean Michael Malone: Welcome, James! I believe it’s fair to say that people are first encountering the Cthulhu mythos in an increasing variety of ways. H.P. Lovecraft’s stories remain the essential foundation, but today there’s a substantial variety of media steeped in his maddening universe: board games, tabletop role-playing campaigns and scenarios, video games, and other new Lovecraftian fiction. Would you chart for us the path that introduced you to Lovecraft’s cosmic horror?
James Lovegrove: My roundabout path to Lovecraft’s works came courtesy of Marvel comics of the 1970s. Writers like Roy Thomas and Steve Englehart introduced Lovecraftian elements into such titles as Doctor Strange, Ghost Rider and Avengers and even came up with their own equivalent of the Necronomicon, the cursed tome known as the Darkhold. At around the same time I was reading the Conan books and other Robert E Howard texts, which of course intersect with Lovecraft’s writings. I absorbed these influences without knowing about their Lovecraftian origins, until I was in my late teens and a friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the root texts. I then bought a three-volume paperback set of Lovecraft’s stories, read them straight through, and that was that. SM: Do you have any Lovecraftian gods or monsters that rise to the rank of favorites?
JL: Not especially. I made Nyarlathotep central to the first volume of the Cthulhu Casebooks, Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows, simply because I liked the idea of a protean antagonist. There’s a recurring theme of change, mutation and transformation in the three books, and the Crawling Chaos nicely set the tone early on. One reason I regret using him, though, is that Nyarlathotep is so damned hard to spell! SM: You had begun writing new Sherlock Holmes stories before starting the Cthulhu Casebooks trilogy; was there a particular inspiration or moment when you decided to summon the Cthulhu mythos into the world of Sherlock Holmes?
JL: The inspiration, if you can call it that, was my then-editor at Titan Books, Miranda Jewess, ringing me up and proposing the idea of a Conan Doyle/Lovecraft mashup trilogy. What in fact happened is that she asked me if I knew of someone who might be suitable to write the books. Me being somewhat slow on the uptake, I suggested a few names, drawn principally from the list of contributors to the Shadows Over Baker Street anthology. I started with Neil Gaiman and worked down from there. Miranda then pointed out that she was actually asking if I myself would be interested in the project. Her subtlety had been totally lost on me! Anyway, I said yes. Obviously. SM: Would you say that there are certain qualities or story elements that all worthy Lovecraftian fiction must have?
JL: There’s got to be madness somewhere in there – the human mind subjected to such overwhelmingly terrifying horrors that it buckles under the strain. There’s got to be a strange ceremony of some sort, an eldritch ritual to invoke otherworldly beings. There’s got to be a creeping sense of dread, with certain objects or locations so suffused with evil that it’s an almost tangible force. And, of course, there’s got to be a whole host of inimical godlike entities who bear nothing but hatred and contempt towards humankind. SM: Are these expectations modified or suspended by having protagonists such as Watson and Holmes?
JL: My main problem when I first approached the Cthulhu Casebooks concept was figuring out how to reconcile two very different fictional universes: the world of Sherlock Holmes, arch-rationalist, and the world of cosmic horror which, in its irrationality, is the absolute antithesis of the Great Detective and all he stands for. In the end I decided that I’d write an alternative history of Holmes, a kind of “true version” of the canonical tales, and have him approach his investigations into the paranormal on a scientific, empirical basis, just as if they were mundane crimes. I also knew that I’d have to show the toll it took on Holmes and Watson, confronting these evils from beyond. Both men, like any Lovecraftian protagonist, would have to suffer as a result of the things they saw and experienced, although since they are indomitable heroes they would still battle through and win the day somehow. Lovecraftian protagonists usually meet with defeat or at best are left irrevocably changed, for the worse, by everything they’ve been through, and I knew I had to reflect that in Holmes and Watson somehow, without portraying them lapsing into utter insanity, gibbering wrecks, foaming at the mouth. SM: Do you suspect that the Holmes and Watson, and other supporting characters of the Cthulhu Casebooks occasionally bleed into their counterparts of your other ‘real world’ Holmes stories? To what extent do you consider them the same or have to separate them?
JL: The Cthulhu Casebooks are absolutely distinct from my “straight” Holmes stories. Quite a few people seem to think that Sherlock Holmes and the Christmas Demon, for instance, is a Cthulhu Casebooks tale, but it’s very much not. The title might seem to imply that, but it’s actually a straightforward mystery with a Gothic tinge but no supernatural elements whatsoever. I mean, there are things in it that appear supernatural but are shown to be anything but, same as in the canonical stories such as Hound of the Baskervilles, “The Sussex Vampire”, “The Devil’s Foot” and “The Creeping Man”. SM: I suspect that part of the lasting brilliance and longevity of Lovecraftian fiction is its vast, roaming spaces and dimensions allowing for the introduction of new eldritch entities alongside the usual cast. While the Casebooks offer a complete story arc, do you feel the ‘call’ to return to the Cthulhu Mythos for future publications?
JL: I am in the preparatory stages of a new Cthulhu Casebooks novel, titled Sherlock Holmes and the Highgate Horrors. It’s a standalone story, although events in it dovetail with events in the existing trilogy. It was supposed to come out later this year, but unfortunately a series of personal setbacks have meant I’ve not been able to start work on it yet. The book is now slated for release in the autumn of 2023. I can’t tell you much about the plot, as I’m keeping it under wraps, but I am very much looking forward to getting stuck into it at some point this year.
James Lovegrove is the author of the Pantheon series, the Dev Harmer novels, new Sherlock Holmes adventures, the Lovecraft / Doyle inspired Cthulhu Casebooks, tie-in fiction for the Firefly TV series and movie, and an extensive backlist of published novels, novellas, books for younger and/or reluctant readers, short fiction and non-fiction.