‘The Children of Gla’aki:’ Book Review

Cthulhu. Azathoth. Nyarlathotep. Zoth-Ommog. Yog-Sothoth. Gla’aki...? The various deities, gods, and great ones H.P. Lovecraft created in his day have taken on a life of their own, transcending from short stories and novellas to appearing in board games, comic books, and other media. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu is no doubt the most famous of them all, yet even other authors’ creations have found longevity, such as with Lin Carter’s Zoth-Ommog.

The odd god in the above list, Gla’aki, is the creation of British horror author Ramsey Campbell, and though perhaps not as iconic as one of Lovecraft’s deities, Gla’aki, literally and figuratively, has a cult following of his own.

Gla’aki first appeared in Ramsey’s short story, “The Inhabitant of the Lake,” from his book, The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, published by Arkham House in 1964. Gla’aki is a Great Old One who traveled through the cosmos with a dead city on his back. He crashed into ancient Earth where Britain is, his impact crater forming a lake where he dwells at the bottom. His appearance is a cross between a turtle and a porcupine with three eyestalks. He can shoot his quills like harpoons, and if they hit someone, they become his slave.

Though Campbell created Gla’aki in ‘64, he wouldn’t revisit his creation until nearly five decades later in his book, The Last Revelation of Gla'aki, published in 2013. Despite not being quite as widespread as other Lovecraftian creations, Gla’aki managed to muster a fanbase of his own, with references appearing in songs and fan art. The Children of Gla’aki, released in 2017 by Dark Regions Press, is an anthology of short stories that is the culmination of efforts by other writers to pay tribute to Campbell’s horrific god. Jointly edited by Brian M. Sammons (World War Cthulhu, Cthulhu Unbound) and Glynn Owen Barras (Arkham Nights: Tales of Mythos Noir), the anthology contains eighteen short stories (including Campbell’s original story), an introduction, and an afterword by Campbell who supplies his musings on each story that either builds upon or reworks elements of the Gla’aki mythos.

Campbell’s original story holds up especially well half a century later, and including it as a starting point to anchor the other stories was a wise decision. The other stories in The Children of Gla’aki are written extremely well; however, almost none of them take advantage of the fresh, clean slate a brand new mythos has to offer. After decades of other authors writing Cthulhu stories, contemporary authors try to find unique or outlandish plot points and narratives so their stories can stand out in the sea of other Lovecraftian stories. In other words, Cthulhu-mythos has been fully foundationalized and extensively built upon over many years, so authors have to resort to gimmicks and niche topics to write in that universe.

With Gla’aki, though, there aren't decades of other writings that needs to be peeled back: there are only two foundational texts, which should create a perfect blank slate for other authors to really build upon or expand Campbell’s creation, except they don’t. They write in the niche-Cthulhu style.

For example, Orrin Grey’s “Invaders of Gla’aki” tells the origin story of Gla’aki coming to Earth via two children playing an arcade cabinet version of a Gla’aki game sometime in the early '90s. The story is written really well, is interesting, and taps into the retrowave nostalgia that is popular now. On the other hand, though, telling Gla’aki’s origin story via an arcade game creates a bare-bones version of it. This would have been an excellent opportunity to really flesh out Gla’aki’s arrival on our planet, but because of the arcade game hook, it winds up being held back.

The Children of Gla’aki features not one, not two, but three short stories (Tim Curran’s “Night of the Hopfrog,” Lee Clark Zumpe’s “Beneath Cayuga’s Churning Waves,” and Robert M. Price’s “In Search of Lake Monsters”) that employ the narrative device of a film crew working on outlandish documentaries/paranormal reality TV programs about Gla’aki. One story using this narrative device would’ve been a great avenue to explore Gla’aki, but having three in the same book is over kill and diminishes the effectiveness of the device.

Tim Waggoner’s “The Nature of Waggoner” is another well-written story - one of the more sombre stories in the lot - yet it doesn’t feel like a Gla’aki story at all. It concerns a recovering alcoholic who returns to a lake where he had accidentally drowned another boy in his youth. An apparition of the drowned lad comes back to the protagonist, encouraging him to join him. The story feels like it was intended to be a ghost or coming-to-your-own-personal-demons story for another anthology and was reworked by incorporating a minor mention of Gla’aki towards the end to make it “Gla’aki” enough for the anthology. Again, well written and emotive, but it doesn’t really contribute, play with, or even subvert concepts from the original story.

Probably one of the best stories in the anthology is Josh Reynolds’ “Squatter’s Rights” which reads as if it was a Call of Cthulhu RPG adventure come to life. It’s an action-oriented period piece with a bit of humor, as characters St. Cyprian, Gallowglass, and Wendy-Smithe race to get a housing deed sorted out before Gla’aki’s minions do them in. Though less in horror, it’s certainly one of the most fun stories in the anthology; however, it should be noted that this story is more of a crossover story of Reynold’s The Royal Occultist universe with Campbell’s Gla’aki mythos, so it provides an excellent jumping-on point to explore that universe.

The Children of Gla’aki has greatly articulated stories written by some of some of horror’s most prestigious writers, yet it is not a necessary book, but it should have been one. Much like the Star Wars Expanded Universe in its heyday in the '90s and 2000s, spinoff books such as Kevin J. Anderson’s Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina and Tales of the Bounty Hunters may seem unnecessary, yet they contribute to the universe by fleshing out characters and concepts. The stories in The Children of Gla’aki don’t contribute in any meaningful way to Campbell’s work, nor do they subvert his creation into something new either.  It’s as if in their reverence to their the source material, the authors were reluctant to get their hands dirty and really dive into what Campbell had created for fear they may disrespect his mythos. Authors should be about taking chances, and here was an opportunity given to them to really contribute to something new and exciting, but instead they took the safe route as if they were writing in current Lovecraftian hegemony.


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