The John Langan Mythos

While I was on paternity leave, I accomplished very little aside from bonding with my newborn daughter. I’m not complaining. It was great. One of the few things I did accomplish was reading John Langan’s two newest releases. Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters is a 2022 reprint of Langan’s debut collection from 2008, while Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies is his newest collection. After finishing these two works, I wanted to celebrate the fact that I’ve now read all Langan’s released novels and collections. I’ve previously reviewed The Wide Carnivorous Sky, The Fisherman, House of Windows, and Sefira, but I didn’t want to do another five-paragraph review. Instead, I decided to categorize his work according to my own observations. I felt that Langan’s work deserved this kind of analysis, and I hope others will be inclined to expand on what I’ve started here. If you’re reading this and wondering if I’m a crazy person for doing this, I am, but why don’t you judge me after you’ve reviewed what I’ve written below.

 

Note: If you’re confused by my categories, I define them at the end of this post. Additionally, some of my notes and categories may contain spoilers. Lastly, John Langan’s Story Notes in the back of his collections contain far more information than what I listed below, so I recommend checking those out if you like this post.

 

Mr. Gaunt and Other Uneasy Encounters 2008 (2022 Reprint)

On Skua Island – Scottish Myth/Ancestry/Setting

    • Note: This story is about a mummy.

Mr. Gaunt – Scottish Myth/Ancestry/Setting + Fatherhood

    • Mythos Note: The character of George Farage is an occultist who reappears in Langan’s short story, “The Supplement.” The protagonist, Henry Farage, is also heavily implied to appear in “The Supplement” as George’s new assistant.

Tutorial – Art/Writing Reflection

Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers – Apocalyptic + Parenthood

    • Mythos Note: It’s possible that Langan’s apocalyptic stories are connected and occurring during the same apocalypse. Other stories Langan has written on apocalypses are “The Shallows,” and “Inundation.”
    • Easter Egg: One of the protagonist’s names is Wayne, and he wears a Batman t-shirt.

Laocoon, or The Singularity – Art/Writing Reflection + Horrible Transformation + Fatherhood

    • Mythos Note: This story contains some thematic similarities with “The Communion of Saints.”

Tethered – Ghost Story

    • Note: Original to 2022 Reprint

 

House of Windows 2009 – Ghost Story + Fatherhood + Occult

    • Mythos Note: Papers belonging to the protagonist of this book reappear in “The Supplement.”

 

The Wide Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies 2013

Kids – Teaching + Zombie

How the Day Runs Down – Apocalyptic + Zombie

Technicolor – Teaching + Occult

    • Note: This story fictionalizes elements of the life of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky – Vampire + Military

City of the Dog – Lovecraftian

    • Note: This story features Lovecraft’s ghouls from “Pickman’s Model.”

The Shallows – Lovecraftian + Fatherhood

    • Mythos Note: It’s possible that Langan’s apocalyptic stories are connected and occurring during the same apocalypse. Other stories Langan has written on apocalypses are “Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers,” and “Inundation.”

The Revel – Monster + Experimental

    • Note: This story examines the tropes associated with werewolf fiction.

June, 1987. Hitchhiking. Mr. Norris. – Laird Barron + Occult

    • Note: The protagonist of this story is the author Laird Barron.

Mother of Stone – Exorcism

    • Mythos Note: The statue at the heart of Mother of Stone reappears briefly in The Fisherman.

 

The Fisherman 2016 – Occult + Lovecraftian + Fatherhood

  • Mythos Note: The characters of Rainer and Wilhelm Vanderwort venture to a magic city on a black ocean patrolled by bird-like figures. This city and its inhabitants reappear in “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows,” and “Shadow and Thirst.”
  • Mythos Note: Late in the novel, the protagonist, Abe, encounters the statue from “Mother of Stone.”

 

Sefira and Other Betrayals 2019

Sefira – Monster + Occult

    • Mythos Note: The character of Madame Sosostris reappears in “Natalya, Queen of the Hungry Dogs,” found in Echoes: The Saga Anthology of Ghost Stories edited by Ellen Datlow.
    • Note: This story is about a Succubus.

In Paris, In the Mouth of Kronos – Military + Monster

The Third Always Beside You – Parents + Ghost Story

The Unbearable Proximity of Mr. Dunn’s Balloons – Victorian Era + Occult + Monster

Bloom – Horrible Transformation

Renfrew’s Course – Scottish Myth/Ancestry/Setting + Occult

Bor Urus – Monster + Mid-Life Crisis + Fatherhood

    • Mythos Note: Protagonist visits the shore of the Black Ocean from The Fisherman.

At Home in the House of the Devil – Occult + Monster

    • Note: As the name implies this story concerns the devil.

 

Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies 2020

Sweetums – King in Yellow

Hyphae – Fatherhood + Horrible Transformation

Muse – Meta

    • Note: This story is a fictional letter to Paul Tremblay about Stephen Graham Jones. Laird Barron is mentioned.

Zombies in Marysville – Zombie + Meta + Fatherhood

With Max Barry in the Nearer Precincts – Afterlife

Into the Darkness Fearlessly – Vengeance + Art/Writing Reflection

Children of the Fang – Lovecraftian

    • Note: This story features the lizard creatures from H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Nameless City.”
    • Mythos Note: Detective Calasso appears (also appears in City of the Dog and Communion of Saints).

Episode Three: On the Great Plains, In the Snow – Ghost Story

Tragoidia – Rebirth + Occult

Ymir – Military + Monster + Laird Barron

    • Note: This story takes place in Laird Barron’s Old Leech Mythos.

Irezumi – Cyberpunk

The Horn of the World’s Ending – Lovecraftian + Roman Period + Scottish Myth/Setting/Ancestry

    • Note: This story features the Black Goat of the Wood’s Dark Young from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

The Underground Economy – Occult + Strip Club Setting

The Communion of Saints – Occult

    • Mythos Note: Detective Calasso reappears.
    • Note: This story contains some thematic similarities with “Laocoon, or The Singularity.”

Aphanisis – Sword and Sorcery + Experimental

    • Note: The story concerns killing off different versions of yourself, and this subject reappears in “Shadow and Thirst.”

Gripped – Strip Club Setting + King in Yellow

    • Note: The protagonist of this story is author Joe Pulver. Pulver is also the protagonist in Langan’s uncollected short story “Helioforge.”

Inundation – Apocalyptic + Monster

    • Mythos Note: It’s possible that Langan’s apocalyptic stories are connected and occurring during the same apocalypse. Other stories Langan has written on apocalypses are “The Shallows,” and “Episode Seven: Last Stand Against the Pack in the Kingdom of the Purple Flowers.”

To See, To Be Seen – Occult

    • Mythos Note: An occult group called The Friends of Borges appear. They also appear in “What is Lost, What is Given Away.”

What You, Do Not Bring Forth – Art/Writing Reflection + Dreams

Vista – Art/Writing Reflection + Experimental

Slippage – Laird Barron + Art/Writing Reflection + Meta

    • Note: This story is a fictional account of a drive Langan took with Laird Barron. This story ending this collection mirrors Laird’s story “More Dark” (also a Meta fictionalized tale about writers) ending Barron’s short story collection The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All.

 

Corpsemouth and Other Autobiographies 2022

Kore – Halloween

Homemade Monsters – Childhood Reflection + Monster

The Open Mouth of Charybdis – Lovecraftian + Childhood Reflection

    • Note: This story is connected to H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”

Shadow and Thirst – Vampire + Fatherhood

    • Mythos Note: The creature in this story is a banished member of the bird-like figures who are mentioned in The Fisherman and who appear in “Outside the House, Watching for the Crows.”
    • Note: The story concerns killing off different versions of yourself, and this subject reappears in “Aphanisis.”

Corpsemouth – Afterlife + Fatherhood + Monster + Scottish Myth/Setting/Ancestry

Anchor – Laird Barron + Monster + Writing/Art Reflection + Fatherhood

Outside the House, Watching for the Crows – Childhood Reflection + Monster

    • Mythos Note: The bird-like figures in this story are mentioned in The Fisherman and a banished member of their group appears in “Shadow and Thirst.”

What is Lost, What is Given Away – Childhood Reflection + Occult

    • Mythos Note: An occult group called The Friends of Borges appear. They also appear in “To See, To Be Seen.”

The Supplement – Occult

    • Mythos Note: George Farage originally appears in “Mr. Gaunt.” George Farage’s assistant is heavily implied to be the protagonist of “Mr. Gaunt.” Papers mentioned in this story belong to Roger Croydon from House of Windows.

Mirror Fishing – Occult + Lovecraftian

Caoineadh – Monster + Scottish Myth/Setting/Ancestry

 

Definition of Terms:

Apocalyptic: This story occurs during the end of the world.

Childhood Reflection: This story had a character reflecting on their childhood.

Exorcism: This story is about an exorcism.

Experimental: This story plays with the form of telling a story in a novel way.

Fatherhood: The story deals with fatherhood as a central theme.

Ghost Story: This story is about ghosts. Boo.

Halloween: This story concerns the spooky high holiday.

Horrible Transformation: This story contains a character going through a horrible bodily transformation.

King in Yellow: Have you seen the Yellow Sign?

Laird Barron: This story contains elements from Laird Barron’s works or refers to Laird Barron.

Lovecraftian: This story concerns elements derived from Lovecraft’s fiction or a sense of cosmic horror.

Meta: Fiction about real life authors.

Monster: This story contains a supernatural creature. While I was tempted to create a new category for every monster I could identify, I decided to only do it for those who appear in multiple tales.

Occult: This story contains elements of occult magic, grimoires, cultists, or some combination of those elements.

Parenthood: This story deals with parenthood, not just being a father, as a central theme.

Roman Period: This story occurs during the era when the Roman Empire existed.

Scottish Myth/Ancestry/Setting: The story either deals with Scottish Myth, Scottish Ancestry, or has a Scottish Setting.

Strip Club Setting: This story takes place at a Strip Club.

Teaching: This story is about the profession of being a teacher.

Vampire: This story is about vampires or creatures that can be perceived as vampiric.

Vengeance: This story concerns getting vengeance.

Victorian Era: This story occurs during the Victorian Era.

Writing/Art Reflection: The story focuses on the creation of art or art’s impact on viewers and readers.

Zombie: This story has zombies in it.

Summer Reading Roundup

I tend to read a lot in the summer and slow down in the fall. The extra sunlight fuels my desire to escape, and books provide the easiest way to slip off to another place for a little while. There’s also no football in the summer. Without further ado, here is a roundup of some of the books I enjoyed this past season.

 

The Invention of Ghosts by Gwendolyn Kiste

Gwendolyn Kiste is one of my favorite writers, and I was delighted to have gotten the 100th copy of The Invention of Ghosts. The proceeds for this chapbook went to the National Aviary, and the book has fantastic illustrations throughout. Like the previous work I’ve read by Kiste (And Her Smile Will Untether the Universe and The Rust Maidens), the prose is imbued with poetic beauty, and the story contains a moving emotional core. Anyone who has ever had a friend they’ve lost touch with will be wanting to call that person after reading this. It will also get Donovan’s Season of the Witch stuck in your head.

 

The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

By pure chance I happened to watch Deer Woman, an episode of Showtime’s Masters of Horror, not long ago. I was writing a werewolf short story, and I had revisited An American Werewolf in London and happened across Deer Woman as a result. Both works share John Landis as a director, and I should note that Deer Woman is set in the same universe as An American Werewolf in London because the protagonist of Deer Woman references the events of An American Werewolf in London. Anyway, Deer Woman was at least part of the reason why I decided to check out The Only Good Indians, which focuses on similar mythological elements. This novel by Stephen Graham Jones is a lovely, weird romp. Basketball, Native American Reservations, and youth’s sins all factor into why this book is so good. The point of view changes a lot in here, and you even get some chapters from the monster’s perspective. This keeps you feeling uncomfortable and stops you from being able to blindly root for the monster’s demise. These choices by Jones make this book unique.

 

Reanimators by Pete Rawlik

For a while, I’d been thinking, why hasn’t anyone done a story that pulls together a bunch of Lovecraft’s connected mythos into a singular tale? Well, I had somehow foolishly missed out on Reanimators existence until recently. The novel weaves the tale of Dr. Stuart Hartwell, a contemporary of Herbert West, as he moves through the years in and around Arkham. In the narrative, Hartwell encounters several of Lovecraft’s most famous characters and even intersects with several of Lovecraft’s best tales. This was a ton of fun to read, and I can’t wait to dive into the sequel. Maybe one day I’ll do a post trying to diagram out all the references and Easter eggs. Indiana Jones even pops up in the text.

 

Sefira and Other Betrayals by John Langan

I’ve already written pieces on two of John Langan’s previous works, The Fisherman, and The Wide Carnivorous Sky. I loved both of those, and I also enjoyed Sefira. In this collection, some of my favorites were In Paris, in the Mouth of Kronos, The Third Always Beside You, and At Home in the House of the Devil. At Home in the House of Devil was particularly fun because I happened to be writing a paper about Young Goodman Brown while I read it, and there are connections to be made between the two tales. I should also say I’m currently reading John’s latest collection, Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies, which was recently released from Word Horde.

 

The Croning

Laird Barron weaves an interesting tale of dark fantasy and horror here. I especially loved the opening, which is a retelling of the Rumpelstiltskin story in cosmic horror fashion. The protagonist in this novel has memory problems, to say the least, and that makes the narrative intentionally disjointed, but when the ending comes, it makes all the reader’s disorientation serve a ghoulishly good finale where the secrets are revealed, and the debts must be paid.

 

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King

Silver Bullet is one of my favorite horror films of all time. A big part of why I love this movie so much is tied to the fact that I saw it at a young age, but I also think it’s a brilliant gem. The way the movie builds dread as it slowly progresses toward the climax, the excellent performances, and the way the werewolf’s killings impact the small town of Tarker’s Mill combine to make Silver Bullet special. So, it was only a matter of time until I read Cycle of the Werewolf. While I enjoyed the novella, I felt the story worked better as a screenplay. The close bonds between Marty and his sister, and Marty and his uncle, weren’t present in Cycle of the Werewolf, and they’re a major reason why I love Silver Bullet. The story felt hollow without them. Although, the movie didn’t have the stellar art by Bernie Wrightson.

 

Three other books I read this summer were The Color Out of Time, The Ancestor, and A Cosmology of Monsters, but you can find my thoughts on those tales by checking out the links above. It was an excellent summer for horror. Now here’s to the spooky season.

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The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies

The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous GeographiesThe Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies by John Langan

I loved The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies. The book collects nine of John Langan’s short stories, some original and some reprinted. I first encountered Mr. Langan’s work in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, which I have been slowly devouring since I bought it back in 2016. While I was at the beach this past summer, I read his tale, Outside the House, Watching for the Crows, and I loved it as much as this collection. I marveled at his ability to use nostalgia in the service of telling a good horror story. About two weeks later, I encountered Mr. Langan in person.

Soon after my beach trip, I was lucky enough to present my academic paper, The Shadow Over Horror Tropes, at NecronomiCon 2019, in Providence, Rhode Island. It was there that I listened to Langan speak during the Outer Dark’s State of the Weird Podcast. Afterward, I ended up crossing his path a few times during the convention, but I didn’t realize he’d written Outside the House, Watching for the Crows until I got back from Providence. Somehow, my brain failed to make the connection that I’d read his work, even though I had my copy of The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu with me, and I saw his name tag multiple times. Suffice it to say; I’m still annoyed at myself for not getting his signature. Reading The Wide, Carnivorous Sky has only intensified my regret over missing the chance to pick Langan’s brain about his fantastic prose.

In my opinion, the tales in The Wide, Carnivorous Sky can be divided into two types. There are those where Langan experiments with the conventions of telling a horror story, and there are those that are more traditional. As a reader, I loved all these tales, but as a writer, I especially loved the avant-garde ones because they showed Langan’s narrative creativity.

I felt that four of the nine stories in this collection fell into the experimental category. The first was How the Day Runs Down, a tale in the form of a play concerning the zombie apocalypse and the afterlife. The mundanity of what happens after we die in this story was especially spooky to me. This is one I’d love to reread in print since I listened to The Wide, Carnivorous Sky on Audible. Immediately following How the Day Runs Down is Technicolor. This is a tale in the form of a lecture that concerns Poe’s exceptionally wonderful story, The Masque of the Red Death. Of course, writing this now, I can’t help but realize that How the Day Runs Down and Technicolor are both tales masquerading in other narrative formats.

The most avant-garde of these stories is The Revel. It’s a meta-tale told from a narrator dissecting the Werewolf story in progress by explaining all the elements, from the monster to the characters. It’s a unique take on the subgenre and another one I’d love to revisit in print form. The last tale to mix up narrative conventions is the final one in the collection, Mother of Stone. Langan uses the second person to tell a story about local lore and exorcisms. This one made my spine tingle quite a bit. As a writer thinking about craft, I wonder how much of that was due to hearing the narrator refer to “you” instead of a third person protagonist?

While I’ve devoted a little extra page space to the experimental tales, the five traditional tales are just as fun. The collection opens with Kids, a short and visceral story about a teacher dealing with, let’s say, unruly students. The collection’s namesake, The Wide, Carnivorous Sky, is a fun twist on vampire mythology. It also reminded me of the science fiction horror classic Predator, because it concerned a group of soldiers confronting an alien foe with military strategy and good old-fashioned moxie.

Possibly my favorite tale of the entire collection, City of the Dog is amazing. The story uses nostalgia in a similar way to Outside the House, Watching for the Crows. The major difference is that City of the Dog connects with H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos, specifically his famous tale, Pickman’s Model. Langan’s story is a masterclass on creating a believable character. The protagonist is extremely well developed, and I loved the haunting ending, which leaves the protagonist filled with fear and regret. I think this tale perfectly illustrates how vital a character’s regrets are to a good horror story.

Another excellent tale that deals with Lovecraft is The Shallows. This story explores what the world looks like after Cthulhu has risen. It’s effective in a similar way to City of the Dog, as regret is a core part of the tale again, but the tone is bleaker since the world has been wiped out. It’s full of the quiet moments of contemplation that I think good post-apocalyptic fiction requires. Lastly, there is June, 1987. Hitchhiking. Mr. Norris, a fictional account of an incident in the writer Laird Barron’s life (I just reviewed his exceptional collection, Occultation and Other Stories, last month). The story concerns a car designed to draw occult symbols using human blood to summon horrible monstrous entities. So, naturally, I loved everything about it.

If you like horror, weird fiction, or anything in between, you should read or listen to this collection. All the tales are unique and entertaining. Langan even mentions my favorite superhero team, the X-Men, in a few of his stories. I highly recommend checking out The Wide, Carnivorous Sky and Other Monstrous Geographies. And since I just listened to three short story collections in a row on audible, I think a return to novels is warranted. So, I may follow-up Langan with more Langan by reading his 2016 novel, The Fisherman. What better way to start 2020, then with a healthy dose of horror?

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