The Country Of The Worm by Gary Myers (book review).

November 14, 2013 | By | Reply More

‘The Country Of The Worm’, sub-titled ‘Excursions Beyond the Wall of Sleep’, is collection of Gary Myers’ short stories is nominally set in the Dreamlands of HP Lovecraft. Here and there, Myers name-checks people and places but, in spirit, his writing is much more like that of Lord Dunsany, which is probably no coincidence. Lovecraft was hugely influenced by Dunsany and, according to ST Joshi, with the exception of ‘The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath’, those Lovecraft’s stories known as the ‘Dream Cycle’ stories were actually set in the real world, albeit in the dim and distant past.

TheCountryOfTheWorm

If Joshi is right, then Myers’ stories can and should be read in the same way and they certainly fit into that sort of mode. His writing style is more Dunsanian than Lovecraftian, in the sense that his stories feel more like fantasy than horror. In fact, there’s very little real feeling of cosmic horror anywhere in the fiction presented here and, for the most part, the stories are about hubris of one sort or another. As an anthology, this book suffers a little because of this, since the gist of one story can be very much like the one that follows it: an overconfident thief, magician or priest acts in a certain way to acquire wealth, knowledge or power but in doing so offends a supernatural being of some sort that eventually takes its revenge.

A typical story is ‘The Keeper Of The Flame’, which involves Nod, a bold individual who makes his way to an exceedingly remote temple and demands an audience with the god therein. Myers describes the temple economically but evocatively, so that within a couple of paragraphs, he’s evoked a very strong sense of wonder. By the time the protagonist turns up, the scene is well set, as well as the tension. Nod, it turns out, believes that all men have the right to worship as they will, without the need for priests. Of course, the priest tries to persuade Nod to act otherwise, but the momentum is clear from the start and, if read as an allegory, Nod represents a sort of modernity, with its combination of rationalism and confidence, brushing aside the arguments of tradition and superstition. But these being Myers’ fantasy world, hubris is a risky thing and Myers is too subtle to have Nod simply gobbled-up by some tentacled beast. Indeed, the ending is deliberately vague, suggesting a fate, but leaving its precise interpretation open to the reader.

‘The End Of Wisdom’ is another story that involves a single quester, this time the wizard Eibon (actually invented by Clark Ashton Smith though referenced many times since by Lovecraft and others). Again, Myers carefully crafts the setting, this time a sort of monastery in the jungle. A priest, once more, tries to dissuade the protagonist, but despite these similarities, events pan out much differently. Eibon does indeed survive the ordeal and learn about the end of wisdom, this story being told by Eibon reflecting back upon his youth. Nonetheless, hubris plays its part and Eibon pays grievously for his lesson, though even this price is twisted back on the priest at the end, revealing another layer to Eibon’s character.

While the plot-lines of many of the stories may be a little similar at times, Myers is a skilled writer, perhaps as good at writing a Dunsanian tale as anyone else alive today. Certainly, he’s well-regarded by other writers, including Robert M Price and Lin Carter, but oddly enough his work hasn’t been as widely published as it might. This makes such a broad anthology as ‘The Country Of The Worm’ especially welcome. Containing stories published between 1970 and 2012 and ordered more or less arranged by date, what’s immediately apparent is how competent a writer Myers was even when very young. One of the stories, ‘The House Of The Worm’, was actually written when the author was 16, but it’s a solid tale that pays homage to Lovecraft and Dunsany without overtly mimicking them. Indeed, Myers introduces some aspects of his own that fans of Lovecraft’s fiction might argue with, such as the interpretation of Nasht and Kaman-Thah as gods in their own right rather than priests.

The anthology is divided into three sections, ‘The House Of The Worm’, ‘The Snout In The Alcove’, and ‘The City Of The Dead’. The first section shares its name with a 1975 anthology of Myers’ work and, in fact, contains all the stories that were published in that anthology plus one extra story entitled ‘The Gods Of Earth’. The other two sections contain stories that have been published in a variety of different places including the influential ‘Crypt Of Cthulhu’ fiction magazine. It’s also worth mentioning that many of the places invented by Myers have ended up incorporated in the ‘Call Of Cthulhu’ role-playing game and fans of that game will find this anthology of stories particularly rewarding. Overall, a very entertaining collection of stories in the Dunsanian mould but with a Lovecraftian twist.

Neale Monks

November 2013

(pub: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. 258 pages paperback. Price $14.00 (US). ISBN: 1-48480-197-0)

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Category: Books, Horror

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