PrintE-mail Written by Ian White

What if some of William Shakespeare’s greatest works and the creatures of HP Lovecraft’s nightmarish imagination collided? That’s what ‘Shakespeare vs Cthulhu’ is all about, a selection of short stories, poems and even a comic updating of ‘The Tempest’ for the Twitter generation, gorgeously illustrated, and incredibly entertaining. What happens when a college production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ is violently derailed by the discovery of a mystical grimoire? What horrors does Hamlet discover in the tombs of Elsinore? What deal-with-the-devil does Henry V make, that reveals the true meaning behind his oft-quoted war-cry “Once more unto the breach”? and how did John Dee and William Shakespeare prevent the end of the world? In a story that owes more than a nod to ‘Alien’s facehuggers and Heinlein’s ‘The Puppet Masters’, we find out what awful preternatural power really led to Julius Caesar’s assassination, and in a tale about Richard III we are made privy to the gruesome secret of what actually lurks inside the monarch’s famous crooked back. But there are some special guests in here as well – Shakespeare’s contemporary Christopher Marlowe is hunted down by grotesque fish-creatures and Ben Jonson and the Elizabethan poet Michael Drayton are treated to a disgusting meal they will never forget – we find out what that stage direction ‘Exit, pursued by…’ really means (it has nothing to do with bears) and, in a genius twist, we learn why Lear really exiled Cordelia, which gives us a bloody new take on the old King’s madness. And it’s not just the tragedies and histories that get the Lovecraft workover – in the shortest, but also one of the strongest, of the stories, we discover what Lovecraft’s ancient gods have got in store for ‘Twelfth Night’s Lady Olivia, and her servant Malvolio.

All of these stories are quite wonderful, and beautifully written, although this is a book that it’s probably best to dip into rather than read in a couple of sittings – certain Lovecraft tropes like weird geometries, portals opening into (or out of) other worlds and amphibious warriors chasing our heroes through dark and deadly landscapes are frequently used and re-used throughout this collection, which can prove a little repetitive. These are tales that should be slowly and individually savoured, with the only disappointing entry being an episode based upon ‘Macbeth’ (surprising, given that ‘Macbeth’ should lend itself more naturally to a Lovecraft injection than any of Shakespeare’s other plays.) Still, that’s a minor bump in the road. Whether you’re a fan of the Bard or a devotee of the redoubtable HPL you will find much to enjoy and admire within these pages.


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