Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Book review

EARTH, AIR, FIRE & WATER by Brian Lumley,

Fedogen & Bremier, h/b,

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

As a way of appreciating August Derleth’s idea of writing about the Old Ones as elementals, Earth, Air, Fire & Water is a book containing four works of short fiction based in the world of Cthulhu. I can imagine the chill thought of all manner of creatures descending from these pages.

Of the First, Lord of the Worms, Titus Crow finds he is no longer needed after his assignment during World War 2, which of course leads him to certain melancholia. This period of uselessness doesn’t last as Titus responds to an advert for an admin job that will only last three months, yet is well paid. The reason for Titus’s interest is that the man in question is Julian Carstairs, a self-styled modern magus and coven leader who is not unlike Crowley in personality. Julian does have an enviable library of occult books he can’t wait to catalogue. Titus’s position at Julian’s manor is reminiscent of Harker’s stay at Dracula’s castle and just as creepy. Lord of the Worms was originally published in Weirdbook 17 back in 1983 and remains a fan favourite. In it, Titus isn’t as happy with his stay at Carstair’s home as he thought. He suspects he has been given drugged wine and has moments when he is lucid, hearing who he thinks is Carstairs and another man talking about him. The real question is whether what he is hearing is true or only part of his being drugged.

Born of the Winds is the oldest in the book at being originally published in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction Volume 49 in 1975. David, a former meteorologist was always a sane rational man who becomes almost obsessed with Ithaqua a wind god who also crops up in other old religions; Teutonic, Norse and Babylonian. David finds Ithaqua had warred against the Elder Gods, being banished to the Arctic wastelands to freeze those who come near him to death. David further increases his knowledge by his interest in an anthropology professor, Sam Bridgeman who had already noticed strange happenings in a remote area of Narissa. Inspired by this, he sets off there on an expedition where he meets his sudden end. His wife, Lucille believes he has been murdered by Ithaqua. But can it be proved that an ages old god did it?

The Gathering is the only story in this volume that sees its first publication here though it was written in 2016. Andrew Gilman comes to Arkham to revisit the place of his youth and where his father died. Once there he remembers a few people, one of them Sari his father’s once girlfriend and how these people who stayed after the meteor landed and how they have had the Innsmouth look through the generations. The people might seem friendly, but they don’t take to strangers, being solitary folk. Andrew has also heard other rumours about the Hamlet and the Gathering and with the help of a local person he gains even more knowledge of Arkham. He knows there is something odd about the folk there but he can’t help but think how his father must have felt living in such a place with Sari.

The Changeling was published in Fearie Tales in 2012 and is the shortest here. A man finds himself in Greece admiring the area when a strange cloaked man approaches and takes a dislike to his staring at his unusual appearance. The man in turn tries to make conversation, to alleviate how he feels. The conversation turns to precious metals and how the odd man had come across his peculiar earring and from there the story gets ever stranger. I had thought ink illustrations inside books went out with the 90s, but I am glad to see they are having a welcome resurgence with Jim Pitts (I have a copy of The Anthology of Fantasy & the Supernatural edited by Stephen Jones and David Sutton with his work in it from 1994) and treasure seeing this kind of inked art in books again.

Brian Lumley is a true master of story writing with four of the most intriguing stories of the Cthulhu mythos collected here. I had already been an avid reader of his Necroscope series that dealt with vampires and their evolution.