The Strange Dark One - W.H. Pugmire, Jeffrey Thomas
This book features eight tales of Nyarlathotep, one of HP Lovecraft’s most popular creations. The title of this collection, “The strange dark one,” is taken from the second line of HPL’s poem Nyarlathotep.

According the Robert E Price in the forward to The Nyarlathotep Cycle (Chaosium, 1997), Nyarlathotep has three roles to the Great Old Ones: The messenger, the soul, and the “crawling chaos.” Pugmire is able to capture all three elements in this collection

The character Nyarlathotep came to Lovecraft in a dream so it is fitting that dreams play so prominently in this book. There is repeating imagery of the moon, the nighttime sky, piping, and rare occult tomes. The senses are described thoroughly and the reader is acquainted with the dark scents and hot dry temperatures that accompany the crawling chaos. I don’t see many writers of this genre focus on all of the senses the way Pugmire does, and it adds another dimension to the stories.

All but one of the stories in this collection are set in Pugmire’s sensual and mystic Sesqua Valley. Sesqua Valley is a place that appears to exist tenuously in our world but touches other realms as well. Many of the residents are silver-eyed shadow people; immortals that have taken mortal form. There are some repeating characters, Simon Gregory Williams being most prominent.

Rare, occult books are a favorite of the denizens of this place. Humans who have read the arcane lore found in occult books such as the De Vermis Mysteriis or the Necronomicon often gain a sense of the other-worldly and find themselves drawn to Sesqua Valley. There are many strange artifacts in Sesqua Valley, one of note is the stained glass window from the Free-Will Church of Providence from HPL’s The Haunter of the Dark.

The tales (in order):

The Strange Dark One: One of the longest tales in the collection. A women inherits her grandfather’s bookshop and enters Sesqua Valley to sell books. She becomes enmeshed in the mysteries of the valley after finding an altar to Nyarlathotep.

Immortal Remains: Simon helps a woman re-experience her strange childhood dream after visiting a mummy in an ancient tomb of Sesqua Valley.

Past the Gates of Deepest Dreaming: A tale about Nyarlathotep’s sister, Selene, told from three different perspectives. Bonus points for the scene in which a nightgaunt braids Selene’s hair while she sits by a pond talking to Nyarlathotep (I love, love love nightgaunts and their faceless faces and tickling claws).

One Last Theft: A ne-er do well comes back to Sesqua valley for a celebration in honor of Nyarlathotep.

The Hands That Reek and Smoke is a direct nod to Lovecraft’s prose-poem Nyarlathotep. It also includes my favorite line in the book: “I tell you, go see Nyarlathotep, and he will drench your dreams with wondrous vision.”

The Audient Void: A woman finds the Book of Eibon and uses it to inspire dreams of the crawling chaos.
Some Baccante of Irem: Simon leaves Sesqua Valley to see an art exhibit modeled after the lost city of Irem. He meets with the artist and helps her reach her dreams.

To See Beyond: If you ever wanted to know what happened to Erich Zann, you should read this. A writer who is about to commit suicide rather than live with the horrible truths he has discovered is instead transported to Sesqua Valley. There he has a tenuous relationship with Simon Gregory Williams and meets a violin player who has been given the gift of voice.

Criticisms: Dialogue is difficult, and I don’t always think it is Pugmire’s strong point. In addition some tales really are more fragments that fully developed short stories. Also, as with most small press and e-books, there are some typos.

A casual reader unfamiliar with the works of Lovecraft might find themselves lost when reading these tales. However, HP Lovecraft fans should read this work that not only pays homage to the Mythos but actually progresses it. Much like outsider artists who do not use the established conventions to express their art; Pugmire does not always use conventional writing techniques. However his methods work in these tales of weird fiction; where is can be difficult to describe sights that can barely be understood by the human mind! Overall a great read!