This post originally appeared on the blog Mel Odom and I set up for the Arron of the Black Forest series—a series that stopped, unfortunately, at the first book—but looking back at this I thought it was worth sharing again, not just to maybe throw a little light on that old eBook, but to reconnect with H.P. Lovecraft in a fun way, separate from all the discussion of Lovecraft the racist, and so on, and touching back on Lovecraft the weird, absurdist wordsmith . . .


In my travels through the stygian corridors of the noisome internet, I ran across the brilliant site Cthulhu Chick in which we’re given a list of some of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite words—the often antiquated usage he’s known for, and some other popular favorites. Since I knew going in that The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff was as much an homage to Lovecraft as anything, I kept this list next to me as I wrote, trying my damnedest to use as many of them as I could.

Here’s how that worked out, with the number of times Lovecraft used that word himself in parenthesis after each word, which is called out in bold:

There was more than one ghost in this accursed (76) place, and all of them were focused around this “Captain,” a man who was a failure in life, and who died a cripple, tortured by his household servants.

She was not what she appeared, but an undead thing, the blasphemous (92) shade of a woman dead for nigh on a century.

“I am but a servant,” the demonic (55) force inside Latimer replied. “Chief among the servants. You have met a few of my less fortunate charges.”

Why not let this Captain have me, so you and your Groundskeeper and whatever else lurks in this eldritch (23) hovel can—”

And the magus started to nod then just fainted (189), falling in a heap on the leaf-littered flagstone floor.

Arron took note of the Hound’s furtive (60) glance his way.

The gambrel (21) roof bowed, paint flaked off, and rainwater cascaded down from the corners, making little waterfalls all its own.

A gibbous (9) moon shined and stars twinkled above him, eclipsed at one edge by a semicircle of roiling clouds.

As the bog ape gibbered (10) and screamed, roiling its troop to a murderous frenzy, Arron stared into the dead eyes of his brother.

“You don’t know me,” the ghost said and even as she spoke her face changed into a hideous (260) mask of decay.

There was no one home to hear his knock, and probably hadn’t been since time immemorial (25).

He saw the skeletons of trees, the spilled-entrails jumble of the thorny underbrush, but could only feel the animal—or animals—that lurked (15) there.

Something screamed at him—a sound like a little boy shrieking in mortal (27) agony—and Arron turned and ran for the house.

Using just the sounds of its tiny clawed feet on the sparse gravel, Arron swiped at the nameless (157) thing with his axe, but the battered old blade passed through nothing but air.

This isn’t one of the fishermen from Gifford’s Quay, one of the noisome (33), superstitious local fishmongers who know better than to set foot on the path to Dragon’s Cliff.

Far more powerful than the hurricane’s gale, the force of her singular (115) cry lifted him fully off his feet.

Arron couldn’t believe he was having a conversation with a ghost, but he realized this spectral (60) girl was the first “person” he’d spoken to at any length in weeks—the Heteronomy’s stooge in the barn not withstanding.

Arron’s nose filled with the stench (59) of the decay of not just the house, but the entire civilization that built it.

Arron looked back down the old road into the stygian (6) darkness of the sparse forest.

This swarthy (14) child of the Heteronomy may do well, once we’ve taken some pieces of him, once his soul is consigned to Outer Darkness and his earthly form carved clean for the Captain to inhabit as a hermit crab moves from shell to shell to shell as it eats and grows and breeds.

I’ve seen the barbarian hew at walls, rage at the tenebrous (9) air, and hurl himself through the attic window, but I have not seen him oppugn* the living.

His ears rattled under the onslaught of the preternatural, ululating (4) shriek—then his eardrums burst and his eyes snapped closed against the pain.

It mixed with the drool that all but poured out of his mouth to spatter his chest an unmentionable (16) green.

The storm will fuel his fear, ignite his superstitions to fill his heart with unnamable (22) horrors, but at the same time it will drive him here, to me.

Shandy had come to this house in the loneliest stretches of the Hooks in the middle of a hurricane to kill Arron and bring his head back in trade for a pouch of coins, but still the barbarian couldn’t leave a man to this unutterable (13) fate.

I was particularly proud of the times I managed to work more than one into a single sentence:

The pain was monstrous, but nothing compared to the fetid (22), dank (19) effluence of the creature’s charnel (20) breath.

Something small, tentacled (28), and loathsome (71) dragged itself across the path in front of him and was gone, but even then, even with his mighty forearm thrown up against his eyes, Arron could sense its foul presence.

“Behold,” Latimer said—but Arron knew without anyone having to tell him that this was no longer Latimer, but some new demented spirit, some indescribable (25) madness (115) from beyond the grave.

For H.P., with cyclopean, amorphous, iridescent respect!


—Philip Athans


* I grant myself bonus points for this one. Don’t oppugn my methods for sending you to the dictionary a couple times at least!

And . . .

Yes, I’m fully aware that here you see characters (monsters, more correctly) referred to as the Captain and the Groundskeeper . . . Do what I say, not what I do?



About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. Wordfyre says:

    Loving this…and Best Wishes from Arkham. Wish you were here.

  2. I have to say I think “charnel” is my favorite of these. Had to look that one up. And also “unutterable”–just because I first read it as un-nut-terable and was confused.

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