I have mentioned Kenneth Hite's works before on Cinerati. He's written everything from Children's books and roleplaying game products to Fortean magazine columns and "must read" companion books to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft -- he's also written an illustrated guide to U.S. History.
Hite's latest venture requires all of the skills highlighted in Hite's wide ranging bibliography. Cthulhu 101 by Kenneth Hite is one of the most informative and entertaining For Dummies-eque books I have ever read, and it is the first in what will be a line of "101 Books" by Hite's Atomic Overmind Press. The book some how manages to be a delightful and light-hearted introduction to the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft suitable for the completely uninitiated, while also containing enough in jokes to satisfy a wide array of Lovecraft fans.
Do you have no knowledge of Cthulhu and H.P. Lovecraft? That's okay because Hite's informative and humorous tone will introduce you to the character and author in a way that piques interest without being a substitute for the experience. Hite deftly educates readers about Lovecraft, the Lovecraftian circle, and their place in modern horror fiction in bite sized content that reads like a fun conversation. Most sections begin with a question. For example, "Who is Cthulhu?" These questions are followed by a response, which may or may not be humorous. For the aforementioned question, the answer is a straightforward one:
"Cthulhu is a monstrous being invented by the author H.P. Lovecraft in the short story 'The Call of Cthulhu.' Lovecraft wrote the story in 1926, and Weird Tales magazine published it in 1928."
His answer to "I mean, what does Cthulhu look like?" is more humorous.
Are you a gamer who has played the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, but want to know more about the character and author? This book is a great place to start and has a reading list in the back and directs readers to some of Hite's favorite stories. If you are an old D&D gamer who has a copy of the original Deities and Demigods, there is a nice in joke for you on page 49.
Have you read all of Lovecraft's writing, but are wondering what the best film based on Lovecraft's fiction is? He's got you covered. If you want to know which Lovecraftian films to avoid, Hite's got a pretty good list. This list contains Cthulhu Mansion, and Hite's description of the film is one of the funniest film reviews I have ever read -- "There is, in fact, a mansion in this movie. The rest is lies and theft."
Hite is a little hard on August Derleth, who is to Lovecraft as L. Sprague de Camp is to Robert E Howard, but is as fair to Derleth as any Lovecraft "purist" can be. This is to say, while Hite is critical of Derleth he makes sure to point out that one of the better Mythos tales -- "The Thing that Walked on the Wind" -- is a Derleth tale.
As an aside, I'm one of those who -- like the Cimmerian -- is more forgiving of de Camp than many of my fellow Robert E Howard fans. Maybe it's because for all that de Camp butchered and infantalized Conan, deC amp's Harold Shea stories are must reads for any fan of Fantasy literature.
Hite's prose is spot on throughout the book and the illustrations by Drew Pocza are a nice counterpoint to the information -- with one exception. While Pocza's black and white illustrations are well drawn and engaging, his cover does leave something to be desired. Pocza's digital colored Cthulhu on the cover lacks the charm of the interior illustrations.
Don't let the cover, printed in the villain colors* of purple and green, fool you. This book is a must own -- go buy it now!
* -- Green and Purple are the standard villain colors in four-color comic books. Think about all the iconic villains, particularly Marvel, and how many of them are green and purple themed.