First published back in December of 2002, US writer and theologian Robert M Price’s anthology ‘The Tsathoggua Cycle’ brought together a collection of the short stories which continued with the Tsathoggua mythos that was originally created by Clark Ashton Smith as part of his Hyperborean cycle.  The book includes an informative and in-depth six-page introduction followed by all of Smith’s original Tsathoggua stories, as well as a host of further contributions by a variety of more recent authors who were later inspired to add to this elaborate mythos.

From The Parchments Of Pnom - Clark Ashton Smith
– 6 pages
Pnom had been a chief genealogist and a noted prophet.  An individual with a vast knowledge on the Old Gods and their respective ancestry and genealogy.  An through his years of work the man had documented his findings within his parchments.  Scribblings that might seem to be from a mad man – but hold more truth than anyone would ever deem plausible…

First published in this ‘complete’ format back in July of 1989, the anthology begins with the short ‘From the Parchments of Pnom’ by Clark Ashton Smith.  This first offering isn’t so much a story as it is a complex and elaborate genealogy for Tsathoggua and the god’s entire older god family tree.  Indeed, having brought together a number of texts from Smith’s letters and such, including a one-page ‘Genealogical Chart Of The Elder Gods’ – a chart which illustrates the strange complexity that Smith has put into his whole mythos – the end result is this crazy mishmash of Elder God genealogy that if nothing else, sends the reader’s mind spinning.  As a standalone piece this is a mind-boggling piece of work.  As a contribution to the much larger mythos – it’s just scary how weirdly-elaborate Smith was willing to take the mythos.

The Seven Geases – Clark Ashton Smith
– 25 pages
Lord Ralibar Vooz, high magistrate of Commoriom and third cousin to King Homquat, along with twenty-six of his men had been sent on a quest into the underground passages of the black Eiglophian Mountains.  And here, in the cold and damp depths of the underground passages, Vooz and his men encounter all manner of strange beasts and forgotten gods – until they eventually locate the grandiose toad god Tsathoggua...

First published in the October 1934 issue of ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, Smith’s weirdly fable-esque short is a strange concoction providing a repetitive descent into the dark chasms underneath the mountain, along with an eerie unveiling of a host of old gods and chilling oddities.  Although not exactly laced with descriptive elements, Clark has nevertheless achieved an atmosphere that is perfectly in fitting with the imaginative mythos he has created.

The Testament of Athammaus - Clark Ashton Smith – 23 pages
It was said that Knygathin Zhaum was a descendent from the great toad god Tsathoggua.  And although his body showed moderate signs of his distant amphibian relation, the real influence on the bandit was his capability for utter cruelty.  However, when Zhaum and his men began to terrorize a small village on the outskirts of Commoriom, the law finally moved to intervene, tracking down the bandit and seeing that justice was met...

First published in the October of 1932 issue of ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, this delightfully Lovercratian short is packed to the rafters with demonic and diabolical delights; all told in a somewhat disconnected and far-away fashion.  Although not thoroughly engaging from start to finish, it does work at creating a much broader picture of Tsathoggua and the god’s projected influence on the world.

The Tale Of Satampra Zeiros - Clark Ashton Smith – 15 pages
When Satampra Zeiros together with his life-long friend, Tirouv Ompallios, heard of the vast riches to be found in the long abandoned city of Commoriom, the two thieves set off for the city that had been left deserted for many hundreds of years.  And after travelling all the way to the quiet and decaying remains of Commoriom, the two thieves decide to enter the once great temple that had somehow remained standing all this time.  A temple that contained a bronze depiction of the monstrous deity known as Tsathoggua.  A temple of worship for the old gods.  But the city isn’t quite as deserted as it seems.  And there remains a terrible presence lurking in the silent stone of the temple...

First published back in the November of 1931 issue of ‘Weird Tales’ magazine, the short was written as a sequel to ‘The Testament of Athammaus’ which was actually published almost a year later.  After Smith sent Lovecraft a copy, he wrote back declaring that it was Smith’s greatest achievement to date.  And indeed the story is a spectacular addition to their elder god mythos.  It has that creepy undertone and an all-encompassing feeling of a blasphemous ‘lost history’ that maintains that overall feeling of unease.  And when it comes, the horror crashes down on the reader like a tonne of bricks.  Undoubtedly one of Smith’s finest pieces of work.

The Theft Of The Thirty-Nine Girdles - Clark Ashton Smith
– 13 pages
Together with his late partner, Vixeela, the master-thief Satampra Zeiros of Uzuldaroum decides that they shall steal the thirty-nine golden and jewelled chastity girdles that are worn by a selected group of virgins who reside in a temple in the suburbs of Uzuldaroum, capital of Hyperborea.  The girdles were said to be padlocked; their keys retained by a high-priest who would rent the women out to the rich and powerful.  And so Zeiros and his beautiful partner take it upon themselves to remove these chastity girdles from their possession.  A theft that will prove to be much more dangerous than they had bargained for...

Written in the first-person-perspective of the comical master-thief Satampra Zeiros, the story isn’t so much a tale about the great toad god as it is another addition to the Hyperborean mythos.  And to be honest, there’s very little of any real ‘meat’ in it.  The story is camp and quick-footed, with some good energy behind it; however it lacks the sense of uneasiness that Smith’s prior shorts delivered in absolute abundance.  As such, the tale feels somewhat out of place with the other stories in the anthology – lacking the inclusion of Tsathoggua as well as missing the mark as far as atmosphere and delivery goes.

Shadow Of The Sleeping God - James Ambuehl
– 16 pages
It was just pure bad luck for the youth, Alu Kuthos, when he was discovered in the maiden Filhomeena’s treasure room, following an uncontrollable sneezing fit.  Meanwhile, following the theft of the thirty-nine girdles, the master-thief Satampra Zeiros also found himself now in chains, having been caught attempting to pinch a fat purse from a merchant.  And so the two prisoners are brought before the high-priest, Ruul-Vash.  And it’s here that Zeiros learns of Vixeela’s fate.  And indeed his own potential fate.  As the two of them are forced into a quest to acquire the magical relics and artefacts that are said to be buried within the eartern mound-tomb of Hurun, just within the gates of the citadel of Ta-Shon sunken in the Cinartrel Sea...

Ambuehl’s short was written as a direct sequel to Smith’s previous short.  And indeed, Ambuehl keeps in with the tone and intricacies of Smith’s elaborate mythos; with a fine attention to detail adding a depth of character to the story and imaginative expansion of the mythos as a whole.  Although not exactly packed with entertainment, Ambuehl’s follow-up story still does justice to Smith’s original stories; keeping in track with the characters and the mythical presence of the elder gods.  Sadly, not the most entertaining of additions – but nevertheless a reasonably solid contribution to the mythos.

The Curse Of The Toad - Loay Hall and Terry Dale
– 8 pages
It had been twenty-odd-years since Edward Roberts had last seen his old college friend – Jason Giles.  After going their separate ways, Giles took up a career in taxidermy with a shop in Los Angeles, whilst Roberts ended up as a writer and eventually relocated to a small secluded cottage outside of Eddyville on Rhode Island.  However, when Edward visits Los Angeles regarding a legal issue with one of his books, he decides to try and catch-up with Jason, and so takes a cab out to Giles’ taxidermy shop.  But whilst he’s there he finds his friend is far from the man he once was.  A change that Giles puts down to an event that took place during an expedition in Africa.  An expedition to find the lost tribe of the Tcho-Tcho.  And one that led him to the tribe’s temple and their three-foot tall idol.  A pot-bellied toad god.  Tsathoggua...

First published back in 1979 within the ‘On Wings Of Darkness #2’ fanzine, Loay Hall and Terry Dale’s short is a delightfully light-hearted romp retelling the story of what happened to Giles and his expedition friend – Gordon Burkes – whilst they were in Africa.  It’s one of those short’s that’s just enjoyable to read for the sheer unveiling nature of the plot – and although not exactly monumental in its twist ending – does however keep the reader thoroughly entertained in its colourful and easy-to-read nature.

Dark Swamp - James Anderson – 10 pages
He planned to write an article for ‘The Rhode Island Review’, following in the footsteps of H.P. Lovecraft and reliving those inspirational destinations that were so vividly depicted in his writings.  And so he set off for Rhode Island where he would visit and photograph the many places that Lovecraft had frequented and then detailed in his strange and otherworldly tales.  One such place being the Dark Swamp which was said to be located along the Putnam Pike, close to the town of Chepachet.  As far as he knew the place only existed in local mythology.  And so he decides to follow Lovecraft’s route and find out if this swamp that is permanently drenched in darkness is indeed real.  An excursion that will ultimately take him to the very brink of his sanity...

First published back in April of 1983 within ‘Eldritch Tales – Issue# 9’ (1983), Anderson’s short is quite a reserved tale which spends much of its time detailing the narrator’s attempts at locating this supposed Dark Swamp.  And with such a lead up to the eventual and inevitable finding – the short piles on the suspense until Anderson reveals (in the space of just two short pages) the horror of the swamp which sends the short squealing to a halt in a magnificently executed ‘biting terror’ finale.  Although not the cleverest of tales – the short is nevertheless a thoroughly enjoyable and well-executed read.

The Old One - John Glasby
– 30 pages
His interest in the lost city of Yuth started off when, on one October evening, he came across a bookshop he had not previously visited.  There, hidden away on the dusty shelves, he finds an ancient book by Samuel Pepys telling of the lost city of Yuth.  Fascinated by the idea of such a lost city, the professor of archaeology quizzes the bookshop owner on how he came by the book – learning about its previous owner.  After reading through the book’s contents further, the professor decides to try to track down this previous owner – eventually meeting with his grandson – Simon Howarth.  With his interest in Yuth now dominating his time, his investigations lead him to a collection of letters that were exchanged between Howarth’s grandfather detailing the possible location of the supposedly mythical lost city.  One such place suggested as being the Bimini Islands which form part of the Bahamas.  A location that suggests that roadways leading to Yuth can be found submerged beneath the ocean.  A destination where the professor and a small group of senior archaeologists just happen to be mounting a small-scale archaeological expedition to...

First published back in 1989 within ‘Crypt Of Cthulhu – Issue# 67’, John Glasby’s reasonably lengthy short story is quite a slow-paced affair, with a great deal of the stories length dedicated to the obsessive research of our principal protagonist.  Very much in the same vein as Lovecraft’s short ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ (1928), much of the plot is compiled by way of snippets from letters and other such text, all of which this unnamed narrator manages to unearth during his lengthy investigations into the supposedly lost city.  The end result is a stitched-together overview of something that is gradually, piece by piece, revealed to the reader.  And when the inevitable lost city of Yuth is finally revealed, Glasby details it in an awe-inspiringly vivid depth.  Overall a darn fine read – just let down by the plodding pace of the first fifteen-or-so pages.

The Oracle Of Sadoqua - Ron Hilger – 17 pages
In the recently conquered province of Averonia, Horatius - the First Lieutenant under General Julius Caesar’s forces in Gaul has just received word that he is to return immediately to Rome under the dictum disbanding Caesar’s army.  However Horatius is much more concerned with his missing comrade – Galbius – than the orders that have just arrived via this courier from Rome.  Since Galbius disappeared after leaving on a lone scouting foray into the woods, Horatius has been deeply concerned with what could have happened to his comrade and friend.  For he has heard many rumours about the surrounding woods.  Tales of Druids and ungodly creatures and those that worship the toad-like god Tsathoggua and the spider-god Atlach-Nacha.  Stories that Horatius is about to learn perhaps have some terrifying truth to them...

First published back in 1989 within ‘Chronicles Of The Cthulhu Codex #5’ (1989), Ron Hilger’s short is interestingly set in the time of the Roman occupation of France.  With our protagonist planning to organise a search for Galbius firmly established within just a page or two, the story starts cranking up that eerie-mythos-vibe – introducing two savage-looking Druids with large cats who guard the ‘cavern of the oracle’.  From here the short gets thoroughly immersed within the intricacies of the mythos – flirting with Ashton Smith’s early stories, whilst building upon the very fabric of the entire Hyperborean cycle.  The end result is a short tale that is as entertaining as it is intriguing; very much aimed at slotting itself in within the mythos and playing its own expansive hand at furthering its imaginative depths.

The Horror Show - Gary Myers – 11 pages
Lisa had been sitting alone in the pub ever since her friend had run off with some vampire wannabe.  What’s worse is that her friend had told her she would be in the company of many kindred spirits.  Instead, from what she could see, all that were here were a bunch of posing goths with no real substance behind their dark appearances.  And then Aaron introduced himself to her.  A man with a definite interest about him.  And after proclaiming her utter disappointment at the gothic pretence that surrounds them, he offers to take her somewhere where she can experience something much more real.  And so she finds herself in a run-down industrial estate, going into a dilapidated warehouse full of more goths.  However it’s here that she’ll witness a performance that will have her questioning the reality of the most terrifying of all horrors…

Gary Myers’ short is one of those stories that is wrapped up in that (often painful) modern-goth culture, of which the likes of Poppy Z Brite have so embraced.  And with Myers’ story it’s very much another run-of-the-mill storyline, with an ‘underground vibe’ that seems to be a direct copy off of Norrington’s film ‘Blade’ (1998).  With the short’s predictability verging on boredom, the storyline bounces along to an altogether unsurprising ending that lacks imagination as much as it lacks any real interest – although the pulpy violence of the piece does come to a the tale’s rescue just that little bit.

The Tale Of Toad Loop - Stanley C. Sargent – 17 pages
Mazrah Mulltree arrived at Madlan County and immediately bought up a piece of land which had laid idle years.  He’d come from his hometown of Innsmouth and instantly made an impression with the local community, flashing his solid gold ingots and mysterious past.  Soon after moving to his new property, he has some work done to make the land habitable and then firmly establishes his position into the community by marrying one of the locals - Pritchy Kwik.  However, soon after their marriage the locals start to report weird glowing’s up in the night sky directly above Toad Loop.  And underneath the bright glow can be seen the six rough pillars that form The Circle.  A Circle that was said to be dangerous and not to be tinkered with.  But that is exactly why Mazrah has purchased the land…

First published back in 1997 within ‘Nightscapes #1’ (1997), Stanley C. Sargent’s short is a magnificently spun tale, with the delightful mad narrator reliving the events that followed Mazrah Mulltree’s arrival into their out-and-back locality.  And it’s certainly an addictive read.  There’s a chilling underbelly to the gradual escalation of weird events that sparks up the thrill of the tale’s horror – bringing about that all-important Cthulhu element that sends the madness spiralling off into a creepy abyss where the characters’ sanity is pushed to crumbling limits.  It’s a wonderfully entertaining read that effortlessly stitches itself into the whole Hyperborean cycle and produces a believable and terrifying vision of our favourite toad god.

The Crawling Kingdom - Rod Heather – 13 pages
It was whilst he was a reporter for Beckham Bulletin that he met with Dr Wilum Von Helmer.  The doctor had kept himself locked away from the public view in his remote mountainside cabin whilst he studied the indigenous amphibious inhabitants of the untamed Appalachian hinterlands.  A subject that didn’t exactly appeal to the young reporter, however he had been assigned to do a short ‘Residents In Focus’ piece about the doctor, and so he found himself travelling deep into the isolated rural countryside to perform the interview.  But upon arriving, the strange doctor offers to tell the young reporter the ‘real story’.  A story that will send nightmares spilling over into his waking days.  A story about a time when the doctor was caught in a downpour amid a mass breeding free-for-all for the amphibians.  And one that would lead to him discovering more than just a veritable tide of frenzied toads deep in the rural backwoods…

First published back in July of 1996 within ‘Midnight Shambler #3’ (1996), Rod Heather’s short is one that’s drenched in a chilling Lovecraftian atmosphere of off-the-beaten-track weirdness and mass amphibian horror.  Admittedly the short starts out like many other – with our unnamed narrator making his way to an out-of-the-way locale where he’ll meet with a strange individual who tells a terrifying story of what he once witnessed.  It’s all pretty standard stuff thus far.  But what Heather manages to do is add in a whole new twist to the Tsathoggua cycle, delivering it with a dramatic and intense finale.  Okay, so the short isn’t exactly ground-breaking in its originality, but it chills the blood, sets the atmosphere and delivers the amphibian horror in absolute style.

The Resurrection Of Kzadool-Ra - Henry J. Vester III – 13 pages
Yat-Shan had come to Nashir, the City of the Sleeping Gods, after having completed a long and painstaking apprenticeship at the Temple of All Gods in Shulkarong.  And since Yat-Shan had been made Curator of Deities to the City of the Sleeping Gods, he had been hoping to be assigned to some of the more prestigious deities instead of just the relatively minor gods.  After all, he had worked so tirelessly to get to the position he currently had.  But his ambition was still thirsty for more.  And so, when the opportunity presented itself for something greater – he barely gave it a second’s thought before jumping at the chance.  An opportunity that arose from discovering a shrine for the outlawed worship of Zathogwa – the Outcast God.  And in that moment, Yat-Shan decided to offer worship to Zathogwa to importune the deity to accept his fealty and his priesthood.  An act with consequences far greater than the cleric could ever have comprehended…

First published back in 1987 within ‘Chronicles Of The Cthulhu Codex #4’ (1987), Vester’s short is perhaps the most complex and elaborate of stories following Clark Ashton Smith’s magically contrived original offerings.  And to be fair, Vester’s tale is no worse off because of the sheer imaginative intricacies involved.  Through the mind-boggling mass of mythos mumbo-jumbo, Vester has created a wonderfully entertaining tale with a classic message behind it.  With so much inter-woven magic and reference to the vastness and intricacies of the mythos – the story feels much greater than the sum of its parts.  And indeed, this is its own magic.  It’s a wonderfully entertaining tale – and an excellent short to end the entire anthology on.

The collection runs for a total of 220 pages.

© DLS Reviews


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