Adapted from the original novel by H.P. Lovecraft, adapted and illustrated by I.N.J. Culbard
Ian Culbard really has become something of the go to guy when it comes to adapting Lovecraft’s works, and whilst At The Mountains Of Madness and The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward were very good, this third adaptation is excellent, a perfect distillation of a creeping horror. With The Shadow Out Of Time Culbard makes it a trilogy of great adaptations, a Lovecraftian library of note.
The Shadow Out Of Time is perhaps the most Lovecraft-y of the three adapted works and is certainly a book that grounds us in very familiar themes, moods, and territory; unsettling hidden architecture, old Gods reaching into our world, ancient and malevolent forces, secret histories, the horror determinedly psychological rather than visceral.
One thing Culbard has always done with his Lovecraft adaptations is strip away so much of the excessive verbiage that put me off Lovecraft every time I even considered reading his prose, to reveal the core of the genuinely scary, full of original ideas stories underneath, accentuating and amplifying the mood through careful reveals of the horrors that Lovecraft spent so many words building up.
The Shadow Out Of Time is a brilliant read that flows so well. And boy, does he draw it so beautifully. The stuff of absolute nightmare yes, but gorgeous nightmares. The tension and the dread is almost a palpable thing in this latest adaptation, absolutely the best of his Lovecraft works so far.
The Shadow Out Of Time is that story of poor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, who collapses one day in 1908 at Miskatonic University, Arkham, and wakes 5 years later, to the initially unsettling and later absolutely terrifying realisation that his five year coma was nothing of the sort, and during the five years his mind was elsewhere, his body was taken by unseen forces.
As he comes to uncover the truth behind his missing years, his nightmares become real and his reality becomes a nightmare.
This is high Lovecraft, with Peaslee inexorably drawn to madness and darkness, his secondary personality during the five years taking him around the world, amnesiac, identity altered, wife and child lost to him, his sole aim seemingly to devour as much information as possible, and the reports of his ability to absorb knowledge with impossible speed and his disquieting visions of the future see him further and further isolated from humanity he once knew.
Once Peaslee awakes, he is plagued by nightmares and visions of ancient, otherworldly architecture, monolithic impossibilities full of unseen horrors, and then of otherworldly beings, all existing to document and record, hideous scribes and scholars for some alien and unseen culture far, far older than humanity. He’s convinced that something from beyond held his body hostage for the five years, and pursuing this belief takes him into his own nightmares.
Lovecraft’s ideas were always huge, his scale immense, the otherworldly beings he imagined populating his worlds were never insignificant things, but impossible, monstrous things that are frankly often better realised in the mind of the reader than in artistic form. That’s always been the problem with Lovecraftian monsters before, visualisation merely fixes their form, lessens the horror, and denies our imaginations the chance to build these nightmares into something really terrifying, on a scale worthy of Lovecraft’s initial ideas.
But Culbard delivers the horror perfectly, delivers every bit of monumental scale, never overplaying the reveal, keeping the darkness full of unseen horror, the potential horror energy far more visceral and spine-tingly than the kinetic horror energy of a reveal.
In fact, a fair portion of the final third of the book actually takes place in darkness as Peaslee investigates an ancient, impossible archaeological site in Australia. Night falls, and he’s going down into darkness, a small, insignificant torch all he has to guide him through. It is an incredibly scary, clautrophobic sequence, perfectly realised by Culbard.
In The Shadow Out Of Time Culbard really has perfected his style, mastered his writing, delivered an adaptation that builds and builds the tension, sends a a genuine shiver down the spine from the clever accumulation of deep dread. Culbard manages to chill and thrill practically from the outset, all the way to the very end, the final page a not unexpected finale, but a perfect shiver inducing culmination of everything that had gone before.
The Shadow Out Of Time is on general release in the UK right now. You poor North Americans have to wait until the Autumn to get yours. There’s a fourth, as yet unnamed Lovecraft adaptation due from Culbard and SelfMadeHero in 2014, but before that we have the pleasure of looking forward to Celeste, Culbard’s first, highly anticipated graphic novel, due for release in Spring 2014 from SelfMadeHero.