Vale Ducky

David McCallum – famous as Illya Kuryakin in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. but better known to my generation as Dr. Donald “Ducky” Mallard in the NCIS franchise – has passed away at the age of 90.

NCIS has always been fundamentally silly, but still quite enjoyable in a unthinking ‘hunt down the bad guys and shoot them pew-pew-pew’ sort of way, and Ducky’s appearances were one of the most enjoyable aspects. I don’t think he’s been in it much of late (I haven’t been going out of my way to watch since the classic cast were replaced), but he will still be much missed.

(I think McGee’s still there, but he has a beard, and McGee with a beard isn’t real McGee)

As it happens, one my earliest encounters with the works of H. P. Lovecraft was a set of books on tape of The Dunwich Horror and The Rats in the Walls that I borrowed from the local library. Years later I actually managed to buy them when the library decided they were past use. Examining them a few years back I was astonished to discover they were read by Mr McCallum. His reading of the description of Dunwich will always be the definitive version for me.

I’ve managed to find a copy of it on YouTube, although it’s a little faster and higher pitched that the version that I first heard creeping out of my tape player a good 30 years ago. But I’ll include it nonethless.

I’ve also found a copy of The Rats in the Walls, but be aware that the name of the cat (unfortunately common at the time of the work’s writing but appallingly racist) is not edited.

Vale Mr McCallum, and thanks for all the fun!

Return to Brichester

I have finally got around to finalising the updated version of my Campbell Country map that’s been sitting on my desktop for months.

The changes are pretty minor – basically just tweaks to fix a few discrepancies uncovered by a re-read of the source material. Brichester for instance only has one train station, located in Lower Brichester, Temphill is surrounded by woods, and there’s actually a road running out to the Devil’s Steps. There are also some carvings in the woods near Castle Morley – I think that’s it.

Anyway, here ’tis!

For info on my cartographic process see Brichester and Parts Beyond.

EDIT: And of course – the universe being perhaps not quite as bleak and hostile as Lovecraft thought but still a thorough pain the posterior – no sooner do I publish this updated map than I discover more geographic detail. “Brichester Lake”, the favoured abode of Gla’aki, should actually be named “Deepfall Waters”.

I discovered this fact courtesy of Justin Alexander over at The Alexandrian, who has come up with a fantastic solution to the limited geography of the Vale of Berkely that simply never occurred to me despite the puzzle pieces lying in plain sight.

Brichester and Parts Beyond

Update! A newer version of my Campbell Country map can be accessed here…

In early 1960’s Liverpool – a city still suffering the scars of the determined Luftwaffe bombardment of twenty years earlier – a teenage boy purchased a short story collection titled Cry Horror! from a sweet shop that also did a line in second hand books. The book was a re-titled print of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear and Other Stories, and the boy was a young Ramsey Campbell who would go on to become one of Britain’s greatest horror authors.

Totally infatuated with Lovecraft’s work, the young Campbell whipped off a series of pastiches set in H. P.’s fictional New England towns of Arkham, Kingsport and Dunwich. Then – in a remarkable act of self confidence – he sent them off to August Derleth, Lovecraft’s literary executor and publisher.

One would expect Derleth to have thrown these efforts straight into the bin, but apparently he saw something in them. He wrote back to Campbell telling him “in no uncertain terms” how to improve his writing, including advice to stop trying to imitate Lovecraft’s style, and to stop trying to set his tales in America. Campbell took this advice on board and shortly afterwards Derleth published one of his rewritten tales – with a revised title and some other editorial amendments – in a short story collection, and a few years later published an entire book of his stories – The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants.

Over the next few years Campbell continued writing Lovecraft inspired works, gradually developing his own voice and style. In the process he created his own version of Lovecraft’s New England, a fictionalised version of Gloucestershire’s Severn Valley sometimes referred to as ‘Campbell Country’.

The locales of Campbell Country and Lovecraft Country can be roughly matched. The university town of Brichester maps to Arkham. Temphill is Kingsport – despite the former’s inland location. Goatswood is an English version of Dunwich. Of course as Campbell continued his writing his versions moved further away from the originals.

So, why am I writing about all this? It comes down – as it usually does with me – to cartography.

The Inhabitant of the Lake contained a map of Campbell Country, as did the 1995 tribute anthology Made in Goatswood. But both of them were sketch maps at best. The problem of developing a more detailed map of the Severn Valley has vexed me ever since I discovered Campbell’s oeuvre in the 1990s, and a few years back I decided to finally do something about it.

Map from "The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants" 1964
Map from “The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants” 1964

Map From "Made in Goatswood" 1995
Map From “Made in Goatswood” 1995

The primary problem with Campbell country is that there’s actually no room for it! It lies between the lower Severn River and the Cotswold hills – an area about 15 kilometres across. Brichester – a city easily the size of Swindon – would take up most of that space, leaving nowhere for the various desolate plains and creepy, isolated villages of Campbell’s stories. The map from Made in Goatswood even tries to fit the whole region in between the river and the M5 motorway, an area 6 kilometres across at the very widest!

On top of this, the Vale of Berkeley (as the region is properly known, the term ‘Severn Valley’ usually applying to areas north of Gloucester) is full of villages and urban developments, leaving ever less room for ominous woods and alien monuments.

So, I made two decisions. Firstly I would ignore matters of scale, and secondly I would free up space by replace existing locations with Campbellian ones.

So I got to work. But then (as so often happens) I got distracted. But then a few months back I found the files and decided to get back onto it.

In my revised geography Purton becomes Severnford with Old Severnford on the opposite side of the river. Claypits become the decaying hamlet of Clotton – it’s in the right place and I couldn’t resist the alliteration. The real world town of Cam is shrunk down to provide room for Camside. Ulley is converted to the sinister Goatswood and its valley filled with forest. Nympsfield becomes Temphill. The area around Haresfield (appropriate!) is depopulated and Warrendown plumped in the middle. Brichester Lake (and its inhabitant), the Devil’s Steps and Castle Morley are placed appropriately, and finally the city of Brichester is placed on the intersection of the railway and the A38 (which looks like this in reality). A few roads are moved, a few rivers redirected, and we’re done!

So here is my map of Campbell Country. I’ve no doubt made some mistakes and some incorrect assumptions, but overall I’m pretty happy with it.

Iä Gla’aki! Iä Iä Y’golonac!

Brichester and the Severn Valley
Brichester and the Severn Valley

The Strange Case of Randolph Peterson

Recently my local pizzeria – a place I buy far too many dinners from – underwent a major renovation. As part of this they got rid of the plastic outdoor furniture that was doing service as a place to wait for one’s order and installed a couple of luxurious dining booths, upholstered in funky vinyl decorated with a pattern of reproduced newspaper articles and Cuban postage stamps (yes, you read that right – Cuban postage stamps).

One of these articles has been catching my eye each time I’ve visited, and I here reproduce what parts of it are visible beneath other articles and stamps commemorating Columbus’s voyage to the new world…


Randolph Peterson, citizen of Boston that was living at the 138 Lane Street, is said disapeared [sic] since November 18. Randolph Peterson lived in Boston during his young times. At the age of 12 he contracted a strange and very severe illness that grag [sic] him in the coma for one full year. At the age of 13 he waked [sic] up from his coma, the illness was miraculously gone but he suffered of amnesia and had difficulty to readapt [sic] himself to a normal life. This ilness [sic] also left […] Some years ago he went to Africa to pursue some studies on pagan cults and living habits in some Afri- […]of still […] he […]u  ive[…] an inspect […] up soon to atr[…] him by the local authorities. If you have any information about where Randol-

What initially attracted my notice to this rather fragmentary account was the combination of extremely Lovecraftian elements, to wit a strange disappearance, New England, the name ‘Randolph’, a mysterious illness, amnesia and pagan cults. It almost read like a retread of The Shadow Out of Time! So I hurried home (once I had my pizza and garlic bread) and started Googling, confident that I would soon uncover whatever piece of sub-Derleth fan fiction the article derived from…

But… nothing….

I have been entirely unable to find any instance of Randolph Peterson and his mysterious vanishing anywhere online.

So, where did it come from?

Assuming that it wasn’t thrown together by some graphic designer on a Cthulhu binge I rather suspect that it may be a genuine article collected from an African newspaper. The rest of the articles used on the pattern appear genuine, and although I’m no linguist the slightly eccentric English has – to me – a distinctly African feeling to it, constructions such as “readapt himself” and “suffered of amnesia” . Randolph Peterson does not appear to exist anywhere on the internet, so I imagine it’s a fairly old article, even though some of the others appear quite recent (one concerns online music teaching).

So there the mystery must rest. Was Randolph Peterson ever real, and if so, what happened to him?

We may never know.

Campbell Country

Of late, thanks to an absolutely insane game of Arkham Horror we played up at Fabes’ place using every expansion, I’ve been renewing my familiarity with the Cthulhu Mythos works of English horror writer Ramsey Campbell.

Campbell is interesting because he started out as a teenager writing awful imitations of Lovecraft, which he had the guts (or naivete) to send to August Derleth for publication. Derleth sent them back telling him to knock it off with the ridiculous language and to set his stories in England rather than try to set them in Lovecraft’s  Massachusetts. Campbell did this and Derleth subsequently accepted some of them for his anthologies. This led to the publication of the short story collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Less Welcome Tenants in 1964 when Campbell was just 18.

Campbell continued to write Lovecraftian tales while gradually developing his own voice, one heavily influenced by the devastated post-war urban landscape he’d grown up with in Liverpool. For a period he turned against Lovecraft, penning a essay condemning his work, although he was later to note that he was really condemning his own reliance on it. But he returned to the Cthulhian fold after a few years, writing new stories in his now fully developed and distinctive personal style.

Reading through his Mythos works it’s fascinating to watch this style develop. The early stories – such as The Room in the Castle – are straight up pastiches, but as you progress along the timeline you start to detect a change in the tone. By the time you get to The Franklyn Paragraphs and Before the Storm you’re reading something very different and when you finally arrive at The Faces at Pine Dunes or The Voice of the Beach it’s had to believe it’s the same author.

But anyway, I didn’t come to talk about the progression of Campbell’s style – fascinating though it is. I came to talk about Campbell Country.

August Derleth advised Campbell not to use the New England setting of Lovecraft’s stories (nowdays often referred to as ‘Lovecraft Country’) but to set his stories in England. Campbell took this advice and created his own little patch of cosmic horror and ancient secrets along the east side of Severn river in Gloucestershire, the area now known to Mythos fans as ‘Campbell Country’.

This area – centered around the fictional university city of Brichester – has everything a Mythos aficionado could want. Ancient ruins, tombs and temples, crumbling towns with dark secrets, blasphemous alien sites, strange inbred locals, the whole Lovecraftian shebang.

But, there’s a problem. In the space between the Severn river and the Cotswold escarpment there simply isn’t room for all the desolate landscapes and isolated places Campbell placed there.

I figured this out back in the 90’s when I compared the map provided in the Chaosium Made in Goatswood anthology with Ordnance Survey maps of the area. There’s really no way to make it all fit without a horde of Tomb Herds to warp the dimensions. Nonetheless I decided – with all the resources of the 21st century (ie: Google Earth) – to take a shot at mapping Campbell Country anyway.

I’m ignoring the spacing problem. To make it work I think you need to double all the distances, so make of that what you will. Instead I’ve simply figured out where to place the various settlements based on the original map from The Inhabitant of the Lake, the revised one from Made in Goatswood and various ones from the Call of Cthulhu role playing game. My conclusions are as follows,

Brichester: The great (and – in parts – greatly decayed) city of Brichester is at the heart of Campbell Country, and at the heart of its geographic problems. Campbell’s stories make it clear that Brichester is a major population centre – comparable to Gloucester – but there simply isn’t room for it! If you transplanted Gloucester to the location of Brichester there’d be nothing but houses from the Severn to the Cotswolds, with no room left for the isolated lakes, dark forests and strange villages that make up Campbells’s oeuvre.

But no matter. The maps allow us to place the centre of Brichester in the vicinity of Breadstone, close to where the A38 crosses the Sharpness/Gloucester rail line. The Lake of Glaaki, the Devil’s Steps and the Plain of Sound would all be located to the north within the triangle formed between the A38, the canal and Riddle Street.

Camside: The location of Camside is slightly problematic. The maps place it more or less on top of Stinchcombe, but this a good two kilometres away from the river Cam. Some of them deal with this by running a tributary of the Cam (named the Cambrook) through the town, but to my mind the easiest solution is to remove the real world conglomeration of Cam, Dursley and Woodfield and drop the much smaller Camside in their place.

Clotton: Clotton is actually quite easy to place. The maps put it slap bang on top of  the real world village of Claypits, just off the A38. We just need to add the river Ton (flowing from the vicinity of Temphill), down to the Severn,  and we’re done.

Goatswood and Temphill: Goatswood and Temphill are usually depicted as fairly close to each other, so they might as well be considered together. The maps tend to place them in the vicinity of Far Green, but this poses problems. Goatswood (as the name suggests) is supposed to be surrounded by dense woods, and both towns are usually described as being in the Cotswolds. There are no suitable woods anywhere near Far Green, and while it sits close to the Cotswold escarpment it’s not within the Cotswolds proper.

My suggested solution would be to move the towns slightly further east, placing Goatswood between Uley and Owlpen, and Temphill at Nympsfield. The town of Uley would need to be extirpated and its valley filled with woods, but this would at least place Goatswood’s Roman constructions in context with the real world Roman temple complex at West Hill.

The cone of the insects from Shaggai could be put literally anywhere in the valley. I’d suggest in one of the vales below Temphill.

Severnford: Severnford (and Old Severnford on the far side of the river) could happily be placed in one of three locations. It might be the Campbell Country version of Sharpness – which would make sense given the mention of docks and warehouses – in which case we can simply change the name and be done with it. Some maps however place it slightly north of Sharpness – which could make it an extension of the town and its maritime facilities.

Alternatively (my preferred option) it could replace Purton, which has the advantage that west bank Purton could stand for Old Severnford and the east bank Severnford proper.

(The Made in Goatswood map places Severnford north of Purton, but that’s clearly madness!)

Warrendown: Warrendown is one of the most recent additions to Campbell Country, appearing for the first time in Campbell’s slightly tongue in cheek The Horror Under Warrendown – his contribution to the 1995 Made in Goatswood anthology. The maps that feature it appear to place it in the vicinity of Oxlynch – although – given the nature of its inhabitants – it’s tempting to instead place it at nearby Haresfield 🙂

So there you go. My best guess at making sense of Campbell Country. If you get lost now you’ve only got yourself (or that Tomb Herd under Temphill) to blame!

Lovecraft World Redux

Long time readers may remember my post about Lovecraft World, the fictional Cthulhu Mythos theme park I did a TAFE assignment about way back in the heady days of the late 1990s. This was a theoretical amusement park that really tried to get into the spirit of Lovecraft’s oeuvre by killing, maiming and driving-into-insanity it’s patrons in the manner of a particularly bleak and bloodthirsty Disneyland where Mickey has fangs and tentacles.

Well, it turns out that Lovecraft world wasn’t entirely a product of my imagination, as it seems to have manifested itself in late 70’s New Jersey in the form of Action Park.

Attractions at Action park included…

  • An Alpine slide cart ride with two speeds – abysmally slow and “death awaits”.
  • A skateboard park so badly built that it was closed and filled in after one season.
  • Go carts that were used as 80kmph bumper cars and gassed their riders into unconsciousness.
  • Tanks that could shoot high velocity tennis balls at each other or, more often, park employees.
  • Speedboats that raced around a snake infested pond at dangerous speeds.
  • Bumper boats that raced around a second snake infested pond and randomly sprayed petrol over their pilots.
  • A bungee cord slingshot ride that induced whiplash.
  • An enclosed water slide that did a vertical loop, resulting in facial and back injuries and the occasional trapping of patrons.
  • A wave pool so terrifying that people got injured just trying to get out of it.
  • A whitewater ride with an electrified riverbed.
  • A tarzan swing with water so cold that it caused paralysis and heart attacks.
  • A raft ride that often dislocated and broke limbs.
  • A second raft ride that took patrons through a pitch dark tunnel, lined with sharp rocks.
  • A diving attraction that allowed patrons to plummet seven metres down onto unsuspecting swimmers.
  • A ride where patrons were skimmed over a shallow, concrete lined pool at high speed. If they sat exactly right, and weren’t hit by other patrons.
  • A skydiving simulator that severed nerves.

I am speechless. Abdul Alhazred would be proud!

NCIS R’lyeh

Dunwich is ridiculously old…

Rejoice and be glad all ye people of the Interwebs! For my computer is healed!

Well, not exactly healed, but useable for the time being, which is the main thing. Once I pick up that additional 1 terabyte external drive and back up my music collection I’ll be sending it off to the shop for a complete overhaul – perhaps a complete reinstallation of Windows – which should see it right. I hope.

Anyway, while luxuriating in the ability to view Wikipedia on a decent sized screen this afternoon I discovered something rather, well, I don’t know that there’s a better adjective for it than “cool”.

Many years ago, when I was about 14,  I discovered that our local library had a book on tape of two stories by H.P.Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror and The Rats in the Walls. I was quite getting into Lovecraft at the time and leapt on the opportunity to hear two tales I hadn’t yet managed to find a copy of – the only ones I’d tracked down at that point being Beyond the Wall of Sleep in a collection of Weird Tales reprints that also featured Tennessee Williams’ account of the revenge of Nitocris, and an August Derleth “collaboration” named Wizard’s Hollow.

The recordings were a bit cut down in order to fit them on a cassette tape each, but the actor reading them – someone I’d never heard of – did a remarkable job. His rich, but understated reading of the opening paragraphs of the Horror – the eerie description of the hills around Dunwich – has stayed with me ever since. In my mind it’s the definitive version of the story and I can still hear it in my head to this day – as can I his reading of the last line of The Rats.

The rats… The rats… in the walls…

(This is of course partially because a few years later the Library was selling off a bunch of old books and I was able to purchase the tapes, which are still in my personal collection)

So, today I was clicking my way around Wikipedia and ended up on the page for The Rats in the Walls. Much to my surprise the book on tape was mentioned along with the actor who’d read it. Out of curiosity I clicked through and discovered that… it’s Ducky!

That Ducky!

That’s just… cool. Try to tell me it isn’t.

I’ve been meaning to convert the tapes to MP3 (just for my own personal enjoyment) for years. Now I’ll have to do it. As soon as I can find them of course… 🙂

The Crawling Chaos

The throne of Chaos where the thin flutes pipe mindlessly…

My sleep last night was disturbed by a truly odd array of noises floating in through my bedroom window. To wit…

  • Strange electric guitar warblings, sounding as if Jimmy Hendrix had taken some really bad acid.
  • Tuneless, repetitive piping on a recorder.
  • The sound of something large and metallic being dragged around the carpark.

It was positively Lovecraftian. I expected Nyarlathotep to manifest at any second.

Lovecraft World!

Many many years ago (well in 1996) I was studying computing at Central TAFE. It was a pretty good time in my life overall. Plenty of Austudy coming in from the Government, morning sleep-ins four days a week, and a course so easy I could do it with my eyes closed. As I found most of the course so incredibly easy, my mind was free to come up with all sorts of twisted and bizarre ideas, many of which I applied to my assignments.

The one I was most proud of was the assignment for Powerpoint. We had to create a presentation involving transitions, graphs, and a whole load of other such primitive effects that early versions of Powerpoint were just capable of. The great thing about it was that we were being marked on our technical skill – not the content. So, I decided to go all out 🙂

My finished project was a promotional presentation for Lovecraft World the H.P.Lovecraft theme park!

This was a (very) tongue in cheek production complete with cheerily coloured bar graphs of customers killed, mutilated, driven insane and escaping unscathed over the last three years of operation (numbers that increased in all but the last category over each six monthly period I’m happy to report to all investors :). A happy looking pie graph showing the various derangements suffered by people surviving the Lovecraft World experience (thalassophobia, scotophobia, bathophobia, schizoid personality disorder, etc), and a full list of the very un-attractive attractions were included.

I got excellent marks for the finished product, and some rather odd looks from the staff (although one of the other presentations was entitled “The Dead are Happy” and was all about how wonderful it was to be dead, and how you should hurry up and die – so Lovecraft World seemed positively normal by comparison). I saved it to a floppy disc and put it away safely in case it would one day come in useful.

Of course, I have seen neither hide nor hair of it in years. It’s gloriously silly contents are now lost forever. Or so I thought…

However, on Sunday Ryan dropped by and brought with him a huge folder full of the various deranged correspondence I’ve sent him over the years. And, hidden away in the middle was a letter where I’d copied some of the details!

Not many details true, but enough to give some idea of what it was like. So here, for the first time in six years I am proud to present the few surviving fragments of Lovecraft World!

Guiding Philosophy
“Here at Lovecraft World we aim to give the visitor the ultimate in soul destroying experiences. Lovecraft saw the universe as a hostile, hopeless, unforgiving and ultimately incomprehensible place, we hope to re-create that dark philosophy for our customers.”
— Managing Director Jermyn Marsh 

Attractions include…

The Martense Maze

  • Squirm through crumbling, unlit earth tunnels while trying to avoid the claws of the hideous Martense clan!
  • Degenerate cannibal primates!
  • Cave-ins!
  • Very real risk of suffocation!

Pickman’s Gallery

  • Ride in our specially designed “Cthulhu Carts” through the daemonic world of artist R.U.Pickman.
  • Paintings from the pit of hell!
  • Ravenous necrophagic Ghouls!
  • Sedatives available on request.

The Playhouse

Daily performances of Massa di Requium per Shuggay and The King in Yellow (a trained nurse from the Arkham Asylum is present for all shows).

The Lake

  • Take a leisurely ride around the lake on our pleasure ships the Alert and the Sumatry Queen.
  • Crewed by real south sea Kanaka islanders.
  • Visit scenic Devil’s Reef and stop off at the Olde Worlde Insmouth Docks.
  • Random boardings by inbred pirates and batrachian amphibian men!
  • R’lyeh rises from the waves every evening at six.

Gilman House Hotel

Why not stay the night? The newly opened Gilman House Hotel offers all the home comforts, including working locks on almost all the doors. Ask for a room overlooking the square and watch the nightly pageant at the Esoteric Order of Dagon Hall. Stay in the “lucky room” and you might even be invited down to join in the festivities!


  • Slake your thirst with a Hali-shake and fries at Carcosaburger.
  • Enjoy the choicest cuts at the Beacon Hill Brassierie.
  • Or for that real New England flavour stop in for some victuals ye can’t raise nor buy at the rustic Miskatonic Valley Eatery!

There was much more of the same kind of thing. It’s probably just as well it hasn’t survived 🙂

OK, I’m going to watch Smallville now. I was stupid enough to watch an episode a few weeks back and got hooked. Clarke should so be after Chloe, not Lana 😉

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