It’s been about a year since I last wrote about the late Henry Kuttner, author of wonderfully pulpy works in the thirties through fifties. While I had read some of his stuff as soon as I was old enough to find it in library anthologies, I hadn’t realized he was part of the Lovecraft Circle. (To be fair, the internet really wasn’t around when I was doing most of my Kuttner reading)
Wednesday, October 4, 2023
In Hydra, Kuttner achieved cosmic horror
And, when I did read some of his Mythos work, I felt it fell short of both cosmic horror standards and the standards of some of the other stuff that Kuttner wrote. However, when I came across a reference to a Mythos being called Hydra that was different than Mother Hydra of the Deep Ones, I went down the rabbit hole to read his short story ‘Hydra’
And in doing so, I found what is the most Lovecraftian thing I’ve read so far by Henry Kuttner.
Foolish person learns why messing with unearthly abominations is a bad idea
The plot isn’t really a surprise
Two foolish students stumble upon an occult ritual that ends horribly for everyone involved. The basic plot is pretty standard. The good stuff is in rhe details and the complete and utter despair.
The title entity is an ocean of gray goo that has a multitude of heads floating on it. The heads aren’t Hydra’s own heads but those of its victims, who it drains of intelligence while keeping them alive in eternal agony.
Yeah, that’s some solid nightmare fuel.
The ritual that lets it take its victims is fascinatingly convoluted. Its followers published a pamphlet on astral projection. However, Hydra can open a portal whereever your projection goes and take innocent heads.
Soooo… other than getting in touch with a cosmic horror, the person who performs the ritual gets off Scott free? Not going to lie, other than the inevitable insanity, that’s a pretty sweet deal by Mythos standards.
The story also doesn’t explain why the cultists published the pamphlet for innocent people to accidentally use _rather than perform the ritual themselves_
The actual conflict of the story ends up the protagonists being haunted and harried by the severed head of their mentor who they accidentally sacrificed to Hydra. Don’t worry. It ends up working out badly for everyone involved.
Hydra is the most successful Mythos work I’ve read so far by Kuttner due to the visceral horror and existential concept of an eternity as a severed head being tortured in a vast, god-like sea of gray slime. That’s some cosmic horror world building.