In the mid-90s, I was snapping up all things Lovecraft. I’d hit the used bookstore near my house, scouring the shelves for Lovecraft or anyone I knew was associated with him in any way. I bought game books for Call of Cthulhu and dug through magazines for short stories or critical essays. Enter the Cycle books from Chaosium. Here were collections of Lovecraft circle stories, arranged around a theme, hitting the shelf of my local game store (which happened to also be where I worked). This was awesome. I bought them all. But here’s the funny thing. I bought them and did all that digging and buying, and I actually read very little. I’d pick up a Cycle book and read a story or two. I’d read one in ten magazine articles. I’d maybe read that in books purchased at the used book store. Consequently, all these years later, I find myself going back and reading books I have dragged halfway across the country through several moves. And that brings me (finally!) to the Black Goat in the Woods, Shub-Niggurath, one of my favorite Great Old Ones, and a collection of stories devoted to her.
Robert M. Price edited most of the Cycle books, at least the ones coming out in the 90s. While I often find myself disagreeing with his interpretations, I can not deny his knowledge of weird fiction and the people behind it. His ability to pull from diverse sources and find obscure stories is impressive. In the Shub-Niggurath Cycle, he’s done a fine job of it. You’ll recognize authors like Lin Carter and Ramsey Campbell. But Lewis Spence? David Kaufman? Maybe not. But maybe you should.
Some of the stories are only vaguely connected, dealing with devil goats and blasphemy. But others dive right in to the rotten fecundity of She Who is to Come. Price mentions that Shub-Niggurath is not a popular subject for Mythos writers, though an often referenced one. Lovecraft himself never featured her/it, though the name came up many times in cursed texts and degenerate religious ceremonies. I don’t know if it is still as true now as it was in 1994. Maybe a lot of authors aren’t as inspired to write about her as they might be Yog-Sothoth, or Hastur, or Cthulhu. But she’s always been a favorite of mine. When I used to run the Call of Cthulhu rollplaying game, it was an avatar of Shub-Niggurath that served as the primary villain. And when I wrote a Western about a guy getting mixed up with some Cosmic Horror, it was her sinister fertility that lurked beyond the threshold. (You can read that story here, if you are so inclined. It is not for young audience, as it features both graphic sexual imagery and violence). I even have a follow-up story in mind that also taps into the same Great Old One. I think there’s great potential that is, perhaps, still largely untapped.
This is definitely a book to seek out, as are the other Cycle books. It has several really good tales, and none I regretted spending the time to read, which can not often be said of anthologies.