So this is a book review. And it isn’t. It is, because I’m going to tell you about a book I read. It isn’t, because it’s also an account of one of the strangest experiences I’ve ever had as a gaming/fiction/weird history blogger. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it all centers on HP Lovecraft, Abdul Alhazred, and the fake book the former made up and credited to the latter.
Arkay Tilghman’s The Secret History of the Necronomicon (Subtitled “From Egypt to Alhazred”) is a short chronology of the origins and evolution of the Necronomicon (or “Book of Dead Names”) that occupies a central place in HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, a well-crafted metafictional history which takes the idea that Lovecraft was writing about a real book — and thus an at least somewhat more real mythos — when he began peppering his work with references to it as its central theme. Honestly, this in and of itself is not so original (allegedly “real” Necronomicons are common enough that they must be regularly debunked), but the execution in Tilghman’s work is creative, entertaining, and very much in keeping with the spirit and tone of Lovecraft’s work.
The book opens with a description of Tilghman’s exposure to Lovecraft, and a brief account of a trip to Egypt that inspired his research into the real tome behind Lovecraft’s fiction. Tilghman acknowledges the well-established fictionality of the Necronomicon, but then — apparently with complete seriousness — discards it, proceeding from that point forward with (hoaxed?) documentary evidence of its existence, transliteration, translation, and copying from Ancient Egypt to the (nearly) modern day, crossing through conspiracy theories, Templar legends, and even making a few key references to my old (mad) friend King Ludwig II of Bavaria.
Again, as metafiction (or even as alternate history), I can’t recommend it highly enough — even the hoaxed sources have just enough of the right tone to make them sound believable. The book is extensively footnoted, referring to locked museum holdings, obscure document and letters, and dozens of other tomes and artifacts that could underpin an entire Call (or Trail) of Cthulhu campaign for any aspiring GM, to say nothing of its potential for other games like Esoterrorists, Unknown Armies, or Conspiracy X. I mean, as far as I can tell, it’s all made up — but it’s put together with so much panache that you almost want it to be real.
You can — and should — pick up The Secret History of the Necronomicon on Amazon.com for a little less than $2. I promise you’ll get your money’s worth and more.
The Weird(er) Part
I mentioned before that the path to the book review above was a little weird. I was not kidding.
I received my copy of the Secret History of the Necronomicon from Tilghman himself about two weeks before Christmas. He hit me (and the other Illuminerdy) up on the email address we have listed on the contact page, and asked if we would consider doing a review of the book here on the blog. Given the usual subject matter around here, I wrote back quickly expressing interest, and then promptly tried to pawn the review off on Cthulhuchick (which seemed like a natural fit). She begged off, leaving me holding the bag.
As a result, I read the book on a transatlantic flight over the Christmas holiday, and got back in touch with Tilghman almost immediately after my return to let him know that I had really enjoyed the book. In my note back, I asked him if we could a give away to help him promote his work, and specifically highlighted how much I had enjoyed the book’s highly consistent tone — basically, congratulating him on his commitment to the gag.
He either found this offensive, or doubled down on the joke. I’m still not sure which.
Tilghman’s reply was scathing. He accused me of deliberately misinterpreting a genuine academic history derived from years of primary and secondary source research, and derided me for — among other things — “falsely presenting myself as a believer and as a learned man.” Consequently, I assumed that a giveaway was out of the question.
About two weeks later, Tilghman — who, per his bio, is a former (possibly current?) High School teacher in Louisiana — wrote to me again, apologizing for the earlier outburst. He explained that he and his wife were in the process of moving, alleging that his subsequent research into the history of cult activity in the American Southeast (!) had prompted a local backlash that forced them to pick up stakes. He didn’t (wouldn’t?) say where they were going, but did email me two copies of the book — one in Kindle format, the other in eBook — that he asked me to give away “so that others would know of his work.”
Not sure what was behind the change of heart, but he certainly played it up. He also told me that he wanted to send a personal thank you, and asked for my address. Still half-expecting a mail bomb, I politely declined. The next day, he wrote to tell me that he had “figured out my address” and was sending me something that I would find “illuminating.” Har har. Still, relatively harmless as foreign post office boxes aren’t easily discoverable. And besides, I haven’t heard anything from Tilghman since.
But then this showed up in the mail yesterday. No “from” name on the customs form (thanks, USPS), but the return address is in Louisiana.
I haven’t opened it. I’m not sure I intend to.
So I still have two copies of Tilghman’s book to give away, and dammit, I intend to. It might even take my mind off of whatever is in this box.
1. Make up a believable fake historical reference to the mythos, preferably to the Necronomicon itself.
2. Post it here in the comments, on Twitter, or on our Facebook page.
3. Label your entry #realmythos and (if character limits allow) also #illuminerdy.
4. Enter again! (You can enter as many times as you want.) But please, keep things original. And creepy.
We’ll announce the winners in a week!