Six words constitute the highest praise one author can pay another: I wish I had written this.
Edward Erdelac’s Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos is rooted in a well-researched and multi-dimensional biography of the eponymous writer, anthropologist, and leading light of the Harlem Renaissance. It then reimagines that biography to include eight encounters with the Cthulhu Mythos occurring at various points in Hurston’s life, from relative youth to literal deathbed, all united by a broader metanarrative.
The tales track Hurston’s real-life wanderings, from New York City to other points in America, Haiti, and Central America – as well as a Mythos-obligatory Dreamlands sojourn. Erdelac’s narrative unfolds in an engaging style that might most properly be called “magical realism with a Mythos twist” rather than horror or supernatural mystery.
First, a curious TL;DR. Presumably most people reading my blog are at somewhat familiar with my work, including Gabriel’s Trumpet, my supernatural mystery revolving around the 1920s jazz scene. Rainbringer and Gabriel’s Trumpet are very different stories, but they play in the same sandbox and I feel confident in saying that anyone who enjoyed Gabriel’s Trumpet will enjoy Rainbringer as well.
Using a historical figure as a protagonist is a daring move that requires both formidable research and exceptional skill. If I may be forgiven one more comparative, I have some familiarity with the required chops via my pulp-mystery novella “A Scandal in Hollywood,” a tongue-in-cheek love letter both to Sherlock Holmes and Hollywood’s Golden Age. “Scandal” required considerable research and notetaking on actor Basil Rathbone. Erdelac’s portrayal of Hurston, however, goes beyond a competent mastery of the facts of Hurston’s life, moving in the direction of intuitive understanding. It feels as if he somehow has a relationship with Hurston, even if such a relationship can go only one direction in time and space. Rainbringer works because Erdelac breathes life into Hurston, makes readers believe her actions and reactions even in the face of cosmic terrors.
I also appreciate Rainbringer’s approach to the Mythos. Erdelac is clearly comfortable and familiar enough with the source material to wield it adroitly throughout the work. Readers should be on the lookout for a delightful Easter egg offering a retelling of one Call of Cthulhu’s seminal arcs…from a very different perspective (but you will need to pay close attention, Erdelac doesn’t set up a neon sign). Just as importantly, he is also comfortable and familiar enough to adroitly deviate from canon, adding his own compelling touches and engrossing sub-mythologies. Of particular note is one of the most innovative, evocative uses of Yig I’ve ever encountered.
Rainbringer showcases more than a layperson’s knowledge of Voodoo and hoodoo, and is careful to delineate the two, even diegetically delivering a short primer for unfamiliar readers. Drawing on various strands from Voodoo, Abrahamic traditions, and the Mythos, the story weaves a seamless, and delightfully unsettling, cosmology.
There was a special delight for me in Rainbringer. In Erdelac, I feel I have finally found an author who enjoys a cleverly-executed historical cameo as much as I do. The rendering of a young Orson Welles at the height of his creative prowess and iconoclasm is especially memorable. And, with my background in music journalism, the appearance of folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax warmed my heart.
While there are no weak vignettes in the collection, each reader will no doubt have their favorites. For me, three tales truly stood out:
Ekwensu’s Lullaby sees Hurston participating in a WPA field-recording expedition to the Gullah communities of St. Simons Island.
The Shadow in The Chapel of Ease plays with the ever-delightful question of what happens when the conventional religion gets caught up in the Mythos.
But, in my opinion, King Yeller is the collection’s crown jewel. If Erdelac is taking requests, I would certainly not shy away from reading a novel-length treatment of this story…and there certainly seems to be enough material to support such an expansion. The premise is delightful: what do you do when writing a Mythos story about the vibrant theatre scene of the Harlem Renaissance? Drop in a copy of The King in Yellow, of course. The devil (or the Great Old One), of course, is in the details and the delivery. And King Yeller, set against the backdrop of the Federal Theatre Project’s performance of Macbeth (one of the most celebrated productions in the history of the American stage) shoots for the moon…and hits.
As a side note, several remarkable incidents in King Yeller, including Orson Welles being attacked by a razor-wielding assailant only to be rescued by boxer-turned-actor Canada Lee and the death of theatre critic Percy Hammond shortly after a cast member stuck pins into a Voodoo Doll of Hammond, are the province of history, not fiction, which Erdelac deftly incorporates into the narrative.
As a final note of praise for this Rainbringer, Erdelac should be commended for his frankness in portraying the many layers to issues of race and racism experienced by Hurston throughout her life. He remained steadier in addressing this challenge than I did with Gabriel’s Trumpet.
Rainbringer: Zora Neale Hurston Against the Lovecraftian Mythos builds a remarkable set of stories around a remarkable and very real protagonist. It will be a worthy addition to the collection of any fan of horror or Mythos, but will be especially welcomed by those whose interests also include 20th century American History, The Harlem Renaissance, and American literature or anthropology.
(Rainbringer is available for Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. Find Edward Erdelac on his website on or Twitter. Remember to rate and review your favorite authors’ works on Amazon, Goodreads, or wherever you review books.)