In an earlier post I mentioned how The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction became my formal point of entry into the Cthulhu mythos; soon after (late 1978, I think) I discovered the Neville Spearman edition of Derleth’s The Trail of Cthulhu in my local library. I was so taken by the book that I eventually purchased my own copy, subsequently gave that away, then decided I needed to purchase a second copy (shown here). All of my initial forays into the mythos were, as it happens, through Lovecraft’s contemporaries rather than the man himself – indeed it wasn't until a good few months after reading Derleth that I was first encountered an actual Lovecraft tale. (Oddly, I can't even remember what that was, although it might have been ‘In the Vault’).
Derleth has come under quite a lot of flack in recent decades, and for good reason: his use of the Cthulhu Mythos (a term of his own devising) – and, indeed, his attempts not only to codify but trademark it - seriously diluted the philosophical magnitude of Lovecraft’s original vision. Even so, I don't consider Derleth to be bad writer, and elements of The Trail of Cthulhu resonate with a sense of genuine weirdness. I still find the figure of Professor Laban Shrewsbury to be deliciously shuddersome. Having re-read Trail recently l'm of the opinion that, moreso than any of Lovecaft’s work, it formed the conceptual foundation of The Call of Cthulhu rpg. In addition to which the quasi-abstract Futurism (I'm sure art lovers will take me to task for that description) of Stanislaw Fernandes’ cover is probably my all-time favourite mythos illustration.