“Miskatonic University is bathed in the blood of the students who have walked its halls. A place where the darkness is more than just shadows.”
MISKATONIC UNIVERSITY: ELDER GODS 101 by Matthew and Michael Davenport is something I’ve seen before in books like Anna M. Pillsworth’s SUMMONED and Serra Elinsen’s AWOKEN but is always a pleasing concept to me: Young Adult Cthulhu Mythos fiction. Just like I love the Hunger Games for being horrifically traumatizing about child murder and PTSD, I love the thought about teenagers deaing with sanity bending horrors that will rip out your spine while sucking your soul into unfathomable dimensions.
Technically, Miskatonic University: Elder Gods 101 isn’t Young Adult fiction. Its protagonists are all eighteen years old and freshmen at the aforementioned Lovecraft-created university. They’re all fresh faced and (mostly) innocent people more concerned with their studies as well as making friends versus drugs or partying, though. Which is the most unbelievable element of this book involving Miskatonic University as a lodestone keeping reality from drifting into other dimensions.
This takes place in the same universe as Matthew Davenport’s other HPL-inspired writings like the Andrew Doran series (who gets a name check) and The Trials of Obed Marsh. Which is to say it is a Pulpy good vs. evil sort of place rather than particularly cosmic in its horror. That’s not a bad thing as I have no problem with the Ghostbusters or Justice League punching the Big C in his squid-dragon face.
The premise is our heroes are secretly brought to the campus under false pretenses. All of them are descendants of HP Lovecraft characters ranging from Herbert West to the Whateley Family to a child of that delightfully fishy Innsmouth place. The students of Miskatonic University supposedly are in the dark about the supernatural but some of them are quite well-informed. At least enough for there to be a running prejudice from Innsmouth and its reigning sports team, the Chompers.
Some people may object to how much the book lowers the cosmic horror of the Mythos to comic book level and closer to PG urban fantasy than R-rated horror. The threat of life in Innsmouth is more being forced to partake in marriage when you’re gay as well as sticking to fundamentalist religion over the horror of inhuman transformation or sacrifice. Indeed, our fishy protagonist sees nothing weird about becoming a fish man and it comes with Aquaman-esque superpowers.
Strangely, if I were to say which author this book reminds me of most, it wouldn’t be HP Lovecraft but actually Drew Hayes. Specifically, his Super Powereds and Villains Code series. The protagonists are likable but not particularly deep archetypes that are constantly running into absurd situation after absurd situation. The episodic nature is to the stories credit, and we get to see with them deal with everything from time travel to the Wild West to the Cult of Cthulhu in the 21st century.
I think this is a pleasant afternoon’s read or perhaps multiple afternoons despite being only 250 pages. There’s a lot of information packed into its writing with those with at least a regular Call of Cthulhu player’s knowledge of the Mythos getting the most out of the in-jokes. Still, none of the references require being a long term fan to get the general context.