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Literature / Johannes Cabal and the Fear Institute

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Cabal does The Dream Cycle

The third book in the Johannes Cabal series, The Fear Institute continues the Genre Shift style of the series by combining Howard's style with that of Lovecraft in a more explicit way than the other books, which all show Lovecraftian influence. The Fear Institute is a secret society determined to destroy fear-they believe it has a source, called the Phobic Animus which can be found in The Dreamlands. To this end they seek out Cabal, necromancer of some little infamy to help them as he has a reputation for being competent and well-versed with the occult.

Cabal agrees, mostly because the three Institute members who seek him out have the Silver Key which can get him into The Dreamlands and he's always wanted to go for scientific research. A dangerous journey, fraught with peril, monsters, and zebras commences leading Cabal to face something worse than the Devil himself.

Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute has examples of:

  • Answer to Prayers: Johannes tries to scare off some ambushers by making a big show of entreating Nyarlathotep the Crawling Chaos to smite them. They promptly disintegrate, leaving Johannes terrified that the most vicious Trickster God in the cosmos called his bluff.
  • Black Comedy: A staple for the series. The Big Bad of the book thrives on this, finding humor in all sorts of awful things. Cabal himself is much the same, smiling at the thought of pushing his companions over a cliff's edge.
  • But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Nyarlathotep goes to significant trouble (well, not for him) to arrange what is, essentially, a cruel joke on Cabal-showing him how useless and pointless his life is. He regards the whole thing as a mildly interesting diversion between his other duties.
  • Cats Are Mean: In the Dreamlands, cats are not only intelligent but highly vengeful, and they kill one of Cabal's traveling companions after he accidentally kills one of them.
  • Cliffhanger: The book ends with Cabal nursed back to health by an unknown man, then waking up, seeing him, and going "But you were dead!". The end. Of course, a savvy reader (or one who glanced at the title of the next book in the series) will know who that was right away.
  • Determinator: Cabal continues to be this-he doesn't let anything get him down for long and recovers from a vision that shows the futility of his life's work and his ultimate suicide with remarkable speed. He then gets himself off a deserted island, contracts ghoulism and cures himself and gets himself home...just in time to almost die.
  • Devil in Disguise: More like Eldritch Abomination in disguise, but Nyarlathotep certainly fits-its his bag, having 1,000 faces and all. Taken further, because its implied that Nyarlathotep might be Satan in his spare time.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: When Cabal and Nyarlathotep have their big face-to-face Cabal is his usual calm self-probably because in traditional Cabal fashion, he realizes that either way whether or not the Crawling Chaos kills him is completely out of his hands so he decides to be sarcastic. After the Outer God shows him a vision (which lasts a lifetime and ends with Cabal killing himself) and he returns to reality the first thing he does is call him a bastard.
  • Did You Just Scam Cthulhu?: Cabal is fully aware of the nature of the vision that Nyaralathotep shows him, fully expecting the cure for death he supposedly finds to be fake, but uses it to cram a lifetime's worth of research into finding the real cure right under Nyarla's nose.
  • Dismembering the Body: In the Dreamlands, the spirit of Miss Smith realizes that Johannes, a fellow Necromancer, broke her body down for parts after her death by mob. She doesn't mind that, only that he saw her naked. In The Fall of the House of Cabal, the specimen jars are found empty after her spirit drinks the Elixir of Life, implying that it worked.
  • Dwindling Party: Cabal gets three companions on his quest to the Dreamlands. Only one of them survives.
  • Eldritch Abomination: One of Lovecraft's creations, Nyarlathotep makes an appearance. Well, more besides but Nyarlathotep fits the bill of this trope the most-the rest are more squidgy monsters of various types.
  • Evil Has a Bad Sense of Humor: Nyarlathotep thinks things like awful death is funny and takes a perverse glee in torturing Cabal. When Cabal points out that earlier in the book he mistook his current Mask's laughing at someone's death as crying, Nyarlathotep more or less shrugs and says "it was funny". He later recounts a tale when he turned into an Aztec god Tezcatlipoca the Aztecs 'killed' him and his corpse emitted such a foul stench they all died. He thinks it was witty. He also describes destroying cities on the Moon as fun while Cabal calls it heavy-handed.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: About half a chapter before it's revealed that the ghoul leader is Cabal from the future, he uses the characteristic Cabal way of explaining stuff where he labels all his points with numbers.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Cabal's thoughts of pushing his companions off cliffs (whom he dislikes almost right away-as he does with everyone) eventually express themselves.
    • There are also several hints that the group is being deliberately watched by Nyarlathotep and what his current guise is, which Cabal himself picks up on.
    • The degree to which the ghoul leader knows where the group is and what's facing them at any given moment, along with him later speaking in rather characteristic patterns, foreshadows the reveal that it's actually Cabal himself from the future.
  • Future Self Reveal: Having been transformed into a ghoul, Johannes lives with the other ghouls in their warrens outside of time and formulates a cure, which would only work on himself. He's aghast when the ghoul leader steals the cure and vanishes... then clues in, laughs, and takes command.
  • Genre Savvy: Cabal uses this to his advantage-he understands that the Dreamlands don't play by the normal rules and so instead he relies on stories and thinks in a meta-fictional way to further his quest.
  • Irony: Cabal has always wanted to go to the Dreamlands, since he could get research done there that he can't in the mundane world. However, Cabal's very nature-serious, practical, tirelessly rational-precludes him from going without the Silver Key. He complains that the people that do get to go without trying very hard are poets and drug addicts (who Cabal views as both being equally worthless) who don't appreciate it.
  • Reality Warper: Nyarlathotep-part of the reason he comes across as more scary than Satan is because he is willing to demonstrate his power-mostly because he thinks its fun. At the end of the book he puts Cabal in an fantasy where he gets his fondest desire-and it backfires badly Cabal lives (and dies) an entire life of decades and then returns to see that basically no objective time has passed. He also mentions, though he doesn't seem sure, that he may have invented vampires.
  • Running Gag:
    • When others point out that the FI members are displaying fear, they insist it is 'rational caution.' Cabal realizes this is kind of a mantra to help them overcome fear.
    • The multiple references to vicious, yet stupid crabs.
  • Sea Serpents: The main characters glimpse one from a distance when sailing in the Dreamlands. They're titanic Lightning Bruisers; the captain cheerfully tells them that a ship's utterly doomed when in a serpent's path and perfectly safe when not, so there's no point in worrying either way. They are not reassured.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The whole book is heavily colored by Lovecraft's works, specifically the Dream Cycle.
    • At one point, Cabal is stranded on an island and dwells for a bit on the plot of Robinson Crusoe.
    • While strolling through lands as bucolic and pleasant as only a dream can be, the narration mentions its as if they were designed by John Constable, a British Romantic painter.
    • At one point very fed up with the Dreamlands and the party's quest, Cabal says the Brothers Grimm can have the place, and he hopes it chokes them.
  • Stable Time Loop: All events roughly from the moment the Gate of the Silver Key is opened turn out to be part of one. Johannes reaches the supposed Phobic Animus with the help of the ghoul leader, becomes a ghoul, creates a cure and has it stolen by the ghoul leader. Then he becomes the "new" leader of the ghouls, uses time travel to help his past self and steals the cure from his past self to return home.
  • Take That!:
    • Cabal and the FI members don't think much of America when they journey there, with Cabal lamenting that his colleagues don't have guns by saying "This is America. Going armed is practically a requirement".
    • A minor one has Cabal ruminating on Robinson Crusoe and the narration points out the racist tones of the work by including a fake excerpt where Friday points out he has a name already that Crusoe can't be bothered to learn.
  • Undressing the Unconscious: Played With. Miss Smith was a Necromancer who died by mob and whose stolen corpse was broken down for Human Resources by Johannes. When he meets her spirit in the Dreamlands, she appreciates the professional courtesy he showed her remains, then has the horrified realization that he had to undress her body and thus has seen her naked. He tries to appease her by saying she "Made a very beautiful corpse".
  • Understatement: As demonstration of Cabal being a relative mental incompetent compared to himself, Nyarlathotep mentions that the secret he seeks, to restore life fully to the dead, is "as simple as ABC".
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Nyarlathotep doesn't really have one true form, but he mentions at the end to Cabal that he's about to change into something else that would destroy his sanity. Even Cabal takes this threat seriously and leaves lest his mind boil out of his ears.