In the darkness there flashed before my mind fragments of my cherished treasury of daemoniac lore; sentences from Alhazred the mad Arab, paragraphs from the apocryphal nightmares of Damascius, and infamous lines from the delirious Image du Monde of Gauthier de Metz.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Nameless City”
The early Mythos was in many ways a literary game, where writers created new entities, tomes, and locations for the general milieu—and the interplay and connections, elaborations, variations, and glosses surrounding these works have raised the stakes to a metafictional level. Entire books have been written about the subject, such as Ex Libris Miskatonici (1993) by Joan C. Stanley, and many writers have made their additions to the eldritch corpus over the years, such as the Aegrisomnia in “The Land of the Reflected Ones” (1995) by Nancy A. Collins. In 2014, PS Publishing published an original anthology of mock-bibliographies for these dread grimoires and strange titles: The Starry Wisdom Library, edited by Nate Pedersen.
Lovecraft, however, wrote the early Mythos tales with all the skill that would go into generating a genuine hoax: the half-fabulous tomes that he would list in the libraries of various sorcerers, or allude to in asides, were not all the product of his own imagination. Gautier de Metz really existed, as does his encyclopedic poem L’Image du Monde. Carrie Cuinn, who had the task of writing up L’Image du Monde for The Starry Wisdom Library, is thus forced to walk a finer bibliographic line than many of the other authors in the story: she cannot make things up entirely out of whole cloth, not if the entry is to be authentic and believable. The real question is, where would she squeeze the Mythos in?
Cuinn’s solution is both clever and workable: the Starry Wisdom edition is a variant text, an unknown translation of the original 13th century poem into early English, in which many verses are altered, omitted, and added. Readers familiar with rare books, or perhaps who have enjoyed Old Books, Rare Friends: Two Literary Sleuths and their Shared Passion (1997) by Leona Rostenberg and Madeleine B. Stern will appreciate the subtle details which show that for old books, those which have withstood the test of centuries, are very often unique. They may be bound or re-bound, damaged and repaired, annotated or censored. Cuinn keeps her descriptions fairly succinct, and as such the entry is much more believable for being more mundane. A good hoax, after all, should never try to be too impressive.
The Mythos material is likewise seemingly slight on the surface, and thus works better: a minor tome is easier to fit into the collective mindspace of the Mythos than yet another massive, shelf-breaking, all-important grimoire which surprisingly no one has ever heard of until this story. The few lines she quotes are likewise evocative, for instance:
side ways to our seeing as a
paper monster traveling flat-
facing until turning the
front, its depth all dimensions at.
—Carrie Cuinne, “L’Image du Monde” in The Starry Wisdom Library 106-107
Not only touches on the multidimensional (in a mathematical sense) nature of some Lovecraftian entities, but may be evocative of similar mysteries, such as the paraelemental bookwife in Fritz Leiber’s Our Lady of Darkness (1977). It’s a nice touch in a solid piece in a very competent anthology.
Carrie Cuinn is the editor of Cthulhurotica (2011), and her Mythos fiction includes “CL3ANS3” (2013) and “No Hand to Turn the Key” (2014).