The chant meant only this: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”
Only the outlines of what the various cults believe are revealed in the course of Lovecraft’s fiction, snippets of translations from the Necronomicon, the names of the entities they revere, suggestions of a history that far outstretches anything of human record—and a promise, a prediction, as certain as the eventual demise of our own sun at some impossibly future date, that the stars will come right, and these entities will come again. That is the gospel according to Lovecraft.
“Rising, Not Dreaming” is the Mythos equivalent of apocrypha. Not exactly in agreement on every point of Lovecraft’s eschatology, presenting an alternate perspective on events. The narrative comes from a viewpoint that is much more personal and immediate than a quotation from a dusty tome:
I think of the wife I had, sweet and tender.
I think of her belly swelling, rich and round.
—Angela Slatter, “Rising, Not Dreaming” in Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth 276
The result is closer to dark fantasy than normal Lovecraftian horror, reminiscent of “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys or “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn in that respects—and it is worth considering how these “alternate Mythos” add to the overall experience of the reader.
Lovecraft and his contemporaries largely were working independently of one another, pursuing their own fiction, using references to each other’s fiction as more of a skein of connective tissue than collaborative plotting. While there were a few efforts to keep their material in agreement, these were largely focused internally—Lovecraft himself liked to use variations on the names of the various entities. For example, in “The Electric Executioner” the familiar Mythos entities appear with Nahuatl-influenced names like “Cthulhutl” and “Niguratl-Yig” and “Yog-Sototl.” These alternate names are never explicitly explained by Lovecraft: it was later generations of fans and writers that would work to “fill in the gaps” and attempt to write fiction that agreed with the “gospel” version in Lovecraft’s “canon,” worrying over details of spelling and consistency.
The literary game of writing fiction that agrees with Lovecraft & his contemporaries, that builds off his fiction and is in communion with it is one that many writers continue to play today, extending the Mythos in one way or another. Of course, many of these continuations themselves are taken in different directions, so while you might argue that “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens, “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader, and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales are all true to Lovecraft’s original stories, it is a little difficult to see them all co-existing within the same continuity. They are good stories, and each emphasizes or develops different aspects of the same material, but can they all be true for a particular canon without some baroque efforts on the part of the reader?
Slatter’s approach in “Rising, Not Dreaming” is deliberately apocryphal in this respect. Like Lovecraft, she emphasizes this in a subtle choice of words:
Too long had the dreams of men been troubled with the ructions of the star lords. Too often did they rise at whim from their undersea city, their R’lyeth, to walk the earth and bring darkness with them.
—Angela Slatter, “Rising, Not Dreaming” in Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth 275
R’leyth instead of R’leyh could be a slip of the keyboard, but Slatter’s spelling suggests antiquity, or perhaps the imperfect translation of inhuman speech. The story too contains within it a greater sense of human agency than typical for Lovecraftian horror—the unnamed Masters cast spells of immortality and water-breathing, and dare to pull an Erich Zann/Pied Piper play. Slatter is weaving a fable on the bones of Lovecraft’s mythology, but the approach given is very much not one that has to do with the alignment of the stars, volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean, or ships in the night. There are echoes of his language and philosophy in the story, but it is clearly a world apart from the canon Mythos.
Which must be immensely freeing, to many authors. To not be slaved to follow the exact details of Lovecraft’s stories, but to use his creations and ideas to help tell the stories that they want to tell—as is perhaps exemplified by “Showdown at Red Hook” (2011) by Lois H. Gresh, where time and place can be freely distorted to achieve the right mood. Slatter has certainly worked to achieve a mood here, one of loss and rebellion, pride and regret, and finally a kind of diminution as the narrator realizes how small they are, physically and otherwise, in comparison to Cthulhu. That is the very Lovecraftian terminal revelation of the tale, a kind of gnostic wisdom, albeit too late.
“Rising, Not Dreaming” was first published in Innsmouth Free Press #3 (2011), and has been reprinted in the collection Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013), and was translated into Russian in 2015. Angela Slatter’s other contributions to Mythos fiction include “The Song of Sighs” (2013) and “Lavinia’s Wood” (2015).