“Chin up and all that,” she muttered to herself. “How is this any worse than marrying a man older than my father and bearing him children?”
—Michelle D. Sonnier, “The Sisters Derleth” in EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness 58
Growing up is about facing adult fears. This applies to Mythos fiction as much as in human life: the talk of elder gods and strange creatures older than humanity have the timeless quality of a good fable, suitable for all ages. Not quite the same as the foreign markets tanking your father’s investments and now being a young woman stuck in a small town in Massachusetts, unable to make the rent, and the only thing to possibly barter a better life with being what’s between your legs.
Which is more literal than Edith Athney expects when she meets the Sisters Derleth.
The delayed adolescence of Edith is mimicked in the style of narration as well as the events of the story. The flowery, quasi-Brontë prose at the beginning gives way swiftly to a more natural, faster-paced flow of dialogue, back and forth. Trapped between forces she can barely comprehend, the protagonist of Sonnier’s tale nevertheless makes the heroically pragmatic choice—and if she bargains away her innocence, at least she strikes her own bargain on terms she sets, rather than being forced into an arranged marriage. The final sign of her coming-of-age is a very literal and bloody deflowering, though not the one she might have hoped for.
The issue of financial anxiety tied to marriageability is absent from the bulk of Mythos fiction. It is a very human, mundane, adult fear which relies on social conventions and expectations, and it is a rare writer that makes such fears the opening or centerpiece of a Mythos story. “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens broaches the issue of reproductive horror, “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales focuses on how women feel when reduced to wombs for barter, “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter touches on marriage fertility anxieties, but Sonnier focuses on the fear of the future: of being an old maid, of the consequences of not marrying well. Marrying for love isn’t even on the table: this is a horror story, and Edith loses such romantic ideas fairly early.
Why Derleth? The eponymous sisters of the story have no direct connection to Lovecraft’s friend and hagiographer, August Derleth; nor does it appear to be a reference to the Comte d’Erlette, the author of Cultes des Goules. It just is, a name to conjure by, an empty association. As much a lure to draw the reader in as the Sisters’ invitation to Edith brought them into their garden…and if the readers are left wondering where exactly the Sisters fit in to the grand scheme of the Mythos, that is not a fault. In Mythos fiction especially, less is sometimes more, and a bit of mystery is preferable to absolute certainty.
Much of the Mythos elements and tropes at play in the story verge on trite: Sonnier isn’t seeking to expand the Mythos substantially or score points with the more hardcore fan scholars by making excessive tie-ins to other works. If “The Sisters Derleth” plays fast and loose, inspired more by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game and its sanity-draining eldritch tomes than Lovecraft and his contemporaries’ original fiction, it is because it can do so—and is little different in that regard than “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer.
“The Sisters Derleth” was published in EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness A Mythos Anthology (2017). It is her first Lovecraftian work.
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)