Now what if I told you that there is such a work available for study, but this particular body of knowledge is near impossible to correctly interpret because sheer madness is the irreversible result from the mere reading of it? That’s right. You know the text.
—Susan McAdam, “Lilloth” in Rehearsals for Oblivion: Act I (2006) 107
The stories in The King in Yellow are structured as tragedies, in the sense that there is a certain inevitability that accompanies them, with all the characters’ actions leading them inexorably on; their fates cannot be otherwise, because they cannot be or do otherwise. This has often found expression in the stories of the Yellow Mythos: sometimes they evince a quiet irresistible force, as in “The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan and “Yella” (2015) by Nicole Cushing, or as a portentous foreboding of doom, as in “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files and “Flash Frame” (2010) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. There are rarely horrors to be fought in the sense of a raised fist, a drawn sword, or a loaded gun; no spell to ward off the inevitable. Though certain outward manifestations may be halted, the knowledge of the horror remains…and the terrible reality is there, waiting, in Carcosa.
In “Lilloth,” Susan McAdam takes advantage of both these approaches. The titular character’s name combines ‘Lillith’ from Jewish mythology and the -oth ending favored by Lovecraft in names like Yuggoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Azathoth, suggesting something of her nature—and she acts as both catalyst and focus for the story, narrated by an unknown, not-quiet-omniscient narrator, somewhat in the manner of Arthur Machen’s “The White People.” Lilloth is the beginning and the end of the story; the doom of her teenage friends is foreshadowed long before it is developed, and the nature of that doom is inevitable as it is, to a degree, self-inflicted. The teenagers act as they must, being who they are. The reader watches it unfold, like a horror movie, third-party witness to the event.
How a story is told matters at least as much as who the characters are, the setting, or the actual events of the plot. One of the advantages of operating within a specific Mythos is that a certain amount of the heavy lifting is already done: the reader is familiar with basic concepts, familiar names, disbelief is partially suspended already. The reader wants to read the story.
Such a pre-investment can allow room for experimentation, and so it is with McAdam: Lilloth’s story is told in fits and spurts, as though the narrator was piecing everything together from disparate newspaper accounts, interviews, police reports—all for the purpose of illustrating a point about reading between the lines, and the dangers of connecting certain dots.
It’s a familiar Mythos trope, as old as Lovecraft’s line “We live on a placid island of ignorance…” from “The Call of Cthulhu,” and there are many more old favorites in “Lilloth.” The actual plot of the story is less interesting than the way it is told, the connective tissue between the scenes somewhat thin, as might be expected of a piecemeal narrative. Most of the mysteries are left untold, and that’s perhaps more fun.
Lilloth joins the new generation with Helen Vaughn, Wilbur Whateley, and Hester Sawyer, and the circumstances of her conception are perhaps less of interest than that of her coming of age—and that is an aspect of these characters it is interesting to compare and contrast. Born of human women, they live for a time a changeling’s life, though often apart from humanity, teenage alienation made flesh—a theme sometime explored, as in Stanley C. Sargent’s “The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997) or W. H. Pugmire’s “The Child of Dark Mania” (1997). Lilloth’s characterization is in between those of Wilbur Whateley and Hester Sawyer: conscious of her heritage, but ignorant of the details; she has to learn, to grow as a person before she can take the next step, to transition from childhood to adulthood, from humanity to whatever lies outside of it…and there are casualties along the way.
“Lilloth” was published in Rehearsals for Oblivion: Act I: Tales of the King in Yellow (2006). It has not been reprinted.
Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)