In the early 90’s I got into the Cthulhu Mythos, from the works of R.E. Howard and the H.P. Lovecraft. I’d been a role player for years playing Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers and soon learned about the game Call of Cthulhu. […]
I started running Call of Cthulhu games at conventions… I started writing my own games… I started writing for Chaosium, the publisher of the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game…
Slowly the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game became a bigger and bigger part of my life. I wrote more, became published more often, and even branched off into cosmic horror fiction. Running scenarios at conventions soon became holding panels and seminars. Writing my own scenarios became editing the scenarios of others. Being published became publishing the works of others while working with Miskatonic River Press. Then that changed to being in charge of a small publishing house producing supplements for the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game.
Then I stopped and looked back… to realize that twenty years has gone by.
—Oscar Rios, “Twenty Years Searching For The Necronomicon” (2013)
The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game is undoubtedly one of the most critical vectors of infection for disseminating Lovecraft and the Mythos into the popular consciousness. Certainly, Weird Tales and Arkham House did their parts, popular paperback editions from Ballantine and Del Rey assured a wider audience, Hollywood films like The Dunwich Horror (1969) and Re-Animator (1985) spread the word. Yet after the death of August Derleth, it was Chaosium that launched its Call of Cthulhu Fiction line, reprinting both long-out-of-print classics and introducing new authors into the field. The roleplaying game has an international scope and appeal, and has attracted talented artists and writers.
Oscar Rios had been writing for Call of Cthulhu for six years when “The Nature of Faith” was published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults: Ten Tales of Dark & Secretive Orders (2010). The roleplaying game roots show, but only if you’re already familiar with the material. The Order of the Silver Twilight, mentioned in passing, is from the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign. This isn’t a gaming scenario re-cast as a novella, just an original work of fiction from someone steeped in the setting and its lore.
In a real way, the story is a love-letter to Dunwich, both as Lovecraft first described it and as it developed with the additions of other authors. It should be considered in the context (if not actually the continuity) of “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron, although unlike those stories it makes no mention of the Whateleys at all. The character of Gertrude “Gerdy” Pope, in particular, whose near-albino appearance is so evocative of Lavinia Whateley and Hester Sawyer, explained here as a “type” that shows up in Dunwich on occasion.
If there’s a flaw in the story, it might be a penchant for organization and exposition. When Rios writes:
Gerdy’s understanding of the Believers history was scant, but she knew they were a secretive group dedicated to worshiping nature, studying various forms of magic, and living in harmony with the world around them. Exactly the type of organization that appealed to her sensibilities.
The first Believers had apparently come to Dunwich from Salem, fleeing the witch hysteria that swept through that coastal community. It was said they were led here by dreams, unconscious calls beckoning them to these hills. For hundreds of years the Believers have lived in Dunwich, elarning much about the landscape’s unqiue and still-mysterious history. Many knew they were not the first people called here, and some suspected they would not be the last. Gerdy had seen enough of their inner workings to know that Believers varied in the nature of their gifts, abilities, and worship, but one rule was universal within their cult: secrecy.
—Cthulhu’s Dark Cults 136
It’s almost a write-up from a setting-book, and certainly more in line with New Age-y, Wicca-oriented, post-WWII fiction than the rather more sinister and nameless cultic activities of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” or August Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold (1945).
Which is not to say that the Believers don’t have their darker aspects, nor that there aren’t more mysteries left unspoken than laid out plain. It’s notable that the plot is mainly focused on the women of the town—Gerdy, Mother & Marie Bishop, Virginia Adams, Ne’seal, Celestia. The story wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but by Mythos standards it has much more female representation than typical. But then, the gist of the story boils down to gender politics, with the intrusive, logical male outsider invading the peaceful, intuitive, female-dominated Dunwich. And hinted at being part of a cycle of such things.
“Men!” she proclaimed aloud, “ya never listen. Mebbe next time.”
—Cthulhu’s Dark Cults 152
A bit of an inversion from “The Dunwich Horror,” where Lavinia Whateley is used, sidelined, and ultimately disappeared; the female playing her role and then ushered quickly off-stage. Yet not exactly progressive either; there are still stereotypes at play here, both male and female. It is difficult to break out of those ideas of gender roles and actions, in any mode of fiction.
Oscar Rios’ “The Nature of Faith” was first published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (2010), it has not been republished.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).