He was getting an intuitive knack for solving Riemannian equations, and astonished Professor Upham by his comprehension of fourth-dimensional and other problems which had floored all the rest of the class.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dreams in the Witch House”
What inspired your story? The weird quasi-Lovecraftian speculations behind Einstein’s theory of relativity and its Riemannian mathematics.
—Interview: Juan Miguel Marín
When it comes to the erotic possibilities of the Lovecraft Mythos, “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” may not jump immediately to mind, much less German mathematician Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann (1826-1866). Yet that is what Juan Miguel Marín attempts in his entry for the Cthulhurotica anthology…and not without some success. Whether Marín knew it or not, his particular approach of visitations of the Lovecraftian erotic through dreams echoes certain critical interpretations of Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House”:
But something significant happens in this dream. Keziah thrusts into Gilman’s right hand “a huge grey quill” with which to sign his name to the devil’s book and to provide the necessary blood. Brown Jenkin races across his body, up to his shoulders and down his right arm, to bite him in the wrist, causing a “spurt” of blood at which Gilman faints. The next morning “his cuff was brown with dried blood.” The stories of the devil’s book are, let us admit, rather unimaginative, but they conceal a masturbatory fantasy that seems actually at work here. Gilman faints away because he cannot accept the wet dream.
—Robert Waugh, “The Ecstasies of ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, ‘Medusa’s Coil,’ and Other Erotic Studies” in A Monster of Voices 101
“Riemannian Dreams” begins as an echo of Riemann’s own mathematical proofs, stating the facts as clearly as he can, but also a kind of dream-diary. The timeline is unclear; Riemann died in 1866, but he feels the dreams were inspired by the Edison wax phonograph, c.1899; other references to “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and Einstein’s theory of relativity put it somewhere between 1905 and the 1920s. Perhaps this is not the Bernhard Riemann, but another professor; or some alternate timeline where Riemann survived another forty or fifty years.
The lack of certainty is a hallmark of Marín’s narrative. For the most part, readers are presented with bits and pieces, notes and letters, fragments of a story that build up to suggest a narrative. This echoes how Lovecraft would do much the same thing with “The Whisperer in Darkness” and other tales, although the connective tissue is a bit thinner here; the dates not quite adding up is one example, but more importantly, we gain no real glimpse of Riemann’s waking life—his protestant faith, his wife, where he lives and works, though there are references to teaching. The material world is faint, hazy, dream-like, but the dream sequences themselves are vivid.
Riemann’s wet dreams are queer; they do not fall easily into any particular spectrum of sexuality, the subjects of his attention being particularly fluid—now male, now female, sometimes both.
In the first lucid dream I could glimpse only a young, pale, androgynous face, which the water ripples sometimes hid, sometimes revealed. I could not tell whether the atractive stranger was a boy or a girl. I could only notice the blond-auburn hair, pale skin of a healthy pinkish color, rose-colored cheeks, rosy red lips, and the eyes… […] I see now a beautiful backside. Like mine, also covred with nothing but a loincloth. My scientific curiosity tries to find out more about those lovely hips but the mist prevents me.
—Juan Miguel Marín, “Riemannian Dreams” in Cthulhurotica 72-73
The “scientific curiosity” is a hallmark of the Lovecraftian protagonist, the libidi sciendi, the desire to know. It’s tempting to look for metaphors here in Riemann’s efforts to define the nature of the subject of his desires, a quest for self-knowledge of his own sexuality as much as an effort to define an external reality. The subjects of his dream-vision, however, are a bit outside of those dreamt in this particular Horatio’s philosophy…at least at the start.
As an episode, “Riemannian Dreams” occupies a bit of an odd place in the Mythos. It is not situated clearly in respect to any time and place, but the connections between this story and “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” are established clearly and deliberately, but not the timeline. It’s not quite sequel, prequel, or interqual, simply an episode. Contrast this to a story such as “The Dreams in the Laundromat” by Elizabeth Reeve in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica, which takes care to establish setting and continuity, set after “The Dreams in the Witch House” and focusing on the continuing legacy of Keziah Mason and Walter Gilman. “Riemannian Dreams” walks a fine line between mathematical logic and dream logic; fitting, since ultimately that is the choice which Riemann is presented with at the end.
What is your favorite bit?
“…leaving me covered in salty sweat, uncomfortably wet, and, unfortunately, awake.”
—Interview: Juan Miguel Marín
“Riemannian Dreams” was published in Cthulhurotica (2010), and has not yet been reprinted. Juan Miguel Marín is also the author of “The Bats in the Walls” (2010).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).