A mysterious God. The first time the name was written was in a letter form H. P. Lovecraft to C. A. Smith, a close friend and associate of the American horror writer, dated April 4th, 1932. However, Father Lucio Damiani published a monograph on Ancient History entitled Visions of Kusha in which he writes that “In the days when Atlantis was still called Kusha, and Lemuria known as Shalarali, Yoth Tlaggon was named one of the Nine Princes of Hell.” Damiani could have had no knowledge of the Lovecraft letter, for it was not publsihed until 1970.
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 228
Yoth-Tlaggon—at the Crimson Spring.
Hour of the Amorphous Reflection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 360
Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) is a novel from Kurodahan Press. It is comprised of seven interrelated short stories published between 1994 and 1999, and is presented here in English by translator Jim Rion. Each of the stories involves Nazi Germany, and involves the Cthulhu Mythos in some way, and though they do not form a single consistent narrative, together form a kind of occult history of World War II and its legacy.
Lovecraft died in 1937; he lived to see the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power in Germany, and the opening shots of what would become World War II in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Though he did not know it, Lovecraft also became aware of the opening stages of the Holocaust as Hitler’s government instituted laws discriminating against Jews in Germany, a practice which the antisemitic Lovecraft had mixed feelings with—approving as he did of Nazi Germany’s ultranationalism, but not their unscientific racial discrimination. He never lived to see how wrong he was regarding Hitler and Mussolini, never saw the true horrors of the Holocaust.
World War II has become fertile ground writers of weird and fantasy fiction; the Nazi interest with the occult and esoteric, based partially on truth, as detailed in books like Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1993) and Kenneth Hite’s The Nazi Occult (2013). Works like Le Matin des magiciens (1960) popularized the idea of the Nazi occult for a new generation, and have led to works like the Indiana Jones adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the Hellboy comic books and film, and innumerable other appearances.
“Hitler’s a nut on the subject. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed with the occult.”
—Musgrove, Raiders of the Lost Ark
This has been true for the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Herbert West famously found employment in Nazi Germany in Brian McNaughton’s “Herbert West—Reincarnated Part II: The Horror in the Holy Land”; Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives (2004) deals with the occult fallout of the Nazi’s Mythos-delvings; Mike Mignola and Jim Robinson have Hellboy team up with Starman and Batman to face Neo-Nazis (and classical Nazis!) summoning Lovecraftian horrors in Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999).
The Mythos occult WWII angle had become essentially a Mythos subgenre with the release of the roleplaying games World War Cthulhu (2013, Cubicle 7) and Achtung! Cthulhu (2013, Modiphius), which in turn have led to new anthologies like World War Cthulhu (2014, Dark Regions), and even video games.
Which is a long way to say that Asamatsu Ken was a bit ahead of the curve when he first published these stories in Japan in 1994-1999. Some of the stories are eerily prescient as far as capturing the essential dynamic of the post-2000 Mythos WWII craze. Magic is real, the Nazis—deluded and arrogant as they might be, playing with forces they don’t understand—are often portrayed as a genuine occult threat to the entire world. The action is often pulpy, but Asamatsu Ken shows real research in trying to make sure the names, dates, and equipment are correct. The individual stories are like separate, individual episodes taken from a long, drawn-out conflict, but they are constructed with all the care of a good hoax. Mythos references are typically slid in alongside real occult names and texts, the Nazi’s actual activities provide the context for the stories.
In the first place, it is important that we realize that the term “racist,” as used today, has strong post-WWII connotations. We have become much more liberal and open-minded following the dreadful experiences and revelations of the second World War, and anyone espousing extreme anti-ethnic views today must surely be a reactionary, a redneck, or a nut. “Racism” has become extremely unpopular, and we associate the term with the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
—Dirk W. Mosig, “Was Lovecraft a Racist?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #98 (1998) 4
One of the shadows looming over Kthulhu Reich (or any other Mythos WWII novel or story) is how it addresses the nature of racism and antisemitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular. No nation in the conflict was free from prejudice and discrimination, but the attempts at genocide which were such a hallmark of WW II present a subject that writers have to decide how to deal with. It is perhaps appropriate that Asamatsu Ken chooses to begin the collection with “The Corporal’s Self-Portrait”—a story which would otherwise seem a bit out-of-place in the anthology, dealing as it does with a contemporary postwar Japan and touching on the attitudes towards racism and how they’ve changed.
“I can take the Koreans and the Chinese. They’re like us, at least. But the day all these Thais and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Filipinios, and Indians and Iranians and Iraqis shoed up, this place became unbearable.”
“Hey, come on… That’s really racist!” I chided, unable to must any real force.
Hirata ignored me.
“They come here to Japan and take the jobs honest students used to be able to count on. Then they send our valuable yen back to their own countries. And then there’s our women! They seduce our women and sully the pure blood of Yamato!”
“Cut it out, you’re talking crazy!”
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 7
Hirata doesn’t stop. The narrator at least protests, though his words fall on deaf ears. The incident gains sinister connotations as the story unfolds, much like the film Max (2002), yet the reader is shown this angry young man, whose life parallels that of the eponymous Boys from Brazil, and he can muster only ineffective rebukes to his obvious and appallingly vocal prejudice. Asamatsu Ken does not turn a blind eye to the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated. Nor to the real threat that racism and prejudice still form.
Jim Rion deserves accolades here for an excellent translation on what must have been a difficult job—combining as it does real historical elements, occult jargon, Japanese cultural references, the Cthulhu Mythos, the unusual episode “April 20th, 1889” that consists of a series of found documents, and some really well-done action scenes in “The Mask of Yoth Tlaggon.”