Strictly speaking, “The Opera Singer” is not a Mythos story. Mythos by association only. No invocation of strange and terrible and familiar names, nary a tentacle to be seen. Yet it is a Lovecraftian story; those who are initiated into the Mythos, who have read Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” can draw their own connections, their own conclusions.
Nor is it entirely unprecedented.
Brian Lumley’s “Big ‘C'” (1990) is a brother-from-another-mother-with-a-thousand-young to Sridhar’s story. The two have parallels, similar ideas but carried out very differently. A combination of adult fears and something alien, intrusive, other. For “Big ‘C'” it is cancer; for “The Opera Singer” it’s the stroke that landed the protagonist Circe in a wheelchair. That terrible biological betrayal, body turned against itself. Sridhar does a better job than Lumley in showcasing a woman with a disability; living with the body as a cage. Lumley is focused on a bigger picture, fewer emotional attachments. Different takes on the idea.
Readers might also compare “The Opera Singer” with “While The Black Stars Burn” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder; both involve a glimpse into the life of the trained musician, talent toned with tragedy. Even exceptional musicians rarely rise to rock-star fame; they take gigs, pour their heart into operas and rehearsals, watch the money go to other people. Musicians are like athletes, their bodies a part of the performance, and as they get older bits wear out. Singers can no longer hit the same notes. Snyder and Sridhar touch on some of the same points there as well, although they are going in different directions; while readers might suspect more than cosmic accident to what happens to the protagonist in “The Opera Singer,” Sridhar gives no hint of actual conspiracy.
Sridhar gives a Lovecraftian frame to the story as well; the revelation unfolds, a bit at a time, and at the beginning of the story it isn’t even clear that there are things to reveal. Call it Chekov’s wheelchair: if you show the protagonist struggling in a wheelchair in the first act, you have to show how they got there by the end of it—but even that might be too simple. To understand how the protagonist lives, it isn’t just important to show how she got in the wheelchair, but what she lost in the process.
There are names involved too—Circe, the protagonist, lives under the shadow of the Circe from Greek myth, has odd connections with 34 Circe. Significant? Hard to say. The human talent for pattern recognition comes into play; what seems like a pattern could be random chance. The Mythos is dependent on pattern recognition, of readers recognizing associations between names, places, critters, ideas.
What else is this review but an effort to place this story within the wider framework of Lovecraftian fiction, finding the points that seem to fit?
There is always that danger with labeling something Lovecraftian fiction: a false positive. Maybe Priya J. Sridhar never meant a Lovecraftian connection at all when she wrote the piece, and it just happened to find a home in a Mythos anthology. It is always possible to read meaning and intent in a piece, especially if the net of comparable fiction is cast wide enough. Still, it is in a Mythos anthology now. The association is set.
Priya J. Sridhar’s “The Opera Singer” was first published in She Walks In Shadows (2015) and its paperback American edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016); it was also published in Nightmare Magazine (Dec 2016), where it may be read online for free.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).