She was thrilled to a weird passion.D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover (1928)
In the 1920s and 30s in the United States of America, erotica was technically illegal—groups like the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice worked hand in glove with the police and the government censors of the United States Post Office to crack down on anything that smacked of smut, from James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934) to Tijuana bibles, nudist magazines, or explicit works on birth control.
This did not stop the production or distribution of erotic works, but it drove it largely underground. Ambitious but shady individuals placed ads big and small in pulp magazines like Weird Tales, coding their books as works of medical or anthropological interest to skirt the laws. Pulp magazines with sex interest like Spicy Mystery and its sisters skated a thin line between being permissible or being deemed obscene and taken off newsstands and sometimes crossed it.
It took decades for the legal standards to loosen. Landmark cases like United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, 5 F. Supp. 182 (SDNY 1933) and Grove Press, Inc. v. Christenberry, 175 F. Supp. 488 (SDNY 1959) opened the door for people in the United States to publish and possess such works as Fanny Hill (1748) without fear of the books being seized and burned, and the publishers fined and imprisoned. With the new legalization of erotic literature came availability, as old classics were reprinted openly to meet a curious demand.
The artificial restrictions on publication had helped to create a kind of erotic canon; works like The Golden Ass of Apuleius, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, Leopold von Sader-Masoch’s Venus in Furs (1870), and the anonymous The Way Of A Man With A Maid (1908) weren’t necessarily the most transgressive or well-written erotic works, but in the grey market of erotic books, certain titles had by dint of age, popularity, or literary quality stood out above the rest and became a part of the culture.
It is this loose canon that many writers continue to call back to. Pluto in Furs (2019) and Pluto in Furs 2 (2022), anthologies of weird explicit fiction, is a deliberate reference to Venus in Furs. Peter H. Cannon’s jocular short story “Asceticism and Lust: The Greatest Lovecraft Revision” (1988) imagines a collaboration between Lovecraft and Henry Miller that results in “Tropic of Cthulhu”—a tongue-firmly-in-cheek reference to Miller’s censored novels Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn (1939). Lovecraftian erotica, by the way, took a few decades to really get going in no small part because of the legal restrictions outlined above. The freedom to read Ulysses also brought with it the freedom to appreciate all the further extrapolations of sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
So when a reader picks up the Nookienomicon and leafing through those austere pages reads the title of one story is “Lady Chatterly’s Blowhole” by Beth W. Patterson, there is a certain expectation that they will get the reference, even if they haven’t read the book. Like Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn or Shakespeare’s plays, a certain amount of cultural osmosis is assumed to have occurred.
The world is supposed to be full of possibilities, but they narrow down to pretty few in most personal experience. There’s lots of good fish in the sea…maybe…but the vast masses seem to be mackerel or herring, and if you’re not mackerel or herring yourself you are likely to find very few good fish in the sea.D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover (1928)
The intention of “Lady Chatterly’s Blowhole,” however, is not to be a pornographic episode along the lines of “The Flower of Innsmouth” (2011) by Monique Poirier or an erotic paranormal romance novel like Tide of Desire (1983) by Sheena Clayton. The Nookienomicon promises “Bawdy Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos,” and Patterson delivers in a double-entendre-laden comedy that is more sizzle than steak. Working in the tradition of the period works that often had to couch any eroticism in euphemism to get past the censors, this honeymoon in Innsmouth tiptoes the fine line between discussing marital relations—and Innsmouth lore—openly and hinting at it as strongly as possible.
The tone is deliberately light, and Patterson manages to hit a certain comedic line that marks the spoof rather than the farce, although it’s damn close. This is a story that could sit fairly next to “At the Mountains of Murkiness, or From Lovecraft to Leacock” (1940) by Arthur C. Clarke or the Innsmouth episode from Mark E. Rogers’ The Adventures of Samurai Cat (1984). The puns come fast, furious, and often in an unrelenting stream. To give just the barest flavor of the narrative:
[“]Such is the way of people touched by the Old Ones.”
“Touched by the Old Ones?” Fannly looked delightedly aghast. “In what way? Can you show me on a doll?”Beth W. Patterson, “Lady Chatterly’s Blowhole” in the Nookienomicon 71
To spoof something properly, you have to love it, and there’s a lot of love on display here. Patterson doesn’t just make the obvious jokes (although the stream of sexual innuendos and nautical euphemisms is relentless), and does more than just tease eldritch revelations.
“Is it normal for men to have five of those?”
“Not human men,” replied her husband. “His trousers must fit him like a glove…darling, are you disappointed?”Beth W. Patterson, “Lady Chatterly’s Blowhole” in the Nookienomicon 68
Aficionados of the Cthulhu Mythos will have read any number of escapes, successful or attempted, from Innsmouth that have been published over the decades, but I can fairly guarantee that they haven’t read one quite like “Lady Chatterly’s Blowhole.”
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).