“Red Monolith Frenzy” (2012) by Justine Geoffrey

for Howard,
who would have hated it
and for Bob,
who probably saw it coming

Dedication to “Red Monolith Frenzy” (2012)

Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales Nov 1931) was one of the first expansions of Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s Mythos; it introduced the Black Monolith in the town of Stregoicavar; the mad poet Justin Geoffrey and von Junzt and his Black Book, Nameless Cults. Lovecraft enjoyed these new elements to the Mythos, particularly von Junzt and his book, which the Gent from Providence incorporated into his own stories, including “The Shadow out of Time,” “The Dreams from the Witch House,” “The Haunter of the Dark,” and “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and two stories ghostwritten for Hazel Heald: “Out of the Aeons” and “The Horror in the Museum.” Lovecraft even had a hand in creating a German name for the Black Book: Unaussprechlichen Kulten.

What Lovecraft largely did not comment on in the story was the lengthy flagellation scene that the protagonist in a dream-like vision witnesses before the phallic image of the Black Monolith. Robert E. Howard’s inclusion of this scene was plainly an effort to get on the cover of Weird Tales, which often went to stories with scenes of female nudity and flagellation, as beautifully illustrated by Margaret Brundage. Lovecraft’s refusal to include such scenes may explain why during his lifetime none of his stories ever received a cover illustration.

“The Black Stone” wasn’t the first hint of sex in the nascent Cthulhu Mythos, but for a long time it was one of the few stories that had anything like a sexual act on the page…and has inspired others. For one example, Spanish artist Estaban Maroto famously lifted the flagellation scene from “The Black Stone” to spice up his comic adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Festival, recently republished in Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu (2018). For another, there’s “Red Monolith Frenzy” by Justine Geoffrey.

Inspired by Robert E. Howard’s mad poet, “Justine Geoffrey” is the female pseudonym of Scott R. Jones, author of books like When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality, a number of short stories, and the editor and publisher of the sadly defunct Martian Migraine Press, which produced evocative anthologies such as Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014), Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales From Beyond (2015), Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis (2016), Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth (2018) as well as Necronomicum: The Magazine of Weird Erotica (2014, 4 issues).

The use of a feminine pseudonym by Jones is similar to the use of “Sally Theobald” by Robert M. Price for “I Wore The Brassiere Of Doom” (1986): a transparent hoax, not intended to deceive the audience. However, where Price never used that name for more than the single story, Jones found his alter ego an excellent editorial voice as well as author pseudonym. In adopting this voice for the editorial of the premiere issue of Necronomicum, “Justine” is able to make observations about her “co-editor”:

For instance, my co-editor Jones frequents any number of Lovecraftian and weird fiction groups on social media, and reports that all too often, when the subject of Sex and the Weird comes up, he is witness to a barrage of prudish voices protesting that there’s no place for sex in horror. “Lovecraft never wrote about sex!” they shriek while clutching at their pearls. (Never mind that sex and sexuality and weird blasphemous couplings are pretty much the foundation of HPLs horrific universe. Methinks the geeks protest too much!) These are the same voices that get inordinately upset when you mention Lovecraft’s racism, or chuckle with derision if you happen to misidentify a Gug as a Ghast during casual conversation. Basically, these are the to-be-expected thrashings of the Old Guard as they’re shown the door by the new fans, and the new voices with new things to say.

As an authorial and editorial poise, the assumption of an identity had value for Jones—and he is neither the first nor the last author to find refuge in a pseudonym, to take on those aspects and attitudes necessary for what has to be written.

Such as the Blackstone erotica series.

Taking its name from Robert E. Howard’s eponymous monolith, the Blackstone series of Lovecraftian erotica began with book 1: “Red Monolith Frenzy” (2012), and was followed by book 2: “Green Fever Dream” (2012); book 3, “Yellow Sign Bound” has not been published, although an excerpt appears in the printed collection Priestess (2014), which also contains the prequel story “Summonings: Anicka and Kamil” (2012) and the interqual “Summonings: Yvette’s Interview” (2013).

“Red Monolith Frenzy” is the start of things, chronologically and narratively. A novella in five parts, the narrative is a combination of the structure of “The Black Stone” and Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” at least initially. “Justine G.” is the narrator, the character that is the focus of the action, and Jones’ adoption of the pseudonym for these works lends strength to the idea that this is really her story (weirdly and unconsciously echoing the confessional style of “Sally Theobald.”)

There is a lot of deliberate homage, sometimes almost to the point of parody. But the work is not a remix in the sense of “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon; it is an original twist on the old material, keeping a sense of humor like “Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper & “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust” (2016) by Raine Roka. The pacing of the story is determined: contemporary erotica demands regular “beats” of titillation every couple of pages, much as action stories require hitting the right action beats to keep things moving, and keep the reader turning to see what happens next. A dull spot in a regular novella a reader might struggle through, but with porn they’re more likely to put the book down and never come back. So the flow of the story is a bit faster than Lovecraft, or even Howard writing at his Lovecraftian best. For the “omnisexual” Justine G., this means the fun and revelations keep on coming, usually more or less at the same time.

The sexual content is explicit and varied. It is difficult not to draw comparisons with Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” fiction such as Trolley No. 1852 (2010) and The Dunwich Romance (2013), which takes similar inspiration from Lovecraft but also doesn’t attempt Lovecraftian erotica pasticheOn the spectrum of erotic horror, this first episode in Priestess definitely leans toward the fun-loving erotic, and does so in a way that doesn’t involve rape, inhuman monsters, or even tentacles, which is rare enough for Lovecraftian erotica. The editorial for Necronomicum returns to mind when considering the direction of this story:

We want to showcase a kind of erotica that, though it draws a lot of its dark inspiration from, say, the work of H. P. Lovecraft and writers of his ilk, moves beyond the cheesy realms of “monster sex” or “tentacle smut” and into areas where our connection to ourselves, and to the Other (within us and outside of us) can be explored. Stories that thrill as much as they chill, that provoke thought in the head as much as they produce heat in the… well, elsewhere, let’s just say.

The character of Justine Geoffrey—both within this story and in a more metafictional way as the author and editor of works for Martian Migraine Press—is not that of a victim, a prostitute, or a sadistic slut. She enjoys sex, and gets sexually excited easily; emotional attachments in this first chapter are very ephemeral, so that sexual attraction and consummation does not necessarily equal love. By some standards, her behavior might certainly be considered evidence of hypersexual disorder, but Justine G. feels no inherent guilt or distress at her sexual desires and escapades.

At what point does a woman empowered by and embracing her sexual nature and actively pursuing sexual experiences cross whatever threshold separates a healthy sexual appetite into a mental health disorder? At what point does a character in a porn novella cease to be a believable character and become a wanton caricature, a fantasy of a nymphomaniac? Does the apparent gender and sexuality of the author influence how the audience reads these stories? These are the questions at the heart of the characterization of Justine Geoffrey, both in the stories and in the larger context as author and editor.

Answers are going to be subjective. The complexity of Scott R. Jones’ female anima is one of the more interesting aspects of a series that largely makes no bones about nor has any shame in being Lovecraftian erotica. “Justine G.” is not a patient to be analyzed, and as an editorial voice has grown beyond the role she experiences and enjoys in “Red Monolith Frenzy” and the other episodes in Priestess, where Jones would go on to draw inspiration from Mythos writers such as Ramsey Campbell and Alan Moore.

“Red Monolith Frenzy” was initially published as an ebook in 2012. It was collected in Priestess in 2014, which was translated into German and published as Die Chronik des Schwarzen Steins in 2018 in a limited edition of 999 copies.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” (2018) by Fiona Maeve Geist

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

The wallowing darkness of rutting pigs
Suckling at the teat of a stillborn goddess

—Fiona Maeve Geist, “Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” in Ashes and Entropy 133

The weft of the story is built on the bones of Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Anonymous Materials and Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal UndergroundThere are threads of Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson in the warp, though nothing so garish as a direct callout to “The Rats in the Walls” or “The Hog.” Mostly, it is dense ideas fired at machine-gun speed but with great precision, perforating the paper targets of a pretty fundamental premise:

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

Which is not to say that metal hasn’t already gotten pretty Lovecraftian at times, with everyone from Arkham Witch to Innzmouth, Morbid Angel to Nox Arcana getting in on the act. Bands have named themselves after Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, and the Lovecraftian influence spreads across genres, from the 70s psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft to the punkish Rudimentary Peni to the rocking Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. All that really binds them together is Lovecraft.

Black metal, though, has a certain appeal. While getting a little long in the tooth, it has always been a subculture that sought certain extremes, reveled in rebellion, wrestled with the consequences. Which is probably why Geist wisely doesn’t look to name-drop actual Lovecraftian metal bands, instead building a new mythology and symbolism for her protagonist to pursue. One that marks itself with ouroboros of twined maggots and the face of a corpulent sow.

Geist’s protagonist Kelsey is a journalist in the way Arturo Perez Reverte’s Lucas Corso from The Club Dumas is a book detective. Someone puts them on assignment, gives them money and tells them to sniff it out like a good truffle-hunter. It’s a classic plotline which has worked for everyone from William Gibson on down, and Geist makes good use of it. In the words of one famous journalist:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt 530

So much for the “Black Metal” of the title; the “Red Stars” gets into the Marxist connections of the Brotherhood of the Black, Corpulent Sow, the weird connections that metal music has had with politics over in Europe. This is closer to Cyclonopedia or Charles Stross’ Laundry Files than most anything else in the Lovecraftian milieu; old conspiracy theories, shades of cyberpunk, the occult underground of the Cold War gently unraveling in the present day.

This isn’t a mystery that you need a key to, although at least a passing familiarity to the bones of what the characters are referring to and experiencing certainly help. As prose goes it’s fairly dense, but there’s a texture to it. New flesh on old bones; the ending isn’t particularly surprising, but neither is it unsatisfying. Mythos readers often like works like this, spiritual heirs of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where the search for something leads to a personal transformation or transfiguration.

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” was published in Ashes and Entropy (2018), it has not yet been reprinted. With Sadie Shurberg she wrote the essay “Correlating the Contents of Lovecraft’s Closet” in Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 3 (2019).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“This Human Form” (2014) by Lyndsey Holder

(A BUZZING IMITATION OF HUMAN SPEECH)

Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

You call me black, but I am beyond black. I am the space between the stars, the darkness that lies on the edge of your dreams, the sound of death in small spaces.

You say I am from the woods, but my woods contain no trees or birds, no peaceful sounds of wind and stream, no quiet rustle of delicate creatures. My forest pulsates, vibrates, glistens. […]

You call me a goat, and sometimes I am.
⁠—Lyndsey Holder, “This Human Form” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath

More of a prose-poem or an invocation than a short story, Lyndsey Holder’s “This Human Form” reminds me of “The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。)“Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin, and “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel. Works that take inspiration from the Mythos, but don’t lean heavily on them; they forge their own lore, not bound by any convention of the Mythos and yet still strongly connected to it thematically.

Holder’s first-person account is only implicitly that of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, reveling more in sensation and imagery than any concrete connections to any other story in the Mythos. The connection is stronger by association: the story is in a Mythos anthology, which makes the imagery more apparent. But stick this story in a dark fantasy or horror magazine and would people still get it? Would their minds still make the connection? Probably not, if they weren’t already initiated in Mythos-lore and familiar with Shub-Niggurath, her aspects and attributes. But they could still enjoy the story.

“This Human Form” is exemplary of how in a largely disorganized way, the Mythos has evolved organically into something which the SCP wiki has done by considered design. While it has been said there is no canon to the Mythos, it would be more accurate to say there is no one canon. Certainly, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories are fairly consistent in themselves, as are Ramsey Campbell’s Severn Valley tales, Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow stories, W. H. Pugmire’s Sesqua Valley, Charles Stross’ the Laundry Files, etc. Peter Rawlik has curated a canon centered around “Herbert West—Reanimator,” and Shane Ivey has spent considerable time doing much the same with the Delta Green setting.

Most of these works are independent, interconnected, sometimes conflicting. Myths do that. Conflict, arguably, might even be essential to the Mythos: it forces the reader to engage with it, to juggle different concepts, maybe try to reconcile them.

There is on thing you do not call me: mother. My body has sent a thousand children into this world, a thousand mewling, crawling things, suckling and whining, slithering down silvery dream-threads into the soft comfort of your warm beds.
—Lyndsey Holder, “This Human Form”

It is rare to get a first-person take from a Mythos entity, although far from unknown. Neil Gaiman famously did it with I, Cthulhu, or, What’s a Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing in a Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)? (1987) (later publications have quite reasonably shortened this to “I, Cthulhu”). Gaiman’s take, of course, is a quiet taking of the piss. The idea of Cthulhu addressing the user is the main joke. For Mythos entities that are largely defined as ineffable and unknowable, the first-person narrative rather kills the mystery…unless, as Holder does, the meat of the text is salacious, sensation-driven, and suggestive. Making telling feel like showing.

Lyndsey Holder’s “This Human Form” was published in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014). Her other Mythos fiction includes “Parasitosis” (2015) and “Chosen” (2015).


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“I Wore The Brassiere Of Doom” (1986) by Sally Theobald

He was a great reader, mostly of paperback westerns and dime romance novels. All this is well known, but what many readers probably do not ralize is that Howard wrote (under various pseudonyms) several stories and “confession” pieces for magazines of that type. Two of my own favorites were “Showdown at the OK Abyss” (written as “Hank Theobald”) and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” (under the by-line “Sally Theobald”). Sonia may have assisted him in some of these, but she would never admit it.
—”Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (1983) by “F. Gumby Kalem” in Crypt of Cthulhu14

Those who chanced to read F. Gumby Kalem’s memoir “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (Crypt of Cthulhu 14) may recall Kalem’s surprising revelation that HPL, too, wrote for the confession magazines under the transparent pen-name Sally Theobald. Much checking with pulp colectors has turned up a copy of one of these tales, “I Wore the Brassier of Doom.” You will have to admit that Lovecraft could cover his tracks when he wanted to. But for Gumby Kalem’s information, it is a safe bet this work would never have been identified and restored to its rightful place among HPL’s oeuvre.
—”Scandal Sheet” (1986) by Robert M. Price in Lurid Confessions

“I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” is a playful hoax perpetrated by Robert M. Price, editor of both Crypt of Cthulhu and Lurid Confessions (among other ‘zines). The idea that a pulp writer might spread their wings and splash another field of fiction is not far-fetched—many did. Robert E. Howard wrote for example wrote weird fiction, westerns, detective, historical adventure, and spicy stories for the pulps; he tried to write science fiction and confession-style pulps too.

For spicy pulps in particular, Howard adopted the pseudonym “Sam Walser”—and Lovecraft was famous for his own pseudonyms, mostly in the amateur press, such as “Lewis Theobald, Jr.” which was his byline with Winifred Virginia Jackson (“Elizabeth Berkeley”) for “The Green Meadow” and “The Crawling Chaos.” Price, who wrote both “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” was thus careful in picking a realistic pseudonym for the Providence pulpster in “Sally Theobald.”

The hoax was so convincing, that some folks actually fell for it.

Once I wrote a fake Lovecraft tale, as if he had written it for the confession magazines, “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” as by Sally Theobald. Without meaning to, I tricked a French Lovecraft scholar into listing it in his Lovecraft bibliography!
“Robert M. Price Interview” (2010)

The story was translated as “Le Soutien-Gorge Ensorcelé” (“The Enchanted Bra”) and published in Pulps No. 2 La Nurserie de l’Épouvante (“The Nursery of Terror,” 1987), a collection of translated pulp reprints, as by Lovecraft.

The broader point that the backstory “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” emphasizes is not about the gullibility of readers or editors who fell for the hoax; Price’s tongue-in-cheek trail of breadcrumbs is transparent to any Lovecraft scholar (HPL did not read westerns or dime romance novels, no dates or titles of magazines are given, etc.) before they read the first line of the story. What is the point is that there was never anything stopping Lovecraft (or any other writer) from using a pseudonym of a different gender—and this presents a particular challenge at times when seeking to focus on works by female writers in pulps or weird fiction. While it is not clear that there were any women who wrote Mythos fiction under male pseudonyms (or vice versa) before the 1980s, it would not be surprising to find a few such works lurking in odd fanzines and forgotten pulps. Certainly there are plenty of examples of such genderbending nameplay in other genres, probably most famously James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon).

The story itself is not a pastiche of Lovecraft’s style, but certainly a pastiche of the confessional, a pulp genre inaugurated by True Story Magazine (1919- ). The moralistic atmosphere of these confessionals generally has women expressing grief for how they erredusually by engaging in inappropriate relationships, having children out of wedlock, drinking or drugs, etc.—providing a taboo thrill to the reader at being able to re-live their adventures while at the same time unsubtly re-affirming the decidedly misogynistic attitudes of the first half of the 20th century.

The story of a young and well-endowed country girl goes to the big city for the first time, intent on making it as a modern business woman is meat for a thousand stories…except in this particular Macy’s, she finds something strange:

As I placed the bra back in its box I noticed something else: the odd seam design. Across each cup, radiating out from the center, was a five-pointed star with an oval or eye-shape in the center.  thought little of this, except to guess that the design might have something to do with the nice way the bra seemed to uphold and almost carress me.
Lurid Confessions 31

The implication, of course, is that this is the Elder Sign as used by August Derleth in his own Mythos fiction:

Elder-Sign-Dearleth

The new brassiere certainly attracts a good bit of attention, and if there’s a fault in Price’s story, this is where it comes in, trying to channel some of the inherent racism of “The Call of Cthulhu” combined with the inherent sexism of the confession pulps:

Oh, I admit, soem of my gentlemen callers were not exactly dreamboats, but in a city populated by herds of rat-faced mongrels and ruffians, one had to make do. And if a girl waits until Mr. Perfect comes along, she’s liable to wind up an old maid. (ibid.)

Price would touch on similar issues in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price, and there is certainly something to be said for attempting to accurately capture the atmosphere of racism of the time and of the suggested author; whether Price goes too far or just far enough is a bit subjective, it is certainly not necessary to the story, but does help to tie it in a little closer to Lovecraft’s life and fiction.  While Lovecraft did not work racism into everything he wrote, the language Price uses here is directly influenced by Lovecraft’s.

Price, of course, is all about working in the little references to Lovecraft based on what little was published of the Providence pulpster’s own romantic life. When he wrote:

We would sit on the couch smootching and my sate would say something romantic like, “My dear, you have no idea how much I appreciate you.” Then his hand would begin to drift from my shoulders southward to hover above my breast. (ibid, 32)

The line was lifted wholesale from the memoir of Lovecraft’s former wife, Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985). Price makes a few more little quips like this (“The crinoid thing (or was it an echinodern? His school biology had scarcely prepared my for this!“, ibid 34) as the story progresses toward an ending reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” albeit with one last, final and perhaps thematically appropriate twist as Sally gives as a glimpse what might be Yog-Sothoth…

The original story has never been reprinted since Lurid Confessions, except in the French translation, but Robert M. Price allowed it to be republished by the Lovecraft eZine in 2013. So if you wish, prepare yourself and read “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom.”


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“The Man Who Sold Rope To The Gnoles” (1951) by Margaret St. Clair

A HYMN OF HATE

Margaret St. Clair, of Berkeley, California, writes: “I’ve been a good quiet uncomplainng reader of WEIRD TALES for about ten years—but the prospect of another story by Edmond hamilton moves me to hysterical outcry. He makes me want to scream and bite my nails—’captured thirty-six suns’ inded! His style is nothing but exclamation marks; his idea of drama is something involving a fantastic number of light-speeds; he is, in the words of one of my favorite comic strip characters, flies in my soup. He is science-fiction at its worst: all WEIRD TALES needs to make the science-fiction atmosphere perfect is a letter from forrest J. Ackerman and a story by Hamilton. Oh, and another gripe—I dislike the blurbs you are printing at the first of the stories. They are just a waste of space. I hate vampire and werewolf stories—my blood refuses to congeal for any number of undead clammily hooting about. There was a time when I could be made to shiver by the mention of garlic, but now it’s just something to put in salad. Things like Shambleau are what I like. As long as WT prints stories by Clark Ashton Smith, however, I’ll keep on reading it. His tales have a rounded jewel-like self-containedness that is, artistically, a delight. … And Smith’s drawings are, I think, by far the best in the magazine. … In conclusion, Jules de Grandin is a pain in the neck.”
—WEIRD TALES, June 1934

Margaret St. Clair could be considered a peripheral member of the gang of writers commonly called “the Lovecraft Circle.” She met Clark Ashton Smith while a student at the University of California at Berkeley, and began corresponding with him as early as 1933. (Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208n1) St. Clair broke into the pulps after World War II, and her stories graced the pages of Weird Tales beginning in 1950, one of the last new voices to find a home at the magazine before its inevitable demise.

“The Man Who Sold Rope To The Gnoles” (first published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Oct 1951), is one of Margaret St. Clair’s most famous stories. Her tale is inspired by and directly references Lord Dunsany’s own famous jocular fantasy “How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon the Gnoles” (The Book of Wonder, 1912). Dunsany was a substantial influence on Lovecraft’s early fiction. Some later writers have worked to tie the Lovecraft Mythos more directly to Dunsany, such as “My Boat” (1976) by Joanna Russ and “Meet Me on the Other Side” (2002) by Yvonne Navarro.

But Margaret St. Clair is drawing directly from Dunsany here, pursuing her own homage to the British master of fantasy instead of trying to tie it into anything larger, expanding his Mythos but staying true to the spirit of the original story. There is something essential of Postwar America in the piece, a lightness of tone and a focus on money and its pursuit, with an ironic dark twist at the end reminiscent of Charles Addams’ The Addams Family and Robert Bloch’s light-hearted Mythos story “Philtre Tip” (1961).

Nuth looked on for a while from the corner of the house with a mild surprise on his face as he rubbed his chin, for the trick of the holes in the trees was new to him; then he stole nimbly away through the dreadful wood.
—Lord Dunsany, “How Nuth Would Have Practiced His Art Upon The Gnoles”

The gnoles were watching him through the holes they had bored in the trunks of trees; it is an artful custom of theirs to which the prime authority on gnoles attests.
—Margaret St. Clair, “The Man Who Sold Rope To The Gnoles”

Dunsany has inspired any number of writers, Lovecraft not least among them. The error most writers make is trying to write like Dunsany, to capture something of his style. Like pasticheurs who ape the cosmetic aspects of Lovecraft’s prose and miss the deeper stylistic structures, themes, and philosophical underpinnings which make his fiction work. St. Clair here does not attempt pastiche, but homage: she pays reverence to Dunsany’s story and the details he gave, while writing her own, in her own voice.

Which is why this is one of the few “Dunsanian” stories which works.

It is not by any stretch of the imagination a story that Dunsany would have written, which is half the point. J. R. R. Tolkien once criticized Dunsany’s story “The Distressing Tale of Thangobrind the Jeweller”, also published in The Book of Wonder, lamenting:

Dunsany at his worst. Trying so hard for the shudder. But not for a moment making the tale ‘credible’ enough

Whether or not Dunsany was trying for a shudder or a chuckle, readers can decide for themselves. St. Clair by contrast was militantly angling for the lighter side, and the way in which she does so showcases, perhaps, how closely allied some of Lovecraft’s style of hinting was to Dunsany’s:

It was the parlor the gnole led him to. Mortensen’s eyes widened as he looked around it. There were whatnots in the corners, and cabinets of curiosities, and on the fretwork table an album with gilded hasps; who knows whose pictures were in it?
—Margaret St. Clair, “The Man Who Sold Rope To The Gnoles”

The juxtaposition of the Gnoles, strange and terrible as they are, having a very British or American-style parlor full of knickknacks and an album is the same sort of intimate contrast of “the fields we know” and the exotic and impossible which is such a hallmark of Dunsany’s early work. St. Clair’s leading question is in line with the unspoken horrors which Tolkien was so displeased with and which Lovecraft often used to such great effect: letting the reader’s imagination fill in the blanks.

The gnoles, it seemed, would be regular customers; and after the gnoles, why should he not try the Gibbelins? They too must have a need for rope. (ibid.)

“The Hoard of the Gibbelins” immediately proceeds “Gnoles” in The Book of Wonder, and St. Clair’s references to it in this story could have been a step toward stitching together some of Dunsany’s standalone stories into something like a larger Mythos, though she never pursued such a design. It is something readers of Lovecraft take almost for granted—didn’t Lovecraft borrow elements from Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Robert W. Chambers (and Chambers himself from Ambrose Bierce)?

Certainly Margaret St. Clair, who was reading Weird Tales so early and so long, knew what she was doing.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Machines Are Digging” (2009) by Reza Negarestani

H. P. Lovecraft has an alarming but over-neglected passage about this holey space or ()hole complex (with an evaporative W) as the zone through which the Outside gradually but persistently emerges, creeps in (or out?) from the Inside. A complex of hole agencies and obscure surfaces that unground the earth and turn it to the ultimate zone of emergence and urpising against its passive planetdom and onanistic self-indulgence of the Sun with its solar capitalism. “Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.” (H. P. Lovecraft, The Festival)
—Reza Negarestani, “Machines Are Digging: Lovecraft and Poromechanics of Horror” in Songs of the Black Würm Gism (2009) 167

“Machines Are Digging” is an excerpt-cum-recension of a section of Reza Negarestani’s experimental novel Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anomalous Materials (2008); the two texts are not identical, but represent different iterations of the same concept. The piece represents the crossroads between Negarestani’s philosophical horror and Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, the aesthetic point of contact where they come together and, while approaching the material from different angles, arrive at about the same conclusion.

Negarestani’s approach to horror fiction is with the same care, and to a degree with the same attitude, as writing an essay on philosophy or physics. The format and language of his work echoes that of a very intelligent post-graduate student engaging with concepts at a high level, a straight-faced presentation which is ever so delicately off, so that the reader isn’t quite sure whether the author is a genius or genuinely deluded. Even the select choice of word and phrase underlines the academic tendency to define and re-define a technical language for itself.

There is an art amounting to poetry in the suggestive but probably meaningless phrase, and that is the kind of texture that high-level philosophical works tend to have. “Solar capitalism,” for example—what does that mean? On the surface, it does not connect with any familiar phrase or concept. If you pick it apart to try and find meaning—ah, now the reader is playing Negarestani’s game. They’ve bought into the piece enough to start thinking about it, and once you do that you’re getting into the slightly-warped logic, the madman thinking where the view of reality is skewed, like the first step down the rabbit hole of a conspiracy theory.

Philosophical word-games aside, “Machines Are Digging” works in large part because there is something to the connection with Lovecraft that Negarestani talks about. When he writes:

According to Lovecraft, the realism of horror is built upon poromechanics. The poromechanical universe of Lovecraft or ()hole complex is a machine to facilitate the awakening and return of the Old Ones through convoluted compositions of solid and void. (ibid., 168)

He is, knowingly or not (always hard to tell with Negarestani; it’s tricky with any philosopher or madman is to know whether they actually have some secret knowledge or are making shit up as they go along) echoing some solid critical scholarship regarding Lovecraft’s themes. Because Lovecraft did like big holes dug in the Earth and could not lie; the idea of underground caverns and large enclosed spaces feature prominently in stories such as “The Festival,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Transition of Juan Romero,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Nameless City,” At the Mountains of Madness, etc. and even featured in essays such as “A Descent to Avernus.”

Critics have speculated on the whys and wherefores of Lovecraft’s fascination, from Jungian womb-symbols to shamanic thresholds between the waking and dreaming worlds; the latter a significant plot point in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Lovecraftian graphic novel Providence. Scott R. Jones compiled an anthology of tales based around the concept, titled Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth (2018)One of the collections of memories dedicated to Lovecraft is Caverns Measureless to Man (1996).

Which is a long way to say: Negarestani is on to something.

In pulp-horror fictions and cinema and in Lovecraft fiction, it is the abode of the Old Ones, worm-entities and the blob (petroleum) that surpasses the tentacled-heads in sentience adn foreignness. R’lyeh is the every dream, motion and calculation of Cthulhu on the solid part of the earth’s body. (ibid., 173)

Whether or not you buy into what Negarestani is selling is something different. Few people fall headlong into philosophy, because the empirical world is quite a bit messier than the general truths espoused, and conclusions arrived at after torturous paragraphs of twisted logic sometimes don’t seem quite so significant and valid in the harsh light of day when your tea has grown cold. But sometimes, you can pull out some wonderful idea or turn of phrase buried in there, a little treasure to wonder at and turn over in your head. “Machines Are Digging” is, regardless of its other merits, a source of inspiration.

In poromechancial cosmology of Lovecraft, exhumation is undertaken and exercised by units called Rats. In fact, ‘the dramatic epic of the rats’ (Lovecraft) can be found in their act of exhuming surfaces, solid bodies and structures resisiting perforation. Rats are exhuming machines, not only full-fledged epidemic vectors but also ferociously dynamic lines of ungrounding. (ibid., 175)

Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Gabby Johnson for clearly stating what needed to be said. I’m particulary glad that these lovely children were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.
—Olson Johnson, Blazing Saddles (1974)

“Machines Are Digging” is experimental fiction, or at least is not concerned with a traditional narrative or format. It is perhaps as close as any writer has come to something like genuine Lovecraftian literature, in the sense of trying to write something that genuinely challenges the reader’s preconceptions and introduces a few new ones; a Necronomicon Lite, fiction and fact and big ideas woven together into something whose big ideas leave the mind spinning off into unfamiliar branches of thought. As bizarre and occasionally baffling as it may be, there are rewards to be gained from Negarestani’s challenging read.

As mentioned above, “Machines Are Digging” is an excerpt, or variant text, from Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. The major differences between the two are a slight truncation of the version in Songs of the Black Würm Gism, and the lack of the surrounding context provided by the novel.

In Cyclonopedia, “Machines Are Digging” is explicitly a pseudo-text among pseudo-texts, a found document that is part of a cache of data for the user to sift through; a part rather than a whole. Reading it in Songs of the Black Würm Gism, wedged between Wakamatsu Yukio’s black-and-white photographs of naked women covered in worms, frogs, octopi, and insects and “Frater Monstrum’s” Chaos Magick-inflected account of “H P Lovecraft and the Loch Ness Monster” the reader doesn’t necessarily get the full burn of Negarestani’s thesis—but it is certainly in good company.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

 

“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” (2015) by Inkeri Kontro

The organism appears unrelated to previously discovered species, therefore we named it Halofractal cthulhu.
—Inkeri Kontro, “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” in She Walks In Shadows (2015) 205

In 1994, a species of spider was dubbed Pimoa cthulhu; in 2005 a moth was given the scientific name Speiredonia cthulhuiA pair of microorganisms in wood termites were named Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque in 2013, and just recently in 2019, an extinct echinoderm was declared Sollasina cthulhu.

Scientists are horror fans too.

While the impetus of Inkeri Kontro’s “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” is a tongue-in-cheek rip from the headlines, the story as it develops is much more serious. Hardcore science fiction, all the Lovecraftian jokes slowly disappearing against a much more monstrously plausible reality.

Fans used to pastiche and supernatural explanations might be a little put-off by the lack of Necronomicons and old familiar names, but that is the essential appeal of the story: this isn’t about “What if Cthulhu was real?” in the traditional sense of “What if Lovecraft’s fiction were real history?” 

Instead, we are left to contemplate simpler facts and their implications. Halofractal cthulhu is a microorganism, not a mountain that walked or stumbled. Yet the conclusions are mountainous, and monstrous….even as the outcome is tragic. It is a rare story that attempts something like that, much less succeeds. Yet “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” certainly achieves everything it aims for.

Inkeri Contro is a postdoctoral researcher in material physics at the University of Helsinki. Every character and detail of the story reflects true; even the muttered perkele when the Finnish Anna, visiting with her Danish colleagues in Copenhagen, feels honest. These are the people you meet at these conferences, this is how these honest Scandinavian nerds would feel and react to such a person, to such a discovery.

In another writer’s hands, more attention might be placed on Anna. We don’t get her full background, even her full name. Hints of a personality—parents watching her cat back home, trouble sleeping in this foreign country where everyone speaks Danish and has to remember to speak English when she appears—but the lack of detail works here. Ambiguity remains, long into the story, especially with Anna’s dreams. The initiated reader is left always wondering when the turn is going to come, when is Cthulhu, the big C, going to step on the page…

They won’t be disappointed when cthulhu finally makes its big splash instead.

“Cthulhu and the Dead Sea” was first published in She Walks In Shadows (2015) and its American paperback release Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016). It has not been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

Whispers (2016) by Kristin Dearborn

The whole matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

The whole matter begins, as far as Dearborn is concerned, with the historic floods of August 2011. On August  29th, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont, washing away roads and bridges and swamping rural communities in a manner which recalled the 1927 flood. Three people were killed.
—Daniel Mills, “Foreword,” Whispers (2016)

If you pick up a copy of Dearborn’s novella, skip the foreword by Mills. Go into it raw, without expectations. Let her surprise you a little.

“Lovecraft Country” is a space of the mind. Psychogeography. A map of myth that isn’t the territory. Walk through the streets of Newburyport, and it isn’t Innsmouth. Parts of Salem and Danvers might remind you of Arkham, but it isn’t that place, not really. There is no Dunwich. The weirdly verdant forests of Vermont were only as real, in their way, as Machen’s hills. Readers get the impression of the place, as it was in the 1920s and 30s, filtered through Lovecraft.

Not many writers re-tread the old literary sod, update it. Kristin Dearborn did.

Whispers is not a straight re-imagining of Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” in the strictest sense. The literary DNA is there, and just to erase any doubt is printed clearly on the cover of the book, but it is “inspired by,” not a pastiche or rehash of the old story. The tone and approach are different, more contemporary. New eyes on old territory.

The narrative shifts back and forth, Sarah and Neveah and Dean, chapter by chapter. One of those transitions which is easier to do in print than in film, for all the horror movie aesthetic. Something in the woods, dogs growling, protective barriers of distrust and paranoia raised and lowered. Then the voices start.

Score some crystal with us, Neveah.
—Kristin Dearborn, Whispers 17

Drug literature is an old standby of weird fiction, from Lovecraft’s “Celephaïs” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Hashish-Eater, or, The Apocalypse of Evil” to Robert E. Howard’s Reefer Madness. Most focus on the extraordinary visions, the excuse for phantasmagoric imagery, not the mental and physical cost. Not getting beaten up by your pimp-cum-dealer. It’s a matter-of-fact ugliness, earth-gazing. The kind of detail that keeps the story grounded.

We’ll show you the stars. (ibid, 18)

The stars are very far away from a small cabin in Vermont. Forces are in motion, narrative forces that the reader is aware of but those two women and five dogs in the cabin are not. Everyone brings their own history, their own baggage to bear, coloring their understanding of the situation. It’s a human element which Lovecraft largely distanced himself from. His eyes were for the stars, the wonder and horror of it all. Dearborn’s is for the people living the story.

It’s not the first time a writer has re-approached “The Whisperer in Darkness” from the perspective of human emotions, entanglements—even sex. Richard Lupoff wrote a sequel to Lovecraft’s story titled “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982) which brought the cosmic horror back down to Earth…but that is the key difference. Dearborn roots her story in the characters; she isn’t writing a sequel to anything. There are still things to discover for the first time in Whispers.

They aren’t all pretty. Not everybody gets to see the stars.

Whispers was published in 2016 by the Lovecraft eZine Press.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“The Madonna of the Abbatoir” (2014) by Anne M. Pillsworth

 New England has long been my spiritual home, and the region informs much of my fiction. One day I hope to find Lovecraft’s portals to his mythical towns of witch-haunted Arkham and Kingsport, shadowed Innsmouth and accursed Dunwich. Until then, I’ll just have to write about them.
—Anne M. Pillsworth, “About Me”

Most readers come to later Mythos fiction as initiated adepts rather than neophytes. They have learned the names of peoples, places, tomes, and entities; know what shadow came over Innsmouth and out of time, the twisting branches of the Pickman and Whateley family trees, and are more willing than most cultists to yell “Iä!” Writers fall into the same category, and to an extant face a more serious problem: how to approach the Mythos when the mystery is already gone?

Some writers turn to pastiche, and some embrace it. The latter is essentially what Anne M. Pillsworth does in “The Madonna of the Abattoir” (2014): her protagonists are undead and undying Mythos sorcerers and make no bones to hide that fact from the reader. Although there are Ornes and Pickmans and a Miskatonic University, they are not those exactly mentioned in Lovecraft’s Mythos; her setting is a couple generations earlier, in the late 1850s or 1860s. The Mythos is Pillsworth’s setting and workspace, but she makes no effort to try and capture the same moods as Lovecraft & co.—instead, she leads the knowing reader on. Because for all their knowledge and foreboding, they can’t be sure what is next…

But they can suspect. That’s half the fun.

Like a horror movie told through the eyes of the killer, the readers are in on the secret from the beginning, but there is still a plot to unfold, characters to expand on. Like the gaslamp fantasy of Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk or “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer, the period brings with it certain considerations for the treatment of female characters and sexuality; when Pickman wants Patience Orne to model for him, he does not approach her directly but a male relative as representative—and they go through the charade of propriety and appearances, acting out the pretense of women-as-property or women-as-delicate-flowers, etc. etc.

All the more pointless than in most Victoriana, because of who & what Patience Orne is.

Two easels in the center of the room held studies for Pickman’s Madonnas. Studies! The preliminary oils had finer detail than many finished paintings. Still more detailed were the pencil sketches tacked to the easels, which ranged in subject from the scrollwork on a marble mantelpiece to a heap of refuse in which each fishbone and tattered shoe, each apple core and moldy crust, was distinct. Only the Madonnas’ faces were left vague, their features barely suggested.
—Anne M. Pillsworth, “The Madonna of the Abattoir”

From a certain perspective, the Mythos abounds in Madonnas: women who approach some nonhuman ideal, perfect and almost unapproachable, often vaguely seen yet often felt. The unnamed Ape Princess in “Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”, the Deep One who married Obed Marsh in “The Shadow over Innsmouth”; Lavinia Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror”, Eliza Tillinghast Curwen in “Facts in the Case of Charles Dexter Ward”… and the female body has often been the subject of art, either to portray an idealized reality or to reveal a hidden truth. Pillsworth tackles these ideas directly, and it is the mood of the characters and situation which hold and sustain interest, rather than any further revelations of Mythos lore that may be coming.

Like many Mythos stories, there is a cyclic tone to “The Madonna of the Abattoir”—not a sequel to “Pickman’s Model” in the sense of “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, but a distant and ancestral prequel which explores and reiterates, in the end, something of the same eternal idea in one of many variations:

She still wore the Madonna’s shroud, ensanguined as in the painting. Of course it was, for how else but from life could Pickman have captured the precise way blood would bloom through the linen weave? (ibid.)

There is an argument to be made that repetition dilutes the original idea, but the difference in style and tone between Pillsworth, Kiernan, and Lovecraft is such that while recognizable as distinct episodes with connective elements—as a Mythos of their own—each has something different to say, and the side-by-side comparison speaks more as a commentary on medium than anything else. Be it paint on canvas, or photography, or crude film reels: how best to capture that terrible reality, how else to capture it except from life?

“The Madonna of the Abbatoir” was published on Tor.com in 2014; it has been republished as a separate chapbook. Anne M. Pillsworth’s other Mythos fiction includes “The Patience Rose” (2009) and her young adult Redemption’s Heir series Summoned (2014) and Fathomless (2015). Along with Ruthanna Emrys, she writes the Lovecraft Reread series for Tor.com.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

 

“Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” (2018) by Beth W. Patterson

When the other two would leave the cabin together, I’d try doing my pectoral exercises in private, in hopes of expediting my development into womanhood. bending my arms, I’d swing my elbows in and out, chanting under my breath, “Get back, get back, I must increase my rack!” But of course I’d inevitably start to feel silly and switch to pushups, whispering, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah ‘nagl fhtagn.”
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 50-51

Judy Blume’s 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a story about a 6th-grade girl who, without much formal guidance or religious affiliation, finds a personal relationship with God while going through the normal pitfalls and travails of school and puberty. Beth W. Patterson’s twist on the subject shifts the setting to an equestrian summer camp in the contemporary period, and her title character Judy has more interest in the Virgins and Lovecraft than Judaism vs. Christianity. The mafia, cursed Indian burial mound, and zombie horse scare are just icing.

The story was made-to-order for the anthology Release the Virgins, which has as its raison d’être one brief anecdote (told in the foreword) and one simple commandment (followed by a caveat):

Every story must contain the phrase ‘Release the Virgins’ somewhere […] After a week, I amended the process with the admonition “No more unicorns!”
—Michael A. Ventrella, “Introduction” in Release the Virgins 9

The story is not Mythos in any real sense, and claims of Lovecraftian might be dubious: there is nothing of super-nature in the story, at least nothing that isn’t explained away before the end. But there is something interesting just in the idea of a young girl with a personal relationship to Cthulhu, which reminds me a great deal of Scott R. Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014) or even Phil Hine’s The Pseudonomicon, because as dogmatic as folks might be about the artificial nature of the Cthulhu Mythos and skeptical about the nature of spirituality, some folks just have a Cthulhu-shaped hole in their hearts and need something eldritch to fill it.

Which is really the most endearing part of the story. Judy doesn’t really seek intercession or favor, isn’t a young sociopath or fanatic looking to sacrifice her friends to awaken the dreamer of R’lyeh, but wants…someone she can honestly address her innermost thoughts and desires to.

Are you there, Cthulhu? It’s me, judy. I know you must be awfully busy in the mighty city of R’lyeh, and might not hear my thoughts with you being dead and all. But my friends don’t understand me, and I really think that I could ride Slipper if the counselors would only give me a chance. People say that you will be ready for resurrection when the stars are ready. Don’t you think the stars are ready for me too, Cthulhu?
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 51

If there’s ever proof that Lovecraft can be applicable to more than just horror and weird fiction, I think it’s summed up in that final line. For those who are less interested in personal spirituality and want a story with horses, virgins, and Shub-Niggurath, I would recommend Charles Stross’ excellent novella Equoid (2014), which covers all of that very nicely…but would probably have not made the cut for the Release the Virgins anthology. Too many unicorns.

“Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” was published in Release the Virgins (2018); it has not yet been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).