Editor Spotlight: Dorothy McIlwraith, Mary Gnaedinger, & Cele Goldsmith Lalli

The impact of female editors of pulp magazines is not always acknowledged, and this is especially true when considering the legacy of H. P. Lovecraft and Mythos fiction. Three of these women stand out: Dorothy McIlwraith, the editor of Weird Tales (1940-1954); Mary Gnaedinger, editor of Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-1953); and Cele Goldsmith Lalli, editor of Fantastic (1958-1965). Together, these three women would essentially bridge the gap, accounting for most Mythos magazine fiction that was published between 1940 and 1965.

Dorothy McIlwraith

McIlwraith, Dorothy-Photograph
Dorothy McIlwraith

After his death on 15 March 1937, Lovecraft’s literary legacy continued in Weird Tales, which had been the home to most of his professional fiction and continued to be the mainstay of his most devoted fans. Editor Farnsworth Wright published at least one Lovecraft item, be it a story or verse, in nearly every issue for the next three years—including collaborations with Hazel Heald and Zealia Bishop, stories which Wright had previously rejected, and material from amateur publications.

In late 1938, Weird Tales was sold to William Delaney, owner of Short Stories, Inc. and publisher of the successful Short Stories pulp magazine, which was edited by Dorothy McIlwraith, a Canadian woman of Scottish descent. (What About Dorothy McIlwraith?) The Weird Tales offices were moved to New York City in November of that year, with editor Farnsworth Wright moving his family from Chicago for the transition. Beginning with the December 1938 issue, Weird Tales officially listed its offices in New York. Robert Weinberg claimed that McIlwraith was made associate editor of Weird Tales at this point, but if so she was never listed as such in the magazine itself. (The Weird Tales Story 6)

Farnsworth Wright had been suffering from progressive Parkinson’s disease for years, and the finances for Weird Tales continued to worsen. In part this may have been due to the death of prominent writers like Henry S. Whitehead (1932), Robert E. Howard (1936), and H. P. Lovecraft (1937), but it was also due in part to new competition. While Weird Tales had been the predominant purveyor of fantastic fiction in the pulp field since its inception in 1923, outlasting rivals such as Ghost Stories (1926-1932), Tales of Magic and Mystery (1927-1928), and Strange Tales (1931-1933), but in 1939 several strong competitors emerged, including Strange Stories (1939-1941), Unknown (1939-1943), Famous Fantastic Mysteries (1939-1953), Fantastic Adventures (1939-1953), Planet Stories (1939-1955), and Startling Stories (1939-1955).

Added to these woes, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia began cracking down on nude covers on the newstands; while aimed at the weird terror or “shudder” pulps, the ban also caught Weird Tales, which had been using nudes from Chicago artist Margaret Brundage for the cover, to both fan appreciation and consternation. In addition, Brundage was unable to continue to move to New York and found shipping her delicate pastels economically unfeasible—especially when publisher Bill Delaney cut payment rates for artists. (Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage 32) Delany also tried changes to reduce costs and increase sales:

Delaney was more concerned than Henneberger or Cornelius in turning the pulp into a paying, profit-making proposition. His first idea was to increase the page count from 128 to 160 pages. He also used a cheaper quality of paper, making the issue look even thicker than before. The first of these thick issues appeared in February 1939. However, the idea did not catch on and sales dropped steadily. Another of Delaney’s ideas was to cut rates, both to artists and authors. the policy showed as quality quickly dropped. In another effort to boost sales, the size was cut to 128 pages in September 1939 and the price was dropped to 15 cents. The magazine still did not sell. (The Weird Tales Story 6)

In January 1940, Farnsworth Wright left Weird Tales; the magazine by this point had gone to a bimonthly schedule, and his final issue as editor was March of that year. While some sources claim Wright retired or resigned, what few firsthand accounts I’ve come across suggest he was fired:

I am no longer connected with Weird TalesMiss McIlwraith has taken over the editorship. The publisher was losing too heavily, and he figured that the elimination of my salary would help to cut down the deficit.
—Farnsworth Wright to Virgil Finlay, 17 Jan 1940, BOK 66
The magazine has two stories and four poems of mine (accepted by Farnsworth Wright) still unpublished, but I think seriously of withdrawing these, even though I need the money like hell and am not likely to find another market for these particular items. Wright was let out by the publishers to cut down expenses, and W.T. is now being edited by a woman, who also edits Strange Stories. [sic] It is to be hoped that Wright will soon secure another editorship, or perhaps even start a rival magazine himself. In the meanwhile, W.T.‘s best contributors are sticking with him, in the belief that he has had a raw deal.
—Clark Ashton Smith to Margaret St. Clair, 22 Feb 1940, Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 328
Wright was cold-bloodedly fired from Weird Tales, because of circulation drop. It’s being carried on by McIlwraith. Wright is hit pretty hard, and our gang has pledged to boycott the mag. If Wright succeeds in getting another publisher interested in backing a new weird mag, we’ll submit only to him. It’s all we can do for one of the best and most liked editors in our field. With Wellman, Juttner, Hamilton, Quinn, Williamson, and others not submitting to Weird, I’m thinking McIlwraith will have to print blank pages.
—Otto Binder to Jack Darrow, 10 Mar 1940, The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origin of Weird Tales 219
When he was dismissed because of physical disabilities, many of the younger contributors to W.T. emoted all over the place, and waged a campaign to boycott the magazine. I did not join in this piece of juvenile idiocy. To expect a publisher to retain an editor incapable of coming to work was unrealism beyond the norm, even for youth! Finally, Wright’s successor, Dorothy McIlwraith, certainly was not responsible for his having been relieved of duty.  As editor of Short Stories, her position was far more important than was the editorship of W.T.  All she could gain was extra work, a bonus of headaches. Why penalize her by depriving her of desirable contributors?
None of these loyal nit-wits realize that the publisher scrapped Wright’s long established editorial policies, and told Dorothy what to do, and how to do it. As an employee, she had to obey orders, or, bail out. Anyone who ever knew the magazine business was aware that her leading magazine, Short Stories, was for a readership far more discriminating and mature than that of the W.T. fanciers.
Price, Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others 112
After Wright left WEIRD TALES (banished into outer space, is the way he wrote me about it), I happened to be in New York. I found out that he was living out at Jackson Heights, so I went out to see him, and was always glad I did, for he died only a few weeks later.
Edmond Hamilton, “He That Hath Words,” Deeper Than You Think #2, Jul 1968, 12

Farnsworth Wright died on 12 June 1940. Dorothy McIlwraith took up the editorship with the May 1940 issue of Weird Tales, while simultaneously editing Short Stories, and would remain at the helm of both until Delaney sold the business in 1954. Assisting her was Lamont Buchanan, credited as the associate editor and referred to as the art editor

Having inherited a magazine that was bleeding readers and in the shadow of Wright’s departure, McIlwraith’s tenure in what turned out to be Weird Tales’ waning days is often overlooked or mischaracterized. Robert Weinberg’s comments echo those of many critics down the years:

As an editor, Ms. McIlwraith was a competent craftsman but was not on the same level as Farnsworth Wright. She was a veteran pulp editor and handled the magazine as best she could. Her biggest trouble was that she was not as familiar with weird fiction as her predecessor. Another problem was that her ideas on what Weird Tales should be were somewhat narrower in scope than the beliefs Wright worked by. A publisher who did not let her run the magazine with as free a hand was no help. She did the best she could. (The Weird Tales Story 43)

This is damning with faint praise; while Wright was a personable and intelligent editor, he was also notoriously indecisive, rejecting some of the best work of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and other writers; and Weird Tales under his watch was often characterized by wide variety as Wright chased the readers in the next pulp over with planetary science fiction by Edmond Hamilton & Otis Adelbert Kline, shudder pulps or detective pulps with Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard’s bloody historical adventures, hero pulps with Paul Ernst’s abominable Doctor Satan seriesand that leaves out such ambitious botches as The Moon Terror and Other Stories (1927), Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet Magazine (1930-1934), and Wright’s Shakespeare Library (1935), all of which ultimately failed and drew resources away from Weird Tales.

McIlwraith & Delaney faced a crowded market, and yet they were still paying the lowest rate of the fantasy pulps, 1 cent per word. Changes were made; the popular “Weird Tales Reprint” feature which Wright had instituted was dropped, as were serials, with the magazine promising “All Stories Complete” and “All Stories NewNo Reprints.” McIlwraith convinced several of her most prominent authors at Short Stories to submit material for Weird Tales, including H. Bedford Jones, “The King of the Pulps.”  While she couldn’t always afford to keep them, Weird Tales under McIlwraith’s direction continued to see the talents of some of the greatest artists and writers of the 40s and 50s: Ray Bradbury, Greye Le Spina, Robert Bloch, Margaret St. Clair, Manly Wade Wellman, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Joseph Payne Brennan, Robert Barbour Johnson, Fritz Leiber, Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, and Kelly Freas, to name a few.

One valid criticism of McIlwraith’s tenure is general failure to engage with writers, artists, or fans on the same level as Wright. Under her editorship, the letter-column “The Eyrie” ceased to be a fan-forum, but a place where authors could expand on the background of their stories. In its place was started “The Weird Tales Club”those who wrote in received a free membership card and had their names and addresses posted and encouraged to write to each other, but there was no apparent effort to generate an official fan club newsletter or real organization. Remembrances of McIlwraith are far fewer and less personal. Still, not all commentary on McIlwraith is negative:

But a magazine can’t survive by living off the past. It has to grow and change, like a living thing. Dorothy McIlwraith’s Weird tales did grow and change in several ways. there was a subtle difference in the whole attitude of the magazine.  […] If anything, the new editor was more artistically minded than her predecessor. the glaringly trashy covers (imitative of the more successful sex and sadism pulps like Terror Tales and Horror Stories) and occasionally godawful formula story, which Wright seemed to regard as good business practices, disappeared.
Darrel Schweitzer, “What About Dorothy McIlwraith?” in WT50: A Tribute to Weird Tales 95
Actually, I think she’s been far too neglected; I can’t dismiss anyone who published Bradbury, Sturgeon, Brown and other top talents. And I think she would have published more, had she been given the budget to compete with Unknown Worlds, F&SF and the other comparable markets. But that lousy 1 cent a wordand sometimes bimonthly publicationinduced few writers to remain in WT once better rates were obtainable elsewhere.
Robert Bloch, The Robert Bloch Companion 33

While McIlwraith courted new and old authors, and was restricted in reprints for the first few years by policy, Lovecraft and the nascent Cthulhu Mythos were far from neglectedbut there was a shortage of material. Lovecraft & Robert E. Howard were dead and with most of their Mythos-fiction already published in Weird Tales, Clark Ashton Smith largely alienated from fiction-writing (although he would contribute “The Enchantress of Sylaire” (Jul 1941), “The Master of the Crabs” (Mar 1948), and”Morthylla” by Clark Ashton Smith (May 1953)), and after Lovecraft’s death few of his immediate circle such as Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, or Robert Bloch seemed interested in continuing the shared mythology…but there was August Derleth.

We plan to use “The Sandwin Compact” in the next issue which will be made upthat is, November, published September first
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 25 June 1940, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 131

Arkham House, founded by August Derleth & Howard Wandrei after the death of Lovecraft explicitly to publish his fiction, had done just that in 1939 with The Outsider & Othersand much of their catalog for the next ten years would include reprints of stories that had first appeared in Weird Tales, and Arkham House would take out full-page advertisements in the pulp for their books. Derleth, a tireless promoter of Lovecraft’s work and a frequent contributor to the magazine as a writer, began to develop a series of original Mythos fiction in the magazine, beginning with “The Sandwin Compact” (Jan 1941) and “Beyond the Threshold” (Sep 1941).

Derleth had also become the de facto literary executor of Lovecraft’s fiction, and as material was uncovered that had not previously appeared in Weird Tales, sold it to McIlwraith for Weird Tales; this included “The Mound” by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft (Jan 1941), The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (May & Jul 1941), “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (Jan 1942, with its classic illustration by Hannes Bok), and “Herbert WestReanimator” by H. P. Lovecraft (May, July, Sep, Nov 1942; Sep, Nov 1943). The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath was also uncovered from Lovecraft’s files during this period, but if Derleth offered it to McIlwraith, she turned it downas she did sword & sorcery fiction like Fritz Leiber’s “Fahfrd & Grey Mouser” series, which appeared in Unknown.

Wartime paper rationing and lackluster sales still hit hard, however. Weird Tales dropped to 112 pages in 1943, and the ban on reprints was dropped; Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets would be reprinted (May 1944; Jan, Sep 1946; Jan, Mar 1947), as well as “The City” (Jul 1950), “The Horror at Red Hook” (Mar 1952), and “Hallowe’en in a Suburb” by H. P. Lovecraft (Sep 1952). Eager for a new attraction, McIlwraith also looked for a series character from a promising regular:

John Thunstone first appeared in 1943, after Wright retired as editor of Weird Tales and was succeeded by Dorothy McIlwraith. She and her associate, Lamont Buchanan, sat down with me for several careful discussions of how Thunstone might act and look, and what he might find to do.
Manly Wade Wellman, foreword to Lonely Vigils xi

Wellman’s occult detective was a success, and he would tip his hat to Lovecraft by including the Necronomicon in the Thunstone story “Letters of Cold Fire” (May 1944)the same issue where the page count was reduced to 96 pagesThe success of Lovecraft’s fiction and Derleth’s pastiches apparently encouraged McIlwraith and Derleth to mine this vein a little deeper:

I too have had a good many letters through the Arkham House clientele, if they respond as well to ‘The Dweller in Darkness’ I’ll no doubt have to do other stories in the same Lovecraftian veinthough I’ll wait for the green light from you before going ahead.”
August Derleth to Dorothy McIlwraith, 3 Feb 1944, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 140

McIlwraith published “The Trail of Cthulhu” (Mar 1944), “The Dweller in Darkness” (Nov 1944), and “The Watcher from the Sky” (Jul 1945). In the September, the world war ended with the use of atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki; a science fiction weapon from the pulps becoming a terrible and deadly reality at last.

Derleth also took advantage of the new reprint feature by agenting weird stories from English authors like William Hope Hodgson that Arkham House was publishing. With Derleth’s regular contributions (sometimes published under the pseudonym Stephen Grendon), reprint material he was supplying, and his original Mythos fiction, something had to give…and did:

Sorry I forgot to mention The Lurker on [sic] the Threshold. I just don’t see how we could manage it for Weird. I don’t feel serials in an every other month magazine are good, anyway, and such long installments are out for the duration[because] of the paper restrictions.
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 17 Jan 1945, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 191
We have Grendon’s “Mr. George,” “The Hog” by Hodgson as well as several other novelttes from other sources […] and now you send along “Boyd”…Frankly, we like this Cthulhu the least of all our problem material, so it would seem logical to pass it up for Weird Tales
Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 30 July 1946, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 151

The Lurker at the Threshold was the first of Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft, although it was written almost entirely by Derleth, based around two brief fragments of Lovecraft; Arkham House later published the book the same year. McIlwraith also rejected the first submission of “The Testament of Claiborne Boyd,” part of the series that Derleth would collect as the stitch-up novel The Trail of Cthulhu. These decisions, as much as anything, show that McIlwraith was not simply cashing in on Lovecraft or the Mythos.

What did happen is that someone not connected with Derleth or Lovecraft tried their hand at pastiche. McIlwraith published C. Hall Thompson‘s “Spawn of the Green Abyss” (Nov 1946) and “The Will of Claude Asher” (Jul 1947), probably seeing them as no more than superior Lovecraft pastiches. Derleth, who felt Lovecraft’s work belonged to Arkham House, responded:

Yes, I know of C. Hall Thompson. He borrowed flagrantly from HPL’s work, and we stopped it by writing to his editors pointing out his invasion of prorpietary interests, though we would probably have given him the green signal to go ahead if he had submitted his work to us first. this he did not do; so it had to stop.
August Derleth to Ramsey Campbell, 6 Aug 1964, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 267-268

No more pastiches were published by Thompson in Weird Tales. Whether she believed Derleth’s legal bluster or simply didn’t wish to alienate such a regular contributor and advertiser is unclear, but there are signs that Weird Tales was still in financial trouble. With the September 1947 issue, WT raised the price from 15 to 20 cents per issue, while retaining the reduced page count. Three more of Derleth’s tales appeared in the following years: “Something in Wood” (Mar 1948), “The Whippoorwills in the Hills” (Sep 1948), and the formerly-rejected “The Testament of Clairborne Boyd” (Mar 1949). With the next issue, May 1949, the price was increased again to 25 cents per issue. He would manage to land more stories: “Something From Out There” (Jan 1951), “The Keeper of the Key” (May 1951), “The Black Island” (Jan 1952), which featured the use of atomic weapons against Cthulhu.

Derleth was the most prominent Mythos writer in Weird Tales during McIlwraith’s editorship, but arguably the best one was Robert Bloch, who published the third in his triptych with Lovecraft, “The Shadow from the Steeple” (Sep 1950), and the highly acclaimed “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (May 1951). Among the rewrites, McIlwraith chose Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone” (Nov 1953).

In September 1953, adapting to market pressure, Weird Tales became a digest. McIlwraith apparently asked Derleth for more Mythos/Lovecraftian material, probably in a last-ditch effort to spur readership. He responded with “posthumous collaborations” that Derleth had written based on some fragment of Lovecraft’s text or ideas in his commonplace book:

You already have “The Survivor,” which I hope can appear in the July or September issue. Three others are now ready

“Wentworth’s Day,” at 4500 words
“The Gable Window,” at 7500 words
“The Peabody Heritage,” at 7500 words
There will be at least two moreor enough for an entire year of Weird Tales. And we might be able to turn up more thereafter, if the use of them has any noticeable effect on the sales of the magazine.
August Derleth to Dorothy McIlwraith, 24 Feb 1954 A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 211

“The Survivor” appeared in the July 1954 issue, the last of the Derleth Mythos contributions. She wrote to him:

I have here: “The Gable Window,” “The Ancestor,” “Wentworth’s Day,” “The Peabody Heritage,” “Hallowe’en for Mr. Faukner,” also “The Seal of R’lyeh.” It might be that whoever takes over WT might see the value of the Lovecraft tie-in, but I don’t know…
Dororthy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 15 Nov 1954, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 212, 219

Weird Tales folded with the September 1954 issue; both it and Short Stories were sold, and McIlwraith moved on. The various Derleth Mythos stories would see print elsewhere, and be collected and printed in book form. So too, Arkham House would collect and publish many stories and authors from McIlwraith’s period of editorship during the following decades.

We do not have any extensive memoirs from McIlwraith, and most of what she has written about weird fiction are restricted to editorial comments in “The Eyrie”but in 1954 she weighed in on H. P. Lovecraft and Weird Tales:

Alathough the first all-science-fiction magazine did not appear until 1926, Weird Tales magazine with its very first issue inaugerated a policy of devoting some portion of its conctents to science fiction and has continud that policy from March of 1923 to date. There was always some conflict between those readers who wanted more space devoted to straight weird material—i.e., fantasy—as opposed to those who would have preferred additional science fiction. The man who helped reocncile those two elements was H. P. Lovecraft, who in his own popular fashion blended weird and horror elements into a credible sceintific background to come up with a combination which satisfied all readers. Lovecraft influenced a great many of the younger writers […]
Dorothy McIlwraith, Editor’s Choice in Science Fiction 185

She was not wrong, especially on the final point.

In evaluating Dorothy McIlwraith’s role with regard to Lovecraft and the Mythos, it is difficult not to consider the symbiotic role played by Derleth and Arkham House in the pulp’s final 14 years. While many of its stories were selected for reprint in anthologies long before this was the norm for science fiction, Weird Tales never issued a successful anthology of its own materialArkham House largely fulfilled that role during McIlwraith’s time. By the same token, Weird Tales was exactly the market that Arkham House & August Derleth needed. Without McIlwraith, it seems unlikely that Derleth would have written Trail of CthulhuMask of Cthulhu, or many of his posthumous collaborationsand whatever else may be thought of those works, as well as those of Bloch, Wellman, and Thompson, they helped keep the memory of Lovecraft alive for a new generation of readers.

But in this, Dorothy McIlwraith was not alone…

Mary Gnaedinger

MaryGnaedinger
Mary Gnaedinger

The Munsey Company practically invented the pulp magazine, with highly successful titles like Argosy going back to the turn of the century. With this large stock of stories, in 1939 they launched Famous Fantastic Mysteries primarily as a title to reprint them. The editor selected was Mary Gnaedinger, who also edited Fantastic Novels (1940-1941) and A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine (1949-1950).

Gnaedinger and McIlwraith were technically rivals, but since Weird Tales initially offered no reprints and Famous Fantastic Mysteries no original material, they seemed at least at first more complementary than anythingat least to contemporary eyes. FFM, however, paid better, so Gnaedinger was able to snatch away Virgil Finlay, one of the finest artists working in the pulps. She was also much more attentive to the growing science fiction and fantasy fandom, and catered the content of the magazine to the stories they wanted to read, republishing many now-classic works by Robert W. Chambers, A. Merritt, Arthur Machen, Ray Cummings…and even Weird Tales regulars.

Lovecraft however was not initially on the menu; though Gnaedinger managed to reprint “The Colour Out of Space” (Oct 1941), supplemented with the poem “For H. P. Lovecraft” by Robert A. Lowndes. In 1943, Munsey sold Famous Fantastic Mysteries to All-Fiction Field, who retained Gnaedinger as editor and loosened her restrictions, allowing her to publish more original material. (Sisters of Tomorrow 293) Gnaedinger took advantage of this by making arrangements with Arkham House to reprint some of Lovecraft’s fiction, with whom she had some dealings:

The Lurker on [sic] the Threshold is an excellent fantastic story, but I regret to say that we have decided it is too specialized for the ordinary readers who undoubtedly form a large cross-section of our public. A great part of the story is written for the initiated fantasy fan, and cutting would spoil it. Not that I think you would want to see it cut.
Mary Gnaedinger to Derleth, 6 Feb 1945, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 191

Ironically, this was the same general rejection that McIlwraith had given Derleth when he pitched the idea of serializing The Lurker at the Threshold in Weird Tales. However, Gnaedinger was open to reprinting more works, and so in due course Famous Fantastic Mysteries hosted “The Outsider” (Jun 1950), “The Music of Erich Zann” (Mar 1951), and “Pickman’s Model” (Dec 1951), all “Published by permission of Arkham House.”

Fan-scholars and poets like Virginia “Nanek” Anderson also made their appearance in FFM. Two pieces in particular stand out: “Masters of Fantasy: Howard Phillips Lovecraft – The Outsider” (Aug 1947) and “Masters of Fantasy: Arthur Machen: Inspirator of Lovecraft” (Dec 1948); while credited as to Neil Austin, it has been suggested these pieces were actually written by arch-fan Forrest J. Ackermann.

There is a little mystery to the Famous Fantastic Mystery reprints, with the main one being: Why FFM? In 1941, Weird Tales wasn’t publishing reprints, so the reprint of “The Colour Out of Space” isn’t exactly cutting into their market; but in the 1950s it seems unusual that Derleth would offer reprints to FFM when Weird Tales was an open marketunless either McIlwraith had already turned him down, or Gnaedinger offered more money. Either seems a likely possibility, but the details to the deal have not come to light.

Near the end of its run, Gnaedinger also published a few works by Robert E. Howard with connections to the Mythos, notably “Skull-Face” (Dec 1952)whose villain Kathulos was once feverishly debated to have a connection to Cthulhu by the fans of Weird Talesand “Worms of the Earth” (Jun 1953), which appeared in the final issue.

Famous Fantastic Mysteries folded the year before Weird Tales; while it had a good 14-year run, the pulp market was largely collapsing in on itself, competing both with comic books and the burgeoning paperback, which offered another cheap way to reprint fiction. Mary Gnaedinger continued to keep in close touch with fans, and while she may have published little original Mythos fiction, she was a sensitive barometer to what the fans wantedand strove to give it to them. In the early 1950s, that was more Lovecraft.

Cele Goldsmith Lalli

Science fiction magazines weathered the collapse of the pulps a little better than most, and writers that had cut their teeth at Weird Tales and Unknown would go on to find success in the 60s with The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, and Analog Science Fiction and Fact (which evolved from Astounding). It was in this Cold War/Space Race atmosphere that Cele Goldsmith (later Cele Goldsmith Lalli) became editor of both Amazing Stories and its companion Fantastic from 1958-1965, when the magazines were sold.

Cele Goldsmith combined the approaches of both McIlwraith and Gnaedinger: she listened to the fans, and she was willing to give them both original fiction and classic reprints. In the May 1960 issue of Fantastic she republished “The Challenge From Beyond” (at least Lovecraft’s portion of it), but paired it with fan-scholar Sam Moskowitz’ essay “A Study in Horror: The Eerie Life of H. P. Lovecraft.” Two years later, she published Derleth’s posthumous collaboration “The Shadow out of Space” (Dec 1962), which had appeared a few years earlier in the Arkham House volume The Survivor and Others (1957), containing Derleth’s posthumous collaborations from Weird Tales.

Finally, in Goldsmith published two new Mythos stories, and from an author that wasn’t part of the Arkham House stablealthough if Derleth ever caused a stink about it like C. Hall Thompson, it has never come to light. The stories were “The Dunstable Horror” (Apr 1964) and “The Crib of Hell” (May 1965), both by “Arthur Pendragon”thought to possibly be the pen-name of well-known Fantastic contributor Arthur Porges. While it was still rare for Mythos fiction to be published outside the aegis of Arkham House, Derleth could not police every magazine forever.

Porges_Irwin_Cele_80bday
Arthur Porges (left) & Cele Goldsmith Lalli (right)

What these three women accomplished, from 1939-1965, was essentially to help keep the Mythos alive in the pulps. Because of the controlling nature that Arkham House had on Lovecraft’s material, and Derleth’s production of additional Mythos material, a sizable amount of what they published came from Derleth or went through himbut not all of it. These editors held authority over their own magazines, and while they might pay Derleth for a story, what they published was ultimately their own decision. What we get, in their magazines, are the inklings of original Mythos material outside of what August Derleth approved to be printed, and this in professional magazines, not just the fanzines.

Maybe that is a small thing, in the great scheme of the universe. None of these editors appear to have been particular devotees of Lovecraft or the Mythos…but neither were they ignorant of it. They knew their business, and Lovecraft and the writers he inspired was a part of that.


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

Editor Spotlight: W. H. Pugmire

It is a strange and curious fact that I found myself as an author and Lovecraftian only after I began to live the punk rock lifestyle. Before then I had a sense of being different, but it wasn’t until I stuck that pin in my ear and shaved off some of my hair that I began to truly feel like The Outsider. […] I mentioned Lovecraft in the early issues of Punk Lust, and was delighted when I’d go to local gigs and people would come up to me and shout with drunken fervor, “Ia! The Crawling Chaos!” This was way back in the days before Lovecraft became a game. People who knew of him had gained this occult knowledge by reading Lovecraft’s fiction. […] And now we have a most wonderful occurrence: punk kids are growing  up to become remarkable horror authors, often blending  punk with their macabre fiction. This is only natural for those of us who portray our personal lives and loves in our horror fiction.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #4

Following the death of August Derleth in 1971, the Mythos slowly opened up to a new and more diverse set of writers. During the 1970s and ’80s, the largest development of the Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction outside of Arkham House occurred in small-press magazines—cheaply printed paper pamphlets, mostly written by and for amateur fandom. Amateur press associations such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon (EOD) would compile magazines for mass-mailings, allowing wider dissemination of new poems, short fiction, and articles about Lovecraft and the Mythos to be disseminated outside of the editorial control of any one publisher.

Many Mythos writers would be featured prominently in magazines, including Brian McNaughton, Robert M. Price, Stanley C. Sargent, and Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire—a queer punk writer, editor, and poet, the self-styled Queen of Eldritch Horror, whose magazine credits include Midnight Fantasies (1973–76), Old Bones (1975-1976), Queer Madness (1980-1981), Visions from Khroyd’hon (1976), and Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (1987–99). In Tales, Pugmire described a forward-looking approach to Lovecraft and his fiction:

Lovecraftian horror is my obsession. When nothing else can cure bordeom, I need only turn to one of countless books or magazines, and suddenly my gloom is gone. And when I’m feeling very bold, I try my hand at writing my own. […] And yet, when I decided to finally try to edit a magazine of Lovecraftian fiction, I discovered that I was a bit uncertain as to just what I was looking for as an editor. I found that I was unable to describe what I meant by “Lovecraftian horror.” I knew that I did not want trendy Cthulhu Mythos fiction. I am not anti-Mythos; but I hate the way it has usurped other forms of Lovecraftian horror.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lovecraftian Horror” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #1

At the time, considerable Mythos fiction was being published in ‘zines like Crypt of Cthulhu (1981-2001, 2017- ) and Chronicles of the Cthulhu Codex (1985-2000), as well as the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu Fiction anthologies beginning with The Hastur Cycle (1993). It was a period of reprinting long out-of-print favorites, of re-discovering and re-publishing the original text of Lovecraft’s stories, and endless pastiches, sequels, prequels, and original works tying into the Mythos of various levels of quality and originality. It is to this outpouring of Cthulhuiana that Pugmire speaks:

The Mythos has been overused, and most of the newer tales bore me, be they by fans or pros. I find very few of them truly “Lovecraftian,” seeming more like the kind of thing Derleth was wont to write. I have no intention of publishing Cthulhu Mythos stories in TOLH. The small press has the delicious ability to act as an alternative to what is trendy, popular, and commercial. It is this alternative side of Lovecraftian horror that I hope to present. (ibid)

The small press publishing during Tales of Lovecraftian Horror’s run is a far cry from the desktop publishing and print-on-demand world of today, which led to the explosion of Mythos anthologies in the late 2000s and 2010s headed by editors like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press, and far and away from the mass-market anthologies produced by Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, or Joyce Carol Oates for the literary and academic market. It was a more punk enterprise, full of DIY energy and freedom to experiment, and Pugmire wanted to focus on more than just tentacled beasties and moldy grimoires that aped the outward tropes of the Mythos but missed the essence:

Lovecraftian horror conveys mood, atmosphere, and situations that were dear to H. P. Lovecraft and are evident in his own spectral and cosmic fiction. […] Just as Lovecraft scholarship is growing, so too should Lovecraftian fiction go forward, becoming much more than it has been. Instead of writing formula stories, we can use Lovecraftian themes as a foundation on which to try to build our own unique fiction. […] A good Lovecraftian tale should, I feel, express things that move us to profound emotions. Using HPL’s fiction, his dreams as they are recorded in his published letters, we can find inspiration for our own tales of dread. Writing horror fiction  is not an attempt to escape from reality, rather, as it was with Lovecraft, it is an expression of those aspects of reality that move us creatively, as artists. And as humans. (ibid)

Pugmire’s influence as an editor in the first three issues is often overlooked. Tales of Lovecraftian Horror published Thomas Ligotti, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Ann K. Schwader, and other noteworthy writers; the second issue published Robert M. Price’s episode of “Herbert West—Reanimated,” which has gone on to spawn a weird and convoluted continuity that is still being continued today by Peter Rawlik and others in books like Legacy of the Reanimator (2015) and Reanimatrix (2016).

In part, this may be because the series was published by Cryptic Publications, with the assistance and guidance of Price—and lapsed after the third issue, only to be reanimated in 1996 with Price as editor, though he assured readers that Pugmire was still the guiding spirit (and associate editor). That spirit was always one that sought individuality. Pugmire would write his own corner of the Mythos with his Sesqua Valley tales and others but as an editor, he wanted his fellow writers to go beyond Lovecraft, not be restricted by him. In one editorial Pugmire recalled:

While editing the early issues of this magazine, I received a submission froma bloke who, in his letter of introduction, expressed his desire to become “the new Lovecraft.” I find this utterly absurd. There will never be another Lovecraft, because HPL was absolutely and unively himself. Let us strive with our horror fiction to be ourselves, to write the tales that only we can tell. We may fall short of our goal, but at least we have made an honest effort, rather than being content to mimic a boring Mythos formula that is void of any hint of Lovecraftian ambience.  Listen to the fear that haunts your soul and sears your throbbing brain. then you will truly write fiction that expresses authentic respect for our beloved Grandpa Theobald.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #5

Some Lovecraftian fiction today certainly echoes Pugmire’s sentiments. Anthologies like Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth partake of Lovecraft without being slavishly devoted to his Mythos—and in general, there seems to be fairly wide appeal to the idea that originality and quality of writing mean more than trying to write after Lovecraft (or Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, etc.). Pastiche still has its place, but Pugmire was one of the voices that called for writers to move beyond that…and to really emphasize that what is important about Lovecraft is not the person of Cthulhu or the use of the Necronomicon, but simply that Lovecraft was original. The artificial mythology that Lovecraft and his contemporaries created strikes a chord in readers, even today because it is different from the hoary tales of gods and demigods, heroes and fables in Bullfinch’s Mythology.

Pugmire saw in Lovecraft something that spoke to him, and that spoke to others:

Other punk kids are joining the throng. […] They have oddly-colored hair and pierced faces; they listen to death metal and goth rock; they are avid fans of H. P. Lovecraft. Our ranks are growing, and our voices will be heard. Our horror fiction will wear within its soul our punk rock angst. Our fiction, like our music, will be the voice of the Outsider.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #4

Wilum H. Pugmire passed away on 26 March 2019. We will not see his like again.


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

Editor Spotlight: Joyce Carol Oates

When I was eleven or twelve years old, I discovered H. P. Lovecraft in the Lockport Public Library, in upstate New York—the collection of Lovecraft stories was large and unwieldy with a distinctive font, which I can “see” vividly if I shut my eyes. The stories that riveted me immediately were “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Dunwich Horror.” At once I fell under the Lovecraftian spell—subsequently I have reprinted Lovecraft tales in anthologies of “literary” stories in the hope of breaking down the artificial barriers and unfortunate prejudices between genres.
—Joyce Carol Oates, Lovecraft Unbound 

H. P. Lovecraft took time to find his place in the American canon. He died practically in poverty, his work published in pulp magazines, amateur journals, and fanzines. The few attempts at publishing his fiction in hardback were marred by failure. Literary recognition and mass popularity would not come for decades. It was a slow process, and many editors, scholars, fans, and writers helped along the way.

Joyce Carol Oates is the one who crowned him The King of the Weird in a review of S. T. Joshi’s 1996 biography H. P. Lovecraft: A Life.

As an editor, Oates has curated several works featuring Lovecrafts works: American Gothic Tales (1996), Tales of H. P. Lovecraft (1997), Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers (1998), and The Oxford Book of American Short Stories 2nd Ed. (2013). These works are not exceptional from a strictly bibliographic point of view: there are no lost fragments published for the first time, no rarities reprinted after years or decades. What makes them special is the custody that Lovecraft keeps: Oates puts him on the page between Sherwood Anderson and William Faulkner, sharing space with Edith Wharton and Shirley Jackson. Oates put Lovecraft among the great voices of American fiction.

If there is a single gothic-grotestque writer of the American twentieth century to be compared with Poe, it is H. P. Lovecraft, born in 1890. […] Long a revered cult figure to admirers of “weird fiction” (Lovecraft’s own, somewhat deprecatory term for his art), Lovecraft is associated with crude, obsessive, rawly sensationalist and overwrought prose in the service of naming the unnameable. […] Lovecraft’s influence upon twentieth-century horror writers has been incalculable, and in certain quarters he is prized for the very traits (lurid excess, overstatement, fantastical and repetitive contrivance) for which, in more “literary” quarters, he is despised. The gothic imagination melds the sacred and the profane in startling and original ways, suggesting its close kinship with the religious imagination […] Lovecraft is a hybrid of the traditional gothic and “science fiction” but his temperament is clearly gothic. his “science” is never future-oriented but a mystic’s minute, compulsive scrutinizing of the inner self or soul.
—Joyce Carol Oates, American Gothic Fiction, 6-7

Her choice for the volume was “The Outsider”, which is closer to Poe than Ray Bradbury in the blend of gothic and science fiction. For Oates, Lovecraft is the transition point in the American Gothic, the fulcrum point at which she tips from “gothic” writers to “just writers” (ibid., 7). Weird fiction is where genres break down, but the gothic vision retains power and influence.

In 1997, Oates curated Tales of H. P. Lovecraft, selecting a collection from his major works and adding an introduction (a slightly edited version of her review of S. T. Joshi’s biography). Taking up her previous cue, Oates approach in the Lovecraft is to present Lovecraft as a writer of the American Gothic, fused with science fiction—but also focuses on his life, dreams (“night-gaunts”), use of setting (“like photographs just perceptibly blurred”), fascination with time, the few women in his stories, and the interconnections between his tales. Her brief survey is told in expressive language and with the occasional wry observation; for “The Dreams in the Witch House”:

Lovecraft seems to have taken for granted that Salem “witches” existed, not considering if perhaps they were simply victims of others’ malevolent misuse of power.
—Joyce Carol Oates, Tales of H. P. Lovecraft ix

Lovecraft wasn’t exactly forgotten in 1997; Ballantine, Carroll & Graf, Creation Press, and Dell were all bringing his work out in affordable trade paperback editions, and many of their books would go through multiple printings. What Oates brought to the table was herself: a respected literary writer who didn’t stoop to praise genre fiction, a person who could appreciate Lovecraft for his merits—and encourage readers to appreciate him too.

Telling Stories: An Anthology for Writers (1998) brought Lovecraft into the classroom; drawing on her seminars at Princeton, Oates presented the text and notes for dozens of influential stories, including H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls.” If her previous efforts presented Lovecraft as a part of the American tradition, this was to make him part of the American syllabus. “Rats” would also feature in the second edition of The Oxford Book of American Short Stories (2013); Oates had edited the first edition of this work in 1992 without including Lovecraft, but she added him to the updated edition, with an abbreviated set of notes that observed:

In 2005 the Library of America issue H. P. Lovecraft, a selection of Lovecraft’s tales, giving the outcast writer, in effect, the imprimatur of American classic. By this time Lovecraft’s weird tales had found a wide and enthusiastic readership of a kind the luckless author could hardly have envisioned during his lifetime.
—Joyce Carol Oates, The Oxford Book of American Short Stories 2nd Ed. 297

Unlike Ellen Datlow, Paula Guran, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, & Paula R. Stiles, the importance of Joyce Carol Oates as an editor is not in publishing collections of Mythos stories or discovering new Mythos writers, but in helping to propagate Lovecraft outside weird fiction fandom—in her lifetime she had participated in the process that brought him into the greater awareness not only of literary academia but the general audience for American fiction.


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

Editor Spotlight: Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles

Q: Describe what you do in 25 characters or less.

A: Lovecraft, Mythos, horror.

—Paula R. Stiles, Editor Interview: Innsmouth Free Press (5 Sep 2011)

Innsmouth Free Press was founded by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, with Paula R. Stiles as her editor-in-chief. The initial website ran from 2009-2011, and as the founder describes it:

Innsmouth came to be because of a conversation I was having with Paula R.Stiles, who is our editor-in-chief. I told her I wished there was a TV series set in Innsmouth, with weird stuff happening every week. We convinced each other we should launch a zine and it should be horror-themed. We would publish Lovecraftian fiction three times a year and daily non-fiction. We’d also have sporadic meta-fiction masquerading as “news” items from Innsmouth.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Interview—Silvia Moreno-Garcia (4 Oct 2010)

This graduated into a full-fledged micropress with a schedule of both print and electronic publications: the anthologies edited by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles and published through Innsmouth Free Press are Historical Lovecraft: Tales of Terror Through Time (2011), Future Lovecraft (2011), Sword & Mythos (2014), and She Walks in Shadows (2015) which won the World Fantasy Award for best anthology; an American edition of the latter was published as Cthulhu’s Daughters: Stories of Lovecraftian Horror (2016). Their other publications include Innsmouth Magazine, which ran for 15 issues from 2012-2014, a series of anthologies co-edited by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles, and publications including the anthology Fungi (2012), Nick Mamatas’ collection The Nickronomicon (2014) and  Jazz Age Cthulhu (2014).

What set Moreno-Garcia & Stiles apart from the beginning is both initiative and a focus on diversity. While Ellen Datlow and Paula Garan‘s editorial voices and choices were focused primarily on publishing the best of contemporary Mythos fiction, name authors, and non-pastiche works, the Innsmouth Free Press anthologies are dominated by fresh voices, many of whom have never published Mythos fiction before, although many of them like Molly Tanzer and Orrin Grey have since become much more well-known in fiction circles—including a surprising number of women and non-American writers as well, with some stories being translated from French and Spanish into English.

Their first two anthologies Historical Lovecraft and Future Lovecraft deserve to be considered together. They are in a sense the most “typical” titles, collections of Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction united by a simple theme, in the same vein as Chaosium’s numerous “Cycles” and the innumerable small press efforts, which proliferated in the late 2000s as desktop publishing became ever more accessible to editors on a budget. Moreno-Garcia & Stiles’ Historical Future Lovecraft are both competent examples of this work and complementary, showcasing their willingness to think outside the Lovecraftian box both in terms of contents and authors.

Q: What sets your publication apart from others that publish similar material?

A: We are separate from other Lovecraft/Mythos publications in two important ways. First, for our zine and micropress anthologies, we intentionally look for fiction from all over the world, featuring a variety of cultures. Lovecraft, for all his fears and xenophobia, frequently referenced other cultures and set his stories in other countries. You’d be surprised how many non-Americans are writing Mythos. We also like to foster women writers and we look for a variety of protagonists–including women, people of colour, and members of the GLBT community.

—Paula R. Stiles, Editor Interview: Innsmouth Free Press (5 Sep 2011)

More than that, these anthologies showcase a personal interest in the subject—in history, science fiction, and H. P. Lovecraft—and how they combine. Historical & Future Lovecraft are more than an effort to make some money, and this too sets a trend for Moreno-Garcia & Stiles’ later editorial work.

We might have titled this anthology When Lovecraft Met Howard and Moore. But we didn’t. Because we didn’t think that sounded too sophisticated. But that is the impetus of this book—to united two pulp sub-genres. Not that they haven’t been united before.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to Sword & Mythos (2014) 7

Sword & Mythos showcases further initiative on the part of Innsmouth Free Press. While individual authors had worked to bring together elements of Lovecraftian horror and sword & sorcery, going all the way back to H. P. Lovecraft’s contemporaries Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Catherine Lucille Moore, Sword & Mythos might be the first dedicated anthology to look at pushing that meeting of the genres—as opposed to individual Sword & Sorcery anthologies like Flashing Swords! or collections like Richard Tierney’s Scroll of Thoth.

In working this genreblending Moreno-Garcia & Stiles were also very aware of the historical racism present in some of the work of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, etc. and chose to address this directly:

Lovecraft and Howard’s views of people of color are well known and there is no denying their visions can be highly problematic in this regard. […] The question then becomes: Can we and should we continue to access these pulp visions? The answer, we think, is yes. Though that does not mean that our visions have to be the same as the ones prevalent in Lovecraft and Howard’s era. Wile hardly a woman might have made it into Lovecraft’s short stories, and while Howard might not have featured many a person of color in a lead role, we are not the same writers they were. […] our speculative fiction is changing and will continue to change. The boundaries and heroes of yore are different, as are the stories.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to Sword & Mythos (2014) 9

This determination to not just reflect on the issue of race in Lovecraftian/Howardian fiction but to do something about it is, really, no more or less courageous than their publication of Mythos fiction from African authors like Ezeiyoke Chukwunonso or Mexican writers like Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas–and this ability to not just perceive a gap in Mythos voices but work to do something about it led directly to their award-winning anthology She Walks In Shadows:

There was a Facebook discussion where someone asked “Do girls just not like to play with squids?” By squids the person meant Lovecraftian stories, there was the assumption there are no women writing it because it doesn’t interest them. There was a long discussion about this on several spaces. At some point someone said women were incapable of writing Lovecraftiana and at another point someone said if you want something different, why don’t you do it yourself. So we did. Of course then some people got mad that we actually were action-oriented and not just talk, but that’s another story.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, An Interview With Silvia Moreno-Garcia (16 Oct 2015)

In their introduction to She Walks In Shadows, Moreno-Garcia and Stiles sketch a brief outline of women in Lovecraft’s fiction—and of women writing Mythos fiction, taking part in the adaptation and spread of the Mythos in art, film, etc. And they add:

Yet, the perception that women are not inclined towards Weird or Lovecraftian fiction seems to persist. We hope this anthology will help to dispel such notions. We also hope it will provide fresh takes on a number of characters and creatures from Lovecraft’s stories, and add some completely new element to the Mythos. Most of all, we hope it will inspire new creations and inspire more women to write Weird and Lovecraftian tales.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, She Walks in Shadows (2015) 10

If the editors had set out to do nothing more than prove women could write Mythos fiction, they have done that—and more than that. She Walks in Shadows a solid Mythos anthology by any measure, one that follows through on a single theme, exploring not just the role of female authors in writing Mythos fiction, but of women in the Mythos: the stories interrogate, expand upon, and re-imagine the female characters in Lovecraft’s body of work…and that has never been done before, not on this scale or addressed this directly.

The lack of women in the Mythos is an issue worth addressing.

It is not a problem solved by a single book, although it may be no surprise that She Walks in Shadows is definitely a step forward in raising the profile of both female Mythos authors and female characters in the Mythos—and the editors are aware that this is the beginning of recognition, not the end:

In the horror genre, and that includes Weird fiction, women don’t seem to get much attention. Whenever there are lists of Top Ten Horror Writers people remember to include folks like King, Lovecraft, yet even figures as crucial as Jackson can slip through the cracks and be ignored. Some anthologies routinely used to include only all men in their TOCs, I’m thinking of several Lovecraftian books which did this not even five years ago. So, there’s a complex problem. Yes, there are less women horror writers than men. But the ones we have can have a hard time drawing attention. And how do we get more women interested in the genre? In creating and consuming and being part of it, that’s not an easy thing to do but part of it must be visibility. Anthologies can help highlight the work of women which we don’t see, but I should say it’s not the only way this should be done, nor is it an instant solution to get more women interested in the field.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia” (16 Oct 2015)

The publication of She Walks in Shadows also carried with it a degree of backlash from the fan community, proof if any was required that gender discrimination is alive and out for blood in the field of fantastic fiction. Silvia Moreno-Garcia mentioned a bit of the feedback from the book’s publication and what followed:

Well, when io9 did an article on She Walks in Shadows I got some angry comments and a memorable e-mail saying we were menstruating all over Lovecraft and tainting his legacy.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Women in Horror Month – Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia (3 Feb 2016)

Some white supremacists seemed upset when they viewed a panel on racism and Lovecraft I was in, which was posted on YouTube. Some people are upset we did an all woman anthology. But ultimately Lovecraft does not belong to me or you or anyone. Writers can respond to him in their own way and that’s the beauty of it. We have more than half a dozen POC writers in this anthology writing their version of cosmic horror, of Lovecraft’s Mythos, of Weird fiction. I think that’s awesome.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Women Write Lovecraft: An Interview With Editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles (6 Oct 2015)

While Moreno-Garcia & Stiles were resourceful and intrepid to get She Walks in Shadows edited and published, they were also on the front lines to receive all the negativity that came from readers upset at the all the often-unspoken issues that underlay why their publication of a diverse set of writers was so important in the first place. That kind of hate understandably takes its toll:

I’m not very comfortable in the Lovecraft community right now. There are things that are said that rub me like a little grain of sand. Only I’m not an oyster so I don’t produce a pearl as a result. It just rubs and rubs and leaves you raw.

I have abandoned most of the Lovecraft groups and communities I used to be a member of. I was just too tired.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, It’s Your Birthday H. P. Lovecraft (20 Aug 2014)

Paula R. Stiles & Silvia Moreno-Garcia have not completely abandoned all things Lovecraftian; Moreno-Garcia’s masters thesis was Magna Mater: Women and Eugenic Thought in the work of H. P. Lovecraft (2016) and Paula R. Stiles continues to publish Mythos fiction such as “Light a Candle, Curse the Darkness” (2017)—but Innsmouth Free Press is at the moment in abeyance. No more Innsmouth Magazine. No more anthologies, at least for right now.

It is important to emphasize the chances taken by Moreno-Garcia & Stiles. With every unknown writer, with translating work from French and Spanish for an English-speaking audience, in choosing to address issues of historical racism & contemporary misogyny—in not just giving voice to their principles but actually publishing books that show to the world “We are here, right now, writing in the tradition of H. Lovecraft”—they show their quality to the world. Because they could have gone on publishing themed anthologies, or stuck to “safe” material by known writers…and instead, they chose to take a shot at doing something new. Despite the jeers of the world. That’s courage.

Women have emerged from the shadows to claim the night. We welcome them gladly.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles, introduction to She Walks in Shadows 10


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)

Editor Spotlight: Paula Guran

I first encountered the works of H. P. Lovecraft around 1974 on a mantel in Oklahoma City. A friend had the six Ballantine paperbacks—the black ones with John Holmes’s “face” covers—of three Lovecraft collections, the two Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthologies (with stories mostly by other writers), and The Shuttered Room and Other Tales of Horror (supposedly “posthumous collaborations” between Lovecraft and Derleth, but actually authored solely by Derleth—not that I had any knowledge of such perfidy at the time). I don’t recall any other books on that mantel—just those: centered and practically enshrined in a place of honor.

Those books were really weird books, man…

—Paula Guran, introduction to New Cthulhu: the Recent Weird (2011) 9

Perhaps best known for her annual series Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror series (2010- ), Paula Guran is an award-winning editor, anthologist, and reviewer. While she has published my Mythos stories in Year’s Best, Guran’s most prominent credentials in a Lovecraftian vein are the anthologies New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (2011, Prime), New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird (2015, Prime), and The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016, Running Press).

The arc of Guran’s career in editing Lovecraftian anthologies parallels that of fellow editor Ellen Datlow, with both of them curating three collections between 2009 and 2016, and it is interesting to compare and contrast how these two anthologists approach their subject matter. Both editors felt the need to introduce Lovecraft to their audience, at least briefly; Guran’s introduction to her three books in particular recaps Lovecraft’s biography and a few key points of critical analysis of the man and his work. They also share a consciousness of the effectiveness and limitations of Lovecraft’s style:

Of the hundreds of stories written since 1937 in Lovecraft’s style, or based on his bleak cosmicism, or alien entities, or occult books, or any of the signifiers of a “Lovecraftian” tale—whether based on true elements conceived by HPL or the sometime spurious inventions of others—many were derivative, formulaic, or simply ineffective. Some simply haven’t stood up well over the years. Others have become classics. But this anthology is not about fiction written in H. P. Lovecraft’s day or even in the twentieth century.
—Paula Guran, New Cthulhu 13

Here, the two editors split off on their approach to collecting material: Datlow was specifically looking for variety, including commissioning new fiction, inspired by Lovecraft’s work; Guran’s New Cthulhu and New Cthulhu 2 are explicitly reprint anthologies, with no original or commissioned stories. However, both were still aiming for quality, and there is some overlap between their choices: “The Crevasse” by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud, “Cold Water Survival” by Holly Phillips, “Mongoose” by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette are both includes in Lovecraft Unbound and New Cthulhu, and aside from those stories they also share stories by authors Caitlín R. Kiernan, Nick Matamas, Laird Barron, Michael Shea, William Browning Spencer, and Marc Laidlaw.

Guran’s selections are more comfortably set in the Mythos than Datlow’s, and she referred to her authors as “New Lovecraftians”:

When considering the theme of this anthology, I chose to use only stories published in the twenty-first century. This was by design, but it also turnout out to be a delight as thee stories are only some of the recent best. Increasing awareness and popularity of H. P. Lovecraft’s writing and the skills and imaginations of current writers have combined for an ever-increasing pool of top-notch fiction.

They do not imitate; they re-imagine, re-energize, renew, re-set, and make Lovecraftian concepts relevant for today. After all, in this era of great unrest, continual change, constant conflict, and increasing vulnerability to natural disasters, it is not hard to believe that the universe doesn’t give a damn and we are doomed, doomed, doomed.

Sometimes, the New Lovecraftians simply have fun with what are now well-established genre themes. More often they take Lovecraft’s view of fragile humans alone in a vast uncaring cosmos where neither a good god nor an evil devil exist, let alone are concerned with them, and devise stunningly effective fiction.
—Paula Guran, New Cthulhu 14

Guran, within those own restrictive guidelines, picked an excellent selection of fiction from the first decade of the twenty-first century, including a few relatively deep cuts like W. H. Pugmire’s “The Fungal Stain.” Four years later she would do so again, with New Cthulhu 2, focused even more narrowly on Mythos fiction published from 2011-2014.

However, in the time between the two anthologies the issue of Lovecraft’s racism had flared into heated debate online, spurred in part by Nnedi Okorafor’s reception of the World Fantasy Award in 2011 and more directly by a petition by Daniel José Older to change the award from a bust of Lovecraft in 2014. It was in this atmosphere that Guran assembled her second Lovecraftian anthology.

The three introductions to Guran’s anthologists share considerable language, so that they can almost be seen as three drafts of the same document—or at least a documented evolution of Paula Guran’s shift in presentation of Lovecraft to her audience. Rather than skirt or ignore the controversy, Guran addresses Okorafor’s remarks directly, and then goes on to add:

Miscegenation, racial purity, ethnic xenophobia, “mental, moral and physical degeneration” due to inbreeding, interbreeding with non-human creatures…these were all integral to the fiction Lovecraft produced. Yes, we must consider the context: Lovecraft lived during what was probably the nadir of race relations and height of white supremacy in the U.S. But whether these were prevalent views of his day is beside the point: H. P. Lovecraft chose to make them “horrors” in his fiction.

Just because we recognize H. P. Lovecraft’s racism does not mean we must deny his influence or reject his work. We might even understand it better if we acknowledge it.

We can be cognizant of and discuss Lovecraft’s prejudices, even condemn him for them. But many authors are doing a great deal more. They are taking inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft and using it to write stories that often intentionally subvert his bigotry.
—Paula Guran, New Cthulhu 2: More Recent Weird 14

While Guran explicitly says she was not looking for pieces that subverted Lovecraft, her trawl through Lovecraftian fiction hit upon a period when specifically such works were being published and receiving some prominent attention. The most notable such piece in New Cthulhu 2 is probably “The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys. Intentionally or not, Guran captured a piece of the zeitgeist.

2016’s The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, part of the Mammoth Book series, was a departure for Guran in featuring almost entirely new stories rather than reprints. While the fiction is new, many of the names are familiars from previous volumes (as well as having considerable crossover with Datlow’s anthologies), including Kiernan, Emrys, Barron, Langan, Shea, John Shirley, Simon Strantzas, W. H. Pugmire, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, and Lois H. Gresh. Guran’s motivation for this anthology was straightforward:

This anthology has little to do specifically with Cthulhu and everything to do with “new Lovecraftian fiction.” But Cthulhu and the “Cthulhu Mythos” (more properly the “Lovecraft Mythos”) has become a brand name recognizable far beyond genre in every facet of popular culture: mainstream literature, gaming, television, film, art, music; even crochet patterns, clothing, jewelry, toys, children’s books, and endless other tentacled products…so one does what one can to sell books!
—Paula Guran, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu ix

The last sentence could be stamped on any single Mythos or Lovecraftian anthology without hesitation: it should never be forgotten that whatever artistic vision goes into the stories or editorial philosophy collects and sorts them for publishing, nearly every such anthology is published with the hope of selling books and making money. Guran does, however, feel the need to expand slightly on the appeal of Lovecraft and the Mythos:

H. P. Lovecraft was probably the first author to create what we would not term an open-source fictional universe that any writer could make use of.  […] Lovecraft’s survival, current popularity, and the subgenre of “Lovecraftian fiction” is due in great part to his willingness to share his creations. His concepts were interesting, attracted other writers, and ultimately other artists.
—Paula Guran, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu xii-xiii

In this recension of her introduction, however, Guran repeated her comments on Lovecraft’s racism et al., prefacing those comments with “Bigotry is part of Lovecraft’s fiction.” (xvi) This, coming during the online tumult over the World Fantasy Award and the argument over Lovecraft’s racism, prompted a rather lengthy comment from S. T. Joshi, “Paula Guran on Lovecraft” (7 Aug 2016). Joshi in The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos (2015) declared New Cthulhu a “creditable anthology” (360) (a few of the stories had been reprinted from Joshi’s own Black Wings of Cthulhu anthologies), and he was careful to denote at the end:

I am not singling out Paula Guran for specific censure; the flaws in her introduction are representative of the flaws in the thinking of many commentators who are forced to rely on second-hand sources for their understanding of Lovecraft. They find the same opinions expressed by a multitude of critics (who are themselves not specialists on Lovecraft), and therefore assume that such views have become self-evident truisms. Because they are not specialists, they do not have the time or resources to conduct original research to verify whether these views are actually sound. That is why so many lies and half-truths and canards about Lovecraft are now abroad. And Lovecraft is not alone in being treated in this fashion; one could just as plausibly maintain that the entirety of T. S. Eliot’s work is defaced by anti-Semitism, or that the entirety of Jack London’s work is defaced by prejudice against Asians, or that the entirety of Roald Dahl’s work is defaced by both racism and anti-Semitism.

Paula Guran never set out to be a provocateur in writing the introduction to The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, nor has she ever shown much inclination as a scholar of Lovecraft’s life or his Mythos—but then, her focus is not so much on the man’s life or his work but of his contemporary legacy, a legacy which at the time (and today) continues to change, evolve, and be hotly debated. That above all else is the philosophy which Paula Guran has brought to her anthologizing: not to promote any specific theme or interpretation, but to sift the freshest material and find the cream of the crop. As she put it in New Cthulhu back in 2011:

If the strange gentleman from Providence were to appear among us today, he would, no doubt, disapprove of some of the stories his idea have inspired. We’d certainly not accept his racism, sexism, classism, and bigotry. But literature is an ongoing conversation and one hopes HPL would join in.
—Paula Guran, New Cthulhu 14


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)

Editor Spotlight: Ellen Datlow

H. P. Lovecraft’s work, and fiction inspired by his entire mythos, continue to sell…and sell…and sell. […] Even though so many reprint and original anthologies continue to be published, the taste for new Lovecraftian fiction seems to be growing rather than fading.
—Ellen Datlow, Lovecraft Unbound (2009), 9

Ellen Datlow is one of the great editors of the late 20th and early 21st century, both in scope and scale of her publications and achievements. Among the over one hundred anthologies that Ellen Datlow has curated, three deal with Lovecraftian fiction: Lovecraft Unbound (2009, Dark Horse), Lovecraft’s Monsters (2014, Tachyon), and Children of Lovecraft (2016, Dark Horse). (She also acquired the Lovecraftian novella The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle for Tor.com, 2015) In assembling these works, Datlow brought her own philosophical approach and understanding regarding both what Lovecraftian fiction is, and what it could be.

Datlow, like many fans of horror and science fiction, came to Lovecraft at a relatively young age:

I read most of Lovecraft’s fiction in my early teens, and even then, although I enjoyed it immensely, I noticed the difference between the wonder and embrace of the unknown in science fiction and the dread of the unknown in Lovecraft’s work. Most of his fiction is characterized by this sense of dread. I’ve also read the multitudes of pastiches in anthologies of work “inspired” by Lovecraft, but most—for me, at least—are too obvious and bring little new to the table.
—Ellen Datlow, Lovecraft Unbound 9

Datlow was born in 1949; unless she lucked upon some Arkham House volumes or old issues of Weird Tale, this suggests her first exposure might have been through the Lancer paperback editions The Dunwich Horror and Others (1963) and The Colour Out of Space (1964), or possibly Derleth-edited anthologies like New Worlds for Old (1963) which occasionally featured Lovecraft & co. There were few other opportunities to get “read up” on Lovecraft as a young teen in the 1960s.

The first real anthology of Mythos fiction, Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, would not be published until 1969—the first of the Ballantine paperbacks a couple years later. Tales would set the stage for the bulk of Mythos anthologies to come: book after book of pastiche. The Spawn of Cthulhu (1971, Ballantine) and Disciples of Cthulhu (1976, DAW) paved the way for Lovecraft’s Legacy (1990, Tor), Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos (1992, Fedogan & Bremer), and Chaosium’s long-running Call of Cthulhu fiction anthology series, beginning with The Hastur Cycle (1993). Of this kind of fiction, Datlow observed:

Despite the fact that he’s been dead for over seventy years, and his prose considered purple and overwrought by many, H.P. Lovecraft’s work is still widely read, and has remained influential for generations.
A Cthulhu Christmas

Many of the resulting stories are boring pastiches, bringing nothing new to the original characters or worlds they inhabit. A few talented, ambitious writers build on the originals, creating fresh and interesting work. Which in turn may become playgrounds for other writers.
Ellen Datlow Discusses Women in Horror

One does not have to love the man to appreciate and give credit to his work. For me, it’s the sheer inventiveness of his mythos. The new generation of writers “playing” in his playground are doing very different things. The best have removed many of the trappings, bringing a freshness to the core elements of Mythos fiction. […] I’ve never enjoyed pastiches of his work because they take the worst of it (his use of language), rehashing his plots and characters without adding anything new.
Children of Lovecraft 7-8

One of the characteristics of a great deal of Lovecraftian pastiche is an effort to ape Lovecraft’s particular style of writing; an effort that often fails—not because Lovecraft is inimitable, but because the pasticheurs copy the surface features of the fiction rather than any of the underlying structure, mood, or philosophy. When Datlow finally set out to publish her own Lovecraftian anthology, she wanted to avoid producing yet another interchangeable book of riffs off the same old stories:

First, I took a few of the best under-reprinted subtley Lovecraftian stories I’ve read over the last several years. While I complain about the numerous Lovecraftian pastiches published, there is also a relatively small but solid body of Lovecraftian short fiction that is not pastiche—from those I chose four stories that have not been overexposed by appearing in a lot of other Lovecraftian anthologies (or elsewhere). Second, I commissioned the rest, eager to provide a showcase for writers whose Lovecraftian work I’ve enjoyed […] Third, some of the above suggested other writers with an interest in Lovecraft—a few of whom also submitted new stories that I bought for the anthology.
Lovecraft Unbound 9-10

More specifically, Datlow insisted:

I asked for stories inspired—thematically and possibly—by plot points in Lovecraft’s mythos. What I wanted was variety: in tone, setting, point of view, time. In fact, I’d prefer not to have any direct reference in the story to Lovecraft or his works. No use of the words “eldritch” or “ichor,” and no mentions of Cthulhu or his minions. And especially, no tentacles.
Lovecraft Unbound 10

This was, whether Datlow knew it or not, an almost identical tack to that taken by W. H. Pugmire in his fanzine Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (1986, Cryptic Publications):

I knew that I did not want trendy Cthulhu Mythos fiction. I am not anti-Mythos; but I hate the way it has usurped other forms of Lovecraftian horror. […] The Mythos has been overused, and most of the newer tales bore me, be they by fans or pros. I find very few of them truly “Lovecraftian,” seeming more like the kind of thing Derleth was wont to write. […] Lovecraftian horror conveys mood, atmosphere, and situation that were dear to H. P. Lovecraft and are evident in his own spectral and cosmic fiction. […] Instead of writing formula stories, we can use Lovecraftian themes as a foundation on which to try to build our own unique fiction.

Datlow may not have written that, but her editorial voice in assembling her Lovecraftian anthologies (at least Lovecraft Unbound and Children of Lovecraft) was within the same general ethos…with the occasional slip:

As with most original theme anthologies, sometime a story slips in with elements that go against the guidelines; so, yes, there are a few tentacles; and yes, there might even be some other overtly Lovecraftian trappings—and at least one story that uses them in a subversive celebration of H. P. Lovecraft’s amazingly resilient universe.
Lovecraft Unbound 10

This approach to Lovecraftian fiction is not without its detractors. One reviewer of Children of Lovecraft noted:

There are four types of stories in this book: (a) poor stories that have little or nothing to do with Lovecraft; (b) poor stories that are derived from Lovecraft’s ideas; (c) reasonably good stories that have little or nothing to do with Lovecraft; and (d) very good stories that are genuine adaptations or elaborations upon Lovecraftian motifs. I wish that that fourth category were larger, but it isn’t; instead, a distressing number of stories fall into the first category.
—S. T. Joshi, What Makes A Lovecraftian Story?

Leaving aside subjective evaluation of whether a story is good or poor, Joshi’s essential division here is between those stories that have something to do with Lovecraft and those that do not—something he has written extensively about in The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos (2015). As Pugmire pointed out, you don’t need to write a Mythos story for a story to be Lovecraftian; Datlow’s stipulation against mentioning Cthulhu should not by itself mean that a story is not Lovecraftian, provided it is suitably Lovecraftian in other ways.

A case in point might be “Commencement” (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates, which appeared in Lovecraft Unbound, owes nothing directly to any of the settings or characters of Lovecraft’s stories, but is certainly a thematic descendant of Lovecraft’s tropes and themes. Joshi actually addresses this story briefly in a summary criticism of Lovecraft Unbound:

How this is in any way a Lovecraftian (or even a respectable) story is beyond my imagining, and Oates’s brief author’s note provides no elucidation.
—S. T. Joshi, The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos 362

The difference of opinion between Joshi and Datlow on the definition of “Lovecraftian” is a gulf which may never be crossed, and readers with a preference for the kind of pastiche and Mythos fiction that Datlow largely eschews in her anthologies might face a similar divide: whether or not you like the stories individually, you may not find them all Lovecraftian. Quality aside, this appears to be the crux of the matter with Datlow’s editing as far as Joshi is concerned:

But on the whole, I am forced to conclude that Ellen Datlow does not have any real sense of what is truly “Lovecraftian” in contemporary writing. It is as if she is using Lovecraft’s name to assemble an anthology that would otherwise have no particular reason for existence. This volume might just as well have been called Children of Weird Fiction.
—S. T. Joshi, What Makes A Lovecraftian Story?

The criticism that Datlow misses the mark of what is “truly Lovecratian” has to be measured against how Datlow defines her approach as an editor:

I’m far more impressed and often surprised by writers who use the mythos in ways that its creator never dreamed of (and might indeed have him spinning in his grave). […] As readers familiar with my theme anthologies know, I always attempt to push thematic boundaries to the breaking point: that is, if I can’t justify to myself that a story I encounter (by commissioning originals, or by researching and listening to suggestion for reprints) fits within the theme of my book, and I love that story, I’ll acquire and publish it. […] I wanted to showcase Lovecraftian-influenced stories by at least some authors not known for that kind of story.
Lovecraft’s Monsters 13-14

Innovation is the key to Datlow’s approach to Lovecraft as an editor—having read Lovecraft and his many imitators, being familiar with the dozens of Mythos anthologies already produced, her approach with these anthologies was explicitly to do something different. In striving to push the boundaries of what is Lovecraftian, she engaged authors that pushed it beyond what Joshi recognized as being related to Lovecraft—but that still expands the conceptual space of stories you can tell and remain “Lovecraftian.”

Beyond reprinting relatively obscure stories or the individual publishing afterlife of a given anthologized tale, Datlow’s philosophic attitude that something new can be done with Lovecraft, and should be—that the future of Lovecraftian fiction relies in something else, beyond the Mythos and pastiche, or the same familiar names in anthology after anthology. Fresh voices, fresh takes. That may be Ellen Datlow’s most substantial impact on Lovecraftian fiction as an editor.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)