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)