“The Song of Sighs” (2013) by Angela Slatter

I am hidden, but lovely, O ye daughters of darkness,
as the dreams of Great Old Ones
as the drowned houses of R’lyeth
—Angela Slatter, “The Song of Sighs” in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth 169

The pathos of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is that the nameless narrator does not know who he is. What should be a homecoming, a prodigal son awaiting the proverbial fatted calf, the embrace of heritage and belonging, all goes terribly wrong. The various sequels to the story, written in the years and decades after, usually mark the nameless narrator as a traitor or black sheep for their unknowing betrayal, rather than the pathetic figure that they are. For those who survive in the Innsmouth diaspora, as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, the loss of community, accumulated knowledge, and shared identity is as important as the actual lives destroyed and people killed.

Memory and identity thus make appropriate themes for Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs.”

Lovecraft painted the Innsmouth identity in broad strokes: clannish, taciturn, inward-looking, forward-looking, religious, conscientious of appearances. The rites of the Esoteric Order of Dagon are not given in any detail, no holidays are named, no community activities described, or peculiarities of dress or cooking. The vast majority of what makes up “Innsmouth culture” or identity was built up by later writers, using what little fragments Lovecraft left in his writing. The result is somewhat stilted; imagine trying to recreate the ancient druid religion from Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico: what you get is largely based on biased, partial accounts by outsiders, filled in with a great deal of extrapolation and wishful thinking. There’s little enough there that writers can do practically whatever they want with the inhabitants of Innsmouth—and have.

So when readers begin the journals of Vivienne Croftmarsh, they look to seize on what they know. To place this story, this fragment of the Innsmouth Cycle, in context with the other fragments. Like scholars piecing together the Dead Sea Scrolls, the “truth” is a bit plastic: here is the evidence we have, where do the pieces fit? Are we even looking at the right puzzle? In this case, the situation is complicated by Croftmarsh’s own faulty memory: like the protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” she does not know herself. Which is as clever a way for a writer to get the readers as any other; a clever reader will path themselves on the back as Dr. Croftmarsh scratches at her neck, as she worms her way deeper into the secrets of the school she teaches at. They think they know what’s coming…because they’ve read this story before, or at least variations of it. The wayward Innsmouthian that comes to know themselves, that discovers their heritage.

Of course, if Angela Slatter was just parroting Lovecraft’s story, it wouldn’t be much of a story at all. The point of invoking the same themes is to seize on the reader’s expectations before subverting them; to give, if not a genuine surprise, than at least a bit of a shock that the reader hadn’t thought to ask the right questions before the answers were given to them. Slatter is a deft hand at this sort of writing, and the crumb-trail left for Vivienne Croftmarsh to follow, and for the readers to vicariously pick up as they read along, is just that: a way for someone to find their way back over ground they’ve covered before. It isn’t that the readers’ memories of Innsmouth are wrong, but the trail may be leading them to a different destination than they might expect.

That is the lesson which readers are sometimes long in learning: sometimes you have to forget what you think you know. Don’t anticipate. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is so familiar to many stalwart regular readers of the Mythos that it is sometimes difficult to forget that there are other ways to read and interpret the events, and that some things are, if not best forgotten, than not the pleasant reconstructions of those who like to think of the Innsmouth folk as purely victims.

“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ’em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world arter a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wa’n’t none too sharp abaout askin’. But it was all right with the heathens, because they’d ben havin’ a hard time an’ was desp’rate abaout everything. They give a sarten number o’ young folks to the sea-things twict every year—May-Eve an’ Hallowe’en—reg’lar as cud be. Also give some o’ the carved knick-knacks they made. What the things agreed to give in return was plenty o’ fish—they druv ’em in from all over the sea—an’ a few gold-like things naow an’ then.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Caesar’s druids were a bloody-handed lot too; human sacrifice was anathema to the Romans, and for those cultures that followed the Romans, it became a familiar polemic (cf. cannibalism and Relatione del Reame di Congo (1591) by Filippo Pigafetta). The “reality” of these practices remains a key part of Innsmouth identity in many stories of the Innsmouth diaspora: Brian McNaughton in “The Doom That Came To Innsmouth” leans one way, Ruthanna Emrys in “The Litany of Earth” and her subsequent novels leans another. Fewer readers sympathize with an Innsmouth diaspora that does practice human sacrifice in some form.

There’s probably a thesis to be written on the finer philosophical details of that point. For the Innsmouth identity to have verisimilitude, there should be unpleasant or alien aspects, things that set it apart from contemporary culture at more than a superficial level. If all of the survivors of Innsmouth were virtuous, ethical, hardworking, and not hurting anybody, then they’d be a culture of Mary Sues. Angela Slatter holds the reader in suspense on that point to the end, and for good reason.

Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs” was first published in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013), and has been reprinted in New Cthulhu 2 (2015), her collection Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales (2016), and Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good (2018).


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

“From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

On screen, a cavern beneath the black Amazonian lake, glycerine mist and rifle smoke, and the creature’s gills rise and fall, struggling for breath; its bulging eyes are as blank and empty as the glass eyes of a taxidermied fish. —Caitlín R. Kiernan, “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth 170
There both continuity and a disconnect between H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Disconnect, because according to all the official histories, Lovecraft’s pulp story was not an inspiration for the film; the Gilman Hotel did not give rise to the Gill-Man.  Continuity because fans and subsequent creators did draw comparisons, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. When viewers today see Abe Sapien in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics and related media, there are obvious echoes of Lovecraftian elements in “Ichthyo Sapien.” The Shape of Water (2017), director Guillermo del Toro’s homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, also draws on Abe Sapien’s image in the creature design—in part because actor Doug Jones played the amphibian in both 2017 and in del Toro’s two Hellboy films. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill directly connect the creature and the Deep Ones in Nemo: River of Ghosts (2015)…and the list could go on. Caitlín R. Kiernan went a step further.
Her twenty-fifth birthday, the stormy day in early July when Lacey Morrow found the Innsmouth fossil, working late and alone in the basement of the Pratt Museum. (ibid., 174)
“‘From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6’ probably started taking shape in 1996,” recalls the author, “after David J. Schow sent me a beautiful reproduction of the Devonian-aged fossil hand shown in the opening scenes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dave has the most awesome collection of Creature memorabilia anywhere on earth, I suspect. I sat the model atop a bookshelf in my office, and from time to time I’d think about its plausibility as an actual fossil, about coming across it in some museum drawer somewhere, forgotten and dusty with an all but indecipherable label, and what implications to our ideas of vertebrae evolution such a fossil would have. […] Anyway, the two things came together—the “fossil” hand of the Creature, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’—and I stopped working on the novel just long enough to write this story. I borrowed Dr. Solomon Monalisa from one of my earlier stories, ‘Onion.’ —Caitlín R. Kiernan, Afterword in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth 287
There’s a dedication to the secret history of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in this story that has all the care of a good hoax. It is told in bits and pieces; lengthy quotes from books that don’t exist but could easily have, variations of anecdotes that today’s readers could get off wikipedia. There is a kind of irony too—readers of Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth, where the story first appeared, would be expected to pick up on the bits related to Lovecraft’s tale, but in the 2000s and beyond—how many monster fans have actually seen The Creature from the Black Lagoon in action? Everyone knows the Gill-Man, but like plush Cthulhus, often at third- or fourth-hand, watered-down derivations, jokes, cartoons, a discarded juice carton in The Monster Squad (1987), one more familiar figure in the old line-up of Universal Horror monsters—and unlike Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-Man, and the Mummy, not one that ever got an update by Hammer in the ’70s, that largely avoided exploitation and cheesy effects in the ’90s. The 79-minute original 1954 film is considered a classic, but with fewer sequels and fewer imitators. The Gill-Man, in its original incarnation, is humanoid but alien; ancient, inhuman, yet akin to humanity. A bit like King Kong (1933) in that respect; beauty killed that beast as well…though why these creatures should go for human women is left unspoken in the films, movie-goers knew why. Kiernan’s timeline in the story is disjointed; she starts at the end, then delves into the beginning, and cuts back and forth. Nonlinear storytellling, masterfully done: when a reader goes to the last word on the last page, they want to turn back to the beginning to find out what it means…and reading the story again, after you know everything, bits and pieces click into place. Lacey Morrow isn’t quite the unnamed protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or the nubile fishbait Kay Lawrence in her custom white swimsuit, but borrows a bit of both. Sometimes the unfortunate victim, more often the intrepid investigator bumbling into deeper waters. Nor does Kiernan tell the reader everything. There’s a sketch of what happened between the events of Lovecraft’s story and the filming of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but only the sketch. Readers can fill in the details with their imagination. If this had been that story of the filming, it might have been something closer to James Morrow’s Shambling Towards Hiroshima (2009)—and maybe someone will write that someday, and talk a little bit more about Milicent Patrick, The Lady from the Black Lagoon who sculpted the models for the original Gill-Man suits, and how she fits into the Innsmouth diaspora. James Goho in Caitlín R. Kiernan: A Critical Study of Her Dark Fiction (2020) files “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” under chapter 5: “Warnings to the Curious,” subsection “The Danger in Fossils,” and observes in her work:
Our world may not be as we normally designate it. It is weirder, stranger and more hostile than we can imagine. (78)
For Goho, the story illustrates something of the essential paradox of scientists: to challenge new hypotheses and new interpretations for proof, and yet to be open to such viewpoints if they can be proven. The dogmatic scientist that is too conservative to change or challenge convention can find nothing new, the radical who proposes new theories endlessly but cannot support them is a crank. The wonder of discovery, the possibility of upsetting the established conventions with new evidence, to study and preserve it—is Morrow’s main motivation in the story. Against this she pushes into a secret history, where some things cannot be published, some orthodoxies cannot be challenged—and there’s a great deal of frustration and sadness wrapped up in that. While few stories of the Innsmouth diaspora touch on this attitude in so many words, there are elements of this theme in many of them. Something happened in the winter of 1927-1928, and the public part of it is not the whole of the story…and those who find a piece of it, who descend from the old families, or are drawn into the web of secrecy through curiosity have to face the challenges that come with knowing too much. A conspiracy of silence, and the question has to be asked: who holds those secrets, and why? Why are they secrets, and who benefits from keeping the public from knowing what really happened? Every writer who sits down to write a tale of the Innsmouth diaspora is, in effect, that nameless narrator at the beginning of Lovecraft’s story who claims:
But at last I am going to defy the ban on speech about this thing. Results, I am certain, are so thorough that no public harm save a shock of repulsion could ever accrue from a hinting of what was found by those horrified raiders at Innsmouth. Besides, what was found might possibly have more than one explanation. I do not know just how much of the whole tale has been told even to me, and I have many reasons for not wishing to probe deeper. —H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
May they dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” was first published in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005), and has since been reprinted in her collections Two Worlds and In Between (2011) and Houses Under the Sea: Mythos Tales (2018).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

La Planète aux Cauchemars (2019) by Mathieu Sapin & Patrick Pion

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This is how you open a comic set in space.

When H. P. Lovecraft was writing science fiction in the 1930s, space was the province of rocket-men in slipstream vehicles that sailed from planet to planet, fighting wars between the stars with strange and terrible weapons from their clean, futuristic vessels of tomorrow…or they were cast onto some barbaric planet, to fight for their lives with sword and blaster, a la Robert E. Howard’s Almuric (1939) Lovecraft & Kenneth Sterling’s “In the Walls of Eryx” (1936). It was only the rare pulpster like Clark Ashton Smith in his Martian tales or C. L. Moore in her Northwest Smith stories that showed space as a little…grubby. A bit closer to the Wild West, where fortunes could be won and death was around every corner, where the “heroes” could be rogues and outcasts that shot first without conscience, and “civilization” and the associated laws, norms, and mores could be far away. Out on the borderlands of what is known, where things could get properly horrific.

The grimy, gritty, “lived in” nature of space opera is one of the hallmarks of Alien (1979). Space works very well for Mythos stories, and shown in “Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins“The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff & “In The Yaddith Time” (2007) by Ann K. Schwader, and the “Boojumverse” of Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette: “Boojum” (2008), “Mongoose” (2009), and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” (2012). All of these are original works, pushing the Mythos beyond the present into a hypothetical future where humanity has at least begun to explore and colonize beyond their own planet. Extrapolating out past what Lovecraft & his contemporaries would have known of the universe.

La Planète aux Cauchemars (“The Planet of Nightmares,” 2019) is a bit different: it is a direct adaptation of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” only set entirely in space. This is a new dimension for Lovecraft country; the young woman trying to catch a cheap spaceflight to Arkham Beta takes a vessel from Newburyport through a planetary colony called Innsmüt, which has a bad reputation…

Mathieu Sapin wrote the adaptation (from Maxime le Dain’s translation of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth”); Patrick Pion provided the artwork, Walter Pezzali the vivid colors, Jean-Luc Ruault the letters. As an adaptation, readers are basically familiar with the outlines of the story, and it’s not the plot that draws readers in—we know basically what’s going to happen, there are few surprises here on a strictly narrative level—it’s seeing what Sapin, Pion, & co. do with the idea. What does Innsmüt look like as a spaceport? How does that change the original story? What does that do to how our protagonist Agent Eva Orne interprets what she sees?

The cosmetic influence of the Alien franchise is there. Newburyport isn’t some pristine future. People worry about money, there’s dirt and grime, steam, rising up from vents before neon Japanese signs like a set-piece from Blade Runner, huge cables and tubes dominate the less-traveled sections, reminding us that space stations are, after all, mostly plumbing. Innsmüt itself is a dusty colony on the edge of a salty sea…a rundown future, a bare outpost of humanity (except the Innsmüt folk don’t look very human). Starscapes, stark and beautiful mark the transitions, and the panel layouts skew as Eva Orne drops down through the clouds to Innsmüt, where the Gilman hotel waits…and there are entire pages where not a word is needed to convey the action, because the silence works to the advantage here, letting the readers drink in the details and colors. The far towers of the Ordre de Dagon, the teeth on the dead fish washed up on the shores of the sea…Sapin knows not to drown a panel in paragraphs of descriptive text, that he can let Pion get on with the business of showing rather than telling.

The art for a lot of the bande dessinée is deliberately toned down—realistic in proportions, carefully planned and drawn, but the tones are flat, muted, the shapes largely sharply defined—until Orne dreams. Then the digital coloring makes a splash, the whole tone and lighting shifts to this dark quicksilver-tinted look, and the sharp inking give way to these beautiful painted pages that are gorgeous and hyper-real compared to the waking world. The shift is so abrupt that it makes the return to the waking pages jarring…but at the same time, if the whole book were done in that dream-like style, it would have not had the same impact. Keeping the shift in style to the dream sequence was the right choice. One of many good choices in this book, where Orne borrows more of her characterization from Ellen Ripley of the Alien franchise than from Lovecraft’s nameless protagonist.

The best lettering is what isn’t confined to the word balloons; I suspect this might be more of an issue where the creators were looking ahead toward potential translations, because there is plenty of space in the speech bubbles for the text, but it is mostly cramped and fairly prosaic. There are exceptions where the balloons convey the agitation and emotion of the speaker’s voice, but for the most part the dialogue comes across as very affect-less and probably the text is smaller than it needs to be. Easy to read, but doesn’t convey any emotion outside of one or two scenes, while the text written outside of the word balloons are very active and emotive sound effects—critch critch KLANG! FRRROUSHH!!! BOM BOM BOM—which are fantastic.

La Planète aux Cauchemars (2019, Rue de Sèvres) is a wonderful adaptation that really makes the most of its premise in a relatively brief 60 pages, and there are surprises there. It is only available in French at the moment, but I would be surprised if it didn’t end up translated before too long; unfortunately, not all the great bande dessinée works make it to the United States, but Dark Horse has done translations of Sherlock Holmes and the Necronomicon (2015) and Ablaze is currently translating Glénat’s Conan adaptations as The Cimmerian (2021), so perhaps English-speaking audiences in the US might get a chance to read this, which they should.

Mathieu Sapin and Patrick Pion previously collaborated on Les Rêves dans la Maison de la Sorcière (2016, Rue de Sèvres), an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dreams in the Witch-House.”


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

“Lascivious Tongues” (2014) by Christine Morgan

Christine Morgan reminds us that sex is so much more than just bodies coming together in her story Lascivious Tongues; it’s as much a mental, linguistic game as anything else. Words have power, particularly during sex: some words might only power your fucktoys, others could power your house, your city… or destroy your reality altogether! Lascivious Tongues is a lot of fun in a classic “don’t read the cursed book” way, and delivered to us by a master storyteller with a great feel for dialogue and character.
Justine Geoffrey, “On Old Names, Old Guards and Great Old Ones” in Necronomicum #1

There are definite parallels between Mythos literature and pornography. The Necronomicon and 120 Days of Sodom are both forbidden books, shunned by normal people, dealt with (at least in earlier times) only by specialists and pursued only by particularly fanatical readers, often hidden in libraries. These works are all taboo—just reading or possessing them carried a social stigma, and in some cases could even be illegal according to some authorities. Generations of Mythos fans have appreciated the fetishistic element to Mythos tomes when they read of the decadent works described in “The Hound.” Later authors have exploited these parallels to create Mythos tomes that combine the forbidden lore of erotica and cosmic horroras in Le Pornomicon (2005) by Logan Kowalsky, or “The Perils of Liberated Objects, or, The Voyeur’s Seduction” (2009) by Caitlín R. Kiernan. (For more on this subject, see “The Necronomicon as Pornography” in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.)

The term “fetish” as normally applied to sex signifies a particular and often fixed image of veneration. This sense of the word is derived in turn from European encounters with votive objects among the indigenous peoples of Africa—literal idolatry, when viewed through the Christian world-view of the traders, sailors, missionaries, and later anthropologists who sought to catalog and categorize what they saw, even if it was with imperfect understanding.

Cthulhu, not coincidentally, had an idol too.

She cared not a whit that the eccentric New England recluse’s library was said to have also contained dozens of tomes on occultism and folios of pornography. Nor did she lend any credence to the scandalous talk of orgies, covens, sacrifices, rituals, and other such hysteria and nonsense.

And it was absurd even to suggest that the book had anything to do with Grantham vanishing.
—Christine Morgan, “Lascivious Tongues”

Sexual fetishes lend themselves to cataloging and categorization too. Specific images—the stern headmistress is a staple character, the all-girls school a staple setting—lend themselves to endless permutations. Like Cthulhu, there is never one single, correct, absolutely perfect and eternal depiction; there is only endless and fascinating repetitions and variations, writers and artists playing on a theme, trying to capture or depict specific moods and ideas.

Which is a long way to say that the similarities between erotica and Mythos fiction are more than skin-deep; there is a certain fundamental similarity in purpose with fetishistic sexual literature. The really good writers are seldom dispassionate, but in the throes of their own fascination with the material, the techniques used in many Mythos pastiches and erotic works are essentially the same—and occasionally bleed over. This is a bit obvious when it comes to remixes such as “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky vs. “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon, but the dividing line between “serious Mythos story” and “erotic Mythos story” can be exceptionally thin—and it is entirely possible for a Mythos story to be a work of erotic horror, for a Mythos image like Cthulhu’s tentacles to become a sexual image fulfilling a particular fetish.

“Lascivious Tongues” works in no small part because Christine Morgan plays specifically to images of Lovecraftian horror as well as to sexual fetishes. In combining the two, she is sort of crossing the line twice—in both directions. Jessica Barlowe, the stern, virginal, and sexually repressed headmistress of the all-girl’s college does not satisfy what might be the expectations of the reader—her tastes, once awakened, lie in a more occult direction—and the Lovecraftian horrors have a form and appearance distinctly atypical for those expecting phallic-headed tentacles to burst forth from beyond the portal, as described and depicted in the Necronomicon in Noé & Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell.

Her facility with languages, combined with her position as headmistress of the Eastridge School for Young Ladies, meant that Jessica Barlowe had long since wearied of the inevitable ‘cunning linguist’ jokes with which each new wit fancied himself so clever.
—Christine Morgan, “Lascivious Tongues”

Yet more than anything, Morgan has tongue firmly in cheek. While the puns are few, she is definitely cognizant of the play of words and concept. Lovecraft and pornographers both have a tendency toward adjectives and adverbs, and if “Lascivious Tongues” doesn’t reach the heights of Lovecraft’s ultraviolet prose, it is definitely trying to evoke the particular idiom of a certain range of Victorian and Edwardian erotica in some of its diction.

Compared to many Mythos pastiches are overwritten and drag in terms of pacing, “Lascivious Tongues” moves almost too briskly, hitting its story beats and not slowing down until the weight of the sex scenes demands it. Many passages and transitions are downright terse. It is a very pulp/erotica style of writing, unlike the longer literary form such as Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk, which otherwise shares a similar period setting. Which is to say, “Lascivious Tongues” is not exactly The Way of a Man with a Maid (1908) with the addition of a Mythos tome. It could easily have been something like that, if Morgan had aimed at a novel instead of a short story. The basic building blocks for such an erotic Mythos novel are there—but the market is different.

“Lascivious Tongues” was published in Necronomicum: The Magazine of Weird Erotica #1 (2014). Erotica is often ephemeral fiction; read once and then forgotten or discarded. It took quite some time to build up the idea of “erotic horror” as durable literature, beyond masturbation fodder. Which is a shame because some quite good fiction has been lost to disinterest, in men’s magazines and the wilds of the early Internet…and to ebooks which were available for a period, and then disappeared, taking their stories with them.

Necronomicum was set up as a triannual e-periodical; it made it to four issues…which isn’t bad at all, considering it published some well-known authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Christine Morgan, and Brian Sammons. The trick for any series publication is reaching the right market—all the more difficult in an internet already flooded with erotica and pornography. For such a publication, with a token payment, short & simple makes sense. “Lascivious Tongues” isn’t the worse for being written as a fast-paced bit of Lovecraftian erotica, but it definitely makes more sense in context as something written as a quick read in a small ebook anthology.


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

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, 1999)

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, Kuro no Danshō) is a four-episode hentai (sexually explicit, adult-oriented) Original Video Animation (OAV) produced in Japan and released in 1999 and 2000 on DVD and laserdisc; it was dubbed and released into English-speaking markets in 2007 on VHS and DVD, with periodic re-releases on DVD since then, most recently the all-in-one 2014 DVD from Critical Mass.

It is difficult to put Mystery of the Necronomicon into its proper context because most of that context has never been translated into English. In 1995 the first of a computer game series “Suzusaki Detective Office File” (涼崎探偵事務所ファイル) was released by Avocado Powers (アボガドパワーズ, often Anglicized phonetically as “Abogado Powers”) for the PC-9800 personal computers; it was ported to the Sega Saturn in 1997, and to Windows in 2004. The game was an adult-oriented mystery/horror, and spawned a sequel in 1996; a third game was planned, but never came out due to financial difficulties at the company. Subsidiary materials include a 1997 strategy guide to the Sega Saturn game, which was praised for its art.

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Mystery of the Necronomicon is essentially the film version of the 1995 computer game. This wasn’t necessarily weird in the late ’90s; one of the more successful examples English audiences might be familiar with is Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994, dubbed English version released in 1995), and Japan had already released a 1994 computer game Necronomicon (ネクロノミコン) based on Lovecraft’s work. As the game itself has never been officially translated and released in English markets, it’s difficult to say how accurately the  4-episode OVA represents the plot and characterization. Both game and OVA appear to be trying the tricky job of producing an original Cthulhu Mythos horror/mystery with characters that are sexual beings—and that sexuality isn’t limited to consensual heterosexual relations without paraphilia; the OVA  contains graphic scenes of consensual female homosexuality, BDSM, and urophilia as well.

The explicit sexual content may be why the game producers partnered with production company Discovery, a Japanese company that had specialized in adult animation such as the slightly infamous Night Shift Nurses series. While there’s no scuttlebutt on the behind-the-scenes involved with bringing Mystery of the Necronomicon to English audiences, the North American distributor Anime 18 had also distributed Night Shift Nurses and other titles from Discovery, so it seems likely that this was a case of something in Discovery’s back-catalog of titles that they thought would appeal to the North American market…how well that worked out, it’s hard to say, but there must have been at least some commercial interest for the DVD to get multiple English releases.

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It’s possible the “Book of the Dead” subtitle on some of the English releases drew some inspiration from Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), an American/French/Japanese co-production, but it’s telling that the box art emphasized “From the director of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend,” one of the famous tentacle erotica anime that derive from the work of Maeda Toshio (前田俊夫). The distributors were obviously trying to capitalize as much as possible on the explicit pornographic nature of Mystery of the Necronomicon—this was a product being marketed to a specific crowd—which bears a little bit of inquiry.

There is a cost involved in translating every work. For those first writers who translated H. P. Lovecraft into Japanese after World War II, it was the cost of the translator’s time and expertise, then on top of that the normal publishing costs; the same applies for Japanese literature translated into English. For especially art-heavy works like the Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), there are special considerations to make sure that the art is properly reproduced, and there are potential issues of censorship to deal with, but it’s still mostly an issue of translation costs. With an anime, there are added costs: for a dub, the script has to be translated, voice actors contracted, performances recorded, then new voice tracks have to be mastered and synchronized with the videoso it’s not a small process, there’s layers of work to be done, and that’s assuming that censorship issues aren’t involved. Japanese pornographic works, by statute, blur or hide genitalia and often cannot depict pubic hair and may involve characters under the legal age of consent in other countries—such issues may or may not be resolved as part of the translation process, and there’s an added cost involved with removing censoring, or changing the script so a character is at least 18 years old if it’s going to be sold on the North American market.

Because of this cost, only a fraction of the vast amount of media that Japan produces ever reaches English-language markets, and that fraction of stuff tends to get skewed toward specific markets where it is believed (or at least hoped) that it will sell. Sometimes this leads to big successes like the Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and One Piece series, or the Super Sentai series which were translated into Power Rangers—and sometimes this leads to abysmal flops, stuff that either for poor translation or distribution or whatever other reason fails to find its audience and sinks out of sight. Because of the cost involved, this means that companies tend to focus on those franchises and products which do sell, and if a given series is successful, they’ll try to bring over another similar work to sell to the same market.

Which is a long way to say: Mystery of the Necronomicon was not translated into English because there was a hardcore market of Japanese Cthulhu Mythos fans that were frothing at the bit to get their hands on any and all Japanese media related to Lovecraft’s creations. Instead, it looks a lot like Mystery of the Necronomicon was translated to fill a niche for sexually explicit anime for a market that was hungry for hentai. There is a bit of irony to the fact that with the rise of the internet, so many people have associated the tentacle erotica of hentai works by Maeda Toshio & the like with the relatively tentacle-heavy Cthulhu Mythos fiction of the 1990s and early 2000s, but so little of the stuff actually coming out of Japan in translation actually dealt with that.

cthulhu-hentai

While there is sexually explicit content to Mystery of the Necronomicon, most of the four episodes are taken up with the eponymous mystery that the detectives are there to solveand anyone looking for gonzo masturbation material, porn without plot, might be surprised that it’s a fairly well-plotted story (albeit one with plenty of graphic sex scenes), with solid voice acting and some good visuals. The soundtrack and animation are workable; neither the best nor the worst of Japanese animation from the period, but many of the horror scenes are fairly effective. There are little Easter eggs for Mythos aficionados as well, such as the character Clark Ashton, and the final mystery takes a very interesting turn that showcases how well-versed the writers were in their Lovecraftian lore.

Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West—Reanimator” takes place in Arkham and at Miskatonic University, but largely predates the establishment of Lovecraft’s Mythos and doesn’t involve his eldritch entities or terrible tomes. Like “The Picture in the House,” it is only tangentially connected to the Mythos at large by virtue of being set in Lovecraft country. Some later media have tried to work around this by making the source of West’s reagent derived from studies of the Necronomiconthis was a plot point in many of Dynamite’s Reanimator comics, and Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providenceand not to spoil things too much, in Mystery of the Necronomicon it is revealed that West has a connection with the book tooalthough as with many Japanese Mythos works, the physical appearance of the Necronomicon is inspired more strongly by the Necronomicon Ex Mortis from the Evil Dead films, as discussed in “Night Voices, Night Journeys” (2005) by Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦).

Mystery of the Necronomicon is ultimately a good example of how Lovecraftian influence spreads outside of the sphere of English-language media, only to come back in somewhat weird and unusual form. The surprising thing isn’t that Lovecraftian erotica exists, or exists in Japanese, but that there was sufficient audience for something like that in the English-speaking world that people spent the time and effort to translate it back into English. It isn’t exactly Lovecraft seen “through a glass darkly”because there is nothing imperfect or distorted about the adaptation; it is simply something that is both oddly familiar and different from what English-speaking audiences have seen before.


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

“Shoggoth Makes Three” (2003) by Jean Ann Donnel

A house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city would be assigned him, and he would be initiated into one of the large affection-groups, including many noblewomen of the most extreme and art-enhanced beauty, which in latter-day K’n-yan took the place of family units.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Mound”

Most readers don’t normally associate H. P. Lovecraft with polyamory. Then as now, monogamy was the prevailing paradigm among the bulk of the population, and Lovecraft’s romances in his fictions are almost always explicitly monogamous in nature; there are a few lover’s triangles in stories like “The Man of Stone” with Hazel Heald and “Medusa’s Coil” with Zealia Bishop, but there are no polycules in Lovecraft country outside of “The Mound.”

There was nothing new with the idea of polyamory during Lovecraft’s lifetime. His friend James F. Morton was part of a “free love” group at one point, and his chapbooks were advertised in The Public in 1916, alongside advertisements like this:

Screenshot 2021-02-23 at 9.42.15 PM

After Lovecraft’s death, polyamory became more common. “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff famously opens with a polyamorous threesome…but for the most part, monogamy remains the overwhelming romantic schema of Mythos fiction, both serious and jocular, erotic and non-erotic. Indeed, while the attitudes regarding sex have become much more progressive and expressive in Mythos fiction, romances—particularly marriage—often deal with existing attitudes and problems, with a Mythos twist. This can be seen in works like “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader (marriage-by-contract, the stresses of pregnancy on a marriage), “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales (patriarchal attitudes towards marriage, spousal abuse), Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (marriage under duress, consanguineous marriage), etc. Infidelity remains a relatively rare theme, as well as marriage counseling. The bulk of marital issues in the expanded Cthulhu Mythos appear to be solved only be the death of one or both partners.

Which is part of what makes Jean Ann Donnel’s “Shoggoth Makes Three” so special.

“Fi Fi is your lover’s name as well?” she inquired.

Cantraip looked at her startled. Could it be?

“You’re not a lesbian, are you Ms. Peaches?” the moderator asked, arching an eyebrow. “That would explain your being in a dysfunctional relationship group,” he stated.

Ms. Peaches stared at him steadily with contempt in her eyes. “I’m quite straight. Fi Fi’s not exactly a woman and definitely has male members,” she commented.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 20

Donnel is playing the situation for laughs; the idea of a polycule with a polymorphous shoggoth in the middle is almost a one-note joke. Yet for all that the idea is being played for transgressive comedy, it does include several interesting developments in Mythos fiction which other authors would also explore—and maybe a few that haven’t been explored much at all.

It is hard to pinpoint where exactly the idea of a shoggoth (or other Mythos entity) with multiple genitalia serving as a bridge between heterosexuality to a broader range of sexual experiences originated. Certainly there was some fanfiction where ardent weird fiction fans were imagining the possibilities; Rick McCollum illustrated one possibility for a fanzine in 1980:

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One might also add Robert M. Price’s story “A Thousand Young” (1989), where a libertine encounters:

For there, revealed by the glare of the lights, was no solid heap of swaying orgiasts, but rather chains of bodies spread over the pulsing and gelatinous surface of a tentacled, amoeboid horror, the revelers grotesquely arrayed like suckling whelps as the thing fed greedily on their sexual vitality through the questing pseudopodic phaluses, teats, and vulvas it sent forth!
—Robert M. Price, “A Thousand Young” in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994) 94

The idea, both artistic and literary, of a polymorphous Mythos entity that can produce genitalia at will is still very much part of the creative erotic lexicon of the Mythos, as can be clearly seen in many depictions of the shoggoth in, for example, fan-works related to Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス). Arguably there were prototypical works in the Mythos anticipating this, such as the strange plants to which parts of human men and women were grafted in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Garden of Adompha.”

What these stories generally lack is the emotional connection. For many, the ability of a shoggoth to assume multiple genitalia, male and female, is purely a matter of sexual possibilities. Jean Ann Donnel’s Ms. Peaches doesn’t feel it’s homosexual to be with a shoggoth, no matter how many vulvas it may have at the moment; but her interest in Fi Fi, like Cantraip’s, is more than just sexual. There’s a romantic bond, above and beyond just the sexual one…and it’s a bond that Ms. Peaches and Cantraip learn to share with each other as well as Fi Fi.

Fi Fi had parts entwined, and in, both of them and covering them protectively. They slept in Fi Fi and Fi Fi in them, as well as in one another. They were not going back to the dysfunctional relationship group. The three of them felt their relationship was absolutely perfect just as it was.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 21

“Shoggoth Makes Three” has a happy ending…and, for what the story is, a short-short of only two pages, played for laughs, that’s workable. However, there is the potential in that setup for much more substantial and powerful stories that explore this kind of theme, of humans finding a meaningful relationship with an eldritch entity that extends beyond just sex, which eschews the limitations of gender.

Such a story is “Ink” by Bernie Mozjes in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian EroticaWhile Mozjes doesn’t cover quite the same ground as Donnel (no therapy), “Ink” is played more seriously; the conclusion is less foregone, and the emotions being addressed have more kick. Donnel takes it for granted that the shoggoth, because of their multiple genitalia, is able to bridge the gap between men and women mostly on a sexual basis. Mozjes is more focused on what else might attract someone to enter into a polyamorous relationship with an eldritch entity—and why the polymorphic entity itself might enter into such a relationship.

Which is rare ground. It’s often a strange case for Mythos fiction, particularly Lovecraftian erotica, that regardless of how fantastic the physical forms and acts of copulation turn out to be, the actual basic mechanics tend to default to heteronormative values of sex and relationships. Whether that’s a collective failure of the imagination or catering to what the audience wants, who can tell? Yet it doesn’t seem that many people have written of, say, polygamous marriages in Innsmouth. For everyone that thinks every possibility for Mythos fiction has been explore…reconsider your preconceptions. There’s a lot stranger territory out there.

“Shoggoth Makes Three” by Jean Ann Donnel was first published in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003) vol. 2, no. 16. It has not been republished. Donnel had written some short-short fiction on the alt.cthulhu.sex Usenet group, and also published “Have You Found Him” in Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos (2004).


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

“The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” (2008) by Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe

As he went down the knoll into the valley, the enchanter heard an eery, plaintive singing, like that of sirens who bewail some irremediable misfortune. The singing came from a sisterhood of unusual creatures, half woman and half flower, that grew on the valley bottom beside a sleepy stream of purple water. There were several scores of these lovely and charming monsters, whose feminine bodies of pink and pearl reclined amid the vermilion velvet couches of billowing petals to which they were attached. These petals were borne on mattress-like leaves and heavy, short, well-rooted stems. The flowers were disposed in irregular circles, clustering thickly toward the center, and with open intervals in the outer rows.

Maal Dweb approached the flower-women with a certain caution; for he knew that they were vampires. Their arms ended in long tendrils, pale as ivory, swifter and more supple than the coils of darting serpents, with which they were wont to secure the unwary victims drawn by their singing. Of course, knowing in his wisdom the inexorable laws of nature, he felt no disapproval of such vampirism; but, on the other hand, he did not care to be its object.
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Flower-Women” (Weird Tales, May 1935)

Weird Tales had three leading writers during the 1920s and 30s: H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. While not always the most popular or published, or even the most successful during their lifetimes, they stand above more prolific writers such as Seabury Quinn and H. Bedford Jones, and their work in the pulps is esteemed above the early work of successful later peers like Robert Bloch, Manly Wade Wellman, C. L. Moore, and Margaret St. Clair.

Howard died in 1936; Lovecraft in 1937. Clark Ashton Smith survived until 1961, the only one of the three to outlive Weird Tales, though the latter portion of his life involved far less fiction and poetry than his fans and admirers would have liked, living for the most part a quiet life with his family, doing seasonal labor and working as a gardener for his livelihood. Smith is the only one of those three masters for which a record of his voice survives, in the Elder Tapes; and his published letters are an invaluable record of the creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, tracing his contacts with both H. P. Lovecraft during his life and, afterwards, with August Derleth at Arkham House.

Smith was wonderfully weird, and left behind a body of work that puts the romance in necromancy; stories such as “Mother of Toads” and “The Witchcraft of Ulua” could not be published uncensored in Weird Tales, and in later life he even wrote a drama titled “The Dead Will Cuckold You.” Which is not to say he was in any sense pornographic; his few efforts to sell to the Spicy pulps largely didn’t, unlike his friend Robert E. Howard. Rather, his prose was sensuous, often filled with long and curious words that conveyed shades of meaning and suggestions of eroticism that could not be put into print.

These scions were the various parts and members of human beings. Consumately, and with never faillng success, the magician had joined them to the half-vegetable, half-animate stocks on which they lived and grew thereafter, drawing an ichor-like sap. Thus were preserved the carefully chosen souvenirs of a multitude of persons who had inspired Dwerulas and the king with distaste or ennui. On palmy boles, beneath feathery-tufted foliage, tbe heads of eunuchs hung in bunches, like enormous black drupes. A bare, leafless creeper was flowered with the ears of delinquent guardsmen. Misshapen cacti were fruited with the breasts of women, or foliated with their hair. Entire limbs or torsos had been united with monstrous trees. Some of the huge salver-like blossoms bore palpitating hearts, and certain smaller blooms were centered with eyes that still opened and closed amid their lashes. And there were other graftings, too obscene or repellent for narration.

Adompha went forward among the hybrid growths, which stirred and rustled at his approach. The heads appeared to crane towards him a little, the ears quivered, the breasts shuddered lightly, the eyes widened or narrowed as if watching his progress.
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Garden of Adompha,” (Weird Tales, Apr 1938)

For all of his longevity and enormous influence, Clark Ashton Smith remains the most under-studied, and often under-appreciated of the three masters of the weird tale. The amount of critical literature, biographical materials, published letters, etc. regarding him is an order of magnitude less than might be found for Robert E. Howard, which is itself less than that of H. P. Lovecraft. While Smith’s Mythos fiction and creations like Tsathoggua have inspired many authors to expand on his work, it is more often through the Lovecraftian lens of “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft than Smith directly. There are simply fewer fans writing stories and novels set in Smith’s Zothique or Hyperborea than there are those writing works set in Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age.

More specifically, fans tend to be somewhat less apt to pastiche the work of Clark Ashton Smith, either in textual style or content. While many pasticheurs find some joy in aping H. P. Lovecraft’s occasionally ultraviolet prose and descriptions of the unnamable, or Robert E. Howard’s terse exclamations (“By Crom!”) and strive to emulate his fast-moving action, Smith doesn’t seem to attract quite the same effort. Whether the particular sardonic style and rich vocabulary is off-putting to would-be pastiche writers, or those who try simply fall a bit too far short of the real thing to be recognized as such, it remains that very few have tried to capture the peculiar and iconic mix of cosmic horror and sensuality that Clark Ashton Smith made seem so effortless in so many stories and poems.

Which is what resulted in Tales of Sex and Sorcery (2008) by “Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe.”

Chained with gold in chaises percées, slender ankles pedicled apart and tender vulvae exposed between silken thighs, the garden-girls of the emperor Vuutsavek first cursed the youth and beauty that doomed them, but came in time to new gratitude therefor, dying with ecstasies greater and more numerous than a hundred lifetimes of ordinary length might have granted them.
—Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe, “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” in Tales of Sex and Sorcery 18

Tales of Sex and Sorcery is number 87 in the ongoing chapbook series published by Rainfall in the United Kingdom, who have been publishing original fiction, poetry, and artwork in the vein of weird fiction and the pulps for years; the print runs are small and several of their works have become collector’s items because they featured the work of notable Mythos writers like W. H. Pugmire and Ann K. Schwader.

The 36-page chapbook by Smythe is as close to an erotic pastiche of Clark Ashton Smith’s prose as has probably ever been seriously attempted. There are 11 stories, so each of these qualifies as a “short-short” in terms of length, usually no more than two pages; some like “The Quarry” are set in Averoigne or some other of Smith’s settings, while others are more ambiguous. There is no “Vuutsavek” in the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, yet neither would the name or the theme be out of place in the body of work cultivated by the author of “The Flower-Women” and “The Garden of Adompha.” The stories get a touch more explicit than Smith ever did, but the language is precise: Smith liked to weave exposition into his prose fiction as much as he liked to hint and suggest.

Girls swallowed; seeds sprouted; florists succored: till at last the buds of the vulviflora, the quim-flowers wherefor the emperor waited, began to show between the girls’ writhing netherlips, having crept down the quim-sheath between orgasms.
—Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe, “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” in Tales of Sex and Sorcery 18

Who is “Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe?” No clue is given; the style is sufficiently consistent that it is probably a single author, and the most likely candidate is Simon Whitechapel, a self-declared “Logomagician” who has written a respectable amount of interesting Smith pastiche before, a good chunk of it published by Rainfall in its chapbook series, and other Smith-related anthologies. “The Vulvilora of Vuutsavek,” “The Nyctonymph,” “The Mastophilia of Amlimla,” and “The WIldering of the Capnomancer” from Tales of Sex and Sorcery would certainly fit right in with Whitechapel’s “The Erotodendra of Silcud-Psunur” “The Tears of the Melomancer,” “The Ascent of the Lepidopteromacher,” and “Walpurgisnachtmusik.” Whitechapel, at the least, has studied Smith’s style in depth:

Anyone who can read a Clark Ashton Smith story without reaching for the dictionary at least half-a-dozen times is either extremely well-read in a lot of recondite corners of literature or has read the story a few times before. Or prefers to go with the flow and let the meaning look after itself. If it’s the last, then the reader isn’t getting the most out of Smith, because watching the way he deploys the illimitable resources of his lexicon is, for me, one of the most enjoyable things about his work. When he uses an unusual word, it’s always because it’s the right word for the occasion, never simply for the sake of it.
—Simon Whitechapel, “Wizard with Words: An Appreciation of Clark Ashton Smith”
in Tales of Science & Sortilege (2005), 76

Tales of Sex and Sorcery is out of print, and the contents have not been reprinted.


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

“Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” (2015) by Dixie Pinoit

I cannot bring myself to speak of it, so of course I must. It is with terror and that utmost thrill of lust-filled despair that I write of my wedding night, that night that wouldst,—for any average couple, be filled with so much innocent discovery, so much joy in the uncovering of what a lifetime of connubial bliss is meant to be.
—Dixie Pinoit, “Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” in Lovecraft After Dark 144

The soundtrack to this review is “Move Your Dead Bones” (2003) by Dr. Reanimator (Jordi Cubino).

Parody is one of the great underappreciated modes of Lovecraftian erotica. All of the factors that make it so easy to pastiche Lovecraft’s fiction—the emphasis on surface features of purple prose and melodrama, the tendency to riff off of existing elements of the mythology, and the emphasis on taboo topics—are easy to twist into parody, usually by exaggerating the already over-exaggerated until the emotional language becomes just absurd. Once you cross the line from serious pastiche into parody, adding sex is pretty natural, given how many parallels there are. “Forbidden literature,” for example, can apply equally well to pornography as it can to eldritch tomes like the Necronomicon:

Doris didn’t like the Necronomicon, although she considered herself an emancipated and free-thinking young woman. There was something sinister, or to be downright honest about it, perverted about that book—and not in a nice, exciting way, but in a sick and frightening way. All those strange illustrations, always with five-sided borders just like the Pentagon in Washington, but with those people inside doing all those freaky sex acts with those other creatures that weren’t people at all.
—Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson, The Eye in the Pyramid (1975), 93

“Herbert West—Reanimator!” has for whatever reason been an unusually prolific target for parody and pastiche, both erotic and otherwise, as shown by such diverse works as “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky vs. “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon, “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” (2012) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, “Herbert West in Love” (2012) by Molly TanzerRe-Animator (1985) with its infamous head-giving-head scene and its various sequels, and the hardcore adult film Re-Penetrator (2004, Burning Angel). So Dixie Pinoit in “Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” is in good company.

As it happens, Pinoit blends a few details between Lovecraft’s original opus and the 1985 film: where Jeffrey Combs (the actor for Herbert West) is brunet, Lovecraft had West as blond in the original novella, and Pinoit has West as a blond; where Lovecraft had West’s partner as a nameless protagonist, the 1985 film gives him the name Dan Cain, so Pinoit uses Dan Cain as the name for West’s assistant. It is the kind of detail that rewards the detail-oriented Mythos enthusiast, though easy to miss when the narrative lens turns to some of the other action:

Noticing that one of Elena’s awe-inspiring breasts had somehow freed itself from its restraints, I stroked it plaintively before restoring it to what could indeed become its burial shroud unless the doctor was simply premature in his determination of death.
—Dixie Pinoit, “Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” in Lovecraft After Dark 145

Chekov’s corpse. There is something wonderfully straightforward about Reanimator media, in that all you really need is a body at or rapidly cooling toward room temperature for the fun to start, and there’s a great deal of fun to be had in various scenarios about how the corpse came to be and what happens when it is eventually reanimated. A great deal of Reanimator adaptations can riff on this concept pretty much nonstop, but what makes it really work is not the practice of revivifying the dead—any Frankenstein-derived or zombie story can give you the thrill of the dead coming back to life—it’s Herbert West himself, with all of his quirks and monomania, which drives the plot. A good Reanimator story is about the Reanimator as much as the reanimated.

My beloved’s corpse now stripped of the ivory lace and silk wedding dress that had once adorned her curvaceous form, stripped bare under the yellow lights to make it easier for Dr. West to inject things into her delicious upper arms while her ample breasts and small tuft of pubic hair glistened and juggled from the force of his ministrations.
—Dixie Pinoit, “Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” in Lovecraft After Dark 148

Readers that think they know where this is going are still in for a surprise or two; the protagonist surely was. Pinoit by this point plays a little fast and loose with the “rules” of reanimation—murderous bloodlust is out, and certain other types of lust are very much in—but the subversion of expectations, especially when transgressive and exaggerated for comedic effect, are common techniques in all parody.

Yet for all the surprises, one of the most notable is that Pinoit is obviously a fan as much as a pornographer. The nameless Lovecraftian protagonist is actually a Lovecraftian protagonist, inspired by the events of Lovecraft’s life and so the characterization—a parody of Lovecraft’s style—is really an affectionate tribute to the Old Gent himself.

Sales plummeted until the hat shop could no longer support us.

Eventually she moved away to start over. A larger town, where her curious predilections were less likely to be remarked upon amongst a larger populous, and would perhaps even be welcomed by an adventurous few.

I did not go with her.
—Dixie Pinoit, “Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” in Lovecraft After Dark 154

Lovecraft as the star of an erotic story might seem odd, or even off-putting at first glance, but Pinoit is far from the only one to do it; Edward Lee has used Lovecraft (or a character based on him) in several of his “Hardcore Lovecraft” novels and novellas, especially Pages Torn from a Travel Journal (2013) and Trolley No. 1852 (2010). These depictions are often exaggerated for humor as much or more than erotic value, but there is a real amount of effort put into some of these stories to embed aspect of Lovecraft’s life, style, fiction, and just plain character into the fictionalization. These are homages—and speak as much to how Lovecraft himself has become a part of his own artificial mythology.

Considering how much interest has been devoted to Lovecraft’s sex life after his death by fans and scholars alike, this aspect of his character—his sexuality and sexual experiences, real or imagined—present what might be one of the more ultimate taboos to transgress. If you as a reader are at all squicked out at the thought of H. P. Lovecraft having sex, then the author has succeeded at their goal. If you’re excited at the idea of your literary idol getting laid, then the author has also succeeded! The whole point of using a character that is such an obvious version of Lovecraft is to evoke some visceral or emotional reaction from the reader. This effect can only be achieved because of the degree of posthumous fame that Lovecraft has achieved.

While there are few people that might write the Lovecraftian equivalent to Rachel Bloom’s “Fuck Me, Ray Bradbury” (2010), the same basic idea has found expression in the Mythos. H. P. Lovecraft may be dead, but as a fictional character he can do things he never did in life; he has been in many ways reanimated himself—and the interest is not necessarily in what the literary corpse of Lovecraft does, but in why the reanimator has brought them back, and how. In many cases, like this one, it is little more than an in-joke—a nod and a wink to the dedicated Lovecraftian that found themselves coming to the end of this erotic tale—but it is also a tribute to the lasting appeal of H. P. Lovecraft as a character, that he can be inserted into a story such and expect to be recognized, without his name ever being given.

“Herbert West and the Mammaries of Madness” appeared in the erotic Cthulhu Mythos anthology Lovecraft after Dark (2015).


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

“The Artist’s Retreat” (2011) by Annabeth Leong

Do you crave intellectual tentacle porn?
—Ad copy, Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

What is “Lovecraftian erotica?” If you rule out erotic works that directly parody or refer to the stories Lovecraft wrote, such as “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon or “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust” (2016) by Raine Roka; his creations such as Cthulhu and the Necronomicon in works like “Le Pornomicon” (2005) by Logan Kowalsky or Mother Hydra in “Pages Found Among the Effects of Miss Edith M. Teller” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan; those rare erotic works that refer to or depict Lovecraft directly as a character—as in Edward Lee’s Trolley No. 1852 (2010)—then what you have left is a very vaguely defined body of erotic materials which that take more nebulous inspiration from Lovecraft’s ideas of cosmic horror and the tropes of Mythos fiction that came later, but don’t directly attempt to incorporate the man or the Mythos.

For many Lovecraftian erotic works, the tropes and set dressing are usually as far as the author cares to take things. Tentacles often make their appearance, ancient gods or eldritch entities come when summoned, sacrifices are usually less than virginal and surprisingly enthusiastic, and the whole pornographic scenario often reads like a bootleg X-rated session of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. Lindsey Purl’s erotic triptych Tentacles of the Elder Gods (2013), which involves “Kum-Shaggurath” is an exemplar of this kind of fiction. Quality and creativity varies; few works are erotic classics, but are often packaged and sold as disposable literature. Intended as flash entertainment, they answer to a momentary need, often as part of a brief zeitgeist, and then quickly sink out of sight into online back catalogs or other form of obscurity.

Then you have works like Annabeth Leong’s “The Artist’s Retreat.”

The dreams were confused and irresolute, but there was nothing vague about the position in which I work. I snatched my hand from where it lay nestled between my legs and tried to ignore the throbbing there. Sweat soaked the pillows and bed beneath me, and the sheets were tangled around my legs as if I’d been rolling from one side of the bed to the other all night. Sometime, I’d managed to yank my nightshirt up and off one arm, leaving one breast free to the chill air of my dark and silent room. Shivering, I pulled the garment down and fathered my blankets more tightly around me.
—Annabeth Leong, “The Artist’s Retreat” in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

The distinction between “The Artist’s Retreat” and any other work of Lovecraftian fiction, like say “From the Cold Dark Sea” (2016) by Storm Constantine, is one of degree rather than kind. Leong’s work is in an anthology of erotic Lovecraftian fiction, and the erotic element appears early and grows more intense throughout; it is a central part of the plot, where in most other Lovecraftian works sex is usually not the primary focus of the narrative lens. That aside, the work is really nothing less than an original story that draws obvious inspiration from Lovecraft and the Mythos without feeling the need to directly invoke or squeeze itself into the framework of the Mythos.

The distinction shifts the reader’s focus from looking for tie-ins or how the story might into the bigger picture of Mythos lore and instead the reader might begin to see “The Artist’s Retreat” as something that fits into Lovecraft’s milieu, and pursues some of his themes, yet in a way that Lovecraft and most of his co-creators in the Mythos would never have put together. There are the same-gender heterosexual friends, one of them an artist; very much a Lovecraftian pairing…until they become something more. There is the setting, in a rural Massachusetts that Lovecraft might find familiar, but not in any named and denoted part of his Lovecraft Country. There is the tricky distinction of that thing, seen and unseeable, which invokes Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla,” Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned” thing…yet what it does under Leong’s direction is nothing like what any of those authors would have their creations do.

“The Artist’s Retreat” is, after all, Lovecraftian erotica.

Many writers appear to find it difficult to pursue both weird and erotic themes simultaneously. Lovecraft in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” emphasized:

The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.

It is a rare story that can both scary and erotic; that can work that atmosphere of the sense of outside contact with the intensely grounded sensations of physical eroticism. Not impossible, because for all their differences, there are points of commonality: the sense of heightened awareness brought about by sexual arousal and the fear-response, the titillation and excitement when it comes to approaching and then violating some taboo, the psychological impact and physical consequences that may result from such sudden violations, with all their long-term ramifications…these are the building blocks of erotic horror, as shown in works like Ramsey Campbell’s “The Faces at Pine Dunes” (1980) and his exquisite novel The Darkest Part of the Woods (2003).

Part of what makes “The Artist’s Retreat” successful is the atmosphere. The pacing is steady, but takes its time setting up each scene, providing small climaxes for each chapter, letting the protagonist Edie sink deeper and deeper into the mystery and the renewed friendship with her painter friend Olivia. there aren’t any huge surprises; the plot might almost be called formulaic in how the Lovecraftian protagonist is compelled to leave their familiar surrounds for an isolated local, where they sink into strangeness—it worked for Lovecraft in “The Festival,” and it worked for Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Mexican Gothic (2020), and it works for Annabeth Leong here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a familiar plot straight, so long as it is done well…and it helps that the weird parts are refreshingly weird, not just a priapic Cthulhu.

The cryptic images did not depict any shaps or beings I know—still, they stirred me. I got to my knees beside Olivia, and together we explored the contours of the boulder. I could not piece together an overall image of the design. Neither could I decode any individual piece. But the longer I ran my fingers over it, and the longer I knelt beside her and stared, the more I began to see flashes of meaning. Two coiled appendages, wound around each other and rubbing their undersides together obscenely; what could have been a thousand tiny fingers caressing a swollen, monolithic shaft; a long and muscular tongue, curved into a suggestive question.
—Annabeth Leong, “The Artist’s Retreat” in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

Leong’s story fits well into an anthology of Lovecraftian erotica, but it could fit just as well into a mainstream Lovecraftian anthology. Nothing of the weird atmosphere is sacrificed for the erotic, and nothing of the erotic is sacrificed for the weird. They work together, hand in hand, and while they echo the ways sex was used as an entry point for beings from outside in Lovecraft’s fiction—think of “The Dunwich Horror”—the way that it works is ultimately original, fresh, and well done.

“The Artist’s Retreat” by Annabeth Leong was published in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011) by Circlet Press. Her other Lovecraftian works include “Our Child” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014) by Martian Migraine Press.


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

“Under the Keeper of the Key” (2015) by Jaap Boekestein

I have never read the famous “Justine” of de Sade, or the equally famous “Venus in Furs” of von Masoch. Both are undoubtedly significant in the history of psychology, though perhaps less so as works of art. Probably they can be obtained at any time from dealers in so-called “curiosa” like the Falstaff Press or Esoterika Biblion of New York.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lee McBride White, 12 Sep 1932, Letters to J. Vernon Shea, &c. 353-354

The term BDSM (Bondage Domination Sadism Masochism) did not exist when Lovecraft was writing his Mythos, though he would have recognized parts of it from his cursory knowledge of psychology and sexology, and would have been familiar with aspects of its depiction in pulp magazines—Weird Tales among other pulps included vivid scenes of men and women being bound, whipped, and tortured, or forced into subservience, sometimes in a sexual manner (though never explicitly). Indeed, Robert E. Howard’s early Mythos fiction such as “The Black Stone” (1931) contain scenes of flagellation (for more on which, check out Charles Hoffmann’s “Elements of Sadomasochism in the Fiction and Poetry of Robert E. Howard”).

Brundage-WT-Slithering-ShadowThis early influence of BDSM literature on Howard’s Mythos tales is part of a complicated collision of censorship, psychology, and economics. Sadomasochism and physical punishment were commonly understood as psychological deviations rather than sexual kinks, since the acts themselves were adjacent to sex, but didn’t necessarily include intercourse or masturbation. As such, works which presented themselves medical, legal, anthropological, or historical treatises could sometimes pass censors—Robert E. Howard had a small library of such volumes—and more importantly for pulp publishers, meant that they could be more freely advertised in magazines, and that dramatized aspects of these practices could add some sexual titillation to encourage sales. This in turn encouraged some pulp writers to work such elements into their stories; including Weird Tales favorites like Seabury Quinn and Robert E. Howard, who vied for cover art by Margaret Brundage for their stories.

These early BDSM-inflected pulp stories should be understood as fantasy, strongly influenced by erroneous understandings of sexuality, gender, and relationships, not a reflection of real-life practice. This can be clearly seen in, among other things, Robert E. Howard’s complicated depiction of lesbianism in his fiction. The whole stereotype of the “sadistic” villain may not owe itself to the pulps, but the pulps definitely helped build and promote such stereotypes. It would take considerable time for the “scene” to build up, and for knowledge and philosophy of BDSM as a safe, consensual adult activity to become more open, established, and move away from the stark depictions of utter depravity showcased in pulp fiction.

As understanding of sexual kinks has spread and grown in acceptance in society at large, that understanding has rarely fed back into Cthulhu Mythos fiction. While there are occasional characters that engage in obviously sadistic or masochistic practices, and bondage in various forms has never gone out of fashion, BDSM is rarely a key feature of Mythos fiction, especially BDSM of the consensual sexual activity between adults variety. For example, in the Delta Green roleplaying game (an offspring of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game), the Shan (Insects from Shaggai) that originated in the fiction of Ramsey Campbell display masochistic tendencies when they take a host. Another notable example is “Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修), which focuses on the sadistic element and body horror as its primary theme—again, emphasizing the deliberate fantasy rather than consensual bloodplay or body modification play.

Compton_FromBeyondOne of the most interesting overt uses of BDSM themes and imagery in a Lovecraftian work is the film adaptation of From Beyond (1986), which occupies an interesting middle ground between pulp sadism and consensual BDSM practice. BDSM equipment and imagery is used both to show the character’s increasing desire for more intense experiences, and the sado-masochistic depths that the villainous Dr. Pretorius had descended to in the search for some new sensation.

Weird as it might be to think about, erotic Mythos fiction and pornographic materials also rarely broach BDSM territory, especially consensual activity. While it is relatively common to have a sacrifice to Yog-Sothoth or Cthulhu tied up so that the Mythos entity can sexually assault them, it is much rarer to see ropeplay, or the “sacrifice” an elaborate sexual roleplaying scenario featuring consenting adults.

There are several reasons why might we don’t see more a more elaborate BDSM Mythos. For one, it’s kink-stacking; the subset of your audience that enjoys both BDSM and Lovecraftian erotica is likely going to be smaller than the audience that enjoys both separately. For another, the intensely personal relationships between the players in a BDSM scenario—especially a consensual one—can be difficult to square with the often very impersonal nature of Lovecraftian horrors. While Cthulhu might bind you with its mighty tentacles, it’s not clear that Cthulhu is getting off on the act. Yet there are a couple of stories which tread this rare territory and do interesting things with it.

“Sub-space,” said Machteld. “Pain is a key that can open doors. It begins with fear, followed by anger, resistance, resignation, and finally surrender. Deeper and deeper down into the warm red sea until you reach the core Down there are no desires, no thoughts, just the primal void. In that place the universe is waiting, a blank slate, ready to be filled with its latent destiny. And there the worthy will find the answers they seek.”
—Jaap Boekestein, “Under the Keeper of the Key” in Lovecraft after Dark 17

The idea of achieving a different state of consciousness is an old one in magical and religious practice. Some choose to use drugs, and drug-fiction is a staple of early fantasy and weird fiction, including H. P. Lovecraft’s “Ex Oblivione” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Hashish Eater.” Other methods might include fasting, chanting, drumming, and dancing; in “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” Lovecraft wrote:

For the fright and fainting of his mother he expressed the keenest contrition, and explained that the conversation later heard was part of an elaborate symbolism designed to create a certain mental atmosphere.

There are parallels in Lovecraftian occultism too; Donald Tyson in Grimoire of the Necronomicon parrots Aleister Crowley’s rite of eroto-comatose lucidity, where the altered state of consciousness is achieved by excessive sexual activity:

On the day prior to the attempt to open the Gate of the East upon the path to the black throne, the follower of this way should rely on the aid of a partner to sustain his arousal without interruption continuously. This can be done with the aid of caresses, embraces, erotic art, sensual music, incense, sensual baths, and oils for the skin. If necessary, the aspirant may sustain his own arousal, but this is more difficult as it divides concentration. Always the image of Shub-Niggurath should be held in the imagination, but in a form of the goddess that is attractive and seductive to the aspirant for her favor. Female disciples will choose to conceive her in her masculine aspect, unless they favor the love of women. (148)

Richard Gavin in his entry for The Starry Wisdom Library outlined another such procedure:

The method employed to accomplish this was a ritual entitled “Alimenting the Ghul (or Ghoules).” In preparation for this ritual, the aspirant would neither sleep nor consume food for three days, all the while conducting a repetitive series of darkly meditative chants while sitting cross-legged within a “place of death,” presumably a mausoleum, a catacomb, or other large tomb. At the conclusion of the three-day preparation period, the aspirant’s naked body would be rubbed with various salves before he was wrapped in a funerary shroud and buried alive within a coffin made of oak. (127)

Scott R. Jones wrote in When The Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality

The Black Gnosis may be triggered in the moment of orgasm, or at any moment during the sexual act (or indeed at any moment at all, sexual or otherwise) by allowing the Being-Strangeness of the act itself manifest fully in the consciousness. This awareness is brought forth through a meditation on fear. (108)

There are other examples, different paths. Different authors working at different purposes to express similar ideas: that there are different states of consciousness, that can be arrived at through various means (which may resemble magic, or sex), and which unlock…something for the individual. Sometimes a particular occult knowledge, in others a transformation of self. All of which has its clear parallels with BDSM as it is understood in the contemporary consciousness.

You don’t need to build a dungeon, elaborate set-pieces of torture devices, and a wardrobe of latex and leather gear to have a little bondage fun, or to engage in some hearty spanking. Domination is an attitude and game that need not be confined to a bedroom. While we often get fixated on the outward trappings of BDSM play, there is a deeper psychology at work. Sexual submissives in the BDSM scene are not psychologically stunted or damaged individuals who are dominated by more powerful personalities, they are fully conscious human beings who feel the need to submit, and derive something from the act—or ritual—of submission.

Which is not as easy as it sounds. Yet subspace is the essential bridge that Jaap Boekestein uses to connect BDSM to the Cthulhu Mythos. Where Robert E. Howard and the From Beyond film were using the striking imagery of flagellation, and BDSM’s props and costumes to titillate the reader or viewer, Boekestein goes into the psychology of the individual that would willing subject themselves to such rites as Robert E. Howard described in “The Black Stone”—and very specifically, why someone seeking out the Cthulhu Mythos might do this.

The whip hit the exact same spot. A groan escaped his lips, bright flames shot through his leg. Is this an initiation or sadistic torture? What has this to do with the secrets of the ancients?

Whap. Whap.

She kept hitting Without mercy, Machteld thrashed him. He could not see anything but he felt her moving around, hitting his chest, his stomach, his cock. Burning strokes of pain as she hit him everywhere. Nothing was safe. Nothing was sacred.
—Jaap Boekestein, “Under the Keeper of the Key” in Lovecraft after Dark 21

It is a process that the reader themselves goes through with the protagonist. His questions are their questions, but in the end…well, a vicarious flagellation session will never equal the real experience. The result will be familiar to many readers of the Mythos; Lovecraft wrote about another protagonist who achieved the same state, albeit through a different path. Boekestein wrote about this:

What kind of people, I wondered, wouldn’t have much of a problem with the Mythos Universe? People who were different from the norm, was my conclusion. People who perceived reality differently. “Transformation is the key. Transformation of both the body and the mind.” If you live in a non-mundane world, you don’t feel mundane fears. The monsters might even welcome you in as one of their own.
—Jaap Boekestein, “Afterword” (trans. Graeme Phillips) in Cyäegha #8 (Spring 2013)

Many of the people that read and write the Cthulhu Mythos identify as outsiders. Weird fiction attracts weird people. Those with an interest or affinity in BDSM are outsiders too. While the communities are separate, there are individuals who have a foot in both worlds…and for those who have such an inclination, maybe they will be happy to know that they too can trace their roots back to the beginnings of the Mythos.

Jaap Boekestein is a Dutch writer who has written several Mythos stories, which have been published in English and Dutch, and editor of Waen Sinne and Wonderwaan. Some of his Mythos fiction appeared under the pseudonym Claudia van Arkel. “Under the Keeper of the Key” appeared in the erotic Cthulh Mythos anthology Lovecraft after Dark (2015).


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