A Brazilian Looks At Lovecraft

A Brazilian Looks At Lovecraft
by Davi Braid

It was a strange night in Michigan. The gibbous moon lurked behind tenebrous clouds. A barely illuminated terrene town was slowly recovering from the fetid consequences of a cacodaemoniacal college party. Eldritch shadows followed the rhythm of ululating winds, forming a blasphemous image of a chthonian forest at the horizon. Ignored by a lonely exchange student, a cup of the local, noxious coffee was getting cold by the window of a noisome hotel.

For some reason, that cup of coffee caused me to panic. Its horrible taste was a clear indicator of how far this place was from home. I had no friends, no family, no coworkers, and I kept asking myself the reason behind that trip. The original plan was to find personal growth out of my comfort zone. It was not working as intended, though.

The hotel room did not have much to offer, so my free time was spent observing the town from afar and reading. It was fun and exciting at first, but it didn’t last long. The cultural differences, the lack of a deeper connection to people, and the constant feeling of being an outsider are things that hit hard when you are entirely by yourself.

Due to being isolated and depressed, my mind would constantly spiral down into nearly inescapable cycles of fear and nihilism. Socializing is an activity that demands a lot of effort from introverts, and the trouble of trying that in a foreign culture was a great excuse to never do it at all. It seems that being a foreigner was not necessarily a charming characteristic in a small town where half the population was college kids.

Even within the Latino community, it was tough being Brazilian. We speak Portuguese, not English, so there is a language barrier that prevents us from completely fitting in. It is hard to think of a moment that felt worse than being among many other foreigners from South America and feeling like an outcast.

I do not remember exactly how or when Lovecraft’s tales really caught my interest for the first time. After researching gloomy things, taken by desperation and anxiety, the concept Cosmic Horror found its way into the screen of my laptop. I never liked horror as a genre, but the title “The Outsider” caught my eye for obvious reasons. On top of that, something about unknown entities that overshadow mundane problems felt weirdly comforting at that point.

The story failed to impress me with its simplistic structure and a generic monster. However, the ending hit me as no written story has ever done before:

I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.

Thoughts about the pointlessness of living when death is certain were just some of my recurring demons, which didn’t make me popular at parties. The outsider never belonged, and the monster was not hunting him. The narrator did not see itself as the ghoulish shade of decay that it was. This horror story was my polished glass.

That ending was digested by my brain and became the first step toward a life-long obsession with cosmic horror. Solitude in a small room was not an issue for someone who had just opened the Necronomicon. The observer triggered a long introspection that resulted in a few failed attempts to socialize, turning this newly found genre into the best way to escape reality and self-pity.

One must wonder how many demons Lovecraft had. The themes of his writings were painfully clear. Narrators were always finding out horrific truths, and madness was the natural state of those who see the world for what it is. Convinced of the lack of meaning in life, I became one of his characters. On the other hand, reading his characters was about to turn me back into a functional person.

A sudden sense of urgency—acquired after reading “Dagon”—caused me to slowly break out of an old delusion. Happy, inaccurate memories of a big city chased me to the other hemisphere, much like the old ones chased the narrator:

The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!

With the help of my thanatophobia, the old one by the window caused the panic attack that shaped my following days. The end was near, time was limited, and nothing was being done. How can someone take control of their future when shackled by insecurity and hopelessness?

After so many of his tales, Lovecraft’s antediluvian view of the world became painfully obvious in “The Horror at Red Hook.” Luckily, I was about to get lectured by them:

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles.

I was not an immigrant, but it would hardly have mattered to him. Being a descendant of Native, Scottish, and Portuguese people myself, tangled enigma was an excellent definition of my heritage. Besides, Brazil is a melting pot. Consequently, it is a tangled enigma, as the writer himself defined. Funny enough, taking offense was not my first reaction. Building anger towards an author from two centuries ago due to his outdated views felt like a pointless mental effort.

The descriptions used by the author for certain ethnicities are revealing. They seem to echo how he talks about monsters and gods—as if everything was otherworldly and incomprehensible. Maybe he was afraid of what was different and unknown. Not understanding other languages being spoken in his own country clearly disturbed him somehow: “From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of a hundred dialects assail the sky.”

Digging into his correspondences and stories, I ended up finding something disturbing in one of his letters:

It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant in their classes—calculatingly & schemingly brilliant—but their ideals were sordid & their manners coarse. I became rather well known as an anti-Semitic before I had been at Hope Street many days.

H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 November 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 72

To my surprise, he married a Jewish woman who shared his passion for literature. At that point, a lambent idea crawled its way into my outré neurons. If Lovecraft shared the same hobbies and passions with an immigrant, would he dislike that person the same way? What if people could see how much they had in common instead of how different they were? And that’s when it hit me: What if I started looking for things I had in common with others instead of reminding them of our differences?

I used to think of myself as a unique, awake person who could see the world for what it is—a cyclopean blasphemy—and therefore, there was no point in trying to enjoy my time on earth. It turns out that person was just a socially impaired snob who constantly reminded others of how different he was. Fortunately, “The Horror At Red Hook” pushed some sense into my head in a peculiar way.

We are all people aimlessly navigating life, trying to make the most of it. If I have my doubts and fears, chances are other humans do too. Instead of trying to stand out as the eccentric foreigner, my approach was changed to “I like that too,” which changed not only my experience in the United States but my whole life as well. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of weird cultural barriers to be dealt with. Nonetheless, putting some effort into breaching those barriers proved to be a much better way to make meaningful connections. Colleagues slowly became friends, and friends presented me to a whole new world and lifestyle. 

Michigan was quite life-changing, and I miss my time there so much. I ended up loving snow, hockey, Detroit, and much of the local culture. I went to college parties, had terrific burgers, and even learned how to shoot a gun—although I passed on hunting. I made friends, built a professional network, and even helped many newcomers to feel welcomed.

My introversion never left me, and it will not be going anywhere. The process of changing that old behavior into something more productive took months, yet I managed to get there. It never stopped being a conscious effort, but it was a significant improvement. Ironically, all that happened thanks to a xenophobic, antisemitic man who wrote horror stories.

Besides leaving me with a life lesson, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was also the reason behind my regained interest in Brazilian legends. Many of my country’s backcountry myths inspired me to return to fiction writing, giving it a Lovecraftian spin.

When I’m having a really bad day, I return to “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Someone like me is never truly free from old, obdurate demons. Maybe he wrote them down to take them out of his mind. Reading those stories reminds me that there is much more in the world to be seen and discovered, rekindling my passion for life itself.

It is possible that he would not be pleased with how his unearthly entities helped a Brazilian student to fit in the United States. Especially considering what he used to think of my country—or most countries, according to what he wrote in a letter:

If this nation ever becomes really composite; if the polyglot lower elements ever rise to the surface and direct the destinies of the whole people, then the United States will have undergone intellectual and moral death, and must be content to take its inferior place beside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other decidedly immigrant nations. For the glory of the world is the glory of England. […] If other nationalities are now represented here, it is only on sufferance. They are charity boarders, as it were. For this is an Englishman’s country.

H. P. Lovecraft to John Dunn, 14 Oct 1916, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 166

Being a polyglot myself, this was the first time I ever read this word in such a negative connotation. Not having to deal with people like him was possibly pure luck. Sure, I was in several uncomfortable situations here and there. Some people wanted to try their Spanish with me as if it was my first language, and some others thought I lived in a jungle, but it felt more like ignorance than anything else.

In the end, all the situations that I had to endure were nothing like what happened to the Saudi Arabian kids. Most North Americans would actively avoid them because of their country of origin, even though they were perfectly nice and polite young men. Truth be told, It was heartbreaking to watch, which caused me to constantly check on them. In their case, as Lovecraft stated, they were there on sufferance.

I do not admire the man, just what came out of his imagination and personal fears. I read his stories during a vulnerable moment, but what I took from them is my merit. There is no point in spending any energy deliberating on his archaic opinions. Howard Phillips Lovecraft is long gone, and I have my whole life ahead of me. 


Davi Braid is a Brazilian freelance writer and a games journalist who often gets out of his niche to write about different and exciting topics. Although he does not like horror stories, Cosmic Horror fascinates him like no other kind of fiction. You can contact him via email at danobra@gmail.com or find more of his work at https://davibraid.journoportfolio.com/

Copyright 2022 Davi Braid

“Up from Slavery” (2019) by Victor LaValle

They had done the same thing on other planets; having manufactured not only necessary foods, but certain multicellular protoplasmic masses capable of moulding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs under hypnotic influence and thereby forming ideal slaves to perform the heavy work of the community. These viscous masses were without doubt what Abdul Alhazred whispered about as the “shoggoths” in his frightful Necronomicon, though even that mad Arab had not hinted that any existed on earth except in the dreams of those who had chewed a certain alkaloidal herb.

H. P. Lovecraft, “At the Mountains of Madness”

Slavery was a part of Lovecraft’s heritage. While his immediate family never owned any slaves or showed any inclination to, the oldest of his aunts could remember the American Civil War and emancipation; Lovecraft himself was well aware of the part slavery had played in his own native Rhode Island, and liked to remind correspondents that his ancestor Robert Hazard had left 133 slaves in his will.

When Lovecraft wrote his alien entities, the two most detailed civilizations—the Old Ones in Antarctica in At the Mountains of Madness and the people of K’n-yan in The Mound—they were both defined by slave ownership. Why isn’t exactly clear; the exact forms of slavery involved were both like and unlike the chattel slavery of the American system or the slavery practiced by civilizations like the Romans in antiquity. There was no way for slaves in Lovecraft’s stories to earn freedom, and in fact much of the economics and social ramifications of slavery are unexamined…except for one: as in the antebellum South, the Old Ones and K’n-yans lived in the shadow of a slave revolt.

Victor LaValle’s “Up from Slavery” is a riff on an uncommon theme; a companion piece in many ways to “Shoggoths in Bloom” (2008) by Elizabeth Bear. In both stories, the experience of Black people in America, who deal every day with the legacy of slavery, draws parallels with the plight of the shoggoths.

“You were born to serve,” he said. “It’s genetic.”

Victor LaValle, “Up from Slavery” in Lovecraft Mythos New & Classic Edition 217

In many ways, the slavery of the shoggoths is closer to that of replicants in Blade Runner than to what is described in the first chapter of Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery (1901)—but the overall morality is identical. Whether a sentient being is kidnapped and forced into service, or grown in a lab and made to serve, the end result is the same. Because of this, slavery narratives work for shoggoth characters. No one has written Uncle Tekeli-Li’s Cabin yet, and maybe never will, but there is real empathy for shoggoth characters who run away from slavery, or fight back to avoid being returned to a state of slavery.

That is important because in a lot of ways the protagonist Simon Dust is unlikable. He carries a big chip on his shoulder, and not without reason. The world through his eyes is stacked against him because of his race. It colors his interaction with others, and his response to little things…people not sitting next to him on the train, muted anger at discovering he has a father after 29 years as an orphan who grew up in foster care, the white neighbor’s disbelief when he shows up. It is familiar territory; LaValle explored the Black experience in his novella “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) as well, and he is excellent at presenting an individual who has labored all their life under a sword of Damocles, and has to deal with a thousand little microaggressions every day or face the consequences.

It is weird to think that Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were contemporaries…but their lives did overlap, even if they did not intersect. LaValle’s use of Washington’s autobiography helps ground Dust’s experience, and that of the shoggoths. Up from slavery shows that being born into slavery may only be the first chapter of someone’s life, even if the experiences and scars of that first chapter stay with them. Likewise, we may say that though Lovecraft may have written slavery into his Mythos, that too is only the first chapter in the saga of the shoggoths, and there is much more that may be written.

“Up from Slavery” by Victor LaValle first appeared in Weird Tales #363 (2019) and was reprinted in Lovecraft Mythos New & Classic Edition (2020), The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 (2020), and Nightmare Magazine #100 (Jan 2021). The story won the 2019 Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.


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

“The Canal” (1927) by Everil Worrell

In the new issue I found more good stuff than usual. “The Canal” is truly fine—real terror woven into the inmost atmosphere—& “Bells of Oceana” comes close to packing a genuine kick.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 4 Nov 1927, Essential Solitude 1.113

“The Canal” by Everil Worell was first published in Weird Tales December 1927, which is where Lovecraft read it. This was Worrell’s fourth published story in Weird Tales; she would publish 19 in the magazine between 1926 and 1954, when the pulp ceased publication, being one of the prolific women weird talers who made their mark on the magazine. Lovecraft wasn’t keen on every story Worrell wrote…but “The Canal” was special, and Lovecraft repeatedly listed it among the best stories ever published by Weird Tales:

Looking over the whole contents of W.T., one’s final impression is that of a devastating desert of crudity & mediocrity, relieved by a very few oases. The high spots that impress me are Suter’s “Beyond the Door”, Humphrey’s “The Floor Above”, Arnold’s “The Night Wire”, Worrell’s “The Canal”, Burks’ “Bells of Oceana”, & Leahy’s “In Amundsen’s Tent”. Those things have the atmosphere & suggestion which spell power.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 18 Feb 1930, Essential Solitude 1.247

As for my favourite W.T. authors—it would be hard to make a list. The very best tales have been written by persons not at all well known. In my opinion, the relaly high spots run something like this:

Beyond the Door___________Paul Suter
The Floor Above___________M. Humphreys
The Night Wire____________H. F. Arnold
In Amundsen’s Tent_________John Martin Leahy
The Canal________________Everil Worrill [sic]
Bells of Oceana____________Arthur J. Burks
Passing of a God___________Henry S. Whitehead

[…] W0rrill [sic] is good in the main, but has produced some fearsome trash.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 19 Jun 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 18-19

Yes—”The Canal” is great stuff. I once cited it as one of the 6 best stories WT ever printed—the other 5 being “Beyond the Door”, “The Floor Above”, “In Amundsen’s Tent”, “The Night Wire”, & “Bells of Oceana.” The author is a woman, & has written other stuff—some very poor (“Light Echoes”) & some distinctly good (“the Bird of Space”).
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 22 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 247-248

Lovecraft wasn’t originally aware of Worrell’s gender, and refers to her as “he” in his correspondence until 1930, when he received a bit of news:

[Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales] adds that Everil Worrell (who turns out to be a woman) is about to become associate editor of W.T. & Oriental Tales.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 242 (cf. ES 1.281)

Oriental Stories was a new magazine produced by Popular Fiction Publishing the publishers of Weird Tales and edited by Farnsworth Wright, with the first issue appearing in Oct-Nov 1930; Wright also wanted to bring out a third magazine titled Strange Stories, but a dispute regarding the name hung up production and SS was eventually abandoned. Lovecraft was positive about the idea of Worrell as associate editor, based solely on her fiction—and that mainly “The Canal”:

I hope that the co-editorship of Everil Worrell, whose “Canal” shewed a genuine comprehension of the principles of weirdness, will cause some slight improvement in the magazine’s principles of selection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 17 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 246

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Oriental Stories by itself was a strain on Popular Fiction Publishing’s resources, with Weird Tales having to go bimonthly for three issues in 1931 to help keep Oriental Stories afloat. Whether the financial strain couldn’t support an associate editor, or Wright didn’t need an associate editor because the magazines went bimonthly, or Worrell chose not to accept the position—she did not join the Popular Fiction Publishing editorial staff.

What was it about “The Canal” that attracted Lovecraft’s undying appreciation? The protagonist is coincidentally very Lovecraftian, with a love of nocturnal walks and strange places and an appreciation of odd beauty. So too, some of the philosophical themes, such as the loss of freedom that an office job would require, might have struck a chord. The premise of the plot—quite literally love at first sight—is not at all the usual kind of story that Lovecraft enjoyed. But as with “Shambleau” (1933) by C. L. Moore and “Black God’s Kiss” (1934) by C. L. Moore, Lovecraft could appreciate sudden and sensual attachments if the story had a truly weird element, carefully told with the appropriate atmosphere. Werewolves and vampires were rather conventional horrors that held little interest for Lovecraft, but they had their place in the weird oeuvre, and HPL never said a word against Dracula’s brides in the castle.

Lovecraft’s appreciation for “The Canal” led to a brief but illuminating discussion with another master of the weird tale:

By the way, I have just been re-reading “The Canal”, which you mention. It certainly creates a memorable atmosphere; but the one flaw, to me, is the wholesale dynamiting, which seems to introduce a jarring note among the shadowy supernatural horrors. However, this is just my own reaction. I would have had the narrator simply kill himself, overwhelmed by despair at the irremediable scourge he had loosed, and leave the horror to spread unchecked. However, I shouldn’t be captious: it is the only good vampire story I have ever seen, apart from Gautier’s “Clarimonde” and my own “Rendezvous in Averoigne.” […] It seems to me also that Everil Worrel’s co-editorship should help to counter-balance some of Wright’s dunder-headed decisions; and I shall re-submit Satampra and perhaps also “The Door to Saturn” at some future date.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 24-30 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 254

“The Canal certainly has atmosphere. The final dynamiting—like my dynamiting of the house on Tempest Mountain in “The Lurking Fear”—is probably less subtly handled than it ought to be, yet is in a certain sense necessary as a means of explaining why the whole world hasn’t “gone vampire”. Whenever a fantastic tale introduces a horror which, if unchecked, would shortly produce strikingly visible results throughout the earth, it is necessary to explain why those results have not occurred—necessary, in short, to check the full action of the thing—unless the tale is laid in the future. There is really no way of escaping this dilemma. We must either explain the present survival of the existing order, or choose a remotely future period at which the existing order is assumed to be destroyed. The only adumbration of a middle course open to us is to have the original horror so subtle as to produce only imperceptible effects for a very long period, or to have a partial checking in which the action of the horror is vastly minimised or delayed. In “Dagon” I shewed a horror that may appear, but that has not yet made any effort to do so. In “Cthulhu” I had a coming horror checked by the same convulsion of Nature which produced it. [earthquake-sinking of R’lyeh] In “The Colour Out of Space” I had a partial checking. Just enough of the Outside influence remains in the well to provide a slow, creeping blight. And in “Dunwich” I had full artificial destruction, as in “The Canal”. When one does have full artificial destruction, the important thing is not to make the process too bald, crude, or incongruous with the atmosphere or action of the narrative as a whole. I agree that very few good vampire tales exist.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 Nov 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 261-262

This is a rare case where Lovecraft gives us insight on the craft behind writing his stories, in part because the nature of the ending of “The Canal” caused him to reflect on how he ended his own stories. There is an interesting point of comparison there: when August Derleth reprinted “The Canal” in The Sleeping and the Dead (1947), the story was revised, cutting about 2,000 words and radically changing the ending; the abridged version can be read on Wikisource. The abridged ending is more melancholy and less climactic than the first; the intention of suicide remains, but there is no dynamite, no colony of bat-creatures; it is, in fact, a bit closer to Clark Ashton Smith’s suggested ending.

Lovecraft’s appreciation of “The Canal” did not lessen with the years, and his letters in 1935 give evidence of that when Worrell’s story was reprinted in the January 1935 Weird Tales. His two longest comments to younger Weird Tales fans are succinct:

In the previous issue, the “Canal” reprint was the real feature. Yes—Everill Worrell was said by Wright to belong to the feminine gender. He once considered hiring her as associate editor, but finally decided not to. Viewed collectively, her work was very uneven—descended from the high level of “The Canal” to the unutterable namby-pamby of “Light-Echoes”…rather a Blackwoodian condition. I have seen nothing new of hers in years, & have no idea whether she is dead or alive. But “The Canal” is a landmark in WT history.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11? May 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 259

“The Canal” is one of the most powerful tales W.T. ever printed—but I didn’t like “Light Echoes”, which to me suggested the namby-pamby. “The Bird of Space” wasn’t bad. I understand from Wright that Everil Worrell is a woman. He once thought of hiring her as assistant editor, but later decided not to. I don’t know her address, but fancy WT would gladly forward a letter address to her in its care. She ought to be glad to furnish an autograph to one who appreciates her work.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 31 May 1935, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 437

Everil Worrell was not dead, though Lovecraft could be forbidden for thinking so; she published no stories in Weird Tales under her own name after 1931 until 1939, two years after Lovecraft’s own death. Though they never met or corresponded, she was one of Lovecraft’s esteemed peers at Weird Tales.

“The Canal” would go on to be reprinted many times, sometimes in abridged form. Leonard Nimoy in his directing debut provided an adaptation of the story for The Night Gallery titled “Death on a Barge.” The original published text of the story can be read for free online.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“Black God’s Kiss” (1934) by C. L. Moore

As to the work of C. L. Moore—I don’t agree with your low estimate. These tales have a peculiar quality of cosmic weirdness, hard to define but easy to recognise, which makrs them out as really unique. […] In these tales there is an indefinable atmosphere of vague outsidesness & cosmic dread which marks weird work of the best sort. How notably they contrast with the average pulp product—whose bizarre subject-matter is wholly neutralised by the brisk, almost cheerful manner of narration! Whether the Moore tales will keep their pristine quality or deterioriate as their author picks up the methods, formulae, & style of cheap magazine fiction, still remains to be seen.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William F. Anger, 28 Jan 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 227

C. L. Moore burst into the pages of Weird Tales in 1933 with “Shambleau”—a science fantasy that earned universal praise and introduced her character Northwest Smith. She followed that success with three more tales of Smith: “Black Thirst” (WT Apr 1934), “Scarlet Dream” (WT May 1934), and “Dust of the Gods” (WT Aug 1934). These stories were all self-contained, with a common setting and and characters, but with no strong narrative continuity. These episodes all took place during Smith’s life as an interstellar outlaw, but there was no overarching plot between episodes, and few if any clues to put them in any order aside from order of publication.

Then in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, Moore introduced a new character—a fiery, red-headed warrior-woman in medieval France—Jirel of Joiry. In later years, recalling the character, Moore remembered:

Long, long ago I had thoughts of a belligerent dame who must have been her progenitor, and went so far as to begin a story which went something like this: “The noise of battle beating up around the walls of Arazon castle rang sweetly in the ears of Arazon’s warrior lady.” And I think it went no farther. So far as I know she stands ther eyet listening to the tumult of an eternal battle. Back to her Jirel of Joiry no doubt traces her ancestry.

Jirel’s Guillaume whom I so ruthlessly slew in the first of her stories, yet whom I can’t quite let die, was patterned after the drawing of Pav of Romne with which I illustrated her latest story, “The Dark Land” in Weird Tales. I made that drawing somewhere in the remote past, and have cherished it all these yars in the confidence taht someday it would come in handy. I meant to use it to illustrate “Black God’s Kiss,” first of the Jirel tales, but somehow the story got out of hand, and I’ve never since been able to introduce a situation it would fit until “The Dark Land.”
—C. L. Moore, “An Autobiographical Sketch of C. L. Moore,” Echoes of Valor 2, 37-38

Weird Tales v27 n01 [1936-01]_0054

Weird Tales Jan 1936

In later years, she would write of her two most famous redheads:

Shambleau and Jirel bear a close relationship to each other, and both, I believe, unconsciously reflect the woman I wish I could have been. I owe a great deal of my literary outpourings to Himself, My Unconscious.
—C. L. Moore, The Faces of Science Fiction

The basic plot, of a strange journey and a Faustian bargain, are familiar enough elements from a dozen weird fiction stories. Female protagonists, especially swordswomen, were rare. Robert E. Howard had included Bêlit in “Queen of the Black Coast” (WT May 1934), and long-time readers might recall R. T. M. Scott’s “Nimba, The Cave Girl” (WT Mar 1923), so it wasn’t as if Jirel was exactly the first to grace the pages of the Unique Magazine—but Moore brought her own unique style.

At least, H. P. Lovecraft thought so, and wasn’t shy to tell others about it:

Black God great stuff—real nightmare outsideness.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 7 Oct 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 183

Oct. W.T. about average, on the whole. The Moore item is really very notable—full of a tensity & atmospheric suggestion of encroaching dream-worlds which none of the other authors seem able to achieve. I’ll try to look up the item in Astounding, even though it be les from the the hackneyed & conventional.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 26 Oct 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 187

“The Black God’s Kiss”, despite overtones of conventional romance, is great stuff. The other-world descriptions & suggestions are stupendous.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 22 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin et al. 248

Nor was Lovecraft alone in his praise, as the story received praise in “The Eyrie,” Weird Tales‘ letters pages, such as:

I (and I’m sure many others) want to hear a great deal more of Jirel. She’s the kind of person I’d like to be myself. A sort of feminine version of Conan the Cimmerian. He, too, is one of my favorites.
—Mary A. Conklin, Weird Tales Dec 1934

The creator of Cthulhu’s admiration for the tale can be easily understood; this is easily the most Lovecraftian of C. L. Moore’s early stories. Jirel’s descent into the tunnel recalls stories like Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Festival,” and her description is as pure an effort at non-Euclidean geometry as anything Lovecraft attempted:

There was something queer about the angles of those curves. She was no scholar in geometry or aught else, but she felt intuitively that the bend and slant of the way she went were somehow outside any other angles or bends she had ever known.
C. L. Moore, “Black God’s Kiss” in Weird Tales Oct 1934

The comparison of Jirel with Conan is one that would be made again, as Jirel and the Cimmerian’s adventures continued. They were contemporaries, and their creators thought a bit alike, as they would find out through correspondence, when Robert E. Howard let her read his own story about a flame-haired French swordswoman, Dark Agnes de Chastillon. Moore’s Jirel stories tend to lean more into the sorcery than the swordplay; while she has a sword and uses it in “Black God’s Kiss,” her quest is a very un-Conan-like one for a sorcerous weapon to aid her where force of arms has failed, and in many of her other stories she faces supernatural threats where her blade is useless.

If many of the readers liked “Black God’s Kiss,” at least one of them did not:

The Black God’s Kiss was by far the poorest C. L. Moore story yet. The first three of C. L. Moore’s tales were excellent, but the last two were rather pediculous.
—Fred Anger, Weird Tales Dec 1934

William F. Anger’s sour note in “The Eyrie” might be forgotten, except for one coincidence: he had become a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft. Though Lovecraft had not yet started to correspond with C. L. Moore, as he later would, he felt obliged to defend the merits of Moore’s fiction, including “Black God’s Kiss”:

Regarding the Moore stories—one has to separate the undeniably hackneyed & mechanical romance from the often remarkable background against which it is arrayed. “The Black God’s Kiss” had a vastly clever setting—the pre-human tunnel beneath the castle, the upsetting of gravitational & dimensional balance, the strange, ultra-dimensional world of unknown laws & shapes & phenomena, &c. &c. If that could be taken out of the sentimental plot & made the scene of events of really cosmically bizarre motivation, it would be tremendously powerful. The distinctive thing about Miss Moore is her ability to devise conditions & sights & phenomena of utter strangeness & originality, & to describe them in a language conveying something of their outre, phantasmagoric, & dread-filled quality. That in itself is an accomplishment possessed by very few of the contributors to the cheap pulp magazines. For the most part, allegedly “Weird” writers phrase their stories in such a brisk, cheerful, matter-of-fact, colloquial, dialogue-ridden sort of style that all genuine ene of shadow & menace is lost. So far, Miss M. has escaped this pitfall; though continued writing for miserable rags like the current pulps will probably spoil her as it has spoiled Quinn, Hamilton, & all the rest. The editors will encourage her worst tendencies—the sticky romance & cheap “Action”—& discourage everything of real merit (the macabre language, the original descriptive touches, the indefinite atmosphere, the brooding tension, &c.) which her present work possesses. Nothing will ever teach the asses who peddle cheap magazines that a weird story should not & cannot be an “action” or “character” story. The only justification for a weird tale is that it be an authentic & convincing picture of a certain human mood; & this means that vague impressions & atmosphere must predominate. Events must not be crowded, & human characters must not assume too great importance. The real protagonists of fantasy fiction are not people but phenomena. The logical climax is not a revelation of what somebody does, but a glimpse of the existence of some condition contrary to nature as commonly accepted.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William F. Anger, 16 Feb 1935, LRBO 229

While Lovecraft never wrote these exact words to C. L. Moore, when they did get to corresponding she had her own response:

Also, since I’m disagreeing with everything today, I’ll have a shot at your dislike for romance contrasted with your love and understanding of fantasy. You don’t ahve to take Dumas any more literally than you do Dunsany. Of course lots of people probably do look persistently through rose-colored glasses, but then dear, sincere old Lumley believes implicitly in his phantasms. To me it’s just as pleasant to imagine during the duration of the story that there is a loely springtime world people exclusively by handsome heroes and exquisite heroines and life is one long romp of adventure with no unpleasant attribtues at all, as it is to believe for the length of the story that time, space and natural law can be elastic enough to permit the existence of a Shambleau or a Cthulhu (have I spelled him right?). Your point, of course, is that to be acceptable as release-literature the hapenings must be incredibly outside, not aganst the phenomena of nature. Does that mean that you can’t with self-respect, enjoy Howard’s gorgeous Conan sagas, which are surely pure romance for the most part?
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 88-89

A large part of the charm in the early Moore stories, be they tales of Northwest Smith or Jirel of Joiry or science fiction tales like “The Bright Illusion” (Astounding Stories Oct 1934) is the imaginative and lush descriptions, often trying to capture in words some utterly alien emotion or experience above and beyond what anyone might imagine a young woman working as a secretary in an Indianapolis bank during the Great Depression might ever dream of. Yet she did dream them, and her early fantasies made a mark.

There are two interesting sequels to “Black God’s Kiss.” The first is quite literally a direct sequel: “Black God’s Shadow” was published only a couple months later in the December 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This would be the first direct sequel she had ever written, a step away from the disconnected adventures of Northwest Smith—and while she never developed the setting of Joiry with as much depth as Robert E. Howard did the Hyborian Age for Conan, it was still a step in the direction of the fantasy worlds that would follow in coming decades.

The second sequel is more complicated. In early 1934, Lovecraft’s young friend R. H. Barlow began to correspond with C. L. Moore. Barlow learned that Moore was in talks with William Crawford to try and publish some of her stories. Barlow was an amateur printer and bookbinder, and wanted to publish a small edition of her stories. The correspondence between C. L. Moore and Lovecraft actually began when Barlow enlisted Lovecraft’s aid to try and convince here to give Barlow the good stories:

I shall be glad to cooperate in any way possible, & will endeavour at the earliest opportunity to write the authoress such a letter as you suggest—pointing out sound as distinguished from commercial lines of development, yet avoiding any air of supercilious fault finding or lack of appreciativeness. There is no question but that her work possesses a strain of authentic cosmic alienage & extreme originality found in no other weirdist since Klarkash-Ton—a pervasive atmospheric tension, & a curious facility in evoking images of utter trangeness & suggesting monstrous gateways from the tri-dimensional world to other spheres of entity.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 16 Mar 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 217

There was some finagling, but eventually Barlow and Lovecraft convinced Moore to allow Barlow to publish a small edition containing “Shambleau,” “Black Thirst,” and “Black God’s Kiss”—Lovecraft considered her best stories at the time. As it happened, neither Barlow or Crawford’s volumes ever came to press, although Barlow did print and bind some other works of Moore’s, notably a few copies of “Were-Woman.”

Without “Black God’s Kiss” and Jirel of Joiry, H. P. Lovecaft and C. L. Moore may never have begun to correspond—which would have changed the trajectory of both their lives.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Automatic Executioner” (1891) & “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

Dear Sir,

My friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, was kind enough to mention that you might be inclined to aid me in bringing out one or the other of my labors which sadly need revision.

If you can, please let me know and under what conditions we can co-operate. 

Yours sincerely,

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 20 Nov 1927,
Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others
 341

In 1927, an article was published in the Associated Press proposing new evidence for the demise of Ambrose Bierce. The source was Dr. Adolphe Danziger de Castro, who had picked up the gossip while down in Mexico. De Castro and Bierce had been friends for twenty-five years, and had collaborated on a translation of The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter (1891), and the Western Author’s Publishing Association which published de Castro’s collection of stories In the Confessional and the Following (1893), some of which had been previously published in newspapers and magazines. The friendship ended rather badly, with Bierce breaking his cane over de Castro’s head—but the article on Bierce achieved wide circulation, and de Castro smelled an opportunity:

Years and years ago I published a volume of short stories (now not to be had at any price, and Uncle Sam and myself are the only ones who have copies of the same) and if these stories could be licked into shape, I am certain they would be published. It all depends upon my literary godfather. Suppose I send you part of one of these stories just for a passing judgment whether you could be inclined to consider the matter, if all things become equal?
—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 25 Nov 1927, LAG 342

Lovecraft in 1927 was in Providence, Rhode Island; his effort to make his way in New York had failed, and so had his marriage, although his wife would not press him for a divorce until 1929. With no steady employment, Lovecraft and his friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr. did revision work for clients, re-writing stories and offering advice for modest fees. Their friend Samuel Loveman was not officially an agent, but steered potential clients their way: Zealia Brown Reed (Spirit of Revision 8-9) and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

Initially, de Castro was looking for one or two books of stories to be revised; there are some calculations on a letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 5 Dec 1927 to this effect (LAG 345). This quickly expanded as he suggested Lovecraft assist him in writing a memoir or biography titled Bierce and I, mentioned in a letter dated 8 Dec 1927. Lovecraft was wary: de Castro had no money to pay up front, and Lovecraft was in no financial position to take work on a speculative basis. At this point (December 1927), Lovecraft claims:

He’s too gordam fussy to make his work a paying proposition for me—for his fiction is unspeakable, his paying ability meagre, and his demands for revisions—after his first version—extensive. I about exploded over the dragging monotony of a silly thing which I renamed Clarendon’s Last Test; and after I wearily sent in the result of a whole month’s brain-fog, (incurred for a deplorable pittance!) the old reprobate shot it back with requests for extensive changes (based wholly on the new ideas I had injected!) which would have involved just as much work again, and without any additional fee. That was too much. I hurled the whole Hastur-hateful thing back at him—together with his measly cheque and a dollar bill to cover the postage he’d expended—but he took it all in good part, and returned the cheque and dollar with a laudably generous gesture! Now—after thinking it over—he decided to use the tale just as I fixed it up. Vaya con Dios, Don Adolfo—he’s one reviser who won’t raise any controversy by claiming authorship of the beastly mess! But I can’t tackle any more of his fiction. It raises a choking kind of mental “complex” preclusive of effort. I’ll consider his straight prose memoirs, but nothing where constructive art is concern’d.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, January 1928, Selected Letters 2.207-208

A letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 4 February 1928 confirms Lovecraft’s claims (LAG 347-348), and returns the check (for $16), begging Lovecraft to accept it.

The story in question began as “A Sacrifice to Science”; de Castro claimed:

Thinking back to the fate of “The Last Test,” I recall its first publication in 1889, then titled, “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery.” In 1893, I published a volume of short stories, incorporating “Dr. Clinton” but had changed his name to Dr. Calrendon [sic]. The issue of seven thousand copies, paper-covered at 50 cents, sold out in record time. I think I am the only person who has a copy of the volume. In 1900 I went from San Francisco to New York. There I re-wrote the story and named it “The Last Test.” Excepting the introductory paragraph to the story which I wrote in New York, the body of the tale suffered no change from that published in the collection.
—Adolphe de Castro to August Derleth, 20 November 1949

The actual publishing history appears more complicated. No publication under the title “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery” has been found; the earliest publication for “A Sacrifice to Science” is in The Californian vol. III, no. 2 (January 1892); it was then subsequently published in In the Confessional and the Following (1893), with minor changes in the text. The Photoplay Weekly for August 1915 includes the snippet:

[Danziger] has completed many scenarios, including The Ghetto Apostate, The Human Devil-Fish, The Fatal Love Letter, and Dr. Clarendon’s Discovery, all of which are feature productions.

This screenplay appears to be non-extant. In any case, for the 1928 version de Castro had provided Lovecraft with the 1893 text.

For most readers, the interest in “A Sacrifice to Science” is as the bones on which “The Last Test” is built, and from that lens, the story is especially interesting because it is rare for us to have the “before” of a Lovecraft revision; most of his clients provided either only a plot-germ or synopsis, or the story is based on a draft that does not survive. Here, we have both the original story (in two texts) and the revision to compare.

“A Sacrifice to Science” is a turn-of-the-century thriller (that is isn’t very thrilling), very vaguely in the line of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more fantastic and better-composed tale of mad science such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), which had inspired Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” (1894) or “The Novel of the White Powder” (1895). There is a germ of a solid idea there, but the plot and writing don’t develop any tension in the reader. The skeleton-like character of Mort feels almost allegorical—Death always at the doctor’s side—but he is ultimately very mortal indeed, and far less interesting in his role as Igor to Clinton’s Dr. Frankenstein.

In comparing the 1892 and the 1893 texts, it is apparent that despite the small spelling and formatting changes, a number of passages and even entire paragraphs have been cut; all references to the “Typhus Clintoni” were excised. It isn’t clear why this should be so—one would assume that since In the Confessional and the Following would not have a strict word-limit. The most interesting detail is the bare sketch of a background on Mort, and the implication of testing on prisoners in the West Indies, making Dr. Clnton even more diabolical.

In comparing “A Sacrifice to Science” and its revision, the surprising thing is how much of the essential story and its details Lovecraft retained as he transitioned it to the form of weird pulp fiction. All of the essentials of the plot are reproduced, only with more detail and drama given to events, and perhaps surprising for those who think them Lovecraft’s weakest points as a writer, more attention and focus on character motivation and dialogue. Many of the fine details are kept as well, such as the sister referring to the assistant as the doctor’s “evil genius,” and the outbreak of fever among the Mexican population—which is, perhaps surprisingly, more developed in de Castro’s original.

Study of this story also shows where some of the less Lovecraftian story beats in “The Last Test” come from. Georgina’s tendency to faint—a trait Lovecraft decried in Gothic heroines—comes from Alvira’s episodes. The jealous romantic triangle began with de Castro, it was Lovecraft that gave it the “Fall of the House of Usher” proportions of “The Last Test.” The curious reticence of Surama to handle the afflicted Dick must have its origins in Mort’s complaint at the toll taken on his dogs.

As was also typical, Lovecraft sent a handwritten manuscript, and wished for no changes to what he wrote, to which de Castro wrote in reply:

I haven’t as yet had the time to look up Mr. Long. And mentioning Mr. Long recalls that I have never asked you if, in your opinion “Clarendon’s Last Test” is likely to have a market. I shall not make any changes in the story, but when it is typewritten I shall send it on its rounds, and le bon Dieu peut savoir if it will find some one to take it. The horror story isn’t much in demand now, I fancy.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 Feb 1928, LAG 349

Despite this promise to not make any changes, apparently de Castro did:

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

With my own suffering fingers I finished last night the copying on the typewriter of THE LAST TEST, and don’t know whether to send you an abrazo – a brotherly embrace – or, you, being so much younger than I, to give you my fatherly blessing for what you did for me; for the more I read the story the more I find that it has “workmanship” and a masterly touch.

For a moment I wanted to send you the story as I copied it, thinking you might perhaps elect to change a word here and there, as your own judgment should direct, and then I said to myself “Lovecraft’s eye has missed little as he went over it ‘scratching'” and I sent the story to “Weird Tales” at Indianapolis.

You will notice that I underscored the words “as I copied it”, meaning thereby that I took the liberty to write a phrase or use a word as I had been taught by Ambrose Bierce. These are: the word ‘persons’ for people. The latter referring to the people of a city, county, state or nation, the former referring to individuals, – “there were a number of persons” and not “people”; or many people for many persons. The second is a Biercean doctrine that a sentence ought never to begin with a negative assertion of something denoting a positive, and vice versa, such as: “I don’t believe Jim cares for it”; whereas it should be “I believe Jim doesn’t care for it”, which is really the essence of the assumption or belief. In other words: we believe a thing is or is not, it is our attitude in the matter, but if we say we don’t believe, we establish a non-attitude (although it might equally be a non-believing attitude) in the case where a positive is concerned.

I am very eager to hear your opinion in the matter, comprehending, of course, that idiomatic form or usage is, excepted.

I confess that your entire review of the matter relative to the story is correct, although I do not regret to have written you as I did, since it brought forth your most illuminative letter. And what is more, Egad! I really like the story.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Apr 1928, LAG 353

Lovecraft’s chagrin at this turn of events must be imagined; his response does not appear to survive. As Lovecraft’s manuscript does not survive, it is not clear what changes de Castro made, although it seems it was he who changed it from “Clarendon’s Last Test” to “The Last Test.” Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, could likely not help but notice the references to Lovecraft’s Mythos embedded in the story. Nevertheless, the story was accepted for $175.00, and duly appeared in the November 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Whatever the changes de Castro introduced, they could not have been extensive, for Lovecraft commented:

Old de Castro’s story that I revised is in the current Weird Tales. It doesn’t look so bad now. The element of Atlantean mystery is wholly of my own introducing. De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 27 Oct 1928, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165

In June 1929, de Castro was again asking Lovecraft to revise his 1893 stories (ES1.196), and as before, eventually agreed to Lovecraft’s terms of cash in advance:

I am just now confronting a damnable revision job from old De Castro—the Bierce satellite & biographer—who has made delay impossible by paying in advance! Consider me, then, as lost in chaos & woe for the next couple of weeks. It is like what I did for him in 1927-8—doctoring up some fictional junk he wrote in 1893. The old boy is going abroad on the 10th, & wants the work delivered while he is in London.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 8 Jul 1929, Essential Solitude1.200

The de Castro story in question was “The Automatic Executioner,” which was first published in The Wave, 14 Nov 1891. As before, Lovecraft completely rewrote the story, although keeping the essential plot and most of the names, and hewing closer to de Castro’s original plot, Lovecraft still added in references to his artificial mythology.

In one sense, “The Automatic Executioner” is an example of one of the earliest and most prominent modes of science fiction: gadget fiction. Thomas Alva Edison was still the wizard of Menlo Park in the 1890s, inventors like Alexander Graham Bell were honored as heroes. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells postulated on technological advances and their potential impact, and the basic idea of a new invention that revolutionizes the world—and the inventor that receives fame for it—was still current well into the 1920s and 30s, when writers like Robert E. Howard tried their hand at it with stories like “The Iron Terror.”

At the same time, the story is not strictly gadget fiction. The invention (Chekov’s noose, as it were) is only one part of a story which involves suggestions of hypnotism and astral projection, relatively occult concepts for what otherwise might be a “pseudo-scientific” story in 1920s pulp parlance. When compared to “A Sacrifice to Science,” it makes a kind of sense that Lovecraft had far less to add or change to the original tale—his principal changes being to turn the “automatic electric executioner” from an electric noose down to a portable electrocution device, and to transform the nature and depiction of Feldon’s madness. In this, Lovecraft incorporated elements of indigenous Mexican religion, his own artificial Mythos, and a curious encounter that Lovecraft himself had on a train:

The journey was made amusing by the presence in the seat beside me of a slightly demented German—a well-drest and respectable-looking fellow whom I had observ’d at the tavern reading a German paper before the start of the coach. He shew’d no signs of his affliction till we reach’d a sort of stagnant mill-pond near Newark, in New-jersey, when suddenly he burst forth the the question, “iss diss der Greadt Zalt Lake?” deeming the inquiry address to me, I reply’d that I scarcely thought his identification correct; whereupon he reliev’d me of all responsibility by remarking in a far-off, sententious voice—“I vassn’t talkingk to you; I vass shooter leddingk my light shine!” Properly rebuk’d for my officious desire to give information, I held my peace and permitted my seatmate to illuminate without hindrance. After a time he became vocal again, confiding to the empty air ahead, “I’m radiating all der time, und nopotty knows it!”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Travels in the Provinces of America” (1929) in Collected Essays 2.34

Lovecraft also expanded upon Feldon’s motivations for stealing the papers, which de Castro does not go into, an attempt to provide at least a moderately stronger explanation for the experience in the train car, and Feldon’s death—since de Castro leaves him alive at the end, while Lovecraft makes sure the executioner executes. What Lovecraft probably didn’t know is that de Castro was himself an inventor—he had patents for incandescent electric lamps and X-ray tubes—so possibly de Castro knew something of the paranoia of the inventor at getting scooped, and the singular obsession that Feldon expressed, the pride in the technical details of its working. More curious are the bits that Lovecraft left out: the name of the protagonist and his betrothed (and her position as editor of a newspaper, if that was not a spur-of-the-moment lie) and Feldon’s background so that he was never a sheriff in Montreal.

Being a nebulous mix of genres, it’s possible that de Castro could have sold this story to The Black Cat in the 1910s, or even possibly the earliest issues of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales—but there is no denying that the language is often stilted, and by the late 1920s badly needed the updated that Lovecraft provided if it was to have any hope of getting published. That Lovecraft wrote it with Weird Tales in mind seems almost certain; it might have found a home at Wonder Stories, but that would have meant dealing with Hugo Gernsback, whose reputation for non-payment Lovecraft was well aware of by 1929.

“The Electric Executioner” was accepted rather promptly by the end of February 1930 (ES1.249), and would be published in the August 1930 Weird Tales. This caused at least one reader to inquire:

Adolph de Castro, I note, mentions these gods, places, or whatever they are, only the spelling is different, as Cthulhutl, Yog Sototl. Both you and he, I believe, use the phrase fhtaghn.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.37

The reasons for its echoes in Dr. de Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine—into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 14 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.40

Lovecraft apparently also explained this to Farnsworth Wright:

I suppose he was curious about getting stories from several authors—Heald, de Castro, Reed &c (besides parts of mss. From Barlow, Bloch, Rimel, &c)—which contained earmarks of my style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William Lumley, 14 Nov 1935, Selected Letters 5.207

Lovecraft did apparently revise a third tale for de Castro, and it was sold to Farnsworth Wright for Strange Stories, a magazine projected to be published alongside Weird Tales, much as Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet would be, but legal troubles with the name prevented the magazine from coming out, and this revision is believed to be lost.

Since their publication in 1928 and 1930, the only extant versions of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” have been the versions published in Weird Tales, which were eventually published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949, Arkham House), and afterward became accepted publicly as Lovecraft revisions or ghostwriting jobs and subsequently reprinted in many other places.

However, this was not quite the end of the story. In 1953 when de Castro was 94 years old, he had bound a typed manuscript titled Surama of Atlantis and The Horror In A Mexican Train Plus Narrative Poems; the two lead stories “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are variants of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner,” respectively, differing sometimes slightly and in other places markedly from the Weird Tales text. De Castro’s papers, now at the American Jewish Archives, also contain an undated typescript of “The Electric Executioner” with small variations from both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text. For more on these, please see the companion post on “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

“A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner” are in the public domain, and the 1893 versions may be read online for free here; the 1892 version of “A Sacrifice to Science” is also in the public domain, and may be read online for free here. They have also been reprinted in the variorum edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction, Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations) (2017), alongside “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test.”


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

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

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

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

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

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

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk

Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

Some of the trustees were still unhappy, but Christine’s stunning find of the tomb of the Black Pharoah Nephren-ka had commanded headlines across the globe.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 14

1897. Somewhere between Boston and Providence lies the small city of Widdershins, a quiet place where a man can start over…at least until the Liber Arcanorum drops into the lap of a closeted translator of dead languages and the bodies start piling up. Nothing like an unexpected mystery to bring two people together.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins (2013) is an historical paranormal romance with two little twists: the world is set in the same country as Lovecraft’s Mythos (Dr. Whyborne even went to college at Arkham), and the protagonists are two homosexual men. It may, in fact, be the first homosexual Mythos romance novel—somewhat of a weird distinction to make, but previous Mythos romance novels like Margaret L. Carter’s The Windwalker’s Mate (2008) and Robin Wolfe’s Arkham Dreams (2011) were focused on heterosexual relationships, and homosexual characters and relationships remain rather rare in the Mythos by comparison. The closest comparable work in the field is probably “Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman.

The depictions of the men and the challenges they face are sympathetic; the construction of the setting is very competent. Hawk does their research:

A: But the research into the period!! How much did you actually do to capture the period as well as the paranormal element?

JLH: As much as I can! I have a replica Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 so I could figure out what sorts of goods and furnishings an average person in the period would have in their home. And I managed to find plans for middle class homes and hotels of the era online, which was a major boon.

My biggest problems research-wise actually came from the American setting. Casually glancing over the history section, you’d think America in the 1800s was nothing but the Civil War, followed up by the western expansion. At times it wasn’t easy to find out about the day to day life of people living in the northeast, especially if I needed something really specific. Most of the “daily life” books of the period center on Victorian England rather than Gilded Age America, and although there is some overlap, there are a lot of differences beyond drinking coffee versus tea.
Author Interview: Jordan L. Hawk

The Mythos elements are also rather refreshingly grounded: Arkham and the Necronomicon and all exist, but to the majority of the world (and the two protagonists), they are but part of the setting. The protagonists only discover gradually that there are secret cults about and some brands of paranormal science actually work, if you know how to pronounce the Aklo. Once that is established, given an expert in dead languages and a genuine grimoire, progress is fairly rapid.

The tone established falls somewhere between Cthulhu by Gaslight and Lois H. Gresh’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions (2017); magic exists, there’s a mystery afoot, and by chapter 7 the two principals have met and teamed up to solve it. As they continue through the adventure, the two grow closer; the common goal, trials, and tribulations provide the crisis for both men to open up, commiserate, empathize, and grow fond of one another.

“Damn it, Griffin, fuck me,” I growled.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 152

There is a sex scene. Not a weird one; no naughty tentacles or atypical anatomies. It is no more or less than the same kind of scene that would appear, without comment, in any number of other novels; only the genders of the particulars are different. That in itself is almost exemplary of the attitude of the novel as a whole: the book is not a homosexual pornographic novel. There is more hanging between Whyborne & Griffin that Victorian reticence, personal and social boundaries that have to be overcome and guards let down; readers who just want to see the two get together have to wait for it.

Then there’s the small matter of saving the world.

While not written in a pulp style, there’s a pulpish appeal to Widdershins. The stakes rise like something in an Indiana Jones film, the protagonists have to take into account all the possibilities that magic and the Mythos bring to their setting, and there’s an action scene at least every couple of chapters to keep the pace up. The characters, even beyond the two protagonists, have their own motivations and hangups. The best supporting character is Dr. Christine Putnam, an archaeologist that has fought an uphill battle her entire professional life because of her gender—and succeeded. Her desire to retain her hard-won reputation almost gets her killed, but that’s all the more endearing.

Searchers after horror will have to haunt stranger places than Widdershins to find what they’re looking for, but it is a well-written novel in its own mode of historical paranormal romance. It never descends into any attempt to ape Lovecraft’s style like a bad pastiche, nor does it hold slavishly to the tropes of a roleplaying game. Hawk refers to Lovecraft’s setting, but she makes few direct references to any particular story so the story is fairly accessible to the lay reader—which is also rather rare for a Mythos novel.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins is the first in the Whyborne & Griffin series, which as of 2018 includes a total of 13 novels and novellas.


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

 

“H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge

He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)

To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars

On human souls are gilded—no—but to

The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!

Terrors he brings and things not known before

From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.

Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar

Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!

—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)

Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)

In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.

Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.

In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”

Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)

“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:

[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8

While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.

“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).


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