Posts

“Mongoose” (2009) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

BEAR SAYS: My introduction to Lovecraft came, strangely enough, through the non-Mythos story “Cool Air,” which remains my favorite. I feel moved to explore his work in part because it’s such an uncomfortable blend of the unsettling and the problematic. I feel moved to question the boundaries of Lovecraft’s (often uncomfortably racist and misogynist) biological determinism, and find that his own metaphors of alienation and internalized inhumanity make an excellent tool for doing so.

MONETTE SAYS: I found Lovecraft in graduate school and feel instantly in love, not only with his darkly elaborate cosmology, hi ghouls and shoggoths and Elder Gods, but also with his own love affair with the English language. And somehow, for Lovecraft and for me, the two things to together: the words and the monsters, the monsters and the words.
—Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, Lovecraft Unbound 372-373

Deeper down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass, the readers are drawn back to the setting of  “Boojum.” In Bear & Monette’s second collaboration, both of their authorial voices blend and find expression, and the setting is fleshed out. Now in addition to boojums, gillies, and Mi-GO we have cheshires, toves, raths, bandersnatch—and Christians, Arkhamers, and political officers. The human monsters may not be quite as scary as the aliens phasing in from some other dimension, but that’s only because the reader is more likely to be familiar with them.

“Words and monsters”—”boojum” was the name of a nonsense creature from Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark (An Agony in 8 Fits) (1876); “toves,” “raths,” and “bandersnatch” are taken from Jabberwocky (1871); “cheshire” from the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).  The first four are nonsense words—the mind has no reference for what they look like, because they are not based on anything in human experience, so the reader is forced to use their own imagination—a neat trick which works better in a Lovecraftian context than simply making the alien entities unnameable and indescribable.

“Cheshire” however has a more specific context: the cat that slowly disappears, except for their smile, fading in and out of existence. In the lived-in, blue collar setting of “Boojum,” the cheshires and their handlers have to work for a living—and that’s where the story starts, on Kadath Station, as Israel Irizarry and Mongoose come to deal with an infestation of toves…and all the complications to what is otherwise a relatively straightforward pest removal story set in a space station.

The complications to the plot demand context, some of which we’re given, some of which is left hinted at but unsaid; meat for the reader’s imagination and future developments. Nothing from “Boojum” is discarded, but some of it is given more shape: multiple space stations with familiar names (Providence, Kadath, Leng, Dunwich, Arkham), some sort of Earth-Moon alliance that has commissar-esque political officers running in parallel authority with the stationmaster apparatchiks and bureaucrats. Boojum movements causing rents in space where creatures from an alien food chain can slip through, proliferate, and the tears widen, letting bigger things in…there’s a rationale to the indescribable things that phase in and out of this dimension with the nonsense names. A biological determinism in the food chain established.

Human prejudice has its place too, although the details are scant. The Christians are weird, heavily modified, barely glimpsed, but obviously an unfamiliar and discriminated-against minority; the same applies to the Gillies and the Arkhamers. This is not the Star Trek future of clean ships and racial harmony; there are biases and politics, hints of extremist cults and unsettling human-alien interaction. Somehow, that makes it more believable. Imperfect futures are dynamic, creative; there are places to go…and oh, the places Mongoose and Irizarry will go in this story, on their own quest in Kadath, where the reality grows thin and the toves and raths swarm…

As with “Boojum,” the focus of “Mongoose” is on the relationship between a human and an alien. The relationship alienates the human partner from other humans, and yet at the same time is what makes them unique and special. It is a literal case of alienation by dint of an intimate relationship with an extraterrestrial—and a positive, respectful one. Irizarry is conscientious of his partner’s health and well-being, worried for her safety, her likes and dislikes; they communicate frequently. It is the kind of ultra-personal interaction which is the antithesis of many Lovecraftian stories. The alien never stops being “alien,” but humans—at least some of them—learn to adapt and interact with them. But there is, as the culminating revelation of the story shows, always more to learn.

The Mythos takes a stronger place on stage in “Mongoose” compared to “Boojum,” although casual readers won’t miss much if they haven’t read Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” (1929). Bear & Monette re-imagine and re-invent Mythos concepts, rather than simply regurgitate old familiar names. They work actively to build on the setting hinted at in the first story, but the two remain standalone, complementary: you don’t need to have read “Boojum,” but they don’t explain boojums in “Mongoose.” This is an aggregate mythology, and the sum is greater than the parts—but the readers can enjoy the parts independently. Which is good, because they haven’t been collected yet.

“Mongoose” first appeared in Lovecraft Unbound (2009), and was subsequently reprinted in The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year Volume Four, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Seventh Annual Collection, The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction: 23rd Annual Collection, and The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy: 2010 (all 2010), New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (2011), Clarkesworld Magazine #81 (Jun 2013), and In Space No One can Hear You Scream (2013). It was adapted to audiobook by the Drabblecast in 2010. It is the second of Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette have collaborations, preceded by “Boojum” and followed by The Wreck of the “Charles Dexter Ward” (2012).


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

“Boojum” (2008) by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

The Lavinia Whateley was a Boojum, a deep-space swimmer, but her kind had evolved in the high tempestuous envelopes of gas giants, and their offspring still spent their infancies there, in cloud-nurseries over eternal storms.
—Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, “Boojum” in The Book of Cthulhu II 237

Sometimes, “Cthulhu Mythos” seems like an inadequate label for a story. “Boojum” is one of those. Bear & Monette’s tale is space opera for the 21st century, tightly written and gloriously imaginative. The Mythos elements themselves are both essential and yet subdued: the spice of the story, but not the meat of it. This isn’t a pastiche of Lovecraft among the stars. It’s a pirate story, in some distant future. Space pirates in a living ship, cracking open freighters; dealing stolen cargo with the Mi-Go.

For literary ancestry, “Boojum” has two notable forebears: “In the Walls of Eryx” (1939) by H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling, which is essentially Lovecraft’s version of a 1930s interplanetary tale, and Richard Lupoff’s “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977), which brought Lovecraft’s Mythos to the New Wave of science fiction. The better part of four decades between when those two stories were published—and in that time a space race was ran and won and lost. Another three decades between “Ghooric Zone” and “Boojum”—and what changed?

Attitude, certainly. Bear & Monette’s future is dirty, cramped, blue-collar, more Alien than Star Trek. A Lovecraftian future that feels lived in; realistic but not exactly bleak. There are stark choices and bad options when the only thing between you and hard vacuum is the skin of a giant extraterrestrial entity that you live inside like a space ship, when you live under constant threat that the captain might notice and make an example out of you. When you have to watch your oxygen levels, and it’s rational to choose between living as a brain in a canister or getting eaten by a diamond-toothed monster.

Why call the ship the Lavinia Whateley? In part, this is a signal to the readers of what this story is going to be. We never get a sense of why that name was applied within the context of the setting, except that the other ships like the Marie Curie and the Josephine Baker were also great women. The protagonist Black Alice Bradley swears by “Jesus and the cold fishy gods”; she lived in a world where Gillies from Providence Station are recognizable, where sunstones are mined on Venus, and the Fungi from Yuggoth move through space like the boojum themselves. This is a future which acknowledges Lovecraft, that riffs off his creations, but approaches the material from a contemporary point of view. Not too behooven to the man from Providence.

A good interplanetary story must have realistic human characters; not the stock scientist, villainous assistants, invincible heroes, and lovely scientist’s-daughter heroines of the usual trash sort. Indeed, there is no reason why there should be any “villain”, “hero”, or “heroine” at all. […] No stock romance is wanted.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction” in Collected Essays 2.180

Lovecraft wrote his assertions against romance during the heyday of the scientific romance, when John Carter would travel to Mars and seduce the alien princess Dejah Thoris, decades before Captain Kirk would leave a trail of broken hearts across the galaxy. While certain elements of his advice have aged well, others are less applicable.

In “Boojum,” Black Alice Bradley loves the Lavinia Whateley. Not sexually, though there is a certain intimacy throughout the story: Black Alice and the rest of the crew lives within the Boojum. To Black Alice, the “ship” is Vinnie, and though Black Alice is one of the lowest members of the crew, a self-taught engineer far down in the hierarchy, her sense of wonder and awe at being in the stars is focused on a single individual, a single relationship—we get no sense that Black Alice has any other real friends or lovers among the crew. In a real sense, Vinnie is all Black Alice cares about—and the revelation of the story, which Lovecraft might have at least begrudgingly recognized as something other than a “stock romance,” is that as a living being Vinnie cares about Black Alice.

“Boojum” first appeared in Fast Ships, Black Sails (2008), and was subsequently reprinted in Year’s Best SF 14, The Year’s Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection, The Mammoth Book of Best New Science Fiction: 22nd Annual Collection (all 2009), The Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, 2009 Edition (2010), Lightspeed (Sep 2012), The Book of Cthulhu II (2012), Space Opera (2014), and The Mammoth Book of SF Stories by Women (2014). It was adapted to audiobook by the Drabblecast in 2011. Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette have collaborated on two follow-ups, “Mongoose” (2009) and The Wreck of the “Charles Dexter Ward” (2012).


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

“While The Black Stars Burn” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder

It was the first and last time she had been glad to be a disappointment in the eyes of the universe.
—Lucy A. Snyder, “While the Black Stars Burn” in Cassilda’s Song (2015) 120

Rape has the primary definition of sexual trespass, but in the broader sense encompasses a variety of behaviors which force or take from a subject without their consent, and often against their direct wishes. Rapists often seek, not sexual gratification, but control and dominance. The sense of inevitability that accompanies the Yellow Mythos can play into such fantasies, sometimes literally as in “Yella” (2015) by Nicole Cushing, but more often a kind of metaphysical invasion and entrapment—as in Lucy A. Snyder’s “While the Black Stars Burn.”

At least half of this story is untold. Caroline Cage-Satin doesn’t know it, and the audience is left to guess at the cruelty of her father, drunk and sober; his fixation on her development of a violinist appearing to be more than an extension of parental ego. When the scar breaks open on Caroline’s palm, readers will have to wonder how much of the whole incident—from the Maestro pulling out the burning brand to the doctor who completed the sign—was planned, and who was in on it. How many people, knowing and unknowning, had pushed and pulled Caroline to that moment, to be that person, desperate enough to wrap her crippled hand around the neck of a violin and face the music?

Worst of all she knew—since she’d been repeatedly told so—that she was quite plain, good as a violinist but unremarkable as a woman. Her music was the only conceivable reason anyone would welcome her to a wedding.
—Lucy A. Snyder, “While The Black Stars Burn” 122

There’s a skill in the half-built nature of the story, in that it doesn’t feel incomplete—and in the characterization of the protagonist. Caroline never loses her agency. She can say no, and she does. Despite being raised by a cruel and egotistical father, Caroline does not demonstrate those traits herself. Her act of striking back against the world is self-sacrifice: to throw away her instrument, abandon the course charted for her. To seek a new life.

This is exactly what is denied her, choice ignored, as she finds herself playing the piece once again. Caroline does not consent to what happens at the end of the story…but it isn’t about what she wants. It’s about what others want, what they can make her do.

Rape.

A search for literary forebears and parallels turns up two interesting pieces: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann” and Charles Stross’ The Annihilation Score (2015). Zann is the quintessential musical touchstone of Lovecraft’s Mythos, his music on the viol keeps whatever is outside at bay. In this sense, Snyder’s story is an inversion of Lovecraft’s: where Zann forces himself to play, Caroline is forced to play, and the results of their playing are exactly opposite.

Stross’ novel actually touches on Lovecraft’s story—the heroine’s bone violin is a Zann Special—but the violin itself and the score in question are tied to Carcosa; it represents a coincidental parallel to Snyder’s story. Stross also makes an explicit sexual tension between Dr. Dominique “Mo” O’Brien and her violin, and outside forces pressure and shape her toward specific ends against her will. Like in Snyder’s story, O’Brien in Stross’ work is ultimately forced to play…but she at least has the resources to find a way out.

“While the Black Stars Burn” was first published in Cassilda’s Song (2015), and also appeared in and lent its name to Snyder’s collection While the Black Stars Burn (2015). It has been reprinted in Turn to Ash, Volume 1 (2016), Apex Magazine (Sep 2017), and Pseudopod #574 (2017). Snyder’s other Mythos fiction includes “The Girl With the Star-Stained Soul” (2014), “The Abomination of Fensmere” (2015), “Cthylla” (2015), “Blossoms Blackened Like Dead Stars” (2017), “Sunset on Mott Island” (2017), “The Tingling Madness” (2018), and “Cosmic Cola” (2018). Many of these are included in her collection Garden of Eldritch Delights (2018).

Lucy A. Snyder has also written nonfiction articles/reviews about Lovecraftian fiction for Horror World, and the essay “Unreliable Narrators in Kiernan and Chambers” (7 Oct 2015, Apex Magazine).


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

Editor Spotlight: Paula Guran

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

Those books were really weird books, man…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Lilloth” (2006) by Susan McAdam

Now what if I told you that there is such a work available for study, but this particular body of knowledge is near impossible to correctly interpret because sheer madness is the irreversible result from the mere reading of it? That’s right. You know the text.
—Susan McAdam, “Lilloth” in Rehearsals for Oblivion: Act I (2006) 107

The stories in The King in Yellow are structured as tragedies, in the sense that there is a certain inevitability that accompanies them, with all the characters’ actions leading them inexorably on; their fates cannot be otherwise, because they cannot be or do otherwise. This has often found expression in the stories of the Yellow Mythos: sometimes they evince a quiet irresistible force, as in “The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan and “Yella” (2015) by Nicole Cushing, or as a portentous foreboding of doom, as in “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files and “Flash Frame” (2010) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. There are rarely horrors to be fought in the sense of a raised fist, a drawn sword, or a loaded gun; no spell to ward off the inevitable. Though certain outward manifestations may be halted, the knowledge of the horror remains…and the terrible reality is there, waiting, in Carcosa.

In “Lilloth,” Susan McAdam takes advantage of both these approaches. The titular character’s name combines ‘Lillith’ from Jewish mythology and the -oth ending favored by Lovecraft in names like Yuggoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Azathoth, suggesting something of her nature—and she acts as both catalyst and focus for the story, narrated by an unknown, not-quiet-omniscient narrator, somewhat in the manner of Arthur Machen’s “The White People.” Lilloth is the beginning and the end of the story; the doom of her teenage friends is foreshadowed long before it is developed, and the nature of that doom is inevitable as it is, to a degree, self-inflicted. The teenagers act as they must, being who they are. The reader watches it unfold, like a horror movie, third-party witness to the event.

How a story is told matters at least as much as who the characters are, the setting, or the actual events of the plot. One of the advantages of operating within a specific Mythos is that a certain amount of the heavy lifting is already done: the reader is familiar with basic concepts, familiar names, disbelief is partially suspended already. The reader wants to read the story.

Such a pre-investment can allow room for experimentation, and so it is with McAdam: Lilloth’s story is told in fits and spurts, as though the narrator was piecing everything together from disparate newspaper accounts, interviews, police reports—all for the purpose of illustrating a point about reading between the lines, and the dangers of connecting certain dots.

It’s a familiar Mythos trope, as old as Lovecraft’s line “We live on a placid island of ignorance…” from “The Call of Cthulhu,” and there are many more old favorites in “Lilloth.” The actual plot of the story is less interesting than the way it is told, the connective tissue between the scenes somewhat thin, as might be expected of a piecemeal narrative. Most of the mysteries are left untold, and that’s perhaps more fun.

Lilloth joins the new generation with Helen Vaughn, Wilbur Whateley, and Hester Sawyer, and the circumstances of her conception are perhaps less of interest than that of her coming of age—and that is an aspect of these characters it is interesting to compare and contrast. Born of human women, they live for a time a changeling’s life, though often apart from humanity, teenage alienation made flesh—a theme sometime explored, as in Stanley C. Sargent’s “The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997) or W. H. Pugmire’s “The Child of Dark Mania” (1997). Lilloth’s characterization is in between those of Wilbur Whateley and Hester Sawyer: conscious of her heritage, but ignorant of the details; she has to learn, to grow as a person before she can take the next step, to transition from childhood to adulthood, from humanity to whatever lies outside of it…and there are casualties along the way.

“Lilloth” was published in Rehearsals for Oblivion: Act I: Tales of the King in Yellow (2006). It has not been reprinted.

 


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

“Yella” (2015) by Nicole Cushing

And he can’t help himself. He lets out a little, sissy-like wail and flinches at the noise.
—Nicole Cushing, “Yella” in Cassilda’s Song (2015) 39

Colors take on symbolic meaning, adapted to the syntax of their era. Robert W. Chambers’ seminal collection The King in Yellow (1895) was published during the “Yellow Nineties,” when publications like The Yellow Book (1894-1897) gained a reputation for decadence and eroticism, and that aesthetic can still be felt in stories like “Flash Frame” (2010) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Through the auspices of The King in Yellow, the color itself has become a byword and hallmark for activity in later fiction, giving its name to the “Yellow Mythos”—which might otherwise be the Chambers Mythos (to parallel the “Lovecraft Mythos”), the Cassilda Mythos (to parallel “Cthulhu Mythos,” yet keep it distinct from the “Hastur Mythos”), or the Carcosa Cycle (echoing Lovecraft’s reference to “the Arkham Cycle”).

Yellow can have many other connotations, however. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892) by Charlotte Perkins Gilman showcases a woman’s slow descent into madness, with certain thematic resonance to Chambers’ work. Yellow journalism is cheap, tawdry, sensational, and degrading; named after crumbling, fast-fading newsprint. Yellow is the color sometimes associated with fear and cowardice.

“Yella” by Nicole Cushing embraces the latter. Not the sudden fear of bodily harm, or of sudden climactic revelations, but the slow gnawing death by inches that comes from not wanting to act, to interfere. Fear of consequences, of being left alone, of what people will say and think of them. Adult fears, real and poignant, the kind that people bottle up inside and drown sip by sip from a whiskey bottle.

The basic premise of Cushing’s story echoes several other Mythos tales, particularly since it involves a male protagonist who appears unable to bring themselves to interfere with a female they are in a relationship with, even as she grows more distant from normal behaviors and closer to stranger things; August Derleth’s “Innsmouth Clay” (1971) and Ann K. Schwader’s “Mail Order Bride” (1999). The specter of fertility issues on relationships has been given a Mythos twist in stories like “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter.

What sets “Yella” apart is the focus on fear—and masculinity.

It’s enough to make any man prissy-prance his way outta there, but he ain’t gonna be scared off. He’s gonna do what he shoulda done days ago. Gonna be a fuckin man.
—Nicole Cushing, “Yella” 41

As in “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg, there’s a focus on both the internal narrative of masculinity and the external expression of it. Billy, the “empty man” protagonist of Cushing’s narrative, is hounded by the image of how he thinks a man should be and act, juxtaposed against his actual actions and inaction; his failures to confront his wife and his inability to impregnate her. His wife Patti uses those same fears against Billy, throwing his failures in his face, threatening his masculinity:

Yer gonna turn sissy fer him, ain’tcha? Ya turn sissy fer Him, He’ll give ya babies, too. Don’t make no difference if y’ain’t gotta pussy or a womb. He’ll make some fer ya, claw some into ya!
—Nicole Cushing, “Yella” 43

Billy’s fear that his wife will leave him for another man, that Patti has gone crazy, run up against a harsher reality. His fears, small and personal as they are, showcase the limits of his imagination—and what is really going on with Patti and her Yella Angel is much worse than what has Billy hitting the bourbon.

“Yella” plays with all these themes, stemming from and circling back around to the name, what it symbolizes and implies—the King in Yellow, Billy’s cowardice and its association with unmasculine behavior, sexual decadence, a woman’s descent into madness—and it does so quickly, pulling no punches, no graceful glances aside or slow build-up. Patti’s foul-mouthed speech is raw and perfect, brash and detailed where Billy is reticent and afraid to put his fears into words.

Billy is raped near the end of the story; and it is a rare event in the Mythos for a man to be penetrated. It is the culmination of Billy’s emasculation, and the fulfillment of Patti’s promise, at least from a certain point of view. Certainly, Billy didn’t ask for it—but in many of ways, that lack of choice may be the point. Rape is an expression of power and dominance, not sexuality; power and dominance are key aspects of patriarchal systems and cultures. Billy’s attempts to prove he is a man by dominating Patti, verbally and physically, ultimately fail…and ends up with roles reversed.

The real horror is that this isn’t Billy’s punishment, either for acting or failing to act. Getting raped, body and mind violated by the Yella Angel in its tattered robe, is not some vicious moral for failing to act up to a John Wayne standard of how a man is supposed to act. It would have happened anyway. There was nothing Billy could have done to prevent it—and there is nothing he or anyone else can do to prevent it from happening again. Billy’s reality is wakening up to how powerless he and everyone else is. A bleak and utterly appropriate nihilistic end, in the best traditions of the Yellow Mythos.

“Yella” was published in Cassilda’s Daughters (2015). Nicole Cushing’s other Mythos/Lovecraftian stories include “A Catechism for Aspiring Amnesiacs” (2012) and “Diary of a Sane Man” (2016); her story “The Company Town” appeared in the Thomas Ligotti-inspired anthology The Grimscribe’s Puppets (2013).


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

“The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan

My favourite moments are when the title and concept come to me in a kapow, often for a themed call like “The Viking in Yellow.” It was just bam all there.
—Christine Morgan, “Christine Morgan: The Closest Thing To Telepathy”

The foreign warriors that went a-viking harried the coasts of Europe, burned towns and looted monasteries of their treasures, raped, pillaged, and plundered…then climbed back into their ships and left, perhaps to return again next year. They were an intrusive force from outside, a force beyond prediction of control. Sometimes they could be bribed, rarely they could be fought off, but often they appeared before defense could be raised, and overwhelmed the coastal settlements…and there was little defense against them.

But when the striped yellow sails appear on the coast…and the grim silent warriors with the odd painted shields march to Marymeade Abbey, led by a chief in a tattered cloak… There are dearer things at stake than silver and golden, lives and virginities…and the Viking in Yellow will claim his own.

A mythos represents more than a collection of tales in the same setting or with shared characters, but variations on a narrative theme. Robert W. Chambers set “The Repairer of Reputations” in an alternate future, one strange to the eyes of 1895, but not unbelievable. The play The King in Yellow has fewer indications of when it is set, but that hardly matters. The Yellow Mythos can be adapted to almost any syntax and setting, by a writer with skill and imagination, the narrative echoes of Chambers’ play can repeat themselves in the far future or the distant past.

How many ages hence
Shall this our lofty scene be acted over
In states unborn and accents yet unknown!
—William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene 1

Christine Morgan has both considerable skill and imagination. The reality of the small community that exists to serve the abbey and its parent monastery is well-developed, full of small, realistic details. The fear of and reactions to the warriors from the sea is natural, and perhaps appropriate for any normal band of roving Norsemen—but not these gaunt sailors with the strange yellow glyphs on their shields, or the chief with the tattered cloak, a plume of pale yellow horsehair on his helm. When Sister Gehilde defies him, her words echo an old formula:

“You come here, nameless and face-hidden, and call them weak? Call them cowards? For shame! Take off your visor, then! Show yourself unmasked, if you have such strength and courage!”
—Christine Morgan, “The Viking in Yellow” in In the Court of the Yellow King 

The charm of “The Viking in Yellow” is both Morgan’s reflection of the scenes and elements from Chamber’s play and the original details she adds to subtly expand upon that narrative tradition…and she does it without once invoking figures directly in their familiar and ominous capital letters. This is a Yellow Mythos story without any mention of the Yellow Sign, though yellow signs abound; no King in Yellow, though there is a stranger who fulfills the role; no Cassilda and Camilla, though another pair of sisters echo their lines; no Carcosa either, though the lake of Hali makes a brief appearance at the end, with a city of strange towers and black stars.

In plot, it’s a viking raid with a twist; a premise that is laid out and fulfilled without complication. Morgan has written a number of viking previous to this, and teases mundane horrors which are ultimately subverted. The turn of the plot, when it comes, owes a bit more to the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game than anything Lovecraft or Chambers wrote—the kind of stock madness that sees robed cultists crop up in stories like “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer—but it works well enough in context, and faithful execution of a straight premise is satisfying in its own right.

“The Viking in Yellow” was published in In the Court of the Yellow King (2014) and has not yet been republished. Christine Morgan’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes “With Honey Dripping” (2014), “The Mindhouse” (2014), “Unfathomable” (2014), “The Ithiliad” (2014), “Lascivious Tongues” (2014), “Thought He Was A Goner” (2015), “Ninesight” (2015), “Professor Patriot and the Doom That Came to Niceville” (2015), “Incense and Insensibilty” (2015), “Aerkheim’s Horror” (2015), “The Arkham Town Musicians” (2015), “Pippa’s Crayons” (2016), “The Keeper of Memory” (2017), and “Fate of the World” (2017).

Christine Morgan’s viking fiction, including “Aerkheim’s Horror” but not “The Viking in Yellow,” is collected in The Raven’s Table: Viking Stories (2017).


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

 

“Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” (1938) by Vincent Starrett & “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” (2011) by Ann K. Schwader

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Cassilda’s Song in “The King in Yellow,” Act 1, Scene 2.
—Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow (1895)

The canon of The King in Yellow consists of a few fragments and tantalizing hints strung out over the first four stories of Robert W. Chamber’s strange collection. It is a play in two acts; there are at least two characters with speaking roles, Cassilda and the Stranger, and Camilla is mentioned besides, along with several odd names (Demhe, Hali, Carcosa, Yhtill, Hastur, etc.) Cassilda has a song. That is almost all.

Entire plays based on Chambers’ cryptic fragments have been written; an entire corpus of “Yellow Mythos” tales have spun out from the weird, decadent, almost nihilistic fin de siècle atmosphere. As with the Lovecraft Mythos, most of the energies of subsequent generations of writers and poets has revolved back around Chambers himself. Whatever expansions, interpretations, and embellishments other writers might add, there is that small, hard core of canon: Cassilda’s song.

One of the earliest such embellishments was by the noted bookman Vincent Starrett; his poem “Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” was published in Weird Tales (Apr 1938):

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too warmly fall upon the lake
And cause my bridal flowers to swoon.

The sparrow’s sorrow is in vain,
And so does he his bridge forget.
I wed the long grass and the rain,
And seven sailors dripping wet.

And shall not you and shall not I
Keep tryst beside this silent stream,
Who thought that we should rather die
Than wed the peacock’s amber dream?

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too coldly fall upon the lake
And chill my bridal flowers too soon.

The work is subtle; Starrett was too canny a reader to go for pastiche, or overt references to Carcosa or the Hyades; there is a lake, but not specifically the Lake of Hali. He does not specify where in the play this song is placed, either in the first act or the second…or does he?

The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.
—Robert W. Chambers, “The Repairer of Reputations” in The King in Yellow

The “innocence” certainly seems to fit, though it may be Starrett was hinting at a connection with one Chamber’s other weird works, “The Maker of Moons” (1896). Still, it introduces a third female character—Cordelia, Cassilda, and Camilla—and by giving both Cordelia and Cassilda songs, it may suggest that Camilla has one as well.

The “missing song” is provided, at least in part, by Ann K. Schwader, whose poem “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” bears the subtitle “(Camilla’s Song),” which begins where Chambers ends:

Cassilda sings the dying twilight down
Again to me tonight from her soul’s tower
—Ann K. Schwader, “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” in Twisted in Dream 98

Schwader likely took inspiration directly from Chambers, just as Starrett did. Certainly, “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” references directly and explicitly the mythos of The King in Yellow—and builds on those cryptic hints, suggesting a lament. If Cassilda’s and Cordelia’s songs were in act 1, then Camilla’s song feels as though it might have a place in that second and final act. Perhaps the play ends with Camilla singing:

Cursed as we all are with his bitter Sign.
(ibid. 99)

—and leave the audience to decide whether she is addressing them as well.

Starrett and Schwader’s respective contributions are both inspired by “Cassilda’s Song”; it is the crucial bit of lore that both have fastened on, the well of inspiration for their respective imaginations in their individual ways—and they are not alone. It has given its name to an entire anthology of female contributors: Cassilda’s Song: Tales Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow Mythos (2015), just as the song itself has inspired fiction such as “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files.

“Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” was first published in Weird Tales (Apr 1938), and subsequently republished in The Spawn of Cthulhu (1971), and Peter Haining’s Weird Tales reprint anthology (1976, 1990).

Ann K. Schwader’s poems relating to The King in Yellow include “Postscript: The King in Yellow,” “A Phantom Walks,” “Autumn, Lake Hali,” “Stargazing, Lake Hali,” “A Lost Song of Cassilda,” “Evening Reflections, Carcosa,” “A Queen in Yellow,” and sonnets XXIV-XXVI of “In the Yaddith Time” all contained in Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader (2011); “The Queen’s Speech”, “At the Last of Carcosa,” “Outside the Chamber,” and “Finale, Act 2,”were collected in Dark Energies (2015). She has also written stories related to the Yellow Mythos, including “Tattered Souls” (2003) and “Dancing the Mask” (2015).


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

Editor Spotlight: Ellen Datlow

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More specifically, Datlow insisted:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“A Creak in the Floor” (2018) by Victoria Dalpe

Don’t you know there was a mill on Copp’s Hill in 1632, and that half the present streets were laid out by 1650? I can shew you houses that have stood two centuries and a half and more; houses that have witnessed what would make a modern house crumble into powder.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”

A story doesn’t have to reference Richard Upton Pickman by name to invoke “Pickman’s Model.” When you boil Lovecraft’s story down to its essence, the soul of it’s core message is simple and perfect: there are monsters in the earth, and they eat the dead. So that is what Victoria Dalpe takes a her premise. No Necronomicon, no blasphemous artwork—just a bunch of art school kids renting a space in an old mill in Boston that’s been converted into illegal housing.

The art school kids tell each other stories, urban legend-building in real time, Dalpe working from her Lovecraftian substrate and layering on all the hints and suggestions. The girl who died in the elevator. The guy that got mugged. Where’s Pete? If this was drawn out to novella length or adapted to film, we might get the full Lovecraftian investigation, the secret history unveiled one onion skin at a time. The inexplicable rendered down, explained, pre-digested for the audience.

“A Creak In The Floor” is a short story. It doesn’t have time for that. Everyone knows what it’s about, or they should. Dalpe ends the story by going for the jugular. And she didn’t need a single reference to Pickman to do it, barely uses the g-word. Compared to a lot of Lovecraftian pastiche, it’s refreshing to see someone that can invoke the Mythos without calling the old names. It is reminiscent of “Pugelbone” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin in that way, though Dalpe’s tale hews a little closer to the Lovecraft canon.

If the things-beneath-the-mill are the crux of the story, Where is Pete? is the key to the plot. It is what drives the protagonist Charlie Chan deeper into the darkness. Pete is the reason Charlie is there. Pete is the boy Charlie is in love with. The human connection draws Charlie inexorably in after his friend, his hinted-at one-time lover. The missing Pete’s interpersonal connections with his flatmates is woven in and around the urban legends that Dalpe builds, much as Pickman himself has been built up from Lovecraft’s ghoulish artist, drawing bits of legend to his own personal Mythos as writers weave their stories around him—like “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, or “Pickman’s Modem” (1992) by Lawrence Evans-Watt.

Victoria Dalpe turns the page before we see what crimson end is in store for Charlie, and that is appropriate. While his story could have gone on, the story that Dalpe was telling really ends with the final revelation. In a twist of irony that only Lovecraft readers will get, it once again involves a photograph from life…

“A Creek In The Floor” was published in Pickman’s Gallery (2018). Victoria Dalpe’s other Lovecraftian contribution includes “Mater Annelinda” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014).


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