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“The Sisters Derleth” (2017) by Michelle D. Sonnier

“Chin up and all that,” she muttered to herself. “How is this any worse than marrying a man older than my father and bearing him children?”
—Michelle D. Sonnier, “The Sisters Derleth” in EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness 58

Growing up is about facing adult fears. This applies to Mythos fiction as much as in human life: the talk of elder gods and strange creatures older than humanity have the timeless quality of a good fable, suitable for all ages. Not quite the same as the foreign markets tanking your father’s investments and now being a young woman stuck in a small town in Massachusetts, unable to make the rent, and the only thing to possibly barter a better life with being what’s between your legs.

Which is more literal than Edith Athney expects when she meets the Sisters Derleth.

The delayed adolescence of Edith is mimicked in the style of narration as well as the events of the story. The flowery, quasi-Brontë prose at the beginning gives way swiftly to a more natural, faster-paced flow of dialogue, back and forth. Trapped between forces she can barely comprehend, the protagonist of Sonnier’s tale nevertheless makes the heroically pragmatic choice—and if she bargains away her innocence, at least she strikes her own bargain on terms she sets, rather than being forced into an arranged marriage. The final sign of her coming-of-age is a very literal and bloody deflowering, though not the one she might have hoped for.

The issue of financial anxiety tied to marriageability is absent from the bulk of Mythos fiction. It is a very human, mundane, adult fear which relies on social conventions and expectations, and it is a rare writer that makes such fears the opening or centerpiece of a Mythos story. “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens broaches the issue of reproductive horror, “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales focuses on how women feel when reduced to wombs for barter, “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter touches on marriage fertility anxieties, but Sonnier focuses on the fear of the future: of being an old maid, of the consequences of not marrying well. Marrying for love isn’t even on the table: this is a horror story, and Edith loses such romantic ideas fairly early.

Why Derleth? The eponymous sisters of the story have no direct connection to Lovecraft’s friend and hagiographer, August Derleth; nor does it appear to be a reference to the Comte d’Erlette, the author of Cultes des Goules. It just is, a name to conjure by, an empty association. As much a lure to draw the reader in as the Sisters’ invitation to Edith brought them into their garden…and if the readers are left wondering where exactly the Sisters fit in to the grand scheme of the Mythos, that is not a fault. In Mythos fiction especially, less is sometimes more, and a bit of mystery is preferable to absolute certainty.

Much of the Mythos elements and tropes at play in the story verge on trite: Sonnier isn’t seeking to expand the Mythos substantially or score points with the more hardcore fan scholars by making excessive tie-ins to other works. If “The Sisters Derleth” plays fast and loose, inspired more by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game and its sanity-draining eldritch tomes than Lovecraft and his contemporaries’ original fiction, it is because it can do so—and is little different in that regard than “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer.

“The Sisters Derleth” was published in EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness A Mythos Anthology (2017). It is her first Lovecraftian work.

 

 

“Resonator Superstar!” (2015) by Anya Martin

But whatever you dub it, it’s not my father’s Lovecraft circle of white cis men anymore. Women, people of color and LBGTQ writers are reshaping and stretching the borders of the weird.
—Anya Martin, Q&A: Atlanta writer Anya Martin on her debut horror collection “Sleeping with the Monster” (8 Nov 2018)

The success of the film Reanimator (1985), based on H. P. Lovecraft’s short story “Herbert West—Reanimator,” led rather shortly to the production of another Lovecraft film adaptation, with the same director (Stuart Gordon), producer (Brian Yuzna), and leads (Jeffrey Combs and Barbara Crampton). From Beyond (1986) burned through the plot of Lovecraft’s story in the pre-title shots, and from the bare bones of the tale the filmmakers created a memorable, fast-paced horror film built on sensuality and practical effects, solid performances and evocative, memorable images. In some foreign markets, it was released as Resonator.

Anya Martin’s “Resonator Superstar!” is a story inspired not directly by Lovecraft, but from the adaptation of Lovecraft. While the literary DNA of Lovecraft’s original seven page story is there, the imagery and themes of the story are derived more from the film than the source text. Where many pastiches, sequels, and homages call back directly to Lovecraft’s, the different path of influence and inspiration have their stamp on Martin’s story. The most important difference is that “Resonator Superstar!” stands on its own: but it also allows readers to reflect back on what does and does not come from Lovecraft’s story, and why.

Thanks to director Stuart Gordon’s gloriously over-the-top film adaptation of From Beyond, it’s difficult to get away from pairing sex and the Resonator…and why would we want to? s there anything a Freudian in horror filmdom as the sight of Jeffery Combs’ pineal stalk thrashing around between his eyebrows? We think not!
—Scott R. Jones, “Magic Circles, Noxious Machines” in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales FROM BEYOND 3

Lovecraft’s “From Beyond” is essentially asexual, though some readers might find a buried homoerotic reading in two men in a small space, experiencing together a heightened, unnatural sensitivity. The lack of female characters on Lovecraft’s part was typical, and probably deliberate: romance is a human element, ultimately mundane, and Lovecraft was focusing on the weird element, the strange world beyond the normal senses of most human beings.

From Beyond grounds this focus back into the human realm, with a focus on sensuality and sexual stimulation: Tillinghast’s BDSM practices are recast as explorations into the limit of human experience, which the resonator device aims to bring him past. The cast is expanded to allow the interplay and interaction of more complex human relationships, especially as they each begin to feel the effects of the resonator.

Martin’s “Resonator Superstar!” starts where From Beyond leaves off: protagonist DiDi and her beau Curt offer a completely contrasting relationship than the nameless protagonist and Tillinghast in Lovecraft’s original tale, and the attitude and plots of the stories likewise diverge from that very basic difference. Curt is portrayed as intelligent, egotistical, controlling; DiDi as enamored, more self-conscious, sympathetic. Their relationship is explicitly sexual yet undefined (“the usual dance of we’re-fucking-but-are-we-a-couple-or-not”), and readers can read in their own warning signs from Curt’s treatment and behavior. The third, shadowy figure in the relationship is the object of Curt’s obsession.

DiDi’s inherent insecurity in the relationship is confirmed by an outside interloper: Hester Tillinghast, a living link to Curt’s obscure research into Andy Warhol, the Velvet Underground, and the resonator. Lovecraft had toyed with lover’s triangles in some of his ghost writing, but it is hard to imagine him writing a lover into “From Beyond”—much less to have them catch their partner in flagrante delicto—blazing with the full ultraviolet imagery of From Beyond…and DiDi trapped as, in an echo of the film, the resonator activates itself once again.

The key difference between Lovecraft’s story and Martin’s is not so much the phallic extension of the pineal glands or the well-researched background on Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground, but the different focus and development of the plot and characters. Lovecraft’s plot impulse is spare and straightforward, one man hating another; Martin’s plot is dealing with more complicated relationships, emotions, and more people. Lovecraft’s narrator, faced with a need to act, shoots the resonator; Martin’s DiDi, striving to save her lover, shuts off the resonator program. They accomplish much the same actions, but their reasons for doing so are very different…as are, ultimately, the results.

The film From Beyond took three steps beyond Lovecraft’s narrative out of necessity: there really wasn’t enough raw material in the original short story to sustain a full-length feature film. “Resonator Superstar!” references From Beyond by choice: the story can stand on its own, even if the reader has never seen the film or read Lovecraft’s original tale. Readers who have experienced both will have a better appreciation for what’s going on in Martin’s work, but the story is sufficiently removed from the original context of Lovecraft’s tale that it isn’t necessary in the same way that reading “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is critical to appreciate “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys or “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales.

What is surprising about “Resonator Superstar!” is not that it takes more direct inspiration from From Beyond than “From Beyond,” but that this inspiration should be discernible in both imagery and theme. Because most of Lovecraft’s fiction is in the public domain, it is relatively accessible and available to refer back to it directly, or even remix it as in “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky & “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon. The callback to the film adaptations are comparatively rare in Lovecraftian fiction because relatively few of Lovecraft’s film adaptations have achieved the kind of success to warrant their images sticking in the popular consciousnessalthough as a counterpoint to that, Chaplinksy’s book obviously takes as its inspiration the iconic Reanimator film poster for its cover art.

“Resonator Superstar!” first appeared in Resonator: New Lovecraftian Tales FROM BEYOND (2015) and reprinted in Anya Martin’s collection Sleeping with the Monster (2018). Martin’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes “The Prince of Lyghes” (2015), and “Old Tsah-Hov” (2015); she also touches on H. P. Lovecraft in the essay “The H Word: The Weird at the World’s End” (2017) for Nightmare Magazine.

Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction (2007) by Asenath Mason

“He is firmly convinced that all our gang—you, Two-Gun Bob, Sonny Belknap, Grandpa E’ch-Pi-El, and the rest—are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension. We may think we’re writing fiction, and may even (absurd thought!) disbelieve what we write, but at bottom we are telling the truth in spite of ourselves—serving unwittingly as mouthpieces of Tsathoggua, Crom, Cthulhu, and other pleasant Outside gentry.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Oct 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 449

During their lifetimes, H. P. Lovecraft and his contemporaries received inquiries into whether or not the grimoires and entities in their pulp fiction were real—Lovecraft, ever the materialist, always admitted they were fiction. Yet in time occultists did begin to appropriate elements of the Mythos, and notable early works include Kenneth Grant with his Typhonian Trilogies, beginning with The Magical Revival (1972); Anton LaVey’s The Satanic Bible (1976). These works and others like them have in turn inspired further occult material, either expanding on previous work or adapting Lovecraftian elements to other magical paradigms. Lovecraftian occult literature has grown up alongside and occasionally interacting with Cthulhu Mythos fiction.

Much of the early occult interest centered around the Necronomicon, the most evocative of Lovecraft’s fictional grimoires, and in the 1970s it inspired a few prominent hoaxes, including editor George Hay’s Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names (1978) and “Simon” with the ersatz Necronomicon (1977), which for the last several decades has been in print in a cheap and eminently affordable paperback edition.  These last two books were presented in the format of genuine grimoires, complete with ritual texts, sigils, talismans, etc. These books have formed the basis for a “Necronomicon tradition” in contemporary occult literature, with writers and practitioners attempting to reconcile, reconstruct, expand upon, and incorporate material from the various sources of the Lovecraftian occult into a cohesive system—or at least their personal system. It is only appropriate that Asenath Mason begins her work addressing this reality:

“[This book] refers to chosen published versions of the Necronomicon (by ‘the Necronomicon’ I will refer in this book to the general idea of the book and the particular lore of entities, not to any specific published text) as well as on some Necronomicon-related texts and grimoires which have appeared in the internet over the last few years. All these texts are generally considered hoaxes and if you do any serious research, you will find out that none of them is the ‘genuine’ Necronomicon. […] This fact, however, should not discourage us from working with these texts. […] Magical power is not contained within any written book but within our minds, and a mind of a creative individual can transform fiction into a genuine experience. In this sense we can use the Lovecraftian lore as a tool in exploration of dark labyrinths of our mind.”
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 9

Mason’s statement here is derived from chaos magicians like Phil Hine, author of Prime Chaos (1993) and Pseudonomicon (1994). While “Simon” presented their hoax Necronomicon with a false backstory as an actual text which inspired Lovecraft, and Kenneth Grant asserted Lovecraft had stumbled upon some occult truth which he expressed through his fiction, chaos magicians owned the fact that Lovecraft invented the Necronomicon, that it was a fictional text—but chose to work with it anyway. Fictional concepts and ideas in their tradition can be as valid for magickal operations as those taken from factual mythologies; to an inhabitant of the 20th or 21st century, Cthulhu and Osiris are both essentially dead names to conjure with.

Necronomicon Gnosis is essentially an exegesis of Lovecraftian occult materials: Mason’s interpretation of the body of magical ideas presented in the original stories (focusing primarily on H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth’s “posthumous collabortions” with Lovecraft) and already-presented occult material (primarily the Simon and Hay Necronomicons, Kenneth Grant, Phil Hine, Peter J. Carroll, Stephen Sennitt, and Donald Tyson). The text is not exhaustive and aimed at beginners who have limited experience with the occult or Lovecraft; the result is a bit odd but workable, a combination of literary analysis followed by suggestions or instructions for occult rituals or exercises, with many references to occult works the readers aren’t likely to be familiar with (titles included in a handy bibliography in the back).

While Lovecraft or his contemporaries might include some impressive feats of magic in their fiction like raising the dead, Mason’s Necronomicon Gnosis rites are generally more modest in scope, and focus on the understanding and spiritual development of the practitioner—the gnosis aspect of the title. For example, part of the instructions for “The Black Communion” a rite to invoke Shub-Niggurath include:

While the priest recites the incantation, the priestess must concentrate on becoming possessed by the invoked force. She should envision the Goddess with all her attribute and fully identify with her, o that the consciousness of the entity and the priestess become one. She should also arouse her sexual energy of the Kundalini serpent and inflame herself until she feels the primal insatiable lust, embodied by Shub-Niggurath.
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 134

The sexual aspect of this ritual is not unusual among Lovecraftian occult rites; Kenneth Grant was a disciple of Aleister Crowley, whose system incorporates ceremonial sex magick and the use of sexual fluids in rituals, for example. However, the vast majority of Lovecraftian occult materials are written by men, and there is a distinct androcentric and heteronormative approach to sex and sexual workings in the works of Grant, Simon, Tyson, etc., the material often focus either on lascivious depiction (like Grant’s infamous “Rite of Ku”) or on a male practitioner. In interpreting the material, Mason addresses some of the more obvious biases briefly:

[…] sex gives us power over ourselves because it is the ultimate expression of life. Thus, we have the conviction, characteristic of all monotheistic religions, telling us that sex is sin, as all mastery over life is reserved to God and man is not allowed to aspire to the divine power.
—Asenath Mason, Necronomicon Gnosis 127

Shub-Niggurath has been associated with any number of female mythological figures by various authors, and Mason spends quite a bit of time running through her accumulated symbolism. While Lovecraft described her as a “sophisticated Astarte”, occultists have associated her with Kali, Inanna, Ishtar, Lilith, Tiamat, Pan, and Bamphomet; with the moon, the planet Venus, and the elemental Earth…and so on and so forth. Mason makes a game effort to untangle the varied strands of symbolism and association with Shub-Niggurath, but as with efforts to “sort out” the Cthulhu Mythos itself, too many writers have contributed too many conflicting thoughts to produce a unified and consistent approach, except at a very high level: Shub-Niggurath is about sex, and exploration of your sexuality is a valid path to gnosis.

That is the point that Mason returns to, again and again, circling back to it through her readings of the Mythos and the Lovecraftian occult, the rituals and invocations. The desire for gnosis could be said to guide a number of Mythos readers who have no practical interest in the occult, and might well balk at the concept, but still thrill to the emotions evoked by a weird tale or look forward eagerly to a terminal revelation, or perhaps seek to broaden their horizons by reading Lovecraftian fiction that challenges the structure of the Mythos they are familiar with. It is a pursuit which, stripped of the occult trappings of spells and grimoires is explored in works like Scott Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014).

Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction more or less fulfills its remit. While not as simple a magical system as presented in Donald Tyson’s Necronomicon series or as consistent a system as presented in the Necronomicon books by “Simon”, it is a solid effort at condensing the probably irreconcilable mystic mishmash of forty years of dedicated occult kitchensinking and presenting it while maintaining a consistent philosophy. For those who are interested in going deeper into the Lovecraftian occult, the Necronomicon Gnosis is a useful jumping-off point, naming key texts and authors to further their explorations.

The eternal temptation of such a combined approach is à la carte occultism—readers taking what they want or can use, and leaving the rest. This is effectively the same dilemma faced by readers and authors of the Cthulhu Mythos, and for many of the same reasons: with all these different stories, riffing off of the material created by Lovecraft and others, some of which is clearly incompatible with the rest—how do you decide what is true for you? What exactly are you as a reader or writer of Mythos fiction looking to accomplish? Perhaps we should all take a page from Mason’s book and consider not the trappings of the Mythos, but what we are trying to achieve through the use of the Mythos, what philosophy underlies it all. Do we seek escapism…or revelation and gnosis?

Asenath Mason is the founder of Lodge Magan, the Polish lodge of the Dragon Rouge magical order. Necronomicon Gnosis was published in both Polish and English editions by Edition Roter Drache in 2007. Those interested in a nonfiction history of the Lovecraftian occult and the Necronomicon tradition in particular should read The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend by Daniel Harms and John W. Gonce III.

“Rising, Not Dreaming” (2011) by Angela Slatter

The chant meant only this: “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

Only the outlines of what the various cults believe are revealed in the course of Lovecraft’s fiction, snippets of translations from the Necronomicon, the names of the entities they revere, suggestions of a history that far outstretches anything of human record—and a promise, a prediction, as certain as the eventual demise of our own sun at some impossibly future date, that the stars will come right, and these entities will come again. That is the gospel according to Lovecraft.

“Rising, Not Dreaming” is the Mythos equivalent of apocrypha. Not exactly in agreement on every point of Lovecraft’s eschatology, presenting an alternate perspective on events. The narrative comes from a viewpoint that is much more personal and immediate than a quotation from a dusty tome:

I think of the wife I had, sweet and tender.
I think of her belly swelling, rich and round.
—Angela Slatter, “Rising, Not Dreaming” in Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth 276

The result is closer to dark fantasy than normal Lovecraftian horror, reminiscent of “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys or “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn in that respects—and it is worth considering how these “alternate Mythos” add to the overall experience of the reader.

Lovecraft and his contemporaries largely were working independently of one another, pursuing their own fiction, using references to each other’s fiction as more of a skein of connective tissue than collaborative plotting. While there were a few efforts to keep their material in agreement, these were largely focused internally—Lovecraft himself liked to use variations on the names of the various entities. For example, in “The Electric Executioner” the familiar Mythos entities appear with Nahuatl-influenced names like “Cthulhutl” and “Niguratl-Yig” and “Yog-Sototl.” These alternate names are never explicitly explained by Lovecraft: it was later generations of fans and writers that would work to “fill in the gaps” and attempt to write fiction that agreed with the “gospel” version in Lovecraft’s “canon,” worrying over details of spelling and consistency.

The literary game of writing fiction that agrees with Lovecraft & his contemporaries, that builds off his fiction and is in communion with it is one that many writers continue to play today, extending the Mythos in one way or another. Of course, many of these continuations themselves are taken in different directions, so while you might argue that “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens“Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader, and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales are all true to Lovecraft’s original stories, it is a little difficult to see them all co-existing within the same continuity. They are good stories, and each emphasizes or develops different aspects of the same material, but can they all be true for a particular canon without some baroque efforts on the part of the reader?

Slatter’s approach in “Rising, Not Dreaming” is deliberately apocryphal in this respect. Like Lovecraft, she emphasizes this in a subtle choice of words:

Too long had the dreams of men been troubled with the ructions of the star lords. Too often did they rise at whim from their undersea city, their R’lyeth, to walk the earth and bring darkness with them.
—Angela Slatter, “Rising, Not Dreaming” in Weirder Shadows over Innsmouth 275

R’leyth instead of R’leyh could be a slip of the keyboard, but Slatter’s spelling suggests antiquity, or perhaps the imperfect translation of inhuman speech. The story too contains within it a greater sense of human agency than typical for Lovecraftian horror—the unnamed Masters cast spells of immortality and water-breathing, and dare to pull an Erich Zann/Pied Piper play. Slatter is weaving a fable on the bones of Lovecraft’s mythology, but the approach given is very much not one that has to do with the alignment of the stars, volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean, or ships in the night. There are echoes of his language and philosophy in the story, but it is clearly a world apart from the canon Mythos.

Which must be immensely freeing, to many authors. To not be slaved to follow the exact details of Lovecraft’s stories, but to use his creations and ideas to help tell the stories that they want to tell—as is perhaps exemplified by “Showdown at Red Hook” (2011) by Lois H. Gresh, where time and place can be freely distorted to achieve the right mood. Slatter has certainly worked to achieve a mood here, one of loss and rebellion, pride and regret, and finally a kind of diminution as the narrator realizes how small they are, physically and otherwise, in comparison to Cthulhu. That is the very Lovecraftian terminal revelation of the tale, a kind of gnostic wisdom, albeit too late.

“Rising, Not Dreaming” was first published in Innsmouth Free Press #3 (2011), and has been reprinted in the collection Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013), and was translated into Russian in 2015. Angela Slatter’s other contributions to Mythos fiction include “The Song of Sighs” (2013) and “Lavinia’s Wood” (2015).

“Love’s Eldritch Ichor” (1990) by Esther M. Friesner

If you had not used Ms. Lovecraft’s text as the basis for our novel, Fires on the Sea would have languished as unknown as its first authoress. What a loss to us all that would have been!
—Esther M. Friesner, “Love’s Eldritch Ichor” in Cthulhu 2000 (1991) 244

The initial premise of “Love’s Eldritch Ichor” is designed to knock the steadfast and serious fan of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos off their rocker: what if one of H. P. Lovecraft’s manuscripts was being re-written and published as a contemporary romance novel, trashy cover and sex scenes and all? For a writer whom many fans had raised up on a pedestal, both in real life and in fiction, the juxtaposition of tone and genres is designed to raise hackles. Then when the knife is firmly inserted, Esther M. Friesner starts to twist it just enough to tickle the funnybone…

There is a fine line between a reference and an in-joke. Readers intimately familiar with the fiction of H. P. Lovecraft recognize the reference in the title to “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ, and that recognition preps the reader for the story: it helps to establish the world. In-jokes are similar in that they are never explained to the reader; either they get them or they do not. The elaborate riffing on Gnophkehs in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price is an in-joke, only really comprehensible to someone aware of the fan-scholar debate on the subject. While it contains a lot of clever wordplay and humorous imagery and characterization, “Love’s Eldritch Ichor” is built on Mythos in-jokes, from by-the-way references to various Mythos stories to a groaner of a knock-knock joke from a gang of shoggoths. Yet there is a lot more at work in the story.

“Love’s Eldritch Ichor” blends fiction and reality: set in a contemporary (1990) world of cappucino machines and Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), but one where both Lovecraft and his literary creations such as Arkham both coexist. While the former is uncommon, the latter is very typical of a certain type of Mythos fiction. Lovecraft himself would drop references to Arthur Machen and Clark Ashton Smith into stories like “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu”; August Derleth would go Lovecraft one better by dropping in references to Lovecraft and the Arkham House collection of his tales next to the Necronomicon. Derleth was not doing this tongue-in-cheek, he was building an idea that Lovecraft had based some of his tales on reality—an idea revisited by later authors such as Robert Bloch in his novel Strange Aeons (1978) and Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence (2015-2017). Where other authors use that as a jumping-off point to reflect on, revisit, or revise Lovecraft’s fiction, Friesner does it to underline the silliness of the premise, to take off the kid gloves and show nothing is off-limits.

If the gloves are off for Lovecraft, Friesner also isn’t worried about bloodying her knuckles against the cut-throat world of book contracts, agents, and editors, and the whole innate silliness of the romance industry. Most of the jokes made are at the expense of Robin Pennyworth, the sole male reader in a female-dominated book publisher. His awareness of his failure to meet up to 1980s expectations of masculine attitude and behavior, reminiscent (if not so focused on homophobia) of “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg, is meat for his domineering boss Marybeth Conran, who is quick with a cutting remark like:

If everything Chuckie Ward tells me is true, she’s led a life of such isolation that when you stumbled into her life, no wonder she mistook you for a man.

Sarah Pickman, the object of Robin’s amour and the co-author of Fires of the Sea, is portrayed far more positively than Conranwhose only goal is to rule her department with an iron fist and bind the writers with the worst possible contracts. In many subtle ways, Friesner plays up her parallels with her supposed ancestor H. P. Lovecraftreclusive nature, thriftiness, and the invitation by a romantic partner to New York City all being obvious homages to Lovecraft’s nature and biography.

So too, Friesner has put some effort into the references to the romance novel itself, alluding to characters and scenes that would be appropriate if Lovecraft himself had written an Innsmouth-based romance novel…which does beg the question of whether or not she was aware of previous efforts in this direction. Robert M. Price, writing as “Sally Theobald” (a play on one of Lovecraft’s pseudonyms) published an eldritch confessional-style yarn titled “I Wore The Brassiere of Doom” (1986); Brian McNaughton, writing as “Sheena Clayton” had written an Innsmouth-based erotic/romance novel titled Tides of Desire (1983). Price, like Friesner, focused on the silliness of the serious and asexual Lovecraft trying his hand at such an unfamiliar genre; McNaughton was aiming less at humor and more at a serious erotic paranormal romance work (although he was a couple decades early for that particular genre). Both ideas have bones: Edward Lee would revisit the idea of Lovecraft maintaining a sideline in erotic fiction with Trolley No. 1852 (2009)while Friesner was playing the idea for laughs, in the long run it looks like there’s at least some market for those kind of materials.

The topicality of the story might make it something less than classic; its references to late-80s American culture are already dated nearly three decades after its original publication, such as the final whopper:

[…] while I looked and looked for mention of a pace-name you use, consulting the Britannica and the geographical listings in the Unabridged, it only shows up a an adjective. It sounds so familiar. I think I may have heard of a Trump resort located there, but correct me if I’m wrong.

Where is Stygia?

This is at least a more subtle insertion of a Trump reference into Lovecraftiana than Trump Vs. Cthulhu: Two Small Hands, One Big Problem (2018), and is actually a very clever final in-joke referencing the works of Robert E. Howard (who, along with Clark Ashton Smith, get nods in the story). Lovecraft had written in a letter:

There is no such name as Stygia … the adjective Stygian being derived from the name Styx—the River of the Dead. Two-Gun Bob misuses the word-root when he speaks of a country called “Stygia”. Indeed, he takes frequent & unwarranted liberties with classical names ( or variants of names) in devising a nomenclature for his prehistoric world. Price & I have laboured with him in vain on that point.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 28 Sep 1935, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 290

This is Friesner showing her homework and giving the knife one last little twist, this time to Robert E. Howard fans, although her subtle references to Red Sonja owe more to the Marvel comic books or the 1985 film than anything Ms. Cromwell (er, Robert E. Howard) ever wrote.

“Love’s Eldritch Ichor” was first published in World Fantasy Convention 1990: An H.P. Lovecraft Centenary Celebration (1990), and reprinted in Friesner’s collection It’s Been Fun (1991), the anthologies Cthulhu 2000 (1995) and Cthulhu and the Coeds, or, Kids & Squids (2000); it has also been translated into French as “L’amour est une indicible purulence” and published in Fées & gestes (1998). Her story “The Shunned Trailer” was published in The Cackle of Cthulhu (2018).

“Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky vs. “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon

Of Herbert West, who was my friend in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme terror. This terror is not due altogether to the sinister manner of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work, and first gained its acute form more than seventeen years ago, when we were in the third year of our course at the Miskatonic University Medical School in Arkham. While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion. Now that he is gone and the spell is broken, the actual fear is greater. Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West—Reanimator”

Of Herburt East, who was my lover in college and in after life, I can speak only with extreme arousal tinged with terror. This fear-tainted arousal is not due altogether to the sinister manner of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work, and first gained its acute form more than seventeen years ago, when we were in the third year of our course at the Peniskatonic University Medical School in Jerkham. While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly; no less also did our two lean masculine bodies entwined in illicit passion, and I was his closest companion. Now that he is gone and the spell is broken, the lust is less blinding, and the actual fear is greater. Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.
—Lula Lisbon (“D. P. Lustcraft”), “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (emphasis mine)

Of Kanye West, who was my friend in college and after he dropped out, I can speak only with extreme sadness. This dysphoria is not due altogether to the sickening manner of his recent disappearance, but was engendered by the whole nature of his life-work, and first gained its acute form more than twenty years ago, when we were in the first year of our course at the Chicago State University in Illinois. While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his musical experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion. (Some would say too close. There was much speculation regarding the nature of our partnership, but Kanye was a very private person and I didn’t dare betray his confidence.) Now that we are no longer friends and the spell is broken, my side of the story can finally be told. The actual pain is far greater now than it was then. Memories and possibilities are ever more melancholic than the realities.
—Joshua Chaplinsky, Kanye West—Reanimator (emphasis mine)

While many writers have attempted to pastiche or parody the work of H. P. Lovecraft, few writers have gone so far as to take advantage of the fact that many of Lovecraft’s works are in the public domain, so as to directly rewrite, add on to, and edit his text in such a way as to create a new and original work of fiction. Joshua Chaplinsky’s Kanye West—Reanimator (2015) and Lula Lisbon’s “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) both take as their source text Lovecraft’s early serial “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922), but are set in widely different genres, and the artistic choices that the two writers reflect interestingly both on what they are writing, and how they choose to interpret Lovecraft’s original work.

Chaplinsky’s take on the concept is of a literary mashup, echoing efforts like Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2009). The success of the story lies in the careful attention to detail, weaving factual elements of Kanye’s life and attitude into Lovecraft’s prose while keeping the exuberance and hyperbole of both. Kanye West really did drop out of Chicago State University to pursue his music career, so reflecting that aspect of his life in place of Herbert West’s attendance at medical school is both accurate and requires changes to the narrative—but just as much of Kanye’s life is twisted to more closely resemble Herbert’s, the key change being when Kanye decides to use his music to reanimate the dead. The fun of the story is not just in the pastiche of Lovecraft’s prose or the parody of Kanye’s antics, but those occasional perfect moments when the two blend together:

To the vanished Herbert West and to me the disgust and horror were supreme. I shudder tonight as I think of it; shudder even more than I did that morning when West muttered through his bandages, “Damn it, it wasn’t quite fresh enough!”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West—Reanimator”

To the vanished Kanye West and I the disgust and horror were supreme. I shudder tonight as I think of it; shudder even more than I did that morning when Kanye muttered through his bandages, “Damn it, the track wasn’t quite fresh enough!”
—Joshua Chaplinsky, Kanye West—Reanimator (emphasis mine)

Where Kanye requires grafting on considerable material to the original, Lula Lisbon’s homoerotic re-visioning of Lovecraft’s story requires a shift in genre as well as tone. Where Chaplinsky seeks to draw fiction and reality closer together, so the two Wests’ paths coincide at key narrative moments, Lisbon seeks to inject the erotic into the horror narrative—and the key device by which she accomplishes this takes a decidedly more mystical bent:

He revealed to me one night that through his sizable member coursed a most rare and precious gift: his semen was a re-animating solution, blessed through an incident in which a love-smitten demi-goddess had granted an ancestor the power of bestowing immortal life by way of his seed.
—Lula Lisbon, “Herburt East: Refuckinator”

Like many erotic parodies, the focus of this text is often the insertion of an erotic scene not included in the original. This is a practice of some long standing, with examples in the horror literature genre including The Adult Version of Dracula (1970) and The Adult Version of Frankenstein (1970), both by Hal Kantor. Part of the skill of the author is in how these scenes are woven into the narrative; whereas Kanye replaces Herbert West, and the narrative is basically his own retold in the frame of Lovecraft’s prose, Herburt East follows substantially the same plot, only with many homoerotic additions.

Both texts take the opportunity to play on the outrageousness of the original, which is itself a kind of parody of the lurid supernatural thrillers of the period, and written by Lovecraft strictly as a potboiler:

In this enforced, laboured, & artificial sort of composition there is nothing of art or natural gracefulness; for of necessity there must be a superfluity of strainings & repetitions in order to make each history compleat. My sole inducement is the monetary reward […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 7 Oct 1921, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 219

The serial nature of “Herbert West” possibly makes it more attractive for parody, as the story is broken into distinct episodes which permit changes of scene and characters and keeps up the narrative pace. Certainly both authors were at pains to keep the character of both of the chapter openings and closing—and perhaps surprisingly, both kept in versions of what is probably the most problematic scene in Lovecraft’s story.

The match had been between Kid O’Brien—a lubberly and now quaking youth with a most un-Hibernian hooked nose—and Buck Robinson, “The Harlem Smoke”. The negro had been knocked out, and a moment’s examination shewed us that he would permanently remain so. He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms which I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life—but the world holds many ugly things.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West—Reanimator”

Few of Lovecraft’s stories have black characters, and this is arguably his most racist depiction of an African-American character, emphasizing the prejudice of the day that black people were quite literally lower on the scale of evolution, closer to apes and gorillas. That such depiction were not uncommon in pulp fiction, such as in Seabury Quinn’s “The Drums of Damballah” (1930) does not excuse it here. The description does serve two important narrative points. The first is to emphasize the physical power of the character, the second is to emphasize the racial prejudice of the unnamed narrator. One of the key moments of this episode in “Herbert West” is that the narrator and West try their reanimation fluid on it an “it was wholly unresponsive to every solution we injected in its black arm; solutions prepared from experience with white specimens only”—in other words, they assume a biological difference in race to be at fault. However, they later discover that the reanimation serum did work (ironically, given Lovecraft’s sentiments in his letters, proving that there is no biochemical difference between white and black people)…but that the subject had also devolved into cannibalism (violence being characteristic of the reanimated, regardless of race).

Lisbon preserves most of Lovecraft’s original text for this episode, with the main interjection being an extended erotic scene between West and the narrator: she chooses to focus on the “fire all six shots of a revolver” from the opening of the episode and counterbalance it with sex ejaculations. Chaplinsky’s take is more baroque; although he retains a surprising amount of the original text, the black boxer is replaced with Biggie Smalls. Both of them retain, substantially unchanged, the final visual of the episode.

For that visitor was neither Italian nor policeman. Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares—a glassy-eyed, ink-black apparition nearly on all fours, covered with bits of mould, leaves, and vines, foul with caked blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West—Reanimator”
(text identical in Lula Lisbon’s “Herburt East: Refuckinator”)

For that visitor was neither forgetful employee nor policeman. Looming hideously against the spectral moon was a gigantic misshapen thing not to be imagined save in nightmares—a bug-eyed, ash-grey apparition, covered with sewage and fecal matter and caked with blood, and having between its glistening teeth a snow-white, terrible, cylindrical object terminating in a tiny hand.
—Joshua Chaplinsky, Kanye West—Reanimator (emphasis mine)

The repetition of the text is an acknowledgement of the importance of this specific scene, that Lovecraft had captured a powerful visual in the horrible evidence of cannibalism (it being remembered that this was long before zombies craved the flesh of the living in popular fiction). The differences too are telling: in Lovecraft’s original story, there is implicit bias against the ethnic Italians whose child is kidnapped and eaten; Chaplinsky replaces them with studio assistants, which is in its own way a comment (whether intentional or not) on the attitudes toward the lowest-paid members of the production process. Lisbon’s leaving these elements unaddressed feels like a missed opportunity to address some of the subtext or context in Lovecraft’s work—but that may simply be because she was focusing on other aspects.

One aspect that both Chaplinsky and Lisbon both address is the idea of a homosexual reading or subtext to Lovecraft’s original work. “Herbert West” involves the eponymous mad scientist partnered for considerable periods with an unnamed but presumably male associate who narrates the text; this is in a way a direct parallel in many ways to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and his chronicler Dr. Watson, and their strong homosocial bond is reflected in several of Lovecraft’s other works, such as “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and “The Hound.” Yet to contemporary audiences, such close friendships between men are often misconstrued as having homosexual connotations, as was discussed in “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg. Chaplinsky chooses to address this aspect up front, writing in the first paragraph:

Some would say too close. There was much speculation regarding the nature of our partnership, but Kanye was a very private person and I didn’t dare betray his confidence.

This is neither a confirmation nor a denial, but an aspect of Kanye and the narrator’s relationship which he plays with throughout the story, letting the readers choose how to interpret certain scenes while never explicitly confirming or denying Kanye’s sexual preferences or whether their relationship is intimate. Lisbon chooses to emphasize and make explicit the homoerotic relationship between East and the narrator, and strives to capitalize on aspects of Lovecraft’s text which highlight the intimacy of their relationship. Other writers have made similar, if less overtly erotic, interpretations of Lovecraft’s relationships—The Chronicles of Dr. Herbert West comic book written by Joe Brusha and Ralph Tedesco has the narrator as a woman, in a romantic relationship with West; “Houndwife” (2010) by Caitlín R. Kiernan similarly makes a female of one of the two male characters from “The Hound.”

Neither Lisbon or Chaplinsky were looking to supplant or provide another episode to an existing work, but to re-imagine that work for their own ends, and as far as those aims go, they both succeeded. Lisbon’s expansion of Lovecraft’s narrative is played for laughs as much as titillation, and veers toward the campier end of homoerotic Lovecraftian horror narratives, something in the vein of David J. West. Chaplinsky’s narrative is much more ambitious, but also ultimately much more period-driven: one day, Kanye will die (though probably not by being decapitated by a reanimated Jay-Z), and his star will fade so that the clever pop-culture references will fade.

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 I

One of the critical attractions of Lovecraft’s work is being in the public domain, where anyone can play with the material. For most pasticheurs and parodists, this does not mean literally rewriting Lovecraft’s plots or recycling large sections of his text—but those are valid creative approaches to the material, and should be understood and appreciated as such. These variations-on-the-text are as much a part of keeping Lovecraft’s work alive and relevant in the present day as any other.

Erotica author Lula Lisbon originally published the episodes of Herburt East under the name “D. P. Lustcraft”, the complete ebook of “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) is still available for sale, although Lisbon appears not to have published anything since 2015.

Joshua Chaplinsky originally published Kanye West—Reanimator through Yolo House in 2015. He has since slightly revised and expanded the book, adding a foreword and the story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep in Redhook, Brooklyn” in Kanye West—Reanimator: the Re-Reanimated Edition (2018).

“Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg

The two of them had been journeying across the interminable parched wastes of the Outback for many days now—how many, not even the Elder Gods could tell. They were ambassadors, these two: Their Excellencies Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft of the Kingdom of New Holy His Diabolic England, envoys of his Britannic Majesty Henry VIII to the court of Prester John.
—Robert Silverberg, “Gilgamesh in the Outback” in Rebels in Hell (1986) 79

Even before he was dead and could not offer any protest, H. P. Lovecraft was represented as a fictionalized version of himself in Robert Bloch’s “The Shambler from the Stars” (Weird Tales Sep 1935). Lovecraft even gave his friend permission to kill him off in the story, and returned the favor by killing off a fictional Bloch in “The Haunter of the Dark” (Weird Tales Dec 1935). This began a literary tradition of using Lovecraft and his friends and contemporaries a fictional characters, which continues to this day.

The genre varies from weird fiction like Fritz Leiber’s “To Arkham and the Stars” (1966) to historical fiction such as Peter Cannon’s The Lovecraft Chronicles (2004) to erotic horror including Edward Lee’s Trolley No. 1852 (2009), but what all of these stories have in common is that the characterization of Lovecraft is informed by what is known of his life and thought, and the same is true for the other historical personages. Robert E. Howard, for example, appears in both Richard Lupoff’s novel Lovecraft’s Book (1985), Rick McCollum’s Ashley Dust (1994), David Barbour’s Shadow’s Bend (2000), and Robert Silverberg’s novella “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986).

The story takes place in the Heroes in Hell shared universe; a series of anthologies such as the Man-Kzin Wars and Thieves’ World where multiple authors write stories in a common setting, usually sticking to their own characters but collaborating to a degree on the development of the common background, and possibly referencing each other’s additions and the events in their stories. The whole concept is similar to how comic book shared universes work, and of course is a somewhat more structured and organized version of how the Cthulhu Mythos came to be. In Heroes in Hell, all the great figures of history go to their infernal rest—so that Cleopatra, Machiavelli, Benito Mussolini, Che Guevara, et al. can all interact. The device which allows the meeting of disparate historical figures is the crucial attraction of the setting, and Silverberg takes advantage of this in his story by having Gilgamesh meet H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.

The attraction of placing Lovecraft and Howard together is in large part because they were friends during the 1930s, and experienced a publication boom in the 60s and 70s as their work was printed and reprinted in affordable paperbacks. Though they never met, they carried on an extensive correspondence, much of which has survived and which saw publication, starting with some of Lovecraft’s letters to Howard in the Selected Letters from Arkham House during the 1960s and then more in fanzines, small scholarly journals, and other publications until the full correspondence was finally published as A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard in 2009.

In addition to their published letters and fiction, both Lovecraft and Howard received scholarly attention which was largely lacking for their fellow pulp writers—at the time Silverberg was writing “Gilgamesh in the Outback,” he could draw on two biographies written by L. Sprague de Camp: Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) and Dark Valley Destiny: The Life of Robert E. Howard (1983, written with Catherine Crook de Camp and Jane Whittington Griffin). While these biographies were often the standard work on their subjects for several years, both books faced considerable criticism for de Camp’s treatment of his subjects, which often involved a kind of post mortem psychoanalysis. Nor was de Camp alone in such questionable assessments of his subjects:

The article [“The Psychological Conan” by John Strnad] goes in for all the superficial, mechanical application of static psychoanalytic labels, without any dynamic clinical evidence: Conan’s broadsword is, of course, a “standard phallic symbol”, his armor is “an extensive erogenous zone”, he is alleged to suffer from an unconscious “not resolved castration complex”, his attitude towards his companions and women shows “tendencies toward homosexuality”. his investigating and exploring of tombs and secret passages shows a “desire for heterosexual relations.”

Psychoanalysis of living people and of literary figures requires not the labeling with Freudian terms but an interpretation based on concrete data. This article represents a misunderstanding of both psychoanalysis and Conan. Howard and Conan deserves better.
—Frederic Wertham, Amra vol. 2, no. 58 (1973), 12

Other writers did not mince words; Harry Harrison in Great Balls of Fire! An Illustrated History of Sex and Science Fiction (1977) included an entire chapter titled “Is Conan Dating Clark Kent?” and states boldly:

Howard did identify with his hero, Conan, and admitted as much many times. […] I find it hard to agree when [Wertham] insists that this was all done consciously by the author. Conan is a crypto-homosexual and the entire school of sword-and-sorcery reflects this fact. (85)

These particular impressions of Robert E. Howard and his creation Conan, often seen as an alter ego, are important because they provide the context within which Silverberg operated and would have understood the basis for the character he was creating. So as the two pulpsters-turned-ambassadors drive through Hell in a Land Rover, they stop and encounter Gilgamesh—to who Howard has a peculiar reaction:

“By Crom,” he muttered, staring at the giant. “Surely this is Conan of Aquilonia and none other!” He was trembling. He took a lurching step toward the huge man, holding out both his hands in a strange gesture—submission, was it? “Lord Conan?” Howard murmured. “Great king, is it you? Conan? Conan?” And before Lovecraft’s astounded eyes Howard fell to his knees next to the dying beast, and looked up with awe and something like rapture in his eyes at the towering huntsman.
—Robert Silverberg, “Gilgamesh in the Outback” in Rebels in Hell 84

Gilgamesh is, as the title suggests, the main protagonist and focus of Silverberg’s novella. In choosing the most ancient hero in literature, Silverberg can set Gilgamesh in contrast to all the more recent dead celebrities, letting the king of Uruk express a very different take on death, damnation…and homosocial attitudes. Gilgamesh greatly misses the company of his “brother” Enkidu, a relationship which is presented as strictly non-sexual but also fundamental to both men. It is paralleled, in a way, with the friendship of Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard—but the latter’s response to Gilgamesh reveals a strange twist in Silverberg’s characterization of Conan’s creator.

Howard’s initial mistake of Gilgamesh for Howard’s own fictional creation Conan the Cimmerian, and the continuing response of Howard to Gilgamesh, highlight some of the sexual interpretations of the Texas pulpster as they existed at the time—and give Silverberg the opportunity to expressly state that Gilgamesh of Uruk is not a homosexual:

And that glow in the fellow’s eyes—what sort of look was that? A look of adoration, almost the sort of look a woman might give a man when she has decided to yield herself utterly to his will.

Gilgamesh had seen such looks aplenty in his day, from women and men both; and he had welcomed them from women, but never from a man. He scowled. What does he think I am? Does he think, as so many have wrongly thought, that because I loved Enkidu with so great a love that I am a man who will embrace a man in the fashion of men and women? Because it was not so. Not even here in Hell is it so, said Gilgamesh to himself. Nor will it ever be. (92)

As Robert E. Howard’s comes face-to-face with an individual that is in many ways the archetype of his most famous hero, he reacts as a fanboy might—and Gilgamesh completely fails to understand the hero-worship for what it is, mistaking it for sexual interest. The strenuousness of the denial, and Gilgamesh’s gauging of Howard’s reaction, both speak to the sexual psychology of the day. Gilgamesh is expressing an attitude of 80s machismo, and the subject of his objections is the creator of a genre of American fantasy which Harry Harrison accused of “crypto-homosexuality” because it commonly glorified the male form—as exemplified by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s casting in the lead of Conan the Barbarian (1982) and the half-naked, muscled figures that dominated Frank Frazetta’s covers of the Conan paperbacks.

Lovecraft, by contrast, plays the straight man (except when he in is turn is allowed a few moments of exuberance). Gilgamesh’s analysis of him, expressed later, jives strongly with interpretations of Lovecraft in the 80s:

[…] he is weirdly remote and austere, is apparently quite as crazy, but he too give the impression of being at war with himself, int error of allowing any sort of real human feeling to break through the elaborate facade of his mannerisms. The poor fools must have been scared silly when the serving -girls started tripping them and pouring warm milk over them and stroking their bodies. (122)

The creator of Cthulhu’s composure balances out Howard’s burst of eccentricity, and within a few pages everyone is set straight regarding the small error of identity. This does, however, give Howard time for a bit of introspection:

But this other business—this sudden bewildering urge to throw himself at the giant’s feet, to be wept up in his arms, to be crushed in a fierce embrace—

What was that? Where had that come from? By the blazing Heart of Ahriman, what could it mean? (98)

If Gilgamesh’s reaction to the idea of being the subject of homosexual attraction is an expression of 80s masculinity; Howard’s own confusion at feeling homosexual attraction is in turn an expression of a kind of crisis of masculinity verging on homosexual panic. Silverberg’s interpretation of Howard’s character was reinforced by borrowing an episode from Robert E. Howard’s 5 Sep 1928 letter to his friend Harold Preece, as well as referencing other details from Howard’s published correspondence and the sometimes erroneous scholarship. When Silverberg writes:

The desire of men for men was a mark of decadence, of the decline of civilization. He was a man of the frontier, not some feeble limp-wristed sodomite who reveled in filth and wanton evil. If he had never in his short life known a woman’s love, it was for lack of opportunity, not out of a preference for that other shameful kind. (99)

He is not directly quoting any particular passage from Howard’s writings; though the pulpster would write of “decadence,” he never spoke directly of male homosexuality in his published letters. The idea that Howard died a virgin is an idea promoted in de Camp’s biography:

While it is not impossible that, on some unaccompanied visit to Brownwood, his friends there took him to “Sal’s House,” as one of the the three local whorehouses was called, the weight of such evidence as we have makes it more than likely that he died without ever having enjoyed the pleasures of sex.
Dark Valley Destiny 140

While Howard never explicitly mentions any sexual encounter in his letters (and why would he?), there is circumstantial evidence to suggest he did in fact make use of prostitutes, so the de Camps were likely wrong on that score—but the facts of the matter are less important than the context: Silverberg, based on the then-current scholarship, was trying his best to build the character of Howard for his story.

Between Gilgamesh’s reaction and Howard’s, the portrayal of homosexuality in the story is not a positive one. It is rather the spectre of homosexuality which haunts the characters in this story, and Gilgamesh and Howard alternately deny and deride it in their internal monologues. For men so concerned with their masculine identities, the prospect of not being or being perceived as strictly heterosexual is a considerably upsetting prospect to both men—and Howard for his part immediately works to suppress these unfamiliar emotions, falling straight into the Kübler-Ross model.

While the characterization of homosexuality and masculinity might strike many contemporary readers as awkward or regressive, it is probably more accurate to say that it was period-appropriate. Silverberg has, throughout a long career in science fiction, addressed issues of gender and homosexuality in many different stories, notably Son of Man (1971), and popular attitudes on homosexuality have shifted dramatically over the course of his writing career. “Gilgamesh in the Outback” is an artifact of how homosexuality and masculinity were viewed in the 1980s, and this is very much expressed in the finale:

She-it, Howard though. A man don’t cry. Especially in front of other men.

He turned away, into the wind, so Lovecraft could not see his face.

“Bob? Bob?”

She-it, Howard thought again. And he let the tears come.  (137)

The fragile masculinity expressed by the statement that “a man don’t cry” is as close to the the fundamental philosophy of Silverberg’s story as anything else. Is Howard-the-character not a man just because he lets out a few tears? Is he less of a man for having felt an homoerotic attraction to Gilgamesh?

To say that this is a story about men and of men is accurate: aside from a few unnamed handmaidens, there are no female characters that appear on the page, though Queen Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn are mentioned, they are not present. All of the major and minor characters are men, and this story is about their relationships with each other. It is a story fundamentally steeped in men desiring the friendship of other men, but profoundly uncomfortable and unwilling to consider the implications of a sexual dimension to that friendship—not for any pressing religious reason (they’re already in hell), or any social more (nobody besides Gilgamesh or Howard ever bring homosexuality up), but simply as an internal struggle.

Readers might reflect on how the characters of Lovecraft, Howard, and the rest reflect on the real men that inspired them. As detailed in “Great Phallic Monoliths Lovecraft and Sexuality”, literary interpretations may be valid even if the facts don’t support them—readers upset that the Robert E. Howard of “Gilgamesh in the Outback” is a 1 instead of a 0 on the Kinsey Scale can be reassured that this is just fiction, and at that fiction based upon “scholarship” from 30-40 years ago which misapplied Freudian analysis. Readers that are open to the a less unilaterally heterosexual Howard are free to run with it. As far as the literary game goes, the characterization of historical persons is free game, so long as they remain identifiable to the audience and fit the needs of the story.

“Gilgamesh in the Outback” was first published in Rebels in Hell (1986) and Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine (July 1986); Silverberg won the Hugo Award for Best Novella in 1987. It was reprinted in The New Hugo Winners, Volume II (1992), Novel Ideas: Fantasy (2006), and The Collected Stories of Robert Silverberg, Volume Six: Multiples 1983-1987 (2011). Silverberg wrote two sequels, “The Fascination of the Abomination” in Angels in Hell (1987) and “Gilgamesh in Uruk” in War in Hell (1988), which were later stripped of the Heroes in Hell-specific setting material combined into the novel To The Land of the Living (1989). Lovecraft and Howard do not appear in the later stories.

 

“Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr.

And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”

Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors by noted Lovecraft scholar Kenneth W. Faig Jr. is very much in the vein of “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price in that it is a piece of fictional scholarship as much as anything else. The four stories in the collection are “what ifs?,” imagining chapters of Lovecraft’s life that could have been, as discovered some decades later by dedicated scholars like Faig. The stories are all generally plausible, and present less a “what might have been” than an alternate viewpoint on their subject—H. P. Lovecraft.

Not many now living will recall the Egyptian vogue of the eighteen-seventies…fifty years before King Tut and his curse fixed their hold upon the popular imagination…but a few of our older citizen will recall the famous Black or Nigger Hotep who held the audiences of at Olney’s Opera House spellbound with his Egyptian regalia and bizarre contraptions in those day. How Charles Wilson Hodap became the Black Hotep is a story which I cannot relate to you […]
—Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944) in Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors 31.

The third tale recounts the discovery and tracking-down of biographical information of Charles Wilson Hodap, an African-American stage magician who performed under the title “Black Hotep,” with an Egyptian theme. The narrator is ostensibly David Parkes Boynton, a (fictional) very early and enthusiastic Lovecraft collector, but this is really a device of Faig’s. The narrative is primarily a combination of correspondence and interviews, with a little exposition mixed in. More than enough for readers to follow the chain of evidence as Boynton investigates whether it was this “Black Hotep” that inspired H. P. Lovecraft to create Nyarlathotep.

Nyarlathotep is one of Lovecraft’s most ambiguous creations. In the prose-poem “Nyarlathotep” and sonnet XXI of the “Fungi from Yuggoth,” Nyarlathotep is a kind of showman-prophet of doom; in “The Rats in the Walls” he is a “mad, faceless god” at Earth’s center; in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath he is the “soul and messenger of the Outer Gods,” the crawling chaos; in “The Dreams in the Witch House” he is one with the Black Man of the Witch Cult; and he is mentioned in passing in “The Whisperer in Darkness,” “The Haunter of the Dark,” “The Shadow out of Time,” “The Mound,” and “The Last Test” as part of the Mythos. Other writers would expand considerably on Nyarlathotep, explaining away his varied appearances as avatars or “masks,” but the initial presentation that many readers receive of Nyarlathotep from Lovecraft’s stories is that of a dark-skinned man, at least when the crawling chaos is in human form:

And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark One to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Fungi From Yuggoth Sonnet XXI. Nyarlathotep”

Then down the wide lane betwixt the two columns a lone figure strode; a tall, slim figure with the young face of an antique Pharaoh, gay with prismatic robes and crowned with a golden pshent that glowed with inherent light. Close up to Carter strode that regal figure; whose proud carriage and swart features had in them the fascination of a dark god or fallen archangel, and around whose eyes there lurked the languid sparkle of capricious humour.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

The evilly grinning beldame still clutched him, and beyond the table stood a figure he had never seen before—a tall, lean man of dead black colouration but without the slightest sign of negroid features; wholly devoid of either hair or beard, and wearing as his only garment a shapeless robe of some heavy black fabric. His feet were indistinguishable because of the table and bench, but he must have been shod, since there was a clicking whenever he changed position. The man did not speak, and bore no trace of expression on his small, regular features.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dreams in the Witch House”

“Black” or “svart” in this context does not necessarily mean that Nyarlathotep’s human form took on the appearance of sub-Saharan African or African-American, and Lovecraft’s description in “The Dreams in the Witch House” in particular is explicitly not, and with the rest of the apparatus of the witch-cult inspired by Margaret Murray’The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921), where the Devil is often described as appearing dressed in black clothing, and with cloven hooves; a “black man” connected with witchcraft also appears in Arthur Machen’s “The White People”, which influenced Lovecraft.

Whether or not Nyarlathotep’s human appearance is “black” (or Arabic, or anything else) in the sense of race is largely irrelevant to the plot of the stories he appears in, though in the poems it adds an exotic element to his history, a suggestion of otherness. But when readers are aware of Lovecraft’s prejudice against black people, they may interpret the stories differently—and later writers and artists are forced to consider the issue of how to depict Nyarlathotep, and in human form that at least implicitly means discussing the physical features associated with race—even Lovecraft feels the need to specify the Black Man of the Witch Cult is “not Negroid.” Adding a racial dimension to the characterization means addressing racial prejudice. Is Nyarlathotep an example of Lovecraft’s racism?

Probably not—at least, there is no indication in Lovecraft’s letters that he ever intended such a characterization of the crawling chaos—but such issues must underlie and inform Faig’s narrative of Charles Wilson Hodap. Boynton detective work slowly unveils more information about the life of this African-American entertainer, and finally hit upon the crucial connection with a young, enthusiastic audience: a six-year old Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Here, Boynton believes he has found the inspiration for at least one of Lovecraft’s iconic creations: a hardworking, kindly black entertainer.

The conceit works to the extant that it is a neat solution; Faig, being the Lovecraft scholar her is, ties it in with Lovecraft’s life and the history of Providence. It is an ultimately believable and perhaps a touch mundane revelation, one which requires no grimoires or neuroses. The final pages detail a scholar’s best wishes for such a discovery, with articles published, associated materials related to Hodap’s life found and deposited with an appropriate library, and funds raised to place a proper marker on the graves of Hodap and his wife. It is as warm and fuzzy an ending as one might hope for in such a story.

The shadow of Lovecraft’s racism remains, hovering over the narrative, and the question to ask is: is Faig attempting to downplay or whitewash Lovecraft’s racism? Certainly he is playing with the idea that Nyarlathotep as conceived by a young Lovecraft was “black” in a racial sense. The text, aside from a couple incidents of “Nigger Hotep” is markedly limited in its depiction of period racism.

Accompanying the advertisement was a line drawing of Hotep himself, sketched against a background of a fantastic array of mirrors and strange-looking apparatus. Naked from the waist up, Hotep’s flesh was inked in the blackest ebony, forming a stark contrast with the white of the strange-looking turban which crowned his head and the loose, skirt-like garment which fell from his waist. From hi features, so far as I could tell from the drawing, I judged him to be a Negro of the purest Nubian type.
—Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944) in Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors 31.

Young Lovecraft himself never appears on the page to give a personal opinion. The idea of a positive relationship with an African-American is probably out of context for most readers aware of Lovecraft’s prejudices, but not necessarily inaccurate to life. If it were true—if Black Hotep had existed and inspired Lovecraft’s Nyarlathotep—would that change anything of the readers’ opinions of Lovecraft himself? Would it inform or influence how they viewed appearances of Nyarlathotep when they read his stories again, seeing the vaguely sinister figure in a more theatrical bent, like William Marshall in Blacula?

Without addressing these subjects directly, Faig’s tale is in many ways a reflection on the nature of Nyarlathotep, H. P. Lovecraft, and the readers’ relationship with both. Just as readers’ interpretation of Nyarlathotep can shift when they are aware of Lovecraft’s racism, so can readers be made to question that interpretation by presenting a kind of counter-example: a Lovecraft who instead of being afraid of black people, found inspiration in at least one black entertainer, whose legacy lives on through his work.

Of course, Charles Wilson Hodap never existed; Faig’s story is a work of fiction, and Lovecraft scholars have posited other origins for Nyarlathotep. Is this then a story of an alternate timeline, or an idealized timeline? This kind of biographical fiction focused around Lovecraft or other authors is its own kind of metafictional biography, perhaps best represented by works like Peter Cannon’s The Lovecraft Chronicles (2004).

It does not seek to rewrite the past, exactly: the Lovecraft who encounters Faig’s Black Hotep is still presumably the Lovecraft that grows up to argue for the necessity of segregation and the biological inferiority of black people. Yet it present an example of an African-American that had a positive, and perhaps essential, effect on Lovecraft—and while that may not counterbalance everything Lovecraft wrote and said on the subject of race, it is difficult not to see it as inviting reflection along those lines.

The Tales of the Lovecraft Collectors were first published from 1979 to 1988 in the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association. They were collected in a limited edition and published by Moshassuck Pres in 1989, and then revised and published by Necronomicon Press in 1995. Faig has published numerous other works about Lovecraft and the Mythos.

 

“Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price

The professor had been stricken whilst returning from the Newport boat; falling suddenly, as witnesses said, after having been jostled by a nautical-looking negro who had come from one of the queer dark courts on the precipitous hillside which formed a short cut from the waterfront to the deceased’s home in Williams Street.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

The title is a provocation. “Negro” is still more tolerable in American society than the other N-word, but has largely passed out of polite usage, except in some noteworthy relicts like the United Negro College Fund. By selecting this title, the authors are deliberately invoking the specter of Lovecraft’s racism: the cult of Cthulhu in his most seminal story is deliberately multi-ethnic and multiracial, and this brief reference was meant by Lovecraft to imply to readers that a black seaman connected with the cult was responsible for the death of Prof. George Gammell Angell. As with “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ, the title immediately invokes certain elements of Lovecraft’s fiction, prepping the reader for what they are about to read. That “Nautical-Looking Negroes” is going to be concerned strongly with race is reinforced by the opening quotation from Bierce’s sardonic The Devil’s Dictionary (1906):

Negro, n. The pièce de resistance in the American political problem. Representing him by the letter n, the Republicans begin to build their equation thus: “Let n = the white man.” This, however, appears to give an unsatisfactory solution.
—Ambrose Bierce

The authors know what they were doing. Both Peter Cannon and Robert M. Price were prominent in Lovecraft studies, having published many essays on Lovecraft, his fiction, and surrounding matters since the 1970s. “Nautical-Looking Negroes” is  included among parodies and pastiches, it is probably closer to the mark to describe it as a lengthy literary in-joke, a variant account of the events of “The Call of Cthulhu” from the perspective of James F. Morton, a real-life friend of Lovecraft, and notable as an early member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and author of the tract The Curse of Race Prejudice (1906).

The blend of fact, fiction, and metafiction is probably lost on anyone that isn’t a terminal Lovecraft aficionado. In a strange turn of events, Inspector Legrasse and Morton end up looking for black sailors that might be connected to or know of the Cthulhu cult—and of course find them:

Legrasse was soon surrounded by a gang of blacks, who muttered menacingly in their dark language while keeping a respectful distance. When the detective asked if they had recently run into another white man who was wise in the ways of Cthulhu, or “Tulu,” eyes rolled. “That thing there’s bad magic, suh,” one of the Negroes said. “You best done throw it in deh harbor.”
—Cannon & Price, “Nautical-Looking Negroes” in Forever Azathoth (2011) 206

The prose of “Nautical-Looking Negroes” is deliberately done as a pastiche, mimicking the form of Lovecraft’s style (without the amateur error of turning purple prose ultraviolet with an overabundance of adjectives); Price in particular has made something of a hobby of pulp pastiches, or original stories which read in the same vein as pulp fiction from the 1920s and 30s. While there is a commendable skill involved in capturing the correct tone, this approach has its drawbacks: notably, the stereotype-laden portrayals of non-white characters which were acceptable in original 1930s fiction are generally not acceptable today—nor should they be.  Charles Saunders wrote of pulp authors like Lovecraft:

It is true that these men were products of their time, as we are products of ours. This argument can explain the racism of the Thirties. But it doesn’t justify it.
—Charles Saunders, Die, Black Dog! A Look At Racism in Fantasy Literature

Saunders was specifically taking aim at L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, two latter-day writers of pulp-ish fair, including Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories and the Cthulhu Mythos, and decried their use of racist pulp stereotypes as throwbacks unconscionable in contemporary fiction.

The same argument applies to Cannon & Price. It is one thing to present the characters within a story as racist, especially when set in a historical period. George Macdonald Frasier’s Flashman is rather notorious for his authentic depiction of bigotry during the Victorian era, for example, but these are presented as the main character’s prejudices, not as unfiltered truth. There is some of that in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” when the character of Legrasse observes “fine-looking Nordic fellows, tall and fair,” or when Captain Baker dismisses a sect of the Cthulhu cult as “reserved for coloreds.”

The depiction of the actual black seamen is more problematic, at least on a surface level. The dialectic speech may be an example of staying authentic to Lovecraft: few of his black characters have speaking roles, but in “Medusa’s Coil” Sophonisba speaks in a very stereotypical Southern black dialect, and Lovecraft imitated such speech in some of his letters. Epithets like “dark language” and the general superstitious characterization of the black seamen are unnecessary, but deliberate echoes of Lovecraftian pulp. If there’s any faint praise to damn the authors with, it is that the black seamen do not appear to be part of the actual Cthulhu cult (though aware of it), nor are they in any way malicious.

A large chunk of the second part of the story is given over to a religious schism regarding points of doctrine within the cult—Price’s fingerprints, as a theologian and Doctor of Philosophy in theology and the New Testament, with a penchant for dragging (and dragging on) religion in his Mythos fiction—which is intimately bound up with an obscure piece of Mythos-lore, and serves as a tie between “The Call of Cthulhu” and an earlier Lovecraft tale, “Polaris”. This story contains elements of the Yellow Peril fiction prevalent around the turn of the century:

That night had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest.

Cannon & Price chose in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” to leave out the dog whistle and say the quiet part out loud: the “good-looking Nordics” (i.e. white people) explicitly are the Lomarians, out to defeat the Inutos (literally the Inuit in this case). The connection is helped by the fact that in “The Call of Cthulhu” the original Cthulhu idol is stolen from “a singular tribe or cult of degenerate Esquimaux”; equating these with the Inutos has a sort of logic to it, from a Mythos scholar point of view, but the implications are rather ugly…the Lomarians commit genocide against the Inutos’ women and children…and the joke is only slightly turned on its head at the end of Legrasse’s statement, when the cartoon cannibal cooking pot comes out.

It is difficult to say how much of this race-baiting was deliberately intentional for the purpose of parody. Certainly, when the “Lomarians” opt to sacrifice Inspector Legrasse under the rationale that he “is of Mediterranean descent,” they are clearly following the lines of 1920s racialism rather than some obscure point of Mythos lore. The title and opening quotation are a knowing wink that says they are aware of what they are doing by directly incorporating and addressing some of the elements of racism in Lovecraft’s fiction into their parody. The issue is lampshaded with a return to Morton’s point of view at the end:

I have, for example, campaigned for Negro rights all my life. The treatment of these poor suffering people is a national disgrace, from the stereotypical darkies of pulp fiction to publicly sanctioned lynchings. They are human beings like the rest of us, and it is only through the sheerest ignorance and the blindest prejudice that so many otherwise intelligent and decent white folk view them as inferior—like my writer friend in Providence, with whom I’ve exchanged some heated words on the subject. If only they would get to know educated Negroes as I have, then they might regard the whole matter differently. But I’m afraid I’ll be long gone before there’s any real progress on this front, so ingrained is the antipathy to the black race in the American character.
—Cannon & Price, “Nautical-Looking Negroes” in Forever Azathoth (2011) 225-226

In the penultimate chapter, Cannon & Price decide to bring it yet one more thread from Lovecraft: Swami Chandraputra from “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (a collaboration with E. Hoffmann Price). The appearance of the “Swami” is more in the way of a knowing wink than any comment on race; readers familiar with Lovecraft & Price’s tale might recall that it was one of the only Lovecraft stories where race prejudice was explicitly made an ugly, negative thing. Yet the encounter sets up the final and concluding pun, as a black merchant marine ends a story which an encounter with a black seaman began.

The nature of parody is exaggeration for comic effect; “Nautical-Looking Negroes” is firmly parody, although getting the layers of jokes requires a fair familiarity with Lovecraft’s life, fiction, and prejudices. For the jokes they hope to achieve, the authors tread a very fine line, seeking to exaggerate and emphasize the ridiculousness of racism both in Lovecraft’s fiction and in the real world. Yet to achieve the effect Cannon & Price play up to pulp stereotypes of race and racism. It is a tricky proposition: humor is an effective weapon to point out the illogical aspects of racism, but the danger is always that someone won’t get the joke, and a straight reading of the text up to Morton’s final statement can be pretty ugly, including as it does fantasy Aryanism, stereotypical racist depictions of black people, the genocide of a village of indigenous Greenlanders by blond conquerors with superior weaponry, and two white men being cannibalized by an indigenous tribe.

This is probably why in the final chapter James F. Morton is brought in to lampshade that the preceding stereotypes were stereotypes, to clue readers in that this is a joke rather than the throwback literature Charles Saunder decried. Morton the character is, as he was in real life, one of those individuals that turned out to be on the right side of history. His lack of prejudice saves him from the same fate as Legrasse and the self-declared Men of Lomar. It is through the character of Morton that Lovecraft’s original insinuation about a “nautical-looking Negro” is transformed into the “Nautical-Looking Negroes” of the title: what began as a discriminatory remark in “The Call of Cthulhu” ultimately inspires a white man and a black man treating each other as equals.

As a comment on racism and pulp fiction, Cannon & Price’s “Nautical-Looking Negroes” is an effort through fiction to address the issue of Lovecraft’s racism, and especially how that racism is expressed in his Mythos fiction. The story is notably a refutation, rather than a defense, of Lovecraft’s prejudices, both explicitly through Morton’s statement in the final chapter and through the exaggerated racism intended to highly the silliness of the beliefs. How effective this is arguable: anyone deep enough into reading the Cthulhu Mythos to get most of the jokes has already been faced with Lovecraft’s prejudices repeatedly.

It is worth asking the question whether half of the writing team, Dr. Robert M. Price, would have collaborated on the same story today. In recent years, Price has been more vocal regarding his conservative political views, which have shifted farther to the right and included opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, controversial views on Islam (which features in one or two of his Mythos stories), and the keynote speech that Price gave at NecronomiCon 2015, which included the comments:

Lovecraft envisioned not only the threat that science posed to our anthropomorphic smugness, but also the ineluctable advance of the hordes on non-western anti-rationalism to consume a decadent, Euro-centric West.

Superstition, barbarism and fanaticism would sooner or later devour us. It appears now that we’re in the midst of this very assault. The blood lust of jihadists threatens Western Civilization and the effete senescent West seems all too eager to go gently into that endless night. Our centers of learning have converted to power politics and an affirmative action epistemology cynically redefining truth as ideology. Logic is undermined by the new axiom of the ad hominem. If white males formulated logic, then logic must be regarded as an instrument of oppression.

Lovecraft was wrong about many things, but not, I think, this one. It’s the real life horror of Red Hook.

Price’s conservative turn is compounded by the partisan politics of the United States of America in recent years, where conservative politics especially have become a haven for white supremacists, dog-whistle racism, and the politics of hatred and fear. Even if his intellectual position were unassailable, equating his position with one of Lovecraft’s most xenophobic, anti-immigrant stories, with its shades of Yellow Peril, should have given Price pause. The prejudices of the 1920s led to outright discrimination, including the Immigration Act of 1924 (the “Asian Exclusion Act”), and contributed to the Japanese Interment Camps during World War II.

It is not to lambaste Robert M. Price or to attempt to offer a full rebuttal of his views that I bring this matter up: the point is that the views of the author can influence and find expression through their fiction, and that knowledge of the author and their views can in turn influence how readers interpret and appreciate their fiction. This is as true with Lovecraft and his views on race in “The Call of Cthulhu” as it is for Price’s views in “Nautical-Looking Negroes.” Price’s more vocal political opinions force a re-evaluation of his Mythos fiction.

In this specific case of collaboration, it is helpful to look at each writer’s contribution to the final piece. Peter Cannon writes in his introduction to Forever Azathoth:

A two-page outline by Robert M. Price helped inspire “Nautical-Looking Negroes,” a sequel to “The Call of Cthulhu.” Bob’s theological musings, in particular his book Beyond Born Again: Toward Evangelical Maturity, were also an influence. In addition, I owe Bob thanks for suggesting Captain Baker’s exhortation to the crew of The Polestar before their attack on the fiendish Inutos. This novelette is my attempt at an old-fashioned pulp adventure tale, complete with racist white males […]

“Nautical-Looking Negroes” was first published in Lore #5 (1996) under the byline of Peter Cannon and Robert M. Price. It was collected in Cannon’s Forever Azathoth (Tartarus Press, 2005), which collection was reprinted by Subterranean Press (2011) and Hippocampus Press (2012). Cannon and Price have written dozens of Mythos stories between them, and previously collaborated on “The Curate of Temphill” (1993).

“A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales

Thirteen women in shadowy Innsmouth, brides of arranged marriages to the inhuman denizens of the neighboring reef, are bound by the will of their male relatives, until they pursue revenge.
—J. M. Yales, A Coven in Essex County | Prologue

“A Coven in Essex County” is a rare example of serial Mythos fiction, told in 18 monthly episodes on The Visitant. The story that develops focuses on perspective and impact—readers are presumably already initiated into the mysteries of Innsmouth, they know the big secret that the nameless protagonist in Lovecraft’s tale uncovered from the drunken lips of Zadok Allen. What Yales zeroes in on is not the terrible threat of the Deep Ones, or even the fact of their existence; not the aftermath of the story, as with Ruthanna Emrys’ “The Litany of Earth”, or the possible variations such as “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn or “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader—no, Yales wants to present the story of the women of Innsmouth, the wives and daughters who grow up in this strange, twisted society—and the expectations that are placed on them.

As background: there is an inherent imbalance in the gender dynamics of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Human men marry female Deep Ones, then their hybrid children—primarily women—are apparently married off. The focus of Lovecraft’s story is on the nameless narrator protagonist, whose great-grandmother is a Deep One, and whose grandmother was one of these Innsmouth brides, “married off on a trick” to an Arkham man. Lovecraft’s initial notes for the “Innsmouth” suggest a more complicated and subplot that didn’t make it into the drafts:

All opponents killed off—many women commit suicide or vanish. Things refuse wholly to leave the town. Horrible incidents—hybridisation. Marsh dares not call in outside world—Things threaten to rise in limitless numbers. Compromise reached—secret habitation, since they would prefer to avoid general war.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Notes to ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth'”, Collected Essays 5.249

Some of this never made it into the finished version of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where Lovecraft focuses on one family line. Implicit but unspoken is that regardless of the offspring the Deep Ones never stop intermarrying…and as his notes hint, these are not implied to be marriages of love and mutual attraction. Read between the lines as Yales must have, and the picture gets grim and depressing: the women of Innsmouth have been raped…and this has been going on for a long time. Long enough to have become part of the social structure of the town. Parallels might be drawn to the child brides and forced marriages of certain patriarchal religious sects, or the system of concubines in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985); the disenfranchisement of the Innsmouth women, who are trapped in a system that does not recognize or reward their agency, recalls Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (1850). The author certainly takes the concept farther than Lovecraft ever dared to, as the women become literal commodities, bodies and lives traded away for Innsmouth gold.

In the decades since Lovecraft wrote, many gender and sexual permutations of Deep One/human relations have been explored, sometimes in pornographic detail, but the particular dynamics of those relationships—and the society that permits and encourages the relationships—is rarely explored. Ann K. Schwader’s “Mail Order Bride” (1999) makes the females the dominant sexual partner, using unsuspecting human males as essentially sperm donors and providers; the graphic novels Neonomicon (2010) and Witch Doctor, Vol. I: Under the Knife (2011) suggest that a quirk of biology is to explain for why normally only male human/female Deep One result in viable offspring.

Sex in all three cases is rarely forced: it is generally presented that the male humans are willing to have sex with female Deep Ones, just as it is generally presented that female humans aren’t willing to have sex with male Deep Ones. (Homosexual and transsexual variations on the theme, such as Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pages found among the effects of Miss Edith M. Teller” (2005) and Monique Poireur’s “The Flower of Innsmouth” (2011), are another barrel of fish entirely.) The systemic “marriage” of human women to male Deep Ones, by force or coercion, and the effects that would have on those women is largely unexplored. Many have found sympathy for the devil, but few besides Yales have looked into the hardened souls of the traumatized women of Innsmouth—an issue made more complicated because the women are yet divided by social convention and personality as well. To achieve redress, they have to overcome their differences and unite…and they have one very good reason to come together.

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me […] If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? […] The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
—Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice Act III, Scene I

“A Coven in Essex County” is experimental fiction, and one of the most difficult and important parts is the beginning of the penultimate chapter, “A November Wedding.” Throughout the story, the character of Cora speaks in a kind of glossolalia, languages coming together in almost Joycean runs, bits of English, German, pidgin languages, R’lyehian, folding together, syllables merging, alphabets converging as they sought to express meaning…and perhaps all the better, when in this section they hit upon the inexpressible, the unnameable. The obscured climax is in its was as effective as the italicized culminating revelation of Lovecraft’s stories.

However, this is not a story about revelations, either cosmic or personal. It is about impact. Yales’ story is not so much about the act of marriage as how it impacts the women forced into these arranged unions:

Something happened after the wedding night to women of Innsmouth that erases what in other places would signify them as women. There is a gravity about them, an otherworldliness as much attributable to their exotic looks as to the fact that none of them quite focus on any one thing with their eyes. They seem always to be elsewhere, and absent the calculating intelligence of the gentler sex.
—J. M. Yales, A Coven in Essex County | A November Wedding

Just so, the last leg of the story is not on the moment of revenge as how it impacts the women who perform it. After the deed, these women’s story does not end. The society of Innsmouth was built on this system of arranged marriages, now that they have transgressed, they enter into an unfamiliar social territory. Familiar ground for many women over the last century, as the slow struggle for women’s rights and place outside the home has caused a shift in societal norms—but then, the suffragettes of Lovecraft’s era never had to deal with covenants with the Deep Ones.

Josephine Maria Yales published “A Coven in Essex County” over a period of 18 months from 2016 to 2017 on the Visitant. She has published a good deal of nonfiction pertaining to women, gender, and horror.