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“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央)

“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央) was published in the second volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 novella 蛇蜜 (Hebi Mitsu); the translator was Erin S. Brodhead.

Sexuality is a fundamental aspect of Yig. In “The Curse of Yig” (1929) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, this nature is implicit: the curse of Yig is that Aubrey Davis bears children with snake-like characteristics. While at least one critic claimed this was a story of maternal impression, the impression usually given was that Yig raped her, presaging to some degree the connection between Yog-Sothoth and Lavinia Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror.” The aspect of Yig as a sexual deity was affirmed in “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft as “the principle of life symbolised as the Father of all Serpents.”

In writing that, Lovecraft might have been inspired by contemporary ideas that ancient serpent deities represented phallic cults, as discussed in O. A. Wall’s Sex and Sex Worship (1922); this was a book that Robert E. Howard owned, and Howard mentioned phallic worship in at least one letter to Lovecraft (A Means to Freedom 1.87). A few later authors have taken the general idea of the Father of Serpents as a masculine deity of virility and run with it; occultists like Kenneth Grant have incorporated Yig into their system as an aspect of masculine sexual power, representing the “Ophidian Current” in his Typhonian Trilogies.

Sex presents certain difficulties for translation; the language of sex is usually either dryly technical (penis, vagina, anus, etc.) or extremely idiomatic or euphemistic (rod, Johnson, 69, French letter, salad tossing, etc.), and sexual slang varies by region, language, culture, and period—compare the language in The Merry Order of St. Bridget (1857) to something like Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and it’s easy to see that while it covers some of the same thematic ground, the language and cultural syntax have shifted drastically. Trying to write period-appropriate sexual language is tricky enough, translating it in such a way that it retains the essence of its meaning for an audience doubly so…and that’s before you try to work the Mythos into it.

This is all necessary ground to cover because “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” is one of the relatively scarce Mythos works which contains a great deal of sexual matter, but isn’t really erotic in any significant sense. The best comparable work is probably Robert M. Price’s “A Thousand Young” (1989), which follows a young libertine seeking admission into a Mythos cult through increasingly deviant sexual acts, but both that story and this one are ultimately a more explicit version of the decadent pleasure-seekers in Lovecraft’s “The Hound”—the idea being that libido sciendi, the desire to know, the quest for forbidden knowledge applies equally well to sexual knowledge as it does to, say, advanced mathematics and occultism (cf. “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Sometimes this is very explicitly the case, such as in “Under the Keeper of the Key” (2015) by Jaap Boekestein, but in the case of Rio Matsudono, it’s more of a barometer to let readers know that the ambient sexual morality of the tale is falling fast, and as the Lovecraftian protagonist slides from receiving fellatio from women who had had all their teeth removed to necrophilia, the novella is really just getting started.

Which is all on purpose: the acts given are almost dry in their description, which might be a translation issue (see above; imagine trying to write 1930s-period sexual decadence to a 2000s-contemporary Japanese audience, and then imagine trying to translate that into English for a completely different audience) but likely also because the purpose of the acts is not to titillate or tantalize but to transgress, to provoke a degree of rejection and outrage at the breaking of taboos. The actual acts themselves aren’t dwelt on until we get to the literal climax of the story, because the author isn’t trying to get you off, or go into horrorporn territory with microscopic detail a la Edward Lee’s Hardcore Lovecraft novels like Going Monstering.

For “The Taste of the Snake’s Honey,” sex isn’t the revelation, it’s the initiation.

What the reader and the protagonist are initiated into is another question. Rio Matsudono’s novella is a direct expansion on the lore of Yig, and the straightforward lore dumps are maybe at the expense of the story itself. Like with The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健), there’s an effort to at least draw parallels between an aspect of Lovecraft’s Mythos with Chinese folklore…and the parallels work fine; the exposition is a little heavy at points, but that’s pretty common in Lovecraftian pastiches. What the story lacks, aside from a certain prosody, is a direct explanation for what drove the sexual decadence of the protagonist in the first place…unless you understand and appreciate Yig’s role as a fundamentally sexual entity to begin with.

So much of this novella is stated bluntly or outright that some of the subtextual implications and assumptions can be easily lost. The protagonist’s sexual activities aren’t portrayed as mental illness or learned practices; they’re the result of natural inclinations—or, maybe, supernatural ones. Nature winning out over nurture. At the same time those sexual desires and activities appear to have nothing to do with the final resolution of the plot: they led the narrator protagonist to the point of revelation, but aside from plot fiat there was no reason that these specific revelations had to happen in this way. A surface read of this story might suggest that Rio Matsudono wanted to deliberately shock the reader, but the apparent conflict can be resolved by thinking of Yig and his children as driven by inhuman appetites.

He was not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children, the serpents; but in the autumn he became abnormally ravenous, and had to be driven away by means of suitable rites.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “The Curse of Yig”

Suppose these appetites are analogous to the strange hankerings of a pregnant woman? Suppose the hungers for strange flesh, and blood, and wild venturings way over the borders of sane sexuality are a reaching out for ultramundane fare, the pickles and ice cream of the alien soul coming to birth within the confines of a human life that is only a womb for that which gestates inside, increasingly making its presence known?
—introduction to “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” in Inverted Kingdom 113-114

The introduction to “The Taste of Snake’s Honey” spotlights the issue for reader, although like all good warnings to the curious, the full implications aren’t necessarily clear until after the novella is finished. Then the story can be seen in the theme of “Paedomorphosis” (1998) by Caitlín R. Kiernan—a changeling or puberty story, where the old self is shed to make way for the new, adult form.

If read from this angle, the sexual deviations from the beginning of the story are not just there to shock the reader, but as deliberate steps in a process of development. The sexual pleasures being sought are increasingly strange and terrible by human standards because what the protagonist is being prepared to mate with is nothing human. It’s a rationalization which resolves some of the apparent conflicts in the story, such as why the narrator feels their behaviors are different from those of decadent humans who engage in the same or similar practices like teratophilia or necrophilia.

A point of view which potentially has interesting implications if applied to some of the other entities in the Cthulhu Mythos, especially those that pass for human, or whose cults engage in proscribed sexual practices.


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

“The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas

We came to the Mictlán, the place of the dead, which the ancient people called Xinaián […]
—”The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, trans. Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Most of “The Mound” is given as a story-within-a-story: the English translation of the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, gentleman, of Luarca in Asturias, Concerning the Subterranean World of Xinaián, A. D. 1545. Few of the Aztec codices have survived the flames and floods, the mold and wear of centuries of hands; we today often read about the peoples and places they encountered through accounts like Zamacona’s…who being their own skewed, flawed interpretation of what they see and witnessed of ways of life and belief of which they knew little, and could only understand through the lens of their own religion, politics, philosophy, and experience.

Which is a long way to say: no one has tried to tell the story from T’la-yub’s point of view.

In Lovecraft’s narrative via Zamacona, T’la-yub is a tragic figure. She dared to love, dared to dream of a monogamous union, and the subject of her affections determined only to put her aside as soon as convenient. For her transgressions in the name of romance, she is doomed to mutilation, death, and then undeath. T’la-yub is one of the ghosts of the mound, the dead woman who holds her head, facing eternal punishment for a momentary infraction.

There’s something very Christian about that interpretation, isn’t there? Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas flips the script. What if Zamacona didn’t understand what was happening? What if he misconstrued his place and importance in the sequence of events?

As with her other stories “Tloque Nahuaque” (2011)“Ahuizotl” (2011), and “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” (2014), “The Head of T’la-yub” mixes elements of the Mythos was Aztec mythology. Instead of the more Pellucidar-esque elements of Lovecraft’s alien civilization beneath the earth, the focus is on T’la-yub’s personal spiritual and physical journey, here modeled on the descent of the dead to Mictlán, the growth of her understanding as to what she has become and what her role is. The result is brief, but novel: a new way to look at this aspect of the “Mesoamerican Mythos,” taking Lovecraft not at face value, but as one interpretation of events told through a very European lens.

Which doesn’t mean that Lovecraft was wrong and García-Rosas is right; the point of the story is not to disprove Lovecraft or point out sources of error, but to provide a new viewpoint that suggests that the picture is much more richly complex than Lovecraft himself gives it. Where works like Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys takes “The Mound” at more or less face value, or The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) that takes the basic ideas but moves in its own direction, “The Head of T’la-yub” is essentially an alternative narrative of “The Mound”—and readers can put on their scholar’s caps, read up on Aztec mythology, and decide for themselves where the balance of truth lies.

“The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas was translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and was first published in She Walks in Shadows (2015); it was republished in the paperback edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016).


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

“Yig Country” (1993) by Ann K. Schwader

In this particular case, we are looking into the possibility of a single mound inhabited by an Indian snake-god of death, referred to as “Yig” by Zealia Bishop. […] After trudging through the countryside around Binger [, Oklahoma], I have not had the luck so far of stumbling across the mound mentioned by Zealia Bishop. […] In retrospect, it is well known that Indians even now will not often divulge the true location of something held sacred to their tribe – much less something which is feared and forbidden. Should information leak out concerning such a spot, the informant might fear the finger of tribal suspicion pointed in his direction. The Indian ways have changed little in the last three hundred years, and it is not their nature to trust a man from outside the tribes.
—W. E. Baardson, “The Mound of Yig?” in Etchings & Oddyseys (1973) 10-12

As I braced myself for the tourist trap, I bet Wallace [Baardson] a quarter we’d have to pay to see the Snake Mound. Certainly, there would be dozens of bright painted signs with the come-on, “Only two miles to the horrible Snake Mound…..one mile…..one yard….. […] But where was the arrow pointing to the mound? It had to be Binger’s second most famous site! […] For my part, I have given up the search for the Binger Mound and Father Yig but Wallace is still searching. He has found several mounds in that section of Oklahoma and is still searching for some peiece of evidence to throw more light on the subject. If anyone can find it, I’m sure Wallace can. For now, though, it looks as though the mound does not exist. Perhaps only Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop know the truth.
—J. J. Koblas, “In Search of Yig” in Nyctalops#9 (1974), 11-12

Lovecraft blundered in selecting the location of his mound. There are no mounds of Indian (or pre-Indian origin) in Oklahoma, the setting of “The Mound.” […] None of the extant Amerindian cultures has a snake god that even approximates Yig.
—Michael DiGregorio, “‘Yig,’ ‘The Mound,’ and American Indian Lore” in Crypt of Cthulhu #11 (1983), 25-26

Searchers after Yig Country have, for the most part, been looking in the wrong place. Zealia Bishop did tell H. P. Lovecraft real bits of local folklore about Binger, Oklahoma around which he wrote “The Curse of Yig” (1929) and “The Mound” (1940)—but Yig Country is not marked on any gas station map or visible from GoogleEarth. It is a province of Lovecraft Country, and the borders grow gradually in works like “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch “Medusa’s Curse” (1995) by Sakura Mizuki (桜 水樹氏)The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys, and Wrath of N’kai (2020) by Josh Reynolds. As the lore grows, so too does Yig Country spread…from contemporary China & Japan to ancient Zambebwei in the Hyborian Age.

Yet rarely in Oklahoma, for all that is where the original two stories were set, and have their real-world roots.

Low tom-toms throbbing through the autumn air,
Shrill Pawnee whistles rising day & night,
Alter the learned traveler to beware
Of this cursed region’s legendary blight.
—Ann K. Schwader, “Yig Country” in Twisted in Dream 85

“Yig Country” is part of a collection of poems that Schwader has written inspired by “The Mound” and “The Curse of Yig.” The others are “Namesake” (In dread K’n-yan’s spired citadel, Tsath”), “Survivals” (“In Anasazi lands where ruins rise”), “Drums of the Father” (“Dread autumn brings a throbbing on the wind”), and “Guardians of the Mound” (“In Caddo County where the snake-god’s rite”). Of all the works that were inspired by Lovecraft and Bishop’s stories, Schwader’s poems might come closest to capturing the promise of this Southwestern corner of the Mythos…and with a degree of consideration that some searchers after Yig Country have lacked.

Both “The Mound” and “The Curse of Yig” explicitly incorporate the presence of Native Americans, and suggest that Yig and the eponymous mound are a part of their local folklore, history, and religion. Lovecraft invented Gray Eagle as a representative, but he did not invent the Pawnee; fact and fiction were woven together—and it is always a question of appropriateness how far to pursue that particular warp and weft, because the Native Americans are still around, in the United States, in Oklahoma. It was perhaps a bit easier in past decades to be ignorant about Native American culture, to pretend they were just like they were depicted in the movies and on television. Maybe this, as much as anything, is why authors following on Lovecraft and Bishop so rarely return to Caddo County, and are more content with K’n-yan than Binger; the geography is a bit too real.

Even the Tewa do not remember why certain glyphs were first carved, or what waits coiled between the stars until they fade. But the Old Ones do.

And the Old Ones still whisper.
—Herbert J. Spinden, Songs from the Tewa (1915), quoted in Twisted in Dream 85

No one has yet written the Mound as a tourist trap, like Innsmouth in “Down into Silence” (2018) by Storm Constantine. The descendants of Aubrey Davis do not haunt the dilapidated sideshows of the circus that follows the dusty road to set up outside the quiet little town, charging for a peep. Yig Country is still frontier territory, even for dedicated searchers after horror. It grows in fits, a poem here, a short story there. Shedding the scales of racist rhetoric as it outgrows them, turning into something fresh and new, bigger and deadlier than it once was…and no one yet has captured that attitude as well, in a single poem.

Drive on to a cleaner country if you’re wise
—Ann K. Schwader, “Yig Country” in Twisted in Dream 85

Ann K. Schwader’s “Yig Country” was first published Eldritch Tales #28 (1993), it has been republished along with her other Yig- and Mound-inspired poems in her collections The Worms Remember (2001) and Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader (2011).


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Hazel Heald

I am very sorry that I did not keep his letters, but moving around from place to place made it impossible. As some of them were personal I did not wish them to be around for others to read perhaps after I left this earthly life. Letters are sometimes left that seem sacred to the owners, but others see it in a different light.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 Mar 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Hazel Drake Heald was arguably H. P. Lovecraft’s most successful and prolific revision client. Between 1932 and 1937, five weird tales appeared under the name of Hazel Heald, the last of them being published only a month or so after his death, and all of them having Lovecraft’s hand in them to a greater or lesser extent. Yet for all that, relatively little is known about their correspondence: Lovecraft does not appear to have kept her letters, and she did not keep his. So once again we are left with a bit of detective-work, piecing together what we can of their relationship through Lovecraft and Heald’s other correspondence…and the framework of their relationship seems built around the timeline of their stories:

In this same year, 1932, I formed a little New England writers’ club of my own, and one of my members, a divorcee was very anxious to succeed in the weird writing field. She sent me an original manuscript with a very passable plot, yet told unconvincingly and amateurishly. I let Lovecraft read it when next he came over to our house on Pearl Street, and he agreed that it did have possibilities.

I wrote to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club-member and told her about H.P.L., adding that he, too, was divorced. Would she like to have him look over her manuscript, “The Man of Stone”? She would! So I gave Lovecraft a note of introduction to Hazel Heald and another chapter in his life was soon taking place.
—Muriel C. Eddy, “The Gentleman from Angell Street” 22-23

I was a beginner and happened to be lucky enough to find HPL who certainly was the best to be found. He was a severe critic but I knew that if I finally suited him in my work that the editor would usually accept it. For example— I had to rewrite “Out of the Eons” six times before he was completely satisfied!
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 25 Mar 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

In 1932, Hazel Heald was 36 years old, divorced, and working as a clerk or bookkeeper; but she had aspirations to be a writer. Her friend Muriel Eddy put her in touch with H. P. Lovecraft. We do not know exactly when and how Lovecraft and Heald began to correspond, although it seems likely to have been early 1932. The first mention of one of their stories in Lovecraft’s published correspondence is from August 1932 (Essential Solitude 2.497), in reference to “Winged Death”—but the first published story was “The Man of Stone,” which hit the stands in September of that year.

Given publishing times in the pulps, this tells us two things: that at least two stories had been written prior to September 1932, and that the stories seem not to have been submitted directly to Weird Tales—because “The Man of Stone” was published at Wonder Stories, and “Winged Death” was first submitted to Harry Bates at Strange Tales of Mystery & Terror. If Lovecraft followed his normal mode for revision clients, their initial letters would have involved many notes on the story or stories involved, genteel discussion of rates and terms, and suggestions for where and how to market the story. Having been subject to the capricious whims of Farnsworth Wright in the past, it wouldn’t be surprising if Lovecraft initially recommended other pulps who might pay more, and more promptly, than his “old standard.”

In September 1932, Lovecraft took advantage of a special low-cost ticket to visit Montreal and Quebec (Sep 2-6). Traveling on the cheap, Lovecraft gave little thought and less money to food and amenities:

Early the following Tuesday morning, before I had gone to work, Howard arrived back from Quebec. I have never before nor since seen such a sight. folds of skin hanging froma  skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artist’s hands and fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves, on which he was functioning. that evening he had a dinner appointment in Somerville with a woman for whom he was doing some revision, and he had plans for things he wanted to do during the day.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 59

The dinner appointment was with Hazel Heald. Muriel Eddy gives her version of events:

She invited him up to her house for Sunday supper and arranged to have everything that H.P.L. liked best on the menu. they ate by candlelight, and he was greatly intrigued by her thoughtfulness in not having a household of people to greet him. He used to say he could think better when there were not too many people around to disturb his train of thought.

He tactfully explained to Hazel that her story, though very good, really needed a little touching up here and there, something to stir the reader’s imagination. Would she allow him to do it for her? He’d consider it an honor and a privilege. She agreed.
—Muriel Eddy, “The Gentleman from Angell Street” 23

Eddy must have her dates wrong, because by September 1932 “The Man of Stone” was already written and accepted by Hugo Gernsback at Wonder Stories. But they might well have discussed other revisions, since one had already been submitted and accepted. Heald would describe their revision process in this way:

Lovecraft helped me on this story as much as on the others, and did actually rewrite paragraphs. He would criticize various paragraphs and pencil remarks beside them, and make me rewrite them until they pleased him. I certainly slaved on that story—my first! But all of my later stories he revised in the same way. I was so elated when it was accepted. They said I would have to send them a photograph of myself. I had special pictures taken, then when the magazine came out, there was a caricature of myself that even my mother wouldn’t recognize! I felt so hurt that the readers would think of me like that, and HPL was a good one to ease that hurt in his kind way. He said that no one ever recognized themselves from their artist’s drawing. He also advised me to get a lawyer for the payment of my check.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 30 Sep 1944, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

While Lovecraft does not discuss any specific meetings with Heald in his letters, in her own letters she suggests that he made at least one, if not more visits to her corner of Massachusetts:

I was interested in Paul Cook’s account of Lovecraft’s Boston visit, and how he made him rest up before coming over to my house. He certainly did not act tired, and ate very well, although Cook said he gave him a good meal before he came. I wonder if he thought that he would be starved at my house? He seemed to enjoy himself a lot. Soon after that he came again, and we visited all of the museums together. That was where I conceived the idea for OUT OF THE EONS.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944, MSS Wisconsin Historical Society

It is not clear which museums they might have visited, or when this might have occurred, although both the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts are possibilities, with collections of Egyptian artifacts and mummies that might have inspired the fictional Cabot Museum.

“Out of the Æons” might have been conceived over dinner in early September, but “The Horror in the Museum” was finished by October:

I’ve just ghost-written a tale for a client in a fashion amounting virtually to original composition—about a waxwork museum or chamber of horrors where there is a rumour that not all of the fabulous monsters displayed are artificial. I’ve included Tsathoggua among the blasphemies.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Oct 1932, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 394

In any case, Farnsworth Wright accepted “The Horror in the Museum” by mid-November 1932 (DS 397)—but by February 1933 a problem had arisen where Gernsback did not pay Heald for “The Man of Stone” (DS 404). At this point, Lovecraft had written at least three stories with or for Heald (“The Man of Stone,” “Winged Death,” and “The Horror in the Museum”), and one had been accepted and published, one rejected, and one accepted pending publication; but we don’t know if Heald had paid Lovecraft for any of them. Without their letters, we don’t know the exact details of their business arrangements—but the lack of payment from Gernsback could not have helped the business side of their relationship.

Still, Lovecraft must have had some confidence in his client, because by the time “The Horror in the Museum” hit the stands, “Out of the Æons” was written, submitted, and accepted by Weird Tales:

Glad you enjoyed the Witch House and Museum story. Another tale which I revised for the “Museum” author, and which Wright has accepted, brings in von Juntz and his black book as almost the central theme. It concerns a mummy found in the crypt of a Cyclopean stone temple of fabulous antiquity; volcanically upheaved from the sea.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 24 Jul 1933, A Means to Freedom 2.619

Weird Tales paid only on publication, and in the 1930s as the Depression worsened, often the payment was long after publication. It seems quite likely that by this point, Heald must have been in arrears to Lovecraft—and perhaps found a way to make up for it in kind:

Meanwhile (my hatred of the typewriter being stronger every day) I have had a delinquent client type the story I wrote last August, & have started the carbon on the rounds of the gang—beginning with Dwyer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 8 Nov 1933, Letters to J. Vernon Shea &c. 175

I lately had a client type my story of last August—”The Thing on the Doorstep” (which isn’t very satisfactory), & am circulating the carbon amongst the gang (you’ll get it in time).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 12 Nov 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 85

HPL helped me in return for typing his tale “Dreams at Witch House.” I also typed his “The Thing on the Doorstep.” His writing was familiar to me, so it was much easier than for strangers.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 Mar 1937, MSS Wisconsin Historical society

Heald also eventually, at Lovecraft’s suggestion, contacted New York lawyer Ione Weber to sue Gernsback for her money, and got it by November 1933 (DS 404).

Although Lovecraft does not mention it, “Winged Death” must eventually have been submitted to Wright at Weird Tales and accepted for publication; it hit the stands in the March 1934 issue…and that appears to have been pretty much the end of the professional side of Heald and Lovecraft’s relationship:

“Winged Death” is pretty much a ghost-written Ech-Pi-El-ism. All that honest Mrs. Heald had to start with was a cloudy idea about somebody killing somebody with bugs. Then she got a medical friend to shed some light on poisonous African insects, & decided to give the tale an African cast. That was all I had to go on. The plot—with the idea of transferred personality & the returning & ceiling-writing death-envoy—is entirely my own. But it doesn’t pay to do this sort of work—when one could have just as good chances of full pay with a piece nominally as well as actually one’s own. I’ve cut it out now—though the last two reliques of my collaboration (one more Heald opus & the collaboration with Sultan Malik) are yet to be printed.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, DS 544

The “one more Heald opus” is presumably “Out of the Æons,” which Wright would hold onto without publishing (or paying for) until 1935. Still, though Lovecraft gave up ghostwriting and fiction revision as a business in 1934, his stories with Heald had a bit of an afterlife that they would have discussed in their letters: “The Horror in the Museum” was reprinted in the Not at Night anthology Terror by Night (1934), and reprinted in the Not at Night Omnibus (1937).

As far as the writing of “Out of the Æons” goes, Lovecraft would write when it was published:

Regarding the scheduled “Out of the Æons”—I should say I did have a hand in it…..I wrote the damn thing! The original museum-mummy story submitted for revision was so utterly lousy (some crap about a Peruvian miner trapped underground) that I had to discard it altogether & prepare a fresh tale. But it’s really foolish to attempt jobs so extensive, when with the same amount of work one could write an acknowledged story of one’s own. This is the last collaboration of the sort I shall ever attempt—indeed, I’ve turned a deaf ear to all further suggestions from Sultan Malik, Mrs. Heald, Kid Bloch, & others.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 26 Mar 1935, DS 594

Glad you like “Out of the Æons”—which is, as I may have mentioned, virtually an original story of mine. All that survives from the initial Heald outline (worthy Mme. H. never bothered to write out any actual text for it!) is the basic idea of a living brain discovered in an ancient mummy.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 11 Apr 1935, DS 603

Ironically, fan response to Heald’s stories in Weird Tales were often more vocal than for Lovecraft’s contributions under his own name.

We can only speculate as to what might be in Lovecraft and Heald’s letters between 1934 and 1937; her name is notably absent from his 1934 list of correspondents to whom he was sending postcards on his travels (Collected Essays 5.267), but we know she wrote to him while he was in Florida in 1934 (thanks to a surviving envelope), so it’s likely they would have discussed their lives, travels, and writing. The best evidence for their continued correspondence was that in January 1937, Lovecraft still had a current address for her when fan John Weir asked for submissions for a new fanzine:

Sorry I can’t dig up any more material at the moment—am wallowing in a morass of tasks & staggering under what seems like a variant of grippe. Hope you can assemble sufficient copy for #1, & am glad you have an illustration for future issues.[…] Glad you’ve received at least some material from those I recommended. Come to think of it, you might get a short story (fairly long as such things go) from Mrs. Hazel Heald, 15 Carter St. Newtonville, Mass. Ask her for “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” or some other tale which didn’t land professionally.
—H. P. Lovecraft to John Weir, 28 Jan 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

“Some other tale” is where things get interesting. In her letters to August Derleth and elsewhere, Hazel Heald mentions “In the Gulf of N’Logh” (193?) and “Lair of Fungous Death” (193?), and her story “An Heir of the Mesozoic” was eventually published by Weir in his fanzine Fantasmagoria. Were any of these were stories that Lovecraft had a hand in, either through offering revision comments or fully ghostwriting, between 1932 and 1934? We don’t know, but their very existence suggests a correspondence that was more busied and complicated than just the four stories mentioned above would indicate—much like his correspondence with another revision client, Zealia Bishop.

H. P. Lovecraft died on 15 March 1937; it’s not clear when Heald became aware of his passing, but she wrote to Weird Tales shortly after:

Hazel Heald writes from Newtonville, Massachusetts: “I want to express my sorrow in the passing of H. P. Lovecraft. He was a friend indeed to the struggling author, and many have started to climb the ladder of success with his kind assistance. To us who really knew him it is a sorrow that mere words cannot express. His was the helping hand that started me in the writers’ game and gave me courage to carry on under the gravest difficulties. But we must try to think that he is ‘just away’ on one of his longest journeys and that some day we will meet him again in the Great Beyond.”
Weird Tales, “The Eyrie” Jun 1937

Mrs. Hazel Heald writes from Newtonville, Massachusetts: “A brain like H. P. Lovecraft’s seldom was found—uncanny in its intelligence. He was ever searching for more knowledge, gleaning by endless hours of study a richer and fuller understanding of people and of life. Being a great traveler, he reveled in the study of old cities and their hidden lore and would walk many miles to inspect some historic spot. He was a real friend to all who knew him, always ready to give his valuable time to aid some poor struggling author—a true guiding star. He was very partial to dumb animals, especially cats, signifying that interest in several of his tales. He would step out of his way to pat some forlorn alley cat and give it a friendly word, and the kittens of a neighbor furnished him unbounded enjoyment. He was an ardent lover of architecture and all the fine arts, and a day spent in a museum with him was time well spent. By endless hours of toil eh worked far into the night giving the world masterpieces of weird fiction, sacrificing his health for his work. Lovecraft was a gift to the world who can never be replaced—Humanity’s Friend.”
Weird Tales, “The Eyrie” Aug 1937

In the May 1937 issue of Weird Tales, Heald’s fifth story was published: “The Horror in the Burying Ground.” Without Lovecraft around to comment, we know nothing of when or how it was written, although it is popularly supposed from internal evidence that he had a hand in it. If he did write it, or at least revise it, sometime around 1932-1933, it would be one more example of the fruitfulness of their creative endeavors…and of the quiet failures and rejections that were masked by their successful sales.

My HORROR IN THE BURYING GROUND was rejected once by Wright, then several years later I rewrote it in several places and he accepted it. He said I had too much dialect to read easily.
Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Little is known of Hazel Heald’s later life; her letters to August Derleth fall off after 1937, but pick up again in the early 1940s as he sought to obtain permission to republish her stories among Lovecraft’s revision tales. She continued to attempt a literary career, mentioning efforts to publish stories in the pulps without success, but for regular employment was forced to be a housekeeper.

Heald 1944Hazel Heald to Winfield Townley Scott, 8 Sep 1948, MSS. John Hay Library 

What did Lovecraft mean to Hazel Heald? What little correspondence that survives from Heald in library archives is entirely because of her connection to Lovecraft, in one form or another. In truth, we might not remember Heald at all if not for her position as Lovecraft’s revision client, and it could well be she knew that it was the Lovecraft connection which was responsible for the small attention she got from fans like John Weir and editors like August Derleth. Unlike Zealia Bishop or Adolphe de Castro, she never seems to have had the resources to consider seriously self-publishing, didn’t have the writing chops to get accepted by commercial magazines, and had no connection with fanzines beyond Weir’s Fantasmagoria. She sold a couple manuscripts to a dedicated fan, and apparently kept in touch with the Eddys, but that is about as far as the Lovecraft connection took her.


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

“An Heir to the Mesozoic” (1938) by Hazel Heald

I have a manuscript that almost beats yours. This is “In the Gulfs of N’Logh” by Hazel Heald. Besides that I’ve got an old poem of Lovecraft’s and another Hazel Heald story. The first story by Heald is composed of Thirty-two typewritten sheets.
—John Weir to Willis Conover, 16 Mar 1937, MSS. John Hay Library

In January 1937, H. P. Lovecraft recommended that John T. Weir solicit material for his new fanzine Fantasmagoria from several of his correspondents, and specifically mentioned his former revision client Hazel Heald, whom he knew had a couple of unpublished manuscripts still in her possession.

Hazel Heald responded by sending Weir two substantial manuscripts, “In the Gulf of N’Logh” and “An Heir of the Mesozoic.” While “In the Gulf of N’Logh” was too long for Weir to publish, he managed to split “An Heir of the Mesozoic” and publish it across two different issues—which, because of the vagaries of fan publishing, occurred a year after Heald had first submitted the story, and it was two years before the whole thing was published. So much time went by that Heald apparently became confused as to the details of the publication.

I have had several rejected tales I passed on to J. James Weird who is starting a new fan magazine. HPL advised me to keep myself in the public eye as much as possible.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 31 May 1937, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Several years ago a man wrote to me and said he would like some of my unpublished tales for a book he was going to publish, and though he did not pay for them, it would be good advertising. I did not regard them as worth printing, but he insisted. I even forgot his name and thought no more about it until I received a letter saying they would be printed soon. From that day to this I have heard nothing. Do you think he was trying to get plots for stories, and went about it in that way? I did not care anything about the tales as I have carbon copies somewhere, but it seemed like a strange request, didn’t it?
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944, MSS. Wisconsin Historical Society

Heald had written two letters to Weir asking about the publication in 1937, but she either never heard back or had forgotten this by 1944; it doesn’t seem likely she ever got a chance to see what would be her final story in print—and it has remained out of print since that publication, despite the fact that it was never copyrighted and has been in the public domain since Weir published it. While a few fans speculated that this might be a relatively unknown Lovecraft revision, the rarity of issues of Fantasmagoria prevented most from making any kind of judgment…until now.

The First Fandom Experience, whose outstanding publications include the Visual History of Science Fiction Fandom and facsimiles reproductions of the important early fanzines Science Fiction Digest and Fantasy Magazine were gracious enough to provide scans of “An Heir of the Mesozoic.” The scans have been uploaded to the Internet Archive and can be seen here. However, because the print quality of those early ‘zines was particularly poor, what follows before the review itself is a transcript of the text. A couple of sentences have become illegible over the decades of handling, but the bulk of the story is intact. Corrections and illegible portions are denoted by brackets [e.g].


An Heir of the Mesozoic
by Hazel Heald

[Part I]

“SoBurt gave you this measly little thing. Quite a gift from a former admirer, I’ll say!” and Warren Drake looked quizzically at the little creature, half crawling, half-swimming around in the large crystal bowl in the center of the table. “What does he think we want of a salamander?” and he gave vicious poke with his pencil at the saurian, which resulted in a vicious snap from the little jaws. His wife, Veronica, pall’d at his arm and looked at her husband in a half-pleading way.

“Now Warren, leave the poor little thing alone. It’s mine, and I’m NOT going to let you tantalize it. Take something your size instead of that poor little helpless thingsuch a mite” and she switched indignantly from the room leaving her husband in a puzzled frame of mind.

“Helpless, eh?” ejaculated Warren, watching the knife-like tail slash the water, the little snake-like head lifted, with its bright eyes staring into his vehemently. Why the creature seemed almost human! Giving a last look, he left the room to make peace with his wife; who was now [illegible] only two short years before, after much competition with Burt Strout for her affections. Burt had taken it rather hard at the time for it had been a toss-up between them, but finally Veronica had decided in Warren’s favor. When the day of the wedding arrived, Burt drew Warren aside for a few minutes of private conversation.

“Warren,” he said, “In a few minutes you and Veronica will be made one, but I warn you now I will never entirely give her up, even if it is only in my dreams. If it hadn’t been for you, I would have been the lucky man waiting at the altar. And I will always be waiting for herno matter how interminable the length of time. And when you turn up your toes for the last time, and the lily is placed on your breast, I won’t be shedding any crocodile tears. So you see, Warren, I’ve come clean, and am not hiding my true feelings from you. Be good to her or you’ll hear from me!” and Burt walked away, leaving a rather bewildered Warren.

Since then Veronica had received mysterious packages on special occasions like Christmas and Birthdays, but these always contained trivial gifts that could not be interpreted other wise than friendly offerings. Still it rather rankled in Warren’s consciousness and several rather bitter quarrels with Veronica had been the result. These, he felt, had been communicated to Burt in some wayit almost seemed as if a powerful wireless ran between their two selves. Perhaps he did say rather cruel and aggravating things to Veronica, but Nature had provided him with a rather vile temper, that when aroused, stopped at nothing. There was always a reconciliation and an aftermath to this weakness, but each was a little slower about coming about than the time before.

Burt had dropped in very frequently the first year of their married life, then his interest seemed to dwindle and his visits became rare indeed. but the last few months his lost interest had seemed to rekindle, only the night before he had brought the little dark brown specimen, half-lizard, half-frog, its only color being its spotted vermilion-red bellythus starting the unpleasantness.

All the next day Warren seemed haunted with a stron[g] intuition of impending evil, as if a vandal had entered his home. Why should a little creature like a salamander fill his thoughts, driving all of the serious perplexities of his office work from him? He would get rid of itaccidentally tip the bowl over, then his heel could do the rest. The sooner it was done the betterVeronica wouldn’t mistrust but what it was accidental. And she might get more attached to the thing as time went onthen it would be more difficult to exterminate it.

So Warren went home that night with a fixed purpose in his mind. Veronica did not meet him at the door as usual, which rather surprised him, but her contagious laughter floated out from the living room to his ears, then a low rumbling voice gave evidence of a visitor. Entering the room he beheld Veronica sitting in a wingback chair with Burt standing in back of her, his arms resting on the back of the chair, while they both were indulging in a heart laugh.

“Why, hello, WarrenRonnie and I were having a good laugh at your expense. So you didn’t like little Sally, did you? She’s like all the female of the speciesmore deadly than the male! But you’l like her in time, only don’t feed her too muchshe might grow!” and Burt glanced at Warren with a look hard to analyze.

“Don’t lose any sleep worrying about me, Burt. I guess I’ll live through it. But I don’t guarantee that ‘Sally’ will. No little runt of a lizard will bother me long. You and Veronica are having a great laugh about nothing. What if I do abhor slimy thingsthat’s my business, and that thing crawling over the house isn’t a pleasing spectacle. Gorman has a couple of them always getting outsometimes he find them crawling on his pillow, for he keeps them in a bowl on a stand near a bed. But you don’t catch me standing that” and Warren slumped into a chair viciously sweeping a gray tabby-cat from its depths.

“Oh, did I rub your fur the wrong way?” questioned Burt. “I didn’t know I was touching a sore spot. you must be getting old if you can’t stand a little kidding. Ronnie just told me how Sally snapped at you last night. Anyone would think that the little hing had you worried. Better leave her aloneshe might be a ticklish customer to handle if she returned to type” and Burt gave a knowing wink, that was returned with an icy stare.

“Say, you tow, stop that silly scrapping and come to dinner. It will be getting cold,” and Veronica lead the way to the dining-room. An uneventful evening followed, with much bandying of words between Burt and Warren, the former’s conversation seemed to run on a tantalizing string. After a late goodnight he left reluctantly.

“Whew, I’m glad that pest is gone,” said Warren drawing a long sigh of relief. “Two nights in succession is enough to provoke a saint. now I want you to just scrap that friendship with Bertjust forget he rushed you once. As for that salamanderthe sewer will be getting her soon” and he stamped off to bed, leaving irate Veronica to nurse her wrath.

The next morning he arose with an aching head[,] acid stomach, and a general rundown feeling. Even his usual cup of strong coffee did not help, and the sleeping Veronica was mute evidence of last night’s quarrel, for she was usually up bright and early to prepare the morning meal. Glancing up at him with half-closed eyes from its crystal palace, the little saurian lay, its paddling arms crooked at the elbows like a human’s, its four fingers spread fanwise, while the five-toed hind feet were waving gently to keep the small body afloat. Warren could not resist poking it, but drew his fingers away as the little jaws rose to the [illegible] had teeth?

Each night Warren ascertained to kill the loathsome creature, but something always prevented. When he would draw his chair toward the table to read by the table lamp he would feel the little snaky eyes looking at him from their glass prison until he was forced to turn his eyes in their direction. Then the baleful look he was forced meet seemed to hypnotize himuntil he was compelled to return to another room, or give up reading. Veronica would watch the scene with a knowing look but not offering any solution to his problem. Anyway, they weren’t too friendly these daysand she seemed to hover like a guardian angle over her pet. Confound the thingit must be some spawn of the devil! The vicious jabs aimed at the thing when she happened to be absent were many, but they never found their mark. One favorite was a long, old fashioned hat-pin, which he held like a spear, but it never seemed to reach its [mark]. Some daysome day when the little [illegible] saurian got a good puncture his life would become normal again.

At last he decided to ignore the thing entirely, to [f]orget its existence if possible. So for a fortnight he persistently avoided the table where the bowl rested, although he could feel the creature’s eyes boring like gimlets, trying to draw his own in their direction. Then it camethe shock that made his hair rise on his scalphis blood to run cold. On going past the table one night he looked into the crystal depths to find the saurian resting on a pile of rocks in one corner, its size being increased by one-half! It couldn’t be possibleVeronica must have been feeding it too many fliesor it was an optical illusion. Nothing could grow as swiftly as that in so short a time. But Veronica’s non-committal answers weren’t very enlighteningwell, women weren’t very observing anyway!

Heir 2

[Part II]

That night he studied the lizard-like creature under a strong magnifying class, although its repulsiveness jarred on his already shattered nerves. It returned his stares unflinchingly, raising its flat head above the surface of the water, its beady eyes looking into his unwaveringly, the red mouth opening from time to time as if to gnash the imaginary teeth of its ancestors, while the vermilion and black spots underneath glowed with an evil light. The tough skin seemed to be stretched to its greatest extent, and the length of the human-like arms and legs had increased. It seemed to be more vicious than evertrying to scale the slippery sides of the bowl to get at him.

For another week he kept away from the creature, for the sight of it repulsed and sickened him. Then one night at the dinner table Veronica startled him by saying, “Sally is beginning to cut her teeth. I wonder if they are milk teeth or wisdom? Burt thinks it’s a good joke!”

“Cutting teethwhat are you talking about! Who ever heard of a salamander with teethyou must be crazy!” and he rushed into the living-room to behold the object of their conversation asleep on his little rock-island. A sharp prod with his pencil made it come instantly to life, opening its jaws in anger at being disturbed, disclosing two little white points on each side of the upper jaw which were unmistakablyteeth! It had also increased in size during the weekits hide fairly bursting with the strain of extended capacity.

Veronica was right behind him, looking at his surprised discomfiture. “Wasn’t I right, big boy? And probably more teeth will come laterand see how she has grown. That food that Burt gave me to feed her must surely have its vitamins!” and she laughed gaily as she linked her arm into his, drawing him back to the dinner table.

After this it was a regular occurrence to be informed that “Sally has a new tooth” or “Sally got out today and I found her under your bed.” All there was to it he must get rid of the pest! One night Veronica went out to a nearby theater to see a special feature, but Warren pleaded a headache. Now was his chance while she was absent to fulfill his plans!

Stealing softly into the room he tip-toed over to the table without turning on a light. He must not awaken the thing for it might be dangerous with all of its mysterious teeth. The bowl seemed extra heavy as he staggered out to the kitchen where he had laid out the ice-pick, hammer and various other tools. The lights shining in from the street made a dim twilight in which to work. Somehow in his over-cautious haste the bowl slipped form his hands into the soapstone sink with a splintering crash, followed by the thrashing of its occupant. Warren’s heart stood stillwhy it sounded as though the thing weighed pounds! Rushing to the center of the room he pulled the electric light cord, but an empty click was the only result. Confound it all, someone must have removed the bulb to plug in the electric iron and forgotten to have put it back!

A dull splashing in the sink was followed by a sharp thud on the floor as some object it it with a resounding clatterthen a slithering sound on the smooth linoleum gave evidence that the thing was still alive. Warren ran half-stumbling, half-running into the living-room, feeling nervously in the dark for the light switchat last locating it with trembling fingers, but as before only an empty click was the result. From room to room he staggered, bumping into heavy furniture, scraping the skin from his tortured limbseach switch being found useless. What could have happened to all of the lights? Something was wrong somewhere. A hurried glance out of the window showed the streets in darkness. A short circuit somewhere must have suddenly plunged the city into darkness! The black devils of all evil seemed leagued with that slimy thing somewhere in the depths of his apartment.

Suddenly, a bright idea penetrated his fear-crazed mind. The creature couldn’t have followed him as far as the bedroom he now occupiedhe would just close the door and stay barricaded against its unpleasant presence. It might be inferior in intelligence and size, but those sharp teeth would not offer a pleasin[g] conclusion to his night’s adventure. And Veronica must never find out about thisshe would jeer at his cowardice. Sliding over to the door he shut it with a bang that vouched for its staying closed for some time, then locating the bed he tried to make himself as comfortable as possible in its depths, with both ears straining for the slightest sound.

Why had he tormented the little saurian as he had? But it had always seemed to taunt himits snaky eyes looking defiantly into his as if to draw him on. And to think of the size of the mammal-eating monsters it had descended from! Just lately he hadn’t bothered to even look at it. No knowing how big the creature was now. Anyway it gave a good thud when it landed, and that spelled danger with a capital “D”. And the bowl had seemed larger than usual. Good Heavens had it outgrown the other? This was no trifling matter, for it was unnatural for it to grow as it had. What could be the darn stuff that Burt gave Veronica to feed it? Well, that was an ideahe must inquire tomorrowthere was something fishy somewhere. And Veronica had such a fondness for the thingalmost silly at times. No, it couldn’t be any plot hatched between them although he had said he would never give her up. Strange words to tell a bridegroom! Had had seemed to drop around afternoons quite a bit latelybut anyway, he would take a few winks of sleep before Veronica came. The creature would not harm hershe petted it too much. As for absence of lightsshe would speak to him quickly enough when she arrived, for she was a regular child in the dark.

No sound broke the stillness, and presently Warren took off his shoes and crawled in to bed fully dressed. The thing wasn’t in the room or it would have been thrashing around before this after being so long out of water. Probably it was a lot of nonsense anyway to imagine it knew him from anyone else. But how could he explain about the shattered bowl to Veronica?? He could say he was giving it a fresh lot of waterthat would be the best explanation. It did not matter if he hadn’t done this beforethe always was a first time to everything. it was no use trying to carry out any murderous designs on the creature in the darknessit was a cinch it would get him first. As his nerves calmed down and the absolute silence of the place deadened his nerves, his eyelids drooped over aching eyeballs, and he was fast asleep.

How long he slept he did not know. Phantoms of the wildest sort flitted through his dreams, culminating in the leap of a monstrous gargoyle toward him as he lay trapped in a cave. When he started awake in a cold perspiration, some obscure instinct threw him into an attitude of intense and agonized listeningthough for what he could not tell. Finally he thought he heard a soundsomething like scraping of slippery feet over a polished floor. Before he could form a definite image his blood ran cold. Then he knew that this could mean only one thing. After allin spite of all his confidencethat accursed saurian must be in the room! The utter horror of his helplessness made him draw himself farther under the bedclothes, pulling the quilts over his head. He felt cowardly lying here like thisbut what could he do? A man couldn’t fight in the darkand surely the creature could not get on the bed. If he could only see to kill it. It must be nearly time for Veronicahe must stall it off until then.

He couldn’t have slept longbut these beastly Fall evenings were interminable! The air was becoming stiflinghe must get a few gasps, so cautiously removing his head from the covers he gulped it in filling his lungs in great sweepsbut both ears on the alert for any sound. A slight slithering sound near the window renewed his fearsthe thing was moving around in a blind search for him! Slowly, noiselessly, eh reached for one of his shoes he had place[d] on the bed near the footthen taking a careful aim he threw it in the direction of the weird sounds. A crashthen the sound of the thrashing of the thing as if in agony gave evidence that he hit his mark. At last the horrible sounds ceased, and Warren lay back on the bed, the beads of icy sweat making his forehead clammy and cold. He must have killed the thing after all! What a relief after this siege of horror! His hair would be white after this or he’d miss his guess! Now he would lie there until Veronica camethen the lighting system might be restored.

At last he dropped into a troubled sleep, filled with all sorts of prehistoric monsters, dancing in a circle around him, making his head swim with eternal whirlingtheir avid mouths full of long white teeththeir red tongues dripping with the blood of their victims. The circle was closing in on himthey were crushing his bones, sapping his consciousnesskilling him……………

He opened his eyes, the horror of his dream overwhelming himpulling the covers from his face for air. Then he screamed in terror as a snake-like head reared itself from a loathsome body that was lying full-length on hiseyes like gimle[t]s bored into his in the darkness, lit by a phosphorescent glowthe spicy odor of the saurian filling his nostrils with its loathsomeness. He tried to sit up, to throw the thing from his chest, but the evil jaws snapped at him, getting nearer and neare[r] to his throat. Its hot fetid breath fanned his face, the teeth gnashing in rage, while the blood that was flowing from its wounds, drenched the bedclothes.

His hands clawed at the thing[,] trying to pull it away, but the vicious jaws snapped at his index finger, sinking almost to the bone. The pain from the wound was terrific, he kicked, tore at the humanlike arms and fingers, and screamed desperately for helpbut it was useless. The red mouth at last found its mark, the sharp teeth tore at his throat, and windpipe and jugular vein were severed in the hideous gnawing that followed. Then in a spasm of demoniac rage, the little four-fingered hands ripped his staring eyes from their sockets, while the hind feet kicked at his chest till the flesh was a mere pulp of gory laceration. But the creature’s own wounds were gaining on it. The vindictive tearings grew feeblerand at last, with a human-like sob, the grotesque monster sprawled inerta lifeless lump of hideousness.

When the lights came on a frightful scene would have disclosed to any watchera scene in which a man and an abnormally overgrown lizard lay broken and blood-soaked in the grip of relentless death. But there was no one to watchfor hours passed before the hideous discovery was made. The papers dwelt on the horror but no inquest was thought necessary. Everything was so obvious.

But across the city, in a trim flat in Maple Street, the lights had revealed another scene as they flashed ona scene which might have interested many persons both official and unofficial. There were a man and a womanthe former cool and self-satisfied, the latter white and shaken. The man was coaching and reassuring the woman, and promising great happiness to repay her for something she was going through. He was telling her how superficial the notion of conscience is, and urging her not to be frightened by what she would sooner or later have to face. And he was carefully explaining the glandular extract which, fed to man or reptile, stimulates the processes of abnormal growth.

THE END


“An Heir to the Mesozoic” does not appear to be a lost Lovecraft revision. Perhaps he had seen and commented on it at some point, and perhaps even Heald had submitted it to Weird Tales or Amazing Stories and it had been turned down; both magazines have published material on about this level. It notably contains no reference to Lovecraft’s Mythos, but then neither did Heald’s “The Horror in the Burying Ground” (1937); however unlike that story, none of the personal or place names, or even any of the prose, seem to show any similarities to Lovecraft’s style.

The reference at the end to “glandular extract” marks this as a particular mode of early science fiction known as “gland stories,” based on biochemical discoveries about the effects of hormones on the body (which would lead, eventually, to the production of synthetic hormones, making everything from birth control pills to hormone replacement therapy possible. But in the 1920s and 30s, “glands” were also the domain of noted medical frauds such as Serge Voronoff, who grafted monkey testicles to male patients promising restored virility, and John R. Brinkley, who promised miraculous effects from grafting goat testicles. In the domain of science fiction, glands could achieve almost any effect. An example of such as story is “The Superman of Dr. Jukes” (Wonder Stories Nov 1931) by Francis Flagg, one of Lovecraft’s pulpster peers and correspondents.

Other than that, there’s not a lot else to say. Like “The Man of Stone” (1932), there is a romantic triangle at the heart of this story, and a supernatural/super-scientific resolution. If this was more typical of Heald’s output outside of Lovecraft’s influence, it might explain why she had difficulty getting acceptance in the pulps: the plot isn’t bad, but it is basic; the prose doesn’t exactly sing or grip the reader; and the weird-science angle is a bit weak…despite the title, the unknown reptile never really hits “Age of Reptiles” levels.

Even if “An Heir to the Mesozoic” isn’t a lost Lovecraftian classic, it is still a rare weird story from one of Lovecraft’s revision clients. For those who wonder whether Hazel Heald could write, or what she would write outside of Lovecraft’s revision or ghostwriting—well, here we have an answer to that.


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

Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys

After I wrote “The Litany of Earth,” I thought I was done. I’d said what I needed to about Lovecraft and being a monster; it was time to move on. When people started asking for more, I figured it was just a nice way of saying “I liked it.” But the requests kept coming, and I started explaining to anyone who’d listen why the story didn’t need a sequel.

My second thanks, therefore, are to everyone who pushed for more of Aphra’s story until I talked myself around and figured out what else I had to say.
—Ruthanna Emrys, “Acknowledgements” in Winter Tide (2017) 363

A Cthulhu Mythos novel is difficult to write. The very first was August Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold (1945); others followed, such as Brian Lumley’s Beneath the Moors (1974) and Robert Bloch’s Strange Eons (1978). Most of these early Mythos novels face the same problems and criticisms: the difficulty of maintaining a Lovecraftian narrative and atmosphere at length, and an over-reliance on Mythos tie-ins. They were basically very long pastiches, and not always good pastiche. The little tie-ins which readers thrill in during a short story can become overburdening if dwelt on at length, or if the entire story’s plot serves no other purpose than to expand on connections between parts of the Mythos. While Lovecraft could sometimes inundate readers with references, it was usually fairly brief and never to the detriment of the plot of the story he was telling. The reference to Innsmouth in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” for example, is a reference that would thrill readers of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but Lovecraft doesn’t focus on the connection, or even explain it.

Ruthanna Emrys’ “The Litany of Earth” is admirably self-contained in that way. While Aphra Marsh retells some of the events of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in her own words, the story is not just a retelling and commentary of Lovecraft’s story, but focuses on Aphra’s life after that tragedy. Coping and rebuilding, forming bonds and friendship, learning and learning to deal with accumulated trauma, trust issues, etc. The close of the story doesn’t cease Aphra’s narrative—she’s still alive—but neither does it beg for or immediately suggest a sequel.

Looking back at “The Litany of Earth” and Winter Tide in hindsight, it is easier to see how Emrys got from one to the other. The novel takes advantage of its length to explore a few of the themes of “Litany” in greater depth, and following that thread Aphra and her companions return to Lovecraft Country in Massachusetts, picking up on some of the wider connections between “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and the Mythos. Some of these work better than others; Pickman Sanitarium is basically an Easter egg, the Cthäat Aquadingen (originally created by Brian Lumley in “The Cyprus Shell”) a wink and a nod. The regurgitation of endless Mythos titles is the kind of thing that feels like running a finger down the laundry-list of tomes in the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game; the little Mythos details are generally at their best when being creative (salt-cakes!)

While Emrys’ novel definitely isn’t pastiche, the over-reliance of tie-ins does drag a little; Miskatonic University in this incarnation looks a lot more like Ex Libris Miskatonici (1993) by Joan C. Stanley in the sheer density and scale of the occult shenanigans. More annoyingly because some of the details given don’t line up, but without any real explanation. The founders of Innsmouth, for example, are alleged in the novel to have come from England rather than Oceania, and for reasons unspecified apparently the Deep Ones don’t have any communities off the West Coast of the United States. There might be good narrative reasons for this, but without some hint it feels like a misstep rather than a deliberate authorial choice. Those pedantic niggles are relatively rare, and not necessarily bad. For example, the Hall School for girls which Lovecraft mentioned in “The Thing on the Doorstep” is transformed into a women’s college affiliate with Miskatonic University in Winter Tide.

The issue of plot and atmosphere are different for Winter Tide than the early Mythos novels. “The Litany of Earth” never made any attempt to copy Lovecraft’s atmosphere;  Emrys has her own voice and is comfortable with it. Aphra and the other main characters are essentially already initiates into the Mythos, or become initiated quickly, so there is a lot less peeling-back-the-onion…which is fine, except that nominally the A plot is a Cold War occult spy thriller (“cloak & enchanted dagger,” or maybe “cloak & tentacle”) a la Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives and “A Colder War,” Tim Powers’ Declare, or even the Delta Green Roleplaying Game, and that plot goes…essentially nowhere. Most of the book, and thus most of the interest in the novel, relies entirely on the drama generated by the interactions between the slowly expanding cast of characters.

The expansion of the cast seems less organic than it should be. While admirably diverse for a Mythos novel in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, the cast is bigger than it needs to be and some of the relationships feel forced. One of the characters from “Litany” is revealed as homosexual, for example, but there’s no build-up to the revelation and ultimately no real impact on the narrative. While Emrys is keenly aware of the discrimination that various characters are subject to in the 1940s United States of America for being some combination of women, homosexual, African-American, Japanese, Jewish, and/or an Innsmouth hybrid and doesn’t shy away from how bad the “good old days” could be if you weren’t a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, she can’t give equal attention to every single character’s experience and not all of those characters have an equal contribution to the nominal plot.

The opposition to Aphra & her group are basically heterosexual white people—whether privileged Miskatonic students, sexist and sexually abusive male university professors, or racist and sexist FBI agents. The characterization isn’t inaccurate to the time period (and it is the rampant bigotry, spoken and unspoken, which unites the group of outsiders in common cause), but it does get to be a little frustrating when pretty much every single one of them refuses to learn absolutely anything from the mistakes that leave a trail of bodies and ruined lives in their wake. Maybe that’s deliberate, but it still feels like there could have been room for more nuance—or, at least, that there would have been some small moral victory in getting at least one them to step out of their headspace of thinking they know better than everyone else, or of being self-righteous about it.

Where “Litany of Earth” doesn’t demand a sequel, readers might wonder what the point of Winter Tide is. Mostly, it serves to drag Aphra back to Innsmouth, the prodigal daughter returning home to reconnect with and face the demands of her family. Many Mythos stories have focused on issues of reproduction, from Lovecraft’s miscegenation theme in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” to miscarriage and infertility (“In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens), arranged marriages and unwanted pregnancies (“Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader), to rape leading to pregnancy (“The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins), to spousal abuse (“A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales), but this is one that addresses an issue both perennial and very current: family expectations to have kids, and the right to choose not to have a child.

This could honestly have been the theme of the novel in many ways; a way of confronting past and future at once…but it feels like a B-plot that is, if not completely resolved, at least resolved way too quickly. There are good reasons why Aphra (or any woman) might want to have a child and not want to have a child; replace an aging parent with an immortal, fully-transformed Deep One asking when and how you’re going to spawn and suggesting suitable mates from your immediate pool of friends is something that could be played up for both horror and laughs. Yet for a decision that doesn’t have to be made right away, it’s one that Aphra caves to after a bare minimum of self-reflection. Aphra isn’t the only one subject to this expectation—at least two or three other characters are in analogous positions, even if not all of their family have gills—and Emrys could have played with the comparison of situations a bit more there, but chose not to.

Winter Tide is definitely a better written novel than The Lurker at the Threshold or Strange Eons; the characters are deeper, the interactions better, many of the embellishments on the Mythos more creative. From a Mythos perspective, it feels like it draws too much from the roleplaying game side of things; as a dramatic novel, it feels like it has too many characters and doesn’t do enough with those that are there. In comparison with “The Litany of Earth,” Winter Tide definitely doesn’t have the same focus; Emrys already made her point about providing an alternate take on “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and there’s no need to rehash it here—but neither does Emrys have quite the same twist or insight to offer on Miskatonic-focused stories like “The Thing on the Doorstep” and The Shadow Out of Time.

The marketing for this novel refers to it as part of the “Innsmouth Legacy” series—and it really is the focus on the bits and piece of Innsmouth culture, material and otherwise, that survive which are the best “Mythos” parts of the novel. The references to “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft are less interesting and relevant than the pieces of Innsmouth gold we see, and the meaning that they represent; the depictions of the gods (including “Shub-Nigaroth” as a substitute for “Shub-Niggurath,” probably to avoid any perceived issues with etymology); an origin story for the Deep Ones; the reference to how Innsmouth had few graveyards and that the dates on the stones were relatively young (stillbirths and childhood illnesses & accidents)…these are all good details. The kind of world-building which the book could have used more of, or have focused more on.

 It’s a great story and a seamless subversion of Lovecraft’s most repellent views while simultaneously being a tribute to his greatest accomplishments.
—Carrie S., review of Winter Tide on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (26 May 2017)

Is Winter Tide actually subverting Lovecraft? This is a question that applies to many books published around the same time which dealt with issues of race, prejudice, and the Mythos, including Lovecraft Country (2016) by Matt Ruff and “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle. It’s not an easy question to answer. 1949 is a different world than the one Lovecraft left in 1937, or wrote about when “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in 1931. Lovecraft himself was racist, to the point of bigotry, he was homophobic, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant; how much of that made it into “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Thing on the Doorstep?”

The fantasy racism with regards to Innsmouth in Lovecraft’s fiction is inspired by the real-life racial discrimination of the United States in the 1930s, but in Lovecraft’s stories it is very specifically so much weirder than “normal” racism that the prejudices of the surrounding towns is the red herring. Unlike Winter Tide, no one in Lovecraft’s stories suspects what the people of Innsmouth actually are. That is what makes Lovecraft’s Innsmouth narrative so sensational…and what makes it so difficult to subvert.

Is it a subversion if the Deep Ones are sympathetic and not actively evil? Is it a subversion to tell a story from the perspective of a Deep One? Or to have a protagonist who openly embraces various characters without discriminating about them based on gender, sexuality, race, or religion? Not rhetorical questions; Ruthanna Emrys doesn’t carry forward many of Lovecraft’s prejudices, but neither does she invert all of them.

“The Innsmouth Legacy” is more inclusive than Lovecraft’s Mythos, but it can’t negate or even really address the substance of race and discrimination that informed Lovecraft’s writing. Or to put it another way, Winter Tide does not exist to deconstruct the ideas of race & the Cthulhu Mythos. Emrys works to turn Lovecraft’s ideas to her own usage, but in doing so never really questions the underlying fundamentals of some of those ideas—the Deep Ones (“Children of Water”) and K’n-yans (“Children of Earth”) are in several respects fundamentally different from “normal humans” (“Children of Air”), and Lovecraft’s depictions of them are treated as broadly accurate, if not universal—and they could not be otherwise, for the characters to be as they are, or the narrative to play out as it does.

In the review for “The Litany of Earth,” it was noted to make Deep Ones just a nigh-immortal, magically adept subspecies of humanity is to basically turn them into ugly versions of Tolkien’s elves. To extend a tortured metaphor, the depiction of the inhabitants of K’n-yan is basically a version of the Drow from Dungeons & Dragons. While they don’t have dark skin pigmentation, the K’n-yans are a magically adept subspecies of humanity, but one which is seen as (perhaps genetically) evil, insane, and sadistic; they are shunned by other intelligent peoples and subject to pejorative epithets (“dustblood”) and wariness, if not outright discrimination. The discovery of K’n-yan heritage fundamentally changes how a character views herself, and how she is viewed by an interacts with the other characters; this isn’t an ancestry test where the character is pleasantly surprised to see an unexpected result giving them a genetic tie that didn’t know about…and unlike at the end of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” acceptance of this unusual heritage does not equal any kind of promise of glorious transfiguration.

Which does not make Winter Tide in any sense a bad novel; a Dungeons & Dragons novel can be fine fantasy without working to subvert everything J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about elves. A book can be fresh and well-written without necessarily being revolutionary. Part of the point of a Cthulhu Mythos novel is to build on what has gone before—and add to it. Ruthanna Emrys has certainly done that.

Winter Tide was published in 2017; the Innsmouth Legacy series would continue with a sequel novel Deep Roots in 2019.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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This is how you open a comic set in space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Lascivious Tongues” (2014) by Christine Morgan

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

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

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

Cthulhu, not coincidentally, had an idol too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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