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Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)

Yoth Tlaggon
A mysterious God. The first time the name was written was in a letter form H. P. Lovecraft to C. A. Smith, a close friend and associate of the American horror writer, dated April 4th, 1932. However, Father Lucio Damiani published a monograph on Ancient History entitled Visions of Kusha in which he writes that “In the days when Atlantis was still called Kusha, and Lemuria known as Shalarali, Yoth Tlaggon was named one of the Nine Princes of Hell.” Damiani could have had no knowledge of the Lovecraft letter, for it was not publsihed until 1970.
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 228

Yoth-Tlaggon—at the Crimson Spring.
Hour of the Amorphous Reflection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 360

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) is a novel from Kurodahan Press. It is comprised of seven interrelated short stories published between 1994 and 1999, and is presented here in English by translator Jim Rion. Each of the stories involves Nazi Germany, and involves the Cthulhu Mythos in some way, and though they do not form a single consistent narrative, together form a kind of occult history of World War II and its legacy.

Lovecraft died in 1937; he lived to see the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power in Germany, and the opening shots of what would become World War II in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Though he did not know it, Lovecraft also became aware of the opening stages of the Holocaust as Hitler’s government instituted laws discriminating against Jews in Germany, a practice which the antisemitic Lovecraft had mixed feelings with—approving as he did of Nazi Germany’s ultranationalism, but not their unscientific racial discrimination. He never lived to see how wrong he was regarding Hitler and Mussolini, never saw the true horrors of the Holocaust.

World War II has become fertile ground writers of weird and fantasy fiction; the Nazi interest with the occult and esoteric, based partially on truth, as detailed in books like Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1993) and Kenneth Hite’s The Nazi Occult (2013). Works like Le Matin des magiciens (1960) popularized the idea of the Nazi occult for a new generation, and have led to works like the Indiana Jones adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the Hellboy comic books and film, and innumerable other appearances.

“Hitler’s a nut on the subject. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed with the occult.”
—Musgrove, Raiders of the Lost Ark

This has been true for the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Herbert West famously found employment in Nazi Germany in Brian McNaughton’s “Herbert West—Reincarnated Part II: The Horror in the Holy Land”; Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives (2004) deals with the occult fallout of the Nazi’s Mythos-delvings; Mike Mignola and Jim Robinson have Hellboy team up with Starman and Batman to face Neo-Nazis (and classical Nazis!) summoning Lovecraftian horrors in Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999).

LovecraftKnew
Art by Mike Mignola, script by Jim Robinson, Batman/Hellboy/Starman #2 (1999)

The Mythos occult WWII angle had become essentially a Mythos subgenre with the release of the roleplaying games World War Cthulhu (2013, Cubicle 7) and Achtung! Cthulhu (2013, Modiphius), which in turn have led to new anthologies like World War Cthulhu (2014, Dark Regions), and even video games.

Which is a long way to say that Asamatsu Ken was a bit ahead of the curve when he first published these stories in Japan in 1994-1999. Some of the stories are eerily prescient as far as capturing the essential dynamic of the post-2000 Mythos WWII craze. Magic is real, the Nazis—deluded and arrogant as they might be, playing with forces they don’t understand—are often portrayed as a genuine occult threat to the entire world. The action is often pulpy, but Asamatsu Ken shows real research in trying to make sure the names, dates, and equipment are correct. The individual stories are like separate, individual episodes taken from a long, drawn-out conflict, but they are constructed with all the care of a good hoax. Mythos references are typically slid in alongside real occult names and texts, the Nazi’s actual activities provide the context for the stories.

In the first place, it is important that we realize that the term “racist,” as used today, has strong post-WWII connotations. We have become much more liberal and open-minded following the dreadful experiences and revelations of the second World War, and anyone espousing extreme anti-ethnic views today must surely be a reactionary, a redneck, or a nut. “Racism” has become extremely unpopular, and we associate the term with the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
—Dirk W. Mosig, “Was Lovecraft a Racist?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #98 (1998) 4

One of the shadows looming over Kthulhu Reich (or any other Mythos WWII novel or story) is how it addresses the nature of racism and antisemitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular. No nation in the conflict was free from prejudice and discrimination, but the attempts at genocide which were such a hallmark of WW II present a subject that writers have to decide how to deal with. It is perhaps appropriate that Asamatsu Ken chooses to begin the collection with “The Corporal’s Self-Portrait”—a story which would otherwise seem a bit out-of-place in the anthology, dealing as it does with a contemporary postwar Japan and touching on the attitudes towards racism and how they’ve changed.

“I can take the Koreans and the Chinese. They’re like us, at least. But the day all these Thais and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Filipinios, and Indians and Iranians and Iraqis shoed up, this place became unbearable.”

“Hey, come on… That’s really racist!” I chided, unable to must any real force.

Hirata ignored me.

“They come here to Japan and take the jobs honest students used to be able to count on. Then they send our valuable yen back to their own countries. And then there’s our women! They seduce our women and sully the pure blood of Yamato!”

“Cut it out, you’re talking crazy!”

—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 7

Hirata doesn’t stop. The narrator at least protests, though his words fall on deaf ears. The incident gains sinister connotations as the story unfolds, much like the film Max (2002), yet the reader is shown this angry young man, whose life parallels that of the eponymous Boys from Brazil, and he can muster only ineffective rebukes to his obvious and appallingly vocal prejudice. Asamatsu Ken does not turn a blind eye to the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated. Nor to the real threat that racism and prejudice still form.

Jim Rion deserves accolades here for an excellent translation on what must have been a difficult job—combining as it does real historical elements, occult jargon, Japanese cultural references, the Cthulhu Mythos, the unusual episode “April 20th, 1889” that consists of a series of found documents, and some really well-done action scenes in “The Mask of Yoth Tlaggon.”


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

“Le Pornomicon” (2005) by Logan Kowalsky

Pornomicon . . . derived from the Greek Word “Porne”, meaning prostitute. But the word on the whole means nothing to me.
—Logan, The Pornomicon 5

RF_Logan_01Le Pornomicon is a 2005 French-language one-shot homoerotic horror comic book created by writer/artist Logan Kowalsky (credited here simply as “Logan”) by H & O Editions; it was translated into English by Class Comics in 2006. While long out of print, it is still available as an ebook from Class Comics’ website.

The first known erotic comic based on Lovecraft’s Mythos was “Tales of the Leather Nun’s Grandmother” in the underground comix Tales from the Leather Nun (1973, Last Gasp), and ever since there has been a steady addition to the oeuvre of erotic Mythos comic books and graphic novels. For the most part, however, these works are typically created for a heterosexual audience, with women as the primary focus of all sex acts and male-on-female (or, increasingly, tentacle-on-female) pairings making up the majority of all sex acts. A rather smaller cross-section of such works dip into LGBTQ relationships or focus extensively on non-heterosexual intercourse.

One of the first of these was John Blackburn’s Coley series (1989-1999), which featured the bisexual Coley Cochran, who occasionally encountered the servants or descendants of the Old Ones; Noé and Barreiro’s El Convent Infernal (The Convent of Hell, 1996) includes several lesbian scenes, as well as a sexually-explicit copy of the Necronomicon and a notorious tentacle sex scene. The latter work might well have been part of Logan’s inspiration for Le Pornomicon, focusing as it does on the eponymous tome and penetrative sex featuring penis-headed tentacles.

In this respect, readers may suspect an influence from Japanese hentai on one or both works, and there’s probably some truth to that. However, given the focus on size, penetration, and masculinity in Le Pornomicon, the tentacle works well to foster the visual rhetoric of the story when it makes an appearance, taking things from the cartoonishly oversized to beyond anything humanly possible.

The visual grammer permitted by the tentacle is extremely useful to the pornographer. With no restriction on length, it permits penetration without blocking the view. It can also be used as a form of restraint, permiting multiple penetration, sexualised bondage and east of access. Best of all for the tentacle as a pornographic device, while it may often look suspiciously like a penis, to the extent of possessing a foreskin or glans, or even ejaculating upon climax, it is not a sexual organ by definition.
The Erotic Anime Movie Guide 58

It perhaps needs to be said that there is not a single homoerotic aesthetic; the gamut of LGBTQ+ works encompasses a vast range of body types, relationships, preferences, etc. Le Pornomicon tends toward burly, over-muscled, often hairy subjects; the genitals are cartoonishly oversized and the holes are elastic, the relationships are almost entirely purely sexual with no romantic bonds, blushing nervousness, consideration of feelings, etc. While some folks might reductively say “Well, it’s porn,” not all porn is like that. Not even all homoerotic Mythos fiction; “Herbert West in Love” (2012) by Molly Tanzer and “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon both exhibit very different aesthetics, despite both focusing on the homoerotic potential of “Herbert West–Reanimator.”

Part of the reason Logan focuses so slightly on the human relationships is because the main character of the book is not human, but the eponymous Pornomicon and its associated Mythos. The story is set across two time periods, two brief encounters united by the presence of the Pornomicon, and in this way it is reminiscent of the Loc-Nar in the animated film Heavy Metal (1981). Like that object, the presence of the Pornomicon is associated with mental and physical corruption, introducing elements of body horror and the monstrously alien as the humans are possessed, transformed, and eventually subsumed by inhuman carnality. In the universe of the Pornomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth are inherently sexual beings, but unlike in the works of Lovecraft or other writers who focus on these entities having sexual relations with human beings to spawn progeny, there is no focus on reproduction. Cthulhu does not impregnate these burly male characters, they become a part of him.

Which could be read as a form of homosexual panic, or a reflection of the implicit bias against sexuality in slasher films where couples who sneak off for a bit of illicit fun receive a brutal comeuppance as they are macheted to death—although it seems likely that neither of these was consciously intended. Rather, Logan offers a pornographic horror comic with no happy ending, the encounters with the Pornomicon are by their nature lustful and end badly for those who tamper with the Great Old Ones, but that would probably be true for anyone of any gender or sexuality. The unbiased nature of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth in taking all victims equally only appears to be biased because the story focuses exclusively on homosexual men.

Logan also takes visual inspiration from Mythos-related works. In particular, the background of page 10 is annotated “Apres Mike Mignola” and directly references the visual imagery in the Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (1994) series.

Above, left: Mike Mignola, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #3.
Above, right: Logan, The Pornomicon.

Sometime after the publication of Le Pornomicon, Logan began a series of illustrations titled The Pornomicon Legacy, but so far there is no indication of another volume forthcoming.


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

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶)

It has been known for a long time, then, that Lovecraft had the same prejudice againt the Japanese as he did againt the Chinese, or African-Americans. […] So what? Mishima Yukio was gay, and Kawabata Yasunari committed suicide after being spurned by the maid. The personal proclivities of literary greats have nothing to do with the quality of their masterpieces.

We Japanese tend to be forgiving of heroes. We feel absolutely no contradiction in being enthralled by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the fact that Lovecraft was prejudiced.
—Asamatsu Ken, foreword to The Dreaming God 2

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶) is a story in The Dreaming God, the fourth and final 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 story 苦思楽西遊博 (Kushi Kakusei Yūhaku); the translator was Kathleen Taji.

Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese novels, comparable to Homer’s Odyssey in Western literature, and has served as inspiration for a vast array of fiction, film, manga, cartoons, etc., including the venerable and popular Dragon Ball saga. Tachihara Tōya may be the first to remix this classic with the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price also notes in the introduction that the story also draws from (or at least strongly parallels) August Derleth’s Trail of Cthulhu serial novel in parts. Most notably, the third chapter (“Sandy’s Story”) echoes a major plot point in “The Black Island” (1951) where the narrating character is affected by the Elder Sign.

The result is a fragment of an epic. Tachihara provides three chapters from three different character perspectives; the full story could be a hundred. A taste of what-might-have-been. The Mythos in “Quest of the Nameless City” is not quite that as Lovecraft or Derleth had written it; the Old Ones are filtered through a different cultural lens, and though we are not given vast details about their place within the cosmology, the story incorporates the Mythos entities into the gestalt as it does all the other inhuman creatures from Journey to the West. As the character Pigsy notes in chapter two:

The world is vast, and there are even manuscripts like the Book of Mountains and Seas, full of Chinese mythology. Thus, I suppose the existence of such fantastic beings is not astonishing in the least.
—Tachihara Tōya, “Quest of the Nameless City” in The Dreaming God 41-42

Initially, one of the key aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos is that it is different, explicitly alien and other to both Christian theology and “typical” horrors like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies which abounded in the pulp fiction of the time. This was not an ironclad rule if you tiptoed even a little outside the bounds of Lovecraft’s own writing; Robert E. Howard had no qualms about including the occasional vampire in his Conan and Solomon Kane stories, which are tied in to the wider Mythos, and other authors have been more explicit in adding Cthulhu & co. to the kitchensink of contemporary fantasy and horror. This trend was perhaps best emphasized when Dungeons & Dragons added the Cthulhu Mythos to Deities & Demigods (1980), Cthulhu was given stats alongside Japanese and Norse deities and Arthurian and Native American heroes.

What Tachihara is doing in “Quest of the Nameless City,” whether intentionally or just as a side effect of the brilliant idea of combining the Mythos with Journey to the West, is effectively lampshading this tendancy to assimilation. Like any “authentic” mythology, the Cthulhu Mythos is ripe for multiple interpretations, some conflicting, and some adapting the familiar stories into new contexts. There are no contradictions here that cannot be ironed out by another chapter, another gloss, or simply let stand to be enjoyed on their own merits.


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

“Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修)

Well, I can tell you one thing: Lovecraft would never have written this! But whether he would have been capable of it, or would have approved it, these questions are quite distinct. And yet it is a Lovecraftian tale; it belongs in this anthology.
—Robert M. Price, foreord to “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 237

“Necrophallus” (2005) by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is a story in Night Voices, Night Journeys, the first 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 story 屍の懐剣 (Shikabane no Nekorufaruso); the translator was Chun Jin.

The name of the story is warning and enticement at once. Necro, death. Phallus, the male sexual organ. Like the Necronomicon, it is a name to conjure with and be repelled by. Readers who see the title and keep reading have committed themselves to the act. Sex and death have always been intimately linked in horror; sex is taboo and transgression, excitement and anticipation. The building blocks of any good horror story. Lovecraft understood this, used it in his fiction—not in any explicit depiction, but by intimation and action; “The Loved Dead” by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft is a tale of necrophilia told from the necrophile’s point of view.

Lovecraft, of course, never lived to learn about Ed Gein, or to see the rise of the slasher film, splatterpunk fiction, torture porn. There was sadism and masochism in the pulps—even in the early Cthulhu Mythos! Robert E. Howard’s bloody flagellation scene in “The Black Stone” was a taste of what was to come in the weird terror pulps; the garish magazines which promised torture, mutilation, strange and terrible surgeries, gruesome injuries…and sex. Naked women, heaving bosoms, strange violations; always implicit in the pulps, because the could not publish the explicit.

Not Lovecraft’s scene.

Makino Osamu, however, brings the splatterpunk mentality to the Cthulhu Mythos. Filmgoers might point to similarities with Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon, 1999), but while there are definite cinematic flourishes to “Necrophallus,” the narrative itself doesn’t hit the same beats. The narrator is a hunter for the limits of human experience; psychologically damaged, sadistic but not in the sense of cruelty but in some profound sociopathic sense. What he meets, when the eponymous Necrophallus appears, is something beyond the limits of mere human sadism.

Which is really the success of “Necrophallus”: to have that moment of Lovecraftian realization, of the smallness of human endeavor, embedded in and expressed through the worldview of a violent, gory psychosexual narrative. There’s no humor to leaven the horror, as is the case in Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line; no refuge in outrageousness. And, for that matter, not really much in the way of titillation or moral. The protagonist is a monster; if the reader feels any sympathy for them at the end, it is only because they are a human monster, whose appetites have led them into the clutches of something so much worse.

Like most such extreme horror, when taken out of context and without having gone through the narrative the imagery can approach the ridiculous…but then the surreality of the scene is the point. The idea of having arrived at some new state through the bloody and painful process is akin to birth, and once through the other side the narrator is transformed and ready for the final revelations.

Chī-chan rubs its dangling tentacles against my own. They make a sound like someone slurping their spaghetti. Not to compare with being dismembered by the Necrophallus, but such mingling of entrails also holds something like the remnants of pleasure.
—Makino Osamu, “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 253

Unlike “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和), “Necrophallus” has the minimum of explicit Mythos connections; Yuggoth is invoked by name, while At the Mountains of Madness and Miskatonic University are hinted at. It could be cataloged in the next edition of the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopediastats could be provided for the Necrophallus in some module of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game without anyone blinking an eye.

It doesn’t really need that, however. The story could have stood on its own without that, being Lovecraftian without being explicitly Mythos. Which is probably the real testament to what Makino Osamu has achieved. Whether or not you like the story, with its sexually explicit scenes and bloody body horror, “Necrophallus” has successfully adapted elements of Lovecraft’s style of culminating revelations to a very different mode of fiction. That in itself is an achievement.


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

“She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和)

I told him I saw no need to broaden, i.e., to dilute, my understanding of “Lovecraftian.” […] I realize that genres grow and develop by an incremenetal process of transgressions of inherited genre conventions. Thus it is no crime to do something different and still call it “Lovecraftian.” What passes for Lovecraftian tomorrow may seem quite different from what the term denotes today. But I can’t pretend to see how you get there from here.
—Robert M. Price, foreword to “She Flows,” Straight to Darkness 193-194

“She Flows” (2006) by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和) was published in the third 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 story 清・少女 (Se Shojō); the translator was Nora Stevens Heath.

The Mythos as a concept is a struggle for definition. What makes a Mythos tale? Does it have to use specific words, deliberate tie-ins? What are the minimal requirements? The status of “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch as a Mythos story hangs on a single word. “Hypothetical Materfamilias” (1994) by Adèle Olivia Gladwell is a Lovecraftian tale with three. “Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin has none, though we recognize the shadow of Shub-Niggurath without ever reading the name of the Black Goat of the Woods. Does any story become a Mythos story if it includes the Necronomicon? Can a story be Mythos but not Lovecraftian, if it uses the right words but in a vary un-Lovecraftian way?

Rhetorical questions. There is no set canon to the Mythos, no strict definition as to what is or is not Lovecraftian. Every individual carries a canon in their head, maybe multiple canons. You the reader decide whether a story is Mythos or Lovecraftian to you. Don’t let anyone else decide for you.

“She Flows” is challenging in this regard. There are, as Robert M. Price notes in his foreword, no explicit connections to the Mythos. The implicit connections are filtered through what feels like a different cultural lens: compensated dating, alcoholic parents, abusive parents, depression. Two girls with eyes a little too wide apart.

People with monstrous faces, long red tongues.

The reader has to make their own connections. Takeuchi’s approach is showing more than telling. Never says “Deep One,” or “Innsmouth.” But they write:

My theme is the ocean.

All I sing are songs about the ocean. You know that folksong, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”? I liked that one. I remember my dad always used to sign it softly into my ear when I was little.

So maybe that’s why all the songs I write are about the ocean.
—Takeuchi Yoshikazu, “She Flows,” Straight to Darkness 206

Where does the reader’s mind go? A European folksong. A mother who hates her daughter’s face. Was her father a Deep One…or a Caucasian? It’s a story about the ambiguity. Reading between the lines. The reader bringing their own understanding to complete the story. Robert M. Price in his foreword wondered if this was a Deep One story; couldn’t quite make up his mind because there is nothing definite there.

Yet in context, this is a story in a Mythos anthology. Had it been placed in an anthology of yōkai stories, would it have been received differently? It would not be difficult to see these creatures as some form of yōkai, or as some delusion of a mind unhinged by child abuse. The story is weaponized ambiguity. It cuts those who want it to mean more than what it is, who want it to connect to something larger than itself.

Is “She Flows” Lovecraftian? It is if you want it to be.


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

“The Acolytes” (1946) by Lilith Lorraine

The Elder Ones are stirring as the red
Stallions of chaos champ their bits with rage;
And they have sent their messengers ahead
Proud with the knowledge of their alienage.

They walk apart from men, the Acolytes,
By stagnant pools and rotting sepulchers,
Whispering of dark, delirious delights,
As young gods die among their worshippers.

They dream of dim dimensions where the towers
Of Yuggoth pierce the decomposing dome
Of skies where dead stars float like evil flowers
Afloat on tideless seas of poisoned foam.

Black tapers glow on many a ruined shrine,
The patterns coalesce – the good, the bad –
The old familiar stars no longer shine –
And I – and I – am curiously glad.
—Lilith Lorraine, “The Acolytes” in The Acolyte (Spring 1946)

Mary Maude Wright (née Dunn) wrote under a number of pseudonyms, at least three of them masculine. She wrote pulp fiction for some of the same magazines as H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, but among early science fiction fandom she had her greatest esteem as a poet, for she was prolific and skilled. As a correspondent of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, like Margaret St. Clair, she was on the fringes of the Weird Tales circle. She was likewise associated with The Acolyte, Francis T. Laney’s prominent 1940s fanzine devoted to Lovecraft and his contemporaries, sharing space with Virginia “Nanek” Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Jr., E. Hoffmann Price and other pulp fans and professional pulpsters.

Sgt. R. A. HOFFMAN. Acolyte art editor, reports from “Somewhere in Tex- Texas” on his visit to the home of Lilith Lorraine, noted poet:

…I Visited San Antonio, which I found to be a primitive, degenerate town, and telephoned Lilith Lorraine, mentioning that CAS had insisted I look her up… She and her husband met me in their car, and drove me out to their Shrine (Avalon Poetry Shrine. — eds.). As we entered the grounds, I heard the barking of what seemed to be myriad dogs, though it turned out to be only three— two of them Russian wolf and the other a crossbreed between Russian wolf and spitz. All were beautiful creatures and very friendly. Inside I was startled to find a veritable menagerie. A large parrot was quietly perched inside its huge cage which sat on the floor, and two cats were snarling at each other. They also have a monkey, but it was asleep in bed at the time, though later she brought it out.

Miss Lorraine is a most amazing person, and going out there was a most fascinating adventure. She and her husband have been married 33 years, but she says she is all the time receiving love letters from strangers. She prefers her pen-name so much that even her husband calls her Miss Lorraine sometimes! They are both native Texans, and she is complete with drawl and all. She has a charming personality and a fine sense of humor.

I had only 2 1/2 hours before my bus, and every minute was spent in incessant conversation or in listening to Lilith read us some of her verse. She read me selections from her then as yet unpublished book The Day of Judgement (Banner Press, 1944), and I was completely caught in her spell, totally swept away with them. She showed me the shrine itself, and the sunken garden, though unfortunately it was late at night, and the floodlights did not give the proper perspective we would have desired….Miss Lorraine thinks CAS the finest American poet since Poe….

Lilith Lorraine’s previous poems in The Acolyte were “On Walking in the Tomb” (Fall 1943) and “Black Cathedrals” (Spring 1944), but “The Acolytes” was a little different. It came in the final issue (#14) of the ‘zine, and is a tribute to those who contributed to the important little magazine…those who, through their efforts kept interest in H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard going after their death, who began the study of their work and the creation of original fiction and poetry of the Mythos.

The last lines of the poem are strangely appropriate; evocative of Lovecraft and perhaps Robert W. Chambers’. The Acolyte was extinct with this issue, but the Acolytes, that first post-Lovecraft generation of fans and scholars survived and flourished. The stars were right…and Lilith Lorraine was there, to capture a moment in verse.

The_Acolyte_14_v04n02_1946-Spring_0011


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

“A Night at Yuan-Su” (2005) by Nanjo Takenori (南條竹則)

My heart is gently warmed, in particular, by the many works left by an obscure writer who lived in Providence in the early twentieth century. when I read his work, I am strangely suffused with warmth, as though I have found a friend from beyond the seas.
—“A Night at Yuan-Su,” Inverted Kingdom: Lairs of the Hidden Gods Vol. Two 279

“A Night at Yuan-Su” (2005) by Nanjō Takenori (南條竹則) 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 story ユアン・スーの一夜 (Yuan Sū no Yoru); the translator was Usha Jayaraman.

In his letters, H. P. Lovecraft decried the loss of old buildings, old ways of life. He was not a Luddite, but his sense of aesthetics was tied to antique styles, and he despaired when an old block of buildings was torn down to make way for something new, as a piece of the past was lost. In this sense, he felt a stranger in his own century. Some of these sentiments are apparent in his fiction, in stories like “He” and “The Outsider.” The idea is expressed most succinctly in sonnet XXX of the Fungi from Yuggoth cycle, “Background”:

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,

In this brief tale, Nanjō Takenori sketches the story of a different outsider, thousands of miles away, lamenting the slow loss of historic Tokyo. There are nods to Lovecraft here and there—and a certain kind of humor. The narrator’s deprecation of human beings could almost have turned into one of Lovecraft’s rants about immigrants, the new people displacing the old, but stops short; “A Night at Yuan-Su” is not “The Street” or any other kind of racist fable. It is, ultimately, about a lonely creature out for a drink and a bit of quiet companionship.

This is where the narrative takes a turn, from the atmospheric descriptions of Yuan-Su (really Harajuku in Tokyo), its old buildings torn down to make way for housing developments, to the more fantastic. Reminiscences of a bar named HE, where Imhotep serves araq to an odd clientele. Odd reactions, fragments of names. Unlike Lovecraft’s eponymous Outsider, there is no final revelation in the story…but there is still that peculiar sense of humor. Earlier in the tale, the nameless narrator describes the evil spell of Betelgeuse, the red star, has on them. At the end, finally settling down with a beer and a bowl of tofu, they are thwarted by a shot of ergoutou (Chinese sorghum liquor)—one of the popular brands of which is Red Star.

Given the setting, I almost suspect there are parts of the joke I’m missing. Perhaps the narrator’s particular attributes reflect some specific species of yōkai which Japanese readers might be more familiar with; perhaps the fragmentary names of bars contain more half-hidden meanings for those familiar with Mandarin and Japanese. Whether this is the case or not, doesn’t really matter for the enjoyment of the story. It’s a mood piece, a snapshot of a night, a moment, an attitude. We have all been outsiders, at times; there’s an empathy there for those who desire simple comforts which are then denied.

Never again will I go into that dirty town. Not even on a bright, moonlit night! I have no need to. If my loneliness gets the better of me, if I feel like visiting a friend, I can always go to Celephaïs, the city of dreams, wrapt in its golden aura…
—”A Night at Yuan-Su,” Inverted Kingdom: Lairs of the Hidden Gods Vol. Two 285

In a dream I fled from that haunted and accursed pile, and ran swiftly and silently in the moonlight. When I returned to the churchyard place of marble and went down the steps I found the stone trap-door immovable; but I was not sorry, for I had hated the antique castle and the trees. Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile. I know that light is not for me, save that of the moon over the rock tombs of Neb, nor any gaiety save the unnamed feasts of Nitokris beneath the Great Pyramid; yet in my new wildness and freedom I almost welcome the bitterness of alienage.
“The Outsider”

The end of “A Night at Yuan-Su” is curiously ambiguous. Does the nameless narrator mean literally that they will go to Celephaïs, or is that a poetic statement to refer to diving once more into Lovecraft’s fiction, finding comfort in the old familiar tales? It can be read either way; nothing the narrator says or does up to this point is explicitly supernatural. Whether they are a human recluse or something else is left up to the reader—and many readers will want to believe in the stranger, more fantastic option. It is a meaner, uglier world that doesn’t allow for a bar named HE to stand on some corner of Harajuku, where exiles from fantastic lands can sip anise-flavored liquors with their collars turned up and their big hats dipped low over their faces, speaking of distant planets and the depths of the sea.


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

“Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch

Let me add that I got a comparable kick out of “Mother of Serpents”—whose Haitian atmosphere is convincing, & whose climax is magnificently clever, powerful, & unexpected.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, 3 Dec 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 179

Voodoo—whether it be Haitian Vodou, New Orleans Voodoo, rootwork, Obeah, or any other name for the syncretic practices derived from indigenous religions by African slaves in the New World—has an odd place in the Cthulhu Mythos. H. P. Lovecraft wrote very little about it; in all of his fiction, there are only two explicit references to voodoo of any sort:

[…] the one known scandal of my immediate forbears—the case of my cousin, young Randolph Delapore of Carfax, who went among the negroes and became a voodoo priest after he returned from the Mexican War.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Rats in the Walls” (1924)

Voodoo orgies multiply in Hayti, and African outposts report ominous mutterings. […] The statuette, idol, fetish, or whatever it was, had been captured some months before in the wooded swamps south of New Orleans during a raid on a supposed voodoo meeting; and so singular and hideous were the rites connected with it, that the police could not but realise that they had stumbled on a dark cult totally unknown to them, and infinitely more diabolic than even the blackest of the African voodoo circles.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928)

The sect in “The Call of Cthulhu” turns out to not be connected with voodoo at all, but both references are extremely vague on the details. Much the same could be said of “Medusa’s Coil” (written 1930), which does not feature voodoo explicitly, but includes “wrinkled Sophonisba, the ancient Zulu witch-woman” who provides the connection between Africa and the American south.

The vagueness is perhaps as it should be: Lovecraft was fairly ignorant on the subject of voodoo, as were most in the United States in the early 20th century. Interest in Haitian Vodou increased during the long United States occupation of Haiti (1915-1934) and the Dominican Republic (1916-1924). This experience provided the inspiration and raw material for Arthur J. Burks and other future pulp writers to spin wild tales of curses, cannibals, and human sacrifice; writer William Seabrook lived on the island and investigated it, his book The Magic Island (1929) and its account of zombies stirred the American imagination, with Weird Tales writers such as Seabury Quinn and August Derleth quickly borrowing his erudition for stories like “The Corpse Master” (Weird Tales July 1929) and “The House in the Magnolias” (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror June 1932). For more on this line, see Zombies from the Pulps! (2014).

Lovecraft read The Magic Island in 1931, while visiting Rev. Henry S. Whitehead in Florida. (Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 195) Whitehead had spent summers in the U. S. Virgin Islands, which had been sold to the United States in 1917, and penned tales and articles for the pulps based on the stories of “Obi” and “Jumbees” he encountered.

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From The Letters of Henry S. Whitehead (1942)

After Lovecraft read The Magic Island, references to voodoo evaporate from his stories, although there are occasional references in his letters. Knowledge, in this case, may have killed the mystery that voodoo had for Lovecraft; there is no evidence he ever read Zora Neale Hurston or any other anthropologist on the subject, and there is a notable absence of reference to voodoo stories in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”—which he had initially written and published before reading The Magic Island, but which remained without reference to African-American authors or voodoo tales as supernatural fiction even the later revised and expanded versions.

There was always a racial element as well.

Ordinarily voodoo & Yogi stuff leaves me cold, for I can’t feel enough closeness to savage or other non-Caucasian magic.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 3 Sep 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea &c. 45

Curious that your ghost ideas in youth excluded the Indian while including the negro. For my part, though, I can’t feel much weirdness in connexion with any but the white race—so that nigger voodoo stories very largely leave me cold.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 30 Oct 1931, A Means to Freedom 1.231

The racial aspect has much to do with prevailing American attitudes about Haiti and black religion in general. Colonialist attitudes remained firmly in place in much of the United States, to the point where Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard were shocked to hear of interracial marriages in the Virgin Islands from Whitehead. In reviewing August Derleth’s voodoo story “The House in the Magnolias,” Lovecraft wrote to his friend:

[…] you have the woman describe herself & family as Haitian, which conclusively implies nigger blood. There are no pure white Haitians. White persons living in Haiti are not citizens, & always refer to themselves in terms of their original nationalities—French, American, Spanish, or whatever they may be. The old French Creoles were wholly extirpated—murdered or exiled—at the beginning of the 19th century.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 9 Sep 1931, Essential Solitude 1.376

Which leads eventually to Robert Bloch’s “Mother of Serpents” (Weird Tales Dec 1936). Nothing much remains as to the genesis of this short story; there is no evidence that Lovecraft had a hand in it, or even saw it before publication. Far from Bloch’s mature work, this is a potboiler that goes for the jugular of Haitian racial and cultural stereotypes and never lets it go.

There were no happy blacks in Haiti then. They had known too much of torture and death; the carefree life of the West Indian neighbors was utterly alien to these slaves and descendants of slaves. A strange mixture of races flourished; fierce tribesmen from Ashanti, Damballah, and the Guinea Coast; sullen Caribs; dusky offspring of renegade Frenchmen; bastard admixtures of Spanish, Negro, and Indian blood. Sly, treacherous half-breeds and mulattos ruled the coast, but there were even worse dwellers in the hills behind.
—Robert Bloch, “Mother of Serpents”

Essentially a conte cruel with voodoo trappings and a supernatural denouement, much of the atmosphere of “Mother of Serpents” is built up in these broad strokes and fine details; Haiti is described as the epitome of racial tensions, black magic, and vice with all the care that Clark Ashton Smith would give to describing an island of necromancers in the far-flung future of Zothique. The description is half-erudite; it’s clear that Bloch was using Seabrook or some other sources for a few of the basic facts on Haiti (such as the legend that Henri Christophe committed suicide with a silver bullet), but equally obvious that he was inventing little horrible details left and right. Every character is a stereotype, and there are no heroes. Even the voodoo-inflected presidentkeeping in mind this was nearly two decades before the reign of François “Papa Doc” Duvalier—is (literally) a bastard, a criminal, a “black Machiavelli” who enriches himself at the expense of the country…and what is worse in his mother’s eyes, marries a mixed-race woman.

Trying to unpack all the racial insinuations in this short story would take longer than the story itself, and probably wouldn’t achieve much. How much of this claptrap Bloch actually believed is debatable; it’s pure pulp pandering. The Mythos connection is a slim one:

The Snake-God is the real deity of the obeah cults. The blacks worshipped the Serpent in Dahomey and Senegal from time immemorial. They venerate the reptiles in a curious way, and there is some obscure linkage between the Snake and the crescent moon. Curious, isn’t it—this serpent superstition? The garden of Eden had its tempter, and the Bible tells of Moses and his staff of snakes. The Egyptians revered Set, and the ancient Hindoos had a cobra god. It seems to be general throughout the world—the kindred hatred and reverence of serpents. Always they seem to be worshipped as creatures of evil. Our own American Indians believed in Yig, and Aztec myths follow the pattern.
—Robert Bloch, “Mother of Serpents”

Damballah (in different spellings) is one of the principal loa in Haitian Vodou, and is depicted as a snake. The Egyptian god Set (Seth, Setekh, etc.) is not depicted as a serpent; possibly Bloch was making an error and remembering Robert E. Howard’s Stygian snake-deity Set from the Conan tales; although Bloch did not like Conan. Yig was the creation of H. P. Lovecraft, and appeared in “The Curse of Yig” (1929) and “The Mound” (1940), published as by Zealia Brown Reed Bishop; Lovecraft might have sent Bloch the manuscript for the latter, or perhaps Bloch was only referencing “The Curse of Yig.” In the end the inclusion of Yig among the snake-deities must have been Bloch’s tip of the hat to Lovecraft.

“Mother of Serpents” barely qualifies as a Mythos tale. Despite being reprinted a number of times, it was not included in any of the collections of Bloch’s Mythos fiction, and has only been reprinted in a single Mythos anthology: Il terrore di Cthulhu (1968). It is often forgotten today—a relic of Bloch’s youth, still trying to find his feet in the publishing game, a few months before the death of H. P. Lovecraft and a full decade before Psycho (1959).

Voodoo, rootwork, and other syncretic religions of the Americas continue to be an element in the Cthulhu Mythos; this is especially true for roleplaying games, where occupations like “Conjure Woman” are part of Harlem Unbound and rules for voodoo magic in Secrets of New Orleans. Individual depictions run from Hollywood tropes to efforts at accurate ethnographic representation. with so little written about voodoo and how and where it fits into the Mythos, at least from Lovecraft, writers are free to indulge their imagination—and do. Some of them, such as Robert Bloch, let themselves lean in too far on the pulp stereotypes and racism both implicit and explicit in the early depictions of Haiti and Vodou.

“Mother of Serpents” can be read online.


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

“Night Voices, Night Journeys” (2005) by Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦)

Outstanding stories always leave the reader in silence.

But one very special type of outstanding story, after silencing them, stimulates them into furious action. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
Asamatsu Ken (朝松健), foreword to Night Voices, Night Journeys 2

“Night Voices, Night Journeys” (2005) by Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦) is the title story of the first 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 story 夜の聲 夜の旅 (Yoru no Koe, Yoru no Tabi); the translator was Edward Lipsett.

This is a story about revelation. In Shanghai, the femme fatale Azie is the plaything of her master, the last in a long line of those who possess her. Yet this is not a story about human trafficking or sex slavery. That is the frame of it, the red herring. Onion layers of truth are peeled back, one at a time, bandaids ripped off as the reader starts to understand what is actually going on…and when you finally get it, when the realization of who and what “Azie” is finally comes together, there’s a desire to go back from the beginning and read it again.

At the same time, this is also a story about how images translate across cultures, in particular how certain images of the Cthulhu Mythos have been interpreted and popularized in Japan.

Lovingly, those fingers toyed with her ear.

Those fingertips, moving so skillfully, soothed along the perfectly-sculpted rim of her ear, cupping; the trace of a fingernail. […] The rhythm of his fingers. She lay on the bench seat, facing upward, body stretched out to him. To his fingers. His incessant, gentle, ravenous fingers.

Of course, the fingers would love not only her ear. He would surely walk them elsewhere. From her ear, on down, to other parts. those unique fingertips, slick with saliva pungent with the scent of myrrh, would glide from that other place to yet another spot, rich in so many secrets, never ceasing their mysterious dance.
—Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦), Night Voices, Night Journeys 181

ED2Book
Necronomicon Ex Mortis, The Evil Dead 2 (1987)

H. P. Lovecraft first mentioned the Necronomicon in his short story “The Hound” (1924). Although given little description there, it is in good company alongside:

A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown and unnamable drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge.

This was the beginning of the Necronomicon‘s association with anthropodermic bibliopegy and the strange and varied library of Mythos tomes which continues on even today. While Lovecraft himself did not bind it in human leather, other creators did, and the idea was given visual form in the Evil Dead franchise as a series of props that still possessed discernible human features on cover—including a distorted face on the front cover and an ear on the back cover.

The films in the Evil Dead series made their way to Japan. The image of the Necronomicon Ex Mortis became strongly associated with visual representation of the Necronomcion in various Japanese Mythos artwork, most recently appearing as the inspiration for the volume in Tanabe Gou (田辺剛) in his adaptation of “The Hound”:

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Excerpt from H. P. Lovecraft’s The Hound and Other Stories by Tanabe Gou

It is a fine point as to whether or not “Azia” takes the form of a literal woman in Inoue Masahiko’s story; the prose often deliberately obscures the details from the unknowing reader until practically the end. The idea of the Al Azif becoming a nubile female was a major conceit of the series Demonbane (デモンベイン, 2003), but “Night Visions, Night Journeys” predates that work, and the approach is much more subtle. “Azia” is in many senses an object, the reader gets her view but she does practically nothing, being utterly passive, something to be possessed by different masters.

It is in miniature a history of the Necronomicon in the works of H. P. Lovecraft, from the view of the Necronomicon, and that is fantastic enough when the realization hits, but even more fantastic when the reader sees how cleverly and carefully the work was done. For example, in the story when it is written:

She had donned an Islamic robe for him, plucking the Egyptian qanoon.
—Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦), Night Voices, Night Journeys 196-197

Is a reference to:

Mediaeval Jews and Arabs were represented in profusion, and Mr. Merritt turned pale when, upon taking down a fine volume conspicuously labelled as the Qanoon-e-Islam, he found it was in truth the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, of which he had heard such monstrous things whispered some years previously after the exposure of nameless rites at the strange little fishing village of Kingsport, in the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”

That is only brushing the surface of things; “Night Voices, Night Journeys” is a tremendously fun story for fans of the Mythos, with many more references both subtle and explicit. The reader’s sympathies lie with “Azia” (or “Nekkie” as the others call her), who is innocent of the uses that her various “Masters” put her secrets to, yet is forced to witness every evil end, her skin absorbing the spilled blood. It’s imagery that translates very well, especially if you’re familiar with the sources being drawn from—but the story is much more than a nostalgic retread through the pages of Lovecraft.

There is a scene at the end where “Azia” faces an audience—and that is us, the readers.

“They’re your fans. They love you.”

“But… those horrible faces…” she said, shivering. “They’re all my sacrifices.”

“No, your recipients. The recipients of your saga,” he corrected.
—Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦), Night Voices, Night Journeys 200-201

How could it be otherwise? The Mythos has always been about reader participation; the reader always brings their prior knowledge of the Mythos with them to each new story they read, building their own canon, putting together pieces of the puzzle. For readers who have never read “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” the reference to Innsmouth in “The Thing on the Doorstep” is meaningless—as may be the reference to the limousine driver from the port town in “Night Voices, Night Journeys.” To read about the Mythos and play the game of connections is to be a part of it, whether or not the reader ever creates anything to expand on it themselves.

If there’s a criticism with “Night Voices, Night Journeys,” it’s that certain absences in representation are more apparent. Lovecraft never had any female characters in possession of the Necronomicon, so none of the “Masters” in the book are female. There are in fact no other female characters in the story, aside from the brief passage where the books whisper to each other on the shelves. The gendered perspective of “Azia” as both female and passive and sensual might be interpreted as borrowing on sexist tropes, although in this case that appears to be entirely incidental. A byproduct of the raw material for the story rather than any deliberate statement being made by the author.

Which is certainly true for many other Mythos stories as well. Still, it would be interesting to see how “Azia” would take to having a Mistress caress her instead of a Master—or if there was some fundamental difference in how a woman might use and interpret the Necronomicon. But that would be a different story altogether; “Night Voices, Night Journeys” is about the way “Azia,” simply by existing, twists those around her…and it is fascinating and fun.


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

Editor Spotlight: Interview with Carrie Cuinn

I’ll admit that when I first put out the call for submissions, Cthulhurotica seemed to most people like it would be a collection of literary tentacle porn. I got stories that introduced a lovely setting but spent the next two thousand words having sex all over it. I got writers who wanted to take a gory horror story they’d written for something else, slap “Innsmouth” over the town’s “Welcome to . . .” sign, and call it Lovecraftian. I got potential readers telling me they couldn’t imagine “Lovecraft” and “Erotica” in the same sentence, and never (ever!) wanted to see my book in print.
—Carrie Cuinn, introduction to Cthulhurotica (2010) 5

The arrival of Cthulhurotica (2010, Dagan Books) shook a few foundations. The Cthulhu Mythos was no stranger to erotic fiction; individual stories and novels had appeared sporadically since at least The Erotic Spectacles (1971), and there are numerous examples of pornographic comics and erotic artwork dealing with the Mythos. Collected works had been attempted, The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994) and Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos (2004, Lindsfarne Press). Cthulhu Sex magazine (1998-2006) had a provacative title, though it had little actual Cthulhu sex in its pages.

What set Cthulhurotica apart from the rest was a matter of approach. It was not the staid combination of sexually explicit (and mostly heterosexual) pastiche where pieces were buttressed by explanations and analysis, not an exercise in gross-out gore or cheap titillation along the lines of the Hot Blood series. Cthulhurotica is sex-positive erotic fiction which runs the gamut from Mythos-flavored sex comedy to erotic Lovecraftian horror; the writers and their point of view characters run the spectrum of gender and sexuality. Such diversity in a Mythos anthology was, and to a degree is, atypical. 

The compilation and publishing of Cthulhurotica is testament to the hard work and vision of editor Carrie Cuinn. Since she is best able to speak as to her motivations and how Cthulhurotica came about, she has been kind enough to answer some questions about herself as a Mythos writer and her experience editing Cthulhurotica:

How did you get into Lovecraft and the Mythos?

Carrie Cuinn: I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. My mom loved horror and we both loved the library; I was probably too young when I started reading Stephen King, but by the time I was in middle school I was spending hours in the stacks each week, looking for new (to me) writers. I found Lovecraft and from there Derleth and Bloch and Howard and then into pulp fiction magazines which got me into science fiction… His stories helped introduce me to the greater world of genre fiction that still captivates me today.

How do you feel that being you (female, bisexual, deaf, a mother) has shaped your understanding of Lovecraft and approach to the Mythos?

CC: The most obvious thing that struck me as a kid was seeing all the ways I wasn’t in Lovecraft’s stories. Even in classic science fiction stories where “men were men” and women were mostly decorative, there were a few characters I could identify with. Heinlein has a ton of flaws and his female characters aren’t usually well-rounded, but at least he seemed to actually like women, you know? Lovecraft saw a very specific type of straight white male as the protagonist for his stories, usually reacting to both cosmic horror and the horror of living in a world where immigrants had jobs and women had opinions. I didn’t get the impression he would have considered me anything other than background scenery, if he noticed me at all.

As I got older, it only got worse: if I’d been quiet, straight, unhappily married but mostly consigned to keeping my head down and doing housework, Lovecraft might have only considered me ugly and useless. Everything I ended up being as an adult? I’d have been a minor monster in his eyes. But like so many readers who grow up not seeing themselves in the books they read, I had to learn to appreciate fiction in pieces, knowing if I stuck to only Lovecraft’s interpretation there wouldn’t be a place for me there.

What made you decide to edit an anthology of Mythos fiction?

CC: I wanted more of Lovecraft’s kind of fiction, where humans react to the immensity of finding out the unimaginable was both real and uncaring, but without the racism and misogyny. I wanted what he started, just more of the world he built, not less. Luckily, in addition to being a writer I was also a big gamer. I started playing D&D in 6th grade and fell in love. It was a different kind of storytelling, where you could make a place for yourself no matter who you were. Being yourself wasn’t subversive, it was encouraged. That was the point of role-playing games! You decide who you are within the structure of that fictional universe.

When I was about 19, I got a chance to play Call of Cthulhu with some friends. Finally, I could see people like me considering the possibilities of a Mythos with us in it. If Innsmouth were a real place, of course there’d be complex and interesting women living there. Queer people and people of color would be living their lives, working, struggling, loving, and being a part of the community. They’d all have to be affected by the monstrous events taking place around them too. I wanted to tell their stories.

Why focus on sex and sexuality in the Mythos, though?

CC: I thought about doing something like this anthology for about 15 years. I’d previously worked on an erotic fiction magazine when I was living in San Francisco, and I’d even drawn up an outline for a collection of Mythos-related fiction as an author, but the feedback I got wasn’t encouraging. I wanted to write stories where sex was good, everyone enjoyed themselves, and the characters were both a) adults, and b) fully consenting. For some reason, guys I knew who considered themselves hardcore Lovecraft fans didn’t want to see those kinds of stories… I put the idea aside, but I never forgot it.

If we all deserve a chance to exist in the world—which seems obvious to me but is still a point of contention for too many folks—then we also all deserve a chance to be healthy and happy. I get that it’s an appropriate topic for exploration in horror and that’s fine with me but sex is a nuanced part of many people’s lives; if it’s only a punishment, or an act of horror, for the women and queer people in your stories, then the story isn’t really inclusive. I wanted to see it alongside the horror, instead of only victimizing people.

What made you think the world was ready for Cthulhurotica? Do you think it found an audience?

CC: Fast forward to 2010, and I’d just started writing fiction again after a lot of changes in my life. I went to college, had my son, moved across the country. I joined Twitter, and found myself in this community of writers who were starting to explore the overlap between sex and horror in interesting ways. I even wrote for an anthology of zombie sex stories. There was still far too much straight-male-fantasy sexual violence, and a lot of the really intriguing ideas were reduced to joking tweets, but at least the field was expanding. Readers were looking for new perspectives. Suddenly this idea I’d had forever seemed possible. So I jumped on it.

Initially people treated Cthulhurotica like a bit of a joke too—it was even featured on Geek & Sundry’s Vaginal Fantasy show, which mostly reviewed books they thought (from the cover and description) would be ridiculous. Instead, they actually liked a lot of the stories, and readers took it from there.

Did you do any research and reading into previous works like Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos or Cthulhu Sex Magazine before starting your own anthology?

CC: I looked into both of those, and a whole lot of fanfiction. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. It turns out that before Cthulhurotica, when time you put “sex” and “Mythos” together, you usually got stories of (at best) straight men saving white women from monsters and then getting sex, or (far too often) monsters raping women. That wasn’t my idea of a good time.

I know we all have different tastes when it comes to a complex idea like erotica, so I didn’t want to replace those works, and I’m not suggesting there’s nothing of value in what came before Cthulhurotica. I wanted to give readers more options.

Cthulhurotica has a relatively high percentage of female authors, some of the stories include homosexual or bisexual views, and most of the authors were relatively unknown. As an editor, did you specifically seek out different voices than typical for Mythos anthologies at this time?

CC: The goal of the anthology was to show the Mythos through the lens of those who were left out of the original. This meant actively seeking stories where the women were strong and useful and good, queer people and people of color weren’t the monsters but the protagonists. And of course, satisfying sex, because we all deserve that. I was open to submissions from any author, but as it happens, most of the writers who understood what I was looking for were women. 

Was it difficult to find writers and stories that struck the right tone of Lovecraftian erotic horror or did you have more submissions than you could use?

CC: It was definitely harder than I expected. At least 90% of the submissions misunderstood “erotica” as simply “sex.” Erotica certainly includes all kinds of sex acts, but the goal of it is to excite you into imagining that sort of fun for yourself. Simply putting sex on the page doesn’t make it erotica. I said over and over again in the submission guidelines, in interviews, that I wanted stories where the characters involved were enjoying what they were doing, and still, most writers gave me horrifying sexual violence, almost always inflicted on women. Some writers would take my notes on their first rejection, reply to tell me how wrong I was to reject them, and then send me a second story which had the exact same problems.

It’s hard not to generalize when you’re looking at an inbox full of the same story told over and over again, by authors who were self-described straight white guys, but after a while you realize the worst offenders either genuinely couldn’t see why their story was outside the submission guidelines, or they were getting off on forcing me to read something they knew I didn’t want. That whole experience, which didn’t get any better when I started reading for the sequel, is largely why there wasn’t a Cthulhurotica 2.

Did the anthology achieve what you wanted it to? Is there anything you regret about the book or the process?

CC: I’m proud of the fact that I even got this book published, honestly. It exists in the world now, in the Mythos, and no one can take that away from us. 

Where it fell short of my hopes has more to do with my inexperience than anything else. This was my first anthology as an editor, and there were definitely people who preyed on that. I got a lot of bad advice from someone passing themselves off as an industry pro (including ridiculous things like “never spend more than $50 on a cover” which I’m very glad I ignored). There was no particular author I was hoping to get, but there are one or two pieces I regret including. I felt pressure to take work I didn’t love in order to hit a minimum word count, and to include stories that fell outside of my scope to “appeal to a wider audience.” I think it detracted from the overall anthology slightly, and confused some readers about what we were trying to do. 

I learned so much from the few years I spent in small press publishing, and even though it wasn’t all good, Cthulhurotica is the reason I had those opportunities. People still ask me about it, and years later, I’m still glad I did it.

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Cover art for Cthulhurotica by Oliver Wetter

Do you feel the Mythos fiction scene has changed since Cthulhurotica came out?

CC: Not really. There were a few more creative anthologies trying to push the envelope in different ways, but they were all small-press publications. (She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles might be the best of these.) And I think you’re more likely to find bylines by authors who aren’t men now, which was not very common before 2010, but that’s again due to Moreno-Garcia as much (if not more) as it is because of me. When you look at recent anthologies by Chaosium and PS Publishing for example, they’re more in line with past collections. Which isn’t a criticism, especially since I’ve written stories for both those companies that are among my best-reviewed and favorite pieces! But the edges of the scene are still mostly defined by individual authors and editors.

Unfortunately, Lovecraft appeals to exactly the same sort of people who gatekeep video games and comic books, and every time we make progress, they double down on the hate. There’s a lot of push back about the idea of making the Mythos more inclusive; too many self-described “Lovecraft scholars” who actively look for anything outside of their limited preferences to attack it. It’s sad when a big creative idea like the Mythos loses some of its potential to people who never learned to share as a child, but despite them, writers were breaking off pieces of it for themselves long before me and will continue to do so. We just don’t always call it “Mythos” anymore, even if all the moving parts look the same.

Thank you Carrie Cuinn answering these questions, and for the look behind the curtain.

Cthulhurotica may be published online; you can follow Carrie Cuinn at https://carriecuinn.com/


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