“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).

“Lilloth” (2006) by Susan McAdam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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