Romantic young devil, too—full of high notions—you’d call ’em Victorian, now—no trouble at all to make him let the nigger wenches alone.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, Medusa’s Coil
Sex is an intimate aspect of racial prejudice and stereotyping in the United States. The word in Lovecraft’s day for interracial sexual relationships was miscegenation; in many parts of the country during the 1930s interracial marriages were illegal and socially taboo. Charges of rape against white women spurred outrage in high-profile cases like the Massie trial and Scottsboro Boys; an attempted sexual assault by a black man is one of the key elements of Thomas F. Dixon, Jr.’s The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), which was adapted into a play and then the film The Birth of a Nation (1915), which in turn led to the re-formation of the Ku Klux Klan.
Lovecraft had seen the play and the film; he would discuss the Massie and Scottsboro Boys trials with correspondents like Robert E. Howard and J. Vernon Shea. Given his prejudices, it is not surprising that sex across the colour line rarely finds an explicit reference in Lovecraft’s fiction, except in some individual of mixed race heritage—although many readers find allegorical examples in “Facts in the Case of Arthur Jermyn and His Family” or “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Even in subsequent works by other authors working in the Mythos it is uncommon to find interracial couples. While less taboo today than in the 1930s, the taboo remains powerful.
The power of the interracial taboo, however, makes it very attractive for erotic literature. The kink has been approached any number of ways by different authors, playing up to racial stereotypes of sexual attitudes, genitalia size, and behavior to fantasy scenarios based on historical stereotypes. Visually, the contrast between the actors can often be distinct and dramatic, but the real eroticism is often based on the centuries of emotion and social mores built into the culture—sometimes playing to these prejudices via depicting rape, slavery, degradation, or going against these prejudices by depicting positive interracial relationships that nonetheless emphasize cultural and physical differences between the players involved.
Lovecraftian erotica very rarely takes on the issue of race, but there are at least two notable exceptions: “Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper, and “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust!” (2016) by Raine Roka. The difference in their approach highlight aspects of both Lovecraft’s prejudices in his life and the Mythos, and make for an interesting comparison and contrast.
“Koenigsberg’s Model” is Tupper’s love letter to Jack Kirby, Joe Shuster, and H. P. Lovecraft, more or less in that order. Comic books were the direct heirs of pulp fiction, often sharing many of the same writers and artists, and just as pulpsters wrote for the Spicy pulps to get paid, several notable comic book artists moonlit creating erotic drawings and comic books—as chronicled in Secret Identity: The Fetish Art of Superman’s Co-Creator Joe Shuster. Tupper’s protagonist, Miskatonic graduate student Rick, is on the hunt for exactly this kind of secret smut for his thesis…and finds more than he bargained for in the notebook of comic book artist Jozsef Koenigsberg (Jack “King” Kirby’s original name was Jacob Kurtzburg; “König” is German for “King.”)
Tupper has fun in the story mixing history and pseudohistory; like many of the best Mythos stories, “Koenigsberg’s Model” has all the attention to detail of a good hoax, dropping the titles of real-life historical volumes of erotica along with Mythos tomes like Nameless Cults. His research shifts to Koenigsberg’s sketch of a beautiful black woman, and ultimately the eponymous model.
Everywhere Rick went in Koenigsberg’s prodigious imagination, there was an enigmatic, dark woman, remote yet seductive, a dispenser of cryptic knowledge, taller than most men, with the same sly Mona Lisa smile and all-knowing eyes looking out of the page. Regardless of genre, Koenigsberg always invested his considerable talents in conveying the woman’s sensuality and charisma. Free Agent of the New Pantheon was guided by a black giantess named No-Sys. Hardboiled detective Johnny Grace matched wits with a dark-haired femme fatale named Jette savvee. Even the downtown Kids took advice from the spooky Widow Sable in Harlem.
—Peter Tupper, “Koenigsberg’s Model”
The turn, as in a good deal of Lovecraftian erotica, brings not just revelation but sexual release. Koenigsberg’s Model is someone more than Rick’s fantasies of curvaceous, imposing black women with hourglass hips…and while many stories end there, Tupper goes a little further beyond that first revelation, drawing Rick a little deeper into his studies and holding up his racial fetishization as if it was a jewel to be examined in the light from different angles, touching on early imprinting, differences in size, shifting from being sexually dominant to submissive…and, by contrast, with how others approach the same material:
A tall, thin man with an elongated face huddled in the gap in the wall, curled up in a featful ball. “We are not pure, we are born of things from beyond the stars, the crawling chaos…” he muttered.
—Peter Tupper, “Koenigsberg’s Model”
What marks Tupper’s story out as exceptional is that it goes beyond being just erotica; it is an onion of secrets, peeled back one layer at a time, challenging what Rick—and the readers—think they know about themselves. In this sense, the interracial aspect is something of a red herring or a white lie, the first step toward a deeper understanding. The focus on race by Rick an unforced error, an artifact of not being able to see the world as it really is…and that in itself might be a quiet commentary on racism and prejudice.
“The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust!” by Raine Roka takes a different tack. Essentially a sequel to Lovecraft’s “Facts in the Case of Arthur Jermyn and His Family” and part of a brief trend among ebook erotica focusing on ape-men, in Roka’s story African-American anthropologist Dr. Amanda Carey meets Sir Mark Jermyn, last descendant of the infamous family that was not extinguished at the conclusion of Lovecraft’s tale. She’s arrived to do research on British colonialism and its effects on the world…and ends up studying the strapping, tall, ape-like baronet.
Lovecraft’s original tale of a British explorer who finds and weds a “white ape” princess in Africa borrows more than a little from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan stories and La of Opar, albeit with a more visceral, tragic twist. Allegorical readings of the tale can get complicated: following the idea that apes were less evolved than human beings, many white supremacists during the 1920s—including Lovecraft—described or compared black people to apes to emphasize their “primitiveness,” so the overall idea of a wife from Africa and children who show ape-like traits can be taken as an horrific fable of miscegenation…if you ignore Tarzan angle, and the fact that these are white apes.
What Lovecraft appears to be suggesting is that the inahbitants of the primeval African city of “white apes” are not only the “missing link” between ape and human but also the ulimate source for all white civilization. The entire white race is derived from this primal race in Africa, a race that had corrupted itself by intermingling with apes. This is the only explanation for the narrator’s opening statement, “If we knew what we are, we should do as Sir Arthur Jermyn did [i.e., commit suicide]”: we may not have a white ape in our immediate ancestry, but we are all the products of an ultimate miscengeation.
—S. T. Joshi, The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories 365
Joshi’s basic idea had been developed in fiction in stories like “Magna Mater” (2015) by Arinn Dembo. Roka’s approach to the material echoes Tupper in that there is a focus on the real-world beliefs that underwrote Lovecraft’s original story, name-dropping Lord Monboddo and Thomas Love Peacock for their early thoughts on evolution and the relations of humans and apes, but there are other readings that go into “The Ape in Me” as well.
Mark Jermyn might be the descendent of an ape princess, but he is still explicitly white and a member of the British peerage, while Dr. Carey is not, preserving the explicit difference between the players, but while there is mutual attraction neither Carey or Jermyn has an explicit racial fetish—that’s for the audience to project. Tupper presents Koeningsberg’s model as a figure of mystery, but Wade’s heritage makes him almost a figure of monstrous deformity and pity, “privileged but outcast.” The nature of his heritage allows a writer to use terms to describe him that would be racist if applied to a black man.
Unlike Tupper, there is more focus on actual sex than revelation-that-happens-to-be-sexual; while Roka touches on some of colonialism and racism, the main thrust of the story is the two ending up in bed. Even if Roka’s approach is somewhat more superficial, there is one final statement that might strike home for readers:
The contrast between his pale skin and my light-brown flesh is rather fetching. Imagine the gossip in the village, all that looking askance, if I were to become the next Lady Jermyn! Well,s tranger things have happened, and we are both of African descent, albeit by different and rather tortuous paths.
—Raine Roka, “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust!”
The Out-of-Africa Theory is at the crux of racial prejudice surrounding evolution; ultimately all human beings are the same species descended from a common ancestor, and the biological variations which scientific racialists tried to codify in Lovecraft’s day are largely cosmetic. The idea that all humans are essentially the same undercuts racial prejudice; the horror of miscegenation and the sexual thrill of racial fetishization are based on social conceptions of race, not biological ones. The two states of excitement are closely intertwined, and while Lovecraft plays with the horror of facing “the Other” in this way, Roka plays with the sensuality of it.
Tupper and Roka are ultimately playing with related themes, albeit both are taking off from Lovecraft in very different directions. Race in their stories serves as a complication to their character’s relationships with other characters, and during the course of the stories these characters come to face their own conceptions of race, and to some degree how that conception defines or re-defines their idea of humanity.
“Koenigsberg’s Model” by Peter Tupper was published in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011, Circlet Press). It has not been reprinted.
“The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust!” (2016) by Raine Roka was published as an Amazon Kindle ebook; it is currently not available on the Kindle store. Roka is also the author of “Shaggoth: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust!” (2015).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).