“Tloque Nahuaque” (2011) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas

Estela explained to me that Tloque Nahuaque, the Lord of the Near and the Nigh, had been to the Aztecs the Master of the Near and the Far, for they believed he is near all things and all things are near him.
—Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, “Tloque Nahuaque” in Future Lovecraft 128

“Tloque Nahuaque” is an advanced Mythos story. One for initiates. This story requires readers to connect the dots. To understand where it is coming from and what it is saying requires more than a passing familiarity with Lovecraft’s corpus, and recent-ish developments in experimental physics; a passing familiarity with Aztec mythology is helpful, but García-Rosas provides the short version for readers.

It is marvelous to be able to have a story that can invoke a familiar Mythos entity not be attributes, or some purported quotation from the Necronomicon, but by reference to their attributes. To intimate to readers a new angle on an old mystery, a new interpretation on an existing concept, a new (or old) face for a familiar god.

What makes “Tloque Nahuaque” work, fundamentally, is that Lovecraft’s horrors in the 1920s and 30s were essentially contemporary. Pluto was discovered in 1930; Lovecraft casually associated this discovery with Yuggoth in “The Whisperer in Darkness” that was written around the same time. Einstein’s theory of General Relativity was rewriting physics and the universe as people knew it, and for all the grimoires and incantations, “The Dreams in the Witch House” was as much about advanced mathematics as magic.

Lovecraft’s Mythos works, fundamentally, because he tried to ground it in reality. The dividend that pays is that writers like García-Rosas, who are familiar with advances in physics, can extend and revisit those conceptions. It’s okay if a scientific theory is proved wrong; that only provides the basis for further understanding. New ideas are still applicable to old concepts—be they from the Aztec or Lovecraft Mythos.

Azathoth, by whatever name, can still be relevant to a contemporary audience.

“Tloque Nahuaque” is a narrative of mood and idea more than plot, reminiscent in some ways of “Are You Loathsome Tonight?” (1998) by Poppy Z. Brite. It is episodic, jumbled, fragmentary, yet there is a thread of ideas that progresses from piece to piece. A collection of scraps that point toward a bigger picture. For the subject, it works. The mood sustains. There is no conclusion as such, only a culmination of the initial idea…but the vector of the narrative is clear; everything points to a suggestion of an ending that only initiates might fully grasp.

It works well.

“Tloque Nahuaque” was published in Future Lovecraft (2011) and can be read for free at Innsmouth Free Press.  Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas’ other Mythos works include “Ahuizotl” (2011), “Tloque Nahuaque” (2011), “They Came From Carcosa” (2013), “Caza de shoggoths. Colección grotesca” (2013), “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” (2014), and “The Head of T’la-yub” (2015). Many of these stories have been translated into English by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of “Flash Frame” (2010), and editor and publisher of Innsmouth Free Press.


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

 

 

“Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper & “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust” (2016) by Raine Roka

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 ShusterTupper’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. JoshiThe 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).

“Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” (1938) by Vincent Starrett & “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” (2011) by Ann K. Schwader

Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink behind the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.

Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.

Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.

Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.

Cassilda’s Song in “The King in Yellow,” Act 1, Scene 2.
—Robert W. Chambers, The King in Yellow (1895)

The canon of The King in Yellow consists of a few fragments and tantalizing hints strung out over the first four stories of Robert W. Chamber’s strange collection. It is a play in two acts; there are at least two characters with speaking roles, Cassilda and the Stranger, and Camilla is mentioned besides, along with several odd names (Demhe, Hali, Carcosa, Yhtill, Hastur, etc.) Cassilda has a song. That is almost all.

Entire plays based on Chambers’ cryptic fragments have been written; an entire corpus of “Yellow Mythos” tales have spun out from the weird, decadent, almost nihilistic fin de siècle atmosphere. As with the Lovecraft Mythos, most of the energies of subsequent generations of writers and poets has revolved back around Chambers himself. Whatever expansions, interpretations, and embellishments other writers might add, there is that small, hard core of canon: Cassilda’s song.

One of the earliest such embellishments was by the noted bookman Vincent Starrett; his poem “Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” was published in Weird Tales (Apr 1938):

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too warmly fall upon the lake
And cause my bridal flowers to swoon.

The sparrow’s sorrow is in vain,
And so does he his bridge forget.
I wed the long grass and the rain,
And seven sailors dripping wet.

And shall not you and shall not I
Keep tryst beside this silent stream,
Who thought that we should rather die
Than wed the peacock’s amber dream?

The moon shines whitely; I shall take
My silk umbrella, lest the moon
Too coldly fall upon the lake
And chill my bridal flowers too soon.

The work is subtle; Starrett was too canny a reader to go for pastiche, or overt references to Carcosa or the Hyades; there is a lake, but not specifically the Lake of Hali. He does not specify where in the play this song is placed, either in the first act or the second…or does he?

The very banality and innocence of the first act only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.
—Robert W. Chambers, “The Repairer of Reputations” in The King in Yellow

The “innocence” certainly seems to fit, though it may be Starrett was hinting at a connection with one Chamber’s other weird works, “The Maker of Moons” (1896). Still, it introduces a third female character—Cordelia, Cassilda, and Camilla—and by giving both Cordelia and Cassilda songs, it may suggest that Camilla has one as well.

The “missing song” is provided, at least in part, by Ann K. Schwader, whose poem “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” bears the subtitle “(Camilla’s Song),” which begins where Chambers ends:

Cassilda sings the dying twilight down
Again to me tonight from her soul’s tower
—Ann K. Schwader, “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” in Twisted in Dream 98

Schwader likely took inspiration directly from Chambers, just as Starrett did. Certainly, “Evening Reflections, Carcosa” references directly and explicitly the mythos of The King in Yellow—and builds on those cryptic hints, suggesting a lament. If Cassilda’s and Cordelia’s songs were in act 1, then Camilla’s song feels as though it might have a place in that second and final act. Perhaps the play ends with Camilla singing:

Cursed as we all are with his bitter Sign.
(ibid. 99)

—and leave the audience to decide whether she is addressing them as well.

Starrett and Schwader’s respective contributions are both inspired by “Cassilda’s Song”; it is the crucial bit of lore that both have fastened on, the well of inspiration for their respective imaginations in their individual ways—and they are not alone. It has given its name to an entire anthology of female contributors: Cassilda’s Song: Tales Inspired by Robert W. Chambers’ King in Yellow Mythos (2015), just as the song itself has inspired fiction such as “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files.

“Cordelia’s Song from The King in Yellow” was first published in Weird Tales (Apr 1938), and subsequently republished in The Spawn of Cthulhu (1971), and Peter Haining’s Weird Tales reprint anthology (1976, 1990).

Ann K. Schwader’s poems relating to The King in Yellow include “Postscript: The King in Yellow,” “A Phantom Walks,” “Autumn, Lake Hali,” “Stargazing, Lake Hali,” “A Lost Song of Cassilda,” “Evening Reflections, Carcosa,” “A Queen in Yellow,” and sonnets XXIV-XXVI of “In the Yaddith Time” all contained in Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader (2011); “The Queen’s Speech”, “At the Last of Carcosa,” “Outside the Chamber,” and “Finale, Act 2,”were collected in Dark Energies (2015). She has also written stories related to the Yellow Mythos, including “Tattered Souls” (2003) and “Dancing the Mask” (2015).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron

The only persons who saw Wilbur during the first month of his life were old Zechariah Whateley, of the undecayed Whateleys, and Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife, Mamie Bishop. Mamie’s visit was frankly one of curiosity, and her subsequent tales did justice to her observations […]

Through all the years Wilbur had treated his half-deformed albino mother with a growing contempt, finally forbidding her to go to the hills with him on May-Eve and Hallowmass; and in 1926 the poor creature complained to Mamie Bishop of being afraid of him.

“They’s more abaout him as I knows than I kin tell ye, Mamie,” she said, “an’ naowadays they’s more nor what I know myself. I vaow afur Gawd, I dun’t know what he wants nor what he’s a-tryin’ to dew.”
H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Mamie Bishop is one of the minor supporting characters in “The Dunwich Horror,” the closest thing to a friend that Lavinia Whateley has in the story and a source for information into the reclusive Whateleys. Her character development is minimal, not even rating a physical description, but her name places her among the old families of Dunwich (probably the “decayed” Bishops), and with her position as Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife defines as much of her backstory and connections as needed: cohabitating in a prolonged relationship but never formalized by a priest or clerk of the court, no great Dunwich scandal that. Still, raw material to hang a story on…and at least two authors have done just that.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) is at once a sequel to and something of a pastiche of “The Dunwich Horror.” A decade following the destruction of Wilbur Whateley and his unnamed twin, Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer split up:

It was therefore a source of much local gossip and a delight to the scandal-mongers when Earl Sawyer abandoned Mamie Bishop, his common-law wife of twenty years’ standing, and took up instead with Zenia Whateley. […] The loafers and gossips at Osborn’s General Store in Dunwich were hard put to understand Earl Sawyer’s motives in abandoning Mamie Bishop for Zenia Whateley. Not that Mamie was noted for her great beauty or scintillating personality; on the contrary, she was known as a meddler and a snoop, and her sharp tongue had stung many a denizen hoping to see some misdemeanor pass unnoted. Still, Mamie had within her that spark of vitality so seldom found in the folk of the upper Miskatonic, that trait of personality known in the rural argot as gumption, so that it was puzzling to see her perched beside Earl on the front seat of his rattling Model T Ford, her few belongings tied in slovenly bundles behind her, as Sawyer drove her to the dust-blowing turnpike to Aylesbury, where she took quarters in the town’s sole, dilapidated rooming house.
—Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 178-179

This quiet expansion of Bishop’s character and history is a preliminary to the plot of the story, as the local cult repeat the cosmic impregnation with Zenia Whateley in place of Lavinia. Once again, Bishop herself serves as a primary source of information at a few key points, through her penchant for gossip. Zenia did not survive the childbirth, and Mamie Bishop was fetched back to Dunwich shortly thereafter, to once again take on her position in the Sawyer household—only this time also as nursemaid and guardian to young Hester Sawyer.

Whether “The Devil’s Hop Yard” could be written today without charges of pedophilia being leveled at the author is arguable, though Lupoff’s intentions seem perfectly innocent: Hester was in many ways an inversion of Wilbur Whateley. Where “Lavinny’s black brat” was dark, hulking, and inhuman, the “white brat” Hester was fair, tiny, and unusually beautiful—but taken to the same extremes as Wilbur’s, the effect is no less monstrous:

Hester was astonishingly small for a child of four. She was hardly taller than a normal infant. It was as if she had remained the same size in the four years since her birth, not increasing an inch in stature. But that was only half the strangeness of Hester’s appearance, for while her size was the same as a new-born infant’s her development was that of a fully mature and breathtakingly beautiful woman! […] Her face was mature, her lips full and sensual. And when a sudden gust of wind pressed her baggy dress against her torso this showed the configuration of a Grecian eidolon.
Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 186

Mamie Bishop, in taking on something of Lavinia’s role in the care and raising of an unnatural child, ends up with a similar fate: locked in the house as the cultists take Hester Sawyer up to the Devil’s Hop Yard, afraid of what they are doing. State police interrupt the ceremony, and when Mamie is discovered hiding in Earl Sawyer’s house, her hair has turned as white as Lavinia’s…and ends up, in cliche fashion, in a mental hospital. Lupoff may not have invented the idea that all Mythos tales end with those involved becoming dead or mad, but he certainly played to it.

“The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron comes from an identical starting point: a sequel to “The Dunwich Horror” which re-visits the plot of a cosmic impregnation and birth, with Mamie Bishop in a more prominent role. Where Lupoff’s efforts of pastiche re-iterated elements of Lovecraft’s style in the presentation of the piece, and make constant reference to or expansion of elements from the original story, Baron gives the narrative from Earl Sawyer’s point of view…and could probably have stood to read the story again to refresh his memory.

Mamie Bishop and I had been courting for a number of years before I proposed. […] She became withdrawn, her skin affecting a sickly pallor. More than once she was found walking alone in the hills at night, her head tilted up to the sky as though she was searching for some sign or movement in the clouds. naturally, I became concerned, and after ushering her back to her parents’ home following one of those midnight jaunts, I sat her down and poured out my heart.
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 57

It is difficult to reconcile the Earl Sawyer and Mamie Bishop of “The Dunwich Horror” with “The Cry in the Darkness”: Lovecraft presents Sawyer and Bishop as common law man-and-wife, Baron presents them as courting, with Sawyer afraid to give her the child she craves without the sacrament of marriage, and apparently the two living apart. None of Bishop’s talent for gossip is evident, though Baron includes some gossip that Bishop herself played a more intimate role in “The Dunwich Horror” than seen on the page. If the characterization of Mamie Bishop is off, however, it is nothing compared to the characterization of Dunwich itself:

Our courtship was no secret but a swell in her belly would inevitably raise questions in town. Unbetrothed women bearing children were not only frowned upon in Dunwich, but shown the kind of disgust usually reserved for the diseased and the mad. Through the years I had seen young girls, barely budding into womanhood, removed from their place amongst our population, sometimes by physical force. Confused and tearful, these unwanted mothers were forced to walk shamefacedly past as their neighbors, and sometimes their own flesh and blood, poured scornful epithets upon them.  Those who did not leave peacefully were dragged from their homes and pushed out toward the hills in the middle of the night. I know not what befalls these poor creatures […]
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 58-59

Strange words regarding a town where “The Great God Pan” would be regarded as “a common Dunwich scandal!”—especially considering that this story is nominally set in 1928; an illegitimate child might be cause for social ostracism, but no bodily expulsion was practiced against Lavinia Whateley.

The marriage of Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer here serves the same purpose as the marriage of Zenia Whateley and Earl Sawyer: a polite social cover for the conception and birth of yet another monstrous hybrid like Wilbur Whateley. Aside from the slight shuffling-around of characters in the plot, the difference is that this time Mamie Bishop is the force behind the plot, with Sawyer an ignorant dupe—and perhaps earning the dubious distinction of being cuckolded by Yog-Sothoth. Likewise deviating from Lovecraft, Baron does not turn a blind eye to the impregnation of Mamie Bishop atop Sentinel Hill, as witnessed by a peeping Earl Sawyer, but lets the narrative trail off with the confirmation of her successful conception.

Both stories take as their launching point the sole female contact of Lavinia Whateley; and from that association they spin tales which are essentially retellings or variations on “The Dunwich Horror,” only with a slight shift in focus. The degree to which both Lupoff and Baron strive to make Mamie Bishop a substitute for Lavinia, both in terms of narrative device and literally within the context of the story, is telling: in both stories, Bishop becomes initiated (somehow) into the local cult, takes on some attributes of Lavinia’s behavior or appearance, and assumes a mother-like position regarding the new hybrid. Why?

The neatest answer is probably because Mamie Bishop was one of the few female characters mentioned by name in “The Dunwich Horror,” the others being Sally Sawyer and Selina Frye, who were both killed in the course of events, and Mrs. Corey; that Mamie had a personal connection with Lavinia Whateley, and also an intimate relationship with Earl Sawyer, who is another prominent supporting character for local color and events.  Mamie Bishop was, to put a point on it, a convenient womb, ideally placed if one were to pick up a game using the pieces on the board. Baron certainly appears to have used this approach:

What inspired your story? I’ve always liked stories in which the female has the upper hand so when thinking about what to write for Cthulhurotica this was my starting point. I had just read ‘The Dunwich Horror’ and remember thinking to myself ‘How did these events effect the people there?’ The story grew naturally out of that.
Interview: Richard Baron

Yet that raises another question: why does Lupoff introduce a new character in Zenia Whateley, instead of doing as Baron did and have Bishop conceive the child herself? The whole affair of Sawyer dismissing Bishop and then fetching her back is something of a needless complication to the whole plot of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” There is a certain narrative logic to it: a pregnant Mamie Bishop would not raise as much comment if she was the common-law wife of Earl Sawyer, and Lupoff’s story, following Lovecraft’s, was built around rumors and recollections; likewise the introduction of a hitherto unknown Whateley would strengthen parallels with Lovecraft’s story.

Another, more interesting possibility occurs though: perhaps Mamie Bishop did not agree to go through with it.

The focus on impregnation of female characters has been noted as a theme in Mythos fiction, especially pastiche, and features in stories such as “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter; these authors riff off of Lovecraft’s focus on cosmic miscegenation and hybridity, and Lovecraft himself was paying homage to and in the tradition of works like Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” (1894) and Algernon Blackwood’s Julius LaVallon (1916). In earlier works, the horror is not focused on the pregnancy and circumstances of conception (which probably couldn’t have been printed), but in the “monstrous aftermath,” focusing as Lovecraft does on the children birthed of the strange unions. It is only relatively recently that authors would have a free hand to depict impregnation, and to focus on the potential terrors, dangers, and emotional trauma of childbirth.

Impregnation in Lovecraft’s work is usually accomplished by force or coercion; the circumstances of Lavinia’s conception are left unspecified, but she seems exceptional in that it is implied she was a willing participant, as are Baron’s version of Mamie Bishop and Lupoff’s Zenia Whateley. Whether they could actually be said to have consented, since all three seem to have been mentally unwell to some degree, is an issue not addressed. Yet the method of conception, whatever it is, is not without its dangers: Zenia Whateley dies during childbirth, and Lavinia’s travail was accompanied by “a hideous screaming which echoed above even the hill noises[.]”

Lupoff’s Mamie Bishop, though was sane at the beginning of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” What if she simply chose not to participate? It would not necessarily have been out of character: there is no indication that Bishop and Sawyer have any previous children despite their cohabitation, perhaps implying one of them was sterile or they used contraception, although this is “reading in” quite a bit to the few references in Lovecraft’s story. Still, Mamie Bishop among all other women would have some idea of what the birth was like for Lavinia Whateley; she may have had good personal reasons not to put her body and mind through such an ordeal.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” and “The Cry in the Darkness” make for interesting comparison simply because of their shared source, and for the different paths the authors took from there. They are incompatible paths from the same fork in the road. Yet at the crux of both stories is the characterization of Mamie Bishop: a minor character who served her brief purpose well, and found second and third life in pastiches. It is understandable but perhaps somewhat unfortunate that both authors chose to develop her as a kind of stand-in for the missing Lavinia Whateley, rather than investigate what the Dunwich Horror and its aftermath looked like from her point of view.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” was first published in Chrysalis, vol. 2 (1978), and has been reprinted in Chaosium’s The Dunwich Cycle (1994) and several of Lupoff’s collections: Claremont Tales II (2002), Terrors (2005), and The Doom That Came to Dunwich (2017), which collects some of Lupoff’s Mythos fiction. His other Mythos work includes “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” (1977), “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982), “The Turret” (1995), “Lights! Camera! Shub-Niggurath!” (1996), “The Doom That Came to Dunwich” (1996), “The Adventure of the Voorish Sign” (2003), “The Peltonville Horror” (2004), “Brackish Waters” (2005), “The Secret of the Sahara” (2005), and “Nothing Personal” (2010).

“The Cry in the Darkness” was first published in Cthulhurotica (2011). It has not been reprinted.

 


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

“Showdown at Red Hook” (2011) by Lois H. Gresh

In my Mythos tales, I like to push Lovecraftian science and themes in new directions. So, for example, while HPL incorporated the astronomy and physics ideas of his day (eg, cosmos within cosmos and other dimensions), I speculate about modern science: quantum optics, particle physics, chaos theory, string theory, and so forth. While HPL showcased his creatures against a backdrop of bleak humanity—I pit my own types of creatures against the horrors of the Mythos, and I want my creatures to fight back. Examples of these stories are Mandelbrot Moldrot, Where I go Mi-Go, Showdown at Red Hook, and Scourge of the Old Ones.
—Lois H. Gresh, “Underlying Darkness” in Eldritch Evolutions 9

There are no rules for the Cthulhu Mythos, only conventions. While some writers are content to play within the limits of the setting as conceived by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, the spectrum of Mythos fiction is much broader—and entire anthologies have been written exploring the Mythos in the changing context of different periods, different genres than just the 1920s and 30s. Sometimes this is simply a change of setting: the story retains all the elements of the Mythos, only in a different place and period, such as Victorian London in “Magna Mater” (2015) by Arinn Dembo and “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer…and sometimes, you get something much stranger.

“Showdown at Red Hook” is a remix, a transposition of certain Lovecraftian names and characters to a weird western milieu. The heaviest source is Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook,” which provides the name of the protagonist, lawman Tom Malone, the name of the setting—the dead village of Red Hook—and the name of the terrible tribe which serves as the antagonists, the Chepachet; their strange chant is lifted from the bits of incantation that Lovecraft himself took from that most eldritch of tomes, the Encyclopedia Britannica, and included in his story for a touch of real occultism. Gresh includes it here as a laughing nod toward Lovecraftian convention, but a convention juxtaposed against an entirely inappropriate and nonsensical setting.

Similarly, while “Chepachet” is a real Native American word, used for a street in the Red Hook district of Brooklyn and a town in Rhode Island, it was never the name of an actual people. It is entirely a comedic wink-and-nod to readers for her false Native American tribe to chant “Hel sother sabaoth tetragramaton ischyros va adonai messias escherheye!“, echoing the cultists in Lovecraft’s tale, just as it is a joke to name Malone’s not-quite-so-trusty deputy “Al Blackwood”—knowing that readers will be familiar with weird story writer Algernon Blackwood, one of Lovecraft’s favorite authors. It’s all in fun, and in keeping with the Mythos tradition.

Yet there is a frisson. The story is a weird western, not a straight western tale or a straight Mythos tale but something uniquely its own, and the tropes of the two contrast and blend oddly. It’s a setting and a story told in broad strokes and little details, with important chunks of the plot and action lost or glossed over in moments of almost psychedelic imagery. It’s a story readers absorb first and unweave later. Yet start pulling at the threads, and there are some strange things in the warp and weft of the story.

The Chepachet, for example, are more alien than any Native American people that frontier settlers ever encountered; yet they fill the place and are addressed in the story as stereotypical Native Americans in frontier horror tales, despite their many tentacles and bizarre undead horses. They are literally inhuman, but are lumped together with the native human peoples of the Americas. The Chepachet represent the conjunction or mishmash of two entirely separate conceptions of the Other. The joke, of course, is that many frontier horror stories deny the basic humanity of Native Americans anyway: it is hard to distinguish between simple prejudice and true alienation.

There is one one, or maybe two, women in “Showdown at Red Hook.” The first is Mae Curwin, whose safe delivery is the nominal point of Malone and Blackwood’s trip through Red Hook. The second, who only appears at the very end, is Malone’s mother, stolen by the Chepachet when he was a boy—echoes of frontier horrors, the kind that Robert E. Howard used to regale Lovecraft with in his letters, when the Native Americans were painted as real-life boogeymen that stole horses and women; killed, kidnapped, and raped…except the Chepachet are not real Native Americans; they are inhuman horrors, and when their chief Dagon says “I want that squaw” he implies something worse than Malone imagined may have happened to his mother. Yet Dagon’s specific delivery of why he wants Curwin is comical: “Virgin, 18, blonde: good squaw for the Old Ones”—an echo of Sandra Dee’s role in The Dunwich Horror (1970).

Mae Curwin’s role as a literal sex object is underscored at several points in the narrative; in western fiction white women are sometimes treated as the currency of transactions and the prize to be fought over and claimed by the victor—and Gresh plays this both seriously and for laughs. The trope is never exactly subverted, but neither is it explicitly fulfilled: Malone is a lusty, red-blooded man, but fights to overcome his basic instincts as he knows manly heroes should, playing into the gender role assigned to him; the Chepachet are not rapacious Native Americans in the sense of sexual assault, for while they are all male they are all essentially sexless, with no women or children evident at their encampment. Curwin is the living MacGuffin of the story, but not for the usual western reasons, but for a Lovecraftian one: as a suitable sacrifice, just as in “The Horror at Red Hook.”

Tom Malone, like his namesake in Lovecraft’s story, sees and experiences terrible things, and is a character caught very explicitly between being the masculine, action-oriented western hero and the more reluctant, passive Lovecraftian protagonist…and all, apparently, according to plan:

[Dagon] had played on Malone’s need to be the manly one, the hero. […] And now, what could Malone possibly do?

While the plot centers on Dagon’s effort to secure Mae Curwin as a squaw for the Old Ones, the way he accomplishes that is to manipulate Malone to bring her to him…and Dagon wants it to be Malone, because he wants Malone to trade Mae for his mother. This is the real point of transition for Malone, from the western hero to the Lovecraftian protagonist. Like Lovecraft’s Malone, Gresh’s Malone ends up unable prevent the young woman’s sacrifice.

Given how blithely and purposefully (one might say gleefully) Gresh blends up the tropes and references of both Lovecraftian horror and frontier horror, the story as a whole can be taken as an extended farce, not meant to be taken too seriously. She plays on the juxtaposition of tropes, and the points where they conjoin: the alien Other, the female sacrifice, the male protagonist. The result is definitely outside of the regular run of Cthulhu Mythos tales, but as a mashup addresses several of the themes of gender and Otherness in the two genres in ways that many Lovecraftian weird western tales don’t.

Lois H. Gresh is a New York Times bestselling author. “”Showdown at Red Hook” was first published in her collection Eldritch Evolutions (2011), part of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Fiction line, and was reprinted in Cult of the Dead and Other Weird and Lovecraftian Tales (2015, Hippocampus Press). In addition to her many short stories of the Mythos, Gresh edited the anthology Innsmouth Nightmares (2015) and wrote the novel Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions (2017) and its sequel Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Neural Psychoses (2018).


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