“From the Cold Dark Sea” (2016) by Storm Constantine

“Book title Marvels of the Deeps,” she began. “Dimensions approximately 30 centimeters width, 40 centimeters height. Thickness 8 centimeters.”

“How very forensic,” murmured Mrs. De La Mere.
—Storm Constantine, “From the Cold Dark Sea” in Dreams From the Witch House 278

Bibliophilia has been descried as “the gentle madness,” and is one of the more respectable sorts of mental illness for both fans and characters of the Mythos to fall into. Ever since Lovecraft’s “History of the Necronomicon and Robert E. Howard’s history of Nameless Cults in “The Black Stone”, the various tomes and texts of the Mythos have attracted the love of readers. Sometimes this extends to full catalogs of pseudobiblia, including Ex Libris Miskatonici (1993) by Joan C. Stanley and The Starry Wisdom Library: The Catalogue of the Greatest Occult Book Auction of All Time (2014) edited by Nade Pedersen. Sometimes too, it provides an entry into a story through the antiquarian book trade: collectors, sellers, forgers, book detectives like Corso in The Club Dumas (2006) by Arturo Perez-Reverte…and, in the case of Storm Constantine’s “From the Cold, Dark Sea,” a book-restorer named Cara Milltop.

It’s a fish out of water story, pun very much intended. The shadow of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” hangs over it, as it does with many other stories, though Constantine makes no explicit mention of either Innsmouth or the Deep Ones. This is a Mythos story in construction and inference; Cara Milltop never hears any calls to Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, or great Cthulhu. Yet there is enough indisputably there that Mythos aficionados can slip into the feel of this story like putting on an old glove; the pace and texture of it almost tells itself—but Constantine knows what she is doing, and if you don’t question the plot there’s more than enough embroidery on the Deep Ones lore to satisfy, with some lovely imagery to the description of the woodcuts and the dreams that they bring.

What really sets “From the Cold, Dark Sea” apart from stories like “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader is that there is no confirmation. Cara Milltop remains a hired hand, an outsider. Knowledge does not bring initiation, nor does Constantine provide a final proof to any mystery. The unreadable words on the page remain unread, the actual truth remains unconfirmed. Readers are left to wonder if it really is just all in Cara’s head, an overactive imagination from working to restore an old book, exacerbated by staying in a spooky old house full of women.

There are no male characters in the story. Something that might sneak up on readers, but one of those nice details that dovetails with the frisson of unknowing in the story. Is it just coincidence, or is there something more to it? The legend, as Cara interprets it, is a female rite of passage, starkly in contrast to the patriarchal approach of the Esoteric Order of Dagon in, say, “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales. Not so much a rebuttal to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but an alternative. Maybe the Deep Ones don’t marry, as such.

Of course, if every child survived there would be far too many of them. How cruel, though, how barbaric. Yet, little different from the way baby turtles started life, Cara thought. Just the cruel barbarism of Nature herself.
—Storm Constantine, “From the Cold Dark Sea” in Dreams From the Witch House 294

Bibliophilia is a gentle madness. Cara Milltop never gets violent, never says outright what she thinks she knows—or suspects. The Marvels of the Deep can slide onto the shelf next to The R’lyeh Text and the Cthäat Aquadingen, squeezed between the Codex Dagonesis and Invocations to Dagon, and it would not be out of place. What she is left with in the end is not horror, or awe, but disappointment. To have come that close to something so magical, or almost-magical, and yet be unable to know if what she suspects is true, no invitation to take part. In the end, she doesn’t even have the book; she was only there to restore it, as she did. Money is a poor coin in a Mythos story, because so rarely can it buy what the characters—and the readers—really want.

“From the Cold, Dark Sea” was first published in Dreams From the Witch House (2016), and was reprinted in Storm Constantine’s collection Mythumbra (2018).


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

“The Star that is Not a Star” (2016) by Lucy Brady

It all revolves around that star, and a damned thing it is! A star beyond the material universe, beyond space and time and all that is made by God. ‘The star that is not a star.’
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 80

Accursed forevermore is Yamil Zacra, star of perdition, who sitteth apart and weaveth the web of his rays like a spider spinning in a garden. Even as far as the light of Yamil Zacra falleth among the worlds, so goeth forth the bane and the bale thereof. And the seed of Yamil Zacra, like a fiery tare, is sown in planets that know him only as the least of the stars ….
     —Fragment of a Hyperborean tablet
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Infernal Star”

Spy fiction is a close cousin to Mythos fiction; they share a common descent from the detective fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, and a common concern with the keeping and discovery of secrets. Betimes these cousin modes of fiction have come together: “The Unthinkable” (1991) by Bruce Sterling; “The Courtyard” (1994) by Alan Moore; Delta Green (1997), a branching-off of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game where the players are agents for government intelligence organizations, their skills and focus shifted to esoteric matters; David Conyer’s Harrison Peel series, including The Spiraling Worm (2007); the Laundry Series by Charles Stross beginning with The Atrocity Archives in 2004 (or, for an earlier variant, his novella A Colder War in 2000) which in turn spawned its own roleplaying game The Laundry (2010); Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series beginning with Agents of Dreamland (2017). Expand beyond the strictly Mythos-influenced spy fiction, and you run across gems like Tim Powers’ Declare (2000).

Call it cloak-and-tentacle, if you’d like.

The form of the fiction is often a kind of investigation. Think back to “The Call of Cthulhu,” presented to the reader as a series of nested narratives and documents. It isn’t spy fiction, in that the occult groups and secretive individuals involved are not part of any government service above the level of the local police; there are no politics at play in Lovecraft’s story, not really. The G-men make an appearance in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and there we can catch a glimpse of the origins of Alan Moore’s “The Courtyard.” Yet for the most part, the Mythos remains unknown to the world and its government powers at large; the mysteries uncovered, no matter how global or cosmic their import, are intensely personal to the initiated investigator in Lovecraft’s fiction.

The trick is to marry the two frames of reference. The investigator is still the main focus or protagonist, but now their actions take place within a broader geopolitical framework—and for the Len Deighton-influenced fiction, a government bureaucracy that’s designed to compartmentalize and contain secrets, to constrain actions. They may be Cold War warriors or those whose small talent in languages brings them in to the orbit of a larger mystery; part of the game is often that the agent or spy can never comprehend the whole of the thing, can never know the whole truth.

Secrets that possess a certain magnitude seem to have their own affinity with one another.
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 85

“The Star that is Not a Star” is not explicitly Mythos fiction in any sense; whatever tomes, entities, cults, etc. that Brady employs, they aren’t connections forged with Lovecraft’s corpus or the expanded Cthulhu Mythos. Nor is it a traditional spy-thriller; but that is a large part of the charm. It’s an investigation that spans years and continents with a kind of ennui, and the statement of Natasha Klein—addressed to whom, and why?—is a record of a woman who, after picking up the pieces of the story for a decade, has found her own kind of truth.

Which is a good enough place for an ending as any, in a story like this. It is moody; there is a lot that has to be inferred, and in the end the narrator herself begins to become unreliable, relying on dream-evidence to fill in the gaps. Which all fits. Detectives know not every case has a satisfactory conclusion, and Mythos investigators are often left with scraps of a story told in newspaper clippings and journals, unable to touch the terrible powers at work in the world, burdened by the knowledge of things that they know exist but are impotent to affect.

“The Star that is Not a Star” was published in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming (2016); Lucy Brady’s other Lovecraftian work includes “The Body Electric” in Dreams from the Witch House (2016).


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

Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス)

Monsters once were ghastly beasts that devoured the flesh and blood of human beings. However, since the ascension of the new Overlord, a succubus with godlike power, monsters have taken on utterly different, bewitching, and fantastic forms resembling those of alluring women. These outward changes have been accompanied by dramatic shifts in their ways of life, patterns of behavior, and values.
—foreword to Monster Girl Encyclopedia Vol. II

The Monster Girl Encyclopedia (魔物娘図鑑, 2015) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス) is a variation on the popular pseudobiblia bestiary genre. In the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy setting that Kenkou Cross has created, a succubus has risen to the position of evil Overlord, and turned all the monsters into, essentially, nubile female forms obsessed with sex. The second volume in the series (魔物娘図鑑 II, 2016) has introduced some Mythos-related entities including the shoggoth, and the series has gone on to generate a good deal of fanfiction, dōjinshi (同人誌, fan-created artwork, comics, etc.) and expanded media, which varies from the sedate to the outright pornographic…and these two works have been translated into English by DK with “English Adaptation” by Harriet Fray.

To really understand and appreciate what Kenkou Cross has done, we have to look at how they got here.

Dungeons & Dragons was published in 1974, a collaboration between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and published by TSR, Inc. The original boxed set included a Monsters & Treasure booklet which had brief descriptions of and rules for iconic fantasy monsters—and these were, for the most part, taken from generic fantasy (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Greek mythology, the 1,001 Nights, etc.); there weren’t much in the way of “original” monsters. In 1977 a revised and expanded edition of the game was published which included a much expanded Monster Manual, which included not only more monsters and illustrations on the monsters, but details on their culture, life, habits, etc. These were still pretty scanty, but from this humble beginning nearly every other roleplaying game has developed their own bestiary or critter compendium. In 1980, TSR Inc. published Deities & Demigods by Jim Ward, which included the first published bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos.

1-a97fbbd69f

This led to a little kerfuffle; the author had gotten permission from Arkham House to use the Mythos in the book, but Arkham House had also just granted a license to Chaosium, Inc. to develop a roleplaying game based on the Mythos, and they were also developing an RPG based on the Elric stories of Michael Moorcock (who had done basically the same thing as Arkham House). No harm was done, and in the book’s third printing TSR Inc. dropped the two sections with a brief notice.

Chaosium, Inc. itself would take a different approach to its monsters. Efforts to categorize the entities in the Mythos dated back to the 1930s efforts of R. H. Barlow and the 1940s efforts of August Derleth and F. T. Laney, whose critical essay “The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary” was published in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943, Arkham House). So while the new Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (1981, Chaosium, Inc.) did contain a very Dungeons & Dragons-style bestiary section in the main roleplaying book, it also produced a pair of very novel products that were different than anything TSR, Inc. had done to that point: S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters: A Field Observer’s Handbook of Preternatural Entities (1988) and S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands (1989).

These were lavishly illustrated books which hewed closer to Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1987) in design and format than the “standard” roleplaying game bestiary, providing lavish full illustrations for each monster in forms that would go on to be iconic, and solely dedicated to the identification, habits, culture, etc. of the various entities within, instead of game stats. All the stats for these creatures were in the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game book itself, and the books have become so iconic that the latest (7th) edition of the game has produced a brand new version, S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors (2016).

81QwaubiTNL

The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game was not just released in English, however. It was translated into several languages, including Japanese—and the game proved to be a major hit in Japan. More products were translated, including the ’88 and ’89 S. Petersen’s Field Guides (a combined edition was published by Hobby Japan in 1994), and the company and fans in Japan began to produce original material for the game, both official and unofficial—dōjinshi.

One of these dōjinshi products was the Dunwitch IX Field Guide to Cthulhu Monstergals. This was essentially a fan-created spoof of the S. Petersen guides, right down to the format, except that the familiar Cthulhu Mythos entities were replaced by monster girl versions of themselves.

1263599

Monster girls are a Japanese cultural phenomenon where a normally frightening monster is replaced with a moe (萌え) version of itself; moe being a term that designates a feeling of strong affection and cuteness, and is often combined with non-anthromorphic entities or concepts to create a (typically) young and attractive female character to personify the normally unrelateable. The juxtaposition might be near-sacrilegious to folks that like to keep the Mythos scary, but should be understood as a product of Japanese fan interpretation, all in good fun. Monster girls have been the focus of “monster girlfriend” manga and anime, including “The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。)…and the Monster Girl Encyclopedia which was published in 2015.

Sometimes, artists go beyond the bounds of “cute” and clean, relatively innocent and positive sexual attraction implied by moe and venture into actual hardcore erotic artwork and writing. This twist often makes the cute girls the victims of the now much more traditionally monstrous monsters. An example of this is Shindo L (新堂 エル)’s Bestiary series which so far as three volumes (2011-2015); the third volume includes a section on the Deep Ones, who in Shindo L’s setting are quite literally rapacious towards human women.

2113850

Which brings us back to Kenkou Cross and the Monster Girl Encyclopedia. This book is not a roleplaying game product, although it is derived from and uses some of the same tropes. There is no game system specified, no statistics or mechanics for the monsters like in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, it is purely a pseudo-literary production, an “in-character” scholarly manuscript from the setting that the monster girls are from, much like the S. Petersen’s guidebooks. Aside from the artwork, which is generally PG-13 (bare female breasts, but no genitalia), the text itself shows a lot of thought and effort that has gone into the monsters, how the change to be part-succubi has effected them, feeding and mating habits (basically the same thing in this case), etc.

The Lovecraftian references are few, and include the iconic D&D monster the Mindflayer, the Wendigo (loosely connected to August Derleth’s interpretation of Ithaqua), the spider-creature Atlach-Nacha (created by Clark Ashton Smith, already the focus of a Japanese game and associated media) and most especially the Shoggoth.

Shoggoth

The interesting thing about the Shoggoth entry is that Kenkou Cross has reinterpreted their position as “servitors” to the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness to coincide with the Japanese pop-culture archetype of the maid—in particular, the conception of the “French Maid” outfit popularized in Victorian and Edwardian fiction (and associated pornography) and the act of being subservient in a sense that approaches (and sometimes sublimates into) domination-subjugation fantasies. “Maid-play” need not be violent, as the position can hold a great potential for sexual subtext and power fantasies without crossing the line into rape, but the formal nature of the attire and the potential power imbalance makes maids, butlers, etc. popular characters in Japanese anime and manga.

Shoggoths are slime monsters with amorphous bodies. They were created long ago to serve monsters of the untold nether reaches, but upon acquiring intelligence and emotion with the rise of the current Overlord, they are thought to have fled their once-masters.
—foreword to Monster Girl Encyclopedia Vol. II, 167 

Which makes the Monster Girl Encyclopedia incarnation of the Shoggoth both somewhat kinky, and probably the most sex-positive possible spin on the original source material, is that the (now female) Shoggoth feels the need to fulfill this position, but is not actually enslaved and still holds a great deal of power in the relationship, which is basically entered into of their own will (although the Overlord’s influence certainly gives them a push). Needless to say, the various authors of Monster Girl Encyclopedia-derived dōjinshi take whatever tack fits the needs of their particular work, ranging from the benign monster girlfriend romantic comedy to explicit erotica (within the limits of Japanese censorship laws, for works produced in Japan).

Kenkou Cross doesn’t delve deep into the Mythos in this volume; the Lovecraftian entities are hinted at being separate from many of the other monsters under the Overlord’s direct control, but Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath are not named explicitly. In much the same way, Dungeons & Dragons has largely eschewed using the Lovecraft Mythos directly since Deities & Demigods (1981), although they have Lovecraftian critters in the form of mindflayers, aboleths, and other “aberrations.” Much of the Monster Girl Encyclopedia world remains a very vague fantasy kitchen sink; quasi-medieval in the Dungeons & Dragons manner with adventurers, quests, etc. It is testament to the wide and pervasive influence of Western (particularly British and American) on Japanese contemporary pop culture.

It might be difficult for some Mythos fans to think of shoggoths as basically sex-obsessed slime-girl maids, but that’s where the route of transmission, derivation, and development sort of become important. Because Kenkou Cross’ interpretation of the Shoggoths, for their setting, is really no different or less than any other interpretation of the Lovecraftian entity, from Robert Bloch’s “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (1951) to “Shoggoths in Bloom” (2008) by Elizabeth Bear. And the MGE version of shoggoths is not restricted to Japan, but has filtered back into English through translation and derivation. 

Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (魔物娘図鑑 II) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス) was first published in 2016; it was translated and published in English by Seven Seas in 2016.


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

The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (2016) by Kij Johnson

In a land defined by dreaming men and bickering gods, there were no sure rules, but there was also no certain randomness.
—Kij Johnson, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe 133-134

You don’t have to have read Lovecraft or Dunsany to appreciate The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe. Without those references, it is still a very competent fantasy novelette. Johnson has a good eye for detail, characterization, description; the plot moves quick, never gets hung up too long in one place, one peril. Vellitt Boe is on a mission, after all.

That being said, without the historical context of Lovecraft and Dunsany, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is in danger of being misunderstood as a generic fantasy novel, of the sort inspired by a thousand sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, Tunnels & Trolls, or Fighting Fantasy. This comes almost as a consequence of how you get from Lord Dunsany to Kij Johnson, and to really appreciate what she is doing in this novelette and how it got there requires a bit of background. 

H. P. Lovecraft discovered Lord Dunsany in 1919. The Anglo-Irish peer had created an artificial mythology in his tales of Pegāna, which would inspire Lovecraft’s own mythos, and the stories of “Beyond the Fields We Know” in Tales of Three Hemispheres (1919) including “Idle Days on the Yann” and “The Shop in Go-By Street” would lay the groundwork for Lovecraft’s Dreamlands.

It is important to remember that Lovecraft built his Mythos over time, defining and re-defining it as time went on and other influences came to bear. “The Cats of Ulthar” (written June 1920) was not originally set in the Dreamlands; it was a generic fantasy. The first actual Dreamlands story was “Celephaïs” (written November 1920). In later fiction, these early fantasies and their names and geographies would be subsumed into the Dreamlands—and the “Dream Cycle” with its vagaries and contradictions (were exactly is Leng?) have given compilers of Mythos-lore much to chew on and argue about.

Randolph Carter came into existence in 1919 as well, in “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” This early story had nothing to do with the Dreamlands either; Lovecraft recorded a dream in his letters involving himself and his friend Samuel Loveman. In turning the dream into a story, Loveman became “Hartley Warren” and Lovecraft himself became “Randolph Carter.” The character became a self-identified counterpart for Lovecraft himself in his stories, though he appeared in only a few of them, notably “The Silver Key” (1926), which is the only one that was a Dreamlands tale until The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (written 1926-1927).

Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest is fundamentally different from anything he wrote before or since. Maybe that is why in part it found no publication during his lifetime. Too long, too weird, too inexplicably full of adventure—it is this novelette which binds together Lovecraft’s “dream” stories, early fantasies, and Randolph Carter stories. Without Dream-Quest, you could argue the Dreamlands are still a part of the Mythos, but places like Ulthar wouldn’t be a part of it. This was the story that really gave the scope and connective tissue that bound much of Lovecraft’s early fiction together. In structure and conception, it is much more similar to David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus (1920) or E. R. Eddison’s The Worm Ouroboros (1922) than anything else.

There aren’t really any women in it.

Which is true for much more of Lovecraft’s fiction than just The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. As discussed in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, Lovecraft does have female characters in his stories, but the gender balance is distinctly skewed towards male characters. In large part, this seems to be simply because Lovecraft seldom made a character female unless there was a reason for her to be female. Which is why the only absolute reference to women in Dream-Quest is:

It is known that in disguise the younger among the Great Ones often espouse the daughters of men, so that around the borders of the cold waste wherein stands Kadath the peasants must all bear their blood. 

That’s it. There are other references to women in some of the other stories, if you look hard enough—the cat-killing wife in “The Cats of Ulthar” for example—but for the most part, women are implicit. Priests, but no priestesses. “Men” as a generic term for all persons of every gender, in the very 18th century sense. Rapacious gods of the Greco-Roman school, but no lusty goddesses bedding the handsome young men around Kadath.

It was in this context that Kij Johnson wrote her own Dream-Quest, and it is in many ways both a continuation of the tradition of Dunsany and Lovecraft, and a reflection on those works.

And I must of course acknowledge Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. I first read it at ten, thrilled and terrified, and uncomfortable with the racism but not yet aware that the total absence of women was also problematic. This story is my adult self returning to a thing I loved as a child and seeing whether I could make adult sense of it.
—Kij Johnson, “Acknowledgements” in The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe 167

Johnson did the work, sifted the stories. The story is set between “The Silver Key” and “Through the Gates of the Silver Key”; it references Lovecraft’s geography and zoology, but also subtly grounds and expands them. The Dreamlands are seen through the eyes of a native, an intelligent and experienced woman who knows more of how things work and finds delight in them. The skill of her construction is such that she never needs to cite a story specifically; it is never written that “In Ulthar no man may kill a cat,” because the idea is implicit in the story: no one even thinks of trying to kill a cat in Ulthar. It simply doesn’t come up. More amusingly and refreshingly, we get little anecdotes like how a young Vellitt Boe tried to climb Hatheg-Kla under the logic that it was only said no man could climb it. A neat bit which feels a bit like Éowyn taking a swing at the Witch-King of Angmar.

The story is at its best when it is showing rather than telling. Why not a woman’s college in Ulthar? Why not a female far-traveler? Nothing in Randolph Carter’s dream-quest required him to have a penis, so what’s to stop a woman from having her own adventure in the Dreamlands? Absolutely nothing.

The story is arguably at its weakest when it stops showing and starts telling.

She had never met a woman from the waking world. Once she asked Carter about it.

“Women don’t dream large dreams,” he had said, dismissively. “It is all babies and housework. Tiny dreams.”

Men said stupid things all the time, and it was perhaps no surprise that men of the waking world might do so as well, yet she was disappointed in Carter. Her dreams were large, of trains a mile long and ships that climbed to the stars, of learning the languages of squids and slime-molds, of crossing a chessboard the size of a city. That night and for years afterward, she had envisioned another dream land, built from the imaginings of powerful women dreamers. (ibid. 71-72)

In narrative terms, the characterization of Randolph Carter as a bit of a straw-man serves its purpose only in highlighting Boe’s struggles as a woman. Even in the Dreamlands, there are gender norms and imbalances; the women’s college of Ulthar is the youngest and most vulnerable of the seven universities, and even a hint of scandal could see it closed, upper education cut off. In that sense, Johnson needed some character to personify the casual misogyny that Boe quested against as much as anything else.

Carter as a mouthpiece is problematic mainly because he never voices such views in Lovecraft’s fiction, and as he is implicitly Lovecraft’s alter-ego (though Johnson does not make this point) it can be read as Johnson putting words in Lovecraft’s mouth. While Lovecraft did evince a few chauvinistic statements during his life, he never wrote anything like what Carter says in Johnson’s Dream-Quest. The statement (“powerful women dreamers” is a great line) needed to be made at some point, if for no other reason than it sets up the finale, but the characterization seems off; rather like Ervin Howard in “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle. If a dead horse is going to be beaten, at least beat it for something it actually did.

There is a line in the story that may be uncomfortable, but then it would be a sad world where such a line would be otherwise:

As a young woman, when she had been beautiful and had worn her hair short and her clothes loose to conceal that fact, she had known all the signs of men and read them well enough that she had been successfully robbed only three times and raped once; but none of those had burned from her the hunger for empty spaces, strange cities, new oceans. (ibid. 83)

Nothing of the act, which happened sometime in the far past, is shown. Which is good; the last thing the story needed was an exploitative recap, some trauma porn of the effect and slow recovery. The event happened, it didn’t define her. It is also not the only mention of rape in the story; Vellitt Boe is traveling mostly alone in a quasi-Early Modern fantasy world. Sexual assault need not have a gender bias (the setting rarely hints at lesbianism as a possibility, and male homosexuality is completely absent from the text) but old habits die hard. How many women traveling alone today have the same fear?

Which is perhaps the one real criticism of The Dream-Quest of Villett Boe. It is great for what it is, but if the purpose was to have a message as well tell a story, it feels like it could have been that much better. Why aren’t there any female gods in the Dreamlands? Why aren’t there any female dreamers? Johnson wasn’t obliged to stick to Lovecraft or Dunsany in every regard, and doesn’t. Yet her Dreamland is almost too close to the waking world in some of its gender constructs and mores.

You might be interested to know that at the party one very bright young woman described her adolescent reading of SF as a genuinely subversive force in her life, a real alternative to the fundamentalist community into which she had been born. This alternative had nothing to do with the cardboard heroes and heroines or the imperial American/engineering values which she had skipped right over. What got to her were the alien landscapes and alien creatures. We scholars perhaps tend to forget how much subversive potential both SF and fantasy have, even at their crudest.
—Joanna Russ, To Write Like A Woman 64

Russ, of course, wrote her own Dreamlands tale: “My Boat” (1976). Ironically, Russ’s story features a powerful woman dreamer (who also happens to be black), exactly the kind of character that Villett Boe lamented never meeting in her own Dreamlands. It’s a pity that the two characters didn’t run across each other—but the tales remain complementary. The Dreamlands is big enough for both characters, and more besides.

The book is at its most subversive when just letting Vellitt Boe find her own way, rather than being escorted by guards or ghouls or rescued by gugs. The Dreamlands through her eyes is a delight, and just having a female character be the protagonist of a Dreamlands story in itself is more of a statement that See? Women can explore the Dreamlands too! than any of the casual misogyny attributed to Randolph Carter (or, implicitly, Lovecraft). If Johnson’s goal beyond writing the story was to write a Dreamlands where the women aren’t invisible and mute, she can certainly be said to have succeeded. Above and beyond that, The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe is a very rare thing: a good Dreamlands story, written in a way that is not a pastiche of Dunsany or Lovecraft.

Kij Johnson’s The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe was published in 2016 by Tor.


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

Hammers on Bone (2016) by Cassandra Khaw

Not for the first time, I consider giving the kid a refund. I’d gotten into the detective business to escape the deepwater blues, from the songs that squirm in your veins like worms. Sure, I’d go for an easy job, sometimes, ice a monster that had gotten too big for his bed. But this?
—Cassandra Khaw, Hammers on Bone 56

H. P. Lovecraft did not invent weird fiction, in the same way Raymond Chandler didn’t invent hardboiled detective fiction. Noir and the Mythos are first cousins, descended from Edgar Allan Poe’s detective stories of C. Auguste Dupin—and over the years many writers have written weirdly consanguineous marriages in that sprawling family. Sometimes they even work out.

Cassandra Khaw is working, whether she knows it or not, in a tradition that includes C. J. Henderson’s The Tales of Inspector Legrasse (2005), James Ambuehl’s anthology Hardboiled Cthulhu (2006), and Ron Shiftlet’s Looking for Darla (2008). Graphic novels have been especially prolific of late, with entries including Weird Detective (2017) and Casefile: Arkham (2016). The stories work (when they do work) because both Mythos and noir stories are at heart mysteries; there is some hidden truth, cosmic or sordid, to be uncovered before the end. In many cases, they also share a setting in the 1920s and 30s. But the approach is distinct; hardboiled detectives are made of sterner stuff than most Lovecraftian protagonists, and the hard-drinking men and women who try to find the rotten worms of the earth at the core of a Mythos mystery usually end up regretting the experience.

Which is the case with Khaw’s novella Hammers on Bone.

John Persons, P.I., is an anachronism. Prowling the streets of modern-day London, he talks like a character out of a Mickey Spillane novel. A creature out of time in more sense than one, he lives the gumshoe role in a case that combines the tragic realities of domestic violence and economic hardship on the one hand, and body horror and eldritch experiences on the other. If you don’t think about the details; it works fine: Khaw has a great sense for her characters, and Persons’ personality and penchant for hardboiled slang carry the narrative along nicely.

The plot itself? A jigsaw puzzle with a few pieces deliberately missing. Khaw doesn’t set up any particular rules for her universe, at least not on the page. Like “All This for the Greater Glory of the 7th and 329th Children of the Black Goat of the Woods” (2012) by Molly Tanzer it feels filtered through half-remembered sessions of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. There is that assumption of familiarity with various bits and pieces of Mythos lore, but also a slapdash quality to it all. An almost cartoonish aspect where things happen because the story demands an action beat and the visuals are cool, but at the end of things there are crucial questions that remained unanswered. It isn’t a mystery where you can guess the end by page three, or page ninety-three, and when the last page of the epilogue is turned the reader may find themselves asking why Persons didn’t handle the case differently.

After all, it’s only murder.

Part of the problem is that the villain of this piece is a cipher. A domestic abuser and chav’s chav with squamous secret beneath the skin, but there are fill-in-the-blanks missing. Why does he do what he does? What is he after? Why hasn’t he done it already, if he has the power to? Unanswered questions and missing motivations. During the legwork phase of the investigation, Persons stumbles across something bigger than an alcoholic asshole who beats his not-quite-wife and spreads his eldritch infection—but the story cuts off before we get further down that particular road. Maybe in the sequel.

Hammers on Bone was published in 2016 as part of Tor’s Lovecraftian novella series. Khaw has written a sequel, A Song for Quiet (2017).


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

“At the Left Hand of Nothing” (2016) by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy

That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

When all is madness, there is no madness.
—Scott R. Jones, introduction to Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis (2016) 5

Lovecraft was a materialist; he had no belief in gods, neither those of traditional religion or of his own making, and carefully informed fans that yes, Cthulhu and the Necronomicon and all the rest were totally fictional, that he and Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith & co. had made them all up. The irony of this is that the writings of the materialist would inspire in others true faith; that his writings would be taken by some as revelations of occult truth, and others as something close to holy writ. So we have Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction (2007) by Asenath Mason and “The Book of the Forgotten Ones” (1977) by Nema Andahadna and many other works of esotericism, accounts of spiritual revelation or occult compilation.

For all that these individuals and groups pay homage to the names and ideas that Lovecraft & co. created, few of them strive to capture or explore the philosophy behind those names. Thomas Ligotti comes to mind: “The Sect of the Idiot” and “The Last Feast of Harlequin” dig deep into the philosophic underpinnings of the Mythos. Scott R. Jones in When the Stars Are Right: Towards An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014) describes the deep understanding of the Mythos, beyond the farcical family trees of the gods and sometimes humorous mucking about with incantations and talismans, as the Black Gnosis.

Humanity, with its bilateral symmetry, tends to think in dichotomies. Good and evil, black and white, left and right. Theosophists and occultists in the early 20th century talked about black lodges and white, locked in a cycle of conflict; the devotees of “evil” revelations followed the left-hand path, the Satanists and Thelemites, while those “white magicians” followed the right-hand path. The terminology of left hand/right hand was borrowed (stolen, appropriated) from Indian tantra; Westerners like Aleister Crowley seeking to incorporate aspects of Eastern esoteric practices into their occult systems were cafeteria occultists.

Of course the Chinese mix everything up. Look at what they have to work with. There’s Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoist alchemy and sorcery. We take what we want and leave the rest. Just like your salad bar.
—Egg Shen, Big Trouble in Little China (1986)

Every so often, however, someone comes along that reminds us that the universe is much stranger than our standard definitions, that we are limited by our conceptions. Such a work is “At the Left Hand of Nothing” by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy.

A short piece, but dense in concepts. An unnamed cultist or adept speaks to an unknown audience. Familiar terms are embedded in unfamiliar attitudes. The language is carefully chosen, the reader letting the onion peel back, layer by layer, revelation by revelation.

There is an entire literature out there dealing with the antics of these fools. It is imagined that these plots and cults are the sum of our ambition; that we exist merely to subvert normality and exalt some strang epantheon, that we want to pring a triumphal return of squamous divinity to old Earth.
—Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, “At the Left Hand of Nothing”
in Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis (2016) 54

The central idea of Satyamurthy’s piece harkens back to the older, original idea of left-hand and right-hand tantra. Wearing black robes and participating in orgies in the swamp isn’t the left-hand path; maybe none of the characters in any of Lovecraft’s stories had the insight and ambition to conceive of the possibilities that Satyamurthy hints at, though some of the stories that came after have characters whose feet might have turned in such directions.

It is, if nothing else, a revelation. A new way to think about the Mythos. Something to widen your preconceptions, re-calibrate how you think about stories old and new. Go back and re-read “The Call of Cthulhu” after reading this story, and see if you can experience it in a new way. Not as the naive believer in old Castro’s ramblings, but as an initiate that knows a deeper truth and can recognize him and his for what they are…and who their true undying masters must be.

“At the Left Hand of Nothing” was first published in Cthulhusattva: Tales of the Black Gnosis (2016); it has not yet been reprinted. Jayaprakash Satyamurthy has written a number of weird tales, some of which have been collected in Weird Tales of a Bangalorean (2015) and Come Tomorrow: And Other Tales of Bangalore Terror (2020). His Lovecraftian stylings can also be experienced with his band Djinn and Miskatonic.


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

“Legacy of Salt” (2016) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Mayans thought the cenotes were portals to the realm of the dead, Xibalba, but his family called it by another name, Y’ha-nthlei, and the cenote was Yliah’he. It had no meaning in Mayan, this was an older language, the elders had told him. A language from before the Conquest, before the great pyramids rose upon the limestone bedrock of Yucatán. Much of the knowledge had been lost through the years, but some true names and words remained. Yliah’he.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Legacy of Salt” in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 324

The Mythos, from its small hard core of writings by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, has been spun out by many writers in many ways. That is the great gift of it: being able to play with the ideas, to have readers trace the shape of old stories and old ideas, newly embodied: refreshed, reincarnated, yet recognizable.

Scene: Yucatán, the 1960s. An old family, an old house; echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, the shadows a little darker in the harsh tropical sunlight. The family name is Marin rather than Marsh; there is no Devil’s Reef, but there is the cenote Yliah’he.

A Mexican Innsmouth, a new corner of Lovecraft country.

The story itself is a romance, almost a telenovela; we know this story even if we haven’t read it before. Will they/won’t they? There are all the usual and unusual obstructions: a fiance back in Mexico City, the call of the modern world, the titillating hint of incest. Yet Silvia Moreno-Garcia carries us through admirably. She knows these waters, the details that make the setting pop, the buttons to push to keep the reader wondering, until the very end, which way it will go.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote “Legacy of Salt” around the time she was reading a lot of philosophy of biology materials and also a Darwin biography as part of her Master’s degree studies. “Some of the scientific issues I was exploring collided with this story. I have always found ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ to be fascinating since it seems to dip its toes into the notion of repulsion/attraction. Is it such a bad thing to swim eternally in underwater palaces? I kind of like the idea. The Yucatán peninsula is definitely nothing like New England but the numerous markers for archaeological sites somewhat reminded me of the nation of the past creeping upon the present, which occurs in some of Lovecraft’s fiction.”
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 312

Unlike “Ahuizotl” (2011) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas or “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader, there is very little of horror in this story, and that which remains is mixed with fascination. The protagonist, Eduardo Marin, has tragedy in his life—father dead in a car crash, a mother that abandoned him to start a new family—but there is nothing as traumatic to the family as a whole as the raid on Innsmouth which overshadows and informs “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys.

Except in the sense that the Marins are survivors; remnants of some family line that dates back before the Conquest of Mexico. There are hints throughout the story, references to the Mayan rain-god Chaac, in the shape of a frog, but nothing specific. Hints, remnants, just enough to whet the imagination. The lack of knowledge, loss of knowledge, is the great sub-theme of this story. The biological and material “legacy of salt” is undeniable, but there is a loss of cultural knowledge keenly felt…and that too is a legacy of the Conquest.

“Legacy of Salt” was published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016), and has not yet been reprinted. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been an editor, writer, and translator. Her Lovecraftian fiction includes “Flash Frame” (2010), “In the House of the Hummingbirds” (2012), “The Sea, Like Broken Glass” (2014), and “In the Details” (2015), and her latest novel is Mexican Gothic (2020).


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

“The Genesis Mausoleum” (2016) by Colleen Douglas

And right here—speaking of new writers and square deals—we want to mention something that causes editors no end of trouble and makes them proceed cautiously in dealing with people unknown to them. We’re talking now about plagiarism. We hold this to be not only the most despicable form of theft, but a heinous crime perpetuated by thieves against whom the editor has no defense.
—Edwin Baird, first editor of Weird Tales,
“What Editors Want: Why Manuscripts Go Home” (October 1923),
reprinted in The Thing’s Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales 270

Some Mythos writers have been claimed to construct their stories with all the care of a good hoax; some Mythos fans have gone so far as to fabricate library entries, advertisements, bookplates, realistic photos, and facsimile books and artifacts—most in good fun, with little intent to truly deceive. When L. Sprague de Camp created the Al Azif (Owlswick Press, 1973), it was with a nod and wink. H. P. Lovecraft, his contemporaries, and literary followers have used pseudonyms for both commercial and literary reasons, partially or wholly disguising their authorship but not with any attempt to defraud the reader or publisher.

From a literary perspective, there is a great deal of the Mythos which lends itself to recycling. Plots, characters, settings, sometimes even language can often end up in new stories, particularly in the form of pastiche. How many times have readers read Abdul Alhazred’s dread couplet? How many writers have borrowed wholesale bits and pieces of the stories of Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith? As those first Mythos works move into the public domain, the line between original fiction and creative recycling of older material gets blurrier, as in the case of “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky vs. “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon.

Yet both of those authors acknowledged their source, publicly. They transformed the material into a novel, original work. This has, unfortunately, not always been the case.

In 2015, Dark Regions Press crowdfunded Dreams From The Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horrorwhich hit its goals and entered print in 2016. Among the contents was a story by a new author: “The Genesis Mausoleum” by Colleen Douglas. This turned out, as at least one reviewer quickly noted, to actually be Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Seed from the Sepulcher” (Weird Tales Oct 1933). Ironically, far from being an obscure tale from one of Lovecraft’s contemporaries, “The Seed from the Sepulcher” is Smith’s most-anthologized story. Dark Regions Press admitted the error and published a new edition of the book in 2018, excising all mention of Colleen Douglas.

This has made the first edition, first printing relatively scarce (and, if online booksellers are not scrupulous in their ISBNs and descriptions, difficult to make out from its later edition, which has an identical cover and near-identical contents). A close examination of the text, however, has revealed something more complicated than someone re-typing Smith’s original story and then adding a new title and their own name to the manuscript.

The most obvious change is that Douglas substituted the names of the two protagonists: Smith’s James Falmer and Roderick Thone become Morgan Arpad and Marshal Tefere, respectively. A comparison of the text with the original Weird Tales publication shows more than that: a number of substantial changes, including re-wording, excisions, and changes in punctuation. Nothing to much change the plot, but substantial enough to make me wonder if these were all her own changes, or the reflection of a different textual tradition.

While we like to think of stories as being “a text,” the facts are rarely that simple. Writers often create drafts and synopses before the final manuscript, which may be submitted, rejected, revised, re-submitted, accepted, copy-edited, published, corrected, and re-published. In the pulps especially, stories may be cannibalized and re-written, so that that a single story may have many different textual variations—some of which might be relatively minor (misspellings or odd punctuation) and some of which might be substantial (an editor re-wrote the last paragraphs to change the ending).

Scott Connors in A Vintage from Atlantis: The Collected Fantasies of Clark Ashton Smith Vol. 3 gives a succinct overview of the textual history of “The Seed from the Sepulchre.” Clark Ashton Smith originally wrote a synopsis for the tale, and then a typescript which was submitted to Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. This version was rejected, revised, re-submitted, and accepted. Editor Harry Bates copy-edited the typescript, but Strange Tales folded. Smith re-revised the tale and submitted it to Weird Tales, where it was rejected, revised, re-submitted, and eventually accepted and saw print. (During this process, Smith also showed the story to H. P. Lovecraft and gave a copy of the typescript to fan R. H. Barlow).

The October 1933 Weird Tales printing has been (as far as I have been able to determine) the basis for all subsequent publications until the time of A Vintage from Atlantis. Scott Connors had tracked down the typescripts and created a variorum of the different texts of “The Seed from the Sepulchre” in 2007, on which the Collected Fantasies version is based. Yet “The Genesis Mausoleum” differs from this version as well—so where did Colleen Douglas get the text for the story, and what exactly did she do to it?

Side-by-side comparison of “The Genesis Mausoleum” text with the 1933 Weird Tales text reveals a few things. Aside from the replacement of Falmer and Thone throughout, all of Smith’s original use of the word “Indian” have been replaced—once with “Amerindian,” once with “Incan,” and the rest with “guide” or “guides” as appropriate. A good chunk of Smith’s more obscure or flavorful vocabulary has been removed or replaced with simpler counterparts. A number of sentences and clauses have been removed, effectively “tightening up” the story. The most substantial example of this kind of economy:

“The Seed from the Sepulcher” (1933):

“My head! My head! he muttered. “There must be something in my brain, something that grows and spreads; I tell you, I can feel it there. I haven’t felt right at any time since I left the burial pit… my mind has been queer ever since. It must have been the spores of the ancient devil-plant… The spores have taken root… The thing is splitting my skull, going down into my brain—a plant that springs out of a human cranium—as if from a flower pot!”

“The Genesis Mausoleum” (2016):

“My head! My head!” he muttered. “There must be somthing in my brain, something that grows and spreads; I can feel it there taking root!”

Some of these changes require the addition of a few new words, as above where Douglas added “I can feel it there taking root!”, but this accounts for less than 1% of the total text. The story, as abridged and altered as it may be, is still almost pure Clark Ashton Smith.

The systematic nature of the changes become more obvious when comparing the 2016 and 1933 texts side by side: there is at least one word or punctuation mark changed in every single paragraph. While there are sentences as Smith wrote them, whole and untouched, the changes taken as a whole seem much more substantial than a simple 2016 editorial pass…but such changes might make sense if the person making the changes were attempting to disguise the story so that it would not be flagged by plagiarism software.

As for the actual textual source for “The Genesis Mausoleum,” there is reason to suspect that it was not the 1933 text (in any of its numerous anthology publications), but the readily-available e-text version on the Eldritch Dark website, titled “The Seed from the Sepulchre” (last edited 2009). This website hosts a good deal of Clark Ashton Smith’s fiction and poetry, but the texts are known to have numerous small issues with spelling, punctuation, and formatting. One of the characteristic “tells” of the Eldritch Dark text compared to the 1933 text is a small issue of formatting:

“The Seed from the Sepulcher” (1933):

Thone decided after a while, as he lay staring at his companion, that the latter’s taciturnity and moroseness were perhaps due to disappointment over his failure to find the treasure. It must have been that, together with some tropical infection working in the man’s blood. However, he admitted doubtfully to himself, it was not like Falmer to be disappointed or downcast under such circumstances.

Falmer did not speak again, but sat glaring before him as if he saw something invisible to others beyond the labyrinth of fire-touched boughs and lianas in which the whispering, stealthy darkness crouched. Somehow, there was a shadowy fear in his aspect. Thone continued to watch him, and saw that the Indians, impassive and cryptic, were also watching him, as if with some obscure expectancy. The riddle was too much for Thone, and he gave it up after a while, lapsing into restless, fever-turbulent slumber from which he awakened at intervals, to see the set face of Falmer, dimmer and more distorted each time with the slowly dying fire and the invading shadows.

“The Seed from the Sepulchre” (Eldritch Dark):

Thone decided after a while, as he lay staring at his companion, that the latter’s taciturnity and moroseness were perhaps due to disappointment over his failure to find the treasure. It must have been that, together with some tropical infection working in the man’s blood. However, he admitted doubtfully to himself, it was not like Falmer to be disappointed or downcast under such circumstances. Falmer did not speak again, but sat glaring before him as if he saw something invisible to others beyond the labyrinth of fire-touched boughs and lianas in which the whispering, stealthy darkness crouched. Somehow, there was a shadowy fear in his aspect. Thone continued to watch him, and saw that the Indians, impassive and cryptic, were also watching him, as if with some obscure expectancy. The riddle was too much for Thone, and he gave it up after a while, lapsing into restless, fever-turbulent slumber from which he awakened at intervals, to see the set face of Falmer, dimmer and more distorted each time with the slowly dying fire and the invading shadows.

“The Genesis Mausoleum” combines the two paragraphs into one, just as the Eldritch Dark text does. While this cannot be taken as definitive proof, it is at least suggestive.

The level of alteration in the story may also be another reason which the editor of Dreams From The Witch House didn’t catch it. While it’s true that nobody can read everything, there seems to have been a deliberate and not unskilled effort to deceive in the way the text was edited, possibly to fool online plagiarism detection tools.

The question remains: why?

Colleen Douglas‘, a graduate in Creative Writing, has a South American background;. She hails from the former British colony of Guyana and has lived in London for over two decades. She has always enjoyed works with some form of darkness, be it the gradual crreping or more blatantly obvious kind. Her interest in writing began at the age of 14, when she wrote her first horror story, after reading her father’s copy of Burial: The Manitou by Graham Masterton. She listens to rock music when writing fight scenes and haunts cafés when she begins and completes a project. The latter maybe a frame narrative habit, she cannot honestly account for the former. As a writer, she has always been drawn to the unconventional. She writes dark fantasy with elements of horror and science-fiction. She loves her eclectic disposition and storytelling diversity, as it places her in a unique atmosphere, with new challenges to conquer each time she writes.
—Author Biographies, Dreams From The Witch House (first edition)

If Colleen Douglas did get a BA in Creative Writing, as her author bio for her 2014 novel Origins claims, she knew well what she was doing both in editing the story and submitting it under a false title and her own name. It is not that she cannot write, if her 2014 interview and a brief excerpt on the inspiration of “The Genesis Mausoleum” are accurate:

When I was a young teen, I went to visit my grandmother, who lived in a village on the East Coast of the Demerara River. She lived in an old-style house, built on stilts near the main road which ran through the village. On late afternoons would sit on the stairs after my chores. It was one such afternoon that I spotted the flashes of red against the verdant green of the parapet on the opposite side of the road. I was fascinated and tried to discern the source, which turned out to be a green frog tied in a red bow. It proceeded to make its way up the stairs of a neighbour’s house and as it reached the top stair it disappeared. Almost instantly, there was awful screaming from within that house. I ran inside to tell my gran what I had seen. She told me to say nothing. That memory stayed with me. Later, I learned the woman in that house was an outsider who came to teach the children and had started an affair with the son of a “spiritualist” ( I use the term exceedingly loosely). At the time, I had no context, but in later years when I thought of what I’d seen, William Blake came to mind… “There are things known, and things unknown, and in between are the Doors.” It seemed to me that like the neighbor in my grandmother’s village, the characters in “The Genesis Mausoleum” had met such a “door.”
—Dreams From The Witch House (first edition) 340

The odd thing is, Clark Ashton Smith, the “victim” of the theft is long dead. While it isn’t clear if the 1933 copyright for “The Seed from the Sepulcher” was renewed (CASiana Enterprises, which handles Smith’s literary estate, have it copyrighted 1989), more than one story has already been written with it as an inspiration. As noted above, other Mythos stories have borrowed heavily and not been considered plagiarism, because the author added something new to them. A remixed or revision of the original text could have found honest acclaim for skill and creativity.

It is good such cases as “The Genesis Mausoleum” are so rare in Mythos fiction. The whole literary game involves a spirit of generosity and credit-where-credit is due. If we lose sight of that, what is left?

My thanks and appreciation to Scott Connors and Dave Goudsward for help on this post.


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

 

Whispers (2016) by Kristin Dearborn

The whole matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

The whole matter begins, as far as Dearborn is concerned, with the historic floods of August 2011. On August  29th, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont, washing away roads and bridges and swamping rural communities in a manner which recalled the 1927 flood. Three people were killed.
—Daniel Mills, “Foreword,” Whispers (2016)

If you pick up a copy of Dearborn’s novella, skip the foreword by Mills. Go into it raw, without expectations. Let her surprise you a little.

“Lovecraft Country” is a space of the mind. Psychogeography. A map of myth that isn’t the territory. Walk through the streets of Newburyport, and it isn’t Innsmouth. Parts of Salem and Danvers might remind you of Arkham, but it isn’t that place, not really. There is no Dunwich. The weirdly verdant forests of Vermont were only as real, in their way, as Machen’s hills. Readers get the impression of the place, as it was in the 1920s and 30s, filtered through Lovecraft.

Not many writers re-tread the old literary sod, update it. Kristin Dearborn did.

Whispers is not a straight re-imagining of Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” in the strictest sense. The literary DNA is there, and just to erase any doubt is printed clearly on the cover of the book, but it is “inspired by,” not a pastiche or rehash of the old story. The tone and approach are different, more contemporary. New eyes on old territory.

The narrative shifts back and forth, Sarah and Neveah and Dean, chapter by chapter. One of those transitions which is easier to do in print than in film, for all the horror movie aesthetic. Something in the woods, dogs growling, protective barriers of distrust and paranoia raised and lowered. Then the voices start.

Score some crystal with us, Neveah.
—Kristin Dearborn, Whispers 17

Drug literature is an old standby of weird fiction, from Lovecraft’s “Celephaïs” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Hashish-Eater, or, The Apocalypse of Evil” to Robert E. Howard’s Reefer Madness. Most focus on the extraordinary visions, the excuse for phantasmagoric imagery, not the mental and physical cost. Not getting beaten up by your pimp-cum-dealer. It’s a matter-of-fact ugliness, earth-gazing. The kind of detail that keeps the story grounded.

We’ll show you the stars. (ibid, 18)

The stars are very far away from a small cabin in Vermont. Forces are in motion, narrative forces that the reader is aware of but those two women and five dogs in the cabin are not. Everyone brings their own history, their own baggage to bear, coloring their understanding of the situation. It’s a human element which Lovecraft largely distanced himself from. His eyes were for the stars, the wonder and horror of it all. Dearborn’s is for the people living the story.

It’s not the first time a writer has re-approached “The Whisperer in Darkness” from the perspective of human emotions, entanglements—even sex. Richard Lupoff wrote a sequel to Lovecraft’s story titled “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982) which brought the cosmic horror back down to Earth…but that is the key difference. Dearborn roots her story in the characters; she isn’t writing a sequel to anything. There are still things to discover for the first time in Whispers.

They aren’t all pretty. Not everybody gets to see the stars.

Whispers was published in 2016 by the Lovecraft eZine Press.


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

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe

So you’re not here to initiate me into the mysteries of the sea-mother whose faces rise and fall with the countless waves and her consort who makes the fish shoal as thick as cornfields in the fall?
—Sonya Taaffe, “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” in Forget the Sleepless Shores 247

There is an anthology or two yet to be compiled about Innsmouth. One might be called Women of Innsmouth, exploring the less-trodden narrative paths of the daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers which go largely nameless and implied in Lovecraft’s tale, and include “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson, “Mail Order Bride” (1999) and “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader, “Pages Found Among the Effects of Miss Edith Teller” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales. Another, inspired more by the raid on Innsmouth and its aftermath, might be called The Innsmouth Diaspora, and include “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, and “The Gathering” (2017) by Brian Lumley.

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” by Sonya Taffe would fit neatly into both.

There is a promise in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” that is unique in all of Lovecraft’s work, that at the end:

We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

It is the one ending where the Lovecraftian protagonist embraces their change, and looks forward to what is to come. When all that once terrified them becomes, in a new light, what they have always wanted. And maybe that change in perspective is itself just another of Lovecraft’s rhetorical devices, showing that even the mind is not spared and all that they were was lost…but for some folks, there is a real path forward there. For those who have hated themselves or been hated by others for what they were (or were not), for those who have desired a personal transformation to accompany their private realizations, it is a promising ending. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one that promises a posthuman future.

Sonya Taafe wrote the story about what happens when that promise can’t be fulfilled.

Can’t is a mean word, full of inevitability. There are a lot of can’ts that exist in our world, a lot of nevers. People don’t like that there are things that they can’t change, about themselves and the world around them. Limits to medical science, to money, to talent, to the imagination. Speculative fiction exists in part to answer those can’ts, to provide a haven for what if, a place where it’s okay to dream about a world where you can have the biological gender to match your identity, or can have children, or can fly through the sky to the beating of great wings…

…or where you can breathe water and go down into the dark abysses.

This is a story about those who can’t. Blame it on genetics, the legacy of old Innsmouth families that survived the raid growing diffuse with the generations. Real-world genetics as applied to Lovecraftian biology. Hopes and dreams crushed by terrible realities. It is wonderful in its way: bleak and unsparing as the love between distant cousins, tied together in the loose-knit way of diaspora, like seeking like, and yet feeling distant and alienated from their own kin. Because not everyone belongs. Not everyone can…and it isn’t their fault. Isn’t anyone’s fault.

It is not a universe that cares about what is fair, even for the lost and wandering descendants of Innsmouth. And it can only end one way:

[…]  I was asked that question once and all I could think of was the Odyssey, how the road of the dead is a sea-road, the sun’s road, past the streams of Ocean and the gates of Helios, and maybe the pattern would be clearer to someone outside my head.
“An Interview with Sonya Taaffe, Author, Editor, Durian-Lover” (4 Aug 2004)

For some, the sea calls her children home; for others, they go willingly into a different abyss…and that is, perhaps, still better than the dry land.

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” was first published in Dreams from the Witch-House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (2016) and republished in her collection Forget the Sleepless Shores (2018).


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