“The Nyarlathotep Experience™” (2019) by Miguel Fliguer

Nyarlathotep . . . the crawling chaos . . . I am the last . . . I will tell the audient void. . . .
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Nyarlathotep”

There is no one alive to read it. And there won’t ever be. Encased within the silicon chip, the text speaks forever into the void.
—Miguel Fliguer, “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” in Ancestors & Descendants 314

Rhetoric is not a lost art, but one which people often understand only intuitively. A horror novel, a corporate memo, and a brochure for a theme park are all written differently, even though their intended audience may end up being the exact same person. How those pieces of writing address that individual, their aims and what they do (and don’t) say help define them. You don’t normally expect corpspeak in a horror story; for example.

Yet all are forms of persuasive writing. The brochure wants you to buy a ticket, the memo wants you to buy into the idea, the horror novel wants you to buy into the mood. In “The Nyarlathotep Experience™,” Miguel Fliguer wants you to buy into all three.

As with  “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., there’s a strong metatexual element to Fliguer’s story. The assumption is that the audience is familiar with not just Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, but with Lovecraft’s original story “Nyarlathotep”—that this is a piece of fiction that exists in the world, subject now to the utterly surreal process of being transformed into an amusement park ride 20 minutes into the future. The very mundane rhetorical approach to the subject matter is reminiscent of “Commencement” (2001) by Joyce Carol Oates. The utterly self-absorbed, amoral bitching about what “Legal” would allow and the ultimate escape offered as the ride ends and the customers are released through the gift-shop with the various Nyarlathotep dolls and merch on sale works. Isn’t that what some soulless corporate hack sound like?

There are bookends to the piece, however. The first is context. It comes at the end of the collection Ancestors & Descendants (2019), the pieces of which progress chronologically. So the reader of the book, if going through it from the beginning, knows before they even get there that they’re coming up on the end, as in, the penultimate chapter of the book. They’ve already passed through all the past decades. This is the future.

So when Fliguer opens up on the blasted, frozen remnants of Florida drifting quietly through the eternity of space, to this document that no-one is left to read, there’s a definite sense of anticipation. It can’t be just a ride, can it? There has to be more to it. Yet the farther it goes on, the more Fliguer keeps to the straight schtick—not without the occasional joke about how Legal won’t let them use psychedelic drugs or insists on there being an emergency exit—but the whole thing, the journey of the ride, is to relive the experience of reading “Nyaralathotep,” and a reader can easily get lost in that little mental game, remembering the old story, wondering how they would possibly turn it into a lived experience, with special effects and actors.

Then you get to the very end, the last page.

I’m reminded of Robert Bloch.

Lovecraft and Bloch famously created a triptych: “The Shambler from the Stars” (1935, Bloch), “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935, Lovecraft), and “The Shadow from the Steeple” (1950, Bloch). There is an image in that final story, drawn from Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets, number XXI – Nyarlathotep. Fliguer uses the same image, in homage to Lovecraft or Bloch or both…and there is a promise there, because it is taken from the end of the first stanza of the sonnet, readers who remember that may remember the rest:

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.

A preview for the end of the world.

Miguel Fliguer’s “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” was published in Ancestors & Descendants (2019). His other Lovecraftian fiction includes the collection Cooking with Lovecraft: Supernatural Horror in the Kitchen (2017), also published in Spanish as Cocinando Con Lovecraft: Relatos y Recetas de Humor Sobrenatural (2018), his fiction has also appeared on Círculo de Lovecraft.


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

Innsmouth (2019) by Megan James

I grew up reading the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I loved every fish monster, evil cult and doomed protagonist, frankly finding his affected writing style and weird creatures intrinsically hilarious because of how corny it all was.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft, and to a degree his compatriot Mythos creators Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch, have seen their life and works adapted to the medium of comic books and graphics novels since the 1950s. These range from fairly straight adaptations a la Alberto Breccia, Richard Corben, John Coulthart, I. N. J. Culbard, Gou Tanabe, and Ben Templesmith (to name a few) to original re-imaginings of the Mythos such as Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Providence, Matt Howard’s Con and C’Thulhu, Mike Vosberg’s Lori Lovecraft, and dozens of other offerings in a number of languages.

Megan James is in good company.

The tone of the story is reminiscent of nothing else than a particular scene in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens:

Sister Mary Loquacious has been a devout Satanist since birth. She went to Sabbat School as a child and won black stars for handwriting and liver. When she was told to join the Chattering Order she went obediently, having a natural talent in that direction and, in any case, knowing that she would be among friends. (27)

The point being that at a certain point in the life of a church, the mundanity sort of grinds out the divine nature of the proceedings. Or, as is the case in Megan James’ Innsmouth, the end times when Cthulhu is summoned can’t be held on a Thursday because they’ve already got the potluck scheduled.

“Well, the Elder Gods clearly didn’t give the events committee proper notice.”
Innsmouth, issue #1

What we get in five issues is a re-imagining of Innsmouth where intermarriage with fish people is just accepted and maybe working toward the end times is not a major priority for most of them. But like certain outbreaks of Millenialism and Milleniarianism, a few folks are actually looking forward to (or actively trying to cause) the project of waking Cthulhu up in more than a theoretical Sunady-go-to-meeting sense. Which is a problem if you kind of like the world as it is, thank you very much.

The cast and crew assembled by the combination of slapstick and well-meaning anti-cult activities is not coincidental. The team that is assembled includes a female Innsmouth acolyte (Abigail), a female Muslim (Fatima Alhazred, descendent of that Alhazred), and a pair of homosexual African-American reanimators (Drs. Edward Herbert & Jason West). This well-rounded cast is a deliberate effort on James’ part:

While much of the book is inspired by Lovecraft, James said she did take a few of his common outdated themes and views on certain issues such as race and switch them up.

“I wanted to address that in how im treating these characters, updating that for 2016, she said. “Kind of giving voice to some of the characters he shafted along the way.”

For example, in the author’s 1924 short story, “The Hound” he introduces the Necronomicon, which according to James is a book of evil which Lovecraft linked to Arabic heritage.

“That’s not really cool,” she said. “I have a character Fatima she’s Muslim and studies the Necronomicon and it’s part of her family heritage…kind of reclaiming the stuff that he’s messed up.”

—Amy David, Local Comic Book Artist Megan James Mixes Humor and Evil in Upcoming Book, Innsmouth (28 July 2016)

It’s worth pointing out, none of this feels forced. Having Abdul Alhazred’s descendant majoring in eldritch anthropology at Miskatonic University is a key plot point, especially since the Innsmouthian’s Pocket Necronomicon is only about 20% complete; she and Abigail score a couple of gags playing off of each other’s alienation to the culture at large. Each of the characters has their role to play and is a character in their own right, not a walking two-dimensional stereotype.

James expands on this in her foreword a bit:

Of course, Lovecraft stresses fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, as I realized more and more as I grew older, his unknowns included not only fungus planets and brain-snatching flesh spiders, but also anyone who did not fit the mold of a white, straight, educated, Anglo-Saxon. […] I wanted to pay homage to all the things I love about the Mythos, but I also wanted to reinterpret the more troubling apects and have some fun along the way.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

This is in many ways the meat of the book, and the issue that every contemporary writer and artist has to consider when working with Lovecraft and the Mythos today. There are things that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and 30s which passed for publication then, but would not and should not today. It is a good thing that new artists approaching the work are willing and able to engage with this aspect of his writing, to grapple with how best to approach the material and update it to fit the syntax of today.

With any luck…there will be more:

This is just the beginning of Randolph, Fatima and Abigail’s story. Ideally, by the end of Innsmouth, I’ll have crafted a story that Lovecraft would have detested…but truly, I have no interest in playing by his rules just because I’m in his sandbox.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft is long dead, and cannot render judgment—but in the here and now, what matters is not what Lovecraft would have thought, but what the readers and audience think. Megan James has put together a fun, adventurous story with a group of likable (if not always competent) characters whose hearts are in the right place. Readers looking for seriously nihilistic cosmic horror would be better off looking elsewhere, but for those who can take enjoyment in something more light-hearted, it’s a good book.

Innsmouth ran for five issues from 2016 to 2018, published by Sink/Swim Press and available at the store on her website. The collected trade paperback edition, published by ComicMix in July 2019, is also available on Amazon.com.


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

 

“Ancient Astronauts” (2019) by Cynthia Ward

The movie missed some stuff. It didn’t mention the Old Ones or Cthulhu or the shoggoths. You hardly ever see Maine in books, unless they’re Stephen King books.
—Cynthia Ward, “Ancient Astronauts” in Weirdbook Annual 2: Cthulhu24

Meddling kids didn’t show up much in the pages of Weird Tales. The period of extended adolescence which would define “teenagers” as separate from children was just beginning in the 1920s and 30s, when the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew made their debut. It was and is something of a rare Mythos story to focus on the younger point of view, such as Arthur Machen’s “The White People” (1904), Robert Bloch’s “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (1951), “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins, and “Lilloth” (2006) by Susan McAdam.

The teenage perspective is an interesting one for a Mythos tale. They are innocent of the world, although not necessarily in all the ways that grown-ups think. Cynthia Ward’s Joanna, Mike, and Bradley are boiling over with hormones, insecure about their place in the world, trapped in their small town lives, limited in their ability to go and do anything.

Ward’s kids can be gullible and insightful, precocious and hard-headed. They sit out at night listening to the horror-host on the radio, talking about ancient astronauts and how nothing ever happens in Maine, Joanna waiting for Mike to get a clue and see her as more than “Just one of the guys.” But there are stranger things afoot than unrequited crushes.

Technically, “Ancient Astronauts” is a much-delayed sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Things are moving again in Maine, decades after Ephraim/Asenath Waite finally shuffled bodies one time too many and was pushed off this mortal coil. Old white men in robes, up at the standing stones in gray robes and waving daggers, and the kids are there to meddle with it. Yet—there’s a little more to it than that. Joanna and Mike only have their limited perspective; they don’t understand half of what they see, and what they do see they interpret through their own lens.

For Joanna, it’s “Ancient Astronauts.” Which is rather fitting. Lovecraft placed the standing stones atop Sentinel Hill in “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Thing on the Doorstep” long before Erich von Däniken wrote Chariots of the Gods? (1968); which ignited the contemporary phase of the whole “ancient astronauts” line of thought. Jason Colavito actually traced Däniken’s thesis back to Lovecraft in The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture (2005). More soberly, Dave Goudsward goes back to Lovecraft and examines his inspiration for putting ancient American megaliths in the Mythos in Lovecraft and the Great Altar Stones of New England (2016).

Which all runs into a familiar problem: Joanna knows about Old Ones and shoggoths, ancient astronauts and Stephen King; how can she live in a world which doesn’t seem very different than our own if so much of it must be different? Her world is a setting where Lovecraft and his fiction existed, but none of the fiction was fictional—there really is or was an Innsmouth, and people that come from there are different. There really is a pit up in Maine, with stairs descending into the lightless depths…and at the bottom? Well, no-one’s come back. So how did Lovecraft know, to write it in his story?

This isn’t a plot hole, at least not more so than any other story which puts Lovecraft’s fiction and his Mythos together. It is how Cynthia Ward frames the story: through the eyes of meddling kids who have grown up on a diet of ancient astronauts and Stephen King. That is how they see things. It is only the readers, as more widely-read adults, who recognize the different things that are going on in the story—both in terms of Mythos shenanigans and teenage crushes.


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