Insania Tenebris (2020) by Raúlo Cáceres

This dossier collects research on the nineteenth-century engravings of a mysterious Goya student that represent impossible beings and disturbing anachronisms.

Following in the footsteps of the Genius of Providence and inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, the group of writers The Bastards of Abdul Alhazred and the cartoonist Raúlo Cáceres come together to recreate this universe of madness and darkness.
—Back cover copy, Insania Tenebris, translated from the Spanish

Spanish artist Raúlo Cáceres is no stranger to Lovecraft, and though many fans might not recognize him by name, there’s no mistaking his incredibly detailed, explicit style that often takes horror and eroticism for its subject. His comics and graphic novels in this vein include Elizabeth Bathory, Cuentos Mórbidos, Justine y Juliette (after the Marquis de Sade novels), and Agues Calientes, which have been translated into several languages. Less pornographic but still fun are books like Galeria de los Engendros Album de Cromos de los Monstruos, an album of monsters in the vein of 1970s and 80s compilations for kids.

For English-speaking audiences, Cáceres’ most notable work would include his work on Crossed, Crécy, and The Extinction Parade, but he also provided some gorgeous covers for Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence which showcase not just his skill and style, but his deep appreciation for the details of Lovecraft’s Mythos.

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Cáceres was also the artist on the Lovecraftian horror series Code Pru, written by Garth Ennis, and Ennis/Cáceres continued the storyline in the anthology book Cinema Purgatorio, and provided illustrations for the Lovecraftian alien gods of Spanish roleplaying game Eden.

In 2020, Raúlo Cáceres published the first volume of Insania Tenebris: Textos de Los Bastards de Abdul Alhazered (Shadowy Madness: Texts from the Bastards of Abdul Alhazred), a 32-page collaborative project where multiple Spanish writers provided short text pieces to accompany Cáceres’ unique vision of Lovecraft’s Mythos—which takes the form of a series of found documents. Imagine stumbling across a dossier of evidence proving the existence of the Mythos, from ancient times through World War 2 and to the present day—illustrated in glorious and disturbing detail.

It is these collaborators who are the “Bastards of Alhazred”: Gabriel Soriano, Emilio Gómez, J. M. Morcillo, La doctora X, Gómez Navarro, Tito Alberto, and of course, Raúlo Cáceres himself.

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En el lecho de un ataud asiste
sobre absorta dama, su piel mancilla
un lúgubre gul perpetra y resiste.

In the bed of a coffin attends
Above lost lady, her skin stained
A melancholy ghoul persists and remains.
—”Despertar oscuro” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 10

Like many extreme artists, Cáceres is at his best when there are no holds barred—but just because he can show as much graphic detail as he wishes to doesn’t mean every scene has to be fit for a death metal album or a storyboard for a graphic erotic horror film. Look at the names on the niches in the wall: Clark Ashton Smith in the top left, the name “Agatha Tremoth” on the coffin lid. This is an homage and illustration for Smith’s “The Nameless Offspring,” a ghoul story that Lovecraft praised.

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En dicho grabado, y tal como se describe en el texto de Notre-Dame, destaca la figure de un caballero ritualista invocador de seres oscuros que, a través de la utilización de plegarias de sangre, buscará la intersección con seres del más allá, valiéndose para ello de la lectura del libro prohibido De Vermis Misteriis, utilizado como llave conductora a la mediación interdimensional.

In said engraving, and as described in the Notre-Dame text, the figure of a knight ritually invoking dark beings stands out who, through the use of bloody prayers, will seek the intersection with beings from beyond, availing himself by reading from the forbidden book De Vermis Misteriis, used as a conductive key to interdimensional mediation.
—”Las cartas de Notre-Dame” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 6

There are influences here beyond just Lovecraftian fiction and in-jokes. As with Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game had an obvious visual influence in the way Cáceres depicts some of his Mythos entities, notably the Night-Gaunts, Mi-Go, and Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. The nature of the texts are also representative of gaming influence: these are all in-character pieces, found documents, meant to be read and interpreted not as complete stories in and of themselves but as deliberate fragments—like piecing together the clues in a Cthulhu Mythos story, from copied snatches of journals and paintings.

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En esta, encuentra un viejo diario firmado por un tal capitán Pierre Eaudon, escrito en francés, con extraños dibujos de figuras humanas de aspecto reptiloide, cálculos matemáticos, anagramas y las palabras “YIG” y “VALUSIA” repetidas de forma obsesiva a lo largo del texto.

In it, he finds an old diary signed by a certain Captain Pierre Eaudon, written in French, with strange drawings of human figures of reptilian aspect, mathematical calculations, anagrams and the words “YIG” and “VALUSIA” repeated obsessively throughout of the text.
—”Informe de las SS” by J. M. Morcillo, Insania Tenebris 14

There are scenes in this portfolio which might turn a weak stomach or dissuade the prudish; notably a cannibal feast captured in particularly lurid detail, and the final pièce de résistance which captures Cthulhu and his paramour mid-coitus as the acolytes look on…and there are scenes that might make a reader smile, like the nod to death metal church-burning, the Mi-Go and the astronauts…and maybe just the care and detail that went into the written work as well.

For make no mistake, while Cáceres’ art is the main attraction (especially for those who don’t read Spanish), this is a true collaboration and the Bastards deliver appropriately creepy context that adds depth and substance to already fantastic scenes. There is a story here, told in bits and pieces, building up to more than just a portfolio of exquisite artwork. Goya’s student found himself on the trail of something bigger and darker than he could have imagined.

As of this writing, Insania Tenebris (2020) is only on sale in Spain, and has not been translated. A second volume, Insania Tenebris 2, is due to be published in 2021…and if anything, looks more daring and fantastic.

With thanks and appreciation to Iantha Maria Fyolek for her help. Any errors in translation are mine.


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

HPL 1920 (2020) by Nick O’Gorman & Tales from the Cthulhuverse #1 (2020) by Zee Romero & Luca Cicognola

I repeat to you, gentlemen, that your inquisition is fruitless. Detain me here forever if you will; confine or execute me if you must have a victim to propitiate the illusion you call justice; but I can say no more than I have said already. Everything that I can remember, I have told with perfect candour. Nothing has been distorted or concealed, and if anything remains vague, it is only because of the dark cloud which has come over my mind—that cloud and the nebulous nature of the horrors which brought it upon me.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1920)

The Lovecraft Mythos was written in a particular cultural syntax. H. P. Lovecraft never tells the reader, for example, that the characters in “The Statement of Randolph Carter” are white. Caucasian heterosexual male was the default state for pulp fiction, and for much of the popular fiction of the 20th century. Once a writer or artist realizes that this is the framework in which the Mythos was set during the time of Lovecraft and his contemporaries, it is easier to imagine how those same stories might look differently within a different context. So it is that adaptation can often remain relatively faithful to the original story in term of plot, characters, narrative, and dialogue, and yet add to the story by providing a different context which changes how the story is read and understood.

In comic books, two examples of this kind of adaptation are Nick O’Gorman’s HPL 1920 (2020) and Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1-3 (2020, Mythx Media). Both are indie horror comics that adapt three stories from H. P. Lovecraft—O’Gorman was specifically adapting stories from 1920, to be published on their centenary, while Tales of the Cthulhuverse aimed for more of an update on the classic Lovecraft tales by setting them in the 21st century. In both cases, the authors remained very faithful overall to the original story—but in both cases simple, subtle changes to presentation can drastically affect how the story is read and understood.

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HPL 1920 adapts “The Statement of Randolph Carter”—except now Randolph Carter isn’t an older white male, he’s an African-American teenager. This puts an entirely different perspective on talking with the police in any contemporary American context, and yet it doesn’t require any substantial change to how the story works—two people, searchers after horror, go into a graveyard and one descends while the other waits behind. The basic idea of “The Statement of Randolph Carter” is not particular to any particular race or culture; curiosity and breaking taboos are universal human traits. What changes the story is how we receive it when the person relating it is someone other than “the default”—African-American teenagers are subject to systemic bias by the justice system in the United States, which adds a layer of tension to the story…and O’Gorman plays with that, at least a little bit:

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Does a white male Randolph Carter in this exact same situation affect the reader in the same way—or is there a part of the story unspoken here, just in these two panels, because people of today can fill in the unwritten details? How would this scene have played out differently if it wasn’t two white cops? We can ask these questions because we’ve stepped outside of the cultural syntax which Lovecraft was writing in…and there are more possibilities to explore the Lovecraft Mythos than just changing up race.

It is true that I have sent six bullets through the head of my best friend, and yet I hope to shew by this statement that I am not his murderer. At first I shall be called a madman—madder than the man I shot in his cell at the Arkham Sanitarium.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Thing on the Doorstep”

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Where HPL 1920 changes the race of the principal characters, Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 changes the gender. Daniel Upton becomes Danielle, Edward Derby becomes Eve, Asenath Waite becomes Asa—there are a few other changes, since the setting is now contemporary Massachusetts (2020s) and the Danielle & Eve are college roommates of a similar age and unmarried; the plot is condensed down considerably—but the main change is simply a what if scenario:

How would “The Thing on the Doorstep” have changed if the genders had been reversed?

As with “The Statement of Randolph Carter” and HPL 1920, the initial response would be: not by much. Lovecraft’s original story already involves gender change due to body-swapping; in a literary shell game, it is largely irrelevant what the writer uses for shells, as long as the same relationships are in place. So it is in Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1, where much the same events as Lovecraft’s story play out despite changing the genders of the main characters. If that was all there was too it, the adaptation would be boring.

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Lovecraft’s frame for “The Thing on the Doorstep” is minimal: it’s a statement, but unlike “The Statement of Randolph Carter” it’s not to any particular party. Daniel Upton isn’t explicitly talking to the police; Danielle Upton in Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 is. So like HPL 1920, there’s a specific dynamic of interaction being invoked—the police procedural dynamic, only this time a little more sympathetic. After all, Danielle Upton is a white woman…and so was Eve Derby.

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Domestic violence is not usually the first thing that springs to mind when reading Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep”—not because men aren’t subject to domestic violence and abuse, but because the audience is generally not used to thinking about his marriage in that context. Because Daniel Upton wasn’t talking to the police, they weren’t trying to fit two dead bodies and a bad romantic relationship into a context they understood in Lovecraft’s narrative. Change the genders, though, and suddenly this becomes a much more logical leap for the cops to make…and maybe another one.

Daniel Upton has a weird angle in Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep.” He is Edward Derby’s closest male friend, and Derby then marries Asenath, so Derby is caught between Daniel and Asenath. It isn’t explicitly a lover’s triangle because there are no indications that Daniel is homosexual (and if he is, being married and with a son indicates he’s at least in the closet), but the close relationships between men in some of Lovecraft’s stories have inspired homosexual interpretations of those stories (as explored in depth in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos).

The exact same dynamic still applies in the Tales of the Cthulhuverse adaptation, and Zee Romero plays it as straight as can be (no pun intended)—there’s no explicit idea given that Danielle Upton is a lesbian or in love with Eve Derby in any kind of romantic sense. The story can be read as a perfectly platonic tale of shooting the bastard that stole the body of your best friend. That said, there’s also definitely enough subtext here to read it as a genuine lover’s triangle too—unlike Lovecraft, who gave Daniel a wife and baby to at least imply a heterosexual relationship, Romero doesn’t give Danielle any romantic interests at all. It is definitely an interesting way to re-imagine Lovecraft’s story…and that’s before the final revelations come out.

Ultimately, HPL 1920 and Tales of the Cthulhuverse are two parallel approaches with the same aim: contemporary writers and artists seeking to remain faithful to the core of Lovecraft’s narratives while also finding new things to say about those narratives in the way they present them. By and large they both succeed. If there’s a flaw in these comics, it’s not the approach, but sometimes the execution. Indie comics can’t always afford the most polished art, and it shows—the production values aren’t bad on either of these, but for Tales of the Cthulhuverse in particular the lack of detail in the gore and nudity feels like a misstep, or at least a missed opportunity. O’Gorman and Cicognola definitely know their material, because there are little allusions to the Gate sigil from the Simon Necronomicon and August Derleth’s version of the Elder Sign as popularized by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, but a lot more could have been done with these same scripts if Jacen Burrows, Kelly Jones, or Laci had been handling the material.

HPL 1920 was written, drawn, and colored by Nick O’Gorman, and funded through Kickstarter. Copies of the comic are available through his Etsy shop.

Tales of the Cthulhuverse #1 was written by Zee Romero, pencils and inks by Luca Cicognola, colored by Sean Burres, with a cover by Jeff Chapman, and published by Mythx Media. They are currently available for purchase on Comixology.


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

Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This novel dramatic paraphernalia consisted first of all of the Gothic castle, with its awesome antiquity, vast distances and ramblings, deserted or ruined wings, damp corridors, unwholesome hidden catacombs, and galaxy of ghosts and appalling legends, as a nucleus of suspense and daemoniac fright. In addition, it included the tyrannical and malevolent nobleman as villain; the saintly, longpersecuted, and generally insipid heroine who undergoes the major terrors and serves as a point of view and focus for the reader’s sympathies; the valorous and immaculate hero, always of high birth but often in humble disguise; the convention of high-sounding foreign names, mostly Italian, for the characters; and the infinite array of stage properties which includes strange lights, damp trap-doors, extinguished lamps, mouldy hidden manuscripts, creaking hinges, shaking arras, and the like. All this paraphernalia reappears with amusing sameness, yet sometimes with tremendous effect, throughout the history of the Gothic novel; and is by no means extinct even today, though subtler technique now forces it to assume a less naive and obvious form.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia would probably agree with H. P. Lovecraft in that there was nothing more insipid than the traditional heroine of the Gothic novel. Which is why the heroine of her Gothic novel is a spurt of new blood in the veins of an old and decaying family, one able to pull a trigger when she has to, and light a cigarette when she wants to. For all that Moreno-Garcia consciously pays homage to the tropes of the Gothic novel, make no mistake: this is a fresh story, a slow burning, slow building tale that goes unexpected places and does so with confident skill and creative flourish.

Gothic fiction was a primary influence on H. P. Lovecraft, and much of his early Poe-inflected fiction especially can be considered as “modern Gothics.” When you read “The Rats in the Walls” with its family mystery, the ancient Priory with its haunted legends, the ghostly skitter that the cat chases—that is an echo of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and before that Horace, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Readers who ignore this school might find that they’ve missed some excellent fiction, and Lovecraft himself noted:

Indeed, we may say that this school still survives; for to it clearly belong such of our contemporary horror-tales as specialise in events rather than atmospheric details, address the intellect rather than the impressionistic imagination, cultivate a luminous glamour rather than a malign tensity or psychological verisimilitude, and take a definite stand in sympathy with mankind and its welfare. It has its undeniable strength, and because of its “human element” commands a wider audience than does the sheer artistic nightmare. If not quite so potent as the latter, it is because a diluted product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Mexican Gothic is what it says on the cover. Not just “a Gothic novel set in Mexico,” but an original Gothic novel which could not be written except in Mexico. It would not have the same effect if the protagonist Noemí Taboada was an American cousin, the relationships in the story would be entirely different; the Doyles would not be the same if the story was set in New Mexico versus Old Mexico, because the historical events and prejudices that they carried with them and experienced would be entirely different. The story carries its sense of place with it right down to its bones, which is something Lovecraft himself would no doubt have appreciated.

Readers who know Silvia Moreno-Garcia for her Mythos fiction and as editor/publisher at Innsmouth Free Press might be looking for Mexican Lovecraft connections. After all, Lovecraft set a story in Mexico involving a mine (“The Transition of Juan Romero”), played with Aztec mythology (“The Mound” with Zealia Bishop), and revised another story about a miner in Mexico (“The Electric Executioner” for Adolphe de Castro)—but there are no copies of the Necronomicon in the Doyle library, not even a copy of Moreno-Garcia’s own El Culto de los Muertos from The Starry Wisdom Library.

Mexican Gothic is not a novel of the Cthulhu Mythos. But it is a very Lovecraftian one.

[…] all the people in the family seemed to have that similar physiognomy, which she was dubbing in her head “the Doyle look.” Like the Habsburg jaw of Charles II, only not quite as concerning. Now that had been a case of sever mandibular prognathism.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic 126

There are a number of themes in the book that echo some of Lovecraft’s stories; it’s hard not to see a shadow of unspoken sexual relationships of “The Thing in the Doorstep,” the strange ‘scandals’ of “The Dunwich Horror,” and terrible near-destruction of the family by one of its members a la “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”—but this isn’t just a mix-and-match of ideas from Lovecraft and old Gothic tropes. Silvia Moreno-Garcia knows what she’s doing, and if she deliberately re-purposes a few old stones in the house she’s building, it’s because they’re the right size and shape, not because they’re the closest thing at hand.

Which really comes into sharp focus in the character of the Doyle family. In a Lovecraft story, a Mexican character like Noemí Taboada would be the outsider, intruding into the narrative with a corrupting presence; the Doyles almost certainly see themselves as Lovecraftian protagonists and view her as an outsider. Yet in the narrative of Mexican Gothic, it is clear that it is the Doyles who themselves are the intrusive element: the aliens that refuse to be assimilated, who cling to their own traditions and live apart, pursuing their strange and disturbing practices.

Any change which involves an interference with a developed race’s folkways and language and cultural integrity is cruelly deplorable—but in each threatened case it is up to each neutral power to decide whether armed intervention is really justified in the interest of general civilisation. However—in practice, most nations do instinctively draw a line betwixt the civilised and the definitely non-civilised. […] Sometimes a nation forms a sort of borderline case—Mexico being an example. As a whole, Mexico has enough of an established Hispanic civilisation to win it a place in the instinctively favoured category, but this is not true of all its parts. When at various times the U.S. took sections of its southern neighbour, these sections were among the least settled and civilised—hence the gradual Americanisation. But if we were to conquer the entire country in some future war, it seems certain that the intensively developed central area containing the capital would be granted a cultural autonomy like that enjoyed by Puerto Rico.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 7 May 1936, A Means to Freedom 2.930

From a Lovecraftian point of view, the Doyles and their mansion form an enclave or colony of English civilization in Mexico; having conquered and “civilized” a portion of it. Yet to the actual Mexicans, the Doyles are greedy, unlovely, incestuous (recall Lovecraft’s claim that several of his ancestors had consanguineous marriages), and as one wise woman put it: cursed.

Readers familiar with Howard Phillips Lovecraft will find many commonalities with Howard Doyle, patriarch of this clan. Doyle’s obsession with scientific racialism, and his verbal sparring with Noemí on the topic, are a different way of addressing Lovecraft’s prejudices than N. K. Jemisin did in The City We Became (2020). Where Jemisin’s characters mocked Lovecraft’s beliefs from the safe vantage point of Lovecraft being long dead, Noemí has to deal with a very real racist who in 1950s Mexico clings to ideas more suited to the 1890s. The tenseness of the encounter plays against the racial tensions of Mexican history as well as Lovecraft’s personal prejudices: Noemí is neither ashamed of her indigenous heritage, nor does she see herself as particularly defined by that. She is first and foremost a contemporary Mexican, and doesn’t care to be slotted into Doyle’s categories.

Which writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet? What would you like to discuss?
I think I’m obliged to say I’d like to reconstitute Lovecraft using his essential salts. I did my thesis work on him and feel in a strange way that I grew up with him. In a way, he was one of my best friends as an awkward kid growing up in Mexico City—which sounds bizarre, but it’s true. I don’t know, however, how the conversation might go. It would probably be very stilted. […] As for talking, I like to talk about books nobody knows about and old movies, so I’d probably show Lovecraft Get Out and Annihilation, and see what he thinks.
—Jared Jackson, The PEN Ten: An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia (9 July 2020)

The slow build-up of the first two-thirds of the book gives way to a precipitously fast descent into hell in the last third. All the hints and suggestions planted lead to a genuinely and fantastically weird climax. The book is worth reading twice just to pick up on some of the care with which the first part of Mexican Gothic is built on, and without which the book as a whole would have fallen apart. Shades of “Arthur Jermyn” again in the final conflagration—but as with “The Fall of the House of Usher,” there’s a certain inevitability to it all. The House of Doyle was always a tinderbox, waiting to be ignited by any stray spark…and no one tells Noemí Taboada that she can’t smoke.


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

“The Wyrd Voyage” (2020) by Kari Leigh Sanders

I know that this tale seems unbelievable, and had I not come across a different one before it, I would have thought it a jest or a lie. However, a few years ago, before I was presented with this collection, I was given a transcript of Karl Heinreich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, Lieutenant-Commander in the Imperial German Navy*, dated in 1917 wherein he encounters a very similar place—at the bottom of the sea. I leave it to you to decide.
* This is a reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple”
—Kari Leigh Sanders, “The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos 171

The English word weird is derived from the Old English wyrd. The older word represents a concept of personal fate or destiny, being cognate with the Old Norse urðr, which was also a name for one of the Norns. When Shakespeare wrote of the “Weird Sisters” in Macbeth, he meant that the witches were those who could see—or declare—the personal destinies of others, to which they were bound. They were supernatural entities, and in modern English this was the sense that came into common usage: weird as supernatural, uncanny, odd.

“The Wyrd Voyage” is then a deliberate pun: because while it is weird fiction in the contemporary sense, it is also very explicitly wyrd fiction in that much older sense: a story about fate. This is particularly fitting as it is woven as a near-Mythic prequel to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple.” This isn’t so much a story about what has happened or what might happen, but what is bound to happen. “The Temple” was written long ago; we know where the story is going. The question is how it got there.

H. P. Lovecraft didn’t write much about the ancient Norse peoples or going viking. His friend Robert E. Howard did, and some readers might like to try and draw a connection between the Mythos and stories like “The Cairn on the Headland” or “Marchers of Valhalla,” but for the most part, ancient Scandinavia is a blank slate as far as the Lovecraft Mythos stories go. Anyone that wants to write Mythos fiction set during the period of the Viking Age has more literary freedom in their depiction of the Mythos because it is terra incognita.

In the case of Kari Leigh Sanders and “The Wyrd Voyage,” she keeps it fairly self-contained: no effort to draw in Cthulhu or the Deep Ones or any other familiar names, beyond the Norse Mythos itself. It isn’t quite sword & sorcery (although is it very much Vikings & Völva), and it is a bit more Mythic than Mythos, in the sense that recognizable Norse deities like Loki and Hel make their personal appearances. If readers are used to more recognizable human pantheons being absent or effectively non-existent compared to the physical reality of Mythos entities like Cthulhu, that might be a little jarring. Yet it also presents certain interesting possibilities.

By itself, “The Wyrd Voyage” is basically a standalone story. It is a precursor to “The Temple,” but the events of that story happen centuries later, so they are chronologically isolated. Now imagine that this story is not considered in isolation. Imagine after you read “The Wyrd Voyage” you read “The Viking in Yellow” (2014) by Christine Morgan—and now you have two data points, two stories which share a Viking Age setting and as well a supernatural element…and if you’re a reader of a certain inclination, maybe you’ll look for more. Maybe you’ll find them. Take notes, see how those stories might work as, not two separate stories, but part of a larger setting…and like that, you’ve got the basis of a new corner of the Mythos. Or at least, one that hasn’t been quite as thoroughly explored as a few others.

When looking at settings in the past like there, there is a certain foreordained quality. You the reader know the world will not end in the Viking Age, because you live after that period and the world, at least for you, has not ended. So you as a reader know something of the wyrd of those characters and stories: while they may live or die, the world itself shall continue. Which tends to lend a tragic cast to these characters: no matter how hard they fight, no matter if they succeed, one day the stars will be right…

There’s more than a hint of wyrd fiction to the Mythos over all. Stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” and The Shadow Out of Time emphasize a certain inevitability. It is one of the more profound, if often misunderstood and mischaracterized themes in Mythos fiction: the idea that, over a long enough span of time, human effort becomes negligible. The Dunwich Horror may be banished, but that is at best only a slight reprieve: the Old Ones will break through again—if not today, then tomorrow, or in a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand years. How characters respond to that realization that realization of the cosmic scale of what they face—that “victory” in any sense must be temporary, a stopgap, a momentary breathing space—is critical.

You might wonder what the silent, sometimes unseeing dead could teach me, they taught me silence and acceptance. It might not be as exciting as the stories and secrets of the gods, or as useful as capturing the winds and weaving, but it is still a good lesson. Particularly for someone with my wyrd.
—Kari Leigh Sanders, “The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos 152

“The Wyrd Voyage” in More Lore from the Mythos (2020). Kari Leigh Sanders also wrote “A Governess in Innsmouth” in More Lore from the Mythos Vol. 2 (2020).


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

“Unseen” (2020) by Claire Leslie

What if we focused an entire anthology on the gods and monsters of Lovecraft, instead of just the horror? How would that feel, especially since Lovecraft specifically kept the gods in the background, lest we look upon them and go insane?
—Russel Nohelty, Cthulhu Is Hard To Spell: The Terrible Twos

It is a popular trope—sometimes amounting to a complaint—that Lovecraft kept his most tremendous horrors off the page; that all of his bogeys and Mythos entities were impossible, indescribable, ineffable, and unnamable. The truth is a little more complicated. Lovecraft recognized that a reader’s imagination could go places which no artist could achieve with pen and ink, and often strove to put off showing the horror to let the terror build and build, to strengthen the atmosphere by degrees with careful excitation, to hint darkly to suggest certain things that were more effective for being unseen.

In this, Lovecraft was not alone. Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” (1887), Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” (1893), Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” (1907) are all characterized by unseen or unseeable horrors; subtlety in description was characteristic of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Machen, and M. R. James who were all influences on Lovecraft. Lovecraft was working within an established tradition when he held off from immediately describing the exact shape and form of some of some his Mythos entities in clinical detail…and yet, when the time came for them to appear, Lovecraft wasn’t shy about that either. Nor did the sight immediately drive the viewers mad.

Poor Johansen’s handwriting almost gave out when he wrote of this. Of the six men who never reached the ship, he thinks two perished of pure fright in that accursed instant. The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic order. A mountain walked or stumbled. God! What wonder that across the earth a great architect went mad, and poor Wilcox raved with fever in that telepathic instant? The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”

“The Thing cannot be described”—then Lovecraft goes ahead and describes it.

Like many of the tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos, the idea of seeing a Mythos entity driving an individual insane is something that developed in the secondary literature, where authors were more likely to copy the more superficial aspects of Lovecraft’s work instead of the core themes that they served. Sandy Petersen in The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game introduced the Sanity mechanic as a sort of mental equivalent to Hit Points in Dungeons & Dragons. In D&D, when your hit points run out your character dies and the game ends for that character; in CoC, when your Sanity runs out your character is insane and the game ends for that character. In games of Call of Cthulhu, seeing the monsters really does shave points off your Sanity. This has led to a lot of un-Lovecraftian behavior on the tabletop: player characters, wanting to continue to play, may deliberately avoid looking at the eldritch horrors as they toss a grenade or a stick of dynamite in that direction, or perhaps they might burn the ancient Mythos tome instead of suffering whatever Sanity it would cost them to read through the terrible pages.

In terms of illustrating the Mythos, this creates an obvious issue: how do you try to visualize and capture some of the indescribable quality of these entities and places? Some artists achieve at least partial success: John Coulthart’s R’lyeh in The Haunter in the Dark and Other Grotesque Visions springs to mind, the delightfully detailed morbid and erotic fantasies of Raúl Cáceres’ Insania Tenebris, probably a few others whose art isn’t afraid to tiptoe up to and past the point of taboo. Yet even if some of these images are haunting, they are ultimately just that: images. As with “The Picture in the House,” there’s not that sense that staring too long at them is going to shave off a few Sanity points or necessarily instill some terrible knowledge.

That is one of reasons that comics and graphic novels based on the Mythos are so interesting: it isn’t just a question of the technical quality of the artist, or even of the power of their conception and execution. It is the interaction of art and text which come together. Anyone can make a comic adaptation of a Lovecraft story; At the Mountains of Madness could be adapted on sticky notes with stick figures, and Lovecraft’s text would come through and hold the same power. The question is, what interplay is offered in the combination of art and text? How can one serve and enhance the other? What kind of stories can you tell in comic form, that would be impossible to tell with art or text alone?

“Unseen” by Claire Leslie is one such example. In four pages, Leslie manages a surprisingly complex narrative, not so much by what is spoken, but what is unspoken. The reader, looking at the page from without, sees more than one of the characters does—and there is plenty of room to read between the lines regarding what they want to say to each other, but can’t. As an exploration of a concept, the length is perfect: readers get a sense of the Lovecraftian goings-on, the slow build of intrusive elements, without getting tired of them. The whole story can be read in a few minutes, yet the reader might turn back to it two or three times and still find some new little detail to reflect on.

Leslie Abdul

Leslie’s style has a certain quality that’s somewhere between bishōnen and Tom of Finland, with a bit of a Gothic quality, reminiscent of Olivier Ladroit’s work for Requiem Chevalier Vampire, but with a more dreamlike quality to her digital paint technique, tight clothes on muscular figures, but with long, effeminate eyelashes and manicured hands. The art suits the writing; readers pick up on character traits without having to be told them directly, and this sells the idea of things left unspoken, or perhaps something else that one of the characters just cannot see but that the reader can.

Leslie hands

“Unseen” was created by Claire Leslie and published in Cthulhu Is Hard to Spell: The Terrible Twos (2020, Wannabee Press), edited by Russell Nohelty. The book was originally launched on Kickstarter, though you can still buy hardcopies on etsy and digital editions are available on Kindle/Comixology. Leslie also did a separate mock cover for “Unseen,” which is available as a print from her etsy store.


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

“The Descent of Reginald Pembroke Live” (2020) by Cathy Smith

Your imagination is too pedestrian.
—Cathy Smith, “The Descent of Reginald Pembroke Live” in Eldritch Dream Realms 156

H. P. Lovecraft set most of his stories in the 1920s and 30s. They were not, for the most part, stories of the long ago no matter how ancient the horrors might be, those horrors were intruding on the present. Readers would have recognized this; the suspension of disbelief was that such things could occur in the now.

Many of those who followed Lovecraft continued to focus on that Jazz Age period. It became a part of the atmosphere and mood of the setting. Rumrunners and gangsters, such as in “Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman; confessionals like “I Wore The Brassiere Of Doom” (1986) by Sally Theobald; colonialism and Yellow Peril as in “Dreams of a Thousand Young” (2014) by Jennifer Brozek. Not everyone chose to confine themselves to that period, but enough did to strongly flavor Mythos fiction as a whole. It is no surprise that The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game‘s default setting is the 1920s and 30s.

Some writers have sought to drag the Mythos into the current now—and in so doing, face a continuously shifting target. August Derleth’s depiction of nuclear weapons versus the Mythos in his “Trail of Cthulhu” serial is only possible in a world where the atom bomb is a reality; Robert Bloch’s Mythos novel Strange Eons (1979) is first and foremost a contemporary novel, both in setting and perhaps more importantly in tone and content; the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game settings of Cthulhu Now (1987) and Delta Green (1997) both seek to bridge that gap between Lovecraft’s setting and how it might be adapted to the world we live in today—and these efforts always contain a certain amount of baked-in obsolescence. Today becomes yesterday, tomorrow becomes today.

This is the basic reason why CthulhuPunk fiction, rare enough in itself, tends to age out pretty quickly. Stories like “Star Bright, Star Byte” (1994) by Marella Sands become quaint when technology zigs instead of zags. We don’t have fully-immersive virtual reality settings which are structured according to old-school bulletin board systems. That just never happened; the internet blossomed into its own weird, terrible, awe-inspiring way. The zeitgeist, even if captured with tremendous decision, tends to fade very quickly.

Why do you think transhumanism is the way to immortality? Doesn’t our computer tech become obsolete every few years?
—Cathy Smith, “The Descent of Reginald Pembroke Live” in Eldritch Dream Realms 151

One of the great strengths of the Mythos as a discrete flavor or set of buildings blocks is that it does mix well with a great many things—different genres, tones, forms, and settings. You can have a lighthearted Mythos-inflected noir story, set it in outer space in the distant future, written in as an epic poem, and that is still very much recognizable as “Mythos.” In that sense, the Mythos is extremely versatile and adaptable, which may be why it has continued to attract new readers and writers. Individual stories may chase the zeitgeist, but Mythos fiction itself is both eternal (in that so much of it remains in print) and perennial (in that so much continues to be written).

Cathy Smith’s “The Descent of Reginald Pembroke Live” is a story that lives entirely in the contemporary zeitgeist. It could, possibly, have been written in 2015 or so, but the culture of the internet, video blogging, crowdfunding, “fake news,” and debunking is very much the finger on the pulse of the world with Donald Trump as president, even if Smith is careful to avoid any direct mention of the president or politics in general. Perhaps by 2020, the story might already be obsolete; Patreon might dissolve, YouTube might transform itself, “apps” and smartphones might evolve. We cannot foresee the future, some people cannot even see the present.

In many ways, this story is a good pairing with “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” (2019) by Miguel Fliguer. It too is a take-off from Lovecraft’s “Nyarlathotep,” a “what if?” that drags the old familiar horrors into the syntax of the now, and imagines how contemporary sensibilities would skew that reception. Yet there is something a little different at work here too; more than crass commercialization, the story is at heart a sickening pokes-fun at a world and culture and perspective of online rage and militant disbelief. Smith stops short of an abject moral: while the inability to allow the experience of wonder is portrayed as a toxic condition that harms those who cling to it, the same narrow world view proves an effective buffer and defense against those very forces that prey on the more easily awed and gullible.

If only because Nyarlathotep bemusedly decides to there is appeal in those who torture themselves in such internet drama, gaining courage only when safely and anonymously behind a screen. Who is to say that such a view is wrong? How would the Mythos be perceived today, if it was real and uploading Youtube videos? A very crass and earthbound thought—but that is the issue with the Mythos marrying the zeitgeist. If the story is set in the present, the view is almost always myopic; it doesn’t look at the present as seen from the 1920s, as Lovecraft might have seen it. “Now” stories are grounded in the life we can see and absorb around us, newspaper headlines and ways of life we are familiar with. Smith handles that very well.

Cathy Smith’s “The Descent of Reginald Pembroke Love” was published in Eldritch Dream Realms: Tales from Lovecraft’s Dream Realms (2020).


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

The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin

“Cover up that shit,” Bronca snaps at them. “Took me a minute, but I get it now. ‘Dangerous mental machines,’ hah.” […] “Yeah, that was H. P. Lovecraft’s fun little label for folks in Chinatown—sorry, ‘Asiatic filth.’ He was willing to concede that they might be as intelligent as white people because they knew how to make a buck. But he didn’t think they had souls.”

“Oh, but he was an equal-opportunity hater,” Yijing drawls, folding her arms and glaring at the men. “In the same letter, he went in on pretty much everybody. Let’s see—Black people were ‘childlike half-gorillas,’ Jews were a curse, the Portuguese were ‘simian,’ whatever. We had a lot of fun deconstructing that one in my thesis seminar.”
—N. K. Jemisin, The City We Became 148

And of course the New York Mongoloid problem is beyond calm mention. The city is befouled and accursed—I come away from it with a sense of having been tainted by contact, and long for some solvent of oblivion to wash it out! …… How in Heaven’s name sensitive and self-respecting white men can continue to live in the stew of Asiatic filth which the region has become—with marks and reminders of the locust-plague on every hand—is absolutely beyond me. In fact, I’m jolly well certain that they won’t continue. New York will become a vast trading-mart for long-distance white commuters—and for the nameless spawn. When, at length, the power of the latter rises to dangerous heights of rivalry, I can see nothing short of war or separation from the union. There is here a grave and mighty problem beside which the negro problem is a jest—for in this case we have to deal not with childlike half-gorillas, but with yellow, soulless enemies whose repulsive carcasses house dangerous mental machines warped culturelessly in the single direction of material gain by stealth at any cost. I hope the end will be warfare—but not till such a time as our own minds are fully freed of the humanitarian hindrances of the Syrian superstition imposed upon us by Constantinus.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Jr., 21 Aug 1926, Selected Letters 2.68

Weird fiction cannot afford hagiography. For all that H. P. Lovecraft accomplished during his lifetime, for all the lives and literature he influenced, there is no point in pretending the man was a saint, his memory to be enshrined with only the good things he has done. Every author that stands on the shoulders of giants has to decide on how best to address that legacy. Some ignore it, moving past Lovecraft’s prejudices; others reinvent his Mythos, put their own spin on it; a few use it their fiction as a mirror to highlight Lovecraft’s racism.

N. K. Jemisin calls Lovecraft out on it.

Why not? Dead men cannot have their feelings hurt. He wrote all those words, so there’s no false reporting. The only ones likely to be upset about Jemisin’s bare handful of references to Lovecraft in the novel are those who either share in his prejudices, or are so strongly attuned to the idea of Lovecraft as an icon that they perceive a simple statement of facts as an attack.

It seems evident that Jemisin didn’t open a random book on Lovecraft and pull out the first racist quote she came across, so it’s not like the “On the Creation of…” scene in Lovecraft Country (2016) by Matt Ruff. This moment in The City We Became and those that follow it aren’t exactly essential to the novel, but certainly enrich it by expanding on themes of cosmic horror and race. The structure of the story, how the characters react to the information as they get it, how Lovecraft and his work are described, all shows effort and craft in how Jemisin chooses to incorporate Lovecraft into her book.

This is not N. K. Jemisin beating the dead horse named H. P. Lovecraft. It is a way for her to address him and his legacy on her own terms. In a 2017 interview, the question was asked and answered:

So if you’re using Cthulhu, are you an H.P. Lovecraft fan?

Oh, hell no.

This is deliberately a chance for me to kind of mess with the Lovecraft legacy. He was a notorious racist and horrible human being. So this is a chance for me to have the “chattering” hordes—that’s what he called the horrifying brown people of New York that terrified him. This is a chance for me to basically have them kick the ass of his creation. So I’m looking forward to having some fun with that.
N. K. Jemisin’s New Contemporary Fantasy Trilogy Will “Mess with the Lovecraft Legacy”

This approach can probably safely be called cathartic (NK Jemisin: ‘It’s easier to get a book set in black Africa published if you’re white’). Many writers exorcise their demons and address their issues by writing them out. It is a process which can often be as beneficial for the reader as well: how many women, how many people of color, who have felt uncomfortable knowing that Lovecraft was racist but unwilling to say anything might feel a relief to actually see it called out in print?

There are other ways Jemisin could have expressed her point. The reference to Lovecraft’s 1926 letter to Long is factually accurate, but lacks context. In 1926, Lovecraft’s New York adventure—and his marriage, in all but name and legalities—was over. He had slumped back off to Providence, Rhode Island, having been unable (like millions of others) to make his way in the city, to find gainful employment, to be with his wife and friends. Lovecraft had left Providence for New York less than two years prior, with hopes and aspirations for work, married life, a home of his own with his wife—and returned older, alone, wiser in the world, richer in experience of a thousand things. One memoir stated that:

He came back to Providence a human being—and what a human being! He had been tried in the fire and came out pure gold.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 43

What Cook does not add is that the stresses and failures Lovecraft had experienced in New York had brought his prejudices to a fever point; throwing himself into the “melting pot” of New York City had only exacerbated his prejudices, and for the rest of his life he would write about his hatred of the city, which he considered no longer culturally a part of the United States, but completely overtaken by immigrants and people of color. Nothing of which excuses Lovecraft’s prejudices in  his letter…but perhaps gives more context as to why Jemisin chose to focus on this particular letter.

The City We Became is not a book about H. P. Lovecraft. Jemisin’s references to him and his fiction are symptomatic of the real crux of the novel, which is the city itself. Her novel is a love affair of New York City, in the same vein as Fritz Leiber, Jr.’s Our Lady of Darkness (1977) or John Shirley’s City Come a-Walkin’ (1980) for San Francisco. A snapshot in time of New York as it is, the people that live there are represent it; an acceptance and an exorcism of old ghosts.

But she is a city, in the end—fair R’lyeh where the streets are always straight and the buildings all curve, risen from the brine-dark deep well between universes. And no living city can remain within the boundary of another while it is unwelcome.
—N. K. Jemisin, The City We Became 428

Lovecraft’s New York—the New York of Al Smith and Fiorello La Guardia, Prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Hellfighters—is long gone. Jemisin’s novel is about her New York, the post 9/11 New York, the New York of Lyft, IKEA, and Dunkin’ Donuts. It isn’t any less diverse, it isn’t really any weirder. Where a novella like “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle deals with the fictional New York that Lovecraft presented in his writings, Jemisin deals with Lovecraft himself—and finds the only real use for him as a springboard to talking about bigger things, or perhaps a bedrock of ideas and images to mine. If there is any criticism to be had of the book, it’s that it feels like having evoked Lovecraft and R’lyeh, Jemisin could have made more use out of the connections with the city…but again, this isn’t a book about H. P. Lovecraft.


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

“Somewhere To Belong” (2020) by Yolanda Sfetsos

The thing was like something out of a Lovecraft story.
—Yolanda Sfetsos, “Somewhere To Belong”
in Under Her Black Wings: 2020 Women of Horror Anthology Volume One

His name was Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Invoke it at your peril.

One of the side-effects of the rising awareness of H. P. Lovecraft is an increased number of references to the man and his work. What might have started out as a geeky in-joke or homage, such as “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ or “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff, would go on to become a deliberate effort to conjure associations with the man and his work, to inform a story by mentioning Lovecraft without necessarily drawing any tangible link to the Lovecraft Mythos into the narrative. This can be seen in works as wide apart as Brian McNaughton’s “To My Dear Friend Hommy-Beg” (1994) to the discreet use of a copy of The Shadow over Innsmouth as a prop in Aquaman (2019).

When Yolanda Sfetsos invokes Lovecraft in “Somewhere To Belong,” it tells the audience things, both explicitly and implicitly. That the story is set in a world where Lovecraft wrote and published his fiction; that the narrator (Enid), has read Lovecraft; and that, connection established, the reader should be primed for more subtle references. In this instance, the last bit is probably the primary point. The story would be Lovecraftian without any explicit reference to Lovecraft, but invoking Lovecraft sets the reader to look for the themes and parallels.

A good point of comparison might be “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和). Both stories have a similar mood, and some common elements—the rain, children, a supernatural transformation, friendship and loneliness. Takeuchi’s story is more subtle in execution; Sfetsos’ more explicit, but they’re playing around with some of the same themes and building blocks. Water, childhood, transformation. The ghost of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” hangs over both stories, even if they never mention Innsmouth or anything explicitly connected to it. Sfetsos, by invoking Lovecraft, establishes a connection in the mind of the reader while keeping it out of the narrative itself. Enid doesn’t make the connection between the entity of Mother and Lovecraft’s Mother Hydra. The burden of such connections is placed on the reader.

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”

The ending of Lovecraft’s story is either horrific or wondrous, depending on your interpretation. A loss of self or a finding of ones true self, a true family. Somewhere to belong. Y’ha-nthlei is in that sense a promise of things to come, and for those who are lonely in their life—and there are few that have not felt like outsiders—finding such a place might be worth a few sacrifices. Loneliness is definitely one of the quieter sub-themes in many of Lovecraft’s stories, including “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” The protagonists tend to have few friends, to be disconnected from those around them. The nameless narrator wanders through the streets of Innsmouth, a stranger in a strange land, and yet he already has the Innsmouth Look…he already belongs there. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Enid’s journey in “Somewhere To Belong” focuses on that theme of loneliness and belonging, on a smaller, more personal scale. Enid thought about getting a dog or a cat, but she really needed was a friend…and got one. Yet this is not a bittersweet reflection on Mother Hydra’s promise, as in “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe. Sfetsos’ maintains the horror of it all, the loss. A bit more visceral and metaphysical than Lovecraft, because tentacles can squirm inside brains and souls can be plucked out. There’s not much beauty in it, but that might be the whole point. Sometimes we don’t feel we belong anywhere beautiful, and as Milton says in Paradise Lost:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

“Somewhere To Belong” by Yolanda Sfetsos was published in Under Her Black Wings: 2020 Women of Horror Anthology Volume One.


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