“Phantasmagore” (2021) by H. K. Lovejoy

She gently unrolled the parchment, staining its edges with her filthy hands, then did her best to recite the strange serpentine text with the same guttural intonation the witch was so fluent with. She remembered the book this passage had been transcribed from, and that stark silver word embossed on its greasy black cover: Eibon.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 192

Eibon

The Book of Eibon in The Beyond (1981)

In 1980, Italian filmmaker Lucio Fulci directed City of the Living Dead (Italian title: Paura nella città dei morti viventi), the first of what would become known as his “Gates of Hell Trilogy,” the other two films of which are The Beyond (1981, …E tu vivrai nel terrore! L’aldilà) and The House by the Cemetery (1981, Quella villa accanto al cimitero). The films share little continuity of plot or setting: all involve one of the doorways to hell opening, resulting in hauntings, baroque and gory deaths, and the undead, and all contain references to or elements of the Mythos—the eponymous “City of the Living Dead” is Dunwich, and the Book of Eibon appears to prophesy or predict some of the events of the films.

Even these references are very slight; Fulci wasn’t quite trying to bring Lovecraft or Clark Ashton Smith directly to the big screen, and the films do not reference each other and can be viewed standalone. What unites them is Fulci’s style: visceral, weird, almost poetic compositions of color and sound. He was fond of eye trauma and smoking acid dissolving faces, but largely avoided sexual exploitation or the mondo excesses of, say, Cannibal Holocaust (1980).

Fulci’s trilogy became cult favorites among the horror movie buff scene, and remain so even today with remastered re-releases and commentaries. They’ve also inspired some other media, notably a series of comic adaptations form Eibon Press, and fiction including The Final Gate (2021) by Wesley Southard and Lucas Mangum, and the anthology Beyond the Book of Eibon (2021) edited by Perry Ruhland and Astrid Rose for Death Wound Publishing. Unfortunately, the latter company appears defunct so if you missed the kickstarter, finding a copy might be quite difficult.

“Phantasmagore” by H. K. Lovejoy is the final story in Beyond the Book of Eibon. The tale is brief, and Lovejoy enjoys an elaborate and detailed style reminiscent of Smith or Lovecraft’s more ultraviolet prose:

Mounds of her honey hair fell in an exquisite latticework across her bare breasts and stomach, only to be gently reshuffled by her lover.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 193

In the context of Fulci’s trilogy, however, it works. It evokes something of his style, of the artistry of horror, the beautiful moments that then break into desolation and decay. As with the films, the story is set in their orbit but independent of their plots: a Dunwich affair leads to ghastly supernatural revenge via the Book of Eibon. Lovejoy isn’t afraid to go full Fulci when it comes to describing the culmination of the affair, doesn’t let the reader’s eye drift away from the page. Which is, again, quite fitting.

Her eyes had reduced to frothing pools of blood, allowing the brains, which had taken on a gelatinous state, to plunge through her sockets from the blind momentum of nightcrawlers.
—H. K. Lovejoy, “Phantasmagore” in Beyond the Book of Eibon 194

“How Lovecraftian (or Klarkash-Tonian) is ‘Phantasmagore’?” is an interesting question. Fulci’s films themselves borrow little from the Mythos, and have their own aesthetic entirely. There are few explanations in Fulci’s films, and it is up to the reader to theorize and interpret the images and events that appear on screen, to try and make sense of what are ultimately irrational happenings. Lovejoy’s story is more straightforward than Fulci’s films, and outside the context of the anthology in which it appears could easily be taken as a brief Mythos tale—there, after all, is Dunwich, there is the Book of Eibon. You don’t need the whole eldritch pantheon in every story.

At the opening of the film Manhattan Baby (1982), Fulci gives an apocryphal (and most likely invented) quote from Lovecraft:

Il mistero non è attorno alle cose, ma dentro le cose stesse.
Mystery is not around things, but within things themselves.

Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide where “Phantasmagore” lies…whether it “counts” as a Mythos story, or a story set exclusively in the Gates of Hell narrative universe, or perhaps neither or both at the same time. The story exists as its own work, and can be enjoyed as such; any greater meaning has to be supplied by someone else.

H. K. Lovejoy’s other writing includes The Black in Between (2020), and she is also a funerary artist; her website is https://www.charnelnectar.com/


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Flowers for the Sea (2021) by Zin E. Rocklyn

My stories always feature a Black woman lead, no matter how hard history tries to erase us and our contributions. I speak to my experiences in my stories as a way to flush them out as well as show the world that we are here, we matter, we are worthy.
Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Zin E. Rocklyn (26 Feb 2021) by Michelle R. Lane

Perspective in any story is more than just the race or gender of the protagonist: it is a way of looking at the world. The history of slavery in the United States, for example, looks different from the perspective of the slave than it does from the perspective of the slaver and abolitionist. The experience and the stakes are different. It leaves its mark on individuals and generations in a way that is almost inescapable, and it shapes the way people understand and pass on their own stories and histories.

Persecution is not something Lovecraft thoroughly understood or expressed in his stories. While his life featured great hardships and poverty, he and his family never experienced systemic prejudice or discrimination. In stories like “The Festival,” he alludes to the hangings at Salem Village and the quiet diaspora of witches, but the witches are not sympathetic victims, even from the perspective of their descendants. There is no rancor at the injustice done, because to Lovecraft there was no injustice: they were witches, after all. Likewise, the fate of the people of Innsmouth is not presented as a crime amounting almost to genocide akin to the forced relocation of the Native Americans, though in all particulars it certainly approaches it.

Chronological distance offers one axis for reflection: “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys both shift the narrative on “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” seeing in the Innsmouth camps parallels to the Japanese internment camps and the Holocaust of World War 2. These stories deal with individuals who survived true persecution, the personal trauma and the breakup of families, and deal with the psychological and cultural consequences.

As a more diverse set of authors came to Lovecraftian fiction, they brought with them different points of view. The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin exists, in part, as a rejection and refutation of Lovecraft’s perspective and specific prejudices; “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle and “Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders focus on the perspective of the marginalized Black men who faced the discrimination in the 1920s and 30s that Lovecraft never knew or attempted to depict.

What Zin E. Rocklyn brings to her stories is not necessarily a need to counter, refute, reimagine, or even mention Lovecraft and his Mythos, but her existence and perspective as a Black woman writing weird fiction. As she puts it, when asked about whether she puts broader messages on race into her work:

By default, my presence within horror and writing horror is a message unto itself. Me showing up is message enough, so there’s no definitive way for me to divorce myself from that ongoing narrative.
Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Zin E. Rocklyn (26 Feb 2021) by Michelle R. Lane

Which is absolutely the case for her short novel Flowers for the Sea (1921). Readers familiar with Lovecraft might well identify this story, which is set in an ambiguous time and place, as a left-handed descendant of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” by way of ecological disaster fiction like “Till A’ the Seas” by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft. Iraxi is one of the last survivors of a persecuted minority with rumored supernatual powers and ties to the sea, a literary cousin to the survivors of the Innsmouth diaspora in stories like “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe—but, the details aren’t quite right. There is a visceral reality to the persecution often missing from Innsmouth stories, ugly details like this one:

They called us nims. A word with hardly any meaning other than to spit upon its victim.

It morphed, much like forked tongues who spoke it, an encapsulating slure that reduced one to shreds, to the foam of the sea we feared, to nothing but the scent of a bowel movement.
—Zin E. Rocklyn, Flowers from the Sea 15

Slurs in science fiction and fantasy are not to be created lightly; too often they tend to mask real-world prejudices, and be substituted for them. Yet in this story, it serves the purpose of an introduction to the history of persecution that has brought Iraxi to this point, the beginning of the end of the pregnancy she didn’t want aboard a dying ship, hated by and hating those around her.

There is no calm, philosophical Lovecraftian indifference in this story. Anger is a major theme, sometimes ugly and sometimes righteous, but never unjustified. There is history behind that anger, long history, some of which is only hinted at…and it isn’t over. The people around her on the ship tolerate her, use her, but she is only and ever a resource to be managed, not a person to be respected…until, at last, it is too late.

Hate has its place in every life; it is a natural reaction to the pain of loss. An excess of hate can lead to terrible consequences; it is what leads to the transformation of Tommy Tucker in “The Ballad of Black Tom,” and nearly damns Maryse Boudreaux in her fight against the Ku Kluxes in Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. Through Rocklyn’s prose, we get Iraxi’s struggle with her own hatred…but if she becomes a monster, it is because the monsters around her have made her one. The people that burned down her home, killed her family, called her people names for generations, and finally forced her to carry a child she didn’t want…it was their monstrous deeds that stoked the furnace of her rage and honed her cruelty to a sharp point.

There are counter-narratives that might be considered, since we only have Iraxi’s viewpoint for the whole novel. The ship is dying, women unable to bear children, and in this context Iraxi is an ungrateful madonna, given the best food while the others slowly starve. Should she not be thankful for the life she is to give birth to? Is she an unreliable narrator, self-centered and toxic, unable to appreciate what others sacrifice for her sake? Or how her individual sacrifice is for the greater good, for the survival of all?

The problem with these counter-narratives is that they run up hard against issues of bodily autonomy. How grateful should a slave be, to bear the child of her master to increase his wealth? Why should she submit herself and her own needs and desires for the good of a people who see her as little more than a particularly stubborn breeding cow? That is the presence Rocklyn brings to the tale. The arguments against Iraxi’s perspective are ultimately ugly because what Iraxi suffers is, by and large, an extrapolation of the horrors and indignities that women, especially Black women, have suffered for centuries in the United States and the Caribbean.

While we’re seen as sexual beings, we’re rarely seen as sensual beings. We’ve been used and abused for hundreds of years for the sake of personal slavery to the advancement of science, but never as human beings who own their bodies and their sexuality. Even in contemporary thought, there is the myth of the Strong Black Woman who needs no partner, no love, and it simply isn’t true. It’s a bastardisation of a mantra that means we won’t put up with bullshit. I want my fiction to make that distinction, that we crave and deserve love and nurturing.
Interview: Zin E. Rocklyn by Gordon B. White in Nightmare 107 (Aug 2021)

So it is with Inaxi, though her desire for love is never requited…hence the depth and intensity of her hatred. The issues of desire for love and bodily autonomy for women, especially within the context of pregnancy, are seldom made explicit in Lovecraftian fiction; stories like “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales touch on them, but Flowers for the Sea is particularly vivid not only in its microscopic emphasis on the horrors of an unwanted pregnancy, approaching splatterpunk levels of grue when the chapter arrives for the birth, but in the implications. Iraxi is not just a Black Lavinia Whateley; her experience comes out of a very distinct experience of Black Womanhood.

Which is ultimately something that sets Flowers for the Sea apart from many other “Lovecraftian” tales. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is not so much a distant ancestor as it is the raw material for a tube of Mummy brown that Rocklyn uses to paint her own distinct picture.

Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn was published in 2021 by Tor. Readers might also enjoy her fiction “teatime” (2020) and “The Night Sun” (2020).


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

El Puritano (2021) by El Torres, Jaime Infante, & Manoli Martínez

¿Dónde está Bess?
El Puritano (2021)

“Where is Bess?” said Solomon Kane.
“Woe that I caused her tears.”
“In the quiet churchyard by the sea
she has slept these seven years.”
The sea-wind moaned at the window-pane,
and Solomon bowed his head.
“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,
and the fairest fade,” he said.
—Robert E. Howard, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” (1936)

For any other pulp writer, Solomon Kane would be a breakout character. Robert E. Howard’s original pulp stories, even the unpublished drafts, fragments, and synopses, have been collected, published, translated into other languages, and recorded as audiobooks. Kane has been adapted to comics by at least Marvel, Blackthorne, Dark Horse, Diabolo Ediciones, and now Karras Comics. In 2009 a feature film titled Solomon Kane was released; no less an author than Ramsey Campbell handled the novelization, and Campbell had also previously completed some of Howard’s Solomon Kane fragments. There is a Solomon Kane roleplaying game, a Solomon Kane board game, toys and action figures, and bootleg t-shirts. Solomon Kane has even been borrowed into the work of other authors, like Paul Di Filippo’s “Observable Things.”

Few pulp characters can claim as much success in publication, commercialization, and longevity. Yet Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane has since the 1930s dwelled in the shadow of Conan the Cimmerian. While Solomon Kane was Howard’s first successful series character, Conan was easily his most popular, and the tales and poems of the Puritan swordsman are often discovered by readers after they have already been hooked by Conan.

El Puritano (“The Puritan,” 2021, Karras Comics) is an original graphic novel based on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, who has fallen into the public domain in Europe. The creators of this graphic novel are El Torres (script), Jaime Infante (pen & inks), & Manoli Martínez (colorist); the logo was designed by Ferran Delgado. While it is a standalone graphic novel in that the story is self-contained, the framing narrative makes this a kind of “second chapter” to Sangre Bárbara (2021) by El Torres, Joe Bocardo, & Manoli MartínezEl Puritano begins where Sangre Bárbara ends, with the former slave Mary Bohannon telling tales to a young Robert E. Howard, so while each stands on its own, taken together there is an episodic narrative…or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Robert E. Howard’s own story, the narrative and mythology of his life, have been closely entwined with his characters so that he becomes the common bridging element between them.

Solomon Kane did not attract as much fan interest as Conan in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, so there were fewer efforts to define a canonical chronology of his adventures—and indeed, Howard made no particular effort to set down a timeline; certain adventures clearly take place after others, because they refer to earlier events or Kane had acquired his strange cat-headed staff, but trying to fix real-world dates gets problematic. We never see Solomon Kane’s parents or home, we never get a fix for when he was born or how old he is; Kane steps onto the page, fully formed, and leaves the same way after completing his mission.

In El Puritano, El Torres and Jaime Infante have placed a much older but still spry Solomon Kane in the English colonies of North America. Various influences are at play here, some more obvious than others: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1956); Twins of Evil (1971), starring Peter Cushing as a witch-hunter; and The VVitch (2015) by director Robert Eggers all play their part in the mix, with little nods and homages to the various creators, actors, and storylines at play. Solomon Kane, the self-declared Puritan, is present in a colony of fellow believers, and yet he is apart from them. As it may be, since Howard noted:

All his life he had roamed about the world aiding the weak and fighting oppression, he neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost. If he thought of it at all, he considered himself a fulfiller of God’s judgment, a vessel of wrath to be emptied upon the souls of the unrighteous. Yet in the full sense of the word Solomon Kane was not wholly a Puritan, though he thought of himself as such.
—Robert E. Howard, “Red Shadows”

The story that unfolds is a love letter to the character, with many references to past adventures without dwelling on them. Kane is faced once again with supernatural evil, and the need to defend an innocent young woman whose only crime may have been to love a witch. But Kane is also faced with his own conscience and past deeds—and how his own people, with all their superstition and ignorant faith, judge him and others. N’longa makes a surprising but very appropriate appearance, this time inhabiting the flesh of a Wampanoag woman, a kind of transgender experience that is at once novel and yet very fitting for the character.

Jaime Infante’s subdued, realistic artwork greatly compliments the script, and Manoli Martínez does some really notable work as a colorist, shifting the palette of the scenes to depict flashbacks, astral visitations, somber daylight, and vicious battle.

The story ends, not with Mary Bohannon talking to a young Robert E. Howard, but with Bob himself in his room, standing before the typewriter. The house still stands in Cross Plains, TX, now a museum with Bob’s room restored. You can see a Tour of the Robert E. Howard Home by Ben Friberg online, if you can’t get out there in person, and see it just as Infante tried to capture it on the page. Bob needs to write a story, and begins to type the opening words of “Red Shadows”…so it is both an ending and a beginning; what might be the last tale of Solomon Kane loops around as Howard records his legend. It begins and ends with Robert E. Howard.

El Puritano can be purchased from Karras Comics; they are working on other new works based on Robert E. Howard’s stories and characters as well.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Sangre Bárbara (2021) by El Torres, Joe Bocardo, & Manoli Martínez

“Sabed, oh Principe…

“…que entre los años en que los océanos enguilleron Atlantis y sus resplandecientes ciudades, y el surgir de los hijoes de Aryas…

“…hubo una edad no soñada.”

Brillantes reinos se esparacían por el mundo como mantos azules bao las estrellas.

“Nemedia, Ofir, Brithunia, Hiperbórea…”

“Zamora, con sus mujeres de oscuros cabellos y sus torres plagadas de arácnidos misterios…”

“Zingara y su gallardía, Koth, que lindaba con las tierras de pastoreo de Shem.

“Estigia, con sus tumbas custodiadas por sombras.

“E Hirkania, cuyos jinetes vestían de acero, seda y oro.

“Pero el reino más orgulloso del mundo era Aquilonia, que reinaba suprema en el oeste.

“Ya hacía años que allí regia el poderoso Rey Conan, el cimmerio, aquel que fue guerrero, ladrón, pirata y saqueador antes que gran monarca.

“Y llegó el tiempo en que una sombra se agitó en las junglas Pictas que dormitaban al oesta de Aquilonia.”
“Know, oh Prince…

“…that between the years when the oceans engulfed Atlantis and her resplendent cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas…

“There was an age undreamed of.”

Brilliant kingdoms spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.

“Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea…”

“Zamora, with its dark-haired women and its towers plagued by arachnid mysteries…”

“Zingara and her chivalry, Koth, which bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem.

“Stygia, with its shadow-guarded tombs.

“And Hyrkania, whose horsemen wore steel, silk, and gold.

“But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, which reigned supreme in the west.

“It had been years since the mighty King Conan, the Cimmerian, ruled there, the one who was a warrior, thief, pirate, and plunderer before being a great monarch.


“And the time came when a shadow stirred in the Pictish jungles that slept west of Aquilonia.”
Sangre Bárbara (2021, Karras Comics)

So begins Sangre Bárbara (“Barbarian Blood,” 2021, Karras Comics). It is a fitting opening, with a variation of the incipit that Robert E. Howard wrote for “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which was the very first Conan the Cimmerian story, and which ran as a masthead across the Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics for decades, and even ran in a slightly different form at the beginning of the Conan the Barbarian (1982) film that starred Arnold Schwarzeneggar. The opening sets the mood; it immediately places the reader in the time and place for the action, and then the story opens…

As with The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi and The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez, this is an original work which takes advantage of the fact that Robert E. Howard’s characters and fiction have fallen into the public domain in Europe. The creators of this graphic novel are El Torres (script), Joe Bocardo (pen & inks), & Manoli Martínez (colorist); the logo was designed by Ferran Delgado.

Like The Barbarian King, Sangre Bárbara is set after the series of stories written by Robert E. Howard, giving the creators a freer hand in writing the adventure. Unlike that work, the principal character in the story is not Conan of Cimmeria…although he is still very much in the story…it is his son, the Prince Conan. A lean young man with the lean build and close-cropped hair of a boxer or legionnaire, scouting in the Pictish wilderness over the Aquilonian border, much as his father did in “Beyond the Black River.”

The story that follows wears several of its literary and artistic influences openly: the iconography of the 1982 film runs through the book like a river, from the cover to almost the last page. There is strong dedication to the original Howard texts, as shown in the opening. And there are hints of suggestions from the Marvel comics as well; I wouldn’t liken it to any kind of borrowing, but more of an inspiration: there was a storyline in Marvel’s Conan the King series titled “The Prince is Dead” which might have been the seed of this story…but Karras Comics takes the storyline much further than Marvel would ever have dared.

There is nudity, and there is gore; the writers and artist get away with it because they finally can—the same way the writers and artists of the French Glénat adaptations, and the Italian Leviathan Labs The Barbarian King books. Conan comics have almost always been a little more mature than the standard superhero fare, a little more bloody and sexy and visceral, but they have never been primarily ago either sex or blood. There are plenty of pornographic and horror comics that go in for plenty of each, if those are what readers want; so the trick for Conan comics nowadays is finding the right balance—in 2006, Dark Horse released a nude cover for Conan the Barbarian #24, and that was too much for some. In Sangre Bárbara, for the story being told and the atmosphere being set, it is certainly not much more explicit than in the 1982 film.

When reading this neo-Howardiana, it is interesting to see the choices that the writers and artists make in the depiction of the Hyborian Age. In this particular case, it is notable how racially diverse the cast is. Robert E. Howard held many of the racial prejudices one would expect of a young white man who grew up primarily in small towns in Texas; it was mentioned in the memoir One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis how Cross Plains was a sundown town. Some of this 1930s Texas racial stratification made it into Howard’s tales of the Hyborian Age—and some of that was continued in the Conan pastiches by other authors, which is why Charles R. Saunders wrote “Die Black Dog! A Look At Racism In Fantasy Literature” (1975, rev. 2011)—but they aren’t essential to it. Of course you can have Black characters in the Hyborian Age. Why not?

It is difficult not to compare Sangre Bárbara and The Barbarian King, since both works are branching off from similar premises, but they go about their work very differently. The Barbarian King is more acid sword & sorcery, heavier on the magic and the melancholy, the dream-like sequences and monstrous clash of color. Sangre Bárbara is much more gritty, subdued, and realistic; there is sorcery, but it isn’t bolts of flame erupting from fingertips, and the conflicts in the story are more complex than just a math problem of how many bodies can be piled up with a sword. There is a constant thread on the nature of civilization that runs through the story…right down to the last, and my favorite page.

As regards African-legend sources, I well remember the tales I listened to and shivered at, when a child in the “piney woods” of East Texas, where Red River marks the Arkansaw and Texas boundaries. There were quite a number of old slave darkies still living then. The one to whom I listened most was the cook, old Aunt Mary Bohannon who was nearly white—about one sixteenth negro, I should say.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Sep 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.44

This is, as far as I am aware, the first appearance of Mary Bohannon in comic book or graphic novel—and I like the sentiment, that to honor the past does not mean to be bound to every part of it irrevocably, and that the future remains to be written. The adventures of Conan are far from over, there are tales of the Hyborian Age left to tell—and maybe they will be a little more mature in more ways than just enough blood and nudity to ensure an NC-17 rating, but in what stories they tell and how, and how race fits into the age undreamed of. Certainly, this is a good start.

Sangre Bárbara can be purchased from Karras Comics; they are working on other new works based on Robert E. Howard’s stories and characters as well.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“SCP-5389” (2021) by Agisuru

The more these synthetic daemons are mutually writtne up by different authors, the better they become as general background-material! I like to have others use my Azathoths & Nyarlathoteps—& in return I shall use Klarkash-Ton’s Tsathoggua, your monk Clithanus, & Howard’s Bran.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1931, ES 1.353
What has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos began as a kind of literary game. Writers at Weird Tales, inspired by each other’s artificial horrors, began to borrow or insert references to each other’s creations in their stories. The practice can be traced back earlier—Robert W. Chambers famously borrowed a few odd names from Ambrose Bierce for his stories in The King in Yellow—but H. P. Lovecraft and his friends took the game to another level.
About the Necronomicon—I like to have other authors in the gang allude to it, for it helps work up a background of evil verisimilitude.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 14 Aug 1931, LJS 35

The purpose of the sharing, of the Necronomicon appearing in both Lovecraft’s “The Hound” (1922) and Frank Belknap Long’s “The Were-Snake” (1925) was verisimilitude. The use of the same names by different authors reinforced the idea of a reality and consistency between the stories, that these writers were drawing from a shared background of genuine mythology…and it worked. Readers wanted to know more, they wrote to H. P. Lovecraft and other writers asking about where they could find out more about Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, and where they could get copies of the Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.

It was the beginning of a shared universe and viral marketing, though neither term had been invented yet. Because the instantiation of the idea preceded its formal definition or codification, there have been a few quirks and hiccups. There was no concept of “canon” in the early Mythos stories: Lovecraft placed no restrictions on the use of his creations by other authors, and while there are a few references in his letters to attempting to keep things consistent between authors, he himself did not have or attempt to exercise any authority over the creativity of others. Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, and Henry Kuttner continued to write their own stories, in their own styles. The Mythos was a connective tissue, and it was left to fans to try and codify, extrapolate, and gloss the bits of lore.

August Derleth was both an original author of the Mythos, contemporary and equal with Lovecraft and the others, and the first great codifier and pasticheur. Derleth had the great advantage that, as co-founder of Arkham House, he entered into agreements with Lovecraft’s surviving aunt Annie Gamwell and literary executor R. H. Barlow to publish Lovecraft’s fiction, and often acted to promulgate, define, and defend Lovecraft’s Mythos.

In his desire to see Lovecraft’s legacy continue in print, Derleth succeeded. However, in the process he had stifled creative use of the Mythos. His interpretations (or misinterpretations, as Richard L. Tierney would argue in “The Derleth Mythos”) had constrained the definition of both what the Mythos was and could be; his pastiches like The Lurker at the Threshold had devolved into being about the Mythos rather than using the Mythos as a common background with which to tell stories, and he had squashed the efforts of would-be Mythos writers like C. Hall Thompson. While the Mythos field was not stagnant—Derleth encouraged the work of writers like Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, and Colin Wilson—it was largely constrained by Derleth’s own tastes and desire to maintain control on Lovecraft’s legacy.

With the death of August Derleth and the relaxation of this central authority, the Mythos has blossomed. Would-be codifiers and glossators have had to face up to the impossibility of applying a single “canon” to the Mythos. There are too many stories, too many different voices, any number of different interpretations or ideas, often contradicting one another…which is not a bad thing. Lovecraft’s own mythology is often inconsistent, as real-world mythology is. Derleth succeeded in keeping the Mythos alive in the decades after Lovecraft’s death; now it is up to everyone else to reinterpret and reinvent the Mythos, to keep it fresh and relevant for new generations to enjoy and play with.

My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax. […] My own attitude in writing is always that of the hoaxweaver.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 17 Oct 1930, DS 244

For all of its success, the Cthulhu Mythos as it exists today is not without its flaws. While Lovecraft encouraged other writers to use his creations and borrowed those of his friends, copyright remains a dominant influence on any shared literary enterprise. While pretty much everything Lovecraft wrote is in the public domain in the United States, the same is not true for Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, and other contemporary authors—not to mention authors of later generations such as Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, W. H. Pugmire, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. While many of these later authors are generous in allowing others to utilize their contributions to the Mythos in their own stories, issues of copyright and permissions add a layer of complexity that can serve as a potential energy barrier to new Mythos fiction.

Or, to put it another way: it’s easier to use the Mythos material you know is in the public domain and won’t be sued over. A good bit of the attraction of the Mythos is that unlike the shared universes of Marvel and DC, they are largely free to use. This is why people continue to utilize Cthulhu and the Necronomicon, and to revisit the plot and characters of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Dunwich Horror” more often than they do Tsathoggua and the Book of Eibon, or Gol-goroth and Unaussprechlichen Kulten. The Mythos was not conceived as a shared universe from the first, so these legal tripwires remain and sometimes hamper ideas.

So imagine a Cthulhu Mythos for the 21st century. A collective literary endeavor, eminently flexible just conceived in such a way as to maximize both participation and sharing, to avoid legal hassles and deliberately avoid stagnation by encouraging a multiplicity of canons—to embrace change and growth, rather than be locked in to a single limited conception dominated by a few great authors.

That is essentially what the SCP Wiki is and aims to be.

The literary roots go all the way back to the pulps: when H. P. Lovecraft had the federal government move in to Secure Innsmouth, Contain its populace, and Protect the wider world from the awful truth of what actually happened there, he was at the forefront of a mixture of fiction and popular conspiracy theory where secret agencies work to maintain normalcy and contain the anomalous. Steps along the way include the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990), Delta Green, GURPS Warehouse 23 (1999), the comic book The Men in Black (1990) and its 1997 film adaptation, The X-Files (1993-2002), Millennium (1996), and even internet-based fanfiction like “The Fluff At The Threshold” (1996) by Simon Leo Barber.

In 2007, a post on 4chan pitched the basic idea in the form of SCP-173. A secret agency (the SCP Foundation) works to contain the anomalous, from artifacts to creatures to ideas and concepts. The idea gained steam from there: a wiki was established, formats agreed upon, and everything published was done so under a Creative Commons license. The early SCP wiki was very different from how the SCP wiki stands today—many of the popular concepts like Sarkism and the Church of the Broken God took time to develop, and are still being developed. New concepts like the Ethics Committee and thaumiel class came into existence, and the existence and treatment of “D-Class” have been argued and reimagined—my personal favorite embellishment for the latter being SCP-1851-EX, which shows how well the SCP format can be used to address complex and emotionally charged subjects like historical racism.

The SCP wiki has also spread out to include video games, Japanese doujinshi, tchotchkes and cosplay, even novels like There Is No Antimemetics Division (2021) by qntm—and long-time readers of the wiki may well wonder if the project hasn’t jumped the shark. There are joke SCPs, badly written tales, erasures and lacunae, political and ideological squabbles that have found their way into the pages. Not every SCP is equally creative or equally well-written; some represent weeks of writing and artwork, others read like they were whipped off during a lunch break; some involve baroque and abstruse concepts normally the domain of doctors of philosophy and religion, and some are little more than random artifacts fit for a Dungeons & Dragons or Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game campaign. Many are effectively little more than short fiction more suited for a Creepypasta. Not only is there no single “canon,” but many of the SCPs are written in such a way that they directly contradict one another (as with the various “proposals” for SCP-001). Even what you thought you knew might be upended by some new SCP, or an older entry being removed.

In a wiki with few constants, one consistent element is the influence of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. This is very rarely an effort to actually squeeze the Mythos into the shared universe of the SCP Foundation, though you occasionally see references to Miskatonic University (e.g. SCP-6027). More often it is a metafictional take on the ideas and tropes of the Mythos, often as presented not in Lovecraft’s original stories but through the pop-culture milieu of Derlethian pastiche and the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. SCP-2662 and SCP-3883 are cases in point, as somewhat tongue-in-cheek takes on sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, and the very idea of a “cognitohazard” owes something to Sanity Points as a mechanic; but there are more serious takes. The King in Yellow was definitely an inspiration for The Hanged King’s Tragedy (SCP-701); Lovecraft’s life served as an inspiration for SCP-4315.

One of the more interesting and clever entries that take inspiration from Lovecraft’s Mythos is SCP-5389, written in 2021 by user Agisuru. Like many good SCPs, 5389 doesn’t skimp on the containment procedures; the dry prelude to the actual description provides the reader with an idea of the efforts made to contain the anomalous issue, and sometimes a foreshadowing of the actual threat (if any) posed. The description itself is relatively straightforward, almost dry: long-time SCP wiki readers probably will gloss over another anomalous animal. The addendum and interview material is where the real narrative develops, and as the reader opens one section after another the rabbit hole gets deeper and deeper—a good mystery is often the heart of a good SCP as well as a good Mythos story.

The twist at the end is almost inevitable, but the real fun in the entry is in the names of the protocols and agents involved: Ib-e, Orne, Olmstead, Zadok Allen, Marsh—names borrowed from “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” SCP-5389 is not, to be clear, a kind of contemporary re-telling of either of those stories, but they are Easter eggs for Lovecraft aficionados…and perhaps an invitation. This isn’t exactly another new take on an old story in the vein of “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, it’s a remix of some of the fundamental Lovecraftian ideas in a new form and format.

The Cthulhu Mythos is in its own way as infectious a meme as anything fought by the antimemetics division, and inextricable from the noosphere and oneiric collective of humanity. It may never die, just as Arthurian legend and Greek and Roman myths have continued to influence us for centuries and millennia. We are, as Terry Pratchett put it in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, “Pans narrans”—storytelling apes. We like a good story, and SCP-5389 is a part of one: the story of the Cthulhu Mythos and how it continues to develop, to evolve…and we may look forward to how it continues to do so for a long time to come.

If you liked SCP-5389, Agisuru has posted two other SCPs with a similar dynamic as of this writing: SCP-6918 and SCP-6919.


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

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Eldritch Tarot (2021) by Sara Bardi

As for fortune-telling—I won’t try to argue the matter, but believe your continued studies in the various sciences will eventually cause you to abandon belief. Authentic psychology is one thing, but irresponsible prophecy is another.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Nils Frome, 19 December 1937, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 348

After a successful crowdfunding, Sara Bardi’s Eldritch Tarot has been unleashed upon the world—but this is not the first and will certainly not be the last tarot to take inspiration from H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. To review this deck properly requires a certain understanding of what tarot is, where it comes from, how it has developed over the centuries—and how and why Lovecraftian tarots became a thing.

What has come to be the “standard” deck of playing cards in the English-speaking world are has ten pip cards (numbered Ace to 10) and three court cards (Jack, Queen, King) in four suits (typically diamonds ♦, spades ♠, hearts ♥, and clubs ♣). These 52 cards are often augmented by two “Jokers,” who have no suit and often are used as wild cards for some games. The exact number of cards, suits, etc. have varied over the centuries and in different countries, through a long and not always well-documented evolution.

Playing cards appear to have entered Italy from trade with the Mamlūk Empire in about the last quarter of the Fourteenth century (A Cultural History of the Tarot 8-9, 12-13). These early Mamlūk decks had four suits (Swords, Coins, Cups, and Polo Sticks); when translated into a European cultural milieu, where polo was less popular, the fourth suit became Batons—and over time, as the deck designs proliferated throughout Europe, different countries and places developed slightly different names and symbols. So the Italian suit of Coope (Cups) became Herzen (Hearts) in German, and Rosen (Roses) in Switzerland; Italian Denari (Coins) became Oros (Gold) in Spanish, Schellen (Bells) in German, Diamonds in English. Spade (Swords) became Spades in English, and so on forth.

Tarot cards are a branch of the evolution of the “standard” deck, and were intended to play games. A typical contemporary tarot deck has four suits (typically Cups, Coins, Swords, and Batons), each with pip cards (A to 10) and four court cards (Knave, Knight, Queen, King); twenty-one trumps, and a Fool card, which gives a total of 78. As with the “normal” playing deck, this was not set in stone, and there were many variations, especially considering the suits, the number and type of trumps, how they were ordered, etc. The trumps were incorporated for trick-taking games: whoever had the higher trump took the trick. Contemporary trick-taking games like Bourré played with normal playing carts designate one of the suits as trumps at the start of the game. In contemporary uses for divination & magic, the trumps (including the Fool) are typically called the Major Arcana, while the pip-cards and court-cards constitute the Minor Arcana.

Tarot decks begin to show up around Milan in the first half of the 15th century (A Cultural History of the Tarot 33-39), and spread and developed from there across Europe for several centuries. As might be expected, there were many local variations, some of which continued on and others which petered out. Eventually, certain consistent styles of decks became dominant: by the about the beginning of the 17th century, the most popular style of tarot deck in France was the Tarot de Marseille. Cartomancy, or divination by shuffling and revealing the cards, appears to have begun in the mid-to-late 18th century in France, and was popularized by the publication of Etteilla, ou manière de se récréer avec le jeu de cartes in 1770 (A Cultural History of the Tarot 93-95).

The system in Etteilla was not tarot-card reading as we know it today. The author Jean-Baptiste Alliette made a variation on the Tarot de Marseille (he used a piquet pack, which had the pip cards from 2 to 6 removed, plus the addition of an “Etteilla” card to represent the asker.) While Alliette was focusing on tarot for fortune-telling as a past-time, French occultist Antoine Court de Gébelin  began to interpret the tarot trumps as occult symbols, and worked them into his system, claiming that they were a corrupted version of the Egyptian Book of Thoth (Egyptomania was prominent in France at the time, and would continue to be popular into the 19th century, which can be seen in developments such as Egyptian Freemasonry). De Gébelin surmised that tarot had been brought to Europe by the Romani (popularly, though sometimes pejoratively called “gypsies,” and who were believed by some to be displaced Egyptians), and the association of tarot and the Romani would continue in the popular consciousness for centuries (A Cultural History of the Tarot 102-109).

By the time Alliette began selling the Etteilla and tarot decks for fortune telling, tarot as a card game had been defunct in Paris, though still popular in other parts of Europe. Building off of the work of de Gébelin and Alliette, Éliphas Lévi Zahed revised and incorporated the symbolism of the tarot trumps into his systemic works of ceremonial magic, including Dogme et Rituel de la haute magie (1854-1856), La Clef des Grands Mystères (1861), and Histoire de la magie (1860)—the latter of which, in the English translation, would eventually be read by H. P. Lovecraft. Lévi’s system brought together medieval European systems of correspondences, the zodiac, kabbalah, and the tarot trumps (A Cultural History of the Tarot 111-117).

While Lévi allowed that tarot was useful for cartomancy, his incorporation of tarot into a system of magic opened up the tarot to be used in other magical operations—and the alterations made in the tarot decks of Lévi, Attelier, and other popularizers like Papus (Gérard Anaclet Vincent Encausse) in the correspondences, numbering, and iconography of the trump cards encouraged others to make further alterations. There were many different occultists throughout Europe who developed the tarot as a means of divination or incorporated it into their occult philosophy—including Helena Blavatasky—but to focus on the path that leads to Lovecraftian tarots, the work of Lévi & co. was particularly influential on a small a group of English ceremonial magicians known as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (A Cultural History of the Tarot 126-136; A History of the Occult Tarot 76-90).

One of the founders of this society, Samuel Lidell Macgregor Mathers, published The Tarot: Its Occult Singification, Use in Fortune-Telling and Method of Play (1888) the same year that the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn came into existenc. The order was organized along the lines of a Freemason lodge (albeit accepting both men and women) with three degrees of initiation, and the system they used was based on a Cipher Manuscript, and included instruction on using the tarot for magical operations. While drawing heavily on Attellier, Lévi, & Papus and still recognizably based on the Tarot of Marseille, the Cipher Manuscript again made several changes in the associations & numbering of the trumps. Among the initiates of the order were Arthur Machen and his friend Arthur Edward Waite, Algernonon Blackwood, Aleister Crowley, Dion Fortune, William Butler Yeats, and William Sharp; a good book on some of these is Talking to the Gods: Occultism in the Work of W. B. Years, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, and Dion Fortune by Susan Johnston Graf. Though the Order was relatively small, it had an outsized influence on contemporary occultism. The system of ceremonial magic that the Cipher Manuscript and related teachings described, and the tarot deck needed for it, would inform the decks and systems of its initiates (A History of the Occult Tarot 91-113).

In particular, in 1909 Arthur Edward Waite designed a deck, with art provided by Pamela Colman Smith (also known as “Pixie”). Waite based his iconography and numbering on the Order’s, with a few changes, but Smith apparently took inspiration from a 15th century tarot called the “Sola-Busca” deck. Unlike most tarot decks which left the pip cards relatively plain, this deck included full illustrations for all cards, which Pixie followed in her deck. The resulting deck, which was published by the Rider and is popularly (if inaccurately) known as the Rider-Waite tarot has become the most popular and influential tarot deck of the last century, with its suits (Wands, Pentacles, Cups, Swords), trump names and numbering, and iconography becoming iconic (A Cultural History of the Tarot 144-148, A History of the Occult Tarot 127-141).

The Waite-Smith tarot deck was widely published after World War II, and like ouija boards and other aspects of spiritualism and occultism found a new generation of adherents during the New Age movement in the 1970s. Yet before that happened, tarot was already a part of Lovecraftian occultism.

“Aleister Crowley is a now-elderly Englishman who has dabbled in this sort of thing since his Oxford days. He is, really, of course, a sort of maniac or degenerate despite his tremendous mystical scholarship. He has organised secret groups of repulsive Satanic & phallic worship in many places in Europe & Asia, & has been quietly kicked out of a dozen countries. Sooner or later the US. (he is now [in] N.Y.) will probably deport him—which will be bad luck for him, since England will probably put him in jail when he is sent home. T. Everett Harré—whom I have met & whom Long knows well—has seen quite a bit of Crolwey, & thinks he is about the most loathsome & sinister skunk at large. And when a Rabelaisian soul like Harré (who is never sober!) thinks that of anybody, the person must be a pretty bad egg indeed! Crowley is the compiler of the fairly well-known “Oxford Book of Mystical verse”, & a standard writer on occult subjects. the story of Wakefield’s which brings him in (under another name, of course) is in the collection “They Return at Evening,” which I’ll lend you if you like.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 5 April 1935,
Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 420-421

Aleister Crowley is probably the most infamous former member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and expanded and changed its teachings in his subsequent magickal organizations the Argentum Astrum (A∴A∴) and the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.); as part of his occult publications he developed his own variant of the tarot deck, often called the Thoth deck (A Cultural History of the Tarot 137-142, A History of the Occult Tarot 142-156). Crowley’s final secretary and acolyte at the time of his death was a young man named Kenneth Grant, who went on to continute to develop and practice Crowley’s magickal system of Thelema, and to publish his own exegesis of the Golden Dawn-derived system. What sets Grant apart from from Crowley is that he directly incorporated fictional elements from the work of Arthur Machen and H. P. Lovecraft into his system in books like The Magical Revival (1972) and eventually inspired artist-occultist Linda Falorio to create the Shadow Tarot (A History of the Occult Tarot 310-311). Other occultist such as Nema Andahadna also used tarot in their Crowley-derived magickal systems. As an example of what this looks like:

One of Crowley’s methods of counter-checking a name or a number was by reducing it to a single number and adding together its component digits, referring the result to a Tarot Key. For example, if a spirit gave as its number 761, this would be checked thus: 7 + 6 + 1 = XIV, the Tarot Key entiled Art; and if the symbols and attributions of this Key were consant with the meaning of the number itself, it offered good ground for assuming that a bona fide spirt had responded to the invocation; but further tests would be necessary if doubt remained. Not only can the disembodied spirit of dead or sleeping people impersonate spirits and work evil by such means, but—which is infinitely more dangerous—extracosmic entities can masquerade as spirits and, if they are not banished before they can gain a foothold in the consciousness of he who inoked them, obsession follows. Austin Spare is the authority on their control; Lovecraft, on the devasation they leave in their wake when they are let loose upon the earth.
—Kenneth Grant, The Magical Revival 110

Grant wasn’t the only magician playing with Lovecraftian occultism, but he was the most prominent working within a syncretic system that incorporated tarot as part of its magical workings, as opposed to works like the George Hay-edited The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names (1978), which was styled on the medieval European grimoire tradition…which, of course, did not use the tarot in an occult context because playing cards and tarot cards weren’t introduced until the late medieval period, and then just for gaming. Those interested in a history of Lovecraftian occultism in general are encouraged to pick up The Necronomicon Files by Daniel Harms & John Wisdom Gonce III.

The H. P. Lovecraft Tarot

By the 1990s, would-be occultists could find mass-market paperback copies of the Simon Necronomicon and copies of the Waite-Smith deck in the New Ages shelves of their local bookstore, but there wasn’t really a Lovecraft-specific deck until David Wynn and Daryl Hutchinson came together to publish The H. P. Lovecraft Tarot (Mythos Books LLC, 1997/2002) in two limited editions, which now command high prices on the secondary market. This tarot largely follows the format of the Waite-Smith tarot in geneal form: there are 22 trumps, and the other cards are numbered in descending order and divided into four suits (Man, Artifacts, Tomes, and Sites), with each card depicting something from Lovecraft’s stories. The manual (by Eric C. Friedman) gives readings and a suggested spread, not disimilar from various Attellier-derived popular fortune-telling books. As a deck, it’s obviously intended as a bit of fun without any of the Waite-Smith style symbolism, opting instead for sepia-toned images, and is a product of New Age occultism married to popular culture—but still representing a lot of work!

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The H. R. Giger Tarot

Swiss artist H. R. Giger named two of his art collections Necronomicon, and although is particular subjects took little inspiration from Lovecraft, that connection between their work has continued (as discussed in “Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins). In 1992, the occultist Akron adapted 22 of Giger’s famous paintings into Baphomet: Tarot der Unterwelt, which was released as the H. R. Giger Tarot in English. These cards consist of only the trumps/Major Arcana, as well as a fold-out poster for the spread and a 224-page booklet (in the English edition, the German hardback is 408 pages) on potential spreads and interpretations of the cards. Akron had previously worked on The Crowley Tarot (1995), and shows the influence of Kenneth Grant in designating this a “shadow tarot,” but the purpose is more mystical than magical, less New Age in the sense of occult fun-and-games and more intended as a serious (and very cool-looking) tool for personal introspection and spiritual growth.

The Necronomicon Tarot

In the mid-2000s occult publisher Llewellyn published the “Necronomicon Series” by Donald Tyson, a series of pop-occult books with a Lovecraftian theme, including Tyson’s novel Alhazred: The Author of the Necronomicon (2006), a specious magical biography of Lovecraft, some ersatz grimoires, and in collaboration with artist Anne Stokes a tarot deck and manual: the Necronomicon Tarot (2007). This is a full tarot of 22 trumps and four suits (Discs, Cups, Wands, and Swords). While Stokes’ artwork stands out as effective and creative, this is really little more than a re-skin of the Waite-Smith tarot; so that even though the Minor Arcana all bear full illustrations, the system of planetary and elemental correspondences, the suggested readings, etc. are all basically a version of Arthur Edward Waite’s The Pictorial Key to the Tarot (1911). Any tarot-reader already familiar with other systems can pretty much pick this deck up and use it. In this, Tyson’s tarot is totally in keeping with the rest of his work on the Necronomicon Series: pure pop-occultism.

The Dark Grimoire Tarot

By this point it was easier than ever before for basically anyone to print their own tarot, in a consistent size and relatively high quality. Which is why in 2008 the The Dark Grimoire Tarot by Michele Penko and Giovani Pelosini waspublished by Lo Scarabeo in Italy. Despite the unassuming English name, this is in fact a multi-lingual deck and three of the alternate titles are Tarocchi del Necronomicon, Tarot del Necronomicon, and Tarot du Necronomicon, just in case you had any doubts what they were about. This is quite literally just the Waite-Smith deck with different art; all the trumps and suits are the same. The book of instructions is split into six languages, and so only amounts to twelve pages for the English text, offering a very simple pentagram-inspired spread and some concise interpretations. If you don’t already know how to interpret tarot cards, this book won’t give you much to go on—but other than that, it isn’t really very different from the Necronomicon Tarot, and both are pretty much just tarot decks as product, rather than a showcase for art or a legitimate attempt at a useful occult tool.

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The Book of Azathoth Tarot

The 18th century French occultists declared the tarot deck the Book of Thoth, a legendary tome of magical lore which was encoded into the trumps of the deck; in this postmodern world, an occultist called Nemo has reworked this material into the Book of Azathoth Tarot. The first edition of these cards in 2012 had a really ugly back, but the subsequent edition has a much nicer design. Compared to the previous examples, this might be considered the most “serious” of the Lovecraftian tarots to date. It is a full tarot strongly inspired by the Waite-Smith tarot deck, right down to the same suits and trump names and numbers, and even moreso as it incorporates Hebrew letters, astrological symbols, and Zodiac signs into the iconography, and is obviously closely following some of Smith’s iconic designs, with a Mythos twist.

Which kind of works in its favor, oddly enough. The artwork has a design like medieval woodcuts, with a stark but unifrom yellow-and-black color scheme that gives a very clean appearance, and combined with the more classic design gives the deck a more traditional and authentic feel, even though the materials are all completely contemporary. The guidebook (2020) that goes with the deck is sold separately, hardbound and in full color. It is, again, very traditional. This is closer to what a Lovecraft tarot might have looked like if it was made during his own lifetime than anything else yet produced.

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Cthulhu’s Vault Tarot Card Set

Released in 2019 with art by Jacob Walker, the Cthulhu’s Vault Tarot Card Set is possibly the ipsissimus of cheap, lazy, and uninspired Lovecraftian reskins of the Waite-Smith tarot. While some of the art isn’t bad and this is a full 78-card deck, that’s damning with faint praise. In the era of cheap printing as sales move away from brick-and-mortar locations and to online marketplaces, this is also the future of Lovecraftian tarot. Anybody with enough raw art and a minimum of design skill can throw together a tarot deck…and have! You can buy the Cthulhu Dark Arts Tarot, Old Whispers Tarot, and the Forbidden Tarot, and no doubt more that I haven’t run across yet.

In an increasingly competitive marketplace, we might expect that a lot of these tarots will fail commercially, and sink out of sight—maybe to reappear on auction websites at fabulous prices, maybe to be remaindered or gather dust at used bookstores and in basements and attics. But with the barrier for entry so low, we might also see a slew of these cheap decks published for the considerable future. While it is ridiculous to assume that any commercial tarot deck is made without an eye toward profit, the lack of care evident in some of today’s tarot decks illustrates how far we’ve come from the roots of the occult tarot, and how seriously folks like Gébelin, Alliette, Éliphas Lévi, Mathers, and Crowley took them. Tarot really has become just a toy for most people.

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The Eldritch Tarot

Which brings us to The Eldritch Tarot by Sara Bardi, successfully crowdfunded and published in 2021. Bardi is an Italian artist, perhaps best known for her webcomic Lovely Lovecraft. The Eldritch Tarot comes with no manual, no key to interpretation, but what it does come with is a lot of heart. The occult DNA of the Waite-Smith tarot deck is still there in the names and numbers of the Major Arcana, but that’s largely where it ends. The four suits are denoted by symbols for The Call of Cthulhu (tentacle), Under the Pyramids (broken chalice), The Dunwich Horror (wavy dagger), and At the Mountains of Madness (the pentagram version of the Elder Sign), and every one of the 78 cards features art in Bardi’s characteristic style.

This is closer to the H. P. Lovecraft Tarot than anything else, but there are no pretenses to occultism in Bardi’s tarot. This is the kind of deck where, if you want to dig out the rules for a tarot trick-taking game, you could sit down at a convention and play a couple hands with friends and have a good time. Or if you want to lay out a spread and tell some fortunes, look up the guidelines on the internet or pick up a cheap book from the library. This is a deck that is mostly shorn of tradition, but the art is clean, detailed, and maybe best of all relevant: this is a deck made by a Lovecraft fan, for Lovecraft fans.

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Lovecraft and Tarot

Meaningless spotted pasteboards […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 3 Feb 1932, Letters to James F. Morton 294

It’s not clear if H. P. Lovecraft ever saw a tarot deck; I’ve yet to find any direct mention of tarot or cartomancy in his published letters or essays. This isn’t vastly surprising: the global popularity in tarot didn’t start to rise until after World War II, long after he was dead; Lovecraft was not given to esoteric knowledge of card games; and his few occult-minded friends such as E. Hoffmann Price and William Lumley do not appear to have had any knowledge of tarot, or at least none is mentioned.

At the same time, we can be fairly certain that Lovecraft was aware that tarot existed, and that cartomancy was a form of divination. Lovecraft had read Lévi’s History of Magic (translated by A. E. Waite), with its references to the tarot; he had also read fictional works like The Golem by Gustav Meyrink (translated by Madge Pemberton), which includes its tarot scene. So it is reasonable to assume that Lovecraft was at least vaguely aware of tarot, its purported occult history, and their use in both games and divination. Certainly, Lovecraft may have been thinking of tarot when he wrote:

One day a caravan of strange wanderers from the South entered the narrow cobbled streets of Ulthar. Dark wanderers they were, and unlike the other roving folk who passed through the village twice every year. In the market-place they told fortunes for silver, […]
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Cats of Ulthar”

Yet this could also have meant palm-reading, or some other form of divination. Lovecraft may have known little solid about tarot until fairly late in life: there is no direct reference to tarot in his early articles attacking astrology, or his outline for The Cancer of Superstition, a book he had planned to write for Harry Houdini, but which was scuttled by the magician’s death. Weird Tales did advertise books of cartomancy, but most of these would have used a standard playing card deck, not tarot.

Cards

Weird Tales May 1935

It is doubtful that Lovecraft would have any strong belief in either the occult history of the tarot, and no belief at all in its value in divination. He was, as the he mentioned to fan Nils Frome in 1937, not a believer in fortune-telling; too much the mechanist materialist. Nor, for all that he read up somewhat on occultism, does Lovecraft appear to have been generally aware of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn or Crowley’s system of Thelema—which is understandable; Lovecraft was no more an occultist than he was a card player.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

West of Innsmouth: A Cthulhu Western (2021) by Kikuchi Hideyuki (菊地 秀行)

I had long thought I wanted to crate an authentic Western. […] Japan has a similar genre in the jidai shōsetsu (historical samural novels), but their high point, the sword duel, can take such a huge variety of shapes that the wirten word can easily match movies when it comes to tension. […] Even so, I never gave up that dream of writing a Western. I wanted to capture the blood-pounding, muscle-flexing excitement I’d felt as a kid watching famous Westerns in novel form.
—Kikuchi Hideyuki (trans. Jim Rion), “Afterward” in West of Innsmouth 211

Kikuchi Hideyuki (菊地 秀行) may be one of the most prolific and original Japanese authors of Cthulhu Mythos fiction. Unfortunately, like a lot of the popular fiction created for Japan, almost none of it is translated for English-speaking audiences. Fans of anime may recognize him as the author behind the series of Vampire Hunter D novels, or the mind behind Wicked City and Demon City Shinjuku which have become classics of horror anime films and Original Video Animation.

West2

In 2015, his novel Jashin Kettō-den (Legend of the Duel of Evil Gods) was published, a Weird Western which sees a a ninja and a bounty hunter mixed up in a bit of occult business with the Esoteric Order of Dagon…and along the way they pass through Dodge City and Tombstone, and places in between. In 2021 the novel, translated by Jim Rion, was published by Kurodahan Press, who have also published many other Mythos works, such as Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健).

Kikuchi Hideyuki has done his homework, and if some of that research was done reading classic Westerns, it still shows. This is not an historical samurai epic in an exotic locale; this is a post-Unforgiven Western, gritty and realistic in parts, with an eye for detail…but with allowances for a few specific callbacks to stories and details that Western fans would recognize. For example, in real life Wyatt Earp probably did not carry a Buntline special—but he does here, and the character is none the worse for.

While the addition of a ninja to a Western milieu may seem odd—or perhaps an episode out of the 1970s Kung Fu television series—there’s no anachronism involved. Japan has had contact with North and South America for centuries, and while that contact was lessened during the isolationist sokaku period, by the 1870s gunboat diplomacy had re-established trade and travel, and some Japanese were among the many Asian peoples that immigrated to North America. A more serious and interesting question is the addition of weird elements.

Iä! Iä! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh
Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl western!
—Kikuchi Hideyuki (trans. Jim Rion), “Afterward” in West of Innsmouth 214

Does West of Innsmouth actually work as a novel? As a weird western, it plays a balancing act between the realistic and the fantastic. Supernatural entities appear, but many of them are perfectly susceptible to a .45 caliber bullet between the eyes or through the heart. The essential plot—what is going and and why the characters do what they do—is actually very solid, with only one quibble: the Japanese co-protagonist is hunting four unusual characters because they killed his brother in Japan at the orders of the Marshes of Innsmouth…but the same characters are being hunted by the American co-protagonist who is working for the Esoteric Order of Dagon. Not an irreconcilable plot hole, but it feels like this is a detail that was overlooked. 

Where the narrative sometimes trips is the extraneous weirdness that tends to crop up along the way. The reader doesn’t need (or get) an explanation for everything, but this ends up being a much more magical Wild West than most readers may be used to, somewhat similar Edward M. Erdelac’s Mekabah Rider series, and there’s perhaps a bit too much of an element of chance in the plot than strictly necessary; too many coincidences, and perhaps too many odd elements that show up briefly and unnecessarily. For example, one antagonist turns out to have learned muay boran from a Thai martial artist in St. Louis…and what are the odds of that?

The Cthulhu Mythos elements are ultimately handled in a very thematic way, with strong visual images for given scenes and repeated motifs that are consistent and have some very effective scenes of horror, but the lore itself handled lightly. The name of Cthulhu is thrown around more often, there is more open talk of spells and incantations, but no one breaks out a Necronomicon or starts giving detailed geneaologies of Innsmouth families; nor does anyone go insane from the revelations. The odd result is that the use of Mythos elements is somewhat restrained, but also much more openly “magical” than you might expect.

In the afterward, Kikuchi Hideyuki admits The Kouga Ninja Scrolls as an inspiration, and you can see some definite thematic resonance there. This is a novel which I think would almost benefit from being longer, or perhaps serialized as a few novellas. The pacing is almost too quick, the challenges all end up being rather short and bloody…but then, this is the Old West, and gunfights often don’t last more than the end of a paragraph, nor should they.

“I can’t figure women for the life of me,” I said. “They give me more fright than Cthulhu himself, maybe.”
—Kikuchi Hideyuki (trans. Jim Rion), West of Innsmouth 194

Sexism and racism were realities in the American Old West, but with today’s audiences a certain balance has to be maintained. So in contemporary Western cinema and literature it’s a fine line between accuracy to the period and necessity to the plot. West of Innsmouth does fairly well overall; the various Native American characters depicted are generally antagonistic, but they aren’t stepping straight out of Hollywood Westerns of the 1950s, 60s, or 70s (although ironically given Hollywood’s penchant for redface, a couple of times Asian characters are mistaken for Native Americans in the novel.) Black characters are mostly absent, and figure very little into events, but aren’t depicted as caricatures. There are several women supporting characters, including a brief but memorable cameo by Belle Starr. Overall, it is a balancing act, and I would say Kikuchi Hideyuki leans on the side of being less prone to putting old-timey racism in his characters’ mouths, although keeps enough prejudice in the story to demonstrate that yet, it was present in the Old West.

There are few enough Weird Westerns that deal with the Cthulhu Mythos, and compared to works like “Showdown at Red Hook” (2011) by Lois H. Gresh, or Weird Trails (2004)West of Innsmouth is certainly more ambitious than most. As a novel it compares favorably with works like Cthulhu Armageddon: A Post Apocalypse Western (2016) by C. T. Phipps, and if it is not perfect, it is never boring, nor does it devolve into white hats versus black hats. Overall, it’s fair to say that Kikuchi Hideyuki succeeded in writing a real western.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” (2021) by Molly Tanzer

 I can see it a little when I make the Voorish sign or blow the powder of Ibn Ghazi at it, and it is near like them at May-Eve on the Hill.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Libido sciendi is the desire to know; the pull that drives people to squint through keyholes, pry up rocks and flagstones, to pick the lock on your sister’s diary. It is a very Lovecraftian drive, and one that applies equally well to the investigators of a Cthulhu Mythos story and to many readers themselves. How many young men and women have sat down to make lists of strange titles in Lovecraft’s stories, tracked hints between stories, read dead men’s letters, searched online to ferret out connections? It is not too much to say that generations have persisted in plumbing the Lovecraftian debts…and yet exciting would it be to find one more mystery to uncover?

Molly Tanzer wants readers to know that “this story is based on a true experience of mine. I really did have the thought, Oh, I loved that story, ‘In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi,’ when I picked up that card in Arkham Horror, years agao now. But after many, many deep Googles and queries to editors whom I thought might have published it later, I was forced to conclude that no such story exists. Last year, I picked up that card again in the game, and after doing yet another deep dive into the annals of the internet, I thought to myself, ‘I should just write it, then.”
—epigraph to “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021), 126

If you want to get technical about it, Molly Tanzer is playing a very old game in this story. A person in the real world finds a hint that something in Lovecraft’s fiction might be real. Lovecraft would mention his friend Clark Ashton Smith among the artists of the Mythos, August Derleth put copies of Arkham House’s Lovecraft books on the same shelf as the Necronomicon in some of his stories, Joanna Russ had a fan run across a genuine Lovecraftian horror in “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket—But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!“, Robert Bloch in Strange Eons has someone run across an original Pickman painting. The fun of the game is guessing where the dividing line is—how much of what Lovecraft wrote is real? How did he know?

Tanzer teases the reader a better than most. The themes are play are so hoary and well-worn they’re like an old ratty pair of slippers, so easy and comfortable to slip into you almost wouldn’t wear anything else. The protagonist knows that the set-up has to be fake, recognizes the theatricality of it, even reels off the names of familiar works like The Wicker Man and Murder on the Orient Express as a knowing wink to what is about to happen—and the reader keeps reading anyway. It isn’t that Tanzer is being unoriginal, it’s just that it’s almost a ritual with readers at this point. They recognize all the signs, and appreciate the set up, but what they want…what they need…is to know the secret of the ending.

A large part of the appeal of the story will be for Lovecraftian enthusiasts. The nameless protagonist is not explicitly Molly Tanzer herself, but in the sense of “write what you know,” enough of Tanzer is stamped on the character’s backstory to lend verisimilitude. It gives room for little in-jokes. When Tanzer writes:

And it was actually S. T. Joshi who first called me a minor Lovecraftian author, so the scales balance out on that one. I think he was trying to hurt my feelings, but there’s no point to being offended by the truth.
—Molly Tanzer, “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021), 140

S. T. Joshi is a noted Lovecraft scholar, biographer, writer, and critic who is somewhat famous for being acerbic. If he doesn’t like something, Joshi makes no bones about it. For fans of Lovecraftian fiction, two sentences is enough to invoke the image of S. T. damning someone with faint praise. This isn’t so much a jibe at the Old Man of Lovecraft Studies so much as a wink-and-a-nod at the realities; whether or not Joshi actually said something like this to Tanzer is less important than this is something he might well say. Lovecraft fans familiar with Joshi will recognize the hint; like many real-life people who found fictional versions of themselves appearing in Lovecraftian stories, Joshi has crossed that threshold a few times—most notably in the final issue of Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows graphic novel Providence.

There is a lot to like about the story. Tanzer has a great deal of skill in creating convincing snippets of authentic-sounding antique prose, and an awareness of how language and tone reveal little slip-ups when you’re trying to make a text sound old to an audience. The nested narrative structure is a complicated one, the kind of thing Lovecraft would use to good effect in stories like “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. At one point, I thought one of the key nested episodes was paraphrasing one of the tales of the Scheherazade—but no, it was something of Tanzer’s own design, though with a hint of the folktale about it.

There is a lot that is Lovecraftian about “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi,” but there are no tentacles or blasphemous names, no Necronomicons, and the gnosis that reader and unnamed protagonist seek is, in the end, not another nugget of Mythos lore. This is not a locked-room mystery where you guess who the killer is on page three, nor a standard Cthulhu yarn where you’re waiting for the cultists in the funny robes and wavy daggers to come out of the literary woodwork. But if the reader is willing to suspend their disbelief a little, and enjoy the ride, they may find find it worth the journey.

“In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” (2021) by Molly Tanzer was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021).


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee

As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, & supernatural themes—in all truth, they don’t amount to much. That is why it’s more fun to invent mythical works like the Necronomicon & Book of Eibon. The magical lore which superstitious people really believed, & which trickled down to the Middle Ages from antiquity, was really nothing more than a lot of childish invocations & formulae for raising daemons &c., plus systems of speculation as dry as the orthodox philosophies.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 28 July 1926, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 378

People have always believed in magic, even if they haven’t always called it magic. This was rarely the kind of magic we might associate with fantasy fiction today; practitioners generally weren’t throwing fireballs. The form and goals of magic have always changed to match the syntax of the era. In ancient Rome, someone might scratch a curse on a tablet of lead, or have a diviner root around in entrails to answer a personal question, or wear an amulet to ensure an easy childbirth. In Lovecraft’s lifetime, they might check their horoscope in the newspaper, carry a rabbit’s foot on their keychain, or let someone hypnotize them.

When most people think of “real” magic, they think less of this kind of superstition and pseudoscience, as Lovecraft would put it, and more on specific tropes of grimoires, spellcasting, magic circles, maybe witchcraft and cults as described in The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray. Ancient traditions passed down, either in oral traditions or crumbling books and manuscripts, or both. Lovecraft lived and wrote during the period called the Third Great Awakening which saw the rise of organized occultism (in the form of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, and other groups), an increased focus on Spiritualism and other new religious movements, increased interest in ancient religions thanks to advances in archaeology, scientific interest in supernatural phenomena (as explored by the Society for Psychical Research and other groups), and wider publication of occult literature to an increasingly literate public. Owen Davies explores the magical world of Lovecraft’s era in his book A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination, and Faith during the First World War.

After World War II, magic continued to be popular. Aleister Crowley, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, had developed its system of ceremonial magick into an influential system of belief called Thelema. Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, among others, formulated and organized contemporary witchcraft as Wicca. Interest in psychic phenomena, Eastern spirituality, and more new religious movements increased during the 1960s. Aleister Crowley’s secretary Kenneth Grant rose to prominence by expanding the system of ceremonial magic—and incorporating in elements of Lovecraft’s fictional Mythos. Anton LeVay, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966, also worked some Lovcraftian material in. In New York City in 1977, a Necronomicon appeared that purported to be a genuine grimoire. For more on such developments, check out The History of British Magick After Crowley and The Necronomicon Files.

While some might argue that all occult literature is in some sense fiction, the development of the Lovecraftian occult was different from claims to have found an ancient magical manuscript and translated it, or to have received a communication from some spirit from “outside.” While some of it (like the Simon Necronomicon) was deliberately fraudulent, the Lovecraftian occult proved to be no different, in the end, to any material derived from traditional sources. A little weird, maybe, and consciously derived from the works of a dead pulp writer rather than some medieval magician, but for people who found defined gods as ideas, concepts, and symbols—what was the difference between a traditional goddess such as Isis and a fictional one like Shub-Niggurath? If you believed enough, and if the rituals you worked around the idea worked well enough for you—why not be a Lovecraftian magician?

This postmodern approach to magick, where prospective magicians were not restricted to traditional systems but pursued a more individual, personal, even eclectic and experiential approach has sometimes been called Chaos magick. Lovecraftian occultism has incorporated by many chaos magicians (or chaotes) into their personal mythology, most notably by Phil Hine in The Pseudonomicon. This approach has in turn inspired takes on Lovecraftian spirituality, notably When the Stars Are Right: Toward an Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality by Scott R. Jones, and Lovecraftian occultism has influenced Lovecraftian fiction.

Which is a very long prologue to begin talking about Trolling Lovecraft by V. McAfee.

I’m not really familiar with his history
enough to do that…
but I guess I could give it a shot. Like go
back to when he was a kid and haunt him
with weird bs?
—V. McAfee, Trolling Lovecraft 5

McAfee’s debut novel is told from the perspective of Dyl, a working chaos magician. It is occult fiction in the sense that it follows the precepts of chaos magic, without explaining the terminology or many of the concepts. Readers who aren’t familiar with sigil-making, or how you might charge an orgone accumulator, are going to miss a few things. While I wouldn’t be surprised if McAfee was very familiar with Hine and the Pseudonomicon, the focus of the novel is not some exegesis on Lovecraftian occultism…it’s the use of chaos magic for a very specific purpose: trolling Lovecraft.

There are a lot of ways for dealing with life, the things it throws at you, and historical figures like H. P. Lovecraft. Many writers have addressed Lovecraft and his work in many ways in fiction, from reverence to revulsion, ridicule to reimagining. None of these are wrong; a writer might express their appreciation for Lovecraft by creating a fictional version of them in their story, as Robert Silverberg did in “Gilgamesh in the Outback”, or work out frustration by calling out his racism as N. K. Jemisin did in The City We Became. Chaos magic is as valid an approach as any other—and maybe as valid a goal for chaos magic as any other operation.

He took his copy of a collection of Lovecraft’s prose off the shelf and found Beyond the Wall of Sleep, one of his favorites and one of the original pieces that he was going to mess with. He read through it quickly and found it unchanged, just as Her Greatness had said. Then, Dyl pulled up a transcription on the web and found that the phrase ’empire of Tsan-Chan’ had in fact been changed to ’empire of Fiat-Nox’.
—V. McAfee, Trolling Lovecraft 67

While trolling Lovecraft is the premise of the novel, the focus is on Dyl and the consequences of his actions. Like many magicians, he’s young, male, egotistical, often horny, and perpetually getting himself into deeper and deeper shit through poor life choices. This is not a magical adventure in the sense that Dyl has to find an ancient grimoire bound in human skin and has to defeat Cthulhu before the evil cult can summon him into the real world; this is an extraordinarily personal journey about someone who becomes unmoored from his personal reality because he decided to troll Lovecraft…and while many other people might not believe in it, it’s real for him.

Which is what chaos magic is all about.

Trolling Lovecraft was written by V. McAfee for NaNoWriMo 2020, and a print edition was successfully funded and delivered on Kickstarter in 2021. Digital copies can be purchased at the Gate Zero shop on Etsy and Gumroad.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021) by J. Lily Corbie

“The only times women are even mentioned in these books, we’re…sacrifices or vessels. We’re things, tools to use, a means to an end.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

2021 marks a century of women being involved with the Cthulhu Mythos. From “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter to She Walks In Shadows (2015) and Dreams From The Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (2015), through all of the women who Lovecraft collaborated with and ghostwrote for, the women fans who wrote poems and stories and novels of the Mythos over the decades expanding and exploring the shared world. Women were there from the beginning…and they are still here, still writing, still creating new art, fiction, poetry, etc.

For all that women have made their mark in the literature of Lovecraftian fiction, the place of women within the Mythos has been less explored. Many authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s original stories and characters in various ways. “The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas offers a new way of looking at “The Mound”; “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales explores patriarchy in Innsmouth; “Magna Mater” (2015) by Arinn Dembo posits a matriarchial twist on “Arthur Jermyn”; “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron offer two different interpretations of Mamie Bishop from “The Dunwich Horror.” The story of women in the Mythos has been recast, reexamined, expanded and elaborated upon; their legacies continue to grow.

Yet very rarely is this a case of women within the stories on a journey of discovery for the women that came before them. We don’t often see female characters confront the fact that the stories of Keziah Mason, Lavinia Whateley, and Marceline Bedard within the fictional universe are few, and mostly related by men. A hypothetical woman student, searching for women cultists, might be hard-pressed to find anything definitive about what role women played in the rites and ceremonies of the cult of Cthulhu. Historical sexism is alive and well in Lovecraft country.

As we walked between them, she said, “It wasn’t deliberate.” She glanced at me sideways. “Most of the time, at least. Our works have been discarded and destroyed because they were simply considered unimportant or uninteresting. They were lost to history through accident and neglect as often as malice. They’ve gone unarchived in libraries, uncollected in museums for those same reasons. But the dreamlands are ours.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

In The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray, the Salem Witch Trials are attributed to the persecution of an actual coven. Those Salem witches, both the real women who died and the fictional counterparts they inspired, like Keziah Mason in “The Dreams in the Witch House,” have left descendents—and a stamp on the collective memory. To some, like Lovecraft’s unnamed correspondent who claimed descent from Mary Easty, witchcraft was real—or at least something she wanted to be real. A spiritual heritage that she could be a part of.

Corbie’s “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” is similar to “Down into Silence” (2018) by Storm Constantine in that there is a wistfulness to it. In a contemporary, mundane world with smartphones and the internet, the legends of Arkham’s witch-haunted streets seems far away, and perhaps a bit silly. In her version of Arkham, which could easily fit in the same world as Constantine’s Innsmouth, students grown at failed rituals and wonder if the fault is in them…or if there just isn’t any magic in the first place. No deeper truth to learn.

Is it the case that the Mythos isn’t real—or is it just not for women?

In many ways, Corbie’s answer to that reflects the truth of women’s continued contributions to the Mythos. While their work may be overlooked or forgotten for a time, it is still there—and they are still there, waiting to be discovered. Sometimes with a little help from their friends, sisters, fellow initiates and would-be-cultists. It’s not just that women are an intimate and vital part of creating the Mythos, but they are an intimate and vital part of the fictional universe of the Mythos. You do not have a Dunwich horror without Lavinia Whateley.

Corbie’s approach to the story is multi-layered, bordering on the metafictional. While she’s keeping it strictly within the confines of the fictional universe where Arkham and Miskatonic University are real, there are contemporary sensibilities at play in how she re-interprets some of the events and characters. Marceline Bedard of “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, for example, is described as:

“Murdered,” she said, “for perceived sins of ancestry rather than the sins of her voluntary commission.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

As a narrative, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” is ultimately an extended induction, both for the protagonist Lizza and for the readers. No Merlin is here to guide a young Arthur to the sword in the stone, no Hagrid appears to say: “You’re a wizard, Harry.” If Lizza and her friends want to be witches in the Lovecraftian vein, they have to find out how to open that door themselves…and it is every bit as perilous, damaging, and difficult one might expect. It’s not enough to copy the words from the old books and say them at the right time.

The real question we are left with…the stories yet to be told…are what Lizza might do with her Silver Key, once she gets it. Those should be worth reading.

J. Lily Corbie’s “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” was published on her blog on 1 May 2021.


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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.