Tide of Desire (1983) by Sheena Clayton

“Their religion? You mean, they have one of their own?”

“The Reformed Order of Dagon. It’s a branch, or a schism of a church that was founded in Massachusetts about a hundred and fifty years ago. As I understand it, the main body of the church was stamped out by some pretty high-handed federal action back in the nineteen-twenties. But they never got around to bothering the Squampottis bunch, either because they’re so isolated, or because cooler heads prevailed in Washington. The thing in Massachusetts was remarkably well hushed-up. All the relevant government records have been destroyed.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The very first erotic novel to deal with the legacy of Innsmouth came from the typewriter of Brian McNaughton. Active as a fan during his teenage years in the 1950s, McNaughton was briefly a journalist before turning his hand to erotic novels, starting with In Flagrant Delight (1971). His “break” came in the late 70s when he began producing erotic horror novels, starting with Satan’s Love Child (1977)—the publisher’s title, not his—which included elements of or references to the Cthulhu Mythos. It was successful enough to merit several other books, and McNaughton transitioned back over into doing mainstream horror in Weirdbook and other publications, and won the World Fantasy Award for Throne of Bones (1997).

Erotic horror wasn’t exactly new, as Grady Hendrix notes in Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, sex has long been a selling point and those two decades saw a boom in erotic horror and horror erotica. Still, this was a decade before Ramsey Campbell’s Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death (1987) or the anthology Hot Blood (1989), and erotic horror fiction of the period tended to work off existing properties like Universal Monsters or classic horror novels—The Adult Version of Dracula (1970) and The Adult Version of Frankenstein (1970) being exemplary of the latter trend. By comparison, Lovecraft was largely a virgin field for erotic horror, or at least not entirely played out.

Beginning in the early 1980s, McNaughton wrote a series of erotic novels for Tigress Books. These were written under the pseudonym “Sheena Clayton,” and the line itself may have been aimed more at a female audience than typical adult novels of the period, a more hot-blooded and explicit counterpart to mainstream romance novels. The books tend to feature female protagonists and writers with female names, and the relatively sedate photo covers give the impression. On the name, McNaughton once wrote:

Sheena Clayton was the illegitimate daughter of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and
John Clayton, Lord Greystroke. I channeled her in several novels, of which TIDE OF
DESIRE may have been the best. (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos 202)

These novels were Love and Desire (1982), The Aura of Seduction (1982), Tide of Desire
(1982/3), Danielle Book Two (1983), There Lies Love (1983), and Perfect Love (1983). All of these to greater or lesser extant contain references to the Mythos. For example, Edward Pickman Derby appears briefly as a member of a “Rats in the Walls”-esque Magna Mater cult in Love and Desire; Ramsey Campbell’s Lovecraftian fictional grimoire Astral Rape from his novel The Parasite (1980) is prominent in Danielle Book Two; and the cult in Perfect Love was founded by a Rev. H. P. Whateley from Arkham, Massachusetts.

Inside the door, Cthulhu ran up with a hearty meow, and he seemed just as glad to see Melisande as herself. The girl was quite indifferent to him, however, perhaps even a bit impatient with his rubbing against her ankles.

“Scat!” Antonia cried, moving him along with a nudge of her toe. “Cthulhu doesn’t normally take to strangers.”

“Who?” The girl seemed startled, even shocked.

“Cthulhu. That’s the cat’s name.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The style of the novel partakes strongly of the Derlethian combination that Lovecraft’s fictional works exist in the world of Tide of Desire, and that the stories chronicle at least partially real events, so that the Mythos definitely exists. A good point of comparison might be Robert Bloch’s novel Strange Eons (1979). More interesting for fans of McNaughton’s later Mythos fiction is that several of the concepts for the Deep One culture are carried over between the novel and his story “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999). For example, the idea of a Deep One hybrid transitioning from land to water is called “Passing Over”:

“Dagon flay me alive! Ye be right! What an old ninny I be! Our Caleb’s daughter, she passed over a good ten-fifteen years ago. I ain’t seed her lately, but she be down there, don’t you worry. You look like her; that got me all confused. You look like her before she passed over, I mean. I never seed her before she passed over, of course, but I got her picture as a girl someplace. Our Caleb sent pictures of him and his mainland wife and all their kids to prove that the kids didn’t have the look, no more’n he did. But that girl sure did, all right. Poor Caleb. He was right about hisself, he never passed over, but he never told his daughter a word about the Blessing of the Deep Ones. So there she lied, passing over in the middle of nowhere, miles from the sea, and not knowing what the hell were happening to her.”

Mrs. Nicker mumbled to herself as she debated the whereabouts of the photograph she’d mentioned. Then she said to Antonia: “But by pure luck-or more likely it were the hand of Dagon stretching out to help her-there were this colored man from New Orleans who knew somewhat about the doings of the Deep Ones, and he told her she had better get herself to the sea, fast. She paid him to help her, and he took her to… where? To Charleston, South Carolina, that’s right! So she got there just in time to pass over. Then she come to Squampottis and told us all about it. It were the most exciting thing happened on this here island since the visitation of Shug-N’gai, just after the federals smote all them blasphemers and heretics at Innsmouth. That were in nineteen-and-twenty-eight, I do believe. Who says my memory ain’t perfect, hey? Don’t you try to tell me about our Caleb, boy. You wasn’t even borned then.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The gist of the novel is that the protagonist, Antonia Shiel, is herself a descendant of the Deep Ones whose body is preparing to “cross over,” encountering a splinter sect of the Esoteric Order of Dagon on Squampottis Island—and realizing too late that she herself has the “Squampottis look.” the changes in herself adding a touch of body horror to the novel as her hair falls out and her feet swell…all of which are undone by the ending.

“Your hair seems to be thicker all of a sudden,” he noted admiringly. “That lovely pubic patch is just like a beautiful young woman’s, and not bare like a child’s. And the hair on your scalp looks thicker already.” (ibid)

The novel comes to an abrupt, jarringly disconcerting “happy ending” very atypical for McNaughton’s novels, as the novel was bowdlerized badly by the editors. McNaughton found the original ending and was revising Tide of Desire for eventual publication at Wildside Press, under the title Riptide. However, McNaughton’s untimely death in 2004 appears to have ended any plans to republish the novel. We can only speculate what the original ending would have been, but given that the story as a whole is a kind of contemporary, sexually explicit update to “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” it would have been both appropriate and in keeping with the tone of the novel if Antonia had “passed over” and joined the Deep Ones.

It would be wrong to say that Tide of Desire, or any of the Sheena Clayton novels, were influential. Pornography is ephemeral literature, and the novels didn’t make much of a splash in Lovecraftian circles when they came out. Which is unfortunate because, as Matthew Carpenter notes in his own review and synopsis, this is actually a very competent Mythos novel, and presaged some of the ideas developed independently by later writers. Sonya Taaffe in “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) wrote about some hybrids that don’t make the transition, and McNaughton wrote:

“It’s me that’ll die, it’s me that’ll be dumped into the ground like dead meat.” She began to sob bitterly, clawing at the arms of the chair with abnormally large hands. “Oh, you should see Rev. Preserved. He’s like an angel! Just last month I seed him in all his glory at Marsh Cove, taking no less than a dozen of our maidens, and our Melly one of them. Whether she be carrying his child or not, I don’t know, it be too soon to tell. When Rev. Pre served told me to have faith, I nearly believed it. He were like a god walking on earth. He said I’d pass over yet, but I don’t believe him now. Dead meat in the churchyard, that’s where I be bound.” (ibid.)

Tide of Desire is not quite the spiritual ancestor of erotic Deep One works such as The Innsmouth Porno VHS (2014), Innsmouth After Dark (2014), Taken By The Deep Ones (2015), Ichythic in the Afterglow (2015), and The Pleasures Under Innsmouth (2020). There is rather less sex, and that less explicit, than one might think; there are no sexual encounters such as in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Neonomicon (2011).

Which makes sense, because Brian McNaughton was not writing an erotic story dealing primarily with sexual encounters with Deep Ones, a horror story not afraid to go into details like mature sexual relationships, body image issues over breast size and pubic hair, etc. Vulgar terms for genitalia are completely absent. One of the more explicit passages in the book is almost sedate by contemporary standards:

She’d had only two hours of fitful sleep, sleep plagued by distorted versions of her conversations with the Boggs boy and Rev. Marsh and Mrs. Nicker; by dreams in which she gazed on a hostile world through a black veil, where she lay wheezing in a dark bedroom in Hamlen, where a long-dead minister pinned her against the Joyful Pillar in the town square with ravaging thrusts of his phallus while Melisande Seale looked on with demonic glee. (ibid.)

More of a dry (wet?) run for the paranormal romance novel genre, in many respects.

Whatever the initial print run was, Tide of Desire did not become an instant collector’s item. Very few copies of any of the Sheena Clayton novels appear to survive, with Tide of Desire being noted as especially rare…at last in the English version.

tide_japan (1)

By a quirk of fate, Tide of Desire actually got a Japanese translation and publication in 1984. 謎に包まれた孤島の愛 was one of a number of erotic novels translated into Japanese for mail order. Although out-of-print, copies may still be available today on the second-hand market.

For those who do desperately desire to read this novel, while the paperback is long out of print, ebook editions (really text files, but beggars cannot be choosers) of the Sheena Clayton novels are available from Triple X Books.

 


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

“The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys

Keener news-followers, however, wondered at the prodigious number of arrests, the abnormally large force of men used in making them, and the secrecy surrounding the disposal of the prisoners. No trials, or even definite charges, were reported; nor were any of the captives seen thereafter in the regular gaols of the nation. There were vague statements about disease and concentration camps, and later about dispersal in various naval and military prisons, but nothing positive ever developed. Innsmouth itself was left almost depopulated, and is even now only beginning to shew signs of a sluggishly revived existence.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Concentration camps today are largely associated with the second World War: the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Bataan death march and other horrors. The Nazi government would begin the creation of concentration camps soon after Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933…but Lovecraft would not have known about this at the time he was writing “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in Nov-Dec 1931. Lovecraft’s use of the idea would hearken back to the first World War, when the United States and other nations interned “enemy aliens”—sometimes on the basis of ethnicity and nationality, sometimes for disloyalty, real or suspected.

The reference to concentration camps in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is thus a sub rosa nod to readers, cluing them in that these people were different and perhaps held dangerous loyalties. Yet it is a message whose meaning has changed over time. Readers who have grown up in the aftermath of World War II, with a full awareness of the horrors that the Nazis would accomplish and the extremes that Americans would go to when driven by fear and prejudice—and because of this change in syntax, it has inspired different fictional interpretations, the two most notable of which are Brian McNaughton’s “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) and Ruthanna Emrys “The Litany of Earth” (2014).

We need not dust off the history of our nation’s dealings with the Indians to find examples of genocide, nor even go so far from our doorsteps as Montgomery, Alabama, to see instances of racism. Right here in our own state of Massachusetts, in February of 1928, agents of the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments perpetrated crimes worthy of Nazi Germany against a powerless minority of our citizens…
—Brian McNaughton, “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (Even More Nasty Stories 7)

McNaughton’s opening sets the scene: the events of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” are not undone, but are showcased in an entirely different light, in line with contemporary attitudes towards racial prejudice and xenophobia. The raid becomes not a protective government hand sweeping in to solve a terrible threat, but a jackbooted act of discrimination, with a reductio ad Hitlerum thrown in just in case anyone missed it. This was immensely novel at the time, and the story carries on from there in much the same vein: set in the modern day, two generations removed the end of Lovecraft’s story, Bob Smith is a descendant of Innsmouth, his grandmother being one of the few that escaped the federal raid, and apparently ignorant of the Innsmouth heritage, the religion…all of it, except what bits and fragments his senile grandmother had told him.

Part of what makes McNaughton’s story work is what is said and left unsaid. Readers who may empathize with Bob Smith and the other Innsmouth residents are subtly reminded at every turn, without being explicit, that these people are not entirely human, that their religion (“In the name of Mother Hydra!”) was real, and also that they face prejudice from being who they are and holding to their beliefs. Shades of the Holocaust, with a blending of conspiracy theory and institutional racism; but where a Jew might be called a “hymie,” the Innsmouth pejorative is “Kermie”—after Kermit the Frog, to reflect their batrachian appearance.

The twist of the story is not so much the action climax, or the revelations about Bob Smith’s extracurricular activities that follow, but that the residents of Innsmouth are at least as dangerous as Lovecraft had written them, with McNaughton’s own small embellishments on Esoteric Order of Dagon theology and ceremonies adding a rather more overtly sordid and bloody emphasis. It’s a subversion of expectations: in an era when judging people by appearance, ethnicity, and religion are all considered taboo, when the discrimination and prejudice they have suffered is shown at length and in great detail, with parallels drawn to that experienced by real-life groups…readers may well have been sympathetic for Bob Smith, until he showed his true colors.

What stops “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” from being a fable whose moral is that race prejudice is a positive thing? McNaughton was clever enough to make use of the racial allegories that can be read in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and contemporary post-WWII, post-Civil Rights era mentality, and bold enough to do a Twilight Zone-esque subversion of expectations, but the subtextual message of the story is unpleasant: that sometimes prejudices are justified. It’s doubtful McNaughton ever intended that specific reading; after all, the idea that the residents of Innsmouth are partially inhuman fish-people is normally taken for granted by Mythos authors—and that itself is part of the problem.

The idea that there is a race that is inherently considered monstrous and a threat to “regular” humans in fiction is already unpleasantly close to the stereotypes and libels applied to real-world minorities and ethnic groups. The fact that writers use that idea without examination of the underlying implications is worse—nothing McNaughton writes about Deep Ones and Innsmouth hybrids is very different than the characterization in “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader or “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens. However, because he specifically invoked tropes of institutional racism, prejudice, and hate crimes, McNaughton is taking the subtext and making it text—what could be read as a dog whistle in the first “Innsmouth” becomes blatant in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth.” The latter remains a good story, but also serves as an example for why it can be very difficult to tell stories that interact with racism in a realistic way in Lovecraft’s fiction.

In the evenings, the radio told what I had missed: an earth-spanning war, and atrocities in Europe to match and even exceed what had been done to both our peoples. We did not ask, the Kotos and I, whether our captors too would eventually be called to justice. The Japanese American community, for the most part, was trying to put the camps behind them. And it was not the way of my folk—who had grown resigned to the camps long before the Kotos’ people were sent to join us, and who no longer had a community on land—to dwell on impossibilities.
—Ruthanna Emrys, “The Litany of Earth”

Emrys starts from the same place as McNaughton: the Innsmouth diaspora. In her setting, the concentration camps of 1928 faded into those set up for Japanese-Americans starting in 1942. Innsmouth is mostly gone, and after her release Aphra Marsh too tries to reclaim what bits and pieces she can of her heritage, while living with the Japanese family she had shared the camp with.

What is markedly different between the two stories is tone. “The Litany of Earth” is a not a horror story, but a dark fantasy. There is no subtle hinting; the Cthulhu Mythos is real to Aphra, a part of her old life before the government shut her away and what she hopes to get back. While race is still a point of discrimination, Emrys focuses on religion and the eradication of history and culture:

In ’26, the whole religion were declared enemies of the state, and we started looking out for anyone who said the wrong names on Sunday night, or had the wrong statues in their churches. You know where it goes from there.

Contrasting with Aphra is FBI Agent Spector: an agent of the government that imprisoned her, a German immigrant of Jewish descent. Almost a literal “Good German.” Their shared experience of discrimination provides at least a slight thawing of relations, though not instant rapport. After all, he needs her help.

“And every religion has its fanatics, who are willing to do terrible things in the name of their god. No one is immune.” His lips quirked. “It’s a failing of humanity, not of any particular sect.”

The focus on religion cuts away from some of the less pleasant aspects of Lovecraft’s concentration camp victims. Aphra Marsh and her folk are a people apart, but a sharp delineation is made between the cultists of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” less of race and more in understanding and approach: in Agent Spector’s plea for cooperation, it is the extremists with their blood sacrifices that are the bad guys. Even among those there are poseurs, con-artists, the desperate and deluded.

Yet Aphra Marsh sticks to Lovecraft’s script that the Deep Ones are a different race of people, and that their attributes are not those of homo sapiens. Biological immortality, an ancient culture and eldritch lore, an attachment to aspects of nature—the Deep Ones in “The Litany of Earth” are the second cousins of Tolkien’s Sea Elves from The Lord of the Rings. As in Tolkien’s work, there is a pettiness to some humans, a clash over the limited lifespan compared to those of the elder folk. The same essential conflict, only with Lovecraftian trappings.

Thus, “The Litany of Earth” shares some of the same problems as “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth.” The central falseness of racism and racialism is that humans are, for better or for worse, all basically the same. Races are a social construct, not a biological one. Different populations may exhibit common features due to shared ancestry, but homo sapiens is one species. The Deep Ones are different. They may look human, when young; they may interbreed with humans, yet they are fundamentally other. In the fantasy setting of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Deep Ones embody the Nazi conception of a race apart far more than the Jews ever did.

When the lines between allegory and exposition are erased, you’re not looking at racism as was understood and practiced by Lovecraft, or in the concentration camps of World War II. If the subject of fantastic racism actually is alien, the dynamic shifts and the old arguments used to oppose it have to shift as well. The trappings are the same, but you’re not dealing with human-on-human racism, but something akin to destroying the natural habitat of apes and cetaceans and keeping them in captivity—and whether or not the detainees have human-level intelligence, or what constitutes “human” as far as rights, become part of the conversation. Or at least it should.

Neither McNaughton or Emrys really want to explore that direction in these stories; their narratives depend on Deep Ones that are human enough to face prejudice and be sympathetic, and alien enough to provide a core of real insurmountable difference with actual humans. Both McNaughton and Emrys also hedge away from miscegenation and immigration, arguably the most prominent themes regarding race in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” There’s no real discussion in either story of the Deep Ones having come to Innsmouth from somewhere else and absorbing or displacing the population; the threat to humanity is never existential as far as Deep Ones irrevocably contaminating the human gene pool or culture. The protagonists in each story are members of an embattled minority, almost an endangered species, at least on land.

Genocide is the shadow that hangs over both McNaughton and Emrys’ versions of Innsmouth. The purpose of concentration camps when Lovecraft wrote “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was internment, at least in the United States; yet it lead inexorably to the effort to exterminate entire peoples by the Nazis. In “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth,” the effort is ongoing, albeit less direct; in “The Litany of Earth,” the FBI’s focus has shifted to cultists, but it took WWII for them to begin to face their mistakes. In both cases, families were broken up, generations lost. McNaughton and Emyrs looked, with the wizened eyes of those who have seen the outcome of the Holocaust, past the end that Lovecraft wrote at the consequences which he did not, could not fully predict.

Complaints from many liberal organisations were met with long confidential discussions, and representatives were taken on trips to certain camps and prisons. As a result, these societies became surprisingly passive and reticent. Newspaper men were harder to manage, but seemed largely to coöperate with the government in the end.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Brian McNaughton got his start as a writer in the fan-scene of the 1950s; worked as a newspaperman, and eventually spent over a decade writing pornographic novels and stories for adult magazines, before crossing back over into horror and weird fiction in the 1980s, where he won acclaim, including a World Fantasy Award in 1997. He wrote a number of Cthulhu Mythos stories, with a penchant for outrageousness, sexuality, and black humor. His best short horror fiction is collected in Nasty Stories (2000) and Even More Nasty Stories (2002), and he wrote several novels of the Cthulhu Mythos—including a pornographic novel involving another Innsmouth survivor, Tide of Desire (1982) under the name Sheena Clayton. He died in 2004.

Ruthanna Emrys continues the story of Aphra Marsh in her series The Innsmouth Legacy, currently consisting of Winter Tide (2017) and Deep Roots (2018). Her Lovecraftian short fiction includes “Those Who Watch” (2016), and with Ann M. Pillsworth she is part of Tor.com’s series The Lovecraft Reread.


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