“Dope War of the Black Tong” (1996) by Robert M. Price

[…] we present an original story by the estimable Price, which is dedicated to Lin Carter and Robert E. Howard, as it utilizes Carter’s Dr. Anton Zarnak and Howard’s Steve Harrison. Its style brings back memories of the weird mysteries which Howard was noted for.
—Edward P. Berglund, “Preface to the Revised Edition” Disciples of Cthulhu (2nd Rev. Ed.) vi

In the Spring of 1933, Robert E. Howard got himself a new agent. Otis Adelbert Kline was a pulp writer himself, and had been a reader for Weird Tales in the early days, ghost-editing a single issue to bridge the gap between the outgoing Edwin Baird and the incoming Farnsworth Wright. Kline’s agency handle the promotion and collection of Howard’s work, freeing the Texas pulpster to simply write, and the agent encouraged Howard to splash new markets—to spread his literary wings and try his hands at not just weird fiction but spicy stories and detective fiction.

It was the great period of hardboiled detective fiction, which would become so married to film noir; the pulp magazine Black Mask thrilled to Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op and Sam Spade, Raymond Chandler’s John Dalmas. Yet it was also the era of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels. Yellow Peril literature was still going strong in the interwar period; H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard exchanged letters discussing the danger threatened by Imperial Japan, on the rise since their victories in the Russo-Japanese War and the Great War, and worried over the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931, and the looming probability of a great race war in the perhaps not too distant future.

This was the background against which Howard created Steve Harrison, star of nine weird detective stories, four of which sold and were published in magazines like Strange Detective Stories, Super-Detective Stories, and Thrilling Mystery between 1934 and 1936. Harrison’s beat was normally the local Chinatown, and the plots tend to be more oriented toward action than detection. Racism and racial conflict are part and parcel for the stories; Robert E. Howard, who had written quite a bit for Oriental Stories, obviously never heard Robert Knox’s rule that “No Chinaman must figure in the story.”

“Three unsolved murders in a week are not so unusual—for River Street,” grunted Steve Harrison, shifting his muscular bulk restlessly in his chair. […]

“It’s your business to solve murders,” she said.”

“Give me a little time. You can’t rush things, when you’re dealing with the people of the Oriental quarter.”

“You have less time than you think,” she answered cryptically. […] “Do you remember Erlik Khan?”

Involuntarily his hand sought his face, where a thin-scar ran from temple to jaw-rim.

“I’m not likely to forget him,” he grunted. “A Mongol who called himself Lord of the Dead. His idea was to combine all the Oriental criminal societies in America in one big organization, with himself at the head. He might have done it, too, if his own men hadn’t turned on him.”
—Robert E. Howard, “Names in the Black Book” (1934) in Steve Harrison’s Casebook 143

Occult detective Anton Zarnak was created by Lin Carter in the late 1980s, first as a minor character in “Curse of the Black Pharaoh,” and then star of his own adventures—sometimes written by Carter, others by Robert M. Price, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr; Pierre Comtois, and C. J. Henderson. Carter alongside L. Sprague de Camp had a hand in the legacies of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard; the two collaborated on many further adventures for Conan; revised, finished, or re-wrote Howard’s fiction; published highly-regarded fantasy anthologies and wrote articles promoting weird fiction and sword & sorcery. Lin Carter also created his own “Xothic Cycle” to expand on the work of Lovecraft and August Derleth.

Price in his introduction to Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth notes that Zarnak’s influences include Sherlock Holmes, the Weird Tales occult detective Jules de Grandin (created by Seabury Quinn), Sax Rohmer’s Sir Dennis Nayland Smith, August Derleth’s Dr. Laban Shrewsbury, Steve Ditko’s Dr. Strange, and Robert E. Howard’s own Steve Harrison. Zarnak had his abode in Chinatown, had an Sikh manservant (much as Wong to Dr. Strange, or Ram Singh to The Spider), and had a shelf full of Mythos tomes. The first proper Zarnak story opens:

Below Fourteenth Street, between Chinatown and the river, extends a disreputable region of cryptic, winding alleys, crumbling tenements, rotting wharves and abandoned warehouses slumping in decay. Here dwell the human dregs of a thousand Eastern ports: Hindus, Japanese, Arabs, Chinamen, Levantines, Turks, Portuguese. Once these dark and sinister side-streets and fetid alleyways were the battlefield of the Tong wars; that was in the days of the legendary detective Steve Harrison, who single-handedly dealt out the white man’s law and the white man’s justice along River Street.
—Lin Carter, “Dead of Night” (1988) in Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth 107

Steve Harrison was a product of the 1930s; between the time Robert E. Howard drew his last breath and Lin Carter sat down at his typewriter a second World War had come and gone; together with the Korean War and the Vietnam War these conflicts changed the contours of Yellow Peril fiction—it is often forgotten that comic book characters such as Dr. Strange and Iron Man came to be in the 1960s, their pulp fiction roots showing in characterizations of Asian characters as mystical and exotic, such as the Ancient One who taught Strange his sorcery, and the Mandarin who served as a Chinese counter to the American Iron Man. Later, as such blatant Asianophobia waned, the characters would be re-imagined from their original contexts…so what was Carter up to, writing a story with 1930s racial tropes (and almost 1930s racial language) in the 1980s?

In part, it might be because Howard’s Steve Harrison stories had only rarely been published or republished; most of them only became available in the late 1970s and 80s, during the tail end of the “Howard Boom,” and those often spread out; there was no complete book of Steve Harrison stories at the time. Also in part, it could be that Carter did not see the problem; he avoided the outright vulgarities of Howard (the N-word was casually dropped in several stories), and the nature of the fiction was in keeping with the style of the original—which, for a pasticheur like Carter, was important. Some years before, African-American fantasy author Charles Saunders had specifically called out de Camp and Carter for this approach in their Conan stories:

Carter and de Camp, on the other hand, continue to practice good old-fashioned bigotry in their non-Conan endeavors. Though they have done a good job at ameliorating some of Howard’s more blatant racism, their own efforts at sword-and-sorcery are throwbacks. This is doubly shameful, because both of these men are scholars, and should know better. Their books sell well enough, so it may be that racism in fantasy matters little to fandom.

But it does matter to me.
—Charles Saunders, “Die, Black Dog! A Look At Racism in Fantasy Literature” (1975)

The Cthulhu Mythos is itself no stranger to Yellow Peril tropes, as seen in “Polaris” (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft & “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” (1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer. The question is not if such sentiments are present in the original material, but how a new author working with that material chooses to adapt it to the syntax of their own time. There is nothing wrong with presenting historical racism as a fact of life; To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) for example is set during the Great Depression, and the realistic racism in the novel is critical to the story.

The issue when creating fiction set in this period or in this style is how much the story plays into the inherent biases of racial tropes and stereotypes. Having a villain who is Asian does not necessarily make a Yellow Peril story, so long as the individual is not a villain because they are Asian. Presenting historical racism as it was is often necessary; writing a story as if from that period, with all the inherent approach that the racism is true and correct is neither necessary nor commendable. The point is often a fine one, and easily lost on writers trying to capture the spirit of pulp fiction without considering the ideas and messages inherent in the text, never mind the subtext.

Carter was not alone in trying to navigate these difficult waters. One of the more egregious examples might be “Yellow Peril”: The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe (1978) by Richard Jaccoma, which is essentially Fu Manchu fanfiction with a very slight wink toward the Mythos (Jaccoma also holds the rather dubious honor of having written the script for Teenage Twins (1976), the first hardcore adult film to feature the Necronomicon—and an incantation from a Robert E. Howard story—but I digress.) Like Carter, he was essentially trying to write a 1930s style Yellow Peril story.

This is essentially where Robert M. Price’s “Dope War of the Black Tong” (1996) begins:

The one-man posse of River Street set his feet squarely, while the blue steel of twin automatics leaped into his fists and began to discharge a hail of white man’s justice into the knot of Oriental thugs. When his guns were empty he cast them aside and reached for the Gurkha knife had concealed in his belt Eastern style. It descended with the force of a guillotine, cleaving the skull of the first assassin to elude the rain of bullets and reach him. Himalayan blood spattered Harrison as he pulled the blade free of the sundered wreck of a head and managed to dodge a sword thrust aimed at himself.
—Robert M. Price, “Dope War of the Black Tong” (1996) in Disciples of Cthulhu (2nd Rev. Ed.) 140-141

Price is deliberately working the story as a throwback piece; a character that uses the term “chink” or “Chinaman” once or twice can be grimaced at as an acknowledgment of the casual historical use of racial pejoratives; but the text itself describes them as “Asiatics,” “Muhammadans,” and “slant-eyed devils.” Not strong language by Robert E. Howard’s standards in 1936…but in 1996?

The story itself is the kind that weaves together disparate elements of Mythos (and non-Mythos) fiction, one of Price’s major interests. So the story references not just Steve Harrison and Anton Zardak, but the Unaussprechlichen Kulten created by Robert E. Howard in “The Black Stone” (1932) and given a German name through the help of Lovecraft, for more on which see “Unspeakable! The Secret History of Nameless Cults; the minor Mythos story “Dig Me No Grave” (1937) published after Howard’s death; the Black Lotus from the Conan stories, for more on which see “Robert E. Howard’s Reefer Madness”; Gol-Goroth from Howard’s “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth” (1931); the cat-headed staff of Howard’s Solomon Kane; a passing reference to Frank Belknap Long’s Chaugnar-Faugn from The Horror from the Hills (1931), which includes an Asian Mythos cult; Lloigor, Zhar, and the Tcho-Tcho from August Derleth and Marc Schorer’s “The Lair of the Star Spawn” (1932)…and those latter especially deserve further consideration:

And the Tcho-Tchos! Every cop in the area knows them only too well: the latest wave of Oriental immigrants to clutter the docks. Damn near every single one of them connected with the criminal underground in one way or another. There are only a few, but even at that, there’s too damn many of them if you ask me!
—Robert M. Price, “Dope War of the Black Tong” (1996) in Disciples of Cthulhu (2nd Rev. Ed.) 155

Derleth & Schorer introduced—and exterminated—the Tcho-Tcho in their story; but the idea of a small alien race in Asia had appeal to Lovecraft, who made reference to them, and were revived by devoted fans like Robert M. Price, who here inserts them into the context of the Asian diaspora to the United States, very unlike their original appearance. The language used against the Tcho-Tcho, who were initially presented as inhuman, is essentially the same as used for any Asian ethnicity in the age of the Asiatic Barred Zone Act (1917). Price doesn’t mention the events of Derleth & Schorer’s story, and glosses over their depiction of the Tcho-Tcho by noting:

You should be aware that these dwarf-like figures belong to a warrior caste specially bred. Not all the Tcho-Tchos are like them, nor have I expressly claimed to be of their nation. (ibid.)

Price’s mingling and confusion of real-world prejudice against Asian immigration with the fantasy racism of Derleth & Schorer’s confusion is a literary sin; whatever his intent, the result is that the real-world fear and hatred is given a justification within the context of story. Price has perhaps exposited too much; the Tcho-Tcho never appear on the page before the revelation is made, so the reader is exposed to their Mythos aspect and the anti-Asian prejudice in virtually the same breath.

Then it gets weirder:

The swelling chorus of guttural voices gave Steve a hint of his earlier dread. Deep down he knew that his Celtic forbears had driven the reptilian kindred of these dusky trolls away from the open spaces of human habitation. His knife thirsted for their stinking blood. He seemed to know that his statuesque cmpanion shared his own primal hate for the Little People. Askbar Singh’s ancestral mythology would know them as the Asuras, eternal enemies of the Aryan gods. (ibid., 163)

For anyone not hip-deep in Mythos lore this probably seems like racist gibberish. It is in fact a very nerdy reference where Price attempts to tie the dwarfish Tcho-Tcho with the Little People in Robert E. Howard’s stories such as “The Children of the Night” (1931) and “The People of the Dark” (1932) which in turn drew inspiration from Arthur Machen’s Little People stories such as “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895), “The Red Hand” (1895), and “The Shining Pyramid” (1906); those interested in the gritty details can read about it in “Conan and the Little People: Robert E. Howard & Lovecraft’s Theory.”

The Little People as initially conceived by Machen and Howard derive from racialist anthropological theories that posited a “Mongoloid” race that inhabited Europe before being driven out by the arrival of the Causcasoid race that were the ancestors of contemporary (and implicitly white) Europeans. Both Machen and Howard attributed powers and non-humanoid characteristics to the Little People, and it’s easy to see how Price might have been drawn to the idea of conflating the Tcho-Tcho and Little People who both shared short stature, non-human nature or attributes, ignorant of modern technology, worship of Mythos agencies (in at least some cases)…but also an at least implicit connection to Asian peoples.

The fact that Price gives Steve Harrison a racial—and almost explicitly Aryan—hatred for the Little People/Tcho-Tcho makes the already bizarre mashup of fantasy and real-world racism uglier. Robert E. Howard, with his strong grounding in racialist ideas of history and narrative, had no difficulty writing such stories in the 1930s; Price in putting those thoughts into Steve Harrison’s head was perhaps doing no different than Howard might have done, and certainly was not writing anything worse than Howard had written in “The Children of the Night.”

Yet this was written in the 1990s, not the 1930s.

The fundamental issue here is not so much the use of the Tcho-Tcho as villains; Derleth and Schorer had already done that. If anything, giving the Tcho-Tcho some greater depth and making them something other than an “evil” race of faceless mooks would be praiseworthy. Attempting to accurately portray the historical racism of the period is certainly understandable given the context of the setting, where Anton Zarnak (who lives in Chinatown) and Steve Harrison (who works the Chinatown beat) meet to deal with a mutual threat. Combining the real-world prejudice and the fantasy racism however…this is where the story really gets problematic.

Price himself was a long-time editor of Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Fiction line, and as part of his notes for Howard’s “The Children of the Night” he wrote:

Can you spot similarities between this tale and three by Lovecraft? I am thinking of “Polaris,” where the narrator recalls an ancient life in which he fell asleep on guard duty when he should have been watching for the advance of his people’s subhuman foes; “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where the narrator’s opening gives nary a sign of the atavistic identity-change he has undergone by the end; and “Pickman’s Model,” where one member of a Kalem-like club is ostracized as a hideous sub-human changeling.
—Robert M. Price, Nameless Cults: The Cthulhu Mythos Fiction of Robert E. Howard 66

Not all the parallels are pleasant: “Polaris” is explicitly a “Yellow Peril” story, albeit one set in a mythical past, for example. Early on “The Shadow over Innsmouth” has more than a trace of it:

But the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice—and I don’t say I’m blaming those that hold it. I hate those Innsmouth folks myself, and I wouldn’t care to go to their town. I s’pose you know—though I can see you’re a Westerner by your talk—what a lot our New England ships used to have to do with queer ports in Africa, Asia, the South Seas, and everywhere else, and what queer kinds of people they sometimes brought back with ’em. You’ve probably heard about the Salem man that came home with a Chinese wife, and maybe you know there’s still a bunch of Fiji Islanders somewhere around Cape Cod.

“Well, there must be something like that back of the Innsmouth people.[“]
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

With Lovecraft, the prejudice is a red herring. The real-world fears of miscegenation and “foreignness” held by other Massachusetts locals towards the folkd of Innsmouth is a mask for the much weirder and more horrific truth. The locals are correct in that the “Innsmouth look” is the result of Innsmouth being a mixed-race community, they are wrong and ignorant in assuming they know what the “races” involved are. Blinded by their prejudice, they don’t see the terrible reality.

That could have been the case with “Dope War of the Black Tong”—but we never get a sense of the Tcho-Tcho before the Mythos connection is revealed. They have no sympathetic character, no demonstration of the prejudices they must suffer, no real explanation for what they’re doing in Chinatown instead of the Plateau of Sung. In this sense, the Howardian action-adventure approach that Price adopted is partially to blame; he starts off with Harrison in the thick of it, rather than ruminating on what brought the Tcho-Tcho diaspora to the United States, or why they would form a tong.

Price’s story essentially sees Harrison confirm the prejudices he held instinctively against the Tcho-Tcho just for looking Asian.

The racialism in the early Mythos stories from the 1930s can have a very long tail, impacting stories today. It is difficult to say how much influence “Dope War of the Black Tong” has had on the depiction of the Tcho-Tcho as, essentially, default Yellow Peril villains in contemporary Mythos fiction. For example, in the roleplaying game Delta Green, the Tcho-Tcho diaspora and association with drugs and other criminal activities are explicitly part of the setting; however, the explicit association between the Little People and the Tcho-Tcho is not.

“Dope War of the Black Tong” was first published in Disciples of Cthulhu (2nd rev. ed., 1996), it has been republished in Lin Carter’s Anton Zarnak: Supernatural Sleuth (2002), and Robert M. Price’s own collection Blasphemies & Revelations (2008/2019).


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

“The Sorrow of Qingfeng” (2014) by Grey Yuen

Traitorous may be one who withholds praise and gratitude to Her Majesty of Ten Thousand Years for appointing the title of Grand Prefect to our Judge Di Renjie, but when caught between the horns of political obligations and the call of justice, it is justice that often falters.
—Grey Yuen, “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” in Swords & Mythos (2014) 256

Judge Di (or Dee) has become popular in the West through a series of historical crime novels by Robert van Gulik; but the character was based on a real person, Di Renjie, a magistrate during the late Tang dynasty and the early Zhou dynasty under the empress Wu Zetian (“Her Majesty of Ten Thousand Years”), and it is in this period (694 CE) that the story is set. This is not a detective story; though it shares some elements with that genre. “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” is something rarer and weirder: a Mythos Wuxia story.

Wuxia is a genre of Chinese (and more broadly Southeast Asian) fiction dealing with the adventures of martial artists; a form of fantasy which has enthralled millions across the globe, especially in the form of Japanese manga and anime like Dragonball and Fist of the North Star, and Chinese martial arts films like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978) and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000). The influence of wuxia can still be clearly seen in Dungeons & Dragons and many other roleplaying games, action film around the world, and English-language fantasy fiction.

Mythos fiction, not so much.

Action & adventure is nothing new to the Mythos. The original draft of the first story of Conan the Cimmerian, “The Phoenix on the Sword” (Weird Tales Dec 1932) mentions Yog-Sothoth and the Old Ones, and that was neither the first or last time Robert E. Howard’s sword & sorcery heroes touched base with the Mythos; “The Vale of Lost Women” being a notable instance of swords being taken up against a Lovecraftian horror. Howard was not entirely ignorant of Asian martial arts; there were exhibitions and matches even in Texas in the 1920s, and even wrote “Hard-Fisted Sentiment,” a mixed-martial arts story where an American boxer goes up against masters in French savate, jujitsu, and British boxing in turn.

It has been relatively rare to see a Mythos story where wuxia-style fantasy martial arts feature prominently. Steve Perry’s “The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger” in Shadows over Baker Street (2003) comes pretty close, but for the most part the two modes of fiction simply don’t cross over very often. Cthulhu may be punched, but said punches usually have little to do with specific schools or techniques, swords of nigh-magical sharpness, or the cultivation of internal force. These are the tropes that Grey Yuen specifically invokes in “The Sorrow of Qingfeng.”

Grey Yuen’s style in the story is reminiscent of “Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶); the effort is made to set the story not in some nameless quasi-medieval Asian setting, but in a specific era of Chinese history and with a style of narration that borrows at least a little from the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (which period, the Tang dynasty, immediately preceded the Zhou dynasty). Like Tachihara Tōya, Yuen makes an effort to combine Western-style Lovecraftian imagery with a very different cultural context, with fairly solid results:

It stared back at me. He stared back me. He was…black—not dark-skinned, not in his skin tone. He was black like the night. At first, I thought he was from the lands far to the west, where the sun scorches and the sands run yellow, where an ancient city waits to be discovered again. But then I realised he was from much farther aay, waiting to give away secrets that would doom us all.
—Grey Yuen, “The Sorrow of Qingfeng” in Swords & Mythos (2014) 267-268

The question of the racial characterization of Nyarlathotep rears its head, as it did in “Collector the Third: Charles Wilson Hodap (1842-1944)” (1995) by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr., but in a slightly different syntax. Yuen is smart to keep explicit details to a minimum, this is a story where a wuxia character encounters the Mythos, and suggestion works better than detailed explanation. Likewise, the spectacle of Master Yue’s Taishan Wulei Palm is all the more effective for seeing the results than the execution.

“The Sorrow of Qingfeng” is definitely an odd duck of a story, and it is hard to see where it might have been published except in an anthology like Sword & Mythos (2014), edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles—yet it is an effective story, one that marries disparate modes of fiction and cultural contexts into a very competent whole. It has not yet been reprinted.


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

“What Hides and What Returns” (2011) by Bryan Thao Worra

Ajan Somnung had sternly encouraged us not to look too closely for some secrets, but to turn our eyes to the lessons of the Buddha. The search for Nirvana should supersede any attachments ot this illusory world and all its perilous entanglements. He had taught us that death was impermanent, a great dreaming slumber, and one day, we could break free of our eternal returns because, after a time, even death would die.
—Bryan Thao Worra, “What Hides and What Returns” in Historical Lovecraft 227

Lovecraft did not create the unseen, the indescribable, the unnameable, the ineffable, the invisible monster or threat. Before him there was Algernon Blackwood’s “The Willows” (1907), Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned Thing” (1893), Guy de Maupassant’s “Le Horla” (1887). Maupassant was alive during France’s imperial drive into Southeast Asia, although he did not quite live to see the establishment of the French Protectorate of Laos at the end of the Franco-Siamese War of 1893. It is in Laos under the French where and when Bryan Thao Worra has set “What Hides and What Returns.”

It is important to remember that weird fiction was never created in a vacuum, that the people who wrote these stories lived in a busy, complex, and changing world. Where many writers found horror in distant and exotic places, such as “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” (1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer, Lovecraft found just as much potential for terror and antiquity in his proverbial backyard; Lovecraft Country as it was originally conceived was about finding the darkness close at hand, both geographically and chronologically, in stories set not in some far-off place and time.

This can hold true, of course, for people that are in places which Lovecraft would have felt wild & exotic as well. For the Lao, their country was no more strange and exotic for them than Massachusetts and Rhode Island were to Lovecraft. And for Worra, that means there is just as much potential there to find horror in their own backyard.

It is interesting to compare and contrast this story with “Dreams of a Thousand Young” (2014) by Jennifer Brozek; both are Mythos stories set in European “protectorates” in Asia, the imperialist intrusion of the British and French setting up the well-trodden trope of ignorant Westerners sticking their greedy noses into dark places. Where they differ is in approach and presentation; Worra’s protagonist Saeng is philosophical, ungreedy, clever enough to put a few pieces of the puzzle together and wise enough to let sleeping gods lie, so to speak, and in “What Hides and What Returns” Laos itself becomes a character, with much of the story given over to describing the environment, the peoples, the interaction of history and the present—and it is not dark and forbidding, except through the eyes of European characters.

Well, except for one part. Worra has made of Laos a bit of Lovecraft Country.

There is a curious question, posed and answered to the reader, which sets the tone of the story and perhaps the Mythos:

Some would say it was an inappropriate gathering, but if you learn from it, how can it be wrong? Our worlds are not some fragile bits of glass that shatter at the encounter with the Other. Our ability to inquite surely defines our humanity; it sets us above hounds and mere rutting beasts of the field, all jaw and genital.
—Bryan Thao Worra, “What Hides and What Returns” in Historical Lovecraft 228

This might be taken as a gentle rebuke of Lovecraft’s opening to “The Call of Cthulhu”:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.

But Saeng’s statement is given near the beginning of the story, before the end—where all is not quite revealed—and while Saeng never quite rebuts himself, he does end by noting that: “[…] some things were meant to stay forgotten….” (236). It is a fine point, but one which many Mythos enthusiasts will appreciate: the naive young Lao did not conceive of such a horror, only experience of encountering such a thing could bring them around to a Lovecraftian point of view.

Like “Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin, Worra manages to evoke the Mythos without falling into the habit of naming familiar names. There is no Necronomicon in this story (although Worra creates his own addition, an occult variant of the Thao Cheuang), no Cthulhu or other familiar Mythos entity. It is instead unseen Sealed Evil In A Can, and if the trope is hoary and well-represented in Mythos fiction, it’s because it works.

The point is less that some Lovecraftian horror waits to be unleashed, but that the Lovecraftian experience is ultimately universal. It can be set anywhere or anywhen; it is not relegated to Massachusetts in the 1920s, it can be experienced regardless of race, gender, or religion.

“What Hides and What Returns” by Bryan Thao Worra was first published in Historical Lovecraft (2011); it has not since been republished. While Worra has written other fiction, he is also a very notable poet, whose Lovecraftian works include “The Deep Ones” (2007), “Fragment of a Dream of Atlantean Yellows” (2013), “Dead End in December” (2013), “Laonomicon” (2013), “The Doom That Came To New Sarnath” (2013), and “The Pearl in the Shadows” (2016), many of which can be found in his Demonstra (2013).


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希)

It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

The public knows of the Miskatonic Expedition through our frequent wireless reports to the Arkham Advertiser and Associated Press, and through the later articles of Pabodie and myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally got into print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which were copied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Lovecraftian manga have been undergoing a recent renaissance in Japan, with the critically acclaimed reception of Tanabe Gou’s adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, “The Hound,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and most recently “The Call of Cthulhu,” all of which have been or are being translated and published in foreign language editions: Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, etc. Other popular adaptations include the Cthulhu no Yobi Koe series by Chuuou Higashiguchi (中央東口), and related manga include the Minase Yomu and the Really Scary Cthulhu Mythology (水瀬陽夢と本当はこわいクトゥルフ神話) series by Yoshihara Masahiko (吉原雅彦), and the many Zone of Cthulhu manga released by the SAN-EI Corporation (三栄)—which includes The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女) series by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希).

The conceit of the series is simple: Alice Allan is a cub reporter for the Arkham Advertiser, the local newspaper that appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and her “cases” cover a number of Lovecraft’s stories, both Mythos and non-Mythos, as set around Arkham. The result is a series of adaptations with a twist: we get to see the stories from a new perspective, that of a young newspaperwoman investigating the odd happenings. The series is categorized as a seinen (青年漫画), aimed at young men (18-30s), being more realistic and less action-packed than manga like One Piece or Dragon Ball, but readers of all genders and ages can appreciate it.

Chibi
Chibi version of Billy, a supporting character.

The adaptation is played seriously, but with more than a few laughs thrown in, the figures sometimes reduced to small chibi-style exaggerated figures to emphasize the one-off joke, familiar from manga like Shirow Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell. The translation by Amimaru Translation and Localization Services Ltd. is mostly solid, although every now and again a joke may fail to land due to some cultural crossing of wires.

The small details and stark contrasts in the illustrations really shine though. Takata Yuki has worked hard to express the America of the 1920s, full of newsboys and the transition from the small industrial city of Arkham to out-of-the-way rural community of Peck Valley is like traveling back in time. Done in simple black-and-white, the bright outside scenes are given white backgrounds, while the moment the intrepid reporters step into the vault, the page is dominated by huge splashes of stark black, a very effective presentation that accentuates the emotional response of Alice Allan and her associate Billy.

Alice herself is the major focus and driver of the plot. She desires to prove herself as a reporter, and this is her first real opportunity to do so, by looking into the morbid details around the mysterious death and quick burial. While her enthusiasm is sometimes played for laughs, especially when contrasted against her long-suffering friend Billy, it is very effective at cutting right to the heart of Lovecraft’s story.

The story is not exactly a straight adaptation; Takata Yuki wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of Lovecraft’s prose, and takes a few liberties with the ending, hinting at this being a small piece of a bigger picture that the reporters know they can’t quite see yet. Which works very well; Alice Allan is an engaging, energetic, enthusiastic protagonist, and starting slow with one of Lovecraft’s more low-key stories as their first “case” was a wise decision on the part of Takata Yuki.

The Woman of the Arkham Advertiser is available in Japanese on Kindle, and in English on Manga Planet subscription service.


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

“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” (1932) by Donald Wandrei

I recently saw a newer and better Wandrei tale, The Tree-Men of M’Bwa, which he should have no difficulty selling to either Bates or Wright.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 14 Aug 1931, Essential Solitude 1.360

[…] I must congratulate you on the novel & original cosmic thrills, & the extremely effective climax, of The Tree-Man. I surely hope this has found—or will find—favour with the editorial fraternity.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 25 Sep 1931,
Letters With Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 271

“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” by Donald Wandrei was published in the February 1932 issue of Weird TalesIt is neither explicitly a tale of the Cthulhu Mythos nor not a Mythos tale. As with “The Fire Vampires” (WT Feb 1933), Wandrei makes no specific reference to Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, etc. But “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” involves some very Lovecraftian elements, passing references to Atlantis and Mu, and uses the incredibly ambiguous term “Evil Old Ones.” The ambiguity has helped ensure the general obscurity of the story: it has never been published in any English-language Mythos anthology. Indeed, it would probably not be considered part of the Mythos at all except that it was posthumously adopted as part of the Mythos by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, appearing as part of the “African Mythos” in works such as Malleus Monstrum (2006), Secrets of Kenya (2007), and The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion (2014).

The desire to incorporate “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” into the Mythos likely has less to do with the relative merits of the story than the general lack of Mythos fiction dealing with Africa in general. Lovecraft ghost-wrote “Winged Death” for Hazel Heald and “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” for Harry Houdini, but there are extraordinarily few stories from the first generation of Mythos-writers set in Africa, unless you count Robert E. Howard’s adventures of Solomon Kane, which do not deal with the Mythos directly.

Even then, there is nothing particularly special about this story that separates it from any other weird tale set in Africa and that doesn’t directly contradict any other bit of Mythos-lore, except that Donald Wandrei was part of the circle of Lovecraft’s correspondents and did write at least one actual Mythos story. Hugh B. Cave’s “The Cult of the White Ape” (Weird Tales Feb 1933) might as easily have been borrowed into the Mythos, but as Cave corresponded only briefly with Lovecraft it is generally forgotten, whereas “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” has gone on to its weird literary afterlife.

In context, “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” is a typical “mysteries of darkest Africa” story, where intrepid great white hunters and explorers (led by at least a dozen of the indigenous people who have been there their entire lives and know pretty much where everything is and why you don’t want to muck about with the crashed aliens, etc.) stumble into some unknown peril. The focus of these stories is almost solely on the white people who are telling the narrative, and center it on themselves; the black people are often little more than an afterthought, and Wandrei does not vary from formula.

Most of the country we were going through was unexplored. Even today there’s no telling what may turn up in some out of the way spot. They haven’t begun to exhaust the mysteries of Africa.
—Donald Wandrei, “The Tree-Men of M’bwa”

How much actual research Wandrei did for the story is debatable. The geography is roughly correct, if one makes general allowances (i.e. that the fabled Mountains of the Moon” referred to are the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and “Kola” is actually “Kole,” a town closer to the border) it’s safe to say that he at least glanced at a map. I have not yet found a people in the region named “Neguchi” or similar; either Wandrei picked the name out of an obscure text or made it up. The word “M’bwa” is Swahili, and means “dog.” Whether Wandrei knew that or not is, again, unknown; he may have simply liked the sound of it as sufficiently alien to English.

“M’bwa” is the only African named in the story. The indigenous guides are only the “Neguchi boys,” which turn of phrase could be read as discriminatory when applied by a white man to a group of black men in the 1930s. Africa itself is veritably a character in this story, hostile and alien to the white men who seek to probe its mysteries; Wandrei emphasizes early on:

Why my boat had stopped in this filthy hell-hole on the Gold Coast, I don’t know, but here we were overnight and I had gone ashore to break the monotony of scalding days at sea. It wasn’t much imporvement, even after sunset. Fierce, steamy heat that made you boil with sweat. An unpleasant smell, half-native, half-decayed vegetation, that every village seemed to have. (ibid.)

There are a couple of interesting details to the encounter with M’bwa and the Whirling Flux. The first is the number of trees—despite this being an “unexplored” part of Africa, it is quite evident that there have been at least twenty “explorers” there before him, and the indigenous peoples seem well-informed of the spot in general. The earliest visitors were an Atlantean, an Egyptian, and a Roman—in the 1930s, that would implicitly mean “three white men,” although such racial divisions would have been meaningless in ancient Rome or Egypt. The one tree-man that speaks to Daniel Richards did so apparently in English, suggesting he too was white.

The word zombie is never used in the story to refer to M’bwa, although the dead man has many of the attributes of the revenant; the word was just coming into vogue with the publication of William Seabrook’s The Magic Island (1929), and the film White Zombie (1932) which it inspired; many writers at Weird Tales penned zombie stories during this period, and readers would have been aware of that, even without a voodoo connection.

“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” is arguably not as bad as “The Cult of the White Ape” or “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch in terms of its portrayal of black people, but neither did Wandrei go out of his way to give an informed or sympathetic portrayal either. It is a white person’s story, written by a white person for what would presumably be a white audience, and it reads like that. That it has been seized on by the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying crowd as a component of the “African Mythos” speaks more to the general paucity of such material available than to any particular merit of the story itself.

Donald Wandrei’s “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” was first published in Weird Tales (Feb 1932); it was reprinted in Wandrei’s collections The Eye and the Finger (1944, Arkham House) and Don’t Dream: The Collected Horror and Fantasy of Donald Wandrei (1997, Fedogan & Bremer; paperback edition 2017). The long gap between publications is one reason why this story has remained so obscure for many decades, but now that it is more available perhaps it will find a new audience.


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

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)

Yoth Tlaggon
A mysterious God. The first time the name was written was in a letter form H. P. Lovecraft to C. A. Smith, a close friend and associate of the American horror writer, dated April 4th, 1932. However, Father Lucio Damiani published a monograph on Ancient History entitled Visions of Kusha in which he writes that “In the days when Atlantis was still called Kusha, and Lemuria known as Shalarali, Yoth Tlaggon was named one of the Nine Princes of Hell.” Damiani could have had no knowledge of the Lovecraft letter, for it was not publsihed until 1970.
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 228

Yoth-Tlaggon—at the Crimson Spring.
Hour of the Amorphous Reflection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 360

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) is a novel from Kurodahan Press. It is comprised of seven interrelated short stories published between 1994 and 1999, and is presented here in English by translator Jim Rion. Each of the stories involves Nazi Germany, and involves the Cthulhu Mythos in some way, and though they do not form a single consistent narrative, together form a kind of occult history of World War II and its legacy.

Lovecraft died in 1937; he lived to see the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power in Germany, and the opening shots of what would become World War II in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Though he did not know it, Lovecraft also became aware of the opening stages of the Holocaust as Hitler’s government instituted laws discriminating against Jews in Germany, a practice which the antisemitic Lovecraft had mixed feelings with—approving as he did of Nazi Germany’s ultranationalism, but not their unscientific racial discrimination. He never lived to see how wrong he was regarding Hitler and Mussolini, never saw the true horrors of the Holocaust.

World War II has become fertile ground writers of weird and fantasy fiction; the Nazi interest with the occult and esoteric, based partially on truth, as detailed in books like Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1993) and Kenneth Hite’s The Nazi Occult (2013). Works like Le Matin des magiciens (1960) popularized the idea of the Nazi occult for a new generation, and have led to works like the Indiana Jones adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the Hellboy comic books and film, and innumerable other appearances.

“Hitler’s a nut on the subject. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed with the occult.”
—Musgrove, Raiders of the Lost Ark

This has been true for the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Herbert West famously found employment in Nazi Germany in Brian McNaughton’s “Herbert West—Reincarnated Part II: The Horror in the Holy Land”; Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives (2004) deals with the occult fallout of the Nazi’s Mythos-delvings; Mike Mignola and Jim Robinson have Hellboy team up with Starman and Batman to face Neo-Nazis (and classical Nazis!) summoning Lovecraftian horrors in Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999).

LovecraftKnew
Art by Mike Mignola, script by Jim Robinson, Batman/Hellboy/Starman #2 (1999)

The Mythos occult WWII angle had become essentially a Mythos subgenre with the release of the roleplaying games World War Cthulhu (2013, Cubicle 7) and Achtung! Cthulhu (2013, Modiphius), which in turn have led to new anthologies like World War Cthulhu (2014, Dark Regions), and even video games.

Which is a long way to say that Asamatsu Ken was a bit ahead of the curve when he first published these stories in Japan in 1994-1999. Some of the stories are eerily prescient as far as capturing the essential dynamic of the post-2000 Mythos WWII craze. Magic is real, the Nazis—deluded and arrogant as they might be, playing with forces they don’t understand—are often portrayed as a genuine occult threat to the entire world. The action is often pulpy, but Asamatsu Ken shows real research in trying to make sure the names, dates, and equipment are correct. The individual stories are like separate, individual episodes taken from a long, drawn-out conflict, but they are constructed with all the care of a good hoax. Mythos references are typically slid in alongside real occult names and texts, the Nazi’s actual activities provide the context for the stories.

In the first place, it is important that we realize that the term “racist,” as used today, has strong post-WWII connotations. We have become much more liberal and open-minded following the dreadful experiences and revelations of the second World War, and anyone espousing extreme anti-ethnic views today must surely be a reactionary, a redneck, or a nut. “Racism” has become extremely unpopular, and we associate the term with the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
—Dirk W. Mosig, “Was Lovecraft a Racist?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #98 (1998) 4

One of the shadows looming over Kthulhu Reich (or any other Mythos WWII novel or story) is how it addresses the nature of racism and antisemitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular. No nation in the conflict was free from prejudice and discrimination, but the attempts at genocide which were such a hallmark of WW II present a subject that writers have to decide how to deal with. It is perhaps appropriate that Asamatsu Ken chooses to begin the collection with “The Corporal’s Self-Portrait”—a story which would otherwise seem a bit out-of-place in the anthology, dealing as it does with a contemporary postwar Japan and touching on the attitudes towards racism and how they’ve changed.

“I can take the Koreans and the Chinese. They’re like us, at least. But the day all these Thais and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Filipinios, and Indians and Iranians and Iraqis shoed up, this place became unbearable.”

“Hey, come on… That’s really racist!” I chided, unable to must any real force.

Hirata ignored me.

“They come here to Japan and take the jobs honest students used to be able to count on. Then they send our valuable yen back to their own countries. And then there’s our women! They seduce our women and sully the pure blood of Yamato!”

“Cut it out, you’re talking crazy!”

—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 7

Hirata doesn’t stop. The narrator at least protests, though his words fall on deaf ears. The incident gains sinister connotations as the story unfolds, much like the film Max (2002), yet the reader is shown this angry young man, whose life parallels that of the eponymous Boys from Brazil, and he can muster only ineffective rebukes to his obvious and appallingly vocal prejudice. Asamatsu Ken does not turn a blind eye to the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated. Nor to the real threat that racism and prejudice still form.

Jim Rion deserves accolades here for an excellent translation on what must have been a difficult job—combining as it does real historical elements, occult jargon, Japanese cultural references, the Cthulhu Mythos, the unusual episode “April 20th, 1889” that consists of a series of found documents, and some really well-done action scenes in “The Mask of Yoth Tlaggon.”


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

“Le Pornomicon” (2005) by Logan Kowalsky

Pornomicon . . . derived from the Greek Word “Porne”, meaning prostitute. But the word on the whole means nothing to me.
—Logan, The Pornomicon 5

RF_Logan_01Le Pornomicon is a 2005 French-language one-shot homoerotic horror comic book created by writer/artist Logan Kowalsky (credited here simply as “Logan”) by H & O Editions; it was translated into English by Class Comics in 2006. While long out of print, it is still available as an ebook from Class Comics’ website.

The first known erotic comic based on Lovecraft’s Mythos was “Tales of the Leather Nun’s Grandmother” in the underground comix Tales from the Leather Nun (1973, Last Gasp), and ever since there has been a steady addition to the oeuvre of erotic Mythos comic books and graphic novels. For the most part, however, these works are typically created for a heterosexual audience, with women as the primary focus of all sex acts and male-on-female (or, increasingly, tentacle-on-female) pairings making up the majority of all sex acts. A rather smaller cross-section of such works dip into LGBTQ relationships or focus extensively on non-heterosexual intercourse.

One of the first of these was John Blackburn’s Coley series (1989-1999), which featured the bisexual Coley Cochran, who occasionally encountered the servants or descendants of the Old Ones; Noé and Barreiro’s El Convent Infernal (The Convent of Hell, 1996) includes several lesbian scenes, as well as a sexually-explicit copy of the Necronomicon and a notorious tentacle sex scene. The latter work might well have been part of Logan’s inspiration for Le Pornomicon, focusing as it does on the eponymous tome and penetrative sex featuring penis-headed tentacles.

In this respect, readers may suspect an influence from Japanese hentai on one or both works, and there’s probably some truth to that. However, given the focus on size, penetration, and masculinity in Le Pornomicon, the tentacle works well to foster the visual rhetoric of the story when it makes an appearance, taking things from the cartoonishly oversized to beyond anything humanly possible.

The visual grammer permitted by the tentacle is extremely useful to the pornographer. With no restriction on length, it permits penetration without blocking the view. It can also be used as a form of restraint, permiting multiple penetration, sexualised bondage and east of access. Best of all for the tentacle as a pornographic device, while it may often look suspiciously like a penis, to the extent of possessing a foreskin or glans, or even ejaculating upon climax, it is not a sexual organ by definition.
The Erotic Anime Movie Guide 58

It perhaps needs to be said that there is not a single homoerotic aesthetic; the gamut of LGBTQ+ works encompasses a vast range of body types, relationships, preferences, etc. Le Pornomicon tends toward burly, over-muscled, often hairy subjects; the genitals are cartoonishly oversized and the holes are elastic, the relationships are almost entirely purely sexual with no romantic bonds, blushing nervousness, consideration of feelings, etc. While some folks might reductively say “Well, it’s porn,” not all porn is like that. Not even all homoerotic Mythos fiction; “Herbert West in Love” (2012) by Molly Tanzer and “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon both exhibit very different aesthetics, despite both focusing on the homoerotic potential of “Herbert West–Reanimator.”

Part of the reason Logan focuses so slightly on the human relationships is because the main character of the book is not human, but the eponymous Pornomicon and its associated Mythos. The story is set across two time periods, two brief encounters united by the presence of the Pornomicon, and in this way it is reminiscent of the Loc-Nar in the animated film Heavy Metal (1981). Like that object, the presence of the Pornomicon is associated with mental and physical corruption, introducing elements of body horror and the monstrously alien as the humans are possessed, transformed, and eventually subsumed by inhuman carnality. In the universe of the Pornomicon, Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth are inherently sexual beings, but unlike in the works of Lovecraft or other writers who focus on these entities having sexual relations with human beings to spawn progeny, there is no focus on reproduction. Cthulhu does not impregnate these burly male characters, they become a part of him.

Which could be read as a form of homosexual panic, or a reflection of the implicit bias against sexuality in slasher films where couples who sneak off for a bit of illicit fun receive a brutal comeuppance as they are macheted to death—although it seems likely that neither of these was consciously intended. Rather, Logan offers a pornographic horror comic with no happy ending, the encounters with the Pornomicon are by their nature lustful and end badly for those who tamper with the Great Old Ones, but that would probably be true for anyone of any gender or sexuality. The unbiased nature of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth in taking all victims equally only appears to be biased because the story focuses exclusively on homosexual men.

Logan also takes visual inspiration from Mythos-related works. In particular, the background of page 10 is annotated “Apres Mike Mignola” and directly references the visual imagery in the Hellboy: Seed of Destruction (1994) series.

Above, left: Mike Mignola, Hellboy: Seed of Destruction #3.
Above, right: Logan, The Pornomicon.

Sometime after the publication of Le Pornomicon, Logan began a series of illustrations titled The Pornomicon Legacy, but so far there is no indication of another volume forthcoming.


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

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶)

It has been known for a long time, then, that Lovecraft had the same prejudice againt the Japanese as he did againt the Chinese, or African-Americans. […] So what? Mishima Yukio was gay, and Kawabata Yasunari committed suicide after being spurned by the maid. The personal proclivities of literary greats have nothing to do with the quality of their masterpieces.

We Japanese tend to be forgiving of heroes. We feel absolutely no contradiction in being enthralled by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the fact that Lovecraft was prejudiced.
—Asamatsu Ken, foreword to The Dreaming God 2

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶) is a story in The Dreaming God, the fourth and final volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 story 苦思楽西遊博 (Kushi Kakusei Yūhaku); the translator was Kathleen Taji.

Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese novels, comparable to Homer’s Odyssey in Western literature, and has served as inspiration for a vast array of fiction, film, manga, cartoons, etc., including the venerable and popular Dragon Ball saga. Tachihara Tōya may be the first to remix this classic with the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price also notes in the introduction that the story also draws from (or at least strongly parallels) August Derleth’s Trail of Cthulhu serial novel in parts. Most notably, the third chapter (“Sandy’s Story”) echoes a major plot point in “The Black Island” (1951) where the narrating character is affected by the Elder Sign.

The result is a fragment of an epic. Tachihara provides three chapters from three different character perspectives; the full story could be a hundred. A taste of what-might-have-been. The Mythos in “Quest of the Nameless City” is not quite that as Lovecraft or Derleth had written it; the Old Ones are filtered through a different cultural lens, and though we are not given vast details about their place within the cosmology, the story incorporates the Mythos entities into the gestalt as it does all the other inhuman creatures from Journey to the West. As the character Pigsy notes in chapter two:

The world is vast, and there are even manuscripts like the Book of Mountains and Seas, full of Chinese mythology. Thus, I suppose the existence of such fantastic beings is not astonishing in the least.
—Tachihara Tōya, “Quest of the Nameless City” in The Dreaming God 41-42

Initially, one of the key aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos is that it is different, explicitly alien and other to both Christian theology and “typical” horrors like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies which abounded in the pulp fiction of the time. This was not an ironclad rule if you tiptoed even a little outside the bounds of Lovecraft’s own writing; Robert E. Howard had no qualms about including the occasional vampire in his Conan and Solomon Kane stories, which are tied in to the wider Mythos, and other authors have been more explicit in adding Cthulhu & co. to the kitchensink of contemporary fantasy and horror. This trend was perhaps best emphasized when Dungeons & Dragons added the Cthulhu Mythos to Deities & Demigods (1980), Cthulhu was given stats alongside Japanese and Norse deities and Arthurian and Native American heroes.

What Tachihara is doing in “Quest of the Nameless City,” whether intentionally or just as a side effect of the brilliant idea of combining the Mythos with Journey to the West, is effectively lampshading this tendancy to assimilation. Like any “authentic” mythology, the Cthulhu Mythos is ripe for multiple interpretations, some conflicting, and some adapting the familiar stories into new contexts. There are no contradictions here that cannot be ironed out by another chapter, another gloss, or simply let stand to be enjoyed on their own merits.


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

“Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修)

Well, I can tell you one thing: Lovecraft would never have written this! But whether he would have been capable of it, or would have approved it, these questions are quite distinct. And yet it is a Lovecraftian tale; it belongs in this anthology.
—Robert M. Price, foreord to “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 237

“Necrophallus” (2005) by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is a story in Night Voices, Night Journeys, the first volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 story 屍の懐剣 (Shikabane no Nekorufaruso); the translator was Chun Jin.

The name of the story is warning and enticement at once. Necro, death. Phallus, the male sexual organ. Like the Necronomicon, it is a name to conjure with and be repelled by. Readers who see the title and keep reading have committed themselves to the act. Sex and death have always been intimately linked in horror; sex is taboo and transgression, excitement and anticipation. The building blocks of any good horror story. Lovecraft understood this, used it in his fiction—not in any explicit depiction, but by intimation and action; “The Loved Dead” by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft is a tale of necrophilia told from the necrophile’s point of view.

Lovecraft, of course, never lived to learn about Ed Gein, or to see the rise of the slasher film, splatterpunk fiction, torture porn. There was sadism and masochism in the pulps—even in the early Cthulhu Mythos! Robert E. Howard’s bloody flagellation scene in “The Black Stone” was a taste of what was to come in the weird terror pulps; the garish magazines which promised torture, mutilation, strange and terrible surgeries, gruesome injuries…and sex. Naked women, heaving bosoms, strange violations; always implicit in the pulps, because the could not publish the explicit.

Not Lovecraft’s scene.

Makino Osamu, however, brings the splatterpunk mentality to the Cthulhu Mythos. Filmgoers might point to similarities with Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon, 1999), but while there are definite cinematic flourishes to “Necrophallus,” the narrative itself doesn’t hit the same beats. The narrator is a hunter for the limits of human experience; psychologically damaged, sadistic but not in the sense of cruelty but in some profound sociopathic sense. What he meets, when the eponymous Necrophallus appears, is something beyond the limits of mere human sadism.

Which is really the success of “Necrophallus”: to have that moment of Lovecraftian realization, of the smallness of human endeavor, embedded in and expressed through the worldview of a violent, gory psychosexual narrative. There’s no humor to leaven the horror, as is the case in Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line; no refuge in outrageousness. And, for that matter, not really much in the way of titillation or moral. The protagonist is a monster; if the reader feels any sympathy for them at the end, it is only because they are a human monster, whose appetites have led them into the clutches of something so much worse.

Like most such extreme horror, when taken out of context and without having gone through the narrative the imagery can approach the ridiculous…but then the surreality of the scene is the point. The idea of having arrived at some new state through the bloody and painful process is akin to birth, and once through the other side the narrator is transformed and ready for the final revelations.

Chī-chan rubs its dangling tentacles against my own. They make a sound like someone slurping their spaghetti. Not to compare with being dismembered by the Necrophallus, but such mingling of entrails also holds something like the remnants of pleasure.
—Makino Osamu, “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 253

Unlike “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和), “Necrophallus” has the minimum of explicit Mythos connections; Yuggoth is invoked by name, while At the Mountains of Madness and Miskatonic University are hinted at. It could be cataloged in the next edition of the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopediastats could be provided for the Necrophallus in some module of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game without anyone blinking an eye.

It doesn’t really need that, however. The story could have stood on its own without that, being Lovecraftian without being explicitly Mythos. Which is probably the real testament to what Makino Osamu has achieved. Whether or not you like the story, with its sexually explicit scenes and bloody body horror, “Necrophallus” has successfully adapted elements of Lovecraft’s style of culminating revelations to a very different mode of fiction. That in itself is an achievement.


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