“The Tulu Jar” (2000) by Ann K. Schwader

Of one thing I am really glad, and that is that I could not then identify the squatting octopus-headed thing which dominated most of the ornate cartouches, and which the manuscript called “Tulu”. Recently I have associated it, and the legends in the manuscript connected with it, with some new-found folklore of monstrous and unmentioned Cthulhu, a horror which seeped down from the stars while the young earth was still half-formed; and had I known of the connexion then, I could not have stayed in the same room with the thing.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “The Mound”

In “Winged Death” it is Clulu; in “Medusa’s Coil” it is “Marse Clooloo”; in “The Electric Executioner” it is “Cthulhutl”—and in “The Mound” it is “Tulu.” Different names for the same concept, the same entity. Variations on a theme. One of humanity’s great gifts is pattern recognition, and one of Lovecraft’s great insights in writing those first Mythos stories was to recognize the tendency of weird fiction fans to correlate the contents. This was part of the game that Lovecraft played with his readers: giving them the pieces of the puzzle and letting them put it together.

Despite the variations on the same name, Lovecraft never wrote a full comparison of how different cultures perceived Cthulhu. The names alone suggest a signal-to-noise ratio; the oral tradition like a long game of telephone down the ages, bits of lore garbled, misunderstood, mistranslated, subject to reinterpretation. However, they also represent possibility. Maybe there isn’t just one canon, one truth. Maybe there are a lot of different ways to look at Cthulhu…and absent the original article, who is to say which is more correct than any other?

“The Tulu Jar” by Ann K. Schwader plays on misunderstandings & mistranslations. The audience knows who or what Tulu is, and thus has a bit more of an inkling of what is going on than the characters in the story. The narrative itself is fairly straightforward, the effectiveness is measured in how the revelations build and develop. There are things the reader never finds out, mysteries that are not explained—because they don’t need to be.

The name is the only thing that connects “The Tulu Jar” to “The Mound,” the only tie between Schwader’s story and Yig Country. In all other respects, “The Tulu Jar” could just as easily have been “The Cthulhu Jar” and stood next to works like “Something in Wood” (1948) by August Derleth, or as an appendix to Lin Carter’s Xothic Legend Cycle. One more horror in clay, one more work of Mythos artwork to sit alongside the masterpieces of Pickmans and Wilcoxes.

So why Tulu?

In part perhaps because it implies mistranslation, incompleteness, something different. Cthulhu makes no appearance in the story; Miskatonic University and Arkham are mentioned but far-off, and no one consults the Necronomicon. Using “Tulu” instead of “Cthulhu” tells the reader that those involved do not know what they’re dealing with. Quite literally dabbling with forces they don’t understand…and that works, in the context of the story.

Speaking of which…there is an anecdote about this story that bears repeating:

By the way, there really is a Tulu jar! Ann and her husband bought an art object at a Denver scifi con entitled Cthulhu Scroll Case. They bought it before the actual art sale, but then the lid was vandalized while the piece was still on display. She tells me that the artist offered to make it right by making another lid, which he subsequently did, but Ann was understandably upset nonetheless. As she put it, “a little literary justice seemed in order”, and the result was this story. The sculpture still holds a place of honor on a shelf in her office. Ann describes it as “wonderfully nasty-looking”, but in reality it looks nothing like the jar in the story.
—Kevin O’Brien, Strange Stars & Alien Shadows 1

“The Tulu Jar” was first published in Chronicles of the Cthulhu Codex #17 (2000) and subsequently republished in The Black Book #3 (2003), and Strange Stars & Alien Shadows: The Dark Fiction of Ann K. Schwader (2003).


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

“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央)

“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央) was published in the second 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 novella 蛇蜜 (Hebi Mitsu); the translator was Erin S. Brodhead.

Sexuality is a fundamental aspect of Yig. In “The Curse of Yig” (1929) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, this nature is implicit: the curse of Yig is that Aubrey Davis bears children with snake-like characteristics. While at least one critic claimed this was a story of maternal impression, the impression usually given was that Yig raped her, presaging to some degree the connection between Yog-Sothoth and Lavinia Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror.” The aspect of Yig as a sexual deity was affirmed in “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft as “the principle of life symbolised as the Father of all Serpents.”

In writing that, Lovecraft might have been inspired by contemporary ideas that ancient serpent deities represented phallic cults, as discussed in O. A. Wall’s Sex and Sex Worship (1922); this was a book that Robert E. Howard owned, and Howard mentioned phallic worship in at least one letter to Lovecraft (A Means to Freedom 1.87). A few later authors have taken the general idea of the Father of Serpents as a masculine deity of virility and run with it; occultists like Kenneth Grant have incorporated Yig into their system as an aspect of masculine sexual power, representing the “Ophidian Current” in his Typhonian Trilogies.

Sex presents certain difficulties for translation; the language of sex is usually either dryly technical (penis, vagina, anus, etc.) or extremely idiomatic or euphemistic (rod, Johnson, 69, French letter, salad tossing, etc.), and sexual slang varies by region, language, culture, and period—compare the language in The Merry Order of St. Bridget (1857) to something like Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and it’s easy to see that while it covers some of the same thematic ground, the language and cultural syntax have shifted drastically. Trying to write period-appropriate sexual language is tricky enough, translating it in such a way that it retains the essence of its meaning for an audience doubly so…and that’s before you try to work the Mythos into it.

This is all necessary ground to cover because “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” is one of the relatively scarce Mythos works which contains a great deal of sexual matter, but isn’t really erotic in any significant sense. The best comparable work is probably Robert M. Price’s “A Thousand Young” (1989), which follows a young libertine seeking admission into a Mythos cult through increasingly deviant sexual acts, but both that story and this one are ultimately a more explicit version of the decadent pleasure-seekers in Lovecraft’s “The Hound”—the idea being that libido sciendi, the desire to know, the quest for forbidden knowledge applies equally well to sexual knowledge as it does to, say, advanced mathematics and occultism (cf. “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Sometimes this is very explicitly the case, such as in “Under the Keeper of the Key” (2015) by Jaap Boekestein, but in the case of Rio Matsudono, it’s more of a barometer to let readers know that the ambient sexual morality of the tale is falling fast, and as the Lovecraftian protagonist slides from receiving fellatio from women who had had all their teeth removed to necrophilia, the novella is really just getting started.

Which is all on purpose: the acts given are almost dry in their description, which might be a translation issue (see above; imagine trying to write 1930s-period sexual decadence to a 2000s-contemporary Japanese audience, and then imagine trying to translate that into English for a completely different audience) but likely also because the purpose of the acts is not to titillate or tantalize but to transgress, to provoke a degree of rejection and outrage at the breaking of taboos. The actual acts themselves aren’t dwelt on until we get to the literal climax of the story, because the author isn’t trying to get you off, or go into horrorporn territory with microscopic detail a la Edward Lee’s Hardcore Lovecraft novels like Going Monstering.

For “The Taste of the Snake’s Honey,” sex isn’t the revelation, it’s the initiation.

What the reader and the protagonist are initiated into is another question. Rio Matsudono’s novella is a direct expansion on the lore of Yig, and the straightforward lore dumps are maybe at the expense of the story itself. Like with The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健), there’s an effort to at least draw parallels between an aspect of Lovecraft’s Mythos with Chinese folklore…and the parallels work fine; the exposition is a little heavy at points, but that’s pretty common in Lovecraftian pastiches. What the story lacks, aside from a certain prosody, is a direct explanation for what drove the sexual decadence of the protagonist in the first place…unless you understand and appreciate Yig’s role as a fundamentally sexual entity to begin with.

So much of this novella is stated bluntly or outright that some of the subtextual implications and assumptions can be easily lost. The protagonist’s sexual activities aren’t portrayed as mental illness or learned practices; they’re the result of natural inclinations—or, maybe, supernatural ones. Nature winning out over nurture. At the same time those sexual desires and activities appear to have nothing to do with the final resolution of the plot: they led the narrator protagonist to the point of revelation, but aside from plot fiat there was no reason that these specific revelations had to happen in this way. A surface read of this story might suggest that Rio Matsudono wanted to deliberately shock the reader, but the apparent conflict can be resolved by thinking of Yig and his children as driven by inhuman appetites.

He was not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children, the serpents; but in the autumn he became abnormally ravenous, and had to be driven away by means of suitable rites.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “The Curse of Yig”

Suppose these appetites are analogous to the strange hankerings of a pregnant woman? Suppose the hungers for strange flesh, and blood, and wild venturings way over the borders of sane sexuality are a reaching out for ultramundane fare, the pickles and ice cream of the alien soul coming to birth within the confines of a human life that is only a womb for that which gestates inside, increasingly making its presence known?
—introduction to “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” in Inverted Kingdom 113-114

The introduction to “The Taste of Snake’s Honey” spotlights the issue for reader, although like all good warnings to the curious, the full implications aren’t necessarily clear until after the novella is finished. Then the story can be seen in the theme of “Paedomorphosis” (1998) by Caitlín R. Kiernan—a changeling or puberty story, where the old self is shed to make way for the new, adult form.

If read from this angle, the sexual deviations from the beginning of the story are not just there to shock the reader, but as deliberate steps in a process of development. The sexual pleasures being sought are increasingly strange and terrible by human standards because what the protagonist is being prepared to mate with is nothing human. It’s a rationalization which resolves some of the apparent conflicts in the story, such as why the narrator feels their behaviors are different from those of decadent humans who engage in the same or similar practices like teratophilia or necrophilia.

A point of view which potentially has interesting implications if applied to some of the other entities in the Cthulhu Mythos, especially those that pass for human, or whose cults engage in proscribed sexual practices.


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

“The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas

We came to the Mictlán, the place of the dead, which the ancient people called Xinaián […]
—”The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, trans. Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Most of “The Mound” is given as a story-within-a-story: the English translation of the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, gentleman, of Luarca in Asturias, Concerning the Subterranean World of Xinaián, A. D. 1545. Few of the Aztec codices have survived the flames and floods, the mold and wear of centuries of hands; we today often read about the peoples and places they encountered through accounts like Zamacona’s…who being their own skewed, flawed interpretation of what they see and witnessed of ways of life and belief of which they knew little, and could only understand through the lens of their own religion, politics, philosophy, and experience.

Which is a long way to say: no one has tried to tell the story from T’la-yub’s point of view.

In Lovecraft’s narrative via Zamacona, T’la-yub is a tragic figure. She dared to love, dared to dream of a monogamous union, and the subject of her affections determined only to put her aside as soon as convenient. For her transgressions in the name of romance, she is doomed to mutilation, death, and then undeath. T’la-yub is one of the ghosts of the mound, the dead woman who holds her head, facing eternal punishment for a momentary infraction.

There’s something very Christian about that interpretation, isn’t there? Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas flips the script. What if Zamacona didn’t understand what was happening? What if he misconstrued his place and importance in the sequence of events?

As with her other stories “Tloque Nahuaque” (2011)“Ahuizotl” (2011), and “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” (2014), “The Head of T’la-yub” mixes elements of the Mythos was Aztec mythology. Instead of the more Pellucidar-esque elements of Lovecraft’s alien civilization beneath the earth, the focus is on T’la-yub’s personal spiritual and physical journey, here modeled on the descent of the dead to Mictlán, the growth of her understanding as to what she has become and what her role is. The result is brief, but novel: a new way to look at this aspect of the “Mesoamerican Mythos,” taking Lovecraft not at face value, but as one interpretation of events told through a very European lens.

Which doesn’t mean that Lovecraft was wrong and García-Rosas is right; the point of the story is not to disprove Lovecraft or point out sources of error, but to provide a new viewpoint that suggests that the picture is much more richly complex than Lovecraft himself gives it. Where works like Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys takes “The Mound” at more or less face value, or The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) that takes the basic ideas but moves in its own direction, “The Head of T’la-yub” is essentially an alternative narrative of “The Mound”—and readers can put on their scholar’s caps, read up on Aztec mythology, and decide for themselves where the balance of truth lies.

“The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas was translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and was first published in She Walks in Shadows (2015); it was republished in the paperback edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016).


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

“Yig Country” (1993) by Ann K. Schwader

In this particular case, we are looking into the possibility of a single mound inhabited by an Indian snake-god of death, referred to as “Yig” by Zealia Bishop. […] After trudging through the countryside around Binger [, Oklahoma], I have not had the luck so far of stumbling across the mound mentioned by Zealia Bishop. […] In retrospect, it is well known that Indians even now will not often divulge the true location of something held sacred to their tribe – much less something which is feared and forbidden. Should information leak out concerning such a spot, the informant might fear the finger of tribal suspicion pointed in his direction. The Indian ways have changed little in the last three hundred years, and it is not their nature to trust a man from outside the tribes.
—W. E. Baardson, “The Mound of Yig?” in Etchings & Oddyseys (1973) 10-12

As I braced myself for the tourist trap, I bet Wallace [Baardson] a quarter we’d have to pay to see the Snake Mound. Certainly, there would be dozens of bright painted signs with the come-on, “Only two miles to the horrible Snake Mound…..one mile…..one yard….. […] But where was the arrow pointing to the mound? It had to be Binger’s second most famous site! […] For my part, I have given up the search for the Binger Mound and Father Yig but Wallace is still searching. He has found several mounds in that section of Oklahoma and is still searching for some peiece of evidence to throw more light on the subject. If anyone can find it, I’m sure Wallace can. For now, though, it looks as though the mound does not exist. Perhaps only Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop know the truth.
—J. J. Koblas, “In Search of Yig” in Nyctalops#9 (1974), 11-12

Lovecraft blundered in selecting the location of his mound. There are no mounds of Indian (or pre-Indian origin) in Oklahoma, the setting of “The Mound.” […] None of the extant Amerindian cultures has a snake god that even approximates Yig.
—Michael DiGregorio, “‘Yig,’ ‘The Mound,’ and American Indian Lore” in Crypt of Cthulhu #11 (1983), 25-26

Searchers after Yig Country have, for the most part, been looking in the wrong place. Zealia Bishop did tell H. P. Lovecraft real bits of local folklore about Binger, Oklahoma around which he wrote “The Curse of Yig” (1929) and “The Mound” (1940)—but Yig Country is not marked on any gas station map or visible from GoogleEarth. It is a province of Lovecraft Country, and the borders grow gradually in works like “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch “Medusa’s Curse” (1995) by Sakura Mizuki (桜 水樹氏)The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys, and Wrath of N’kai (2020) by Josh Reynolds. As the lore grows, so too does Yig Country spread…from contemporary China & Japan to ancient Zambebwei in the Hyborian Age.

Yet rarely in Oklahoma, for all that is where the original two stories were set, and have their real-world roots.

Low tom-toms throbbing through the autumn air,
Shrill Pawnee whistles rising day & night,
Alter the learned traveler to beware
Of this cursed region’s legendary blight.
—Ann K. Schwader, “Yig Country” in Twisted in Dream 85

“Yig Country” is part of a collection of poems that Schwader has written inspired by “The Mound” and “The Curse of Yig.” The others are “Namesake” (In dread K’n-yan’s spired citadel, Tsath”), “Survivals” (“In Anasazi lands where ruins rise”), “Drums of the Father” (“Dread autumn brings a throbbing on the wind”), and “Guardians of the Mound” (“In Caddo County where the snake-god’s rite”). Of all the works that were inspired by Lovecraft and Bishop’s stories, Schwader’s poems might come closest to capturing the promise of this Southwestern corner of the Mythos…and with a degree of consideration that some searchers after Yig Country have lacked.

Both “The Mound” and “The Curse of Yig” explicitly incorporate the presence of Native Americans, and suggest that Yig and the eponymous mound are a part of their local folklore, history, and religion. Lovecraft invented Gray Eagle as a representative, but he did not invent the Pawnee; fact and fiction were woven together—and it is always a question of appropriateness how far to pursue that particular warp and weft, because the Native Americans are still around, in the United States, in Oklahoma. It was perhaps a bit easier in past decades to be ignorant about Native American culture, to pretend they were just like they were depicted in the movies and on television. Maybe this, as much as anything, is why authors following on Lovecraft and Bishop so rarely return to Caddo County, and are more content with K’n-yan than Binger; the geography is a bit too real.

Even the Tewa do not remember why certain glyphs were first carved, or what waits coiled between the stars until they fade. But the Old Ones do.

And the Old Ones still whisper.
—Herbert J. Spinden, Songs from the Tewa (1915), quoted in Twisted in Dream 85

No one has yet written the Mound as a tourist trap, like Innsmouth in “Down into Silence” (2018) by Storm Constantine. The descendants of Aubrey Davis do not haunt the dilapidated sideshows of the circus that follows the dusty road to set up outside the quiet little town, charging for a peep. Yig Country is still frontier territory, even for dedicated searchers after horror. It grows in fits, a poem here, a short story there. Shedding the scales of racist rhetoric as it outgrows them, turning into something fresh and new, bigger and deadlier than it once was…and no one yet has captured that attitude as well, in a single poem.

Drive on to a cleaner country if you’re wise
—Ann K. Schwader, “Yig Country” in Twisted in Dream 85

Ann K. Schwader’s “Yig Country” was first published Eldritch Tales #28 (1993), it has been republished along with her other Yig- and Mound-inspired poems in her collections The Worms Remember (2001) and Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader (2011).


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

Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys

After I wrote “The Litany of Earth,” I thought I was done. I’d said what I needed to about Lovecraft and being a monster; it was time to move on. When people started asking for more, I figured it was just a nice way of saying “I liked it.” But the requests kept coming, and I started explaining to anyone who’d listen why the story didn’t need a sequel.

My second thanks, therefore, are to everyone who pushed for more of Aphra’s story until I talked myself around and figured out what else I had to say.
—Ruthanna Emrys, “Acknowledgements” in Winter Tide (2017) 363

A Cthulhu Mythos novel is difficult to write. The very first was August Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold (1945); others followed, such as Brian Lumley’s Beneath the Moors (1974) and Robert Bloch’s Strange Eons (1978). Most of these early Mythos novels face the same problems and criticisms: the difficulty of maintaining a Lovecraftian narrative and atmosphere at length, and an over-reliance on Mythos tie-ins. They were basically very long pastiches, and not always good pastiche. The little tie-ins which readers thrill in during a short story can become overburdening if dwelt on at length, or if the entire story’s plot serves no other purpose than to expand on connections between parts of the Mythos. While Lovecraft could sometimes inundate readers with references, it was usually fairly brief and never to the detriment of the plot of the story he was telling. The reference to Innsmouth in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” for example, is a reference that would thrill readers of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but Lovecraft doesn’t focus on the connection, or even explain it.

Ruthanna Emrys’ “The Litany of Earth” is admirably self-contained in that way. While Aphra Marsh retells some of the events of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in her own words, the story is not just a retelling and commentary of Lovecraft’s story, but focuses on Aphra’s life after that tragedy. Coping and rebuilding, forming bonds and friendship, learning and learning to deal with accumulated trauma, trust issues, etc. The close of the story doesn’t cease Aphra’s narrative—she’s still alive—but neither does it beg for or immediately suggest a sequel.

Looking back at “The Litany of Earth” and Winter Tide in hindsight, it is easier to see how Emrys got from one to the other. The novel takes advantage of its length to explore a few of the themes of “Litany” in greater depth, and following that thread Aphra and her companions return to Lovecraft Country in Massachusetts, picking up on some of the wider connections between “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and the Mythos. Some of these work better than others; Pickman Sanitarium is basically an Easter egg, the Cthäat Aquadingen (originally created by Brian Lumley in “The Cyprus Shell”) a wink and a nod. The regurgitation of endless Mythos titles is the kind of thing that feels like running a finger down the laundry-list of tomes in the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game; the little Mythos details are generally at their best when being creative (salt-cakes!)

While Emrys’ novel definitely isn’t pastiche, the over-reliance of tie-ins does drag a little; Miskatonic University in this incarnation looks a lot more like Ex Libris Miskatonici (1993) by Joan C. Stanley in the sheer density and scale of the occult shenanigans. More annoyingly because some of the details given don’t line up, but without any real explanation. The founders of Innsmouth, for example, are alleged in the novel to have come from England rather than Oceania, and for reasons unspecified apparently the Deep Ones don’t have any communities off the West Coast of the United States. There might be good narrative reasons for this, but without some hint it feels like a misstep rather than a deliberate authorial choice. Those pedantic niggles are relatively rare, and not necessarily bad. For example, the Hall School for girls which Lovecraft mentioned in “The Thing on the Doorstep” is transformed into a women’s college affiliate with Miskatonic University in Winter Tide.

The issue of plot and atmosphere are different for Winter Tide than the early Mythos novels. “The Litany of Earth” never made any attempt to copy Lovecraft’s atmosphere;  Emrys has her own voice and is comfortable with it. Aphra and the other main characters are essentially already initiates into the Mythos, or become initiated quickly, so there is a lot less peeling-back-the-onion…which is fine, except that nominally the A plot is a Cold War occult spy thriller (“cloak & enchanted dagger,” or maybe “cloak & tentacle”) a la Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives and “A Colder War,” Tim Powers’ Declare, or even the Delta Green Roleplaying Game, and that plot goes…essentially nowhere. Most of the book, and thus most of the interest in the novel, relies entirely on the drama generated by the interactions between the slowly expanding cast of characters.

The expansion of the cast seems less organic than it should be. While admirably diverse for a Mythos novel in terms of gender, race/ethnicity, and sexual orientation, the cast is bigger than it needs to be and some of the relationships feel forced. One of the characters from “Litany” is revealed as homosexual, for example, but there’s no build-up to the revelation and ultimately no real impact on the narrative. While Emrys is keenly aware of the discrimination that various characters are subject to in the 1940s United States of America for being some combination of women, homosexual, African-American, Japanese, Jewish, and/or an Innsmouth hybrid and doesn’t shy away from how bad the “good old days” could be if you weren’t a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, she can’t give equal attention to every single character’s experience and not all of those characters have an equal contribution to the nominal plot.

The opposition to Aphra & her group are basically heterosexual white people—whether privileged Miskatonic students, sexist and sexually abusive male university professors, or racist and sexist FBI agents. The characterization isn’t inaccurate to the time period (and it is the rampant bigotry, spoken and unspoken, which unites the group of outsiders in common cause), but it does get to be a little frustrating when pretty much every single one of them refuses to learn absolutely anything from the mistakes that leave a trail of bodies and ruined lives in their wake. Maybe that’s deliberate, but it still feels like there could have been room for more nuance—or, at least, that there would have been some small moral victory in getting at least one them to step out of their headspace of thinking they know better than everyone else, or of being self-righteous about it.

Where “Litany of Earth” doesn’t demand a sequel, readers might wonder what the point of Winter Tide is. Mostly, it serves to drag Aphra back to Innsmouth, the prodigal daughter returning home to reconnect with and face the demands of her family. Many Mythos stories have focused on issues of reproduction, from Lovecraft’s miscegenation theme in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” to miscarriage and infertility (“In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens), arranged marriages and unwanted pregnancies (“Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader), to rape leading to pregnancy (“The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins), to spousal abuse (“A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales), but this is one that addresses an issue both perennial and very current: family expectations to have kids, and the right to choose not to have a child.

This could honestly have been the theme of the novel in many ways; a way of confronting past and future at once…but it feels like a B-plot that is, if not completely resolved, at least resolved way too quickly. There are good reasons why Aphra (or any woman) might want to have a child and not want to have a child; replace an aging parent with an immortal, fully-transformed Deep One asking when and how you’re going to spawn and suggesting suitable mates from your immediate pool of friends is something that could be played up for both horror and laughs. Yet for a decision that doesn’t have to be made right away, it’s one that Aphra caves to after a bare minimum of self-reflection. Aphra isn’t the only one subject to this expectation—at least two or three other characters are in analogous positions, even if not all of their family have gills—and Emrys could have played with the comparison of situations a bit more there, but chose not to.

Winter Tide is definitely a better written novel than The Lurker at the Threshold or Strange Eons; the characters are deeper, the interactions better, many of the embellishments on the Mythos more creative. From a Mythos perspective, it feels like it draws too much from the roleplaying game side of things; as a dramatic novel, it feels like it has too many characters and doesn’t do enough with those that are there. In comparison with “The Litany of Earth,” Winter Tide definitely doesn’t have the same focus; Emrys already made her point about providing an alternate take on “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and there’s no need to rehash it here—but neither does Emrys have quite the same twist or insight to offer on Miskatonic-focused stories like “The Thing on the Doorstep” and The Shadow Out of Time.

The marketing for this novel refers to it as part of the “Innsmouth Legacy” series—and it really is the focus on the bits and piece of Innsmouth culture, material and otherwise, that survive which are the best “Mythos” parts of the novel. The references to “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft are less interesting and relevant than the pieces of Innsmouth gold we see, and the meaning that they represent; the depictions of the gods (including “Shub-Nigaroth” as a substitute for “Shub-Niggurath,” probably to avoid any perceived issues with etymology); an origin story for the Deep Ones; the reference to how Innsmouth had few graveyards and that the dates on the stones were relatively young (stillbirths and childhood illnesses & accidents)…these are all good details. The kind of world-building which the book could have used more of, or have focused more on.

 It’s a great story and a seamless subversion of Lovecraft’s most repellent views while simultaneously being a tribute to his greatest accomplishments.
—Carrie S., review of Winter Tide on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books (26 May 2017)

Is Winter Tide actually subverting Lovecraft? This is a question that applies to many books published around the same time which dealt with issues of race, prejudice, and the Mythos, including Lovecraft Country (2016) by Matt Ruff and “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle. It’s not an easy question to answer. 1949 is a different world than the one Lovecraft left in 1937, or wrote about when “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in 1931. Lovecraft himself was racist, to the point of bigotry, he was homophobic, antisemitic, and anti-immigrant; how much of that made it into “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Thing on the Doorstep?”

The fantasy racism with regards to Innsmouth in Lovecraft’s fiction is inspired by the real-life racial discrimination of the United States in the 1930s, but in Lovecraft’s stories it is very specifically so much weirder than “normal” racism that the prejudices of the surrounding towns is the red herring. Unlike Winter Tide, no one in Lovecraft’s stories suspects what the people of Innsmouth actually are. That is what makes Lovecraft’s Innsmouth narrative so sensational…and what makes it so difficult to subvert.

Is it a subversion if the Deep Ones are sympathetic and not actively evil? Is it a subversion to tell a story from the perspective of a Deep One? Or to have a protagonist who openly embraces various characters without discriminating about them based on gender, sexuality, race, or religion? Not rhetorical questions; Ruthanna Emrys doesn’t carry forward many of Lovecraft’s prejudices, but neither does she invert all of them.

“The Innsmouth Legacy” is more inclusive than Lovecraft’s Mythos, but it can’t negate or even really address the substance of race and discrimination that informed Lovecraft’s writing. Or to put it another way, Winter Tide does not exist to deconstruct the ideas of race & the Cthulhu Mythos. Emrys works to turn Lovecraft’s ideas to her own usage, but in doing so never really questions the underlying fundamentals of some of those ideas—the Deep Ones (“Children of Water”) and K’n-yans (“Children of Earth”) are in several respects fundamentally different from “normal humans” (“Children of Air”), and Lovecraft’s depictions of them are treated as broadly accurate, if not universal—and they could not be otherwise, for the characters to be as they are, or the narrative to play out as it does.

In the review for “The Litany of Earth,” it was noted to make Deep Ones just a nigh-immortal, magically adept subspecies of humanity is to basically turn them into ugly versions of Tolkien’s elves. To extend a tortured metaphor, the depiction of the inhabitants of K’n-yan is basically a version of the Drow from Dungeons & Dragons. While they don’t have dark skin pigmentation, the K’n-yans are a magically adept subspecies of humanity, but one which is seen as (perhaps genetically) evil, insane, and sadistic; they are shunned by other intelligent peoples and subject to pejorative epithets (“dustblood”) and wariness, if not outright discrimination. The discovery of K’n-yan heritage fundamentally changes how a character views herself, and how she is viewed by an interacts with the other characters; this isn’t an ancestry test where the character is pleasantly surprised to see an unexpected result giving them a genetic tie that didn’t know about…and unlike at the end of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” acceptance of this unusual heritage does not equal any kind of promise of glorious transfiguration.

Which does not make Winter Tide in any sense a bad novel; a Dungeons & Dragons novel can be fine fantasy without working to subvert everything J. R. R. Tolkien wrote about elves. A book can be fresh and well-written without necessarily being revolutionary. Part of the point of a Cthulhu Mythos novel is to build on what has gone before—and add to it. Ruthanna Emrys has certainly done that.

Winter Tide was published in 2017; the Innsmouth Legacy series would continue with a sequel novel Deep Roots in 2019.


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

“The Song of Sighs” (2013) by Angela Slatter

I am hidden, but lovely, O ye daughters of darkness,
as the dreams of Great Old Ones
as the drowned houses of R’lyeth
—Angela Slatter, “The Song of Sighs” in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth 169

The pathos of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is that the nameless narrator does not know who he is. What should be a homecoming, a prodigal son awaiting the proverbial fatted calf, the embrace of heritage and belonging, all goes terribly wrong. The various sequels to the story, written in the years and decades after, usually mark the nameless narrator as a traitor or black sheep for their unknowing betrayal, rather than the pathetic figure that they are. For those who survive in the Innsmouth diaspora, as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, the loss of community, accumulated knowledge, and shared identity is as important as the actual lives destroyed and people killed.

Memory and identity thus make appropriate themes for Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs.”

Lovecraft painted the Innsmouth identity in broad strokes: clannish, taciturn, inward-looking, forward-looking, religious, conscientious of appearances. The rites of the Esoteric Order of Dagon are not given in any detail, no holidays are named, no community activities described, or peculiarities of dress or cooking. The vast majority of what makes up “Innsmouth culture” or identity was built up by later writers, using what little fragments Lovecraft left in his writing. The result is somewhat stilted; imagine trying to recreate the ancient druid religion from Julius Caesar’s Commentarii de Bello Gallico: what you get is largely based on biased, partial accounts by outsiders, filled in with a great deal of extrapolation and wishful thinking. There’s little enough there that writers can do practically whatever they want with the inhabitants of Innsmouth—and have.

So when readers begin the journals of Vivienne Croftmarsh, they look to seize on what they know. To place this story, this fragment of the Innsmouth Cycle, in context with the other fragments. Like scholars piecing together the Dead Sea Scrolls, the “truth” is a bit plastic: here is the evidence we have, where do the pieces fit? Are we even looking at the right puzzle? In this case, the situation is complicated by Croftmarsh’s own faulty memory: like the protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” she does not know herself. Which is as clever a way for a writer to get the readers as any other; a clever reader will path themselves on the back as Dr. Croftmarsh scratches at her neck, as she worms her way deeper into the secrets of the school she teaches at. They think they know what’s coming…because they’ve read this story before, or at least variations of it. The wayward Innsmouthian that comes to know themselves, that discovers their heritage.

Of course, if Angela Slatter was just parroting Lovecraft’s story, it wouldn’t be much of a story at all. The point of invoking the same themes is to seize on the reader’s expectations before subverting them; to give, if not a genuine surprise, than at least a bit of a shock that the reader hadn’t thought to ask the right questions before the answers were given to them. Slatter is a deft hand at this sort of writing, and the crumb-trail left for Vivienne Croftmarsh to follow, and for the readers to vicariously pick up as they read along, is just that: a way for someone to find their way back over ground they’ve covered before. It isn’t that the readers’ memories of Innsmouth are wrong, but the trail may be leading them to a different destination than they might expect.

That is the lesson which readers are sometimes long in learning: sometimes you have to forget what you think you know. Don’t anticipate. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is so familiar to many stalwart regular readers of the Mythos that it is sometimes difficult to forget that there are other ways to read and interpret the events, and that some things are, if not best forgotten, than not the pleasant reconstructions of those who like to think of the Innsmouth folk as purely victims.

“Them things liked human sacrifices. Had had ’em ages afore, but lost track o’ the upper world arter a time. What they done to the victims it ain’t fer me to say, an’ I guess Obed wa’n’t none too sharp abaout askin’. But it was all right with the heathens, because they’d ben havin’ a hard time an’ was desp’rate abaout everything. They give a sarten number o’ young folks to the sea-things twict every year—May-Eve an’ Hallowe’en—reg’lar as cud be. Also give some o’ the carved knick-knacks they made. What the things agreed to give in return was plenty o’ fish—they druv ’em in from all over the sea—an’ a few gold-like things naow an’ then.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Caesar’s druids were a bloody-handed lot too; human sacrifice was anathema to the Romans, and for those cultures that followed the Romans, it became a familiar polemic (cf. cannibalism and Relatione del Reame di Congo (1591) by Filippo Pigafetta). The “reality” of these practices remains a key part of Innsmouth identity in many stories of the Innsmouth diaspora: Brian McNaughton in “The Doom That Came To Innsmouth” leans one way, Ruthanna Emrys in “The Litany of Earth” and her subsequent novels leans another. Fewer readers sympathize with an Innsmouth diaspora that does practice human sacrifice in some form.

There’s probably a thesis to be written on the finer philosophical details of that point. For the Innsmouth identity to have verisimilitude, there should be unpleasant or alien aspects, things that set it apart from contemporary culture at more than a superficial level. If all of the survivors of Innsmouth were virtuous, ethical, hardworking, and not hurting anybody, then they’d be a culture of Mary Sues. Angela Slatter holds the reader in suspense on that point to the end, and for good reason.

Angela Slatter’s “The Song of Sighs” was first published in Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth (2013), and has been reprinted in New Cthulhu 2 (2015), her collection Winter Children and Other Chilling Tales (2016), and Broad Knowledge: 35 Women Up To No Good (2018).


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

“From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

On screen, a cavern beneath the black Amazonian lake, glycerine mist and rifle smoke, and the creature’s gills rise and fall, struggling for breath; its bulging eyes are as blank and empty as the glass eyes of a taxidermied fish. —Caitlín R. Kiernan, “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth 170
There both continuity and a disconnect between H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936) and The Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954). Disconnect, because according to all the official histories, Lovecraft’s pulp story was not an inspiration for the film; the Gilman Hotel did not give rise to the Gill-Man.  Continuity because fans and subsequent creators did draw comparisons, sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. When viewers today see Abe Sapien in Mike Mignola’s Hellboy and B.P.R.D. comics and related media, there are obvious echoes of Lovecraftian elements in “Ichthyo Sapien.” The Shape of Water (2017), director Guillermo del Toro’s homage to The Creature from the Black Lagoon, also draws on Abe Sapien’s image in the creature design—in part because actor Doug Jones played the amphibian in both 2017 and in del Toro’s two Hellboy films. Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill directly connect the creature and the Deep Ones in Nemo: River of Ghosts (2015)…and the list could go on. Caitlín R. Kiernan went a step further.
Her twenty-fifth birthday, the stormy day in early July when Lacey Morrow found the Innsmouth fossil, working late and alone in the basement of the Pratt Museum. (ibid., 174)
“‘From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6’ probably started taking shape in 1996,” recalls the author, “after David J. Schow sent me a beautiful reproduction of the Devonian-aged fossil hand shown in the opening scenes of The Creature from the Black Lagoon. Dave has the most awesome collection of Creature memorabilia anywhere on earth, I suspect. I sat the model atop a bookshelf in my office, and from time to time I’d think about its plausibility as an actual fossil, about coming across it in some museum drawer somewhere, forgotten and dusty with an all but indecipherable label, and what implications to our ideas of vertebrae evolution such a fossil would have. […] Anyway, the two things came together—the “fossil” hand of the Creature, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’—and I stopped working on the novel just long enough to write this story. I borrowed Dr. Solomon Monalisa from one of my earlier stories, ‘Onion.’ —Caitlín R. Kiernan, Afterword in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth 287
There’s a dedication to the secret history of The Creature from the Black Lagoon in this story that has all the care of a good hoax. It is told in bits and pieces; lengthy quotes from books that don’t exist but could easily have, variations of anecdotes that today’s readers could get off wikipedia. There is a kind of irony too—readers of Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth, where the story first appeared, would be expected to pick up on the bits related to Lovecraft’s tale, but in the 2000s and beyond—how many monster fans have actually seen The Creature from the Black Lagoon in action? Everyone knows the Gill-Man, but like plush Cthulhus, often at third- or fourth-hand, watered-down derivations, jokes, cartoons, a discarded juice carton in The Monster Squad (1987), one more familiar figure in the old line-up of Universal Horror monsters—and unlike Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolf-Man, and the Mummy, not one that ever got an update by Hammer in the ’70s, that largely avoided exploitation and cheesy effects in the ’90s. The 79-minute original 1954 film is considered a classic, but with fewer sequels and fewer imitators. The Gill-Man, in its original incarnation, is humanoid but alien; ancient, inhuman, yet akin to humanity. A bit like King Kong (1933) in that respect; beauty killed that beast as well…though why these creatures should go for human women is left unspoken in the films, movie-goers knew why. Kiernan’s timeline in the story is disjointed; she starts at the end, then delves into the beginning, and cuts back and forth. Nonlinear storytellling, masterfully done: when a reader goes to the last word on the last page, they want to turn back to the beginning to find out what it means…and reading the story again, after you know everything, bits and pieces click into place. Lacey Morrow isn’t quite the unnamed protagonist of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or the nubile fishbait Kay Lawrence in her custom white swimsuit, but borrows a bit of both. Sometimes the unfortunate victim, more often the intrepid investigator bumbling into deeper waters. Nor does Kiernan tell the reader everything. There’s a sketch of what happened between the events of Lovecraft’s story and the filming of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, but only the sketch. Readers can fill in the details with their imagination. If this had been that story of the filming, it might have been something closer to James Morrow’s Shambling Towards Hiroshima (2009)—and maybe someone will write that someday, and talk a little bit more about Milicent Patrick, The Lady from the Black Lagoon who sculpted the models for the original Gill-Man suits, and how she fits into the Innsmouth diaspora. James Goho in Caitlín R. Kiernan: A Critical Study of Her Dark Fiction (2020) files “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” under chapter 5: “Warnings to the Curious,” subsection “The Danger in Fossils,” and observes in her work:
Our world may not be as we normally designate it. It is weirder, stranger and more hostile than we can imagine. (78)
For Goho, the story illustrates something of the essential paradox of scientists: to challenge new hypotheses and new interpretations for proof, and yet to be open to such viewpoints if they can be proven. The dogmatic scientist that is too conservative to change or challenge convention can find nothing new, the radical who proposes new theories endlessly but cannot support them is a crank. The wonder of discovery, the possibility of upsetting the established conventions with new evidence, to study and preserve it—is Morrow’s main motivation in the story. Against this she pushes into a secret history, where some things cannot be published, some orthodoxies cannot be challenged—and there’s a great deal of frustration and sadness wrapped up in that. While few stories of the Innsmouth diaspora touch on this attitude in so many words, there are elements of this theme in many of them. Something happened in the winter of 1927-1928, and the public part of it is not the whole of the story…and those who find a piece of it, who descend from the old families, or are drawn into the web of secrecy through curiosity have to face the challenges that come with knowing too much. A conspiracy of silence, and the question has to be asked: who holds those secrets, and why? Why are they secrets, and who benefits from keeping the public from knowing what really happened? Every writer who sits down to write a tale of the Innsmouth diaspora is, in effect, that nameless narrator at the beginning of Lovecraft’s story who claims:
But at last I am going to defy the ban on speech about this thing. Results, I am certain, are so thorough that no public harm save a shock of repulsion could ever accrue from a hinting of what was found by those horrified raiders at Innsmouth. Besides, what was found might possibly have more than one explanation. I do not know just how much of the whole tale has been told even to me, and I have many reasons for not wishing to probe deeper. —H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
May they dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever. Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “From Cabinet 34, Drawer 6” was first published in Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth (2005), and has since been reprinted in her collections Two Worlds and In Between (2011) and Houses Under the Sea: Mythos Tales (2018).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Lascivious Tongues” (2014) by Christine Morgan

Christine Morgan reminds us that sex is so much more than just bodies coming together in her story Lascivious Tongues; it’s as much a mental, linguistic game as anything else. Words have power, particularly during sex: some words might only power your fucktoys, others could power your house, your city… or destroy your reality altogether! Lascivious Tongues is a lot of fun in a classic “don’t read the cursed book” way, and delivered to us by a master storyteller with a great feel for dialogue and character.
Justine Geoffrey, “On Old Names, Old Guards and Great Old Ones” in Necronomicum #1

There are definite parallels between Mythos literature and pornography. The Necronomicon and 120 Days of Sodom are both forbidden books, shunned by normal people, dealt with (at least in earlier times) only by specialists and pursued only by particularly fanatical readers, often hidden in libraries. These works are all taboo—just reading or possessing them carried a social stigma, and in some cases could even be illegal according to some authorities. Generations of Mythos fans have appreciated the fetishistic element to Mythos tomes when they read of the decadent works described in “The Hound.” Later authors have exploited these parallels to create Mythos tomes that combine the forbidden lore of erotica and cosmic horroras in Le Pornomicon (2005) by Logan Kowalsky, or “The Perils of Liberated Objects, or, The Voyeur’s Seduction” (2009) by Caitlín R. Kiernan. (For more on this subject, see “The Necronomicon as Pornography” in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.)

The term “fetish” as normally applied to sex signifies a particular and often fixed image of veneration. This sense of the word is derived in turn from European encounters with votive objects among the indigenous peoples of Africa—literal idolatry, when viewed through the Christian world-view of the traders, sailors, missionaries, and later anthropologists who sought to catalog and categorize what they saw, even if it was with imperfect understanding.

Cthulhu, not coincidentally, had an idol too.

She cared not a whit that the eccentric New England recluse’s library was said to have also contained dozens of tomes on occultism and folios of pornography. Nor did she lend any credence to the scandalous talk of orgies, covens, sacrifices, rituals, and other such hysteria and nonsense.

And it was absurd even to suggest that the book had anything to do with Grantham vanishing.
—Christine Morgan, “Lascivious Tongues”

Sexual fetishes lend themselves to cataloging and categorization too. Specific images—the stern headmistress is a staple character, the all-girls school a staple setting—lend themselves to endless permutations. Like Cthulhu, there is never one single, correct, absolutely perfect and eternal depiction; there is only endless and fascinating repetitions and variations, writers and artists playing on a theme, trying to capture or depict specific moods and ideas.

Which is a long way to say that the similarities between erotica and Mythos fiction are more than skin-deep; there is a certain fundamental similarity in purpose with fetishistic sexual literature. The really good writers are seldom dispassionate, but in the throes of their own fascination with the material, the techniques used in many Mythos pastiches and erotic works are essentially the same—and occasionally bleed over. This is a bit obvious when it comes to remixes such as “Kanye West—Reanimator” (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky vs. “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon, but the dividing line between “serious Mythos story” and “erotic Mythos story” can be exceptionally thin—and it is entirely possible for a Mythos story to be a work of erotic horror, for a Mythos image like Cthulhu’s tentacles to become a sexual image fulfilling a particular fetish.

“Lascivious Tongues” works in no small part because Christine Morgan plays specifically to images of Lovecraftian horror as well as to sexual fetishes. In combining the two, she is sort of crossing the line twice—in both directions. Jessica Barlowe, the stern, virginal, and sexually repressed headmistress of the all-girl’s college does not satisfy what might be the expectations of the reader—her tastes, once awakened, lie in a more occult direction—and the Lovecraftian horrors have a form and appearance distinctly atypical for those expecting phallic-headed tentacles to burst forth from beyond the portal, as described and depicted in the Necronomicon in Noé & Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell.

Her facility with languages, combined with her position as headmistress of the Eastridge School for Young Ladies, meant that Jessica Barlowe had long since wearied of the inevitable ‘cunning linguist’ jokes with which each new wit fancied himself so clever.
—Christine Morgan, “Lascivious Tongues”

Yet more than anything, Morgan has tongue firmly in cheek. While the puns are few, she is definitely cognizant of the play of words and concept. Lovecraft and pornographers both have a tendency toward adjectives and adverbs, and if “Lascivious Tongues” doesn’t reach the heights of Lovecraft’s ultraviolet prose, it is definitely trying to evoke the particular idiom of a certain range of Victorian and Edwardian erotica in some of its diction.

Compared to many Mythos pastiches are overwritten and drag in terms of pacing, “Lascivious Tongues” moves almost too briskly, hitting its story beats and not slowing down until the weight of the sex scenes demands it. Many passages and transitions are downright terse. It is a very pulp/erotica style of writing, unlike the longer literary form such as Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk, which otherwise shares a similar period setting. Which is to say, “Lascivious Tongues” is not exactly The Way of a Man with a Maid (1908) with the addition of a Mythos tome. It could easily have been something like that, if Morgan had aimed at a novel instead of a short story. The basic building blocks for such an erotic Mythos novel are there—but the market is different.

“Lascivious Tongues” was published in Necronomicum: The Magazine of Weird Erotica #1 (2014). Erotica is often ephemeral fiction; read once and then forgotten or discarded. It took quite some time to build up the idea of “erotic horror” as durable literature, beyond masturbation fodder. Which is a shame because some quite good fiction has been lost to disinterest, in men’s magazines and the wilds of the early Internet…and to ebooks which were available for a period, and then disappeared, taking their stories with them.

Necronomicum was set up as a triannual e-periodical; it made it to four issues…which isn’t bad at all, considering it published some well-known authors such as Ramsey Campbell, Christine Morgan, and Brian Sammons. The trick for any series publication is reaching the right market—all the more difficult in an internet already flooded with erotica and pornography. For such a publication, with a token payment, short & simple makes sense. “Lascivious Tongues” isn’t the worse for being written as a fast-paced bit of Lovecraftian erotica, but it definitely makes more sense in context as something written as a quick read in a small ebook anthology.


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

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, 1999)

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, Kuro no Danshō) is a four-episode hentai (sexually explicit, adult-oriented) Original Video Animation (OAV) produced in Japan and released in 1999 and 2000 on DVD and laserdisc; it was dubbed and released into English-speaking markets in 2007 on VHS and DVD, with periodic re-releases on DVD since then, most recently the all-in-one 2014 DVD from Critical Mass.

It is difficult to put Mystery of the Necronomicon into its proper context because most of that context has never been translated into English. In 1995 the first of a computer game series “Suzusaki Detective Office File” (涼崎探偵事務所ファイル) was released by Avocado Powers (アボガドパワーズ, often Anglicized phonetically as “Abogado Powers”) for the PC-9800 personal computers; it was ported to the Sega Saturn in 1997, and to Windows in 2004. The game was an adult-oriented mystery/horror, and spawned a sequel in 1996; a third game was planned, but never came out due to financial difficulties at the company. Subsidiary materials include a 1997 strategy guide to the Sega Saturn game, which was praised for its art.

SegaSaturn

Mystery of the Necronomicon is essentially the film version of the 1995 computer game. This wasn’t necessarily weird in the late ’90s; one of the more successful examples English audiences might be familiar with is Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994, dubbed English version released in 1995), and Japan had already released a 1994 computer game Necronomicon (ネクロノミコン) based on Lovecraft’s work. As the game itself has never been officially translated and released in English markets, it’s difficult to say how accurately the  4-episode OVA represents the plot and characterization. Both game and OVA appear to be trying the tricky job of producing an original Cthulhu Mythos horror/mystery with characters that are sexual beings—and that sexuality isn’t limited to consensual heterosexual relations without paraphilia; the OVA  contains graphic scenes of consensual female homosexuality, BDSM, and urophilia as well.

The explicit sexual content may be why the game producers partnered with production company Discovery, a Japanese company that had specialized in adult animation such as the slightly infamous Night Shift Nurses series. While there’s no scuttlebutt on the behind-the-scenes involved with bringing Mystery of the Necronomicon to English audiences, the North American distributor Anime 18 had also distributed Night Shift Nurses and other titles from Discovery, so it seems likely that this was a case of something in Discovery’s back-catalog of titles that they thought would appeal to the North American market…how well that worked out, it’s hard to say, but there must have been at least some commercial interest for the DVD to get multiple English releases.

MotN-VHS

It’s possible the “Book of the Dead” subtitle on some of the English releases drew some inspiration from Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), an American/French/Japanese co-production, but it’s telling that the box art emphasized “From the director of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend,” one of the famous tentacle erotica anime that derive from the work of Maeda Toshio (前田俊夫). The distributors were obviously trying to capitalize as much as possible on the explicit pornographic nature of Mystery of the Necronomicon—this was a product being marketed to a specific crowd—which bears a little bit of inquiry.

There is a cost involved in translating every work. For those first writers who translated H. P. Lovecraft into Japanese after World War II, it was the cost of the translator’s time and expertise, then on top of that the normal publishing costs; the same applies for Japanese literature translated into English. For especially art-heavy works like the Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), there are special considerations to make sure that the art is properly reproduced, and there are potential issues of censorship to deal with, but it’s still mostly an issue of translation costs. With an anime, there are added costs: for a dub, the script has to be translated, voice actors contracted, performances recorded, then new voice tracks have to be mastered and synchronized with the videoso it’s not a small process, there’s layers of work to be done, and that’s assuming that censorship issues aren’t involved. Japanese pornographic works, by statute, blur or hide genitalia and often cannot depict pubic hair and may involve characters under the legal age of consent in other countries—such issues may or may not be resolved as part of the translation process, and there’s an added cost involved with removing censoring, or changing the script so a character is at least 18 years old if it’s going to be sold on the North American market.

Because of this cost, only a fraction of the vast amount of media that Japan produces ever reaches English-language markets, and that fraction of stuff tends to get skewed toward specific markets where it is believed (or at least hoped) that it will sell. Sometimes this leads to big successes like the Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and One Piece series, or the Super Sentai series which were translated into Power Rangers—and sometimes this leads to abysmal flops, stuff that either for poor translation or distribution or whatever other reason fails to find its audience and sinks out of sight. Because of the cost involved, this means that companies tend to focus on those franchises and products which do sell, and if a given series is successful, they’ll try to bring over another similar work to sell to the same market.

Which is a long way to say: Mystery of the Necronomicon was not translated into English because there was a hardcore market of Japanese Cthulhu Mythos fans that were frothing at the bit to get their hands on any and all Japanese media related to Lovecraft’s creations. Instead, it looks a lot like Mystery of the Necronomicon was translated to fill a niche for sexually explicit anime for a market that was hungry for hentai. There is a bit of irony to the fact that with the rise of the internet, so many people have associated the tentacle erotica of hentai works by Maeda Toshio & the like with the relatively tentacle-heavy Cthulhu Mythos fiction of the 1990s and early 2000s, but so little of the stuff actually coming out of Japan in translation actually dealt with that.

cthulhu-hentai

While there is sexually explicit content to Mystery of the Necronomicon, most of the four episodes are taken up with the eponymous mystery that the detectives are there to solveand anyone looking for gonzo masturbation material, porn without plot, might be surprised that it’s a fairly well-plotted story (albeit one with plenty of graphic sex scenes), with solid voice acting and some good visuals. The soundtrack and animation are workable; neither the best nor the worst of Japanese animation from the period, but many of the horror scenes are fairly effective. There are little Easter eggs for Mythos aficionados as well, such as the character Clark Ashton, and the final mystery takes a very interesting turn that showcases how well-versed the writers were in their Lovecraftian lore.

Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West—Reanimator” takes place in Arkham and at Miskatonic University, but largely predates the establishment of Lovecraft’s Mythos and doesn’t involve his eldritch entities or terrible tomes. Like “The Picture in the House,” it is only tangentially connected to the Mythos at large by virtue of being set in Lovecraft country. Some later media have tried to work around this by making the source of West’s reagent derived from studies of the Necronomiconthis was a plot point in many of Dynamite’s Reanimator comics, and Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providenceand not to spoil things too much, in Mystery of the Necronomicon it is revealed that West has a connection with the book tooalthough as with many Japanese Mythos works, the physical appearance of the Necronomicon is inspired more strongly by the Necronomicon Ex Mortis from the Evil Dead films, as discussed in “Night Voices, Night Journeys” (2005) by Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦).

Mystery of the Necronomicon is ultimately a good example of how Lovecraftian influence spreads outside of the sphere of English-language media, only to come back in somewhat weird and unusual form. The surprising thing isn’t that Lovecraftian erotica exists, or exists in Japanese, but that there was sufficient audience for something like that in the English-speaking world that people spent the time and effort to translate it back into English. It isn’t exactly Lovecraft seen “through a glass darkly”because there is nothing imperfect or distorted about the adaptation; it is simply something that is both oddly familiar and different from what English-speaking audiences have seen before.


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

“Shoggoth Makes Three” (2003) by Jean Ann Donnel

A house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city would be assigned him, and he would be initiated into one of the large affection-groups, including many noblewomen of the most extreme and art-enhanced beauty, which in latter-day K’n-yan took the place of family units.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Mound”

Most readers don’t normally associate H. P. Lovecraft with polyamory. Then as now, monogamy was the prevailing paradigm among the bulk of the population, and Lovecraft’s romances in his fictions are almost always explicitly monogamous in nature; there are a few lover’s triangles in stories like “The Man of Stone” with Hazel Heald and “Medusa’s Coil” with Zealia Bishop, but there are no polycules in Lovecraft country outside of “The Mound.”

There was nothing new with the idea of polyamory during Lovecraft’s lifetime. His friend James F. Morton was part of a “free love” group at one point, and his chapbooks were advertised in The Public in 1916, alongside advertisements like this:

Screenshot 2021-02-23 at 9.42.15 PM

After Lovecraft’s death, polyamory became more common. “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff famously opens with a polyamorous threesome…but for the most part, monogamy remains the overwhelming romantic schema of Mythos fiction, both serious and jocular, erotic and non-erotic. Indeed, while the attitudes regarding sex have become much more progressive and expressive in Mythos fiction, romances—particularly marriage—often deal with existing attitudes and problems, with a Mythos twist. This can be seen in works like “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader (marriage-by-contract, the stresses of pregnancy on a marriage), “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales (patriarchal attitudes towards marriage, spousal abuse), Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (marriage under duress, consanguineous marriage), etc. Infidelity remains a relatively rare theme, as well as marriage counseling. The bulk of marital issues in the expanded Cthulhu Mythos appear to be solved only be the death of one or both partners.

Which is part of what makes Jean Ann Donnel’s “Shoggoth Makes Three” so special.

“Fi Fi is your lover’s name as well?” she inquired.

Cantraip looked at her startled. Could it be?

“You’re not a lesbian, are you Ms. Peaches?” the moderator asked, arching an eyebrow. “That would explain your being in a dysfunctional relationship group,” he stated.

Ms. Peaches stared at him steadily with contempt in her eyes. “I’m quite straight. Fi Fi’s not exactly a woman and definitely has male members,” she commented.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 20

Donnel is playing the situation for laughs; the idea of a polycule with a polymorphous shoggoth in the middle is almost a one-note joke. Yet for all that the idea is being played for transgressive comedy, it does include several interesting developments in Mythos fiction which other authors would also explore—and maybe a few that haven’t been explored much at all.

It is hard to pinpoint where exactly the idea of a shoggoth (or other Mythos entity) with multiple genitalia serving as a bridge between heterosexuality to a broader range of sexual experiences originated. Certainly there was some fanfiction where ardent weird fiction fans were imagining the possibilities; Rick McCollum illustrated one possibility for a fanzine in 1980:

jdHyQEW

One might also add Robert M. Price’s story “A Thousand Young” (1989), where a libertine encounters:

For there, revealed by the glare of the lights, was no solid heap of swaying orgiasts, but rather chains of bodies spread over the pulsing and gelatinous surface of a tentacled, amoeboid horror, the revelers grotesquely arrayed like suckling whelps as the thing fed greedily on their sexual vitality through the questing pseudopodic phaluses, teats, and vulvas it sent forth!
—Robert M. Price, “A Thousand Young” in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994) 94

The idea, both artistic and literary, of a polymorphous Mythos entity that can produce genitalia at will is still very much part of the creative erotic lexicon of the Mythos, as can be clearly seen in many depictions of the shoggoth in, for example, fan-works related to Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス). Arguably there were prototypical works in the Mythos anticipating this, such as the strange plants to which parts of human men and women were grafted in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Garden of Adompha.”

What these stories generally lack is the emotional connection. For many, the ability of a shoggoth to assume multiple genitalia, male and female, is purely a matter of sexual possibilities. Jean Ann Donnel’s Ms. Peaches doesn’t feel it’s homosexual to be with a shoggoth, no matter how many vulvas it may have at the moment; but her interest in Fi Fi, like Cantraip’s, is more than just sexual. There’s a romantic bond, above and beyond just the sexual one…and it’s a bond that Ms. Peaches and Cantraip learn to share with each other as well as Fi Fi.

Fi Fi had parts entwined, and in, both of them and covering them protectively. They slept in Fi Fi and Fi Fi in them, as well as in one another. They were not going back to the dysfunctional relationship group. The three of them felt their relationship was absolutely perfect just as it was.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 21

“Shoggoth Makes Three” has a happy ending…and, for what the story is, a short-short of only two pages, played for laughs, that’s workable. However, there is the potential in that setup for much more substantial and powerful stories that explore this kind of theme, of humans finding a meaningful relationship with an eldritch entity that extends beyond just sex, which eschews the limitations of gender.

Such a story is “Ink” by Bernie Mozjes in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian EroticaWhile Mozjes doesn’t cover quite the same ground as Donnel (no therapy), “Ink” is played more seriously; the conclusion is less foregone, and the emotions being addressed have more kick. Donnel takes it for granted that the shoggoth, because of their multiple genitalia, is able to bridge the gap between men and women mostly on a sexual basis. Mozjes is more focused on what else might attract someone to enter into a polyamorous relationship with an eldritch entity—and why the polymorphic entity itself might enter into such a relationship.

Which is rare ground. It’s often a strange case for Mythos fiction, particularly Lovecraftian erotica, that regardless of how fantastic the physical forms and acts of copulation turn out to be, the actual basic mechanics tend to default to heteronormative values of sex and relationships. Whether that’s a collective failure of the imagination or catering to what the audience wants, who can tell? Yet it doesn’t seem that many people have written of, say, polygamous marriages in Innsmouth. For everyone that thinks every possibility for Mythos fiction has been explore…reconsider your preconceptions. There’s a lot stranger territory out there.

“Shoggoth Makes Three” by Jean Ann Donnel was first published in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003) vol. 2, no. 16. It has not been republished. Donnel had written some short-short fiction on the alt.cthulhu.sex Usenet group, and also published “Have You Found Him” in Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos (2004).


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