“The Murky Glass” (1957) as by August Derleth & H. P. Lovecraft

While men are thinking of the planets, other worlds may be thinking of us. At least the curious phenomena of that old New England house suggested that possibility… An unforgettable new story of uneathly wonder by two masters of the science-fiction terror tale.

Epigraph to “The Murky Glass” in Saturn: The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction May 1957

August Derleth was one of the original creators of what became known as the Cthulhu Mythos. His contributions started while Lovecraft was alive with “The Lair of the Star Spawn” (1932) and “The Thing That Walked on the Wind” (1933). After the death of H. P. Lovecraft in 1937 and the creation of Arkham House in 1939 to publish Lovecraft’s work, August Derleth would continue to write a number of tales of the Cthulhu Mythos and in the Lovecraftian vein. These were not written immediately with an eye toward filling out the Lovecraft collections or even his own anthologies, but for sale to magazines, mostly Weird Tales, and published over a series of years. The stories can be divided into three groups:

  1. Older stories written with Mark Schorer that were not published until later (“Spawn of the Maelstrom” (1939) and “The Evil Ones” (1940, later reprinted as “The Horror from the Depths”).
  2. Pulpy horror tales (“The Return of Hastur” (1939), “Passing of Eric Holm” (1939), “The Sandwin Compact” (1940), “Ithaqua” (1941), “Beyond the Threshold” (1941), “The Dweller in Darkness” (1944), “Something in Wood” (1948), “The Whippoorwill in the Hills” (1948), “The House in the Valley” (1953), “The Seal of R’lyeh” (1957, also as “The Seal of the Damned”), and the Trail of Cthulhu series (“The Trail of Cthulhu” (1944, also as “The House on Curwen Street”), “The Watcher from the Sky” (1945), “The Testament of Clairmont Boyd” (1949, also as “The Gorge Beyond Salapunco”), “The Keeper of the Key” (1951), and “The Black Island” (1952)).
  3. “Posthumous collaborations” with H. P. Lovecraft: The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), “The Survivor” (1954), “Wentworth’s Day” (1957), “The Peabody Heritage” (1957), “The Gable Window” (1957, also as “The Murky Glass”), “The Ancestor” (1957), “The Shadow Out of Space” (1957), “The Lamp of Alhazred” (1957), “The Shuttered Room” (1959), “The Fisherman of Falcon Point” (1959), “Witches’ Hollow” (1962), “The Shadow in the Attic” (1964), “The Dark Brotherhood” (1966), “The Horror from the Middle Span” (1967), “Innsmouth Clay” (1971), and “The Watchers Out of Time” (1974); and Robert E. Howard: “The House in the Oaks” (1971).

The individual merit of these stories varies considerably, but it should be apparent that taken together they represent a substantial body of “Lovecraftian” fiction: 34 short stories, novelettes, and a novel—and Lovecraft’s own published fiction only amounts to 65 stories (plus ~33 revisions and collaborations like “Four O’Clock” (1949), “The Curse of Yig” (1929), “The Night Ocean” (1936), etc.)…and Derleth had, as well as his fictional input to the Mythos, a strong editorial influence on how Lovecraft’s fiction was interpreted, through his introductions to various anthologies and collections of Lovecraft’s work, analyses of his fiction, press releases etc. This is why after Derleth’s death in 1971 there was pushback from fans like Richard L. Tierney in “The Derleth Mythos”—and lent impetus to a Lovecraft purest movement in publishing and scholarship.

Much of the animus against Derleth is centered on his “posthumous collaborations” with Lovecraft. To better understand the reasoning behind these, it is important to understand what Derleth publicly claimed and presented these stories as:

Not for twelve years has the byline of the late, great Howard Phillips Lovecraft appeared on any new work–and it appears now only because, among the papers of the late R. H. Barlow are found Lovecraft’s notes and/or beginnings for the seven stories which go to make up this collection–all now completed by August Derleth, just as he completed Lovecraft’s unfinished novel, The Lurker at the Threshold.

Here are seven tales–two novelettes and five shorter stories–which belong to virtually every period of Lovecraft’s work–from the early fantasies (The Lamp of Alhazred), through the New England pieces (Wentworth’s Day and The Peabody Heritage) to the Cthulhu Mythos (The Gable Window, The Shadow out of Space, The Survivor). Taken together, these seven stories are a nostalgic backward look to the macabre world in which H. P. Lovecraft was supreme.

These are tales of terrifying witchcraft, of cosmic horror, of quaint magic, such as only H. P. Lovecraft could have conceived. Here in these pages Great Cthulhu walks again, the Dunwich-Arkham country lives once more, and, in a final allegory, Lovecraft himself is portrayed in a quasi-autobiographical manner.

August Derleth’s completion of these stories was a labor of love. Perhaps no other contemporary writer has so closely emulated the Lovecraft style as he–as these stories testify.

The Survivor and Others 1957, inside front jacket flap

Among the papers of the late Howard Phillips Lovecraft were various notes and/or outlines for stories which he did not live to write. Of these, the most compelte was the title story of this collection. These scattered notes were put together by August Derleth, whose finished stories grown from Lovecraft’s suggested plots, are offered here as a final collaboration, post-mortem.

The Survivor and Others 1957, copyright page

The works in The Survivor and Others and the novel The Lurker at the Threshold were all presented as “unfinished” works, or works built up from Lovecraft’s notes. The truth was quite different: Lovecraft left no such incomplete stories. What he did leave was a commonplace book containing various bare ideas for stories, some fragments of prose, and a body of correspondence that included Lovecraft’s dreams and other ideas for stories never written during his lifetime. From these, Derleth wrote his “posthumous collaborations”—some of them (“The Lamp of Alhazred”) contained some genuine text from Lovecraft, but most of them were little more than stories vaguely suggested from Lovecraft’s commonplace book, as close to pure Derleth as most of Lovecraft’s “ghostwriting” efforts were pure Lovecraft. Derleth’s marketing of these works as “by Lovecraft and Derleth” was seen by some as dishonest…and worse than that, those that took Derleth at his word often took the works to be primarily Lovecraft’s, such as David Punter’s influential textbook The Literature of Terror (first edition 1980, second edition 1996).

It should be noted, however, thas as much as the publication of these stories always emphasized Lovecaft’s name and contribution, this was first and foremost a marketing gimmick. In private, just as Lovecraft would acknowledge his own contributions in his revision and ghostwriting work, Derleth would frankly acknowledge the full extant of his authorship:

[…] & Ballantine’s paperback of THE SURVIVOR & OTHERS (emphasizing Lovecraft, understandably, over Derleth, who did 97% of the writing) […]

August Derleth to Ramsey Campbell, 23 Aug 1962, Letters to Arkham 79

The pushback against Derleth’s interpretation of and contributions to the Mythos has led to his stories being largely neglected by scholars and fans. Yet many of Derleth’s stories are worth at least a little study, and some understanding of how and why they were written and published can give help elucidate the picture of Mythos publishing post-Lovecraft.

As should be clear, August Derleth didn’t start out writing “posthumous collaborations” as soon as Lovecraft’s corpse was cold. His first was The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), which has the distinction of being the first Mythos novel. Including Lovecraft’s name in this work can be barely defended—the ~50,000 word novel contains two unrelated fragments from Lovecraft’s papers, “The Round Tower” and “Of Evill Sorceries Done in New-England, of Daemons in No Humane Shape” which come to ~1,200 words—but it is clear that Derleth is using Lovecraft’s name predominantly for marketing purposes, and does not assay another “posthumous collaboration” until late 1953 or early 1954:

You already have “The Survivor,” which I hope can appear in the July or September issue. Three others are now ready–

“Wentworth’s Day,” at 4500 words

“The Gable Window,” at 7500 words

“The Peabody Heritage,” at 7500 words

There will be at least two more–or enough for an entire year of Weird Tales. And we might be able to turn up more thereafter, if the use of them has any noticeable effect on the sales of the magazine.

August Derleth to Dorothy McIlwraith, 24 Feb 1954, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 211

By 1954, Weird Tales under editor Dorothy McIlwraith was on its last legs, having switched to bimonthly and a digest format, and even re-instated reprints to cut costs—which included reprinting some of Lovecraft’s fiction. Derleth was a loyal contributor and could have resurrected the “posthumous collaboration with Lovecraft” gimmick in an effort to help save the magazine—or, considering that Derleth had married in 1953 and his wife was pregnant, perhaps he simply needed the money. In either case, it was too little, too late to save Weird Tales, which folded with the September 1954 issue, before any of Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” except “The Survivor” (WT July 1954) could be published.

I have here: “The Gable Window,” “The Ancestor,” “Wentworth’s Day,” “The Peabody Heritage,” Hallowe’en for Mr. Faukner,” also “The Seal of R’lyeh.” It might be that whoever takes over WT might see the value of the Lovecraft tie-in, but I don’t know…

Dorothy McIlwraith to August Derleth, 15 Nov 1954, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 219

Despite McIlwraith’s hopes, no one picked up publication of Weird Tales, and August Derleth was left with a handful of “posthumous collaborations” and very few markets in which to publish them. Eventually, Derleth would publish these stories through Arkham House in a volume titled The Survivor and Others (1957)…yet there is an interesting note in that book regarding one of the stories:

The Gable Window, copyright 1957, by Candar Publishing Company, Inc., (as The Murky Glass), for Saturn, May 1957.

The Survivor and Others 1957, copyright page

Derleth had managed to get “The Gable Window” published, albeit under a different title—which is no great surprise, many editors change titles to suit their tastes, and some editors go further: they might break up or combine chapters and paragraphs, revise wording, even excise extraneous text or revise endings. Lovecraft decried these practices and would in later years be adamant that the editor not even change a comma, but Derleth was probably more practical and less particular: weird fiction was, for Derleth, often more of a potboiler effort than a major form of personal expression as it was with Lovecraft.

As it happens, a close (line-by-line) comparison between the Saturn text of “The Murky Glass” and the Survivor text of “The Gable Window” shows a number of differences between the two texts, most relatively minor. Without access to surviving drafts, it’s difficult to reconstruct the exact sequence of revision or editorial interference, but by looking at a handful of the differences we might get an idea of the editorial thought behind those changes—and this is especially the case since “The Gable Window” text in The Survivor and Others is the basis for all other publications of the text. “The Murky Window” has never been reprinted as-is.

“The Murky Glass”“The Gable Window”
It seemed, therefore, that the first order of business was a restoration of the rightful way of existence in the house, a resumption of life on the ground floor. To tell the truth, I found myself from the beginning curiously repelled by the gable room; in part, certainly, because it reminded me so strongly of the living presence of my dead cousin who would never again occupy his favorite corner of the house, and in part, also, because the room was to me unnaturally alien and cold, holding me off as by some physical force I could not understand, though this was surely consistent with my attitude about the room, for I could understand it no more than I ever really understood my cousin Wilbur. (SA103)It seemed, therefore, that the first order of business was a restoration of the rightful way of existence in the house, a resumption of life on the ground floor, for to tell the truth, I found myself from the beginning curiously repelled by the gable room; in part, certainly, because it reminded me so strongly of the living presence of my dead cousin who would never again occupy his favorite corner of the house, and in part, also, because the room was to me unnaturally alien and holding me off as by some physical force I could not understand, though this was surely consistent with my attitude about the room, for I could understand it no more than I ever really understood my cousin Wilbur. (SO79-80)

One of the characteristics of Derleth’s pastiche style of Lovecraft is long, run-on sentences; a tendency that is more marked when sentences (and paragraphs) that were separate in “The Murky Glass” are conjoined in “The Gable Window.” Whether this was a result of an editor chopping up Derleth’s initial draft, or Derleth splicing together things to make longer sentences and paragraphs when preparing it for book publication is unclear, and either is likely. Derleth’s choice to omit “cold” from the description of the gable room probably reflects that he never refers to the room as particularly cold in the remainder of the story; a little clean-up.

My cousin’s will had been probated, the estate had been settled, and no one challenged my possession of the house. (SA105)My cousin’s will had been probated, the estate had been settled, and no one challenged my possession. (SO82)

Pulp writers typically had to shave words from a manuscript to meet tight wordcount limits, so the question here is: did Derleth include “of the house” originally and decide to excise it as unnecessary in “The Gable Window?” Or did the editors of Saturn think the line was unclear and add “of the house” to clarify?

Dear Fred, he wrote, The best medical authorities tell me I have not long to live, and, since I have already set down in my will that you are to be my heir, I want to supplement that document now with a few final instructions, which I adjure you not to dismiss and want you to carry out faithfully. There are specifically three things you must do without fail, and these are as follows:

One: All my papers in Drawers A, B, and C of my filing cabinet are to be destroyed.
Two: All books on shelves H, I, J, and K are to be turned over to the library of Miskatonic University at Arkham.
Three: The round glass window in the gable room upstairs is to be broken. It is not to be simply removed and disposed of elsewhere, but it must be shattered.


You must accept my decision that these things must be done, or you may ultimately be responsible for loosing a terrible scourge upon the world. I shall say no more of this, for there are other matters of which I wish to write here while I am still able to do so. One of these is the question… (SA108)
Dear Fred, he wrote, The best medical authorities tell me I have not long to live, and, since I have already set down in my will that you are to be my heir, I want to supplement that document now with a few final instructions, which I adjure you not to dismiss and want you to carry out faithfully. There are specifically three things you must do without fail, as follows:

“1) All my papers in Drawers A, B, and C of my filing cabinet are to be destroyed.
“2) All books on shelves H, I, J, and K are to be turned over to the library of Miskatonic University at Arkham.
“3) The round glass window in the gable room upstairs is to be broken. It is not to be simply removed and disposed of elsewhere, but it must be shattered.

You must accept my decision that these things must be done, or you may ultimately be responsible for loosing a terrible scourge upon the world. I shall say no more of this, for there are other matters of which I wish to write here while I am still able to do so. One of these is the question… (SO86)

The most notable changes between the two texts are format. The Saturn editors preferred italics to quotation marks, and spelling out words and months to abbreviations, The Survivor text is pithier. Which is better for reading is a bit of an open question; as a digest Saturn had to be divided into two columns per page, which might encourage shorter paragraphs, more frequent breaks, and the more streamlined experience italics give…or perhaps Derleth changed his mind.

What was I to make of these curious instructions? (SA108)What was I to make of these strange instructions? (SO86)

Case in point, “curious” and “strange” in this context are basically synonymous, so the changing from one to the other is essentially down to personal preference rather than any kind of artistic or editorial justification. These are the kind of changes in word choice that you might expect to see either from an editor determined to change something or a writer that just liked to fiddle.

Most of the differences in “The Murky Glass” and “The Gable Window” are like that: formatting, word choice, a little cutting or rearranging, mostly in The Survivor and Others text. There are a handful of typos as well: “scratching” (“Murky”) becomes “cratching” (“Gable”); “Shanteks” (“Murky”) becomes “Shantaks” (“Gable”), “myths” (“Murky”) becomes “Mythos” (“Gable”), “subterranean” (“Murky”) becomes “subterrene” (“Gable”) and other bits like that. There is one rather significant and noticeable difference, however, in a particular passage:

These books were in various languages; they bore titles such as the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the R’lyeh Text, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the Book of Eibon, the . Celano Fragments, the Cultes des Goules of the Comte d’Erlette, the Book of Dzyan a photostatic copy of the Necronomicon, by an Arabian, Abdul Alhazred, and many others, some of them apparently in manuscript form. (SA109)These books were in various languages; they bore titles such as the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the R’lyeh Text, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, the Book of Eibon, the Dhol Chants, the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, Ludvig Prinn’s De Vermis Mysteriis, the Celano Fragments, the Cultes des Goules of the Comte d’Erlette, the Book of Dzyan a photostatic copy of the Necronomicon, by an Arabian, Abdul Alhazred, and many others, some of them apparently in manuscript form. (SO87)

Either Derleth decided to insert several eldritch tomes in “The Gable Window,” or whoever was setting text or type for “The Murky Glass” dropped a line; given the odd period right before Celano, I lean toward the latter. Little printing errors like that just happen sometimes.

Even taken all together, the sum of these small textual differences do not substantially impact the story; this is not a Mythos equivalent of the Wicked Bible, but it shows that you should not take a given version of a text for granted. How do you know that the text you are reading in a Lovecraft book is what Lovecraft set down—or is by Lovecraft at all? How many editors have had their hands on it? Textual errors and variations have propped up and been carried forward…sometimes for decades and through multiple versions. In many online versions of “Herbert West—Reanimator” for example, you will find the text prefaced with a spurious quote from Dracula—which was not in Lovecraft’s original text or any major subsequent printing; it appears to have been added on to a freely available text on the internet sometime in the 2000s and to have spread from there, even into print editions that use Wikisource as their source.

You might well imagine how a reader in the 1950s might have felt as they sat down with their “new” book of Lovecraft stories, and wondered to themselves: did Lovecraft write this?

The point is all the more cogent because “The Murky Glass”/”The Gable Window” is one of Derleth’s most poorly-received “posthumous collaborations.” We’ve focused so far on textual criticism and publishing history, but we haven’t discussed the content of the story or how it fits into the larger body of Mythos fiction. To understand that, let’s rewind back to how this story came to be.

After writing “The Survivor” (which was based on some actual notes Lovecraft left for a story of that name), Derleth turned to Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book, which had been preserved by R. H. Barlow, for inspiration. Two plot-germs probably inspired “The Gable Window”:

Something seen at Oriel window of forbidden room in ancient manor house. (29)

Pane of peculiar-looking glass from a ruined monastery reputed to have harbored devil-worship set up in modern house at edge of wild country. Landscape looks vaguely and unplaceably wrong through it. It has some unknown time-distorting quality, and comes from a primal, lost civilization. Finally, hideous things in other world seen through it. (41)

The Notes and Commonplace Book of H. P. Lovecraft

Derleth identified the second entry (“Pane of…”) as the genesis for the story in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (1959); Derleth scholar John Haefele adds the other (“Something seen…”) as a probable inspiration in A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 224, and I have to agree (the distinction between “Oriel” and “Gable” in this case being close enough for amateurs to mistake one for the other). The story is, although this is not immediately apparent, a tie-in to Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness,” since the protagonist’s uncle is Henry Akeley—Derleth would be the first pasticheur to exploit genealogical connections, adding cousins to Lovecraft’s family trees in stories like “The Shuttered Room,” though far from the last.

The set-up for the plot is familiar: a relation has died, and the heir must goes to the old house and finds they’ve inherited a bit of a Mythos mess. Lovecraft himself never used this exact formulation, though “The Moon-Bog” and “The Rats in the Walls” both involve an heir rebuilding an ancestral manse or castle. Derleth had already written something similar in “The Return of Hastur” and “The Whippoorwills in the Hills,” and would use the premise again in “The Seal of R’lyeh,” “The Peabody Heritage,” “The Shuttered Room,” “The Shadow on the Attic,” “The Horror from the Middle Span,” and “The Watchers out of Time.” It is ultimately a variation on the haunted house tale, or even of the Gothic inheritance of an ancestral house or castle, and there are a million different variations on that familiar theme, and Derleth was well-versed in such tales.

The pseudo-haunting takes its time to develop. While not every “posthumous collaboration” that Derleth wrote was explicitly part of the Mythos, “The Gable Window” was intended to be such a story, and so Derleth is careful to place it not far from Dunwich and Arkham, to drop references to Miskatonic University, and to build up to the succession of revelations. His prose doesn’t try to capture Lovecraft’s more ultraviolet style, and there is at least one passage which is very un-Lovecraftian:

No matter how I tried, I failed utterly to catch any sight of the cat, though I was disturbed in this fashion fully half a dozen times, until I was so upset that, had I caught sight of the cat, I would probably have shot it.

August Derleth, “The Gable Window” in The Survivor and Others 83

It is always difficult to tell with Derleth whether certain details are drawn from his great familiarity with Lovecraft’s correspondence and life and how many are original to him. The name of the cat “Little Sam,” for example, recalls “Little Sam Perkins,” one of the neighborhood cats that Lovecraft doted on while he lived at 66 College St. If Derleth had incorporated some of Lovecraft’s material from his letters about Sam Perkins, we could say for certain, but Derleth didn’t. Instead, Little Sam occupies largely the same purpose in the text as the cat in “The Rats in the Walls” does, as an animal attuned to the strange dangers in the house.

As the story progresses, Derleth presents his interpretation of the Mythos. Keep in mind, “The Gable Window” was originally intended for magazine publication, and not necessarily to an audience that would be immediately familiar with any of the preceeding Mythos fiction, so this is a point he tends to bring up more often and more explicitly in his 1940s and 1950s fiction to introduce it to new audiences; when reading chunks of his fiction at once, it can get a bit repetitive:

It was the old credo of the force of light against the force of darkness, or at least, so I took it to be. Did it matter whether you called it God and the Devil, or the Elder Gods and the ancient Ones, Good and Evil or such names as the Nodens, Lord of the Great Abyss, the only named Elder God, or these of the Great Old Ones—the idiot god, Azathoth, that amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the center of all infinity; Yog-Sothoth, the all-in-one and one-in-all, subject to neither the laws of time nor of space, co-existent with all time and con-terminous with space; Nyarlathotep, the messenger of the Ancient Ones; Great Cthulhu, waiting to rise again from hidden R’lyeh in the depths of the sea; the unspeakable Hastur, Lord of the Interstellar Spaces; Shub-Niggurath, the black goat of the woods with a thousand young?

August Derleth, “The Gable Window” in The Survivor and Others 83

Derleth was capable of subtlety in his fiction and the slow and careful development of mood, but this recital or regurgitation of blasphemous names and casting the whole implicitly complex artificial mythology into a Manichaean dichtomy is not an example of it. This tendency to cram everything into a story is very fannish, but in the case of this story it also serves as build-up for the next section: the reader is basically given a crash course on the Mythos so that they can be prepped to see where the story is heading. Mythos fans can pat themselves on the back for catching the references, and new readers can at least sort of follow along.

In portraying the Mythos this way, Derleth also repeats many of the inherent prejudices in Mythos fiction in brief and in miniature. For example:

There were also more recognizable human beings, however distorted—stunted and dwarfed Oreintals living in a cold place, to judge by their attire, and a race born of miscegenation, with certain characteristics of the batrachian beings, yet unmistakably human.

August Derleth, “The Gable Window” in The Survivor and Others 90

The “stunted and dwarfed Orientals” are probably the Tcho-Tcho; the “race born of msicegenation” probably the inhabitants of Innsmouth. It’s notable that Derleth is more explicit in his language here than Lovecraft ever was in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and he gets even more explicit on the next page when he writes: “Deep Ones together with humans of partly similar origin: hybrid white” (91). The dry technical nature of the language robs the idea of Innsmouth hybrids of their mystery and mystique; he might as well be describing a creole colony…and that kind of misses the entire point of Lovecraft’s story. “Innsmouth” presented miscegnation (without ever using the word) as the intended accepted explanation for why the people of Innsmouth were hated and feared by their neighbors; racial discrimination was the red herring that concealed the much weirder revelation that the horror wasn’t a mixed race Pacific Islander or Asian community, but something altogether less homo sapiens.

Like many of Lovecraft’s stories, there isn’t an excess of plot. The use of the journal excerpts allows Derleth to indulge himself a bit in describing exotic landscapes and beings, and to build mood. The result is something of an orgy of evidence for the Mythos, touching on many different entities and places, some of which would be unfamiliar to Mythos fans. Yet at the same time, there’s a certain laziness to Derleth’s approach. Why would the words that activate the glass from Leng be “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn?” That is the motto of the Cthulhu cult in “The Call of Cthulhu,” but here Derleth uses it where another writer of a more mundane demonology might have used “abracadabra.”

Pedantic nitpicking aside, “The Gable Window” comes to a well-telegraphed end…and a relatively light legacy. Readers of “The Murky Glass” in Saturn might have been intrigued by the idea of an extraterrestrial glass that showed alien worlds, which has had its fair number of variations in fantasy already (e.g. “The Wonderful Window” by Lord Dunsany), but Mythos fans took very little notice of it. Derleth introduces the Sand-Dwellers in this story, for example, but never used or referenced them elsewhere again, and very few other authors have picked up the threads of this story (most notably Adam Niswander in his 1998 novel The Sand Dwellers). The biggest impact the story had has been on the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, which gladly incorporated both the Glass from Leng and the Sand-Dwellers into its version of the Mythos, and has continued to make some small use of them in every edition since.

While it is impossible to say if Derleth himself was unsatisfied with “The Gable Window” as written, but there is the suggestion that he might have been inspired to make another attempt:

This glass also has attributes similar to the tower window in The Lurker at the Threshold, which Derleth derived from Lovecraft’s “The Rose Window” prose fragment. Referring to the fragment as the “notes relative to the mysterious window or ‘carved surface with convex glass circle seven inches in diameter in centre’ related primarily to a story to be set on ‘Central Hill, Kingsport’ in the ancient house of ‘Edward Orne,'” Derleth admits how, “This story remains in essence to be written, since not enough was borrowed from this set of notes to invalidate a second story; and I mean to write it, possibly in novel length, time and circumstances permitting, under the title The Watchers Out of Time” (“Unfinished Manuscripts”).

John Haefele, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos 228

Derleth would not live long enough to finish “The Watchers Out of Time,” but it may well be that the fragment of a story he did write owes something to “The Gable Window,” since he felt he hadn’t quite exhausted the possibilities of the glass from Leng. One had to wonder if the massive spread of televisions in United States homes after World War II played any influence in what was, in many ways, an eldritch audiovisual receiver.

Taken as a whole, “The Murky Glass”/”The Gable Window” represents much of what has soured Derleth’s reputation among Lovecraft fans and scholars: it is neither a terrible or a terrific weird tale, but a relatively average story that remixes some very familiar tropes and adds a smorgasboard of Mythos references, in addition to a somewhat preachy version of Derleth’s particular take on the Mythos (although it leaves out the elemental associations). Perhaps most damning, in every publication it was presented as a joint work with Lovecraft, who had nothing to do with it. Derleth was a competent weird fictioneer, and that’s what this story was intended to be when it was written with Weird Tales in mind: the Mythos as a reliable product, with Lovecraft’s name as a marketing draw.

Which is probably the most damning thing. Lovecraft was an auteur who took painstaking efforts with his stories, and whether or not you like his person or his prose, his stories represent a great deal of work from the initial plotting to the craft of writing. Derleth, by comparison, was much more restricted in the time and energy he could or would devote to his weird fiction, and while the stories might have been passable to pulp audiences in the 1950s, they are consistently outshone by Lovecraft’s actual fiction, and Derleth’s conception of the Mythos is shown to be much more limited and imperfect than that of his friend…as though viewed through a murky glass.

“The Murky Glass” was published in Saturn May 1957, and was not published again under that title. “The Gable Window” has been published in multiple anthologies and collections of Lovecraft and Derleth’s Mythos fiction, including The Watchers Out of Time (2008, Del Rey).


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

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“The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” (2010) by Penelope Love

An often underestimate influence on Lovecraft’s genre is the immensely popular and long time market-sayer, the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, published by Chaosium, Inc.  […] The game’s influence extended further than just the gaming community, for Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos authors were quick to discover that Chaosium’s sourcebooks provided a wealth of information, by categorizing and defining Lovecraft’s visions. Soon the game became an encyclopedia, the first point of call for all things Cthulhuoid. This influence is so profound, that new creations which first appeared in the Call of Cthulhu game now appear regularly in the fiction of modern day Lovecraftian authors.
—David Conyers, “Introduction” to Cthulhu’s Dark Cults viii

Tabletop roleplaying games involve many different types of writing and editing. If you were to sit down and write a new game ex nihilo, you would need to first engage in some top-down game design, probably starting with a concept or pitch for the game—who are the player characters and what do they do?

In Dungeons & Dragons, you are an adventurer and you go on adventures! In Shadowrun, you are a shadowrunner, a mercenary criminal in a fantasy cyberpunk future, and you go on shadowruns, which are illegal jobs that can range from smuggling to murder-for-hire to corporate espionage…only with dragons and elves. In Vampire: the Masquerade, you are a vampire and navigate the complex politics of undead society while striving to sustain yourself and control the beast within. In Call of Cthulhu, you are an investigator and you solve cases and delve into mysteries.

The pitch often but not always contains the basic premise of the setting. Dungeons & Dragons is largely setting agnostic; while the default setting is a quasi-medieval fantasy, the basic rules can (and have) been adapted to many different settings, and players are quite capable of creating their own. For games with specific settings like Shadowrun, a certain amount of setting information has to be brainstormed and written so that players know where the action is taking place. Games set in a historical period of the real world like Call of Cthulhu have a distinct advantage in this case because a great deal of raw setting information is widely available—all you have to do is pick up a history book or delve through old newspaper archive and you can find whatever facts you need for playing in the 1920s or 1890s.

Additional writing involves mechanics—the game’s systems, the mathematical and conceptual specifics that indicate how certain actions like combat or magic are to be resolved, tracked, and sometimes abstracted. It isn’t always possible or desirable, for example, to track how much blood a character loses if they get stabbed; the player marks off a couple hit points on their character sheet and moves on. All of that, and how it integrates into the setting and the gameplay experience, is a matter of game design and editing—complicated stuff!

The last, but not the least, bit of work that goes into a tabletop roleplaying game is what most readers would recognize as narrative fiction: short stories and short-shorts which are set in the setting and are told from the perspective of characters that are in that setting. All the rest of the game give the readers—the prospective players of the game—tools and references so that they can play, but the narrative fiction is what sells the tone and style of the setting, free from any considerations of play.

Most games have to create this from nothing. Dungeons & Dragons took inspiration from Robert E. Howard, J. R. R. Tolkein, Fritz Leiber, etc. in creating the game, but none of those authors was specifically writing D&D fiction. Shadowrun added in cyberpunk influences from William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Pat Cadigan, but again, those cyberpunk authors weren’t specifically writing Shadowrun stories—they were writing their own stories from which the Shadowrun authors took inspiration, and then the Shadowrun authors wrote their own stories.

With Call of Cthulhu…the lines are a bit blurrier. What exactly is the difference between a Cthulhu Mythos story, and a Call of Cthulhu story? Is there even a difference?

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons or ShadowrunCall of Cthulhu was specifically inspired by the body of Cthulhu Mythos fiction created by Lovecraft, his contemporaries, and all those who came thereafter. So while D&D wasn’t designed to let player characters actually journey around Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Howard’s Hyborian Age, Call of Cthulhu was designed for player characters to be able to visit Lovecraft’s Innsmouth or Howard’s Stregoicavar, to read the Necronomicon and, if they were very unlucky, to even catch a glimpse of Cthulhu. In that sense, yes, all Call of Cthulhu fiction is part of the Mythos by default—because the game is about playing in that Mythos setting.

However, writing for roleplaying games has very different goals than most narrative fiction. Lovecraft & co. were not obliged to keep any strong continuity between their disparate productions, or to go into detail on the people, places, and objects in those stories. Lovecraft’s map of Arkham and Howard’s essay on the Hyborian Age were, in the 1930s, anomalously deep background for the period, and much of that data never made it into any story—but for roleplaying games, that level of detail is relatively common and expected. More, where earlier Mythos writers were free to be loose or even contradictory with their artificial mythology and how magic worked, in a game things typically have to be more concrete—or at least, the format of the game encourages categorization and specification where narrative fiction favors imagination and non-specificity. You can see this in works like the Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), which has strong roots in roleplaying gaming.

Beyond the strict game design considerations, there are economic ones. A roleplaying game is typically more than a single book, it is an entire line of products with different subjects which involve the same setting and/or system. Overall development of a game line requires high-level decisions on which books to produce, and how to keep setting material and style consistent between products, because what is written in one book can impact every other book in the line. Line development influences how the setting or its presentation changes over time, and players are often quick to harp on real or imagined discrepancies between rules or setting information between books…and by building on developments from one book to the next, the game setting and rules grow richer and more complex, which often draws readers and players in.

With Call of Cthulhu, this sets a complicated relationship with the Mythos. The game itself takes inspiration and makes reference to a set group of stories and concepts created by Lovecraft & co.—and the line developers, editors, writers, and artists need to make decisions when that material is vague or conflicting. Yet those same creators have no control over what anyone else creates, so while they strive to keep consistency within their own game line, the Mythos continues to proliferate outside of those artificial boundaries…and with many writers and artists taking inspiration from each other, it can be very fuzzy as to whether a given Mythos story is “in” the setting (or settings plural, as it is now) of Call of Cthulhu fiction, or if it is general Mythos fiction that has taken, as David Conyers pointed out, some inspiration from the game and the reference materials it has generated.

For most readers, the distinction is negligible or academic. As Conyers noted, many creators have dipped into or taken inspiration from the volumes of material produced by Chaosium and creators of various related Cthulhu roleplaying games over the years. To take one example, the popular image of Nyarlathotep as a three-legged being with a long tendril for a head and a bloody maw with a long tongue is not referenced anywhere in the works of Lovecraft, Derleth, or other first-generation Mythos authors; it was created for the roleplaying game, but has gone on to become one of the most popular depictions of Nyarlathotep. Some other aspects of the popular Mythos were created or codified by Call of Cthulhu, such as the Order of the Silver Twilight which has featured heavily in spin-off works like Arkham Horror and Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game.

As a roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu tends to be very conservative in terms of mechanics, setting development, and presentation. That is part of the reason that a good deal of the actual innovation in the setting in terms of critically analyzing and rethinking the setting and pitch of how the game is played and who is playing it devolves to related games like Harlem Unbound (2017) by Darker Hue Studios.

This has led to a certain domination of the game by nostalgia. The Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984) campaign written by Larry DiTillio with Lynn Willis, for example, has been revised, re-packaged, expanded, and re-released for six different editions of the game. Because of the strong influence and constant re-publication of Masks, it has tied into many subsequent Call of Cthulhu products and become something of a cornerstone of the identifiable Call of Cthulhu line identity. Fans have created original art, spin-offs, prequels, sequels, soundscapes, and props based on the campaign. The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast is a direct reference to the campaign, where the player character investigators are good friends of one Jackson Elias.

Madness is the mark of gods, the response to the whisper of ancient secrets, and the unseen hand that turns the world in its disordered course. With it, I have peered beyond mere dream and pattern, beyond childhood impetuosity and adult grief, beyond the analysis of which other men are capable. Accepting madness, I accept the gods and rule well with their gifts thereby.
The Masks of Nyarlathotep (4th edition, 2010) 185

Last but not least, Masks of Nyarlathotep has inspired Call of Cthulhu fiction such as “The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” by Penelope Love. The background is a bit necessary because while this story can be read and enjoyed on its own, it is so tied into the Call of Cthulhu setting and Masks of Nyarlathotep and its ancillary materials to such a degree that is fundamentally a product of the game rather than an independent Mythos story that is just borrowing some names or characters.

Pastiche takes as its hallmark a slavish devotion to the outer forms and tropes of Mythos fiction, but this is something much more relaxed and intimate. Love isn’t trying to ape Lovecraft’s style or anyone else’s, it’s a story that demonstrates a profound amount of Mythos lore as codified by Call of Cthulhu over the previous five decades but doesn’t really seek to capture anything of the Lovecraftian tone of mystery or cosmic horror. It is very much a peek behind the scenes, at the kind of happenings that occur off the page in a regular Mythos story or as a result of decisions made by the Keeper or gamemaster as to how the story will react to what the player characters are doing.

Like “Scritch, Scratch” (2014) by Lynne Hardy, to really appreciate what Love does with this story really requires understanding that background of game design and the culture of Call of Cthulhu as distinct from how other Mythos writers approach the material.

“The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” was published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (2010). It has not yet been reprinted.


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

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

The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi

Oggi Aquilonia has ottenuto la pace a caro prezzo e il Barbaro ormai è un vecchio stanco Re pieno di rimorsi, sognando il clamore della battaglia e l’adrenalina dell’avventura… questi sono tempi in cui il fuoco e l’acciaio potrebbero dettare le nuove leggi dell’uomo.

Today Aquilonia has obtained peace at a great price and the Barbarian is now a tired old King full of remorse, dreaming of the clamor of battle and the adrenaline of adventure … these are times when fire and steel could dictate the new laws of man.
— The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate

Dead pulp authors can eternal lie, and in strange aeons many of their works may still be under copyright or have certain characters trademarks depending on the intellectual property laws of any given country. In Europe, the works of Robert E. Howard may be in the public domain, and because of that they are fair game for reprinting and reimagination. This applies both for prose works like the novel The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez, and for comic books and graphic novels like French publisher Glénat’s gorgeous series of new adaptations of Robert E. Howard’s original stories of Conan the Cimmerian.

Comic books and graphic adaptations of the Cimmerian are intriguing because from 1970 to 1993 Conan (and other Robert E. Howard characters) were licensed to Marvel Comics, which provided a distinctive and iconic interpretation of the character—all the more so because the Conan comics were translated and published everywhere from Japan to Turkey. Marvel’s Conan the Barbarian was the most successful sword & sorcery comic of all time, with tie-ins to the 1980s Arnold Schwarzeneggar films, merchandise, and the lore of Robert E. Howard became intimately entangled with the Marvel Universe—including the Serpent-god Set, the Serpent Men, the eldritch entity Shuma-Gorath, the sinking of Atlantis, and by extension the Hyborian backstory of Varnae the Vampire and Kulan Gath, the villain of a popular X-Men event.

Marvel wouldn’t be the first to publish a Conan comic—La Reina de le Costa Negra in Mexico has that honor with its blond barbarian—nor the last, as Dark Horse held the license for many years. Yet Marvel’s Conan remains distinctive in fixing the barbarian’s appearance and some of his mannerisms and the development of his world. Even Dark Horse’s Conan under various artists and writers looked a bit more like the Marvel Conan than it did the original illustrations in Weird Tales, although the Frank Frazetta covers for the Lancer paperbacks in the 60s had their influence on both. Both Marvel and Dark Horse worked to both adapt Robert E. Howard stories and to publish new adventures of the barbarian, woven in and around his published career.

Which makes it really exciting to see how different creative teams handle the character.

The Barbarian King is an Italian-language series of fumetti (comics, equivalent to perfect bound graphic novels in the United States) from publisher Red Dragon and Leviathan Labs. The creative team for the first volume, Le Spade Spezzate (“The Broken Swords”) is Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi (script); Luca Panciroli, Federico de Luca, & Alessandro Bragalini (pencils, ink, & layout); Marco Antonio Imbrauglio (colorist); Enrico Santodirocco (editing); Mattia Gentili (letterer); and Lucrezia Benvenuti (logo & map design).

In adapting Conan to comics there are traditionally two routes to take: adaptation of the original stories or the creation of new works that are based on past works and/or the same characters—Marvel also had a habit of adapting some non-Conan Robert E. Howard stories, non-Robert E. Howard Conan stories, and even some non-Conan sword & sorcery stories as Conan comics. One reason Marvel could “get away” with this is because they took a very different approach to continuity than Robert E. Howard did.

By the time Marvel got Conan, essentially all of his adventures had been published. These were initially written and published out of chronological order; Robert E. Howard was not setting out to create a single sprawling epic novel like The Lord of the Rings or The Odyssey, the adventures of Conan were written and published out of order, telling different stories from different periods of Conan’s life. This freed Howard from any strict timeline of events, much as the Hyborian Age—as a prehistoric hodgepodge of different places and eras—allowed him the freedom to shift setting and tone. Conan could be in a young thief in police procedural one story (“The God in the Bowl”), then an experience adventurer in a pirate story (“The Treasure of Tranicos”), then a king of a mighty nation overthrowing usurpers in a medieval war (The Hour of the Dragon), and it was up to the fans to piece together a probably outline of Conan’s career…which a couple of early fans did in the 1930s, and which other fans have added to or revisited ever since.

Marvel and to a degree Dark Horse would use these outlines as the skeleton on which to build their own storylines. By starting more or less linearly from the beginning of Conan’s career, they could intersperse Robert E. Howard adaptations with original storylines, follow the trace of Conan’s journeys and develop additional characters and plots—sometimes expanding on what Howard and others had written, sometimes adding new elements, even borrowing from the Cthulhu Mythos or staging crossovers. As a method, this has the advantage in that the Conan comics often had a kind of narrative flow that is usually missing from monthly comics in the United States: you can often literally trace Conan’s travels on the map of the Hyborian Age.

It also allows the development of series characters—sidekicks, reoccurring antagonists, etc.—which are almost entirely absent from Howard’s stories. Robert E. Howard’s Conan is not like Michael Moorcock’s Elric to have a Companion to Champions along for the ride for several subsequent adventures, neither does he have the same lover or enemy. Stygian sorcerer Thoth-Amon as Conan’s arch foe is entirely a creation of later writers; they never even meet in “The Phoenix on the Sword,” or in any other Howard story (although Conan runs afoul of the wizard’s deeds in “The God in the Bowl”). Conan’s habit of killing every wizard he meets and always ending the story with a different girlfriend was one of the major critiques laid against the pulp hero—but in the comics, many more encounters could be planned and carried out, more tension built up, relationships would have more lasting impact because they lasted longer from issue to issue and story to story.

The Howard’s Conan chronology ends, effectively, with The Hour of the Dragon. There he is king, he has survived multiple attempts on his life and rule, and he is going to take as queen the young woman Zenobia. No Howard stories are set after this point, though other authors and comics picked up at this point because it is a natural gray area: anything can happen, because nothing more is written after this point! Conan could even die—an impossibility in earlier tales, because of course he has to survive for the next adventure that is already planned out.

So after the events of The Hour of the Dragon is where The Barbarian King picks up.

King Conan is conspicuously different in this incarnation than the Marvel or Dark Horse versions: heavier, hairier, with grey streaks in his beard and scars on his face. While Conan comics have often been a bit more mature than others on the stands, able to get away with more gore and nudity than most comics, The Barbarian King leans into both more than most, but less for exploitation than because this is a very different, darker, more mature story than more readers will be familiar with and occasionally gritty, multi-media artwork fits the tone.

If acid sword & sorcery is a thing, this might be it.

When Roy Thomas and other writers began to adapt Conan to comics in the 1970s, they did so in part with the guidance of L. Sprague de Camp; de Camp had inserted himself into the editing of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories, and had written several Conan pastiches, finished various fragments and synopses, and expanded the outline of Conan’s career. He didn’t do this for free or even directly, and Roy Thomas is frank about their relationship in his great memoir Barbarian Life: A Literary Biography of Conan the Barbarian, but de Camp’s influence was still strong on the series. Dark Horse’s comics, on the other hand, were published after a revolution in Howard studies & publishing had strongly emphasized the publishing of the original, unedited Robert E. Howard texts and the decline of pastiche—so show fairly less influence from de Camp—but they still follow Campian certain trends, like the emphasis on Thoth-Amon as an archvillain.

The Barbarian King ignores de Camp more or less entirely. Rather than setting Thoth-Amon up as the villain, they turn to one of the most iconic Conan stories of all time: Yara from “The Tower of the Elephant,” who has escaped from his prison and is now in command of new and inhuman powers from the Cthulhu Mythos to revenge himself on the barbarian king. This crossover isn’t the first time the Mythos have entered a Conan story (Robert E. Howard himself included explicit refrences to Lovecraft’s Mythos in the first draft of “The Phoenix on the Sword”), but it set the tone for the series as it develops: this is sword & sorcery with a strong blend of horror into the mix.

If The Barbarian King avoids de Camp and Marvel’s legacy for the most part, the influence of the 1982 film Conan the Barbarian is still very obvious, in theme, language, and occasional artistic flourishes that call back to the iconic Atlantean sword. Perhaps some of the costuming and nudity may also be reminiscent of 1980s Italian Sword & Sorcery films that were inspired by Conan, such as the Ator series or Sangraal…or perhaps not; the artists and writers on this project are obviously keen on the genre, but this is a Robert E. Howard project through-and-through.

Il desiderio era fondere il Fantasy Eroico Howardiano con un qualcosa di quasi Lovecraftiano e Barkeriano, cosa che immaginai quando lessi i VERMI DELLA TERRA con Bran Mak Morn la prima volta, nonché flavour che ho ritrovato da poco in Britannia di Milligan e Ryp, ad esempio.

The desire was to blend Howardian Heroic Fantasy with something almost Lovecraftian and Barkerian, which I imagined when I first read WORMS OF THE EARTH with Bran Mak Morn, as well as the flavor I recently found in Milligan and Ryp’s Britannia, for example.
—Massimo Rosi, “Intervista a Massimo Rosi a cura di Italian Sword & Sorcery” in The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate

The story is brutal enough in some places to edge toward grimdark, although I don’t think the story is amoral or dystopian in that sense. It is definitely less reminiscent of Howard’s more high-hearted hero and more Conan in his darker and broodier moods, pushed in directions that Howard would never have dared take him in the pulps—and in that respect, I think, the series is highly reminiscent to the new Elric graphic novel adaptions being published by Titan books beginning with The Ruby Throne. Comic storytelling can be grittier and more explicit now than ever before, and in revisiting these characters these writers and artists are pushing the limit a little, going beyond just the words in old paperbacks and pulp magazines…and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Questo è il Re Barbaro! E sono sicuro che lo riconoscerete nell’albo che stringete ta le mani, perché gli autori che lo hanno realizato sono figli di Cimmeria e hanno compreso da temp il segreto dell’acciaio; ad animarli è la passione per le battaglie e per le donne; a contraddistinguerli uno lo spirito libero, sprezzante della censura e del politically correct. Chi sono io per dirlo? Son il cronista delle loro imprese e brindo alla loro gloria. Ma ora, bando alle ciance, è tempo di tornare nel mondo hyboriano.

Buona lettura cimmeri!

This is the Barbarian King! And I’m sure you will recognize it in the book that you hold your hands, because the authors who made it are sons of Cimmeria and have long understood the secret of steel; to animate them and the passion for battles and women; to distinguished by a free spirit, contemptuous of censorship and political correctness. Who am I to say? I am the chronicler of their exploits and I toast to their glory. But now, no more chatter, it’s time to go back to the Hyborian world.

Happy reading Cimmerians!
—Enrico Santodirocco, “Introduzione” in The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate

A preview of the first few pages of The Barbarian King can be read for free on Issuu, and there is a video trailer on Facebook. While The Barbarian King is not yet available in English, the series and its art volumes can be purchased from Leviathan Labs, and some translations into other languages are available; O Rei Bárbaro (2019) for example is in Brazilian Portuguese and printed in black and white.


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

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

“Cthylla” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder

They already have your money. And when the Goddess rises, everybody dies and none of this mattered. That’s just how it goes.
—Lucy A. Snyder, “Cthylla” in When the Black Stars Burn 81

But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money!
—George Carlin, You Are All Diseased (1999)

There is a popular conception that Lovecraft ignored economics in his Mythos stories. While he doesn’t deal with dollars and cents, and economic woes aren’t a major theme, this isn’t quite true. Money was largely a distraction in Lovecraft’s stories. When it was present at all, it was often in the form of gold, such as the ancient gold pieces spent by the Terrible Old Man, or the strange pale gold that came out of the refinery at Innsmouth, or that gold which was mixed with starborn Tulu metal in the caverns of K’n-yan in “The Mound.” The United States was still on the gold standard throughout Lovecraft’s lifetime; for a man that paid for his daily meals in dimes and quarters, gold was how he thought of wealth.

The cult of Cthulhu never needed gold. Why would they? Why would Cthulhu want your money?

Money and wealth weren’t major themes in Lovecraft’s work largely because the human emotions and narratives that wrapped around them—greed, desperation, economic stress—weren’t what he wanted to write about. His inheritances and legacies focus on different kinds of wealth: the ancient books of Wizard Whateley, preserved for his grandson’s use; the Innsmouth Look that can’t be bought or sold; the jade amulet pried from the corpse of a warlock, dug out of the grave. In that same sense, Lovecraft’s cults were not designed with the realities of religion in mind. We never hear of collection plates during the rites of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, or a building fun for a proper temple for the Cult of Cthulhu, or a bake sale or potluck for the Starry Wisdom.

Writers after Lovecraft have played with cults in any manner of ways, from Hollywood cultists with robes and wavy daggers in “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer or “Dreams of a Thousand Young” (2014) by Jennifer Brozek; to comedic farse in “Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” (2015) by Valerie Valdes; to quasi-realistic cults of personality as in Agents of Dreamland (2017) by Caitlín R. Kiernan; to real-life cults in Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. There’s room in the Mythos for a multiplicity of takes on cults, because cults have become tropes and stereotypes…everything from a coven to a new religious movement to a criminal syndicate to a multi-level marketing scheme could be described as a “cult.” The particulars depend on the tone the author wants to strike, the use they have for them, the narrative they want to tell.

Lucy A. Snyder’s “Cthylla” is essentially a cyberpunk narrative, even though it’s set in a contemporary period and there isn’t any real science fiction or overt fantasy elements. Maybe some other label would be more fitting, but “cyberpunk” fits in terms of the themes more than the thematic trappings. Cyber because it is ultimately about computers and human connections, punk because it is a narrative of personal alienation, transformation, and ultimately rebellion against the status quo.

Real-life has shifted the technological and socio-political bases that cyberpunk of the 1980s was built on, but the themes remain relevant. Human augmentation and space travel were tropes of an older style of science fiction, adapted and explored with aplomb and style, but they didn’t really foresee the internet or smartphones, nor did they try to; the break-up of global superpowers and the rise of megacorporations never quite happened as they predicted, the environmental disasters and plagues foreseen have rolled out generally slower…but the point of science fiction is not to accurately predict the future. The point was to present a certain setting of high tech and low life, a background dystopia against which to tell stories where technology and society had reached a point of individual alienation and transformation. You can set a cyberpunk story in today’s world, without cyberware. We’ve arrived at the future, just not quite the one we imagined.

Yet the stars are not yet quite right.

The Temple of the Deep Mother needs your money because it is the megacorp of the setting. Technologically and legally savvy, its tentacles are everywhere, and it exists to squash individual interests and identities to conform to its self-serving goal. The megacorp doesn’t care about its employees; they are literally to be sacrificed, products made to be consumed, costs already factored into a cosmic balance sheet, and to fuel their continued growth and achieve their final goal they need to make movies, build and operate spiritual retreats, pay employees…everything costs money. Probably there’s a big spreadsheet with a bottom line pinpointing the exact cost to raise the Goddess from the deep.

There’s a certain banality to it all; that is to be expected when you pull the curtain back and think about how a cult would actually work in a world with smartphones and an internet. The Temple of the Deep Mother might be a bit more sinister than Raëlism or the Brotherhood of the Seven Rays, but if it popped up today it would likely be hard to distinguish outwardly from other new religious movements. In the context of the story, Snyder makes that work. The ultimate result they aim for is mystical and nihilistic… “everybody died and none of this mattered.”

One thing didn’t fit into the program or prophecy: you can’t buy love, and you can do ever so much with computers these days. What if somebody did matter? What if you could make them matter? It is a very human response to rise up against a system that seeks to devalue humanity…and “Cthylla” is a very human story. The lesbian relationship that is developed, the brief interludes of loving someone that suffers from mental illness and attempts suicide, are poignant. They have to be, because they are the backbone of the story. One lives her corporate life, born to die; the other finds in her lover a reason to live and rise above herself.

There’s a certain symmetry between “Cthylla” and “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn—both of them feature a comparable ugliness in a cult that will literally sacrifice its future, its children, in pursuit of its goals, but they get there through different routes. “Take Your Daughters To Work” is industrially-focused, steampunk, visible machines and progress; “Cthylla” is more postmodern. Both may involve tallying lives and dollars, but there’s no way to judge progress for the millenarian project in “Cthylla.” There is a very punk aesthetic to the idea of being raised in a system where you very expressly have no future, except instead of nuclear war the promised apocalypse is some cosmic horror raised from the depths, and if Llewellyn’s story is about the horror of acceptance, Snyder’s story is about what happens if, just maybe, someone fights back.

“Cthylla” by Lucy A. Snyder was first published in The Library of the Dead (2015), and is also included in her collection While the Black Stars Burn (2015).


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

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

“Two Fungi From Yuggoth” (1977) by Alice Briley

Sonnets, it seems to me, are preëminently the medium for complete ideas—in short, for a poetry as nearly intellectual as poetry can be without ceasing to be poetry. There is something inherently reflective and analytical about the very form of the sonnet.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 25 Feb 1924, SL1.317

The Fungi from Yuggoth is a sonnet-cycle by H. P. Lovecraft which has become, post-mortem, his most-remembered and celebrated work of poetry. As David E. Schultz deftly traces in “Dim Essences: The Origins of The Fungi from Yuggoth” in The Fungi from Yuggoth: An Annotated Edition, most of the sonnets were composed in a forty-day burst from December 1929-January 1930, but their numbering and publication proved complicated during Lovecraft’s lifetime, with various sonnets appearing in different amateur journals and Weird Tales, sometimes labeled as part of the cycle and sometimes not, often with different numbering. Never published as whole during his lifetime, the full sonnet cycle was finally compiled in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943, Arkham House), and has been reprinted in whole and in part many times in the decades since, as well as analyzed, illustrated, set to music, and even adapted to comics.

More than that, “The Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets have inspired generations of writers and artists. One somewhat infamous project was Alan Moore’s Yuggoth Cultures, a novel of short pieces inspired by Lovecraft’s sonnets. Most of that work was lost, but of the ones that survive “The Courtyard” was adapted to comics and launched a body of related works, notably its sequels Neonomicon and ProvidenceOther works were in a more poetical vein, such as the anthology More Fungi from Yuggoth (2000), and Starry Wizdom’s “Night Gaunts, Too (On reading sonnet XX in H.P. Lovecraft’s *Fungi from Yuggoth* cycle)” from Walk on the Weird Side (2017).

Alice Briley’s “Two Fungi from Yuggoth” (“in the manner of H. P. Lovecraft”) are a little more obscure. How and why she was inspired to write them isn’t clear. Briley was a noted poet associated with both state-level and national-level poetry organizations, and was no doubt at least aware of August Derleth through his poetry publications: in addition to publishing fantastic poetry through its regular imprint, Arkham House had a poetry-only imprint titled Hawk & Whipporwill. She could have read Lovecraft’s Fungi in the Arkham House Collected Poems of H. P. Lovecraft (1960), or the Ballantine paperback Fungi from Yuggoth & Other Poems (1971).

Whatever the case, in 1977 two sonnets labeled “Fungi from Yuggoth” appeared in her collection From A Weaver’s Shuttle. Newspaper accounts in ’77 and ’78 show Briley won awards from the National Federation of State Poetry Societies, possibly for that volume; the August Derleth Society Newsletter (vol. 4, no. 3, 1981), which reprinted the two Fungi claimed the poems won the August Derleth Memorial Award—unfortunately, the newspapers failed to list what awards that Briley won, and there are no lists of awardees for the NFSPS that far back currently available online, so it is hard to give specifics. The last publication of Briley’s Fungi I have been able to find is in a small pamphlet titled Weird Sonnets (1981, Owl Creek Press), which is described by one review as not a sequel to Lovecraft’s Fungi, but a collection of works that “belongs to the same loose tradition.”

Which is as accurate a description of Alice Briley’s Fungi as anything.

Her sonnets consist of “I. The Elder One” and “II. Arkham Hill.” They follow the form of Lovecraft’s Fungi, being 14 lines each; they are technically correct in terms of rhyme and meter, but probably aren’t the more beautiful lines she ever produced. The last lines to “The Elder One” for example are a bit clunky:

A feathered thing that bore a human face
Came swooping toward me in a wild descent,
and clutch me tightly in a foul embrace.
Not heaven’s herald, but from its fetid breath,
An Elder One more primative [sic] than death.

“More primitive than death” is an odd image. The rhyme works, but one wonders what exactly she was thinking of, since the “Elder One” reads more like a harpy or some fallen angel than most of Lovecraft’s creations.

“Arkham Hill” is a bit more promising, in that at least it establishes a stronger narrative and an effort at an original creation with ties to Lovecraft’s setting. The witch Eliza Pruitt lived by Arkham Hill, and many sought her until:

Until that fearful twilight when she found
Those mushrooms she had never seen before,
At dawn, they found her writhing on the ground
“Fungi from Yuggoth!” she screamed. Then said no more.

Again, not a great deal of familiarity is shown with Lovecraft’s fiction; at least, nothing to show that she had read anything beyond The Fungi from Yuggoth. Yet even that little exposure appears to have stirred her imagination, and she sought to expand on Lovecraft’s horrors in her own way. Yuggoth spores that took root in a fertile imagination and sprouted, however briefly, some fruiting bodies.

Given the decades since their last publication and Alice Briley’s demise, whether these particular Fungi will spread once again is unclear. Under current U.S. law, the work is almost certainly protected by copyright…but they are possible orphan works where determining who owns those copyrights and getting permission may be difficult and more costly than it is worth. This is an ongoing issues with many minor Mythos works, akin to some of the issues involved with fanfiction—and there is a danger that such works may be forgotten or lost with time before they can enter the public domain. Even digital archiving can be difficult without the proper permission from the copyright owners.

Alice Briley’s “Two Fungi from Yuggoth,” then, represents both the fecundity and the fragility of the Cthulhu Mythos: while Mythos works are in no immediate danger of dying out, who knows what works have already been lost, crumbling away in some forgotten fanzine? 


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

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

The Mystery of Lustful Illusion -Cthulhu Pregnant- (2015) by Takayuki Hiyori (宇行 日和)

愛欲幻想の怪~クトゥルフ・プレグナント~ (The Mystery of Lustful Illusion -Cthulhu Pregnant-) by Takayuki Hiyori (宇行 日和) is a 2015 Japanese tankōbon hentai manga published by Unreal Comics (アンリアル). This book is divided into ten chapters, each of which contains a fully-illustrated and sexually explicit Cthulhu Mythos story.

In art style, the book is geared more toward erotic comedy than erotic horror; and many of the Cthulhu Mythos entities within are presented as monster girls. Takayuki Hiyori had been previously known for their dōjinshi based on popular monster girl harem manga Monster Musume, and their manga are essentially a pornographic parallel to the mostly non-explicit books like Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス).

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In terms of writing and storytelling, The Mystery of Lustful Illusion -Cthulhu Pregnant- is a disconnected collection of short works, much like most Lovecraft story collections or Lafcadio Hearn’s classic collection Kwaidan. There is no larger overarching story of narrative, the major appeal of the work being simply that it uses the Cthulhu Mythos for these erotic stories and sexualized versions of eldritch entities like Cthulhu, Hastur, Shub-Niggurath, the Deep Ones, the Hounds of Tindalos, and the Cats of Ulthar.

The contents are aimed toward some well-established tropes and kinks: as the title might imply, impregnation is a fairly significant theme in many of the stories, but there are also instances of multiple penetration, sex work, incest, nonconsensual sex, body transformation or modification, breast expansion, group sex, large genitals, etc. Readers familiar with tentacle erotica might wonder if such appendages play their part, as they do in Le Pornomicon (2005) by Logan Kowalsky, but in truth they don’t play a significant role in the proceedings.

Cthulhu_CalloftheAbyssIn point of fact, The Mystery of Lustful Illusion -Cthulhu Pregnant- is difficult to distinguish from Monster Musume or Monster Girl Encyclopedia products. While Takayuki Hiyori uses references to the Cthulhu Mythos in the crafting and telling of the stories, the manga itself is pretty straight forward monster girl erotica, and aimed more directly at that audience than Lovecraft fans. The depictions of the various Mythos entities is mostly original, but skewed toward “mostly human with a few non-human traits”—the Cats of Ulthar, for example, are indistinguishable from the generic manga or anime “catgirl,” with their primary feline traits being cat ears and tail on a nubile young woman’s body. Eldritch horrors are hinted at but seldom realized.

The contents of this book might be generally compared to the more sexually explicit chapters of The Elder Sister-like One by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。), but where Pochi is telling an extended narrative with a few characters with extended character development and exploring emotions, Takayuki Hiyori is necessarily more episodic, with varied content and swift-moving stories that tend to get to the sexual action fast, dwell on them for the majority of the length of the chapter, and come to a relatively swift conclusion.

Cthulhu - Ulthar

Arguably the most fun chapter in the book is a variation on “The Cats of Ulthar.” While the forms the cats take are stereotypical for hentai manga, and the results are pretty much what you might expect, it both pays homage to Lovecraft’s original work while playfully subverting aspects of it. One might compare it in some ways to the “erotic” versions of classic horror novels which achieved a bit of notoriety in the 1970s, like The Adult Version of Frankenstein and The Adult Version of Dracula by “Hal Kantor” (Ed Wood, Jr.). Erotic retellings of Lovecraft aren’t exactly new—for example, “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon—but illustrated or graphic adaptations are relatively scarce.

愛欲幻想の怪~クトゥルフ・プレグナント~ (The Mystery of Lustful Illusion -Cthulhu Pregnant-) by Takayuki Hiyori (宇行 日和) has not been officially translated into English or published in the United States; perhaps some company like FAKKU might do so in the future and make it more widely available. Until then, those interested in the Japanese original can still find copies available from retailers online.


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

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

“Night-Gaunts” (2017) by Joyce Carol Oates

When I was 6 or 7 I used to be tormented constantly with a peculiar type of recurrent nightmare in which a monstrous race of entities (called by my “Night-Gaunts”—I don’t know where I got hold of the name) used to snatch me up by the stomach (bad digestion?) and carry me off through infinite leagues of black air over the towers of dead and horrible cities. They would finally get me into a grey void where I could see the needlelike pinnacles of enormous mountains miles below. Then they would let drop—and as I gained momentum in my Icarus-like plunge I would start awake in such panic that I hated to think of sleeping again. The “night-gaunts” were black, lean, rubbery things with bared, barbed tails, bat-wings, and no faces at all. Undoubtedly I derived the image from the jumbled memory of Doré’s drawings (largely the illustrations to Paradise Lost) which fascinated me in waking hours. They had no voices, and their only form of real torture was their habit of tickling my stomach (digestion again0 before snatching me up and swooping away with me. I sometimes had the vague notion that they lived in the black burrows honeycombing the pinnacle of some incredibly high mountain somewhere. they seemed to come in flocks of 25 or 50, and would sometimes fling me one to the other. Night after night I dreamed the same horror with only minor variants—but I never struck those hideous mountain peaks before waking. If I had…well, the point is that these things decreased rapidly as I grew older. Each year I believed less and less of the supernatural, and when I was 8 I began to be interested in science and cast off my last shred of religious and other superstitious belief. I do not recall many “night-gaunt” dreams after I was 8—or any after I was 10 or 11. But Yuggoth, what an impression they made on me! 34 years later I chose them as the theme of one of my Fungi….
—H. P. Lovecraft to Virgil Finlay, 24 Oct 1936, Selected Letters 5.335

A common refrain these days is to separate the art from the artist. To distinguish between an appreciation for a creator’s works from an appreciation or an agreement with the author themselves. One could, hypothetically, pick up a book by a mass murderer and enjoy it without knowing anything about the author, or admire a painting at a gallery without any awareness that the artist was a member of the Ku Klux Klan…but this implies a level of ignorance about the creator; the person approaches their work without context, without any expectation or prejudice.

It becomes more difficult to separate the art from the artist when you know more about the creator in question, when the events of their lives and their other works inform various details and themes throughout their ouevre. Such is the case with Howard Phillips Lovecraft—and perhaps more than that.

Even while he was alive, Lovecraft crossed the thin threshold between reality and legend. Frank Belknap Long immortalized him as “Howard” in “The Space-Eaters” (1928), Edith Miniter added “H. Theobald, Jr.” to  The Village Green (192?), and Robert Bloch secured permission from Lovecraft before inserting him into “The Shambler From the Stars” (1935)—and killing such fictional alter ego. Friends like Samuel Loveman and Elizabeth Toldridge wrote poetic tributes, and even his future wife Sonia H. Greene would get into the action with “Four O’Clock” (1949).

After Lovecraft’s death, memoirs, biographies, and letters were published; authors and artists who had never met or corresponded with Lovecraft now continued to se his name, his likeness, his legend in the development of new works. “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff, “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg“Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins, “Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper…these barely scratch the surface of works that use either a fictional Lovecraft, or a character based on Lovecraft, inspired by his name, his likeness, the events of his life.

As understanding of Lovecraft’s life has deepened and spread, so that the portrait of his life has become more complete, so too have the warts become more apparent. Lovecraft was generally kind, well-mannered, generous to a fault within his limited means, and gave tremendous encouragement to many writers, some of whom like Robert Bloch would go on to be amazingly influential themselves. Lovecraft was also, by his own admission, racist, antisemitic, and homophobic. Cultural syntax on these traits has shifted: readers and creators no longer want to passively acknowledge them, some of them want to actively engage with the massive underlying issues of prejudice through Lovecraft…so, contemporary works like “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle, Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin, and Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee continue to engage with Lovecraft’s legend and legacy, though in a different way than previous generations.

Somewhere in between the iconic fictional Lovecrafts of the early generations of Mythos authors and the strawmen and monsters of the current generation lies Joyce Carol Oates’ character of Horace Phineas Love, Jr. from her novella “Night-Gaunts.”

H. P. Love, Jr. is, despite many similarities, patently not H. P. Lovecraft. Love is a semiotic ghost, a deliberately distorted vision of Lovecraft’s childhood, reimagined and remixed. Much of their lives have parallel: the father that died of syphilis, the grandfather’s library, the intelligent child that became a weird fiction author as an adult. Yet a great deal of it is not right, too. Lovecraft didn’t have the Scots nurses; or lost the family home; and certainly never found a copy of the Necronomicon in his grandfather’s library. Very likely, Lovecraft didn’t have congenital syphilis either, a point that has constituted an entire thread of Lovecraft scholarship from the time Winfield Townley Scott revealed the cause of Winfield Scott Lovecraft’s death down throuh Victoria Nelson’s “H. P. Lovecraft and the Great Heresies”—even though Lovecraft didn’t test positive for the disease during his final illness (see “The Shadow of Syphilis” in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos).

Which kind of begs the question: if H. P. Love, Jr. is modelled on H. P. Lovecraft but also very deliberately not Lovecraft…why? What is the point? What story is Oates telling us when she writes snippets like:

A young girl-urchin, scarcely ten, opens her soiled dress—bares her white, scrawny chest—tiny breasts, with small pinpoint-nipples—twelve-year-old Horace is astonished—he has never seen anything like this except in certain of the illustrations in his grandfather’s liberary and then never of children so young. It is horrible to see, it is hideous, the aghast boy feels no sex-desire but only pity and sorrow, and fear.
—Joyce Carol Oates, Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense 315

If this was a way for Oates to address a fictional Lovecraft-clone’s apparent asexuality or lack of sexual desire, it’s a damn weird way of doing it. In truth, “Night-Gaunts” gives no direct answers to what it is about. In broad strokes, it is a kind of ghost story, but it is a ghost story that gets a bit lost up its own internal anatomy pursuing the alternative life of very-definitely-not-H. P. Lovecraft in a way that nevertheless seems to reflect very strongly on certain interpretations of the life and characters of H. P. Lovecraft.

A clue might be the image of the birthmark which H. P. Love, Jr. and his syphilitic father H. P. Love, Jr. share; this would appear to be an homage or reference to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic story “The Birth-Mark.” If one keeps the moral of that tale in mind, “Night-Gaunts” might be read as a message and a meditation on Lovecraft—how the focus on the mundane facts of a biography ignores the immortal essence of the legend, in a very “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” way—and that Horace Phineas Love, Jr. is, in effect both an interpretation of the legendary Lovecraft and a kind of commentary on the same.

If this is the case, it might not be entirely successful. “Night-Gaunts” reminds a great deal of Fred Chappell’s novel Dagon (1987), where the writing is good, but the themes, plot, and characterization never seem to really come together. In weird fiction, the atmosphere and telling of the story count for more than actual plot, but for “Night-Gaunts” there is a sort of postmodern purposelessness to it all: the events of Lovecraft’s life nearly define the contours of the story (except when they don’t; H. P. Love, Jr. never marries), but the internal journey of H. P. Love, Jr. is necessarily incomplete, tasks unfinished, questions unanswered.

Not every question needs an answer—the reader can decide for themselves whether or not the night-gaunts are real—or what writhing form was glimpsed in the master bedroom—but it feels like there should have been, at least, some metafictional flicker of awareness. Something to clue Love or the reader in to what their true connection to Lovecraft was. Absent that, “Night-Gaunts” feels a bit like a love letter to a dead boyfriend…an effort not to  communicate to anyone that might read it, but to work out in prose some thoughts and ideas about that semiotic echo of Lovecraft in popular culture, the recluse so many readers have dreamed Lovecraft as rather than the flesh-and-blood man who lived and died.

“Night-Gaunts” (2017) was first published in the Yale Review, and collected in Joyce Carol Oates’ Night-Gaunts and Other Tales of Suspense (2018).


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

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

“Nelle Spire di Medusa” (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Tommaso Campanini

Una chioma simile la faceva sembrare una principessa orientale dipinta da Aubrey Beardsley; quando li sciogleva le arrivavano sotto le ginocchia e brillavano come se possedessero una vitalita propria.

Chiunque avrebbe pensato sen’zaltro a Medusa o a Berenice…
The Miskatonic Diaries: Nelle Spire di Medusa e altre storie 25

Such hair made her look like an oriental princess painted by Aubrey Beardsley; when she melted them she reached under her knees and shone as if they possessed a vitality of her own.

Anyone would have thought of Medusa or Berenice without any doubt …
—”In the Coils of Medusa” (trans.)

There have been many graphic adaptations of H. P. Lovecraft’s work; adaptations of his revision tales are scarce, and it very unusual to run into two that cover the same story. However, there are two adaptations of “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft“Medusa’s Curse” (1995) by Sakura Mizuki (桜 水樹氏) and “Nelle Spire di Medusa” (2019) by Massimo Rosi (writing) & Tommaso Campanini (art), which is the title story to The Miskatonic Diaries Vol. 1—and it is interesting and informative to compare the two adaptations to each other, as well as to the source material.

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First story page, sans text, by Tommaso Campanini
DeviantArt

The title, to start with, is interesting: most Italian translations of “Medusa’s Coil” are titled simply “Medusa,” but the earliest translation listed in H. P. Lovcraft A Comprehensive Bibliography is “Nelle spire di Medusa” in a 1976 collection of the same name. The story itself hews closer to Lovecraft’s text than “Medusa’s Curse”: the setting is once more in the United States, in the early 20th century, and the main characters are Denis de Russy, his father, Frank Marsh, Marceline Bedard, and the nameless narrator. The character of Sophonisba, and all the other servants white and black, are absent. This is not to say that the adaption completely ditches the background of the original story:

C’era stata un’epoca in cui le capanne che sorgevano nella parte posteriore della proprieta—su un tratto pianeggiante ora sommerso dal fiume—avevnao ospitato fino a duecento schievi negri; sentirili cantare, ridere e suonare il banjo di notte equivaleva a cogliere il fascino di una civilta e un ordine sociale purtroppo estinti.
—”Nelle Spire di Medusa” (25)

There was a time when the huts that stood at the rear of the property—on a flat stretch now submerged by the river—had hosted up to two hundred black slaves; hearing them sing, laugh and play the banjo at night was tantamount to grasping the charm of an unfortunately extinct civilization and social order.
—”In the Coils of Medusa” (trans.)

Yet here there are some differences from the original story as well. Whether this was an issue with the translation or a deliberate twist by Massimo Rosi isn’t clear, but the character of Denis de Russy is given a little quirk:

Romantic young devil, too—full of high notions—you’d call ’em Victorian, now—no trouble at all to make him let the nigger wenches alone.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “Medusa’s Coil”

Un giovanotto romantico ribelle, pieno di sentimenti che probabilmente lei definirebbe antiquati. E le assicuro che non era facile tenerlo lontano dalle ragazze negre!
—”Nelle Spire di Medusa” (26)

A rebellious romantic young man, full of feelings you would probably call antiquated. And I assure you it wasn’t easy to keep him away from black girls!
—”In the Coils of Medusa” (trans.)

While it is an inversion of Lovecraft’s original text, this formulation adds a bit of foreshadowing to later developments in the story.

As with “Medusa’s Curse,” the graphic adaptation greatly compresses and somewhat linearizes the original narrative; we never see the unnamed narrator arrive, by the time the story starts he is in the house with the elder de Russy, who is telling their story. The contours of the narrative, as with “Medusa’s Curse,” follow the general outlines of a romantic tragedy, right up until the point of the murder.

As in the original story, Marceline hardly gets any speaking lines. In “Nelle spire di Medusa” however, what she says has more portent than the dialogue Lovecraft gave her:

Voi tutti dovreste stare molto attenti se cantassi le vecchie preghiere o cercassi di evocare ciò che dorme a Yuggoth, Zimbabwe e R’lyeh. Ti facevo più prudente.
—”Nelle Spire di Medusa” (26)

You all should be very careful if you chant the old prayers or try to evoke what sleeps in Yuggoth, Zimbabwe and R’lyeh. I used to make you more cautious.
—”In the Coils of Medusa” (trans.)

Marceline Bedard in this story is more fully involved with the Cthulhu Mythos, or at least more openly conversant; while she doesn’t quite take Soniphisba’s place in ranting about “Marse Clooloo” and invoking Shub-Niggurath, there the Mythos element is more prominent, especially with the more compact narrative.

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Sixteenth story page, sans text, by Tommaso Campanini
DeviantArt

We never see the first two murders, not in the original story and not in the two adaptations. That lends an almost Gothic atmosphere as the elder de Russy has to follow the bloody trail back to Denis, and provides some great visuals…and it’s also where the story transitions from the romantic-tragedy to something weirder, where the hints of the supernatural cult background become shockingly, terribly real.

Which leads to the inevitable reveal…or, perhaps more accurately, the confirmation of what the readers already know, or have guessed. That the painting, as in “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” will be the mirror that reveals the truth about Marceline. In the original narrative, Lovecraft had this final confirmation placed at the very end of the story, and used it as a sort of double revelation as to both the truth of Marceline’s supernatural affiliations and, almost as an afterthought, her “passing” as white. As with “Medusa’s Curse,” Massimo Rosi and Tommaso Campanini move the reveal of the painting forward, so that the subsequent events flow naturally without requiring a flashback or other device to show what the painting looked like before its destruction.

Appena ho visto il quadro ho capito ciò che era e il suo ruolo nei tremendi segreti che si tramandano dai giorni di Cthulhu e dei Grandi Antichi…

Segreti che furono quasi cancellati dalla terra quanto Atlantide sprofondò tra le onde, ma che continuano a serpeggiare in certe tradizioni nascoste, in certi miti e riti esclusivi che si celebrano nel cuore della notte.

Vedi, non era una ciarlatana: sarei stato contento che lo fosse, invece era proprio quello che diceva.

Era l’antica, orribile ombra a cui i filosofi non hanno mai osato dare un nome… l’essere di cui il Necronomicon fa solo cenno, ed e simboleggiato dai colossi dell’isola di pasqua.
—”Nelle Spire di Medusa” (44)

As soon as I saw the painting I understood what it was and the role of him in the terrible secrets that have been handed down from the days of Cthulhu and the Great Ancients …

Secrets that were almost erased from the earth when Atlantis sank in the waves, but which continue to meander in certain hidden traditions, in certain myths and exclusive rituals that are celebrated in the dead of night.

See, she wasn’t a charlatan: I would have been glad she was, but that was just what she said.

She was the ancient, horrible shadow to which philosophers have never dared to give a name … the being of which the Necronomicon only mentions, and is symbolized by the colossi of Easter Island.
—”In the Coils of Medusa” (trans.)

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Nineteenth story page, sans text, by Tommaso Campanini
DeviantArt

“Medusa’s Curse” side-stepped the racial reveal by eliminating the “passing” subplot of the story completely; “Nelle Spire di Medusa” chooses to address it by making it purely visual. Marceline’s race is never mentioned once in the text, and she is continually depicted as being light-skinned and with straight hair. If the reader goes back through the story and examines her features closely, they might find facial features which are ambiguous…but there is no shading that differentiates her from the rest of the characters. She basically does pass as white, even in death, except in the painting itself where she is deliberately shaded darker, with frizzier hair, and in the close-ups more pronounced features…but this aspect is never given any textual relevance.

It is a device that can only rally work in a graphic medium: it puts the onus of the issue of race on the reader as to how to interpret the painting, and thus how to interpret Marceline Bedard. Technically accurate to Lovecraft’s original, yet a new interpretation that presents a degree of ambiguity as to where the true horror in the story lies.

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Nineteenth story page, sans text, by Tommaso Campanini
DeviantArt

There is a bit of action in the ending, as the elder de Russy’s narrative draws to its close, the supernatural vengeance is culminated, Riverside house meets its “Fall of the House of Usher”-esque demise, and we are left with the disquieting ending where the narrator wonders at what ghostly events had replayed themselves…both “Medusa’s Curse” and “Nelle Spire di Medusa” play out these last few story beats fairly faithfully.

There’s no reason not to. It sounds weird when talking about one of Lovecraft’s least-loved stories, but once an adaptor resolves the question of how to handle the Marceline Bedard’s portrait (and all the issues bound up in that), the remaining narrative structure is cobbled together from bits and pieces that are almost too familiar: young woman marries into a family, big isolated house in the country, a friend arrives to set up the love triangle, a bloody double murder resolves the love triangle, a supernatural vengeance from beyond the grave, the house burns down, it was all a dream…or was it?

These are all very familiar story elements for anyone that’s ready a good chunk of weird fiction or Gothic fiction; they’re not all usually mixed together, but you can see the prototype of this kind of story in, for example, Robert W. Chambers’ “The Mask” from The King in Yellow (1895). The use of the Cthulhu Mythos and the revelation that Marceline Bedard is “passing” as white are novel to the story, but they also really don’t mesh well, and the slightly convoluted narrative structure that Lovecraft used to express the ideas unnecessarily conjoins those two plot threads, which is what makes the revelation of Marceline’s portrait both so memorable and so terrible: the one-drop rule is put on the same tier as some of Lovecraft’s cosmic horrors.

So if you just look at the story without that racial element, the rest of the story structure tends to fall into place fairly easily. Subtraction is the route that “Medusa’s Curse” took“Nelle Spire di Medusa,” however, goes for intimation. The story is technically very faithful to the original text, but it does so in a way that refuses to spell out the racial prejudice that underlay the original story prompt by Zealia Bishop. Whether or not that is enough is a question for the reader…and there are other questions readers might ask themselves:

Would it have been better if Marceline’s skin had not been shaded in? Will every reader of every adaptation of “Medusa’s Coil” go into the story looking for hints to her race? Would they have if they didn’t know that was the revelation all along?

You can read a Mythos story more than once, but you can only really experience that culminating confirmation, the ripping-the-band-aid-off sensation, the first time. Once you know what there is to know about “Medusa’s Coil,” there is little “shock” value left…it is only a question of the skill of the writers and artists that do the adaptation, and how they choose to handle the subject matter.

Massimo Rosi and Tommaso Campanini both do a more than adequate job on all the technical aspects of this adaptation: the narrative is relatively faithful, the pacing is right despite the front-loading of exposition and the relative death of action that are hallmarks of Lovecraft stories, and Rosi makes some clean cuts and welcome additions that tighten the narrative. Campanini’s art, in clean black-and-white except for the shaded segements of the portrait itself, are very pleasing; you can tell he put a lot of thought into the framing and layout, with a real preference for floating panels set above and in front of a larger illustraton which makes the reader sit back a little and take it all in. If I had to voice a criticism, it’s that Marceline’s hairlength is depicted inconsistenantly…it looks very short in many shots before her death…but chalk that one up to artistic license.

Tommaso Campanini uploaded the raw, textless art for “Nelle Spire di Medusa” to their DeviantArt gallery.

The Miskatonic Diaries Vol. 1: Nelle Spire di Medusa et altre storie (2019, Weird Books) is available on Amazon Kindle; the hardcopy graphic anthology does exist, but is a little harder to get in the United States. 


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

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

Cthulhu Trek (2008) by Leslie Thomas

Cthulhu Trek– Written and Edited Les Thomas, Layout and Illustrations Cabin Campbell, 1st. Edition, 2008. Star Trek collides with Lovecraftain horror. Robert Blochʼs Lovecraft/ Star Trek connection, Jeffery Combs HPL/ ST characters. Plus Sutter Cane (sometimes spelled Kane) Star Trek Fiction (Warning: Explicit sex and violence). $4.00
—Leslie Thomas, 13th Hour Books

In the early 1930s, science fiction fandom came into being. One of the characteristics of this fandom was the strong influence of the amateur journalism movement. It wasn’t just that there were fanatical readers of pulp fiction, but they documented their love and excitement, their fan art and fan poetry and fanfiction, their discussions and feuds.

Today, we talk about fandom studies with textbooks like the Fan Fiction Studies Reader because these early ‘zines are the trace fossils of the fans themselves, most of whom are sadly gone and can no longer give us living memories of what it was like to buy the magazines off the rack, to organize the first conventions, make their own costumes at home. To carry out debates by mail, and see the wonders and terrors of the Atomic Age and Space Age and finally the Digital Age be manifest around them.

As the fans grew up, fandom grew up with them. Scholars like Brian Wilson have traced the history of rule 34 from the first nude artwork that graced the 1930s fanzines to the Star Trek slashfic written and analyzed by Joanna Russ to the internet erotica of today. Things percolated together and got profoundly, lovingly, weird. Mash-ups between different genres, different properties, entirely different fandoms came together, often just for laughs or following some singular vision of “Hey, wouldn’t this be cool?” or “Hey, wouldn’t this be hot?”

Leslie Thomas is a fan of both Star Trek and the Cthulhu Mythos. His 2008 ‘zine Cthulhu Trek is a labor of love, an unpaginated 16-page staplebound black-and-white expression of profound and utter nerdiness—and it is, in many ways, an exemplar of what a fanzine can be: fun, scholarly by its own lights, and brimming with creativity and enthusiasm.

McCoy opened another cabinet and, from it he pulled out a small jar and handed it to Kirk. “I have to ask Jim, but did you have sex with a Yithian lately,” a slight smile crossed his kindly face as he place [sic] the alcohol back into its cabinet.
—Leslie Thomas, “Cream” in Cthulhu Trek

The first few pages of the ‘zine trace connections between Star Trek and the Mythos—principally via Robert Bloch, who wrote three episodes of the original series, and versatile actor Jeffrey Combs whose credits include multiple roles in both Star Trek series and various Lovecraftian films and adaptations, most especially the Re-Animator series, From Beyond, The Evil Clergyman, Necronomicon: Book of the Dead, and The Dunwich Horror (2009).

Like a good hoax, Thomas then transitions into fanfiction—presenting pieces of the Mythos-inflected Star Trek fiction of Sutter Kane. Of these, the bare two pages of Kirk picking up an extraterrestrial (or should that be extratemporal?) STD are perhaps the most memorable, although Chekov’s encounter with a dominatrix is certainly not something that will be forgotten in a hurry, barring blunt forced trauma to the head or the alcoholic equivalent.

Cthulhu Trek ends with the rather odd bit of trivia that Will Wheaton starred in The Curse (1987), a rarely-remembered film based on Lovecraft’s “The Colour out of Space.” Wheaton, of course, gained popularity by playing Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation, and if it feels weird to turn the page from Sulu in the grips of madness to a tidbit that feels straight out of the Internet Movie Database…well, it is. Like all fanzines, Cthulhu Trek is idiosyncratic, produced by one writer who was also his own editor, with Cabin Campbell as illustrator and layout artist.

Could Thomas have taken it further? Could he have produced a full-fledged erotic Star Trek/Cthulhu Mythos opus, self-published it, and reached the heights of fame that E. L. James did? Maybe. So could you. What he did instead was write and publish a funny little chapbook as a bit of amusement for himself and his fellow fans. Which is pratically the definition for what fanfiction is: the desire not just to create something inspired by some work, but to share it with others. That is what Cthulhu Trek is, ultimately; not a masturbation aid, but an endearing effort to share the love of Star Trak and the Cthulhu Mythos.


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

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

“The Fluff at the Threshold” (1996) by Simon Leo Barber

WHICH ELDER BEING MAKES THE BEST SEX PARTNER?
There are many opinions, but shoggoths come well recommended for sheer versatility.
Thus:
Found posted by: Nyar@blibble.demon.co.uk, November 1994
Retyped in by: Kevin@fairbruk.demon.co.uk (so the typos are all my fault)

10 Reasons why a shoggoth is the perfect lover
———————————————-
1) It can form any pseudopod, and thus can form the perfect extrusion or cavity to suit your needs.

2) It will sleep on the wet patch, or on the floor, or even in the garage.

3) It can keep going as long as you want it to.

4) Since it has a different biological basis, it cannot give you any form of STD, and thus barrier methods are not required. Please remember to wash your shoggoth in an antiseptic if sharing between partners.

5) It cannot get you pregnant

6) It can give you a back massage, answer the phone, open a beer, have sex with multiple people, change the CD _and_ take dictation all at the same time. (They also make good secretaries.) They do have a slight problem with Microsoft Word for Windows though, no-one is quite sure why.

7) It can hold the door shut so no-one can burst in on you.

8) It never suffers from impotence or headaches.

9) It will respect you in the morning and will not leave you for someone else (unless they happen to know ‘bind shoggoth’ as well. At this point your shoggoth will get very confused, split into two shoggoths, and bits of both will keep commuting between the two masses. Great for parties.)

10) It won’t insist on you meeting it’s parents. (If you do meet its parents, lose 1d6/0 SAN.)

Nyar – now all I have to do is learn to summon one…

alt.sex.cthulhu FAQ (29 May 1997)

On 30 November 2001, a would-be erotic fanfiction writer under the pseudonym Winston Marrs (lifted from a character in the 1994 Shadowrun game for Sega Genesis) uploaded a story titled “The Mother of Cthulu” (sic) to an erotic fanfiction site called The Grey Archive. Via the internet archive, you can revisit the Grey Archive just as it was on the day the story was posted—but you can’t read it. The archive didn’t try to capture “The Mother of Cthulu” until after the Grey Archive had changed its hosting service, and the old addresses all led to spam sites. Nor did anyone else apparently think to preserve Winston Marrs’ erotic opus elsewhere on the internet.

“The Mother of Cthulu” is lost to time.

Which is a fate that has probably occurred to the bulk of erotic Lovecraftian fanfiction on the internet over the last twenty-plus years. Erotica is an inherently disposable mode of fiction; with rare exception the literary and artistic value of individual works doesn’t overcome the taboo nature of ownership. Erotic fiction on the internet faces additional challenges: site owners and administrators retire or pass away, copyright claims can deter downloading or hosting content, file formats go obsolete, changes in search engines make finding it harder. While a number of fans have written adult-oriented Mythos fiction, much of it is by its very nature obscure to the casual user—or even the dedicated researcher.

In the early days of computer networking, popular networks like Usenet fulfilled the function that forums and social media sites do today. Many of these early networks, and the world wide web they began to interact with, were poorly or incompletely archived, like the Grey Archive above. Bits and pieces still exist, in some form or another. Google acquired the Usenet archives in 2001, and you can still visit Usenet groups like alt.sex.cthulhu today—if you’re willing to dig through twenty-plus years of pornographic spam.

Fortunately, if you dig down far enough, you don’t have to. Back around 1996, an archive site for alt.sex.cthulhu was created at cthulhu.org, and the Internet Archive has a copy of that. These were stories originally posted to the alt.sex.cthulhu Usenet group in the mid-to-late 1990s…which is probably as far back as internet Lovecraftian erotica can go. Included in this archive is “The Fluff At The Threshold” by Simon Leo Barber…which can serve as an exemplar of Lovecraftian erotic fanfiction during this period. A core sample from the digital Mountains of Madness.

It was to my cousin’s house on Carcosa Crescent that I came that December, to look over the property and to set the place in order. I had been long overseas, first working as an assistant to the Professor Of Difficult Sums at Celaeno Gate College in the sultry Celebes Islands, and then recalled to the family Regiment when it formed up at the end of the War of Liberation in 2029, when the stranglehold of the EC over the (now happily Nationalised) landmass of Europe, had been so crashingly broken.
—Simon Leo Barber, “The Fluff At The Threshold”

One of the hallmarks of this story is that it is pretty much pure pastiche—while the setting is in the (now not so far and distant) future of 2029, in a near-Cthulhupunk setting, Barber is deliberately invoking tropes of Mythos fiction past: the inheritance gambit, where a relative died and now the protagonist inherits their property and its terrible secrets.

The setting is almost surreal, the kind of mish-mash of 90s references and silliness one might expect to find in a bizarro novel today. This is not porn-without-plot, there’s a fair narrative built up before we get to anything that might be mistaken for a naughty bit. As weird as it may sound, while this exact combination of strangeness may never have been arrived at before or since, the thread of humor in the story is exceptionally characteristic of much fanfiction in the period. The general attitude toward the material is reminiscent of farcical works like Bored of the Rings and National Lampoon’s Doon, or the Lovecraftian episode of The Adventures of Samurai Cat.

Good clean fun…well, maybe not entirely clean.

“Our Dark Mother Of The Woods,” I smiled to myself, making a reverent sinuous gesture, as tentacle-like as an internal skeleton would allow, to Shub-Niggurath, the Dark Goat Of The Woods With A Thousand Young. “Or, as they’d call her under the EC’s Correction Enforcement Policies, “The Ethnically Coloured Caprine Deity-Person of The Sylvan Ecosystem With The Relaxed Attitude To Birth-Control”……..”
—Simon Leo Barber, “The Fluff At The Threshold”

Readers looking for exquisite descriptions of shoggoth sex should probably look elsewhere. While there is that kind of smut on alt.sex.cthulhu archives and elsewhere, this is a Mythos story about sex in the same way that “The Dunwich Horror” or “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is—just one that takes place in a dystopic future full of talking animals.

Which is, in its own way, a testament to the kind of variety one sees in erotic fanfiction. It’s not all hardcore pornography, nor has it ever been. While there is plenty of sexually explicit Lovecraftian fanfiction out there, on sites like Literotica.com and the Alt Sex Stories Repository, the erotic impulse isn’t restricted to just the nastiest and most explicit kink-laden literary porn one can dream up…it can be fun too.


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

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