“This Human Form” (2014) by Lyndsey Holder

(A BUZZING IMITATION OF HUMAN SPEECH)

Iä! Shub-Niggurath! The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young!
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

You call me black, but I am beyond black. I am the space between the stars, the darkness that lies on the edge of your dreams, the sound of death in small spaces.

You say I am from the woods, but my woods contain no trees or birds, no peaceful sounds of wind and stream, no quiet rustle of delicate creatures. My forest pulsates, vibrates, glistens. […]

You call me a goat, and sometimes I am.
⁠—Lyndsey Holder, “This Human Form” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath

More of a prose-poem or an invocation than a short story, Lyndsey Holder’s “This Human Form” reminds me of “The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。)“Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin, and “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel. Works that take inspiration from the Mythos, but don’t lean heavily on them; they forge their own lore, not bound by any convention of the Mythos and yet still strongly connected to it thematically.

Holder’s first-person account is only implicitly that of the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young, reveling more in sensation and imagery than any concrete connections to any other story in the Mythos. The connection is stronger by association: the story is in a Mythos anthology, which makes the imagery more apparent. But stick this story in a dark fantasy or horror magazine and would people still get it? Would their minds still make the connection? Probably not, if they weren’t already initiated in Mythos-lore and familiar with Shub-Niggurath, her aspects and attributes. But they could still enjoy the story.

“This Human Form” is exemplary of how in a largely disorganized way, the Mythos has evolved organically into something which the SCP wiki has done by considered design. While it has been said there is no canon to the Mythos, it would be more accurate to say there is no one canon. Certainly, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands stories are fairly consistent in themselves, as are Ramsey Campbell’s Severn Valley tales, Brian Lumley’s Titus Crow stories, W. H. Pugmire’s Sesqua Valley, Charles Stross’ the Laundry Files, etc. Peter Rawlik has curated a canon centered around “Herbert West—Reanimator,” and Shane Ivey has spent considerable time doing much the same with the Delta Green setting.

Most of these works are independent, interconnected, sometimes conflicting. Myths do that. Conflict, arguably, might even be essential to the Mythos: it forces the reader to engage with it, to juggle different concepts, maybe try to reconcile them.

There is on thing you do not call me: mother. My body has sent a thousand children into this world, a thousand mewling, crawling things, suckling and whining, slithering down silvery dream-threads into the soft comfort of your warm beds.
—Lyndsey Holder, “This Human Form”

It is rare to get a first-person take from a Mythos entity, although far from unknown. Neil Gaiman famously did it with I, Cthulhu, or, What’s a Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing in a Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)? (1987) (later publications have quite reasonably shortened this to “I, Cthulhu”). Gaiman’s take, of course, is a quiet taking of the piss. The idea of Cthulhu addressing the user is the main joke. For Mythos entities that are largely defined as ineffable and unknowable, the first-person narrative rather kills the mystery…unless, as Holder does, the meat of the text is salacious, sensation-driven, and suggestive. Making telling feel like showing.

Lyndsey Holder’s “This Human Form” was published in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014). Her other Mythos fiction includes “Parasitosis” (2015) and “Chosen” (2015).


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

“I Wore The Brassiere Of Doom” (1986) by Sally Theobald

He was a great reader, mostly of paperback westerns and dime romance novels. All this is well known, but what many readers probably do not ralize is that Howard wrote (under various pseudonyms) several stories and “confession” pieces for magazines of that type. Two of my own favorites were “Showdown at the OK Abyss” (written as “Hank Theobald”) and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” (under the by-line “Sally Theobald”). Sonia may have assisted him in some of these, but she would never admit it.
—”Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (1983) by “F. Gumby Kalem” in Crypt of Cthulhu14

Those who chanced to read F. Gumby Kalem’s memoir “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” (Crypt of Cthulhu 14) may recall Kalem’s surprising revelation that HPL, too, wrote for the confession magazines under the transparent pen-name Sally Theobald. Much checking with pulp colectors has turned up a copy of one of these tales, “I Wore the Brassier of Doom.” You will have to admit that Lovecraft could cover his tracks when he wanted to. But for Gumby Kalem’s information, it is a safe bet this work would never have been identified and restored to its rightful place among HPL’s oeuvre.
—”Scandal Sheet” (1986) by Robert M. Price in Lurid Confessions

“I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” is a playful hoax perpetrated by Robert M. Price, editor of both Crypt of Cthulhu and Lurid Confessions (among other ‘zines). The idea that a pulp writer might spread their wings and splash another field of fiction is not far-fetched—many did. Robert E. Howard wrote for example wrote weird fiction, westerns, detective, historical adventure, and spicy stories for the pulps; he tried to write science fiction and confession-style pulps too.

For spicy pulps in particular, Howard adopted the pseudonym “Sam Walser”—and Lovecraft was famous for his own pseudonyms, mostly in the amateur press, such as “Lewis Theobald, Jr.” which was his byline with Winifred Virginia Jackson (“Elizabeth Berkeley”) for “The Green Meadow” and “The Crawling Chaos.” Price, who wrote both “Lovecraft as I seem to Remember Him” and “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” was thus careful in picking a realistic pseudonym for the Providence pulpster in “Sally Theobald.”

The hoax was so convincing, that some folks actually fell for it.

Once I wrote a fake Lovecraft tale, as if he had written it for the confession magazines, “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom,” as by Sally Theobald. Without meaning to, I tricked a French Lovecraft scholar into listing it in his Lovecraft bibliography!
“Robert M. Price Interview” (2010)

The story was translated as “Le Soutien-Gorge Ensorcelé” (“The Enchanted Bra”) and published in Pulps No. 2 La Nurserie de l’Épouvante (“The Nursery of Terror,” 1987), a collection of translated pulp reprints, as by Lovecraft.

The broader point that the backstory “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom” emphasizes is not about the gullibility of readers or editors who fell for the hoax; Price’s tongue-in-cheek trail of breadcrumbs is transparent to any Lovecraft scholar (HPL did not read westerns or dime romance novels, no dates or titles of magazines are given, etc.) before they read the first line of the story. What is the point is that there was never anything stopping Lovecraft (or any other writer) from using a pseudonym of a different gender—and this presents a particular challenge at times when seeking to focus on works by female writers in pulps or weird fiction. While it is not clear that there were any women who wrote Mythos fiction under male pseudonyms (or vice versa) before the 1980s, it would not be surprising to find a few such works lurking in odd fanzines and forgotten pulps. Certainly there are plenty of examples of such genderbending nameplay in other genres, probably most famously James Tiptree Jr. (Alice Bradley Sheldon).

The story itself is not a pastiche of Lovecraft’s style, but certainly a pastiche of the confessional, a pulp genre inaugurated by True Story Magazine (1919- ). The moralistic atmosphere of these confessionals generally has women expressing grief for how they erredusually by engaging in inappropriate relationships, having children out of wedlock, drinking or drugs, etc.—providing a taboo thrill to the reader at being able to re-live their adventures while at the same time unsubtly re-affirming the decidedly misogynistic attitudes of the first half of the 20th century.

The story of a young and well-endowed country girl goes to the big city for the first time, intent on making it as a modern business woman is meat for a thousand stories…except in this particular Macy’s, she finds something strange:

As I placed the bra back in its box I noticed something else: the odd seam design. Across each cup, radiating out from the center, was a five-pointed star with an oval or eye-shape in the center.  thought little of this, except to guess that the design might have something to do with the nice way the bra seemed to uphold and almost carress me.
Lurid Confessions 31

The implication, of course, is that this is the Elder Sign as used by August Derleth in his own Mythos fiction:

Elder-Sign-Dearleth

The new brassiere certainly attracts a good bit of attention, and if there’s a fault in Price’s story, this is where it comes in, trying to channel some of the inherent racism of “The Call of Cthulhu” combined with the inherent sexism of the confession pulps:

Oh, I admit, soem of my gentlemen callers were not exactly dreamboats, but in a city populated by herds of rat-faced mongrels and ruffians, one had to make do. And if a girl waits until Mr. Perfect comes along, she’s liable to wind up an old maid. (ibid.)

Price would touch on similar issues in “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price, and there is certainly something to be said for attempting to accurately capture the atmosphere of racism of the time and of the suggested author; whether Price goes too far or just far enough is a bit subjective, it is certainly not necessary to the story, but does help to tie it in a little closer to Lovecraft’s life and fiction.  While Lovecraft did not work racism into everything he wrote, the language Price uses here is directly influenced by Lovecraft’s.

Price, of course, is all about working in the little references to Lovecraft based on what little was published of the Providence pulpster’s own romantic life. When he wrote:

We would sit on the couch smootching and my sate would say something romantic like, “My dear, you have no idea how much I appreciate you.” Then his hand would begin to drift from my shoulders southward to hover above my breast. (ibid, 32)

The line was lifted wholesale from the memoir of Lovecraft’s former wife, Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985). Price makes a few more little quips like this (“The crinoid thing (or was it an echinodern? His school biology had scarcely prepared my for this!“, ibid 34) as the story progresses toward an ending reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” albeit with one last, final and perhaps thematically appropriate twist as Sally gives as a glimpse what might be Yog-Sothoth…

The original story has never been reprinted since Lurid Confessions, except in the French translation, but Robert M. Price allowed it to be republished by the Lovecraft eZine in 2013. So if you wish, prepare yourself and read “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom.”


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

 

“Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” (2015) by Inkeri Kontro

The organism appears unrelated to previously discovered species, therefore we named it Halofractal cthulhu.
—Inkeri Kontro, “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” in She Walks In Shadows (2015) 205

In 1994, a species of spider was dubbed Pimoa cthulhu; in 2005 a moth was given the scientific name Speiredonia cthulhuiA pair of microorganisms in wood termites were named Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque in 2013, and just recently in 2019, an extinct echinoderm was declared Sollasina cthulhu.

Scientists are horror fans too.

While the impetus of Inkeri Kontro’s “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” is a tongue-in-cheek rip from the headlines, the story as it develops is much more serious. Hardcore science fiction, all the Lovecraftian jokes slowly disappearing against a much more monstrously plausible reality.

Fans used to pastiche and supernatural explanations might be a little put-off by the lack of Necronomicons and old familiar names, but that is the essential appeal of the story: this isn’t about “What if Cthulhu was real?” in the traditional sense of “What if Lovecraft’s fiction were real history?” 

Instead, we are left to contemplate simpler facts and their implications. Halofractal cthulhu is a microorganism, not a mountain that walked or stumbled. Yet the conclusions are mountainous, and monstrous….even as the outcome is tragic. It is a rare story that attempts something like that, much less succeeds. Yet “Cthulhu of the Dead Sea” certainly achieves everything it aims for.

Inkeri Contro is a postdoctoral researcher in material physics at the University of Helsinki. Every character and detail of the story reflects true; even the muttered perkele when the Finnish Anna, visiting with her Danish colleagues in Copenhagen, feels honest. These are the people you meet at these conferences, this is how these honest Scandinavian nerds would feel and react to such a person, to such a discovery.

In another writer’s hands, more attention might be placed on Anna. We don’t get her full background, even her full name. Hints of a personality—parents watching her cat back home, trouble sleeping in this foreign country where everyone speaks Danish and has to remember to speak English when she appears—but the lack of detail works here. Ambiguity remains, long into the story, especially with Anna’s dreams. The initiated reader is left always wondering when the turn is going to come, when is Cthulhu, the big C, going to step on the page…

They won’t be disappointed when cthulhu finally makes its big splash instead.

“Cthulhu and the Dead Sea” was first published in She Walks In Shadows (2015) and its American paperback release Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016). It has not been reprinted.


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

 

“The Madonna of the Abbatoir” (2014) by Anne M. Pillsworth

 New England has long been my spiritual home, and the region informs much of my fiction. One day I hope to find Lovecraft’s portals to his mythical towns of witch-haunted Arkham and Kingsport, shadowed Innsmouth and accursed Dunwich. Until then, I’ll just have to write about them.
—Anne M. Pillsworth, “About Me”

Most readers come to later Mythos fiction as initiated adepts rather than neophytes. They have learned the names of peoples, places, tomes, and entities; know what shadow came over Innsmouth and out of time, the twisting branches of the Pickman and Whateley family trees, and are more willing than most cultists to yell “Iä!” Writers fall into the same category, and to an extant face a more serious problem: how to approach the Mythos when the mystery is already gone?

Some writers turn to pastiche, and some embrace it. The latter is essentially what Anne M. Pillsworth does in “The Madonna of the Abattoir” (2014): her protagonists are undead and undying Mythos sorcerers and make no bones to hide that fact from the reader. Although there are Ornes and Pickmans and a Miskatonic University, they are not those exactly mentioned in Lovecraft’s Mythos; her setting is a couple generations earlier, in the late 1850s or 1860s. The Mythos is Pillsworth’s setting and workspace, but she makes no effort to try and capture the same moods as Lovecraft & co.—instead, she leads the knowing reader on. Because for all their knowledge and foreboding, they can’t be sure what is next…

But they can suspect. That’s half the fun.

Like a horror movie told through the eyes of the killer, the readers are in on the secret from the beginning, but there is still a plot to unfold, characters to expand on. Like the gaslamp fantasy of Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk or “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer, the period brings with it certain considerations for the treatment of female characters and sexuality; when Pickman wants Patience Orne to model for him, he does not approach her directly but a male relative as representative—and they go through the charade of propriety and appearances, acting out the pretense of women-as-property or women-as-delicate-flowers, etc. etc.

All the more pointless than in most Victoriana, because of who & what Patience Orne is.

Two easels in the center of the room held studies for Pickman’s Madonnas. Studies! The preliminary oils had finer detail than many finished paintings. Still more detailed were the pencil sketches tacked to the easels, which ranged in subject from the scrollwork on a marble mantelpiece to a heap of refuse in which each fishbone and tattered shoe, each apple core and moldy crust, was distinct. Only the Madonnas’ faces were left vague, their features barely suggested.
—Anne M. Pillsworth, “The Madonna of the Abattoir”

From a certain perspective, the Mythos abounds in Madonnas: women who approach some nonhuman ideal, perfect and almost unapproachable, often vaguely seen yet often felt. The unnamed Ape Princess in “Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”, the Deep One who married Obed Marsh in “The Shadow over Innsmouth”; Lavinia Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror”, Eliza Tillinghast Curwen in “Facts in the Case of Charles Dexter Ward”… and the female body has often been the subject of art, either to portray an idealized reality or to reveal a hidden truth. Pillsworth tackles these ideas directly, and it is the mood of the characters and situation which hold and sustain interest, rather than any further revelations of Mythos lore that may be coming.

Like many Mythos stories, there is a cyclic tone to “The Madonna of the Abattoir”—not a sequel to “Pickman’s Model” in the sense of “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, but a distant and ancestral prequel which explores and reiterates, in the end, something of the same eternal idea in one of many variations:

She still wore the Madonna’s shroud, ensanguined as in the painting. Of course it was, for how else but from life could Pickman have captured the precise way blood would bloom through the linen weave? (ibid.)

There is an argument to be made that repetition dilutes the original idea, but the difference in style and tone between Pillsworth, Kiernan, and Lovecraft is such that while recognizable as distinct episodes with connective elements—as a Mythos of their own—each has something different to say, and the side-by-side comparison speaks more as a commentary on medium than anything else. Be it paint on canvas, or photography, or crude film reels: how best to capture that terrible reality, how else to capture it except from life?

“The Madonna of the Abbatoir” was published on Tor.com in 2014; it has been republished as a separate chapbook. Anne M. Pillsworth’s other Mythos fiction includes “The Patience Rose” (2009) and her young adult Redemption’s Heir series Summoned (2014) and Fathomless (2015). Along with Ruthanna Emrys, she writes the Lovecraft Reread series for Tor.com.


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

 

“The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff & “In The Yaddith Time” (2007) by Ann K. Schwader

He had seen Yaddith, yet retained his mind,
And come back safely from the Ghooric zone,
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Alienation,” Fungi from Yuggoth XXXII

This is the first appearance of the terms “Yaddith” and “the Ghooric zone” in Lovecraft’s work; though references to the former alien world would appear in his collaboration with E. Hoffmann Price “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” and a few other places. Neither exactly captured the popular imagination in the same way as R’lyeh or Yuggoth, Carcosa or Innsmouth. Yet this one sonnet served as inspiration for several notable works.

“Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” (1977) by Richard Lupoff owes more to New Wave science fiction than Lovecraftian horror or sensibilities; it is the Mythos as space opera, as an epic of an unseen future, an exploration of the solar system as pure as any Golden Age sci fi epic, a looking-forward to cyberpunk, but it is also a literal and literary homage to H. P. Lovecraft—the man, the myth, the legend.

It opens up with what the first interracial LGBTQ+ threesome in Mythos fiction.

They were having sex when the warning gong sounded, Gomati and Njord and Shoten.  […]

Njord Freyr, born in the Laddino Imperium of Earth, had retained his masculinity even as he had undergone the customary implantations, excisions and modifications of pubescent cyborging. […]

Sri Gomati, of Khmeric Gondwanaland, had similarly retained her female primary characteristics in function and conformation even though she had opted for the substitution of metallic labia and clitoris, which replacement Njord Freyr found at times irritating.

But Shoten, Shoten Binayakya, fitted with multiply-configurable genitalia, remained enigmatic, ambiguous as to his or her own origin […]
—Richard Lupoff, “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone”

Readers today might smile at Njord’s private crisis of masculinity, reminiscent of the same issues apparent in “Gilgamesh in the Outback” (1986) by Robert Silverberg, but the delineation of gender roles echoes in a very real way the alienation of Lovecraft’s poem. Njord clings to his masculine identity while at the same time feeling inadequate compared to the cybernetically enhanced Shoten:

Njord, the male crew member, cursed, distracted by the radar gong, angered by Gomati’s inattention, humiliated by her amusement and by her drawing away from himself and Shoten. Njord felt his organ grow flaccid at the distraction, and for the moment he regretted the decision he had made prior to the cyborging operations of his adolescence, to retain his organic phallus and gonads. A cyborged capability might have proven more potently enduring in the circumstances but Njord’s pubescent pride had denied the possibility of his ever facing inconvenient detumescence. (ibid.)

The attention on biological gender, gender transition surgery, and polyamory in general may seem unnecessary in a Mythos story, but in the case of “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” the trio are representatives of their respective future states as well as plot points along a gender spectrum; their interactions echo the places and peoples that they represent, all of future humanity striving together for this voyage of exploration. And, at the same time, the difference between 1977 and 2337 was never so vast as in the openness in sexuality…to which Lupoff wrote:

Cut to logo representing sex.

The major sexual attitude of the time was androgyny, rivaled but not equaled by the cult of pan-sexuality. Androgyny implies recognition of the full sexual potential of each individual. Former distinctions were abandoned. It was no longer regarded as improper to pursue a relationship of male to male or female to female; nor was it required to have two partners in a relationship. Practices ranging from onanism to mass interplay became acceptable.

The pan-sexualists held that androgyny was needlessly limiting in scope. If one could relate to any man or woman—why not to a giraffe? A condor? A cabbage? A bowl of sand? A machine?

The ocean?

The sky?

To the cosmos?

To God? (ibid.)

The format of the “cutscene” is cinematic; Lupoff draws out the action with excerpts on the history of the last four hundred years, anecdotes, personalities, commentaries on culture reminiscent of Dune (1965). It looks forwards and backwards at the same time; the Apollo 11 mission that landed humans on the moon occurred only seven years prior, in 1969, and yet:

Why has it taken until 2337 to reach — Yuggoth? When space flight began almost as long ago as the era Sri Gomati babbles about. The first extraterrestrial landings took place in 1969. Mars thirty years later. Remember the stirring political slogan that we all learned as children, as children studying the history of our era? Persons will set foot on another planet before the century ends! That was the twentieth century, remember?”

“Every schoolchild knows,” Shoten affirmed wearily.

Gomati, recovered from the shock of Njord’s blow, spoke; “We could have been here two hundred years ago, Njord Freyr. But fools on Earth lost heart. They began, and lost heart. They began again—and lost heart again. And again. Four times they set out, exploring the planets. Each time they lost heart, lost courage, lost interest. Were distracted by wars. Turned resources to nobler purposes. (ibid.)

There are more explicit Mythos references; and more explicit references to Lovecraft too. The story is set on the four hundredth anniversary of the death of H. P. Lovecraft, and if the future history is fantastical and impossible, it is also fascinating, an extended meditation that seeks to bridge past and future, weird fiction and New Wave, in a way no other author at the time did—and would be the spiritual precursor to works of Lovecraftian space opera such as Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monett’s trilogy “Boojum” (2008)“Mongoose” (2009), and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” (2012).

Yet those three do not come back safely from the Ghooric zone.

Three decades later, Ann K. Schwader published In the Yaddith Time (2007), a sonnet-cycle deliberately patterned after and echoing Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth.” It begins with a quotation from “Alienation,” and continues on a similar theme to Lupoff’s—humanity’s faltering voyage into the unknown solar system, and into familiar territory:

[…] Our captain pointed
us toward the chaos framed beyond that stone
“Through there,” he cried, “awaits the Ghooric zone!”
—Ann K. Schwader, “Sacrifice Eyes,” In the Yaddith Time 14

The literary DNA has echoes of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Alien (1979), Event Horizon (1997), and Ghosts of Mars (2001), the strange extraterrestrial relics left in space for humans to find, the madness overtaking captain and crew. Yet Schwader’s vision is an exploration of Lovecraft’s Mythos, told through her own imagery and captured in her own verse, and again there is that weird echo of Lupoff’s novella:

Writ strange, Earth’s chronicle was what we saw.

Past bled into the present, then ran on

down corridors torn deep in living stone,

revealing future horrors still unspawned

which showed mankind had never been alone.
—Ann K. Schwader, “The Walls of Prophecy,” In the Yaddith Time 26

The specific image here recalls Robert Bloch’s “Fane of the Black Pharaoh” (1937), but it echoes the secret history which underlies Lovecraft’s fiction, and Lupoff’s secret future unveiled piecemeal to his readers: humanity has never been alone, and never will be…

Schwader goes farther than Lupoff, at least in terms of distance; her astronauts go beyond Yuggoth, to the library of Celano, to Carcosa and the Lake of Hali, and finally to Yaddith. In conceptual terms, she travels less far: the bones of the story are old as sailing ships, captains gone mad, visiting places that test the imagination, loyalties tested beyond endurance by death and travails. No playing with gender, and indeed few references to how Earth had changed in whatever span of time separates the “now” of our contemporary period with the “then” of her sonnet-cycle. It is timeless in its futurity, and for her the focus is on the moment, the alien worlds to be explored, not the Earth left behind…except once, and that in a dream.

[…] Sudden night

spread shadowwings in one vast inky smear,

erasing daylight as a shriek of fear

arose from every throat: the stars turn right!
—Ann K. Schwader, “A Dream of Home,” In the Yaddith Time 28

Both “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” and In the Yaddith Time remains true to the Mythos as Lovecraft conceived it, the weird forces beyond human ken; what they are faced with when they travel out beyond the safe borders of the known into the outer dark. Yet both also go beyond Lovecraft: these are stories of exploration, in a sense which Lovecraft could only vaguely imagine. Space travel was never a reality for him, but Lupoff and Schwader lived through that—and could extrapolate that much further.

Richard Lupoff’s “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” was first published in Chrysalis (1977), and republished in Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1990, Arkham House; 1998, Del Rey) and his collection Claremont Tales (2001, Golden Gryphon Press).

Ann K. Shwader’s In the Yaddith Time was published in 2007 by Mythos books. It has been reprinted in her collection Twisted in Dream: The Collected Weird Poetry of Ann K. Schwader (2011, Hippocampus Press).


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

“Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

You know, it takes profound art and profound insight into Nature to turn out stuff like Pickman’s. Any magazine-cover hack can splash paint around wildly and call it a nightmare or a Witches’ Sabbath or a portrait of the devil, but only a great painter can make such a thing really scare or ring true. That’s because only a real artist knows the actual anatomy of the terrible or the physiology of fear—the exact sort of lines and proportions that connect up with latent instincts or hereditary memories of fright, and the proper colour contrasts and lighting effects to stir the dormant sense of strangeness. I don’t have to tell you why a Fuseli really brings a shiver while a cheap ghost-story frontispiece merely makes us laugh. There’s something those fellows catch—beyond life—that they’re able to make us catch for a second. Doré had it. Sime has it. Angarola of Chicago has it. And Pickman had it as no man ever had it before or—I hope to heaven—ever will again.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model” (1927)

“Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” is a sequel in every sense of the word. Not only does Kiernan unfold the next chapter in the narrative, peeling away more onion-layers to reveal deeper mysteries, but it is a continuation of the themes of the original story in a new direction. Without so many words, Kiernan asks and answers the unobvious question: What’s better than a photograph from life?

The story could have been labeled “Eliot’s Tale”—Eliot being the person to whom Thurber, the protagonist in Lovecraft’s story, had been addressing his narrative to. Now three years later, Thurber was dead and it was Eliot picking up the pieces of the man’s life, sorting through the letters and drawings, uncovering something that Thurber, in Lovecraft’s story, failed to mention: Pickman’s nudes.

It isn’t some lingering prudery that kept nudity out of Lovecraft’s story, nor is it any particular prurience of Kiernan’s that places it at the center of hers. Lovecraft’s focus was on one of Pickman’s models, the necrophagous critters that haunt Boston’s old tunnels; Kiernan’s focus is on his other model—a young woman whom any artist might sketch in the nude to hone their skills at anatomy, and who catches Eliot’s attention.

The development of the investigation is leisurely, with specific details that are highly suggestive but never so explicit as to reveal the central mystery. Hints along the way, artfully arranged, touching on some of Kiernan’s favorite themes…echoes of “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Hound,” old family shames and lesbian desires—and a particular anatomical feature—that echo Kiernan’s own stories like “Houndwife” (2010), “pas-en-arrière” (2007), and Daughter of Hounds (2007). Always keeping that toehold in reality, the story coded with all the care of a good hoax, as when Kiernan discusses what might well have been the inspiration for the story:

It might have only been a test reel, or perhaps 17,000 or so frames, some twelve minutes, give or take, excised from a far longer film. All in all, it was little but than a blatantly pornographic pastiche of the widely circulated 1918 publicity stills of Theda Bara lying in various risqué poses with a human skeleton (for J. Edward Gordon’s Salomé).
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, “Pickman’s Other Model” in Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart 276

thedaskeleton

I overheard, when the lights came back up, that the can contianing the reel bore two titles, The Necrophile and The Hound’s Daughter, and also bore two dates – 1923 and 1924. (ibid)

As much as Lovecraft and others liked to portray the artist as portraying some supernal truth, Kiernan knows that reality tends to be much baser. So much is the case when Eliot finally meets Pickman’s other model in the penultimate chapter: a tired young woman who has seen a little too much of the world, with bad habits and a filthy mouth. Living in the present but still haunted by the past.

A past which catches up to her in the final chapter, hinting as Lovecraft did of more in heaven and earth than was dreamt of, darker and uglier realities at play which even the best of art could only hint at as a shadow in the final flickering frames on a black-and-white reel.

The success of “Pickman’s Other Model (1930)” is less in revelation than in suggestion and presentation. This is a story not so much for readers who want another piece of the Mythos puzzle as much as those who enjoy the process of discovery…and how some stories and images stay with you, for a long while. That is the other question, and perhaps as close to a theme of Kiernan’s narrative and her utmost reflection on Lovecraft’s: How do you unsee such things? You can’t.

“Pickman’s Other Model (1930)” was first published in Kiernan’s Sirenia Digest (March 2008), it has been reprinted Black Wings: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (2010), New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird (2011), Confessions of a Five-Chambered Heart (2012), Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea: The Best of Caitlín R. Kiernan Volume Two (2015), and Houses Under The Sea (2018).


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

 

 

“Pickman’s Centerfold, Or: The Dunwich Ho” (2003) by Nancy Holder

Next thing I saw on the computer screen was a close-up of a drawing in a book of what looked to me like a big, enormous cock with tentacles and a beaked glans. I thought, Oh, Jesus, he’s the one for sure been cutting up the hookers. He’s got some kind of psychosexual thing going.

Gil slurred, “This’s Cthulhu.” Then he started crying.

—Nancy Holder, “Pickman’s Centerfold” in Hot Blood XI Fatal Attractions 245

Richard Upton Pickman holds a particular fascination with some writers in the Mythos. Artists have often struggled with censorship, obscenity, and unveiling true forms to the naked eye. It’s a very small conceptual leap to add an erotic element to Pickman’s work, like “Pickman’s Necrotica” in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Neonomicon (2010), the films in “Pickman’s Other Model (1929)” (2008) by Caitlín R. Kiernan…and the camshow websites designed by Pickman in “Pickman’s Centerfold, or: The Dunwich Ho.”

There is a certain reverent irreverence to Nancy Holder’s prose, right from the title to the very last line. It’s a free-wheeling, open approach to the Mythos fiction which borrows liberally from previous works, but isn’t beholden to any of them. So while Cthulhu and the Necronomicon and all make an appearance, it is in service to this story and its plotline, not to some larger fabric of Mythos fiction. “Pickman’s Centerfold” is not a sequel or prequel or really in any way connected with the narrative of “Pickman’s Model.”

This method of radical re-interpretation of the Mythos is very similar to that of “Showdown at Red Hook” (2011) by Lois H. Gresh or “Love’s Eldritch Ichor” (1990) by Esther M. Friesner and the result is…fun. Readers who have chewed through all of Lovecraft’s work and a hundred pastiches will find a story that can’t be fit into any timeline of the Mythos, and that’s okay. Holder has taken inspiration and elements from Lovecraft’s stories but has gone off to do her own thing.

The story itself is a bit light for the subject; despite appearing in (and probably written exclusively for) the erotic horror Hot Blood series, titillation and gore are not really the point, and Holder never crosses the line into either splatterpunk or erotica. Pornography and prostitution, with all its tawdry bits, are the waters in which FBI Special Agent Eliot Blake and his erstwhile comrade Gilman Innsmouth swim, like a particularly screwy episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit crossed with the film 8MM.

Hookers are people too, and we have a lot of those people in Boston, don’t let nobody lie to you that w have “clean up” our cit. It gets cold here. (ibid, 238)

That approach, of an FBI Special Agent hunting a serial killer running afoul of the Mythos is at once familiar to many readers but quirky enough to keep them reading.  Alan Moore did much the same thing in “The Courtyard” (1994) and its sequel. This approach helps in that it brings an “outsider” ignorant of the Mythos to come investigating, letting the readers re-live their own initiation into the weird mysteries. Holder draws on some established tropes in the process, some of more relevant than others. At one point, for example, Agent Gil pulls out a pile of books:

So wham! the books got put on the table front and center, and the first one had a picture of a really buffed-out Hannibal Lecter on the front and the title was Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. I picked the next one up and title was At the Mountains of Madness, with a corpse in a hooded robe on the cover.

I waited for Gil to explain. (ibid, 242)

Gil couldn’t explain, and maybe Holder couldn’t either. Having works of Mythos fiction actually be present in the stories themselves is an old trick, going back to August Derleth placing Arkham House titles and copies of Weird Tales in the Mythos stories he wrote after the death of H. P. Lovecraft—Moore did the same thing in Neonomicon, Robert Bloch did it in his novel Strange Eons (1978). But whereas Bloch & Derleth were trying to establish the “truth” of Lovecraft’s Mythos in their narrative, and Moore was pursuing a grand metafictional narrative, Holder’s use here feels like a misstep. There are narrative ramifications which go unexplored: if Lovecraft lived, wrote, and died, then how has the FBI not run across the name “Richard Upton Pickman” before? The title-drops feel like an unwanted tie-in to a story that is deliberately trying to pursue its own separate narrative.

That possible misstep aside, the real focus on the latter part of the story is on the revelations: what Pickman is actually up to, what agents Blake and Innsmouth actually uncover. Despite the title, there is no centerfold—this is the digital era—and no “Dunwich Ho.” A grave disappointment for some readers, certainly, but also exemplary of one of the unconscious problems of this story: the women.

Pickman’s websites are implicitly heterosexual, places for camgirls to post their content and draw in clients; later in the story there is the suggestion he runs sites for men as well, but again exclusively for a heterosexual (if not always human) audience. The women themselves are only present in the story as nameless victims.

She was a truly awesome sight, with silicone tits of rounded perfection, big red nipples pointed directly toward the North Star. Her pussy had been shaved, and she looked fantastic. I figured, professional girl. Then I realized: one of Prickman’s girls. (ibid, 246)

There are a lot of possible invisible constraints here: maybe editorial policy at Hot Blood emphasizes heterosexual relations, maybe it would kill the pacing if Eliot Blake focused in on the identities of the female victims, maybe it’s just in keeping with Blake’s personality to treat all adult entertainers as prostitutes, characterized by their physical attributes rather than their names or personalities, and Holder was honestly reflecting that. Whatever the case, the women end up as ciphers, present only to be sex objects and then die gruesomely.

The human women aren’t the only ones that go nameless, but at least when Cthulhu’s wife/mate appears there’s a deliberate shift in tone: when the focus goes from “he” (Cthulhu) to “she,” it becomes retrospectively obvious that “she” has been the major driver for the story, not Pickman or Cthulhu. Holder doesn’t go into the details of “her”—doesn’t even her use common appellation—but it’s a rare story that puts Cthulhu and his mate on sexual parity, so to speak, and the revelation of what has really been going on works well.

“Pickman’s Centerfold, Or: The Dunwich Ho” was published in Hot Blood XI Fatal Attractions (2003); it has not been reprinted. Nancy Holder’s other Mythos work includes “In Arkham Town, Where I Was Bound” (2014), “Baubles” (2015), and “Nyarlathotep Came Down To Georgia” (2018), and she has taught Lovecraft at the University of California at San Diego and the Stonecoast Creative Writing Program at the University of Southern Maine.


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

Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk

Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

Some of the trustees were still unhappy, but Christine’s stunning find of the tomb of the Black Pharoah Nephren-ka had commanded headlines across the globe.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 14

1897. Somewhere between Boston and Providence lies the small city of Widdershins, a quiet place where a man can start over…at least until the Liber Arcanorum drops into the lap of a closeted translator of dead languages and the bodies start piling up. Nothing like an unexpected mystery to bring two people together.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins (2013) is an historical paranormal romance with two little twists: the world is set in the same country as Lovecraft’s Mythos (Dr. Whyborne even went to college at Arkham), and the protagonists are two homosexual men. It may, in fact, be the first homosexual Mythos romance novel—somewhat of a weird distinction to make, but previous Mythos romance novels like Margaret L. Carter’s The Windwalker’s Mate (2008) and Robin Wolfe’s Arkham Dreams (2011) were focused on heterosexual relationships, and homosexual characters and relationships remain rather rare in the Mythos by comparison. The closest comparable work in the field is probably “Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman.

The depictions of the men and the challenges they face are sympathetic; the construction of the setting is very competent. Hawk does their research:

A: But the research into the period!! How much did you actually do to capture the period as well as the paranormal element?

JLH: As much as I can! I have a replica Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 so I could figure out what sorts of goods and furnishings an average person in the period would have in their home. And I managed to find plans for middle class homes and hotels of the era online, which was a major boon.

My biggest problems research-wise actually came from the American setting. Casually glancing over the history section, you’d think America in the 1800s was nothing but the Civil War, followed up by the western expansion. At times it wasn’t easy to find out about the day to day life of people living in the northeast, especially if I needed something really specific. Most of the “daily life” books of the period center on Victorian England rather than Gilded Age America, and although there is some overlap, there are a lot of differences beyond drinking coffee versus tea.
Author Interview: Jordan L. Hawk

The Mythos elements are also rather refreshingly grounded: Arkham and the Necronomicon and all exist, but to the majority of the world (and the two protagonists), they are but part of the setting. The protagonists only discover gradually that there are secret cults about and some brands of paranormal science actually work, if you know how to pronounce the Aklo. Once that is established, given an expert in dead languages and a genuine grimoire, progress is fairly rapid.

The tone established falls somewhere between Cthulhu by Gaslight and Lois H. Gresh’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions (2017); magic exists, there’s a mystery afoot, and by chapter 7 the two principals have met and teamed up to solve it. As they continue through the adventure, the two grow closer; the common goal, trials, and tribulations provide the crisis for both men to open up, commiserate, empathize, and grow fond of one another.

“Damn it, Griffin, fuck me,” I growled.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 152

There is a sex scene. Not a weird one; no naughty tentacles or atypical anatomies. It is no more or less than the same kind of scene that would appear, without comment, in any number of other novels; only the genders of the particulars are different. That in itself is almost exemplary of the attitude of the novel as a whole: the book is not a homosexual pornographic novel. There is more hanging between Whyborne & Griffin that Victorian reticence, personal and social boundaries that have to be overcome and guards let down; readers who just want to see the two get together have to wait for it.

Then there’s the small matter of saving the world.

While not written in a pulp style, there’s a pulpish appeal to Widdershins. The stakes rise like something in an Indiana Jones film, the protagonists have to take into account all the possibilities that magic and the Mythos bring to their setting, and there’s an action scene at least every couple of chapters to keep the pace up. The characters, even beyond the two protagonists, have their own motivations and hangups. The best supporting character is Dr. Christine Putnam, an archaeologist that has fought an uphill battle her entire professional life because of her gender—and succeeded. Her desire to retain her hard-won reputation almost gets her killed, but that’s all the more endearing.

Searchers after horror will have to haunt stranger places than Widdershins to find what they’re looking for, but it is a well-written novel in its own mode of historical paranormal romance. It never descends into any attempt to ape Lovecraft’s style like a bad pastiche, nor does it hold slavishly to the tropes of a roleplaying game. Hawk refers to Lovecraft’s setting, but she makes few direct references to any particular story so the story is fairly accessible to the lay reader—which is also rather rare for a Mythos novel.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins is the first in the Whyborne & Griffin series, which as of 2018 includes a total of 13 novels and novellas.


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

 

“Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel

Katherine Morel is a painter, an aspiring mad scientist, and an honorary saint of Thud, bestower of the sacred word, obsquatulate. She is currently bruised and swollen due to extra grey matter being inserted into the space between her brain and skull and hopes to sleep it off in time to be in attenance at the marriage that changed over the millennium.
Cthulhu Sex Magazine, Vol. I, Issue 13

Cthulhu Sex magazine was the brainchild of Michael Morel, and graduated over the course of its run from a small black-and-white chapbook illustrated with crude, pixelated images of sperm to a slick, full-sized semi-prozine with color covers, photographs, and digital artwork. A collection of material from the magazine was issued in 2005 as Horror Between the SheetsIn the first issue and that final collection is printed (with slight changes) “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” by Katherine Morel.

The poem is an almost perfect encapsulation of the magazine as a whole. While Cthulhu is in the title, it never appears in the body text. The tone is light, the verses violent, darkly humorous, and sexually explicit.

Twas through their connection she passed her infection
—Katherine Morel, “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—”, Horror Between the Sheets 36

Poetry has a long history among creators and admirers of the Mythos; H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Frank Belknap Long were all notable poets, and some of their poetry was directly related to the Mythos. So too, some of the first fan-additions to the Mythos were poems, such as “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman.

In the 1990s, poetry would continue to play its part in fandom, being featured in prominent ‘zines & journals such as the Arkham Sampler and Crypt of Cthulhu—but there were editorial limits to what those ‘zines would publish. Hardcore horror, the splatterpunk style of violent and gory horror fiction that took its cues from slasher and exploitation films (and, reaching back into the dim mists of time, the weird terror pulps), had few outlets.

To see her reflection,
Caused him an erection,
Yet something seemed the slightest bit weird. (ibid.)

Cthulhu Sex became an outlet and medium for fiction and art that couldn’t be posted elsewhere. Not much of it dealt explicitly with Cthulhu, Lovecraft, or the Mythos; it didn’t have to. The title was a statement and a challenge, just as it is in Katherine Morel’s poem. The title gives context to the text.

In 1998, people could still remember when HIV was a death sentence and not one to be long-deferred. Japanese tentacle erotica had hit the shores of the United States with  Maeda Toshio’s Urotsukidōji and La Blue Girl, and were already the subject of jokes about “naughty tentacles” on the nascent internet. There was a zeitgeist there, mostly untapped as yet… until Katherine Morel’s “Cthulhu Sex.”

she scratched her complexion,
so that bloody tentacles appeared. (ibid.)

The tagline for Cthulhu Sex was “Blood, Sex & Tentacles.” Katherine Morel’s poem was an anthem for the magazine, an invocation for what was to be from 1998 to 2007. She captured, however briefly, the mood and attitude, right at the outset.


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

“Meet Me on the Other Side” (2002) by Yvonne Navarro

Bethmoora,” Paul said. “And no, it’s not Israeli. Actually, the roots aren’t traceable to any specific language or dialect. But it’s still…foreign.”
– Yvonne Navarro, “Meet Me on the Other Side” in The Children of Cthulhu 141

Four million people asleep, dreaming perhaps. What worlds have they gone into? Whom have they met? But my thoughts are far off with Bethmoora in her loneliness, whose gates swing to and fro. To and fro they swing, and creak and creak in the wind, but no one hears them.
– Lord Dunsany, “Bethmoora” in A Dreamer’s Tales (1910)

A few years after the birth of the 21st century, Anglo-Irish aristocrat Lord Dunsany was inspired to create his own artificial mythology⁠—not a substitute national mythos a la J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but something new and largely unprecedented. He combined the love of the commonplace with the desire for the exotic, and wrapped it together in language reminiscent of the King James Bible and ancient Grecian odes. Stories like “Idle Days on the Yann” directly inspired the dream-quests of Lovecraft’s Randolph Carter…and many others besides.

For Yvonne Navarro, the questers are Paul and Macy.

“Meet Me on the Other Side” is smarter than just an update of Dunsany’s old formula where seekers tired of mundane life look for the key of dreams, the path that leads Beyond the Fields We Know, escape from the here and the now. Like many a goof Mythos story, it mixes fact with fiction; Paul first finds reference to Bethmoora in that ancient and terrible tome the Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (1994) by Dan Harms. The questers too are not run down by everyday life—they’re thrill-seekers, adventurers, explorers in their own right.

Bethmoora was out there, all right. Just waiting to be rediscovered.
Revitalized.
And they were just the people to do it.
– Yvonne Navarro, “Meet Me on the Other Side” in The Children of Cthulhu 144

The discoveries and revelations when they come are almost perfunctory; old tropes dusted off and brought out because that’s the cycle of a Mythos story: Macy is the latest Lavinia, destined for a bit of cosmic miscegenation and birthing of eldritch abominations. Yet the response is different, and what makes the story.

Paul and Macy like a challenge.

Navarro is an old pro at genre fiction; she could easily have spun this story off into an entire novel. Urban explorers in the not-quite-abandoned city in the Dreamlands, flashbacks to old adventures, the slow peeling-of-the-onion, one layer of revelation coming at a time as things build inevitably to a climax—instead, she rips the bandaid off in a couple paragraphs of exposition. The backstory is something Mythos fans have read again and again for decades. “Meet Me on the Other Side” seeks to give the readers something new, and it delivers.

The benefit of having tropes and formula is that they’re building blocks, stepping stones and shortcuts that writers can use to go beyond—and one of the great failures of many Mythos writers is that they try to only ape Lovecraft or Dunsany, to regurgitate old ideas rather than to subvert expectations or push forward with fresh takes.

Navarro does make the leap. How many other writers have had their protagonists look on conceiving and birthing tentacled horrors and the inevitable end of the world as a challenge? It is absolutely a subversion of the typical Lovecraftian attitude that humans are so small in the grand scheme of things that there is little they can do…and not an unwelcome one. The Dreamlands stories do not all embrace or express Lovecraft’s cosmicism, nor need every echo of his work embrace nihilistic horror.

“Meet Me on the Other Side” was published in The Children of Cthulhu (2002), and has not been reprinted. Navarro’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes the novelization of the film Hellboy (2004) and “Feeding the Masses” (1992) and “WWRD” (2018).


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