“Massacre à Miskatonic High School” (2008) by Jean-Jacques Dzialowski & Dimitri Fogolin

Depuis la nuit des temps,
Des dieux noirs corrompent notre monde.
Ce sont les Grands Anciens.

La folie est leur visage.
L’horreur est leur royaume.
Leur éveil approache…
Since the dawn of time,
The dark gods corrupt our world.
These are the Old Ones.

Madness is their face.
Horror is their kingdom.
Their awakening approaches…
Back cover, Les Mondes de Lovecraft

MondesLes Mondes de Lovecraft (“The Worlds of Lovecraft,” 2008, Soleil) is a standalone French-language comic anthology of stories set in the world of H. P. Lovecraft, including an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dagon.” Two of the stories in the book are the work of Jean-Jacques Dzialowski (writer) & Dimitri Fogolin (artist): “Le Signe sans Nom” (“The Nameless Sign”) and “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” (“Miskatonic High School Massacre”). The two works are complementary, in that they tell different sides of the same story from different perspectives. “Le Signe sans Nom” is given after-the-fact, during the deposition of a Sergeant McDermot, who responded to the events at Miskatonic High. “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” on the other hand gives the perspective of the school shooters. 

 

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The 1999 Columbine High School Massacre casts a long shadow over culture and pop culture alike. The media blitz helped to inspire numerous copycats; partisan politicians and pundits in the United States tend to quickly politicize shootings to minimize arguments over gun ownership as happened in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings. Comic books have rarely touched on such controversial and emotionally-charged territory; DC Comics notoriously cancelled the Hellblazer story “Shoot” by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez, and Andy Lanning in 1999 over concerns of backlash.

At the bottom of most coverage of such shootings is one question: Why did they do it? What drove these kids to kill other kids?

Real-world causes are complex: psychological issues, a disturbed home life, access to firearms are all contributing factors. In the worlds of H. P. Lovecraft however…it’s rather simple.

They want the books.

Toute sa vie, grand-père a cherché les livres. Il en avait trouvé certains et il m’a laissé plein de notes…

All his life, grandfather searched for books. He had found some and he left me lots of notes …

In real life, the two Columbine Massacre shooters committed suicide in the library. In this Miskatonic Massacre, Dzialowski and Fogolin have something similar happen, but for very different reasons. Taking a page from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror,” the two shooters want access to the ancient tomes contained (somewhat inexplicably) in the Miskatonic High School library.

“Massacre à Miskatonic High School” is nine pages; “Le Signe sans Nom” is eight. The two works should really be considered as parts of the same story, and being parallel narratives, they have visual and textual echoes and references to one another—the final panels are largely identical. Fogolin, however, approaches each story separately. “Le Signe sans Nom” is darker, with more blacks, greys, and blues, while “Massacre” is brighter, dominated by yellows and greens—appropriate enough given the prominence of Hastur in this chapter of the story. The layouts for both stories also start the same: a regular nine-panel grid, which breaks down in the subsequent pages.

Given the subject matter, there is a certain amount of commendable reticence to show too much. We see bullets, blood, dead bodies, but we don’t actually see anyone get shot on the page, in close up or detail. Readers can be appalled at what is happening without seeing every last bullet hole or shard of bone. At the same time, this gloss of violence and the digital coloring lends a certain muddiness to the compositions; one wonders how it would have been different if Jacen Burrows or Raulo Cáceres might have handled the same material.

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Lovecraft never quite tackled such a mundane horror as a school shooting. Yet the horror in this story is a little different from real life. What if Wilbur Whateley had reached the Necronomicon? Would he have succeeded in clearing off the Earth, or would he have ended up as these two did? The central issue isn’t just the horrors perpetrated, but that the two shooters in this story very nearly succeeded. If someone had been a little more competent…how much more damage could they have wrought?

Perhaps more importantly, what’s to stop the same thing from happening again?

“Le Signe sans Nom” and “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” are both published in Les Mondes de Lovecraft. It has not been translated into English or reprinted, as far as I have been able to ascertain.


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

Insania Tenebris (2020) by Raúlo Cáceres

This dossier collects research on the nineteenth-century engravings of a mysterious Goya student that represent impossible beings and disturbing anachronisms.

Following in the footsteps of the Genius of Providence and inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, the group of writers The Bastards of Abdul Alhazred and the cartoonist Raúlo Cáceres come together to recreate this universe of madness and darkness.
—Back cover copy, Insania Tenebris, translated from the Spanish

Spanish artist Raúlo Cáceres is no stranger to Lovecraft, and though many fans might not recognize him by name, there’s no mistaking his incredibly detailed, explicit style that often takes horror and eroticism for its subject. His comics and graphic novels in this vein include Elizabeth Bathory, Cuentos Mórbidos, Justine y Juliette (after the Marquis de Sade novels), and Agues Calientes, which have been translated into several languages. Less pornographic but still fun are books like Galeria de los Engendros Album de Cromos de los Monstruos, an album of monsters in the vein of 1970s and 80s compilations for kids.

For English-speaking audiences, Cáceres’ most notable work would include his work on Crossed, Crécy, and The Extinction Parade, but he also provided some gorgeous covers for Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence which showcase not just his skill and style, but his deep appreciation for the details of Lovecraft’s Mythos.

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Cáceres was also the artist on the Lovecraftian horror series Code Pru, written by Garth Ennis, and Ennis/Cáceres continued the storyline in the anthology book Cinema Purgatorio, and provided illustrations for the Lovecraftian alien gods of Spanish roleplaying game Eden.

In 2020, Raúlo Cáceres published the first volume of Insania Tenebris: Textos de Los Bastards de Abdul Alhazered (Shadowy Madness: Texts from the Bastards of Abdul Alhazred), a 32-page collaborative project where multiple Spanish writers provided short text pieces to accompany Cáceres’ unique vision of Lovecraft’s Mythos—which takes the form of a series of found documents. Imagine stumbling across a dossier of evidence proving the existence of the Mythos, from ancient times through World War 2 and to the present day—illustrated in glorious and disturbing detail.

It is these collaborators who are the “Bastards of Alhazred”: Gabriel Soriano, Emilio Gómez, J. M. Morcillo, La doctora X, Gómez Navarro, Tito Alberto, and of course, Raúlo Cáceres himself.

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En el lecho de un ataud asiste
sobre absorta dama, su piel mancilla
un lúgubre gul perpetra y resiste.

In the bed of a coffin attends
Above lost lady, her skin stained
A melancholy ghoul persists and remains.
—”Despertar oscuro” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 10

Like many extreme artists, Cáceres is at his best when there are no holds barred—but just because he can show as much graphic detail as he wishes to doesn’t mean every scene has to be fit for a death metal album or a storyboard for a graphic erotic horror film. Look at the names on the niches in the wall: Clark Ashton Smith in the top left, the name “Agatha Tremoth” on the coffin lid. This is an homage and illustration for Smith’s “The Nameless Offspring,” a ghoul story that Lovecraft praised.

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En dicho grabado, y tal como se describe en el texto de Notre-Dame, destaca la figure de un caballero ritualista invocador de seres oscuros que, a través de la utilización de plegarias de sangre, buscará la intersección con seres del más allá, valiéndose para ello de la lectura del libro prohibido De Vermis Misteriis, utilizado como llave conductora a la mediación interdimensional.

In said engraving, and as described in the Notre-Dame text, the figure of a knight ritually invoking dark beings stands out who, through the use of bloody prayers, will seek the intersection with beings from beyond, availing himself by reading from the forbidden book De Vermis Misteriis, used as a conductive key to interdimensional mediation.
—”Las cartas de Notre-Dame” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 6

There are influences here beyond just Lovecraftian fiction and in-jokes. As with Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game had an obvious visual influence in the way Cáceres depicts some of his Mythos entities, notably the Night-Gaunts, Mi-Go, and Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. The nature of the texts are also representative of gaming influence: these are all in-character pieces, found documents, meant to be read and interpreted not as complete stories in and of themselves but as deliberate fragments—like piecing together the clues in a Cthulhu Mythos story, from copied snatches of journals and paintings.

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En esta, encuentra un viejo diario firmado por un tal capitán Pierre Eaudon, escrito en francés, con extraños dibujos de figuras humanas de aspecto reptiloide, cálculos matemáticos, anagramas y las palabras “YIG” y “VALUSIA” repetidas de forma obsesiva a lo largo del texto.

In it, he finds an old diary signed by a certain Captain Pierre Eaudon, written in French, with strange drawings of human figures of reptilian aspect, mathematical calculations, anagrams and the words “YIG” and “VALUSIA” repeated obsessively throughout of the text.
—”Informe de las SS” by J. M. Morcillo, Insania Tenebris 14

There are scenes in this portfolio which might turn a weak stomach or dissuade the prudish; notably a cannibal feast captured in particularly lurid detail, and the final pièce de résistance which captures Cthulhu and his paramour mid-coitus as the acolytes look on…and there are scenes that might make a reader smile, like the nod to death metal church-burning, the Mi-Go and the astronauts…and maybe just the care and detail that went into the written work as well.

For make no mistake, while Cáceres’ art is the main attraction (especially for those who don’t read Spanish), this is a true collaboration and the Bastards deliver appropriately creepy context that adds depth and substance to already fantastic scenes. There is a story here, told in bits and pieces, building up to more than just a portfolio of exquisite artwork. Goya’s student found himself on the trail of something bigger and darker than he could have imagined.

As of this writing, Insania Tenebris (2020) is only on sale in Spain, and has not been translated. A second volume, Insania Tenebris 2, is due to be published in 2021…and if anything, looks more daring and fantastic.

With thanks and appreciation to Iantha Maria Fyolek for her help. Any errors in translation are mine.


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

“La mano de la diosa” (2013) by Fátima Fernández & Paco Zarco

Lovecraftian horror appeals to a blind and sick cosmos where human beings are little more than ants. The abysses of the human soul that the tortured characters of Poe traversed, give way, in Lovecraft, to a struggle of inhuman powers, nightmarish deities that dispute the dominion of the living beings and that have, among us, their brotherhoods, their cults and their devotees.

Since the disappearance of the master, his fictions have gradually increased in popularity until they became, together with The Lord of the Rings, one of the most fascinating literary mythologies of our time. His influence on popular culture is still valid, demonstrating a surprising ability to adapt to the tastes and sensibilities of several generations.

The authors of CTHULHU magazine come together again to pay tribute and emotional tribute to what we can consider the father of modern horror and his pantheon of nightmare creatures and deities. A journey through 15 stories that demonstrate the variety and richness of a privileged imagination.
—Manuel Mota, Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas (2013), back cover copy
Translated from Spanish

Diábolo Ediciones of Madrid has been publishing Cthulhu, a Spanish-language anthology of comics and dark fiction, since 2007. Despite the name, the majority of the stories in any given issue aren’t necessarily explicitly devoted to the Cthulhu Mythos, although most issues have at least some Lovecraftian reference. The focus is on horror and dark fantasy, and the editors are not afraid for the works to be gory or involve nudity, if that’s what the story calls for, but they also contain moments of light-hearted ghoulish fun like the episodes of El Joven Lovecraft by José Oliver and Bart Torress. Special issues have been devoted to William Hope Hodgson and Robert E. Howard.

In 2013, Diábolo Ediciones published Lovecraft en los cómics. Un homenaje en 15 Historietas (Lovecraft in the Comics, An homage in 15 stories). The creators all presented diffrent styles and approaches, from a straight adaptation of “The Transition of Juan Romero” by Juan Aguilera to original works, every mood from ghoulish comedy and satire to visceral body horror, styles ranging from neatly inked black-and-white to digitally colored works. It is probably the first Mythos comic anthology to include former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton among its characters—which is to say, the book showcases not just the depth of talent that the editors of Cthulhu can draw upon, but the vast variety of approaches there are to the subject of the Mythos.

“La mano de la diosa” (“The Hand of the Goddess”) by writer Fátima Fernández & artist Paco Zarco is an original Cthulhu Mythos story, set in contemporary Spain, in a rather classical Cthulhu mode: a journalist after a story  finds themselves on the trail of something more than they expected.

No se trataba de seguir la logica, sino las pistas.
It was not about following the logic, but the clues.

The story is based on a real-life series of curious events. The Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) in Madrid includes a statue of the goddess Cybele—the Magna Mater of Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”—by sculptor Francisco Gutiérrez. In 1994 and 2002, the left hand of the statue was broken off. The events were seemingly unrelated, the statue was repaired…

…pero nunca se recupero la mano robada de la diosa.
…but they never recovered the stolen hand of the goddess.

As setups go, this is a solid premise for a Mythos story. Fernández conveys the minimal amount of information necessary in a few succinct captions, as if the reporter was giving the voice-over on a film, and Zarco captures the mood of the events in an economical and effective manner. The focus of the panels is drawn to the statue of Cybele, to the stump of the hand, to the trenchcoat-wrapped reporter who moves between shadows on cracked pavement. This could almost be a Kolchak story…or, if it had been cast in stark blacks and whites, a noir. Essentially an occult detective tale, with a protagonist that doesn’t yet know it’s an occult detective tale.

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Turn the page, and the dialogue begins. Human players also complicate the simplicity of one person’s narration; readers now have to deal with multiple points of view, conflicting motivations, weigh each word and sentence carefully to look for hidden meaning. Who do you trust now?

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Mi madre era une persona gentil y hermosa en todos los sentidos. Pero ambiciosa.
My mother was a gentle and beautiful woman in every way. But ambitious.

Lovecraft had made a study of the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and many of his Mythos tales follow a similar form of nested narrative. There is the story set in the now (here, the reporter investigating the missing hand of the statue), and there is the story in the past (the story being told to him); the story in the past is the nested narrative, like the manuscript uncovered in “The Mound” or Rose’s diary in “The Man of Stone.” The reader simultaneously is in the present, with the protagonist, but they are also looking over their shoulder and reading what they read. This narrative trick allowed Lovecraft to avoid the simple exposition of the narrator simply telling the reader (through some audience surrogate) what they have discovered, and takes the reader on the journey of discovery along with them. It also allows for a very effective reveal when the two layers of the narrative meet: past foreshadowing future.

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Paco Zarco’s artwork is competent, and he has an eye for panel layouts the emphasizes the repetition of key elements—portraits, eyes, hands—in a way the underlines the relatively sparse script. Considering relatively little is happening, this might seem like padding, but it feels more like pacing. At seven pages, “La mano de la diosa” doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag at all, but the Mythos twist, when it comes, is sudden.

In black and white, it might be much more effective; the digital coloring and shading, especially on the backgrounds, does little service to the linework and tends to emphasize the flatness of the faces rather than give them depth. That is a common issue with digital colorization, trying to achieve effects with the palette instead of the pen tends to catch the eye like a false note catches the ear.

Mi madra siempre me decía que las estatuas disponían de mucho tiempo para pensar y observar…
My mother always told me that the statues had a lot of time to think and observe …

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Zarco knows what he is doing when the actual supernatural element arrives onto the page; the clearly defined boxes of the panels give way to Dutch angles, ragged and uneven panel breaks and gutters. Like Jacen Burrows in Providence, this is visual rhetoric that informs the reader without telling them explicitly that they’ve entered a nightmare; like a horror movie when the killer’s motif begins to play, and the camera shifts from smooth movement to sudden and abrupt close-ups and shifts.

Algo mas fuerte que su ambicion se apoderaba de el.
Something stronger than his ambition took hold of him.

“La mano de la diosa” manages to evoke the Mythos without a single fhtagn, and very few tentacles; a particularly Lovecraftian figure makes an appearance in the final panels in a bit of a well-worn twist, for readers who have read enough Mythos stories to recognize similar endings. At seven pages it is neither too long or too short for the story it has to tell, getting the job done without rushing it or overstaying its welcome, and most of that is told not through the text, but by visual storytelling and unspoken hints. In the context of Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas, it is the most subtle, the most understated of the stories…and one which is set in Spain, and couldn’t really be set anywhere else.

Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas has not yet been translated into English.


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

“O que dorme” (2016) by Bábara Garcia & Elias Aquino

“O que dorme” (“What sleeps”) by writer Bábara Garcia & artist Elias Aquino is the final entry in the comic anthology O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos (“The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics,” 2016) by Brazilian publisher Editora Draco. The book was edited by Raphael Fernandes, who introduces the volume on the inside cover flaps:

The cult work of H. P. Lovecraft is the main inspiration for this collection with eight comics that will transfer the imagination to the darkest side of the human mind, a cosmic horror in white and green.

[…] The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics and the horror that cannot be uttered, get lost in images and stories that shouldn’t have been conceived. Now there’s no turning back for those involved by the tentacles of despair, it’s time to wake up to a decadent reality tinged with just two colors.

All of the comics, including “O que dorme” are done in black, white, and green—and the addition of the bright, almost sickly green against the otherwise stark noir black-and-whites significantly enhances both the effectiveness of the individual stories, and the uniformity of the overall book—readers might compare the glowing green Loc-Nar from the Heavy Metal (1981) film, or the sickly yellow in Frank Miller’s That Yellow Bastard (1996)—it’s not that the Mythos are color-coded, since any entities that appear on the page can be seen in black and white as well, but only that the splash of color is used by the artists to convey subtleties of mood and atmosphere. Like in the title page, where the green is a faint tinge against the night sky.

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The setting is contemporary. The sensibility is postmodern. Captions and word balloons, but no thought bubbles, no sound effects. A rural community in the mountains which produces coffee. A young woman named Greta who can’t sleep, but stays up all night reading Edgar Allan Poe, a Bauhaus poster on her wall…

I always planned to leave as soon as I had money or a place to stay. Time passed and neither happened.

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Here, the green frames figures and offers contrast. Varies in depth and intensity, fading into the shadows on the corners, but distinct. It gives texture to what would be a blank wall, but doesn’t bleed past the outlines. The atmosphere is aggressively normal, yet something’s off. People talk about the heat, a bad smell, it hasn’t rained, the panels darken as it shifts to nighttime…most of the storytelling is expressed in these little details, showing rather than telling. Ordinary scenes and remarks receive significance only because they are what are being shown to the reader, in the same way as a David Lynch film or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

But the fact is that, little by little, everyone stopped sleeping. An entire city sleepless.

Things move quicker. The timeline grows uncertain, but within a panel the corpses appear, and things shift from uneasy to macabre. There is a Poe-like quality to the rapid downward spiral…but the reader knows there are pages left. How much worse can it get?

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The rain comes.

There’s nothing explicitly Mythos to any of this yet, no ancient tomes, not a whisper of alien entities or black stars. Everything that’s happened to this point, it could a disease, a toxic gas, simple madness as the heat and lack of sleep take their toll on frail human psyches. Then the rules change.

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The green in the story to this point had been balanced, contained, a highlight; this deep splash shows it as pervasive, all-encompassing…and a herald of what’s coming. Maybe it was always that.

The only ones who were saved were those who were lucky enough to be already dead.

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As narratives go, the twenty pages go by swiftly. This is a story all about mood and atmosphere, not explanations. No one is at fault, no one went poking about where they shouldn’t, or read the wrong spell and awakened the eldritch horror. There is no cult to worship the things that crawl down off the mountain. It isn’t a deep dive into the lore of the Mythos, though there is definitely some artistic influence from the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game on the design of the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. This is almost the definition of the Mythos as uncaring, not even necessarily malevolent, but simply destroying humanity by its very presence, like a tiger in the jungle stepping on so many ants.

“O que dorme” showcases the universality of the Lovecraftian experience. The liminal spaces we know are out there, the things that creep in from outside.

O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos has not yet been translated into English.


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

Agents of Dreamland (2017) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

The Truth Is Out There
—X Files, “Pilot,” 10 September 1993

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was created in 1908, when H. P. Lovecraft was eighteen years old. In his youth, he had formed a detective agency with his friends, inspired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and similar private companies. The Secret Service was the arm of the U. S. Treasury department, set up to crack counterfeiting rings and protect the president; the Black Chamber, forerunner of the National Security Agency, wouldn’t be formed until 1919.

Lovecraft had grown up in a world without G-men. With the passage of the Volstead Act and Prohibition, that would change. Hardboiled pulp crime magazines demanded more than just Sherlock Holmes-style consulting detectives, police detectives, Texas Rangers, federal marshals, or Pinkertons, though all of those characters had their place in the pages of magazines like Black Mask. Dashiell Hammett cut his teeth with The Continental Op, who worked for a fictional Continental Detective Agency modeled after the Pinkertons that Hammett himself would work for. Yet it was the rise of organized crime that came with Prohibition, and the personage of J. Edgar Hoover as head of the new Bureau of Investigation, that put their stamp on the idea of government agents in pulp fiction.

Which is why the opening to “The Shadow over Innsmouth” starts off as it does:

During the winter of 1927–28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting—under suitable precautions—of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the abandoned waterfront. Uninquiring souls let this occurrence pass as one of the major clashes in a spasmodic war on liquor.

H. P. Lovecraft didn’t invent the idea that governments conceal certain things from the public; the Great War impressed on the whole nation the importance of some things remaining secret. Yet it is important to place “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in that context of the rise of the G-men, of government agencies concerned with finding secrets and keeping them…and to understand that the roots of spy fiction in the Mythos, the whole cloak-and-tentacle business in Bruce Sterling’s “The Unthinkable” (1991), Alan Moore’s “The Courtyard” (1994), Delta Green (1997), Charles Stross’ “A Colder War” (2000) and The Atrocity Archives (2004), “The Star that is Not a Star” (2016) by Lucy Brady—they’re all part of a continuing tradition, born out of changes in the United States government, world affairs, and the semiotic impact on an American culture that knows that its government is hiding things from it.

Which leads also to flavors and trends in spy fiction. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is flashy, emotionally damaged, fighting secret wars against terrorists with next-generation gadgetry; Len Deighton’s unnamed protagonist of The IPCRESS FILE is faced with something no less fantastic, but the syntax is different—James Bond doesn’t deal with paperwork and bureaucracy. Spy fiction tends to vacillate between the glamorous fantasy and the grungy reality. The staid George Smiley of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not the psychologically damaged one-man-army of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, but they’re two sides of the same fictional coin, different iterations of the concept of the government agent, the finders and keepers of secrets.

Which is all background to set Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland in it’s proper context: the here-and-now of 2015, with a hazy secret history that extends out of knowing into past and future alike. The post-Cold War zeitgeist married the pre-war concept of G-men with the burgeoning fields of Ufology, the Shaver Mystery, Men in Black and Black Helicopters, and the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pulp fiction jumped the semiotic shark when conspiracy fantasies like Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum became more or less indistinguishable from the actual conspiracy theories being peddled in Fate Magazine. When The X-Files hit in 1993, based on the 70s journalistic exploits of Kolchak, the Night Stalker, it was a spike driven straight into the vein of the American collective unconscious.

People want to believe the truth really is out there…and that the government knows and is hiding it.

Post-X Files fiction in this vein is rife, everything from big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), and Paul (2011) to graphic novels like Groom Lake (2009). Some are played straight, others for laughs—the bigger the cover-up, the more people and resources at play, the more it stretches the suspension of disbelief that any government agency can keep a lid on anything for any period of time.

Yet at the same time, everyone accepts that governments do successfully cover up things all the time. Documents are unclassified over time and reveal the details of events that happened in the shadows…and we know there are files still sealed. Secret histories under lock and seal. Anything might be in there—and that’s the attraction of the government conspiracy mindset. The imagination can populate those locked binders with any secrets—never mind that most of them are probably mundane things, like the sexual escapades of past presidents now safely dead, or the schematics for encryption machines rusting away in some government warehouse.

While his parents sleep, the boy is treated to Ray Harryhausen’s Rhedosaurus, Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and, finally, English director James Whale’s little-known and once-believed-lost The Star Maiden (1934).
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, Agents of Dreamland (2017), 48

Agents of Dreamland is the first in her Tinfoil Dossier series, which will probably be compared to Charles Stross’s Laundry series by default: both involve the Men-in-Black end of a government cover up, agencies working behind the scenes to investigate and contain the Mythos. The two bodies of work are distinctly different beasts, however. Kiernan’s point-of-view character the Signalman is on the ragged end of a career out on the edge of the spook world, a veteran of too many horrors. Not the smartest or the most clever, no Jason Bourne-style action scenes, just a bone-weary tiredness and a looming sense of desperation hovering over all.

That’s the mood. This is a war that can’t be won, because the people fighting it don’t realize it is a war yet.

The lore is stripped down; this isn’t a roleplaying game supplement about the Men in Black and their valiant secret war against the Cthulhu Mythos. This is grungier, grittier, more homely and with an air of inevitability. There are scenes and themes reminiscent of Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Lovecraft, for all that he created, was working within a late-19th/early-20th century frame of scientific understanding—and science has dug up some much stranger things since 1937.

Kiernan doles out the information from the black dossier in measured doses, switching point of view and time between chapters, balancing exposition and description. The idea isn’t to give the reader too much at once, to let the reader form their own connections, to feel the people that are in these places at these times. It’s a spy story written like a Cthulhu Mythos story, and by the time the reader finds out the truth about The Star Maiden, puts the pieces together and think they have a clue about where this is going…

The truth is weirder than you think.

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland (2017) is the first in the Tinfoil Dossier series, and is followed by Black Helicopters (2018) and The Tindalos Asset (2020).


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

“The Child of Dark Mania” (1996) by W. H. Pugmire

This story appeals to me more than most of the things I’ve written this past decade. I am fond of the image of the woman with her weird masked face, and was delighted when two pictorial renditions of that image were included in my first American collection, one by my editor and publisher, Jeffrey Thomas, and the other gracing the superb cover illustration by Earl Grier. There is a lot of peculiar passion in this story, and it gets me, deliciously. I was delighted to be able to write it in memory to HPL’s great buddy and fellow weird author, Frank Long. “The Child of Dark Mania” originally appeared in The Pnakotic Series.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Afterword” in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 113

Frank Belknap Long, Jr.’s “The Horror from the Hills” (Weird Tales Jan, Feb-Mar 1931) is one of his most famous additions to the Cthulhu Mythos—mostly because the novella incorporates a lengthy sequence borrowed from one of Lovecraft’s letters (with permission), describing a Roman dream in ancient Iberia. The main antagonist of the novella is Chaugnar Faugn, which in turn was inspired by a small statuette of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha that Long’s aunt Cassie Symmes had gifted him.

Long is busy on a horror tentatively called “The Elephant God of Leng”—based on a curiously carved idol his aunt lately brought him from Europe, plus a suggestion or two of mine.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 204

The appropriation of an Indian religious icon was not uncommon in Weird Tales during the period. Readers might compare the elephant-headed Yog-Kosha from Robert E. Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant” (Weird Tales Mar 1933), or the eponymous idol in Seabury Quinn’s “The Green God’s Ring” (Weird Tales Jan 1945). Inspiration comes where it does, and the “Exotic East” was an important inspiration for many pulp writers, and a draw for many pulp readers—and we can perhaps be grateful that Long drew a distinction between the benevolent Ganesha and the malevolent Chaugnar Faugn.

While “The Horror in the Hills” has been long recognized as a part of the Mythos, there has never quite been a distinct “Chaugnar Faugn Cycle.” Lovecraft would include Chaugnar Faugn among the deities in “The Horror in the Museum” (1933), and Long would revisit the character in his poem “When Chaugnar Wakes” (Weird Tales Sep 1932), and a few others have tried their hand at it, notably Robert Bloch with “Death is an Elephant” (Weird Tales Feb 1939), Joseph Pulver, Sr.’s untitled poem that begins “Elephant Lord, Chaugnar Faugn,…” (Cthulhu Cultus #12, 1998), Robert M. Price’s “The Elephant God of Leng” (Black Book #1, 2002), and W. H. Pugmire’s “The Child of Dark Mania” (1996).

Weird_Tales_v20n03_1932-09_sas_0123

As with “An Imp of Aether” (1997), “The Child of Dark Mania” is one of a series of stories that Pugmire wrote in the 1990s in homage to various weird authors that had come before; and as with “Imp” this one has been revised in its various publications, so that while the basic elements of the story remain, the details shift a bit depending on whether you read it in the original Pnakotic Fragments (1996) fanzine, the Tales of Sesqua Valley (1997) chapbook, or paperback publication in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts (2008) or An Imp of Aether (2019).

Most of these changes are minimal—the consolidation of paragraphs, another word or sentence of description, etc. One notable change is the name of the protagonist, a writer of horror fiction who in the original is Frank or Franklyn, and in the 2019 version is “Sonny” or Francis—no doubt to more closely associate the writer with “Sonny” Belknap, as Lovecraft used to call his friend.

She went to a stand and unwrapped a piece of plastic, from which she removed a cone of incense. This she placed next to me on the bed, along with an incense burner shaped as an Eastern deity, an elephant god whose name I could not recall.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Child of Dark Mania” in An Imp of Aether 169

In keeping with his usual style, Pugmire is not so unsubtle as to name Chaugnar Faugn directly. The story is all the more effective for not being another gushing bit of fanfiction that tries to dump a vast chunk of Mythos lore on the reader. Nor does Pugmire try for anything grandiose; this is a quieter tale than “The Dunwich Horror” or “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff, somewhat closer to Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” in scope—and Melissa is perhaps a close cousin to Helen Vaughn as portrayed in Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz.

Instead, it is a very slight, intimate story, content to communicate the plot by image and intimation, and leave the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. One of the most distinct such images is worth going into a little more deeply:

I tired but found it impossible not to study the grotesque cloth mask, and the bizarre shape that moved beneath it. I had known that Melissa had been born with birth defects, and we had assumed that this had been the result of Diane’s consumption of foreign opiates. (ibid. 168)

Savvy readers might draw any number of references: the masked high priest not to be described in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, perhaps—but also Joseph Merrick, the Victorian performer billed as “The Elephant Man,” who would wear a hood or mask to help conceal his features when in public.

There is that sense of empathy for Diane, the wild child who had “journeyed with a gang of lesbian witches” and returned pregnant, disapproved of by her family, and forced to raise her daughter alone…and now might lose her, as Melissa comes of age—which is the only odd part of the changes between editions. In the earlier versions of the text, Diane gave birth eighteen years before the start of the story, in the 2019 text this is shortened to eight. Whether this is an error or meant to invoke the quick growth of Wilbur Whateley is not clear, and doesn’t effect the final story much.

In conception, Pugmire’s Chaugnar Faugn is more intriguing than Long’s. Here, the deity has an aspect reminiscent of Pan, Bacchus, or Dionysus, who might attract very Lovecraftian maenads, drunk on the cosmic wonder of it all…and dance.

My blood froze as she bent low and kissed the shadow of the rigid god, and I inwardly cringed when that blasphemous silhouette began to blur and bend. (ibid. 171)

Why did Diane flee to Sesqua Valley? Perhaps because that was Pugmire’s corner of Lovecraft Country, and he wished to draw to himself those dark, shining jewels of the Mythos he prized. There is a jealous tendency to the valley, magnetic and sympathetic, like calling to like. The Child of Dark Mania fits in well among those shadowy residents.

The latest version of the text, titled “Child of Dark Mania,” can be read in An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

“The Were-Snake” (1925) by Frank Belknap Long, Jr.

My contributions to the Mythos were of assorted shapes and sizes, ranging from the tiny, flesh-devouring Doels, who inhabited an alien dimension shrouded in night and chaos, to the monstrous Chaugnar Faugn, whom only the suicidally inclined would have mistaken for a pachyderm. I also contributed one scenic vista, the mysterious, perpetually mist-shrouded Plateau of Leng, and one forbidden book, John Dee’s English translation of The Necronomicon, which I placed at the head of The Space Eaters when that story first appeared in Weird Tales […]
—Frank Belknap Long, Jr., Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside 23-24

To hear Long tell it, his first contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos—and the first stories written as part of the Mythos, outside of Lovecraft’s own pen—were “The Space Eaters” (Weird Tales July 1928) and “The Hounds of Tindalos” (Weird Tales March 1929). These stories have been enshrined in canon as much as anything written by anyone other than H. P. Lovecraft himself, and predate anything written specifically incorporating references to the Mythos by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, or others.

What most compilers of Mythos stories seem to forget is that the first published story with a Mythos connection by Long was actually his third story professionally published: “The Were-Snake” (Weird Tales September 1925). Looking at Long’s memoirs, and the collections of his fiction, one gets the impression that perhaps Long wished it would be forgotten. Although reprinted twice during his lifetime in anthologies, like “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch this story has never been published in any Cthulhu Mythos collection, and remains absent from Long’s The Early Long and Arkham House anthologies.

Normally, when looking into such matters, Lovecraft’s letters are a great asset. However, in this case most of his letters to Long have not been published, and the references to the story in Lovecraft’s published correspondence is minimal:

Next month my “Temple” & Belknap’s “Were-Snake” will appear.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 6 Jul 1925, Letters to Family and Family Friends 1.306

Hope your friend will get some vignette & tailpiece jobs—you might tell Wright it’s about time he stopped using Brosnatch’s ancient designs for Belknap’s “Desert Lich” & “Were-Snake” & Seabury Quinn’s “Servants of Satan” in this capacity!”
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Jan 1932, Essential Solitude 2.444

Andrew Brosnatch was the artist that did the header-pieces for Frank Belknap Long’s stories; the art was re-used periodically in Weird Tales as filler for years afterward. Other than that, there is nothing much in Lovecraft’s correspondence: 1925 was before most of his pulp friends began to correspond with him, and if Lovecraft and Long discussed the story, those letters haven’t come to light yet. What we know of this story’s genesis, then, is mostly down to inference.

Shortly after Weird Tales hit the stands in 1923, H. P. Lovecraft wrote to the editor Edwin Baird—and was soon enmeshed in correspondence with both Baird and the pulp magazine’s owner, J. C. Henneberger. Several submissions from Lovecraft had been accepted at Weird Tales, and in 1924 Lovecraft encouraged his young friend in amateur journalism to submit his own stories to the magazine:

Now, Child, send Grandpa that horror story! If you will be good and write lots and lots of terrible things, I believe you may have a chance to land them in Weird Tales, for as you will see when I send you the Henneberger letter, they are desperately in need of material which is basically unconventional. Pray picture to yourself the curiosity of a fiend-loving Old Gentleman, and delay no longer in making Grandpa your nameless monstrosity! About the Ashton Smith reference in my Hound—I omitted that myself, on advice of Eddy (not Poe but my local protege C. M. Eddy), who said that the editor would object to such exploitation of an artist-poet whose work I am trying to push with Weird Tales. Now that I see how solidly I stand with both Baird and Henneberger, I am sorry I took the advice—but what’s done is done. Another time I may do some free advertising for Smith and Sonny Belknap and Mortonius and everybody!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Jr., Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.292-293

“The Hound” was published in the February 1924 issue of Weird Tales; the surviving typescript shows Lovecraft made a few alterations from the original which appear in the published text:

A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held the unknown and unnamable drawings of Clark Ashton Smith.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Hound” (original text)

A locked portfolio, bound in tanned human skin, held certain unknown and unnamable drawings which it was rumoured Goya had perpetrated but dared not acknowledge.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Hound” (as published)

This would have been, if published, one of Lovecraft’s first literary in-jokes—Lovecraft was already in correspondence with Clark Ashton Smith at the time—and together with Lovecraft’s urge that Long write and submit his stuff to Weird Tales for publication is probably what led, ultimately, to “The Were-Snake.”

Long’s first stories published in Weird Tales were “The Desert Lich” (WT Nov 1924) and “Death-Waters” (WT Dec 1924); both tales can be said to be typical of his very early professional efforts, dealing with white people in exotic settings and stumbling across something dangerous and uncanny. Later Long would grow as a writer with more complex plots and characterization, but these short pieces were in good company for the early issues of Weird Tales, which was still feeling its way after the editorial shakeup that had seen Baird (and Henneberger) ousted and Farnsworth Wright in the editorial chair.

By the time “Death-Waters” was published, Lovecraft had come down to New York City, married Sonia H. Greene, and taken up residence; he was seeing a good deal of Long and the rest of the gang in the Kalem Club. Long’s third story in Weird Tales was “The Were-Snake” (WT Nov 1925)—published nearly a year after his last one. Why the long delay? Rejection, possibly, or backlog; even if Long wrote it in the spring of 1925, it likely wouldn’t be published until winter…and there are reasons to suspect it might have been written in the spring of 1925.

“The nethermost caverns,” wrote the mad Arab, “are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Festival”

I sat and dozed, or stared drowzily into the darkness, and thought of the charnel worms which the mad Arab Alhazred bred in the bellies of slain camels.
—Frank Belknap Long, Jr., “The Were-Snake”

That is the sole line that connects “The Were-Snake” with the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft’s “The Festival” was first published in Weird Tales January 1925 issue; if Long read it there…and he might have read it in manuscript, for all we know, before that due to his close association with Lovecraft during that period…it might make sense that “The Were-Snake” with its reference to Alhazred and worms was written later, sometime during early 1925, and submitted to Wright at Weird Tales. Nothing can be said for certain, until and unless more evidence comes to light, but the sequence of events makes sense.

As to the story itself… “The Were-Snake” is very similar to “The Desert Lich” and “Death-Waters.” American tourists in the Near East; more than a touch of exoticism and rather casual racial prejudice and sexism which is sometimes played for laughs:

Our consul has red hair, and he beats his wife and he judges men by the color of their skin
—Frank Belknap Long, Jr., “The Were-Snake

It’s a stilted joke, since the courageous American archaeologist sleeping in the haunted ruins is trying to bluff and bluster at what he thinks are a group of indigenous people playing a trick on himthere are some parallels in this story with Helena Blavatsky’s “A Witch’s Den” (1892), which had been published in Best Psychic Stories (1920), a book that we know Long had read and lent to Lovecraft. But whereas Blavatsky’s apparition was a group of clever natives pulling a ruse, Long’s were-snake is very real…

Robert E. Howard is not known for certain to have read this story; he apparently missed several early issues of Weird Tales. Yet it is notable that one of his early Conan stories, “The God in the Bowl,” was rejected by Farnsworth Wright, includes a man-headed serpent with hypnotic powers and deific connections—was Howard at all aware of “The Were-Snake” when he wrote “The God in the Bowl?” Did Wright reject the story because that element was similar to Long’s story? The latter seems unlikely; but it’s curious that both stories have such similar monsters. There is also a reference at the beginning to Dr. John Dee, which is notable only in that it was Long who attributed to Dee an English translation of the Necronomicon in “The Space Eaters.”

For the most part, however, it’s easy to see why Long might have wished to forget about “The Were-Snake.” The central protagonist and his fiance (?) Miss Beardsley are not terribly compelling. The descriptive material in the encounters in the dark ruins are interesting, but the final revelations lack punch, and little explanation is given as to the nature of the were-snake and her siren-like charms and habits.

The reference to Abdul Alhazred seems a little absurd in hindsight—but in context? Lovecraft hadn’t really established the cosmic scope of his Mythos yet, and the Necronomicon had appeared only in “The Festival” and “The Hound” in print. Long’s usage of Alhazred was no more than a literary in-joke at this point, and not out of keeping with the uses that Lovecraft had already made of the character. That’s how the Cthulhu Mythos started in many ways, with little throwaway references that slowly built up into something else. There were no rules, no planning, little effort to standardize and a great deal of encouragement to experiment.

In hindsight, it’s hard to see where “The Were-Snake” would have “fit” into the growing Mythos, especially after Lovecraft’s death when folks like Francis T. Laney and August Derleth were making an effort to codify the Mythos. Where would the were-snake have fit in their system? Nowadays, of course, fans might say that the were-snake was of the same species as Howard’s “God in the Bowl,” or perhaps a child of Yig, but those are both concepts that came up after Long had conceived and written his piece, and there is no evidence that either Howard or Lovecraft intended any such connection to this early work by Long.

Virtually all myth cycles, fictional or otherwise, include these “fringe-level” borrowings, which but to a minor extent enter into the main body of the cycle. The contributions of other writers did not diminish the genius-inspired originality of the Cthulhu Mythos; in its major aspects it remains entirely Lovecraftian.
—Frank Belknap Long, Jr., Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside 24

For those who like a bit of trivia, it’s worth noting that the first Mythos entity created by someone other than Lovecraft (and one of the first Mythos entities period) was indisputably female. Whatever else she might have been—god or human, witch or monster—Long’s were-snake was a woman.

Frank Belknap Long, Jr.s’ “The Were-Snake” may be read free online here.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why Tulu?

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

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

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

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


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

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

“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央) was published in the second volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 novella 蛇蜜 (Hebi Mitsu); the translator was Erin S. Brodhead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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