Editor Spotlight: Interview with Carrie Cuinn

I’ll admit that when I first put out the call for submissions, Cthulhurotica seemed to most people like it would be a collection of literary tentacle porn. I got stories that introduced a lovely setting but spent the next two thousand words having sex all over it. I got writers who wanted to take a gory horror story they’d written for something else, slap “Innsmouth” over the town’s “Welcome to . . .” sign, and call it Lovecraftian. I got potential readers telling me they couldn’t imagine “Lovecraft” and “Erotica” in the same sentence, and never (ever!) wanted to see my book in print.
—Carrie Cuinn, introduction to Cthulhurotica (2010) 5

The arrival of Cthulhurotica (2010, Dagan Books) shook a few foundations. The Cthulhu Mythos was no stranger to erotic fiction; individual stories and novels had appeared sporadically since at least The Erotic Spectacles (1971), and there are numerous examples of pornographic comics and erotic artwork dealing with the Mythos. Collected works had been attempted, The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994) and Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos (2004, Lindsfarne Press). Cthulhu Sex magazine (1998-2006) had a provacative title, though it had little actual Cthulhu sex in its pages.

What set Cthulhurotica apart from the rest was a matter of approach. It was not the staid combination of sexually explicit (and mostly heterosexual) pastiche where pieces were buttressed by explanations and analysis, not an exercise in gross-out gore or cheap titillation along the lines of the Hot Blood series. Cthulhurotica is sex-positive erotic fiction which runs the gamut from Mythos-flavored sex comedy to erotic Lovecraftian horror; the writers and their point of view characters run the spectrum of gender and sexuality. Such diversity in a Mythos anthology was, and to a degree is, atypical. 

The compilation and publishing of Cthulhurotica is testament to the hard work and vision of editor Carrie Cuinn. Since she is best able to speak as to her motivations and how Cthulhurotica came about, she has been kind enough to answer some questions about herself as a Mythos writer and her experience editing Cthulhurotica:

How did you get into Lovecraft and the Mythos?

Carrie Cuinn: I grew up reading everything I could get my hands on. My mom loved horror and we both loved the library; I was probably too young when I started reading Stephen King, but by the time I was in middle school I was spending hours in the stacks each week, looking for new (to me) writers. I found Lovecraft and from there Derleth and Bloch and Howard and then into pulp fiction magazines which got me into science fiction… His stories helped introduce me to the greater world of genre fiction that still captivates me today.

How do you feel that being you (female, bisexual, deaf, a mother) has shaped your understanding of Lovecraft and approach to the Mythos?

CC: The most obvious thing that struck me as a kid was seeing all the ways I wasn’t in Lovecraft’s stories. Even in classic science fiction stories where “men were men” and women were mostly decorative, there were a few characters I could identify with. Heinlein has a ton of flaws and his female characters aren’t usually well-rounded, but at least he seemed to actually like women, you know? Lovecraft saw a very specific type of straight white male as the protagonist for his stories, usually reacting to both cosmic horror and the horror of living in a world where immigrants had jobs and women had opinions. I didn’t get the impression he would have considered me anything other than background scenery, if he noticed me at all.

As I got older, it only got worse: if I’d been quiet, straight, unhappily married but mostly consigned to keeping my head down and doing housework, Lovecraft might have only considered me ugly and useless. Everything I ended up being as an adult? I’d have been a minor monster in his eyes. But like so many readers who grow up not seeing themselves in the books they read, I had to learn to appreciate fiction in pieces, knowing if I stuck to only Lovecraft’s interpretation there wouldn’t be a place for me there.

What made you decide to edit an anthology of Mythos fiction?

CC: I wanted more of Lovecraft’s kind of fiction, where humans react to the immensity of finding out the unimaginable was both real and uncaring, but without the racism and misogyny. I wanted what he started, just more of the world he built, not less. Luckily, in addition to being a writer I was also a big gamer. I started playing D&D in 6th grade and fell in love. It was a different kind of storytelling, where you could make a place for yourself no matter who you were. Being yourself wasn’t subversive, it was encouraged. That was the point of role-playing games! You decide who you are within the structure of that fictional universe.

When I was about 19, I got a chance to play Call of Cthulhu with some friends. Finally, I could see people like me considering the possibilities of a Mythos with us in it. If Innsmouth were a real place, of course there’d be complex and interesting women living there. Queer people and people of color would be living their lives, working, struggling, loving, and being a part of the community. They’d all have to be affected by the monstrous events taking place around them too. I wanted to tell their stories.

Why focus on sex and sexuality in the Mythos, though?

CC: I thought about doing something like this anthology for about 15 years. I’d previously worked on an erotic fiction magazine when I was living in San Francisco, and I’d even drawn up an outline for a collection of Mythos-related fiction as an author, but the feedback I got wasn’t encouraging. I wanted to write stories where sex was good, everyone enjoyed themselves, and the characters were both a) adults, and b) fully consenting. For some reason, guys I knew who considered themselves hardcore Lovecraft fans didn’t want to see those kinds of stories… I put the idea aside, but I never forgot it.

If we all deserve a chance to exist in the world—which seems obvious to me but is still a point of contention for too many folks—then we also all deserve a chance to be healthy and happy. I get that it’s an appropriate topic for exploration in horror and that’s fine with me but sex is a nuanced part of many people’s lives; if it’s only a punishment, or an act of horror, for the women and queer people in your stories, then the story isn’t really inclusive. I wanted to see it alongside the horror, instead of only victimizing people.

What made you think the world was ready for Cthulhurotica? Do you think it found an audience?

CC: Fast forward to 2010, and I’d just started writing fiction again after a lot of changes in my life. I went to college, had my son, moved across the country. I joined Twitter, and found myself in this community of writers who were starting to explore the overlap between sex and horror in interesting ways. I even wrote for an anthology of zombie sex stories. There was still far too much straight-male-fantasy sexual violence, and a lot of the really intriguing ideas were reduced to joking tweets, but at least the field was expanding. Readers were looking for new perspectives. Suddenly this idea I’d had forever seemed possible. So I jumped on it.

Initially people treated Cthulhurotica like a bit of a joke too—it was even featured on Geek & Sundry’s Vaginal Fantasy show, which mostly reviewed books they thought (from the cover and description) would be ridiculous. Instead, they actually liked a lot of the stories, and readers took it from there.

Did you do any research and reading into previous works like Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos or Cthulhu Sex Magazine before starting your own anthology?

CC: I looked into both of those, and a whole lot of fanfiction. I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel. It turns out that before Cthulhurotica, when time you put “sex” and “Mythos” together, you usually got stories of (at best) straight men saving white women from monsters and then getting sex, or (far too often) monsters raping women. That wasn’t my idea of a good time.

I know we all have different tastes when it comes to a complex idea like erotica, so I didn’t want to replace those works, and I’m not suggesting there’s nothing of value in what came before Cthulhurotica. I wanted to give readers more options.

Cthulhurotica has a relatively high percentage of female authors, some of the stories include homosexual or bisexual views, and most of the authors were relatively unknown. As an editor, did you specifically seek out different voices than typical for Mythos anthologies at this time?

CC: The goal of the anthology was to show the Mythos through the lens of those who were left out of the original. This meant actively seeking stories where the women were strong and useful and good, queer people and people of color weren’t the monsters but the protagonists. And of course, satisfying sex, because we all deserve that. I was open to submissions from any author, but as it happens, most of the writers who understood what I was looking for were women. 

Was it difficult to find writers and stories that struck the right tone of Lovecraftian erotic horror or did you have more submissions than you could use?

CC: It was definitely harder than I expected. At least 90% of the submissions misunderstood “erotica” as simply “sex.” Erotica certainly includes all kinds of sex acts, but the goal of it is to excite you into imagining that sort of fun for yourself. Simply putting sex on the page doesn’t make it erotica. I said over and over again in the submission guidelines, in interviews, that I wanted stories where the characters involved were enjoying what they were doing, and still, most writers gave me horrifying sexual violence, almost always inflicted on women. Some writers would take my notes on their first rejection, reply to tell me how wrong I was to reject them, and then send me a second story which had the exact same problems.

It’s hard not to generalize when you’re looking at an inbox full of the same story told over and over again, by authors who were self-described straight white guys, but after a while you realize the worst offenders either genuinely couldn’t see why their story was outside the submission guidelines, or they were getting off on forcing me to read something they knew I didn’t want. That whole experience, which didn’t get any better when I started reading for the sequel, is largely why there wasn’t a Cthulhurotica 2.

Did the anthology achieve what you wanted it to? Is there anything you regret about the book or the process?

CC: I’m proud of the fact that I even got this book published, honestly. It exists in the world now, in the Mythos, and no one can take that away from us. 

Where it fell short of my hopes has more to do with my inexperience than anything else. This was my first anthology as an editor, and there were definitely people who preyed on that. I got a lot of bad advice from someone passing themselves off as an industry pro (including ridiculous things like “never spend more than $50 on a cover” which I’m very glad I ignored). There was no particular author I was hoping to get, but there are one or two pieces I regret including. I felt pressure to take work I didn’t love in order to hit a minimum word count, and to include stories that fell outside of my scope to “appeal to a wider audience.” I think it detracted from the overall anthology slightly, and confused some readers about what we were trying to do. 

I learned so much from the few years I spent in small press publishing, and even though it wasn’t all good, Cthulhurotica is the reason I had those opportunities. People still ask me about it, and years later, I’m still glad I did it.

Cover art for Cthulhurotica by Oliver Wetter

Do you feel the Mythos fiction scene has changed since Cthulhurotica came out?

CC: Not really. There were a few more creative anthologies trying to push the envelope in different ways, but they were all small-press publications. (She Walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles might be the best of these.) And I think you’re more likely to find bylines by authors who aren’t men now, which was not very common before 2010, but that’s again due to Moreno-Garcia as much (if not more) as it is because of me. When you look at recent anthologies by Chaosium and PS Publishing for example, they’re more in line with past collections. Which isn’t a criticism, especially since I’ve written stories for both those companies that are among my best-reviewed and favorite pieces! But the edges of the scene are still mostly defined by individual authors and editors.

Unfortunately, Lovecraft appeals to exactly the same sort of people who gatekeep video games and comic books, and every time we make progress, they double down on the hate. There’s a lot of push back about the idea of making the Mythos more inclusive; too many self-described “Lovecraft scholars” who actively look for anything outside of their limited preferences to attack it. It’s sad when a big creative idea like the Mythos loses some of its potential to people who never learned to share as a child, but despite them, writers were breaking off pieces of it for themselves long before me and will continue to do so. We just don’t always call it “Mythos” anymore, even if all the moving parts look the same.

Thank you Carrie Cuinn answering these questions, and for the look behind the curtain.

Cthulhurotica may be published online; you can follow Carrie Cuinn at https://carriecuinn.com/

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

“Riemannian Dreams” (2010) by Juan Miguel Marín

He was getting an intuitive knack for solving Riemannian equations, and astonished Professor Upham by his comprehension of fourth-dimensional and other problems which had floored all the rest of the class.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dreams in the Witch House”

What inspired your story? The weird quasi-Lovecraftian speculations behind Einstein’s theory of relativity and its Riemannian mathematics.
Interview: Juan Miguel Marín

When it comes to the erotic possibilities of the Lovecraft Mythos, “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” may not jump immediately to mind, much less German mathematician Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann (1826-1866). Yet that is what Juan Miguel Marín attempts in his entry for the Cthulhurotica anthology…and not without some success. Whether Marín knew it or not, his particular approach of visitations of the Lovecraftian erotic through dreams echoes certain critical interpretations of Lovecraft’s “The Dreams in the Witch House”:

But something significant happens in this dream. Keziah thrusts into Gilman’s right hand “a huge grey quill” with which to sign his name to the devil’s book and to provide the necessary blood. Brown Jenkin races across his body, up to his shoulders and down his right arm, to bite him in the wrist, causing a “spurt” of blood at which Gilman faints. The next morning “his cuff was brown with dried blood.” The stories of the devil’s book are, let us admit, rather unimaginative, but they conceal a masturbatory fantasy that seems actually at work here. Gilman faints away because he cannot accept the wet dream.
—Robert Waugh, “The Ecstasies of ‘The Thing on the Doorstep’, ‘Medusa’s Coil,’ and Other Erotic Studies” in A Monster of Voices 101

“Riemannian Dreams” begins as an echo of Riemann’s own mathematical proofs, stating the facts as clearly as he can, but also a kind of dream-diary. The timeline is unclear; Riemann died in 1866, but he feels the dreams were inspired by the Edison wax phonograph, c.1899; other references to “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness,” and Einstein’s theory of relativity put it somewhere between 1905 and the 1920s. Perhaps this is not the Bernhard Riemann, but another professor; or some alternate timeline where Riemann survived another forty or fifty years.

The lack of certainty is a hallmark of Marín’s narrative. For the most part, readers are presented with bits and pieces, notes and letters, fragments of a story that build up to suggest a narrative. This echoes how Lovecraft would do much the same thing with “The Whisperer in Darkness” and other tales, although the connective tissue is a bit thinner here; the dates not quite adding up is one example, but more importantly, we gain no real glimpse of Riemann’s waking life—his protestant faith, his wife, where he lives and works, though there are references to teaching. The material world is faint, hazy, dream-like, but the dream sequences themselves are vivid.

Riemann’s wet dreams are queer; they do not fall easily into any particular spectrum of sexuality, the subjects of his attention being particularly fluid—now male, now female, sometimes both.

In the first lucid dream I could glimpse only a young, pale, androgynous face, which the water ripples sometimes hid, sometimes revealed. I could not tell whether the atractive stranger was a boy or a girl. I could only notice the blond-auburn hair, pale skin of a healthy pinkish color, rose-colored cheeks, rosy red lips, and the eyes… […] I see now a beautiful backside. Like mine, also covred with nothing but a loincloth. My scientific curiosity tries to find out more about those lovely hips but the mist prevents me.
—Juan Miguel Marín, “Riemannian Dreams” in Cthulhurotica 72-73

The “scientific curiosity” is a hallmark of the Lovecraftian protagonist, the libidi sciendi, the desire to know. It’s tempting to look for metaphors here in Riemann’s efforts to define the nature of the subject of his desires, a quest for self-knowledge of his own sexuality as much as an effort to define an external reality. The subjects of his dream-vision, however, are a bit outside of those dreamt in this particular Horatio’s philosophy…at least at the start.

As an episode, “Riemannian Dreams” occupies a bit of an odd place in the Mythos. It is not situated clearly in respect to any time and place, but the connections between this story and “The Dreams in the Witch House” and “The Whisperer in Darkness” are established clearly and deliberately, but not the timeline. It’s not quite sequel, prequel, or interqual, simply an episode. Contrast this to a story such as “The Dreams in the Laundromat” by Elizabeth Reeve in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica, which takes care to establish setting and continuity, set after “The Dreams in the Witch House” and focusing on the continuing legacy of Keziah Mason and Walter Gilman. “Riemannian Dreams” walks a fine line between mathematical logic and dream logic; fitting, since ultimately that is the choice which Riemann is presented with at the end.

What is your favorite bit?

“…leaving me covered in salty sweat, uncomfortably wet, and, unfortunately, awake.”
Interview: Juan Miguel Marín

“Riemannian Dreams” was published in Cthulhurotica (2010), and has not yet been reprinted. Juan Miguel Marín is also the author of “The Bats in the Walls” (2010).

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

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron

The only persons who saw Wilbur during the first month of his life were old Zechariah Whateley, of the undecayed Whateleys, and Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife, Mamie Bishop. Mamie’s visit was frankly one of curiosity, and her subsequent tales did justice to her observations […]

Through all the years Wilbur had treated his half-deformed albino mother with a growing contempt, finally forbidding her to go to the hills with him on May-Eve and Hallowmass; and in 1926 the poor creature complained to Mamie Bishop of being afraid of him.

“They’s more abaout him as I knows than I kin tell ye, Mamie,” she said, “an’ naowadays they’s more nor what I know myself. I vaow afur Gawd, I dun’t know what he wants nor what he’s a-tryin’ to dew.”
H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Mamie Bishop is one of the minor supporting characters in “The Dunwich Horror,” the closest thing to a friend that Lavinia Whateley has in the story and a source for information into the reclusive Whateleys. Her character development is minimal, not even rating a physical description, but her name places her among the old families of Dunwich (probably the “decayed” Bishops), and with her position as Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife defines as much of her backstory and connections as needed: cohabitating in a prolonged relationship but never formalized by a priest or clerk of the court, no great Dunwich scandal that. Still, raw material to hang a story on…and at least two authors have done just that.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) is at once a sequel to and something of a pastiche of “The Dunwich Horror.” A decade following the destruction of Wilbur Whateley and his unnamed twin, Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer split up:

It was therefore a source of much local gossip and a delight to the scandal-mongers when Earl Sawyer abandoned Mamie Bishop, his common-law wife of twenty years’ standing, and took up instead with Zenia Whateley. […] The loafers and gossips at Osborn’s General Store in Dunwich were hard put to understand Earl Sawyer’s motives in abandoning Mamie Bishop for Zenia Whateley. Not that Mamie was noted for her great beauty or scintillating personality; on the contrary, she was known as a meddler and a snoop, and her sharp tongue had stung many a denizen hoping to see some misdemeanor pass unnoted. Still, Mamie had within her that spark of vitality so seldom found in the folk of the upper Miskatonic, that trait of personality known in the rural argot as gumption, so that it was puzzling to see her perched beside Earl on the front seat of his rattling Model T Ford, her few belongings tied in slovenly bundles behind her, as Sawyer drove her to the dust-blowing turnpike to Aylesbury, where she took quarters in the town’s sole, dilapidated rooming house.
—Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 178-179

This quiet expansion of Bishop’s character and history is a preliminary to the plot of the story, as the local cult repeat the cosmic impregnation with Zenia Whateley in place of Lavinia. Once again, Bishop herself serves as a primary source of information at a few key points, through her penchant for gossip. Zenia did not survive the childbirth, and Mamie Bishop was fetched back to Dunwich shortly thereafter, to once again take on her position in the Sawyer household—only this time also as nursemaid and guardian to young Hester Sawyer.

Whether “The Devil’s Hop Yard” could be written today without charges of pedophilia being leveled at the author is arguable, though Lupoff’s intentions seem perfectly innocent: Hester was in many ways an inversion of Wilbur Whateley. Where “Lavinny’s black brat” was dark, hulking, and inhuman, the “white brat” Hester was fair, tiny, and unusually beautiful—but taken to the same extremes as Wilbur’s, the effect is no less monstrous:

Hester was astonishingly small for a child of four. She was hardly taller than a normal infant. It was as if she had remained the same size in the four years since her birth, not increasing an inch in stature. But that was only half the strangeness of Hester’s appearance, for while her size was the same as a new-born infant’s her development was that of a fully mature and breathtakingly beautiful woman! […] Her face was mature, her lips full and sensual. And when a sudden gust of wind pressed her baggy dress against her torso this showed the configuration of a Grecian eidolon.
Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 186

Mamie Bishop, in taking on something of Lavinia’s role in the care and raising of an unnatural child, ends up with a similar fate: locked in the house as the cultists take Hester Sawyer up to the Devil’s Hop Yard, afraid of what they are doing. State police interrupt the ceremony, and when Mamie is discovered hiding in Earl Sawyer’s house, her hair has turned as white as Lavinia’s…and ends up, in cliche fashion, in a mental hospital. Lupoff may not have invented the idea that all Mythos tales end with those involved becoming dead or mad, but he certainly played to it.

“The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron comes from an identical starting point: a sequel to “The Dunwich Horror” which re-visits the plot of a cosmic impregnation and birth, with Mamie Bishop in a more prominent role. Where Lupoff’s efforts of pastiche re-iterated elements of Lovecraft’s style in the presentation of the piece, and make constant reference to or expansion of elements from the original story, Baron gives the narrative from Earl Sawyer’s point of view…and could probably have stood to read the story again to refresh his memory.

Mamie Bishop and I had been courting for a number of years before I proposed. […] She became withdrawn, her skin affecting a sickly pallor. More than once she was found walking alone in the hills at night, her head tilted up to the sky as though she was searching for some sign or movement in the clouds. naturally, I became concerned, and after ushering her back to her parents’ home following one of those midnight jaunts, I sat her down and poured out my heart.
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 57

It is difficult to reconcile the Earl Sawyer and Mamie Bishop of “The Dunwich Horror” with “The Cry in the Darkness”: Lovecraft presents Sawyer and Bishop as common law man-and-wife, Baron presents them as courting, with Sawyer afraid to give her the child she craves without the sacrament of marriage, and apparently the two living apart. None of Bishop’s talent for gossip is evident, though Baron includes some gossip that Bishop herself played a more intimate role in “The Dunwich Horror” than seen on the page. If the characterization of Mamie Bishop is off, however, it is nothing compared to the characterization of Dunwich itself:

Our courtship was no secret but a swell in her belly would inevitably raise questions in town. Unbetrothed women bearing children were not only frowned upon in Dunwich, but shown the kind of disgust usually reserved for the diseased and the mad. Through the years I had seen young girls, barely budding into womanhood, removed from their place amongst our population, sometimes by physical force. Confused and tearful, these unwanted mothers were forced to walk shamefacedly past as their neighbors, and sometimes their own flesh and blood, poured scornful epithets upon them.  Those who did not leave peacefully were dragged from their homes and pushed out toward the hills in the middle of the night. I know not what befalls these poor creatures […]
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 58-59

Strange words regarding a town where “The Great God Pan” would be regarded as “a common Dunwich scandal!”—especially considering that this story is nominally set in 1928; an illegitimate child might be cause for social ostracism, but no bodily expulsion was practiced against Lavinia Whateley.

The marriage of Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer here serves the same purpose as the marriage of Zenia Whateley and Earl Sawyer: a polite social cover for the conception and birth of yet another monstrous hybrid like Wilbur Whateley. Aside from the slight shuffling-around of characters in the plot, the difference is that this time Mamie Bishop is the force behind the plot, with Sawyer an ignorant dupe—and perhaps earning the dubious distinction of being cuckolded by Yog-Sothoth. Likewise deviating from Lovecraft, Baron does not turn a blind eye to the impregnation of Mamie Bishop atop Sentinel Hill, as witnessed by a peeping Earl Sawyer, but lets the narrative trail off with the confirmation of her successful conception.

Both stories take as their launching point the sole female contact of Lavinia Whateley; and from that association they spin tales which are essentially retellings or variations on “The Dunwich Horror,” only with a slight shift in focus. The degree to which both Lupoff and Baron strive to make Mamie Bishop a substitute for Lavinia, both in terms of narrative device and literally within the context of the story, is telling: in both stories, Bishop becomes initiated (somehow) into the local cult, takes on some attributes of Lavinia’s behavior or appearance, and assumes a mother-like position regarding the new hybrid. Why?

The neatest answer is probably because Mamie Bishop was one of the few female characters mentioned by name in “The Dunwich Horror,” the others being Sally Sawyer and Selina Frye, who were both killed in the course of events, and Mrs. Corey; that Mamie had a personal connection with Lavinia Whateley, and also an intimate relationship with Earl Sawyer, who is another prominent supporting character for local color and events.  Mamie Bishop was, to put a point on it, a convenient womb, ideally placed if one were to pick up a game using the pieces on the board. Baron certainly appears to have used this approach:

What inspired your story? I’ve always liked stories in which the female has the upper hand so when thinking about what to write for Cthulhurotica this was my starting point. I had just read ‘The Dunwich Horror’ and remember thinking to myself ‘How did these events effect the people there?’ The story grew naturally out of that.
Interview: Richard Baron

Yet that raises another question: why does Lupoff introduce a new character in Zenia Whateley, instead of doing as Baron did and have Bishop conceive the child herself? The whole affair of Sawyer dismissing Bishop and then fetching her back is something of a needless complication to the whole plot of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” There is a certain narrative logic to it: a pregnant Mamie Bishop would not raise as much comment if she was the common-law wife of Earl Sawyer, and Lupoff’s story, following Lovecraft’s, was built around rumors and recollections; likewise the introduction of a hitherto unknown Whateley would strengthen parallels with Lovecraft’s story.

Another, more interesting possibility occurs though: perhaps Mamie Bishop did not agree to go through with it.

The focus on impregnation of female characters has been noted as a theme in Mythos fiction, especially pastiche, and features in stories such as “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter; these authors riff off of Lovecraft’s focus on cosmic miscegenation and hybridity, and Lovecraft himself was paying homage to and in the tradition of works like Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” (1894) and Algernon Blackwood’s Julius LaVallon (1916). In earlier works, the horror is not focused on the pregnancy and circumstances of conception (which probably couldn’t have been printed), but in the “monstrous aftermath,” focusing as Lovecraft does on the children birthed of the strange unions. It is only relatively recently that authors would have a free hand to depict impregnation, and to focus on the potential terrors, dangers, and emotional trauma of childbirth.

Impregnation in Lovecraft’s work is usually accomplished by force or coercion; the circumstances of Lavinia’s conception are left unspecified, but she seems exceptional in that it is implied she was a willing participant, as are Baron’s version of Mamie Bishop and Lupoff’s Zenia Whateley. Whether they could actually be said to have consented, since all three seem to have been mentally unwell to some degree, is an issue not addressed. Yet the method of conception, whatever it is, is not without its dangers: Zenia Whateley dies during childbirth, and Lavinia’s travail was accompanied by “a hideous screaming which echoed above even the hill noises[.]”

Lupoff’s Mamie Bishop, though was sane at the beginning of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” What if she simply chose not to participate? It would not necessarily have been out of character: there is no indication that Bishop and Sawyer have any previous children despite their cohabitation, perhaps implying one of them was sterile or they used contraception, although this is “reading in” quite a bit to the few references in Lovecraft’s story. Still, Mamie Bishop among all other women would have some idea of what the birth was like for Lavinia Whateley; she may have had good personal reasons not to put her body and mind through such an ordeal.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” and “The Cry in the Darkness” make for interesting comparison simply because of their shared source, and for the different paths the authors took from there. They are incompatible paths from the same fork in the road. Yet at the crux of both stories is the characterization of Mamie Bishop: a minor character who served her brief purpose well, and found second and third life in pastiches. It is understandable but perhaps somewhat unfortunate that both authors chose to develop her as a kind of stand-in for the missing Lavinia Whateley, rather than investigate what the Dunwich Horror and its aftermath looked like from her point of view.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” was first published in Chrysalis, vol. 2 (1978), and has been reprinted in Chaosium’s The Dunwich Cycle (1994) and several of Lupoff’s collections: Claremont Tales II (2002), Terrors (2005), and The Doom That Came to Dunwich (2017), which collects some of Lupoff’s Mythos fiction. His other Mythos work includes “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” (1977), “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982), “The Turret” (1995), “Lights! Camera! Shub-Niggurath!” (1996), “The Doom That Came to Dunwich” (1996), “The Adventure of the Voorish Sign” (2003), “The Peltonville Horror” (2004), “Brackish Waters” (2005), “The Secret of the Sahara” (2005), and “Nothing Personal” (2010).

“The Cry in the Darkness” was first published in Cthulhurotica (2011). It has not been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)