A house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city would be assigned him, and he would be initiated into one of the large affection-groups, including many noblewomen of the most extreme and art-enhanced beauty, which in latter-day K’n-yan took the place of family units.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Mound”
Most readers don’t normally associate H. P. Lovecraft with polyamory. Then as now, monogamy was the prevailing paradigm among the bulk of the population, and Lovecraft’s romances in his fictions are almost always explicitly monogamous in nature; there are a few lover’s triangles in stories like “The Man of Stone” with Hazel Heald and “Medusa’s Coil” with Zealia Bishop, but there are no polycules in Lovecraft country outside of “The Mound.”
There was nothing new with the idea of polyamory during Lovecraft’s lifetime. His friend James F. Morton was part of a “free love” group at one point, and his chapbooks were advertised in The Public in 1916, alongside advertisements like this:
After Lovecraft’s death, polyamory became more common. “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff famously opens with a polyamorous threesome…but for the most part, monogamy remains the overwhelming romantic schema of Mythos fiction, both serious and jocular, erotic and non-erotic. Indeed, while the attitudes regarding sex have become much more progressive and expressive in Mythos fiction, romances—particularly marriage—often deal with existing attitudes and problems, with a Mythos twist. This can be seen in works like “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader (marriage-by-contract, the stresses of pregnancy on a marriage), “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales (patriarchal attitudes towards marriage, spousal abuse), Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (marriage under duress, consanguineous marriage), etc. Infidelity remains a relatively rare theme, as well as marriage counseling. The bulk of marital issues in the expanded Cthulhu Mythos appear to be solved only be the death of one or both partners.
Which is part of what makes Jean Ann Donnel’s “Shoggoth Makes Three” so special.
“Fi Fi is your lover’s name as well?” she inquired.
Cantraip looked at her startled. Could it be?
“You’re not a lesbian, are you Ms. Peaches?” the moderator asked, arching an eyebrow. “That would explain your being in a dysfunctional relationship group,” he stated.
Ms. Peaches stared at him steadily with contempt in her eyes. “I’m quite straight. Fi Fi’s not exactly a woman and definitely has male members,” she commented.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 20
Donnel is playing the situation for laughs; the idea of a polycule with a polymorphous shoggoth in the middle is almost a one-note joke. Yet for all that the idea is being played for transgressive comedy, it does include several interesting developments in Mythos fiction which other authors would also explore—and maybe a few that haven’t been explored much at all.
It is hard to pinpoint where exactly the idea of a shoggoth (or other Mythos entity) with multiple genitalia serving as a bridge between heterosexuality to a broader range of sexual experiences originated. Certainly there was some fanfiction where ardent weird fiction fans were imagining the possibilities; Rick McCollum illustrated one possibility for a fanzine in 1980:
One might also add Robert M. Price’s story “A Thousand Young” (1989), where a libertine encounters:
For there, revealed by the glare of the lights, was no solid heap of swaying orgiasts, but rather chains of bodies spread over the pulsing and gelatinous surface of a tentacled, amoeboid horror, the revelers grotesquely arrayed like suckling whelps as the thing fed greedily on their sexual vitality through the questing pseudopodic phaluses, teats, and vulvas it sent forth!
—Robert M. Price, “A Thousand Young” in The Shub-Niggurath Cycle (1994) 94
The idea, both artistic and literary, of a polymorphous Mythos entity that can produce genitalia at will is still very much part of the creative erotic lexicon of the Mythos, as can be clearly seen in many depictions of the shoggoth in, for example, fan-works related to Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス). Arguably there were prototypical works in the Mythos anticipating this, such as the strange plants to which parts of human men and women were grafted in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Garden of Adompha.”
What these stories generally lack is the emotional connection. For many, the ability of a shoggoth to assume multiple genitalia, male and female, is purely a matter of sexual possibilities. Jean Ann Donnel’s Ms. Peaches doesn’t feel it’s homosexual to be with a shoggoth, no matter how many vulvas it may have at the moment; but her interest in Fi Fi, like Cantraip’s, is more than just sexual. There’s a romantic bond, above and beyond just the sexual one…and it’s a bond that Ms. Peaches and Cantraip learn to share with each other as well as Fi Fi.
Fi Fi had parts entwined, and in, both of them and covering them protectively. They slept in Fi Fi and Fi Fi in them, as well as in one another. They were not going back to the dysfunctional relationship group. The three of them felt their relationship was absolutely perfect just as it was.
—Jean Ann Donnel, “Shoggoth Makes Three” in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003), vol. 2, no. 16, 21
“Shoggoth Makes Three” has a happy ending…and, for what the story is, a short-short of only two pages, played for laughs, that’s workable. However, there is the potential in that setup for much more substantial and powerful stories that explore this kind of theme, of humans finding a meaningful relationship with an eldritch entity that extends beyond just sex, which eschews the limitations of gender.
Such a story is “Ink” by Bernie Mozjes in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica. While Mozjes doesn’t cover quite the same ground as Donnel (no therapy), “Ink” is played more seriously; the conclusion is less foregone, and the emotions being addressed have more kick. Donnel takes it for granted that the shoggoth, because of their multiple genitalia, is able to bridge the gap between men and women mostly on a sexual basis. Mozjes is more focused on what else might attract someone to enter into a polyamorous relationship with an eldritch entity—and why the polymorphic entity itself might enter into such a relationship.
Which is rare ground. It’s often a strange case for Mythos fiction, particularly Lovecraftian erotica, that regardless of how fantastic the physical forms and acts of copulation turn out to be, the actual basic mechanics tend to default to heteronormative values of sex and relationships. Whether that’s a collective failure of the imagination or catering to what the audience wants, who can tell? Yet it doesn’t seem that many people have written of, say, polygamous marriages in Innsmouth. For everyone that thinks every possibility for Mythos fiction has been explore…reconsider your preconceptions. There’s a lot stranger territory out there.
“Shoggoth Makes Three” by Jean Ann Donnel was first published in Cthulhu Sex Magazine (2003) vol. 2, no. 16. It has not been republished. Donnel had written some short-short fiction on the alt.cthulhu.sex Usenet group, and also published “Have You Found Him” in Eldritch Blue: Love & Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos (2004).
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).