“Lines On Placing An Order With Arkham House” (1965) by Judy Reber

There was never any question about the name of our publishing house—the imprint to be used on what we then thought perhaps the first of three volumes. Arkham Housesuggested itself at once, since it was Lovecraft’s own well-known, widely-used place-name for legend-haunted Salem, Massachusetts, in his remarkable fiction; it seemed to use that this was fitting and that Lovecraft himself would have approved it enthusiastically. […]

Nevertheless, the buyers of our first book were sufficiently enthusiastic to persuade me to believe there might be a market for small editions of books in the general domain of fantasy, with emphasis on the macabre or science-fiction.

August Derleth, Thirty Years of Arkham House (1970) 3, 4

Before he was a professional writer of weird fiction, Lovecraft was an amateur. He came out of his shell in the 1910s with the amateur press movement, and his first weird fiction was published not in pulp magazines or anthologies, but in small amateur journals—and he carried that amateur attitude with him for the rest of his life. While Lovecraft did not disdain being paid for his work, he disliked writing for money rather than for art. He loved weird fiction, and that appreciation and passion became a part of his legend.

So too, it became a part of the legend of Arkham House.

It is easy today to consider Arkham House as a mere business venture. It was not the first small press in the United States, nor the first to publish anthologies and novels of weird fiction. The Popular Fiction Publishing Co., the publishers of Weird Tales, had tried their hand at a slim anthology titled The Moon Terror and Others (1927), culled from the magazine; it was a commercial failure that took decades to sell out. More success was found in the United Kingdom with the Not At Night series edited by Christine Campbell Thomson, which had its pick of the most gruesome Weird Tales, and brought writers like H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard into hardback publication.

Yet mainstream publishers, while they might tolerate H. P. Lovecraft in the occasional anthology like Creeps By Night: Chills and Thrills (1931), would never bring out a collection of Lovecraft’s fiction during his lifetime, or in the years immediately after. Nor was Robert E. Howard collected during his lifetime, except for the Western stitch-up novel A Gent from Bear Creek (1937). Popular as they might have been in the pages of Weird Tales, many of the most prominent Weird Talers lacked recognition outside of the pulps and the growing body of organized science-fiction/fantasy fandom.

Imagine for a moment that you were at a newsstand in July 1954, and you put down your thirty-five cents for the penultimate issue of Weird Tales. It was the 278th issue of the Unique Magazine, which during its initial run had been published since 1923. The first story in that issue you might have read was “The Survivor,” one of August Derleth’s “posthumous collaborations” with H. P. Lovecraft, worked up from a note in Lovecraft’s commonplace book.

If that story resonated with you—if you wanted to read more from this “Lovecraft” person—how would you do it? Try to buy back issues of Weird Tales? Hope for a reprint in another pulp? Or, perhaps, you would note the advertisement for Arkham House in the back of the issue, and write to them for a catalog, or mail off your check or money order for one of the advertised titles.

That is what Arkham House was, for much of its existence: for decades, it was practically the sole source for Lovecraft’s works and those related to him. As it expanded, it also published works by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Henry S. Whitehead, Frank Belknap Long, and many more. These were relatively expensive books at the time, in limited print runs, but it was not the limited book market of today. These books took years and sometimes decades to sell through 2,000-4,000 copies.

August Derleth did not get rich off Arkham House. It was a business, to be sure, and he was by necessity a businessman as well as a writer, an editor, and a fan. Yet if it had just been about the money, or just about Lovecraft, Derleth could have stopped long decades before his death and focused more on his own writing. Instead…he inspired competition.

By the close of the first decade of publishing, the seeming success of Arkham House had brought into being a dozen other small houses in direct competition, following the lead of Arkham House.

August Derleth, Thirty Years of Arkham House (1970), 9

Derleth doesn’t name names, but Arkham House outlived erstwhile publishers like Fantasy Press (1947-1961), Gnome Press (1948-1962), and Macabre House (1954-1979). With longevity came the legend: Arkham House had not only been the first to publish many works by Lovecraft & co., but those books, once sold out, began to demand higher prices on the used & rare book market. A cycle which still feeds collectors paying fabulous prices even today, with no end in sight.

Like Weird Tales, Arkham House was not some faceless corporate enterprise. The readership was relatively small, and intimate, especially during the first period under August Derleth’s directorship—when Derleth would often personally take and fulfill orders, answer letters, put together newsletters and journals like The Arkham Sampler (1948-1949) and The Arkham Collector (1967-1971)…and it would have been Derleth who received a token of poetic appreciation from a fan toward the enterprise he was so closely associated with:

These are lines by a fan of weird fiction; what else could be “An infamous Abbey with Rat Things,| That leave human bones in their wake,” but a knowing nod to “The Rats in the Walls”? Who might have inspired “A long-dead voluptuous Leman,| Returned now to hold men in thrall” except Clark Ashton Smith? Poetry was a long favorite of fans to pay tribute in weird literature circles; and Judy Reber here follows in the tradition of “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman, and “The Acolytes” (1946) and “The Cup-Bearer” (1951) by Lilith Lorraine.

In the Arkham House poetry book, The Dark of the Moon (1947), August Derleth inscribed Reber’s copy:

For Judy Reber,
the best of macabre verse,
Cordially, August Derleth

That was the connection between fantasy fans and the director of Arkham House; that was the kind of personal touch which built the legend of Arkham House, above and beyond their catalog. It was the weird community of spooky book lovers, and the experience of being able to order those strange and weird works which were otherwise inaccessible to the average fan which Judy Reber paid tribute.

“Lines On Placing An Order With Arkham House” by Judy Reber appeared on several of Arkham House’s promotional materials from 1965 until 1970. Being ephemera, these small pamphlets and folded sheets are often overlooked by cataloguers, so the exact publication history is obscure. The poem is in the public domain (no copyright registration or renewal could be found), and was last published in Leigh Blackmore’s ‘zine Mantichore vol. 4, no. 1 (2009).


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

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

Flowers for the Sea (2021) by Zin E. Rocklyn

My stories always feature a Black woman lead, no matter how hard history tries to erase us and our contributions. I speak to my experiences in my stories as a way to flush them out as well as show the world that we are here, we matter, we are worthy.
Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Zin E. Rocklyn (26 Feb 2021) by Michelle R. Lane

Perspective in any story is more than just the race or gender of the protagonist: it is a way of looking at the world. The history of slavery in the United States, for example, looks different from the perspective of the slave than it does from the perspective of the slaver and abolitionist. The experience and the stakes are different. It leaves its mark on individuals and generations in a way that is almost inescapable, and it shapes the way people understand and pass on their own stories and histories.

Persecution is not something Lovecraft thoroughly understood or expressed in his stories. While his life featured great hardships and poverty, he and his family never experienced systemic prejudice or discrimination. In stories like “The Festival,” he alludes to the hangings at Salem Village and the quiet diaspora of witches, but the witches are not sympathetic victims, even from the perspective of their descendants. There is no rancor at the injustice done, because to Lovecraft there was no injustice: they were witches, after all. Likewise, the fate of the people of Innsmouth is not presented as a crime amounting almost to genocide akin to the forced relocation of the Native Americans, though in all particulars it certainly approaches it.

Chronological distance offers one axis for reflection: “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys both shift the narrative on “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” seeing in the Innsmouth camps parallels to the Japanese internment camps and the Holocaust of World War 2. These stories deal with individuals who survived true persecution, the personal trauma and the breakup of families, and deal with the psychological and cultural consequences.

As a more diverse set of authors came to Lovecraftian fiction, they brought with them different points of view. The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin exists, in part, as a rejection and refutation of Lovecraft’s perspective and specific prejudices; “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle and “Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders focus on the perspective of the marginalized Black men who faced the discrimination in the 1920s and 30s that Lovecraft never knew or attempted to depict.

What Zin E. Rocklyn brings to her stories is not necessarily a need to counter, refute, reimagine, or even mention Lovecraft and his Mythos, but her existence and perspective as a Black woman writing weird fiction. As she puts it, when asked about whether she puts broader messages on race into her work:

By default, my presence within horror and writing horror is a message unto itself. Me showing up is message enough, so there’s no definitive way for me to divorce myself from that ongoing narrative.
Women in Horror Month Fiction Fragments: Zin E. Rocklyn (26 Feb 2021) by Michelle R. Lane

Which is absolutely the case for her short novel Flowers for the Sea (1921). Readers familiar with Lovecraft might well identify this story, which is set in an ambiguous time and place, as a left-handed descendant of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” by way of ecological disaster fiction like “Till A’ the Seas” by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft. Iraxi is one of the last survivors of a persecuted minority with rumored supernatual powers and ties to the sea, a literary cousin to the survivors of the Innsmouth diaspora in stories like “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe—but, the details aren’t quite right. There is a visceral reality to the persecution often missing from Innsmouth stories, ugly details like this one:

They called us nims. A word with hardly any meaning other than to spit upon its victim.

It morphed, much like forked tongues who spoke it, an encapsulating slure that reduced one to shreds, to the foam of the sea we feared, to nothing but the scent of a bowel movement.
—Zin E. Rocklyn, Flowers from the Sea 15

Slurs in science fiction and fantasy are not to be created lightly; too often they tend to mask real-world prejudices, and be substituted for them. Yet in this story, it serves the purpose of an introduction to the history of persecution that has brought Iraxi to this point, the beginning of the end of the pregnancy she didn’t want aboard a dying ship, hated by and hating those around her.

There is no calm, philosophical Lovecraftian indifference in this story. Anger is a major theme, sometimes ugly and sometimes righteous, but never unjustified. There is history behind that anger, long history, some of which is only hinted at…and it isn’t over. The people around her on the ship tolerate her, use her, but she is only and ever a resource to be managed, not a person to be respected…until, at last, it is too late.

Hate has its place in every life; it is a natural reaction to the pain of loss. An excess of hate can lead to terrible consequences; it is what leads to the transformation of Tommy Tucker in “The Ballad of Black Tom,” and nearly damns Maryse Boudreaux in her fight against the Ku Kluxes in Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. Through Rocklyn’s prose, we get Iraxi’s struggle with her own hatred…but if she becomes a monster, it is because the monsters around her have made her one. The people that burned down her home, killed her family, called her people names for generations, and finally forced her to carry a child she didn’t want…it was their monstrous deeds that stoked the furnace of her rage and honed her cruelty to a sharp point.

There are counter-narratives that might be considered, since we only have Iraxi’s viewpoint for the whole novel. The ship is dying, women unable to bear children, and in this context Iraxi is an ungrateful madonna, given the best food while the others slowly starve. Should she not be thankful for the life she is to give birth to? Is she an unreliable narrator, self-centered and toxic, unable to appreciate what others sacrifice for her sake? Or how her individual sacrifice is for the greater good, for the survival of all?

The problem with these counter-narratives is that they run up hard against issues of bodily autonomy. How grateful should a slave be, to bear the child of her master to increase his wealth? Why should she submit herself and her own needs and desires for the good of a people who see her as little more than a particularly stubborn breeding cow? That is the presence Rocklyn brings to the tale. The arguments against Iraxi’s perspective are ultimately ugly because what Iraxi suffers is, by and large, an extrapolation of the horrors and indignities that women, especially Black women, have suffered for centuries in the United States and the Caribbean.

While we’re seen as sexual beings, we’re rarely seen as sensual beings. We’ve been used and abused for hundreds of years for the sake of personal slavery to the advancement of science, but never as human beings who own their bodies and their sexuality. Even in contemporary thought, there is the myth of the Strong Black Woman who needs no partner, no love, and it simply isn’t true. It’s a bastardisation of a mantra that means we won’t put up with bullshit. I want my fiction to make that distinction, that we crave and deserve love and nurturing.
Interview: Zin E. Rocklyn by Gordon B. White in Nightmare 107 (Aug 2021)

So it is with Inaxi, though her desire for love is never requited…hence the depth and intensity of her hatred. The issues of desire for love and bodily autonomy for women, especially within the context of pregnancy, are seldom made explicit in Lovecraftian fiction; stories like “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales touch on them, but Flowers for the Sea is particularly vivid not only in its microscopic emphasis on the horrors of an unwanted pregnancy, approaching splatterpunk levels of grue when the chapter arrives for the birth, but in the implications. Iraxi is not just a Black Lavinia Whateley; her experience comes out of a very distinct experience of Black Womanhood.

Which is ultimately something that sets Flowers for the Sea apart from many other “Lovecraftian” tales. “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is not so much a distant ancestor as it is the raw material for a tube of Mummy brown that Rocklyn uses to paint her own distinct picture.

Flowers for the Sea by Zin E. Rocklyn was published in 2021 by Tor. Readers might also enjoy her fiction “teatime” (2020) and “The Night Sun” (2020).


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

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

“SCP-5389” (2021) by Agisuru

The more these synthetic daemons are mutually writtne up by different authors, the better they become as general background-material! I like to have others use my Azathoths & Nyarlathoteps—& in return I shall use Klarkash-Ton’s Tsathoggua, your monk Clithanus, & Howard’s Bran.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1931, ES 1.353
What has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos began as a kind of literary game. Writers at Weird Tales, inspired by each other’s artificial horrors, began to borrow or insert references to each other’s creations in their stories. The practice can be traced back earlier—Robert W. Chambers famously borrowed a few odd names from Ambrose Bierce for his stories in The King in Yellow—but H. P. Lovecraft and his friends took the game to another level.
About the Necronomicon—I like to have other authors in the gang allude to it, for it helps work up a background of evil verisimilitude.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 14 Aug 1931, LJS 35

The purpose of the sharing, of the Necronomicon appearing in both Lovecraft’s “The Hound” (1922) and Frank Belknap Long’s “The Were-Snake” (1925) was verisimilitude. The use of the same names by different authors reinforced the idea of a reality and consistency between the stories, that these writers were drawing from a shared background of genuine mythology…and it worked. Readers wanted to know more, they wrote to H. P. Lovecraft and other writers asking about where they could find out more about Cthulhu and Tsathoggua, and where they could get copies of the Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten.

It was the beginning of a shared universe and viral marketing, though neither term had been invented yet. Because the instantiation of the idea preceded its formal definition or codification, there have been a few quirks and hiccups. There was no concept of “canon” in the early Mythos stories: Lovecraft placed no restrictions on the use of his creations by other authors, and while there are a few references in his letters to attempting to keep things consistent between authors, he himself did not have or attempt to exercise any authority over the creativity of others. Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, Donald Wandrei, and Henry Kuttner continued to write their own stories, in their own styles. The Mythos was a connective tissue, and it was left to fans to try and codify, extrapolate, and gloss the bits of lore.

August Derleth was both an original author of the Mythos, contemporary and equal with Lovecraft and the others, and the first great codifier and pasticheur. Derleth had the great advantage that, as co-founder of Arkham House, he entered into agreements with Lovecraft’s surviving aunt Annie Gamwell and literary executor R. H. Barlow to publish Lovecraft’s fiction, and often acted to promulgate, define, and defend Lovecraft’s Mythos.

In his desire to see Lovecraft’s legacy continue in print, Derleth succeeded. However, in the process he had stifled creative use of the Mythos. His interpretations (or misinterpretations, as Richard L. Tierney would argue in “The Derleth Mythos”) had constrained the definition of both what the Mythos was and could be; his pastiches like The Lurker at the Threshold had devolved into being about the Mythos rather than using the Mythos as a common background with which to tell stories, and he had squashed the efforts of would-be Mythos writers like C. Hall Thompson. While the Mythos field was not stagnant—Derleth encouraged the work of writers like Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, and Colin Wilson—it was largely constrained by Derleth’s own tastes and desire to maintain control on Lovecraft’s legacy.

With the death of August Derleth and the relaxation of this central authority, the Mythos has blossomed. Would-be codifiers and glossators have had to face up to the impossibility of applying a single “canon” to the Mythos. There are too many stories, too many different voices, any number of different interpretations or ideas, often contradicting one another…which is not a bad thing. Lovecraft’s own mythology is often inconsistent, as real-world mythology is. Derleth succeeded in keeping the Mythos alive in the decades after Lovecraft’s death; now it is up to everyone else to reinterpret and reinvent the Mythos, to keep it fresh and relevant for new generations to enjoy and play with.

My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax. […] My own attitude in writing is always that of the hoaxweaver.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 17 Oct 1930, DS 244

For all of its success, the Cthulhu Mythos as it exists today is not without its flaws. While Lovecraft encouraged other writers to use his creations and borrowed those of his friends, copyright remains a dominant influence on any shared literary enterprise. While pretty much everything Lovecraft wrote is in the public domain in the United States, the same is not true for Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Fritz Leiber, and other contemporary authors—not to mention authors of later generations such as Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, W. H. Pugmire, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. While many of these later authors are generous in allowing others to utilize their contributions to the Mythos in their own stories, issues of copyright and permissions add a layer of complexity that can serve as a potential energy barrier to new Mythos fiction.

Or, to put it another way: it’s easier to use the Mythos material you know is in the public domain and won’t be sued over. A good bit of the attraction of the Mythos is that unlike the shared universes of Marvel and DC, they are largely free to use. This is why people continue to utilize Cthulhu and the Necronomicon, and to revisit the plot and characters of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Dunwich Horror” more often than they do Tsathoggua and the Book of Eibon, or Gol-goroth and Unaussprechlichen Kulten. The Mythos was not conceived as a shared universe from the first, so these legal tripwires remain and sometimes hamper ideas.

So imagine a Cthulhu Mythos for the 21st century. A collective literary endeavor, eminently flexible just conceived in such a way as to maximize both participation and sharing, to avoid legal hassles and deliberately avoid stagnation by encouraging a multiplicity of canons—to embrace change and growth, rather than be locked in to a single limited conception dominated by a few great authors.

That is essentially what the SCP Wiki is and aims to be.

The literary roots go all the way back to the pulps: when H. P. Lovecraft had the federal government move in to Secure Innsmouth, Contain its populace, and Protect the wider world from the awful truth of what actually happened there, he was at the forefront of a mixture of fiction and popular conspiracy theory where secret agencies work to maintain normalcy and contain the anomalous. Steps along the way include the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant was stored at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Friday the 13th: The Series (1987-1990), Delta Green, GURPS Warehouse 23 (1999), the comic book The Men in Black (1990) and its 1997 film adaptation, The X-Files (1993-2002), Millennium (1996), and even internet-based fanfiction like “The Fluff At The Threshold” (1996) by Simon Leo Barber.

In 2007, a post on 4chan pitched the basic idea in the form of SCP-173. A secret agency (the SCP Foundation) works to contain the anomalous, from artifacts to creatures to ideas and concepts. The idea gained steam from there: a wiki was established, formats agreed upon, and everything published was done so under a Creative Commons license. The early SCP wiki was very different from how the SCP wiki stands today—many of the popular concepts like Sarkism and the Church of the Broken God took time to develop, and are still being developed. New concepts like the Ethics Committee and thaumiel class came into existence, and the existence and treatment of “D-Class” have been argued and reimagined—my personal favorite embellishment for the latter being SCP-1851-EX, which shows how well the SCP format can be used to address complex and emotionally charged subjects like historical racism.

The SCP wiki has also spread out to include video games, Japanese doujinshi, tchotchkes and cosplay, even novels like There Is No Antimemetics Division (2021) by qntm—and long-time readers of the wiki may well wonder if the project hasn’t jumped the shark. There are joke SCPs, badly written tales, erasures and lacunae, political and ideological squabbles that have found their way into the pages. Not every SCP is equally creative or equally well-written; some represent weeks of writing and artwork, others read like they were whipped off during a lunch break; some involve baroque and abstruse concepts normally the domain of doctors of philosophy and religion, and some are little more than random artifacts fit for a Dungeons & Dragons or Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game campaign. Many are effectively little more than short fiction more suited for a Creepypasta. Not only is there no single “canon,” but many of the SCPs are written in such a way that they directly contradict one another (as with the various “proposals” for SCP-001). Even what you thought you knew might be upended by some new SCP, or an older entry being removed.

In a wiki with few constants, one consistent element is the influence of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. This is very rarely an effort to actually squeeze the Mythos into the shared universe of the SCP Foundation, though you occasionally see references to Miskatonic University (e.g. SCP-6027). More often it is a metafictional take on the ideas and tropes of the Mythos, often as presented not in Lovecraft’s original stories but through the pop-culture milieu of Derlethian pastiche and the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. SCP-2662 and SCP-3883 are cases in point, as somewhat tongue-in-cheek takes on sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, and the very idea of a “cognitohazard” owes something to Sanity Points as a mechanic; but there are more serious takes. The King in Yellow was definitely an inspiration for The Hanged King’s Tragedy (SCP-701); Lovecraft’s life served as an inspiration for SCP-4315.

One of the more interesting and clever entries that take inspiration from Lovecraft’s Mythos is SCP-5389, written in 2021 by user Agisuru. Like many good SCPs, 5389 doesn’t skimp on the containment procedures; the dry prelude to the actual description provides the reader with an idea of the efforts made to contain the anomalous issue, and sometimes a foreshadowing of the actual threat (if any) posed. The description itself is relatively straightforward, almost dry: long-time SCP wiki readers probably will gloss over another anomalous animal. The addendum and interview material is where the real narrative develops, and as the reader opens one section after another the rabbit hole gets deeper and deeper—a good mystery is often the heart of a good SCP as well as a good Mythos story.

The twist at the end is almost inevitable, but the real fun in the entry is in the names of the protocols and agents involved: Ib-e, Orne, Olmstead, Zadok Allen, Marsh—names borrowed from “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” SCP-5389 is not, to be clear, a kind of contemporary re-telling of either of those stories, but they are Easter eggs for Lovecraft aficionados…and perhaps an invitation. This isn’t exactly another new take on an old story in the vein of “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, it’s a remix of some of the fundamental Lovecraftian ideas in a new form and format.

The Cthulhu Mythos is in its own way as infectious a meme as anything fought by the antimemetics division, and inextricable from the noosphere and oneiric collective of humanity. It may never die, just as Arthurian legend and Greek and Roman myths have continued to influence us for centuries and millennia. We are, as Terry Pratchett put it in The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, “Pans narrans”—storytelling apes. We like a good story, and SCP-5389 is a part of one: the story of the Cthulhu Mythos and how it continues to develop, to evolve…and we may look forward to how it continues to do so for a long time to come.

If you liked SCP-5389, Agisuru has posted two other SCPs with a similar dynamic as of this writing: SCP-6918 and SCP-6919.


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

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

Teenage Twins (1976)

Historically significant, this was shot in three days by the legendary Carter Stevens, and was the very first adult XXX feature film to star real life twin sisters (Brooke and Taylor Young). Somehow their college professor stepfather (played by Leo Lovemore) has come to find the Necronomicon in his possession, which he needs for his witchcraft class. Right. That’s the thing to do with the most powerful and valuable book of dark magic on Earth…play show-and-tell with some 20-year-old turdbrains in community college. Inviting a horny friend (Eric Edwards) to help him with translating the ancient tome, the two men decide to give the Necronomicon a test drive and perform a ritual that’s supposed to give eternal life—which of course goes all wrong.
—Robin Bougie, “Enter My Dark Passage The Seventies Occultist Porn Film” in
Cinema Sewer Volume Six (2017) 9

Teenage Twins (1976) was not the first time one of Lovecraft’s creations had made it to feature film, as there was a run of Lovecraftian films in the 1960s. However, in addition to being the first X-rated American film to feature genuine twin sisters, it was the first pornographic film to feature the Necronomicon. How that came to be, is a bit of an entertaining story in itself.

Carter Stevens (Michael Stevens Worob) had been trained as a photographer and worked in film processing and directing. In 1972 he found a distributor and began his career directing pornographic films with Collegiates (1973); he would also do a fair amount of work in front of the camera. This was during the “Golden Age of Porn,” when adult filmmaking had a certain cachet—the stag film of the first half of the 20th century had given way to films that focused on plot as well as spectacle, and often featured a certain degree of arthouse aesthetic mixed in with the literal grindhouse appeal. By the mid-to-late 70s, Stevens had achieved some measure of success along these lines with films like Rollerbabies (1976), a science fiction pornographic film. As Stevens would then put it:

We had just put Rollerbabies in the can and were cutting it, (and that was the longest, most expensive, most complicated film I had done to date) and we were pretty burned out when Annie Sprinkle introduced me to one of the twins at another porn shoot we were all on. The twins had both been stewardesses for a couple of rinkydink southern airlines and had been laid off.
—Joshua Axelrod interview with Carter Stevens in Cinema Sewer, Volume Two 65

“Taylor Young” (real name unknown) had begun acting in adult films with Fanny (1975), whose cast also include Annie Sprinkle and Leo Lovemore. A comparison of Stevens and Lovemore’s filmographies show that they worked on several films together before Teenage Twins, including Lickety Split (1974), Highway Hookers (1975), Hot Oven (1975), and Mount of Venus (1975); Eric Edwards had been in the last three films as well, and would be in Teenage Twins also; Tia von Davis, who would play the twins’ mother in Teenage Twins was also in Mount of Venus. While it wouldn’t quite be a repertory company, it was clear that Stevens had a few actors he’d worked with before and could trust to perform when the opportunity presented itself.

I met the sister [Brooke Young] and she said she might be interested. I called my distributor in Detroit and told him I needed money right away to make another film. He balked as I hadn’t finished Rollerbabies yet but when I said I have a set of twins his wallet dropped open faster than his mouth. It was a real challenge making Twins as neither girl knew crap about sex. I remember Mary Stuart siting in my kitchen with a dildo trying to teach the girls how to give head. And I swear I’m not kidding when I say up until then they thought the term “Blow Job” was literal. We cobbled together a script (yes my films had scripts) in no time and within 2 weeks we shot Teenage Twins.
—Joshua Axelrod interview with Carter Stevens in Cinema Sewer, Volume Two 65

Mary Stuart was an actress who had worked with Stevens on Lickety Split and Rollerbabies. Stevens’ distributor was Arthur Weisberg, president of Gail Film Distributors, who had backed him financially on The Collegiates, The Hot Oven, and Mount of Venus before Rollerbabies and Teenage Twins. As for the script…

The credits for Teenage Twins name “Al Hazard” as responsible for the script; this was the pen name of writer Richard Jaccoma, who also used it (or a variation on the name) for Vampire Lust (1975), Punk Rock (1977), Honeymoon Haven (1977), Pleasure Palace (1979), and various adult magazine articles; he would eventually edit Screw magazine. Jaccoma was a definite fan of pulp fiction, and the use of a variation of Abdul Alhazred as a penname is one of the Easter eggs for fans—and it is really his script which makes what would have been just another mid-70s pornographic film with a gimmick into something of interest to Mythos films today. His non-pornographic works include the Fu Manchu pastiche Yellow Peril— The Adventures of Sir John Weymouth-Smythe—one of the characters in the novel being a certain writer named Al Hazard.

It was shot in one long 3 day weekend. We saved money by renting the camera equipment for a Friday and it didn’t have to be returned till Monday morning all for one day’s rental fee, so we shot most of our films in 3 day (pardon the expression) spurts. The kitchen and dining room shots were done in my real kitchen and dining room. The rest was shot in my studio on sets.
—Joshua Axelrod interview with Carter Stevens in Cinema Sewer, Volume Two 65

The hurried production probably accounts for some of the roughness of the film, and little errors in the editing. There was no budget for special effects, but the script and directing is clever in how it works to try and suggest it. The twins, for example, are supposed to have a psychic bond so that each feels what the other feels; a sex scene with one could thus alternate in cuts with how the other twin is handling their empathic arousal—which notably includes one scene where the promiuscious twin Hope is with her boyfriend and the virginal twin Prudence relieves herself by masturbating with a Bible—which scene was cut from some releases of the film so as not to offend audiences. The soundtrack, however, is fantastically funky.

The overall low budget and rush of the filmmaking is probably most notable with the ending. The film culminates with a ritualistic orgy, guided by the professor reading from the Necronomicon—but ends with notable abruptness at the final line. Whether or not they simply ran out of film, it sure feels like that.

In fact we all called them the Quaalude twins. Sexually they were rather unschooled. They did not fool around with each other off screen, it was strictly my idea to pair them up on screen as I had never heard of it done in any movie before that. […] When I found the male twins for Double Your Pleasure I had to dly down to Florida to get one of the female twins out of jail where she had been doing time for passing bad checks. In turth I think she had just gotten so stoned and ust kept writing checks long after the bank had closed the account.
—Joshua Axelrod interview with Carter Stevens in Cinema Sewer, Volume Two 65

The actors in Teenage Twins would go on with their careers; Carter Stevens would direct them both again in Double Your Pleasure (1978), which would be almost their last film—it isn’t uncommon for actors to leave the industry after only a few years, to put their screen names behind them and move on with their lives without the stigma. It is a pity there are no interviews that give Brooke and Taylor’s perspective on the filming of Teenage Twins, or their brief careers.

Stevens claimed that Teenage Twins was his most profitable film, and with the low production costs and the number of times it has been packaged and re-packaged, that wouldn’t be surprising.  While the “teenage” part was always spurious (no birthdates are given for Brooke and Taylor, but they look to have been in their mid-20s), incest was and is still a taboo subject, and taboo always has a marketing draw…as evidenced by films like Hammer Studio’s Twins of Evil (1971) which included a brief (non-explicit) lesbian scene, or by the Sexxxtons Mother/Daughter duo in the 2010s, although in that case the two women made sure to never make sexual contact with one another. Whether Teenage Twins could be legally made today would probably require a careful analysis of the incest laws of whatever state it was filmed in (Stevens is quoted as saying “As far as I know, there’s no crime called ‘conspiracy to aid and abet the commission of incest.'” Teenage Twins Collection booklet 6).

Yet for Mythos fans, the most interesting part of the film is the Necronomicon itself.

Screenshot 2022-02-11 8.54.15 PM

Although mentioned in the film’s opening, the Necronomicon itself doesn’t appear until well over half the film’s runtime, and no good shots have appeared of the prop itself. Pulp fans might be interested to know that the incantation read out of the book is “Ka nama kaa lajerama”—the incantation from Robert E. Howard’s “The Shadow Kingdom” (Weird Tales Aug 1929), the film thus marks the adult film debut of Howard’s literary creations as well.

The Necronomicon in Teenage Twins acts as a catalyst as much as it does a grimoire; supposedly the very presence of the book inspires some of the sexual escapades, such as when Gerald has a threesome with his step-daughter Hope alongside Professor Robert. It is an interesting angle, but as with many pornographic films, the plot is mainly there to set up the scenes and the pairings. Yet if Jaccoma hadn’t written the Necronomicon into the script—and Stevens hadn’t rolled with it—who would remember Teenage Twins today as more than a mid-70s effort to capitalize off of gay-for-pay twin actors?

Screenshot 2022-02-11 11.02.57 PM

There are several versions of Teenage Twins out there in the marketplace, including on VHS and DVD, and it has been marketed as Teenage Tarts and The Young Twins. The Teenage Twins Collection includes commentary on the making of the film with director Carter Stevens, as well as great little details like:

Ads for production assistants and actors appeared in the Village Voice on December 1, 1975 and shooting commenced days later on December 5. […] A $65 receipt from Chicken Galore for fried chicken, ribs and twenty paper plates gives some indication of the cost of feeding cast and crew on a tiny budget.
—Michael J. Bowen, Teenage Twins Collection booklet 5

I was once told that at an early WorldCon a cut of Teenage Twins was shown which excised the hardcore sexuality and left intact the plot; it was supposedly screened under the tongue-in-cheek title At the Mons of Madness. I’ve never been able to find any confirmation to this, but Stevens was a known science fiction fan, and a con reporter in the fanzines Drift #3 and Event Horizon #349 confirms that he attended MidAmericaCon (the 34th WorldCon) in 1976, and apparently held private screenings of some of his films…so I consider it at least possible that the film was shown.


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

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

“Lovecraft Slept Here” (2003) by Denise Dumars

The hotel had an H. P. Lovecraft room, which Laetitia had booked for us when she learned of my interest in the man and his writings. She was verye excited about it for the desk clerk remarked that Lovecraft himself had once stayed there. I did not want to burst her bubble of adorable enthusiasm by telling her that, despite his desire to visit Clark Ashton Smith in Northern California, he had never had the chance to visit the West Coast.
—Denise Dumars, Lovecraft Slept Here 199

Even when he was alive, H. P. Lovecraft was a name to conjure with. Friends like Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and Robert Bloch put characters based on him into their stories, so did his future wife, Sonia H. Greene in “Four O’Clock” (1949). After his death, writers in Weird Tales like August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman sometimes dropped his name into their stories, blending fact and fiction, making the creator of Cthulhu into an expert in Mythos lore who disguised fact as fiction. It was a short step from there until Lovecraft became a kind of legendary figure, and not every story that invoked or involved Lovecraft necessarily tied directly into the Mythos.

Sometimes, things run in series. Robert Bloch’s “The Man Who Collected Poe” (1951) inspired Gregory Nicoll’s “The Man Who Collected Lovecraft” (1977), Randall Larson’s “The Thing That Collected Bloch” (1977), Phillip C. Heath’s “The Man Who Collected Bloch” (1987), Phillip Weber’s “The Man Who Collected Lovecraft” (1987), Kim Newman’s “The Man Who Collected Clive Barker” (1990), Mark Samuel’s “The Man Who Collected Machen” (2010), and Nick Mamatas’ “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” (2017). These are stories less about their subjects than about the obsession with their subjects, the fandom and the kind of behavior it can generate.

This is metafiction in the sense that there is a nod and a wink to the stories; plenty of historical figures have fiction written about them, but these are generally stories written by fans, about fans, with in-depth knowledge of the fandom, and mostly for fans. When you read a story like Fritz Leiber Jr.’s “To Arkham and the Stars” (1966) or “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” (2011) by Naomi Novik, the narrative leans more heavily toward homage, but for the stories that are focused more on the legend, Lovecraft himself doesn’t have to appear at all. It’s his legacy, the idea of him that informs the atmosphere and drives the action.

Which is the case with “Lovecraft Slept Here.”

Denise Dumars is familiar with Lovecraft fandom, with articles in ‘zines like Crypt of Cthulhu and Tekeli-Li, poems like “Cthulhu” and “The Whitleys Have The Innsmouth Look” published in Space and Time and The Arkham Sampler—and there is a lot about “Lovecraft Slept Here” that might strike a fellow Lovecraft-fan as correct. The protagonist as the ardent devotee of Lovecraft, secure in their formidable knowledge and constantly dropping “eldritch” and “squamous” into the descriptions of the scenery; the chintzy Oregon hotel that claims Lovecraft slept there, even though that is an impossiblity. It is a reasonably solid set-up, it hits a few of the right cues…so why doesn’t it work?

There is a degree of tongue firmly in cheek in “Lovecraft Slept Here,” which ends with a last line that strives to do one better than “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” and in terms of content and approach it is a close cousin to stories like Mamatas’ “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” and the other variations on the theme. Pacing is one problem; the story drags a bit at the beginning, then is rushed at the end; the reveal, when it happens, has no real foreshadowing or build-up. Good atmosphere and pacing can make up for limited plot, but lacking both, this is a fan effort that falls a bit flat. The poor protagonist is ultimately a caricature of fandom, like Comic Book Guy, but not nearly so entertaining as he strikes his final pose.

Which is, really, the point of these kind of metafiction stories. Not necessarily to be moralistic, or to excite the imagination by tying supernatural fantasies to fandom, but as a kind of acknowledgement of fan behavior—an ability for the community to look at themselves and laugh, and maybe to acknowledge something of the absurdity that underlies the seriousness and drama in all human endeavors. These stories are the mirrors in which fandom reflects something of itself, warts and all, and often thumbs a nose at its own face.

“Lovecraft Slept Here” by Denise Dumars was published in the anthology of the same name.
It has not been reprinted.


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

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

“In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” (2021) by Molly Tanzer

 I can see it a little when I make the Voorish sign or blow the powder of Ibn Ghazi at it, and it is near like them at May-Eve on the Hill.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Libido sciendi is the desire to know; the pull that drives people to squint through keyholes, pry up rocks and flagstones, to pick the lock on your sister’s diary. It is a very Lovecraftian drive, and one that applies equally well to the investigators of a Cthulhu Mythos story and to many readers themselves. How many young men and women have sat down to make lists of strange titles in Lovecraft’s stories, tracked hints between stories, read dead men’s letters, searched online to ferret out connections? It is not too much to say that generations have persisted in plumbing the Lovecraftian debts…and yet exciting would it be to find one more mystery to uncover?

Molly Tanzer wants readers to know that “this story is based on a true experience of mine. I really did have the thought, Oh, I loved that story, ‘In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi,’ when I picked up that card in Arkham Horror, years agao now. But after many, many deep Googles and queries to editors whom I thought might have published it later, I was forced to conclude that no such story exists. Last year, I picked up that card again in the game, and after doing yet another deep dive into the annals of the internet, I thought to myself, ‘I should just write it, then.”
—epigraph to “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021), 126

If you want to get technical about it, Molly Tanzer is playing a very old game in this story. A person in the real world finds a hint that something in Lovecraft’s fiction might be real. Lovecraft would mention his friend Clark Ashton Smith among the artists of the Mythos, August Derleth put copies of Arkham House’s Lovecraft books on the same shelf as the Necronomicon in some of his stories, Joanna Russ had a fan run across a genuine Lovecraftian horror in “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket—But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!“, Robert Bloch in Strange Eons has someone run across an original Pickman painting. The fun of the game is guessing where the dividing line is—how much of what Lovecraft wrote is real? How did he know?

Tanzer teases the reader a better than most. The themes are play are so hoary and well-worn they’re like an old ratty pair of slippers, so easy and comfortable to slip into you almost wouldn’t wear anything else. The protagonist knows that the set-up has to be fake, recognizes the theatricality of it, even reels off the names of familiar works like The Wicker Man and Murder on the Orient Express as a knowing wink to what is about to happen—and the reader keeps reading anyway. It isn’t that Tanzer is being unoriginal, it’s just that it’s almost a ritual with readers at this point. They recognize all the signs, and appreciate the set up, but what they want…what they need…is to know the secret of the ending.

A large part of the appeal of the story will be for Lovecraftian enthusiasts. The nameless protagonist is not explicitly Molly Tanzer herself, but in the sense of “write what you know,” enough of Tanzer is stamped on the character’s backstory to lend verisimilitude. It gives room for little in-jokes. When Tanzer writes:

And it was actually S. T. Joshi who first called me a minor Lovecraftian author, so the scales balance out on that one. I think he was trying to hurt my feelings, but there’s no point to being offended by the truth.
—Molly Tanzer, “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” in
The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021), 140

S. T. Joshi is a noted Lovecraft scholar, biographer, writer, and critic who is somewhat famous for being acerbic. If he doesn’t like something, Joshi makes no bones about it. For fans of Lovecraftian fiction, two sentences is enough to invoke the image of S. T. damning someone with faint praise. This isn’t so much a jibe at the Old Man of Lovecraft Studies so much as a wink-and-a-nod at the realities; whether or not Joshi actually said something like this to Tanzer is less important than this is something he might well say. Lovecraft fans familiar with Joshi will recognize the hint; like many real-life people who found fictional versions of themselves appearing in Lovecraftian stories, Joshi has crossed that threshold a few times—most notably in the final issue of Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows graphic novel Providence.

There is a lot to like about the story. Tanzer has a great deal of skill in creating convincing snippets of authentic-sounding antique prose, and an awareness of how language and tone reveal little slip-ups when you’re trying to make a text sound old to an audience. The nested narrative structure is a complicated one, the kind of thing Lovecraft would use to good effect in stories like “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Call of Cthulhu,” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. At one point, I thought one of the key nested episodes was paraphrasing one of the tales of the Scheherazade—but no, it was something of Tanzer’s own design, though with a hint of the folktale about it.

There is a lot that is Lovecraftian about “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi,” but there are no tentacles or blasphemous names, no Necronomicons, and the gnosis that reader and unnamed protagonist seek is, in the end, not another nugget of Mythos lore. This is not a locked-room mystery where you guess who the killer is on page three, nor a standard Cthulhu yarn where you’re waiting for the cultists in the funny robes and wavy daggers to come out of the literary woodwork. But if the reader is willing to suspend their disbelief a little, and enjoy the ride, they may find find it worth the journey.

“In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” (2021) by Molly Tanzer was first published in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Mar/Apr 2021).


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

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

Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee

As for seriously-written books on dark, occult, & supernatural themes—in all truth, they don’t amount to much. That is why it’s more fun to invent mythical works like the Necronomicon & Book of Eibon. The magical lore which superstitious people really believed, & which trickled down to the Middle Ages from antiquity, was really nothing more than a lot of childish invocations & formulae for raising daemons &c., plus systems of speculation as dry as the orthodox philosophies.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Willis Conover, 28 July 1926, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 378

People have always believed in magic, even if they haven’t always called it magic. This was rarely the kind of magic we might associate with fantasy fiction today; practitioners generally weren’t throwing fireballs. The form and goals of magic have always changed to match the syntax of the era. In ancient Rome, someone might scratch a curse on a tablet of lead, or have a diviner root around in entrails to answer a personal question, or wear an amulet to ensure an easy childbirth. In Lovecraft’s lifetime, they might check their horoscope in the newspaper, carry a rabbit’s foot on their keychain, or let someone hypnotize them.

When most people think of “real” magic, they think less of this kind of superstition and pseudoscience, as Lovecraft would put it, and more on specific tropes of grimoires, spellcasting, magic circles, maybe witchcraft and cults as described in The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray. Ancient traditions passed down, either in oral traditions or crumbling books and manuscripts, or both. Lovecraft lived and wrote during the period called the Third Great Awakening which saw the rise of organized occultism (in the form of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, the Theosophical Society, and other groups), an increased focus on Spiritualism and other new religious movements, increased interest in ancient religions thanks to advances in archaeology, scientific interest in supernatural phenomena (as explored by the Society for Psychical Research and other groups), and wider publication of occult literature to an increasingly literate public. Owen Davies explores the magical world of Lovecraft’s era in his book A Supernatural War: Magic, Divination, and Faith during the First World War.

After World War II, magic continued to be popular. Aleister Crowley, a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, had developed its system of ceremonial magick into an influential system of belief called Thelema. Gerald Gardner and Doreen Valiente, among others, formulated and organized contemporary witchcraft as Wicca. Interest in psychic phenomena, Eastern spirituality, and more new religious movements increased during the 1960s. Aleister Crowley’s secretary Kenneth Grant rose to prominence by expanding the system of ceremonial magic—and incorporating in elements of Lovecraft’s fictional Mythos. Anton LeVay, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966, also worked some Lovcraftian material in. In New York City in 1977, a Necronomicon appeared that purported to be a genuine grimoire. For more on such developments, check out The History of British Magick After Crowley and The Necronomicon Files.

While some might argue that all occult literature is in some sense fiction, the development of the Lovecraftian occult was different from claims to have found an ancient magical manuscript and translated it, or to have received a communication from some spirit from “outside.” While some of it (like the Simon Necronomicon) was deliberately fraudulent, the Lovecraftian occult proved to be no different, in the end, to any material derived from traditional sources. A little weird, maybe, and consciously derived from the works of a dead pulp writer rather than some medieval magician, but for people who found defined gods as ideas, concepts, and symbols—what was the difference between a traditional goddess such as Isis and a fictional one like Shub-Niggurath? If you believed enough, and if the rituals you worked around the idea worked well enough for you—why not be a Lovecraftian magician?

This postmodern approach to magick, where prospective magicians were not restricted to traditional systems but pursued a more individual, personal, even eclectic and experiential approach has sometimes been called Chaos magick. Lovecraftian occultism has incorporated by many chaos magicians (or chaotes) into their personal mythology, most notably by Phil Hine in The Pseudonomicon. This approach has in turn inspired takes on Lovecraftian spirituality, notably When the Stars Are Right: Toward an Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality by Scott R. Jones, and Lovecraftian occultism has influenced Lovecraftian fiction.

Which is a very long prologue to begin talking about Trolling Lovecraft by V. McAfee.

I’m not really familiar with his history
enough to do that…
but I guess I could give it a shot. Like go
back to when he was a kid and haunt him
with weird bs?
—V. McAfee, Trolling Lovecraft 5

McAfee’s debut novel is told from the perspective of Dyl, a working chaos magician. It is occult fiction in the sense that it follows the precepts of chaos magic, without explaining the terminology or many of the concepts. Readers who aren’t familiar with sigil-making, or how you might charge an orgone accumulator, are going to miss a few things. While I wouldn’t be surprised if McAfee was very familiar with Hine and the Pseudonomicon, the focus of the novel is not some exegesis on Lovecraftian occultism…it’s the use of chaos magic for a very specific purpose: trolling Lovecraft.

There are a lot of ways for dealing with life, the things it throws at you, and historical figures like H. P. Lovecraft. Many writers have addressed Lovecraft and his work in many ways in fiction, from reverence to revulsion, ridicule to reimagining. None of these are wrong; a writer might express their appreciation for Lovecraft by creating a fictional version of them in their story, as Robert Silverberg did in “Gilgamesh in the Outback”, or work out frustration by calling out his racism as N. K. Jemisin did in The City We Became. Chaos magic is as valid an approach as any other—and maybe as valid a goal for chaos magic as any other operation.

He took his copy of a collection of Lovecraft’s prose off the shelf and found Beyond the Wall of Sleep, one of his favorites and one of the original pieces that he was going to mess with. He read through it quickly and found it unchanged, just as Her Greatness had said. Then, Dyl pulled up a transcription on the web and found that the phrase ’empire of Tsan-Chan’ had in fact been changed to ’empire of Fiat-Nox’.
—V. McAfee, Trolling Lovecraft 67

While trolling Lovecraft is the premise of the novel, the focus is on Dyl and the consequences of his actions. Like many magicians, he’s young, male, egotistical, often horny, and perpetually getting himself into deeper and deeper shit through poor life choices. This is not a magical adventure in the sense that Dyl has to find an ancient grimoire bound in human skin and has to defeat Cthulhu before the evil cult can summon him into the real world; this is an extraordinarily personal journey about someone who becomes unmoored from his personal reality because he decided to troll Lovecraft…and while many other people might not believe in it, it’s real for him.

Which is what chaos magic is all about.

Trolling Lovecraft was written by V. McAfee for NaNoWriMo 2020, and a print edition was successfully funded and delivered on Kickstarter in 2021. Digital copies can be purchased at the Gate Zero shop on Etsy and Gumroad.


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

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

“Lovecraft Thesis #5” (2021) by Brandon O’Brien

The man you say brought us here is a kind of prophet.
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

Every Lovecraftian thesis in O’Brien’s collection includes a soundtrack; for #5 it is Visions of Bodies Being Burned (2020), Track 6: Make Them Dead, by clipping. An experimental hip-hop piece of carefully constructed distortion, slow to start, building in speed and lyricality. The track provides added context for the thesis; one should be read with the other, not rushing through O’Brien’s free verse, but savoring the way the lines scan. Like good poetry, and good lyrics, there is something more there than just a clever bit of wording or an evocative image.

Lovecraftian is a state of mind. There’s no hard definition, and it means different things to different people. For folks like W. H. Pugmire, “Lovecraftian” was an aesthetic, a mood, an attitude. You don’t need Cthulhu or tentacles to be Lovecraftian;  you don’t even need Lovecraft. The idea is bigger than the man or his fiction, and sometimes it can be crafted in a poem or found by chance in the verse of a song. Every person who comes to Lovecraft and his work brings with them their own experience, their own syntax through which to view and define what “Lovecraftian” means for them—and can put their own stamp on what is Lovecraftian.

Does it bear repeating that the caliber of racism he espoused in his heyday of the 1910s to the 1930s was not uncommon among white Americans? Of coure—but it would be a sorry excuse, as if to imply racism was some unaboidable product of circumstance rather than the deliberate ideology of spiteful people, some of whom may be honestly otherwise remarkable (much to the benefit of that spite). There is no shame or cruelty in observing this. He was a truly remarkable creative mind, but one whose creativity was colored by a misguided value of monoculturalism.

Science fiction is a radical genre, but that fact is a neutral one.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 68

The “Lovecraft theses” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? are meditations on a theme, but deliberately ambiguous, letting the reader fill in the gaps. The language is evocative of Lovecraft’s themes, but there are no proper names to hang certainties on. In other poems in this collection, like “Kanye West’s Internet Bodyguard Aks Hastur to Put Away the Phone,” the specificity and pop culture references are played for laughs, surreal humor masking the darker reflections, in the vein of Kanye West—Reanimator (2015) by Joshua Chaplinsky.

how they huddle around warped symbols,
pledge fealty to idols long since dust,
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

For myself, reading these lines about the hooded figures, listening to this track, I’m reminded of Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark. Yet one could just as easily read this as a poem of the fantastic, of any group of cultists; even absent its context, the track, the author’s note, the other poems in the collection, it speaks to familiar themes, people staring into the past, defined by hate and a kind of fanatical devotion. The tenor of the thesis has that kind of Lovecraftian universality to it, picking up its color and timbre from its context.

O’Brien knows what he is doing.

This is not the only work that has taken the most recognizable parts of the Cthulhu mythos and reshaped them for thoughtful and critical effect.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 70

One of the key points of the 2010s and 2020s has been not necessarily a rising awareness of Lovecraft’s racism—that was never a secret, and no serious biography has ever shied away from the subject—but a rising awareness that there is a body of literature in response to that, whether it be “Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders, “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle, Harlem Unbound (2017) by Darker Hue Studios, or The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin. Anyone that accuses these writers of whipping a dead horse is missing the point: the issue at hand is not berating Lovecraft for his racism, but demonstrating that Black people have a voice in Lovecraftian fiction too. They get to have their part in defining what “Lovecraftian” means to them, to tell Cthulhu Mythos stories in their own way, reflective of their own interests and experiences, just as white people have been doing for decades.

After all, in terms of Cthulhu, it doesn’t matter what color your skin is. There is no reason a Black character cannot be the protagonist of a Lovecraftian story, cannot experience the same sense of cosmic horror and insignificance that Lovecraft’s white protagonists did. The experience of cosmic fear should ultimately be colorblind.

“Lovecraftian thesis #5” is a little different.

The end goal of this collection is in the same spirit as those works, but hoping to accomplish the inverse: for Blackness ot be seen as radically significant.
—Brandon O’Brien “Author’s Note” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 70

You can see that in a close reading of the verse. The identity and the perspective of the speaker is critical: they are not among the group of hooded figures, they are apart, watching, questioning. In the first line, the speaker specifies “The man you say brought us here”—the speaker is addressing the audience, and identifying as part of a group that was brought somewhere against their will, set against these hooded figures—you don’t have to see the speaker as a former slave set against the Ku Klux Klan, but you can see how that experience could have informed those words.

What else than to own the carcass
of a land already bought in blood?
—Brandon O’Brien “Lovecraft Thesis #5” in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021) 59

All five “Lovecraft theses,” along with other poems by Brandon O’Brien can be found in Can You Sign My Tentacle? (2021).


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

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Ring Shout (2020) by P. Djèlí Clark

I think whether one reads Lovecraft or not, his influence is all over genre—from television shows like Buffy to Marvel concepts of cosmic world-devouring beings like Galactus. So you grow up with it. Then you read Lovecraft and you’re like, uhhh, this guy is pretty problematic. And some of the xenophobic meanings behind unknowable horrors lurking on the edge of human civilization give you serious pause. But you still dig tentacles. What are you to do? Give up tentacles altogether? Now you got no tentacles to like, because the guy from way back was a serious ass? Thing is, marginalized people have been ingesting problematic things in SFF, from dark elves on down, and loving it through our gritted teeth—since forever. This isn’t a new thing for us. So when we’re fortunate enough to get the chance to flip the script, to use those same tentacles to tell stories from different perspectives, we take it. And I think there are lots of readers, consumers of Genre of all backgrounds, who with relief are like, “finally…”
—P. Djéli Clark interviewed by Daryl M,
Interview With an Author: P. Djeli Clark (17 Dec 2020)

In 1905, Thomas Dixon Jr.’s novel The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan was published, the second in a trilogy of novels set in the South during the period of Reconstruction. That same year, it was adapted into a play and premiered on the stage. A full decade later, the play and novel were adapted into an epic film, The Birth of the Nation (1915)—and on the night of its release, a second Ku Klux Klan was founded. Within a few years, chapters would spread throughout the country; membership would escalate into the millions by the 1920s, and even expand into Canada at the height of the new Klan’s power and influence. Fractious groups descended from or inspired by the Klan persist to this day.

The persistent lies and historical revisionism of The Clansman and The Birth of a Nation did not go unopposed. Protests were held against both play and film, the nascent NAACP made an organized effort to get the film banned from theaters, reviews criticized the historicity of the film. At the Forrest Theatre in Philadelphia, a brick thrown through the plateglass window of the box-office spurred armed police to charge the crowd protesting the screening. In a pair of self-published magazines, two amateur journalists briefly argued over the film, among other issues of race and prejudice (see “Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson).

Ring Shout is not a novel concerned with what H. P. Lovecraft thought about the Ku Klux Klan. P. Djéli Clark centers his fantasy novel on those whom the revived Klan aimed themselves against: Black people, immigrants, communists, LGBTQ+ folks. The style borrows from urban fantasy: it is a recognizable contemporary period, and a secret war is being waged. The enemy is not white people, at least, not all white people. There are monsters that lurk beneath the white hoods; people that have let themselves become so consumed by hate that an otherworldly infection has set in. The heroes who fight them still live under Jim Crow, face persecution for the color of their skin, their gender, their sexuality, even their politics.

Clark weaves together fact and fiction, real elements of Gullah culture and fictional folklore. The combination is compelling; Ring Shout does not need to drop familiar names like Cthulhu or Yog-Sothoth, and if it draws inspiration from Clive Barker’s “The Hellbound Heart” (1986), it is only that: inspiration. Ring Shout weaves its own mythos together, carves out its own space…and it works all the better for that. It builds off many of the ideas that have been popularized in the Mythos, but does so in its own way, unbeholden to any previous writer. In this way, it is more free than efforts to depict the Black experience of the Mythos in stories like “Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders or “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle.

In less skilled hands, Ring Shout could easily have become a mere power fantasy. The KKK, because of their militant prejudice and involvement with racial violence are almost as easy targets as the Nazis. Little sympathy is wasted for men who dressed up in white hoods to burn crosses, terrorized Black people and immigrants, and participated in numerous murders and lynchings over a period of decades. That all of this was in service to the rather banal evil of promoting racism as a profit-making enterprise doesn’t engender any additional sympathy, either (see Hatred and Profits: Getting Under The Hood of the Ku Klux Klan). As it is, Clark’s characters show little sympathy for human members of the Klan—but they do not go out of their way to kill and terrorize them either. Their fight is with the monsters, and that raises the conflict conflict to a philosophical level.

He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby becomes a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee.
—Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil 

Maryse Boudreaux fights monsters in Ring Shout, and her struggle is a pulpy, action-heavy fantasy where she can literally use a magic sword forged from centuries of pain to fight back against the literal monsters that have fed the hate against her, her family, and everyone that looks like her. Yet the philosophical struggle she faces is one which many people of color have faced, and continue to face: whether to allow the hate and pain inflicted on her to define who she is. Whether to meet racism with more racism, hate with more hate, violence with more violence…and where and how do you draw the line?

At the every end of the novel, a brief setup is given for a potential sequel:

“A new threat rises,” Auntie Ondine goes on. She leans in. “You must go on a quest! To an isle within the Province of Rhodes!”
I stop mid-sip. “You mean Providence, Rhode Island?”
She blinks. “Isn’t that what I said? The enemy has their eyes fixed there—on a man they believe can help them further infilitrate your world, open doors to worse than their Grand Cyclops. They’re inculcating him with their vileness and he appears a willing vessel. He has been named their Dark Prince and—”
—P. Djéli Clark, Ring Shout (2020) 180

This is neither the first time Lovecraft has been tied to the KKK in posthumous literature: Richard Lupoff had Lovecraft become entangled in a plot involving the Nazis and KKK in his novel Lovecraft’s Book (1985), later republished as Marblehead (2015), to give one example. Clark is being tongue-in-cheek with this little reference, and Ring Shout has nothing to do with Lovecraft’s thoughts on the Klan…but Lovecraft may help readers better understand an aspect of this novel, if we read what he wrote about the Ku Klux Klan in 1914 in his amateur journal The Conservative:

Mr. Isaacson’s protest is directed specifically against a widely advertised motion picture, “The Birth of a Nation”, which is said to furnish a remarkable insight into the methods of the Ku-Klux-Klan, that noble but much maligned band of Southerners who saved half of our country from destruction at the close of the Civil War. The Conservative has not yet witnessed the picture in question, but he has seen both in literary and dramatic form The Clansman, that stirring, though crude and melodramatic story by Rev. Thomas Dixon, Jr., on which “The Birth of a Nation” is based, and has likewise made a close historical study of the Ku-Klux-Klan, finding as a result of his research nothing but Honour, Chivalry, and Patriotism in the activities of the Invisible Empire. The Klan merely did for the people what the law refused to do, removing the ballot from unfit hands and restoring to the victims of political vindictiveness their natural rights. The alleged lawbreaking of the Klan was committed only by irresponsibile miscreants who, after the dissolution of the Order by its Grand Wizard, Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest, used its weird masks and terrifying costumes to vein their unorganised villainies.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “In A Major Key,” Collected Essays 1.56

There is no evidence Lovecraft ever did any “research” into the KKK, and his statements make it clear that any reading he could have done on the subject must have been from sources promoting the Lost Cause. He makes no reference to the violence that accompanied the political intimidation, the loss of life and property, and unspoken but implicitly stated is the disbelief in the validity of the fourteenth and fifteenth amendmants. Lovecraft is parroting the anti-Reconstruction myth propogated by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Dunning school.

The horror in this statement is not that it’s Lovecraft that said it in 1915—it is that this is what millions on millions of people in the United States believed was true during the early 20th century, even long after Lovecraft was dead. Lovecraft was ignorant and racist, but he was one man. Ring Shout is set during a time when any white person in the United States might have made, and believed, similar claims. Lovecraft never put the KKK into any of his stories, never joined the Klan, never participated in a lynching, and in later life changed his views (at least on the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan), but in this instance we may turn to Lovecraft as an example of how those ideas were put into words. What people thought and believed.

They took The Birth of a Nation not as propaganda, but as history.

Ring Shout is a novel about people fighting monsters under the guise of the Ku Klux Klan. It is also a novel about how people subject to pain and discrimination struggle to not let that hate define who and what they are. Yet neither of these things is the same as fighting and overcoming racism. That is the ultimate horror that Ring Shout leaves us with. Even if a sequel is written, and Lovecraft is a willing vessel to terrible entities from beyond, and the heroes win through in the end…there will still be millions of Americans that continue to believe the same lies, to propogate the same hate, to cast the oppressors as the victims and the victims as monsters who must be defeated.

You cannot kill racism with a magic sword.


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

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

Le Bol Maudit (1982) by Enki Bilal

Et tu sauras ce que je sais…tu connaîtras par ce bol, les secrets les plus terrifiants, car comme moi tu es damné… par Yuggoth le maudit prends!!!
—Enki Bilal, Le Bol Maudit 2

And you will know what I know … you will know by this bowl, the most terrifying secrets, because like me you are damned … by Yuggoth the evil take this!!!
—English translation

“Le Bol Maudit” (“The Evil Bowl”) was the first story that Enki Bilal published, in the Franco-Belgian magazine Pilote in 1971. Over the next few years, Bilal would publish several more short stories in Pilote, including “A tire d’aile” (“On the Wing”), “Ophiuchus” (from the Greek, “Serpent-bearer”), “La chose a venir” (“The Thing To Come”), “Ciel de nuit” (“Night Sky”), “Kling Klang,” “Le mutant” (“The Mutant”), and “Fermez les volets et ouvrez l’oeil” (“Close the shutters and keep your eyes open”).

Most of these were very short black and white affairs, some only a couple pages long, with surreal and science fiction themes: astronauts, aliens, mutants, dreams—that would see much broader exploration in his more well-known and longer works such as Légendes d’Aujourd’hui (with Pierre Christin) and the Nikopol trilogy, which was partially adapted in the film Immortel (2004). These early works by Bilal were later collected, first by Minoustchine in 1975 as L’appel des étoiles (“The Call of the Stars”, 1975), containing only five stories, and then by Futuropolis in Le Bol Maudit (1982) containing eight. An English translation of the Minoustchine volume (reprinting “The Evil Bowl,” “On the Wing,” “Ophiuchus,” “Pulse” (“La chose a venir”), and “Close your shutters and watch out!”) was published by Flying Buffalo as The Call of the Stars (1978).

“The Call Of The Stars,
or the dark destiny of men called on by
the unutterable and inconceivable unknown.
Four stories with a Lovecraftian touch,
plus an authentic dream-nightmare voyage
I experienced with my tender companion
To whom I dedicate this collection dark with hope.”
Enki Bilal
—Back cover text of The Call of the Stars

In this early work, Bilal is displaying many of his influences very openly; there are gorgeous full-page compositions that show the influence of Philippe Druillet’s Lone Sloane, which was also published in Pilote for a period; scenes inspired rather blatantly from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and there are stories like “Ophiuchus” which is essentially an adaptation of, or at least a variation on, H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Bilal hadn’t quite reached his distinctive style of art and storytelling yet, but he was definitely on his way.

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Pages from “Le Bol Maudit”

“Le Bol Maudit” has the most explicit references to Lovecraft, although these are basically just Easter eggs for fans. Appreciation for Lovecraft blossomed in France, and in the Franco-Belgian comics circles during this periods, which would culminate in the special Lovecraft issue of Metal Hurlant in 1979, and still continues today in works like La Planète aux Cauchemars (2019) by Mathieu Sapin & Patrick Pion

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Panels from “Ophiuchus”

From a Lovecraftian standpoint, “Ophiuchus” is probably the most interesting, however. “Beau Rivage” (“Beautiful Shore,” “Pampona Beach” in the Flying Buffalo translation) is an intriguing variation on Innsmouth. A city of an alien race, human enough but decaying, mutating, shunning the sun, participating in the strange cult of Ophiucus until, the distant constellation. None of Bilal’s stories attempt horror, exactly, although a few of them have that surreal twist reminiscent of the Twilight Zone. In this respect, Bilal’s twist on Lovecraft’s ending is fitting: it is one thing to be an outsider among a crowd, not knowing why you don’t belong, and something else again to know yourself truly and completely…and know exactly why, and why you can never go home again.

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Page from “Fermez les volets et ouvrez l’oeil”

The most ambitious story, artistically, is the last one: “Fermez les volets et ouvrez l’oeil,” a surreal, fantastic dream-voyage of a young man and woman, with some incredibly elaborate crosshatching and a kind of plot like a more mature, Tolkien-esque version of Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo.” There are some creatures and places here that would not be out of place in Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, although there is no explicit connection made. Like Lovecraft and Randolph Carter, Bilal inserts himself into his work now and again, most deliberately and explicitly in “Fermez les volets et ouvrez l’oeil,” where he is the male dreamer.

Taken all in all, Le Bol Maudit is a fun collection; the individual stories don’t build up into anything bigger, but they provide an interesting insight into Bilal’s earliest work, and a few nice little Lovecraftian Easter eggs for fans. The Flying Buffalo translations leave a little something to be desired; and chunks of the text go from serif to sans serif without warning. While apparently Bilal did his own lettering, parts of the English translation (translator and letterer uncredited) look like they were done with a typewriter, while others were lettered by hand or used stencils. It would nice to see a new translation into English, perhaps including the stories that never made it into the Flying Buffalo volume…but whether that will ever happen, who can say?

Thanks to Dave Haden at Tentaclii for pointing out a couple things I missed.


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