“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” (1937) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

Four years ago Hazel Heald made her bow to the readers of Weird Tales with an eery story called “The Horror in the Museum,” which established her at once among the most popular writers of weird fiction. She followed this with “Winged Death,” a story of the African tse-tse fly, and another tale of a weird monster from “the dark bacward and abysm of time.” The story published here, “The Horror in the Burying-Ground,” is as weird and compelling as anything this talented author has yet written. We recommend this fascinating story to you, for we know you will not be disappointed in it.
Weird Tales, May 1937

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was the last of Lovecraft’s revisions for Hazel Heald to be published. The details of its creation, and how much input had into the plot, are difficult to make out. H. P. Lovecraft died on 15 March 1937; the May issue of Weird Tales containing this story would have hit the stands around mid-April. No manuscript or typescript is known to survive. As most of the information we have on the other Heald revisions comes from Lovecraft’s letters, and Lovecraft himself was dead and unable to comment on the story, we are left with far less data to go on.

What little information we have though points at “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” as something of an outlier. The previous revision “Out of the Æons” had come out a full two years prior in the April 1935 issue of Weird Tales, and Lovecraft had been firm that he was not doing any more collaborations after that—with no indications in his correspondence that he had changed his mind or was working on a new story for a client. Yet the story’s text clearly shows Lovecraft’s heavy revisory hand, if he didn’t simply ghost-write the whole thing. So what happened?

The simplest answer would be that this was indeed written after the successful sale of “Out of the Æons,” and that Lovecraft had simply neglected to mention it. Shortly after Lovecraft’s death, August Derleth began writing to Lovecraft’s correspondents and clients, beginning to collect data for what would be Arkham House publications of Lovecraft’s fiction. She wrote back:

By the way, I will have another tale in the May Weird Tales—my own. […] Truly we have all lost a wonderful friend in HPL. I feel lost without his letters and kind advice even though I have not worked with him for three years on my stories. He had told me that now I could stand on my own feet and work things out for myself.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 25 Mar 1937

The “three years” comment would mean that the last story Lovecraft revised or ghost-wrote would be in 1934, which suggests that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was written earlier than that. Heald’s next comment on the story was some years later:

My HORROR IN THE BURYING GROUND was rejected once by Wright, then several years later I rewrote it in several places and he accepted it. He said I had too much dialect to read easily.
—Hazel Heald to August Derleth, 14 Oct 1944

The implication is that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was written somewhere between 1932 and 1934, submitted to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, and then rejected and shelved for some years until he requested to see it again. Nowhere does Heald give any credit to Lovecraft for the story, or say when it was published—but there are is a possible clue in Lovecraft’s letters.

The Horror in the Museum—a piece which I “ghost-wrote” for a client from a synopsis so poor that I well-nigh discarded it—is virtually my own work. Glad you found it entertaining. There will be two more Heald tales equally dependent on my pen.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Richard Ely Morse, 28 Jul 1933, Selected Letters 4.229

“The Horror in the Museum” was published in Weird Tales July 1933; the next two tales would presumably be “Winged Death” (March 1934), and “Out of the Æons” (April 1935); the first mention of “Winged Death” in Lovecraft’s letters is actually August 1932 (Essential Solitude 2.497), suggesting it was probably written before “The Horror in the Museum.” That would suggest that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was probably written before those three tales. If that is the case, then “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was one of their first stories—either a revision or ghost-writing. “The Man of Stone” (Wonder Stories Oct 1932) is typically given as the start of Lovecraft’s revision services, given that it was the first published and that Muriel E. Eddy states in her memoir The Gentleman from Angell Street states that “The Man of Stone” was the story that Heald was working on that caused Eddy to put her in touch with Lovecraft, which would suggest “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was second.

But…what if “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” was the first of the Lovecraft/Heald revisions? That would make the order of writing:

  • “The Horror in the Burying-Ground”
  • “The Man of Stone”
  • “Winged Death”
  • “The Horror in the Museum”
  • “Out of the Æons”

This order, incidentally, would start with a story that has no Mythos connection (“The Horror in the Burying-Ground”) to stories with minimal Mythos references (“The Man of Stone,” “Winged Death”) to the full-blown Mythos tales (“The Horror in the Museum,” “Out of the Æons”). Could the fact that “The Man of Stone” appeared in Wonder Stories and that “Winged Death” was offered first to Strange Tales suggest, perhaps, Wright’s rejection of “The Horror in the Burying Ground” soured Heald to Weird Tales for a period?

We don’t know. While the idea is suggestive, it is still speculative. Given the nature of pulp publishing, the situation may have been even more complex.

Looking at the text of the story itself, this unknown history of the story presents three possibilities for “The Horror in the Burying-Ground”:

  1. An extensive revision, along the lines of “The Man of Stone.”
  2. A ghost-writing job, along the lines of “Winged Death.”
  3. An original story by Hazel Heald.

(1) assumes that there is more plot or writing involvement on Heald’s part, and would make more sense if it was written early in her relations with Lovecraft, and/or if she revised it after Wright rejected it. (2) is what the story is normally assumed to be; if the story was written late in their relationship, where Lovecraft was ghost-writing the stories entirely, this would be likely. (3) is what Heald claimed the story as; this appears to be unlikely, as the text has several hallmarks of Lovecraft’s prose, especially the portions of New England dialect. Compare:

“Don’t ye bury him, don’t ye bury him! He ain’t dead no more nor Lige Hopkins’s dog nor Deacon Leavitt’s calf was when he shot ’em full. He’s got some stuff he puts into ye to make ye seem like dead when ye ain’t! Ye seem like dead but ye know everything what’s a-goin’ on, and the next day ye come to as good as ever. Don’t ye bury him—he’ll come to under the earth an’ he can’t scratch up! He’s a good man, an’ not like Tom Sprague. Hope to Gawd Tom scratches an’ chokes for hours an’ hours. . . .”
—”The Horror in the Burying-Ground”

“The graoun’ was a-talkin’ lass night, an’ towards mornin’ Cha’ncey he heerd the whippoorwills so laoud in Col’ Spring Glen he couldn’t sleep nun. Then he thought he heerd another faint-like saound over towards Wizard Whateley’s—a kinder rippin’ or tearin’ o’ wood, like some big box er crate was bein’ opened fur off. What with this an’ that, he didn’t git to sleep at all till sunup, an’ no sooner was he up this mornin’, but he’s got to go over to Whateley’s an’ see what’s the matter. He see enough, I tell ye, Mis’ Corey! This dun’t mean no good, an’ I think as all the men-folks ought to git up a party an’ do suthin’. I know suthin’ awful’s abaout, an’ feel my time is nigh, though only Gawd knows jest what it is.”
—”The Dunwich Horror”

The dialect is very similar, if not quite identical; the Dunwich speakers use more long vowels. Heald’s comment that Wright asked her to remove some of the dialectic language may account for the difference, we have no way of knowing. Other elements that point toward Lovecraft’s involvement are various place and character names which appear elsewhere in Lovecraft’s life and works: Peck (“In the Vault”), Akeley (“The Whisperer in Darkness”), Frye (“The Dunwich Horror”), Atwood (At the Mountains of Madness, Fungi from Yuggoth), and “Goodenough” (perhaps a nod to his friend, the poet Arthur Goodenough).

The basic idea of the story has similarities to “The Man of Stone”—a chemical which induces a state of paralysis—and there are echoes of this same basic idea in the living brain in the mummified body in “Out of the Æons”; so it is thematically tied to the other stories, although less weird and fantastic than them. Unusual for a Lovecraft story is the bitter romantic story between Sophie Sprague, her brother Tom Sprague, and her attempted suitor Henry Thorndike. This story of control and aborted courtship, the complex of emotions that Sophie experienced as both the men in her life who tried to own and control her were gone—may suggest Heald had slightly more to do with the plot than in the later ghost-written stories.

When would Wright have asked Heald to see the story again? While it would be poetic if Wright heard news of Lovecraft’s death and rushed a letter to Heald asking for it, knowing he would get no more stories from the deceased, the timing would be tight—Heald’s letter to Derleth is dated just ten days after Lovecraft’s date of death. Wright would have had to write immediately and Heald would have had to send it on as quickly. Not impossible, but given that Wright was known to hang on to stories for months, sometimes years after acceptance, it is just as likely that he had asked her to revise it at an earlier date and that May 1937 was simply when he slotted it into an issue.

The death of H. P. Lovecraft and its announcement crowded out most mentions of the story in “The Eyrie”; the only comment published was by longtime fan Gertrude Hemken:

I have not been disappointed in Hazel Heald’s story of The Horror in the Burying-Ground. The lady knows how to keep one’s interest brimming. Her mthod of relating the circumstances as told by the general store council has a touch of humor. Any hard-fisted citizen would condemn them for a bunch of crackpots. As for me—I’d listen, git werry uncomy and when the tale is done, run like heck for home…
Weird Tales, July 1937

August Derleth must have had at least some suspicion of Lovecraft’s hand in the story, and it was anyway good enough for him to publish in one of the wartime Arkham House anthologies, Sleep No More: Twenty Masterpieces of Horror for the Connoisseur (1944), produced in both hardback and an Armed Services Edition. His introduction to the tale:

HAZEL HEALD is in a large sense a protege of the late H. P. Lovecraft, and her published work, which is not voluminous, plainly bears the mark of the master. A self-admitted “amateur” in writing, Hazel Heald has never sought to deny the felicitous influence of Lovecraft, whose work, she says, inspired her to write, and under whose direction she did her best work. Her story, The Curse of Yig (included in the Lovecraft collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep) is a Weird Tales classic, and her Out of the Eons and The Horror in the Museum (also reprinted in Beyond the Wall of Sleep) are also remarkably fine tales of horror. A New Englander all her life, Mrs. Head [sic] has occupied her time in many and varied positions; writing is an evocation which she has followed sparingly in the past few years.

Derleth confuses Heald with Zealia Bishop, Lovecraft’s client for the revision “The Curse of Yig”; Heald is credited with the story in Sleep No More. The tale is not published as a Lovecraft “revision” until it was published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949)—whether Heald admitted Lovecraft’s part in the story or Derleth simply made the determination on his own is unknown. Heald herself died in 1961, and after this general scholarly consensus has leaned heavily on “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” being at least an extensive revision by Lovecraft, if not actually ghost-written. S. T. Joshi in his Variorum simply states:

The entire conception and execution of this story must be by HPL. (433)

Which may well be the case, although I suspect at least a little more of the plot was hers. We don’t know. All we do know is that “The Horror in the Burying-Ground” represents the posthumous end of their association. No other story of hers is known to have been published, although she mentions in letters to Derleth that she submitted a story to Dorothy McIlwraith, editor of Weird Tales after Farnsworth Wright. This unknown story never saw print, and may well be lost.

Near the end of Muriel Eddy’s memoir, she remarks:

Hazel, the sweet-faced writer who thought so much of Lovecraft, died February 3, 1961. She died unexpectedly of a heart seizure in a Bostn hospital. She never remarried. What a match it would have been, if love had entered the heart of Lovecraft for this fine woman. They could hve written many a weird classic together, for Hazel, unlike his other wife, would have been kind and understanding with him, knowing his sensibilities and his inborn gentleness. He could not be pushed into rank commercialism, but as a writer of the weird and unusual he was always tops in his field. And with that Hazel would have been content.
The Gentleman from Angell Street 27

Rose-tinted spectacles. While Lovecraft was almost certainly friendly toward Heald, as he was to many of his clients, and engaged in correspondence and visits outside the scope of a purely professional relationship, at its base Lovecraft was writing or re-writing Heald’s stories for moneyand determined, at the end, that the revision-work was both creatively exhausting and insufficiently remunerative to continue pursuing. It did result in five stories, two of which are significant additions to Lovecraft’s Mythos.

From what little evidence remains it appears her actual contribution in terms of writing was small, but Heald deserves credit for her part both as a catalyst to Lovecraft’s imagination and for the stories’ publication.

“The Horror in the Burying-Ground” may be read for free here.


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

 

“The Green Meadow” (1927) by Winifred Virginia Jackson & H. P. Lovecraft and “The Unknown” (1916) by Elizabeth Berkeley

 

Of genuinely fantastic dreamers, I have discovered but one in amateurdom—this being Mrs. Jordan. I will enclose—subject to return—an account of a Jordanian dream which occurred in the early part of 1919, & which I am some time going to weave into a horror story, as I did “The Green Meadow” dream of earlier date, which I think I once shewed you. That earlier dream was exceptionally singular in that I had one exactly like it myself—save that mine did not extend so far. It was only when I had related my dream that Miss J. related the similar & more fully developed one. The opening paragraph of “The Green Meadow” was written for my own dream, but after hearing the other, I incorporated it into the tale which I developed therefrom.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 21 May 1920,
Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 190

In 1918, she was Winifred Virginia Jordan. Blonde, blue-eyed, working as a librarian in Boston, married to an African-American man named Horace Jordan, and an amateur journalist who corresponded with Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Her marriage would shortly end in divorce, and her relationship with Lovecraft would lead to their first collaboration: “The Green Meadow.”

The story of this collaboration begins, very likely, near the end of World War I. Lovecraft, having been passed over for the draft and unable to contribute to the war effort, threw himself into amateur affairs. His mother Susan Lovecraft suffered a nervous breakdown in the winter of 1918, and was removed to the sanitarium of Butler Hospital on 13 March 1919, where she would die two years later. H. P. Lovecraft would write of the story:

My next job was more mechanical. A singular dream had led me to start a nameless story about a terrible forest, a sinister beach, and a blue, ominous sea. After writing one paragraph I was stalled, but happened to send it to Mrs. Jordan. Fancy my surprise when the poetess replied that she had had a precisely similar dream, which, however, went further. In her dream a piece of the shore had broken off, carrying her out into the sea. A green meadow had loomed up n the left hand side, and horrible entities seemed to be hiding among the trees of the awful forest behind her. The piece of earth on which she was drifting was slowly crumbling away, yet this form of death seemed preferable to that which the forest things would have inflicted. And then she heard the sound of a distant waterfall and noted a kind of singing in the green meadow—at which she awaked. It must have been quite some dream, for she drew a map of it and suggested that I write a story around it. After a little consideration I decided that this dream made my own proposed story a back number, so I abandoned my plan and used my original opening paragraph in the new story. Just as I was speculating how I should infuse a little life and drama into the rather vague fragment, my mother broke down, and I partially broke down as a result of the shock. For two months I did nothing—in fact, I can hardly remember what I even thought during those two months—I know I managed to perform some imperative amateur work mechanically and half-consciously, including a critical report or two. When I emerged, I decided to add piquancy to the tale by having it descend from the sky in an aerolite—as Galba knows, for I sent the thing to him. I according prepared an introduction in very prosaic newspaper style, adding the tale itself in a hectic Poe-like vein—having it supposed to be the narrative of an ancient Greek philosopher who had escaped from the earth and landed on some other planet—but who found reason to regret his rashness. As it turned out, it is practically my own work all through, but on account of the Jordanian dream-skeleton I felt obliged to concede collaboration, so labelled it “By Elizabethe Neville Berkely and Lewis, Theobald, Jun.” I sent it to Cook, who will soon print it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the GALLOMO, Apr 1920, Letters to Alfred Galpin 82-83

The GALLOMO was a circular of Alfred GAlpin, H. P. LOvecraft, and James F. MOrton). “Cook” is W. Paul Cook, an amateur printer with which Lovecraft was friendly and who admired his work, he would eventually publish “The Green Meadow” in his amateur journal The Vagrant (Spring 1927). This account puts the letter exchange as probably November or December 1918, with Lovecraft finishing the tale a few months after his mother entered the hospital, in late May or June 1919.

Sometimes between 1919 and 1920, Winifred would divorce her husband and return to her maiden name of Jackson. The two would go on to write one more story together, “The Crawling Chaos”, and then their association would apparently end sometime around late 1921. Lovecraft’s future wife Sonia H. Greene, whom he met shortly after the death of Susan Lovecraft at an amateur journalist convention in Boston, would later claim in a 1967 interview that: “I stole HPL away from Winifred Jackson.”

While Lovecraft had great respect for Winifred as a poet, he was more critical of her work as writer:

In prose technique she fails, hence can utilise story ideas only in collaboration with some technician. These ideas are generally fantastic and terrible in the extreme, and so curiously like my own conceptions that I can develop and express them—in some cases build upon them—with so little difference that the result shows no sign of dual authorship. Such tales are published under the pseudonyms “Elizabeth Berkely” and “Lewis Theobald Jun.” The Green Meadow is the earlier of the two tales enclosed, and has a curious history. It began with me—the seacoast and forest scene being an actual dream of my own, around which I wrote the first paragraph of the story proper as an isolated bit on which to build a later narrative. The paragraph was a mere impression, or a bit of colouring. Later, in the course of a discussion on imaginative writing, I showed it to Miss Jackson, who was amazed to find that it corresponded exactly to a dream of her own—a dream which had extended much farther than mine. Upon her relating this dream, and furnishing a map of its supposed scene, I decided to abandon the plan for an original story and develop the Jacksonian outline—which I did, supplying the quasi-realistic aerolite introduction from my own imagination. W. P. Cook will eventually print The Green Meadow, but Heaven only knows when….
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 4 Jun 1921, Selected Letters 1.136

The letter from Winifred V. Jackson does not appear to survive, for reasons Lovecraft would explain in another letter:

In the case of “The Green Meadow” I related to her a dream of mine, and she claimed to have had exactly the same dream, with a subsequent development which mine lacked. this was certainly her honest belief, yet I could swear that she had no such dream till she had seen my account. Then, doubtless, she did have the dream in its amplified form; automatically putting it backward in time when later thinking of it and repeating it. I will send the epistolary extract to [James F. Morton], who seems most interested in the tale. He can return it either directly to me, or to me via Appleton. And by the way—don’t mention to W.V. J. that I sent the thing. She has a fad for destruction, and wishes all her epistles burnt without exhibition, though they are in truth far less slanderous than the presumably preserved GALLOMO. I usually comply with the wish, though in this case had to save this one sheet for the sake of the story.
—H. P. Lovecraft to the GALLOMO, 12 Sep 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 109

A few of Lovecraft’s letters to Winifred V. Jackson survive, although none mention “The Green Meadow.” Given Lovecraft’s forthcoming and consistent accounts, there is little doubt that events likely happened as he said; the story built up from two dream-fragments, one by Lovecraft and one by Winifred, almost certainly rewritten in his own words, and framed in the way given.

However, there is one thing that Lovecraft did not tell all of his correspondents.

“Elizabeth Neville Berkeley” was Lovecraft’s private nickname for Winifred Virginia Jackson, and he addressed at least one letter to her in this way. Among “Elizabeth Berkeley’s” publications was a poem that ran in the October 1916 issue of Lovecraft’s own amateur journal, The Conservative:

THE UNKNOWN

A seething sky—
A mottled moon—
Waves surging high—
Storm’s raving rune;

Wild clouds a-reel—
Wild winds a-shout—
Black vapours steal
In ghastly rout.

Thro’ rift is shot
The moon’s wan grace—
But God! That blot
Upon its face!

Lovecraft in “The Department of Amateur Criticism” for The United Amateur (Mar 1917) would discuss this poem:

ANother bit of sinister psychology in verse is “The Unknown”, by Elizabeth Berkeley. Mrs. Barkeley’s style is less restrained than that of Mrs. Jordan, and presents a picture of stark, meaningless horror, the like of which is not often seen in the amateur press. It is difficult to pass upon the actual merit of so peculiar a production, but we will venture the opinion that the use of italics, or heavy-faced type, is not desirable. The author should be able to bring out all needed emphasis by words, not priner’s devices. (Collected Essays 1.140)

On the surface, this appears to be a continuation of the hoax that “Elizabeth Berkeley” and Winifred Virginia Jordan were separate writers. However, he gave the game away later:

It is true that I once used the pseudonym of “Elizabeth Berkeley” in conjunction with its more rightful owner W. V. J.—in 1916 the name covered certain verses by both authors, in an effort to mystify the public by having widely dissimilar work from the same nominal hand. But that is past history, and today Elizabeth ain’t me at all […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to the GALLOMO, 12 Sep 1921, Letters to Alfred Galpin 108

“The Unknown,” it turns out, was not the work of Winifred at all, but of Lovecraft operating under a female pseudonym—a first for himself. The double-joke, then is that in his review Lovecraft is gently chiding himself for the habit of using italics for the culminating revelation, a tactic that he would later go on to employ to great effect in his fiction. An especially amusing irony, considering the confusion raised by Sally Theobald.

Chronologically speaking, “The Green Meadow” was the first of Lovecraft’s collaborations with a woman—and that is important, regardless of how much of Winifred’s prose made it into the final product, or that it is a relatively minor piece with no connection to the wider Mythos. Works like this were stepping stones to what would one day become the Lovecraft Mythos—a precursor to the tales of the Dreamlands, to the way of writing stories as found accounts or documents, of taking inspiration from his dreams as the basis of narratives.

Too, a hundred years after it was written, “The Green Meadow” affirms the role of women in Lovecraftian fiction:

We were there from the start.
—Ann K. Schwader, “Reclaiming the Tradition” in Strange Stars & Alien Shadows

“The Green Meadow” may be read for free here.


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

“At the Mountains of Murkiness, or From Lovecraft to Leacock” (1940) by Arthur C. Clarke

Something about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and of the still stranger and more disturbing descriptions of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “At the Mountains of Madness” (1936)

Surely, I thought, the mad Arab, Abdul Hashish, must have had such a spot in mind when he wrote of the hellish valley of Oopadoop in that frightful book, the forbidden “Pentechnicon.”
—Arthur C. Clarke, “At the Mountains of Murkiness” (1940)

Four years after “At the Mountains of Madness” was published in the pages of Astounding, and three years after Lovecraft had died, his work was already being parodied (Clarke could not know that he was far from the first). “Murkiness” was only Clarke’s fifth story to see print, published in the amateur sci-fi zine Satellite #16 (vol. 3, no. 4, March 1940), and is a very respectable early work. Like many later pasticheurs, it focuses on the most obvious aspects of Lovecraft’s writing and imagery to lampoon; unlike many of them, it does so from a very British standpoint, with Clarke deliberately drawing inspiration from the humorist Stephen Leacock.

As a spoof, the work is quite fannish. One of the key plot points revolves around how the Elder Things authored the stories about themselves in Weird Tales, which is why no one believes in them—and at the end the explorers find and misapprehend a note:

Destroy human race by plague of flying jellyfish (?Sent through post in unsealed envelopes?). No good for Unknown – try Gillings.

Fans of science fiction would recognize Unknown as one of the premier fantasy pulps of its day; Walter Gillings was the editor of the British pulp Tales of Wonder. The explorers, unfamiliar with these nuances, take it for an actual insidious plot and flee. Exeunt, pursued by eldritch horror requesting whether they mind condensed milk in their tea.

It is difficult to say what lasting impact Lovecraft had on Clarke; certainly, he was a fan, but he never attempted to add to the Mythos as such, aside from noting that the Programming Manual for the HAL 9000 Computer: Revised Edition was published by Miskatonic University Press. Thematically, one could argue that Lovecraft’s science fiction may have been an inspiration for some of Clarke’s stories, particularly the sense of cosmic horror in stories such as “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953), but “Murkiness” was the only time Clarke explicitly tried his hand at anything explicitly Lovecraftian. If there is a distinction to be had for Clarke’s “Murkiness,” it may be as one of the earliest Lovecraft-related works written by a homosexual author outside of Lovecraft’s immediate circle of friends such as Samuel Loveman and R. H. Barlow.

On New Year’s Day 1951, Robert H. Barlow, who had been Lovecraft’s friend, correspondent, and literary executor, took his own life. The motive is believed to have been the threat of exposure: Barlow was homosexual. It was a difficult time and place in which to be a homosexual; not just 1950s Mexico, but for most of the 20th century in most countries. In the United Kingdom a year after Barlow’s suicide, the British mathematician Alan Turing would be charged with “gross indecency” for having a homosexual relationship, and chemically castrated. Small wonder, then, that many homosexual men opted for extreme discretion, rather than submit themselves to prosecution. Turing would commit suicide in 1954.

This was the world of Arthur C. Clarke.

“At the Mountains of Murkiness or, From Lovecraft to Leacock” has nothing overtly to do with the fact that Clarke was homosexual—relatively little of Clarke’s fiction does. We will never know what quips or insinuations he might have made, without the hovering threat of discovery. Would he have made anything of the lack of women on Lovecraft’s expedition? Or the asexual reproduction of the Elder Things?

The chilling factor of the United Kingdom’s laws against homosexuality in 1940 cannot be measured, but no doubt it was far greater than whatever sub-zero temperatures populated the imaginary Antarctica of Poe, Lovecraft, and Clarke. What might he have written differently? Would it have been different at all? We will never know.

“At the Mountains of Murkiness” has been reprinted a number of times since it was first published, most notably in At the Mountains of Murkiness and Other Parodies (1973), The Antarktos Cycle: At the Mountains of Madness and Other Chilling Tales (2006), and The Madness of Cthulhu: Volume 1 (2014).


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

 

 

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” (2018) by Fiona Maeve Geist

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

The wallowing darkness of rutting pigs
Suckling at the teat of a stillborn goddess

—Fiona Maeve Geist, “Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” in Ashes and Entropy 133

The weft of the story is built on the bones of Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Anonymous Materials and Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal UndergroundThere are threads of Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson in the warp, though nothing so garish as a direct callout to “The Rats in the Walls” or “The Hog.” Mostly, it is dense ideas fired at machine-gun speed but with great precision, perforating the paper targets of a pretty fundamental premise:

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

Which is not to say that metal hasn’t already gotten pretty Lovecraftian at times, with everyone from Arkham Witch to Innzmouth, Morbid Angel to Nox Arcana getting in on the act. Bands have named themselves after Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, and the Lovecraftian influence spreads across genres, from the 70s psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft to the punkish Rudimentary Peni to the rocking Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. All that really binds them together is Lovecraft.

Black metal, though, has a certain appeal. While getting a little long in the tooth, it has always been a subculture that sought certain extremes, reveled in rebellion, wrestled with the consequences. Which is probably why Geist wisely doesn’t look to name-drop actual Lovecraftian metal bands, instead building a new mythology and symbolism for her protagonist to pursue. One that marks itself with ouroboros of twined maggots and the face of a corpulent sow.

Geist’s protagonist Kelsey is a journalist in the way Arturo Perez Reverte’s Lucas Corso from The Club Dumas is a book detective. Someone puts them on assignment, gives them money and tells them to sniff it out like a good truffle-hunter. It’s a classic plotline which has worked for everyone from William Gibson on down, and Geist makes good use of it. In the words of one famous journalist:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt 530

So much for the “Black Metal” of the title; the “Red Stars” gets into the Marxist connections of the Brotherhood of the Black, Corpulent Sow, the weird connections that metal music has had with politics over in Europe. This is closer to Cyclonopedia or Charles Stross’ Laundry Files than most anything else in the Lovecraftian milieu; old conspiracy theories, shades of cyberpunk, the occult underground of the Cold War gently unraveling in the present day.

This isn’t a mystery that you need a key to, although at least a passing familiarity to the bones of what the characters are referring to and experiencing certainly help. As prose goes it’s fairly dense, but there’s a texture to it. New flesh on old bones; the ending isn’t particularly surprising, but neither is it unsatisfying. Mythos readers often like works like this, spiritual heirs of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where the search for something leads to a personal transformation or transfiguration.

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” was published in Ashes and Entropy (2018), it has not yet been reprinted. With Sadie Shurberg she wrote the essay “Correlating the Contents of Lovecraft’s Closet” in Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 3 (2019).


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

 

“Machines Are Digging” (2009) by Reza Negarestani

H. P. Lovecraft has an alarming but over-neglected passage about this holey space or ()hole complex (with an evaporative W) as the zone through which the Outside gradually but persistently emerges, creeps in (or out?) from the Inside. A complex of hole agencies and obscure surfaces that unground the earth and turn it to the ultimate zone of emergence and urpising against its passive planetdom and onanistic self-indulgence of the Sun with its solar capitalism. “Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.” (H. P. Lovecraft, The Festival)
—Reza Negarestani, “Machines Are Digging: Lovecraft and Poromechanics of Horror” in Songs of the Black Würm Gism (2009) 167

“Machines Are Digging” is an excerpt-cum-recension of a section of Reza Negarestani’s experimental novel Cyclonopedia: Complicity with Anomalous Materials (2008); the two texts are not identical, but represent different iterations of the same concept. The piece represents the crossroads between Negarestani’s philosophical horror and Lovecraft’s cosmic horror, the aesthetic point of contact where they come together and, while approaching the material from different angles, arrive at about the same conclusion.

Negarestani’s approach to horror fiction is with the same care, and to a degree with the same attitude, as writing an essay on philosophy or physics. The format and language of his work echoes that of a very intelligent post-graduate student engaging with concepts at a high level, a straight-faced presentation which is ever so delicately off, so that the reader isn’t quite sure whether the author is a genius or genuinely deluded. Even the select choice of word and phrase underlines the academic tendency to define and re-define a technical language for itself.

There is an art amounting to poetry in the suggestive but probably meaningless phrase, and that is the kind of texture that high-level philosophical works tend to have. “Solar capitalism,” for example—what does that mean? On the surface, it does not connect with any familiar phrase or concept. If you pick it apart to try and find meaning—ah, now the reader is playing Negarestani’s game. They’ve bought into the piece enough to start thinking about it, and once you do that you’re getting into the slightly-warped logic, the madman thinking where the view of reality is skewed, like the first step down the rabbit hole of a conspiracy theory.

Philosophical word-games aside, “Machines Are Digging” works in large part because there is something to the connection with Lovecraft that Negarestani talks about. When he writes:

According to Lovecraft, the realism of horror is built upon poromechanics. The poromechanical universe of Lovecraft or ()hole complex is a machine to facilitate the awakening and return of the Old Ones through convoluted compositions of solid and void. (ibid., 168)

He is, knowingly or not (always hard to tell with Negarestani; it’s tricky with any philosopher or madman is to know whether they actually have some secret knowledge or are making shit up as they go along) echoing some solid critical scholarship regarding Lovecraft’s themes. Because Lovecraft did like big holes dug in the Earth and could not lie; the idea of underground caverns and large enclosed spaces feature prominently in stories such as “The Festival,” “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Transition of Juan Romero,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Nameless City,” At the Mountains of Madness, etc. and even featured in essays such as “A Descent to Avernus.”

Critics have speculated on the whys and wherefores of Lovecraft’s fascination, from Jungian womb-symbols to shamanic thresholds between the waking and dreaming worlds; the latter a significant plot point in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Lovecraftian graphic novel Providence. Scott R. Jones compiled an anthology of tales based around the concept, titled Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth (2018)One of the collections of memories dedicated to Lovecraft is Caverns Measureless to Man (1996).

Which is a long way to say: Negarestani is on to something.

In pulp-horror fictions and cinema and in Lovecraft fiction, it is the abode of the Old Ones, worm-entities and the blob (petroleum) that surpasses the tentacled-heads in sentience adn foreignness. R’lyeh is the every dream, motion and calculation of Cthulhu on the solid part of the earth’s body. (ibid., 173)

Whether or not you buy into what Negarestani is selling is something different. Few people fall headlong into philosophy, because the empirical world is quite a bit messier than the general truths espoused, and conclusions arrived at after torturous paragraphs of twisted logic sometimes don’t seem quite so significant and valid in the harsh light of day when your tea has grown cold. But sometimes, you can pull out some wonderful idea or turn of phrase buried in there, a little treasure to wonder at and turn over in your head. “Machines Are Digging” is, regardless of its other merits, a source of inspiration.

In poromechancial cosmology of Lovecraft, exhumation is undertaken and exercised by units called Rats. In fact, ‘the dramatic epic of the rats’ (Lovecraft) can be found in their act of exhuming surfaces, solid bodies and structures resisiting perforation. Rats are exhuming machines, not only full-fledged epidemic vectors but also ferociously dynamic lines of ungrounding. (ibid., 175)

Now who can argue with that? I think we’re all indebted to Gabby Johnson for clearly stating what needed to be said. I’m particulary glad that these lovely children were here today to hear that speech. Not only was it authentic frontier gibberish, it expressed a courage little seen in this day and age.
—Olson Johnson, Blazing Saddles (1974)

“Machines Are Digging” is experimental fiction, or at least is not concerned with a traditional narrative or format. It is perhaps as close as any writer has come to something like genuine Lovecraftian literature, in the sense of trying to write something that genuinely challenges the reader’s preconceptions and introduces a few new ones; a Necronomicon Lite, fiction and fact and big ideas woven together into something whose big ideas leave the mind spinning off into unfamiliar branches of thought. As bizarre and occasionally baffling as it may be, there are rewards to be gained from Negarestani’s challenging read.

As mentioned above, “Machines Are Digging” is an excerpt, or variant text, from Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia. The major differences between the two are a slight truncation of the version in Songs of the Black Würm Gism, and the lack of the surrounding context provided by the novel.

In Cyclonopedia, “Machines Are Digging” is explicitly a pseudo-text among pseudo-texts, a found document that is part of a cache of data for the user to sift through; a part rather than a whole. Reading it in Songs of the Black Würm Gism, wedged between Wakamatsu Yukio’s black-and-white photographs of naked women covered in worms, frogs, octopi, and insects and “Frater Monstrum’s” Chaos Magick-inflected account of “H P Lovecraft and the Loch Ness Monster” the reader doesn’t necessarily get the full burn of Negarestani’s thesis—but it is certainly in good company.


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

 

 

Whispers (2016) by Kristin Dearborn

The whole matter began, so far as I am concerned, with the historic and unprecedented Vermont floods of November 3, 1927.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

The whole matter begins, as far as Dearborn is concerned, with the historic floods of August 2011. On August  29th, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont, washing away roads and bridges and swamping rural communities in a manner which recalled the 1927 flood. Three people were killed.
—Daniel Mills, “Foreword,” Whispers (2016)

If you pick up a copy of Dearborn’s novella, skip the foreword by Mills. Go into it raw, without expectations. Let her surprise you a little.

“Lovecraft Country” is a space of the mind. Psychogeography. A map of myth that isn’t the territory. Walk through the streets of Newburyport, and it isn’t Innsmouth. Parts of Salem and Danvers might remind you of Arkham, but it isn’t that place, not really. There is no Dunwich. The weirdly verdant forests of Vermont were only as real, in their way, as Machen’s hills. Readers get the impression of the place, as it was in the 1920s and 30s, filtered through Lovecraft.

Not many writers re-tread the old literary sod, update it. Kristin Dearborn did.

Whispers is not a straight re-imagining of Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness” in the strictest sense. The literary DNA is there, and just to erase any doubt is printed clearly on the cover of the book, but it is “inspired by,” not a pastiche or rehash of the old story. The tone and approach are different, more contemporary. New eyes on old territory.

The narrative shifts back and forth, Sarah and Neveah and Dean, chapter by chapter. One of those transitions which is easier to do in print than in film, for all the horror movie aesthetic. Something in the woods, dogs growling, protective barriers of distrust and paranoia raised and lowered. Then the voices start.

Score some crystal with us, Neveah.
—Kristin Dearborn, Whispers 17

Drug literature is an old standby of weird fiction, from Lovecraft’s “Celephaïs” and Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Hashish-Eater, or, The Apocalypse of Evil” to Robert E. Howard’s Reefer Madness. Most focus on the extraordinary visions, the excuse for phantasmagoric imagery, not the mental and physical cost. Not getting beaten up by your pimp-cum-dealer. It’s a matter-of-fact ugliness, earth-gazing. The kind of detail that keeps the story grounded.

We’ll show you the stars. (ibid, 18)

The stars are very far away from a small cabin in Vermont. Forces are in motion, narrative forces that the reader is aware of but those two women and five dogs in the cabin are not. Everyone brings their own history, their own baggage to bear, coloring their understanding of the situation. It’s a human element which Lovecraft largely distanced himself from. His eyes were for the stars, the wonder and horror of it all. Dearborn’s is for the people living the story.

It’s not the first time a writer has re-approached “The Whisperer in Darkness” from the perspective of human emotions, entanglements—even sex. Richard Lupoff wrote a sequel to Lovecraft’s story titled “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982) which brought the cosmic horror back down to Earth…but that is the key difference. Dearborn roots her story in the characters; she isn’t writing a sequel to anything. There are still things to discover for the first time in Whispers.

They aren’t all pretty. Not everybody gets to see the stars.

Whispers was published in 2016 by the Lovecraft eZine Press.


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

“Are You There, Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” (2018) by Beth W. Patterson

When the other two would leave the cabin together, I’d try doing my pectoral exercises in private, in hopes of expediting my development into womanhood. bending my arms, I’d swing my elbows in and out, chanting under my breath, “Get back, get back, I must increase my rack!” But of course I’d inevitably start to feel silly and switch to pushups, whispering, “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah ‘nagl fhtagn.”
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 50-51

Judy Blume’s 1970 classic Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret is a story about a 6th-grade girl who, without much formal guidance or religious affiliation, finds a personal relationship with God while going through the normal pitfalls and travails of school and puberty. Beth W. Patterson’s twist on the subject shifts the setting to an equestrian summer camp in the contemporary period, and her title character Judy has more interest in the Virgins and Lovecraft than Judaism vs. Christianity. The mafia, cursed Indian burial mound, and zombie horse scare are just icing.

The story was made-to-order for the anthology Release the Virgins, which has as its raison d’être one brief anecdote (told in the foreword) and one simple commandment (followed by a caveat):

Every story must contain the phrase ‘Release the Virgins’ somewhere […] After a week, I amended the process with the admonition “No more unicorns!”
—Michael A. Ventrella, “Introduction” in Release the Virgins 9

The story is not Mythos in any real sense, and claims of Lovecraftian might be dubious: there is nothing of super-nature in the story, at least nothing that isn’t explained away before the end. But there is something interesting just in the idea of a young girl with a personal relationship to Cthulhu, which reminds me a great deal of Scott R. Jones’ When The Stars Are Right: Toward An Authentic R’lyehian Spirituality (2014) or even Phil Hine’s The Pseudonomicon, because as dogmatic as folks might be about the artificial nature of the Cthulhu Mythos and skeptical about the nature of spirituality, some folks just have a Cthulhu-shaped hole in their hearts and need something eldritch to fill it.

Which is really the most endearing part of the story. Judy doesn’t really seek intercession or favor, isn’t a young sociopath or fanatic looking to sacrifice her friends to awaken the dreamer of R’lyeh, but wants…someone she can honestly address her innermost thoughts and desires to.

Are you there, Cthulhu? It’s me, judy. I know you must be awfully busy in the mighty city of R’lyeh, and might not hear my thoughts with you being dead and all. But my friends don’t understand me, and I really think that I could ride Slipper if the counselors would only give me a chance. People say that you will be ready for resurrection when the stars are ready. Don’t you think the stars are ready for me too, Cthulhu?
⁠—Beth W. Patterson, “Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” in Release the Virgins 51

If there’s ever proof that Lovecraft can be applicable to more than just horror and weird fiction, I think it’s summed up in that final line. For those who are less interested in personal spirituality and want a story with horses, virgins, and Shub-Niggurath, I would recommend Charles Stross’ excellent novella Equoid (2014), which covers all of that very nicely…but would probably have not made the cut for the Release the Virgins anthology. Too many unicorns.

“Are You There Cthulhu? It’s Me, Judy” was published in Release the Virgins (2018); it has not yet been reprinted.


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

“Four O’Clock” (1949) by Sonia H. Greene

His touch was lightest in the stories by Sonia H. Greene, who was later to become his wife; he made some alterations in The Invisible Monster, he made only suggestions for the prose style of Four O’Clock.
—August Derleth, Something About Cats and Other Pieces(1949) vii

Four O’Clock” is the third work of fiction, after “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923) (published in Weird Tales as “The Invisible Monster”) and Alcestis: A Play (1985) attributed to Sonia H. Greene with some input or assistance from H. P. Lovecraft, who she would marry in 1924. Relatively little is known about the genesis of this story, as Lovecraft mentions it only a few times in his letters, except that it was apparently one of three tales that were conceived during a visit by Sonia and Lovecraft to Magnolia, Massachusetts in 1922:

Mme. G. has taken to this sort of composition—has written one & planned two more—& I’m damned if they don’t look like good stuff! The first one, “Four O’Clock”, has some images noxiously Poe-esque—I shall polish it up for use in the U.A. or something else.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Jun 1922, Letters to Alfred Galpin 120

After the repast—a most marvelous meal prepared by Mrs. G. alone since the negress disappointed her & failed to appear—a programme of literary reading & discussion took place. I read my “Doom that Came to Sarnath” & “The Tree”, Belknap read his “Eye Above the Mantel”, Mrs. Green read her “Four O’Clock” & one of the other Magnolia horror-tales not yet revised […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Anne E. P. Gamwell, 9 Sep 1922, Letters from New York 20-21

The story did not see publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime, but in 1946 Sonia (now Sonia H. Davis) came into contact with August Derleth of Arkham House, and after some personal disagreements and correspondence, both “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock” were published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949), which contained several of Lovecraft’s revision tales; it would subsequently be reprinted in The Horror in the Museum (1970) and other collections of Lovecraft’s revision and ghostwritten tales, despite the relatively slight evidence, as Joshi notes:

In a letter to Winfield Townley Scott (11 December 1948; ms JHL), Sonia H. Davis wrote that this story was written only at HPL’s suggestion. On that basis, I excluded it from the revised Horror in the Museum (1989); but in fact, much of the prose appears to be similar to HPL’s own prose, with some characteristic linguistic and even punctuational usages; so HPL probably did touch up the story somewhat. HPL never mentions the story in any extant correspondence, it was apparently not published in his lifetime. The only basis for the text is its first appearance in 1949.
—S. T. Joshi, Collected Fiction Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations): A Variorum Edition 4.613

The letter mentioned is available online, where Sonia writes:

I have sent to Arkham House snap photo of HPL’s aunts, some post cards, a story revised by HP and a fictitious story I wrote about HP a few months after I met him, but at his request I did not publish it in the Rainbow because, as he told it, it was obviously a description of himself.
—Sonia H. Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 11 Dec 1948

If the “story revised by HP” is “The Horror at Martin’s Beach”/”The Invisible Monster,” then by process of elimination the “fictitious story I wrote about HP” must be “Four O’Clock.” Which perhaps places this story in the same category of “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter, closer to affectionate parody than an effort at a weird tale, a literary tweaking of Lovecraft’s nose.

There is something deliciously pulpy about “Four O’Clock.” The tale of supernatural revenge beyond the grave to be visited at the eponymous hour has all of the four-color garish earnestness of a Tale from the Crypt-Keeper. The demons, be they real or hallucinations, have a cartoonish quality. The Poe-esque images that Lovecraft mentioned are laid on with a heavy trowel, so the fine line between pastiche and parody is blurry and indiscernible, but for readers that cackled at old horror comics, it’s hard to suppress a smile.

The major question, as with every story that claims any part of being a Lovecraft “revision,” is how much of it he wrote—or re-wrote, as is often the case. “Four O’Clock” is not easy to categorize in that regard; it has no familiar landmarks of Lovecraft country, no explicit references to the as-yet-mostly-unborn conception of Lovecraft’s Mythos. There are thematic resonances with his work, but how much of these owe themselves to Lovecraft’s imagination or Sonia H. Greene’s is impossible to say. Take for example one of the opening sentences:

The great black silences of night’s depth told me, and a monstrous cricket, chirping with a persistence too hideous to be unmeaning, made it certain. (Variorum 613)

How comparable is this to azif?

[…] azif being the word used by Arabs to designate that nocturnal sound (made by insects) suppos’d to be the howling of daemons.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “History of the Necronomicon”

Similar common images abound, the most obvious of which is perhaps the appearance of what would become one of the more common visual cues in the Mythos:

The four talons, long, thin, and straight, were now seen to be tipped by disgusting, thread-like tentacles, each with a vile intelligence of its own, which groped about incessantly, slowly at first, but gradually increasing in velocity until I was nearly driven mad by the sheer dizziness of their motion. (Variorum 615)

H. P. Lovecraft, of course, neither invented the tentacle in weird fiction nor had any monopoly on the concept; M. R. James used them to good effect in “Count Magnus” (1904), Arthur Machen in “The Novel of the Black Seal” (1895), H. G. Wells in The War of the Worlds (1897), etc. The tentacles could be coincidental, or a deliberate reference to something that came up in their correspondence which Sonia incorporated into the story deliberately to invoke Lovecraft as the unnamed protagonist of the story.

We’ll never know.

Serious literary analysis of this story could point to it as a night terror, as a psychological suspense narrative driven by the phantasmagoric imagery, a variation on the theme of the incubus attack with all attendant sublimated psychosexual implications—and there is certainly a case to be made with that. Sonia H. Greene was 39 in 1922, biological clock ticking inevitably toward doom as surely as the fated hour approaches in the story. While such deep reading of the story is possible, maybe valuable to those who enjoy that kind of exercise, the simpler enjoyment of this story might be just in the slightly ridiculous seriousness with which it pursues its premise, like a solid exploitation film.

The plot actually has gross parallels to a tangential Mythos story: “Wentworth’s Day” (1957) by August Derleth features another posthumous appointment being kept. Stylistically the stories are worlds apart, but it’s interesting that Derleth for all his efforts to ground the plot in a suitably realistic milieu doesn’t achieve anything quite like the same effect as in “Four O’Clock”—where the over-the-top visuals of the pending hour, completely surreal in any realistic setting, actually work with the kind of dream-logic that might come from reading too much Poe.

Not that Derleth borrowed anything from Greene or Lovecraft, the idea of the appointment being kept or the curse fulfilled after death is a hoary one. Both stories might be considered a bit hokey, even when they were written, and there’s a campfire tale quality to “Four O’Clock.” It feels like a story to be read not to keep the darkness at bay, but to welcome it home.


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

 

“The Lady of the Swamp” (2014) by Janeen Webb

Picture Australia, with its unfamiliar names and strange, fascinating animals; the unique culture that is not British or American but parallels both in its own way. As with the United States, there is a limit to Australian history, a beginning; the cities are new places, and before the first Europeans came is a vast and sketchy pre-history belonging to the Native Australians. No Gothic castles, no crumbling Roman ruin; Lovecraft made do with standing stones and secret caverns in the United States, and in Australia, Janeen Webb’s eponymous old woman finds a cave in the swamp, with native paintings adorning its walls.

“The Lady of the Swamp” is like “Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin in that it is not explicitly a story of the Mythos; there are no familiar names invoked here, only themes and tropes. It is Mythos-by-association, in that it was published in the collection Cthulhu: Deep Down Under (2015), and there are definite shades of Lovecraft twisted throughout the narrative: the dark crystal so reminiscent of the Shining Trapezohedron, yet another curious cosmic rape, impregnation, and birth like so many other Mythos tales. The tale is told through diaries, a callback to yesteryear, the determined investigator sorting through the documentary pieces of a life, trying to resolve the mystery in their own minds. Very Lovecraftian.

Yet H. P. Lovecraft knew nothing of fracking. The mundane horror of a nameless Company driving a road through a swamp, threatening the life of a poor and lonely woman living out of a broken caravan, is at best tangential to the themes he liked to employ—of people on the edge of things, where civilization ends and slick citydwellers come only rarely and without real understanding. Webb’s story is part ecopunk, part adult fears: people falling out of society, migrating to the edges, only for their solitude to be rudely interrupted. The uncaring tentacles of the Company ripping apart the fragile tissue of a life are meaner than those of Cthulhu, but only because the hands that drive the bulldozer are ultimately human.

The disconnect between the two themes, of the eldritch evil which rapes the old woman at the beginning of the story and the studied ignorance and lack of empathy of the Company men and reporters in the second half, feels like cognitive dissonance. The narrative distance between the two portions of her diary are immense; the unnatural sexual congress and birth are less intrusive than that of the callous “scientists” and reports that studiously ignore and belittle her, trespassing on her home.

It is the latter which ultimately cuts more deeply; the child of their union is, however unnatural the conception, little different from the other young creatures she has nurtured. She may have stumbled across an eldritch evil in a forgotten cave, but it did not seek her out or harass her beyond that, whereas the company is coming into her home, threatening her life.

The confrontation is easy to see looming.

And when the lady of the swamp is given the choice between the mundane horrors of “progress” and the bloody price extracted by eldritch horror of her swamp…well, it isn’t much of a choice at all, really. People fight with the weapons they have, and the lesser evil is sometimes a nameless thing of darkness. At least the eldritch evil probably won’t kill all the wombats.

“The Lady of the Swamp” first appeared in Webb’s collection Death at the Blue Elephant (2014), and was reprinted in the hardback Cthulhu: Deep Down Under (2015) and The Year’s Best Australian Fantasy and Horror 2014 (2015). The story was not republished in the paperback collection Cthulhu Deep Down Under: Volume 1 (2017), but was replaced by another of Webb’s stories, “A Pearl Beyond Price.”


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

“Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter

For the next few years I saw Mrs. Miniter quite often at meetings and festivals of the Hub Club, and always admired the effectiveness with which she devised entertainment and maintained interest. In April, 1921, her quaintly named and edited paper The Muffin Man contained a highly amusing parody of one of my weird fictional attempts… “Falco Ossifracus, by Mr. Goodguile”…thought it was not of a nature to arouse hostility.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Mrs. Miniter—Estimates and Recollections” (1938) in the Collected Essays of H. P. Lovecraft 1.381

Edith Dowe Miniter was a professional journalist during the 1880s to 1900s, writing both articles and perceptive stories that dealt often with the perspective of women in New England; her sole published novel was Our Natpuski Neighbors (1916), chronicling the experience of an immigrant Polish family to Massachusetts—and the townfolks’ not always positive reaction to their new neighbors.

Along with professional journalism, Edith Miniter was a powerful voice in amateur journalism, a leading voice of the Hub Amateur Journalism Club in Boston. An idealist, she was not one for compromise and engaged in fierce battles over the administration of the National Amateur Press Association, which caused one friend to write:

In spite of unusual difficulties and unforseeable betrayals, her administration was able and efficient; and it ended forever the tradition that the highest official position within out gift was earmarked “For Men Only.”
—James F. Morton, “Some Thoughts on Edith Miniter” in Dead Houses and Other Works 79

In 1920, she met the young amateur Howard Phillips Lovecraft, and they became good friends through her final years, with a visit to her home in 1928 providing some of the details to “The Dunwich Horror.” For all that Miniter and Lovecraft were friends, their tastes did not all run in the same line. Lovecraft reported that:

Mrs. Miniter did not care for stories of a macabre or supernatural cast; regarding them as hopelessly extravagant and unrepresentative of life.
H. P. LovecraftCollected Essays of H. P. Lovecraft1.381

At the time, Lovecraft was publishing little else. His published fiction in amateur periodicals in 1921 included “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919), “Dagon” (1919), “The White Ship” (1919), “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1920), “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” (1920), “The Cats of Ulthar” (1920), “Nyarlathotep” (1920), and “Polaris” (1920). It was in this spirit that Miniter chose to tweak her younger friend’s nose with one of the first parodies of his style. In her epitaph to the story, Miniter wrote:

It pleasures us exceedingly to offer our readers a condensed novel by the renowned Mr. Goodguile. Why pursue the works of this author throught Tryouts, Vagrants and National Amateurs, as yet in press, when here is the quintessence? Similar attention is promised later to such of our eminent fictionists as merit it.
—Edith Miniter, Dead Houses and Other Works 117

The Tryout, Vagrant, and National Amateur well all amateur journalism magazines where Lovecraft’s work had appeared; the name “Goodguile” (aside from being an obvious play on Lovecraft), was a jab at Lovecraft’s love of pseudonyms during this period, as was used in “Poetry and the Gods” (1920) by Anna Helen Crofts & H. P. Lovecraft and “The Crawling Chaos” (1921) by Winifred Virginia Jackson & H. P. Lovecraft. In this, Miniter was unknowingly anticipating the work of pasticheurs and parodists of several generations in the future, such as “I Wore the Brassiere of Doom!” (1986) by “Sally Theobald” (Robert M. Price).

The primary inspiration for Miniter’s parody appears to be “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” at least so far as the protagonist is their with his close male associate in a graveyard echoes some of the essentials of that story. Lovecraft had not yet written “The Unnameable” or “The Hound,” but the fact that those stories hit so close to the same formula shows how squarely Miniter’s critique hit home.

Other shots followed, and ones Lovecraft and their mutual friends could hardly miss:

“Your pal,” came the response, “Iacchus Smithsonia,” the name was originally John Smith, but it is always my will that my friends bear a name of my choosing and as cumbersome a one as possible, “is cleaning out Tomb 268.” (ibid, 118)

This is a jab at Lovecraft’s habit of doing exactly this with friends, addressing them by nicknames in letters and sometimes other places; famously this was adopted by his circle of pulp friends so that Clark Ashton Smith became Klarkash-Ton, and Robert E. Howard was Two-Gun Bob, but it was applied to many as a sign of affection. In her surviving letters to Lovecraft, Miniter addresses him as “Mr. Goodguile.” (ibid. 46)

A little farther down, she takes a shot at Lovecraft’s occasionally ultraviolet prose and fondness for obscure, archaic, or technical terminology:

“I am really sorry to have to ask you to absquatulate,” he said, employing the chaice diction which is so peculiar to we of the educated aristocracy, “but this ain’ no place for a feller with cold feet.” (ibid.)

As parodies go, Miniter’s “Falco Ossifracus” probably hits home a little less to contemporary readers than The Adventures of Samurai Cat (1984) by Mark E. Rogers or “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price. Lovecraft’s mythos had not strictly been put to paper yet, as the first tale in the Arkham cycle, “The Picture in the House” was written in December 1920 but not published until the summer of 1921, so Miniter had no such target to purposefully aim for.

Yet if it lacks for not being a true pastiche, or for going after what today might seem to be obvious targets, there is no doubt that the good-natured shots aimed at Lovecraft must have hit home. The well-intentioned roasting was likewise received with good humor considering they were still subsequently on good terms.

“Falco Ossifracus” first appeared in The Muffin Man (Apr 1921), and has been reprinted by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. in Going Home and Other Amateur Writings  (1995) and Dead Houses and Other Works (2008).


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