“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.

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

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.

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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).

“The Night Ocean” (1936) by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft

 For I have always been a seeker, a dreamer, and a ponderer on seeking and dreaming; and who can say that such a nature does not open latent eyes sensitive to unsuspected worlds and orders of being?
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean” (1936)

From 28 July to 1 September 1936, R. H. Barlow visited H. P. Lovecraft for what would be the final time. Barlow had just turned 18 the previous May, and his parent’s marriage was on the point of deterioration; the young man was destined to stay with relatives in Kansas City, and a brief term at the Kansas City Art Institute. But for over a month he roomed at the boarding house near Lovecraft’s home on 66 College Street, and it was presumably at this time that Lovecraft made some revisions to Barlow’s story “The Night Ocean.”

A few paragraphs of this story had first been published as “A Fragment” in The Californian Winter 1935 issue. The Californian was the amateur journal of Hyman Bradofsky, one to which Lovecraft and a few of his friends such as Natalie H. Wooley also contributed, and Lovecraft was luring Barlow into amateur journalism, at least for a brief spell. Lovecraft mentions “The Night Ocean” among items he hadn’t seen before Barlow’s visit (O Fortunate Floridian! 353), so it seems clear that this was a story Barlow had been working on for quite some time. There is some evidence in Lovecraft’s letters that Barlow was at loose ends during this period, trying many different things—art, writing, printing, poetry—to see where his talents were best suited, and this included writing a passel of fiction, some of it carefully, some of it hastily.

Lovecraft apparently showed some of these fictional efforts to August Derleth during or shortly after Barlow’s stay, including an intriguing piece titled “I Hate Queers” which does not appear to have survived. After passing along Derleth’s criticism, Lovecraft wrote:

Barlow appreciates your criticism immensely, & will doubtless be guided by them in future attempts. He is now, of course, in a purely experimental stage—scarcely knowing what he wants to write, or whether he wants to write at all…as distinguished from painting, printing, bookbinding, &c. My own opinion is that writing best suits him–but I think he does better in fantasy than in realism. A recent atmospheric sketch of his—”The Night Ocean”—is quite Blackwoodian in its power of dark suggestion.—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 23 Sep 1936, Essential Solitude 2.748

Lovecraft’s suggested revisions for “The Night Ocean” were somewhat uncharacteristically light. While we often think of Lovecraft essentially re-writing stories, in this case his changes only amount to less than 10% of the work. A typed manuscript with Lovecraft’s handwritten revisions survives, and is reproduced in facsimile in Lovecraft Annual #8. Barlow then prepared a fresh typescript incorporating most (but not all) of Lovecraft’s suggested revisions, which was submitted and accepted by Bradofsky, who published it in Winter 1936 issue of The Californian. In his letters, Lovecraft praised Barlow and the story:

Glad to know that you’ve been in touch with Kansas City’s brilliant new citizen, & hope you’ll be able to meet the little imp in person before long. He is certainly one of the brightest & most promising kids I have ever seen—gifted alike in literature, art, & various forms of craftsmanship—& despite his present scattering of energies in different fields I think he will go far in the end. His studies at the Art Institute will undoubtedly be very good for him, & help him to establish a sort of aesthetic orientation. Hope he’ll meet your uncle amidst the academic maze—though the size of the institution doubtless minimises the chances of accidental contact. Barlow has been growing fast in a literary as well as artistic way—as you doubtless deduced from his “Dim-Remembered Story” in The Californian. A still later tale of his—”The Night Ocean”, also scheduled for The Californianshows an even greater advance, being really one of the finest atmospheric studies ever written by a member of the group.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 21 Nov 1936, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 213

As much as Lovecraft is sometimes held to include autobiographical elements in his stories, it’s hard not to see something of young Barlow in the the nameless narrator; a sensitive artist who holds himself apart from the crude masses of normal people. Whose sensitive soul opens him to vague fears when they finally achieve the isolation they had thought they wanted:

That the place was isolated I have said, and this at first pleased me; but in that brief evening hour when the sun left a gore-splattered decline and darkness lumbered on like an expanding shapeless blot, there was an alien presence about the place: a spirit, a mood, an impression that came from the surging wind, the gigantic sky, and that sea which drooled blackening waves upon a beach grown abruptly strange. At these times I felt an uneasiness which had no very definite cause, although my solitary nature had made me long accustomed to the ancient silence and the ancient voice of nature. These misgivings, to which I could have put no sure name, did not affect me long, yet I think now that all the while a gradual consciousness of the ocean’s immense loneliness crept upon me, a loneliness that was made subtly horrible by intimations—which were never more than such—of some animation or sentience preventing me from being wholly alone.
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean”

Massimo Barruti, who has examined “The Night Ocean” in the greatest depth in his book Dim-Remembered Stories: A Critical Study of R. H. Barlow notes that the story is a “textbook example of the extreme sensitiveness and poetic attitude of Barlow’s personality” (102)—the mental degeneration brought by isolation and a too-active imagination causes the protagonist to question reality, even as he populates his nighttime seashore with nameless terrors. Imagine an Innsmouth without any Deep Ones, yet none the less haunting for their absence, to one of sufficient temperament to imagine croaking voices by night, or hear something sinister in the splash of water.

“The Night Ocean” is Barlow at his most Lovecraftian. He never tries to pastiche Lovecraft exactly, or to tie his artist’s strange fears, longing, and imagined horrors into anything from Lovecraft’s nascent Mythos, although readers can certainly draw such connections themselves. Instead, Barlow reproduces the atmosphere and themes of Lovecraft, tries to capture and express the cosmicism—perhaps in homage to his mentor, perhaps as a reflection to how much of an influence Lovecraft had on him. Brian Humphreys explored this in detail in “‘The Night Ocean’ and the Subtleties of Cosmicism” in Lovecraft Studies #30. One thing that Humphreys notes is: “He has left society to be alone, yet feels lonely in his solitude” (18).

Which could well be said of Barlow himself.

While he has achieved a posthumous notoriety as one of Lovecraft’s homosexual friends and correspondents, Barlow does not seem to have expressed his sexuality in his published fiction in any overt manner, or even by obvious metaphor or allegory. There might have been something in “I Hate Queers” that addressed his experience as a closeted homosexual growing up in a very homophobic society, but that piece no longer appears to be extant…and it is worth a little digression to ask what we know about Barlow’s sexuality and how we know it.

Like several of Lovecraft’s young proteges, Barlow became an active homosexual. His homosexuality, however, may not have developed until after Lovecraft’s death; at least, Lovecraft apparently never knew of his young friend’s deviation.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), 190

As far as I have been able to determine, de Camp was the first writer to publicly “out” Barlow as homosexual. Lovecraft never mentions this in his letters, nor does E. Hoffmann Price in his memoirs The Book of the Dead mentions Barlow in California, but gives no hint of homosexuality, and none of the memorial pieces after Barlow’s passing mention it. Given the atmosphere of prejudice regarding homosexuality at the time, if any of those who knew Barlow did know about his sexuality, they might have deliberately avoided mention to preserve his memory and reputation. That being said, rumors of Barlow’s sexuality had apparently been circulating for some time within some circles:

Barlow is for sure a homo; from what I have heard, so was the late minister-weird taler Henry S. Whitehead. Any anybody with a mandarin moustache is vulnerable to the kind of flattery, larding I can do very well.
—August Derleth to Donald Wandrei, 21 March [1937]

Derleth had not met either Whitehead or Barlow in person; it is possible that his intuition on Barlow’s sexuality was based entirely on the “I Hate Queers” manuscript and his own experiences. While this is speculative, it could be that the story dealt with a homosexual man who assumed a homophobic persona to better conceal his own sexuality. While this might seem like a stretch, in Barlow’s 1944 autobiographical essay he recalls something of this mindset:

Once I saw a man bring a sailor up to his room and thought of protesting to the management. A blond clerk and a Basque elevator boy—man, rather—caught my eye, and I took them out once or twice to drink at my expense.
—R. H. Barlow, “Autobiography” in O Fortunate Floridian! 411

This autobiographical essay is the most singularly definitive proof we have of Barlow’s sexuality; he very clearly describes his interests, even if he does not record any detailed encounters. When describing his stay with Claire and Groo Beck in California, he wrote:

I could not decide which of the Beck boys to fall in love with and vacillated continually. Claire had a mania for bathing, and I saw him once or twice quite naked. He had a nice prick, uncircumcised. At other times he found excuses to go downstairs from the bath to the living room, dressed only in skin-tight drawers, which also showed him off to advantage. (ibid. 410)

It’s not clear if de Camp read this essay among Barlow’s papers, or whether he picked up the rumors about Barlow’s sexuality. There are many inaccuracies in de Camp’s rendering of Lovecraft and other figures, so it is not beyond the pale to think that de Camp presented rumors as fact. His last word on Barlow in the book is a good example of what he could write without citing any sources:

All this time, however, Barlow energetically pursued his career as a homosexual lover. This was long before Gay Liberation, and Mexico has been if anything less tolerant of sexual deviation than the United States. On January 2, 1951, Barlow killed himself with an overdose of sedatives, because he was being blackmailed for his relations with Mexican youths.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975), 431-432

This interpretation of Barlow’s death has since become generally accepted, mainly because no one else has come up with a better reason for Barlow’s suicide at about the height of his career. William S. Burroughs who was present in Mexico at the time and commented on Barlow’s suicide does mention that Barlow was “queer”, but does not mention blackmail. Barlow himself asserts in his autobiography that by 1944 he had “a good part of the material things I have desired—money, sex, a small reputation for ability […]” (O Fortunate Floridian! 407) so de Camp’s assertion is not impossible—merely unconfirmed, and perhaps unconfirmable.

Questions of how “out” Barlow was remain essentially unanswered. He did not, for the most part, grow up in any urban area which might have had an active homosexual subculture to be out in; and what can be reconstructed of his adult life shows him very candid about his sexuality but also not, apparently, flaunting it. The earliest possible hint of his burgeoning sexuality might have been an entry in his 1933 diary for May 23:

Back at George’s again, when he & Si arrived, Si went calmly about cleaning up, in a semi-nude condition. It is perhaps indiscreet to record such observations on paper, for my meaning might be misconstrued, but he looked lovely and young and strong and clean…He is a fine boy; the nicest, I believe, I have ever known. Too, he treats me decently, something no other has ever done.

It isn’t clear who “Si” is, although apparently George and Si are neighbors of the 15 year-old Barlow in or around Deland, Florida. If this is an indication of Barlow’s early awareness of his sexuality, it predated his first meeting with Lovecraft in 1934.

Which brings us back, after a long digression, to Barlow and “The Night Ocean.” Because however much of himself Barlow may have poured into the story, the mood he captured regards that which is not simply mysterious, but unknowable. There are secrets which we cannot fathom, no matter how hard we try…and the narrator accepts this as something essential to the very nature of the sea itself:

The night ocean withheld whatever it had nurtured. I shall know nothing more.
—R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, “The Night Ocean”

There is much about R. H. Barlow’s life that we will never know; no matter what bits and pieces wash upon the beach for us to find, there are some things we cannot know. Why did he take his own life? Who did de Camp get his information from? Did Lovecraft ever pick up on his young friend’s sexuality? Shapes in the waves as the sun sets, shadows on the water that suggest more than they define. “The Night Ocean” is not a metaphor for Barlow’s life; he could not know when he wrote it in 1935-1936 what the skein of his career would be, in terms of who he would become Barlow had hardly been born yet. Yet it is a very Lovecraftian story…and R. H. Barlow lived, and ultimately died, a very Lovecraftian death.

“The Night Ocean” by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft may be read for free online here.


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

“The Artist’s Retreat” (2011) by Annabeth Leong

Do you crave intellectual tentacle porn?
—Ad copy, Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

What is “Lovecraftian erotica?” If you rule out erotic works that directly parody or refer to the stories Lovecraft wrote, such as “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon or “The Ape in Me: A Tale of Lovecraftian Lust” (2016) by Raine Roka; his creations such as Cthulhu and the Necronomicon in works like “Le Pornomicon” (2005) by Logan Kowalsky or Mother Hydra in “Pages Found Among the Effects of Miss Edith M. Teller” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan; those rare erotic works that refer to or depict Lovecraft directly as a character—as in Edward Lee’s Trolley No. 1852 (2010)—then what you have left is a very vaguely defined body of erotic materials which that take more nebulous inspiration from Lovecraft’s ideas of cosmic horror and the tropes of Mythos fiction that came later, but don’t directly attempt to incorporate the man or the Mythos.

For many Lovecraftian erotic works, the tropes and set dressing are usually as far as the author cares to take things. Tentacles often make their appearance, ancient gods or eldritch entities come when summoned, sacrifices are usually less than virginal and surprisingly enthusiastic, and the whole pornographic scenario often reads like a bootleg X-rated session of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game. Lindsey Purl’s erotic triptych Tentacles of the Elder Gods (2013), which involves “Kum-Shaggurath” is an exemplar of this kind of fiction. Quality and creativity varies; few works are erotic classics, but are often packaged and sold as disposable literature. Intended as flash entertainment, they answer to a momentary need, often as part of a brief zeitgeist, and then quickly sink out of sight into online back catalogs or other form of obscurity.

Then you have works like Annabeth Leong’s “The Artist’s Retreat.”

The dreams were confused and irresolute, but there was nothing vague about the position in which I work. I snatched my hand from where it lay nestled between my legs and tried to ignore the throbbing there. Sweat soaked the pillows and bed beneath me, and the sheets were tangled around my legs as if I’d been rolling from one side of the bed to the other all night. Sometime, I’d managed to yank my nightshirt up and off one arm, leaving one breast free to the chill air of my dark and silent room. Shivering, I pulled the garment down and fathered my blankets more tightly around me.
—Annabeth Leong, “The Artist’s Retreat” in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

The distinction between “The Artist’s Retreat” and any other work of Lovecraftian fiction, like say “From the Cold Dark Sea” (2016) by Storm Constantine, is one of degree rather than kind. Leong’s work is in an anthology of erotic Lovecraftian fiction, and the erotic element appears early and grows more intense throughout; it is a central part of the plot, where in most other Lovecraftian works sex is usually not the primary focus of the narrative lens. That aside, the work is really nothing less than an original story that draws obvious inspiration from Lovecraft and the Mythos without feeling the need to directly invoke or squeeze itself into the framework of the Mythos.

The distinction shifts the reader’s focus from looking for tie-ins or how the story might into the bigger picture of Mythos lore and instead the reader might begin to see “The Artist’s Retreat” as something that fits into Lovecraft’s milieu, and pursues some of his themes, yet in a way that Lovecraft and most of his co-creators in the Mythos would never have put together. There are the same-gender heterosexual friends, one of them an artist; very much a Lovecraftian pairing…until they become something more. There is the setting, in a rural Massachusetts that Lovecraft might find familiar, but not in any named and denoted part of his Lovecraft Country. There is the tricky distinction of that thing, seen and unseeable, which invokes Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space,” Guy de Maupassant’s “The Horla,” Ambrose Bierce’s “The Damned” thing…yet what it does under Leong’s direction is nothing like what any of those authors would have their creations do.

“The Artist’s Retreat” is, after all, Lovecraftian erotica.

Many writers appear to find it difficult to pursue both weird and erotic themes simultaneously. Lovecraft in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” emphasized:

The one test of the really weird is simply this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim. And of course, the more completely and unifiedly a story conveys this atmosphere, the better it is as a work of art in the given medium.

It is a rare story that can both scary and erotic; that can work that atmosphere of the sense of outside contact with the intensely grounded sensations of physical eroticism. Not impossible, because for all their differences, there are points of commonality: the sense of heightened awareness brought about by sexual arousal and the fear-response, the titillation and excitement when it comes to approaching and then violating some taboo, the psychological impact and physical consequences that may result from such sudden violations, with all their long-term ramifications…these are the building blocks of erotic horror, as shown in works like Ramsey Campbell’s “The Faces at Pine Dunes” (1980) and his exquisite novel The Darkest Part of the Woods (2003).

Part of what makes “The Artist’s Retreat” successful is the atmosphere. The pacing is steady, but takes its time setting up each scene, providing small climaxes for each chapter, letting the protagonist Edie sink deeper and deeper into the mystery and the renewed friendship with her painter friend Olivia. there aren’t any huge surprises; the plot might almost be called formulaic in how the Lovecraftian protagonist is compelled to leave their familiar surrounds for an isolated local, where they sink into strangeness—it worked for Lovecraft in “The Festival,” and it worked for Silvia Moreno-Garcia in Mexican Gothic (2020), and it works for Annabeth Leong here. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a familiar plot straight, so long as it is done well…and it helps that the weird parts are refreshingly weird, not just a priapic Cthulhu.

The cryptic images did not depict any shaps or beings I know—still, they stirred me. I got to my knees beside Olivia, and together we explored the contours of the boulder. I could not piece together an overall image of the design. Neither could I decode any individual piece. But the longer I ran my fingers over it, and the longer I knelt beside her and stared, the more I began to see flashes of meaning. Two coiled appendages, wound around each other and rubbing their undersides together obscenely; what could have been a thousand tiny fingers caressing a swollen, monolithic shaft; a long and muscular tongue, curved into a suggestive question.
—Annabeth Leong, “The Artist’s Retreat” in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011)

Leong’s story fits well into an anthology of Lovecraftian erotica, but it could fit just as well into a mainstream Lovecraftian anthology. Nothing of the weird atmosphere is sacrificed for the erotic, and nothing of the erotic is sacrificed for the weird. They work together, hand in hand, and while they echo the ways sex was used as an entry point for beings from outside in Lovecraft’s fiction—think of “The Dunwich Horror”—the way that it works is ultimately original, fresh, and well done.

“The Artist’s Retreat” by Annabeth Leong was published in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica (2011) by Circlet Press. Her other Lovecraftian works include “Our Child” in Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath (2014) by Martian Migraine Press.


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

The White People (2015) by Ibrahim R. Ineke

I agree with what you say about suggestion as the highest form of horror-presentation. The basis of all true cosmic horror is violation of the order of nature, and the profoundest violations are always the least concrete and describable. In Machen, the subtlest story—”The White People”—is undoubtedly the greatest, even though it hasn’t the tangible, visible terrors of “The Great God Pan” or “The White Powder”. But the mob—including Farnsworth Wright—can never be made to see this; hence W.T. will always reject work of the finest and most delicate sort.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 4 Oct 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.52

Comics and graphic novels (and increasingly film and television shows) which seek to adapt Lovecraftian concepts onto the page often face an immediate difficulty: not just how to balance the words and pictures, but how much not to show and not to tell. It isn’t just the question of whether the entity should appear, or only be glimpsed in part, or revealed in full. It’s a question of how far do you admit that there is an entity at all, how and when do you bring up the concept. How far can you get the reader’s imagination to run, and in which direction? How do you establish and maintain that horror-mood which pervades such stories as Arthur Machen’s “The White People”?

For Machen, much of the success of his “The White People” was in being very specific in many details, and very circumspect in others. He avoided proper names; gave few physical descriptions; yet the diary entries are detailed, vivid. The discussions around them are weighty and philosophical, the people discussing what has happened see more in what is going on than the individual who purportedly wrote them. There is more going on than it seems…

WhitePeople1

In print, an author might write out “indescribable.” How does an artist actually draw or paint that? Ibrahim R. Ineke in the 48-pages of this graphic novel shifts presentation and technique in a very Machenesque way. Stark blacks give great detail, except where they disappear into shadow; white gives terrific definition, until they became great blank swathes where bright sunlight has blinded the reader to all detail. The chiaroscuro gives way to color, kaleidoscopic in intensity and combination; pen-and-ink linework gives way to xerography. Style and medium both work to conceal many things, while throwing others in sharp relief. Like Machen, Ineke is feeding the reader details, while letting our imagination fill in the blanks, both light and dark.

It is all in service to the story. Not a pleasant story, but a disturbing one, laid out with all the care of a detective story. Ineke’s “The White People” is not a straight adaptation of Machen’s “The White People,” it inspired by, it carries some of the same energy, the same ideas, but it isn’t a retread of any particular story. It stands as a testament to what an artist can do in the medium—something between Bruce Jones and Berni Wrightson’s “Jenifer” and Jeffrey Jones’ Idyl I’m Age, and comparing very favorably to Black Stars Above (2019) by Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha.

Yet what makes Ineke’s “The White People” really effective is that like with Machen’s “The White People” it is essentially a kids story. Not a story for kids by any means (due to some graphic nudity), but about kids. Innocent, playful, not knowing what horrors are out there. That’s the essence of “The White People” as Machen wrote it, and it is in essence what Lovecraftian horror is like for all readers. To look where you shouldn’t, and have a bit of innocence stripped away.

Wherever there is horror, secrets are revealed. Ineke states this most directly when he writes “It’s always the woods, isn’t it?” Despite our continuous advances in science and reason, education and culture, the woods remain an untamable place—a site that is the very definition of nature, yet which continuously unleashes “unnatural” evidences. Despite Machen’s warnings, Ineke has found it necessary to re-enter this territory and present his findings to us.
—Amelia Ishmael, introduction to The White People (2015)

Ibrahim R. Ineke’s The White People (2015) was published in regular hardcover and deluxe hardcover editions by Sherpa. A preview of the contents can be seen on Issuu.


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

“Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” (2011) by Naomi Novik

In September [1917] I went to the 7th 8th Battalion of the Inniskilling Fusiliers. we used to be in front of Croisilles, when we were in the line, and in a sunken road through the village itself when we were in reserve. When we were out of the line we lived at a place that had been Ervillers, four miles back, where the bombing planes used to call us every morning, but never hit us. That was in the desert of the Somme.  We never saw any animals there except mice, and an army horse or two; and, when the rooks flew over at evening, they passed out of our sight before they could find trees. There was something melancholy in watching this flight over a land that for centuries had been fertile: it was pleasanter to look at our aeroplanes returning at about the same hour, like adventurous mountaineers descending cloud-mountains. Sometimes we met American soldiers there, who for some while had been arriving in large numbers, men with red healthy faces.
—Lord Dunsany, Patches of Sunlight (1938) 296

The success of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric & Discredited Diseases (2003) led to a sequel: The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011). The first book is essentially a standalone volume similar to The Starry Wisdom Library (2014): a collection of short fictional works done in the style of a reference guide, with all the fantastic, science fiction, weird, and supernatural ailments and symptoms pretending to co-exist in the same setting. The Cabinet of Curiosities is nominally framed along the same lines, as items in the fictional Thackery T. Lambshead’s eccentric collection, but the guidelines on what constitutes an “entry” are less rigid…so what it really turns out to be is a collection of disconnected pieces of various lengths and styles. Some resemble actual write-ups like one might find in a good SCP wiki entry, and others are simply short stories with, perhaps, a note at the end that explains how it got to be part of Lambshead’s collection. Some of them don’t even have that.

The trench had scarcely been dug. Dirt shook loose down upon then, until they might have been part of the earth, and when the all-clear sounded at last out of long silence, they stood up still equals under a coat of mud, until Russel bent down and picked up the shovel, discarded, and they were again officer and man.

But this came too late: Edward trudged back with him, side by side, to the more populated regions of the labyrinth, still talking, and when they had reached Russell’s bivouac, he looked at Edward and said, “Would you have a cup of tea?”
—Naomi Novik, “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities 118

Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany, was one a writer’s writer. Never a bestseller, he was still highly esteemed by many as one of the greatest fantasists to ever live, and one of the most influential. His stories of “beyond the fields we know,” written briefly around the turn of the century, would provide the inspiration for H. P. Lovecraft’s Dreamlands and for “The Call of Cthulhu.” During his service in the British Army during World War I, the 39-year old Anglo-Irish peer was appointed a Captain in the Royal Inniskilling Fusilliers, and spent time in the trenches in France, where this story is set.

After the war was over, Lord Dunsany would travel on a tour of the United States. In Boston in 1919, a 29-year old H. P. Lovecraft would be too self-conscious to ask his idol for an autograph.

You come to the trenches out of strangely wasted lands, you come perhaps to a wood in an agony of contortions, black, branchless, sepulchral trees, and then no more trees at all. The country after that is still called Picardy or Belgium, still has its old name on the map as though it smiled there yet, sheltering cities and hamlet and radiant with orchards and gardens, but the country named Belgium—or whatever it be—is all gone away, and there stretches for miles instead one of the world’s great deserts, a thing to take its place no longer with smiling lands, but with Sahara, Gobi, Kalahari, and the Karoo; not to be thought of as Picardy, but more suitably to be named the Desert of Wilhelm. Through these sad lands one goes to come to the trenches. Overhead floats until it is chased away an aëroplane with little black crosses, that you can scarcely see at his respectful height, peering to see what more harm may be done in the desolation and ruin. Little flashes sparkle near him, white puffs spread out round the flashes: and he goes, and our airmen go away after him; black puffs break out round our airmen. Up in the sky you hear a faint tap-tapping. They have got their machine guns working.
—Lord Dunsany, “A Walk to the Trenches” in Tales of War (1918)

For all that Dunsany’s fiction has been lauded by the likes of Lovecraft & co., the writer himself never quite developed the same mythology about him. There are fewer stories about Dunsany the man than there are about Lovecraft. This may in part be due to the fact that Lord Dunsany himself was around for quite a bit longer: his writing career of 50+ years was longer than Lovecraft himself was alive, and Dunsany produced several volumes of autobiography…much of which, perhaps strangely, failed to touch on his inner life. He had been a sportsman, who hunted game big and small all over the world; chessmaster; heir to an old title in the British peerage; a soldier, a husband and father, a writer of poetry, fiction, wartime propaganda, plays…he corresponded with a young Arthur C. Clarke, and if her didn’t invent the club story with his Jorkins tales, he may well have perfected it.

There’s been quite a bit written about Dunsany, and he himself wrote quite a bit, but he failed to really make that leap into myth that had others write about him in the same way as Lovecraft. Which is one of the things that makes Naomi Novik’s story stand out in the second Lambshead anthology. That rare story that touches on Dunsany the myth.

He lifted off the lid and showed Edward: a lump fixed to the bottom of the post, smooth, white, glimmering like a pearl, irregular yet beautiful, even with the swollen tea-leaves like kelp strewn over and around it.
—Naomi Novik, “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities 122

The magic of the teapot to me is more that it offers dreams, fantastical ones, and for both of them, in the midst of that dreadful war, to be able to dream and for a little while escape the reality of the grinding machinery of death, that was what brought them both peace.
—Naomi Novik, Year’s Best 2012: Naomi Novik on “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” (Erin Stocks)

Ironically, if there is a problem with “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” as a story, it’s not nit-picks about army life or the state of the Somme in the fall and winter of 1917, or any other fact of the real world or Dunsany’s life. It’s the implications of the teapot itself. As totemic artifacts go, 1917 is a bit late in Dunsany’s career to come into possession of the thing. Lord Dunsany had written nearly all of his fantasy fiction before his service in World War I, and relatively rarely ventured back there afterwards. If it had come to him during the Second Boer War (1899-1902), before he wrote The Gods of Pegāna (1905), it would be more fitting to explain his fantasy output.

Of course Novik never suggests that the teapot at all inspired Dunsany’s fantasies—his writing is never actually mentioned in the story itself—and that’s kind of its own little oddity too. It definitely feels like a story where the reader is expected to shoulder a good bit of the narrative heavy lifting: and that is sort of characteristic with many of H. P. Lovecraft’s fictional appearances—Lovecraft works as a character because of the familiarity of his image with fans. Lord Dunsany doesn’t quite have that much exposure. Readers are presumably supposed to recognize the name in the title (Lord Dunsany) and then know or intuit that Edward is Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany. Anything beyond that is presumably getting into the weeds.

Then again, the real hardcore Lord Dunsany fan knows that it should probably have been not a teapot, but a hat:

He cannot explain a flight of fancy, save to call it what it is, and thus can’t tell the “source” for Pegāna, which is probably just as well. But he does put forth a wealth of information about his writing methods,* his artistic credo, his early experiences in the theatre, and his interests in literature.

* One, which he doesn’t bother to mention, but which Lady Dunsany related to Sprague de Camp, was that he always sat on a crumpled old hat while composing his tales. Perhaps it had magical properties; but, alas, some visitor to Dunsany Castle made off with it, so we’ll never know.
—Darrell Schweitzer, Pathways to Elfland: The Writings of Lord Dunsany 139

This is one of those anecdotes that is almost impossible to source, but L. Sprague de Camp does mention his friendly relationship and correspondence with Lord Dunsany’s wife (and later widow) Beatrice, Lady Dunsany, so there’s no reason to discount it out of hand. Like Tolkien’s ashtray, it’s one of those odd real-life artifacts about which the speculation is probably much more fun and interesting than the reality.

“Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” is illustrated with a single picture, which bares a curious caption:

Yishan Li’s depiction of Lurd Dunsany’s Teaport, from the forthcoming Novik-Li graphic novel “Ten Days to Glory: Demon Tea and Lord Dunsany.”
The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities 119

Said graphic novel never came out, although Naomi Novik and Yishan Li did collaborate on another graphic novel, Will Supervillains Be On The Final? (2011). Publishing projects fall apart all the time, but despite the nitpicks above, it’s unfortunate that this didn’t happen. At longer length, with such a talented artist, “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” could have been a really interesting work—and if there is a paucity of good stories about Lord Dunsany as a fictional character, he and his works are hardly ever adapted to comics or graphic novels.

“Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” was first published in The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities (2011) and was reprinted in The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror: 2012 Edition (2012).


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