“(UN)Bury Your Gays: A Queering of Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft” by Clinton W. Waters

While he was with me, the wonder and diabolism of his experiments fascinated me utterly, and I was his closest companion. Now that he is gone and the spell is broken, the actual fear is greater. Memories and possibilities are ever more hideous than realities.

H. P. Lovecraft, “Herbert West—Reanimator”

How do you go about queering Herbert West?

In 1922, before Weird Tales had ever hit the stands, H. P. Lovecraft’s first commercial work went into print: six brief tales of gruesome mad science, for which he was to be paid five dollars an episode. Commercial hack work, and Lovecraft knew it; it would not be published again until Lovecraft was safely dead and beyond objecting. From there it entered the domain of reprints, and it became the basis for the 1985 film Reanimator. The film, with the iconic performance by Jeffrey Combs as Herbert West and the glowing green reanimation agent, was a smash success. It inspired a franchise of movies, a novelization, comic books, merchandise, and stories chronicling the further adventure of the reanimator, his foes and rivals.

Herbert West has become one of Lovecraft’s breakout characters.

It is harder to pin down when the queer interpretations began. The basic building blocks were always there, from the beginning: West and his unnamed partner’s close homosocial bond, like Holmes and his Watson; Lovecraft’s typical asexuality and lack of romance in the story; the allegorical implications of men trying to create life without women, especially via the Freudian technique of injecting some of their special serum into the body. One might also add the loneliness of the outsiders, forced to hide their actions from the world, forced out onto the fringes just to be themselves without discrimination.

For queer folk, reading into the text or the adaptations something of their own experience, maybe Herbert West was always queer too. He just wasn’t out about it yet.

Brian McNaughton may have been the first to really play with the idea in “Herbert West—Reincarnated: Part II, The Horror from the Holy Land” (2000), published in Crypt of Cthulhu #106 and his collection Nasty Stories. Molly Tanzer certainly brought in the open with “Herbert West in Love” (2012). The erotic appeal was made manifest in “Herburt East: Refuckinator” (2012) by Lula Lisbon. Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows expressly coded West and his companion as queer in Providence (2017), which played off against their own queer protagonist…and there are more. The constellation of Reanimator-derived works continues to grow; some are more explicitly queer than others. Each of these interpretations is different, both in their understanding and in their depiction of what being queer means, and in what they drew from Lovecraft or what they borrowed from other media; the glowing green reagent being a common element in most stories written after 1985.

The fluid was fluorescent and green as I gently tipped the vial. A single bead of he concoction caught on the lip of the tube and then fell, splashing into the beed’s mouth.

Clinton W. Waters, “(UN)Bury Your Gays: A Queering of Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft”

“(UN)Bury Your Gays” is a spiritual sequel to “Herbert West—Reanimator”; one that retreads a little familiar ground (it is a reanimator story, it would be more shocking if there wasn’t a reanimation), but is overall smaller, more focused: the protagonists are not simply repeating the Herbert West/unnamed assistant dynamic, but are exploring a much more complicated, nuanced, realistic friendship as the only two queer kids in high school. There is a sensibility in the story reminiscent of “Pale, Trembling Youth” (1986) by W. H. Pugmire & Jessica Amanda Salmonson; a weird sort of universality to the outsider experience which makes the characters much more sympathetic than West and his nameless assistant ever were.

Waters sets the action in the current day, and a certain pop-culture sensibility flows through the scenario: like the genre-savvy characters in the Scream films, they can picture themselves in a horror story and sometimes try to interpret what’s happening through that lens, riffing on vampirism and flesh-eating zombies in a way that Herbert West & his assistant in 1922 couldn’t. Less directly and less obviously, the two teens also approach their sexuality and relationship through the same lens. This is far and away from a Lovecraftian interpretation of Brokeback Mountain, but there are shades of the same relationship dynamics at play. What the leads have isn’t sexual, but they are tied together by their sexuality. A shared intimacy, but not exclusivity.

In a lot of ways, Waters flips Lovecraft’s script. Instead of a nameless protagonist talking about his relationship with Herbert West, we have the great-grand nephew Humphrey West telling the tale of his best friend. Where Herbert West is focused on reanimation practically to the exclusion of all else and seems to take his relationship with the unnamed narrator for granted, in “(UN)Bury Your Gays” the focus is all about the relationship between Humphrey and his friend, with reanimation a catalyst for a shift in their dynamic, and that is what the story is ultimately about.

Of Daniel “Danny” Moreland, I can only speak fondly. He was my closest companion. My champion. My single greatest achievement.

Clinton W. Waters, “(UN)Bury Your Gays: A Queering of Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft”

A key point in Waters’ approach is that it is a queering, not the queering of “Herbert West—Reanimator.” This is one interpretation, one take, one possible iteration of the infinite possibilities of exploring Lovecraft’s original narrative, characters, or concepts through a queer lens. Rather than repeating what Molly Tanzer or Alan Moore wrote, Waters is presenting a different permutation on the same idea—one that is more inspired by Lovecraft’s original than a strict revisitation of the same familiar story and characters.

Because there is more than one way to be queer, and more than one way to reanimate the Lovecraftian corpus.

“(UN)Bury Your Gays: A Queering of Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft” (2022) by Clinton W. Waters is available on Amazon Kindle.


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

Howard, Mon Amour (2018) by Martine Chifflot

Sonia (Assise en train d’écrire, elle s’interrompt, levant la tête et s’exprimant a voix haute):
Howard est mort.
Quelle tristesse!

Et moi, qui ne suis plus tout à fait sa veuve…
Divorcée, remariée, je ne peux plus être sa veuve officielle.
Sonia (Sitting down to write, she interrupts herself, raises her head and speaks out loud):
Howard is dead.
What sadness!

And I, who am not quite his widow anymore…
Divorced, remarried, I can no longer be his widow, officially.
Howard, Mon Amour 19English translation
Scene 1

Ever since the publication of The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis in various recensions, there has been great interest in the marriage of H. P. Lovecraft, and in his wife Sonia Haft Greene, who remarried in 1936 and became Sonia H. Davis. As the story of their marriage has unfolded in letters and memoirs, the narrative possibilities have struck several writers. Richard Lupoff included Sonia as a character in Lovecraft’s Book (1985), later expanded or restored as Marblehead (2015), to give one prominent example. Readers and scholars who have traced the story of their meeting, their work on the Rainbow, their collaborations “The Horror at Martin’s Beach” (1923), “Four O’Clock” (1949), Alcestis: A Play (1985), and “European Glimpses” (1988), and their final separation all speak to a dramatic narrative—some might say a tragedy, for all human lives tend toward tragedy at the end.

Howard, Mon Amour is a short drama in 23 scenes by Martine Chifflot. The scene is 1946; their mutual friend Wheeler Dryden has informed Sonia of the death of H. P. Lovecraft, nearly a decade prior. The two had fallen out of touch, and apparently contact had been broken prior to her third and final marriage to Nathaniel A. Davis. Alone while writing, the phantom of Lovecraft appears…whether his ghost, or a hallucination born of her grief, never quite clear. It doesn’t really matter.

Howard: Je suis ici, Sonia; je resterai aussi longtemps que tu vivras. Les choses là-bas ne sont pas tout à fait semblables à ce que l’on raconte, à ce que, moi-même, j’en ai dit et je ne suis pas autorisé à en parler mais il a été permis que je revienne… pour toi, comme pour t’accompagner, comme pour te remercier.Howard: I am here, Sonia; I will stay as long as you live. Things down there are not quite the same as we are told, as I myself have said, and I am not allowed to talk about them, but I have been allowed to come back… for you, as if to accompany you, as if to thank you.
Howard, Mon Amour 22English translation
Scene 2

The French found an early appreciation for Lovecraft, and not just his fiction but many of his letters and associated biographical materials have been translated into French, including Sonia’s memoir. “Un mari nommé H.P.L.” (“A Husband Named H.P.L.” in Lovecraft (Robert Laffront, 1991) appears to have been Chifflot’s main source of data on the marriage, and Chifflot’s drama is fairly accurate to the facts. She may put words into her character’s mouths, but the events play out largely in accordance with Sonia’s account of the marriage, warts and all; the drama of the scenes is a little heightened in the telling, the events more emotional and detailed, but also emotionally true to how Sonia told them herself.

Tante Lilian (ou Sonia L’imitant), apres un moment de silence):
Chère Sonia, nous vous remercions mais cela est tout bonnement impossible.

Voyez-vous, Howard et nous-mêmes sommes des Phillips et nous ne pouvons envisager que l’épouse de Howard doive traviller pour vivre à Providence. Cela constitue une sort de déshonneur que nouse ne pouvons tolérer pour Howard et pour nous-mêmes.

Non. L’épouse de Howard Phillips Lovecraft no peut entretenir son ménage, ni ses tantes. C’est le devoir du mari de subvenir aux besoins familiaux et Howard a joué de malchance à cet égard. Nous connaissons, tout comme vous, les grandes qualités de Howard et nouse aimerions vous voir réunis mais cela ne se peut dans de telles conditions. Vous nous entretiendriez et nous seriouns à votre charge. Ce serait une honte pour nous malgré votre générosité. Cela ne se peut, chère Madame… et nous devrons tous souffrir en silence.
Aunt Lilian (or Sonia imitating her), after a moment of silence):
Dear Sonia, we thank you but this is simply impossible.

You see, we and Howard are Phillips and we cannot contemplate Howard’s wife having to work to live in Providence. This is a dishonor that we cannot tolerate for Howard and ourselves.


No. The wife of Howard Phillips Lovecraft cannot support his household, nor his aunts. It is the husband’s duty to provide for his family, and Howard has been unfortunate in this regard. We know, as you do, the great qualities of Howard and we would like to see you reunited, but it is not possible under these conditions. You would be supporting us and we would be in your charge. It would be a shame for us despite your generosity. It cannot be, dear Madame… and we must all suffer in silence.
Howard, Mon Amour 64English translation
Scene 16

Most of the scenes are monologues, recalling some incident from their married lives; the more interesting scenes are dialogues, where Howard and Sonia actually have a bit of back-and-forth; other characters like Howard’s aunts Lillian and Annie have brief roles, and as suggested, could simply be retold by the actress playing Sonia doing their parts. It is a work meant to be not just read, but acted out; Chifflot herself has performed on stage in the role of Sonia:

Howard, Mon Amour. Scène 10. Sebastien Ciesielski et Martine Chifflot

For all the research that went in Howard, Mon Amour, there are a few idiosyncrasies that go beyond the facts. Little attention is given to Sonia’s Jewish identity or how Howard’s prejudices and antisemitism spiked during his stressful stay in New York, for example. There is an odd moment where Sonia believes that Howard’s correspondence with his revision client Zealia Bishop caused a “cooling” (refroidissement) of their relationship; and another where Sonia is said to dislike Crowley (in reality, Sonia and Aleister Crowley never met, it’s all an internet hoax). Which can all be explained as dramatic license rather than error or intentional misdirection. These are things that might stand out to a Lovecraft scholar with a penchant for pedantry more than a Lovecraft fan.

The emotional core of the work is true, however. In many ways, Sonia did find herself haunted by Lovecraft’s ghost for the rest of her life; his legacy clung to her as people asked her about the marriage, and many of her surviving letters survive because they are about Howard or addressed to his friends like August Derleth and Samuel Loveman. In Howard, Mon Amour, Sonia seems to accept that…and that she still loves him. Which, perhaps, is true. It was never love that got in the way of their relationship, but everything else around them: her health, his aunts, their finances, a difference in wants and needs, what they were and were not willing to do.

Howard, Mon Amour by Martine Chifflot was published in 2018 by L’Aigle Botté, and has been performed on stage as “Lovecraft, Mon Amour.” An English translation by Claude Antony has been announced:


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

Cthulhu Scat Hangover & The Innsmouth Porno VHS (2014) by Adolf Lovecraft

In all of his stories, not one of H. P. Lovecraft’s characters ever pissed themselves in fright. No character soiled their britches as Great Cthulhu stumbled through the waves, or noisily vomited up a half-digested lunch on seeing the swiftly-decomposing remains of Wilbur Whateley. You might run across a reference to a man whose face has been bitten away, but never a dirty diaper; a suggestive smear of blood, but never a drop of menses. A character might be described as moving through filth, but you never get the actual description of the turds, or the rotting carcasses buzzing with flies, or the sudden desperate need for a restroom.

Weird fiction may be horrifying, but it is rarely disgusting. Fear and disgust are basic emotions that can both arise from transgressions, and can be quite intimately linked: a dead body may engender fear and disgust, a prude might find a Satanic orgy both horrifying and revolting. During the heyday of Weird Tales, there was a limit one could go in explicit description, and while later decades grew more lax in terms of actual censorship, many practical limitations remain. Nudity is still more acceptable in horror films than actual feces; a character might be shot a hundred times or bisected by a saw blade, but they probably won’t be drowned in a toilet full of urine.

Even in weird and horror fiction, there are many norms and mores…and transgressing these can result in quite powerful works of art and literature. Terrible, in their own way, but powerful.

This is the psychology of the exploitation films, underground comix, heavy metal and all of its many musical sub-genres and modes with their cover art, and of Splatterpunk fiction and its literary descendants Extreme Horror and Bizarro fiction. For writers and artists who embrace the transgression beyond mere fright, there are strange, vast opportunities to go beyond what any normal writer—even the normal Lovecraftian writer—has gone before.

Of course, it isn’t necessarily pleasant to read or write, but that’s the point. The visceral response, the new emotional sensation that you can’t get anymore. After reading “Innsmouth” or “Cthulhu” for the fiftieth or a hundredth time, do you really still feel the same dread? Or have you gotten used to it? Cthulhu, for many, has become a familiar horror. There are plushies. You can go buy dice and pillows, Cthulhu panties and sex toys. While a Lovecraft reader might be horrified at the mere existence of such merch, Cthulhu itself is far less a figure of terror to most. Cthulhu has become…cuddly.

That isn’t always the case, of course. Some Lovecraftian fiction is more transgressive than others, even in these jaded later days. “Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is explicitly more visceral than the average Mythos tale; Insania Tenebris (2020) by Raúlo Cáceres pushes Mythos art to an explicit extreme; “The Vulviflora of Vuutsavek” (2008) by Charlotte Alchemilla Smythe is sexually explicit without letting go of the essential element of horror—yet none of these works really embrace disgust as equal to horror. None of them push that element of transgression.

For Lovecraftian works like that, you generally need to look for such works as Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line including The Innswich Horror, The Haunter of the Threshold, Going Monstering, Trolley No. 1842, and The Dunwich RomanceThese are all stories that put the horror and disgust under a microscope, that don’t pan away or keep the nastier bits of the action off the page or buried under a metaphor, as Lovecraft did. In a more avant-garde vein, you might look at Jordan Krall’s bizarro classic Squid Pulp Blues, pedal-to-the-metal Tentacle Death Trip, and the surreal collection Nightmares from a Lovecraftian Mindor Kevin Strange’s McHumans.

Many of these works are now out of print and rare. Extreme fiction tends to have a limited audience, and self-publishing and small presses have been the norm; once it was Arkham House that published what the big publishers wouldn’t, but now the bleeding, gore-stained edge of extreme Lovecraftian fiction is mostly occupied in self-publishing…and there are some delightfully disgusting treats out on the fringes of known literature.

“Adolf Lovecraft” was the pseudonym for a bizarro writer who self-published three ebooks: Cthulhu Scat Hangover (2014), The Innsmouth Porno VHS (2014), and Cthulhu Bomb (In A Whore’s Guts (2016). While never destined for any best-of anthologies and largely ignored by critics, these are works that are exactly what they set out to be: nasty deep dredges where the balance is less on Lovecraftian horror than Lovecraftian disgust.

Cthulhu Scat Hangover contains two stories: “The Brown Eye From Beyond” and “Cthulhu Scat Hangover.” Both of these stories deal with very similar themes and visuals, and barely amount to more than a scene each; they may or may not have been inspired by a similar scene in chapter four of “The Apocalypse Donkey” in Squid Pulp Blues…

The wet sounds of shit-hitting-cement got louder. The tentacles got closer and before they wrapped around his leg, JImbo thought he saw the hypnotic and crystalline eyes of a squid. He blinked, thinking it was his imagination but when he looked again, they were still there.
—Jordan Krall, Squid Pulp Blues 146

…or perhaps not; independent invention has happened before and will again.

While some of the images are striking, the prose is rather straightforward, with an almost business-like low-budget horror movie earnestness than any effort to wax loquacious. Adolf Lovecraft does not try to ape Lovecraft’s loquaciousness and occasional ultraviolet prose.

The pain was indescribable as Angela from accounts slowly forced her entire fist into his sphincter. He was screaming gibberish, completely helpless, and she too was shouting something equally nonsensical—”Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!” or some such bollocks—as her wrist, then her forearm, strekaed with gore and faeces, disappeared past Donny’s torn, haemorrhaging anus.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “Cthulhu Scat Hangover”

The stories also have no wider Mythos to tie into; aside from the name and familiar incantation, we aren’t left with any idea of why Angela from accounts is doing this, exactly. We don’t see the cult, if there is one, we get one perspective of a life with all of its petty bullshit hopes, ambitions, fears, and insecurities, and then he dies on a toilet after shitting out a tentacled horror.

It isn’t even played for laughs.

The Innsmouth Porno VHS also consists of two short works: the eponymous “Innsmouth Porno VHS” and “Brown Shower Apocalypse.” The latter has more in common with the contents of “Cthulhu Scat Hangover” than the others, and again there’s that sense of familiarity of theme, if nothing else, with Krall’s Squid Pulp Blues: the looming apocalypse, the terrible mundane sordidness of human relationships, sexual paraphilia, and the use of drugs and alcohol to cope. While it isn’t wholesome to any degree, “Brown Shower Apocalypse” isn’t written as a story to cater to or condemn those who have a sexual desire for a woman to shit on their chest like that infamous scene in Ilsa, She-Wolf of the S.SAs kinks go, it’s disgusting but not horrorific…except, perhaps in this story where it blends from one into the other at the end.

“The Innsmouth Porno VHS” is a different approach: no scat, for one thing. For another, it engages in a bit of intriguing worldbuilding:

Mike and I, in our early 20s, had been born into a world in which the Innsmouth Condition already existed. The Innsmouth kids had been born about a decade earlier. It wasn’t exactly commonplace to us—I’d only ever seen a couple of people with it in my life, and that had been in large cities—but it definitely was part of the world.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS”

Imagine a world where developing fishy attributes was like Thalidomide babies. Pornography is already intensely driven by genre and tags; the desire for new and different sees users browse by both specific sexual acts and kinks and types of performers. Race, sex and gender, hair color, body types, body modifications like tattoos and piercings are all fair game. It wouldn’t be that strange to imagine what adults with Innsmouth Condition might end up doing in front of the camera…

It is about as far from cosmic horror as you can get. If Joe Koch is correct that body horror is the opposite end of the spectrum from cosmic horror (A Transmusculine Horror Writers Looks At Lovecraft), then “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” might suggest that the spectrum has another axis, and that body disgust is the opposite end of the spectrum from cosmic disgust. The idea recalls Arthur Machen’s dialogue on sorcery and sanctity, the idea that there are transgressions of the mundane world that are more repellent than mere theft or murder, the kind of revulsion against reality hinted at in some weird tales:

And for three hundred years I have done his bidding, from this marble couch, blackening my soul with cosmic sins, and staining my wisdom with crimes, because I had no other choice.
—Robert E. Howard, “The Tower of the Elephant”

A tentacled entity sliding out of a broken rectum covered in shit into a toilet might evoke mingled disgust and horror, but there is nothing of the cosmic in a videotaped orgy featuring two women with birth defects. Weird, certainly; outside the mundane categories on your pornographic website of choice, but the physicality of a hardcore sex tape, with spitting, rough sex, and dirty talk spoken from mouths ill-adapted to human speech trends more toward disgust than horror…although there is still that strange fascination that accompanies anything unusual, bizarre, and taboo.

As the name implies, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” is sexually explicit, but the real focus is on the mental or spiritual corruption of the protagonist. The eponymous VHS awakens something in him, and Adolf Lovecraft deftly captures that sense of utter fascination, of something beguiling in its wrongness, the shivering sensation of watching something you weren’t meant to see…trying to capture, in a sense, that liminal state of watching pornography for the first time, except with less explicit fear of being caught and more explicit visceral attraction mixed with disgust.

The orgy, gangbang, fish fry, whatever it was, began to wind down.
—Adolf Lovecraft, “The Innsmouth Porno VHS”

The difference between this story and the others in Adolf Lovecraft’s small corpus is that the dirtiness and disgust are on the inside. The other stories are gross-outs, violent, nasty, and viscerally disgusting in the acts they describe, and the point-of-view characters don’t survive to develop new kinks or learn any moral lesson. In “The Innsmouth Porno VHS” however, there’s something more…not in the sense of a greater extreme of physical disgust, but maybe in the sense of cosmic disgust. It isn’t just about jerking off to a new fetish for Innsmouth girls, it’s what that new and unnatural libido leads him to do…and that is, in many ways, more disgusting than all the scat-filled references in the other stories combined.

Cthulhu Bomb (In A Whore’s Guts) is an omnibus anthology of Adolf Lovecraft’s work, including all four stories from the previous two collections along with several new ones. The same themes are at play, but the stories don’t build on one another, there is no larger picture to grasp. Many of the same ideas, spinning out in variations, fucked-up situations that are brutal but never beautiful, that degrade but don’t enlighten.

Disgusting stories aren’t for everyone; it is a different kind of transgression, meant to invoke a different response, and while disgust and fear are closely related, the effects they have on mind and body can be very different. For those who think they have delved into the depths of cosmic horror…there may be some things out there that you aren’t ready for yet, and may never be. There are stranger and more terrible things than Adolf Lovecraft out there.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

“SCP-5389” (2021) by Agisuru

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Teenage Twins (1976)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screenshot 2022-02-11 8.54.15 PM

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

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

Screenshot 2022-02-11 11.02.57 PM

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

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

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


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

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

“Lovecraft Slept Here” (2003) by Denise Dumars

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

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

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

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

Which is the case with “Lovecraft Slept Here.”

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which is what chaos magic is all about.

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


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

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