“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…

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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).

Black Stars Above (2019) by Lonnie Nadler & Jenna Cha

At length we observed a total change in their demeanour. From absolute stupor they appeared to be, all at once, aroused to the highest pitch of excitement, and rushed wildly about, going to and from a certain point on the beach, with the strangest expressions of mingled horror, rage, and intense curiosity depicted on their countenances, and shouting, at the top of their voices, Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!
—Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838)

Of course common reading is what prepared us both to make the interpretation, though Danforth has hinted at queer notions about unsuspected and forbidden sources to which Poe may have had access when writing his Arthur Gordon Pym a century ago. It will be remembered that in that fantastic tale there is a word of unknown but terrible and prodigious significance connected with the antarctic and screamed eternally by the gigantic, spectrally snowy birds of that malign region’s core. “Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!” That, I may admit, is exactly what we thought we heard conveyed by that sudden sound behind the advancing white mist—that insidious musical piping over a singularly wide range.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness (1936)

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Black Stars Above was published as a five-issue series from Vault Comics in 2019-2020, and collected in a trade paperback in 2020. The creative team was Lonnie Nadler (writer), Jenna Cha (artist), Brad Simpson (colorist), and Hassan Ostmane-Elhaou (letterer).

They tread rare territory.

Canada, 1887. Eulalie Dubois, a young Métis woman living on the edge of things with her family, trading moccasins and skinning muskrats. Yet at night she reads The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, and hopes one day to escape this life. There’s fascinating intersectionality there—youth and gender and race, all mixed up and coming together. Then it gets weird.

There were Canadian pulp magazines. Not just the Canadian edition of Weird Tales, but home-grown pulps by Canadian artists, writers, and publishers, set in Canada. Where the United States had Westerns, there was also a market for Northerns, pulp stories and novels set in Canada’s Northwest Territories, often investigated by Mounties as in Tales of the North-West Mounted Police (Sep 1933). Like the Westerns, the Northerns were concerned with Canada’s frontier—the extremes of climate and survival that comprised man vs. nature, the stress on human relationships that added frisson to man vs. man, and out at the edge of the known world…sometimes things slip over into man vs. supernature.

There are a few “Weird Westerns” out there. Not so many “Weird Northerns.”

Contrast Jack London’s “To Build A Fire” (1902), which is a straight survival story with shades of psychological horror, and Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” (1910), where the extremes of the environment is only the beginning of the horror, the prelude to things. There are stranger things in the Northern woods, and plenty of mundane horrors—Nadler and Cha give us a taste of that in the opening chapter. A grandfather whose leg was cut off by Mounties. A mother discriminated against for being First Nations. A daughter sold into marriage, as long as she passes for white…

One of the key aspects of frontier fiction—Western, Northern, Sword & Planet, etc.—is the primary motivation for going into that frontier. Sometimes it is altruistic: Star Trek went on a mission to explore and investigate, to scribble in the borders of the map. Often, it’s meaner: people want to exploit the resources and indigenous peoples, make their fortune, and get out, as in H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling’s “In the Walls of Eryx” (1939).

Black Stars Above plays with motivations very strongly and with great intent. Not just Eulalie Dubois in her mission, but everyone else in the story has some reason to be there, some hope or need or order that drove them beyond where they should have gone. Which drives them still, far past where they should have turned back. That is part of what makes the story work, above and beyond the weirdness that is very Lovecraftian but which does not make any attempt to tie in explicitly to the Cthulhu Mythos or any other; despite the reference to “black stars” and the obvious influence of Robert W. Chambers’ The King in Yellow there’s no other direct connection to the Yellow Mythos as with “Slick Black Bones and Soft Black Stars” (2012) by Gemma Files or “While The Black Stars Burn” (2015) by Lucy A. Snyder. It borrows the weird cry from The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, but that is exactly all that it is: the cry of the weird. Out beyond the unknown, signifying something that can’t be deciphered.

There are great and terrible hints, but this is a narrative that does some of its best work by choosing to show rather than tell. Jenna Na’s art works well because when things are real, the panels are sharp and defined, close and intimate; and when she pulls back for the wider shots…when the gutters fade away…the dreamlike quality is stark and beautiful but somehow more epic in perspective.

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Brad Simpson’s colors add depth to the artwork. It would have been easy to leave this black-and-white, let the chiaroscuro hit the reader between the eyes, but the colors make the “real” portion of the story seem more real, and the “unreal” portions more strongly bizarre by contrast. There are a lot more shadows of darkness that can be shown with blues and reds than just white and black.

With the handwritten journal pages and Lovecraftian focus, it’s tempting to compare Black Stars Above with Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence (2015-2017), and Lonnie Nadler does acknowledge the influence:

And just in terms of trying to do similar things, Alan Moore’s Providence. It’s definitely an influence on Black Stars Above, but I think it does different things, and more powerful things with responding to Lovecraft, in that it’s a direct response to Lovecraft and only to Lovecraft. (Well, I guess Chambers, too). I love that book. It doesn’t get enough credit in Alan Moore’s body of work. He said what he was trying to do was what Watchmen did with superheroes, Providence was trying to do for Lovecraft. And I think he very much accomplished that. And anyone who is a fan of Lovecraft, I think should read it, because it’s, it’s densely intelligent and rich. And I might like it more than Watchmen. And I say this, like, as someone whose favorite comic is Watchmen. I don’t know why, but people didn’t seem to latch on to that one like they do some of his other work. Maybe because Neonomicon was so off-putting to people.
—Robert Secundus, “Lonnie Nadler Part II: On ‘Black Stars Above,’ Margaret Atwood and why trains are weird” (28 Jul 2020)

Black Stars Above does do different things than Providence. For one, Eulalie Dupois does not follow Robert Black in suicide after the final revelations. Both of them faced the choices of simply going with the flow, to continue to exist without making waves. Neither of them could face that. Simply existing on the edge of things is not winning, even if the heart is beating and blood is pumping. Settling for a life of quite desperation on the end of everything, trapped in a life you don’t want…

For so many characters in such narratives, death is the only escape from the frozen hell.


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

Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

This novel dramatic paraphernalia consisted first of all of the Gothic castle, with its awesome antiquity, vast distances and ramblings, deserted or ruined wings, damp corridors, unwholesome hidden catacombs, and galaxy of ghosts and appalling legends, as a nucleus of suspense and daemoniac fright. In addition, it included the tyrannical and malevolent nobleman as villain; the saintly, longpersecuted, and generally insipid heroine who undergoes the major terrors and serves as a point of view and focus for the reader’s sympathies; the valorous and immaculate hero, always of high birth but often in humble disguise; the convention of high-sounding foreign names, mostly Italian, for the characters; and the infinite array of stage properties which includes strange lights, damp trap-doors, extinguished lamps, mouldy hidden manuscripts, creaking hinges, shaking arras, and the like. All this paraphernalia reappears with amusing sameness, yet sometimes with tremendous effect, throughout the history of the Gothic novel; and is by no means extinct even today, though subtler technique now forces it to assume a less naive and obvious form.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Silvia Moreno-Garcia would probably agree with H. P. Lovecraft in that there was nothing more insipid than the traditional heroine of the Gothic novel. Which is why the heroine of her Gothic novel is a spurt of new blood in the veins of an old and decaying family, one able to pull a trigger when she has to, and light a cigarette when she wants to. For all that Moreno-Garcia consciously pays homage to the tropes of the Gothic novel, make no mistake: this is a fresh story, a slow burning, slow building tale that goes unexpected places and does so with confident skill and creative flourish.

Gothic fiction was a primary influence on H. P. Lovecraft, and much of his early Poe-inflected fiction especially can be considered as “modern Gothics.” When you read “The Rats in the Walls” with its family mystery, the ancient Priory with its haunted legends, the ghostly skitter that the cat chases—that is an echo of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and before that Horace, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto. Readers who ignore this school might find that they’ve missed some excellent fiction, and Lovecraft himself noted:

Indeed, we may say that this school still survives; for to it clearly belong such of our contemporary horror-tales as specialise in events rather than atmospheric details, address the intellect rather than the impressionistic imagination, cultivate a luminous glamour rather than a malign tensity or psychological verisimilitude, and take a definite stand in sympathy with mankind and its welfare. It has its undeniable strength, and because of its “human element” commands a wider audience than does the sheer artistic nightmare. If not quite so potent as the latter, it is because a diluted product can never achieve the intensity of a concentrated essence.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Supernatural Horror in Literature”

Mexican Gothic is what it says on the cover. Not just “a Gothic novel set in Mexico,” but an original Gothic novel which could not be written except in Mexico. It would not have the same effect if the protagonist Noemí Taboada was an American cousin, the relationships in the story would be entirely different; the Doyles would not be the same if the story was set in New Mexico versus Old Mexico, because the historical events and prejudices that they carried with them and experienced would be entirely different. The story carries its sense of place with it right down to its bones, which is something Lovecraft himself would no doubt have appreciated.

Readers who know Silvia Moreno-Garcia for her Mythos fiction and as editor/publisher at Innsmouth Free Press might be looking for Mexican Lovecraft connections. After all, Lovecraft set a story in Mexico involving a mine (“The Transition of Juan Romero”), played with Aztec mythology (“The Mound” with Zealia Bishop), and revised another story about a miner in Mexico (“The Electric Executioner” for Adolphe de Castro)—but there are no copies of the Necronomicon in the Doyle library, not even a copy of Moreno-Garcia’s own El Culto de los Muertos from The Starry Wisdom Library.

Mexican Gothic is not a novel of the Cthulhu Mythos. But it is a very Lovecraftian one.

[…] all the people in the family seemed to have that similar physiognomy, which she was dubbing in her head “the Doyle look.” Like the Habsburg jaw of Charles II, only not quite as concerning. Now that had been a case of sever mandibular prognathism.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mexican Gothic 126

There are a number of themes in the book that echo some of Lovecraft’s stories; it’s hard not to see a shadow of unspoken sexual relationships of “The Thing in the Doorstep,” the strange ‘scandals’ of “The Dunwich Horror,” and terrible near-destruction of the family by one of its members a la “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family”—but this isn’t just a mix-and-match of ideas from Lovecraft and old Gothic tropes. Silvia Moreno-Garcia knows what she’s doing, and if she deliberately re-purposes a few old stones in the house she’s building, it’s because they’re the right size and shape, not because they’re the closest thing at hand.

Which really comes into sharp focus in the character of the Doyle family. In a Lovecraft story, a Mexican character like Noemí Taboada would be the outsider, intruding into the narrative with a corrupting presence; the Doyles almost certainly see themselves as Lovecraftian protagonists and view her as an outsider. Yet in the narrative of Mexican Gothic, it is clear that it is the Doyles who themselves are the intrusive element: the aliens that refuse to be assimilated, who cling to their own traditions and live apart, pursuing their strange and disturbing practices.

Any change which involves an interference with a developed race’s folkways and language and cultural integrity is cruelly deplorable—but in each threatened case it is up to each neutral power to decide whether armed intervention is really justified in the interest of general civilisation. However—in practice, most nations do instinctively draw a line betwixt the civilised and the definitely non-civilised. […] Sometimes a nation forms a sort of borderline case—Mexico being an example. As a whole, Mexico has enough of an established Hispanic civilisation to win it a place in the instinctively favoured category, but this is not true of all its parts. When at various times the U.S. took sections of its southern neighbour, these sections were among the least settled and civilised—hence the gradual Americanisation. But if we were to conquer the entire country in some future war, it seems certain that the intensively developed central area containing the capital would be granted a cultural autonomy like that enjoyed by Puerto Rico.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 7 May 1936, A Means to Freedom 2.930

From a Lovecraftian point of view, the Doyles and their mansion form an enclave or colony of English civilization in Mexico; having conquered and “civilized” a portion of it. Yet to the actual Mexicans, the Doyles are greedy, unlovely, incestuous (recall Lovecraft’s claim that several of his ancestors had consanguineous marriages), and as one wise woman put it: cursed.

Readers familiar with Howard Phillips Lovecraft will find many commonalities with Howard Doyle, patriarch of this clan. Doyle’s obsession with scientific racialism, and his verbal sparring with Noemí on the topic, are a different way of addressing Lovecraft’s prejudices than N. K. Jemisin did in The City We Became (2020). Where Jemisin’s characters mocked Lovecraft’s beliefs from the safe vantage point of Lovecraft being long dead, Noemí has to deal with a very real racist who in 1950s Mexico clings to ideas more suited to the 1890s. The tenseness of the encounter plays against the racial tensions of Mexican history as well as Lovecraft’s personal prejudices: Noemí is neither ashamed of her indigenous heritage, nor does she see herself as particularly defined by that. She is first and foremost a contemporary Mexican, and doesn’t care to be slotted into Doyle’s categories.

Which writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet? What would you like to discuss?
I think I’m obliged to say I’d like to reconstitute Lovecraft using his essential salts. I did my thesis work on him and feel in a strange way that I grew up with him. In a way, he was one of my best friends as an awkward kid growing up in Mexico City—which sounds bizarre, but it’s true. I don’t know, however, how the conversation might go. It would probably be very stilted. […] As for talking, I like to talk about books nobody knows about and old movies, so I’d probably show Lovecraft Get Out and Annihilation, and see what he thinks.
—Jared Jackson, The PEN Ten: An Interview with Silvia Moreno-Garcia (9 July 2020)

The slow build-up of the first two-thirds of the book gives way to a precipitously fast descent into hell in the last third. All the hints and suggestions planted lead to a genuinely and fantastically weird climax. The book is worth reading twice just to pick up on some of the care with which the first part of Mexican Gothic is built on, and without which the book as a whole would have fallen apart. Shades of “Arthur Jermyn” again in the final conflagration—but as with “The Fall of the House of Usher,” there’s a certain inevitability to it all. The House of Doyle was always a tinderbox, waiting to be ignited by any stray spark…and no one tells Noemí Taboada that she can’t smoke.


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

The City We Became (2020) by N. K. Jemisin

“Cover up that shit,” Bronca snaps at them. “Took me a minute, but I get it now. ‘Dangerous mental machines,’ hah.” […] “Yeah, that was H. P. Lovecraft’s fun little label for folks in Chinatown—sorry, ‘Asiatic filth.’ He was willing to concede that they might be as intelligent as white people because they knew how to make a buck. But he didn’t think they had souls.”

“Oh, but he was an equal-opportunity hater,” Yijing drawls, folding her arms and glaring at the men. “In the same letter, he went in on pretty much everybody. Let’s see—Black people were ‘childlike half-gorillas,’ Jews were a curse, the Portuguese were ‘simian,’ whatever. We had a lot of fun deconstructing that one in my thesis seminar.”
—N. K. Jemisin, The City We Became 148

And of course the New York Mongoloid problem is beyond calm mention. The city is befouled and accursed—I come away from it with a sense of having been tainted by contact, and long for some solvent of oblivion to wash it out! …… How in Heaven’s name sensitive and self-respecting white men can continue to live in the stew of Asiatic filth which the region has become—with marks and reminders of the locust-plague on every hand—is absolutely beyond me. In fact, I’m jolly well certain that they won’t continue. New York will become a vast trading-mart for long-distance white commuters—and for the nameless spawn. When, at length, the power of the latter rises to dangerous heights of rivalry, I can see nothing short of war or separation from the union. There is here a grave and mighty problem beside which the negro problem is a jest—for in this case we have to deal not with childlike half-gorillas, but with yellow, soulless enemies whose repulsive carcasses house dangerous mental machines warped culturelessly in the single direction of material gain by stealth at any cost. I hope the end will be warfare—but not till such a time as our own minds are fully freed of the humanitarian hindrances of the Syrian superstition imposed upon us by Constantinus.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Jr., 21 Aug 1926, Selected Letters 2.68

Weird fiction cannot afford hagiography. For all that H. P. Lovecraft accomplished during his lifetime, for all the lives and literature he influenced, there is no point in pretending the man was a saint, his memory to be enshrined with only the good things he has done. Every author that stands on the shoulders of giants has to decide on how best to address that legacy. Some ignore it, moving past Lovecraft’s prejudices; others reinvent his Mythos, put their own spin on it; a few use it their fiction as a mirror to highlight Lovecraft’s racism.

N. K. Jemisin calls Lovecraft out on it.

Why not? Dead men cannot have their feelings hurt. He wrote all those words, so there’s no false reporting. The only ones likely to be upset about Jemisin’s bare handful of references to Lovecraft in the novel are those who either share in his prejudices, or are so strongly attuned to the idea of Lovecraft as an icon that they perceive a simple statement of facts as an attack.

It seems evident that Jemisin didn’t open a random book on Lovecraft and pull out the first racist quote she came across, so it’s not like the “On the Creation of…” scene in Lovecraft Country (2016) by Matt Ruff. This moment in The City We Became and those that follow it aren’t exactly essential to the novel, but certainly enrich it by expanding on themes of cosmic horror and race. The structure of the story, how the characters react to the information as they get it, how Lovecraft and his work are described, all shows effort and craft in how Jemisin chooses to incorporate Lovecraft into her book.

This is not N. K. Jemisin beating the dead horse named H. P. Lovecraft. It is a way for her to address him and his legacy on her own terms. In a 2017 interview, the question was asked and answered:

So if you’re using Cthulhu, are you an H.P. Lovecraft fan?

Oh, hell no.

This is deliberately a chance for me to kind of mess with the Lovecraft legacy. He was a notorious racist and horrible human being. So this is a chance for me to have the “chattering” hordes—that’s what he called the horrifying brown people of New York that terrified him. This is a chance for me to basically have them kick the ass of his creation. So I’m looking forward to having some fun with that.
N. K. Jemisin’s New Contemporary Fantasy Trilogy Will “Mess with the Lovecraft Legacy”

This approach can probably safely be called cathartic (NK Jemisin: ‘It’s easier to get a book set in black Africa published if you’re white’). Many writers exorcise their demons and address their issues by writing them out. It is a process which can often be as beneficial for the reader as well: how many women, how many people of color, who have felt uncomfortable knowing that Lovecraft was racist but unwilling to say anything might feel a relief to actually see it called out in print?

There are other ways Jemisin could have expressed her point. The reference to Lovecraft’s 1926 letter to Long is factually accurate, but lacks context. In 1926, Lovecraft’s New York adventure—and his marriage, in all but name and legalities—was over. He had slumped back off to Providence, Rhode Island, having been unable (like millions of others) to make his way in the city, to find gainful employment, to be with his wife and friends. Lovecraft had left Providence for New York less than two years prior, with hopes and aspirations for work, married life, a home of his own with his wife—and returned older, alone, wiser in the world, richer in experience of a thousand things. One memoir stated that:

He came back to Providence a human being—and what a human being! He had been tried in the fire and came out pure gold.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 43

What Cook does not add is that the stresses and failures Lovecraft had experienced in New York had brought his prejudices to a fever point; throwing himself into the “melting pot” of New York City had only exacerbated his prejudices, and for the rest of his life he would write about his hatred of the city, which he considered no longer culturally a part of the United States, but completely overtaken by immigrants and people of color. Nothing of which excuses Lovecraft’s prejudices in  his letter…but perhaps gives more context as to why Jemisin chose to focus on this particular letter.

The City We Became is not a book about H. P. Lovecraft. Jemisin’s references to him and his fiction are symptomatic of the real crux of the novel, which is the city itself. Her novel is a love affair of New York City, in the same vein as Fritz Leiber, Jr.’s Our Lady of Darkness (1977) or John Shirley’s City Come a-Walkin’ (1980) for San Francisco. A snapshot in time of New York as it is, the people that live there are represent it; an acceptance and an exorcism of old ghosts.

But she is a city, in the end—fair R’lyeh where the streets are always straight and the buildings all curve, risen from the brine-dark deep well between universes. And no living city can remain within the boundary of another while it is unwelcome.
—N. K. Jemisin, The City We Became 428

Lovecraft’s New York—the New York of Al Smith and Fiorello La Guardia, Prohibition, the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Hellfighters—is long gone. Jemisin’s novel is about her New York, the post 9/11 New York, the New York of Lyft, IKEA, and Dunkin’ Donuts. It isn’t any less diverse, it isn’t really any weirder. Where a novella like “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle deals with the fictional New York that Lovecraft presented in his writings, Jemisin deals with Lovecraft himself—and finds the only real use for him as a springboard to talking about bigger things, or perhaps a bedrock of ideas and images to mine. If there is any criticism to be had of the book, it’s that it feels like having evoked Lovecraft and R’lyeh, Jemisin could have made more use out of the connections with the city…but again, this isn’t a book about H. P. Lovecraft.


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

“Pale, Trembling Youth” (1986) by W. H. Pugmire & Jessica Amanda Salmonson

Dykes, kikes, spics, micks, fags, drags, gooks, spooks…more of us are outsiders than aren’t, and that’s what the dear young ones too often fail to understand.
—W. H. Pugmire & Jessica Amanda Salmonson, “Pale, Trembling Youth”
in An Imp of Aether 173

This brief story could be a memory—and probably it is, several memories, all bundled up together. Pugmire & Salmonson had history like that. Punks. Not pop-punk, queercore, or Riot Grrrl, but the older, original punk rock, the substratum on which the newer sounds and aesthetics and even politics are built. Patti Smith and William S. Burroughs. The same visceral rebellion that John Shirley would pay tribute to in A Song Called Youth trilogy (1985-1990), the same energy and themes that would show up in the early cyberpunk fiction of Pat Cardigan, Bruce Sterling, and William Gibson. Writers whose vision of the future would give inspiration to Cthulhupunk works like “Star Bright, Star Byte” (1994) by Marella Sands.

“Pale, Trembling Youth” isn’t Cthulhupunk. There’s nothing of the Mythos in its few pages, no dark cults or alien entities. It is a spiritual by-blow, the kind of story that feels like it should have inspired something. Reminiscent of “Beckoner of the Nightwatch” (1989) by Jessica Amanda Salmonson and Pugmire’s editorial vision on Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. There’s Lovecraft in the literary DNA, but not the part of Lovecraft enshrined in pop media as Cthulhu and the Necronomicon.

It’s “The Outsider.”

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness. Wretched is he who looks back upon lone hours in vast and dismal chambers with brown hangings and maddening rows of antique books, or upon awed watches in twilight groves of grotesque, gigantic, and vine-encumbered trees that silently wave twisted branches far aloft. Such a lot the gods gave to me—to me, the dazed, the disappointed; the barren, the broken.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

Lovecraft’s universe is amoral, mechanistic, often antagonistic to human life. Yet it is not without empathy, nor is it incapable of inspiring sympathy. Wilbur Whateley was recast as a sympathetic figure in stories like Stanley C. Sargent’s “The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997) and Robert M. Price’s “Wilbur Whateley Waiting” (1987). The sympathetic view of the Innsmouth residents is at the heart of “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys and “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe.

At it’s heart, there is horror in “Pale, Trembling Youth”—but not quite eldritch horror. The real, visceral, street-level horrors of kids burning bright, ignorant of history but starkly brilliant, the stars that flare twice as bright and half so long—runaways tired of getting beaten by their parents, living rough on the street, burning the candle at both ends with speed, finding beauty in noise, seeking and finding their own self-destruction. Nameless kids dying sad deaths far too young.

So there’s nothing new. Least of all pain. It’s the oldest thing around. I want to tell them, “Yes, you’re outsiders. Yes, this thing you’re feeling really is pain. But you’re not alone.” Or not alone in being alone. A poison-bad planet. For everyone.
—W. H. Pugmire & Jessica Amanda Salmonson, “Pale, Trembling Youth”
in An Imp of Aether 174

The narrator is nameless. The place is real, in Seattle. You can go and visit the park, see the pipes. There is a very Lovecraftian construction to the story, though a sneaky one. A chance meeting, a tale that Zadok Allen might have told for a bottle, but offered for free. Sudden impulse driving the narrator on…and after that…maybe a touch of M. R. James. Mythos? No. Lovecraftian? Absolutely.

“Pale, Trembling Youth” was first published in Cutting Edge (1986); it has been reprinted many times, most recently in the collection An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

“Somewhere To Belong” (2020) by Yolanda Sfetsos

The thing was like something out of a Lovecraft story.
—Yolanda Sfetsos, “Somewhere To Belong”
in Under Her Black Wings: 2020 Women of Horror Anthology Volume One

His name was Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Invoke it at your peril.

One of the side-effects of the rising awareness of H. P. Lovecraft is an increased number of references to the man and his work. What might have started out as a geeky in-joke or homage, such as “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ or “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977) by Richard Lupoff, would go on to become a deliberate effort to conjure associations with the man and his work, to inform a story by mentioning Lovecraft without necessarily drawing any tangible link to the Lovecraft Mythos into the narrative. This can be seen in works as wide apart as Brian McNaughton’s “To My Dear Friend Hommy-Beg” (1994) to the discreet use of a copy of The Shadow over Innsmouth as a prop in Aquaman (2019).

When Yolanda Sfetsos invokes Lovecraft in “Somewhere To Belong,” it tells the audience things, both explicitly and implicitly. That the story is set in a world where Lovecraft wrote and published his fiction; that the narrator (Enid), has read Lovecraft; and that, connection established, the reader should be primed for more subtle references. In this instance, the last bit is probably the primary point. The story would be Lovecraftian without any explicit reference to Lovecraft, but invoking Lovecraft sets the reader to look for the themes and parallels.

A good point of comparison might be “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和). Both stories have a similar mood, and some common elements—the rain, children, a supernatural transformation, friendship and loneliness. Takeuchi’s story is more subtle in execution; Sfetsos’ more explicit, but they’re playing around with some of the same themes and building blocks. Water, childhood, transformation. The ghost of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” hangs over both stories, even if they never mention Innsmouth or anything explicitly connected to it. Sfetsos, by invoking Lovecraft, establishes a connection in the mind of the reader while keeping it out of the narrative itself. Enid doesn’t make the connection between the entity of Mother and Lovecraft’s Mother Hydra. The burden of such connections is placed on the reader.

We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

The ending of Lovecraft’s story is either horrific or wondrous, depending on your interpretation. A loss of self or a finding of ones true self, a true family. Somewhere to belong. Y’ha-nthlei is in that sense a promise of things to come, and for those who are lonely in their life—and there are few that have not felt like outsiders—finding such a place might be worth a few sacrifices. Loneliness is definitely one of the quieter sub-themes in many of Lovecraft’s stories, including “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” The protagonists tend to have few friends, to be disconnected from those around them. The nameless narrator wanders through the streets of Innsmouth, a stranger in a strange land, and yet he already has the Innsmouth Look…he already belongs there. He just doesn’t know it yet.

Enid’s journey in “Somewhere To Belong” focuses on that theme of loneliness and belonging, on a smaller, more personal scale. Enid thought about getting a dog or a cat, but she really needed was a friend…and got one. Yet this is not a bittersweet reflection on Mother Hydra’s promise, as in “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe. Sfetsos’ maintains the horror of it all, the loss. A bit more visceral and metaphysical than Lovecraft, because tentacles can squirm inside brains and souls can be plucked out. There’s not much beauty in it, but that might be the whole point. Sometimes we don’t feel we belong anywhere beautiful, and as Milton says in Paradise Lost:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

“Somewhere To Belong” by Yolanda Sfetsos was published in Under Her Black Wings: 2020 Women of Horror Anthology Volume One.


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

“Down into Silence” (2018) by Storm Constantine

We know the secrets of Innsmouth, or what the alleged witnesses told us were true so long ago. Nearly a hundred years has passed. […] Maybe none of it was true. The surviving records sound like witch trials to me, more imagination than fact. Yet standing here on the bridge over the tumbling River Manuxet, gazing out to sea, I wonder. The fact is, I want it to be true, all of it.
—Storm Constantine, “Down into Silence” in 
What October Brings: A Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween 19

Salem, Massachusetts proudly advertises itself today as Witch Country. The 1692 trials have become fodder for tourists, something for the ancient city to hang its hat on. Sightseers gawk at Gallows Hill, take pictures of the Witch House to post on the internet. Lovecraft did some of that himself, nearly a hundred years ago, and it’s only gotten more commercial, more elaborate.

What if that happened to Innsmouth?

Kenneth Hite in his essay “Cthulhu’s Polymorphous Perversity” in Cthulhurotica commented on the advent of Cthulhu kitsch:

But Cthulhu is not unique in this. Everything that can be sold in the modern age will be sold, and in every form possible. Count Dracula, after all, not content with great movies, novels, mediocre movies, nonfiction tie-ins to novels, debunkings of non-fiction tie-ins to novels, worse movies, superb comic books, and the entire Romanian tourist industry, appears thinly disguised as a fictional children’s rabbit (Bunnicula) and a molar-corroding breakfast cereal (Count Chocula). There are bobble-heads, and illiterate T-shirts, and clever board-games, and plastic toys, and ridiculous cameo appearances devoted to Dracula, and James Bond, and Batman, and every other figure of modern myth. (You can also get a plush Cthulhu dresses as Dracula or James Bond.) (291-292)

We live in the now of Cthulhu kitsch; 3D-printed idols and plushies, action figures and posters, cereals and soda and beer. But we do not live in a world with a real Innsmouth, where the Gilman Hotel has been refurbished and dressed with Hallowe’en decor for the kind of guests that like seeing strands of dried corn and pumpkins strewn about the lobby for that Authentic Old New England™ flavor. How would that work, exactly, if you could read “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and then go drive to Arkham and Innsmouth in your car? If Robert Olmstead, instead of living forever in glory, died of a brain tumor in a sanitarium after publishing his narrative?

This is the kind of mood that Storm Constantine explores in “Down into Silence.” The desire for something real, something dark and magical, and being sold instead the licensed, authorized version of the experience. It is in many ways something of the other side of “The Nyarlathotep Experience™” (2019) by Miguel Fliguer, where we see someone trying to craft that kind of experience for others.

At the same time, it is also an interpretation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”—and not necessarily a cynical one. What if there was some truth to the story? Not everything, not nearly everything. What would Innsmouth be like, if it had been a real place, a small town with an Esoteric Order of Dagon and a Devil’s Reef, and the g-men had come and there had been blood in the streets? What would it look like, if the town had survived that, and bore the scar proudly, and charged people to take photographs of it?

“If it hadn’t been him, then it would have been someone else, Kezia. Innsmouth couldn’t have stayed hidden for ever. The modern world doesn’t allow that. If Innsmouth had—or has—an enemy it is time, the changes in society, not merely the word of one man.”

“He was bitter,” Kezia says, in a voice craving for vengeance. “He wanted to be here, he was one of them, but he ruined it. They chased him out and then, like a mean little boy, he told tales.”
—Storm Constantine, What October Brings 32

Is Storm Constantine’s Innsmouth your father and mother’s Innsmouth? No. It’s a mark of a more mature phase of Lovecraftiana. You need a certain hit of commercialization and nostalgia, like Hallowe’en itself has become, to appreciate what she’s driving at. Before you could have “Down into Silence,” you needed the Cthulhu kitsch zeitgeist. So it has, and so here she is.

In the sense that Innsmouth is a real place—in the sphere of human ideas, not the physical world—it took a Lovecraft to mark it on the map. Once, perhaps, it was a bit of a secret. Fans of weird fiction were few, they shared their pleasure of discovery with each other…and word got out. Now everyone knows about Innsmouth, it seems. There are comics and erotica, entire anthologies dedicated to Innsmouth and its diaspora. Like a tattoo that fades in time, but keeps getting re-inked, the memories of the old lines distorted but still there like a shadow, adding depth. Innsmouth is in the now, constantly re-discovered, re-invented, re-visited—and the Mythos needs that to stay relevant, to grow and change rather than stagnate and sink into decay. Fans need not fear the tourists, the new readers attracted by films like Dagon or Innsmouth. New blood, new ideas, new media to keep the old concepts alive for another generation. Just so that one more crop of visitors can find Innsmouth, and leave wanting more of that strange town with its weird shadows and furtive mysteries.

“Down into Silence” was published in What October Brings: A Lovecraftian Celebration of Halloween (2018).


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

“The Star that is Not a Star” (2016) by Lucy Brady

It all revolves around that star, and a damned thing it is! A star beyond the material universe, beyond space and time and all that is made by God. ‘The star that is not a star.’
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 80

Accursed forevermore is Yamil Zacra, star of perdition, who sitteth apart and weaveth the web of his rays like a spider spinning in a garden. Even as far as the light of Yamil Zacra falleth among the worlds, so goeth forth the bane and the bale thereof. And the seed of Yamil Zacra, like a fiery tare, is sown in planets that know him only as the least of the stars ….
     —Fragment of a Hyperborean tablet
—Clark Ashton Smith, “The Infernal Star”

Spy fiction is a close cousin to Mythos fiction; they share a common descent from the detective fiction of Edgar Allan Poe, and a common concern with the keeping and discovery of secrets. Betimes these cousin modes of fiction have come together: “The Unthinkable” (1991) by Bruce Sterling; “The Courtyard” (1994) by Alan Moore; Delta Green (1997), a branching-off of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game where the players are agents for government intelligence organizations, their skills and focus shifted to esoteric matters; David Conyer’s Harrison Peel series, including The Spiraling Worm (2007); the Laundry Series by Charles Stross beginning with The Atrocity Archives in 2004 (or, for an earlier variant, his novella A Colder War in 2000) which in turn spawned its own roleplaying game The Laundry (2010); Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Tinfoil Dossier series beginning with Agents of Dreamland (2017). Expand beyond the strictly Mythos-influenced spy fiction, and you run across gems like Tim Powers’ Declare (2000).

Call it cloak-and-tentacle, if you’d like.

The form of the fiction is often a kind of investigation. Think back to “The Call of Cthulhu,” presented to the reader as a series of nested narratives and documents. It isn’t spy fiction, in that the occult groups and secretive individuals involved are not part of any government service above the level of the local police; there are no politics at play in Lovecraft’s story, not really. The G-men make an appearance in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and there we can catch a glimpse of the origins of Alan Moore’s “The Courtyard.” Yet for the most part, the Mythos remains unknown to the world and its government powers at large; the mysteries uncovered, no matter how global or cosmic their import, are intensely personal to the initiated investigator in Lovecraft’s fiction.

The trick is to marry the two frames of reference. The investigator is still the main focus or protagonist, but now their actions take place within a broader geopolitical framework—and for the Len Deighton-influenced fiction, a government bureaucracy that’s designed to compartmentalize and contain secrets, to constrain actions. They may be Cold War warriors or those whose small talent in languages brings them in to the orbit of a larger mystery; part of the game is often that the agent or spy can never comprehend the whole of the thing, can never know the whole truth.

Secrets that possess a certain magnitude seem to have their own affinity with one another.
—Lucy Brady, “The Star that is Not a Star” in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming 85

“The Star that is Not a Star” is not explicitly Mythos fiction in any sense; whatever tomes, entities, cults, etc. that Brady employs, they aren’t connections forged with Lovecraft’s corpus or the expanded Cthulhu Mythos. Nor is it a traditional spy-thriller; but that is a large part of the charm. It’s an investigation that spans years and continents with a kind of ennui, and the statement of Natasha Klein—addressed to whom, and why?—is a record of a woman who, after picking up the pieces of the story for a decade, has found her own kind of truth.

Which is a good enough place for an ending as any, in a story like this. It is moody; there is a lot that has to be inferred, and in the end the narrator herself begins to become unreliable, relying on dream-evidence to fill in the gaps. Which all fits. Detectives know not every case has a satisfactory conclusion, and Mythos investigators are often left with scraps of a story told in newspaper clippings and journals, unable to touch the terrible powers at work in the world, burdened by the knowledge of things that they know exist but are impotent to affect.

“The Star that is Not a Star” was published in Cthulhu Lies Dreaming (2016); Lucy Brady’s other Lovecraftian work includes “The Body Electric” in Dreams from the Witch House (2016).


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