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

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

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

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

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

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

“Machines Are Digging” (2009) by Reza Negarestani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

 

Whispers (2016) by Kristin Dearborn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll show you the stars. (ibid, 18)

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

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

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

Whispers was published in 2016 by the Lovecraft eZine Press.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The letter mentioned is available online, where Sonia writes:

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

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

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

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

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

How comparable is this to azif?

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

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

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

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

We’ll never know.

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

The confrontation is easy to see looming.

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

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


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

“Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin

“The Goat is our real mother! She is everyone’s real mother!”
—Nadia Bulkin, “Red Goat, Black Goat”

From the 1930s on, fans and writers have tried to give shape and order to the Mythos. It is a participatory ritual: the reader’s understanding is always unique, built and shaped by what they have read, what connections their intellect has made, how their imagination fills in the blanks. There is no one canon. There are only possibilities.

In “Red Goat, Black Goat” Nadia Bulkin cracks opens up a new possibility.

It is a story of Shub-Niggurath only by inference. Bulkin eschews the tropes of Mythos pastiche. The Black Goat of the title is a hint, at best; a suggestion of the epithet “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” Yet the entity in this story is never named as such; there are no tomes, no familiar place names. “Red Goat, Black Goat” does not partake of the “lore” of the Mythos in the tongue-in-cheek manner of “ALL THIS for the GREATER GLORY of the 7th and 329th CHILDREN of the BLACK GOAT of the WOODS” (2012) by Molly Tanzer or “Shub-Niggurath’s Witnesses” (2015) by Valerie Valdes.

Bulkin carves her own bit of lore, with the bloody skill of an Indonesian horror film. The setting is not played up as some exotic bit of the “mysterious Orient” as it might have been in Lovecraft’s day. She grounds and develops the setting as Lovecraft did Dunwich, the characters an organic part of the whole so that none of the non-English terminology that peppers their thoughts and speech seems false or unnecessary.

At the same time, “Red Goat, Black Goat” partakes of the essence of the Mythos. The Goat is something outside the system of superstition that the characters know; it exists beyond their framework of understanding. Aspects of it echo themes developed by other writers; the terrible all-mother Cybele of “The Rats in the Walls,” or “Koenigsberg’s Model” (2011) by Peter Tupper, but it is far less defined than even those incarnations.

Nor is the story leavened by any real attempt at humor, wry or otherwise; there is gore, but not the microscopic dwelling in viscera that is splatterpunk. Bulkin moves quick, lest the tale be bogged down in dirty details. Her horrors are passing, visceral images that build shortly toward mini-climaxes, her pacing cinematic as the narrative moves swiftly toward a point of finality—not the ending of a story, but the closing of one chapter.

It’s a good story that leaves you wanting more; Bulkin could have written “Red Goat, Black Goat” out as a Javanese Gothic novel and it wouldn’t have seemed out of place. There are no answers, really, and that’s okay. Readers will fit this into their own personal understanding of the Mythos just fine; one more incarnation of Shub-Niggurath, one more thread in the endless tapestry. It’s a story that should be part of more reader’s personal Mythos.

“Red Goat, Black Goat” was first published for free online in Innsmouth Free Press #4 (June 2010); it has been reprinted in Lovecraft’s Monsters (2014) and Nadia Bulkin’s collection She Said Destroy (2017).


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

 

 

Editor Spotlight: W. H. Pugmire

It is a strange and curious fact that I found myself as an author and Lovecraftian only after I began to live the punk rock lifestyle. Before then I had a sense of being different, but it wasn’t until I stuck that pin in my ear and shaved off some of my hair that I began to truly feel like The Outsider. […] I mentioned Lovecraft in the early issues of Punk Lust, and was delighted when I’d go to local gigs and people would come up to me and shout with drunken fervor, “Ia! The Crawling Chaos!” This was way back in the days before Lovecraft became a game. People who knew of him had gained this occult knowledge by reading Lovecraft’s fiction. […] And now we have a most wonderful occurrence: punk kids are growing  up to become remarkable horror authors, often blending  punk with their macabre fiction. This is only natural for those of us who portray our personal lives and loves in our horror fiction.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #4

Following the death of August Derleth in 1971, the Mythos slowly opened up to a new and more diverse set of writers. During the 1970s and ’80s, the largest development of the Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction outside of Arkham House occurred in small-press magazines—cheaply printed paper pamphlets, mostly written by and for amateur fandom. Amateur press associations such as the Esoteric Order of Dagon (EOD) would compile magazines for mass-mailings, allowing wider dissemination of new poems, short fiction, and articles about Lovecraft and the Mythos to be disseminated outside of the editorial control of any one publisher.

Many Mythos writers would be featured prominently in magazines, including Brian McNaughton, Robert M. Price, Stanley C. Sargent, and Wilum Hopfrog Pugmire—a queer punk writer, editor, and poet, the self-styled Queen of Eldritch Horror, whose magazine credits include Midnight Fantasies (1973–76), Old Bones (1975-1976), Queer Madness (1980-1981), Visions from Khroyd’hon (1976), and Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (1987–99). In Tales, Pugmire described a forward-looking approach to Lovecraft and his fiction:

Lovecraftian horror is my obsession. When nothing else can cure bordeom, I need only turn to one of countless books or magazines, and suddenly my gloom is gone. And when I’m feeling very bold, I try my hand at writing my own. […] And yet, when I decided to finally try to edit a magazine of Lovecraftian fiction, I discovered that I was a bit uncertain as to just what I was looking for as an editor. I found that I was unable to describe what I meant by “Lovecraftian horror.” I knew that I did not want trendy Cthulhu Mythos fiction. I am not anti-Mythos; but I hate the way it has usurped other forms of Lovecraftian horror.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lovecraftian Horror” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #1

At the time, considerable Mythos fiction was being published in ‘zines like Crypt of Cthulhu (1981-2001, 2017- ) and Chronicles of the Cthulhu Codex (1985-2000), as well as the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu Fiction anthologies beginning with The Hastur Cycle (1993). It was a period of reprinting long out-of-print favorites, of re-discovering and re-publishing the original text of Lovecraft’s stories, and endless pastiches, sequels, prequels, and original works tying into the Mythos of various levels of quality and originality. It is to this outpouring of Cthulhuiana that Pugmire speaks:

The Mythos has been overused, and most of the newer tales bore me, be they by fans or pros. I find very few of them truly “Lovecraftian,” seeming more like the kind of thing Derleth was wont to write. I have no intention of publishing Cthulhu Mythos stories in TOLH. The small press has the delicious ability to act as an alternative to what is trendy, popular, and commercial. It is this alternative side of Lovecraftian horror that I hope to present. (ibid)

The small press publishing during Tales of Lovecraftian Horror’s run is a far cry from the desktop publishing and print-on-demand world of today, which led to the explosion of Mythos anthologies in the late 2000s and 2010s headed by editors like Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles of Innsmouth Free Press, and far and away from the mass-market anthologies produced by Ellen Datlow and Paula Guran, or Joyce Carol Oates for the literary and academic market. It was a more punk enterprise, full of DIY energy and freedom to experiment, and Pugmire wanted to focus on more than just tentacled beasties and moldy grimoires that aped the outward tropes of the Mythos but missed the essence:

Lovecraftian horror conveys mood, atmosphere, and situations that were dear to H. P. Lovecraft and are evident in his own spectral and cosmic fiction. […] Just as Lovecraft scholarship is growing, so too should Lovecraftian fiction go forward, becoming much more than it has been. Instead of writing formula stories, we can use Lovecraftian themes as a foundation on which to try to build our own unique fiction. […] A good Lovecraftian tale should, I feel, express things that move us to profound emotions. Using HPL’s fiction, his dreams as they are recorded in his published letters, we can find inspiration for our own tales of dread. Writing horror fiction  is not an attempt to escape from reality, rather, as it was with Lovecraft, it is an expression of those aspects of reality that move us creatively, as artists. And as humans. (ibid)

Pugmire’s influence as an editor in the first three issues is often overlooked. Tales of Lovecraftian Horror published Thomas Ligotti, Jessica Amanda Salmonson, Ann K. Schwader, and other noteworthy writers; the second issue published Robert M. Price’s episode of “Herbert West—Reanimated,” which has gone on to spawn a weird and convoluted continuity that is still being continued today by Peter Rawlik and others in books like Legacy of the Reanimator (2015) and Reanimatrix (2016).

In part, this may be because the series was published by Cryptic Publications, with the assistance and guidance of Price—and lapsed after the third issue, only to be reanimated in 1996 with Price as editor, though he assured readers that Pugmire was still the guiding spirit (and associate editor). That spirit was always one that sought individuality. Pugmire would write his own corner of the Mythos with his Sesqua Valley tales and others but as an editor, he wanted his fellow writers to go beyond Lovecraft, not be restricted by him. In one editorial Pugmire recalled:

While editing the early issues of this magazine, I received a submission froma bloke who, in his letter of introduction, expressed his desire to become “the new Lovecraft.” I find this utterly absurd. There will never be another Lovecraft, because HPL was absolutely and unively himself. Let us strive with our horror fiction to be ourselves, to write the tales that only we can tell. We may fall short of our goal, but at least we have made an honest effort, rather than being content to mimic a boring Mythos formula that is void of any hint of Lovecraftian ambience.  Listen to the fear that haunts your soul and sears your throbbing brain. then you will truly write fiction that expresses authentic respect for our beloved Grandpa Theobald.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #5

Some Lovecraftian fiction today certainly echoes Pugmire’s sentiments. Anthologies like Chthonic: Weird Tales of Inner Earth partake of Lovecraft without being slavishly devoted to his Mythos—and in general, there seems to be fairly wide appeal to the idea that originality and quality of writing mean more than trying to write after Lovecraft (or Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, etc.). Pastiche still has its place, but Pugmire was one of the voices that called for writers to move beyond that…and to really emphasize that what is important about Lovecraft is not the person of Cthulhu or the use of the Necronomicon, but simply that Lovecraft was original. The artificial mythology that Lovecraft and his contemporaries created strikes a chord in readers, even today because it is different from the hoary tales of gods and demigods, heroes and fables in Bullfinch’s Mythology.

Pugmire saw in Lovecraft something that spoke to him, and that spoke to others:

Other punk kids are joining the throng. […] They have oddly-colored hair and pierced faces; they listen to death metal and goth rock; they are avid fans of H. P. Lovecraft. Our ranks are growing, and our voices will be heard. Our horror fiction will wear within its soul our punk rock angst. Our fiction, like our music, will be the voice of the Outsider.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Lustcraft” in Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #4

Wilum H. Pugmire passed away on 26 March 2019. We will not see his like again.


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

“Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” (2016) by Veronica Schanoes

Though I can’t deny that Lovecraft has influenced my work, I couldn’t relate to the exalted place he seemed to occupy, and wondered if the difference could be ascribed to gender. More to the point, I made a sweeping generalization rather off-handedly: “Lovecraft does nothing for me,” I said. “That wasn’t the horror the girls were passing around in fifth grade. V. C. Andrews is to girls what Lovecraft is to boys.”

Of course, I was wrong—plenty of women have found Lovecraft very important indeed—but I don’t think I was entirely wrong.
—Veronica Schanoes, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 460

The degree to which H. P. Lovecraft has become a character as enthralling to fans as any of his creations is evident in the body of fiction that has developed around him. Works like Grant Morrison’s “Lovecraft in Heaven” (1994) and Alan Moore’s “Recognition” (1995) focus on aspects of his life story—his death by cancer, his syphilitic father—and ruminate and expand on the mind of the man who created Cthulhu. Veronica Schanoes in “Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” adds to this body of work. In her own words:

In this piece, I wonder about Lovecraft’s own monstrous generation; about the racist horrors that founded the United States and what they mean to someone who saw himself as an avatar of eighteenth-century America; the horror of the Other that took the form of Lovecraft’s anti-Semitism, and what that means to me, a a twenty-first-century Jew in New York City.
—Veronica Schanoes, The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 460

While this is a work of fiction, Schanoes takes her impetus from fact: her building-up of the story piece by piece is done with all the care and attention of a hoax—and indeed, her skill is such that if the initial section (“Monstrous Generation”) was published as non-fiction, it would probably be convincing to many. Victoria Nelson’s essay “H. P. Lovecraft and the Great Heresies” (1996) made similar suggestive claims that Lovecraft inherited congenital syphilis from his father—but where Nelson was perhaps unaware that Lovecraft’s medical records indicated he did not have the disease (Price, “Did Lovecraft Have Syphilis?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #53, 1988), Schanoes’ artfully insinuations are a stepping stone to more profound revelations.

The true threat is never external—it’s not the dreadful non-Aryan immigrants flooding into the United States; it’s not the inhuman alien beings, worshipped as gods, who would barely notice humanity as they crushed it. The true threat always comes from the inside, the self rising up beyond all reason, beyond even survival. In the end, the most monstrous growth is always already one’s own.
—Veronica Schanoes, “Variations on Lovecraftian Things” in ibid. 465

The great insight that Schanoes shows in this piece is to take the common and oft-repeated themes of Lovecraft’s life and literature and to look at them from another angle. Lovecraft declared, on his return to this city of his birth after failing to make it in New York City, “I Am Providence”—which S. T. Joshi took for the title of his mammoth biography. Yet it is Schanoes, here, who takes Lovecraft literally and digs into the history of old Providence; and nothing gets very old without having a multitude of sins.

I write and publish about Jews. Most of my protagonists, unless otherwise specified, are Ashkenazi Jews. Well, why should the goyim have all the fantastic, the speculative, the future imperfect? My editors have mostly been Jewish, too.
—Veronica Schanoes, “Variations on Lovecraftian Things” in ibid. 469

When addressing Lovecraft’s anti-Semitism, Schanoes’ perspective shifts. She addresses the audience directly, personally. Why should she not? Lovecraft’s anti-Semitism is a subject that affects her personally—not so much because he personally can discriminate against her, since he has been safely dead for several decades, but his words and influence still survive as something Schanoes has to deal with.

Which is almost a microcosm of the subject of Lovecraft’s discrimination itself. Why does it matter, when Lovecraft is dead and gone? Because he isn’t gone, not entirely. His work lives on. For those whose grandparents survived the Holocaust—and remembered relatives that would not—Lovecraft’s remarks in the 1920s and 30s carry an edge today that people who cannot relate directly do not feel.

I do not like H. P. Lovecraft, and I doubt he would have liked me.
—Veronica Schanoes, “Variations on Lovecraftian Things” in ibid. 469

It would be unfair to point out gaps in Schanoes’ narrative, argue over her presentation of the facts, or suggest nuance to her conclusions. It would also be missing the point. While she quotes accurately from Lovecraft’s letters and the memoir of his wife (Sonia Haft Greene) about his life, this is still a work of fiction, not a polemic essay or hit piece.

What it is is a reflection of Lovecraft from an angle that readers are not used to seeing. Lovecraft scholars and biographers such as S. T. Joshi have not ignored his anti-semitism in the least—without their work in publishing Lovecraft’s letters, Schanoes would not have had the raw material for her piece—but none of them can present Lovecraft as seen through the eyes of a contemporary Jewish woman. The mirror that Schanoes holds up may be a funhouse one, with its little distortions for rhetorical and narrative effect, but it works precisely because the subject is still recognizable.

Veronica Schanoes’ “Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” was published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016). It has not yet been reprinted.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)