“Elder Gods” (1997) by Nancy Collins

Necronomicon,
freely translated, means the types or masks of death,
a museum of the most fabulous abominations and perversions.
The famous writer H. P. Lovecraft
was the first to mention this work,
in his Cthulhu mythology.
Many science fiction and fantasy writers have repeatedly mention this work
but it is only now, in
Giger’s Necronomicon,
that it has become reality for the first time.

—Opening statement to H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon (1992 edition)

In 1975, Swiss artist H. R. Giger, Dan O’Bannon, and Ronald Shusett were all working on Jodowrosky’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune, but the production fell apart. In the aftermath, Dan O’Bannon and Ronald Shusett would revive a script titled Memory, which then became a screenplay, at first under the working title Star Beast, which was eventually changed to the final title: Alien.

In 1977, as Star Wars blew up the box office (and showed the potential for science fiction films, so that 20th Century Fox greenlit Alien for production), Giger’s first major print collection of his work was published. Necronomicon borrowed its title from Lovecraft’s fictional tome, although none of the artworks within are explicitly based off of or depict anything in his fiction; some of the artwork came from the aborted production of Jodorowsy’s Dune.  A copy of the book made its way to Ridley Scott, who was directing the film Alien (1979) (then under the working title “Star Beast”); Giger was brought on board the production to add his unique aesthetic sense to the design of sets and the eponymous extraterrestrial xenomorph itself. Dan O’Bannon would go on to direct The Resurrected (1991), an adaptation of “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” and is sometimes claimed to have been inspired by Lovecraft in writing the script for Alien—although as with Giger, nothing explicitly Lovecraft-related made it into the final film.

The slightness of the connection between Lovecraft and the Alien franchise may be one reason that critics consider Alien “Lovecraftian,” praising its atmosphere and approach rather than any direct connection. As the film Alien grew into a franchise with sequels such as Aliens (1986) and licensed comic books from Dark Horse (starting in 1988), more and more creators were drawn into the expanding mythosand at least a couple of them were keen on a more definite connection, if only for a bit of fun.

“Elder Gods” is a 16-page black-and-white comic story written by Nancy Collins, pencils by Leif Jones, inked by John Stokes, and lettered by Clem Robbins. It originally appeared in the one-shot Aliens Special (1997). Taking its lead from Aliens and Aliens 3, the script takes the reader to an off-world colony…but with a twist.

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Yes, Nancy Collins penned a tongue-in-cheek parody set in the Aliens franchise, where “Horace Payne Loveless” stands in for “Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” However, it is a loving parody. “Father Lumley” is a reference to contemporary Mythos writer Brian Lumley, and he inherited the mantle from “Father August” who was inspired by August Derleth, “Brother Ramsey” inspired by Ramsey Campbell; Loveless’ stories include “The Sign of Tulitu” (“The Call of Cthulhu”) and “The Abomination from Ipswich” (“The Dunwich Horror”), and so on and so forth. These are all Easter eggs for fans to find in what is otherwise a very competent and workable Aliens sci-fi- horror comic; less of a distraction and more that little something extra.

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The art works. “Elder Gods” is one of the few Aliens comics to never be colored, and the stark black-and-white works very well—Leif Jones has always had a talent for the chiaroscuro effect, and with Stokes’ inks they seem to just drink in the light from the page. The symbols of the cult throughout are reminiscent of the magical signs in the George Hay and Simon Necronomicons, but the Giger influence is also clear. Everybody knew what they were doing on this one, and it shows.

“Elder Gods” might be read as a stab at the “cult” of Lovecraft’s readers, or at least the occultists that take the creations seriously. However, there is no ironic twist, no comeuppance where the cultists realize that they’ve made an error. On the contrary, blind as they are to the realities and determined as they may be to try and fit what they see into their worldview…this is still an Aliens comic. What do you think is going to happen?

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Horror franchises, whether they be the Cthulhu Mythos or Aliens or whatnot, depend on the the audience knowing more than the characters in the work itself. While there can be plenty of surprises in store, part of the build-up of excitement and a sense of apprehension is recognizing what is going on before the characters on the page or on the screen. A sore throat by itself isn’t scary—but in an Aliens comic… It’s not a question of whether or not the xenomorph is going to appear. It’s when and how. The appeal of these stories isn’t necessarily in bloody bones and grue, but in the million variations on the established concept. Adding a Lovecraftian cult to the mix is definitely a new one.

The closing pages of the story are reminiscent of the transition from Alien to Aliens, where old sins and old threats have been forgotten, disbelieved. That is very Lovecraftian too. Lovecraftian protagonists tend to demand proof before they believe in the unseen things that challenge their worldview; cultists are more accepting, but still try and fit strange alien entities into a very limited, very human perspective. The reality of the xenomorphs is beyond both of them…and isn’t that true of the Alien franchise as a whole? It was a somewhat similar idea expressed in “At the Left Hand of Nothing” (2016) by Jayaprakash Satyamurthy, that the cults of Cthulhu and what not project human attributes and preconceptions onto entities that were never human to begin with.

Like a lot of the Dark Horse Aliens comics, this one has little lasting impact. It’s a little piece of a bigger franchise, often forgotten and overlooked—although it is worth pointing out that the idea of a xenomorph cult is not unique to “Elder Gods,” and who knows but that the story may have played its little part in seeding the idea further.

“Elder Gods” was first published in Aliens Special (1997), and has been reprinted in the Aliens Omnibus Volume 6 (2009) and is available as a digital comic from Dark Horse. Nancy Collins’ other Mythos fiction includes “The Land of the Reflected Ones” (1995) by Nancy A. Collins and “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins.


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

“The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins

Lovers’ Lane was really an old logging road on the side of Goat Hill, which overlooked Misty Valley. On a clear night, you could look out and see the entire valley spread out, with the lights of the town reflected in the Miskatonic River, which wound through the center of the village like a dark ribbon.
—Nancy A. Collins, “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” in Tales Out of Dunwich 163

The Dunwich Horror took place in 1928. H. P. Lovecraft never lived to see the decades tick by, highways springing up, World War II, rock & roll, young men with greased-back hair and black leather jackets taking cheerleaders in bobby socks up to Lover’s Lane…

“The Thing from Lover’s Lane” is a projection of Lovecraft’s Mythos into those decades he never lived to see, and is pitch-perfect in how the characters react, their views and voices in terms of the era. The plot itself is straightforward, almost familiar in its beats. How many times have readers come across a Mythos-related pregnancy? “The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft, “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens“Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron—and so many others. Female characters have been impregnated by Mythos entities almost since there was a Mythos—before that even, if you count Arthur Machen’s “The Novel of the Black Seal”. Yet old familiar themes can still be potent, in the right hands.

The novelty may have worn off, but Nancy Collins handles the execution with characteristic skill. How would a 1950s community respond to such an event?

Principal Strickland says that having a girl in—well, in your condition, is bad for morale. Carol Anne—you’re the Homecoming Queen! What kind of standard are you folding up to the other girls? If you keep the baby, I’m afraid you won’t be allowed back into class come the new school year!
—”The Thing from Lover’s Lane” 178

The desire to save face—either through a “therapeutic abortion” or discreetly sending Carol Anne off to a home for unwed mothers where she can give birth and put the child up for adoption—is almost comic compared to the reality of the situation. Carol Anne’s own agency in the matter is strong (“I don’t care! I’m not giving up my baby!”) despite her mother’s pleadings (“Carol Anne—what will people think?“)…or is it?

It wants you to think I’m the father! That way it’s safe for it to be born!
—”The Thing from Lover’s Lane” 180

Most Mythos stories don’t discuss the ugly details of these sexual encounters with Mythos entities, much less their aftermath. Rape is not pleasant, and was not for Carol Anne; humans have had means for dealing with unwanted pregnancies and children for thousands of years, and in recent decades knowledge of and access to birth control and abortion have become more widespread. Collins, working in a contemporary setting, had to acknowledge that Carol Anne had options—and she did.

Narrative impetus in this case is that Shub-Niggurath’s thousand-and-first young must be borne. So Carol Anne’s agency had to be subverted, and her victimization in this story is one of the nastier cases in any Mythos story. All she wanted was to have a little fun at Lover’s Lane with her boyfriend, and because of that she was raped, knocked up, faced the social stigma of being an unwed teenage mother in ’50s America…and, ultimately, died giving birth. The story is almost a 1950s fable, to scare girls away from following in her footsteps. Collins goes into far greater detail about the horror Carol Anne suffers at each step, leaving only the erotic details off the page.

Maybe that’s a good thing.

Sex and horror go together; titillation and terror are both states of excitement, and sex elicits a thrill to many readers. Pregnancy especially has its place in the horrors that women feel—and for many Mythos stories the result is almost routine: of course sex leads to pregnancy. Maybe the mother will die in childbirth, or maybe it’ll only be the spawn that the heroes have to deal with. The mother herself rarely gets much attention. Here, at least, Nancy Collins does not ignore or downplay the suffering of Carol Anne, nor does she seek to make it erotic. “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” is determined to retain the horror of the events, above all else…and it does it well.

Nancy Collins’ “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” was first published in It Came from the Drive-In (1996), and nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, but did not win. The story was republished in the author’s collection Avenue X and Other Dark Streets (2000), and Tales out of Dunwich (2005). It has also been released as an ebook: “The Thing from Lover’s Lane: A Mythos Tale” (2012).


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos

“The Land of the Reflected Ones” (1995) by Nancy A. Collins

Of the hundred copies of the Aegrisomnia that Shroud had privately published, however, only one was complete and unabridged. And bound in leather. And that was Stroud’s private copy—the one with his own personal annotations scrawled in the margins. The one he had bound himself—with the skin of his virgin daughter. Granted, she wasn’t his legitimate daughter—her mother was a marginally retarded scullery maid who had been with the household since childhood—but the gesture put to the pale anything the self-styled “Beast” had ever done.
—Nancy A. Collins, “The Land of the Reflected Ones,” Eternal Lovecraft 93

The NecronomiconUnaussprechlichen KultenCultes de GoulesThe Book of Eibon. Names to conjure with, and many folks have tried to do just that over the decades. Lovecraft’s evocative title and elaborate history of the Necronomicon inspired comparable efforts by Robert E. Howard and others, and by 1937 there was a veritable library of Mythos tomes—yet only an inkling of what would come. The invention and proliferation of these occult tomes has become a characteristic of the Mythos in its many forms, some writers would elaborate on works created by Lovecraft and others, many would create their own additions to the growing catalog. Entire books have been written about these fictional grimoires, from fictional works like Joan C. Stanley’s Ex Libris Miskatonici (1995) and Nate Pedersen’s The Starry Wisdom Library (2014) anthology to non-fiction books like Harms & Gonce’ The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend (2003).

Pseudobibliophilia takes an odd turn in Nancy Collins’ “The Land of the Reflected Ones.” By the numbers, this is straightforward Mythos pastiche: Emerson wants the Aegrisomnia; the old man wants too much money for it…but Emerson gets the book anyway, and in a manner that no reader will feel bad for what happens to him afterwards. Yet there’s a strange dinginess to the situation which Collins deliberately plays up: the quarrel is over a difference of two hundred dollars. Whatever priceless secrets it holds, that’s what the book is worth to the old man, because he needs to cover the rent for himself and his wife—and it is more than Emerson can afford.

The situation is both tragic and ironic: Emerson, gloats about his superiority over others while admitting that he doesn’t understand people, and has exhausted his sizable inheritance on occult tomes to no appreciable benefit; he gloats over the power and fortune that the book will give him, without considering the consequences of getting what he wants, despite the quite wisdom of the old man; and in the end Emerson is forced to abandon what little he has to flee from the police for his crime, and in fleeing one prison, ends up in a far worse one—with the tiny coup de grâce delivered by the old man’s wife.  From beginning to end, all that happens to Emerson is his own fault, and the reader can only follow along, and nod—because Emerson is a bastard, designed to remove the slightest trace of sympathy for the character.

The plot may be uncomplicated, but it’s fine execution, the foreshadowing of Through the Looking-Glass, and the way some common Mythos tropes and conceptions are subverted in this story make it shine. Emerson is a bastard of a character, a vain and self-centered occultist who thinks he’s better than everyone else because he comes from a privileged background; the dark mirror-image of the Lovecraftian protagonist in many ways. The materialist money-grubbing over the Aegrisomnia stands in stark contrast to the almost spiritual aesthetics which govern the Mythos in place of crass economics: rather than being held as a priceless relic, the grimoire is reduced to a commodity with a price tag, and not even a fabulously expensive one at that. The grand plans of Emerson and the cosmic horrors hinted at by his occult library are undershot and mired in the tawdriness of the whole affair.

Weirdly for a Cthulhu Mythos tale, “The Land of the Reflected Ones” there is also a distinct moral framework to the story.

In H. P. Lovecraft’s original conception, the universe of the Mythos is essentially amoral, in the sense that “bad” deeds are not specifically punished and “good” deeds not specifically rewarded. There are tales of revenge, such as “The Doom that Came to Sarnath” and the macabre quasi-fable of “The Cats of Ulthar,” and the “villains” and “monsters” in Lovecraft’s stories often face some setback or grisly end—yet the “victories” are almost always temporary and ultimately somewhat hollow. “The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be.” Azathoth, the ultimate power and authority in Lovecraft’s cosmology, is a blind idiot who will devour everyone indiscriminately. “Good and bad,” are human terms, from a human frame of reference.

Collins provides that frame of reference by contrasting the immoral, unsociable, power-hungry Emerson with the old bookseller and his wife. In one of the best passages in the story, the old man relates:

I know human leather when I see it. Had a book come through here a few years back—belonged to some bastard in the Nazi High Command. It was pornographic pictures—women with animals, men with children. It was bound just like that. I burned it. I would have burned that thing, too, if I didn’t need the money so badly—

The old man’s error, which leads to his death, is not trusting his instincts. If he’d left the Aegrisomnia alone, or burned it, then he’d never have had to deal with Emerson. The old man’s wife is Emerson’s comeuppance: raised by his entitled mother to think he was better than everyone else comes to bite Emerson in the ass when one of the people he thought was beneath him turns out to be a sorceress in her own right—just as,  ironically, Emerson’s own mother was eventually unplugged by her own son, because she raised him to be such a prick.

The Aegrisomnia itself is the MacGuffin, and the plot of the story as a Mythos pastiche rests on its characterization; consequently the book gets more descriptive text and history than Emerson or any of the other characters. The backstory briefly parallels  the familiar histories of the Necronomicon and Unaussprechlichen Kulten, with cycles of translation and prohibition, but the fine details—the Borgia pope, the human leather cover, the disappearance during the Blitz—are evocative and specific without delving into excess. Even the name aegri somnia (“troubled dreams”) hints at the bad karma that surrounds this book.

Collins’ story probably owes a debt to Ramsey Campbell’s “Cold Print” (1969). Both stories involve a bookshop, bring the Mythos down to the gritty street-level, obsessive protagonists, and have a similar approach to Mythos books as a kind of quasi-pornography—taboo literature which both readers and characters tend to fetishize above and beyond the actual content. Collins name-drops Campbell’s Revelations of Glaaki among the titles in Emerson’s library, a nice nod to one of the contemporary masters of Mythos fiction.

“The Land of the Reflected Ones” first appeared in Tombs (1995) and has been reprinted twice, in Eternal Lovecraft: The Persistence of H. P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture (1998) and Collins’ collection Avenue X and Other Dark Streets (2000). Nancy A. Collins has written over seventeen novels, as well as dozens of short stories and comic books. Her other most notable Cthulhu Mythos story is “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996), which also appears in Avenue X and most recently in Tales Out of Dunwich (2005) and as an ebook (2012). “The Thing from Lover’s Lane” was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for best novelette. The Aegrisomnia was introduced in “Sunglasses After Dark” (1989), the first in Collins’ Sonja Blue novels.

 


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