“The Acolytes” (1946) by Lilith Lorraine

The Elder Ones are stirring as the red
Stallions of chaos champ their bits with rage;
And they have sent their messengers ahead
Proud with the knowledge of their alienage.

They walk apart from men, the Acolytes,
By stagnant pools and rotting sepulchers,
Whispering of dark, delirious delights,
As young gods die among their worshippers.

They dream of dim dimensions where the towers
Of Yuggoth pierce the decomposing dome
Of skies where dead stars float like evil flowers
Afloat on tideless seas of poisoned foam.

Black tapers glow on many a ruined shrine,
The patterns coalesce – the good, the bad –
The old familiar stars no longer shine –
And I – and I – am curiously glad.
—Lilith Lorraine, “The Acolytes” in The Acolyte (Spring 1946)

Mary Maude Wright (née Dunn) wrote under a number of pseudonyms, at least three of them masculine. She wrote pulp fiction for some of the same magazines as H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith, but among early science fiction fandom she had her greatest esteem as a poet, for she was prolific and skilled. As a correspondent of August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, like Margaret St. Clair, she was on the fringes of the Weird Tales circle. She was likewise associated with The Acolyte, Francis T. Laney’s prominent 1940s fanzine devoted to Lovecraft and his contemporaries, sharing space with Virginia “Nanek” Anderson, Fritz Leiber, Jr., E. Hoffmann Price and other pulp fans and professional pulpsters.

Sgt. R. A. HOFFMAN. Acolyte art editor, reports from “Somewhere in Tex- Texas” on his visit to the home of Lilith Lorraine, noted poet:

…I Visited San Antonio, which I found to be a primitive, degenerate town, and telephoned Lilith Lorraine, mentioning that CAS had insisted I look her up… She and her husband met me in their car, and drove me out to their Shrine (Avalon Poetry Shrine. — eds.). As we entered the grounds, I heard the barking of what seemed to be myriad dogs, though it turned out to be only three— two of them Russian wolf and the other a crossbreed between Russian wolf and spitz. All were beautiful creatures and very friendly. Inside I was startled to find a veritable menagerie. A large parrot was quietly perched inside its huge cage which sat on the floor, and two cats were snarling at each other. They also have a monkey, but it was asleep in bed at the time, though later she brought it out.

Miss Lorraine is a most amazing person, and going out there was a most fascinating adventure. She and her husband have been married 33 years, but she says she is all the time receiving love letters from strangers. She prefers her pen-name so much that even her husband calls her Miss Lorraine sometimes! They are both native Texans, and she is complete with drawl and all. She has a charming personality and a fine sense of humor.

I had only 2 1/2 hours before my bus, and every minute was spent in incessant conversation or in listening to Lilith read us some of her verse. She read me selections from her then as yet unpublished book The Day of Judgement (Banner Press, 1944), and I was completely caught in her spell, totally swept away with them. She showed me the shrine itself, and the sunken garden, though unfortunately it was late at night, and the floodlights did not give the proper perspective we would have desired….Miss Lorraine thinks CAS the finest American poet since Poe….

Lilith Lorraine’s previous poems in The Acolyte were “On Walking in the Tomb” (Fall 1943) and “Black Cathedrals” (Spring 1944), but “The Acolytes” was a little different. It came in the final issue (#14) of the ‘zine, and is a tribute to those who contributed to the important little magazine…those who, through their efforts kept interest in H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard going after their death, who began the study of their work and the creation of original fiction and poetry of the Mythos.

The last lines of the poem are strangely appropriate; evocative of Lovecraft and perhaps Robert W. Chambers’. The Acolyte was extinct with this issue, but the Acolytes, that first post-Lovecraft generation of fans and scholars survived and flourished. The stars were right…and Lilith Lorraine was there, to capture a moment in verse.

The_Acolyte_14_v04n02_1946-Spring_0011


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

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” (2017) by Ashley Dioses

The cats of Ulthar steal across my dreams
On paws of softest fur and blure the seams
Of my subconscious with their purrs and eyes
Of molten gold that twinkle and that gleam
Like Beacon lights toward where their kingdom lies.
—Opening stanza of “On A Dreamland’s Moon” by Ashley Dioses,
Diary of a Sorceress (2017), 120

Poetry is an inextricable part of the Mythos, there from the beginning. Lovecraft and many of his contemporaries were poets, from the sonnet-cycle “The Fungi from Yuggoth” published in Weird Tales by the grace of editors Farnsworth Wright and Dorothy McIlwraith, to Robert E. Howard’s “Arkham” and the verses of the mad poet Justin Geoffrey capture in “The Black Stone.” Fans got in on the act fairly early on, including “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman, and the poetic tradition of the Mythos has continued down to the present day, through practitioners such as Ann K. Schwader, and to Ashley Dioses.

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” takes its most direct inspiration from Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadathbut the object of this dreamer’s quest is not the hidden gods of dream, but Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos. In language and imagery, however, the influence of Clark Ashton Smith is more evident, echoing some of his narrative poems such as “The Nightmare Tarn.” The purpose for which the narrator seeks out the soul and messenger of the Other Gods is revealed in such lines as:

Hail Nitokris, my patron, grant me skill
In amorous endeavors so the thrill
Of His enchantment will coil round my soul!
—”On A Dreamland’s Moon,” Diary of a Sorceress 121

Again, very much in the tradition of Clark Ashton Smith, whose work so often dealt with love, sorcery, and death. The carnality by contemporary standards is subdued and artistic; erotic fantasies are better hinted at for the imagination to paint than spelled out explicitly, and there is always beauty in it, nothing as gritty as “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel.

One thing that jumps out in this work is the clever expansion of the role of Nitocris in the Mythos from her original appearances in both Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and “Under the Pyramids” (as “Nitokris”). A relatively minor character, seldom-used by other Mythos writers (Brian Lumley’s “The Mirror of Nitocris” comes to mind), the idea of the ghoul-queen as a spiritual patron—someone to model yourself after—is both entirely appropriate and offers interesting possibilities. Dioses expands on the character further in the subsequent poem, titled simply “Nitokris.”

Diary of a Sorceress is based after the Sorceress in the poem. This is her diary.
—Ashley Dioses, “Afterword” in Diary of a Sorceress 166

For context, within the book itself “On A Dreamland’s Moon” is sandwiched between the poems “Nyarlathotep” and “Nitokris” in the fourth section of the book. The three poems together form a thematic unit, but not a narrative one, in that they share characters and can be seen to speak about the same setting, but are not linear entries in the same story. The same in general could be said for the book as a whole: this is a collection, and there is a thread of a narrative that binds some of the poems together, but it is not a case that every poem is an integral part of the eponymous sorceress’ descent, and most can be enjoyed on their own.

What is interesting in considering “On A Dreamland’s Moon” in the context of the collection is how the Sorceress in her dreams is drawn by dark attraction to seek an inevitable yet destructive meeting. This puts the shoe on the other foot compared to how she initially responded to the love letter in the waking world, where she herself was the object of attraction…and the consummation and dissolution that the Sorceress faces in dream perhaps foreshadows what is to come, in the diary’s final entries.

“On A Dreamland’s Moon” was first published in Black Wings VI: New Tales of Lovecraftian Terror (2017), and then collected in Diary of a Sorceress. Ashley Dioses has published a good deal of weird and Lovecraftian poetry in places such as Weirdbook, Vasterian, Necronomicum, Skelos, Hinnom, and Infernal Ink.


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

 

“To Mr. Theobald” (1926) by Samuel Loveman

To Mr. Theobald

(Upon His Return to Providence)

In Providence at fringèd eve
Old Theobald takes his cap and cane,
And where the antique shadows weave,
Dreams his Colonial dreams again.

Sees the pale periwigs that pass
Pause delicately by, then far
Past balustrades that shine like glass
To seek his eighteenth century there.

Dream, Theobald—close your tired eyes,
Forget the ruder world around;
Only these by-gone folks were wise,
Only the vaniquish’d world was sound.

Hold them an instant if you will,
Shadows of perfume, light and flowers—
We never knew their grace until
You, by your genius, made them ours!

—Samuel Loveman, The United Amateur (July 1926)
Reprinted in Out of the Immortal Night (2004), 111-112

It seems very likely that Samuel Loveman was H. P. Lovecraft’s first Jewish friend, and his first homosexual one. Loveman was a great link in the web of correspondence among weird writers in the early 20th century; he traded letters with Ambrose Bierce, George Sterling, Clark Ashton Smith, and in 1917 answered the call of H. P. Lovecraft to return to amateur journalism. Upon acceptance, Lovecraft wrote:

Loveman has become reinstated in the United through me. Jew or not, I am rather proud to be his sponsor for the second advent to the Association. His poetical gifts are of the highest order, & I doubt if the amateur world can boast his superior.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 8 Nov 1917 Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner 119

This began an association that lasted the rest of Lovecraft’s life, mostly carried out through letters and the occasional visit. In the dream that became “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919), the character of Harley Warren was based on Loveman; the manuscript of Lovecraft’s Grecian fable “Hypnos” (1923) is dedicated “To S.L.”; together in 1922-1923 Loveman and Lovecraft edited The Poetical Works of Jonathan E. Hoag. Lovecraft’s praise of Loveman’s poetry in the pages of the National Amateur (Mar 1922) led to a critical battle in the columns of the Oracle and the Conservative between Lovecraft, Michael Oscar White, Frank Belknap Long, and Alfred Galpin.

Through Loveman, H. P. Lovecraft met Hart Crane, and got his one and only job during his stay in New York City—stuffing envelopes, for a couple of weeks. They were both key members of the Kalem Club, a group of writers in New York so-called because the founding member’s last names all began with K, L, or M. One might add a hundred more little details and connections; they were close friends, booklovers, and fellow-poets.

Loveman wrote at least three poems specifically dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft: “To Satan” (1923), “Bacchanale” (1924), and “To Mr. Theobald” (1926). This last poem refers specifically to Lovecraft’s pseudonym “Lewis Theobald, Jr.”, which in Lovecraft’s letters was sometimes shortened to “Theobaldus” or “Grandpa Theobald.” The occasion of the poem was Lovecraft leaving New York to return to Providence. In 1924, Lovecraft had quietly eloped to Brooklyn to marry Sonia H. Greene—a friend and fellow amateur journalist. Sonia had even invited both of them down to visit, in 1922, and would later write in her memoirs:

Long before H. P. and I were married he said to me in a letter when speaking of Loveman, “Loveman is a poet and a literary genius. […] The only discrepancy I find in him is that he is of the Semitic race, a Jew.”

Then I replied that I was a little surprised at H. P.’s discrimination in this instance—that I thought H. P. to be above such a petty fallacy—and that perhaps our friendship might find itself on the rocks under the circumstances, since I too am of the Hebrew people—but that surely, he, H. P., could not have been serious, that elegance of manner, cultural background, social experience and the truly artistic temperament, intellectuality and refinement surely do not choose any particular color, race or creed; that these attributes should be highly appreciated no matter where they may be found!

It was only after several such exchanges of letters that he put the “pianissimo” on his thoughts (perhaps) and curtailed his outbursts of discrimination. In fact, it was after this that our own correspondence became more frequent and more intimate until, as I then believed, H. P. became entirely rid of his prejudices in this direction, and that no more need have been said about them.
—Sonia H. Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 26

By 1926, however, the marriage had fallen apart. Loss of her job and ill-health had forced Sonia to relocate to the midwest, where Lovecraft would not follow. Living alone in the city, unable to find steady employment, and finally robbed of his clothes (and an expensive radio set that Lovecraft had been holding for Loveman), the Old Gent returned to Providence in April of that year.

Hence Loveman’s letter; a cheery, intimate portrait of his friend, who he knew well enough to emphasize the Colonial architecture and history of Providence that Lovecraft so loved. A silver lining on a dark cloud that spelled the end of Lovecraft’s marriage, and a long absence from their physical company; meetings of the Kalem Club for Lovecraft would become fewer and farther between. In a memoir to his friend after his death, Loveman would write:

Lovecraft’s stay in New York, after the separation from his wife (a tragedy to those who knew the inside of the affair), was one of complete rebellion against everything that the huge city had to offer. He hated the noise, the interminable rudeness of the inhabitants, the rowdy and rancid slums. […] He declaimed with flushed cheeks and a rising voice against (so he called it) “the mixed mongrel population—the very scum and dregs of Europe and the Near East,” that filled and permeated the area of the entire city. He anticipated with a heart-breaking intensity and longing that only his closest friends knew—a liberation and return to New England—back to his beloved Providence with its antique gables and narrow streets, to the Colonial reconstruction of what is now known to the readers of his weird fiction as “Arkham country.”
—Samuel Loveman, “Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1948)
Reprinted in Out of the Immortal Night 221

Later in Loveman’s life, when Lovecraft’s letters began to be published and after correspondence with Sonia H. Davis, he became aware of the depths of the Old Gent’s antisemitism in the 1930s and roughly denounced his old friend:

During that period I believed Howard was a saint. Of course, he wasn’t. […] Lovecraft had a hypocritical streak to him that few were able to recognize. Sonia, his wife, was indubitably his innocent victim. Her love for him blinded her to many things. Among the things he said to her was, “Too bad Loveman’s a Jew; he’s such a nice guy.” I was, in the early phase of our friendship, an easy mark. He was, however, loyal in his appreciation of me as a poet.
—Samuel Loveman, “Of Gold and Sawdust” in The Occult Lovecraft (1975) 22

It is impossible to appreciate “To Mr. Theobald” without understanding the larger context of how it came to be rewritten, the nature of their friendship at that point…a friendship that Loveman would later look back on with such evident disappointment, in himself and in Lovecraft. Fans of Lovecraft’s fiction and poetry can certainly relate; too close a look at one’s literary heroes often reveals flaws that were not immediately apparent on that first happy exposure to their work.

Loveman’s focus in later life is on Lovecraft’s antisemitism. No comment from Lovecraft was ever made in print about Loveman’s homosexuality, and it is not clear if he was even aware that Loveman was gay, although there are certainly hints in the letters that Lovecraft knew about Hart Crane, so it is possible. Still, there is something in these poems dedicated to Lovecraft—and the poems that Lovecraft wrote dedicated to Loveman—which are melancholy today, pressed flowers of a real friendship. Lovecraft was serious when he wrote:

So like in name, in art so much the less,
Let Lovecraft lines to Loveman’s Muse address:
How blest art thou, who thro’ thy pow’r of song
Beside Pierus’ sacred fount belong.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “To Samuel Loveman, Esquire, on his Poetry and Drama, Write in the Elizabethan Style” (1915)
Reprinted in The Ancient Track 94


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

“Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” (1998) by Katherine Morel

Katherine Morel is a painter, an aspiring mad scientist, and an honorary saint of Thud, bestower of the sacred word, obsquatulate. She is currently bruised and swollen due to extra grey matter being inserted into the space between her brain and skull and hopes to sleep it off in time to be in attenance at the marriage that changed over the millennium.
Cthulhu Sex Magazine, Vol. I, Issue 13

Cthulhu Sex magazine was the brainchild of Michael Morel, and graduated over the course of its run from a small black-and-white chapbook illustrated with crude, pixelated images of sperm to a slick, full-sized semi-prozine with color covers, photographs, and digital artwork. A collection of material from the magazine was issued in 2005 as Horror Between the SheetsIn the first issue and that final collection is printed (with slight changes) “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—” by Katherine Morel.

The poem is an almost perfect encapsulation of the magazine as a whole. While Cthulhu is in the title, it never appears in the body text. The tone is light, the verses violent, darkly humorous, and sexually explicit.

Twas through their connection she passed her infection
—Katherine Morel, “Cthulhu Sex (ahem!)—a poem—”, Horror Between the Sheets 36

Poetry has a long history among creators and admirers of the Mythos; H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Frank Belknap Long were all notable poets, and some of their poetry was directly related to the Mythos. So too, some of the first fan-additions to the Mythos were poems, such as “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman.

In the 1990s, poetry would continue to play its part in fandom, being featured in prominent ‘zines & journals such as the Arkham Sampler and Crypt of Cthulhu—but there were editorial limits to what those ‘zines would publish. Hardcore horror, the splatterpunk style of violent and gory horror fiction that took its cues from slasher and exploitation films (and, reaching back into the dim mists of time, the weird terror pulps), had few outlets.

To see her reflection,
Caused him an erection,
Yet something seemed the slightest bit weird. (ibid.)

Cthulhu Sex became an outlet and medium for fiction and art that couldn’t be posted elsewhere. Not much of it dealt explicitly with Cthulhu, Lovecraft, or the Mythos; it didn’t have to. The title was a statement and a challenge, just as it is in Katherine Morel’s poem. The title gives context to the text.

In 1998, people could still remember when HIV was a death sentence and not one to be long-deferred. Japanese tentacle erotica had hit the shores of the United States with  Maeda Toshio’s Urotsukidōji and La Blue Girl, and were already the subject of jokes about “naughty tentacles” on the nascent internet. There was a zeitgeist there, mostly untapped as yet… until Katherine Morel’s “Cthulhu Sex.”

she scratched her complexion,
so that bloody tentacles appeared. (ibid.)

The tagline for Cthulhu Sex was “Blood, Sex & Tentacles.” Katherine Morel’s poem was an anthem for the magazine, an invocation for what was to be from 1998 to 2007. She captured, however briefly, the mood and attitude, right at the outset.


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

“H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge

He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)

To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars

On human souls are gilded—no—but to

The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!

Terrors he brings and things not known before

From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.

Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar

Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!

—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)

Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)

In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.

Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.

In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”

Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)

“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:

[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8

While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.

“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).


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

 

“Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson & “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934) by Grace Stillman

Joanna Russ may have been the first woman to write prose set in the Cthulhu Mythos…but she was preceded by at least two female poets who tackled the Mythos as their subject, and while often neglected, their work stands among the first verse contributions to the burgeoning Mythos.

Poetry has always been an important aspect of the Mythos. Many of the principal writers of the early Mythos—H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc.—were poets, and bits of poetry are embedded in their fiction, or like Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” (1930-1943) cycle or Robert E. Howard’s “Arkham” (1931) can be viewed as a part of the fabric of the Mythos itself. This poetic tendency in part reflects the tradition of the fantastic verse such as “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (1834), which was sometimes made a part of weird fiction, as in Edgar Allan Poe’s “Ligeia,” which was revised to contain “The Conqueror Worm” (1845).
Of course, another large part of the poetic tradition of the Mythos is that Weird Tales was unusually in the amount of poetry it published—including several of Lovecraft’s “Fungi” and works from other authors. What might surprise readers is the amount of poetry in WT that was written by women. According to Partners in Wonder: Women in Science Fiction, 1926-1965, 63 female poets were featured in the pulp magazine during the period of the Unique Magazine’s heyday—including Alice I’Anson, whose “Teotihuacan” (WT Nov 1930) so inspired Robert E. Howard. Amateur poets also existed among the early fandom, writing verse to contribute to fanzines, such as Virginia Kidd’s “Science and Knowledge” (The Fantasy Fan, Dec 1933).
It was rare for anyone not among the circle of Lovecraft & his fellow Mythos writers to craft Mythos poetry in that early period, but at least two did—Virginia “Nanek” Anderson and Grace Stillman.
Shadow Over Innsmouth
by Virginia Anderson
(Dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft by Nanek)
We have forgotten some of mankind’s ways:
The art of dying, or say … Meroy’s gift.
So when age grows upon us and our days
By span of man are numbered, the seas rift
And take us in. Then in the rites of old
We pledge allegiance where the strange pale gold
Of obscene Gods dispense eternal life
Wherein to glory, savour and renew. …
Free from the world’s alarms and strife
In ocean palaces of colalous hue,
Shedding the shape of man and doubling back
In form at least on evolution’s track.

Virginia Combs came of age in the small town of Crandon, Wisconsin during the tale end of the Great Depression; bought her first pulp magazine (Planet Stories) in 1938 or ’39, and soon was a prolific writer of fan-letters to several pulp magazines, most especially The Spider. She took the pen-name “Nanek,” borrowing the term from the Sikh religion of the Spider’s associate Ram Singh (Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism, the name was sometimes rendered in English as “Nanek”). Her correspondents included Norvell Page, A. Merritt, Isaac Aasimov, and Hannes Bok. At a time when fandom was primarily male, she stood out; Page even wrote her into the Spider series as “Jinnie Combs” in “Volunteer Corpse Brigade” (The Spider Nov 1941). In 1942, she married and became Virginia Anderson—but to her pulp friends and fandom, she was always Nanek.

I guess it never occurred to me that there were things you didn’t do because you were male or female.
— Virginia Anderson, XENOPHILE #40 (5)

The pulps and fandom were not just an escape, but an outlet for her creative energies—she wrote poems based on the works of the pulp authors she admired, which were published in Famous Fantastic Mysteries and fanzines. In 1942, Francis T. Laney, a prominent member of the Los Angeles Science Fiction Society wrote, asking for a poem for his fanzine The Acolyte, which was mainly dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft. Nanek responded with “Shadow Over Innsmouth” which appeared in the second issue (Winter 1942).

“Shadow Over Innsmouth” is an homage to H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (WT Apr 1936), but where Lovecraft focuses on the human character discovering (and eventually embracing) their Deep One heritage, Nanek gives us the alien perspective of someone who has already completed the transition. Rather than simply revisit Lovecraft’s tale, she moves beyond it, taking her cue from Lovecraft’s final line “[…] in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.”

The tone of the poem is one of escapism—though not within an element of horror, involving as it does rites of allegiance to “obscene Gods,” and the “doubling back […] along evolution’s track.” Immortality still has its price, physical and spiritual; to shed human constraint means to become something other than human. Contemporary readers might see in this foreshadows of posthumanism, but there is also an echo of Christian mythos here: “[…] our days By span of Man are numbered” is almost Biblical language, and as many Christians expect their souls to be taken into heaven, so to do “the seas rift And take us in.” This does not necessarily imply any blasphemous intent on Nanek’s part, but it does help to contrast the “life everlasting” beneath the waves to the “life everlasting” in Heaven—both involve leaving behind earthly life.

Nanek’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” was only reprinted once, in The Innsmouth Cycle (1998), the text is reproduced from that copy; “Meroy” and “colalous” are probably transcription errors (for “Mercy” and “coralous”), made when originally setting the type for The Acolyte. Given the obscurity of that ‘zine, it is unfortunate that Nanek’s poem did not receive wider distribution.

The Woods of Averoigne
(Inspired by the Clark Ashton Smith’s stories)

By Grace Stillman

Deep in the woods of Averoigne,
Goblin and satyr, loup-garou,
Devil and vampire hold their feasts:
Forces of wizardry imbue
Even the foliage of the oak;
Beeches and pines in drear decay
Uplift their bony branches wan
Under a sky of corpse-like gray.
Evil is there in Averoigne:
Evil I should not see at all;
Evil whose very presence seems
Holding me in curious thrall:
Knowing it well, my feet still grope
Nearer this force malign, withdrawn;
In dread, against my will I creep
Deep in the woods of Averoigne.

Grace Stillman is a cipher; “The Woods of Averoigne” is her only publication in Weird Tales, nor does she have credits in any other pulp index. The published letters of Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, etc. contain no reference to her or the poem, so we have no idea what they thought of it—but we know what inspired it.

Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne is a fictional medieval French province sometimes compared to James Branch Cabell’s Poictesme, and was one of his own original settings—much as the Miskatonic River valley and its towns of Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport are “Lovecraft Country,” and Robert E. Howard had his stories of the Hyborian Age and Thurian Age. Averoigne was introduced to the readers of Weird Tales with “The End of the Story” (May 1930), and continued on with “A Rendezvous in Averoigne” (Apr-May 1931), “The Maker of Gargoyles” (Aug 1932), “The Mandrakes” (Feb 1933), “The Beast of Averoigne” (May 1933), and “The Holiness of Azédarac” (Nov 1933). Her poem itself would appear in the same issue of Weird Tales as another of Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne tales, “The Colossus of Ylourgne” (Jun 1934).

Stillman’s poem evokes the witch- and fiend-haunted forests of Averoigne, which form a common element in many of Smith’s tales. Plant life was one of Smith’s foci in life, and it shows in his fiction:

[…] the gnarled and immemorial wood possessed an ill-repute among the peasantry. Somewhere in this wood there was the ruinous and haunted Château des Faussesflammes; and, also, there was a double tomb, within which the Sieur Hugh du Mainbois and his chatelaine, who were notorious for sorcery in their time, had lain unconsecrated for more than two hundred years. Of these, and their phantoms, there were grisly tales; and there were stories of loup-garous and goblins, of fays and devils and vampires that infested Averoigne.
(“A Rendezvous in Averoigne”)

Much of Stillman’s imagery is taken directly from Smith’s descriptions of the setting, right down to the types of trees he mentions in the stories. It is, like Nanek’s later piece, a derivative work that seeks to capture something of the essential idea and feel of the original, and succeeds not so much in the first few opening lines with their talk of familiar horrors, but for the fact that despite the dark legends of Averoigne people are still drawn there—as many readers, including Grace Stillman herself, were. Again, we see a writer who has struck at a point essential to the Mythos: the point of attraction, for lovers of the weird, to these terrible and remote regions, even though they are warned away from it. By entering these areas, the protagonist—and by extension the reader—cross a threshold, pass through a limnal space or boundary, break a taboo. What is more, the nameless narrator in Stillman’s poem knows that they are doing this, but are unable to help themselves, as something draws them deeper into the darkness.

As far as I can determine “The Woods of Averoigne” has never been republished. Like Nanek’s “Shadow Over Innsmouth” it represents something of a lost start. Like many early contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos, they failed to gain enough audience to influence subsequent writers and fans. They were a part of the movement that eventually exploded into the sprawling shared universe of the Mythos, but were largely overlooked and ignored. It isn’t enough to simply write something good, or even to have it published; if it is not referenced, reprinted, or revisited…it becomes forgotten, unless someone finally resurrects and remembers it.

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With thanks and appreciation to Dave Goudsward for his help.


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