“The Child of Dark Mania” (1996) by W. H. Pugmire

This story appeals to me more than most of the things I’ve written this past decade. I am fond of the image of the woman with her weird masked face, and was delighted when two pictorial renditions of that image were included in my first American collection, one by my editor and publisher, Jeffrey Thomas, and the other gracing the superb cover illustration by Earl Grier. There is a lot of peculiar passion in this story, and it gets me, deliciously. I was delighted to be able to write it in memory to HPL’s great buddy and fellow weird author, Frank Long. “The Child of Dark Mania” originally appeared in The Pnakotic Series.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Afterword” in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 113

Frank Belknap Long, Jr.’s “The Horror from the Hills” (Weird Tales Jan, Feb-Mar 1931) is one of his most famous additions to the Cthulhu Mythos—mostly because the novella incorporates a lengthy sequence borrowed from one of Lovecraft’s letters (with permission), describing a Roman dream in ancient Iberia. The main antagonist of the novella is Chaugnar Faugn, which in turn was inspired by a small statuette of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha that Long’s aunt Cassie Symmes had gifted him.

Long is busy on a horror tentatively called “The Elephant God of Leng”—based on a curiously carved idol his aunt lately brought him from Europe, plus a suggestion or two of mine.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 204

The appropriation of an Indian religious icon was not uncommon in Weird Tales during the period. Readers might compare the elephant-headed Yog-Kosha from Robert E. Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant” (Weird Tales Mar 1933), or the eponymous idol in Seabury Quinn’s “The Green God’s Ring” (Weird Tales Jan 1945). Inspiration comes where it does, and the “Exotic East” was an important inspiration for many pulp writers, and a draw for many pulp readers—and we can perhaps be grateful that Long drew a distinction between the benevolent Ganesha and the malevolent Chaugnar Faugn.

While “The Horror in the Hills” has been long recognized as a part of the Mythos, there has never quite been a distinct “Chaugnar Faugn Cycle.” Lovecraft would include Chaugnar Faugn among the deities in “The Horror in the Museum” (1933), and Long would revisit the character in his poem “When Chaugnar Wakes” (Weird Tales Sep 1932), and a few others have tried their hand at it, notably Robert Bloch with “Death is an Elephant” (Weird Tales Feb 1939), Joseph Pulver, Sr.’s untitled poem that begins “Elephant Lord, Chaugnar Faugn,…” (Cthulhu Cultus #12, 1998), Robert M. Price’s “The Elephant God of Leng” (Black Book #1, 2002), and W. H. Pugmire’s “The Child of Dark Mania” (1996).

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As with “An Imp of Aether” (1997), “The Child of Dark Mania” is one of a series of stories that Pugmire wrote in the 1990s in homage to various weird authors that had come before; and as with “Imp” this one has been revised in its various publications, so that while the basic elements of the story remain, the details shift a bit depending on whether you read it in the original Pnakotic Fragments (1996) fanzine, the Tales of Sesqua Valley (1997) chapbook, or paperback publication in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts (2008) or An Imp of Aether (2019).

Most of these changes are minimal—the consolidation of paragraphs, another word or sentence of description, etc. One notable change is the name of the protagonist, a writer of horror fiction who in the original is Frank or Franklyn, and in the 2019 version is “Sonny” or Francis—no doubt to more closely associate the writer with “Sonny” Belknap, as Lovecraft used to call his friend.

She went to a stand and unwrapped a piece of plastic, from which she removed a cone of incense. This she placed next to me on the bed, along with an incense burner shaped as an Eastern deity, an elephant god whose name I could not recall.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Child of Dark Mania” in An Imp of Aether 169

In keeping with his usual style, Pugmire is not so unsubtle as to name Chaugnar Faugn directly. The story is all the more effective for not being another gushing bit of fanfiction that tries to dump a vast chunk of Mythos lore on the reader. Nor does Pugmire try for anything grandiose; this is a quieter tale than “The Dunwich Horror” or “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff, somewhat closer to Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” in scope—and Melissa is perhaps a close cousin to Helen Vaughn as portrayed in Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz.

Instead, it is a very slight, intimate story, content to communicate the plot by image and intimation, and leave the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. One of the most distinct such images is worth going into a little more deeply:

I tired but found it impossible not to study the grotesque cloth mask, and the bizarre shape that moved beneath it. I had known that Melissa had been born with birth defects, and we had assumed that this had been the result of Diane’s consumption of foreign opiates. (ibid. 168)

Savvy readers might draw any number of references: the masked high priest not to be described in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, perhaps—but also Joseph Merrick, the Victorian performer billed as “The Elephant Man,” who would wear a hood or mask to help conceal his features when in public.

There is that sense of empathy for Diane, the wild child who had “journeyed with a gang of lesbian witches” and returned pregnant, disapproved of by her family, and forced to raise her daughter alone…and now might lose her, as Melissa comes of age—which is the only odd part of the changes between editions. In the earlier versions of the text, Diane gave birth eighteen years before the start of the story, in the 2019 text this is shortened to eight. Whether this is an error or meant to invoke the quick growth of Wilbur Whateley is not clear, and doesn’t effect the final story much.

In conception, Pugmire’s Chaugnar Faugn is more intriguing than Long’s. Here, the deity has an aspect reminiscent of Pan, Bacchus, or Dionysus, who might attract very Lovecraftian maenads, drunk on the cosmic wonder of it all…and dance.

My blood froze as she bent low and kissed the shadow of the rigid god, and I inwardly cringed when that blasphemous silhouette began to blur and bend. (ibid. 171)

Why did Diane flee to Sesqua Valley? Perhaps because that was Pugmire’s corner of Lovecraft Country, and he wished to draw to himself those dark, shining jewels of the Mythos he prized. There is a jealous tendency to the valley, magnetic and sympathetic, like calling to like. The Child of Dark Mania fits in well among those shadowy residents.

The latest version of the text, titled “Child of Dark Mania,” can be read in An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

“This Weave of Witchery” (2019) by W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Snyder

I’ve been working with Maryanne K. Snyder on a book of collaborative work, and she has proved an absolute delight to work with.  I prefer to write alone, collaborating is a lot more work for me; but often writing with someone else can take you to places you would never otherwise discover writing on your own. 
—W. H. Pugmire, “New Story Sale” (6 Oct 2010)

On the surface, “This Weave of Witchery” feels almost unfinished. Bits of pieces of Sesqua Valley and Lovecraft Country, dovetailed together into a kind of prose poem, capturing echoes of old moods: “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Silver Key,” “Born in Strange Shadow” and “Some Distant Baying Sound.” Imagine treading old, familiar territory, only to look back and suddenly see it from an angle you’ve never seen it before. Familiar, yet strange. That’s the prevailing attitude of “This Weave of Witchery.”

The plot feels like a deliberate reworking of “The Silver Key,” but from a different angle. Many writers have worked around the theme of losing the ability to dream—either literally, or in the sense of losing some creative urge or muse. Lord Dunsany wrote a bit about that in the end of “Idle Days on the Yann”:

Long we regarded one another, knowing that we should meet no more, for my fancy is weakening as the years slip by, and I go ever more seldom into the Lands of Dream. Then we clasped hands, uncouthly on his part, for it is not the method of greeting in his country, and he commended my soul to the care of his own gods, to his little lesser gods, the humble ones, to the gods that bless Belzoond.

Dunsany had followed this up in “The Shop In Go-By Street,” where the protagonist seeks once more to return to the Lands of Dream, only to find:

I would have waited three more days, but on the third day I had gone in my loneliness to see the very spot where first I met Bird of the River at her anchorage with her bearded captain sitting on the deck. And as I looked at the black mud of the harbour and pictured in my mind that band of sailors whom I had not seen for two years, I saw an old hulk peeping from the mud. The lapse of centuries seemed partly to have rotted and partly to have buried in the mud all but the prow of the boat and on the prow I faintly saw a name. I read it slowly— it was Bird of the River. And then I knew that, while in Ireland and London two years had barely passed over my head, ages had gone over the region of Yann and wrecked and rotted that once familiar ship, and buried years ago the bones of the youngest of my friends, who so often sang to me of Durl and Duz or told the dragon-legends of Belzoond.

There is something of this in Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key,” and perhaps in Pugmire & Snyder’s story something of Arthur Machen’s The Hill of Dreams:

He strove to rise from his chair, to cry out, but he could not. Deep, deep the darkness closed upon him, and the storm sounded far away. The Roman fort surged up, terrific, and he saw the writhing boughs in a ring, and behind them a glow and heat of fire. There were hideous shapes that swarmed in the thicket of the oaks; they called and beckoned to him, and rose into the air, into the flame that was smitten from heaven about the walls. And amongst them was the form of the beloved, but jets of flame issued from her breasts, and beside her was a horrible old woman, naked; and they, too, summoned him to mount the hill.

He heard Dr. Burrows whispering of the strange things that had been found in old Mrs. Gibbon’s cottage, obscene figures, and unknown contrivances. She was a witch, he said, and the mistress of witches.

He fought against the nightmare, against the illusion that bewildered him. All his life, he thought, had been an evil dream, and for the common world he had fashioned an unreal red garment, that burned in his eyes. Truth and the dream were so mingled that now he could not divide one from the other. He had let Annie drink his soul beneath the hill, on the night when the moonfire shone, but he had not surely seen her exalted in the flame, the Queen of the Sabbath. Dimly he remembered Dr. Burrows coming to see him in London, but had he not imagined all the rest?

Compare with:

It came as a wall of liquid blackness, an inky abyss in which he felt he would be drowned. There was something almost beguiling in its churning sentience, and he felt the need to speak to it, to name himself. Parting lips, he moaned his name as the blackness spilled into his mouth and shook him awake. […] Early sunset washed the sky over Sesqua Valley with muted color, and Thorley stood for a little while to appreciate the orange and pink effects that tainted the white stone of the titanic twin-peaked mountain. He had never thought to see that mountain again, and did not remember its effect on him, how it captivated one part of his mind and troubled another. He gazed at it until he felt himself grow faint, and then he remembered his mother’s words of caution, “It’s not wise to stare at Mount Selta for too long a time. Turn your eyes away.”
—W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Synder, “This Weave of Witchery” in An Imp of Aether 211

These are old themes, paths well-trod, familiar territory for weird fiction aficionados. Donald Wandrei touched on such confusions of dreams and reality in the obscure Mythos story “The Lady in Gray”; and maybe there’s something of that in this weave of witchery as well.

If Pugmire & Snyder had done no more than write a prose poem in that tradition, one more bridge between the waking world and the Dreamlands, “The Weave of Witchery” would be an unremarkable yet solid entry. Yet they did manage to find a new perspective, one which Dunsany, Machen, Lovecraft, & Wandrei had not played with. Think back to “The Silver Key,” and Randolph Carter’s lament of what he had lost—and think of how it would change the story if he was wrong.

“This Weave of Witchery” is the fourth published collaboration between W. H. Pugmire & Maryanne K. Snyder, the others being “The House of Idiot Children” (2008), “The Hidden Realm” (2011), and “The Seventh Eikon” (2012). “This Weave of Witchery” was first published in An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

“An Imp of Aether” (1997) by W. H. Pugmire

To ye memory of August William Derleth
—original dedication

“Lovecraft Country” was the name given to that fictional setting in New England where so many of his stories were set, or at least referred to. The Miskatonic River that flowed through Arkham and gave is name to the university there down to Innsmouth, Dunwich and Kingsport—all based on real places that Lovecraft visited in Massachusetts, but occupying an unreal estate in the mind; Lovecraft country is a character itself in stories like “The Dunwich Horror.”

Some subsequent writers in the Mythos have carved out their own geographies; Ramsey Campbell, on the suggestion of August Derleth, set his early Lovecraftian tales in a fictional Severn Valley with towns like Brichester and Goatwood, which continues to be developed today. W. H. Pugmire set his Sesqua Valley in the Pacific Northwest, and populated the place shadowed by the mountains with his own strange creations, including the poet William Davis Manly and the sorcerer Simon Gregory Williams.

In this story, set in the shadows of Sesqua Valley, Pugmire pays homage to August Derleth.

We thought at first that it was some kind of poem, but upon further study discovered that it was a prayer to something called Cthugha. Known as ‘the Burning One.’
—W. H. Pugmire, Tales of Sesqua Valley 39

We thought at first that it was some kind of poem or unholy psalm, but upon further study discovered that it is a prayer to something called Cthugha. Supposedly a fire element. You know the idiotic notion that Great Old Ones represent terrestrial elements, as if these cosmic creatures could be molded by corporeal law or understanding. Utterly absurd; but in this case, there seems some sustainment.
—W. H. Pugmire, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 94-95

We thought at first that it was some kind of poem or unholy psalm; but with further study we discovered it to be a prayer to something called Cthugha, supposedly a fire elemental. You know the idiotic notion that the Great Old Ones represent terrestrial elements, as if these cosmic creatures could be molded by corporeal law. Bah! However, in this case, there seems to be some sustainment.
—W. H. Pugmire, An Imp of Aether 129

As a writer, Pugmire was a tinkerer; many of his stories show the result of revision between printings, so that while the title, plot, and overall characters are the same, the text in each publication is different—sometimes slightly, sometimes markedly. The revised texts tend to be cleaner, in general; the result of looking back at a work from a decade ago and tidying it up after one’s younger self.

In the February 1933 issue of Weird Tales, Donald Wandrei published “The Fire Vampires”; a tale of the 24th century involving the fiery alien entity Fthaggua; and the idea of elementals in the Mythos dates back to Derleth’s “The Thing That Walked On The Wind” (Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, Jan 1933). Wandrei’s tale was not explicitly of the Cthulhu Mythos, although later writers adopted it, or elements from it, into the Mythos; Derleth’s was deliberate pastiche. After Lovecraft’s death, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei came together to form Arkham House to publish Lovecraft’s fiction and letters—and Derleth himself continued to publish Mythos pastiches.

The “elemental theory” as a paradigm for the Cthulhu Mythos (as Derleth called Lovecraft’s artificial mythology) as a whole came after Lovecraft’s death, detailed by fan Francis T. Laney in “The Cthulhu Mythology” in The Acolyte #2 (1942), where he noted:

The fire gods were not covered by Lovecraft, so it is up to other writers to fill in this section of the Mythos. (8)

August Derleth was paying attention. He wrote to Laney, asking him to expand the article for a further book of Lovecraft’s fiction—which became “The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary” in Beyond The Wall of Sleep (1943, Arkham House). This expanded article includes mention of a fire elemental, Cthugha, created by Derleth:

I’m certainly agog to read “The Dweller in Darkness.” Cthugha will certainly fill a gaping hole; I well remember how disgusted I was when I found the “fire department” had been completely neglected. I’m not trying to appear conceited, but by any chance did my mention of this in my article start you off on this tack, or was it just a coincidence?
—Francis T. Laney to August Derleth, 29 Mar 1943

Whether it was Laney that inspired Derleth, or two fans arriving at the same conclusion, Derleth determined to “fill the gap” and embraced the elemental theory wholeheartedly, making it his own (and borrowing elements of Wandrei’s Fthaggua in the process). As it happened, publication of fiction didn’t always go in order—the story that effectively introduced Cthugha was “The Dweller in Darkness” (Weird Tales Nov 1944), but the first story that saw mention of Cthugha in print was “The Trail of Cthulhu” (Weird Tales Mar 1944), later titled “The House on Curwen Street.”

Derleth’s conception of the Mythos did not long survive him; Richard L. Tierney famously exploded the idea in “The Derleth Mythos” (1972), beginning a period when fans and scholars seriously re-assessed what Lovecraft did and did not write, and interest increased in textually accurate versions of Lovecraft’s fiction—but selective elements of Derleth’s Mythos fiction, such as Cthugha, were adopted by others.

Hence, Pugmire’s dedication.

This is a story with a nod-and-a-wink toward Mythos fans who can pat themselves on the back that they know about Derleth and the elemental theory and can scoff at such notions along with the sorcerer Simon Gregory Williams. And yet…that is just the beginning of the story, the set-up. That is Pugmire laying the groundwork.

Because there is potential in Cthugha, and some of Derleth’s other ideas—and as much as Derleth’s memory was somewhat hounded in latter years because of his flaws as a writer, a businessman, sometimes even as a human being, he was still a good writer, and he promoted and published Lovecraft unceasingly during his life, and there are ideas which he introduced to the Mythos that are worth exploring and expanding on. So Pugmire did.

No, no. It was the fire vampire. You looked too long and deeply into its burning eyes. Your cool silver eyes took in too much of its property, and thus you burn with strange agitation. One born of the valley’s shadow cannot withstand such cosmic brilliance.
—W. H. Pugmire, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 97

No, lad. It was the fire vampire, an essence of the Old One that burns in Fomalhaut. You looked too long, too deeply, into its ember eyes. Your cool silver orbs are slightly scarred, so potent was your engagement with the valet of Cthugha.
—W. H. Pugmire, An Imp of Aether 132-133

Pugmire never shied away from making his creations sensual; but this is a rare story where he plays with gender as a concept. Wilus Shakston (original) or Jacob Wirth (revised) has encountered the old witch of Cthugha…plaited a lock of her hair with his own…and so began a transformation. Whether the transition can be said to be transgender or genderqueer is largely up to the reader to interpret; the nature of the transition is slower and less total than in “The Thing on the Doorstep.” But in a setting where the children of Sesqua Valley seem to be predominantly male, the acquisition of feminine attributes is marked—and not-unwelcomed by Wilus/Jacob.

In an afterword to this story, Pugmire wrote:

In 1995, after my lover’s heroine overdose and death, I began to write a series of Sesqua Valley stories dedicated to deceased members of the Lovecraft Circle. I suppose I was trying to take my mind off personal tragedy by sinking into creativity. It worked quite well, and many of those tales became the core of my first American collection of fiction, Tales of Sesqua Valley, published by my good buddy and fellow author Jeffrey Thomas. With these stories I mentioned breifly the addition to the Mythos created by the gent to whom the story was dedicated. It was a fun wee game, although the results were not stories of importance. The original version of this story had its first appearance in the chapbook that Jeff published in 1997 under his Necropolitan Press imprint; it has been susbtantially rewritten for this edition.
—W. H. Pugmire, Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 99

Whatever version of the story you read, it is worth reading. Proof that the Mythos can be reimagined and reworked by different hands, and that ideas that had their start in the nigh-forgotten pulp fiction of the 1930s can inspire strange and wondrous things.

“An Imp of Aether” was first published in Tales of Sesqua Valley (1997), it was revised and republished in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts (2008) and The Tangled Muse (2011); and revised again for publication as the title piece in Pugmire’s posthumous collection An Imp of Aether (2019).


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