Lavinia Rising (2022) by Farah Rose Smith

Lavinia was one who would be apt to mutter such things, for she was a lone creature given to wandering amidst thunderstorms in the hills and trying to read the great odorous books which her father had inherited through two centuries of Whateleys, and which were fast falling to pieces with age and worm-holes. She had never been to school, but was filled with disjointed scraps of ancient lore that Old Whateley had taught her. The remote farmhouse had always been feared because of Old Whateley’s reputation for black magic, and the unexplained death by violence of Mrs. Whateley when Lavinia was twelve years old had not helped to make the place popular. Isolated among strange influences, Lavinia was fond of wild and grandiose day-dreams and singular occupations; nor was her leisure much taken up by household cares in a home from which all standards of order and cleanliness had long since disappeared.

H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

There is a small cycle of stories involving Lavinia Whateley, spinning out from “The Dunwich Horror.” W. H. Pugmire & Robert M. Price suggested her survival in “The Tree House” in The Dunwich Cycle; Alex Picchetti went into explicit detail about her conception of the twins in “When The Stars Come” in Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica; Edward Lee was no less explicit in describing Lavinia’s relationship with her sons in The Dunwich Romance.

Yet these stories are all more or less unsympathetic—perhaps not surprising as they were all written by men, and accept that Lavinia was a more or less willing participant in the events leading up to the Dunwich Horror; a cultist who finally grew afraid of her children and quietly disappeared off the page when her part in the story was over. Few of them focus on what it was like to be Lavinia Whateley. Albinos don’t have it easy in life, even when they’re not uneducated and living in rural poverty under the will of a demented wizard intent on using her as a broodmare for a pair of cosmic horror antichrists. There is little of the realism of that hard life in their characterizations. As Smith puts it:

Also, as a fellow disabled New England woman living in poverty, I felt there was something beyond affinity forming between my eyes and the words on the page. I wanted to hear her, imagine her as more fully-formed than Lovecraft had made her.

Farah Rose Smith, A Disability Scholar Looks At Lovecraft

Lovecraft’s model of Lavinia Whateley was Mary from Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan”—a young woman raised to be the subject of an experiment by an older, learned man, who gives birth to an enfant terrible, inhuman in aspect. Mary is barely there in Machen’s story, and Lovecraft gave her both more background and characterization—but not very positive characterization, and even the description of Lavinia is unflattering. Lavinia was “a somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman of thirty-five,” a “slatternly, crinkly-haired albino,” with “misproportioned arms” and the Whateley chinlessness.

Some of Lovecraft’s descriptions are particular: why the misproportioned arms? Why an albino? Why crinkly hair? Readers and writers might gloss some of these: making Lavinia an albino helped to heighten the contrast with her “black brat,” Wilbur Whateley; crinkly hair can be a sign of dryness, suggesting she doesn’t wash it, which would go along with the idea that Lavinia was “slatternly” or unkempt, dirty, a common characteristic of poor whites in Lovecraft’s fiction. Yet Farah Rose Smith looked at these pieces of the puzzle and went a different way…

Ma was born in the back of a show wagon to a dyin’ hottentot (that’s what Barnum called ’em, she said, but said she’d slap me cross the cheeks top and bottom if I ever said it myself) and “New England’s tallest Negro.” When she was a little gilr, they told her to get out when she could, or else Barnum’d put her on display like them and even take out her body parts fer exhibition after she was dead.

Farah Rose Smith, Lavinia Rising 21

This puts, to pun a phrase, an entirely different complexion on the matter. Lovecraft gives no attention to Lavinia Whateley’s maternal line except to say that Mrs. Whateley died violently when the girl was twelve years old. He has nothing to say about Wilbur Whateley’s maternal grandparents. Human zoos and human oddities were real—and often very exploitative—enterprises in the late 19th and early 20th century, as famously depicted in the 1932 pre-Code horror film Freaks. Making Lavinia mixed-race highlights a heritage of discrimination…and a life she didn’t want for her sons.

Like “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle, Lavinia Rising is an alternate point of view for “The Dunwich Horror,” but largely follows the plot of Lovecraft’s story. This changes the story from a horror to a tragedy; readers know what is going to happen, more or less, and the difference is that we get Lavinia’s point of view as she grows up, dealing with her illnesses and disabilities, the discrimination and misogyny of a rural New England town and a patriarchal household ruled by a twisted madman that sees her as no more than a means to an end. There is little happiness in that life, and we know how it is going to end.

Yet what Farah Rose Smith offers readers is one thing more: what happens after the end. A brief epilogue to “The Dunwich Horror” which focuses on her actions to understand what happened to her children, as opposed to what happened to Mamie Bishop or Wilbur Whateley. The domestic drama and very human grief may be completely counter to Lovecraft’s idea of cosmic horror…but that is rather the point. Lovecraft did enough damage to Lavinia’s reputation; it’s time to hear her own story in her own words, and her point of view makes her an outsider in her own family of outsiders.

The only book really comparable to Lavinia Rising in the corpus of weird fiction is Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz—and while the stories are very different in how they turn out, there is a similarity in that both of these works revisit women in weird fiction who have been ill-served by the rather patriarchial attitudes of the late 19th and early 20th century. Both Machen and Lovecraft were fully capable of writing fiction from the point of view of women, and capable too of imagining them as sympathetic and intelligent beings—Machen’s “The White People” and “The Man of Stone” (1932) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft showcase that, at least a little—but they rarely did so. In focusing on their supernatural horrors, Lovecraft and Machen largely overlook or choose not to detail the domestic horrors and psychological horrors of those women’s lives, except by inference…or, in the case of Lavinia, a single desperate conversation:

Through all the years Wilbur had treated his half-deformed albino mother with a growing contempt, finally forbidding her to go to the hills with him on May-Eve and Hallowmass; and in 1926 the poor creature complained to Mamie Bishop of being afraid of him.

“They’s more abaout him as I knows than I kin tell ye, Mamie,” she said, “an’ naowadays they’s more nor what I know myself. I vaow afur Gawd, I dun’t know what he wants nor what he’s a-tryin’ to dew.”

H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Smith retains Lovecraft’s dialogue verbatim, but expands on the scene and the thoughts and events behind them. Like Rabinowitz, the main point of departure is the part of the story where the woman died or disappeared—and their survival marks the transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar. This is all about the parts of the story the reader never got to read about…and, it has to be said, Smith does it well. It is a compelling story, and if there are a few inconsistencies here and there, those might as easily be chalked up to an unreliable narrator and unreliable transcription as error.

Plus, we get to learn the name of Wilbur’s brother.

Farah Rose Smith’s Lavinia Rising was published in 2022; some of her other Lovecraftian fiction is included in the collections The Witch is the Body (2021) and Of One Pure Will (2021).

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

The Thing In the Woods (1924) by Harper Williams

In the autumn of 1924, J. C. Henneberger, owner of Weird Tales, owed H. P. Lovecraft some money. Unable to lay hands on the funds immediately, Henneberger instead transferred to Lovecraft his sizable credit at the prominent New York bookseller Scribner’s. Lovecraft hoped to convert this into cash, but unable to do this, he was left with $60 credit—so, Lovecraft and his friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr. decided to go on a buying spree, purchasing a number of books by Lord Dunsany, Arthur Machen, and works of history. Lovecraft even picked up a book for his friend:

For Belknap (his own choice)

The Thing In the Woods (new horror novel)—Harper Williams

—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 6 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.185

Before Lovecraft gave Long his gift, he read the whole novel himself. So it was less than a month later Lovecraft wrote to his aunt:

On this occasion I presented Belknap with the book which I got for him at Scribner’s a couple of months ago, but which I kept until I might have a chance to read it. It is an excellent horror story by someone I never heard of before—Harper Williams—entitled “The Thing in the Woods”, & dealing with the superstitious Pennsylvania countryside. There is more than a hint of obscure lycanthropy—but read it for yourself when you get here! On the flyleaf I wrote the following dedication to the Child:

BELKNAP, accept from Theobold’s ſpectral Claw
Theſe haunting Chapters of dæmoniack Awe;
Such nightmare Yarns we both have often writ,
With goblin Whiſpers, and an Hint of IT.
Till ſure, we’re like to think all Terror’s grown
A ſort of private Product of our own!
Leſt, then, our Pride our ſober Senſe miſlead,
And make us copyright each helliſh Deed,
‘Tis ours to ſee what ghastly Flames can blaze
From Spooks and Ghouls that other Wizards raiſe!

—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 29 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.229

The poem is sometimes given or indexed under the title “[On The Thing In the Woods by Harper Williams].” Written more than half in jest, with its 18th-century style including the long s (ſ), it yet carries an important point: Lovecraft never saw himself (or he and his friends) as having any monopoly on weird fiction, and appreciated discovering new authors and new horrors.

The Thing In the Woods would disappear from Lovecraft’s writings after this; he did not keep a copy for himself, never mentions it or Harper Williams in any other letter, and would not even include it among other notable stories in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” Yet there are two points of interest for this novel, above and beyond the story itself: the identity of the author, and the influence it may well have had on “The Dunwich Horror.”

“Harper Williams” was the pseudonym of Margery Winifred Williams Bianco; Harper had been her mother’s maiden name. She is best known today as the author of the classic children’s book The Velveteen Rabbit (1922), under the name Margery Williams, but before the Great War she wrote a handful of novels aimed at adults. The Thing In the Woods was her first horror novel, set in the Pennsylvania Dutch country where she spent a few childhood years, and was originally published in the United Kingdom in 1913 under her own name, while the 1924 edition that Lovecraft bought with his credit was the first American edition. Possibly the success of The Velveteen Rabbit encouraged her to use a pseudonym to avoid confusing her work with children with her work for adults.

In 1982, Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price wrote and published “The Pine Barrens Horror”—an essay which speculated that the fantabulous anatomy of Wilbur Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror” might have been inspired in part by the Jersey Devil. Eminent Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi managed to find a Lovecraft connection: the Jersey Devil was mentioned in the obscure and long-out of print novel The Thing In the Woods by Harper Williams. Price was able to secure a copy, which he eventually reprinted in the collection Tales Out of Dunwich:

It was not easy finding a copy (a library discard, still however possessed by the Mississippi Library Commission, which I secured through Interlibrary Loan at Drew University), but when I did, I plunged in. (10)

What has excited the interest of Lovecraft scholars is less the Jersey Devil references than the other similarities shared between Williams’ novel and Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” Both works take a rural setting, and both center on a pair of twin brothers born out of wedlock—one of which is confined to a shed at times, and who has a dislike of dogs. It does not take much imagination to see how Lovecraft might have been inspired by such details in crafting his story, although in tone and style of telling they are very different.

When Lovecraft wrote “there is more than a hint of obscure lycanthropy,” he was spoiling the novel a bit. For most of the length of the book it is something of a rural thriller, closer to a weird crime novel than anything explicitly supernatural; while there are periodic mentions of beliefs in witches and the Jersey Devil, it is really only in the last chapter that the solution to the mystery is presented as something truly unnatural. That being said, that final chapter and the werewolf-lore in it would not be out of line with some of the werewolf stories that appeared in the pages of Weird Tales, like Greye La Spina’s novel Invaders from the Dark (Apr-May-Jun 1925) or Seabury Quinn’s “The Wolf of St. Bonnot” (Dec 1930).

This was long before Universal’s The Wolf Man (1941) set in stone in the popular media some of the common conceptions about werewolves; before even Montague Summers’ The Werewolf (1933), which would become a sourcebook for weird writers. There is no infection from a bite, nor does the moon have any effect on the transformation. There is a silver bullet, but that might have come from Whittier’s “The Garrison of Cape Ann” (1857) or The Book of Were-Wolves (1865) by Sabine Baring-Gould, or any source after those. No doubt Lovecraft was less-interested in the werewolf theme than he was in Williams’ skillful handling of the narrative, the realism she achieved in the setting and characters, and how she built up to the culminating revelation—though not exactly as Lovecraft would do it.

The Lovecraft connection and the internet have, after a very long interval, rescued Williams’ novel from complete oblivion. In the 1980s, finding a copy of an obscure 1920s weird novel would have been a daunting task; today, The Thing In the Woods is in the public domain, and has been scanned and made available for everyone to read online at Google Books, Hathitrust, and there is a LibriVox audiobook on the Internet Archive.

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

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A Disability Scholar Looks At Lovecraft by Farah Rose Smith

History bears ample witness to this profound disquiet stirred in the human soul by bodies that stray from what is typical or unpredictable
Rosemarie Garland Thomson, Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body 1

The first time I read “The Dunwich Horror” by H.P. Lovecraft, I was a nineteen-year old stroke survivor, confined to the couch in my mother’s living room, gripping the edges of an old library book like one loosened finger, one glance away would send me onto the floor. The works of Lovecraft came into my life at a time when I needed the utmost concentration to regain skills extending from the ability to read to being able to stand in front of the microwave without collapsing. It took months to be able to walk from the couch to the door, the door to the mailbox, the mailbox to the orange tiger lily in my mother’s garden. I had known disability since childhood, but never a horror quite like this.

It was cosmic horror that brought a fractured life back into focus. 

My first deep exploration into the character of Lavinia Whateley was for my final undergraduate research paper, exploring the depictions of disabled women in 20th century horror fiction. Historically, Gothic literature has portrayed variations of health and bodily form as monstrous, asserting that the disparate form and function of disabled minds and bodies are to be feared and othered. As Pang Shi Hua states in their contribution to the Glossary of the Gothic: Deformity:

Part of the reason for our irrational fear of disability is that in any moment, a healthy body is one broken blood vessel removed from becoming a body with disabilities.

That is to say that the disabled body in the eyes of the abled witness is a harbinger of perceived limitation and ultimately, social ostracization and death. The characterization of disabled women as objects rather than subjects within the origin of the horror genre may be examined through interpersonal, temporal, and narrative elements via a contemporary lens of feminist philosophy and the burgeoning field of disability theory. They may also be examined to highlight issues that are primarily overcast in previous studies, including issues of embodiment, bodily autonomy and violation.

In H.P. Lovecraft’s 1928 short story “The Dunwich Horror” the character of Lavinia Whateley is an excellent subject to examine in this contemporary context. Also, as a fellow disabled New England woman living in poverty, I felt there was something beyond affinity forming between my eyes and the words on the page. I wanted to hear her, imagine her as more fully-formed than Lovecraft had made her.

I do not have albinism, though I have several chronic and disabling conditions that made me empathize with Lavinia, and wonder as to the complexities that would arise in such a life. In my pursuit of analyzing her character, it was important for me not to medicalize her, since the foundational aspect of disability theory is in defining the social obstacles, rather than physical and biological ones, that make life difficult for individuals. People with disabilities are as different as snowflakes, and it was my intention to observe and analyze while avoiding any projection.

Disability is presented in the Gothic as a “direct response to the long-held habit of Western culture to define the human norm, then to construe the non-normative as dangerously close to being non-human” (Hua). Associating the disabled more closely with monstrosity serves a social purpose in that it frees the individual from proximity and association with a person they feel represents an injurious threat to their own wellbeing. In Nancy Marck Cantwell’s “De-Composing the Gothic Body in Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent,” she says:

We commonly bear witness to the abject when we are confronted by the inevitability of our physical dissolution. (33)

When it comes to women, this is particularly poignant. The developmental origin of the horror fiction genre is complex, with the presence of horror elements in texts dating back to pre-Biblical times. Women in Gothic horror fiction, defined in this essay as fantastic works with macabre and haunting elements that arose within the first quarter of the 20th century, are portrayed and perceived through a particular lens; one that interprets the cultural ideals of feminine personhood and disabled embodiment through objectification, “othering,” and in consideration of 19th century idealism. In Nancy Cott’s “An Interpretation of Victorian Sexual Ideology” she states that:

The late nineteenth century was an era of contention over female sexuality, physiology, health, dress, and exercise, and one in which medical opinion had become an authoritative sector of public opinion. (219)

The realities of feminine suffering and their aftermath go largely codified or unspoken, with the narrative voices being predominantly male, and disabled women being relocated to the silent poverty-stricken realms of society. 

The female body as “other” is a perspective with historical basis, as discussed in David T. Mitchell and S. L. Snyder’s Narrative Prosthesis: Disability and the Dependencies of Discourse

The othering of the female body—through the vilification of femaleness, female sexuality, pregnancy and childbirth—is not a new occurrence. Aristotle, like Freud and Lacan much later, identified women as incomplete or deformed males. (55)

The pervasive belief in biological essentialism was a key tool in the oppression of women, and so not only the state of the mind, but the condition of the body were determiners of ability, status, and the eventualities of their lives. In Mary Poovey’s Feminism and Deconstruction, the idea that “neither sexuality nor social identity is given exclusively in or through the body, however it is sexed” (51), a concept explored briefly below, was absent from gender discourse at the time as well.  This is further discussed in Lois Tyson’s Critical Theory Today:

In every domain where patriarchy rains, woman is other: she is objectified and marginalized, defined only by her difference from male norms and values, defined by what she allegedly lacks and that men allegedly have. (87)

The dehumanization and “othering” of women was a means to maintain patriarchal power. In horror and fantastic tales that are largely narrated by men and written in an era of evolving gender and racial rights, there lies inklings of information that allow for contemporary interpretation which, in turn, elevate the humanity and validity of women disabled women, and their experiences beyond the stereotypical label of victim, among other terms denoting the inhuman.

For much of our cultural history, the female body has been viewed as imperfect: an aberration of the “perfect” male form and consequently repugnant or even dangerous, yet close enough to this “male default” to be familiar and even attractive. This has a destabilising force on both the male subject, who simultaneously experiences desire and revulsion, and the female object, when she discovers that she is being “othered” and is “no longer seen in her own right.”
—Jane Mitchell, Reclaiming the Monster: Abjection and Subversion in the Marital Gothic Novel 57

It is worth noting that there were authors that addressed themes of disability and sexuality in the gothic novel, namely Edith Nesbit, though this is a topic for another examination.

Disability imagery in the Gothic novel and short story often signifies “moral decay or the lack of a moral sense” (Longmore 1987, 67-68; Snyder and Mitchell 2000). This archaic view of the disabled individual denotes their use in society as a warning against that which may bring about disease and decay, but it also claims that those who are regarded as wretched on the outside are wretched on the inside, something we know to be unequivocally false. Contemporary disability theory recognizes disability as “an overarching, life-defining confluence of categories” according to Jan Grue in “Rhetorics of Difference : Julia Kristeva and Disability” (49). In In Frankenstein’s Shadow: Myth, Monstrosity, and Nineteenth-Century Writing, Chris Baldick observes that:

The representation of fearful transgressions in the figure of physical deformity arises as a variant of that venerable cliché of political discourse, the “body politic.” When political discord and rebellion appear, this “body” is said to be not just diseased, but misshapen, abortive, monstrous. Once the state is threatened to the point where it can no longer be safely identified (according to the medieval theory) with “the King’s body”—that is, with an integral and sacred whole—then the humanly recognizable form of the body politic is lost, dispersed into a chaos of dismembered and contending organs. (14)

Baldick’s passage supports the idea in Lucy Sheehan’s article “Trials of Embodiment: Being a Gothic Body in ‘Mary Barton,” which states that:

A single body ‘embodies’ multiple objects, or, alternately, in which many bodies “embody” a single unified political consciousness. (37)

“The Dunwich Horror,” chosen to illustrate the central themes of this analysis, was selected for the presence of a female character that drives the narrative, inclusion or suggestion of the supernatural, and the cultural impact the stories have had on contemporary horror fiction. The only major female character in the tale is Lavinia Whateley, who shares her name with a character from Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus. Born in 1878, she is the daughter of wizard Old Whateley and her late unnamed mother, who had a mysterious and violent death when Lavinia was twelve years old. 

Lovecraft establishes Lavinia immediately as an outsider through her appearance, playing into the historical reality as described by Rosemarie Garland Thomson in Freakery: Cultural Spectacles of the Extraordinary Body,  that the “visually different have always provoked the imaginations of their fellow human beings” (1).  Lavinia has albinism, which contributes to the alienation she already gets for being a part of a strange family. She is described as slatternly, and has inherited the weak chin of her relatives. Lavinia disappeared in 1926 on Halloween night. It is inferred throughout the story that she was a victim of matricide.

The mother was one of the decadent Whateleys, a somewhat deformed, unattractive albino woman of thirty-five, living with an aged and half-insane father about whom the frightful tales of wizardry had been whispered in his youth. Lavinia Whateley had no husband, but according to the custom of the region, made no attempt to disavow the child […]
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Lavinia’s depiction is as ableist as it is misogynistic. There is hardly a mention of her name that does not include a qualifier immediately before or after that she is deformed. Lovecraft’s characterization of Lavinia, meant to evoke horror and disgust, is also meant to be comparatively less offensive than the horror that is her son, Wilbur, a child described in both ableist and racist terms, as the “dark, goatish-looking infant who formed such a contrast to her own sickly and pink-eyed albinism” and “swarthy.” 

While I do not wish to medicalize Lavinia, as stated above, it is still important to put albinism in context for the contemporary reader. The understanding of the condition today is far more intricate than in Lovecraft’s time. Albinism is a genetically-inherited disease indicated by the absence of melanin; skin, hair, eyes are characteristically faint, having little color or intensity, and affects vision. Raji Ade Oba in “Albinism: A Silently-Growing Disability that remains largely uncategorized and ‘uncelebrated,’” states that:

A 2014 South African Medical Journal found that in Nigeria, albino children experienced isolation, dodged social interactions, and were less emotionally stable. In fact, it was reported that affected individuals were more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, and be unable to find partners. 

Lavinia’s few interactions with characters outside of her family are strange, stemming from her limited exposure which most likely resulted from familial or self-isolation from the townspeople due to her albinism. Though it can be argued that this isolation could be, either solely or mixed with, the dark sorcery of the inhabitants of her house. 

The medical aspects of albinism are not described in the story. Lovecraft delivers observations about Lavinia that illustrate her as hideous for an audience of the time that was likely just as uneducated and unsympathetic regarding genetic disorders. A more accurate or nuanced depiction of a character with albinism may have incorporated any of the following aspects, as described in The Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine:

People with albinism may have one or more of the following eye problems: severe  far-sighted or near-sighted, astigmatism, constant, involuntary movement of the eyeball called nystagmus, problems in coordinating the eyes in fixing and tracking objects (strabismus), problems with depth perception, and light sensitivity. People with a rare form of albinism called Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome (HPS) also have a greater tendency to have bleeding disorders, inflammation of the large bowel (colitis), lung (pulmonary) disease, and kidney (renal) problems.

How much Lovecraft knew of these details is unknown. His characterization lends credence to the idea that the disabled should not procreate, seeing that Wilbur and his monstrous twin are evil and destructive beings. Lavinia’s impregnation can be seen as an inverse of the holy conception of Jesus Christ. It is also a direct reference to Arthur Machen’s The Great God Pan, where the formula “Et Diabolus incarnatus est. Et homo factus est.” is a deliberate inversion of “And God became incarnate, and made man.”

Lavinia was learned, affirming that the acquisition of knowledge was regarded as a peculiarity or trait that accompanied the makeup of a woman who could destabilize the patriarchal system at hand. “She was a lone creature given to wandering amidst thunderstorms in the hills and trying to read the great, odorous books which her father had inherited through two centuries of Whateleys” and “She had never been to school, but was filled with disjointed scraps of ancient lore that Old Whateley had taught her” (“The Dunwich Horror”).

Lovecraft plays into the medical model of disability with his characterization of Lavinia, which “frames atypical bodies and minds as deviant, pathological, and defective, best understood and addressed in medical terms”, an idea described by Alison Kafer in her pivotal text, Feminist, Queer, Crip (5). While it is stated that she is a woman of some learning, even if it is occult learning or familial oral history, it is most critical that you understand her as “deformed,” and therefore “other.” But impairment at the time this story was conceived was different than modern times. “What we understand as impairing conditions—socially, physically, mentally, or otherwise—shifts across time and place” (Kafer 7). As feminists and fighters against ableism, it is critical that we review texts with disabled characters, and disability overall, as “a site for collective reimagining” (Kafer 9). Lovecraft’s characterization  of Lavinia also hearkens back to classical and medieval times, when, as Angela M. Smith discusses in Hideous Progeny: Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror Cinema: 

[…] unusual bodies and behaviors were viewed as evidence of divine or otherwise unknowable forces and read as portents of good will or ill, or manifestations of “earthly malignancy and witchcraft.” (3-4)

Her son, Wilbur, even began to regard her with a “growing contempt” eventually implicitly committing matricide. “Poor Lavinia Whateley, the twisted albino, was never seen again.” Here we have a supernatural being with disdain for his mother so great, that he murders her. One might look upon Lavinia’s cherishing of the child and see great injustice in this. That a woman of limited but enthusiastic learning, who perseveres beyond the so-called limitations of her condition, and still has some indefinable but present faith, as a discardable being. In David Punter’s A Companion to the Gothic he says that “The gothic uses and abuses a woman’s body; in this genre, she is ‘moved, threatened, discarded, and lost’ (257-268).

Women in Gothic fiction of the present day are afforded greater humanity. Through the mobilization of modern disability discourses, including the re-framing of  disability as marginalized identity rather than defective being, and integrating concepts of disability futurity, it may be demonstrated that portrayals of disabled women in Gothic literature may be reframed with modern theoretical interpretations to cultivate nuance that better serves the future of disability discourse. That is an improvement that will benefit not only readers, but the people who inhabit the real world as well.

Farah Rose Smith is a fiction writer and scholar from Rhode Island. She has authored the novellas Anonyma, The Almanac of Dust, and Eviscerator, as well as the collections Of One Pure Will and The Witch is the Body. She lives in New York City.

Copyright 2022 Farah Rose Smith

“Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021) by J. Lily Corbie

“The only times women are even mentioned in these books, we’re…sacrifices or vessels. We’re things, tools to use, a means to an end.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

2021 marks a century of women being involved with the Cthulhu Mythos. From “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) by Edith Miniter to She Walks In Shadows (2015) and Dreams From The Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (2015), through all of the women who Lovecraft collaborated with and ghostwrote for, the women fans who wrote poems and stories and novels of the Mythos over the decades expanding and exploring the shared world. Women were there from the beginning…and they are still here, still writing, still creating new art, fiction, poetry, etc.

For all that women have made their mark in the literature of Lovecraftian fiction, the place of women within the Mythos has been less explored. Many authors have expanded on Lovecraft’s original stories and characters in various ways. “The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas offers a new way of looking at “The Mound”; “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales explores patriarchy in Innsmouth; “Magna Mater” (2015) by Arinn Dembo posits a matriarchial twist on “Arthur Jermyn”; “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron offer two different interpretations of Mamie Bishop from “The Dunwich Horror.” The story of women in the Mythos has been recast, reexamined, expanded and elaborated upon; their legacies continue to grow.

Yet very rarely is this a case of women within the stories on a journey of discovery for the women that came before them. We don’t often see female characters confront the fact that the stories of Keziah Mason, Lavinia Whateley, and Marceline Bedard within the fictional universe are few, and mostly related by men. A hypothetical woman student, searching for women cultists, might be hard-pressed to find anything definitive about what role women played in the rites and ceremonies of the cult of Cthulhu. Historical sexism is alive and well in Lovecraft country.

As we walked between them, she said, “It wasn’t deliberate.” She glanced at me sideways. “Most of the time, at least. Our works have been discarded and destroyed because they were simply considered unimportant or uninteresting. They were lost to history through accident and neglect as often as malice. They’ve gone unarchived in libraries, uncollected in museums for those same reasons. But the dreamlands are ours.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

In The Witch-Cult in Western Europe (1921) by Margaret A. Murray, the Salem Witch Trials are attributed to the persecution of an actual coven. Those Salem witches, both the real women who died and the fictional counterparts they inspired, like Keziah Mason in “The Dreams in the Witch House,” have left descendents—and a stamp on the collective memory. To some, like Lovecraft’s unnamed correspondent who claimed descent from Mary Easty, witchcraft was real—or at least something she wanted to be real. A spiritual heritage that she could be a part of.

Corbie’s “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” is similar to “Down into Silence” (2018) by Storm Constantine in that there is a wistfulness to it. In a contemporary, mundane world with smartphones and the internet, the legends of Arkham’s witch-haunted streets seems far away, and perhaps a bit silly. In her version of Arkham, which could easily fit in the same world as Constantine’s Innsmouth, students grown at failed rituals and wonder if the fault is in them…or if there just isn’t any magic in the first place. No deeper truth to learn.

Is it the case that the Mythos isn’t real—or is it just not for women?

In many ways, Corbie’s answer to that reflects the truth of women’s continued contributions to the Mythos. While their work may be overlooked or forgotten for a time, it is still there—and they are still there, waiting to be discovered. Sometimes with a little help from their friends, sisters, fellow initiates and would-be-cultists. It’s not just that women are an intimate and vital part of creating the Mythos, but they are an intimate and vital part of the fictional universe of the Mythos. You do not have a Dunwich horror without Lavinia Whateley.

Corbie’s approach to the story is multi-layered, bordering on the metafictional. While she’s keeping it strictly within the confines of the fictional universe where Arkham and Miskatonic University are real, there are contemporary sensibilities at play in how she re-interprets some of the events and characters. Marceline Bedard of “Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, for example, is described as:

“Murdered,” she said, “for perceived sins of ancestry rather than the sins of her voluntary commission.”
—J. Lily Corbie, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” (2021)

As a narrative, “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” is ultimately an extended induction, both for the protagonist Lizza and for the readers. No Merlin is here to guide a young Arthur to the sword in the stone, no Hagrid appears to say: “You’re a wizard, Harry.” If Lizza and her friends want to be witches in the Lovecraftian vein, they have to find out how to open that door themselves…and it is every bit as perilous, damaging, and difficult one might expect. It’s not enough to copy the words from the old books and say them at the right time.

The real question we are left with…the stories yet to be told…are what Lizza might do with her Silver Key, once she gets it. Those should be worth reading.

J. Lily Corbie’s “Women Who Live Between the Worlds” was published on her blog on 1 May 2021.

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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Dunwich Horror” (1945) by Silvia Richards & H. P. Lovecraft

Silvia Richards

“The Dunwich Horror” by H. P. Lovecraft was first published in Weird Tales (Apr 1929). It was not republished until a decade later, when Arkham House brought out the first collection of Lovecraft’s fiction, The Outsider and Others (1939). Despite wartime paper shortages, the story was reprinted in the omnibus Great Tales of Terror and the Supernatural (1944). The following year, “The Dunwich Horror” lent its name to a paperback edition The Dunwich Horror (1945, Bath House), an armed services edition The Dunwich Horror and Other Weird Stories (1945). On Hallowe’en night (although many newspapers list it as playing on 1 November), a radio adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror,” written by Silvia Richards, was performed by Ronald Colman.

The show was called Suspense and began broadcasting in 1940, lasting until 1962. It did not originally feature stories involving science fiction or the supernatural, but increasingly featured more and more such adaptations during its run.

Silvia Richards’ screenplay makes many necessary adaptations for a radio drama. It begins like Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 broadcast of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds, as a mock news-broadcast, but the asides for vividly audio-acted scenes and music make it much more of a dramatization. Dr. Henry Armitage narrates the entire story, as though reporting in live from Dunwich (here pronounced correctled as Dunnich). Richards retains all the essential plot points of Lovecraft’s story and several key passages, although much of his language is lost in abridgement and change in presentation. Notably, she retains most if not all of the audio cues—animal noises and suchlike—which the story contains, which translate well into the new medium.

As a production, the radioplay is interesting for the effort to reproduce the accents, the sounds of whipporwills, the pronounciation of the odd names. As a screenplay, there’s a rather admirable skill in boiling Lovecraft’s narrative (all ~17,500 words of it) down to something that could play in less than twenty-four minutes (a half-hour timeslot has to leave room for commercials); her abridgement was probably about 6,000 words (24 pages) total. An interesting addition was the source for an “alternate formula”: Falconer’s Mystical Formulae of the Middle Ages. Whether Silvia Richards was aware of it or not, this would be one of, if not the, first Mythos tome invented by a woman author.

Silvia Richards continued to work in Hollywood as a script writer for radio, film, and television; the article above from the Los Angeles Daily News for 1 Apr 1947 is the most I’ve found about her life in her own words. A former Communist, she was later called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and her collaboration (in part to protect her two young sons) included testifying against her ex-husband Robert L. Richards. She is not known to have done any further adaptations of Lovecraftian material, but her radioplay stands as an early, fairly faithful adaptation of Lovecraft’s material to a new medium.

You can listen to Silvia Richards’ 1945 adaptation of “The Dunwich Horror” for Suspense for free online here.

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

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Nature of Faith” (2010) by Oscar Rios

In the early 90’s I got into the Cthulhu Mythos, from the works of R.E. Howard and the H.P. Lovecraft.  I’d been a role player for years playing Dungeons and Dragons, Star Frontiers and soon learned about the game Call of Cthulhu. […]

I started running Call of Cthulhu games at conventions… I started writing my own games… I started writing for Chaosium, the publisher of the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game…

Slowly the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game became a bigger and bigger part of my life.  I wrote more, became published more often, and even branched off into cosmic horror fiction.  Running scenarios at conventions soon became holding panels and seminars.  Writing my own scenarios became editing the scenarios of others.  Being published became publishing the works of others while working with Miskatonic River Press.  Then that changed to being in charge of a small publishing house producing supplements for the Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game.

Then I stopped and looked back… to realize that twenty years has gone by.
—Oscar Rios, “Twenty Years Searching For The Necronomicon” (2013)

The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game is undoubtedly one of the most critical vectors of infection for disseminating Lovecraft and the Mythos into the popular consciousness. Certainly, Weird Tales and Arkham House did their parts, popular paperback editions from Ballantine and Del Rey assured a wider audience, Hollywood films like The Dunwich Horror (1969) and Re-Animator (1985) spread the word. Yet after the death of August Derleth, it was Chaosium that launched its Call of Cthulhu Fiction line, reprinting both long-out-of-print classics and introducing new authors into the field. The roleplaying game has an international scope and appeal, and has attracted talented artists and writers.

Oscar Rios had been writing for Call of Cthulhu for six years when “The Nature of Faith” was published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults: Ten Tales of Dark & Secretive Orders (2010). The roleplaying game roots show, but only if you’re already familiar with the material. The Order of the Silver Twilight, mentioned in passing, is from the Shadows of Yog-Sothoth campaign. This isn’t a gaming scenario re-cast as a novella, just an original work of fiction from someone steeped in the setting and its lore.

In a real way, the story is a love-letter to Dunwich, both as Lovecraft first described it and as it developed with the additions of other authors. It should be considered in the context (if not actually the continuity) of “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron, although unlike those stories it makes no mention of the Whateleys at all. The character of Gertrude “Gerdy” Pope, in particular, whose near-albino appearance is so evocative of Lavinia Whateley and Hester Sawyer, explained here as a “type” that shows up in Dunwich on occasion.

If there’s a flaw in the story, it might be a penchant for organization and exposition. When Rios writes:

Gerdy’s understanding of the Believers history was scant, but she knew they were a secretive group dedicated to worshiping nature, studying various forms of magic, and living in harmony with the world around them. Exactly the type of organization that appealed to her sensibilities.

The first Believers had apparently come to Dunwich from Salem, fleeing the witch hysteria that swept through that coastal community. It was said they were led here by dreams, unconscious calls beckoning them to these hills. For hundreds of years the Believers have lived in Dunwich, elarning much about the landscape’s unqiue and still-mysterious history. Many knew they were not the first people called here, and some suspected they would not be the last. Gerdy had seen enough of their inner workings to know that Believers varied in the nature of their gifts, abilities, and worship, but one rule was universal within their cult: secrecy.
Cthulhu’s Dark Cults 136

It’s almost a write-up from a setting-book, and certainly more in line with New Age-y, Wicca-oriented, post-WWII fiction than the rather more sinister and nameless cultic activities of Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror” or August Derleth’s The Lurker at the Threshold (1945).

Which is not to say that the Believers don’t have their darker aspects, nor that there aren’t more mysteries left unspoken than laid out plain. It’s notable that the plot is mainly focused on the women of the townGerdy, Mother & Marie Bishop, Virginia Adams, Ne’seal, Celestia. The story wouldn’t pass the Bechdel Test, but by Mythos standards it has much more female representation than typical. But then, the gist of the story boils down to gender politics, with the intrusive, logical male outsider invading the peaceful, intuitive, female-dominated Dunwich. And hinted at being part of a cycle of such things.

“Men!” she proclaimed aloud, “ya never listen. Mebbe next time.”
Cthulhu’s Dark Cults 152

A bit of an inversion from “The Dunwich Horror,” where Lavinia Whateley is used, sidelined, and ultimately disappeared; the female playing her role and then ushered quickly off-stage. Yet not exactly progressive either; there are still stereotypes at play here, both male and female. It is difficult to break out of those ideas of gender roles and actions, in any mode of fiction.

Oscar Rios’ “The Nature of Faith” was first published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (2010), it has not been republished.

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

“The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997) by Stanley C. Sargent

The next January gossips were mildly interested in the fact that “Lavinny’s black brat” had commenced to talk, and at the age of only eleven months.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

In many ways a spiritual precursor to “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) by Victor LaValle and “Herbert West in Love” (2012) by Molly Tanzer, “The Black Brat of Dunwich” is one of Stanley C. Sargent’s most reprinted stories—and one of his most radical. It is a story which emerged from many of the ideas of Lovecraft scholarship at the time of its writing: Donald Burleson’s characterization of the Whateley twins fulfilling Joseph Campbell’s heroic monomyth, as detailed in Disturbing The Universe (1990); the tracing of autobiographical elements from Lovecraft’s life in “The Dunwich Horror” which Sargent would later expand on in the essay “Howard Phillips Whateley, An Observation” (1999, rev. 2002).

“The Black Brat of Dunwich” is a deliberate subversion of Lovecraft’s original narrative, a sort of critical reading re-cast as fiction, a different point of view where the real antagonist of the original story is not Wilbur Whateley. It is the kind of story that reflects the reality of biographical research, where scholars have to sift through different anecdotes and memoirs, trying to reconcile contradictory accounts and arrive at the truth—and the same game can be played by fans of the Mythos, as they attempt to reconcile different stories written by different authors, to arrive at some coherent understanding of the shared artificial mythology.

Part of the story is thus a very deliberate attempt to confirm certain long-held fan-theories, even while recasting the traditional Lovecraftian narrative. For example:

“Did Wilbur explain how Lavinia had a child by this non-material being?” Jeffrey asked.

Gavin chuckled. “I’d of thought you boys would be smart enough to figure that one out for yourselves! Seems self-evident to me that Wizard Whateley allowed himself to be possessed for an incestuous encounter with his daughter. You’ve read Armitage’s account, don’t you recall that Curtis Whateley described the giant face on top of the monster as being the unmistakable likeness to Wizard Whateley?
—Stanley C. Sargent, “The Black Brat of Dunwich” in The Taint of Lovecraft 54

This was probably the inspiration for the scene regarding the conception of the Whateley twins in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows’ graphic novel Providence.

While writers like Sargent & LaValle have played free with the interpretation of events and characters in Lovecraft’s stories, they have still largely bound themselves to the general sequence of those events and their outcomes—so in “The Black Brat of Dunwich” Lavinia Whateley still gets shut out from her pagan celebrations on Sentinel Hill, and still comes to the same end, just as in “The Dunwich Horror.” The difference in Sargent’s recension is the more sympathetic take on her as a character, showing her as more simple-minded than Lovecraft had and with Wilbur showing real affection for his mother, and going into more detail about her inevitable death.

Inadvertently, this treatment of Lavinia Whateley as a lonely, uneducated woman who is the mere pawn of the men in her life gives her even less agency as a character, but that is a common issue with many re-tellings of “The Dunwich Horror.” Lovecraft’s narrative doesn’t provide much of a role for Lavinia beyond mother and victim, and any narrative that sticks close to the events of that story will have trouble expanding her story much beyond that. The death of Lavinia becomes not an ominous mystery, but a tragedy unfolding.

One open question left by the story involves a particular scene which blurs the line between homosocial and homosexual. The narrator is aware that Wilbur Whateley is self-conscious of his appearance, and:

“I tried to get him over it, show him it didn’t matter to me. I even kept talking to him on a couple occasions to keep him in the room while I took a bath, figuring he’d eventually loosen up, seeing as how I was no Adonis myself, but it didn’t work. He just sat there staring at me all over, like he was studying me as an example of how folks are supposed to look. I just wanted him to accept himself for who he was and stop worrying about what anyone else thought.” He stared directly at James. “You’d best get that disgusted look off your face damn quick, young man, or I’m done talking.”
—Stanley C. Sargent, “The Black Brat of Dunwich” in The Taint of Lovecraft 50

Keeping in mind that while appearing full-grown, Wilbur Whateley was only about six years old in this scene, which makes this feel more than a little like indecent exposure, and recalls some of the problematic issues with “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff. The whole tone of Sargent’s appeal likely echoes strongly with those who have had difficulties coming to grips with either their sexuality or body image, with it being remembered that Stanley C. Sargent put forth one of the most elegant arguments for why Lovecraft may have been a closeted homosexual in an interview with Peter A. Worthy (1998). Wilbur, like Lovecraft, is presented in this story as an outsider.

It is perhaps appropriate then that Sargent dedicated this story to his friend Wilum H. Pugmire, a Mythos author who also identified with the Outsider—but had embraced that identity and relished it.

“The Black Brat of Dunwich” was first published in the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association mailing #97 and Cthulhu Codex #10 (1997); it has subsequently been reprinted many times, in The Ancient Track (Oct 1998), The Taint of Lovecraft (2002), The Black Book #2 (2002), Tales Out of Dunwich (2005), The Book of Cthulhu II (2012), and A Mountain Walked (2014).

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

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron

The only persons who saw Wilbur during the first month of his life were old Zechariah Whateley, of the undecayed Whateleys, and Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife, Mamie Bishop. Mamie’s visit was frankly one of curiosity, and her subsequent tales did justice to her observations […]

Through all the years Wilbur had treated his half-deformed albino mother with a growing contempt, finally forbidding her to go to the hills with him on May-Eve and Hallowmass; and in 1926 the poor creature complained to Mamie Bishop of being afraid of him.

“They’s more abaout him as I knows than I kin tell ye, Mamie,” she said, “an’ naowadays they’s more nor what I know myself. I vaow afur Gawd, I dun’t know what he wants nor what he’s a-tryin’ to dew.”
H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

Mamie Bishop is one of the minor supporting characters in “The Dunwich Horror,” the closest thing to a friend that Lavinia Whateley has in the story and a source for information into the reclusive Whateleys. Her character development is minimal, not even rating a physical description, but her name places her among the old families of Dunwich (probably the “decayed” Bishops), and with her position as Earl Sawyer’s common-law wife defines as much of her backstory and connections as needed: cohabitating in a prolonged relationship but never formalized by a priest or clerk of the court, no great Dunwich scandal that. Still, raw material to hang a story on…and at least two authors have done just that.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) is at once a sequel to and something of a pastiche of “The Dunwich Horror.” A decade following the destruction of Wilbur Whateley and his unnamed twin, Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer split up:

It was therefore a source of much local gossip and a delight to the scandal-mongers when Earl Sawyer abandoned Mamie Bishop, his common-law wife of twenty years’ standing, and took up instead with Zenia Whateley. […] The loafers and gossips at Osborn’s General Store in Dunwich were hard put to understand Earl Sawyer’s motives in abandoning Mamie Bishop for Zenia Whateley. Not that Mamie was noted for her great beauty or scintillating personality; on the contrary, she was known as a meddler and a snoop, and her sharp tongue had stung many a denizen hoping to see some misdemeanor pass unnoted. Still, Mamie had within her that spark of vitality so seldom found in the folk of the upper Miskatonic, that trait of personality known in the rural argot as gumption, so that it was puzzling to see her perched beside Earl on the front seat of his rattling Model T Ford, her few belongings tied in slovenly bundles behind her, as Sawyer drove her to the dust-blowing turnpike to Aylesbury, where she took quarters in the town’s sole, dilapidated rooming house.
—Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 178-179

This quiet expansion of Bishop’s character and history is a preliminary to the plot of the story, as the local cult repeat the cosmic impregnation with Zenia Whateley in place of Lavinia. Once again, Bishop herself serves as a primary source of information at a few key points, through her penchant for gossip. Zenia did not survive the childbirth, and Mamie Bishop was fetched back to Dunwich shortly thereafter, to once again take on her position in the Sawyer household—only this time also as nursemaid and guardian to young Hester Sawyer.

Whether “The Devil’s Hop Yard” could be written today without charges of pedophilia being leveled at the author is arguable, though Lupoff’s intentions seem perfectly innocent: Hester was in many ways an inversion of Wilbur Whateley. Where “Lavinny’s black brat” was dark, hulking, and inhuman, the “white brat” Hester was fair, tiny, and unusually beautiful—but taken to the same extremes as Wilbur’s, the effect is no less monstrous:

Hester was astonishingly small for a child of four. She was hardly taller than a normal infant. It was as if she had remained the same size in the four years since her birth, not increasing an inch in stature. But that was only half the strangeness of Hester’s appearance, for while her size was the same as a new-born infant’s her development was that of a fully mature and breathtakingly beautiful woman! […] Her face was mature, her lips full and sensual. And when a sudden gust of wind pressed her baggy dress against her torso this showed the configuration of a Grecian eidolon.
Richard Lupoff, “The Devil’s Hop Yard” in The Dunwich Cycle 186

Mamie Bishop, in taking on something of Lavinia’s role in the care and raising of an unnatural child, ends up with a similar fate: locked in the house as the cultists take Hester Sawyer up to the Devil’s Hop Yard, afraid of what they are doing. State police interrupt the ceremony, and when Mamie is discovered hiding in Earl Sawyer’s house, her hair has turned as white as Lavinia’s…and ends up, in cliche fashion, in a mental hospital. Lupoff may not have invented the idea that all Mythos tales end with those involved becoming dead or mad, but he certainly played to it.

“The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron comes from an identical starting point: a sequel to “The Dunwich Horror” which re-visits the plot of a cosmic impregnation and birth, with Mamie Bishop in a more prominent role. Where Lupoff’s efforts of pastiche re-iterated elements of Lovecraft’s style in the presentation of the piece, and make constant reference to or expansion of elements from the original story, Baron gives the narrative from Earl Sawyer’s point of view…and could probably have stood to read the story again to refresh his memory.

Mamie Bishop and I had been courting for a number of years before I proposed. […] She became withdrawn, her skin affecting a sickly pallor. More than once she was found walking alone in the hills at night, her head tilted up to the sky as though she was searching for some sign or movement in the clouds. naturally, I became concerned, and after ushering her back to her parents’ home following one of those midnight jaunts, I sat her down and poured out my heart.
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 57

It is difficult to reconcile the Earl Sawyer and Mamie Bishop of “The Dunwich Horror” with “The Cry in the Darkness”: Lovecraft presents Sawyer and Bishop as common law man-and-wife, Baron presents them as courting, with Sawyer afraid to give her the child she craves without the sacrament of marriage, and apparently the two living apart. None of Bishop’s talent for gossip is evident, though Baron includes some gossip that Bishop herself played a more intimate role in “The Dunwich Horror” than seen on the page. If the characterization of Mamie Bishop is off, however, it is nothing compared to the characterization of Dunwich itself:

Our courtship was no secret but a swell in her belly would inevitably raise questions in town. Unbetrothed women bearing children were not only frowned upon in Dunwich, but shown the kind of disgust usually reserved for the diseased and the mad. Through the years I had seen young girls, barely budding into womanhood, removed from their place amongst our population, sometimes by physical force. Confused and tearful, these unwanted mothers were forced to walk shamefacedly past as their neighbors, and sometimes their own flesh and blood, poured scornful epithets upon them.  Those who did not leave peacefully were dragged from their homes and pushed out toward the hills in the middle of the night. I know not what befalls these poor creatures […]
—Richard Baron, “The Cry in the Darkness” in Cthulhurotica 58-59

Strange words regarding a town where “The Great God Pan” would be regarded as “a common Dunwich scandal!”—especially considering that this story is nominally set in 1928; an illegitimate child might be cause for social ostracism, but no bodily expulsion was practiced against Lavinia Whateley.

The marriage of Mamie Bishop and Earl Sawyer here serves the same purpose as the marriage of Zenia Whateley and Earl Sawyer: a polite social cover for the conception and birth of yet another monstrous hybrid like Wilbur Whateley. Aside from the slight shuffling-around of characters in the plot, the difference is that this time Mamie Bishop is the force behind the plot, with Sawyer an ignorant dupe—and perhaps earning the dubious distinction of being cuckolded by Yog-Sothoth. Likewise deviating from Lovecraft, Baron does not turn a blind eye to the impregnation of Mamie Bishop atop Sentinel Hill, as witnessed by a peeping Earl Sawyer, but lets the narrative trail off with the confirmation of her successful conception.

Both stories take as their launching point the sole female contact of Lavinia Whateley; and from that association they spin tales which are essentially retellings or variations on “The Dunwich Horror,” only with a slight shift in focus. The degree to which both Lupoff and Baron strive to make Mamie Bishop a substitute for Lavinia, both in terms of narrative device and literally within the context of the story, is telling: in both stories, Bishop becomes initiated (somehow) into the local cult, takes on some attributes of Lavinia’s behavior or appearance, and assumes a mother-like position regarding the new hybrid. Why?

The neatest answer is probably because Mamie Bishop was one of the few female characters mentioned by name in “The Dunwich Horror,” the others being Sally Sawyer and Selina Frye, who were both killed in the course of events, and Mrs. Corey; that Mamie had a personal connection with Lavinia Whateley, and also an intimate relationship with Earl Sawyer, who is another prominent supporting character for local color and events.  Mamie Bishop was, to put a point on it, a convenient womb, ideally placed if one were to pick up a game using the pieces on the board. Baron certainly appears to have used this approach:

What inspired your story? I’ve always liked stories in which the female has the upper hand so when thinking about what to write for Cthulhurotica this was my starting point. I had just read ‘The Dunwich Horror’ and remember thinking to myself ‘How did these events effect the people there?’ The story grew naturally out of that.
Interview: Richard Baron

Yet that raises another question: why does Lupoff introduce a new character in Zenia Whateley, instead of doing as Baron did and have Bishop conceive the child herself? The whole affair of Sawyer dismissing Bishop and then fetching her back is something of a needless complication to the whole plot of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” There is a certain narrative logic to it: a pregnant Mamie Bishop would not raise as much comment if she was the common-law wife of Earl Sawyer, and Lupoff’s story, following Lovecraft’s, was built around rumors and recollections; likewise the introduction of a hitherto unknown Whateley would strengthen parallels with Lovecraft’s story.

Another, more interesting possibility occurs though: perhaps Mamie Bishop did not agree to go through with it.

The focus on impregnation of female characters has been noted as a theme in Mythos fiction, especially pastiche, and features in stories such as “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and “Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter; these authors riff off of Lovecraft’s focus on cosmic miscegenation and hybridity, and Lovecraft himself was paying homage to and in the tradition of works like Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” (1894) and Algernon Blackwood’s Julius LaVallon (1916). In earlier works, the horror is not focused on the pregnancy and circumstances of conception (which probably couldn’t have been printed), but in the “monstrous aftermath,” focusing as Lovecraft does on the children birthed of the strange unions. It is only relatively recently that authors would have a free hand to depict impregnation, and to focus on the potential terrors, dangers, and emotional trauma of childbirth.

Impregnation in Lovecraft’s work is usually accomplished by force or coercion; the circumstances of Lavinia’s conception are left unspecified, but she seems exceptional in that it is implied she was a willing participant, as are Baron’s version of Mamie Bishop and Lupoff’s Zenia Whateley. Whether they could actually be said to have consented, since all three seem to have been mentally unwell to some degree, is an issue not addressed. Yet the method of conception, whatever it is, is not without its dangers: Zenia Whateley dies during childbirth, and Lavinia’s travail was accompanied by “a hideous screaming which echoed above even the hill noises[.]”

Lupoff’s Mamie Bishop, though was sane at the beginning of “The Devil’s Hop Yard.” What if she simply chose not to participate? It would not necessarily have been out of character: there is no indication that Bishop and Sawyer have any previous children despite their cohabitation, perhaps implying one of them was sterile or they used contraception, although this is “reading in” quite a bit to the few references in Lovecraft’s story. Still, Mamie Bishop among all other women would have some idea of what the birth was like for Lavinia Whateley; she may have had good personal reasons not to put her body and mind through such an ordeal.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” and “The Cry in the Darkness” make for interesting comparison simply because of their shared source, and for the different paths the authors took from there. They are incompatible paths from the same fork in the road. Yet at the crux of both stories is the characterization of Mamie Bishop: a minor character who served her brief purpose well, and found second and third life in pastiches. It is understandable but perhaps somewhat unfortunate that both authors chose to develop her as a kind of stand-in for the missing Lavinia Whateley, rather than investigate what the Dunwich Horror and its aftermath looked like from her point of view.

“The Devil’s Hop Yard” was first published in Chrysalis, vol. 2 (1978), and has been reprinted in Chaosium’s The Dunwich Cycle (1994) and several of Lupoff’s collections: Claremont Tales II (2002), Terrors (2005), and The Doom That Came to Dunwich (2017), which collects some of Lupoff’s Mythos fiction. His other Mythos work includes “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone — March 15, 2337” (1977), “Documents in the Case of Elizabeth Akeley” (1982), “The Turret” (1995), “Lights! Camera! Shub-Niggurath!” (1996), “The Doom That Came to Dunwich” (1996), “The Adventure of the Voorish Sign” (2003), “The Peltonville Horror” (2004), “Brackish Waters” (2005), “The Secret of the Sahara” (2005), and “Nothing Personal” (2010).

“The Cry in the Darkness” was first published in Cthulhurotica (2011). It has not been reprinted.


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