“A Night at Yuan-Su” (2005) by Nanjo Takenori (南條竹則)

My heart is gently warmed, in particular, by the many works left by an obscure writer who lived in Providence in the early twentieth century. when I read his work, I am strangely suffused with warmth, as though I have found a friend from beyond the seas.
—“A Night at Yuan-Su,” Inverted Kingdom: Lairs of the Hidden Gods Vol. Two 279

“A Night at Yuan-Su” (2005) by Nanjō Takenori (南條竹則) was published in the second volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 story ユアン・スーの一夜 (Yuan Sū no Yoru); the translator was Usha Jayaraman.

In his letters, H. P. Lovecraft decried the loss of old buildings, old ways of life. He was not a Luddite, but his sense of aesthetics was tied to antique styles, and he despaired when an old block of buildings was torn down to make way for something new, as a piece of the past was lost. In this sense, he felt a stranger in his own century. Some of these sentiments are apparent in his fiction, in stories like “He” and “The Outsider.” The idea is expressed most succinctly in sonnet XXX of the Fungi from Yuggoth cycle, “Background”:

I never can be tied to raw, new things,
For I first saw the light in an old town,

In this brief tale, Nanjō Takenori sketches the story of a different outsider, thousands of miles away, lamenting the slow loss of historic Tokyo. There are nods to Lovecraft here and there—and a certain kind of humor. The narrator’s deprecation of human beings could almost have turned into one of Lovecraft’s rants about immigrants, the new people displacing the old, but stops short; “A Night at Yuan-Su” is not “The Street” or any other kind of racist fable. It is, ultimately, about a lonely creature out for a drink and a bit of quiet companionship.

This is where the narrative takes a turn, from the atmospheric descriptions of Yuan-Su (really Harajuku in Tokyo), its old buildings torn down to make way for housing developments, to the more fantastic. Reminiscences of a bar named HE, where Imhotep serves araq to an odd clientele. Odd reactions, fragments of names. Unlike Lovecraft’s eponymous Outsider, there is no final revelation in the story…but there is still that peculiar sense of humor. Earlier in the tale, the nameless narrator describes the evil spell of Betelgeuse, the red star, has on them. At the end, finally settling down with a beer and a bowl of tofu, they are thwarted by a shot of ergoutou (Chinese sorghum liquor)—one of the popular brands of which is Red Star.

Given the setting, I almost suspect there are parts of the joke I’m missing. Perhaps the narrator’s particular attributes reflect some specific species of yōkai which Japanese readers might be more familiar with; perhaps the fragmentary names of bars contain more half-hidden meanings for those familiar with Mandarin and Japanese. Whether this is the case or not, doesn’t really matter for the enjoyment of the story. It’s a mood piece, a snapshot of a night, a moment, an attitude. We have all been outsiders, at times; there’s an empathy there for those who desire simple comforts which are then denied.

Never again will I go into that dirty town. Not even on a bright, moonlit night! I have no need to. If my loneliness gets the better of me, if I feel like visiting a friend, I can always go to Celephaïs, the city of dreams, wrapt in its golden aura…
—”A Night at Yuan-Su,” Inverted Kingdom: Lairs of the Hidden Gods Vol. Two 285

In a dream I fled from that haunted and accursed pile, and ran swiftly and silently in the moonlight. When I returned to the churchyard place of marble and went down the steps I found the stone trap-door immovable; but I was not sorry, for I had hated the antique castle and the trees. Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile. I know that light is not for me, save that of the moon over the rock tombs of Neb, nor any gaiety save the unnamed feasts of Nitokris beneath the Great Pyramid; yet in my new wildness and freedom I almost welcome the bitterness of alienage.
“The Outsider”

The end of “A Night at Yuan-Su” is curiously ambiguous. Does the nameless narrator mean literally that they will go to Celephaïs, or is that a poetic statement to refer to diving once more into Lovecraft’s fiction, finding comfort in the old familiar tales? It can be read either way; nothing the narrator says or does up to this point is explicitly supernatural. Whether they are a human recluse or something else is left up to the reader—and many readers will want to believe in the stranger, more fantastic option. It is a meaner, uglier world that doesn’t allow for a bar named HE to stand on some corner of Harajuku, where exiles from fantastic lands can sip anise-flavored liquors with their collars turned up and their big hats dipped low over their faces, speaking of distant planets and the depths of the sea.


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

“The Insider” (1998) by Stanley C. Sargent

Unhappy is he to whom the memories of childhood bring only fear and sadness.
H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

The conceit of “The Insider” is that it is a prequel to Lovecraft’s “The Outsider.” Although both stories stand well enough on their own, once you get the idea the slight aping of Lovecraft’s diction and the general direction of Sargent’s story takes on a new dimension. It’s a solid, well-written Mythos tale, clever without being extravagant or feeling the need to explain everything, with a satisfying ending.

“The Insider” is not one of Sargent’s better-known tales; his claim to fame, if any, probably rests on the story “The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997) and his essay “Howard Phillips Whateley, An Observation” (1999, rev. 2002), both of which focus on alternative interpretations of Wilbur Whateleywho, like the eponymous Insider/Outsider, is marked from birth as one apart. It’s a subject that Sargent, growing up as a homosexual, could and did empathize with. It was Sargent who has made the strongest, or at least most elegant argument that Lovecraft himself might have been a closeted homosexual:

I read “The Outsider” when I was about 14 and beginning to realize there was something very different about me, my deep dark secret.  We are talking about growing up in the farm country of Ohio in the early ’60s here.  When I read “The Outsider,” I felt convinced the author had gone through the same situation I was going through, the abject horror of recognizing you are gay in a very anti-gay world.

Years later, I tried to find an alternative reason for HPL considering himself such an extreme “outsider,” but I discovered no plausible other reason for such an extreme feeling of being an isolated monster.  I didn’t really care a whit about HPL’s sexual orientation (I am not trying to claim him as one of “us”), so at the time it occurred to me that I might be projecting a bit.

Yet, as I read more about HPL’s life, I began to see that all the ingredients were there.  His upbringing with a dominant, overly protective mother (who dressed him as a girl for the first few years of his life) and the nearly total absence of a father is the classic formula for a male child being gay. Although he declared his distaste for homosexuals, in particular effeminate males, he was often described as effeminate himself.  Plus he was a close friend with Samuel Loveman for many years and Loveman was hardly in the closet about his activities.  Finally, I can come up with no other logical explanation for HPL’s close relationship with the teenage Barlow during the last years of his life, to the point of making Barlow his literary executor.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe HPL was able to cast off the conventions he clung to so desperately enough to actually “come out.”  I think HPL saw in Barlow the self-accepting talented writer he had always wanted to be himself but couldn’t be.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Barlow had discussed his own “outsiderness” with a very understanding HPL, but I doubt HPL could have ever brought himself to own up to his own similar orientation.

It all makes even more sense if you interpret “The Dunwich Horror” as an autobiographical cloaked confession of his dilemma.  Wilbur obviously represents HPL, all the way down to HPL believing his own appearance was “hideous” (again, thanks to mom), and I believe the twin brother was the a symbol of the homosexual desires HPL so desperately tried to suppress.  No one could see the monster and it was essentially so evil that it had to be contained.  Yet it kept growing and even Wilbur feared it would someday break out (read “come out”) and destroy the world (Lovecraft’s little conservative world).  That thought terrified him as being gay went against everything he believed in; it must have been awful for him.  He surely married Sonia, a mother figure, in hope of changing his orientation, a very common and futile mistake.  If he didn’t confess his problem to her, she undoubtedly guessed and was sympathetic.

I suppose I’ll be up for a lynching when die-hard Lovecraftians read this, but I’m convinced I’m right.  Even my friend Wilum Pugmire disagrees with me strongly on this point.  Lovecraft would certainly have equated his unnamable secret with Wilde’s unspeakable love.
Stanley C. Sargent, interview with Peter A. Worthy (1998)

Whether or not readers agree with Sargent’s interpretation as fact, from a literary standpoint the idea has a degree of merit: it is possible to engage with Lovecraft’s creations from that viewpoint…and why not? It’s a fair cop. Robert M. Price engaged with the idea in his essay “Homosexual Panic in ‘The Outsider'” (1982). It was probably not Lovecraft’s intent in this case to provide such an interpretation…but readers are free to interpret an author’s work as they would.

Knowing Sargent’s thoughts on “The Outsider” can in turn influence a reader’s response to “The Insider.” The theme of the lonely, ostracized young man that resorts finally to cutting as a release from the stigma of being different—only to be further punished and set apart for his behaviorresonates. Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” is designed to provoke empathy in the readers, and “The Insider” is both a response and an echo to that. “The Insider” need not be an allegory for homosexuality per se, any more than “The Outsider” must be read in such light; both stories focus on both external appearance and the desire for acceptance, aspects of human experience which are adaptable to many different syntaxbecause we all live in a world where discrimination is real, be it based on age, gender, sexuality, physical appearance or ability, race, or faith.

Have we not all been an Insider/Outsider at some point, if only in our own heads?

“The Insider” was published Tales of Lovecraftian Horror #8 (1998), and was republished in Sargent’s collection The Taint of Lovecraft (2002).

 


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