“Legacy of Salt” (2016) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The Mayans thought the cenotes were portals to the realm of the dead, Xibalba, but his family called it by another name, Y’ha-nthlei, and the cenote was Yliah’he. It had no meaning in Mayan, this was an older language, the elders had told him. A language from before the Conquest, before the great pyramids rose upon the limestone bedrock of Yucatán. Much of the knowledge had been lost through the years, but some true names and words remained. Yliah’he.
—Silvia Moreno-Garcia, “Legacy of Salt” in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 324

The Mythos, from its small hard core of writings by Lovecraft and his contemporaries, has been spun out by many writers in many ways. That is the great gift of it: being able to play with the ideas, to have readers trace the shape of old stories and old ideas, newly embodied: refreshed, reincarnated, yet recognizable.

Scene: Yucatán, the 1960s. An old family, an old house; echoes of Edgar Allan Poe, the shadows a little darker in the harsh tropical sunlight. The family name is Marin rather than Marsh; there is no Devil’s Reef, but there is the cenote Yliah’he.

A Mexican Innsmouth, a new corner of Lovecraft country.

The story itself is a romance, almost a telenovela; we know this story even if we haven’t read it before. Will they/won’t they? There are all the usual and unusual obstructions: a fiance back in Mexico City, the call of the modern world, the titillating hint of incest. Yet Silvia Moreno-Garcia carries us through admirably. She knows these waters, the details that make the setting pop, the buttons to push to keep the reader wondering, until the very end, which way it will go.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia wrote “Legacy of Salt” around the time she was reading a lot of philosophy of biology materials and also a Darwin biography as part of her Master’s degree studies. “Some of the scientific issues I was exploring collided with this story. I have always found ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ to be fascinating since it seems to dip its toes into the notion of repulsion/attraction. Is it such a bad thing to swim eternally in underwater palaces? I kind of like the idea. The Yucatán peninsula is definitely nothing like New England but the numerous markers for archaeological sites somewhat reminded me of the nation of the past creeping upon the present, which occurs in some of Lovecraft’s fiction.”
The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu 312

Unlike “Ahuizotl” (2011) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas or “Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader, there is very little of horror in this story, and that which remains is mixed with fascination. The protagonist, Eduardo Marin, has tragedy in his life—father dead in a car crash, a mother that abandoned him to start a new family—but there is nothing as traumatic to the family as a whole as the raid on Innsmouth which overshadows and informs “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe and “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys.

Except in the sense that the Marins are survivors; remnants of some family line that dates back before the Conquest of Mexico. There are hints throughout the story, references to the Mayan rain-god Chaac, in the shape of a frog, but nothing specific. Hints, remnants, just enough to whet the imagination. The lack of knowledge, loss of knowledge, is the great sub-theme of this story. The biological and material “legacy of salt” is undeniable, but there is a loss of cultural knowledge keenly felt…and that too is a legacy of the Conquest.

“Legacy of Salt” was published in The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu (2016), and has not yet been reprinted. Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been an editor, writer, and translator. Her Lovecraftian fiction includes “Flash Frame” (2010), “In the House of the Hummingbirds” (2012), “The Sea, Like Broken Glass” (2014), and “In the Details” (2015), and her latest novel is Mexican Gothic (2020).


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

Tide of Desire (1983) by Sheena Clayton

“Their religion? You mean, they have one of their own?”

“The Reformed Order of Dagon. It’s a branch, or a schism of a church that was founded in Massachusetts about a hundred and fifty years ago. As I understand it, the main body of the church was stamped out by some pretty high-handed federal action back in the nineteen-twenties. But they never got around to bothering the Squampottis bunch, either because they’re so isolated, or because cooler heads prevailed in Washington. The thing in Massachusetts was remarkably well hushed-up. All the relevant government records have been destroyed.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The very first erotic novel to deal with the legacy of Innsmouth came from the typewriter of Brian McNaughton. Active as a fan during his teenage years in the 1950s, McNaughton was briefly a journalist before turning his hand to erotic novels, starting with In Flagrant Delight (1971). His “break” came in the late 70s when he began producing erotic horror novels, starting with Satan’s Love Child (1977)—the publisher’s title, not his—which included elements of or references to the Cthulhu Mythos. It was successful enough to merit several other books, and McNaughton transitioned back over into doing mainstream horror in Weirdbook and other publications, and won the World Fantasy Award for Throne of Bones (1997).

Erotic horror wasn’t exactly new, as Grady Hendrix notes in Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction, sex has long been a selling point and those two decades saw a boom in erotic horror and horror erotica. Still, this was a decade before Ramsey Campbell’s Scared Stiff: Tales of Sex and Death (1987) or the anthology Hot Blood (1989), and erotic horror fiction of the period tended to work off existing properties like Universal Monsters or classic horror novels—The Adult Version of Dracula (1970) and The Adult Version of Frankenstein (1970) being exemplary of the latter trend. By comparison, Lovecraft was largely a virgin field for erotic horror, or at least not entirely played out.

Beginning in the early 1980s, McNaughton wrote a series of erotic novels for Tigress Books. These were written under the pseudonym “Sheena Clayton,” and the line itself may have been aimed more at a female audience than typical adult novels of the period, a more hot-blooded and explicit counterpart to mainstream romance novels. The books tend to feature female protagonists and writers with female names, and the relatively sedate photo covers give the impression. On the name, McNaughton once wrote:

Sheena Clayton was the illegitimate daughter of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, and
John Clayton, Lord Greystroke. I channeled her in several novels, of which TIDE OF
DESIRE may have been the best. (Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos 202)

These novels were Love and Desire (1982), The Aura of Seduction (1982), Tide of Desire
(1982/3), Danielle Book Two (1983), There Lies Love (1983), and Perfect Love (1983). All of these to greater or lesser extant contain references to the Mythos. For example, Edward Pickman Derby appears briefly as a member of a “Rats in the Walls”-esque Magna Mater cult in Love and Desire; Ramsey Campbell’s Lovecraftian fictional grimoire Astral Rape from his novel The Parasite (1980) is prominent in Danielle Book Two; and the cult in Perfect Love was founded by a Rev. H. P. Whateley from Arkham, Massachusetts.

Inside the door, Cthulhu ran up with a hearty meow, and he seemed just as glad to see Melisande as herself. The girl was quite indifferent to him, however, perhaps even a bit impatient with his rubbing against her ankles.

“Scat!” Antonia cried, moving him along with a nudge of her toe. “Cthulhu doesn’t normally take to strangers.”

“Who?” The girl seemed startled, even shocked.

“Cthulhu. That’s the cat’s name.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The style of the novel partakes strongly of the Derlethian combination that Lovecraft’s fictional works exist in the world of Tide of Desire, and that the stories chronicle at least partially real events, so that the Mythos definitely exists. A good point of comparison might be Robert Bloch’s novel Strange Eons (1979). More interesting for fans of McNaughton’s later Mythos fiction is that several of the concepts for the Deep One culture are carried over between the novel and his story “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999). For example, the idea of a Deep One hybrid transitioning from land to water is called “Passing Over”:

“Dagon flay me alive! Ye be right! What an old ninny I be! Our Caleb’s daughter, she passed over a good ten-fifteen years ago. I ain’t seed her lately, but she be down there, don’t you worry. You look like her; that got me all confused. You look like her before she passed over, I mean. I never seed her before she passed over, of course, but I got her picture as a girl someplace. Our Caleb sent pictures of him and his mainland wife and all their kids to prove that the kids didn’t have the look, no more’n he did. But that girl sure did, all right. Poor Caleb. He was right about hisself, he never passed over, but he never told his daughter a word about the Blessing of the Deep Ones. So there she lied, passing over in the middle of nowhere, miles from the sea, and not knowing what the hell were happening to her.”

Mrs. Nicker mumbled to herself as she debated the whereabouts of the photograph she’d mentioned. Then she said to Antonia: “But by pure luck-or more likely it were the hand of Dagon stretching out to help her-there were this colored man from New Orleans who knew somewhat about the doings of the Deep Ones, and he told her she had better get herself to the sea, fast. She paid him to help her, and he took her to… where? To Charleston, South Carolina, that’s right! So she got there just in time to pass over. Then she come to Squampottis and told us all about it. It were the most exciting thing happened on this here island since the visitation of Shug-N’gai, just after the federals smote all them blasphemers and heretics at Innsmouth. That were in nineteen-and-twenty-eight, I do believe. Who says my memory ain’t perfect, hey? Don’t you try to tell me about our Caleb, boy. You wasn’t even borned then.”
—Brian McNaughton, Tide of Desire (1983)

The gist of the novel is that the protagonist, Antonia Shiel, is herself a descendant of the Deep Ones whose body is preparing to “cross over,” encountering a splinter sect of the Esoteric Order of Dagon on Squampottis Island—and realizing too late that she herself has the “Squampottis look.” the changes in herself adding a touch of body horror to the novel as her hair falls out and her feet swell…all of which are undone by the ending.

“Your hair seems to be thicker all of a sudden,” he noted admiringly. “That lovely pubic patch is just like a beautiful young woman’s, and not bare like a child’s. And the hair on your scalp looks thicker already.” (ibid)

The novel comes to an abrupt, jarringly disconcerting “happy ending” very atypical for McNaughton’s novels, as the novel was bowdlerized badly by the editors. McNaughton found the original ending and was revising Tide of Desire for eventual publication at Wildside Press, under the title Riptide. However, McNaughton’s untimely death in 2004 appears to have ended any plans to republish the novel. We can only speculate what the original ending would have been, but given that the story as a whole is a kind of contemporary, sexually explicit update to “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” it would have been both appropriate and in keeping with the tone of the novel if Antonia had “passed over” and joined the Deep Ones.

It would be wrong to say that Tide of Desire, or any of the Sheena Clayton novels, were influential. Pornography is ephemeral literature, and the novels didn’t make much of a splash in Lovecraftian circles when they came out. Which is unfortunate because, as Matthew Carpenter notes in his own review and synopsis, this is actually a very competent Mythos novel, and presaged some of the ideas developed independently by later writers. Sonya Taaffe in “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) wrote about some hybrids that don’t make the transition, and McNaughton wrote:

“It’s me that’ll die, it’s me that’ll be dumped into the ground like dead meat.” She began to sob bitterly, clawing at the arms of the chair with abnormally large hands. “Oh, you should see Rev. Preserved. He’s like an angel! Just last month I seed him in all his glory at Marsh Cove, taking no less than a dozen of our maidens, and our Melly one of them. Whether she be carrying his child or not, I don’t know, it be too soon to tell. When Rev. Pre served told me to have faith, I nearly believed it. He were like a god walking on earth. He said I’d pass over yet, but I don’t believe him now. Dead meat in the churchyard, that’s where I be bound.” (ibid.)

Tide of Desire is not quite the spiritual ancestor of erotic Deep One works such as The Innsmouth Porno VHS (2014), Innsmouth After Dark (2014), Taken By The Deep Ones (2015), Ichythic in the Afterglow (2015), and The Pleasures Under Innsmouth (2020). There is rather less sex, and that less explicit, than one might think; there are no sexual encounters such as in Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Neonomicon (2011).

Which makes sense, because Brian McNaughton was not writing an erotic story dealing primarily with sexual encounters with Deep Ones, a horror story not afraid to go into details like mature sexual relationships, body image issues over breast size and pubic hair, etc. Vulgar terms for genitalia are completely absent. One of the more explicit passages in the book is almost sedate by contemporary standards:

She’d had only two hours of fitful sleep, sleep plagued by distorted versions of her conversations with the Boggs boy and Rev. Marsh and Mrs. Nicker; by dreams in which she gazed on a hostile world through a black veil, where she lay wheezing in a dark bedroom in Hamlen, where a long-dead minister pinned her against the Joyful Pillar in the town square with ravaging thrusts of his phallus while Melisande Seale looked on with demonic glee. (ibid.)

More of a dry (wet?) run for the paranormal romance novel genre, in many respects.

Whatever the initial print run was, Tide of Desire did not become an instant collector’s item. Very few copies of any of the Sheena Clayton novels appear to survive, with Tide of Desire being noted as especially rare…at last in the English version.

tide_japan (1)

By a quirk of fate, Tide of Desire actually got a Japanese translation and publication in 1984. 謎に包まれた孤島の愛 was one of a number of erotic novels translated into Japanese for mail order. Although out-of-print, copies may still be available today on the second-hand market.

For those who do desperately desire to read this novel, while the paperback is long out of print, ebook editions (really text files, but beggars cannot be choosers) of the Sheena Clayton novels are available from Triple X Books.

 


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

Vidas Ilustres Presenta: Lovecraft, el hombre que revivió ritos espantosos (1972) by Editorial Novaro

The works of H. P. Lovecraft were first translated into Spanish (Castillian) and published in book form in the 1950s, no doubt some individual magazine appearances preceded those publications. But readers in Mexico in the 1970s could enjoy El color que cayó del cielo (1957 or 1964, Ediciones Minotauro), Obras escogidas (1966, Ediciones Acervo), En las montañas de la locura (1968, Eidtorial Seix Barral), El caso de Charles Dexter Ward (1971, Barral Editores), and Viajes al otro mundo (1971, Alianza Editorial)…and in September of 1972 in Mexico, eager young readers could snap up Vidas Illustres #292, thirty-two color pages dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft.

The date is significant; the first English-language biographical comic of H. P. Lovecraft was Kuchar’s “H.P.L.” in Arcade #3 (1975), and the first full-length biography, L. Sprague de Camp’s Lovecraft: A Biography (1975) were both published three years later. While Charlton Comics had published a very brief piece on Lovecraft in Baron Weirdwulf’s Haunted Library #61 (1971), that was only about a third of a page at the back of the book. Yet based on the details in the panels, the makers of this comic book (neither writer or artist is credited) obviously knew their Lovecraft. From the very first page:

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This is a very fair snapshot of Lovecraft’s life, as readers of imported Arkham House titles (or the cheaper paperback reprints) would have had in 1972, right down to signing off as “Luveh-Kerapf” (“Luveh-Keraph”). Nor were the writers/artists unwilling to show their influences:

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This issue would have been on the stands next to Mexican horror comics like Tradicions y Leyendas de la Colonia, El Monje Loco (issue #52 of which contains an uncredited adaptation of “The Colour Out of Space”), Las Momias de Guanajuato, and Mini Terror. These were infinitely more lurid and creepy than nearly anything on the newsstands in the English-speaking world in the early 1970s, with the possible exception of Warren publications like Eerie and Creepy. Mexico had no Comics Code Authority, but the Comisión Calificadora de Publicaciones y Revistas Ilustradas had limited resources with which to censor comics.

In production quality, the paper and printing are cheap and shoddy by today’s standards—but by 1970s standards, this wasn’t half bad, definitely on the lower end of the scale of professional publication but far from embarrassing to be seen next to second-tier horror comics like Charlton’s Haunted or Gold Key’s Doctor Spektor. Some of the panel layouts in particular show an awareness and willingness to experiment. This triptych layout for example:

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Not the height of comic art in the 1970s by any means, especially the bizarre anatomy of the critter in that lower right-hand panel, and the backgrounds are perfunctory at best, but the framework is more than just a four-by-four grid. Someone was definitely trying to invoke something, no matter the limitations of their skills or the medium.

While nominally Vidas Illustres #272 begins as a bio-comic of Lovecraft, by page eight it morphs into a very brief adaptation of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” presented as a quasi-biographical story of Lovecraft himself! This is actually pretty fair for such an abbreviated epic, with the most notable odd discrepancy being the mix of clothing styles—the protagonist’s top-hat recalls the 1800s rather than the 1900s, although I suspect it owes something to The Haunted Palace (1963), a period horror film nominally adapting Edgar Allan Poe’s story of the same name but really borrowing from Lovecraft’s “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”—the second figure in the third panel of the first page bears a distinct likeness to Haunted Palace star Vincent Price.

Some things did get lost in translation, or at least a little jumbled. The swastika-shaped signs are reduced to a single out-of-context panel that probably confused a lot of readers in a post-World War II Mexico. In one panel, “Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn” is transliterated as “¡Ia, Ia, Cthulu tfañg!” These are features more than flaws, writer and artist trying to cram as much into the thirty-two page comic as they could.

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There is something really poignant about the last pages, where fact and fiction combine and you get this version of Lovecraft reflecting back on his life and saying:

El horror de mi vida solitria y extravagante adquirió entonces un sentido: yo no soy de este mundo.

The horror of my lonely and extravagant life then acquired meaning: I am not of this world.

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As an individual work, Vidas Ilustres #292 might be seen by many as a curiosity—but it should be seen as exemplary of a distinct mode of Spanish-language graphic works involving Lovecraft and his Mythos. Artists from Latin America such as Alberto Breccia (Los Mitos de Cthulhu), his son Enrique Breccia (Lovecraft), and Horacio Lalia (Les Cauchemars de Lovecraft) have crafted superb adaptations and original stories based on Lovecraft’s work, as have Spanish artists such as Joan Boix (Grandes de la Macabro) and master painter Esteban Maroto (Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu). Several of these works have been translated into English, but most can only be read in their original Spanish or in other languages.

References to the Mythos in Spanish comics has ranged from the erotic, such as Ignacio Noé and Ricardo Barreiro’s The Convent of Hell, to the lighthearted and comic such as José Oliver and Bart Torres’ El Joven LovecraftLovecraft continues to be an influence on Spanish-language comics to this day through the ongoing comics anthology Cthulhu from Diabolo Ediciones, including the special issue Lovecraft, un homenaje en 15 Historietas.

I could go on; the field is vast, and the influence of Lovecraft and his mythos runs deep. As far as I am aware, this issue was never reprinted in any form. If you are interested in reading the long out-of-print Vidas Illustres #292 yourself, the issue has been scanned and uploaded to the Internet Archive, where it can be read for free.

My thanks and appreciation to Silvia Moreno-Garcia whose article “Mexican Horror Comics” in the Weird Fiction Review #10 provided some of the background and inspiration for this piece.


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

 

Innsmouth (2019) by Megan James

I grew up reading the works of H. P. Lovecraft. I loved every fish monster, evil cult and doomed protagonist, frankly finding his affected writing style and weird creatures intrinsically hilarious because of how corny it all was.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft, and to a degree his compatriot Mythos creators Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and Robert Bloch, have seen their life and works adapted to the medium of comic books and graphics novels since the 1950s. These range from fairly straight adaptations a la Alberto Breccia, Richard Corben, John Coulthart, I. N. J. Culbard, Gou Tanabe, and Ben Templesmith (to name a few) to original re-imaginings of the Mythos such as Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s Providence, Matt Howard’s Con and C’Thulhu, Mike Vosberg’s Lori Lovecraft, and dozens of other offerings in a number of languages.

Megan James is in good company.

The tone of the story is reminiscent of nothing else than a particular scene in Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens:

Sister Mary Loquacious has been a devout Satanist since birth. She went to Sabbat School as a child and won black stars for handwriting and liver. When she was told to join the Chattering Order she went obediently, having a natural talent in that direction and, in any case, knowing that she would be among friends. (27)

The point being that at a certain point in the life of a church, the mundanity sort of grinds out the divine nature of the proceedings. Or, as is the case in Megan James’ Innsmouth, the end times when Cthulhu is summoned can’t be held on a Thursday because they’ve already got the potluck scheduled.

“Well, the Elder Gods clearly didn’t give the events committee proper notice.”
Innsmouth, issue #1

What we get in five issues is a re-imagining of Innsmouth where intermarriage with fish people is just accepted and maybe working toward the end times is not a major priority for most of them. But like certain outbreaks of Millenialism and Milleniarianism, a few folks are actually looking forward to (or actively trying to cause) the project of waking Cthulhu up in more than a theoretical Sunady-go-to-meeting sense. Which is a problem if you kind of like the world as it is, thank you very much.

The cast and crew assembled by the combination of slapstick and well-meaning anti-cult activities is not coincidental. The team that is assembled includes a female Innsmouth acolyte (Abigail), a female Muslim (Fatima Alhazred, descendent of that Alhazred), and a pair of homosexual African-American reanimators (Drs. Edward Herbert & Jason West). This well-rounded cast is a deliberate effort on James’ part:

While much of the book is inspired by Lovecraft, James said she did take a few of his common outdated themes and views on certain issues such as race and switch them up.

“I wanted to address that in how im treating these characters, updating that for 2016, she said. “Kind of giving voice to some of the characters he shafted along the way.”

For example, in the author’s 1924 short story, “The Hound” he introduces the Necronomicon, which according to James is a book of evil which Lovecraft linked to Arabic heritage.

“That’s not really cool,” she said. “I have a character Fatima she’s Muslim and studies the Necronomicon and it’s part of her family heritage…kind of reclaiming the stuff that he’s messed up.”

—Amy David, Local Comic Book Artist Megan James Mixes Humor and Evil in Upcoming Book, Innsmouth (28 July 2016)

It’s worth pointing out, none of this feels forced. Having Abdul Alhazred’s descendant majoring in eldritch anthropology at Miskatonic University is a key plot point, especially since the Innsmouthian’s Pocket Necronomicon is only about 20% complete; she and Abigail score a couple of gags playing off of each other’s alienation to the culture at large. Each of the characters has their role to play and is a character in their own right, not a walking two-dimensional stereotype.

James expands on this in her foreword a bit:

Of course, Lovecraft stresses fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, as I realized more and more as I grew older, his unknowns included not only fungus planets and brain-snatching flesh spiders, but also anyone who did not fit the mold of a white, straight, educated, Anglo-Saxon. […] I wanted to pay homage to all the things I love about the Mythos, but I also wanted to reinterpret the more troubling apects and have some fun along the way.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

This is in many ways the meat of the book, and the issue that every contemporary writer and artist has to consider when working with Lovecraft and the Mythos today. There are things that Lovecraft wrote in the 1920s and 30s which passed for publication then, but would not and should not today. It is a good thing that new artists approaching the work are willing and able to engage with this aspect of his writing, to grapple with how best to approach the material and update it to fit the syntax of today.

With any luck…there will be more:

This is just the beginning of Randolph, Fatima and Abigail’s story. Ideally, by the end of Innsmouth, I’ll have crafted a story that Lovecraft would have detested…but truly, I have no interest in playing by his rules just because I’m in his sandbox.
—Megan James, Foreword to Innsmouth (2019)

H. P. Lovecraft is long dead, and cannot render judgment—but in the here and now, what matters is not what Lovecraft would have thought, but what the readers and audience think. Megan James has put together a fun, adventurous story with a group of likable (if not always competent) characters whose hearts are in the right place. Readers looking for seriously nihilistic cosmic horror would be better off looking elsewhere, but for those who can take enjoyment in something more light-hearted, it’s a good book.

Innsmouth ran for five issues from 2016 to 2018, published by Sink/Swim Press and available at the store on her website. The collected trade paperback edition, published by ComicMix in July 2019, is also available on Amazon.com.


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

 

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” (2016) by Sonya Taaffe

So you’re not here to initiate me into the mysteries of the sea-mother whose faces rise and fall with the countless waves and her consort who makes the fish shoal as thick as cornfields in the fall?
—Sonya Taaffe, “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” in Forget the Sleepless Shores 247

There is an anthology or two yet to be compiled about Innsmouth. One might be called Women of Innsmouth, exploring the less-trodden narrative paths of the daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers which go largely nameless and implied in Lovecraft’s tale, and include “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942) by Virginia Anderson, “Mail Order Bride” (1999) and “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader, “Pages Found Among the Effects of Miss Edith Teller” (2005) by Caitlín R. Kiernan, and “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales. Another, inspired more by the raid on Innsmouth and its aftermath, might be called The Innsmouth Diaspora, and include “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys, and “The Gathering” (2017) by Brian Lumley.

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” by Sonya Taffe would fit neatly into both.

There is a promise in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” that is unique in all of Lovecraft’s work, that at the end:

We shall swim out to that brooding reef in the sea and dive down through black abysses to Cyclopean and many-columned Y’ha-nthlei, and in that lair of the Deep Ones we shall dwell amidst wonder and glory for ever.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

It is the one ending where the Lovecraftian protagonist embraces their change, and looks forward to what is to come. When all that once terrified them becomes, in a new light, what they have always wanted. And maybe that change in perspective is itself just another of Lovecraft’s rhetorical devices, showing that even the mind is not spared and all that they were was lost…but for some folks, there is a real path forward there. For those who have hated themselves or been hated by others for what they were (or were not), for those who have desired a personal transformation to accompany their private realizations, it is a promising ending. Not necessarily a happy ending, but one that promises a posthuman future.

Sonya Taafe wrote the story about what happens when that promise can’t be fulfilled.

Can’t is a mean word, full of inevitability. There are a lot of can’ts that exist in our world, a lot of nevers. People don’t like that there are things that they can’t change, about themselves and the world around them. Limits to medical science, to money, to talent, to the imagination. Speculative fiction exists in part to answer those can’ts, to provide a haven for what if, a place where it’s okay to dream about a world where you can have the biological gender to match your identity, or can have children, or can fly through the sky to the beating of great wings…

…or where you can breathe water and go down into the dark abysses.

This is a story about those who can’t. Blame it on genetics, the legacy of old Innsmouth families that survived the raid growing diffuse with the generations. Real-world genetics as applied to Lovecraftian biology, . Hopes and dreams crushed by terrible realities. It is wonderful in its way: bleak and unsparing as the love between distant cousins, tied together in the loose-knit way of diaspora, like seeking like, and yet feeling distant and alienated from their own kin. Because not everyone belongs. Not everyone can…and it isn’t their fault. Isn’t anyone’s fault.

It is not a universe that cares about what is fair, even for the lost and wandering descendants of Innsmouth. And it can only end one way:

[…]  I was asked that question once and all I could think of was the Odyssey, how the road of the dead is a sea-road, the sun’s road, past the streams of Ocean and the gates of Helios, and maybe the pattern would be clearer to someone outside my head.
“An Interview with Sonya Taaffe, Author, Editor, Durian-Lover” (4 Aug 2004)

For some, the sea calls her children home; for others, they go willingly into a different abyss…and that is, perhaps, still better than the dry land.

“All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts” was first published in Dreams from the Witch-House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (2016) and republished in her collection Forget the Sleepless Shores (2018).


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

“Mail Order Bride” (1999) by Ann K. Schwader

Obed finally got her married off by a trick to an Arkham feller as didn’t suspect nothin’. But nobody aoutside’ll hev nothin’ to do with Innsmouth folks naow.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

A significant but often understated plot point of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is the focus on a rather conservative human courtship traditions. The Deep One hybrids of Innsmouth want to spread and breed—marry and have children—and do so within the context and framework of human marriage as understood in the late-19th/early-20th century United States. Alternative arrangements like polygamy or group marriage do not appear in Lovecraft’s story; children (and sex!) out of wedlock are just not under consideration in the story itself, even if they were realities of life in the 1920s.

This focus on rather conventional human marriage brings in to Innsmouth stories an element of domestic drama, as exemplified in stories like “A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales, but it also allows writers to explore this aspect of the Mythos through the permutations in human experience…all the weird ways people find to have relationships, just add Deep Ones. Except there is always more to it than that when dealing with Ann K. Schwader.

The premise of “Mail Order Bride” by Ann K. Schwader is right in the title: lonely men like George, Phil, Art, and Tony pay the Island Love Introduction Agency, hoping for quiet Filipina wives to cook and clean and keep the beer cold—but Lupe, Tia, Inez and the other women they marry are from a very different island culture. Part of the craft of the story is the Stepford Wives-esque othering of the Innsmouth brides, the subtle exaggeration of the normal difficulties experienced by couples in these situations: differences in language, culture, whether or not to have kids, staying together.

Robert M. Price in Tales out of Innsmouth and Kevin L. O’Brien in Eldritch Blue: Love and Sex in the Cthulhu Mythos both considered this story an update on the Innsmouth theme “of race-mixing, especially with Asians” (Price), referencing Captain Obed Marsh bringing home a Polynesian wife, and that “the miscegenation is still present, since the women are Deep Ones as well as Filipinos” (O’Brien). While the misidentification of the brides as Filipinas by their husbands is present, the racial politics Price and O’Brien read into the story are a red herring. The brides’ characterization as foreign is a cover for their much deeper alienation from their husbands, a layer of the mystery for the brides’ spouses to peel back, revealing a much more disturbing reality.

Procreation, which is the ultimate apparent goal of the mail-order brides in this story, is a Mythos theme examined in many stories—“The Thing from Lover’s Lane” (1996) by Nancy A. Collins“The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff & “The Cry in the Darkness” (2011) by Richard Baron“Prey of the Goat” (1994) by Margaret L. Carter“In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens and more—but Lovecraft’s racism and views on real-world mixed race unions casts a shadow on the much weirder cosmic miscegenation which is a hallmark of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and its literary descendants. Schwader is accurate to Lovecraft’s overall themes, right down to the idea of using interracial unions as a cover for marriages between human and not-human. Unfortunately, enough old prejudices are still extant that her effort to portray a transposition in gender roles has been mistaken for a regurgitation of racial politics.

It’s gender politics at play in the story…and that goes for the Mythos aspects as well:

This is also one of the few stories where Mother Hydra occupies the stage alone rather than sharing it with Father Dagon, or for that matter being consigned to the wings as is usually the case. This reflects the feminist tone of the story, which is a departure form the way that the creation of human/Deep One hybrids are usually created. The precedent, established by H. P. Lovecraft in “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, is that human males mated with Deep One females, though it can be assumed that Deep One males got it on with human females as well. The point is that it was the males of either species which initiated the contact. While this is understandable, considering the aggressiveness of the males of both species and that both cultures tend to be male-dominated, it also reinforces the role of the female as the passive victim. In this story these roles are reversed: it is the females, led by a female deity, who initiate the contact and the men who are the passive victims.
—Robert M. Price, Strange Stars & Alien Shadows 128

This is ground that Schwanger would revisit in stories like “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003), and it adds another layer to what is already a compellingly-told role-reversal story. A subtle expansion and re-casting of the Mythos, with Mother Hydra as fertility deity, and the female Deep One hybrids as part of an all-female coven has overtones of Wicca and Goddess-worship, and the cohesiveness of the women is another point of alienation from the male characters in the story.


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

 

“A Coven in Essex County” (2016) by J. M. Yales

Thirteen women in shadowy Innsmouth, brides of arranged marriages to the inhuman denizens of the neighboring reef, are bound by the will of their male relatives, until they pursue revenge.
—J. M. Yales, A Coven in Essex County | Prologue

“A Coven in Essex County” is a rare example of serial Mythos fiction, told in 18 monthly episodes on The Visitant. The story that develops focuses on perspective and impact—readers are presumably already initiated into the mysteries of Innsmouth, they know the big secret that the nameless protagonist in Lovecraft’s tale uncovered from the drunken lips of Zadok Allen. What Yales zeroes in on is not the terrible threat of the Deep Ones, or even the fact of their existence; not the aftermath of the story, as with Ruthanna Emrys’ “The Litany of Earth”, or the possible variations such as “Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn or “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader—no, Yales wants to present the story of the women of Innsmouth, the wives and daughters who grow up in this strange, twisted society—and the expectations that are placed on them.

As background: there is an inherent imbalance in the gender dynamics of “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Human men marry female Deep Ones, then their hybrid children—primarily women—are apparently married off. The focus of Lovecraft’s story is on the nameless narrator protagonist, whose great-grandmother is a Deep One, and whose grandmother was one of these Innsmouth brides, “married off on a trick” to an Arkham man. Lovecraft’s initial notes for the “Innsmouth” suggest a more complicated and subplot that didn’t make it into the drafts:

All opponents killed off—many women commit suicide or vanish. Things refuse wholly to leave the town. Horrible incidents—hybridisation. Marsh dares not call in outside world—Things threaten to rise in limitless numbers. Compromise reached—secret habitation, since they would prefer to avoid general war.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Notes to ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth'”, Collected Essays 5.249

Some of this never made it into the finished version of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where Lovecraft focuses on one family line. Implicit but unspoken is that regardless of the offspring the Deep Ones never stop intermarrying…and as his notes hint, these are not implied to be marriages of love and mutual attraction. Read between the lines as Yales must have, and the picture gets grim and depressing: the women of Innsmouth have been raped…and this has been going on for a long time. Long enough to have become part of the social structure of the town. Parallels might be drawn to the child brides and forced marriages of certain patriarchal religious sects, or the system of concubines in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985); the disenfranchisement of the Innsmouth women, who are trapped in a system that does not recognize or reward their agency, recalls Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: A Romance (1850). The author certainly takes the concept farther than Lovecraft ever dared to, as the women become literal commodities, bodies and lives traded away for Innsmouth gold.

In the decades since Lovecraft wrote, many gender and sexual permutations of Deep One/human relations have been explored, sometimes in pornographic detail, but the particular dynamics of those relationships—and the society that permits and encourages the relationships—is rarely explored. Ann K. Schwader’s “Mail Order Bride” (1999) makes the females the dominant sexual partner, using unsuspecting human males as essentially sperm donors and providers; the graphic novels Neonomicon (2010) and Witch Doctor, Vol. I: Under the Knife (2011) suggest that a quirk of biology is to explain for why normally only male human/female Deep One result in viable offspring.

Sex in all three cases is rarely forced: it is generally presented that the male humans are willing to have sex with female Deep Ones, just as it is generally presented that female humans aren’t willing to have sex with male Deep Ones. (Homosexual and transsexual variations on the theme, such as Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “Pages found among the effects of Miss Edith M. Teller” (2005) and Monique Poireur’s “The Flower of Innsmouth” (2011), are another barrel of fish entirely.) The systemic “marriage” of human women to male Deep Ones, by force or coercion, and the effects that would have on those women is largely unexplored. Many have found sympathy for the devil, but few besides Yales have looked into the hardened souls of the traumatized women of Innsmouth—an issue made more complicated because the women are yet divided by social convention and personality as well. To achieve redress, they have to overcome their differences and unite…and they have one very good reason to come together.

To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgraced me, and hindered me […] If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? and if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? […] The villany you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.
—Shylock in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice Act III, Scene I

“A Coven in Essex County” is experimental fiction, and one of the most difficult and important parts is the beginning of the penultimate chapter, “A November Wedding.” Throughout the story, the character of Cora speaks in a kind of glossolalia, languages coming together in almost Joycean runs, bits of English, German, pidgin languages, R’lyehian, folding together, syllables merging, alphabets converging as they sought to express meaning…and perhaps all the better, when in this section they hit upon the inexpressible, the unnameable. The obscured climax is in its was as effective as the italicized culminating revelation of Lovecraft’s stories.

However, this is not a story about revelations, either cosmic or personal. It is about impact. Yales’ story is not so much about the act of marriage as how it impacts the women forced into these arranged unions:

Something happened after the wedding night to women of Innsmouth that erases what in other places would signify them as women. There is a gravity about them, an otherworldliness as much attributable to their exotic looks as to the fact that none of them quite focus on any one thing with their eyes. They seem always to be elsewhere, and absent the calculating intelligence of the gentler sex.
—J. M. Yales, A Coven in Essex County | A November Wedding

Just so, the last leg of the story is not on the moment of revenge as how it impacts the women who perform it. After the deed, these women’s story does not end. The society of Innsmouth was built on this system of arranged marriages, now that they have transgressed, they enter into an unfamiliar social territory. Familiar ground for many women over the last century, as the slow struggle for women’s rights and place outside the home has caused a shift in societal norms—but then, the suffragettes of Lovecraft’s era never had to deal with covenants with the Deep Ones.

Josephine Maria Yales published “A Coven in Essex County” over a period of 18 months from 2016 to 2017 on the Visitant. She has published a good deal of nonfiction pertaining to women, gender, and horror.

 


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

 

“Take Your Daughters to Work” (2007) by Livia Llewellyn

And then when I was maybe around eleven years old, my mother took me to Mr. Monk’s Antique Store, in a little suburb of Tacoma. Mr. Monk, a sweet man who was around eighty years old, led me to a back room filled with dusty furniture and a single bookcase crammed with horror, fantasy and science fiction novels and anthologies. Apparently my mother had decided that I could graduate to “adult” fiction – probably she was tired of my throwing fits in the stacks because she wouldn’t let me read novels like The Exorcist – and she trusted his judgment. I picked out five books (which I still have to this day), and on the way out of the store, Mr. Monk slipped a few extra paperbacks into the bag – one was a collection of Lovecraft’s stories. Naturally, I read it and promptly went insane with joy. And that was it. Lovecraft led directly to my discovery of the horror and weird fiction writers I love so much.
Interview: Livia Llewellyn and the Weird

Some of the best Mythos fiction is not very long: it doesn’t need to be. One of the advantages of an existing mythology is the ability to build and riff of it, to say and imply much more with a single word or phrase than could otherwise be expressed. “Take Your Daughters to Work” is Livia Llewellyn expressing that economical philosophy: four pages of razor-edged ideas, shiny and new, that cut to the core.

Sadie adjusts the heavy gold at her throat—her mother gave it to her this morning. It’s been in the family at least a thousand years.
—Livia Llewellyn, “Take Your Daughters to Work” in The Book of Cthulhu II 69

Our protagonist is Sadie, the eldest daughter of the man that runs the company. When and where are never expressed directly; though readers know this is not Innsmouth, not as Lovecraft or any of those that followed his portrayal slavishly ever painted it. Sadie moves within a deliberately Victorian milieu, the Industrial Age, with all its implications of class and behavior, servants in livery, and the vast machinery of the ever-expanding factory. Like an H. R. Giger biomechanics landscape reproduced in brief, but tied together with all the hallmarks of massive industrialization—the poisoned sky, smokestacks that belch ash and metal filings, looming edifices that block the horizon… In many of Lovecraft’s stories, the environment itself is a character, Innsmouth itself an indelible part of the narrative of “The Shadow over Innsmouth”; so it is here.

Sadie has never seen the sea. None of the daughters have. The aspect of a descendant of the Deep Ones that is purposely kept from the water is a reoccurring image in Mythos fiction, a trope that suggests the unnatural separation and longing, as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys and “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader. The reuniting of these lost descendants of Innsmouth to the ocean is not always possible—Brian Lumley explores such a situation in “The Gathering” (2017)—nor is it always happy.  There is a very good reason the fathers have taken their daughters to work at the New Y’hanthlei Steelworks today—and Llewellyn packs in a few more surprises, no Chekov’s gun left unfired.

“Take Your Daughters to Work” was first published in Subterranean #6 (2007), reprinted in Llewellyn’s collection Engines of Desire: Tales of Love & Other Horrors (2011), and The Book of Cthulhu II (2012). Livia Llewellyn’s other Lovecraftian fiction includes Her Deepness (2010), “The Girls of the World” (2012), “Lord of the Hunt” (2012), “Allocthon” (2014), and “Bright Crown of Joy” (2016).

 


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

“Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman

Hogan’s smile slipped again. “You’re asking me to roll over and take it? How is that going to look?”
“Better than an FBI raid on Innsmouth or the mob squad kicking in your door, I’d bet.”
—G. D. Penman, “Moonshine”

Detective Vergil Levard of the catches a cold one, and the hunt for the murderer takes him from Jimmy Hogan’s speakeasy in Arkham to the small seaport of Innsmouth and back. An investigation only hampered by two things—the victim’s tattoo, which ties into Levard’s unquiet past, and the strange attraction between Vergil and Jimmy…and the 1920s is a dangerous time for bootlegging up the Miskatonic River or lifting shirts.

While Lovecraft set most of his stories in the contemporary period, the tales themselves don’t often evoke the tone of the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz Age. That’s not to say the Great Depression and Prohibition entirely pass the Cthulhu Mythos by; Lovecraft himself has his protagonist quietly procure a bottle of bootleg whiskey to ply Zadok Allen with in “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” but for the most part such human institutions take a back seat to the stranger horrors. Nor did Lovecraft or his immediate collaborators attempt to fuse the hardboiled detective style, made infamous by film noir, with the early Mythos—all that would come later, as succeeding generations of authors visited and revisited the old ground. Lovecraft himself wrote:

There is certainly room for another Antarctic tale—in fact for many more, if told by different authors & with wholly different elements & stresses. No field, as such, can be said to be really exhausted; for a scene or theme is merely an auxiliary of the artist in his unique expression of himself. There can be as many different & non-conflicting stories about the same thing, as there are different artists.

—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 25 Dec 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 285

Penman certainly takes different stresses. The setting is well-researched, peppered with period slang appropriate for a hard-nosed cop and a bootlegger to bandy about, and the homoerotic attraction between Vergil and Jimmy is quick, but not forced, immediate, or without social and personal hurdles. The development given to their relationship is part and parcel of the plot, as are some of the reasons why Vergil is hesitant to enter into it—homosexuality could still get you fired, in the 1920s, and might get you killed. This isn’t a stress normally made in Lovecraftian works, although Alan Moore & Jacen Burrows made a point of it in their comic series Providence (2015-2017).

In a longer work, this might have been explored further—and “Moonshine” definitely has the bones of what could have been a hardboiled or atmospheric psychological horror novel, but the balance is struck toward a story that is shorter, punchier, and faster paced, a touch more Dashiell Hammett than Lovecraft. Readers familiar with the Mythos will have already seen a couple plot twists coming—once Vergil and Jimmy hit Innsmouth, it’s only a matter of time before a few old faithful horrors come into play—but Penman has a few tricks up his sleeves, and a couple permutations that are both original and fitting. No Elder Signs or incantations come in to save the day, no convenient Necronomicons are pulled out of muscular keisters. Like a good detective, Vergil pieces the story together…and with a bit of a bluff, the duo survive.

There is one interesting exchange which deserves a bit of a deeper look:

“That’s why I was scared when you first laid one on me. I thought this thing…This thing we are. It was something they’d done to me. Something they’d put in me.”

Vergil Levard’s confession of a past growing up within a cult of his own is a little less shocking to contemporary sensibilities—the dark side of new religious movements in the United States over the past hundred years makes mumbled ideas of “Blood rituals. Really evil stuff […]” as quaint as Lovecraft’s always-off-the-page orgies and rites concerning his own cults—but there is a fundamental recognition of the homosexual experience here which is not often included. The culturally-impressed self-loathing and self-denial, the idea that there is something wrong or alien with them—and maybe that there is someone or something else to blame for that, some malign influence or experience that caused them to be like this. That doesn’t turn out to be the case in “Moonshine,” but it’s a part of the LGBTQ experience which gets little play in Mythos stories, and the very act of opening up about it is obviously a tremendous relief to the Detective, even if he comes to the conclusion that maybe Yog-Sothoth isn’t the reason he’s gay.

It is a rare instance of a positive personal revelation in a Mythos story, and there are thematic parallels with the personal revelations and acceptance of the nameless protagonist in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” While Vergil Levard maybe hasn’t processed all he experienced as the child of a cult, he has at least come to some greater knowledge and acceptance of himself. The parallels were addressed by Robert M. Price in a footnote in his essay “Homosexual Panic in ‘The Outsider'” (1982):

Faced with so repugnant a prospect as recognizing as his own a sexuality he has always regarded as perverse, the homosexual may for a time try to avoid admitting to himself what he knows only too well to be true. In the classic “reaction formation” pattern, he will redouble his detestation for acknowledged gays, for he “regards as an enemy anyone who appears to be a mirror image of himself, because his enemy is himself” (Weinberg, p. 81) (emphasis added). The parallel to Lovecraft’s story is stunning: the Outsider at first fears the monster as a dangerous Other. Yet he soon discovers that the hideous enemy is himself, literally his own mirror reflection. *

* “The Shadow over Innsmouth” may be interpreted in a similar light.

In “Moonshine,” Penman toys with this formulation—Jimmy Hogan is both a criminal and out-and-proud, while Vergil Levard is both police and in the closet—but in this case, opposites do attract. Of course, in this case it helps that they have something of a common cause and, soon after meeting, a common enemy: the conflict helps drive what might otherwise have been a couple chapters of self-loathing, introspection, bad feelings and missed connections—not bad stuff for a novel, but would have ruined the pace of a fast-set story like this.

G. D. Penman has written and published a number of short stories, but “Moonshine” published through the queer small press JMS Books, is his first Mythos story.


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

“The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys

Keener news-followers, however, wondered at the prodigious number of arrests, the abnormally large force of men used in making them, and the secrecy surrounding the disposal of the prisoners. No trials, or even definite charges, were reported; nor were any of the captives seen thereafter in the regular gaols of the nation. There were vague statements about disease and concentration camps, and later about dispersal in various naval and military prisons, but nothing positive ever developed. Innsmouth itself was left almost depopulated, and is even now only beginning to shew signs of a sluggishly revived existence.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Concentration camps today are largely associated with the second World War: the Holocaust, the internment of Japanese Americans, the Bataan death march and other horrors. The Nazi government would begin the creation of concentration camps soon after Hitler was appointed chancellor in January 1933…but Lovecraft would not have known about this at the time he was writing “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in Nov-Dec 1931. Lovecraft’s use of the idea would hearken back to the first World War, when the United States and other nations interned “enemy aliens”—sometimes on the basis of ethnicity and nationality, sometimes for disloyalty, real or suspected.

The reference to concentration camps in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” is thus a sub rosa nod to readers, cluing them in that these people were different and perhaps held dangerous loyalties. Yet it is a message whose meaning has changed over time. Readers who have grown up in the aftermath of World War II, with a full awareness of the horrors that the Nazis would accomplish and the extremes that Americans would go to when driven by fear and prejudice—and because of this change in syntax, it has inspired different fictional interpretations, the two most notable of which are Brian McNaughton’s “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) and Ruthanna Emrys “The Litany of Earth” (2014).

We need not dust off the history of our nation’s dealings with the Indians to find examples of genocide, nor even go so far from our doorsteps as Montgomery, Alabama, to see instances of racism. Right here in our own state of Massachusetts, in February of 1928, agents of the U.S. Treasury and Justice Departments perpetrated crimes worthy of Nazi Germany against a powerless minority of our citizens…
—Brian McNaughton, “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (Even More Nasty Stories 7)

McNaughton’s opening sets the scene: the events of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” are not undone, but are showcased in an entirely different light, in line with contemporary attitudes towards racial prejudice and xenophobia. The raid becomes not a protective government hand sweeping in to solve a terrible threat, but a jackbooted act of discrimination, with a reductio ad Hitlerum thrown in just in case anyone missed it. This was immensely novel at the time, and the story carries on from there in much the same vein: set in the modern day, two generations removed the end of Lovecraft’s story, Bob Smith is a descendant of Innsmouth, his grandmother being one of the few that escaped the federal raid, and apparently ignorant of the Innsmouth heritage, the religion…all of it, except what bits and fragments his senile grandmother had told him.

Part of what makes McNaughton’s story work is what is said and left unsaid. Readers who may empathize with Bob Smith and the other Innsmouth residents are subtly reminded at every turn, without being explicit, that these people are not entirely human, that their religion (“In the name of Mother Hydra!”) was real, and also that they face prejudice from being who they are and holding to their beliefs. Shades of the Holocaust, with a blending of conspiracy theory and institutional racism; but where a Jew might be called a “hymie,” the Innsmouth pejorative is “Kermie”—after Kermit the Frog, to reflect their batrachian appearance.

The twist of the story is not so much the action climax, or the revelations about Bob Smith’s extracurricular activities that follow, but that the residents of Innsmouth are at least as dangerous as Lovecraft had written them, with McNaughton’s own small embellishments on Esoteric Order of Dagon theology and ceremonies adding a rather more overtly sordid and bloody emphasis. It’s a subversion of expectations: in an era when judging people by appearance, ethnicity, and religion are all considered taboo, when the discrimination and prejudice they have suffered is shown at length and in great detail, with parallels drawn to that experienced by real-life groups…readers may well have been sympathetic for Bob Smith, until he showed his true colors.

What stops “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” from being a fable whose moral is that race prejudice is a positive thing? McNaughton was clever enough to make use of the racial allegories that can be read in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and contemporary post-WWII, post-Civil Rights era mentality, and bold enough to do a Twilight Zone-esque subversion of expectations, but the subtextual message of the story is unpleasant: that sometimes prejudices are justified. It’s doubtful McNaughton ever intended that specific reading; after all, the idea that the residents of Innsmouth are partially inhuman fish-people is normally taken for granted by Mythos authors—and that itself is part of the problem.

The idea that there is a race that is inherently considered monstrous and a threat to “regular” humans in fiction is already unpleasantly close to the stereotypes and libels applied to real-world minorities and ethnic groups. The fact that writers use that idea without examination of the underlying implications is worse—nothing McNaughton writes about Deep Ones and Innsmouth hybrids is very different than the characterization in “Objects From the Gilman-Waite Collection” (2003) by Ann K. Schwader or “In His Daughter’s Darkling Womb” (1997) by Tina L. Jens. However, because he specifically invoked tropes of institutional racism, prejudice, and hate crimes, McNaughton is taking the subtext and making it text—what could be read as a dog whistle in the first “Innsmouth” becomes blatant in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth.” The latter remains a good story, but also serves as an example for why it can be very difficult to tell stories that interact with racism in a realistic way in Lovecraft’s fiction.

In the evenings, the radio told what I had missed: an earth-spanning war, and atrocities in Europe to match and even exceed what had been done to both our peoples. We did not ask, the Kotos and I, whether our captors too would eventually be called to justice. The Japanese American community, for the most part, was trying to put the camps behind them. And it was not the way of my folk—who had grown resigned to the camps long before the Kotos’ people were sent to join us, and who no longer had a community on land—to dwell on impossibilities.
—Ruthanna Emrys, “The Litany of Earth”

Emrys starts from the same place as McNaughton: the Innsmouth diaspora. In her setting, the concentration camps of 1928 faded into those set up for Japanese-Americans starting in 1942. Innsmouth is mostly gone, and after her release Aphra Marsh too tries to reclaim what bits and pieces she can of her heritage, while living with the Japanese family she had shared the camp with.

What is markedly different between the two stories is tone. “The Litany of Earth” is a not a horror story, but a dark fantasy. There is no subtle hinting; the Cthulhu Mythos is real to Aphra, a part of her old life before the government shut her away and what she hopes to get back. While race is still a point of discrimination, Emrys focuses on religion and the eradication of history and culture:

In ’26, the whole religion were declared enemies of the state, and we started looking out for anyone who said the wrong names on Sunday night, or had the wrong statues in their churches. You know where it goes from there.

Contrasting with Aphra is FBI Agent Spector: an agent of the government that imprisoned her, a German immigrant of Jewish descent. Almost a literal “Good German.” Their shared experience of discrimination provides at least a slight thawing of relations, though not instant rapport. After all, he needs her help.

“And every religion has its fanatics, who are willing to do terrible things in the name of their god. No one is immune.” His lips quirked. “It’s a failing of humanity, not of any particular sect.”

The focus on religion cuts away from some of the less pleasant aspects of Lovecraft’s concentration camp victims. Aphra Marsh and her folk are a people apart, but a sharp delineation is made between the cultists of “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” less of race and more in understanding and approach: in Agent Spector’s plea for cooperation, it is the extremists with their blood sacrifices that are the bad guys. Even among those there are poseurs, con-artists, the desperate and deluded.

Yet Aphra Marsh sticks to Lovecraft’s script that the Deep Ones are a different race of people, and that their attributes are not those of homo sapiens. Biological immortality, an ancient culture and eldritch lore, an attachment to aspects of nature—the Deep Ones in “The Litany of Earth” are the second cousins of Tolkien’s Sea Elves from The Lord of the Rings. As in Tolkien’s work, there is a pettiness to some humans, a clash over the limited lifespan compared to those of the elder folk. The same essential conflict, only with Lovecraftian trappings.

Thus, “The Litany of Earth” shares some of the same problems as “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth.” The central falseness of racism and racialism is that humans are, for better or for worse, all basically the same. Races are a social construct, not a biological one. Different populations may exhibit common features due to shared ancestry, but homo sapiens is one species. The Deep Ones are different. They may look human, when young; they may interbreed with humans, yet they are fundamentally other. In the fantasy setting of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Deep Ones embody the Nazi conception of a race apart far more than the Jews ever did.

When the lines between allegory and exposition are erased, you’re not looking at racism as was understood and practiced by Lovecraft, or in the concentration camps of World War II. If the subject of fantastic racism actually is alien, the dynamic shifts and the old arguments used to oppose it have to shift as well. The trappings are the same, but you’re not dealing with human-on-human racism, but something akin to destroying the natural habitat of apes and cetaceans and keeping them in captivity—and whether or not the detainees have human-level intelligence, or what constitutes “human” as far as rights, become part of the conversation. Or at least it should.

Neither McNaughton or Emrys really want to explore that direction in these stories; their narratives depend on Deep Ones that are human enough to face prejudice and be sympathetic, and alien enough to provide a core of real insurmountable difference with actual humans. Both McNaughton and Emrys also hedge away from miscegenation and immigration, arguably the most prominent themes regarding race in “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” There’s no real discussion in either story of the Deep Ones having come to Innsmouth from somewhere else and absorbing or displacing the population; the threat to humanity is never existential as far as Deep Ones irrevocably contaminating the human gene pool or culture. The protagonists in each story are members of an embattled minority, almost an endangered species, at least on land.

Genocide is the shadow that hangs over both McNaughton and Emrys’ versions of Innsmouth. The purpose of concentration camps when Lovecraft wrote “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was internment, at least in the United States; yet it lead inexorably to the effort to exterminate entire peoples by the Nazis. In “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth,” the effort is ongoing, albeit less direct; in “The Litany of Earth,” the FBI’s focus has shifted to cultists, but it took WWII for them to begin to face their mistakes. In both cases, families were broken up, generations lost. McNaughton and Emyrs looked, with the wizened eyes of those who have seen the outcome of the Holocaust, past the end that Lovecraft wrote at the consequences which he did not, could not fully predict.

Complaints from many liberal organisations were met with long confidential discussions, and representatives were taken on trips to certain camps and prisons. As a result, these societies became surprisingly passive and reticent. Newspaper men were harder to manage, but seemed largely to coöperate with the government in the end.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow over Innsmouth”

Brian McNaughton got his start as a writer in the fan-scene of the 1950s; worked as a newspaperman, and eventually spent over a decade writing pornographic novels and stories for adult magazines, before crossing back over into horror and weird fiction in the 1980s, where he won acclaim, including a World Fantasy Award in 1997. He wrote a number of Cthulhu Mythos stories, with a penchant for outrageousness, sexuality, and black humor. His best short horror fiction is collected in Nasty Stories (2000) and Even More Nasty Stories (2002), and he wrote several novels of the Cthulhu Mythos—including a pornographic novel involving another Innsmouth survivor, Tide of Desire (1982) under the name Sheena Clayton. He died in 2004.

Ruthanna Emrys continues the story of Aphra Marsh in her series The Innsmouth Legacy, currently consisting of Winter Tide (2017) and Deep Roots (2018). Her Lovecraftian short fiction includes “Those Who Watch” (2016), and with Ann M. Pillsworth she is part of Tor.com’s series The Lovecraft Reread.


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