“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.

Orphne #1 & #2 (2018) by Mani C. Price

We live in a Golden Age of Mythos comics. More Mythos comics have been published in the last two decades than in the four that came before that. Lovecraftian references can, and do, appear in everything from webcomics to manga, from The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希) to “The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。) to Innsmouth (2019) by Megan James and Calla Cthulhu (2017). Independent presses have risen with the advent of affordable print-on-demand comic publishing services like IndyPlanet and digital comic marketplaces like Comixology have made it much easier for creators to get their work out there—and to highlight more diverse voices.

orphne002

When Randolph Carter was thirty he lost the key of the gate of dreams.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Silver Key

“The gods travel into men’s dreams by way of a key hole and exit from whence they came once their divine mission is complete.”
—Artemidorus, quoted in Orphne #1

Mythos comics cover all the ground that prose Mythos fiction does, from pastiche and parody to genre-bending and genre-blending; it is rarely four-color superheroes punching out the minions of Great Cthulhu. There is room for comedy, erotica, dark fantasy, science fiction, and sometimes quite subtle and atmospheric horrors. What sets comics and graphic novels apart from their pure prose counterparts, or even illustrated stories, is the ability of art and words to come together a such a way as to create a unique reading experience—there are things that can be done in a graphic novel that would be difficult or impossible to pull off in a prose story.

Mani C. Price is a visionary artist and diviner; her penchant for Lovecraft and mythology is evident from her artwork. As the writer and artist for Orphne, Price brings her interests to bear with references to Classical Greek mythology, magic, and Lovecraftian references that are present but not pressed on the viewer. There is no mention in these stories to Lovecraft’s “The Silver Key,” yet the artistic theme of both issues emphasizes keys and key-holes; the figure of Mr. Angell is the image of H. P. Lovecraft—whom Muriel Eddy described as “The Man from Angell Street,” referring to his family’s house in Providence, Rhode Island.

Orphne prefers to show rather than tell; there are mysteries for the reader to unravel, characters are not introduced, and their identities must be divined by what they say and do. We know little about the main character Victoria, but that little we do know is intriguing…she is, more than Mr. Angell, the central character and mystery of the story so far. What key will unlock those answers?

But always I shall guard against the mocking and insatiate Hypnos, lord of sleep, against the night sky, and against the mad ambitions of knowledge and philosophy.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Hypnos”

Lovecraft also had a penchant for Greek and Roman myth, and in the second issue this brings in the figure of Hypnos, Lord of Dreams. Some readers may draw parallels between this character and another popular comics character: Dream of the Endless, created by Neil Gaiman for his run on Sandman (1989-1986). The similarities are superficial, however; Gaiman and Price (and Lovecraft) are drawing in common from the well of Greco-Roman mythology in populating their Dreamlands. As the holder of the artifact that Victoria seeks, Hypnos is being set up as the primary antagonist in a story where most of the conflict so far is unseen—a combination of internal conflicts and unknown forces acting on Victoria, secrets unspoken, hints of supernatural influence.

Where the story goes from here is another question that goes unanswered. Issues #1 and #2 were published in 2018, but the series is not yet finished. Art takes time, and as Orphne is being produced by an individual rather than a big company, some delay is to be expected before we see issue #3. Yet it seems certain that it will be worth the wait.

Orphne #1 and #2 are written and illustrated by Mani C. Price, coloring and layout by Justin Wolfson, lettering by Jason Price, editing by Jason Price and the late Sam Gafford. Issues can be purchased directly from the website Mani The Uncanny.


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