“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央)

“Taste of the Snake’s Honey” (2005) by Rio Matsudono (松殿理央) 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 novella 蛇蜜 (Hebi Mitsu); the translator was Erin S. Brodhead.

Sexuality is a fundamental aspect of Yig. In “The Curse of Yig” (1929) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, this nature is implicit: the curse of Yig is that Aubrey Davis bears children with snake-like characteristics. While at least one critic claimed this was a story of maternal impression, the impression usually given was that Yig raped her, presaging to some degree the connection between Yog-Sothoth and Lavinia Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror.” The aspect of Yig as a sexual deity was affirmed in “The Mound” (1940) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft as “the principle of life symbolised as the Father of all Serpents.”

In writing that, Lovecraft might have been inspired by contemporary ideas that ancient serpent deities represented phallic cults, as discussed in O. A. Wall’s Sex and Sex Worship (1922); this was a book that Robert E. Howard owned, and Howard mentioned phallic worship in at least one letter to Lovecraft (A Means to Freedom 1.87). A few later authors have taken the general idea of the Father of Serpents as a masculine deity of virility and run with it; occultists like Kenneth Grant have incorporated Yig into their system as an aspect of masculine sexual power, representing the “Ophidian Current” in his Typhonian Trilogies.

Sex presents certain difficulties for translation; the language of sex is usually either dryly technical (penis, vagina, anus, etc.) or extremely idiomatic or euphemistic (rod, Johnson, 69, French letter, salad tossing, etc.), and sexual slang varies by region, language, culture, and period—compare the language in The Merry Order of St. Bridget (1857) to something like Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty trilogy, and it’s easy to see that while it covers some of the same thematic ground, the language and cultural syntax have shifted drastically. Trying to write period-appropriate sexual language is tricky enough, translating it in such a way that it retains the essence of its meaning for an audience doubly so…and that’s before you try to work the Mythos into it.

This is all necessary ground to cover because “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” is one of the relatively scarce Mythos works which contains a great deal of sexual matter, but isn’t really erotic in any significant sense. The best comparable work is probably Robert M. Price’s “A Thousand Young” (1989), which follows a young libertine seeking admission into a Mythos cult through increasingly deviant sexual acts, but both that story and this one are ultimately a more explicit version of the decadent pleasure-seekers in Lovecraft’s “The Hound”—the idea being that libido sciendi, the desire to know, the quest for forbidden knowledge applies equally well to sexual knowledge as it does to, say, advanced mathematics and occultism (cf. “The Dreams in the Witch-House”).

Sometimes this is very explicitly the case, such as in “Under the Keeper of the Key” (2015) by Jaap Boekestein, but in the case of Rio Matsudono, it’s more of a barometer to let readers know that the ambient sexual morality of the tale is falling fast, and as the Lovecraftian protagonist slides from receiving fellatio from women who had had all their teeth removed to necrophilia, the novella is really just getting started.

Which is all on purpose: the acts given are almost dry in their description, which might be a translation issue (see above; imagine trying to write 1930s-period sexual decadence to a 2000s-contemporary Japanese audience, and then imagine trying to translate that into English for a completely different audience) but likely also because the purpose of the acts is not to titillate or tantalize but to transgress, to provoke a degree of rejection and outrage at the breaking of taboos. The actual acts themselves aren’t dwelt on until we get to the literal climax of the story, because the author isn’t trying to get you off, or go into horrorporn territory with microscopic detail a la Edward Lee’s Hardcore Lovecraft novels like Going Monstering.

For “The Taste of the Snake’s Honey,” sex isn’t the revelation, it’s the initiation.

What the reader and the protagonist are initiated into is another question. Rio Matsudono’s novella is a direct expansion on the lore of Yig, and the straightforward lore dumps are maybe at the expense of the story itself. Like with The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健), there’s an effort to at least draw parallels between an aspect of Lovecraft’s Mythos with Chinese folklore…and the parallels work fine; the exposition is a little heavy at points, but that’s pretty common in Lovecraftian pastiches. What the story lacks, aside from a certain prosody, is a direct explanation for what drove the sexual decadence of the protagonist in the first place…unless you understand and appreciate Yig’s role as a fundamentally sexual entity to begin with.

So much of this novella is stated bluntly or outright that some of the subtextual implications and assumptions can be easily lost. The protagonist’s sexual activities aren’t portrayed as mental illness or learned practices; they’re the result of natural inclinations—or, maybe, supernatural ones. Nature winning out over nurture. At the same time those sexual desires and activities appear to have nothing to do with the final resolution of the plot: they led the narrator protagonist to the point of revelation, but aside from plot fiat there was no reason that these specific revelations had to happen in this way. A surface read of this story might suggest that Rio Matsudono wanted to deliberately shock the reader, but the apparent conflict can be resolved by thinking of Yig and his children as driven by inhuman appetites.

He was not wholly evil, and was usually quite well-disposed toward those who gave proper respect to him and his children, the serpents; but in the autumn he became abnormally ravenous, and had to be driven away by means of suitable rites.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Zealia Bishop, “The Curse of Yig”

Suppose these appetites are analogous to the strange hankerings of a pregnant woman? Suppose the hungers for strange flesh, and blood, and wild venturings way over the borders of sane sexuality are a reaching out for ultramundane fare, the pickles and ice cream of the alien soul coming to birth within the confines of a human life that is only a womb for that which gestates inside, increasingly making its presence known?
—introduction to “Taste of the Snake’s Honey” in Inverted Kingdom 113-114

The introduction to “The Taste of Snake’s Honey” spotlights the issue for reader, although like all good warnings to the curious, the full implications aren’t necessarily clear until after the novella is finished. Then the story can be seen in the theme of “Paedomorphosis” (1998) by Caitlín R. Kiernan—a changeling or puberty story, where the old self is shed to make way for the new, adult form.

If read from this angle, the sexual deviations from the beginning of the story are not just there to shock the reader, but as deliberate steps in a process of development. The sexual pleasures being sought are increasingly strange and terrible by human standards because what the protagonist is being prepared to mate with is nothing human. It’s a rationalization which resolves some of the apparent conflicts in the story, such as why the narrator feels their behaviors are different from those of decadent humans who engage in the same or similar practices like teratophilia or necrophilia.

A point of view which potentially has interesting implications if applied to some of the other entities in the Cthulhu Mythos, especially those that pass for human, or whose cults engage in proscribed sexual practices.


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

“The Head of T’la-yub” (2015) by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas

We came to the Mictlán, the place of the dead, which the ancient people called Xinaián […]
—”The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, trans. Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Most of “The Mound” is given as a story-within-a-story: the English translation of the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, gentleman, of Luarca in Asturias, Concerning the Subterranean World of Xinaián, A. D. 1545. Few of the Aztec codices have survived the flames and floods, the mold and wear of centuries of hands; we today often read about the peoples and places they encountered through accounts like Zamacona’s…who being their own skewed, flawed interpretation of what they see and witnessed of ways of life and belief of which they knew little, and could only understand through the lens of their own religion, politics, philosophy, and experience.

Which is a long way to say: no one has tried to tell the story from T’la-yub’s point of view.

In Lovecraft’s narrative via Zamacona, T’la-yub is a tragic figure. She dared to love, dared to dream of a monogamous union, and the subject of her affections determined only to put her aside as soon as convenient. For her transgressions in the name of romance, she is doomed to mutilation, death, and then undeath. T’la-yub is one of the ghosts of the mound, the dead woman who holds her head, facing eternal punishment for a momentary infraction.

There’s something very Christian about that interpretation, isn’t there? Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas flips the script. What if Zamacona didn’t understand what was happening? What if he misconstrued his place and importance in the sequence of events?

As with her other stories “Tloque Nahuaque” (2011)“Ahuizotl” (2011), and “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” (2014), “The Head of T’la-yub” mixes elements of the Mythos was Aztec mythology. Instead of the more Pellucidar-esque elements of Lovecraft’s alien civilization beneath the earth, the focus is on T’la-yub’s personal spiritual and physical journey, here modeled on the descent of the dead to Mictlán, the growth of her understanding as to what she has become and what her role is. The result is brief, but novel: a new way to look at this aspect of the “Mesoamerican Mythos,” taking Lovecraft not at face value, but as one interpretation of events told through a very European lens.

Which doesn’t mean that Lovecraft was wrong and García-Rosas is right; the point of the story is not to disprove Lovecraft or point out sources of error, but to provide a new viewpoint that suggests that the picture is much more richly complex than Lovecraft himself gives it. Where works like Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys takes “The Mound” at more or less face value, or The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) that takes the basic ideas but moves in its own direction, “The Head of T’la-yub” is essentially an alternative narrative of “The Mound”—and readers can put on their scholar’s caps, read up on Aztec mythology, and decide for themselves where the balance of truth lies.

“The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas was translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and was first published in She Walks in Shadows (2015); it was republished in the paperback edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016).


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

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, 1999)

Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, Kuro no Danshō) is a four-episode hentai (sexually explicit, adult-oriented) Original Video Animation (OAV) produced in Japan and released in 1999 and 2000 on DVD and laserdisc; it was dubbed and released into English-speaking markets in 2007 on VHS and DVD, with periodic re-releases on DVD since then, most recently the all-in-one 2014 DVD from Critical Mass.

It is difficult to put Mystery of the Necronomicon into its proper context because most of that context has never been translated into English. In 1995 the first of a computer game series “Suzusaki Detective Office File” (涼崎探偵事務所ファイル) was released by Avocado Powers (アボガドパワーズ, often Anglicized phonetically as “Abogado Powers”) for the PC-9800 personal computers; it was ported to the Sega Saturn in 1997, and to Windows in 2004. The game was an adult-oriented mystery/horror, and spawned a sequel in 1996; a third game was planned, but never came out due to financial difficulties at the company. Subsidiary materials include a 1997 strategy guide to the Sega Saturn game, which was praised for its art.

SegaSaturn

Mystery of the Necronomicon is essentially the film version of the 1995 computer game. This wasn’t necessarily weird in the late ’90s; one of the more successful examples English audiences might be familiar with is Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie (1994, dubbed English version released in 1995), and Japan had already released a 1994 computer game Necronomicon (ネクロノミコン) based on Lovecraft’s work. As the game itself has never been officially translated and released in English markets, it’s difficult to say how accurately the  4-episode OVA represents the plot and characterization. Both game and OVA appear to be trying the tricky job of producing an original Cthulhu Mythos horror/mystery with characters that are sexual beings—and that sexuality isn’t limited to consensual heterosexual relations without paraphilia; the OVA  contains graphic scenes of consensual female homosexuality, BDSM, and urophilia as well.

The explicit sexual content may be why the game producers partnered with production company Discovery, a Japanese company that had specialized in adult animation such as the slightly infamous Night Shift Nurses series. While there’s no scuttlebutt on the behind-the-scenes involved with bringing Mystery of the Necronomicon to English audiences, the North American distributor Anime 18 had also distributed Night Shift Nurses and other titles from Discovery, so it seems likely that this was a case of something in Discovery’s back-catalog of titles that they thought would appeal to the North American market…how well that worked out, it’s hard to say, but there must have been at least some commercial interest for the DVD to get multiple English releases.

MotN-VHS

It’s possible the “Book of the Dead” subtitle on some of the English releases drew some inspiration from Necronomicon: Book of the Dead (1993), an American/French/Japanese co-production, but it’s telling that the box art emphasized “From the director of Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend,” one of the famous tentacle erotica anime that derive from the work of Maeda Toshio (前田俊夫). The distributors were obviously trying to capitalize as much as possible on the explicit pornographic nature of Mystery of the Necronomicon—this was a product being marketed to a specific crowd—which bears a little bit of inquiry.

There is a cost involved in translating every work. For those first writers who translated H. P. Lovecraft into Japanese after World War II, it was the cost of the translator’s time and expertise, then on top of that the normal publishing costs; the same applies for Japanese literature translated into English. For especially art-heavy works like the Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), there are special considerations to make sure that the art is properly reproduced, and there are potential issues of censorship to deal with, but it’s still mostly an issue of translation costs. With an anime, there are added costs: for a dub, the script has to be translated, voice actors contracted, performances recorded, then new voice tracks have to be mastered and synchronized with the videoso it’s not a small process, there’s layers of work to be done, and that’s assuming that censorship issues aren’t involved. Japanese pornographic works, by statute, blur or hide genitalia and often cannot depict pubic hair and may involve characters under the legal age of consent in other countries—such issues may or may not be resolved as part of the translation process, and there’s an added cost involved with removing censoring, or changing the script so a character is at least 18 years old if it’s going to be sold on the North American market.

Because of this cost, only a fraction of the vast amount of media that Japan produces ever reaches English-language markets, and that fraction of stuff tends to get skewed toward specific markets where it is believed (or at least hoped) that it will sell. Sometimes this leads to big successes like the Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball, and One Piece series, or the Super Sentai series which were translated into Power Rangers—and sometimes this leads to abysmal flops, stuff that either for poor translation or distribution or whatever other reason fails to find its audience and sinks out of sight. Because of the cost involved, this means that companies tend to focus on those franchises and products which do sell, and if a given series is successful, they’ll try to bring over another similar work to sell to the same market.

Which is a long way to say: Mystery of the Necronomicon was not translated into English because there was a hardcore market of Japanese Cthulhu Mythos fans that were frothing at the bit to get their hands on any and all Japanese media related to Lovecraft’s creations. Instead, it looks a lot like Mystery of the Necronomicon was translated to fill a niche for sexually explicit anime for a market that was hungry for hentai. There is a bit of irony to the fact that with the rise of the internet, so many people have associated the tentacle erotica of hentai works by Maeda Toshio & the like with the relatively tentacle-heavy Cthulhu Mythos fiction of the 1990s and early 2000s, but so little of the stuff actually coming out of Japan in translation actually dealt with that.

cthulhu-hentai

While there is sexually explicit content to Mystery of the Necronomicon, most of the four episodes are taken up with the eponymous mystery that the detectives are there to solveand anyone looking for gonzo masturbation material, porn without plot, might be surprised that it’s a fairly well-plotted story (albeit one with plenty of graphic sex scenes), with solid voice acting and some good visuals. The soundtrack and animation are workable; neither the best nor the worst of Japanese animation from the period, but many of the horror scenes are fairly effective. There are little Easter eggs for Mythos aficionados as well, such as the character Clark Ashton, and the final mystery takes a very interesting turn that showcases how well-versed the writers were in their Lovecraftian lore.

Lovecraft’s story “Herbert West—Reanimator” takes place in Arkham and at Miskatonic University, but largely predates the establishment of Lovecraft’s Mythos and doesn’t involve his eldritch entities or terrible tomes. Like “The Picture in the House,” it is only tangentially connected to the Mythos at large by virtue of being set in Lovecraft country. Some later media have tried to work around this by making the source of West’s reagent derived from studies of the Necronomiconthis was a plot point in many of Dynamite’s Reanimator comics, and Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providenceand not to spoil things too much, in Mystery of the Necronomicon it is revealed that West has a connection with the book tooalthough as with many Japanese Mythos works, the physical appearance of the Necronomicon is inspired more strongly by the Necronomicon Ex Mortis from the Evil Dead films, as discussed in “Night Voices, Night Journeys” (2005) by Inoue Masahiko (井上雅彦).

Mystery of the Necronomicon is ultimately a good example of how Lovecraftian influence spreads outside of the sphere of English-language media, only to come back in somewhat weird and unusual form. The surprising thing isn’t that Lovecraftian erotica exists, or exists in Japanese, but that there was sufficient audience for something like that in the English-speaking world that people spent the time and effort to translate it back into English. It isn’t exactly Lovecraft seen “through a glass darkly”because there is nothing imperfect or distorted about the adaptation; it is simply something that is both oddly familiar and different from what English-speaking audiences have seen before.


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

Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス)

Monsters once were ghastly beasts that devoured the flesh and blood of human beings. However, since the ascension of the new Overlord, a succubus with godlike power, monsters have taken on utterly different, bewitching, and fantastic forms resembling those of alluring women. These outward changes have been accompanied by dramatic shifts in their ways of life, patterns of behavior, and values.
—foreword to Monster Girl Encyclopedia Vol. II

The Monster Girl Encyclopedia (魔物娘図鑑, 2015) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス) is a variation on the popular pseudobiblia bestiary genre. In the Dungeons & Dragons-inspired fantasy setting that Kenkou Cross has created, a succubus has risen to the position of evil Overlord, and turned all the monsters into, essentially, nubile female forms obsessed with sex. The second volume in the series (魔物娘図鑑 II, 2016) has introduced some Mythos-related entities including the shoggoth, and the series has gone on to generate a good deal of fanfiction, dōjinshi (同人誌, fan-created artwork, comics, etc.) and expanded media, which varies from the sedate to the outright pornographic…and these two works have been translated into English by DK with “English Adaptation” by Harriet Fray.

To really understand and appreciate what Kenkou Cross has done, we have to look at how they got here.

Dungeons & Dragons was published in 1974, a collaboration between Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and published by TSR, Inc. The original boxed set included a Monsters & Treasure booklet which had brief descriptions of and rules for iconic fantasy monsters—and these were, for the most part, taken from generic fantasy (The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Greek mythology, the 1,001 Nights, etc.); there weren’t much in the way of “original” monsters. In 1977 a revised and expanded edition of the game was published which included a much expanded Monster Manual, which included not only more monsters and illustrations on the monsters, but details on their culture, life, habits, etc. These were still pretty scanty, but from this humble beginning nearly every other roleplaying game has developed their own bestiary or critter compendium. In 1980, TSR Inc. published Deities & Demigods by Jim Ward, which included the first published bestiary of the Cthulhu Mythos.

1-a97fbbd69f

This led to a little kerfuffle; the author had gotten permission from Arkham House to use the Mythos in the book, but Arkham House had also just granted a license to Chaosium, Inc. to develop a roleplaying game based on the Mythos, and they were also developing an RPG based on the Elric stories of Michael Moorcock (who had done basically the same thing as Arkham House). No harm was done, and in the book’s third printing TSR Inc. dropped the two sections with a brief notice.

Chaosium, Inc. itself would take a different approach to its monsters. Efforts to categorize the entities in the Mythos dated back to the 1930s efforts of R. H. Barlow and the 1940s efforts of August Derleth and F. T. Laney, whose critical essay “The Cthulhu Mythos: A Glossary” was published in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943, Arkham House). So while the new Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (1981, Chaosium, Inc.) did contain a very Dungeons & Dragons-style bestiary section in the main roleplaying book, it also produced a pair of very novel products that were different than anything TSR, Inc. had done to that point: S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters: A Field Observer’s Handbook of Preternatural Entities (1988) and S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Creatures of the Dreamlands (1989).

These were lavishly illustrated books which hewed closer to Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials (1987) in design and format than the “standard” roleplaying game bestiary, providing lavish full illustrations for each monster in forms that would go on to be iconic, and solely dedicated to the identification, habits, culture, etc. of the various entities within, instead of game stats. All the stats for these creatures were in the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game book itself, and the books have become so iconic that the latest (7th) edition of the game has produced a brand new version, S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Lovecraftian Horrors (2016).

81QwaubiTNL

The Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game was not just released in English, however. It was translated into several languages, including Japanese—and the game proved to be a major hit in Japan. More products were translated, including the ’88 and ’89 S. Petersen’s Field Guides (a combined edition was published by Hobby Japan in 1994), and the company and fans in Japan began to produce original material for the game, both official and unofficial—dōjinshi.

One of these dōjinshi products was the Dunwitch IX Field Guide to Cthulhu Monstergals. This was essentially a fan-created spoof of the S. Petersen guides, right down to the format, except that the familiar Cthulhu Mythos entities were replaced by monster girl versions of themselves.

1263599

Monster girls are a Japanese cultural phenomenon where a normally frightening monster is replaced with a moe (萌え) version of itself; moe being a term that designates a feeling of strong affection and cuteness, and is often combined with non-anthromorphic entities or concepts to create a (typically) young and attractive female character to personify the normally unrelateable. The juxtaposition might be near-sacrilegious to folks that like to keep the Mythos scary, but should be understood as a product of Japanese fan interpretation, all in good fun. Monster girls have been the focus of “monster girlfriend” manga and anime, including “The Elder Sister-like One, Vol. 1” (2016) by Pochi Iida (飯田ぽち。)…and the Monster Girl Encyclopedia which was published in 2015.

Sometimes, artists go beyond the bounds of “cute” and clean, relatively innocent and positive sexual attraction implied by moe and venture into actual hardcore erotic artwork and writing. This twist often makes the cute girls the victims of the now much more traditionally monstrous monsters. An example of this is Shindo L (新堂 エル)’s Bestiary series which so far as three volumes (2011-2015); the third volume includes a section on the Deep Ones, who in Shindo L’s setting are quite literally rapacious towards human women.

2113850

Which brings us back to Kenkou Cross and the Monster Girl Encyclopedia. This book is not a roleplaying game product, although it is derived from and uses some of the same tropes. There is no game system specified, no statistics or mechanics for the monsters like in Dungeons & Dragons. Instead, it is purely a pseudo-literary production, an “in-character” scholarly manuscript from the setting that the monster girls are from, much like the S. Petersen’s guidebooks. Aside from the artwork, which is generally PG-13 (bare female breasts, but no genitalia), the text itself shows a lot of thought and effort that has gone into the monsters, how the change to be part-succubi has effected them, feeding and mating habits (basically the same thing in this case), etc.

The Lovecraftian references are few, and include the iconic D&D monster the Mindflayer, the Wendigo (loosely connected to August Derleth’s interpretation of Ithaqua), the spider-creature Atlach-Nacha (created by Clark Ashton Smith, already the focus of a Japanese game and associated media) and most especially the Shoggoth.

Shoggoth

The interesting thing about the Shoggoth entry is that Kenkou Cross has reinterpreted their position as “servitors” to the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness to coincide with the Japanese pop-culture archetype of the maid—in particular, the conception of the “French Maid” outfit popularized in Victorian and Edwardian fiction (and associated pornography) and the act of being subservient in a sense that approaches (and sometimes sublimates into) domination-subjugation fantasies. “Maid-play” need not be violent, as the position can hold a great potential for sexual subtext and power fantasies without crossing the line into rape, but the formal nature of the attire and the potential power imbalance makes maids, butlers, etc. popular characters in Japanese anime and manga.

Shoggoths are slime monsters with amorphous bodies. They were created long ago to serve monsters of the untold nether reaches, but upon acquiring intelligence and emotion with the rise of the current Overlord, they are thought to have fled their once-masters.
—foreword to Monster Girl Encyclopedia Vol. II, 167 

Which makes the Monster Girl Encyclopedia incarnation of the Shoggoth both somewhat kinky, and probably the most sex-positive possible spin on the original source material, is that the (now female) Shoggoth feels the need to fulfill this position, but is not actually enslaved and still holds a great deal of power in the relationship, which is basically entered into of their own will (although the Overlord’s influence certainly gives them a push). Needless to say, the various authors of Monster Girl Encyclopedia-derived dōjinshi take whatever tack fits the needs of their particular work, ranging from the benign monster girlfriend romantic comedy to explicit erotica (within the limits of Japanese censorship laws, for works produced in Japan).

Kenkou Cross doesn’t delve deep into the Mythos in this volume; the Lovecraftian entities are hinted at being separate from many of the other monsters under the Overlord’s direct control, but Cthulhu and Shub-Niggurath are not named explicitly. In much the same way, Dungeons & Dragons has largely eschewed using the Lovecraft Mythos directly since Deities & Demigods (1981), although they have Lovecraftian critters in the form of mindflayers, aboleths, and other “aberrations.” Much of the Monster Girl Encyclopedia world remains a very vague fantasy kitchen sink; quasi-medieval in the Dungeons & Dragons manner with adventurers, quests, etc. It is testament to the wide and pervasive influence of Western (particularly British and American) on Japanese contemporary pop culture.

It might be difficult for some Mythos fans to think of shoggoths as basically sex-obsessed slime-girl maids, but that’s where the route of transmission, derivation, and development sort of become important. Because Kenkou Cross’ interpretation of the Shoggoths, for their setting, is really no different or less than any other interpretation of the Lovecraftian entity, from Robert Bloch’s “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” (1951) to “Shoggoths in Bloom” (2008) by Elizabeth Bear. And the MGE version of shoggoths is not restricted to Japan, but has filtered back into English through translation and derivation. 

Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (魔物娘図鑑 II) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス) was first published in 2016; it was translated and published in English by Seven Seas in 2016.


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

The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女): Article 01: In The Vault (2019) by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希)

It was the publicity attending this investigation which set reporters on the track of the Whateleys, and caused the Boston Globe and Arkham Advertiser to print flamboyant Sunday stories of young Wilbur’s precociousness, Old Whateley’s black magic, the shelves of strange books, the sealed second story of the ancient farmhouse, and the weirdness of the whole region and its hill noises.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dunwich Horror”

The public knows of the Miskatonic Expedition through our frequent wireless reports to the Arkham Advertiser and Associated Press, and through the later articles of Pabodie and myself.
—H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness

As was only natural under the circumstances, this piquant debating finally got into print in the form of letters to the Arkham Advertiser; some of which were copied in the press of those Vermont regions whence the flood-stories came.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Whisperer in Darkness”

Lovecraftian manga have been undergoing a recent renaissance in Japan, with the critically acclaimed reception of Tanabe Gou’s adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness, “The Hound,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and most recently “The Call of Cthulhu,” all of which have been or are being translated and published in foreign language editions: Spanish, Italian, French, German, English, etc. Other popular adaptations include the Cthulhu no Yobi Koe series by Chuuou Higashiguchi (中央東口), and related manga include the Minase Yomu and the Really Scary Cthulhu Mythology (水瀬陽夢と本当はこわいクトゥルフ神話) series by Yoshihara Masahiko (吉原雅彦), and the many Zone of Cthulhu manga released by the SAN-EI Corporation (三栄)—which includes The Woman of Arkham Advertiser (A・Aの女) series by Takata Yuki (高田 悠希).

The conceit of the series is simple: Alice Allan is a cub reporter for the Arkham Advertiser, the local newspaper that appears in several of Lovecraft’s stories, and her “cases” cover a number of Lovecraft’s stories, both Mythos and non-Mythos, as set around Arkham. The result is a series of adaptations with a twist: we get to see the stories from a new perspective, that of a young newspaperwoman investigating the odd happenings. The series is categorized as a seinen (青年漫画), aimed at young men (18-30s), being more realistic and less action-packed than manga like One Piece or Dragon Ball, but readers of all genders and ages can appreciate it.

Chibi
Chibi version of Billy, a supporting character.

The adaptation is played seriously, but with more than a few laughs thrown in, the figures sometimes reduced to small chibi-style exaggerated figures to emphasize the one-off joke, familiar from manga like Shirow Masamune’s original Ghost in the Shell. The translation by Amimaru Translation and Localization Services Ltd. is mostly solid, although every now and again a joke may fail to land due to some cultural crossing of wires.

The small details and stark contrasts in the illustrations really shine though. Takata Yuki has worked hard to express the America of the 1920s, full of newsboys and the transition from the small industrial city of Arkham to out-of-the-way rural community of Peck Valley is like traveling back in time. Done in simple black-and-white, the bright outside scenes are given white backgrounds, while the moment the intrepid reporters step into the vault, the page is dominated by huge splashes of stark black, a very effective presentation that accentuates the emotional response of Alice Allan and her associate Billy.

Alice herself is the major focus and driver of the plot. She desires to prove herself as a reporter, and this is her first real opportunity to do so, by looking into the morbid details around the mysterious death and quick burial. While her enthusiasm is sometimes played for laughs, especially when contrasted against her long-suffering friend Billy, it is very effective at cutting right to the heart of Lovecraft’s story.

The story is not exactly a straight adaptation; Takata Yuki wisely doesn’t attempt to mimic the style of Lovecraft’s prose, and takes a few liberties with the ending, hinting at this being a small piece of a bigger picture that the reporters know they can’t quite see yet. Which works very well; Alice Allan is an engaging, energetic, enthusiastic protagonist, and starting slow with one of Lovecraft’s more low-key stories as their first “case” was a wise decision on the part of Takata Yuki.

The Woman of the Arkham Advertiser is available in Japanese on Kindle, and in English on Manga Planet subscription service.


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

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健)

Yoth Tlaggon
A mysterious God. The first time the name was written was in a letter form H. P. Lovecraft to C. A. Smith, a close friend and associate of the American horror writer, dated April 4th, 1932. However, Father Lucio Damiani published a monograph on Ancient History entitled Visions of Kusha in which he writes that “In the days when Atlantis was still called Kusha, and Lemuria known as Shalarali, Yoth Tlaggon was named one of the Nine Princes of Hell.” Damiani could have had no knowledge of the Lovecraft letter, for it was not publsihed until 1970.
—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 228

Yoth-Tlaggon—at the Crimson Spring.
Hour of the Amorphous Reflection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 4 Apr 1932,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 360

Kthulhu Reich (2019) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) is a novel from Kurodahan Press. It is comprised of seven interrelated short stories published between 1994 and 1999, and is presented here in English by translator Jim Rion. Each of the stories involves Nazi Germany, and involves the Cthulhu Mythos in some way, and though they do not form a single consistent narrative, together form a kind of occult history of World War II and its legacy.

Lovecraft died in 1937; he lived to see the rise of Mussolini and the fascists in Italy and Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party to power in Germany, and the opening shots of what would become World War II in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia. Though he did not know it, Lovecraft also became aware of the opening stages of the Holocaust as Hitler’s government instituted laws discriminating against Jews in Germany, a practice which the antisemitic Lovecraft had mixed feelings with—approving as he did of Nazi Germany’s ultranationalism, but not their unscientific racial discrimination. He never lived to see how wrong he was regarding Hitler and Mussolini, never saw the true horrors of the Holocaust.

World War II has become fertile ground writers of weird and fantasy fiction; the Nazi interest with the occult and esoteric, based partially on truth, as detailed in books like Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism (1993) and Kenneth Hite’s The Nazi Occult (2013). Works like Le Matin des magiciens (1960) popularized the idea of the Nazi occult for a new generation, and have led to works like the Indiana Jones adventures Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), the Hellboy comic books and film, and innumerable other appearances.

“Hitler’s a nut on the subject. He’s crazy. He’s obsessed with the occult.”
—Musgrove, Raiders of the Lost Ark

This has been true for the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Herbert West famously found employment in Nazi Germany in Brian McNaughton’s “Herbert West—Reincarnated Part II: The Horror in the Holy Land”; Charles Stross’ The Atrocity Archives (2004) deals with the occult fallout of the Nazi’s Mythos-delvings; Mike Mignola and Jim Robinson have Hellboy team up with Starman and Batman to face Neo-Nazis (and classical Nazis!) summoning Lovecraftian horrors in Batman/Hellboy/Starman (1999).

LovecraftKnew
Art by Mike Mignola, script by Jim Robinson, Batman/Hellboy/Starman #2 (1999)

The Mythos occult WWII angle had become essentially a Mythos subgenre with the release of the roleplaying games World War Cthulhu (2013, Cubicle 7) and Achtung! Cthulhu (2013, Modiphius), which in turn have led to new anthologies like World War Cthulhu (2014, Dark Regions), and even video games.

Which is a long way to say that Asamatsu Ken was a bit ahead of the curve when he first published these stories in Japan in 1994-1999. Some of the stories are eerily prescient as far as capturing the essential dynamic of the post-2000 Mythos WWII craze. Magic is real, the Nazis—deluded and arrogant as they might be, playing with forces they don’t understand—are often portrayed as a genuine occult threat to the entire world. The action is often pulpy, but Asamatsu Ken shows real research in trying to make sure the names, dates, and equipment are correct. The individual stories are like separate, individual episodes taken from a long, drawn-out conflict, but they are constructed with all the care of a good hoax. Mythos references are typically slid in alongside real occult names and texts, the Nazi’s actual activities provide the context for the stories.

In the first place, it is important that we realize that the term “racist,” as used today, has strong post-WWII connotations. We have become much more liberal and open-minded following the dreadful experiences and revelations of the second World War, and anyone espousing extreme anti-ethnic views today must surely be a reactionary, a redneck, or a nut. “Racism” has become extremely unpopular, and we associate the term with the horrors of Auschwitz and Buchenwald.
—Dirk W. Mosig, “Was Lovecraft a Racist?” in Crypt of Cthulhu #98 (1998) 4

One of the shadows looming over Kthulhu Reich (or any other Mythos WWII novel or story) is how it addresses the nature of racism and antisemitism in general, and the Holocaust in particular. No nation in the conflict was free from prejudice and discrimination, but the attempts at genocide which were such a hallmark of WW II present a subject that writers have to decide how to deal with. It is perhaps appropriate that Asamatsu Ken chooses to begin the collection with “The Corporal’s Self-Portrait”—a story which would otherwise seem a bit out-of-place in the anthology, dealing as it does with a contemporary postwar Japan and touching on the attitudes towards racism and how they’ve changed.

“I can take the Koreans and the Chinese. They’re like us, at least. But the day all these Thais and Vietnamese, Cambodians and Filipinios, and Indians and Iranians and Iraqis shoed up, this place became unbearable.”

“Hey, come on… That’s really racist!” I chided, unable to must any real force.

Hirata ignored me.

“They come here to Japan and take the jobs honest students used to be able to count on. Then they send our valuable yen back to their own countries. And then there’s our women! They seduce our women and sully the pure blood of Yamato!”

“Cut it out, you’re talking crazy!”

—Asamatsu Ken, Kthulhu Reich 7

Hirata doesn’t stop. The narrator at least protests, though his words fall on deaf ears. The incident gains sinister connotations as the story unfolds, much like the film Max (2002), yet the reader is shown this angry young man, whose life parallels that of the eponymous Boys from Brazil, and he can muster only ineffective rebukes to his obvious and appallingly vocal prejudice. Asamatsu Ken does not turn a blind eye to the horrors that the Nazis perpetrated. Nor to the real threat that racism and prejudice still form.

Jim Rion deserves accolades here for an excellent translation on what must have been a difficult job—combining as it does real historical elements, occult jargon, Japanese cultural references, the Cthulhu Mythos, the unusual episode “April 20th, 1889” that consists of a series of found documents, and some really well-done action scenes in “The Mask of Yoth Tlaggon.”


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

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶)

It has been known for a long time, then, that Lovecraft had the same prejudice againt the Japanese as he did againt the Chinese, or African-Americans. […] So what? Mishima Yukio was gay, and Kawabata Yasunari committed suicide after being spurned by the maid. The personal proclivities of literary greats have nothing to do with the quality of their masterpieces.

We Japanese tend to be forgiving of heroes. We feel absolutely no contradiction in being enthralled by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the fact that Lovecraft was prejudiced.
—Asamatsu Ken, foreword to The Dreaming God 2

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶) is a story in The Dreaming God, the fourth and final 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 苦思楽西遊博 (Kushi Kakusei Yūhaku); the translator was Kathleen Taji.

Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese novels, comparable to Homer’s Odyssey in Western literature, and has served as inspiration for a vast array of fiction, film, manga, cartoons, etc., including the venerable and popular Dragon Ball saga. Tachihara Tōya may be the first to remix this classic with the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price also notes in the introduction that the story also draws from (or at least strongly parallels) August Derleth’s Trail of Cthulhu serial novel in parts. Most notably, the third chapter (“Sandy’s Story”) echoes a major plot point in “The Black Island” (1951) where the narrating character is affected by the Elder Sign.

The result is a fragment of an epic. Tachihara provides three chapters from three different character perspectives; the full story could be a hundred. A taste of what-might-have-been. The Mythos in “Quest of the Nameless City” is not quite that as Lovecraft or Derleth had written it; the Old Ones are filtered through a different cultural lens, and though we are not given vast details about their place within the cosmology, the story incorporates the Mythos entities into the gestalt as it does all the other inhuman creatures from Journey to the West. As the character Pigsy notes in chapter two:

The world is vast, and there are even manuscripts like the Book of Mountains and Seas, full of Chinese mythology. Thus, I suppose the existence of such fantastic beings is not astonishing in the least.
—Tachihara Tōya, “Quest of the Nameless City” in The Dreaming God 41-42

Initially, one of the key aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos is that it is different, explicitly alien and other to both Christian theology and “typical” horrors like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies which abounded in the pulp fiction of the time. This was not an ironclad rule if you tiptoed even a little outside the bounds of Lovecraft’s own writing; Robert E. Howard had no qualms about including the occasional vampire in his Conan and Solomon Kane stories, which are tied in to the wider Mythos, and other authors have been more explicit in adding Cthulhu & co. to the kitchensink of contemporary fantasy and horror. This trend was perhaps best emphasized when Dungeons & Dragons added the Cthulhu Mythos to Deities & Demigods (1980), Cthulhu was given stats alongside Japanese and Norse deities and Arthurian and Native American heroes.

What Tachihara is doing in “Quest of the Nameless City,” whether intentionally or just as a side effect of the brilliant idea of combining the Mythos with Journey to the West, is effectively lampshading this tendancy to assimilation. Like any “authentic” mythology, the Cthulhu Mythos is ripe for multiple interpretations, some conflicting, and some adapting the familiar stories into new contexts. There are no contradictions here that cannot be ironed out by another chapter, another gloss, or simply let stand to be enjoyed on their own merits.


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

“Necrophallus” by Makino Osamu (牧野修)

Well, I can tell you one thing: Lovecraft would never have written this! But whether he would have been capable of it, or would have approved it, these questions are quite distinct. And yet it is a Lovecraftian tale; it belongs in this anthology.
—Robert M. Price, foreord to “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 237

“Necrophallus” (2005) by Makino Osamu (牧野修) is a story in Night Voices, Night Journeys, the first 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 屍の懐剣 (Shikabane no Nekorufaruso); the translator was Chun Jin.

The name of the story is warning and enticement at once. Necro, death. Phallus, the male sexual organ. Like the Necronomicon, it is a name to conjure with and be repelled by. Readers who see the title and keep reading have committed themselves to the act. Sex and death have always been intimately linked in horror; sex is taboo and transgression, excitement and anticipation. The building blocks of any good horror story. Lovecraft understood this, used it in his fiction—not in any explicit depiction, but by intimation and action; “The Loved Dead” by C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft is a tale of necrophilia told from the necrophile’s point of view.

Lovecraft, of course, never lived to learn about Ed Gein, or to see the rise of the slasher film, splatterpunk fiction, torture porn. There was sadism and masochism in the pulps—even in the early Cthulhu Mythos! Robert E. Howard’s bloody flagellation scene in “The Black Stone” was a taste of what was to come in the weird terror pulps; the garish magazines which promised torture, mutilation, strange and terrible surgeries, gruesome injuries…and sex. Naked women, heaving bosoms, strange violations; always implicit in the pulps, because the could not publish the explicit.

Not Lovecraft’s scene.

Makino Osamu, however, brings the splatterpunk mentality to the Cthulhu Mythos. Filmgoers might point to similarities with Audition (オーディション, Ōdishon, 1999), but while there are definite cinematic flourishes to “Necrophallus,” the narrative itself doesn’t hit the same beats. The narrator is a hunter for the limits of human experience; psychologically damaged, sadistic but not in the sense of cruelty but in some profound sociopathic sense. What he meets, when the eponymous Necrophallus appears, is something beyond the limits of mere human sadism.

Which is really the success of “Necrophallus”: to have that moment of Lovecraftian realization, of the smallness of human endeavor, embedded in and expressed through the worldview of a violent, gory psychosexual narrative. There’s no humor to leaven the horror, as is the case in Edward Lee’s “Hardcore Lovecraft” line; no refuge in outrageousness. And, for that matter, not really much in the way of titillation or moral. The protagonist is a monster; if the reader feels any sympathy for them at the end, it is only because they are a human monster, whose appetites have led them into the clutches of something so much worse.

Like most such extreme horror, when taken out of context and without having gone through the narrative the imagery can approach the ridiculous…but then the surreality of the scene is the point. The idea of having arrived at some new state through the bloody and painful process is akin to birth, and once through the other side the narrator is transformed and ready for the final revelations.

Chī-chan rubs its dangling tentacles against my own. They make a sound like someone slurping their spaghetti. Not to compare with being dismembered by the Necrophallus, but such mingling of entrails also holds something like the remnants of pleasure.
—Makino Osamu, “Necrophallus” in Night Voices, Night Journeys 253

Unlike “She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和), “Necrophallus” has the minimum of explicit Mythos connections; Yuggoth is invoked by name, while At the Mountains of Madness and Miskatonic University are hinted at. It could be cataloged in the next edition of the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopediastats could be provided for the Necrophallus in some module of the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game without anyone blinking an eye.

It doesn’t really need that, however. The story could have stood on its own without that, being Lovecraftian without being explicitly Mythos. Which is probably the real testament to what Makino Osamu has achieved. Whether or not you like the story, with its sexually explicit scenes and bloody body horror, “Necrophallus” has successfully adapted elements of Lovecraft’s style of culminating revelations to a very different mode of fiction. That in itself is an achievement.


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

“She Flows” by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和)

I told him I saw no need to broaden, i.e., to dilute, my understanding of “Lovecraftian.” […] I realize that genres grow and develop by an incremenetal process of transgressions of inherited genre conventions. Thus it is no crime to do something different and still call it “Lovecraftian.” What passes for Lovecraftian tomorrow may seem quite different from what the term denotes today. But I can’t pretend to see how you get there from here.
—Robert M. Price, foreword to “She Flows,” Straight to Darkness 193-194

“She Flows” (2006) by Takeuchi Yoshikazu (竹内義和) was published in the third 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 清・少女 (Se Shojō); the translator was Nora Stevens Heath.

The Mythos as a concept is a struggle for definition. What makes a Mythos tale? Does it have to use specific words, deliberate tie-ins? What are the minimal requirements? The status of “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch as a Mythos story hangs on a single word. “Hypothetical Materfamilias” (1994) by Adèle Olivia Gladwell is a Lovecraftian tale with three. “Red Goat, Black Goat” (2010) by Nadia Bulkin has none, though we recognize the shadow of Shub-Niggurath without ever reading the name of the Black Goat of the Woods. Does any story become a Mythos story if it includes the Necronomicon? Can a story be Mythos but not Lovecraftian, if it uses the right words but in a vary un-Lovecraftian way?

Rhetorical questions. There is no set canon to the Mythos, no strict definition as to what is or is not Lovecraftian. Every individual carries a canon in their head, maybe multiple canons. You the reader decide whether a story is Mythos or Lovecraftian to you. Don’t let anyone else decide for you.

“She Flows” is challenging in this regard. There are, as Robert M. Price notes in his foreword, no explicit connections to the Mythos. The implicit connections are filtered through what feels like a different cultural lens: compensated dating, alcoholic parents, abusive parents, depression. Two girls with eyes a little too wide apart.

People with monstrous faces, long red tongues.

The reader has to make their own connections. Takeuchi’s approach is showing more than telling. Never says “Deep One,” or “Innsmouth.” But they write:

My theme is the ocean.

All I sing are songs about the ocean. You know that folksong, “My Bonnie lies over the ocean”? I liked that one. I remember my dad always used to sign it softly into my ear when I was little.

So maybe that’s why all the songs I write are about the ocean.
—Takeuchi Yoshikazu, “She Flows,” Straight to Darkness 206

Where does the reader’s mind go? A European folksong. A mother who hates her daughter’s face. Was her father a Deep One…or a Caucasian? It’s a story about the ambiguity. Reading between the lines. The reader bringing their own understanding to complete the story. Robert M. Price in his foreword wondered if this was a Deep One story; couldn’t quite make up his mind because there is nothing definite there.

Yet in context, this is a story in a Mythos anthology. Had it been placed in an anthology of yōkai stories, would it have been received differently? It would not be difficult to see these creatures as some form of yōkai, or as some delusion of a mind unhinged by child abuse. The story is weaponized ambiguity. It cuts those who want it to mean more than what it is, who want it to connect to something larger than itself.

Is “She Flows” Lovecraftian? It is if you want it to be.


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

“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).