Indicibles entretiens #18 (English version)
Today, Bobby Deries answers our questions , he is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, Hippocampus Press.
Hello Bobby, thanks again for answering my questions ! For those who may not know you yet, could you please introduce yourself ?
Hi yourself. I am a pulp scholar with a focus on H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. I’ve been published in the Lovecraft Annual, The Dark Man: Journal of Robert E. Howard and Pulp Studies, Occult Detective Quarterly, and Skelos, as well as The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror (2015) and Representing Kink: Fringe Sexuality and Textuality in Literature, Digital Narrative, and Popular Culture (2019). My books include Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014) and Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019), among other things.
When did you meet Lovecraft for the first time ?
I was an adolescent, mayber 12 or 13, when I found a copy of one of the Del Rey collections of Lovecraft. My dad was fond of weird fiction and had a collection of the 90s Weird Tales, from back when Darrell Schweitzer was the editor, and Chaosium’s Call of Cthulhu Fiction books. So I spent a lazy summer staying up at night reading The Dunwich Cycle and The Shub-Niggurath Cycle, kind of hooked from that point on.
Do you have a favorite HPL’s story ?
Of his fiction, my personal favorite is “The Picture in the House.” It isn’t his most famous story, nor does it really have anything but tangential connections to his mythos. Yet for all that I think he achieves in seven pages what many authors would struggle to do in seventy.
Being a scholar working on H.P. Lovecraft … What’s your everyday life like ?
The 2020 pandemic has wrecked my normal schedule, but generally speaking I rise early; my body is used to getting up at around 0500. Lovecraft and Howard scholarship don’t pay the bills, so I get ready and go into work — my day job is as an electronics engineer — and then I come home, and my time is my own. I almost always have at least two or three projects to work on. Right now I’m working on a book about Lovecraft and the Mythos, a kind of spiritual sequel to Sex, as well as a couple essays I’ve promised friends, and I have a regular blog that I update once or twice a week. All of these require research, and a lot of time is spent “perusing the scrolls” — which generally means systematically tracking down references in published or unpublished letters, old fanzines, books of scholarship and criticism, etc.
Aside from work and scholarship, I’m also active online, moderating the H. P. Lovecraft group on Facebook and several subreddits on Reddit, so I have to spend a chunk of time approving users, removing posts, and generally trying to keep things on track.
How did you get the idea to write Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos ?
I was finishing up my master’s degree in electrical engineering at the University of South Florida and determined that I wanted to write a book while I still had access to the resources of the university library. I wanted to do something that had not been done before, and while I’d read a good bit on Lovecraft and sex at that point, it seemed to me that nobody had attempted an exhaustive look at the subject. So I settled on that and got down to serious research.
Could you tell us more more about this book ? Is it only about HPL sexuality or do you deal with other aspects of sex in Lovecraft’s Mythos ?
Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos consists of four chapters: “Sex and Lovecraft” looks at sex, love, and gender in Lovecraft’s own life, including his views and relationships; “Sex and the Lovecraft Mythos” examines those aspects in his fiction; “Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos” looks at the same in the expanded Mythos; and “Beyond Cthulhurotica” looks at sex and the Mythos in other media — television and film, the Lovecraftian occult, art and comic books, etc. Each chapter builds on the other in that respect, like the Mythos itself, it’s not just about what Lovecraft himself created, but how other creators have interpreted and added to it.
Since the original Mythos presents no erotic elements, do you think that the combination of sex and the Cthulhu Mythos is something possible ?
The original Mythos has more erotic elements than most people think! The results of sex are the basis of several Lovecraft stories. “The Dunwich Horror,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, etc. don’t work unless somebody is having sex. What you don’t get is bedroom scenes or explicit erotica from Lovecraft himself; which is natural enough both from the medium he was writing in and his own preferences. But it is certainly possible. People have been doing it for decades.
Did some authors try to add sex in their Lovecraftian stories ? Was it successful ?
There have definitely been authors that added more sexual elements to Mythos fiction; Robert E. Howard was teasing at such things in stories like “The Slithering Shadow” and “Worms of the Earth,” and subsequent authors like Ramsey Campbell and Edward Lee have gotten much more explicit, as publishing in the United States has become more permissive and weird fiction has matured. There’s been explicit Mythos pornography since the 1970s.
Is it successful is more subjective. Every reader has to decide that for themselves. Certainly, the focus on sex often means a very different atmosphere from the cosmic horror that we normally associate with Lovecraftian fiction.
Works like Le Pornomicon by Logan aren’t going to win any awards as great horror fiction. Certainly, there has been some really fantastic Mythos fiction by authors like Campbell and Caitlín R. Kiernan which I think qualify as great Lovecraftian fiction which deals maturely with sex and its attendant issues.
You write that « the results of sex are the basis of several Lovecraft stories. » The Deep Ones and Wilbur Watheley had mothers ! Yet Lovecraft stories are void of sexual elements. Is it because of HPL’s puritan heritage and / or editorial limitations of the early 20th century, or do you think there might be other reasons ?
Lovecraft recognized the potential horrors of heredity; these were ideas that were relatively implicit in the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and Arthur Machen, but which Lovecraft brought to the forefront. You can’t choose your ancestors! So these are eugenic horrors, very cutting-edge for the 1920s and 30s.
At the same time, sex itself wasn’t something Lovecraft had a great deal of interest in, nor would he have had many outlets to write about if he had. Romantic relationships were often a distraction in weird fiction, as far as Lovecraft was concerned; he complained about the romance and soppy ending in A. Merritt’s “The Moon Pool.” Sexually explicit materials were deemed obscene in the United States at the time, so even if he had desired to write a pornographic Deep One novel, he likely wouldn’t have found a publisher…and might have faced arrest if he did!
Lavinia Whateley, Asenath Waite or Keziah Mason are some of HPL’s most prominent female characters. You call them « anti-Gothic heroines » in your book. Could you explain this idea ?
The stereotypical Gothic heroine was utterly helpless, prone to fainting, melodramatic to an extreme that would make soap opera actresses blush. Lovecraft described these figures in his essay Supernatural Horror in Literature as “the saintly, long persecuted, and generally insipid heroine” and he has a point; in Gothic literature these women were meant to be victims. Lovecraft’s female characters generally aren’t that way at all; they tend to be complicit with the horrors…even if it eventually catches up with them, they’re not passive forces in the story, they take part in things.
Did Lovecraft treat female characters the same way he did for his own texts when he was a ghostwriter for other authors (and maybe female writers like Zealia Bishop) ?
Lovecraft’s revision works let him break his own rules. For Adolphe Danziger de Castro’s “The Last Test,” Lovecraft preserved the romance of the original story — although he doesn’t have her faint quite so often.
For female clients like Zealia Brown Reed Bishop and Hazel Heald, Lovecraft wrote some of his most prominent female characters, often following their initial story idea or synopsis, although the text is his own, and with a stronger focus on romantic relationship and the female “voice.” The character of “Grandma Compton,” in “The Curse of Yig” and “The Mound” was actually based on a member of Zealia’s family.
To be continued …
Les indicibles entretiens de l’Association Miskatonic sont sous licence CC BY-NC-ND 4.0