It’s Yule in the Miskatonic Valley and Elizabeth Barrial wants you to experience it all from the Adoration of the Mi-Go to Mother Shub’s Pfancy Pfeffernusse with a chuckle, a shiver of fear and a delectable scent. What goes better with the holidays than peace, joy and Lovecraft?
Black Phoenix Alchemy Labs is one of the most notable perfumers for the fantastically inclined and has a line of Lovecraft scents named A Picnic In Arkham. Barrial, however, has extended their corner of the Mythos into wonderful areas such as the Miskatonic Valley Junior Baseball Association, a collection which introduced Black Phoenix fans to their own little corner of the mythos, complete with four junior baseball leagues. This combination of the domestic and the horrific was a huge hit with collectors and fans and currently remains one of only a few such Mythos fusions.
For the holidays, the Miskatonic Valley adventure has extended into limited edition scents in a collection called The Miskatonic Valley Yuletide Faire that capture all the fun, frippery and nameless horror of Yule in Lovecraft’s world. As interstitial art, Barrial has also worked in Mythos holiday scents in tribute to the Los Angeles horror bookstore Dark Delicacies, which now has its own deliciously scented branch in the Miskatonic Valley.
JMR: I notice in your catalogue that there are fairy tale scents, love scents, deity scents (and many more!) What drew your interest to creating Lovecraft scents?
EB: I have been a fan of Lovecraft’s for as long as I can remember, and there’s something inexplicably inspiring about his stories and the universe that he created. There are few authors that captured a sense of grotesque, otherworldly aloneness the way that he did. I think it’s unnerving for those of us who were brought up in a heavy-handed Judeo-Christian society like we have in the states to accept cosmism; it’s hard to swallow that if there are gods, they aren’t necessarily loving, nurturing deities that coddle and care for us. They could be quite the opposite. In Lovecraft’s world, they’re completely alien to humanity, and are indifferent to us at best. His universe is filled with malevolence and horror, from the gods that pass over mankind all the way down to the core of men’s hearts. While it is terrifying, the level of horror that it inspires also lends so well to camp, likely because if you truly look at the ideas that he toys with, they’re so bleak and so ghastly that it seems natural to react to it with humor and over-the-top campiness and levity. It seems like a sensible way to combat the real ghastliness of some of the ideas that Lovecraft puts forth in his writing.
He certainly did have a way with words, too. How can I not be inspired by the word squamous just by itself? I should make a scent called Squamous.
We have done many, many scents inspired by his stories that aim to be as bleak and ghastly as the tales themselves, but there’s also the MVJBA and its ilk. It’s amazing. Lovecraft, I’m sure, would be appalled at the amount of silliness that has come about because of his work. Cthulhu slippers and baby bottle cozies? I don’t know what it is about the Mythos that inspires such things, but it sure did hook me completely, both from a serious standpoint, and from the angle of complete and utter silliness.
What are your criteria for creating a successful Lovecraft scent?
It is much the same as any of the thematic scents we create at Black Phoenix: the scent has to capture my impressions of the character, concept, location, or scenario. I’m never concerned with whether or not something smells pleasing, only whether the scent really, truly encapsulates an idea. Or, at least, my impressions and interpretations of an idea.
How did the idea for the Miskatonic Valley scents and merchandise begin? Was there any particular inspiration?
Ted (Barrial’s husband) used to coach Little League, and we were sitting around together one day making jokes about how Arkham needs a junior softball team and how cultists would react at their kids’ ballgames, and it split onto sillier things like how pitching with tentacles would beat a left-handed pitcher’s advantage. That ridiculous conversation, in time, became the foundation for the Miskatonic Valley Junior Baseball Association series. From there, the Miskatonic Valley Yuletide Faire took shape, and for me, it just keeps on going.
The Mythos generally focuses on isolation and horror, whereas it seems from my reading that the MVJBA and its subsequent forms focus much more on community. How do you see that and how might it be a new asset to the Mythos?
My brain has this Norman Rockwell meets Richard Upton Pickman vision of an idyllic New England community that had been plagued for eons by interactions with diabolical forces and has, because humans are resilient, assimilated all the strangeness seamlessly. Wouldn’t it be logical that, faced with the knowledge that otherworldly, powerful alien beings exist, the cult worship of these beings would become the norm? What would New England really be like if Lovecraft’s work was not fiction? What if all of this had transpired; would everyone be irretrievably insane? Possibly, but they’d adapt. Innsmouth’s fishmen would have fishchildren, and who’s to say they wouldn’t play softball?
Cultists need something to do when they’re not summoning entities; maybe they’d go to the drive-in on their days off.
The absurdity is amazing food for creative output, and if I were to look at the Miskatonic Valley from a serious standpoint, I think the veneer of normalcy there is what makes it most horrific. What would a town be like where the population would be unperturbed by the appearance of Fungi from Yuggoth?
How do you see the Miskatonic Valley? What is it like there and what makes it different from other Lovecraftian outposts?
It isn’t different from other Lovecraftian areas, really. Rather, it's inclusive of most of Lovecraft’s most notorious locales. In our offshoot of the Mythos, the Miskatonic Valley incorporates the bulk of Lovecraft’s locations, and includes the towns of Arkham, Aylesbury, Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport. The Miskatonic Valley is conveniently accessible to Boston and Salem, and is just a hop, skip, and jump from Danvers State Hospital.
I notice that many of the MVJBA and Miskatonic Valley Yule Fair have many scents based around Shub-Niggurath. What do you find interesting about Shub-Niggurath?
Motherhood is a rite of passage that is filled with innumerable, heart-bursting joys and chilling moments of true terror. In my subconscious, I think that may be why I love Shub-Niggurath so much.
Who would understand this better than the Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young? As strange as it seems, as monstrous as she is, she is still an All-Mother, and a deity that represents the darker aspects of the feminine principle, and that appeals to me.
There’s something incredibly strange and delightful to me, too, about painting her as a nurturing, sweet, cookie-baking sort. I hardly think she would be, but it’s funny to imagine.
I’ve also noticed that your work has gotten even more interstitial with the inclusion of the Dark Delicacies scents. How did this collaboration come about?
Teddy, Brian, and I had been shopping at Dark Delicacies for around a decade, and over that time, we became friends with Del and Sue. Sue and I were talking one day about horror-themed Valentine’s Day gifts, and the collaboration between Black Phoenix and Dark Delicacies was born.
This year, I was so in love with the idea of a Lovecraftian holiday fair that the concept began creeping into other projects. It seemed logical, given the nature of Dark Delicacies, that their store – and their personalities – would fit flawlessly into the side-Mythos that we were playing with.
Dark Delicacies is such an amazing shop, and Del and Sue Howison are wonderful, creative people. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to work on projects with them.
How has the public responded to the Lovecraft and Miskatonic Valley scents?
Generally, the response has been very positive, both for the Picnic in Arkham series and the Miskatonic Valley scents. The Picnic set is very dark, and we did our best to stay true to the real nature of Lovecraft’s stories with those perfumes. The Miskatonic Valley scents are much more whimsical, and that seems to appeal to Lovecraft fans, too.
I think that people are attracted to and amused by the idea that the people of the Miskatonic Valley are so comfortable with the weirdness that pervades their everyday life.
However, some people do think that the idea of Lovecraft-inspired perfumes is ridiculous, while embracing Cthulhu slippers as sensible.
Lastly, can we expect any more adventures in scent from the Miskatonic Valley?
Even if we didn’t sell a single bottle, I’d likely keep running with the theme, I love it so much. We’re working on a Valentine’s Day series in conjunction with a beloved online outpost of geekery, and the hockey goons of Arkham will be squaring off against Dunwich’s enforcers this fall – team memorabilia provided, of course, by Black Phoenix Trading Post. Foil up those tentacles!
This Lovecraft geek can hardly wait for other holidays in the Valley-and may all your Yules be squamous.
Visit the Lab at: http://blackphoenixalchemylab.com
Visit Dark Delicacies at: http://darkdel.com/
J. Melusine Royal writes and works in the Washington, D.C. area and is daydreaming about how lovely the snow will look dusted on top of Sentinel Hill this time of year.