The Lovecraft Reread

The Stars Are Right, But the Cultists Need Coffee: Report From Necronomicon 2017

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Welcome back to the Lovecraft reread, in which two modern Mythos writers get girl cooties all over old Howard’s sandbox, from those who inspired him to those who were inspired in turn.

Today, we report back from Necronomicon, the grand gathering of weird fiction scholars, authors, artists, and fans held in Providence this past weekend.

Ruthanna: First, the most important thing that happened at Necronomicon was that Alex Houstoun, moderator of the King in Yellow panel, stated authoritatively that the Lovecraft Reread comments sections is among the few on the internet that are always worth reading. So go, all of you, you earn that praise every week.

Anne: Also superimportant is that the partial solar eclipse that followed close on the heels of the con did NOT bring on the return of the Great Old Ones, as I was anticipating, um, I mean, dreading. We spent it in Providence’s India Point Park, overlooking the head of Narragansett Bay, the deep water port and the worm-riddled, rotting remains of Joseph Curwen’s infamous docks. At totality, the waters did ripple ominously under the eerily darkened sky, but what emerged was a mere cormorant, not Lord Cthulhu or even one of His Deep One minions.

Though, on the other hand, Nyarlathotep has been known to assume the avatar of a cormorant with tri-lobed burning eyes, which I’m pretty sure this one had, though it dove back into the depths before I could be sure…

Ruthanna: Second, you will be pleased or dismayed (according to how much you value your hostesses’ well-being) to learn that we didn’t make it to any plays with characters named Cassilda, although such tempting entertainments were on offer every evening. We offer instead our highlights from days full of panels, conversation, stories, and art. It’s a thoroughly diverting convention–whether or not you were able to make it this year, we highly recommend joining us next time the stars come right.

Anne: We also enjoyed sitting in the grand lobby of the Biltmore Hotel, watching cultists swarm by. Ruthanna is too modest to mention it, but curled into a banquette she worked with admirable tenacity on the line-edits of her next book, no matter what hideous abomination croaked and shambled past the appalled front desk staff.

As you can see, the Biltmore serves a varied clientele.

Forbidden Tomes

Ruthanna: So many good readings. So many good anthologies. We could (and probably will) easily draw the next several weeks of reread stories from authors encountered or recommended at Necronomicon. I am personally now richer by Scott Jones’s possession-themed A Breath From the Sky anthology as well as my contributor copy of Cthulhusattva, a Steven Graham Jones novel (no relation), the belated purchase of Dreams From the Witch House, and every recommendation I could scribble down from my co-panelists on The Future of Weird Fiction. Out of all the excellent work I encountered, I was most blown away by Sonya Taaffe’s “All Our Salt-Bottled Hearts,” and not only because I’m biased toward queer Jewish Deep One stories. I was very glad that she read after me.

Anne: I didn’t pick up any tomes at the con, but have a long list of tomes to send away for, once I renew the warding spells on my bookshelves. Again and again during readings, I wished I’d had the time to necromance Howard back to life, so he could have sat in the audience, amazed by the strange and varied flora that have sprouted from his literary seeds, ever mutating and evolving over the decades. I’m sure I would have seen a shy, sly grin play often upon his lips, saying to all who can read the writerly visage, Really? No, really? You are all my children, whether loving or estranged, fascinated or repulsed, wary or contrary or embracing? Okay, I guess so. What a family reunion this is, never expected, oddly gratifying.

 

Colors and Models

Ruthanna: Necronomicon is full of absolutely stunning art. The dealer’s room is more impressive than some art shows I’ve been to. I was seriously tempted by one shop carrying Cthulhu idols in the styles of a dozen cultures. I was more seriously tempted by the shining trapezohedron that pulsed and glowed within its wooden lattice, revealing hints of strange shapes within. Fortunately for my sanity, the price was out of my budget by an order of magnitude; I escaped with several anthologies and a Miskatonic University Class of ’37 t-shirt.

At the Eldritch Ball, more of our community’s talent was in evidence. The theme was Beyond Innsmouth. You know how in every movie about a high school, there’s an ocean-themed dance that involves better decorations than actual high schools ever bother with? We had floating jellyfish. We had tentacles. We had a 7-foot-tall high priest of Dagon wearing a funny hat. Attendees, including my co-blogger, wore some remarkable costumes. (Not including me, as you can see—I gave up on anything beyond closet cosplay and eyeliner gills in favor of line edits.) Also present: the King in Yellow and his cultists. Worshippers of the Black Goat masked with curling horns. A Mythosian Ghostbuster with a no-Cthulhu symbol on her backpack. Deep Ones at all stages of metamorphosis, two of them in full tourist regalia complete with Hawaiian t-shirts, looking for H.P. Lovecraft’s autograph.

The morning after the con, we finally made it to the Ars Necronomica exhibition, up on the hill near Howard’s old haunting grounds. So much excellent work, of which my favorite was probably Kurt Komoda’s Rembrandt-esque drawing of the newly-awakened elder thing performing an autopsy. Scientists, man. Komoda also had an anatomical sketch of exactly how gugs manage to eat their food without dropping it out of their sideways mouths. Karen Main had pulsating models of such important biological specimens as the flesh barnacle, and what appeared to be a sword with a shoggoth as its hilt. Careful of the balance on that thing.

The Formless Matter To Have Existed Before the Creation of the Universe – Mike Knives

Anne: I needed to be fabulously rich, damn it, so I could have bought out both the vendors and the art show. As for the Eldritch Ball, I had several wardrobe failures prior to making my grand entrance, including the disintegration of my deep-sea naiad headpiece into a rain of falling pearls and tresses and a few stumbles over my fisherman’s net train. But all went well in the end. Couple quibbles: The ballroom was too dark to see the fantastic detail on the costumes, the band (though excellent) too loud to squee audibly over wondrous apparel, and the gathered cultists left thirsty too long by slow bar service. Though, in defense of the barkeepers, it DOES take time to drain sacrificial blood into goblets chased with unnamable designs.

 

Sages of the Dreamlands

Ruthanna: Anne and I waxed enthusiastic about Hazel Heald and Zealia Bishop on the Collaborations panel. It turns out that while collaborators like Eddy and Barlow get the biographical attention, there are an awful lot of Heald fans around. Another opportunity for future research: sounds like no one’s done comparative studies on the later solo work of Lovecraft’s collaborators—given all the enthusiasm about Lovecraft-as-mentor, you’d think we’d know more about how his influence played out.

Anne: Yes, Hazel and Zealia kicked butt on the revisions panel. I wanted to propose a final combat between them, with ceremonial knives, but was awed into good behavior by the erudition of the other panelists. Much drooling ensued among these scholars when Ruthanna mentioned her solo work notion. Maybe the ceremonial knives will come out when Lovecraft students fight to be first to publish on the topic!

Ruthanna: The King in Yellow panel delved into Lovecraft and Chambers’s shared influences, including forbidden plays described by Poe and Wilde, and possibly a Thomas Moore poem with… interesting… use of masks. We talked about how maddening books and art have made their way into the core Mythosian tropes, in spite of not being a major part of Lovecraft’s original work, and whether Chambers was the source of those tropes, and whether destructive perceptions being man-made (versus the sucky-but-natural effects of looking at a gorgon or basilisk) was uniquely modern.

Anne: On the Shirley Jackson panel, we were all waxing enthusiastic in comfortable unison until I opined that Jackson was the Jane Austen of weird fiction. At which point the moderator bit blood from his tongue, for turns out he is a rabid Austen-phobe. A fight (with ceremonial knives) might have broken out between us, except the wise Minions of the con had disarmed us at the door.

The Miskatonic University panel was packed with wannabe alumni. We had a great time arguing over who was the coolest professor at MU. William Dyer, leader of the MU Antarctic Expedition, had several supporters, as did Dr. Henry Armitage. I couldn’t choose between those two, but added to the fray by bringing up Professor Lake (quite possibly the dissection subject in that MARVELOUS Komoda drawing) and Professor Nathaniel Peaslee. Someone else nominated Wilmarth. Amiable bloodshed ensued.

We also discussed the pros and cons of MU as the center of an alternate reality in which everyone knows about the Outer Gods and magic or as the center of covert study of these matters, bent on protecting mankind from learning too much, with or without government supervision. More amiable bloodshed.

Ruthanna: Among panels I wasn’t on, I most enjoyed Lovecraft in Context, a smorgasbord of intriguing in-jokes and subtle references that show up in HPL’s stories. For example, the name “Asenath” comes from the name of an Egyptian goddess, Nath, whose hieroglyph just happens to include a phallic symbol. One of the panelists had also tracked down the island-discovering expedition that they suspected of inspiring Lovecraft’s own tales of islands risen from the Pacific depths. The cool part, though, is that one of the photographers on the Beebe expedition went on to be a key creative force on King Kong. Skull Island and R’lyeh have common DNA—the crossovers practically write themselves.

Anne: And beyond the windows of the Biltmore Hotel, Providence sprawled and heaved in antique beauty and modern gleam, with gulls and falcons and less easily categorized aeronauts soaring over all. Many visited Howard’s haunts and Howard’s grave and perhaps began to understand how this, his place, his love, his self-declared identity, shaped the man and writer. On the rim of vision, the mystic violet hills encircled all.

And Narragansett Brewery introduced a new tipple, a powerful German beer called “The Temple.” Much was quaffed. Great was the revelry. One more toast, to the organizers and purple-shirted Minions/staff of NecronomiCon 2017! You were all truly Cyclopean!

 

Next week, queer Jewish deep ones.

Thanks to the RISD Woods-Gerry Gallery for permission to include images from Ars Necronomica: Wonders of the Visible Weird. The exhibit is open to the public through August 31st.

Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian stories “The Litany of Earth” and “Those Who Watch” are available on Tor.com, along with the distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land” and “The Deepest Rift.” Winter Tide, a novel continuing Aphra Marsh’s story from “Litany,” is now available from Macmillan’s Tor.com imprint. Ruthanna can frequently be found online on Twitter and Dreamwidth, and offline in a mysterious manor house with her large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.

Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story.The Madonna of the Abattoir” appears on Tor.com. Her young adult Mythos novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen along with sequel Fathomless. She lives in Edgewood, a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island, uncomfortably near Joseph Curwen’s underground laboratory.

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