With Thanksgiving on the horizon, your hosts are taking a break from story summaries to share our favorite bits of Lovecraftiana, and to send out a prayer to the gods of commerce and time travel for a few things we wish existed.
Years ago in our introduction, I mentioned that I actually came to Lovecraft via Lovecraftian ephemera, only reading the original stories relatively late in the game. It’s not a surprise, therefore, that I have a few favorites—some at least as informed by nostalgia as by current delight:
The look that best fits your face shape is the one that will make the abyss think twice before risking more than a quick glance in your direction.
The now sadly defunct Beauty By Lovecraft is one of my go-tos for weird comfort. If you’re filling out job applications and are at the point where every sentence seems to reflect your inherent inadequacy, a few minutes on this site will get you to the point where every sentence seems full of ominous implication about your disturbing eldritch nature. Or maybe that’s just me.
Woke up afraid of my own shadow. Like, genuinely afraid.
Lovecraft-inspired music is easy to find, from dead serious death metal to Mythos Christmas carols. But the Mountain Goats’ “Lovecraft in Brooklyn” isn’t like anything else. It’s a Lovecraftian song about Lovecraft—and about alienation and loneliness and the absurdity of paranoid phobias. Having made it through the New York stories, I now appreciate it even more. It manages to empathize with Lovecraft’s urban misanthropy, reject and make fun of the ways it went off the rails, and turn it into a universal description of everyone’s worst moments of alone-in-the-crowd bitterness. When I hate humans, this song makes me feel better.
It has a lot of eyes.
Mythos plushies were kind of a thing when I was in college. In my house, they’re still a thing. For a long time we had a “collectibles lamp,” with a hollow base into which you were supposed to stick your collection of… something, with endless possibilities for tackiness depending on whether you collected marbles or Elvis figurines. In fact, we used it to imprison Cthulhu, and the captured elder god graced our nightstand for years. At one point our then-2-year-old son perched on my wife’s lap and started playing with the Shoggoth. “It’s a good shoggoth,” he told us. “It has a lot of eyes.” How often do the much-maligned slaves of the Elder Things receive such empathetic appreciation on their own terms?
That’s not my shoggoth. That’s a Deep One!
Speaking of raising spawn, many fine retailers offer tools to protect your offspring from malign forces, and to teach them all the dark cosmic secrets they’ll need to survive and thrive. Ours were unspeakably fond of Where’s My Shoggoth?, a very unofficial parody of the infinitely variable That’s Not My X series. As the weather warmed, our little monster also got the chance to wear her Miskatonic University onesie.
The Archdean has fnord hit points.
You know, I’m not actually 100% sure that there’s anything Lovecraftian in the GURPS IOU role-playing sourcebook, or if that part of the game came out of our fevered imaginations. [ETA: Not just us, there’s a tentacle monster on the cover—and also I forgot about the awesome Foglio illustrations.]
It’s an absurdly awesome kitchen sink setting in which you can play anything, from any universe, as long as it can afford tuition and is familiar with the Principia Discordia. It so happens that I played an elder god/human hybrid, on the run from its family and majoring in applied theology—my first experiment with Lovecraftian monster as sympathetic point of view character.
She was called Victoria, because she had beaten us in battle, seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name.
“A Study in Emerald,” Neil Gaiman’s post-rise-of-the-elder-gods detective story, may be the perfect piece of neo-Lovecraftian writing. I flail just thinking about it. It was written for Shadows Over Baker Street, a Lovecraft/Holmes anthology—and where most of the contributing authors picked one of those competing sets of themes and styles, Gaiman created an unholy hybrid that meshed contradictory worlds and deconstructed the problematic assumptions at the heart of both. Plus that scene in the throne room is just gorgeous.
Then there are a few things I’ve yet to find…
As mentioned above, those looking for Lovecraftian music can find an embarrassment of riches. And yet… I’ve been totally unable to find any proper Mythosian music—not comedic parody, not goth or metal that uses the Mythos for set dressing and could just as easily shout about Satan or Loki, but something that seems like it could come from the world of these stories rather than simply being about them. I’m still waiting for reports on the Innsmouth sea shanties, but what I really want is hymns, something that gives an idea of how you could set a language with that many consonants to a melody and make it gorgeous. Preferably with spine-chilling chorals. Admittedly, I prefer just about everything with spine-chilling chorals, including rap and bluegrass.
When I’m writing my own Lovecraftiana, sometimes I really need a visual reference for inspiration. Sometimes this leads to an image search for “Innsmouth Look”—which inevitably leads to swearing at the patriarchy. Why, by Hydra and Dagon, is it so hard to find pictures of female Deep Ones that don’t look like slightly bug-eyed pin-ups? If there’s one thing that doesn’t need to be tailored to the male gaze, it should be people who are canonically ugly by ordinary human standards. (Note: I adore the illustration for “Litany of Earth,” one of the best I’ve seen along these lines—but similar examples are pretty thin on the ground.)
I’ve found some really sweet illustrations in the course of the reread as well—from perfectly drawn images out of specific stories to visual speculation about what Yith and Outer Ones do when they’re off-screen to tiny Yithian miniatures. So why is the world so woefully short on serious attempts to illustrate the murals in the Nameless City?
As Lovecraft was writing, the first Burgess Shale excavations were fairly recent—although their true weirdness had yet to be realized. I’m sure one of our lovely commenters can share actual scholarship on the connection, but if nothing else, few people who appreciate the alien body plan of an Elder Thing would turn up their noses at Anomalocaris. I’m very sad, therefore, that I can get a plush Cthulhu, but not a plush hallucigenia. No, I lie. I’m very sad that I can’t have an actual pet hallucigenia. And from the newly discovered Marble Canyon formation, I want a Haplophrentis carinatus. Such a tiny giant cone-mouth! Look at it pulling itself along with its itty-bitty tentacles!
Amazingly enough, I own little in the way of Lovecraft merchandise. I do have a Miskatonic University bookbag, which invariably has someone asking me where Arkham, Massachusetts, is. I reply that it’s on the coast between Gloucester and Newburyport, and the almost invariable response is a sage nod or an, “Oh, that’s right.” From this, I deduce that either I’m an excellent liar, or the city does exist.
In high school ceramics class, my big project was a statuette of Cthulhu, like the one in “Call.” The instructor was convinced it would explode in the kiln, but the Mighty Old One emerged in gleaming malachite green, every tentacle intact. Some of those tentacles have since broken off, but that just gives Great C. a more ancient look. He currently lurks in the china cabinet, next to the Lladro ballerina and the Next Generation Riker Christmas ornament. Some observers have noted a faint phosphorescence about the figure, and an even fainter miasma of the deep sea, but I think they’re merely hyperimaginative.
I’ve also tried Narragansett Brewery’s Lovecraft Honey Ale, which was tasty, but it failed to give me cosmic visions or chaotic nightmares. Maybe I didn’t drink enough, or maybe the stars weren’t right, who knows?
Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about what Mythos merchandise would most tempt me to excavate my wallet from its nitre-encrusted tomb. First up, plushie artists, a shoggoth blanket. How cozy would it be to wrap yourself in ichor-green folds of soft lumpy warmth, studded all over with bobbing stalked eyes and gaping with innumerable toothy mouths? Extra points if you sew in some of those sound microchips activated by touch, which would then pipe “Tekeli-li!” with your slightest motion. Expand the line with infant snuggies in the same style. Nothing says “cute” like a baby being devoured by an eldritch horror.
A few years ago, there was a controversy in Rhode Island involving the proposed move of our minor league baseball team, the Pawtucket Red Sox, to the Providence waterfront. Relocation of the I-195 ramps left a big stretch of land vacant at the head of the bay. Wouldn’t the city have been better served by, oh, biotech industries or the creation of Lovecraft Land? Why should Orlando get all the tourists? I think there are already ancient sewers and railroad tunnels under the land, which would only need the addition of alchemical labs, urn libraries and centuries-imprisoned atrocities to approximate Joseph Curwen’s catacombs. Our own Big Nazo puppets troupe could create the Old Ones costumes and animatronics. Add an island in the harbor rigged to rise and sink twice daily (four times daily on weekends and holidays.) On it would be non-Euclidean ruins of mini-Cyclopean size and extent, plenty of fake slime, and a water slide that would allow screaming visitors to escape Cthulhu’s emergence and grasping claws.
Now if there IS anything cuter than a shoggoth-swathed infant, it would be pics of your kids hugging Yog-Sothoth or Shub-Niggurath. Adults could attend Nyarlathotep’s Electro-Mystical Cabaret every evening, then stagger off to dingy dockside taverns frequented by shifty-eyed Dreamlands types. For the less adventurous, how about a Cats of Ulthar café?
Could be all that won’t fly with the city council and state legislature, alas. Where are the poets and dreamers in this gray city of gray mundanity? When will the gates of dull reality burst inward under the weight of wonder?
Yeah, yeah, when the stars are right, I know.
Another idea, possibly pursuable. What about a virtual Yithian library, to which residents of every world and time could contribute their personal histories? Or at least writers with world-building talents. Also artists and web designers to create the virtual subterranean archives and illustrations. And annual anthologies of the best histories!
Come to think, Lovecraft Land will need a book and gift store, and it might as well be in the form of a Yithian archive, including ten foot high tables for browsing and the consumption of primordial libations and delicacies. Lumbering saurian shuttles would bring customers to the store and—
I will stop now, before I spend all my imaginary wealth on these utopian visions. The imaginary property taxes alone! Not to mention the imaginary utility bills.
Ruthanna Emrys’s neo-Lovecraftian novelette “The Litany of Earth” is available on Tor.com, along with the more recent but distinctly non-Lovecraftian “Seven Commentaries on an Imperfect Land.” Her work has also appeared at Strange Horizons and Analog. She can frequently be found online on Twitter and Livejournal. She lives in a large, chaotic household—mostly mammalian—outside Washington DC.
Anne M. Pillsworth’s short story “Geldman’s Pharmacy” received honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, Thirteenth Annual Collection. “The Madonna of the Abattoir” is published on Tor.com, and her first novel, Summoned, is available from Tor Teen. She currently lives in a Victorian trolley car suburb of Providence, Rhode Island.