Shoggoths and the Single Girl: Bobby Derie’s ‘Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos’
I couldn’t tell you what I was expecting from Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, because I honestly did not know at the time I opened the book. I mean, ever since my first teenage daydreams in which I imagined myself as Lavinia Whately waiting up there on the mountaintop for her extra-dimensional paramour/sire, I’ve known (in that way that a girl always knows what’s a turn-on and what’s not) that the fiction of Lovecraft had some pretty deep currents of sexuality running through it. You’d have to have industrial-strength blinkers welded to your temples to not see it… though I’ve since learned that those devices must come as part of the standard issues HPL Fan Kit, if sales of our own NECRONOMICUM magazine are anything to go by.
And I guess it was those blinkers that I expected to be part of the package with this book. (Okay, I did expect something, I guess.) I expected that it would read as a dry, scholarly, “yes, but actually…” sort of half-examination of Lovecraft’s use of sexuality in his work, maybe somewhat like the limp-wristed wave-it-away analysis of his (and let’s just face it already!) crazy-virulent racism.
Well! I am very happy to report that this is not the case! Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos goes deep, and then deeper still. No dirty stone is left unturned. The level of Mr Derie’s research here is, charitably, exhaustive. So exhaustive, in fact, that even I (a mere toiler in the smut vineyards myself, though with a special focus on the niche of Lovecraftian weird-erotica) was pleased to learn of new authors to read, new books and magazines to check out. I’m overjoyed to know how strange this niche is, and that I’m not alone in pulling what I do from Howie’s miscegenating Mythos!
Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos is broken up into four sections. The first examines Howard himself: his sexual life as revealed in his personal writings and correspondences with members of his writer’s circle and the women in his life, including Sonia Greene, who he was married to briefly. Is this part juicy? Not really… but! it reveals that HPL was not necessarily the prim asexual being that his fan club would like to have us believe. Sure, the old boy was a late bloomer, but given time and experience (and had he not died so young, of course) we would have possibly seen a much enlightened person in matters sexual (and otherwise) in his later years. I’ve never been all that into reading about Lovecraft the Man, but this was an enjoyable trip into his letters and life.
The second part of the book deals next with the works themselves with an early focus on the obvious choices (like Dunwich Horror and Shadow Over Innsmouth) before having some interesting fun with more the more obscure stuff. Just as a for-instance: I’d not twigged to the homosexual implications of the relationship between Edward and his wife Asenath in The Thing on the Doorstep but Derie has, namely, that’s not really Asenath at all. It’s her dad, possessing her body! Probably there was no Asenath at all, which brings up all kinds of weird stuff dealing with gender and presentation and so on. Very cool (not to say Freudian!), and there’s a lot of this kind of in-depth insight into the stories here, which I really appreciate. After reading this, I feel like I should carry the book around with me, to open up and shove under the eyes of tut-tutting doubters when I encounter them. “See?!” I’ll say. “Sure, sometimes a tentacle is just a tentacle, but come on.”
Third part examines how the sexuality of the Mythos has been interpreted and exploded and remixed over the decades by other writers. Easily, this is my favourite section, with examinations of Ramsey Campbell (the Master!), McNaughton and Pugmire and Caitlin Kiernan (I love her stuff!) and names I hadn’t heard of but will now seek out, like Stanley Sargent and Edward Lee. Really, if you’ve been trawling through the bookstores despairing of finding decent horror/weird erotic work, this is your guidebook, right here. It could easily be marketed as Best Weird Erotica of the 20th Century (a book I hope Derie decided to write or edit at some point)!
(I should mention that my own Blackstone Erotica series gets a thumbs-up in the chapter on the recent surge of Lovecraftian erotica that’s been made possible by the rise of the electronic book. I could brag here and say that obviously Mr Derie has good taste, but honestly, I’m just too humbled to be mentioned in the same pages as some of my own idols to go that far. It’s a thrill, and certainly won’t help put me off my delusional goals of writing stardom!)
Derie uses the ebook revolution to tip the book into the fourth and final section, in which he delves into the truly seedy underbellies of the wider pop culture to examine some strange artifacts: the films, the comic books (again, I had no idea so much material had been, and continues to be, produced in this niche), the marital aids (yup!) and so on. The beautiful thing about this chapter, and indeed everything before it, is that Derie’s tone is never nudge-nudge-wink-wink… it’s a serious examination, and though not without a certain humour, it never devolves into snickering. I think that’s important, and I’m glad he went that route with his presentation.
Sex and sexuality in the Mythos is a deep and rich vein that continues to be mined for dark treasures, and if you’re at all disposed to digging for gems, or maybe crafting a few of your own from the raw materials, then this book needs to be on your shelf, ladies and ghouls!