Category Archives: Events

Necro(nomiCon)scopy 2017


What follows are a few fairly scattered observations from my recent trip down to New England with friends Derek Newman-Stille and Bob D. to attend NecronomiCon 2017 in Providence, after a brief foray in Salem.

I want to start by thanking and congratulating Niels Hobbs, s.j. bagley, Farah R. Smith and the many other folks involved in organizing and evolving NecronomiCon.  They had (and continue to have) daunting, precarious, practically endless, and hugely significant work to do in putting this epic event together, in enabling it to grow, and in making it appealing, and more importantly, accessible, to those whose interest in the weird involves more than a fetishistic and apologetic adoration for HPL, a figure in many ways as influential, difficult and divisive as his at-one-time-more-famous contemporary, Ezra Pound.

Organizing any convention on this scale is a cyclopean achievement, but NecronomiCon presents particular difficulties, given the controversial nature of Lovecraft’s xenophobic views and their connection to his widespread popular influence,. This is further complicated by the ardent desire of some  fans and disciples to write only hagiographically about Lovecraft, or to make him an icon of alt-right white nationalism.

I’ve attended NecronomiCon at each of its bi-annual iterations since it was revamped in 2013, and this year’s Con has been, to my mind, the best so far. I never dreamed I’d find writer Nnedi Okorafor and film-maker Richard Stanley as guests of honour at the same convention, and their shared presence here speaks volumes about the multiple directions the Con has taken in recent years. Also improving with each iteration is the scope and quality of the Henry Armitage academic panel sessions. NecronomiCon has become a rare site of fusion between popular convention and academic conference.

(You can read my thoughts on the 2015 NecronomiCon,  the difficulties posed by reconciling Lovecraft with weird fiction understood inclusively and internationally, and the appeal of cutesy and tweird collectibles here. For a fictionalized, pointedly satirical, and unsettlingly comical roman-a-clef account of the 2015 ‘Con thinly veiled as a metafuzzical-murder-mystery, read Nick Mamatas’s novel, I Am Providence, and for a gorgeously written, compelling fictive glimpse into the erotics, obsessions, and proprietary politics that characterize some strains of Lovecraft fandom and scholarship alike, I highly recommend Paul LaFarge’s novel The Night Ocean,.


We drove down to Salem on Wednesday, spending some time amongst the wonderful waxworks and props at Count Orlok’s Nightmare Gallery and devoting a squeeful, gawping couple of hours to exploring It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Art from the Kirk Hammett Collection at the Peabody-Essex Museum. Hammett may well be the most deep-pocketed and ambitious collector of horror and sci-fi paraphernalia in the world, and the tip-of-the-iceberg selection of items included in this beautifully curated exhibition are truly impressive.


The exhibition aims to center attention on the artists and designers who created these seminal images; despite the influence they’ve had on 20th century popular culture, the names of these creators are often all-but-forgotten.  It pays close attention to lighting and placement, augmenting the impression created by these artefacts, and inviting visitors to see themselves in and through the installation.


Zapped like a bug, paradoxically paralyzed and unnaturally animated. Photo courtesy Derek Newman-Stille

As curator Daniel Finamore writes, the exhibit takes a “tripartite perspective,” framing these artefacts “as the creations of artists engaged in the promotion of an industry, as the catalysts for the physiological activity and heightened mental state that occurs in response to the monsters they offer up, and as a wellspring of creative inspiration for Kirk Hammett, a contemporary musician whose own artistic contributions explore the relevancy of the horror genre in modern culture” (It’s Alive, 16-17.)



For your consideration, this epic standing lobby card for King Kong (1933), vortically chiaroscuro’ed




A few of the custom classic horror-inspired guitars from Hammett’s huge collection

While the exhibit puts understandable emphasis on Hammett’s musical career and his personal and inspirational investment in these artefacts, you don’t have to be a Metallica fan to appreciate the power of the collection and curation.


Friday morning saw me on a panel, conceived and orchestrated by Farah R. Smith, called “Mesmerism and Machinations” along with Anya Martin, Steven Mariconda, Leslie Klinger, Jon Padgett, and Michael Cisco.  It was a huge topic, meant to highlight some of the under-recognized central European influences on horror and weird fiction from the Romantic to the Modern period, and a wide-ranging discussion; we were only able to briefly touch on some of the more pertinent examples, from Hoffmann and von Hofmansthal through Huysmans and Lautreamont to Kafka, Schulz and Ewers, with a constellation of figures between. I left feeling under-read, excited, and with a long list of writers whose work I’d like to get to know better.

This panel exemplified the direction I hope the Con continues to take – a spiralling-outward from Lovecraft and the Anglo-American pulp tradition he sprang from to include numerous literary and artistic movements from throughout history and across the world.


Friday afternoon, I fled to spend a few hours in the John Hay Library, where I explored the Library’s two new exhibitions. The first, Greetings & Salutations : Lovecraft on the Road, focuses on Lovecraft’s bus trip from Providence, Rhode Island to DeLand, Florida between April and August, 1934, where he travelled primarily to visit his young friend and correspondent, R.H. Barlow. Their relationship is the subject of a fascinating New Yorker essay by Paul LaFarge, and gets a queer (meta)fictional re-imagining in his novel The Night Ocean. The connection Barlow forms between Lovecraft and William S. Burroughs, at the heart of the novel,  has been factually and critically explored by Michael Cisco’s essay “Re-Animator and Exterminator,” All of these connections sprang vividly to mind as I browsed the exhibit.

The other, The Caitlín R. Kiernan Papers @ Brown University Library, is presented as “a mid-career review highlighting Kiernan’s recent gift of her personal and professional archives.”


The Caitlín R. Kiernan Papers @ Brown University Library – books and award-busts

It includes a wide array of documents and objects, from first draft copies of some of Kiernan’s earliest writings (both fictional and non-, going right back to her primary school days), panel sketches from her work in comics, including Alabaster and The Dreaming, and one of Michael Zulli’s original paintings (as Philip Saltonstall) for The Drowning Girl. The Kiernan papers, I was told, should be archived and available to the public within six months, and I’m hoping I can make it down to Providence next summer to spent some time with them, as well as finally dipping in to the Lovecraft archives. My article on Poe and Lovecraft in The Drowning Girl is finally out there, but it feels to me like the beginning of a larger study of Kiernan’s fiction, and access to Kiernan’s notes is especially important to the article on her comics-script work for The Dreaming I plan to write once I meet a few other essaying and editing commitments.

While at the Hay, I went all Wilbur Whateley and spent some time reading the 1813 translation of De Rerum Natura by composer and musicologist Thomas Busby (an edition that has proven very difficult to find; while Queens University’s Jordan Collection has one, they are missing the second volume of the book.) I was startled to discover the book’s pages remain largely uncut, and it hasn’t been consulted at all since 1960.


Busby’s Lucretius, a dusty versiform beast

Where my article on Poe and Lucretius focuses on the John Mason Good translation and commentaries, Busby’s rhymed translation was also influential on both the English Romantics (Byron in particular) and writers of the American Renaissance (T. W. White praised it ardently in the Southern Literary Messenger in 1842, making it likely Poe also knew it.)

This translation is proving important to my research on Romantic and Modern reception and adaptations of Lucretius (you can read my essay on Lovecraft’s uses and abuses of Lucretius as part of the volume Lovecraftian Proceedings Volume 2) and to my interest in how Epicurean materialism shaped the development of the Gothic and modern horror.

I returned in time to catch the readings in support of Michael Kelly’s much-anticipated Shadows and Tall Trees Volume Seven.

seven-600x600While the entire run of S&TT is excellent, and a must-read for those who enjoy quiet, creeping and artfully insidious horror and weirdness, this volume covers a wider range of voice and tone than its predecessors. Robert Levy, Simon Strantzas and Steve Rasnic Tem read excerpts from their contributions. It was Tem’s story, “The Erased,” that haunted me the most; it is a powerful study of the loss of self and world, a dispersion of identity and memory closely akin to dementia.



Saturday saw me, even more out of my depth, on a panel called “Lovecraft in Context,” alongside novelists Peter Rawlik and Paul LaFarge, renowned professional annotator Leslie Klinger, and Lovecraft scholar Steven Mariconda, discussing the importance of various specific references, allusions, and intimations in Lovecraft’s work. The session ended with both panelists and audience members sharing detailed speculations about the origins of particular details in some of Lovecraft’s writings. Like that of Joyce, Nabokov, and Poe, Lovecraft’s work attracts a particular kind of obsessive blend of fandom and scholarship, study and identification; the solid attendance and preponderance of highly detailed speculations presented by both panelists and audience here really drove that home. I was glad Paul LaFarge was among the panelists, as I think his novel The Night Ocean represents both the erotics and the power dynamics of this brilliantly. See also the social power dynamics of performing knowledge in fandom analyzed by Matt Hill in  The Pleasures of Horror (2005). Hell, somebody should do a doctoral dissertation using Hills’ analysis to break down the social power dynamics on display at any given Lovecraft-themed panel at any convention, ever.

The same afternoon brought what for me was one of the highlights of the weekend –   Richard Stanley’s presentation on his film adaptation of The Colour Out of Space.  The presentation was apparently a last minute addition to the schedule, as Stanley had just gotten further funding and casting confirmations a few days before the Con started (he said he couldn’t reveal any of the casting decisions yet.) Elijah Wood’s company SpectreVision is producing the film, which Stanley’s been working on getting made for the last five years or so.

I’ve admired Stanley’s films immensely since having my fifteen-year-old brain electrified by the fusion of slasher-horror, cyberpunk music video, and dystopian art fugue that is Hardware (1990), which served as my introduction not only to Stanley’s films but to Ministry’s music and Survival Research Labs’ performance art, not to mention 2000AD magazine. I gained a new appreciation for him after watching the documentaries L’Autre Monde (2012), Lost Soul (2014), and Jodorowsky’s Dune (2014), not to mention his supremely creepy short film adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith’s “Mother of Toads.” To learn he’s finally filming Lovecraft’s most effective tale of cosmic terror, and to get a sneak peek of some of the promotional art and plot and character outlines for the film was a real treat.


Richard Stanley as neither a Moreau Dog-man nor a Dagon fish-man.

Stanley talked about the departures the script took from the original story, including the addition of a teenaged daughter to the Gardner clan (and the momentary comedic reprieve that will be provided by her ill-fated attempts to stop the spread of the Colour using spells from Simon’s faux Necronomicon), his intention to rely primarily on practical effects, his desire to break from the tendency many contemporary horror films have to work with a stark or muted palette, his admiration for the lurid, saturated colours used, however differently,  by Roger Corman and Dario Argento and his desire to create a psychedelic experience with the film, which will, he declared, change the world’s perception of bright pink forever. You can get a sense of this already from an early pre-production teaser trailer from 2013, prior to SpectreVision picking it up.  Mike Davis of Lovecraft eZine expressed understandable reservations about the direction the film was taking back when Stanley first pitched, but my enthusiasm was fired hearing Stanley talk about the project. It’s going to be idiosyncratic and bizarre, I’m sure, but perhaps the better for it.


I asked about his initial preference for adapting The Dunwich Horror rather than Colour (more monsters, less abstraction; it has shoggoths, and the 70s version is so bad somebody needs to do a better one) and he spoke at length about the dearth of cosmic horror in the film adaptations of Lovecraft’s works thus far, including in Stuart Gordon’s Dagon (2000; a film he otherwise much admires and played a small role in) and in contemporary horror films generally, repeating his oft-stated admiration for both the original Alien film (which, he pointed out, was due more to Dan O’Bannon’s vision than Ridley Scott’s) and Carpenter’s The Thing as rare exceptions.

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Stanley pointed out that the animal face in the background is a mutated llama. The film’s Gardners are llama farmers.


Another major highlight for me was getting to hear Nnedi Okorafor read from her work once more (the first time being her GoH stint at ICFA a couple of years back.)

In this case, she read short excerpts from both her novels Binti and Lagoon. Okorafor is a singularly charismatic and versatile reader – never pass up a chance to hear her.


Nnedi Okorafor reads from Lagoon.

In both her statements during the Con and even moreso via social media, with her characteristic incisiveness, frankness, and humour, Okorafor raised pointed questions about Lovecraft’s place in modern weird fiction, highlighting the perverse (but perhaps necessary, given that Providence’s primary tie to weird fiction is via Lovecraft?) paradox faced by NecronomiCon, as it tries to, on the one hand, transcend Lovecraft’s xenophobia and showcase a multiplicity of diverse voices of the weird, while on the other hand risking a kind of re-colonization of these voices, by linking them to Lovecraft and his work, suggesting Lovecraft has some kind of influence over them. In Okorafor’s memorable words, while what she writes is “probably considered Weird Fiction,” (and Gary Wolfe makes a strong case for this in his essay “The Queen of Future Weird”)  it has an “ancestral bloodline *separate* from Lovecraft. My tentacles are African.”





Sunday morning brought my third and final speaking engagement, as I gave a brief talk as part of the Armitage academic-track panel “Emanations of Abominations.” My focus was on some of the ways horror mangaka Junji Ito’s work responds to Lovecraft’s theories of weird and cosmic fiction. In particular, Ito has credited his use of the spiral motif throughout his magnum opus Uzumaki to Lovecraft’s nefarious influence, and I sought to elucidate some of the ways this Ito adapted Lovecraft’s concept of cosmic horror via his relentless transfigurations and transvaluations of spirality.

Following that, we headed over to RISD’s Woods-Gerry Gallery to glom about in the exhibit Wonders of the Visible Weird, which “features paintings, prints, sculptures, and illustrations by more than seventy contemporary artists who explore the themes of weird fiction and cosmic horror, inspired by the works of Providence-born writer H. P. Lovecraft and other authors and artists of Weird. The exhibit showcases new and upcoming artists as well as new or rarely seen works by many of the established artists who have put form to the unnameable and indescribable for decades.”

There were a lot of beautiful, strange, hideous, and ineffably-effed-up creations on display; the array of fantastic visual art and crafts are another of the things that make NecronomiCon unique. For example, this modest little specimen that numbers among my favourites, “Mother, Mother Ocean” by Karen Main:

IMG_6504 (1)


It seemed strikingly apropos when, during our drive back to Canada Monday morning, the brief eclipse temporarily translated the world into a painting by Giorgio de Chirico, and when, Tuesday morning, I awoke to a tornado watch for the Southeastern Ontario region. I knew those impetuous invocations to Yog-Sothoth during Sunday night’s performance of the Dunwich Horror Picture Show were a terrible bloody idea.





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NecronomiCon, here we come…



Dear PstD readers – I’ll be travelling down to Providence, RI this week to participate in Necronomicon 2017 (after a brief stop in Salem, MA, always hard to resist, especially as I’m keen to see Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett’s collection of pulp sf/horror art at the Peabody Essex Museum, on display until November 26.)

The organizers have outdone themselves this year in putting together a wide variety of events and a diverse array of presenters, and I’m looking forward to the broader and less exclusively Lovecraft-centric focus on the weird than previous years have seen (and I say this as one invested in studying HPL, his sources, and his influence.)

I’m presenting a talk as part of the Armitage academic track on Sunday morning, (8/20) 10:00-11:15, in the Bristol-Kent Room, Omni Hotel, 3rd Floor. The session is ominously titled  “Emanations of Abominations: Lovecraft Around the Globe.”

My talk is titled “Shadows Out of Space, Colours Out of Time,” and is based on one section of my chapter contribution for the essay collection, The Call of Cosmic Panic: New Essays on Supernatural Horror in Literature (while the peer-review process always makes publication dates tricky to predict, the collection should appear in late 2018.)

The chapter examines how Lovecraft’s ideas of weird fiction and cosmic horror are uniquely suited to both being incorporated in and critically appreciating the formal  and conceptual possibilities of comics as a medium. It considers the centrality of modes of representing temporal and spatial relationships to Lovecraft’s theories of weird fiction and cosmic horror, and how these have been adapted to comics by a variety of writers and artists, including Junji Ito, Charles Burns, and Alan Moore.

The talk (while still absurdly broad) is considerably more circumscribed, and focuses on how mangaka Junji Ito adapts the image/symbol of the spiral from Lovecraft’s work, using it in his magnum opus Uzumaki to unsettle and transfigure perceptions of the human body, space and time.

Uzumaki (1)

Making subversive use of fascinatingly detailed line-work and the relationship between panels and inter-panel gutters, Uzumaki provides a momentary disruption of “the galling limitations of space and time,” a trait Lovecraft viewed as the central goal of cosmic weird fiction.

I’ll be one of the panelists for “Machinations and Mesmerism”: How Middle European Fantasists & Romanticists informed Modern Horror” Friday (8/18) morning 1030 – 1145 in the Grand Ballroom, Biltmore 17th Floor. The description reads:
“Modern weird fiction is rooted in countless literary genres. The fantastical works of many Middle-European authors (Goethe, Meyrink, Hoffmann, Kubin, Schulz, Tieck, etc.), both notable and obscure, are often overlooked as a strong source of influence to both general horror and modern Weird fiction. Join us for a discussion that will touch upon the worth of these narratives as sources, the themes that share a common thread with the modern weird, authors who may not be thought of immediately when one thinks of current dark literature, and how one might look upon the literary genre critically as forerunners to the present dark literary landscape.”

I’ll also be one of the panelists for “Lovecraft in Context” on Saturday (8/19) 430-545 PM, Newport-Washington, Omni 3rd Floor. The panel description reads:
“Lovecraft in context, more than just a quick annotation, some of Lovecraft’s most obscure references are links to other stories, secret crossovers, and in-jokes to the well-read. Find out what you are missing out by not delving into the details of that off-handed remark.”

I’m in some intimidating company for this one – Leslie Klinger, Paul LaFarge, Steve Mariconda, J.M. Rajala, and Peter Rawlik. These are all scholars/writers I admire, but I’m especially thrilled to be sharing space with Paul LaFarge, whose magnificent novel, The Night Ocean, is one of the most queerly fascinating things I’ve read in recent years.  A sort of multiply-nested piece of vampiric biography, it out-Pale Fire-s Nabokov, examining identity, obsession, fandom, and the will to believe, ingeniously threading Lovecraft and W. S. Burroughs together via R.H. Barlow. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it (Douglas Wynne has written a sharp review of it for the Lovecraft eZine here .


The cover of La Farge’s novel, with its aptly vortical spirals.

Speaking of scholarship on weird fiction and Lovecraftiana, my latest foray into scholarly non-fiction to make it into print came out back in June. The Lovecraftian Poe: Essays on Influence, Reception, Interpretation and Transformation (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) is a peer-reviewed essay collection that I edited, introduced, and contributed a chapter to; it examines the complex relationship between these seminal writers from multiple points of view, and at a length and level of detail that has never been done before. For the time being at least, you can read the entirety of both S.T. Joshi’s foreword and my introduction to the book here. This project, like most academic collections, was a long time coming together, and had its conceptual genesis in the wake of the first NecronomiCon I attended back in 2013, so it seems appropriate to mention it here.

In September, look  for a longer post about The Lovecraftian Poe, including the table of contents, chapter abstracts, excerpts, links to recent work by the contributors, and some praise from reviewers.

Look, too, for a new Necro(nomicon)scopy, debriefing some of the highlights of this year’s ‘Con,  and an update and schedule for my participation in CanCon 2017, Ottawa’s fantastic annual speculative fiction convention, coming up so-so-happily-soon in October 13-15.

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Poe Vs. Lovecraft Panel at FanExpo Toronto 2015

This t-shirt design from TeeCraze rather captures the spirit of the Thing, don't you think?

This t-shirt design from TeeCraze rather captures the spirit of the Thing, don’t you think?

Sean Moreland will be joining influential Canadian writers/editors/anthologists Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles on a panel at this year’s FanExpo Canada to talk about the relative scary-merits of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft (the panel may also be joined by a special guest, known for his screen embodiment of both writers’ fictions.)  It’ll be a feast of insidious intent, hideous argument, and debatable putridities as we discuss the legacy and influence of these two titans of terror, considering who is finally more frightening, and why….

The panel is scheduled to take place on Saturday September 5 at 545. I’ll post any changes or details here. If you are at this year’s expo, we hope to see you there!

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I spent last weekend down in the lovely Providence, RI, for the 2015 edition of NecronomiCon, a festival that celebrates the legacy and achievement of H.P. Lovecraft, as well as the broader field of the weird in literature, art, and popular culture.

I first learned of Lovecraft when I was probably about 10, by reading this Lovecraft homage aimed at young adults.

I first learned of Lovecraft when I was probably about 10, by reading this Lovecraft homage aimed at young adults.

Having been an avid reader of Lovecraft since the age of 11, I first went to the Con in 2013 in a purely recreational capacity, enjoyed it immensely, and found that it renewed my interest in researching and writing critically on Lovecraft and his legacy (the forthcoming collections I’m editing, The Lovecraftian Poe and The Call of Cosmic Panic, not to mention my return to Lovecraft via the interest he and Poe shared in materialist/atomist philosophy, all came about in part because of the impetus NecronomiCon 2013 provided.)

I first read Lovecraft in this 1974 edition, a dog-eared copy of which lurked in the local public library

I first read Lovecraft in this 1974 edition, a dog-eared copy of which lurked in the local public library.

This year, I attended as part of the Armitage Symposium, a series of academic panels and talks co-organized by Niels Hobbs and Dennis Quinn. I participated specifically in a panel on the importance of ancient Rome and Roman writers for Lovecraft, drawing on a book-length study I’m slowly working on (tentatively titled Repulsive Influences) that charts the vestiges and influence of 1st century BCE Roman poet Lucretius’s De Rerum Natura in/on Poe and Lovecraft. and through them, contemporary cosmic horror.

NecronomiCon 2015 was both fun and thought-provoking; it is, in many ways, a unique and wonderful convention, and this year’s was more ambitious and multi-faceted than its 2013 iteration had been. It was also much more unsettling.


If you don’t know anything about the Con, it straddles the boundaries between pop-culture fandom and academic conference. It features gaming, cosplay, a bizarre bazaar offering everything from Cthulhu plushies to rare and first-edition books to contemporary weird and horror fiction titles (by indie and major publishers) and films, to on-site film screenings, podcasts, live theatrical performances, and….well, you get the idea.

It is, on the one hand, an unprecedented celebration of a single writer’s massive popular-cultural legacy (even Lovecraft’s beloved “God of Fiction” Poe, or his contemporary popular descendent Stephen King, doesn’t have anything comparable). On the other, it also strives to be a locus of weird/horror fiction more broadly, showcasing the work of many subsequent creators who work in Lovecraft’s shadow, or with the materials he helped shape into their modern forms.

These contradictions are part of what make the convention so singular, and so engaging. They are also, of course, what make it so profoundly problematic. Consider my phrasing, above, about contemporary creators of the weird working “in Lovecraft’s shadow,” and you may already get a sense of part of the problem, as Nnedi Okorafor famously did when she won the World Fantasy Award a few years back.


Knowing I was at the Con, a friend shared a link to this Atlantic Monthly article about Lovecraft’s popular resurgence, and its relation to his more troubling social, and especially racial, views. The article’s aptness was highlighted for me by a number of things that happened at the Con.

On the one hand, there was a lot more open, critical dialogue about this aspect of Lovecraft’s writing and legacy than at the previous NecronomiCon, including a well-selected and attended panel on Lovecraft and racism. I didn’t make it to that one in person, but have watched it since – you can view it here.

Lovecraft’s xenophobic and racial views are hard to overlook (I would say impossible, if so many of his readers, imitators, and commentators had not tried, with varying degrees of success, to overlook them for so many decades), and this makes his celebrated status as a literary and pop-cult icon especially problematic.

These views are hardly incidental to Lovecraft’s writing, fiction or otherwise. In terms of his fictions, his anxious racial attitudes pervasively inflect his tales, becoming most overt in stories written during his time in New York city, including the spasmodic, gibbering tirades against urban ethnic hybridity which are “He” and “The Horror at Red Hook.” But they hardly disappear from the later fiction; like the invective that peppers his letters, they just become more understated once he returns to the relative ethnic and linguistic homogeneity of Providence.

In terms of his critical writings, Lovecraft even tended to assimilate weird fiction to his own racial typography, associating different strains of it with different aspects of his racial imaginary. In one example, from the first chapter of Supernatural Horror in Literature, he claimed that:

“In the Orient, the weird tale tended to assume a gorgeous colouring and sprightliness which almost transmuted it into sheer phantasy. In the West, where the mystical Teuton had come down from his black Boreal forests and the Celt remembered strange sacrifices in Druidic groves, it assumed a terribly intensity and convincing seriousness of atmosphere which doubled the force of its half-hinted horror.”

Virtually every aspect of Lovecraft’s thought and writing is in some way coloured by his ideas about race and the relationship between genetics and culture, from his affectionate writings about cats to his readings of philosophical and historical works. As my ancient Rome co-panelists Dennis Quinn and Byron Nakamura both aptly stated during the panel on Lovecraft and ancient Rome, even Lovecraft’s identification with Roman writers is inflected by a tendency to align his contemporary white-Anglo-Saxon-Atheistical-Protestantism with both 18th century England and Republican Rome (an identification that echoes that made by Edward Gibbon and other 18th century British writers.)

Are these racial views ostensibly the reason most contemporary readers/writers are fascinated with Lovecraft’s stories? Of course not.  One of the participants on the panel, Mexican-born Canadian author, editor and publisher Silvia Moreno-Garcia, in her own reflections on the 2015 Con, writes:

“I’ve been asked (over and over again) why I’m interested in Lovecraft since he is so problematic. Nick Mamatas pretty much nails the answer in his essay “Why Write Lovecraftian Fiction?” which concludes:

“We read Lovecraft’s work and write Lovecraftian fiction, but we don’t side with his sallow protagonists and their nervous fits-we see ourselves in the glory of the Outsider Things.”

That’s my reaction, too.

Lovecraft was almost pathologically racist, brimming with biological anxieties which found their way into his stories. Even when he’s not afraid of other races, I would say he is afraid of genetic inferiors, constantly consumed with thoughts about degeneration, about lineages and disease.”

(You can read my earlier PstD interview with Moreno-Garcia here.)

Also among the panelists was Canadian novelist and journalist David Nickle, who notes:

“there are other things going on in Lovecraft too: there’s the bestiary/pantheon of fantastically alien gods and monsters; that overheated prose that veers so easily between the sublime and the leaden; his fearful, bookish characters. But those are characteristics, aesthetics; not fundamentals. They are not the agenda.”

(You can read my earlier PstD interview with Nickle here.)

Both are surely right that the vast majority of Lovecraft’s readers, myself included, are drawn to Lovecraft’s fiction by things other than his racist views. But critically, Lovecraft’s racism is, in certain respects, finally inseparable from his aesthetics, and Lovecraft scholarship has only recently began to examine the degree to which they are imbricated, and what the effects of this imbrication are.

Of course, the same is true for the history of Western aesthetics in general. Consider, for example, Plato’s foundational remarks on the beauty of whiteness (so aptly parodied by another dead-white-great American weird fictionist, Melville, in Moby-Dick). Or consider Edmund Burke’s comments on, and supposedly empirical evidence for, the natural repulsion “we” feel when faced with black skin, in his Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, a text which informed much of Lovecraft’s thought (like that of over a century of Gothic writers preceding him), and seems to have particularly inspired the opening sentence of Supernatural Horror: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

In Lovecraft’s case, these imbrications are particularly vivid, and therefore can be especially illuminating. Weird fiction titan China Mieville and scholar Jeffrey Weinstock are among those who have recently, and  persuasively, argued that the intensity of Lovecraft’s racialized anxieties contribute to the potency of his fictions. Some of Moreno-Garcia’s and Nickle’s comments, as well as their fictions, suggest that they think similarly.

In his Aug 25, 2014 blog post, “Don’t Mention the War,” Nickle observed:

“In a perverse way, Lovecraft’s retrograde views on race may be his most socially relevant contribution to 20th century weird literature… not as an advocate of his views, not by any means, but as an example of where we’ve been and what too many of us still share, an opportunity to critique those views through the lens of cosmic horror and alien gods.”

Nickle explores Lovecraft’s racial imaginary, alongside that of his North American historical context, effectively in his novel Eutopia, as well as in many of his critical commentaries. Moreno-Garcia does so not only through her own fiction and her editorial and curatorial work, but also through her academic graduate work on Lovecraft and the American eugenics movement of his day.

These are tremendously valuable forays into an unpleasant, unsettling, but very necessary frontier; Lovecraft’s racism (and that of his contemporaries, and that of our contemporaries, and, ultimately, that we ourselves may experience and/or unwittingly propagate) needs to be not only openly acknowledged and discussed but studied, and re-examined not only through academic, but also through creative, lenses.

Doing so is not only necessary for developing our understanding of Lovecraft’s work, and its relationship to the history of racism in the 20th century. More importantly, it is vital for developing our understanding of the pervasive and persistent tendency to view alterity as a source of anxiety, and a site of exclusion and abjection. Lovecraft’s fiction is particularly apt in this respect, because it offers such a vivid and stark imagining of this tendency.

As Robin Wood pointed out in his classic essay “The American Nightmare” over 30 years ago, and as many theorists and writers have noted since, alterity forms much of the conceptual basis, and visceral appeal, of much, if not all, horror and weird fiction (hell, of human literature and culture tout court!). This is one of the things that led to Stephen  King’s pithy remark in Danse Macabre that horror writers are as  Republican as “a banker in a three-piece suit.”


That brings me to the titanic “other hand -” the less positive way in which this NecronomiCon was a more unsettling experience.

Even though he wasn’t wearing a three-piece suit at the time, Robert M. Price rather embodied King’s stereotype during the Con. This is not only true of his controversial remarks during the opening ceremonies (here is a link to the video recording of them, Price’s speech beginning about 50 minutes in, with his “real life ‘Horror at Red Hook’ quip kicking up near the hour mark.) It was also evident during the short fiction reading he gave on Saturday, a Holocaust-exploitation story titled “It Came from the Ovens.”  In a nutshell, the story re-invents Lovecraft’s character, Herbert West, Reanimator, by having him working alongside Josef Mengele’s Nazi doctors in a concentration camp, focusing in pulpy, sensational detail on the torture of Jewish prisoners, from whom he learns the secrets of the Kabbalah. After describing the sofas he assembled from the excised faces of prisoners and similar atrocities, the story goes on to portray West’s creation of a Golem which, in typical revenge-film fashion, then smashes up a bunch of Nazi guards before destroying the animating sigil on its forehead, returning itself to ashes.

Price likely had satirical intentions with the story. In a recent blog post aimed at critics of circumcision, he wrote:

“This is a terrible time for Jews. Vocal and virulent anti-Semitism is on the rise in once-civilized Europe. But of course it was cultured, enlightened Europeans who sent Jews to the gas chambers, wasn’t it? And it was effete, ever-optimistic, naïve Europeans who allowed the annihilation of Jews because they could not believe “Mister Hitler” could actually be such a medieval barbarian as he proved to be. Today things are no different. Bubble-headed Presidents and Secretaries of State assure us that Iran is just kidding when they repeatedly announce their intent to wipe out Israel in a repeat of the Holocaust they disingenuously claim never happened. What happened to “Never again!”? More like “Ever again!”

Price’s politics and his fiction feature some pretty crassly co-ordinated fear-mongering. His reading felt to me like a piece of tasteless and opportunistic provocation, especially when taken in light of his remarks at the opening ceremony, that contemporary North America is facing a real-life “Horror at Red Hook.”

As Niels Hobbs commented during the panel on Lovecraft and Racism, perhaps Price has performed a sort of service by throwing into such high relief what a continuing concern Lovecraft’s worst ideological aspects remain for contemporary readers. Certainly, it shook me out of my complacent tendency to treat many of Lovecraft’s racial and ideological views as essentially historical and textual concerns, and served to remind me that they continue to have a potentially toxic cultural and polemical afterlife of their own.


What does all of this mean, however, for the present, and future, of those literary registers in which Lovecraft worked? The deleterious consequences of the popular (con)fusion of Lovecraft with the broad spectrum of the weird is one that has been pointed out many times, and that many writers, editors and commentators have tried to clarify, notably including Ann and Jeff VanderMeer with their seminal anthology, The Weird. Their introduction to that collection makes the point succinctly:

“The Lovecraft Circle is represented in the early pages of this volume, but not to the exclusion of all else. Why? Because in other places a similar impulse was arising. At roughly the same time Lovecraft penned tales like “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” Jean Ray, in a Belgian prison, wrote stunning and sophisticated stories like “The Shadowy Street” and “The Mainz Psalter,” Japanese poet Hagiwara Sakutoro composed the hallucinogenic strangeness that is “The Town of Cats,” and Polish writer Bruno Schulz mythologized his childhood in weird stories like “Sanatorium at the Sign of the Hourglass.

These non-Anglo versions of The Weird were not aberrations. In the 1910s, Ryunosuke Akutagawa published the Japanese contes cruel “The Hell Screen” and Franz Kafka, still to remain relatively unknown for decades, wrote the classic of weird ritual “In the Penal Colony,” while in India Rabindrath Tagore wrote his most supernatural tale, “The Hungry Stones” and in Italy Luigi Ugolini penned “The Vegetable Man,” a tale of weird transformation.”

Certainly, I think the organizers of NecronomiCon are making efforts to make the event more balanced and inclusive, and I suspect Price’s antics may be part of a reaction against that.

These efforts, however, need to go a lot further. In his recent reflections on NecronomiCon 2015, Nickle wrote:

“But you know something about all those talks? With a few exceptions, they were all conversations among white, privileged people in the U.S. and Northern Europe, about the extreme racism and xenophobia of a dead white writer. They were conversations that may not have consciously excluded the people of colour who Lovecraft so consistently libelled, but nonetheless didn’t really manage include them.”

Moreno-Garcia also emphasizes this situation, and has offered a few Con-specific suggestions for improving it; you can read her blog post here.


On a less serious note, I’d like to ponder what all of this recognition of politicization means for not only Lovecraft’s monsters, but also the profusion of “innocent” Lovecraftian kewtsch they’ve inspired.

Nested in Chloe Buckley’s recent review of Datlow’s collection, Lovecraft’s Monsters are some striking meditations on the cola-dark sea of Lovecraftian paraphernalia on which we are adrift:

“To Lovecraft literature scholars, the very idea of a cuddly Cthulhu might suggest the pernicious effects of late consumer capitalism on what was once a truly subversive modernist literature. S. T. Joshi, for example, decries the decline of Weird fiction, stating that ‘the amount of meritorious weird fiction being written today is in exactly inverse proportion to its quantity’ (2001, 1). Alternatively, to die-hard Lovecraft fans, the appearance of Cthulhu in children’s cartoons is an example of the inevitable “gushing up” to the mainstream of subcultural production. However, this polemic of radical art vs. conservative commodity, or, differently configured, transgressive subcultural form versus mainstream pop cultural work has always been to some extent resisted by the Weird tale and the Weird monster. Lovecraft’s work is neither properly modernist, nor properly post-modern; it is originally a pulp fiction that has accrued a (sub)cultural status, equated by some critics with outsider art; it is also deeply embedded in the highly commodified ‘geek culture’ that continues to become more and more mainstream.”

Innocuous octopi...or something far more sinister?

Innocuous octopi…or something far more sinister?

My thoughts about “tweird” HPL bric-a-brac went down a different track after David Nickle struck me with one of his characteristically incisive comments during a brief in-transit conversation at the Con. He suggested that sporting a Lovecraftian icon (say, a Miskatonic University t-shirt, or a plush shoggoth doll, or a Cthulhu-fish decal) could be perceived as a little like hanging a confederate flag above one’s mantelpiece.

Is it possible that, in the years to come, people are going to look back on the current Lovecraft craze, and its volcanic eruption of kewtsch, with the kind of fascinated horror with which most of us regard wooden cigar store Indians or those classic Disney cartoons from the 1930s, with the Bat Bandit, Chinky the Cook, and similar characters?


Is my six-year-old-daughter going to drag the pink-and-blue hand-knit Cthulhu we gave her in 2013 out of her closet in fifteen years, and groan, “DAMN, DAD, WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING WITH ALL THIS LOVECRAFT CRAP?”

Somewhat more seriously, given the degree to which the monsters of our cultural imaginaries through the course of history are inflected by our own social and psychological anxieties and epistemological limitations, what might these mean for alterity-inflected monsters whose racialized context is a little less obvious?

Grendel, as all-too-humanly imagined for the cover of John Gardner's novel.

Grendel, as all-too-humanly imagined for the cover of John Gardner’s 1971 novel.

In any case, while I don’t think there is anything to be gained by denying Lovecraft’s importance, influence, or continuing power to fascinate (or in trying to quell the generative memetic quality his creatures have for cutesy caricature) the continued tendency to treat Lovecraft as a metonym, a personalized fetish, for the broad, dimly-lit, transnational, and even transhuman, field of the weird is disastrously misleading.

To awkwardly paraphrase Poe, “if in many of our productions weirdness has been the thesis, we maintain that weirdness is not of Lovecraft, but of the soul.”

Sean Moreland

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Postscripts to Darkness Volume 6 Launch(es)!

We’re pleased to announce the upcoming launch events for our much-anticipated sixth volume!

Cover art by MANDEM

Cover art by MANDEM

The first will be in our hometown of Ottawa, at Raw Sugar Café at 7pm on Friday, May 8th. Prepare yourself for some PstD-style literary fun, food, and drinks. The evening will feature readings by two talented Ottawa writers of dark speculative fiction who both have work in our sixth volume: Kate Heartfield and Robin Riopelle. There will also be short readings by James K. Moran and Matt Moore. Some of our gifted artist/illustrators will be on hand to promote, sell, and sign their work. We’ll have our customary trivia contest, with many a weird prize to be won, so come with your skull swollen with horror and weird factoids. And, of course, there will be the delicious food and drink for which Raw Sugar is famous… If you are in or near the Ottawa area, we hope to see you there!


The second event will be in Toronto  as part of ChiSeries Toronto on May 20th at 8pm the ROUND venue. This event will feature a trove of gruesome literary treasures and special featured guests. They will be joined by four contributors to PstD 6: the volume’s featured poet, the incomparable Sandra Kasturi, as well as creators of dark fiction Tonya Liburd, Christine Miscione, and Lisa de Nikolits. As if that isn’t enough, ChiSeries Toronto bard/chanteuse extraordinaire Kari Maaren will liven things up with some music. If you are anywhere in the GTA, we hope you will come out and join us!

Volume 5 Launch: Toronto

Artwork by Cherry Valance

Artwork by Cherry Valance

Please join us at the ROUND venue on Sunday, September 21 at 7pm for the Toronto launch of Postscripts to Darkness 5 (152a Augusta). We’ll have a stellar array of readers, including our current Featured Writer Michael Rowe (author of contemporary classics of Canadian horror Enter, Night and Wild Fell), Sandra Kasturi (award-winning author of the poetry collections The Animal Bridegroom and We Come Late to the Love of Birds, co-owner of ChiZine Publications, and the featured poet of our forthcoming Volume 6), Matt Moore (Aurora-nominated author of many unsettling short stories, including “Balance” in PstD 5) and Laura deHaan (author of a number of short strange stories including the unforgettable “Cracks” in PstD 4). Here be readings, some speculative songstering by the incomparable Kari Maaren, weird trivia and weirder prizes, and some delicious drinks in the ROUND’s vibrant atmosphere. (Note that while the kitchen will be closed for this after-dinner event, free snacks will be available, as will, of course, full bar service.)

Volume 5 Launch!

Artwork by Sebyth

Artwork by Sebyth

The hour is finally upon us. We’re launching our fifth volume on July 31 in Ottawa at the venerable Raw Sugar Cafe in Chinatown (7pm). It will be another amazing literary event that will bring together the city’s speculative fiction crowd and put another notch in Ottawa’s belt as a fast-growing hub for fantasy, science fiction, and horror. Authors will be reading their wonderful weird tales, books will be available for purchase, and great coffee, tea, desserts and (most importantly) spirits will be on hand. Evelyn Deshane, Alexander Polkki, Matt Moore and Kate Heartfield will regale you with their words, and our inspiring cover artist, Cherry Valance, will sell the artwork she created to front Volume 5, as well. We hope to see you there. No cover charge.

Volume 4 Launch: Toronto

Hayden Tremholme reading for Tony Burgess

Hayden Trenholm reading for Tony Burgess

The official launch of Postscripts to Darkness Volume 4 in Ottawa (October 8) went very well indeed. Matt Moore and ChiSeries were phenom hosts, the readings were memorable, and we sold out of the new issue (fortunately we have more back at the ranch). Contributors Lydia Peever and Kate Heartfield were in fine form as they read their respective Volume 4 tales, Matt Moore teased the crowd with a great reading of John F.D. Taff’s “The Night Moves,” and Hayden Trenholm of Bundoran Press (fresh off his Aurora win for Blood and Water) mesmerized the room with his take on Tony Burgess’s “Soft Shell Story.” Volume 4 was also on offer at Can-Con, Ottawa’s annual spec fic convention (October 4-6), and the Ottawa Small Press Book Fair (October 12), so it’s been around town quite a bit this past week.

Now it’s Toronto’s turn. Join us at the ROUND Venue, 152A Augusta Avenue, on Friday, October 25, at 6:30pm, and grab your copy in person. PstD friend Michael Kelly of Shadows & Tall Trees will be on hand to read, as well as three Volume 4 contributors: Albert Choi, Laura deHaan and Graeme Lottering. We hope to see you there, and we promise to bring extra copies to the event this time.

Volume 4 Launch: Ottawa

cover art -PstD4 for websiteBehold the cover of Postscripts to Darkness Volume 4, illustrated by Dutch artist Tais Teng. We’re madly in love with it, and eager to unveil our latest collection on October 8th. Volume 4 is our largest issue by far, featuring 17 weird tales, 17 weird illustrations, poetry by Helen Marshall, and an interview with Tony Burgess, of Pontypool fame. Read our full list of contributors here.

Our launch coincides with ChiZine’s ongoing Chiaroscuro Reading Series, hosted by Matt Moore. This Chi/Scripts mashup is taking place on Tuesday, October 8th at Maxwell’s Bistro and Club (340 Elgin Street, Ottawa). You’ll find us upstairs with books, authors, illustrators, and other sundry talents, at 8pm. Order up a drink, some hors d’oeuvres, and settle in for a night of readings by Lydia Peever, Kate Heartfield, and a surprise guest.


If you can’t make it to Maxwell’s on the 8th, or need a sneak peek ahead of launch, we’ll also be attending Can-Con in Ottawa, Canada’s spec/fic conference, the weekend of October 4th to 6th. You can find us in the vendor’s room with preview copies of Volume 4 hot off the presses, and earlier issues as well. Our founding editor, Sean Moreland, will be speaking on a variety of panels, too. Hope to see you there.

A midsummer night’s scream at Black Squirrel Books

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Illustration by Dominic Bercier

Illustration by Dominic Bercier

Join us for some unsettling literary fun, odd prizes, and refreshments, and support both Ottawa’s finest purveyor of uncanny fiction and Ottawa’s finest indie book-and-tea shop, Black Squirrel Books! Located at 508 Bank Street, Black Squirrel becomes our domain at 7pm, no cover. Our editors will be on hand, and there’ll be readings from some fantastic local writers, including Aurora nominee Matt Moore, and Lydia Peever and Kate Heartfield, both of whom have stories in Volume 4, coming this October. All three volumes of Postscripts to Darkness will be available for purchase at a special rate — and there’s a whole bookstore to roam, as well. Come join us!