by Annabeth Leong
The object of my fascination would likely not have thought much of me. H. P. Lovecraft does not seem to have liked women much. He was anti-immigrant and deeply racist. He hated mentions of sexual matters.
Some people avoid these depressing facts by focusing on the writing rather than the man. My fascination, however, is most definitely focused on the man, and specifically his relationship to his city, where I live now.
When people come to visit me, I nearly always say, "Welcome to Providence, the home of H.P. Lovecraft." The first time I stepped out of the Providence train station and began walking up steep roads toward the East Side, I recognized the shapes of the buildings from Lovecraft's stories. The sky was exactly as he had described it, low and gray. I knew I was walking where he had walked, breathing the air that he had breathed.
At the Necronomicon convention in Providence last year, an event devoted to H.P. Lovecraft, I attended a panel of modern Lovecraftian writers. "I am obsessed with H.P. Lovecraft," said Wilum H. Pugmire, lingering on every syllable. When asked about recent reading, Pugmire cited Lovecraft, over and over again.
I don't have that kind of obsession, though. I've read Lovecraft. I am intrigued by his central themes—forbidden knowledge, secrets with the power to break the mind, the ultimate irrelevance of humanity, and the hopelessness of any battle against large, cosmic evil.
But I'll confess that I prefer Lovecraft as narrated by the brilliant Wayne June. I'm not frightened by what frightened Lovecraft—I am only interested in it. I smile at his purple prose, and it sets me free, but I don't exactly admire it. It is June who brings his tangled sentences to life for me, who makes me see the true worth of his descriptions.
I wonder, then, why I think so much about his footsteps. I wonder what Lovecraft did to earn my devotion. I visit the house where he wrote Call of Cthulhu all the time. I go there as if venerating a saint, standing awkwardly across the street, looking at the window that I know was once his, searching for a relic.
I once paid a healthy sum to tour the city alongside S.T. Joshi, Lovecraft's foremost biographer.
I already knew some of the sites he showed our small group. Over the years I've lived in Providence, I've collected locations relevant to Lovecraft. Every time I walk up Doyle Street, I recall that Lovecraft liked to wheel his bicycle up that very hill on his way to the observatory. When I am stuck in my writing, I go to Prospect Park, where Lovecraft liked to sit and write.
Joshi, however, far surpasses any obsession to which I could pretend. He turns out to have been part of the group that raised the money for a bust of Lovecraft I like to visit. He was the one who corrected a misidentified photograph of Lovecraft on a bench—rather than the New York location where it was thought to have been taken, Joshi recognized the gates outside of Brown University.
Lovecraft's relationship with Providence ran to breathtaking depths. He went through the entire archives of the Providence Journal and read every issue of the paper that had ever been published. He had a love of old Colonial homes (the Victorians were too vulgar, he thought), and he immortalized them in his stories.
Joshi knows where those houses are. At his side, I learned the location of the real-life Shunned House and the home of Charles Dexter Ward (a few houses down from the address given in the story).
I don't think I'm this kind of writer, but I wish I was. Perhaps it's because my life has been so impermanent. I ground myself by clinging to a writer whose roots ran deep, a man who seemed unable to truly exist away from his city.
It is painful to think that, were I to meet Lovecraft, he would likely respond to me with disgust—he was wonderfully generous with his white male writer friends, and I'd like to hope for the same. I don't fool myself, though. Lovecraft opened his Mythos for others to play in, but he would not appreciate what I do with it.
I'm not sure what made it into the final book, but Bobby Derie's draft manuscript for Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos mentioned my work. It pointed to "The Artist's Retreat," a story that appears in J. Blackmore's Whispers in Darkness: Lovecraftian Erotica anthology, as a rare example of lesbian Mythos erotica. I've also been in an anthology alongside the aforementioned Pugmire—we both had stories in Martian Migraine Press's Conqueror Womb: Lusty Tales of Shub-Niggurath.
To me, there is a way that sex is dark and vast and unknowable, liable to disturb, able to break the mind if it is fully grasped. That's why I like to put sex into the Mythos. That's why to me sex has always been in it.
Still, I know that's not a popular opinion in certain Lovecraftian circles. At that panel I mentioned earlier, a writer I won't name went on a diatribe against what he saw as a disgusting tendency to contaminate the Mythos with sex. His comments essentially amounted to, "Why do you have to go there?" His face was contorted with disgust as he spoke, and others agreed.
My body went hot and my heart began to pound. I am very proud of my Lovecraftian work, and yet his disapproval made me feel the stigma that erotica all too often has. I'm not a real writer. I'm perverted, and I'm perverting something sacred to so many.
Sex belongs in the Mythos, but maybe I also put it in to fuck with people. I can sometimes be a rebel like that. Lovecraft is dead. I visit his grave with devotion, and then I raise a middle finger and write about what it would be like to fuck an Elder God. I use words that would make Lovecraft squirm. I talk about how it would hurt, and how it would feel incredible, and how normal life would be impossible ever after. Desire is, after all, a type of forbidden knowledge. Sex can be inexorable, inevitable. It can reveal selves and realities we don't actually want to meet.
It's too bad the title "Booty Call of Cthulhu" is taken, or I would write that story to fuck with Lovecraft even more.
"He's stuck with me," I tell my sister. We are on the lawn in front of the observatory. I go there almost every day.
If I studied his every word like Pugmire, this would make more sense to me. Instead, I read enough to be credible, and then I walk and walk the streets he liked to walk. I am in his city, and I want to make it mine, too.
Maybe I am like a would-be lover studying the behavior of the beloved's ex. From the moment I laid eyes on Providence, I wanted her. Her name rings with fate and destiny. Her streets drip with history. She is rundown in the ways I love. The best bands come to play here, and they do it just before they get famous.
I want to know what Lovecraft did to win this city, to tie her to him so powerfully. How did he and this city seduce each other so thoroughly?
Maybe I am like a lover who wants to leave a hickey. I want to walk up Doyle and leave grooves in the sidewalk in the wake of my passing. I want to learn to write settings better so that someday, a generation from now, someone finds the remnants of the labyrinth in the churchyard of the Redeemer (which is already crumbling, already half-hidden by an improbable willow tree), and they feel they've already seen it because they read about it in something I wrote.
I don't have the blood of this city in my veins. My parents did not both go mad and get committed to Butler Hospital. I haven't even been inside the Historical Society, and the Providence Journal is dying now, and I'm not sure what sort of feat it would be to read its every issue. And yet I have a sticker on my laptop that arrogantly proclaims, "I am Providence," and one day I would like that to be true.