Today, an anthology of short stories inspired by HP Lovecraft all written by women. The collection is called She walks in Shadows edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R Stiles, published by Innsmouth Free Press in 2015.
HP Lovecraft is a founding father of the horror genre but he’s well known for his lack of female characters and his dubious perception of anyone who wasn’t of English descent.
For those unfamiliar with HP Lovecraft, his work is filled with dark, gory, lush imagery and his stories often focus on scientists uncovering the paranormal in the course of their experiments and the revelations drive them mad. Or family legends of inherited guilt. In his writings, he built a rich pantheon of mythology including the all powerful cosmic entity Cthulu. Lovecraft never experienced fame during his lifetime but has inspired many writers since.
This collection, by all female writers, takes the Lovecraft universe and focuses on, or reimagines, the role of women in his world. The writers are from all across the world, each bringing their own unique spin on Lovecraft.
Usually I find short story anthologies are a bit hit and miss, but when I went back to write this review and looked through all the stories I liked, I was surprised how many I really enjoyed.
But to keep this short, I’ll narrow it down to my three most favourite stories.
Firstly The Cypress God by Rodopi Sisamus tells the story of the teenage Sorha, a pious churchgoer, she takes special care of the neglected shrine of Marchosias. A goddess who demands blood and meat as part of her offerings. An outsider in the world, there is something very different about Sorha but she must stand up when Marchosias’s place in the church is under threat from others.
The character of Sorha appealed to me because of her uncertainty in the real world but her calling to the spiritual world.
Next, Turn Out the light by Penelope Love is a retelling of the life and death of Lovecraft’s mother, Sarah Susan Philips Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s family had a history of mental illness and he had a difficult relationship with his mother. In this story, Sarah tries to cope with raising her son. Her lower class travelling salesman husband now absent, banished to an asylum and his father a bad but intimate influence on the young boy. And Sarah is suffering in her own way and always making sure everyone ‘turns on the light.’
I really liked this story because of the Lovecraft style of the writing and the suspenseful structure. I also learned a bit about Lovecraft’s life. Learning stuff is good.
Lastly, Bitter Perfume by Laura Blackwell. This is the story of Melissa and her extended family. The story starts with her great grandmother’s 125th birthday and Melissa is mixing a new skin softening oil as a birthday gift. Melissa’s family are not like other families but she must face everyday mundane problems, like being made redundant and looking for a new place to house her long-living relatives. But her family is different from everyone else, death is not necessarily an escape.
This story I liked because of the unique family and I got lost in the idea of how a family like this would survive in a modern world, hiding in plain sight.
These are just three of the stories in the anthology, but there are at least another four which I really enjoyed.
There are not only stories inspired by Lovecraft but between each story is an artworks inspired by Lovecraft’s writing.
So if you like gothic horror, claw hands, tombs, descent into madness, all-powerful cosmic gods and the Lovecraftian universe, I heartily recommend She Walks in Shadows.