Tag Archives: lovecraft

Let Sleeping Gods Lie: The Forbidden Necronomicon

(Recently, I was asked to create a faux blog for my Writing for Media Professionals course. Because the resulting “site,” Libris Obscuriis tonally similar to my author blog, I’ve decided to reproduce three of its “posts” here. It’s a shame to let content go to waste, after all!)

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.”
Abdul Alhazred, the Necronomicon

The Necronomicon is no doubt the most famous grimoire ever to have existed. Penned in 738 A.D. by a Yemeni cultist, the book is said to contain magic spells, forbidden knowledge, and a system for summoning ancient gods known collectively as the Old Ones. Though heavily suppressed from its inception, the Necronomicon spread through underground channels. It was translated into Greek in 950, into Latin in 1228, and into English by Elizabethan magician John Dee in the early seventeenth century. Its dark influence is subtle but inescapable, even today.

The Necronomicon, H.P. Lovecraft

Except not really. As entertaining as it is to believe that such a book might exist, the Necronomicon remains stubbornly fictional. The concept of a cursed manuscript that drives its readers insane originated with author H.P. Lovecraft and his cronies, who began mentioning the Necronomicon in their work around 1922. Contemporary horror writers and directors have continued the tradition—references to the Necronomicon have popped up in Friday the 13th, the Evil Dead, and even Archie Comics.

Even Harvard University has gotten in on the fun. According to Lovecraft, Harvard’s Widener Library is one of only five institutions worldwide to house a copy of the dread tome (the others being the British Museum, the Biblioteque nationale de France, the University of Buenos Aires, and the fictional Miskatonic University). If you poke around on the Widener website, you’ll find several listings for the book. None of them are the genuine article, of course.

Where Do I Find It?

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“The Thing on the Doorstep”: Lovecraft at the Salem Theatre Company

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft - 1920's Halloween costume

I’ve always had a soft spot for “The Thing on the Doorstep.” It’s not one of Lovecraft’s most recognized stories, nor is it one of his most critically acclaimed. It doesn’t feature Cthulhu, or ghouls, or the far-reaching cosmic terror that marks more famous works like “At the Mountains of Madness” and “The Dunwich Horror.” What it does have, though, is a prominent female character–the only one found in any of Lovecraft’s fiction, unless you count Keziah Mason. (Okay, “The Curse of Yig” has a female protagonist, and “Medusa’s Coil” features a female baddie–but those were ghostwritten for Zealia Bishop.)

I don’t know if old H.P. hated women so much as he didn’t know what to do with them. The guy wasn’t exactly getting laid on the regular. Whatever the reason, Asenath Waite was the only woman he wrote.

The Thing on the Doorstep, H.P. Lovecraft

And what a woman. Asenath is not only a certified genius, she’s also forceful, strong-willed, and relentlessly menacing. Having seduced the bright but naive Edward Pickman Derby, she lures him into a marriage that shocks Arkham society. Poor, besotted Edward soon realizes that his bride only wants him for his body–literally. Asenath has the ability to exchange her soul with that of another, and it isn’t long before she’s slipping into her husband’s skin for extended jaunts into cursed, subterranean vaults. Edward, meanwhile, is repeatedly locked inside his wife’s form, helpless to keep her from trafficking with nameless horrors. Eventually, he fears, Asenath will make the switch permanent.

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Forbidden Knowledge: The Necronomicon at Harvard

Harvard Yard

They’ve got some real sloppy security at Harvard University. I tried to visit the Widener Library this evening, and they wouldn’t let me in. Yet they had no problem admitting Wilbur Whateley.

Dean Stockwell, The Dunwich Horror

In fairness, he does look a lot more trustworthy than I do.

For years I’ve dreamed of visiting Harvard–not for its rarefied Ivy League atmosphere or its storied history, but for its card catalog. Harvard’s Widener Library, according to H.P. Lovecraft, is one of only five institutions possessing a copy of Abdul Alhazared’s The Necronomicon. Of the remaining four, three of them are in other countries and one of them is at Miskatonic University, which doesn’t exist. So Widener is really the only option for most enterprising students of forbidden lore.

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“Let’s all go down the Strand!”: NYC’s 18-Mile Book Store

Over the weekend, I made the sort of stupid decision that 27-year-olds in general, and I in particular, are famous for making. Despite having exactly no money and exactly one fever, I elected to go to New York City with some friends.

We had a good reason (or so I told myself at the time): there’s a haunted house there called Nightmare NYC, which was created by the editor of Weird Tales Magazine. If you don’t know why that’s significant, then give yourself a pat on the back. You probably have a functional sex life.

Lovecraft

I couldn’t take any pictures inside the house itself. Suffice it to say, the event began with Typhoid Mary grabbing me by the hair and slamming me into a wall and ended with me drinking my first glass of absinthe (well, first two glasses–I had a but-one-get-one coupon) at a bar called Lovecraft. The latter promised to make me feel like a proper writer at last.

“Here I am,” I told myself. “In the middle of the city. Downing libations to the Green Fairy. Hanging out with prostitutes and the rest of society’s outcasts. Truth! Beauty! Love!”

Sadly, the night failed to devolve into an orgy of wanton sensuality. What happened instead was I got very drunk and watched a Syfy original movie in the basement. Still, it was a good time!

Absinthe

But let’s back up a bit.

We had a whole morning and afternoon to kill before any haunted housing could begin. And what better way to spend it than at The Strand Book Store, home of 18 miles of books?

Now, when I first heard of The Strand, I got things somewhat twisted and envisioned an unbroken 18-mile line of book stores lining a beach. Which would have been astounding, since Manhattan’s only 23 miles long. In actual fact, The Strand is one book store with 18 miles of shelves. That’s somewhat less jaw-dropping, but let’s be clear: it’s still stinkin’ immense.

The Strand Book Store

The first of the Strand’s three floors houses new releases and literary standards, while the second is mostly art and fashion books. The third, though–the third is where they keep the rare books.

And when I say rare, I mean “weird and also occasionally creepy.” In the spirit of Halloween, allow me to present some spooky things I found on the Strand’s top floor.

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My Top 10 Most Personally Influential Books

There’s a meme going around Facebook at the moment; you’ve probably seen it. It asks you to list the 10 books that influenced you the most as a person, be they works of great literature or vintage collections of erotic poetry  you once found under your grandmother’s bed. I resisted this meme for a while because it seemed self-indulgent–who honestly cares which books have influenced me? What a stupid question.

The more I thought about it, though, the more it didn’t seem stupid at all. Try and make a list in your head real quick: there are books you love and books you hate and books you pretend to love and/or hate because that’s what’s fashionable, but which ten books have legitimately affected your life? How many of them are books you read for a class, and how many are random nonsense you stumbled across when you were bored one day? How strongly did they influence you, and in what ways? It’s actually a fairly fascinating exercise! That’s why I decided to try it.

Plus I run a website called joannalesher.com, which means the Self-Indulgence Train pulled out of the station ages ago.

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Of Lovecraft and Sexual Rampages

Yesterday I visited Classicon, the annual pulp/paperback show coordinated by the Mid-Michigan Antiquarian Book Dealers Association (MMABDA) and the inestimably excellent Curious Book Shop.  I took so many pictures that I have no recourse but to split them between a few separate posts.  This is the first of three, titled to elicit maximum prurient interest and, ultimately, maximum disappointment.  Enjoy!

Antiquarian book shows are the stuff of dreams–provided your dreams feature genre fiction, decades-old erotica, and at least one weird dude hitting on a widow by telling her about the time he pooped himself in class.  (I think it was poop.  It might have been barf.  It was something that came out of his body, at any rate.  By the way, he followed the anecdote up with: “Anyway, what’s your name?” which impressed me, because I wager most people would have done the introductions before the poop story.  It takes a special kind of visionary to do it the other way around.)

(Jeez, where was I?)

Right, so.  The show was great.  Here are a few of the things I saw there.

Dirty Magazines
There’s a real dearth of proper men’s mags these days.  We can probably blame the Internet for that, as well as the recent fad of trying not to be such a drooling, slack-jawed ass-banana.  Fortunately, fans of obviously fake war stories and the problematic fetishization of foreign women can still get their fix.

ImageAs fun as it is to picture a bunch of topless women stampeding through the jungle, flinging their poo and calling to perspective mates with distinctive pant-hoots, I suspect the term “sexual rampage” more aptly describes what invading armies do to the people they invade, not the other way around.  I do like how this magazine included a story about people attacking cars for spare parts just because they could work the word “strippers” into the title.  Bravo!

ImageIt says something about our society that I can’t tell if the army is rescuing women from rape, or rescuing them by raping them.  Either way, I’m sure it’s a harrowing and not-at-all-made-up story.  And hey–at least they’re doing it “with safety.”

Image“China’s present day pirate queen”??  I think I’ve just found my new career goal!

 

Dirty Books
Pulp erotica isn’t rare.  Pulp erotica that actually delivers, however…Image“The fourth floor can’t be all that torrid if they’re doing it under the covers,” you say.  Well, hypothetical pervert, you’re exactly right–there’s not that much sex in this book.  In fact, having flipped through a number of similar tomes, I can reliably state that there’s not much sex in any of them.  Perhaps the authors need to review the definition of a tease

ImageThanks, TEEN WORKS.

That said, I did find one book that actually delivers more than it promises.

Image“Three’s a Crowd,” it says, and yet there are four women pictured.  Bonus!

Pulp Oddities
Then there are the bits and bobs that can’t be otherwise categorized.  For example, here’s all the proof you need that I am a twelve-year-old boy in a twenty-seven-year-old woman’s body.

ImageYes, yes, I know what “dick” means in this context, but the part of my brain that regulates laughing at things for ten minutes straight simply doesn’t care.  Anyway, look at that detective casually punching that dude in the chin.  That’s definitely something the other kind of “dick” would do.

ImageMore truth in titling!  If I woke up from a nap to find Satan putting a bunch of rats on me, that would, indeed, be “weird.”

At this point in the proceedings, the owner of the Curious Book Shop, who had seen me perusing several weird fiction publications, asked me if was a Lovecraft fan.  I said that I was.  (The truth is slightly more complicated: I love most of Lovecraft’s fiction, funny purple prose and all, but am really grossed out by his personal beliefs.  Dude once wrote a story wherein the twist wasn’t that the love interest had Medusa hair, but that she was part black.  Cthulhu give me strength… -_-)

Anyway, as it turned out, the book shop owner was a Lovecraft collector in his younger years, and he showed me some of the really special stuff he had in a paper sack behind the counter.  Stuff like this:

ImageThat, friends, is a book from Lovecraft’s personal library at his home in Providence, Rhode Island.  The sticker on the inside cover, which you can’t read because my cell phone camera isn’t that great, says “Ex Libris Howard Phillips Lovecraft.”  Stuffed in the book is a real photograph of H.P. and his muppety face, as well as an original clipping from a Rhode Island newspaper announcing a second collection of stories by their native son.  I was pretty darn excited about this, though I thought I kept it in check.  Only later did my husband inform me that most people reserve that kind of squealing and frothing for a One Direction concert.

What is wrong with me?