Name: Justin Everett
Author of: “Cthulhurotica, Female Empowerment, and the New Weird”
Geographic Location: Philadelphia, PA
Original Hometown, if different: Sand Springs, Oklahoma
Past publications: My research consists of two major areas. The first—the one that brings in the paycheck—is writing program administration. In this area I have two college textbooks and a number of book chapters and journal articles. However, my true love and passion is Science Fiction and Fantasy. That’s why I got into the teaching gig in the first place. Increasingly, I have focused my work on social Darwinism and the early pulp period, particularly 1915 to 1940. My major interest lies in two writers: H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. I also research the writers these two corresponded with or influenced, including Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, and Fritz Leiber, to name a few. I am also interested in more recent reinventions and continuations of the mythoi created by these writers, including new mythos tales, movies, internet sites, comics, game worlds, and of course, Cthulhrotica.
A few years ago I began to realize how little critical attention had been given to these writers and began to fear that they might fade from literary history, so I decided to do something about it. (There is some professional critical work on Lovecraft, but virtually nothing on the other writers.) I began by contacting the Robert E. Howard Foundation and the Popular Culture Association. Each year I give presentations on Howard and Lovecraft at various PCA meetings, and have given a talk at the Howard Days celebration in Cross Plains, Texas. I have recently created a new “area” within the PCA for Pulp Studies, for which I am the chair. If anyone is interested, I am accepting proposals through December 15 for the Pulp Studies area for this year’s PCA in San Antonio, Texas. The call for papers can be found here: http://www.pcaaca.org/areas/pulp.php
I am currently working with my research partner on the first work of professional literary criticism on Robert E. Howard, tentatively titled More Than Human: The Evolutionary Heroes of Robert E. Howard. This book will focus on the influence of social Darwinism and the eugenics movement on forming Howard’s concept of the barbarian hero. One chapter of this book will focus on the Howard/Lovecraft relationship and their “civilization/barbarism” debate. I have also been solicited to put together a “collected edition” on Pulp Studies. Any proposals submitted for the PCA conference will be considered for inclusion in this collection of essays.
I also write about Star Trek. Book chapters can be found in The Influence of Star Trek on Television, Film and Culture and Draculas, Vampires, and other Undead Forms: Essays on Gender Race and Culture. I would also like to write about Doctor Who, but in the midst of my day job and my Pulp Studies work, it is hard to see where I might possibly squeeze that in.
What’s your favorite H.P. Lovecraft story or other Mythos story? My favorite is probably Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone,” because it brings together the intensity and physical action of Howard with the sense of deep time and neo-gothic atmosphere of Lovecraft. While Lovecraft was a great atmospherist, his stories are frequently static. Howard’s stories are thick with plot and action—I like to compare reading a Howard story to skateboarding downhill in heavy traffic—but sometimes lacked the intricate layering that Lovecraft achieves. If I were to choose a Lovecraft story, it would be a toss-up between “The Music of Eric Zahn” and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. The first story has good pacing, excitement and action; the second great layering. The deeper reality, and horror, is revealed as they layers are carefully peeled away.
What comes to mind when you think “Lovecraft” + “Erotica”? The very novelty of the concept aside, what exited me the most about this collection was the potential to create emotional intensity along the opposing poles of arousal and horror. Attempts to bring these together in other works usually do not go off very well—one needs only remember the film Species as an example of what can happen when this is done badly. Howard sometimes brought these elements together in his stories, but he could only go so far. The reason I think the potential is so great—when done well—occurs when the object of arousal becomes the object of horror. At such a moment the reader experiences what the Greeks called anagnorisis—roughly translated, “recognition.” In Greek tragedy, this was the moment when the protagonist’s whole world changed, such as when Oedipus realizes that he has married, has sex with, and had children by his mother. His former attraction for his wife becomes sudden revulsion and horror. While Lovecraft certainly utilized anagnoresis in his stories, he didn’t create the kinds of scenarios present in many of the stories in this collection, where the object of arousal suddenly becomes the object of horror, often at the moment just before death.
What inspired your essay? I think what interested me most about the stories in this collection was the recurring theme of female empowerment. In many of the tales in this collection, the story comments in some meaningful fashion on male/female relationships (though female/female and male/male relationships are certainly addressed in a number of the stories). They do this by inverting subliminal assumptions about patriarchy and the dominance of men over women. Between the stories, the common narrative goes something like this: A man enters a relationship with a woman and assumes a position of dominance. The woman, who is aware that she is more powerful than the man, nevertheless pretends submission up to a point. At the right time she asserts her power over the man. At this point anagnorisis occurs, and the man’s perception of the world, as well as of himself, is suddenly changed. This recognition results either in rejection of the new reality (which may result in terror or madness), acceptance of the new reality as submissive to the female, or rejection with action. None of the tales in this collection cover the full range of this narrative, though many of them illustrate some portion of it. Taken as a whole, the collection illustrates the full arc of this narrative. This is particularly fascinating to me, because it reveals a subconscious narrative that may be a part of the understructure of universal narrative strands that make up those tales we call myths.
What music or movies helped you to write this essay? As a part of this process I watched several H.P. Lovecraft adaptations and documentaries. When I write I always listen to light Classical as a sort of calming ambient background music.
How many rewrites did you do before submitting? I wrote this draft in two sittings. I revised as I went along each time. The second day I spent several hours in revision mode after the whole was completed.
What is your favorite bit? I think the end, where I felt my ideas coming together. I had formulated several threads, and had woven them throughout the essay, but until the end I wasn’t sure I would be able to bring them together. In the end it worked out fine:
What these stories confront . . . are the social rules and the enclosures that govern our lives and prevent us from engaging in behaviors that are at once enticing and self-destructive. As the roles and relationships of men and women have changed since Lovecraft’s time, what these stories permit us to do is question the limitations placed upon us by marriage, gender-identity, gender-dominance, and even pair bonding itself. This does not mean we should surrender those rules of conduct, but we should enter a discussion about them and confront our own long-buried fears associated with issues of sex and power.