Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, edited by Lynne Jamneck, illustrated by Daniele Serra

Paul StJohn Mackintosh

Fruit of a successful Indiegogo campaign, Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror, demonstrates, as Lynne Jamneck says in her editor’s introduction, that “some of the most exciting Lovecraftian fiction is currently being written by women,” and highly eminent women at that. Joyce Carol Oates’s subtle yet unrelenting opening story, “Shadows of the Evening,” whose central conceit could equally have come out of one of Edith Wharton or Vernon Lee’s dark tales, fits perfectly well into the realm of Lovecraftian horror in the Asenath Whateley, Charles Dexter Ward sense that Oates alludes to in her own notes to the story.

That’s not to say that any reader looking for the more customary tentacular thrills will be disappointed. Caitlin R. Kiernan’s “Our Lady of Arsia Mons” and “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette, or Tamsyn Muir’s “The Woman in the Hill,” to highlight but a few, are there to demonstrate that these authors can do a mean turn in straight Cthulhoid monstrous horror, while the former two’s sci-fi and the latter’s New Zealand troglodytic anomalies show quite enough imaginative originality to earn their place in the expanded Lovecraftian canon. (Kiernan’s story is one of the first I’ve seen to use the Henry Clews sculptures cited, spuriously, as inspirations for the Cthulhu idols.)

Eye of the Beholder, illustration by Daniele Serra
Eye of the Beholder, illustration by Daniele Serra

For riffs on Lovecraftian tropes that would delight any Mythos geek, you can also look at “Every Hole in the Earth We Will Claim As Our Own,” by Gemma Files, with its bethnic revenants and one of the scariest rationales for the actions of the Great Old Ones I’ve come across. You’d be hard put to find any quality in these stories that identifies as female, very largely because the writers here prove that they can write Lovecraftian horror at least as well as any male peers, if not considerably better. Perhaps there is a tendency to dwell more on personalities, emotions, and family situations than with other writers, as with the Joyce Carol Oates story already mentioned, or “From the Cold Dark Sea” by Storm Constantine, but that’s by no means always the case. And any yen for family stories is likely to be tempered by tales of inter-species miscegenation, or the kind of hideous menage that features in “Dearest Daddy” by Lois H. Gresh.

Night Gaunts, illustration by Daniele Serra
Night Gaunts, illustration by Daniele Serra

Inevitably, the quality of the stories is not uniform and there are some longueurs, though more about plot and conception than the predominantly excellent standard of the writing. At other times, though, you’ll completely forget that you’re reading a collection with a worthy aim, and simply find yourself having fun. And isn’t that what it’s all supposed to be about? Check your assumptions at the door, O Lovecraftian reader, and just settle back and enjoy. And one really alluring by-blow of the whole Indiegogo campaign is Daniele Serra’s ravishing series of original illustrations for the stories. Any Lovecraftian shouldn’t hesitate. Nor should any other dark fiction aficionado. Be bewitched.



From the Book:

“Perhaps it is simply that women write the Lovecraftian differently than many of their male counterparts traditionally have. There is something extremely human about the stories included here and in Lovecraft, the focus has often been on the non-human” – Introduction by Lynne Jamneck

“TERRY: That is not dead which can eternal lie. And with strange eons even death may die.
MOTHER: Oh, friend of Abdul’s, are you? Nice boy, Abdul. How is he?
LENG PRIEST: He died in gibbering madness. But we have read his prophecies in the sacred Necronomicon.
MOTHER: That’s nice, dear. Cthulhu! Cthulhu! WIll you get out of that pit. Your minions are here. He’ll be up in a tick.”   –“Cthulhu’s Mother” by Kelda Crich

“Six weeks into her involuntary tenure on Faraday Station, Cynthia Feuerwerker needed a job. She could no longer afford to be choosy about it, either; her oxygen tax was due, and you didn’t have to be a medical doctor to understand the difficulties inherent in trying to breathe vacuum” – “The Wreck of the Charles Dexter Ward” by Elizabeth Bear & Sarah Monette

Published by: Dark Regions Press, April 2016
Available Format(s): Trade Paperback and Digital Books

More book reviews: