H.P. Lovecraft’s reputation has taken a bit of a dive in recent years. As the horror genre has diversified, his racist views, along with the tortured sexuality of his all male protagonists, have become a focal point in discussions about his work. Some have seen this as trampling over the reputation of a writer whose contributions to the genre are enormous, ignoring the quality of Lovecraft’s work to instead focus on his personal shortcomings.
What many of these Lovecraft defenders have missed, and what an anthology like She Walks in Shadows realizes, is that the emerging diversity of voices grappling with Lovecraft’s myopic world view has actually reinvigorated the Lovecraft legacy, so instead of tarnishing the man or his reputation, these artists have actually brought him kicking and screaming into the 21st century, where now everyone can play in his dark and disturbing sandbox.
She Walks In Shadows was created in direct response to the notion that women don’t like to write about Lovecraft and his work, and that response is a full-throated roar from the women whose art and stories are contained in this unique and well rounded anthology. Funded through Kickstarter, She Walks In Shadows has assembled an impressive array of talent, presenting 25 stories of varying tone and style, while still maintaining quality from start to finish. Some stories are re imaginings of Lovecraft’s characters, while others explore the Lovecraft mythos, but editors Silvia Moreno-Garcia and Paula R. Stiles have done a fabulous job arranging their offerings so each story feels fresh and exciting.
In fact, some of my favorite stories in the collection eschewed the cosmic dread that has become synonymous with Lovecraft’s fiction, going instead for a more light-hearted or adventurous take. Molly Tanzer’s The Thing on the Cheerleading Squad drops Asenath (one of Lovecraft’s lone female creations) and her body -jumping father into an 1980s high school setting, turning Asenath into the cool girl you’ve always wanted to be friends with, while Pandora Hope’s Eight Seconds is the adventure tale of a bull rider from the Australian outback coming to terms with motherhood by facing down Shub-Niggurath, the most prolific mother of all.
This is still a Lovecraft anthology, so there are scares and existential horror to be had. Gemma Files’ story Hairwork is a quiet, multi-faceted tale of revenge that lingers long after the story is finished, and Benjanun Sriduangkaew brings the classic Lovecraft-style dread in her story Provenance, an unsettling piece that explores some of the more bizarre couplings between humanity and Lovecraft’s monsters. Bring the Moon to Me by Amelia Gorman is another standout, managing the trick of blending knitting, computer programming, and drawing down the Old Ones from their eternal slumber in the deepest reaches of space.
On the more experimental side, Jilly Dreadful’s De Deabus Minoribus Exterioris Theomagicae is a fresh take on the old trope of the magic grimoire, a story told through the notes of a grad student, and E. Catherine Tobler presents Lockbox, using footnotes to fracture the story, allowing for an almost counter narrative to unfold that stands up to a second reading.
Talk of diversity aside, this is a wonderful and well-rounded work, that like the best of anthologies keeps the reader on their toes, unsure of what permutation Cthulhu and his cosmic family will take next. It also serves as a great introduction to some extremely talented women writers working in the horror genre, so you can get a sampling of their style and then seek out their longer work. Highly recommended, She Walks in Shadows will soon be retitled as Cthulhu’s Daughters and re-released in May of this year from Prime Books.