Lately, I’ve been reading a little more in the way of H.P. Lovecraft. I’ve always found the cosmic horror genre interesting, having heard a lot of great material from games like Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Reqiuem and podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale. But I haven’t read all that much, apart from a single novella by Ruthanna Emrys.
Based on the Lovecraft story The Shadow over Innsmouth, “Litany” tells the story of Aphra Marsh, a young woman living in exile in San Francisco after her family and all the other Deep One worshippers were forced out of Innsmouth. Now living in the aftermath of World War II, Aphra deals with the world after her family was separated and brutalized in relocation camps, much like her Japanese-American neighbors. When approached by a federal agent, she gains an opportunity to reconnect with people who also practice “the old ways,” but what she finds may not be the eldritch faith that she recognizes from her childhood.
It should go without saying (yet here I go anyway) that Emrys did her homework on drawing all the appropriate parallels to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. She makes homage to characters like Obed Marsh and Abdul al-Hazred, as well as to the extensive mythology and menagerie of the Old Gods and what lies in store for humanity eons from now.
What stands out, though, is how sympathetic Aphra is. To most human beings, her background is terrifying and foreign. And yet, she has an earnest need for faith and prayers to the Old Ones, as much as anyone persecuted by the US government might feel after years of forced relocation and experimentation. This could have easily been a story about a young Japanese woman dealing with life after internment, trying to reconnect to her Shinto roots, and it would still be compelling.
Emrys also conjures up some fascinating imagery, drawing a connection between the fog and rain of San Francisco to the dreary ocean waves at Devil’s Reef and Innsmouth. In true Lovecraftian fashion, she does more to evoke a sense of horror and ancient rites through limited descriptions from Aphra’s point of view, favoring the poetic over the objective.
I’m pleased to hear that Tor got such a good response from the novella that they’re setting up to publish two novels by Ruthanna Emrys that will continue to follow the journey of Aphra Marsh during the Cold War era. I would definitely give those books a read when they come out, with Winter’s Tide due out next April. If you love reading about man’s cosmic insignificance in an uncaring universe, or perhaps one woman’s search for meaning in an equally uncaring America, this story and the ones to follow are definitely for you.
“The Litany of Earth” is available to read on Tor.com.
Bibliography: Emrys, Ruthanna. “The Litany of Earth.” Tor.com. New York: Macmillian Publishers, 2014.