Victorian Racism and Fish Dongs: ‘Neonomicon’ by Alan Moore

            Ask any ding dong off the street what comes to their mind when they think ‘The Victorian Era’ and they’ll likely talk about prissy, overly dressed English people that don’t have sex. If they know more about the Victorian Era than the average joe, they’ll mention the same stuff above, but also talk about the racism your society tends to breed when you’re a major colonial power. For pretty much the entirety of the 1800’s, these two ideas dominated English culture.

            The stuffiness the Victorian Era is famous for isn’t an entirely fair. Victorians could be stuffy, but it was a larger part of various social movements meant to improve the way people lived. Drink less, spend less money, only beat the wife and kids when they had it coming, all that nerd crap. Contrary to popular belief, Victorians liked sex. That old joke about Queen Victoria telling a younger relative to “lie back and think of England” when her husband came a knocking is mostly just that, a joke. A real British noblewoman wrote that quote in a diary, but it says more about her husband than her society. Sexuality existed, but was largely left out of the public lives respectable middle-class Victorians. Think of it this way: Charles Dickens had a mistress, but you probably should put Great Expectations down if you see orgies in it.

            What wasn’t hidden below the surface of Victorian society was racism. During this time England controlled territory on basically every continent not named Antarctica and got that territory by using guns on people that largely didn’t have guns, or just had way less of them. This advancement in terms of technology, industry, and brute force led many British to believe that they were not just superior in terms of might, but in terms of culture. The British were obsessed not just with improving themselves, but improving everyone they conquered, whether they wanted to change or not. This period of time saw great wealth brought to the British Empire, but not a lot of that went to their colonies. Some school were built, certain privileged classes among the colonized were allowed to dress and speak like their colonizers. That privilege didn’t change your skin color however, and British society did not treat them well. Your average peasant in India or Jamaica got it even worse. Read Mike Davies’ Late Victorian Holocausts for a detailed history of famines essentially engineered in India by the British to keep their food supply going strong. It blows your mind with all the subtlety of a scalping.

            It’s actually a little funny that the man who embodied these Victorian morals more than any other person on Earth came from a British colony that over a century before his birth tore itself away from its master. Born in Providence, Rhode Island in 1890, Howard Phillips Lovecraft created a subgenre of science fiction that today bears his name. ‘Lovecraftian’ Horror derives its terror from individual humans encountering alien or supernatural beings beyond their ability to comprehend. Closer in power to gods than aliens or ghosts, the ‘Elder Gods’ of Lovecraft’s fiction are indescribable with mere human words or sensory perceptions. They’re shapeless horrors with unpronounceable names that drive narrator after narrator hopelessly mad if they so much as look at them. They gaze upon our species like we gaze upon ants. They’ll bring our doom with barely a swipe of their eldritch appendages, if they ever take notice of us. A pretty apt style of horror for an era of irreversible climate change.

            When reading Lovecraft’s fiction, the thing that’s almost as apparent as the alien gods is how racist he was. There’s not a single positive portrayal of a non-white person in the entirety of his fiction, but HOLY SHIT there are a lot of bad ones. Lovecraft himself was an old-school racist. He hated non-white people, and he didn’t consider Irish or Italians to be truly white. He was terrified of large cities because of the blend of cultures and people. Like any half-way decent racist, he was not a fan of interracial dating. This Victorian era racism was matched by his being a weird prude. Call it what you will, but H. P. Lovecraft either had no interest in sex or was straight-up terrified of it. He briefly married a woman, but rarely if ever was intimate with her. All of his narrators are basically as sexless and academic as he was. He lived his life a relatively unknown recluse, publishing stories in little known sci-fi rags and dying almost broke in the 1930’s. His literary legacy is unlikely, but far reaching. He allowed other writers to use his characters and expand his mythos into the pulp magazines and comics of the 60’s and 70’s. It inspired films like John Carpenter’s The Thing and the excellent Event Horizon. His influence is seen in the work of Guillermo del Toro and every comic and film incarnation of Hellboy. True Detective makes oblique references to a character he used known as ‘The Yellow King.’ He’s been parodied in The Cabin in the Woods and a certain evil book of his creation is the driving force of Sami Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Most recently, Nic Cage starred in full-on adaption of his shirt story The Color Out of Space. His most popular Elder God, Cthulhu, can be bought as a statue, plushy or Funko pop.

            Today’s offering is a Lovecraft story told in the classic style, but updated with a modern setting. Created by Alan Moore, it’s a perfect homage to Lovecraft that would make even him wince, were he ever to read it. This is Neonomicon.

 

The Story:

            This edition is actually a collection of two Lovecraft themed stories by Alan Moore. The titular Neonomicon, consisting of four issues, and a two issue prequel entitled The Courtyard. The Courtyard is a gritty take on a typical Lovecraftian short story. Our narrator is a weird loner (in this case an FBI agent) based in New York City with all of Lovecraft’s racism and sexual neuroses named Aldo Sax. He loves saying the word ‘faggot’ and blatantly hates non-white people. Our “hero” is on a hunt for the dealer of a drug named ‘aklo.’ It’s basically a club drug that causes some of its users to spout words in an unknown language and viciously cut those around them to pieces. His search leads him to a band whose songs seem to be barely concealed prayers to unknown gods. He eventually with the veiled drug dealer of ‘Aklo’ (who also sells alien sex toys and otherworldly music on the side) and gets a firsthand experience of just why the drug drives its users so crazy. If you’ve never read Lovecraft, it’s a perfect beat-by-beat recreation of what a Lovecraft story looks like, complete with graphic gore and nudity that Lovecraft never included in his own work.

            Neonomicon serves as a sequel of sorts to The Courtyard. Our protagonist from the previous installment shows up incarcerated in an insane asylum a la Hannibal Lecter with a swastika carved into his forehead a la Charles Manson. Two new FBI agents interview him and use his cryptic claims to hunt down the drug dealer from The Courtyard and when he literally escapes through a wall into another dimension, are forced to hunt down the suppliers of his Cthulu dildos to a small bookstore in Salem, Massachusetts. Long story short, this trip to a book store leads to an Elder God worshipping sex/murder cult and someone being repeatedly raped by a fish man. The work shows zero compunction about displaying nudity, violence and graphic depictions of sexual assault. It says a lot that a final show down involving people being riddled with bullets and ripped to pieces by water monsters is a relief from all crap that goes down in the middle of the story.

            An interesting part of the book is that it is essentially a meta-text where Lovecrafts’ creations exist in a world where he himself once did. The FBI characters are aware of Lovecraft as a writer and actually use his work in their search for clues about the strange goings on in the story. It gives Moore the chance to shout out all his favorite Lovecraft stories while simultaneously painting Lovecraft the man as the prophet for terrible god-like beings slowly invading our world. Their coming is inevitable, and as in every Lovecraft story, nothing simple humans can do can stop them.

 

Quote of the Story:

            “All events are time roses. The clenched fuck uncrumpling into a life as the species folds back to Annelidan ancestors. There lies our Dho-Hna: a meaning bestowed retroactively by forms as yet unachieved by our implicit. I see the Loigor are simply ourselves, yet unfolded in time to an utter condition beyond the Fhtagn of our usual perceptions. Time being a function of matter, this freeing of ultimate forms may be hastened by pertinent sculpture…We’re both merely part of a construction I’m making to you as I stand here, bent above you, Germaine. I want you to know that the tape on your mouth isn’t there to prevent you from making a noise. It’s to stop the Dho-Hna flowing in through the wrong aperture, which of course could spoil everything for you…We make the first cut here.” –Aldo Sax

 

Keep or Donate:

            This story isn’t for everyone. It is however, a powerful story in terms of content and visuals. Jacen Burrows, the illustrator, is given free range to create Lovecraftian horrors in all their ever shifting, formless grandeur and it’s about as close as the human eye can come to perceiving them as Lovecraft describes in his stories. That being said, it’s upsettingly graphic. Don’t let it near kids. Don’t lend it to your parents. It’s a compelling mystery above all else, but it will shock you if you’re not ready. It’s also very geared towards people that are already a fan of Lovecraft. If you like him you’ll love this and if you don’t, it might inspire to read more if you can get past the fish penis. I love Lovecraft and I loved this story. It’s a keeper for me.

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