The Stiff: Chapter 6: Page 237

The Stiff: Chapter 6: Page 237

I spent the weekend and most of last week at NecronomiCon in Providence, Rhode Island, the world’s biggest (and only) HP Lovecraft/Cthulhu convention! Me and NecronomiCon go way back — the current convention is a reincarnation of an older show which started in 1993, run largely by Mark Michaud and the other people at Necronomicon Press. I missed that first show (I was in college), but right after I graduated, I attended the 1995 show, where Ramsey Campbell was Guest of Honor.

Campbell — who’s now writing a “Lovecraftian horror trilogy” — was a guest this year too, welcomed to the new, revived NecronomiCon, the second in a new generation of the con with new staff. I only briefly saw Campbell as he and his wife (here’s how they looked in the early 1970s) registered for their guest passes on Thursday afternoon, but the rest of the time I was too busy in a whirlwind of panels, gaming and tending the table in the dealers’ room to attend his readings or “fawn upon the great” (to quote Lovecraft). I stayed with the Stones, some friends Jumana and I met while in Belize earlier in the year, who very kindly let me crash at their house in South Providence just 15 minutes’ ride away from downtown on the “R” line. The city was much as I remembered it from 20 (!!!) years ago: green, lush trees and grass, mellow rivers, old Colonial church steeples and domes, the air dense with the heat and humidity of the East Coast in the summer. But this time the convention was in a different location, more in the center of things, and there was lots of new construction, still very East Coast with its heavy brick style. Hipster coffeeshops were everywhere, and in a shopping mall called “The Arcade” there was a Lovecraft-themed store. 2000 people were in town for NecronomiCon — apparently the most ever, though still pretty rinkydink by anime & comic convention standards — but on Saturday night black-T-shirted Lovecraftians were far outnumbered by preppie club kids on Washington Street.

But Providence is only a 175,000 person city so 2000 people is a lot, and there were more than enough people to make a very lively convention — all the panels and the gaming room were very full. I had a great time. I ran two games of “Dreamland”, which went well. Panels-wise, I moderated two panels: “Make Your Own Madness” was a gaming panel featuring Sandy Petersen, Mike Mason, Badger McInnes and A. Scott Glancy, and the “Lord Dunsany” panel had Paul DiFilippo, Faye Ringel, Martin Anderssen and S.T. Joshi (several of whom have actually been out to the “Downton Abbey set” of Dunsany Castle — lucky them!!) and Darrell Schweitzer (one of the few people to write stories set in Dunsany’s Dreamland, which I remember reading in the ’90s back in Weird Tales). All the panelists agreed that Mark Amory’s biography of Dunsany was terrible, which surprised me a bit, since I found it much more substantial than Hazel Littlefield’s superficial Dunsany memoir… but OTOH, in retrospect, Amory makes it clear that he doesn’t like Dunsany’s dream stories and barely condescends to discuss them, so maybe he really *wasn’t* the best person to write a sympathetic Dunsany biography, was he? (As for me, I still recommend the book for fun anecdotes and basic information about Dunsany’s life.) I wish we’d had more time to address specific Dunsany stories and themes, such as the thought that Dunsany was not just the first author to create the now everpresent fantasy trope of an ‘imaginary mythology’, but that by doing so, he specifically represented a new atheist or agnostic phase of English fantasy literature; for example, William Morris’ and George MacDonald’s 19th century fantasies are in some ways similar to Dunsany, but are very Christian in their worldview, certainly with no made-up foreign gods for local color. The gaming panel evolved or degenerated into “what I did in my game” stories, thanks to me asking the panelists if they’d ever personally been scared while gaming. There was also a brief discussion of the sanity mechanics in Call of Cthulhu and other games (I restrained myself from mentioning my second-favorite horror RPG, “KULT,” set in a universe in which mental & physical illness are the same thing and the seriously insane are capable of spontaneously mutating into monsters). Sandy Petersen mentioned the interesting detail that he doesn’t like blind playtesting and prefers to supervise all his playtesting hiself. Both panels could have gone on for an additional hour, but time cut them short.

I appeared as an actual panelist in the “Dreamlands” panel, which wandered all over the map, though one of the early moderator topics was whether Lovecraft’s dream stories have a genuine “dreamlike” feeling. I personally think this is questionable: his retellings of real dreams (like “The Thing in the Moonlight” and “What the Moon Brings”) have that feel, but his “Dreamlands” stories are more in the vein of Symbolist/Orientalist fairytales of exotic lands, and don’t capture the absurd and fragmentary feeling of real dreams. (At least *my* dreams are absurd and fragmentary. I WISH I dreamed about exploring imaginary Medieval countries.) I, and the other panelists, forgot to mention “The Dreamhounds of Paris,” the best Dreamlands thing in ages. I did remember to mention that, in my textalyser analysis of HPL’s dream stories, I found the stories are very dark — literally, tonally dark — the color words HPL uses are all purple and blue and green and black, always underground nighttime colors, never warm tones. (Dunsany’s work has much more pink and yellow and rose…) I didn’t have time to attend any panels as a member of the audience (not even the HP Podcraft live show, to my deep disappointment) except for the Yog Meet, where I volunteered for an impromptu quiz show and found myself on the same team as… SANDY PETERSEN!! Being teamed up with the creator of Call of Cthulhu made our victory a foregone conclusion, though I did fumble my die rolls and incredibly screw up one or two questions due to totally not paying attention to what the other team was saying. But I got a few correct too, so we did win!… Or rather the audience won, since audience members correctly answered the handful of questions that neither our team nor our enemies could answer. The whole entertaining debacle will probably go up on Yog-Sothoth soon.

Speaking of Yog-Sothoth, I got to shake hands with the creators of that great Lovecraft/gaming site, Paul and Helen of Cthulhu, who were as cool as I imagined they would be. (Helen is an archaeologist who examines sites in the UK before construction projects begin, to identify any buried artifacts!!) And although I was stuck (“stuck”, I make it sound so awful) gaming or selling books in the dealers’ room most of the time, I got to meet MANY neat people who I had never met or hadn’t seen in ages. There was Tim and Phil of The Double Shadow Clark Ashton Smith podcast… Cthulhu-loving composer Peter Scartabello… comic artist Sara Bardi of “Lovely Lovecraft”… incredible pen-and-ink artist who I met back in the old NecronomiCon days, Jason Eckhardt… Michelle Souliere of Green Hand Books in Portland, Maine… my old friend and “Call of Cthulhu” GM David Hammann… Maddie Michaud of NecronomiCon Press… artists Nick Gucker, Skinner, Brandon Kawashima and Michael Bukowski… I even got to briefly say hi to Silvia Moreno-Garcia of Innsmouth Free Press! Some of these folks I only got to see for a very short time, but it was great saying hi to all of you, I hope I didn’t get nervous and act too weird! Lastly, I got to meet Stephen and Dora, my super awesome booth volunteers, without whose help I would have been stuck at the vendors’ table literally the entire time and would have missed all my panels (sob).

Returning to a convention that last happened 12 years ago, it’s interesting to see how fandom has changed. Firstly, there were way more female attendees (not anywhere near 50%, but nothing like the sausagefest of the very first few NecronomiCons). The convention is still around 95% white folks, which perhaps speaks to more intractable problems with Lovecraft and his writing. This was discussed by a couple of folks at the convention, most notably at the “Lovecraft and Racism” panel, one of many panels filmed and uploaded by this cool dude Steve Ahlquist (the link is to his youtube channel). I haven’t listened yet, but will get to it soon as I get to the drawing desk to get to work…. and maybe I’ll be back at NecronomiCon in 2017?

NEXT UPDATE: Thursday! (since I missed last week)