Episode 21: Lovecraftian Writer Gary Myers Chats About ‘From Inner Egypt’ Short Story
Ii-wey! This is a special week of musings because I recently had the honor to interview Gary Myers, best known for his Lovecraftian stories. I met Gary a few years ago at one of the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festivals held in San Pedro, California and have kept in touch ever since. Over dinner a few months ago, Gary quietly mentioned, “you know, I wrote a mummy story….” The rest is history, or an interview, as they say.
For some background context, at just 17 years old, Gary wrote his first story, “The House of the Worm”, which was edited by August Derleth and published in The Arkham Collector (1970). Five years later, Gary published his first book, The House of the Worm, with Arkham House. In addition to fiction, Gary and his wife, Jennifer McIlwee Myers, co-wrote an insightful book, Lovecraft’s Syndrome: An Asperger’s Appraisal of the Writer’s Life (2015). Additionally, Gary has illustrated many of his books.
A huge thank you to Gary for his time and insight into his short mummy story “From Inner Egypt” that is collected in Dark Wisdom: Tales of the Old Ones (2013). A link to purchase his book is at the end of the interview below.
Michele’s Musings on Mummies: Gary, as a distinguished Lovecraftian writer who has published with Arkham House, can you talk about the genesis of your short story, “From Inner Egypt”?
Gary Myers: “From Inner Egypt” was conceived as one of a cycle of stories. Twenty-something years ago, one of the mountains on the Lovecraftian landscape was a series of Lovecraft-themed Cthulhu Cycle anthologies which Robert M. Price was editing and Chaosium was putting out. I had stories in several of these anthologies. A couple of these stories were reprints, but the rest were written to fit a particular theme. After I had written a few of these, I thought it might be fun to write a whole book of them, a book of twelve stories in mostly modern dress, each one taking as its theme a defining element of the Cthulhu Mythos. So I took couple of days to plan out the remaining stories, and five or so years to write them. I called the collection Dark Wisdom, and published it through Mythos Books in 2007.
“From Inner Egypt” was my story about Nyarlathotep. It was the eighth one written, and the longest. It was completed in 1999.
MMM: According to Leslie Klinger’s annotated tome on Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep was the first god that H.P. Lovecraft introduced to readers in his late 1920 poem of the same name. This was a terrifying god with an origin story associated with Egypt. Was the choice that straightforward to incorporate Nyarlathotep into your own story? Why or why not?
GM: First I chose to write a story around the theme of Nyarlathotep. Then I devised a mummy story to embody that theme. It seemed a good way to acknowledge his ancient Egyptian antecedents while giving him a bridge to the modern world.
For me, the dark heart of the Nyarlathotep myth is not his beginning but his end, the global destruction which follows his return. This element was present from its earliest incarnation, the 1920 prose poem “Nyarlathotep” to which Klinger probably refers. But I believe it had its best presentation in the 1929 poem “Nyarlathotep,” sonnet XXI of the cycle Fungi from Yuggoth, in which Lovecraft encapsulates the earlier version in a succinct fourteen lines.
My story is meant to follow the sonnet. It begins where the sonnet does, and its title comes from the very first line: “And at the last from inner Egypt came.” It ends before the sonnet does, but the same ending is implied: “Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play, / The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.”
MMM: What Lovecraft sources did you draw from in building your characters, the setting, the narrative beats?
GM: My characters in “From Inner Egypt” are not specifically Lovecraftian, but they do follow a Lovecraftian type. The classic Lovecraft protagonist is intellectual and scholarly, civilized and refined. The pursuit of knowledge is his guiding passion and his downfall. If he gets into trouble, and he always does, it is because this pursuit brings him face to face with something that no intellectual, civilized human being is prepared for. The classic Lovecraft protagonist is frequently read as an idealization of Lovecraft himself. The protagonist of my story is probably the closest I have come to portraying this type.
My museum setting is not specifically Lovecraftian either. But it is a natural place for scholarly characters to exist and interact in. It narrows the scope of their actions, limits their distractions from the outside world, and helps to keep them and the reader focused on the issues at hand. I think large institutions in general can be spooky places after hours when no one else is around. And a museum in particular is the most logical place in which to encounter a mummy.
Museums and mummies are not foreign to Lovecraft, but they are not exclusive to him either. When I was maybe ten years old, over half a century ago now, our Dad took us to something called the Southwest Indian Museum in Los Angeles. I do not know if this museum still exists. If it does exist, it is surely not with the same exhibits. One exhibit was a cross-section of a Native American grave: layers of soil alternating with layers of human skulls behind a wall of glass. Another was the so-called Petrified Woman: the mummy of a young woman, very fit and well preserved, totally bald but with a swatch of burlap for modesty, sitting in a fetal position in a moodily-lit diorama of a cave. As an adult looking back I am duly horrified, but as a little kid my feeling was more like religious awe. That feeling, if not that actual memory, is another thing I tried to evoke in my story.
This is not to suggest that “From Inner Egypt” has no direct Lovecraftian borrowings. It has several. Here are the more obvious ones.
Nyarlathotep I have already mentioned. He is one of Lovecraft’s most important gods. He is also the most problematic. He appears more often than any other god, and he never appears in the same form twice. He is the travelling lecturer in the prose poem “Nyarlathotep,” the envoy of Azathoth in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and the Black Man of the Sabbath in “The Dreams in the Witch-House.” In “From Inner Egypt” I wanted to acknowledge this problematic nature. I included a scene in which my protagonist tries to co-relate everything his occultists have said about the god of a thousand forms. He gives it up in defeat.
Nephren-Ka comes from the story “The Fane of the Black Pharaoh” by one of Lovecraft’s early disciples, a very young Robert Bloch. I used the name but recast the mythology, I would say with a very free hand.
Abdul Alhazred, the author of theNecronomicon, comes from Lovecraft. Ludwig Prinn, the author of The Mysteries of the Worm, comes from Bloch. Are these men respected sources of hidden wisdom, or examples of the occult silliness that lies in wait for the unwary? Let the reader decide.
MMM: Given your inclusion of the heretic Pharaoh, Akhenaten, who is known for having believed in a monotheistic, rather than the polytheistic structure – Aten – how much ancient Egyptian history did you know when you first started to write your short story? Or, was it a serendipitous discovery during your research?
GM: Years ago I read an article, I don’t remember where, containing this delightful nugget. A family had received a gift of an ornate silver vessel. They were trying to figure out what it was. Then the young son of the family saw it and declared it to be a champagne bucket. “A champagne bucket!” his family exclaimed. “How do you know that?” “I saw it on TV,” their son replied. “Moe hit Curly over the head with one on a Three Stooges short.”
A lot of my research is like that. I expose myself to tons of stuff, not because I am planning to do anything with it but because I find it interesting or entertaining. My subjects might range, in the case of Egyptology, from Universal monster movies to college art history courses, from Weird Tales reprints to PBS documentaries. If I never write a mummy story, I will be none the worse for it because I will still have been entertained. If I do decide to write a mummy story, I will have a lifetime of material already at my fingertips, material which I would not even know to research if I had not been following my interests.
MMM: Taking into consideration the impact of the mummification process on a mummy, it was refreshing to read your story because while most stories skirt the lack of vital organs, you embraced it as part of the story. Was that challenging or limiting in any way?
GM: Not really. In fact I found it rather freeing. To make the resurrection of a three-thousand-year-old mummy seem scientifically plausible, that would be challenging. To eliminate anything that would make it look even remotely possible, to pile impossibility on top of impossibility until the whole edifice threatens to come crashing down, and to have the reader go along with it anyway, that is what I call fun!
MMM: Did you face any challenges with blending ancient Egypt history and mythology with Lovecraft’s mythos?
GM: No. That was all settled before I arrived. Lovecraft started it, with “Nyarlathotep” of course, but also with things like “Under the Pyramids” / “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs.” Robert Bloch, as I said before, wrote “The Fane of the Black Pharaoh” which introduced Nephren-Ka to the world. And it only escalated from there. Nyarlathotep may be the god of a thousand forms, but lately his Egyptian form seems to predominate. If you look through the pages of Price’s The Nyarlathotep Cycle, you will find that the stories which do not involve Egypt and mummies are very much in the minority.
MMM: There are some obvious Easter eggs: for instance, Carter Collection does double duty for “Randolph” and “Howard” and Dr. Howard for “Howard Carter”. Any particularly well-hidden ones that you are willing to reveal?
GM: “Carter” could also refer to Linwood Vrooman Carter, ten years dead when the story was written, but still remembered as a contributor to and historian of the Mythos. “Howard” could also refer to Howard Phillips Lovecraft. Reading the story twenty years later, I cannot help but notice that Howard is the cool authority figure while Carter is the sloppy amateur. But I honestly don’t remember if I was thinking of that when I wrote it.
MMM: I liked your nod to the presence of ancient Egyptian forgeries, especially mummies. Do you think the ancient Egyptian mythology is an untapped source for more Lovecraft stories? With mummies? Or do you think it’s a limited resource?
GM: I would not call it an “untapped” source, for reasons given two answers above. But I would not call it “tapped out” either. As long as people want to write such stories, as long as other people are willing to read them, there is no reason for either to stop.
MMM: Have you written any other mummy stories? If you do decide to write another mummy story, will you incorporate a different mummy such as the Chinchurro, bog or even one of the self-mummified individuals of Japan?
GM:I have no such plans myself. I am perfectly happy to leave them to someone else.
MMM: Writers are notorious for perfectionism. Hence, I have to ask: have you revisited “From Inner Egypt” since it was first published?
GM: If perfectionism were a disease, I would have died of it long ago. I like to say that my aim is to create, over the course of a month or so, something that looks like somebody competent had dashed it off in a couple of hours. And that, for me, takes serious work. I try to finish this work before a story is published, but I do not always succeed, in which case I may feel called upon to “revisit” a story later. “From Inner Egypt” was one of my successes.
MMM: Lastly, your short story “From Inner Egypt” appears in Dark Wisdom: Tales of the Old Ones, which happens to have a mummy on the cover. Can you walk through the process of realizing the cover? Were you always thinking you would feature a mummy?
GM: Man proposes, Nyarlathotep disposes. When I finished writing Dark Wisdom, I decided to create some illustrations for it. I created twelve in computer collage, taking photos from around the web and combining them into what I hoped were interesting and evocative images. These color images were converted to grayscale and duly printed in the first edition from Mythos Books.
Six years later, Mythos Books went out of business with The Country of the Worm in preparation. They were no longer selling Dark Wisdom, or at least no longer paying royalties on it. Meanwhile I had written a third book, a novel called Gray Magic. I found myself with three books on my hands and a deep disenchantment with small presses generally. So I decided to publish all three books myself. You can do it for nothing if you have the right skill set.
Of course I needed cover images for all three books. Where did I get them? I decided to use the color illustrations I had prepared for Dark Wisdom. The color ones had never been printed, and I had already decided against reprinting the grayscale ones. These images were not all equally wonderful, but I thought four of them were pretty good. And of those four, three seemed perfectly suited to the books that needed them. So The Country of the Worm got the wall across the stars, Gray Magic got the toad on the stage, and Dark Wisdom got the mummy in the library.
It was probably inevitable that Dark Wisdom would be covered with the illustration for a story included in the book. But it was a happy accident that the story would be “From Inner Egypt.”
MMM: Gary, thank you very much for your time and for chatting about your mummy short story “From Inner Egypt” as well as its intersection with H.P. Lovecraft’s writings and mythos.
To purchase Gary’s book, Dark Wisdom: Tales from the Old Ones, which includes “From Inner Egypt” please clickto purchase from Amazon.