She Walks In Shadows
Posted by Holly
She Walks In Shadows
Edited by: Silvia Moreno-Garcia & Paula R. Stiles
The dearth of female characters in Lovecraft’s fictional world is not a secret to anyone who has extensively read his writing. The women he did include in his works are more notable for being so few in number than necessarily for their contribution to the larger scheme of the world. So the idea of taking this void, and filling it with nightmarish and strange tales of the women who undoubtedly would have occupied these stories, was an attractive concept for me. I had been let down by books I’d greatly anticipated before, but I purchased a copy of this book as soon as it became available and hoped for the best.
She Walks in Shadows is a book that seeks to actively fill the void in the Lovecraft meta, not just of women, but of diversity in almost any regard. It is foremost, however, an anthology of fictional works written by women, and featuring women in the lead roles so often given to the male characters by default.
This book has a rich variety of pieces that were included in it, that seem to try and touch on almost every facet of the kind of weird fiction Lovecraft made so famous. There are stories that depict larger-than-life cosmic horrors, the quiet madness that often accompanies an encounter with this kind of entity, and even a story that touches on Lovecraft’s own life and his relationship with his mother. This variety is the springboard from which She Walks In Shadows makes its best case; these stories don’t offer a detraction from what Lovecraft had written in his lifetime, but rather makes his world feel infinitely more complete.
Of course, the first question that must be answered is: what are the quality of the stories being told here? It’s all well and good to push for diverse voices, but it often feels like collections that declare that goal are held to a remarkably high writing standard or are otherwise deemed a detraction from diversity efforts. Fortunately, the quality of writing in this collection is spot-on, and only a few of the stories were misses for me – and even then, accounting more for personal taste than the writing itself. The voices in this collection are all strong, and the variety never allows the collection to become dull. There are dark, brooding pieces that capture the eeriness of the Lovecraft mythos, but also ones that take a tongue-in-cheek stab at some of the indulgences in Lovecraft’s writing. Because of this, rather than feeling like direct Lovecraft fanfiction, it becomes a loving and critical homage to the weird fiction he made so famous.
Lovecraft’s issues with race are well documented, and that is not ignored in this anthology. It’s not stepped around either, and is tackled head-on with several of the stories, some of which deal directly with the experience of people of color. By not simply putting minority characters in a story and calling it finished, and actively looking to address their pain and their rage, there is an attempt to achieve some level of balance from the racism present in Lovecraft’s own works. Hairwork is one of the most notable examples of this, which tells the story in a way that allows the reader to feel pity for the current victim of a curse, brought on by the rage of a line of slavery, but understand that the curse is righteously wrought. The lines of morality are not clearly drawn, and that complexity is something I enjoy seeing in writing that tackles more difficult subjects.
Reading a book that celebrates women is such a rare treat that I often take for granted how rarely I am able to see the different variations on female relationships in fiction. There are stories that tackle the mother and daughter bond (Bring Me the Moon being a favorite), which is a natural choice, but also ones that address romantic attraction between women (The Thing On the Cheerleading Squad), female colleagues (Cthulhu of the Dead Sea), and goddesses to their female devotees (The Cypress God). This alone created an endearing relatability to these stories, that they were about the experiences of women, rather than just being Lovecraft stories with a gender swapped lead character.
One criticism I have of this book is that all of the stories included are quite short, usually ranging from five to ten pages a piece. This works beautifully for some of the stories that have a more quiet, ethereal tone to them (Bring Me the Moon), or otherwise ones which utilize unusual formatting in their approach (De Deabus Minoribus…), but I would have also loved to have one or two longer entries to sink my teeth into. I don’t know if this was a limit imposed by the editors, in order to include as many writers as possible, but I did feel that a few of the stories were just getting started when they came to an abrupt end, and would have liked to see a few of the titles get extended space.
People will often dismiss this kind of collection as “pandering” or political correctness, which is a shame. Lovecraft wrote enjoyable stories that, due to his own prejudices, tended to have a strong focus on a particular demographic. This ultimately worked to the detriment of his storytelling. By removing these filters from the world he created, a reader is able to get an even greater perspective on the intricate and beautiful tapestry that is humankind; and it also highlights the things that make all of us the same in the face of our absolute insignificance.
Rating: 4 out of 5. Highly recommended for anyone who likes weird fiction, and craves a genuinely diverse collection!
Scariness level: There is quite a good level of eeriness throughout, though not every story seeks to outright frighten a reader. Some of the darker stories include: Violet is the Color of Your Energy, The Cypress God
Violence level: Lovecraft stories did not particularly use violence as its main mode of invoking fear, and these stories do not always do so either. That said, the bloodiest entry is probably The Cypress God.
Bechdel Test: So many stories that pass this throughout, it’s probably not worth listing them individually. Safe to say, more pass than don’t, and the ones that don’t generally have a story to support that choice.
Mako Mori test: Once again, this is pretty much a given to pass in most cases, since it is a women-centric collection. Most of the stories are about women in their own stories, with male characters in supporting roles.