An introduction, of sorts

Hello.  My name — or at least, my erstwhile internet name — is Cuchlann.  I’m one of the new bloggers here at Superfani.  I’m pleased to meet you.

As Pontifus wrote on the About page, we don’t require spectacles and tweed.  In the sake of full disclosure, I should let you know my tweed smells of Goodwill, not attic, and my spectacles aren’t tiny — though the are also not large.  I’m also not wearing them just now.

I’m wearing pajamas right now, actually.  Grey pajamas, with white pinstripes.  I also have a pot of tea, with one half-full cup, sitting on my desk, next to the box of sugar cubes.  I’m not making any of this up, I’m just strange.  My room is in the second floor of a house full of English majors, effectively the attic.  My ceiling slopes, in parts, to accomodate the roof, and I am often reminded of the strange angles of the room in Dreams in the Witch-House.

Objects of interest in this room that may eventually claim my sanity, if not my very life:  a war banner of Gondor, a stuffed Killer Rabbit, a Doctor Who scarf I knitted myself, and a pair of steampunk goggles I made myself.  I won’t go into all the books — if you’re interested in that sort of thing, you can check out what I’m currently reading, and any number of other unnecessary, stalker-ish facts about my book collection, at my Goodreads account.

Now that I have completed the introduction — it was once very popular for modern critics, especially feminists, to open papers by describing themselves — we can talk about something interesting.

Tentacle monsters.

I’m actually not a big fan of tentacle hentai — my interests lean more toward yuri than anything else.  But there’s a lot of interesting stuff to talk about, I think, concerning tentacle monsters.

The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife is, at least according to Wikipedia, often cited as the beginning of tentacle erotica.  In a literal sense this has to be true — it’s erotica that features tentacles.  Michael Moorcock, in his book Wizardry and Wild Romance, rejects tracing fantasy to mythology, as mythology was not authored in the same way fantasy was and is.  In the same vein, I don’t think it’ll be very useful to talk about octopuses and squids in erotica while looking at tentacle porn, simply because the interesting part is the sheer, alien horror tentacles are meant to cause in the viewer — if you like it, you like that horror.  People read horror novels all the time.

I should warn you now that I’m in a Gothic novel class, so I’ll probably be mentioning it a lot until mid-December.  Anyway, we just finished reading The Monk, by Matthew Lewis.  It features a monk, Ambrosio, who’s corrupted by a woman who’s snuck into the monastery just to meet  Ambrosio.  The climax, or one of them, comes when Ambrosio rapes a young woman in a crypt and then kills her as she tries to escape.  This book was written and published in the 1790s, and people were horrified by the content, though that didn’t stop them from buying it.  Ambrosio ends up dabbling in Satanic magic, and seems to become less human as time goes by — though, of course, he doesn’t feel that way about it.  He’s bitten by pangs of conscience, but usually in the form of worrying about discovery and punishment.  Other notable moments in the book are when a fellow named Raymond, waiting for his mistress to rush from a castle so they can run off and get married, clasps the ghost of a dead nun to his chest, and when aforementioned mistress, imprisoned for getting pregnant after taking a nun’s vows, carries her dead baby around, even when, as she puts it herself, it has become a mass of putrescence.  She talks about the worms in the flesh twining around her fingers.

Why am I bothering with all this stuff from a book over two centuries old?  To set up examples of similar stuff, basically.  Ann Radcliffe (she wrote the Mysteries of Udolpho), delineated “terror” and “horror.”  She claimed that terror is good and healthy — effectively, it was the sublime, like Wordsworth and Coleridge were obsessed with.  Terror draws humanity, and people can use it to contemplate their place in the world, their mortality, and their connection with God.  Terror at a dizzying height atop a rugged mountain, for example. scares the shit out of you and makes you think that you should be a better person, because you could die.  Horror, on the other hand, is a repulsive attribute of something, it pushes people away, freezes them up, and is useless.  If you want to look for the two elements in something, Radcliffe claimed that terror is the unknown — like the threat of afterlife at the bottom of that long drop — while horror is known and hated, like a dead body rotting in your arms.

Lewis effectively inverts these two.  Ambrosio eventually signs his soul over to the devil to avoid being burned at the stake, only to have the devil throw him off a cliff, killing him — but only after he writhes around, shattered and broken, for six days.  The fire would have been easier, but Ambrosio ran from the terror of it, as he didn’t know what lay on the other side, while the devil led him to believe he’d continue in our world for a while, and Ambrosio knew what was in our world.  However, Agnes (the mistress from earlier) seems to be redeemed by her horror.  Certainly, she seems perfectly fine after losing her mind in the dungeon, and even marries the guy who accidently tried to make out with the dead nun instead.

Tentacle rape works on this line.  It is a known horror, but usually attached to an unknown terror.  Lovecraft used tentacles a lot — his monsters were indescribable, but many had tentacles at the ends of their amorphous, squamous bodies.  Or, at least, they made tentacles out of themselves for a while, like an amoeba.  Now, Lovecraft didn’t write about sex.  Ever, really.  He seemed to be afraid of it — at least, the Barthian author-unit as a descriptor of patterns in a selection of texts seemed to be afraid of it.  Lovecraft did marry someone, so we can assume he had sex.  It just doesn’t ever show up in his fiction.  But Lovecraft is the acknowledged master of horror when it comes to mind-bending, impossible to understand monsters that assault the mind as readily as the body.

And now we get to the sex.  Aren’t you pleased?  Toshio Maeda introduced tentacle rape in 1987 with his Urotsukidoji manga.  He had very good, practical, pragmatic reasons for using tentacles:  it was illegal to show penises.  However, we’re not interested in what he needed to do — illustrate penetration — but what he chose to use — tentacles.  Perhaps Maeda was thinking of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife when he came up with his soon-to-be-infamous trope.  But he put together two things:  horror and terror.  Horror is the simple violence inherent in the act, even fictional, of rape.  It’s familiar (in a relative sense).  The tentacle is a terror, it’s frightening, alien, unknown.  Many people won’t eat squid because of its texture, the look and shape of it — the same attributes that led Lovecraft, Maeda, and any number of other people to use squid limbs as an element of horror writing.

A short note at this point:  I’m not claiming any sort of primacy for Lovecraft.  I don’t know when translations of Lovecraft’s work made it over to Japan, if they were around before or after Maeda would have been planning out his manga.  I’m claiming a shared ouvre of horror.

This pattern of combination, of terror and horror, that is T(tentacles) + H(sex), draw audiences to tentacle rape even as the individual bits and pieces should repulse.  It’s The Monk all over again.

And never mind that, like Janet Weiss, some of the ladies end up liking it.  Maybe they heard a bell ring.

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4 Comments

  1. Impressive…as bizarre as all of that was (or rather, as bizarre as this entire topic is), you seem to have made a good point, in an astonishing amount of detail.
    …Though I can’t deny that this is by far the strangest aniblog post I’ve read all week >_>

    Reply
  2. “But Lovecraft is the acknowledged master of horror when it comes to mind-bending, impossible to understand monsters that assault the mind as readily as the body.”

    Has there been any scholarly suggestion that perhaps to Lovecraft, the sex impulse was an impossible to understand, mind-bending monster that assaulted and corrupted thought and action?

    Reply
    • Cuchlann

       /  7 April 2009

      Not that I’ve seen — I haven’t done an incredibly vast survey, but Lovecraft criticism continues to be a little hit-or-miss, so it’s possible I just haven’t found it yet. It’s certainly possible. It’s actually so removed from the stories, though, that I think it would be pure biographical criticism to even talk about it.

      I found a used copy of the Library of America edition of Lovecraft two months ago, but it was full of marginal notes, most sarcastic and mean. At one point a character’s name is circled and the note says, “Finally, a female character!” Which is slightly unfair: Lovecraft included more than one female character. They were rare, though.

      On a biographical level it’s entirely possible you’re right. His marriage didn’t last long, though part of the reason for the breakup appears to be his inability to live A) with another person and B) in New York.

      Reply
  1. Scathbad’s Training

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