“The Litany of Earth” by Ruthanna Emrys Combines the Tragedy of Japanese-American Internment Camps with Lovecraftian Lore
In April, fans of Lovecraft will experience a reawakening.
Ruthanna Emrys, Lovecraftian scholar, fiction writer, and environmentalist is preparing to debut her first novel through Tor Publishing. Already racking up stellar critic reviews, Winter Tide will be available for purchase on April 4, 2017 from Tor and Amazon.
Her short story (about 12,000 words), “The Litany of Earth” illustrates a short period of time in the life of Miss Aphra Marsh, a young woman who works at a book store in San Francisco. Throughout her narrative, it’s revealed that Miss Marsh is a descendent of the strange people from the mythical town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, from the H.P. Lovecraft novella “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”
For those who aren’t familiar with Lovecraft lore, those strange people are the children of humans and Deep Ones, a fishy-humanoid race of ocean dwellers that practice magic and eventually gain immortality as they experience metamorphosis (around middle age) and transform into Deep Ones, capable of living underwater.
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“The Litany of Earth” Pulls No Punches
The story seems to take place shortly after World War II, as the world is still recovering. Miss Marsh lives with a Japanese-American family called the Koto’s, who it appears she met in a desert internment camp. The Deep One-hybrids (like the Marsh family) were taken from their culture and home and imprisoned in the desert, soon to be joined by Japanese POWs and Japanese-Americans who came under suspicion during the war.
Immediately, I was drawn into the narrative, as I believe science fiction that tackles real world tragedies and injustices is necessary for the social progression and cultural evolution of us as humankind. The Deep One’s only known city, located in Devil’s Reef, was torpedoed by the US Government, presumably destroying everything and everyone in it.
Miss Marsh’s family is all but dead, with her mother being tortured and experimented upon in a cage in the desert at the hands of “The State,” her father was shot, and her brother is in an unknown location searching for any remaining religious texts not destroyed or stolen by the aforementioned state. Miss Marsh is just settling in and being comfortable in her new life working for Mr. Day, the book shop owner, and living with the Koto’s, when an FBI agent shows up and threatens to ruin everything.
The agent, named Spector, chases Miss Marsh down as she’s walking home through the dense, salty fog of San Francisco, and tries to blackmail her into helping the very institution that decimated her family and culture.
The story continues as Miss Marsh ends up at the house of a family that “practices the old ways,” which the reader can safely assume by this point is the religious magic of Cthulhu and the Old Gods. We soon find that they attempt to practice this magic in hopes of achieving immortality and walking into the surf to join the Deep Ones beneath the waves. Unfortunately, not all of the congregation has purely spiritual motivations, and Miss Marsh immediately makes an enemy of Mildred Bergman, a vile, judgmental aging human woman.
Mildred refuses to see Miss Marsh for what she is, and repeatedly insults her until it results in violence. Mildred harbors not only doubt of Miss Marsh’s true nature, but eventually reveals to have a jealous hatred of her kind. She seems to believe that the Deep One-hybrids are intentionally hiding the secret of immortality from humanity to keep them weak, and hates that Miss Marsh was born into a life she desperately wants for herself. Miss Marsh knows that despite their praying to Cthulhu and their clumsy attempts at ritual magic, walking into the waves will only bring them death.
Final Thoughts on “The Litany of Earth”
The story examines themes of racism, xenophobia, the power of knowledge, and the dangers of blind faith. Power, in the form of fear, is used as a weapon to kill and imprison the Japanese-Americans during WWII, and power, in the form of faith, is used arrogantly and ignorantly to seek immortality at the cost of others. Each of these themes, I believe, is culturally relevant today. We need more sci-fi authors like Emrys asking tough questions and encouraging discussion about what is right and what is real so that we can continue to move toward a better world, by showing us the wrong way to do it and the consequences of using knowledge as a weapon.