(Madrid: la Biblioteca de Carfax, 2021)
[Copyright © 2021 by José R. Montejano. Translated by Ovidio Cartagena. Reprinted by permission.]
After having traveled through the labyrinthine corners of this unique volume filled with weirdness, mystery, and marvels, you, dear reader, have arrived at these withering pages whose only purpose is to serve as a conduit to memories that will get us closer, if slightly, to the origin of the book you hold in your hands.
And so we must look into the past—like two-faced Janus—at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, on October 2007. This might mean nothing to you, but this bubble in time houses one of the fondest memories of Wilum H. Pugmire’s (1951–2019), a shy and eccentric person who called himself the “Queen of Eldritch Horror, punk queen and street crossdresser.” Mount Auburn Cemetery captured Wilum’s imagination because, above all things, of its Sphinx: different, uneven, always emanating a touch of weirdness among all the tombs and monuments. Upon seeing it—as if She spoke to him—Wilum knew he had to bring it to Sesqua Valley: his repository of dreams, poetry, and his love for Lovecraft, Poe, Baudelaire, Wilde, and so many others who dreamt of the impossible. You might have observed, dear reader, the Sphinx appearing in some of Pugmire’s stories. And despite the fact that he plays with an ample repertoire of elements belonging to Lovecraft, Arthur Machen, or Robert W. Chambers, he will become one of the first voices to rise and tell new authors to go beyond … to concoct their own creations within the cosmic fear.
Above all, we will observe the poet within Pugmire so that we can grasp the immense value and depth contained in this volume.
On one side we have Wilum, a dreamer poet from birth. When he was a child he was obsessed with fantastic films, dreaming of becoming a horror movie actor. He grew up with parents who would scold him for loving monsters. His father, grown weary of the situation, made him put all his issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland into the furnace in his house’s basement, to be pulverized by flames. Then, working as a janitor at Jones’ Fantastic Museum, Pugmire approached, with anticipation, a large machine filled with sounds, levers, and colors, pretending to be a mad scientist from a horror movie. And he would stand there, looking at the machine coming to life in front of him; its lights blinking and wheels turning until … until one day the museum director, Walter Jones—or Doc Jones—proposed that Wilum don an android costume and pose next to the machine, for marketing purposes. Wilum felt like Alice! Entering into a veritable Wonderland, in a museum full of marvels, he was turned into the vampire of downtown Seattle, Count Pugsly, who changed his way of looking at the world and started his transformation into a horror writer.
On the other side, we have Sesqua Valley, that singular and fictional place in the Pacific Northwest that has been in Pugmire’s mind since 1987, the center of his greatest stories, brimming with mystery, insanity, and the weird.
From The Winds of Yith (1987) to his novel Witches in Dreamland (2018; written in collaboration with David Barker), Wilum dedicated a lot of his time to build this setting. A place that was conceived inside his mind as a child, when he traveled for two weeks every summer, with his cousins, to Mount Si, in North Bend. And so, when he started his literary career, focused on the Lovecraftian tradition, he manifested his own enchanted place, his unique version of Arkham or Dunwich. And just as he did with the Sphinx of Mount Auburn Cemetery, he used his memories of North Bend and Snoqualmie Valley to create Sesqua Valley.
In the beginning he used Sesqua as a set piece where he would stage Cthulhu Mythos pastiches, but, sooner rather than later, he understood he was able to make Lovecraftian literature his very own. This book, Bohemians of Sesqua Valley, is one of the key works in his own universe; one in which Pugmire wrote the definitive tale about Shub-Niggurath and Lovecraft’s night creatures. It was also in Sesqua Valley where he explored the emotional depths of his most popular character, Simon Gregory Williams, and his relationship with the valley’s poet, William Davis Manly.
Pugmire’s stories are known for feeling familiar, predictable even, though Pugmire always manages to mislead, hiding tales of melancholy and tenderness, reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith, Oscar Wilde, or Lovecraft himself; pulling you into his evocative and oneiric prose. This is Wilum’s magic of Sesqua Valley: a hidden world, filled with artists and poets who wish to leave modern existence and live in an everlasting dream. His strange visions are not without dark, immaterial, and torturous agonies, where the darkness openly embraces the forces of chaos. In this volume, this is clearly seen in the tales where the macabre power of the Tarot assists hidden rituals in the forest or the search for doors to a world of dreams.
Among the many videos Wilum posted to his YouTube channel, he left one thing clear: his goal was to always live under H. P. Lovecraft’s shadow. However, Pugmire has done more than that: he became a master of the weird and macabre, and, more importantly, he influenced thousands with his human qualities: always kind, humble, and honest. A poet who wanted to be and make everyone happy …
My dear Pugmire: you had moments bitter and sad, happy and whimsical, but you lived the poetic life you so wanted. And just like Lord Dunsany’s Sphinx, you and your work will remain for eternity, for you will be remembered as “the Lovecraftian prose poet,” for all the years to come. I only have this to say, Wilum, I hope not to have bogged down your stories with this text. And thank you, thank you for everything … let this be the first among your stories: the works of an Oscar Wilde of the weird.
I also thank María Pérez de San Román and Shaila Correa, editors of La Biblioteca de Carfax, for allowing you and me, dear reader, to enjoy the hidden and weird marvels that live in Pugmire’s writings, works of unrepeatable originality.
José R. Montejano