One of H.P. Lovecraft’s least successful horror stories is “Medusa’s Coil“, a 1930 collaboration with Zealia Bishop. The story builds to one of the hideous final denouements that Lovecraft liked to end his stories with.
Nor was it right that the neighbours should know that other horror which my strange host of the night could not bring himself to tell me–that horror which he must have learned, as I learned it, from details in the lost masterpiece of poor Frank Marsh.
It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside–the accursed gorgon or lamia whose hateful crinkly coil of serpent-hair must even now be brooding and twining vampirically around an artist’s skeleton in a lime-packed grave beneath a charred foundation–was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe’s most primal grovellers. No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman Sophonisba–for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.
Modern liberal readers of course find “Medusa’s Coil” laughable rather than horrific. The reason is that we are neither the misogynists nor the racists that the story presupposes. Lovecraft probably never stopped to think that he might one day be read by African American women or by anyone who considers such women to be people worthy of common respect.
I was reminded the other day of “Medusa’s Coil” by the ending of the five-part TV miniseries Criminal Justice 2. It’s the story of a woman who murders her husband over some dark secret between the two of them. Throughout there are enigmatic hints about some sort of violence or oppression she has suffered from her husband. But the viewer is left to wonder up to the last moment. Before the dramatic conclusion, in the court room, we learn that the husband had made a habit of raping his wife. And then, as the camera pans along the ranks of horrified jurors, we are finally told the shocking truth: it was anal sex!!!
Oh. OK. So the big thing here isn’t that she kept getting raped by her husband, but where, specifically, he put it in her. Are we to take it that if he had just used more conventional means to commit those rapes, then she wouldn’t have been driven to kill him?
Of course, forced entry hurts your bottom more than your vagina. But, beyond the physical pain involved, screen writer Peter Moffat clearly expected a strong sodomy taboo among the viewers. In 2009. Moffat very correctly judged that it would have been completely ineffective to use vanilla domestic sexual coercion as a plot twist. We’re supposed to be shocked not so much because the woman’s bottom hurts, not because she kept getting raped over and over again, but because she has been forced to take part in a Forbidden Act.
Nerve Magazine ran a “The Mainstreaming of Anal Sex” article in 1999. Slate ran theirs in 2005. To readers of Cosmopolitan Magazine and fans of the Sex and the City TV show, anal sex is about as controversial as Pilates. Mainstream on-line book stores offer many handbooks on the subject of how you might enjoy your own male or female little tush sexually. It’s optional: it’s your bottom and you decide what you’d like to try and what you’d then like to try again — or not. Everybody knows that the basic rule in bed is “consenting adults”. Therefore the Criminal Justice miniseries ends in anticlimax: when we learn that the long-withheld secret is rape we find it sad but banal. Even though it was anal.