Sex, Death, and Smörgåsbord: A Review of "Swedish Cults" by Anders Fager
The Arbo Files
Sometimes one must stop and really consider the improbability of it all. What I mean to say is this: Weird Tales was a pulp magazine dedicated to giving exciting fiction to mostly working-class readers at a time when many of them were becoming literate enough and wealthy enough to afford such distractions. It was meant to be disposable. H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most popular Weird Tales writers, did not have a prolific output, and indeed died in impoverished obscurity, and yet, he is now the undisputed master of horror. Lovecraft’s influence is so great that his style of weird fiction can be found all across the world, with Japan being a particular hotspot of Lovecraftiana.
Another part of Lovecraft Country seems to be Scandinavia. Spend enough time scrolling through search engines and you will find Norwegian comic adaptations of Lovecraft, a Lovecraft-inspired LARP in Sweden, and an unending litany of Lovecraft-themed songs and records from Scandinavia’s many flavors of heavy metal. Scandinavia’s embrace of Lovecraft would have pleased the Old Gentleman of Providence, for he lavished praise on his own “Nordic” pedigree from time to time.
“I am naturally a Nordic — a chalk-white, bulky Teuton of the Scandinavian or North-German forests — a Viking berserk killer — a predatory rover of Hengist and Horsa — a conqueror of Celts and mongrels and founders of Empires — a son of the thunders and the arctic winds, and brother to the frosts and the auroras — a drinker of foemen's blood from new picked skulls — a friend of the mountain buzzards and feeder of seacoast vultures — a blond beast of eternal snows and frozen oceans — a prayer to Odin and Thor and Woden and Alfadur, the raucous shouter of Niffelheim — a comrade of the wolves, and rider of nightmares”
Also, in Lovecraft’s seminal essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927), he wrote: “The Scandinavian Eddas and Sagas thunder with cosmic horror, and shake with the stark fear of Ymir and his shapeless spawn; whilst our own Anglo-Saxon Beowulf and the later Continental Nibelung tales are full of eldritch weirdness.” Suffice it to say, Lovecraft had a healthy respect for Northern darkness, and, it seems, the Northern darkness has a respect for him too.
Enter Anders Fager. Born in Stockholm, Fager had a varied life before taking up the pen. Fager was a punk rocker, a game designer, and an army officer (Lovecraft disciples often wear uniforms. See: Brian Lumley.) before becoming a writer of weird tales. Fager only turned to writing full-time in 2009 at the age of forty-five. Swedish Cults, his collection of Lovecraft-inspired short stories, was published in 2009 and translated into English in 2022. The stories in Swedish Cults may be inspired by Lovecraft’s weird fiction, but they are far from pastiches or carbon copies. Fager’s stories touch more on sex and relationships, plus the majority of the stories in Swedish Cults feature women as protagonists.
“The Furies from Borås” is set in rural Småland along Sweden’s southeastern coast. A collection of party-hungry teens troll the Underryd Dance Hall in search of drugs and sex. It all seems like normal teenage behavior until the girls begin feeding one boy magic mushrooms. The boy, known not-so-affectionally as Meat, is taken into the midnight woods alongside his immigrant dealer. Meat gets the nookie, but the point of this is not coitus. You see, the females belong to an ancient cult of Shub-Niggurath worshippers who feed flesh to the chaotic god. The problem in the story is that Meat takes Viagra in order to perform, and Shub-Niggurath and the other primordial gods of the bogs HATE drugged blood. Drugged blood makes the gods go wild, and in their frenzy they kill and eat everything, even including their own adherents.
The next tale in the collection, “Grandma’s Journey,” is contemporary urban horror in that it focuses on a family of immigrants from the Balkans with strange religious practices. Sweden’s current experiment with multiculturalism is brought up often as the family in question lives in Rosengård, a district of the city of Malmö that is majority non-Swedish. The family blends in while pretending to be Muslim. In truth, “Grandma’s Journey” shows that the family are practitioners of an older, much stranger religion. They travel to the former states of Yugoslavia to find their grandma in an isolated monastery protected by rodent-like priests. Along the way, the main brothers pick up hooks and chains, plus they purchase several women from a Serbian supplier in Slovenia. They also spend a lot of time dodging “democrats” and Danes, both of whom the brothers have been led to believe are dangerous racists out to harm them. “Grandma’s Journey” is a long, often meandering story that has a bizarre ending. If you cannot figure it out, Grandma is not quite human, and the family’s search for a quiet place in Sweden’s far north is not what it seems.
“The Broken Man’s Wish” is set in Norway during the Great Northern War. That conflict tends to get overlooked in the Anglophone world, but it was of seminal importance to Europe. The war began with the Kingdom of Sweden as the premiere power in Northern and Eastern Europe, and it ended with Russia in the ascendancy. During that conflict, parts of the small, but highly skilled Swedish army were dispatched to Norway in order to put down an insurgency. “The Broken Man’s Wish” is set during this time, and it tells a straightforward revenge story about one Norwegian man’s hatred of the Swedish soldiers who killed his family and ransacked his farm. Well, maybe “straightforward” is not the best description, for the Norwegian farmer is part Sami, and using his ancestral magic, he calls forth the vile god Ittakkva to eat out the eyes of the Swedish infantrymen.
“Happy Forever on Östermalm” seems like a chamber drama about one Swedish couple’s move to Stockholm’s swankiest district. The main protagonist, Nadine, is a Macedonian girl who grew up in the Stockholm slums. After falling in love with the native Swede Daniel, she gets to experience the good life in Östermalm, where everyone is gay, rich, or some combination of both. Nadine and Daniel’s money comes courtesy of Daniel’s Jordanian boss, Mr. Kalim. The money is excellent, but the downside is that Daniel has to travel constantly. After one of these trips, Daniel comes home sick…and different. The formerly normal, middle-class Swede suddenly knows Arabic, French, and German. He eats differently and speaks differently, the latter of which manifests the most in his blatant disregard of Swedish liberal morality by calling their personal shopper, “the negro.” Nadine plays nurse until she can stand it no longer. The problem is that she loves Daniel’s money, but, by the end of the story, it is obvious that the money is real, but “Daniel” is not.
The final story in Swedish Cults, “Miss Witt’s Great Work,” is the most chaotic of them all. It concerns an artist named My Witt. My’s bread and butter is in making art meant to shock and disturb. Her latest creation, simply entitled Porn Star, features almost twenty pictures of My getting violently railed by a male porn star with the appropriate surname of Hard. The urbane art world loves My’s work, but every showing she hosts is aggressively protested by feminists and members of Antifa (remember: that particular gang of left-wing terrorists have been a thing in Sweden much longer than America). My is called a “gender traitor” for being so scandalous with sex and her own body. For My, art is all that matters. She has sacrificed her children and her husband in order to push the limits of her creativity. She gets a chance to do this when she meets Anette Glasser, a representative of Carcosa who wants to commission an extreme piece of art. The commission goes sideways quick, and the story devolves into a semi-lucid examination of My’s physical, mental, and spiritual decline.
The stories in Swedish Cults are interspersed with short fragments about wandering old occultists, gangsters eaten alive by unknown rivals, and a ship attacked by an unseen creature from beneath the waves. Fager’s debut collection is a worthwhile read for all weird fiction enthusiasts. To be sure, his language and sensibilities are thoroughly modern, as this book never shies away from the salacious stuff. There is hard language and hardcore imagery, but do not think that this book is softcore in any way. Swedish Cults is a terrific tip of the hat to Lovecraft that still remains distinctly Swedish in its sociology and psychology.
Swedish Cults is available to purchase online thanks to Valancourt Books. I highly encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself. It will make Yig and all the other gods quite pleased.