What Moore has done here is a version of what he does in his ongoing series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, in which the likes of Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, Mina Harker, Allan Quartermain, and Griffin, the scientist from The Invisible Man, form a Victorian crimefighting team. Just as the League series is an alternate history of some of the most famous characters from imaginative literature, Lost Girls nudges the plots of Carroll, Baum, and Barrie so that they become sexual metaphors. Dorothy’s first orgasm is illustrated by a panel of her with her fingers between her legs falling head first into a tornado high above her Kansas farmhouse while Toto and a Model-T swirl nearby — sex turns her world upside down. Peter Pan is a teenage hustler whom Wendy and her brothers encounter in the park; Captain Hook is the friend of her father’s who molests her. The Red Queen is Alice’s boarding-school teacher, whom she goes to work for and who initiates her into increasingly cruel and degrading sexual encounters.
The hotel is the secluded utopia that is one of the conventions of porn (like the château in The Story of O). The three women confess these histories to one another and use them to spur on the erotic encounters among them. And that’s not the only sex going on here — both Dorothy and Wendy’s husband dally with an Austrian captain. M. Rougeur invites the women to join a hotel-wide orgy after the less “liberal” guests have fled following the outbreak of war. And the fantasies themselves — gay, straight, bisexual — incorporate group sex, masturbation, S&M, fetishism, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality. Lost Girls is, if nothing else, egalitarian smut. The lesbian scenes could be male or female fantasies; same with the gay scenes, in which the men often switch between women and men. What the authors get about sexual fantasy is that in the heat of the moment, we can be turned on by anything. And their blending of the elegant with the really, really dirty is an admirable achievement that pays porn the respect of believing it’s worth doing well. But as attractive an object as Lost Girls is, it also reminds you that, in porn, æsthetic standards are beside the point. Just as a movie or book doesn’t have to be good to be effective, neither does porn. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t hope for better pornographers.
Moore and Gebbie are including material with the idea of alarming their readers, and they want us to question our alarm. In the orgy scene, as M. Rougeur reads aloud from his White Book a tale of an incestuous family, a participant expresses discomfort. M. Rougeur answers that what he is reading are fictions and that “only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them.” And the point is reiterated when Dorothy and Wendy find themselves increasingly excited as Alice tells them tales of sexual degradation.
The point being made, of course, is that we should be free in our fantasies and that thoughts are not deeds. The problem with Lost Girls is that, as it spreads the gospel of pleasure, preaching exists side by side here with the priapic. And the message of the sermon goes only so far.