I argued recently — in an essay in my book Walking with Cthulhu (free as a PDF) — that New York itself was the metaphorical ‘alchemical base’ from which Lovecraft imaginatively transmuted his conception of the city of R’lyeh. Sadly I hadn’t then stumbled on the following superb quote from the Selected Letters (III, p.122), which would have served as further good evidence. To Moe in 1930, Lovecraft remembers the New York he had seen when first being guided around it by Everett McNeil, seemingly an expert in negotiating the slum and rough areas (probably due to his contact with the boy-life of the city, especially around Hell’s Kitchen). Here, for Lovecraft, is the city seemingly poised between his first Dunsanian dream-vision of it, and the darkly monstrous fever-dream of alienage that it later became for him…

    “… Cyclopean phantom-pinnacles flowering in violet mist, surging vortices of alien life coursing from wonder-hidden springs in Samarcand and Carthage and Babylon and Ægyptus, breathless sunset vistas of weird architecture and unknown landscape glimpsed from bizarrely balustraded plazas and tiers of titan terraces, glittering twilights that thickened into cryptic ceilings of darkness pressing low over lanes and vaults of unearthly phosphorescence, and the vast, low-lying flat lands and salt marshes […] winds stirred the sedges along sluggish inlets brooding gray and shadowy and out of reach of the long red rays of hazy setting suns. […] Morbid nightmare aisles of odorous Abaddon-labyrinths and Phlegethontic shores — accursed hashish-dreams of endless brick walls budging and bursting with viscous abominations and staring insanely with bleared, geometrical patterns of windows — confused rivers of elemental, simian life with half-Nordic faces twisted and grotesque in the evil flare of bonfires set to signal the nameless gods of dark stars — sinister pigeon-breeders on the flat roofs of unclean teocallis, sending out birds of space with blasphemous messages for the black, elder gods of the cosmic void — death and menace behind furtive doors […] fumes of hellish brews concocted in obscene crypts …” (Selected Letters III, p.122)







Above, from top: Joseph Pennell (1858-1926), “The Bay, New York”; “Night lights of Manhattan”; “Towers at Night”; “From Cortlandt Street Ferry”, “The Things that Tower” (New Yorker earlier version of “From Cortlandt Street Ferry”); “Brooklyn Bridge at Night”.