A PhD student from London, James Machin, has found an (apparently new) 5,000 word H. P. Lovecraft letter in an American archive. It’s by Lovecraft to J.C. Henneberger, 2nd February 1924.

“It was a single item in a folder of theatrical ephemera and seemed strikingly anomalous in that context. Rick Watson at the [Harry Ransom] Center kindly investigated further and told me that the letter was likely part of the Albert Davis or Messmore Kendall collections, originally acquired by the University of Texas in 1956–1958, both consisting of performing arts materials. When I learned that the collection of Messmore Kendall (1872–195-), a lawyer and theatre entrepreneur, included material collected by Harry Houdini, the mystery seemed to solve itself. At the time Lovecraft wrote the letter, Henneberger had engaged him to ghost-write a story for Houdini called “Imprisoned With the Pharoahs,” published later that year in Weird Tales.”

And Machin has very kindly published the letter in good readable scans, on the Cultural Compass of the Harry Ransom Center.

LovecraftHP_Letters_HennebergerJC_003

He goes into detail about what his novel Azathoth might contain. He also gives details for the story “The House of the Worm”, which by the sound of it had already been closely plotted. I’m pretty sure this is a wholly new insight into this ‘lost’ work, as Joshi’s I am Providence calls it “a novel about which we know nothing” (p.489). It…

“deal[s] with the frantic message sent by a dying and prematurely aged father to the boy who ran away twenty years before because of a nameless dread of his new stepmother…. the heiress who lived in the dark house in the swamp. The young man comes, and finds his father alone in the house (or castle — I’m not sure whether I’ll put it in New England or Old England or the German Black Forest)…. alone, yet not alone…. for he looks furtively around him… and other forms flit through remote corridors, strangely attracting swarms of flies after them… and vultures hover over the whole swamp…… and the young man sees things when he goes out on one occasion….”

One wonders if this fits the plot of the 1933 Mearle Prout story of the same name? Prout was a mysterious writer who opened with the Lovecraft-alike story “The House of the Worm” in 1933, much to Lovecraft’s amusement, then published another three stories and vanished. But sadly they’re not the same, it seems — Bobby Derie writes me that the plots are completely different.

Lovecraft also expresses admiration for Philip M. Fisher Jr.’s novelette “Fungus Island” in “a recent All-Story” [reprinted in Famous Fantastic Mysteries 1991], showing he was still reading the All-Story in 1923/4, albeit only when certain friends recommended stories in it. He also remarks that he had admired Victor Rousseau’s “The Sea-Demons” (invisible sea creatures living off the Shetland Islands, with a hive mind, plan to invade the land) back in the All-Story for January 1916.

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