New on Librivox, a one-hour public domain appreciation of Poe and short account of his life and death.
New on Archive.org, Chacal #1 (Winter 1976), including the four page footnoted article “Hannes Bok: Artist and Man”.
The Reason for the Darkness of the Night: Edgar Allan Poe and the Forging of American Science is a new and well-regarded ‘full scientific biography’, in which the author works through Poe’s scientific ideas and his advancement of science. As such it seems of obvious relevance to his youthful devotee H.P. Lovecraft.
I guess “Forging” was chosen by the marketeers for the title because it reminds the shelf-browser of “Forgery”. Poe did sometimes run pranks and hoaxes, and certain things — phrenology, spiritualism, animal magnetism, the ether and the like — were then still open to debate. Though the title’s use of “Forging” might give young minds the unfortunate first-impression that all of early American science was somehow a “forgery”. But if they are intelligent enough to read the book, then I guess they would soon learn their error.
As I’ve suggested here before, one of his hoaxes may have had an unintended small-but-positive effect on global history. Poe was also likely leaning on what was then a relatively recent past for hoaxes. This history is surveyed by another new book The Century of Deception: The birth of the hoax in eighteenth-century England. Also relevant to Lovecraft, perhaps, due to his devotion to the wits and writers of the 18th century. Also because of his own liking for staging the occasional hoax. The book is said to ably document the range of hoaxers and hoaxes which emerged at that time. From canny amateurs out to trip up the growing class of ‘experts’ and puffed-up ‘celebrities’, down to moustache-twiddling cads and their complex hoax-based swindles.
The Pulp Super-Fan takes a look at the new The Pulpster #30. Mostly the non-fiction articles are concerned with The Shadow and the Love Stories pulp, to align it with this year’s PulpFest convention themes. But turns out it’s also a tail-ender for a ‘history of Weird Tales’ pile, when I get the cash to order such reading. Because it has an…
article by Tony Davis looks at pulp editor Dorothy McIlwraith, who handled Short Stories and Weird Tales for several years. She had been the editor of Short Stories and took over editorship of Weird Tales when the magazine was sold to Short Stories. As well as a good intro to this editor, we also learn a lot about both magazines under her editorship.
MPorcius enjoys and comments on an R.E. Howard horror story new to me, “The Dwellers Under the Tomb”. It’s found to be both complex in plotting and also a little hokey. But fun, and as MPorcius observes it offers several Lovecraftian riffs…
This is a fun story … we see such common Lovecraftian elements as a recovered diary that explains … plans and explorations. Also wall paintings that provide insight on the history…
Lauric Guillaud (in the book The Barbaric Triumph) adds that it is set in “Dagoth Hills” cemetery, in a nod to Lovecraft, and his description further suggests it has a great many Lovecraftian elements and approaches. But stops short of actually naming Lovecraft’s creations. It thus doesn’t feature in collections of Howard’s mythos stories such as Robert M. Price’s Nameless Cults.
The R’lyeh Tribune also noted the strong Lovecraftian approaches and themes. Adding that the tale is “consistent with Howard’s evolving theory of human devolution” and suggesting its use of the wall paintings was a response to reading Lovecraft’s then unpublished and rejected “At the Mountains of Madness” (early 1931). Very interesting.
A little research then finds S.T. Joshi suggesting, looking at the story’s approach and tone, that it was written for a particular market — one of the throwaway… “‘weird menace’ horror pulps such as Terror Tales”. It was presumably found too complex in plot for their readers, and was thus sent over to Weird Tales. There it was rejected in early summer 1932, as the magazine wobbled in the deepening Great Depression. The tale only saw print in 1976 in Lost Fantasies #4. After that it was picked up by the popular Howard paperback collection Black Canaan in 1978. In the early 1990s it was adapted by Roy Thomas for comics in the b&w Savage Sword of Conan #224, and judging by the cover he gave it a Conan retrofit and a vaguely Aliens-like monster makeover.
The R.E. Howard Foundation Newsletter has more recently published a facsimile of one of the two extant drafts, Draft A.
Is there an audio version? Yes, at YouTube. A fine reading in 50 minutes, as “The Dwellers Under The Tomb”.
Greg Staples illustration for the tale, in a Del Ray collection of Howard’s horror tales.
Sadly on hearing the story turns out to be not so fine. The main problem is the very hokey and incredibly creaky dialogue between the two nondescript investigators, although the reader of the audio version does his best with it. Then there’s the ‘lookalike brothers’ sub-plot, which is both too convoluted and too throwaway once the monsters appear. The best part is the final third in the tunnels, and the Lovecraft-infused momentary glimpses of the monsters as the tale’s climax begins to reveal their nature. It reminds me a bit of “The Tomb” and “The Rats in the Walls” as well as “Mountains”, and if you wanted a story in which Howard might be seen as poking a little fun at Lovecraft then this could be the one. Although it feels like the intention was not to poke fun but to have fun, by throwing some Lovecraftian ideas into a quick mish-mash of a pulp story. One intended for a cheap-thrills market, where Lovecraft would probably not see it if published.
The University of Iowa has a YouTube video introduction and tour of their July 2021 exhibition on “Spirit Duplicators: Early 20th Century Copier Art, Fanzines, and the Mimeograph Revolution”.
Some random thoughts arising from my recent making of a free index for Lovecraft’s poetry…
* His poetry is surprisingly interested in birds of various types. Almost as much as cats, though I suppose the two form a sort-of natural pairing. One could almost create a small H.P Lovecraft illustrated ‘bird book’ as easily as a ‘cat book’.
* Zoar, though only mentioned twice is obviously a place which Lovecraftians might usefully investigate for associations. It’s a place, rather difficult to discover anything about, in New England and he appears to have associated it with his ill-fated young cousin.
* The poetry as a body is surprisingly light on the Teutonic thundering and Nordic/Saxon racial-memory haughtiness that some might expect from all the leftist hoo-ha of recent years. A small handful of poems from the mid 1910s, that’s all, plus one done as a close translation of a skaldic poet. Modern Odinists may be disappointed.
* The poetry is also light on use of colours. I found no cause to index these (blues, greens, orange etc) though they are implied in subjects such as sunsets. He’s more a poet of faun-haunted summer evenings and dark spectral landscape-moods. Something along the lines of a Lovecraft’s Year artbook might be devised, bringing together and illustrating the month-by-month weather/landscape description in the poetry and fiction. With a focus on examples that have supernatural or mythic elements.
* The Doctor Who writers evidently took the very memorable Tennant-era monsters ‘The Silence’ directly from Lovecraft’s poem “The Wood”, as well as the setting. Another example of their quiet borrowings from Lovecraft in the Tennant-era and then in the Capaldi-era of the series, I’d suggest. ‘The Weeping Angels’ statue-monsters of the Smith-era also seem to owe something to Lovecraft poems such as “The City” and others — although of course the ‘seeing turns you to stone’ idea has ancient roots.
* ‘Time’ and ‘Chaos’ in Lovecraft’s poetry really need separate indexing and close comparative commentary. I’ve skipped them in the index as “Too frequent to index”.
* Appreciation of the poetry suffers somewhat because the characteristics of the ancient myths and figures are not immediately known to modern readers. Even classicist may struggle to recall Polyhymnia (the ancient muse of geometry, as it turns out) and even then you also need to recall the semi-magical nature of geometry in the ancient world. But the names are now easily looked up. Ideally in a reliable encyclopedia or reference work on myth, to avoid the confused and spiralling confabulations of modern pagans. Even then, such a reference can be inflected in rather complex ways, for instance to the Elizabethan incarnation of Astraea as evoked by the royal court in the time of Shakespeare. Lovecraft’s friend Loveman was an Elizabethan poetry specialist and could do doubt have told him much about such courtly masques.
In the second volume of his Letters to Family, H.P. Lovecraft reveals more about the location of his favourite cafe haunt “John’s” in Brooklyn in the mid 1920s. Readers of Tentaclii will recall I took a look for this location in my April 2021 post “Lunch in New York: Spaghetti in Breuckelen”. After that post I had a blog comment from ‘SJM’ pointing out a John’s in the Brooklyn tax-photos at…
… but I left the comment unapproved as I was fairly sure it was not the John’s. 185 Willoughby was a cafe and small corner-store relatively far up Willoughby Street and not especially close to Fulton. There are two photos of 185, one obviously showing changes after a few years.
The latter is from 1940s.nyc and feels like it’s perhaps a few years on after remodelling and gentrification associated with the new high-rise that has gone up in the background.
But a problem arises in this apparent identification… because on page 937 of Letters to Family Lovecraft states…
All three now set out for dinner — at the old Bristol Dining Room in Willoughby Street near Fulton, next door to the now defunct John’s, which was my Brooklyn headquarters for spaghetti in the old days. (July 1931)
“Bristol” was the long-established Bristol’s Dining Room, with Mr. J. E. Bristol proprietor. He had a small chain of eight such in New York City by 1920. Can it be found? Well, there is this postcard picture, which appears in a book dedicated to such from the 1905-07 period in Brooklyn…
Here is the old Bristol’s Dining Room seen in all its oyster-purveying glory. As one can see, there is no architectural or street-furniture comparison to be found between the suggested site at 185 Willoughby and the postcard of Bristol’s Dining Room. If, as Lovecraft states, his old John’s was next to the Bristol’s Dining Room then it would either have been in the next-door barbers’ shop (barbering pole, outside) seen up steps on the right of the postcard, or is off to the immediate left and out of range of the camera.
Nor is there, on the 185 Willoughby or its adjacent 1940s.nyc pictures, any glimpse of a possible Bristol’s Dining Room next door. The clincher is that in summer 1931 Lovecraft talks of the “defunct John’s”. Therefore it would not be seen on a late 1930s / early 1940s tax picture. Most likely another nearby cafe took the name in the 1930s, perhaps hoping to profit a little on the name-recognition.
What then was the exact address of the Bristol’s Dining Room in Brooklyn in the mid 1920s? Could it have moved since 1900? Was there more than one in Brooklyn by that time? Those are possibilities. But regrettably the address cannot be discovered on the Web in public records or books, though those with access to pay-walled genealogy records might find it. Nor is there any 1920s branch advertising-map or suchlike to be found.
Can the architecture seen on the card be found on a virtual trot down Willoughby Street? Not on 1940s.nyc, so far as I can see.
So, it’s still a mystery.
A new question from a Patreon patron: “Did HPL ever mention the U.S. state of Michigan, or its city of Detroit?”
There is nothing to be found in the fiction or poetry, but small gleanings can be picked up elsewhere.
In his youth Lovecraft would have been aware of the astronomy work at the University of Michigan, and he mentions this in his essays “Are There Undiscovered Planets?” (c. 1906) and “Does ‘Vulcan’ Exist?” (also c. 1906 and about an as-yet undiscovered planet)…
Another remarkable ‘discovery’ was that made by Profs. Watson and Swift at Ann Arbor, Mich., during the eclipse of 1878, when both observers pointed out two objects, one as the hypothetical Vulcan
Lovecraft’s uncle Franklin Chase Clark had published a number of articles in the Detroit Medical Journal. Lovecraft also knew some the very early and tangled history of Detroit and noted its ill-fated Governor of the 1790s and his grisly end…
thirteen of the pirate Blackbeard’s men were subsequently hang’d near by — as well as the royal governor of Detroit, Henry Hamilton
This was as gory as some of the 1920s newspaper reporting it seems, The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales noting that…
Throughout the 1920s, newspapers and journals broke stories about alternative religions (almost always labelled as cults) that made extravagant claims about their ability to secure earthly power and riches for their followers. Additionally, tabloid-style papers like the New York Herald claimed that cultists were responsible for a variety of murders and disappearances (for example … a Detroit murder cult).
… and referencing as the source Phillip Jenkins, Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History (Oxford University Press, 2000).
Lovecraft was later aware of Detroit as the home of the far more mass-murderous automobile cult. For instance, he writes…
Brattleboro came in the dead of midnight. The rail journey was at an end, and five miles of narrow hill road in a Detroit chaise brought me to the isolated Orton dwelling.
Houdini tried to get Lovecraft to visit Detroit, early in their business relationship. But Lovecraft demurred…
Our slippery friend Houdini, who was here early in the month, and rushed me to hell preparing an anti-astrological article to be finished before his departure — a matter of five days … He says he has a devilish lot more for me to do and has been trying to get me to meet him in Detroit at his own expense to talk things over — but I have maintained that I can do business best within sight of my native town’s Georgian steeples.
The amateur journalist and early Lovecraft collaborator Winifred V. Jackson seems to have had a connection, as she was married there for her first marriage. The amateur whose supernatural desert story provoked Lovecraft’s own “The Transition of Juan Romero” was from Michigan, or at least was educated there…
Philip B. McDonald graduated M.E. (Master of Engineering) from Michigan College of Mines. In Lovecraft’s The Conservative, McDonald was stated to be ‘Assistant Professor of Engineering English, University of Colorado’ in July 1918.
“The Transition of Juan Romero” being a quick ‘demo story’ for Lovecraft’s friends, to demonstrate how a ‘total makeover’ revision could be achieved. Hence the unusual desert setting, which had been in the original tale… and which I later discovered to be ‘Area 52’ of UFO fame.
Lovecraft had a late post-1933 correspondent-protege from Michigan, the telegraphist Richard F. Seawright (see Letters to Richard F. Seawright, 1992).
Major amateur journalist meetings were not unknown in the state, and Lovecraft had verbal and written reports from those who attended. Which may also have given him some impressions of the state…
I had an enjoyable visit from our good old colleague Mocrates the Sage [Moe], now on a visit to various eastern points after a sojourn at the Grand Rapids N.A.P.A. Convention.
Amateurs evidently gleaned some linguistic amusement from listening in on the local lingo during such convention visits, and Lovecraft reported that one…
James F. Morton, Jr., lent a climactic touch [to the end of one meeting of amateurs] with some inimitable stanzas on the pronunciation of English as practiced in various centres of culture, including Kalamazoo.
In chronicling the early interest in Lovecraft, S.T. Joshi observed substantial contributions from Detroit…
In 1958 the University of Detroit’s literary magazine, Fresco, devoted an entire issue to works by and about Lovecraft.
There was also Maurice Levy’s Lovecraft: A Study in the Fantastic (1988) from Detroit and the Wayne State University Press.