Review of H. P. Lovecraft: A Life by S. T. Joshi (Necronomicon Press, 1996)
                                                                        (Part 1)


A biographer, like Frankenstein or Herbert West, brings his subject back to life. And what sort of life is it? This shall be the subject of the most detailed analysis you will ever read, I dare say, of H. P. Lovecraft: A Life . Since this is the most significant book about H. P. Lovecraft ever written, I believes it deserves in-depth treatment. Beside the smaller type font, to save space I have separated paragraphs with stars and I have abbreviated "Lovecraft" as "L." Using the paperback version I have parenthesized relevant page numbers, none of which have the "p." The sections below are broadly categorized, and some passages would fit just as well in other areas. ***I write from an individual perspective that is the opposite of ex cathedra, and to every sentence please silently add qualifying phrases such as "I believe" and "in my opinion." Also, in some instances I have mis-apprehended and mis-remembered, which I regret. *** One concern of this article will be the purpose of biography in general, including the relationship of the biographer with it.Other concerns are about scholarly objectivity, knowledge, and interpretation. *** To sound almost Biblical, I will begin with my conclusion. The biography will be both fashionable and necessary for anyone interested in H. P. Lovecraft. It has big virtues and annoying faults. While much of this paper will deal with the latter, please keep in mind that it is not the number of faults that are important, but their quality. Typos, wrong words, stylistic mis-steps and the like are of small moment and can be rectified with a greater eye on editing. Some of the examples are the only ones I have found, while some represent a trend. I have read this book in a critical way that most readers would not read it, and they would not register many of the faults I have described.


The biography is a seminal work, since it will act as a nursery for other minds to develop and discover ideas for themselves. The many details of L's life are at one fingertips. Through this book I have come to realize I have had a continent of ignorance for which Mr. Joshi has supplied the map. *** As a biographer Mr. Joshi's strengths are the ability to assemble many details in a cogent pattern; a sympathy for his subject; a knowledge (of varying depths) about diverse subjects; a conscientiousness in analyzing data and inferring from the same; and the occasional show of wit. *** On the other hand, with all his reliance on sources he seems in some ways a prisoner of the library, which means he has not created information through interviews. In addition, there is a tone of authoritativeness on subjects outside his speciality, compromises of objectivity, and an excess of adverbs and adjectives. *** In some ways Mr. Joshi is the obverse of L's other biographer, L. Sprague de Camp. What the latter condemned the former admires. So the statement "It is one of Lovecraft's great virtues that he never buckled down to hackwork even in the face of ever-increasing poverty" (190) would have been incomprehensible in Mr. de Camp's work. *** Since Mr. Joshi considers L a writer of literature, every aspect of the writer's life is examined with admirable seriousness. That L "pondered philosophical issues more rigorously than most creative artists"(649) is a fine observation as well as a tenet that is examined throughout the work; the handling of L and ideas is a strong area in the biography. *** A personal and insightful paragraph--one that finds Mr. Joshi at the top of his game--follows L's discussion of his emotive side. Mr. Joshi starts "Much as I admire the logician in Lovecraft" and goes on to reveal the passage's "sincere exposure of his imaginative life" and how it "humanises Lovecraft" (584). He rightly reckons that this is closer to the real L. *** The intelligent summary of L's life (591), the perceptive observation about August Derleth's mistaking the background material of the L mythos for the thing itself (638), and other examples of this quality are far too many to further recount. *** The last chapter has a patchwork feel, perhaps because it is free from the anchor of L's life and crowds in every relevant event in the subsequent sixty years. The ending of the chapter seems subdued. Perhaps my dissatisfaction here is that the work had to end. It was an obsessive read, and like Dr. Johnson's wish that Robinson Crusoe were longer, I wished the same of H. P. Lovecraft.

Biographical Details

Mr. Joshi moves easily among small details, knitting them into larger pictures or drawing from them his thoughtful conjectures. For example, his discussion (11) of the L family's stay with the Guineys correlates disparate facts from L's letters, Guiney's letters, and medical records. This concern with details allows for inferring from L's boast about now enjoying a "hot dinner" (360) that he therefore had been eating cold meals, which gives a sobering view of L's marginal living conditions. He cares about, and knows the value of, little things, so that at times it is disappointing to find the biography is not perfect even in all small details. *** Could the abundance of the details even be held against the work as in several instances really amounting to nothing but meticulousness in trivia? For example, what use is it to know the number of L's hospital room? And on occasion is there a disproportionate significance attributed to a thing? The eight-year-old L's comments on the Spanish-American War is treated as a harbinger of an interest in politics; while a worrying over the identity of a possible Necronomicon in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" seems an exercise in Mythos scholarship. *** One result of assembling the details, beside building a realistic picture, is the singular triumph of creating a never before seen L, one that makes him a credible person. Oddly, in examining his many facets the biography often seems to downplay his role as a weird writer--or merely a weird writer. In the early years the weird is a subdued strand and--in recognition of Mr. Joshi's industry and despite all my knowledge--it is something of a surprise to see L develop in that direction. Even in his famous years the weird does not overwhelm all else, perhaps because L led a varied life.

Biographical Knowledge

Mr. Joshi's past scholarly research and his knowledge make this a book he was born to write. Within his range of authority he is accomplished. He can deftly show how Nyarlathotep's name was derived from a Dunsany story (240) or that Alfredo was a playful roman a clef, rather than the curiosity I took it to be in The Dark Brotherhood and other Pieces. His sympathy provides some insight as to why L failed in securing a job (355-56). The very good discussion of racism both understands and criticizes L's views. L's perspective is normalized. For example, the book fixes L's discouragement about his writing in a practical context of circumstances rather than one that was self-conceived (495). *** Not only does Mr. Joshi have the knowledge to write this biography, but he thinks for himself and appears unwilling to accept an idea because it has the patina of tradition, though on occasion he seems a diciple of L's views. He shows an individual and, occasionally, provocative viewpoint. *** It cannot be disputed that Mr. Joshi is an authority on L, but on occasion the authoritative becomes authoritarian and opinions become opinionated. The expression of opinion as if it were knowledge is chaff among his facts. The reader is supplied with a constant stream of Mr. Joshi's attitudes toward various matters that extend beyond L, an outlook that regulates the presentation. For example, is he qualified to support L's view that Greek and Roman expression was superior over all others (107)? Is he bibliophile enough to decide Lovecraft at Last is "one of the finest examples of modern book design" (619), and does his architecture background allow him the magisterial pronunciamento that Marblehead is "one of the most charming little backwaters in Massachusetts" (289)? The legal status of L's work is recounted with much clarity (640-641), yet is he more than a jail house lawyer?


Since this work lives by scholarship, it should be judged by scholarship, and one of its canons is objectivity. Mr. Joshi shows admirable grit in his willingness to pursue and examine every aspect of the subject's life. Nothing is too sensitive or small, and he records as unblinkingly as a camera. Using facts, he weighs evidence and is properly skeptical in such areas as Lew Shaw's story of a lost L work or Jacques Bergier's claim of a correspondence.*** A resistance both to wishful thinking and to sanctifying L is in the discussion of Hitler's influence. Mr. de Camp's version had L "horrified" upon hearing acquaintance Alice Shepherd's stories of Nazi brutality against the Jews. In contrast, Mr. Joshi states that perhaps this testimony caused L to speak less about Hitler because he may have realized that he was wrong. "It would be a comforting thought" (590). This is more hard-headed. Likewise, about one of L's long letters there is the pleasingly impertinent observation that "on occasion one feels as if Lovecraft is having some difficulty shutting up" (530). On the other hand, it seems there is a straining to find the positive in Edmund Wilson's essay. *** Curiously, despite all the documentation this is not an "objective" biography, but this does not mean any facts have been suppressed or selected, as has been the case with Mr. de Camp's work. After the facts have been assembled Mr. Joshi expands on them, for "passing value judgments . . . is the proper function of any biographer" (647). The book is chock-a-block with value judgements. There are frequent "I" references and many adjectives and adverbs advertize an emotional coloring in his judgments. This is a biographer-centered biography, perhaps because L is such a personal writer for Mr. Joshi. With the fecundity of its details and opinions, the question is not about this biography's factual reliability--with some exceptions it seems remarkably so--but its interpretive reliability. For example, how can it be stated confidently that the sixteen page treatment of "The Shadow out of Time" dissatisfied L because of its compressed treatment of the Great Race (562)? His explication of "The White Ship" allegory is suspect, not because it is wrong, but because it does not recognize other explanations. Nor does he have any doubt that "'Nyarlathotep' is very clearly, an allegory on the downfall of civilisation" (240). Literature has a characteristic of ambiguity, and symbolic allegories have a larger share than average. *** L is dramatized through attributive adverbs and adjectives, as "Lovecraft stated rather wearily" (634) and L's "extraordinarily snide letter" (501). Yet another attributive word could change the scenario. Inferences of intentions or feelings are hazardous and depend too much on the biographer's speculation. *** Mr. Joshi's own feelings occasionally deviate into the charged language of denunciation: a student theme is "a piece of fatuity" (451); Hartmann's ignorance of the Bickerstaffe parodies is "pitifully obvious" (117) while a work is "pitiably misprinted" (224); critics are "myopic" (652); fandom deserves "contempt" (537); Forrest Ackerman is "pestiferous" (553); critics are perceived as "whining" (508). This is snappish and peevish. The issue here and elsewhere is not the correctness of Mr. Joshi's evaluation, but how he expresses it. The tone thwarts the intellectual merits as well as drawing unneeded attention to itself, though it perhaps makes the reading experience racier. *** This form of personal tone--that of a pessimist rather than an indifferentist--appears most notably in the discussion of August Derleth--so I wonder how much the biographer's conclusions have been corrupted? Although several remarks critical of Derleth are persuasive, praise is grudging, perhaps because Derleth was business-like in viewpoint and action. There is an ironic parallel between Mr. de Camp on Lovecraft and Mr. Joshi on Derleth, for both biographers, from opposing directions, seem to equally misunderstand their subjects. *** After L, the figure treated with greatest esteem is R. H. Barlow, while the book's villain--to put it melodramatically--might be Derleth, though a dark horse choice is Susie, who inflicted upon L "severe emotional crippling" (651). *** Judgments about pulp fiction seem lofty and ignore the argument, found in Mr. de Camp's work, that literature need not be art for art's sake. Seabury Quinn is "the Weird Tales hack" (511) and neither Clark Ashton Smith nor Robert E. Howard fare much better. *** Commendably, and especially in view of this in so much other writing about L, there is an absence of what Mr. Joshi calls "armchair psychoanalysis" (341).


The work is strictly, almost relentlessly, chronological in structure, with each chapter covering a span of years. Chronology gives the advantage of looking at each year in detail and it unifies the work. The arrangement, save in rare instances (as 180-181), does not spill out of this confinement. However, this has the disadvantage of obstructing the discussion of themes. (This review, arranged by theme, has taken the opposite approach to the biography and has run into a different set of problems.) Like Soren Kierkegaard's statement, "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards," a biographer has a retrospective outlook. In knowing what has come to pass, when is it right for him to expand on the significance of a subject? It cannot be said that this situation is completely successful here. For example, the relationship of L and the cold is delayed until the end (629-30), which makes puzzling such earlier accounts as "Lovecraft's sensitivity to cold would not allow him to venture abroad very much" (289) and L's "barely getting to the station alive because of the cold" (558). *** Yet the most noticeable affect of a chronological structure is on style, with many annoying future transition phrases that include "I [or "we"] shall"; for example, between pages 181 to 189 there is "as we shall see" (181), "I shall discuss later" (182), "I shall take up later" (187), and "I shall discuss" (189) as well as the transitional "let us now turn to" (182). There is also, in much fewer numbers, past transitions ("as we have seen," "we have already seen" (both 46), etc.). They interrupt the train of thinking and bloat the text. If meant as unifiers, they have a retrograde success. The majority of readers should be able to figure out, without reassurance, that more will be later said on a subject.

About Stories

The summaries of the stories are clear and capable, and in the instance of "Sweet Ermengarde" are presented with a Gilbert and Sullivanish relish. Many of the chapter closings are similar to cliffhangers so that one is prompted to read ahead. In this way they are like L's endings that pack a sting. *** Each story is approached with all seriousness and weighed for quality. Perhaps at times in literary-seeking for a symbol or theme there is the overlooking of the maguffin--as in "Hypnos," where a character seeks "rulership" (273). Criticism of stories occasionally wanders into asking such fact-faulting questions as "why do a school of dolphins [in "The Temple"] follow the ship to the bottom of the sea and not come up for air" (234)? Whether asked of "The Temple," "The Nameless City," "The Dreams in the Witch House," or others, these questions fall into journalism rather than criticism. Moreover, they are about things that may be unfinished and ambiguous in order to energize each story's core of imaginative suggestiveness; it allows a spilling out of the frame. Mr. Joshi may be clearly right in the intriguing thought that the old man of "The Picture in the House" is supernaturally ancient, but this somewhat detracts from the story's atmosphere of sinister possibilities by making a suspicion a certainty. *** Yet this probing attitude allows for such perceptions as the identification of parody and satire in various stories, which may be closer to the mark than I am willing to admit. Perhaps "The Hound" is a "self-parody" (285) and Houdini's multiple faints in "Under the Pyramids" is a "tart spoof" (330). *** One of the best uses made of the biography for interpretation shows how "The Silver Key" represents L's return to New England after his New York exile.


The irony is rich in the account where L's maternal grandfather, Whipple Van Buren Phillips, renamed the Poesque-sounding Coffin's Corner to that of Greene, after the general who, next to Washington, was most responsible for the anathematic American independence. *** What is one to think of Winfield Scott Lovecraft's true parentage upon being told that "it is perhaps no accident that he was so named almost a year after [General Winfield] Scott . . . visited Rochester" (5)? *** Does L's poem "Ad Balneum" ("To the Bathtub") pun on the term "bathos," popularized through Alexander Pope's satiric usage? *** There is unintentional ambiguity in the sentiment that L's amateur friends "need fear no comparison with their analogues in the standard literature of the day"(98), and there is a pronominal ambiguity in "he would vote for Sinclair if he were a Californian" (573). Likewise there is a question of who was who in the phrase "a cat owned by a neighbour of George Kirk's who was killed by an auto" (412). *** There are, perhaps, some unconscious puns. In the comparison of Nyarlathotep's showmanship with Nikola Tesla's electrical experiments, it is noted the effect on the audience was disturbance and "shock" (251). "The Horror in the Burying Ground" "returns us to earth" (525), and following a discussion of L and cold it is said that while waiting "he cooled his heels" (555). Finally, "The nature of Lovecraft's various illnesses is ill understood" (628).


There are a few instances where facts are wrong or incomplete. It is asserted (18) that "many of [Lovecraft's] stories . . . plung[e] their narrators" backward in time, and this is further qualified as a return to the prehistoric era. Only "The Shadow out of Time" fits this description. *** In a discussion of the weird tale there is the impression (30) that Henry James' only contribution was "The Turn of the Screw" (an "anomaly in the work"), whereat James wrote a number (see the collection Henry James: Stories of the Supernatural). *** I was surprised to hear L talk about a television. His statement that it "flickers like the biograph [sic] pictures of 1898" (581) is immediately annotated as "(a reference to the old film technique used from 1895 to 1913, chiefly by D. W. Griffith)." The word "Biograph" has two meanings. It refers to a projector apparatus and to a studio, founded in 1896, where Griffith later worked. Griffith was an innovator in techniques, but "flickering" is not a technique. *** To establish the topographical whereabouts of "Gainsville" and "Big Cypress Swamp" in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (230) Mr. Joshi reasons that since cypress swamps are in the south and there is a "Gainesville" Florida, that is the state. Curiously, he ignores the fact that Florida also has a place named "Big Cypress Swamp"! To muddy matters, Georgia also has its Gainesville, and it was in this state, as Mr. Joshi adds, that Samuel Loveman--who indirectly figures in the story--was stationed during the war. Finally, an experiment on the Internet has shown me that "Gainsville" is a common misspelling for both places. *** "Cold Spring Glen" of "The Dunwich Horror"is referred to in this biography only under the name of "the Bear's Den." Could this have been the real name of the place? *** According to E. Hoffman Price's memoir ("The Man Who Was Lovecraft") the name of the 1928 Ford was the "Great Juggernaut" and not the "Juggernaut" (534).

Logic and Contradiction

In the following examples of faulty reasoning conclusions either overlook or contradict assertions, or conjectures run too far ahead of facts. Susie's doctor notes in 1919 that her "abnormality had existed at least twenty-six years," which leads Mr. Joshi to state the onset was in 1893, conveniently tying this in with the same year of Winfield's confinement. Unfortunately, he ignores the qualifying "at least." *** It is conjectured from the dreams of the child L that "his career as a writer of horror tales comes to seem like an inevitable destiny." This is the sort of statement that depends totally on hindsight. What of the many vivid dreamers who never became creative artists? *** The remark that 1908-13 was "a virtual blank" in L's life leads to the observation that it is "the only time . . . the term 'eccentric recluse'" could describe him (83). This "blank" is being filled in with biographical imagining, for lack of evidence does not signify guilt. Later, L is garrulously called "a cloistered recluse" (279). *** Probably the apotheosis of conjecturing is the denial that Derleth rescued L from oblivion, and an alternate scenario is concocted of L being discovered by scholars, a speculation that belongs to the seer or fantasy writer. *** According to the biography, "The Street" was L's "worst tale" because it was written after "The White Ship" and was influenced by some of Dunsany's war parables. Both irrelevant connections are then abandoned (219). *** For tossing away both mouse and mousetrap "Lovecraft has been ridiculed . . . unjustly" (360), but the only justification then supplied is that the mice were "'invaders.'" *** After the biography records E. Hoffman Price's description of L's "'enormous enthusiasm for new experience'" it is tenuously reasoned that therefore L "had matured as a human being" (521). How does the testimony prove the conclusion? *** The biography "delayed discussion" of L and his vulnerability to cold until the penultimate chapter because "it has some relation to his worsening cancer" (629). Not only is the connection not explained, but it ignores that this condition preceded his cancer by many years. *** Somewhat confusingly, for a discussion of "From Beyond" there are three quotes from L's commonplace book to show that L took ideas from Hugh Elliot's Modern Science and Materialism, but only one of the three ideas influenced the story--the other two are irrelevant. *** "The Nameless City," inspired by a dream, is linked to the commonplace book entry "Man in strange subterranean chamber--seeks to force door of bronze--overwhelmed by influx of waters" (250). This is far closer to the juvenile "The Secret Cave."*** Why should Farnsworth Wright delay publication of a L rewrite ("The Diary of Alonzo Typer") because he "noticed the traces of Lovecraft's style in the piece" (599)? *** The clumsy phrase "the common person was no longer unable to make intelligent decisions" (572) appears to say the opposite of what is intended. *** The plot of "The Call of Cthulhu" "does not need elaborate description," but then a description is given. A similar disclaimer is given before the description of "The Colour out of Space." *** At the Mountains of Madness is called "a triumph in every way" (489), which is very disputable, even by Mr. Joshi, for he later admits (493) it "is not without a few flaws." *** There is the very self-contradictory statement that "although Lovecraft would write one more original tale his life as a fiction writer ends, and ends fittingly, with 'The Shadow out of Time'" (563). *** L is commended for defending Hyman Bradofsky (611) "since by all accounts many of the attacks upon him were highly unjust, capricious, and snide." Surely, when injustice is greatest someone is more likely to come to help rather than when it is little?

Documentation and Citation

Despite the reliance on sources H. P. Lovecraft does not become an overdocumented collage, for the narrative skill and the wakefulness of the biographer prevents this. *** For such a documented work, the first page of the preface begins with the unsupported assertion that L wrote "60,000 to 100,000" letters of which "no more than a tenth" survive (ix). The latter statement is repeated on the next to last page of the text (654). How was this formula arrived at? Considering the importance of the letters, evidence for this range of figures should be included. (And what about an appendix that lists the some 93 correspondents to which L refers?) *** Despite the importance accorded George Kirk's letters (340), no citation is given for them. If, as I suppose, they come from Mara Kirk Hart's article, this should have been explained. Also, I wish there was a citation given for the unpublished essay about the trip to the Fairbanks house and the Red Horse Tavern ("An Account of a Trip. . .") (458) and for Robert Kenny's observation of L. (515). *** Inconsistency of citation appears in at least one instance of the Arkham House transcripts; for note 10 (679) a volume and page number are attached to this source, whereas others have none. *** The bibliography assigns E. Hoffman Price's memoir, "The Man Who Was Lovecraft," to The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces rather than to its actual appearance in Something About Cats and Other Pieces.

Style (I)

There is excess in the book. Its prose reminds me of the allegations that have been brought against L. "I fervently hope that 'The Horror in the Museum' is a conscious parody" (524) sounds itself like a parody opening of a L story. There are also such examples of melodramatic flair as "The Horror at Red Hook" being "nothing but a shriek of rage and loathing at the 'foreigners' who have taken New York away" (366) and the description of Colin Wilson's book as a "shockingly careless study" (644). The frequency of the adjectives and adverbs could have been radically reduced and thereby improved this work. Certain ones among them are popular. I point to "piquant" ("wrote piquantly" (304), "piquant account" (305), etc.) and, above all, "poignant," which may be a keyword in understanding L's art, but this is no reason to overuse it, for that devalues its effect. Other popular ones are "celebrated" and "tart" ( even so, I must deny that Mr. Joshi is a "tartar," and certainly not a celebrated one). L has also influenced his biographer's style with such a term as "luck-shot," which I have not found outside of L's letters. *** The most annoying stylistic fault in the work is its infestation of proleptic segues or references to the biographer's intention ("At the moment I wish to study only the issues of 1903-04" (52), "on which more later" (330), etc., etc.). These are either superfluous or they can be merged in with the text. The biography should spend time on doing, not telling me what it intends to do. *** There is an overuse of the superlative and hyperbolic, many times in variations of "in all Lovecraft's work." Examples are"as moving as any in Lovecraft" (414); "one of the most heart-rending and depressing moments in all Lovecraft" (421); "one of the most remarkable fusions of fact and fiction in Lovecraft's entire corpus" (477); and, upping the ante, "in all literature" (652) and "in all human history" (653). *** The figurative use of "quarry" (524) is almost opaque--at first I thought it was a typo. *** An interesting choice of words is "a lead pipe to lead in the spring water" (444) *** There is the dismal cliche, "dismal failure" (599). *** The sentence (392) is clumsy with its arrangement of two pairs of dashes and the clauses in them. *** The "let Lovecraft tell it in his own inimitable way" (25) and "let Cook tell it in his own inimitable way" (61) does not make for an inimitable style. Other repetitions are in the two consecutive sentences beginning "But" (206); the "I fear" twice within three lines (377); the sentence "There are almost no automats in New York anymore; what few there are do not cost a nickel anymore" (351); and the same sentence (554) with two "next day"s. In introducing Long's narrative (324) there is the phrase "something began to dawn upon him," and then Long is quoted as saying "' a mere suspicion began to lodge itself more firmly in my mind.'"

Repetition and Omission

Besides words and phrases, the biography needlessly repeats some information, while omitting other. The latter case may in part be caused by Mr. Joshi's juggling of so many details--some may be dropped. Others he has either intentionally left out or the editing has not shown the vigilance it should have. *** Alice M. Hamlet (216) is reidentified as though she had not appeared earlier (196), and the initial is added the second time. Mention is made (85) of Susie's "own medical record at Butler Hospital (now destroyed)" (the record and the hospital?); then again (195) "her Butler Hospital records were among those destroyed in a fire"; and again (256) "Susie's now destroyed medical records." The statement of L's diary as an "aid, specifically in writing letters to Lillian" is followed in the same paragraph by "This diary served a purely utilitarian purpose, namely as an aid to writing letters to Lillian" (353). The Moon Terror twice failed to sell (373-4 and 431), and the misfortune that Sonia burnt L's letters to her is made twice unfortunate (264 and 294). *** I wish there was discussion of some subjects, such as L's strengths as a short story writer in contrast to those as a novelist; or how Barlow and Whitehead came to correspond; or why Barlow was L's "closest" correspondent (551). But there are also obvious omissions. The mention (56) of L's "delightfully witty poem" of 1901 about an Odyssean railroad journey leads to a historical background description of Rhode Island railroads. After this buildup of expectancy, nothing from the poem is quoted. *** In several places a consensus of criticisms is attributed to anonymous others, such as "certain practical souls" who complained L wasted his time (448) or those from whom Willis Conover "received much criticism" (627). Does this usually mean fans? *** The point is made that in L's Hazel Heald revisions appear "the same fundamental plot element" (526) of a living brain in a dead or immobile or alien body, but this is left unrecognized as a basic Lovecraftian theme of psychic possession (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, "The Thing on the Doorstep," and others). *** It is regrettable that there is no room in the review of "Some Notes on Interplanetary Fiction" (556) for a mention of the key concept, the phenomenon as "hero." *** Nietzsche's influence on L is almost undocumented, and it seems as though the biographer assumes that this is unnecessary for the culturally-literate reader. In my case, it is necessary. *** According to the biography, the conclusion of the serial, "The Mystery of Murdon Grange" (163), was published in the first number of L's lost Hesperia, but it remains mysteriously undisclosed about where the earlier part(s) of the serial appeared. Mr. Joshi's own H. P. Lovecraft: An Annotated Bibliography brings no light, for it implies the whole of the work was published in Hesperia. *** In the synopsis for "The Shadow out of Time" no mention is made of the beings who menace the Great Race and who furnish Peaslee's chief terror at the climax. *** There is an intriguing statement that "one of the unkindest cuts of all may have come from W. Paul Cook" (493), but the "cut" has been cut.*** What was the business of the Prestolite Company, where E. Hoffman Price lost his "well-paying job" (520)? *** The typesetter and printer for a fanzine "was the young Conrad Ruppert" (537), who is not identified. *** Fantasy Magazine is introduced without any background--as, for example, whether it was professional or amateur. *** There is a reference to Barlow's "Annals of the Jinns" without describing what this was--a series of fantasy stories, I suppose. *** The validity of Muriel Eddy's testimony is questioned because of her "unreliability on other matters," but these are not identified. *** Duane Rimel's fiction is dismissed, save for "one remarkable exception" (555); this tease is explained pages later (598), but there should have been a forwarding note (e.g., See page ___). This solution could also have answered the question why there was "reason to doubt" Jacques Bergier corresponded with L (272), for it is not until page 623 before the reason is given. *** There are several blunders of referring back to something that has not been mentioned. The sentence "We have already seen how his mother was dragged to all the curio-shops in Providence" (42) is such a one; so is the allusion to a poem "Attempted Journey" as though it had been introduced already (87). Then there are the matters where "Coates had, as I have mentioned, written the lengthy essay on Vermont literature that opens The Recluse" (427) or where W. Paul Cook suffered "another" nervous breakdown (432). *** I must speculate that there may be more basic omissions. For example, without reading Selected Letters III (p. 170) I would not have known of that humorous dunning letter L sent to Chicago resident Lee Alexander Stone. The hazards of dealing with revisionist clients who are deadbeats may be an important point, and I wish the letter had found a place in the biography.

Misused Words, Grammar, and Typos

In some ways Necronomicon Press has served the biography well, and in other ways less so. The following typos and verbal gaffes should have been caught by the copy editor. *** I dare say the wrong word is used in the description of "In the Vault": "Asaph Sawyer [is the last name a pun?] was too big to fit into Matthew Fenner's coffin, so Birch had phlegmatically cut off Asaph's feet at the ankles" (374). Based on the context, shouldn't the word "phlegmatically" be "pragmatically"? *** "A 1928 Ford that Lovecraft deemed the Juggernaut" (534) has the incorrect verb; probably "dubbed" is intended. *** L and the Kalems listening to the Dempsey-Tunney fight, and the meeting with Howard Wolf, is described as "odd," surely the wrong word choice (408). Other curious choices are "I have already displayed that this argument" (583), and the allusion to an episode in the creation of the Charleston travelogue as an "anomaly" (604). There is also the description of Brian Lumley's career as his "fate" (645). *** A letter (610) criticizing At the Mountains of Madness is mis-called "devastating," which implies effectiveness; but it is only quoted to be dismissed.*** An instance of a wrong word in a sentence, confounding the sense, occurs (230) with "the names of the characters" when the discussion is names of places. It is the next sentence that discusses character names. *** I was nonplussed to learn of Huey Long's "assassination on September 8, 1935 and his death two days later" (572). *** "Eke along with" (650) may be a suspect formation. *** An improvement in meaning would be substituting "while" for "and" in "discovered in 1846, and in 1902. . ." (50). *** "East Side, East Side" must surely be an error (9). *** The sentence "Hartmann goes on to attack both scientists and the clergy for their hostility to astronomy" (115) is a mistake for "astrology." ***A typo in the first quoted letter (451) is "magnificant," and in the quote from "The Haunter of the Dark" the words "thought" and "though" have been transposed (602). *** "Antarctic" is both capitalized and not (490). *** There is a more than numerical difference between "fifty-nine misprints" (620) and "33 misprints" (624). At least "misprints" are consistent. *** Since the quotation from Clifton P. Fadiman is taken from a L letter, it should either be double quoted or the citation should bear a "quoted from" note (472). *** "Lovecraft treats Morton . . . much greater respect" (137) should have the preposition "with" before "much." *** In 1916 L was "already a voluminous correspondent," (146) but it is unclear whether both wordage and correspondents is meant. *** It appears to be grammatically suspect to say (173) "amateur politics [etc.] . . . and his gradual emergence from the hermitry of his post-high-school years dominated his interests." L did emerge, but the emergence should not be conceived as an interest, as politics and the rest were. *** There is a solecism (316) in the sentence, "a critic must always consider a writer's philosophical orientation when evaluating their work." Using a plural to avoid a gender singular may be rising in popularity, but to me it is still a rule breaker. *** Goofs appear in "This is considerable prevarication here" (639) and "did not begun until 1940" (569). *** The addition of "has" has thrown the tense off in the first sentence mentioning "The Tree on the Hill" (555).*** There is a tautonym in the phrases "debilitating enervation" (596), "explicitly specifies" (607), and "familiar chestnut" (237).

Editorial matters

The trade paper volume is an attractive, hefty thing, and has a cheap price for its bulk. The cover portrait of L is dignified, and the starred, dark blue background seems an historic continuity with the cover for The Outsider. The only physical defects are the cover rather curves up when the book is flat, and the plastic facing has slightly peeled. *** Since the work is chronologically arranged, I would have liked on each page a running title with the abbreviation "aetat." followed by the year of L's life then being covered; this is in honor of Boswell's Life of Johnson. The "Notes" section, most especially, should have had a running title that identified the page numbers covered.*** The choice of chapter headings is dignified and appropriate, in contrast to Mr. de Camp's. Chapters are further broken down with blank lines or asterisks between the sections. I think numbers may be preferable. *** I wish footnotes rather than endnotes had been employed. Although these are no longer fashionable, footnotes would have saved me much time from flipping back to the "Notes" section. *** Regrettably, the index is not comprehensive, for it misses such a name as "Conrad Ruppert." A first-rate index seems reachable in these computer times. Under the name of "Lovecraft" in the index I would have preferred even a greater breakdown than what there is. For example, I looked to see if there was a sub-category on music, but there was not. The index also fumbles here. Under the subsection "employment"(698) a scrambled page order runs "264-68, 514-15, 334-38," and under "revisions and collaborations" (699) the subject closes and opens on the same page ("522-28, 528-31").


The book has only two illustrations, both plans of L's living arrangements. If I had my druthers, there would have been real illustrations, preferably as plates at the appropriate spots. Like footnotes, this is no longer fashionable, for if there are plates nowadays, they are bunched together. The plates would have: Vrest Orton's "remarkable cover" on The Recluse (424); the Wilfred B. Talman bookplate; a representative work by Nicholas Roerich, which "transported" L (473); also a work by Howard Wandrei (549); one of those "delightful drawings of cats" from L's letters (607); something Salem-related taken from the letter to Henry Kuttner (618); partly because it is a Virgil Finlay, and partly because it ties together Robert Bloch and L, the illustration to "The Faceless God"; a woodcut by Frank Utpatel from L's "first" book; and photographs of L and his friends. I should also like the end papers to be illustrated, perhaps with a L genealogy or a map of Providence and Rhode Island.

Style (II)

To balance out the criticisms in Style (I) I include here some of the humor and turns of phrases that pleased me. *** A commendable nuance of emphasis highlights "there was little in Lovecraft's personal circumstances that led him to . . . socialism" (564). *** A long poem is labeled a "monstrosity" (123). *** In speaking of the young L's acknowledgment to others in his rendition of the Odyssey, Mr. Joshi captures a child's view with the sentence, "Then, helpfully, 'Homer first writ the poem'" (24). *** About L's "tilts with Sunday School teachers" Mr. Joshi says, "I would give much to have been able to attend one of these sessions" (79). L's reading of the entire run of Railroad Man's Magazine is an "interesting--indeed, almost alarming--fact" (92). *** Hugh Elliot dismisses Einstein in "a nervous footnote" (320) while E. Hoffman Price's turn to the commercial was "his aesthetic damnation" (520). *** One technique of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is that of "insidiously inserting the imaginary" into history (418). *** L's use of a Gideon Bible to prepare his collar inspires Mr. Joshi to mischievously observe, "So the Gideon Bible had some use for Lovecraft after all" (471). *** A discussion on the proper German for Die Unaussprechliche Kulten prompts "Such are the complexities of 'Cthulhu Mythos' scholarship" (502).

(Part 2 will have disagreements and annotations. I regret there is no room for a letters section this issue.)


Congratulations to Jack Vance for winning the Grand Master Award from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also had the novel Night Lamp published last year, which is good news for all Vance fans.

This has been the 23rd issue of The Criticaster (April 1997, mailing 98) by Stephen Walker. Published
simultaneously for the Esoteric Order of Dagon, an apa.

Converted to HTML in November, 2000; some editing added