"But you must note this: if God exists and if He really did create the world, then, as we all know, He created it according to the geometry of Euclid and the human mind with the conception of only three dimensions in space. Yet there have been and still are geometricians and philosophers, and even some of the most distinguished who doubt whether the whole universe, or to speak more widely the whole being, was only created in Euclid's geometry." (The Brothers Karamazov, Modern Library, p. 279)
"The geometry of the place was all wrong" ("The Call of Cthulhu")
In Dostoevski's novel a murder occurs because, according to Ivan Karamazov, God is dead, so all things are permissible. There is a breakdown of moral authority, of the rules that govern men's treatment of one another. This outlook became more pervasive in HPL's time. Whereas some artists responded with the same outlook as Dostoevski, Lovecraft reinterpreted the breakdown as a local law of nature that was invalid through the universe at large. This would seem to include mathematics.
Soldier and author T. E. Lawrence wrote how he enhanced the facts of a story, "and piled black Pelion on Ossa, to shake the scene out of fact into Dunsanity" (p. 153, Letters, no. 357 (1928))
Through a Glass Darkly
"beliefs . . . in the impressions left by old faces on the windows through which they had gazed all their lives." "The Unnameable"
"A face at a window for no reason is a face that should have a thumb in its mouth; there is something only-childish about it. Or, if the face is not foolish it is threatening--blotted white by the darkness inside the room it suggests a malignant indoor power." Elizabeth Bowen, The Death of the Heart
Anatomies of Bibliomania
I was looking at the spines of the recently published, 24 volume American
National Biography (Oxford University Press, 1999). As with other encyclopedias
each volume shows on its spine the range of letters it covers through a
beginning last name and an ending last name. I hunted for the volume whose
range of names might contain "Lovecraft." Then--whap!--there was his name
on the bottom position of volume 13 (appropriately?). The two page article
by S. T. Joshi is a distillation of his magnum opus. *** HPL is
cited as an influence--a "wild card" one--on Cormac McCarthy's gothic shorts.
(Edwin T. Arnold, "Horseman, Ride On," World & I (October, 1998).
*** I randomly picked up a copy of the winter 1999 issue of The Explicator
and lo! (as Charles Fort might have said) there's an article entitled "Lovecraft's
'The Haunter of the Dark'" written by Nicholaus Clements. *** A review
of Mahler's Symphony 6 by Chakwin in American Record Guide
(September/October 1998) speaks of the finale's "final trombone chorus,
where the rising octave theme turns into a lost, demented chorale like
something out of Lovecraft." Let's go out and buy that recording. (I have
in a preceding Criticaster recorded another allusion by Chakwin
to Lovecraft.) *** For the Machen collector or for those who want to see
the continuing effect of an unintentional literary hoax, consider Visions
of Angels and Tales of Bowmen: The Angels of Mons by Kevin McClure
(24 pages, 1996: $5 (money orders only) from K. McClure, 23 Strawberrydale
Ave., Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG1 5EA, England; though it may no longer
be available). This work claims there is diary evidence and other accounts
supporting the actuality of the angels of Mons episode, so that Machen
becomes a reporter rather than a fabulist (from C&RL News,November
1996). Among other works McClure has written are The Evidence for Visions
of the Virgin Mary (1984) and Stars and Rumours of Stars (1980),
which deals with psychic phenomena and revivals in Wales. *** A title I
have earlier mentioned, The Philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft : The Route
to Horror, has been published; at least copies are listed in
the catalogs of Brown and the Library of Congress. *** Mangling the author's
name and the book's title in my 'aster several years ago, I note
the 1999 reprint of Michel Houellebecq's H. P. Lovecraft : Contre le
Monde, Contre la Vie. The 2 January 1999 issue of London's TheIndependent
newspaper identifies Houellebecq as "the mischief-making enfant terrible
of new- wave French fiction" In France he has recently produced the best-selling
Particules Elementaires, which won the literary honor
Prix Novembre. In a book review The Economist (13 February
1999) begins, "This remarkable bestseller is France's biggest literary
sensation since Francoise Sagan, people are saying, or since Albert Camus
even. It was not so much published as detonated in Paris last autumn and
the rows it provoked burst at once out of the review sections on to front
pages." This celebrity probably accounts for the Lovecraft reprint,
which has been successful. I have found a Web remark by Alibabook--apparently
a French counterpart to Amazon--calling the book one of the " meilleures
ventes de la semaine" (best sellers of the week). *** A recent book that
is written about horror is the Italian Orrori di Fine Millennium : Viaggio
nella Dimensione dell'orrore, da H. P. Lovecraft a Stephen King, da X-files
a Millennium, da Alien a Dylan Dog : con una Lettera Aperta a Tiziano Sclavi
of the End Millennium: Travel in the Dimension of Horror, from H. P. Lovecraft
to Stephen King, from X-Files to Millennium, Alien to Dylan Dog: with an
Open Letter to Tiziano Sclavi) by Gianfranco De Turris (Il Torchio,
1998). *** From Texas Christian University a 1998 doctoral thesis produced
by David Ashby Oakes is entitled Twentieth-Century American Gothic Literature
as Cultural Artifact : Science and Technology as Sources of Destabilization
in the Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, Richard Matheson, and Stephen King.
*** Though this information dates back several years, here goes. Jack Williamson
notes in OED News (January 1996) that he was the first person to
name, in his 1951 novel Dragon's Island, "the new science of genetic
engineering." One character providentially bears the name of an actual
molecular biologist. *** Louise Imogen Guiney continues to get press. TheBoston
Irish Reporter under the date of 1 February 1998 has an article entitled
"The Irish Belle of Boston Letters" by Peter F. Stevens. *** I have not
seen the new tv series Providence. Are there any Lovecraft associations
show? *** On the other small screen there's Erik Davis' "Calling Cthulhu:
H.P. Lovecraft's Magick Realism" (http://www.levity.com/figment/ lovecraft.html),
which the author states is a cut-down version of the original article that
appeared in Gnosis. Also browsable is a play by Brett Rutherford
entitled Night Gaunts (http://www.nywcafe.com/reaper/gaunt.htm)
"based on the life and works of H. P. Lovecraft." What I read of it is
so interesting that I will probably read the whole magilla. The introduction
itself is a good read and the play has excerpts from the writings.
The first celebrity I associated with HPL was the late Roddy McDowall.
There in Famous Monsters of Filmland was an advertisement for
Roddy McDowall Reads the Horror Stories of H. P. Lovecraft (1962).
By this association McDowall gave a legitimacy and prominence to Lovecraft's
reputation. The record, containing the ultra-Gothic "The Outsider" and
"The Hound" (a far cry from Lassie Come Home, in which McDowall
starred) was included as one of several prizes at a World Con in the mid-sixties.
I cannot evaluate the recording, since I have never heard it. *** Stanley
Kubrick's recent death warrants a word here because of The Shining.
In talking about his movie when it first came out, he quoted, in the Los
Angeles Times, some statement on horror that he attributed to HPL.
A Little After the Material of the Moon
was wrenched from the South Pacific and before the continents had begun
to separate..." (Fritz Leiber, "Through Hyperspace with Brown Jenkin,"
in The Dark Brotherhood, p. 174)
Lovecraft's scenario of the moon as a material daughter of the earth
has recently been validated. According to a March 17 story that appeared
in the Nando Times, "New information from the Lunar Prospector spacecraft
supports the theory that the Moon was ripped from the Earth after a massive
interplanetary collision, NASA scientists said." Whether this is a luckshot
that more flatters his astronomical skill or imagination I don't know.
Perhaps the idea was, so to speak, in the air, like continental drift,
and he went with it because of the drama it furnished.
Lava Lamps Death Traps
Pretend there is a world that is ever quirkier than ours, and imagine the preceding headline and following expose: "I warn everyone to get rid of lava lamps--at the peril of your life. I have found the terrifying truth behind those sludgy, protean shapes that wriggle and twist in these containers. Though their heyday was the sixties and seventies, it is only now that the hideous outcome has made itself known. And I am partly responsible for both the few disappearances, which will grow, and for a world soon to be flung into mad chaos. As we were all hypnotized by those evanescent shapes, little did we suspect what they portended.
But I have seen!
And why did it take so long to pass? It must have been a gestation period. And I know what these eat, or absorb. It is everything that lives. "Shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles"--they will grow, grow until--
And I am responsible. I am the largest retailer of lava lamps in the
On 20 September 1962 the United States District Court for the Southern
District of New York decided the case of Joseph Payne Brennan, Plaintiff,
v. Paramount Pictures Corporation, Defendant. The major issue was who owned
Brennan's "Slime," for which Weird Tales paid him $75. A few years
later Short Stories, Inc., the owner of the magazine, bankrupted. Then
a few years after that Paramount Pictures registered to copyright The
Blob. The case then reads "Plaintiff alleges in his complaint [**3]
that the movie entitled 'The Blob' infringes on his rights in the short
story 'Slime' in that many of the ideas contained in that story were used
by Paramount in the production of its motion picture" (Federal Supplement,
vol. 209, p. 151). Brennan claimed "equitable ownership." Paramount's motion
was eventually denied. (Aside: after being introduced as Weird Tales,
the pulp was subsequently addressed as Weird.)
R. Alain: When is the interruptus coming to an end so that we can find out about the Burt Lancaster connection to Weird Tales? I remain antsy.
Ken (Mailing 101): You state that Joshi's HPL got attention from "The New York Review of Books and other prestigious media" (p. 28-29). Could you name this other print media? I'd say that with the exception of NYRB the book was depressingly under-reviewed. It never received any notice by Booklist, Choice, Library Journal, and other of the most important book review magazines for libraries. (The review I wrote for Library Journal did not make it.) Part of the reason must be that Necronomicon Press is both a little skeeter and a specialty. Its productions would seem fitter to be in Small Press Review--but the work wasn't there either. According to Amazon the biography ranks 71,492 in sales (The Dunwich Horror and Others ranks 53,833, At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels ranks 57,374, Dagon and Other Macabre Tales ranks 58,224, and Best of H.P. Lovecraft : Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre ranks 3,257, which I'd guess is the best showing of any Lovecraft title). Still, the biography has been recorded in at least sixty-two libraries (all U.S., save one in Canada), which are the best place for the title to reach the cross-over market. That is for the readers who may not have a particular interest in fantasy--surely the bulk of NP buyers--but will browse the book because it is there. Perhaps a few of these may initiate or enlarge an appreciation of HPL. *** What leads you to surmise that Susie and others tried "to force Lovecraft into some form of gainful employment during the 1910-13 period"? (p. 29) *** In that "never will be" problem of whether to have kept Lovecraft's library in that fire hazard of the 65 Prospect (nee 66 College) house I am torn twixt aptness and responsible practicality. I was in Ralph Waldo Emerson's house several years ago and some books and furnishings had been moved across the street to Concord's museum to protect them from such a problem. For the immediate future I would opt for a similar solution for the Lovecraft material, believing that 65 Prospect's vulnerability to fire will eventually be overcome by technology. *** I confess I was insincere in my avowal that Joshi's biography was the ne plus ultra in Lovecraft research. I had recently heard that new information had come to light, and I liked the irony of my statement. The artist won out over the critic. While HPL is currently the standard work, and may continue so for a long while, there will always be room for another biography to be written, either with new or reinterpreted evidence. This holds for a bio about anyone. *** The Ray Russell you mention is not the author (Dr. Sardonicus, etc.)? Mailing 104: Congratulations on that choice find of a Lovecraft parody in Miniter's The Village Green. It gives a kind of insight as to how Lovecraft was viewed by Miniter in particular and amateur journalism in particular.
Derrick (Mailing 101): Do you recollect where Lovecraft calls Long what you have titled your zine, Amethystine Hippocampus? (Hippo campus? I hope there's a lot of water and graze for the students.) I am very appreciative of your disclosures about the differences twixt the Arkham House Transcripts and the Selected Letters. In a better literary world plates of several original letters would abet a typed print version that would mimic exactly the most authoritative text available, and would include mis-spellings, cross-outs and marginalia, the editorial corrections bracketed. It is done already. For example, I found in reading Keats' letters this mode made for greater excitement and a feeling of being closer to a live writer. *** Would I agree that the majority of items owned by HPL collectors would have little relevance to scholarship? Yes, that is true. However, would you not agree that a book in a library--common though the book may be--is therefore more available to numerous readers than if it were in a collector's library? As I have said before, in a public or academic library the book is more secure (what happens to a privately held book when it is orphaned?) and it has the power of converting a reader into a Lovecraft fan. As generous as it is for you to make available your rare items to others, there is very little chance for most of us to find out what you have; in a library the online catalog publicizes its holdings to anyone with a browser. I am owning an opinion and not revealing some irrefutable truth. *** Mailing 104: Thanks for the interesting Bierce excerpts and for the investigative report on the White Fire inscription and the splendid news about new Lovecraft letters. Since my knowledge of Smith is so little, any information provided is almost certainly new to me, whether well-known or, in this case, brought to light.
Ben (Mailing 102): In Ibid 102 you mention Planet Stories, and speak about "one of their regulars, 'Basil Wells' (one of our own-Ed)." To me you are implying that "Wells" is a pseudonym that belonged to an Ofian or perhaps to someone on the staff of Planet Stories. In the Cosmic Stories (v. 1, no. 1; March 1941) letters column (Cosmoscope) "Basil Wells of Springboro, Penn." writes "I see that Mr. Chan from Darien, Conn., wonders if I am a new writer, and, I imagine, where I dug up such a pseudonym. Well, it's no pseudonym, I've carried it for sundry years and only once before has it appeared under a story title. If that isn't new I'd like to know." A book that lists science fiction pseudonyms, Who Goes There?, shows that Wells wrote stories under his own name and one under that of "Gene Ellerman." The editor of Cosmic Stories was Donald A. Wollheim, who used the pseudonym of Braxton Wells, according to one source, though it is not among his numerous names in Who Goes There?. Might you be confusing Braxton with Basil Wells?
The Cosmoscope information comes from the Virginia Tech Online Speculative Fiction Project (VTSF), whose url is http://ebbs.english.vt.edu/vtsf/ As the project says, it is digitizing selected holdings from the Herron [surely not Don Herron?]Collection of Science Fiction at the Special Collections department at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia. Its website lists single issues of Air Wonder Stories (1941), Cosmic Stories (1941), Cosmic Science Fiction Stories (1941 (2 issues)), Marvel Science Stories (1950), and Super Science Stories (1941). Cover illustrations and advertisements are included along with the full contents. Unfortunately, it appears that nothing has been done on the project since 1996. *** Mailing 104: The figure on the cover appears as if Lovecraft is looking out of the body of Oscar Wilde. Thanks for the valuable peep into the yesteryears of the EOD by gathering the contributions of various lapsed members.
Alan (Mailing 104): Several mailings in the past I also suggested an online alternative or supplement for the EOD mailings. The rub in this is that only some members have computers. Then there's the wildcards of know-how, cost, desire, etc. I have one of my Criticaster pieces on my website, but have gone no further. * Reading your description of the Dunsany Castle visit was my pleasure, and your Supernatural Horror and Fantasy site is excellent. Bravo!
S. T. (Mailing 104): I would be interested to learn how you arrived
at the sum of 75,000 letters written by HPL as well as the conclusion that
"only a tiny percentage of his total correspondence survives."
Hubert (Mailing 104): I appreciate the translation of Maurice Levy.
I have quickly read it, and I have some too superficial remarks. I felt
that the attitude expressed by Levy about HPL is a relic of the past. It
seems a piece of de Camp that has been flung off and now orbits that body.
The view is stuck on certain qualities that remain controversial and objectionable,
and the article is like a hatchet job. In paraphrasing HPL there is fillip
of added nastiness. There are a few arresting notions, such as the first
paragraph's "the dreams of man are right-wing in nature," but these
are suffocated by all the incriminations involving racism, fascism, and
the like. Predictably, the closing adopts a veneer of objectivity by suggesting
Lovecraft did have admirable qualities, but the overall effect has been
damning through distortion.
In the second part of my review about H. P. Lovecraft I, by suggestion,
bunched Lovecraft's childhood home on Angell with the steepness of the
streets near the John Hay, which in actuality is about a mile away. This
removes a justifying reason for Susie to run by the side of her child when
he pedaled in his neighborhood. Since the thrust of my argument was that,
in itself, her running beside HPL does not prove morbid overprotectiveness,
the absence of neighboring steep streets as a motivation for Susie's concern
deflates that part of my speculation. Instead I will look at it from an
anthropological and historical eye. Have none of the members ever seen
a parent lovingly accompanying on foot a young, bicycling child? It is
a way the parents have of playing with the child as well as giving him
or her support, as if saying "Should you fall, I am here to catch you."
There are other factors, currently unknown to me. Though from the evidence
I have gleaned it appears bicycles around the turn of the century looked
pretty much like they do now, how were they designed for safety back then?
A chance of injury may have been more likely, and certainly treatment of
any injury would have been vastly inferior when compared with today's medicines.
In addition to a possibly less safe bicycle, might not the sidewalk and
street surfaces in most of Providence be rougher than that of today? Also,
had there been any recent accidents of boys on bikes? Unless these questions
are answered, I must persevere in holding some grace for Susie.
The Whole Truth
S. T. Joshi has written he seldom found Lovecraft lying. Lovecraft's graduation from high school and his divorce are the two major areas that may be instanced. Would it be accurate--and impertinent--to suggest that writers as a tribe are more given to lying than toilers in most occupations? Politicians lie as a means of effecting their interests as well as having to deal with conflicting constituencies, but it is conceivable that writers--some writers--lie because they can. Harlan Ellison among others has said that writers are people who lie for a living. (That reminds me of the ironic observation that if the rich could hire the poor to die for them, the poor would make a wonderful living.) Imagine a creative writer whose talent is lying in a large chamber of his brain. Now suppose this chamber leaks and such areas as memory and reality perception are soaked. The result is a kind of insanity, an insanity that does not apply to legal right and wrong but to handling truth--an accurate reportage of events, etc. This supposition gives credence to the views that eminentos such as the late Loren Eiseley and the living Ray Bradbury have manufactured their pasts, consciously or not. As dramatist Richard Sherridan said of one fellow, he borrows his facts from his imagination and his wit from his memory.
The robustness of the writer's imagination can overpower other aspects of the writer's personality, possibly because he (or she) is non-judgmental in exercising it. There is the temptation to astound or wow outside the reader-writer covenant (think of that Woody Allen movie scene where the character looks back at his child self dressed in a cape and imagines the boy launching up, or some such, and thereby surprising the attending audience). Lying is also a defense of one's vulnerabilities through mis-directing attention, and since writing can be either self-confessional or draw upon very personal experiences, writers may need more self-protection than those in other occupations. Though a shadow of reclusiveness is a characteristic of the creative writing life, the intimacies of the mind are ironically made public.
I don't know how much neuroticism is a wherewithal for writers and other
artists. The imagination is admired, but perhaps it should be feared. Can
it not subvert whatever is guarded by the keepers of truth that dwell in
each man--a truth that incidentally may turn out to be an error? A lesson
of this is in occasions where a writer is interviewed beware accepting
his version of his life when he (or she) is the only source for such information.
All people will have a colored view, but writers are more likely to have
one of rainbow hews. Fortunately with HPL there are corroborating documents
and witnesses. In most instances his words are wonderfully honest
This has been the 27th issue of The Criticaster (written 3-16 April 1999, mailing 106)
by Steve Walker. [Slightly corrected December 2000]