I attended the 2003 World Horror Convention, where the mascot was a cow’s head crossed with that of Cthulhu. One parodying caption was “Got Horror?” At first, it didn’t seem HPL was much present in the presentations, but he got in here and there, most notably in the panel about supernatural horror where there were allusions by speaker Darrell Schweitzer.
A panel I attended had for its subject vampires, described by one author as “a romanticized mosquito.” I felt a bit slumming while I listened to the talk about a topic that has a nearness to the much scorned Harlequin romance. There are clichés within this sub-genre that suck out the art from so many stories, though they give the reader a shortcut to understanding the vampire world and serve as a blueprint for the writer, amateur or professional. Freshness and creativity is an orphan—for marketability comes first. This explains the sub-genre’s inherent aesthetic corruption, though it is popular.
Yet the Cthulhu Mythos has been increasingly conventionalized. More so than the works starring vampire, werewolf, etc., there is the nearer potential for originality, partly because the CM is less popular and newer. It is inherently less risky in fiction to deal with a human character, whether supernatural or not. In its place the CM has the visible occult furniture of monsters, spells, deception, &c, easily replicated by the novice. A new Gothic template has been born, even if it has taken me years to recognize it as such.
A panel on overlooked masterpieces of horror showed the level of audience sophistication. For example, like other names, William Hope Hodgson’s drew no recognition from the handful of auditors.
Another panel examined character in horror and began with the thrown-down gauntlet of its lack in Lovecraft. After reflecting about it, I gave my audience-member response, stating that there were characters. I enumerated my points with examples: the “I” narrator is a character, as is the monster and villain. And (if you unfocus a bit) so is the “hero,” the atmosphere. I later added that Jack London also had a similar level of characterization in his stories of the north.
I was unfamiliar with today’s names in horror who were guests. It didn’t matter. Forrest J Ackerman was a featured speaker, and he was the personage who I wanted to see most. I got in late to his interview session, and as I was walking to my seat a man was speaking on stage. He was old, quavering in voice, and had just admitted he lost track of his subject. This man didn’t seem like the FJA I had seen in person at the 1976 World Science Fiction Convention, nor on tv and in photos, but it was he, and as I watched and listened the fantastic happened. FJA became younger. Despite the mental lapse that occurred when I entered—there was no linkage—he showed he had an excellent memory, and recited Henry Frankenstein’s lines from Frankenstein (1931) (“Victor” is the first name in the novel). I wanted to ask him about the Lovecraft signature on his website, but lack of perceived opportunity and a gnawing diffidence on my part dashed my wish.
In the dealers’ room I spent several happy hours looking at the books and printed material. There was a multi-volume collection by Manly Wade Wellman, and on the cover of volume 3 (I think) the Wellman portrait resembled Ernest Hemingway. Bundles and individual titles of EOD mailings were also offered, and I gained some background perspective on some former and present Ofians.
I piped up in several meetings, but was unable to find out at a panel what one speaker meant when he made a reference to Lovecraft “scholars” (the quotes indicated with two fingers from either hand in the air); either that Lovecraft and scholarship were contradictory or that the people he had in mind were not scholarly.
There were also non-fiction panels on macabre subjects, with one speaker talking about working with dead bodies. He was told by his professor that one sign of habituation is being able to work and eat a pizza that is placed on a body. He also spoke of such skills as sewing a tongue back—a concrete example, I’d say, of being tongue-tied.
The 15-16 May
1903 New York Daily Tribune has a heading: “Sketches Statecraft and
lovecraft.” *** The New York Death Index lists a Celia Lovecraft (
In his enlightening Religion and Its Monsters (Routledge, 2002), Timothy K. Beal provides an informed discussion of HPL’s “stitched together” mythology, which opens “toward a revelation of chaogony” and “seeks to bring about a failure of imagination and reason by jamming together theological and mythological categories” (p. 184). The chapter title, “Our Monsters, Ourselves” (i.e., we are the monsters), appears to deal with Lovecraft’s so-called followers (e.g., devotees to the Derleth interpretation) rather than his creation. Early in the book, much before he discusses HPL, he begins using the term “cosmic horror,” paired with religiosity.
The group Alpinestars
Movies and Television
The setting is the living-room, with bookcase, of Wolf von Frankenstein (played by Basil Rathbone):
WOLF (over his shoulder) Even my father's books haven't been disturbed. (he blows at them; a small cloud of dust arises) Definitely. (he touches the books as he names them) Agricola's De Re Metallica... the Necronomicon ... Roger Bacon ... (he shuts his eyes as he touches one book after another, naming them) Euclid ... Paracelsus... FitzJames O'Brien ... Avicenna! (as he speaks the last name, he pulls the book from the shelf, opens his eyes) See -- I haven't forgotten!
With the mention of Fitz James O’Brien (“The Diamond Lens”
&c) you can see that scriptwriter Willis Cooper knows his fantasy stuff.
Credited with seven films, he was a contributor to three “Mr. Moto” movies,
three musical comedies, and Son of
Frankenstein (1939), the last time this name appeared, according to the American Film Institute Catalog.
Curiously, Peter Lorre was offered a role in the horror film, but no longer
wanted to play a menace, having opted instead for the character of Mr. Moto.
More of the script is available.
(Also, Lorre is named in Richard
Matheson’s horror short story “Shipshape Home”—a creepy character resembles
him—and played this role in its fifties tv adaptation, “Couples Only.” This is
rather like the in-joke of Bois Karloff playing a Boris Karloff on stage in Arsenic
and Old Lace.) *** One program of the British series Mastermind had
questions about James Joyce, General Gordon,
For some reason the Edmonton Journal newspaper carried several paragraphs of information from the H.P. Lovecraft Centennial Guidebook under the title “Learn More about H.P. Lovecraft” (no longer available online).
The Brian Aldiss essay, “The Adjectives of Erich Zann: A Tale of Horror,” is collected in his The Detached Retina; it appeared in the first Annotated Lovecraft. *** Under the chapter “The Modern Period” in Haunted Presence (University of Alabama Press, 1987) HPL, Arthur Machen, and Algernon Blackwood are all mentioned. *** Ursula K. LeGuin, who wrote a venomous attack on Lovecraft in a Times Literary Supplement, has one of her stories, “The New Atlantis,” contrasted with the island scene in “The Call of Cthulhu.” See the article “Text and Pre-Texts in Le Guin's ‘The New Atlantis’” by Thomas L. Wymer (Extrapolation, Fall 2003).
The official game site has launched for “Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.”
There’s an April 2004 article about the debuting H.P. Lovecraft’s Magazine of Horror along with its contents at Here is both fiction and non-fiction, and already a letters column, “From Beyond.”
According to the
Influence and Allusions
A few issues back
I summarized—because it was written in French—the what-if-he-had-lived short
story, “HPL (1890-1991)” by Roland C. Wagner. The author has alerted me that it
was already offered in English translation from Crypt of Cthulhu, no. 103, which doubtlessly is yet for sale. Had I
but known, I needn’t have described the story. It shows that in Lovecraftana
there remain islands of ignorance. *** There is a reference to HPL in “Face
Memory with a Wall,” one of the poems in Six (Black Sparrow Press, 1976)
by David Meltzer. *** Another poem has the lines, “The Nile flows north [ ... ]
to Wisconsin/ Where August Derleth prints the books/ Of Lovecraft, dreamer of
The Book of Thoth,/ The Necronomicon, lost work of Abdul Alhazred,/ Lovecraft
who wrote of Nug and Dagon,/ Old gods, Nyogtha and Cthulhu.” This is from the
1971 News of the Nile by R.H.W. Dillard (
In the obituary
for Julius Schwartz there is the claim that “he was the last person living” to
have met HPL. *** Encyclopedia of American Humorists, (Garland,
1988) has an article about just one genre author, Henry Kuttner, to whom
Richard Matheson dedicated his classic vampire novel, I Am Legend. ***
HPL is spoken of briefly in Robert A. Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast. In addition, (and if my memory fails not) perhaps it is in Robert A. Heinlein: A Reader’s Companion (2000) that there is a connection made between the short story “Goldfish Bowl” and HPL.
Ben: I’d flaunt a personalized Maus cover, too, if I had one. Realistically, the Art Spiegelman analogy of cats to Naus-hees and mice to Jews (the persecuted) is completely askew. Virtually all people who have cats in their houses have them there willingly, while few who have mice (unless they be pets) have made this choice. That cats kill mice is not a vice. I wonder if Spiegelman is a cat-hater, for I am the opposite. *** The title of the Derleth Cthulhu collection, In Lovecraft’s Shadow, is an excellent pun that missed me at first. Since HPL used the word “shadow” in two of his story titles (plus as a sub-title in “The Lurking Fear”), it had a resonance for him. *** In a nutshell you have put the problem of reviewing a book by L. Ron Hubbard; he cannot be considered apart from his controversial context. It’d make for an interesting list of people who are like this. As I believe I have said before—I’ve thought it before, anyway—I have doubtlessly cheated myself out of a good read (e.g., Fear) by my implacable attitude. *** Would that I had received the pleasure you had from Nelson Bond’s The Far Side of Nowhere rather than the opposite, along with irritation. That joking, slangy tone trivialized all it touched, even if the subject matter had been serious, which it wasn’t. The stories were related to the comedian side of Robert Bloch, I think. Arkham House has gone down in its reliability—had the stories at least been macabre. *** Those punk, disrespectful kids you talked with at Red Hook are a good reason for birth control. *** The tacit E-bay obsession is: somewhere your dream-possession is being offered as an incredible bargain, so you have to stay online.
Don & Mollie: I hope you guys never break down when you are driving over barely visible New Mexican roads, way out yonder; or at least you have a telephone that will allow you to call for help.
John G.: Besides
being a title by Alan Moore, “The Courtyard” is one of the sonnets from The Fungi from Yuggoth, so this is the
source for the
Henrik: This is a
mundane comment on your Metaphysics booklet, for which thanks. The back cover
is in a difficult-to-read font, and makes it seem as though my eyes were out of
focus. You state that HPL “never had a friend in …
friend gave an arresting review. To me, some of the description of The Case
of Howard Phillips Lovecraft suggests a wish-fulfillment on the part of the
documentarians, how HPL ought to have behaved or been, as with his
Ben S.: Concerning our difference on Robert E. Howard and racism, on your side there are the stories (two?) in which a black boxer was the protagonist, undoubtedly an exception to the time. On my side are the Howard letters with his derogatory references to blacks and others, although some seem tolerant (see Howard’s Selected letters, 1931-1936). There are, of course, degrees of racism. Somebody such as, for example, H.L. Mencken could be a racist and a despiser of the Ku Klux Klan. *** Perhaps you’ll consider submitting your paper on Bakhtin and Poe to one of numerous conferences.
S.T.: One fault of your Encyclopedia of Supernatural Literature—based on your printing of the entries A-B—is that the articles are not signed.
Doyle, Leiber, and the Beautiful Woman
In preparing for
my Doyle-Lovecraft presentation at the Popular Culture Association conference
After reading so much of Doyle I am impressed by his craftsmanship and talent for storytelling. He also did a couple of non-genre twist-ending stories that left me pleased.
One bit of documentation I added to my talk was a paraphrase of Lovecraft’s statement in a letter: “As to ‘Sherlock Holmes’—I used to be infatuated with him! I read every Sherlock Holmes story published, and even organised a detective agency when I was thirteen, arrogating to myself the proud pseudonym of S.H.” (quoted from Lord of a Visible World, p.16).
One theme in several Doyle stories was the woman who gained supernatural control over a man, notably in The Parasite, though I prefer “John Barrington Cowles” with its hints of devil-worship. The femme fatale in the latter is distant kin to Helen Vaughan of “The Great God Pan.” This kind of tale would make an anthology, its concept “La Belle Dame sans Merci” (I’m stealing from Keats). This projected collection would also have “The Thing on the Doorstep” and, if novels were allowed, Conjure, Wife, where the phrase “button, button, who’s got the button” is replaced with “soul, soul, whose got the soul.”
It is noteworthy of the Fritz Leiber book that the line at the end of chapter 16 caused Damon Knight to jump, for it owes much to Lovecraft’s “Thing”—the confrontation with an animate body, though in the Conjure, Wife case what it lacks, explicitly, is its soul, thereby providing a religious reality eschewed by Lovecraft, who tellingly used the “mind.” Leiber must have found the Lovecraft story very congenial, since he had used touches of it in his The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich, though perhaps he also liked the captive mind idea, as suggested by his title “Enslaved Human Brains of Tomorrow.” There is a catalog of his original writings at the University of Houston Libraries. (And to round it back to Doyle, though bypassing HPL, Leiber wrote “The Moriarity Gambit,” a Sherlock Holmes pastiche.)
“Curse you, Thornton” (1)
perhaps, pointing to Doyle being kidded under the guise of the character Thornton
(“devoted to the psychic”) in “The Rats in the Walls” (written August 1923) is the
stream of books that Doyle brought out on spiritualism, beginning with The
New Revelation (1918). Then came Life after Death, also 1918; The
Vital Message (1919); Our Reply to the Cleric (1919); Spiritualism
and Rationalism (1920); The Wanderings of a Spiritualist (1921); The
Coming of the Fairies (1922); Spiritualism—Some Straight Questions and
Direct Answers (1922); The Case for Spirit Photography (1922); and Our
American Adventure (1923). This last was written during Doyle’s lecture
tour of the
Should there be
merit in my surmise that Doyle was a presence in “Rats,” why was his name “
I’ll add that a huge bibliography dedicated to Sherlock Holmes is available at
I saw the movie. I wasn’t going to, but it got decent reviews. If my ear errs not, someone early in the movie makes a reference to the “Cthulhu cult.” The beginning bodes well, with an atmospheric rain storm and a soldier who lacks a face, thereby introducing the menacing alien. There was one scene I’d call Lovecraftian, and that was a glimpse of an apocalyptic future where there is a ruined city and tentacle-like things hang from the clouds. The rest of the movie lacks such cosmic potency, though here and there is a sense of style.
Much of the blame is on the comic book origins and its character, Hellboy. Since he shows throughout the movie that he is indestructible, why should monsters scare us if they don’t scare him? They seem chiefly props for his wisecracks, which destroys any aura of terror. The supernatural dread that makes a monster is stripped from it, and it becomes a vehicle to be laughed at. Another character in the movie is Abe, a gill-man, which I suppose is also from the strip; though I recall the director, Guillermo del Toro, had wanted to do a remake of The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and this beast may be an acknowledgement of this. When Abe is in jeopardy there is a sense of suspense, unlike Hellboy.
As most of you know, Del Toro wants to make At the Mountains of Madness. If he does, I hope he drops that sense of humor and goes for conviction. My own choice for a Lovecraft director is Ridley Scott, though whether he ever returns to atmosphere, as with Alien or Blade Runner, is an unknown.