Of Wells and Ray

     I’ve re-read The Invisible Man, prompted by re-seeing the first movie version (1933). Whereas this movie and its progeny talk about the threat that an invisible man poses, the novel deals much with the problems that invisibility encumbers a person with—being unintentionally jostled and stepped upon, freezing in the cold, etc. The “power” of invisibility proves quite debatable, even being able to steal with impunity.

     A flaw of this novel is its puckish tones. The title character is called both The Voice and The Invisible Man, but seldom by his proper name. Other grist for Wells’ humor is the incredulity and victimization of the country folk. It jars with the serious part, the personality of the man himself and the relation of his adventures. The comedic portions of the narration take away from the power of the story.

     A similar problem is shared by the work of Jean Ray, a Belgian writer in the French language who has been occasionally mentioned by EOD members in the same breath as Lovecraft. I encountered their writing almost simultaneously, for my first adult horror story was “In the Vault,” followed by Ray’s translated “The Mystery of the Last Guest” in a library copy of the 1941 anthology The Other Worlds. Practicing my French, I have been going through an anthology of Ray stories (Histoires Noires et Fantastiques), and upon finishing “Le Dernier Voyageur” I realized that it was the original version of the aforementioned story.

     Based on my practice reading, I will make several generalizations about the writer. Many of his stories involve the sea, and many take place in England or have as their protagonists the British. Rather harmfully, he forces humor into some of his stories by giving characters silly names, as “Mr. Chickenfoot” who, in the aforementioned “The Mystery of the Last Guest” or “Le Dernier Voyageur,” is pursued by an unearthly presence in a hotel that has closed for the season. When I read this story about 1962 it had a frisson, caused chiefly by my newness to horror.

     But I have moved a little off-track. Ray’s humor works against the atmosphere, partly because he switches tone from horror to sardonicism, as in “Les Sept Châteaux du Roi de la Mer” (“The Seven Castles of the Sea King”). Anticipation is built as the possibility of the appearance of a dreaded, supernatural something is about to materialize—and then the authorial presence of Ray dissipates it. Likewise annoying is his creation of a puzzling mystery, increasing the puzzle as the story goes along, and then not solving it, not even on a supernatural basis. The longish “La Ruelle Ténébreuse” tells of people who disappear within a certain habitation (and town), then nods to “The Horla,” but in the end the story fails to explain either why the disappearances or what happened to the people. The story makes big promises but doesn’t deliver on them. Ray has a fixation on the supernatural, but he remains in the Gothic conventions (spooks, curses, etc.). I suspect that Ray is more comfortable with the early Gothic writers than with the Lovecrafts.



     There is a comparison of Lovecraft’s texts that use archaeological speculations with the fantasy assumptions of Erich von Däniken, Robert Temple, and Graham Hancock. *** A case is made that von Däniken borrowed from HPL, in “Charioteer of the Gods,” Skeptic (v. 10, no. 4, 2004, p. 36-34).



     Besides dedicating her song “Space Monkey” to him, songwriter Patti Smith has stated, "I'm a real reader, and I've always got some area of study on the go. It could be mathematics, it could be Antarctica. I was into polar exploration a few months ago, and now I'm into H. P. Lovecraft."  ***Lovecraft” is an eight-piece band in the UK. *** One person responsible for a 2004 hip-hop CD bears the name Herbert “Ruffles” Lovecraft.


Art and Comics

     Fear Factor” by Steve Craig is an article in Seacoastonline that covers the art (with examples) of Robert H. Knox, whose drawings are featured in Kennett’s zine. There are allusions to Arkham House, Necronomicon Press, and Derrick’s Hippocampus Press. *** The Vertico/DC comics “biography” of HPL has been translated into Portuguese for the publisher Vitamina BD. It was translated by Fernando Ribeiro, frontman for the music group Moonspell.



     Apparently, separate Chilean films are planned for “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Colour out of Space.” *** Calling itself a documentary, the Italian H.P. Lovecraft: Ipotesi di un Viaggio in Italia seems to be a speculation about him traveling in Italy, based (if I understand the Italian) on a letter to Alfred Galpin in 1926—though such a letter would have been in H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to Alfred Galpin. See the article “Lovecraft nel Delta del Po”  *** Logically making the 1926 “The Call of Cthulhu” as though it were a black-and-white silent movie, with title cards, the production includes an impressive trailer that makes me think this is a work that may be Lovecraftian! *** For reviews of the recent H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, see the continually excellent Unfilmable.



     HPL stories compose the Russian collection, Skitalets t’my : [Rasskazy, Sonety]. His proper name, translated to Russian and transliterated, I dare say, from the Cyrillic back to Roman letters, is Govard Fillips Lavkraft. Also, 2003 saw the publication in Korean of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward as Ch`alsu T`eksut`o Wodu ui pimil.



     S.T. talks more about Lovecraft and other matters than the title of the article indicates in “Indian Critic Sheds New Light on Writer H.L. Mencken,” India-West (17 Jan 2003, p. C30). He has recently written The Evolution of the Weird Tale (Hippocampus Press, 2004).



     A “favicon”—the name of the tiny icon seen in a browser’s address window—serves as the famous formal portrait of HPL at a French site.



     Mentioned in an earlier edition, composer Claude Ballif died in July. One of his compositions was Lovecraft. *** In his The Arabian Nights: A Companion erudite Robert Irwin includes HPL on a list of authors who were influenced by this work, though he goes into no specifics. While we know of its influence on him when a child, it is more of a challenge to figure out which of his stories bear the influence, or at least establish some standard. For example, does a reference to ghouls count; or a Dunsany quality; or allusion to Irem, the city of Pillars? *** Arkham’s Alone With The Horrors: The Great Short Fiction Of Ramsey Campbell, 1961-1991 has been republished by Tor, with Campbell’s earlier “The Tower from Yuggoth” substituting for “The Room in the Castle,” his first professional publication. There is a review, and there is a short story bibliography of first publications by him *** Called “the first major surrealist poet in the United States” and mentor to the Beats, Philip Lamantia, as a grade schooler, read HPL in the 1930’s. *** The well and widely-reviewed Summer Light by Luanne Rice (2002) has characters hike in New England’s Lovecraft Wildlife Refuge. *** The Lovecraft world meets that of Jack Kerouac in the book Move Under Ground (Night Shade Books, 2004) by Nick Mamatas


“The Call of Cthulhu”

“The titan Thing from the stars slavered and gibbered like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus. Then, bolder than the storied Cyclops, great Cthulhu slid greasily into the water and began to pursue”.

     The classical reference is an accurate detailing from The Odyssey, Book IX. .However, I wish to call attention to another possible classical allusion that may form an alloy with this one, that from Vergil’s Aeneid, Book III, where Polyphemus re-appears, this time to threaten hero Aeneas and his men, who have departed the island and boarded their ships. To quote the John Dryden translation, with narrator Aeneas describing the Cyclops’ actions, “But, when our vessels out of reach he found,/ He strided onward, and in vain essay'd/ Th' Ionian deep, and durst no farther wade.” Like Cthulhu, Vergil’s Polyphemus goes into the water in pursuit of its prey, though he is mindful of not getting in over his head.


“The Lurking Fear”

     “Without having any exact knowledge of geology, I had from the first been interested in the odd mounds and hummocks of the region…I stopped to analyse my reason for believing these mounds glacial phenomena.”

     I have found no evidence that there was a reference here to what have been called—one variety, anyway—Mima Mounds, found on the prairies. One view is that prairie mounds were left by receding glaciers; and another is that they were the results of burrowing gophers. “Some of the mounds … may be of glacial origin” was a theory offered in Science (1 Dec 1905, p. 713), which suggests the scientific basis for the narrator’s assertion. The glacial speculation has continued to be brought up as a possibility, though some spoilsports state that this could not be since the mounds have been found where there have been no known glaciers.


“The Crime of the Century”

     The title of a Lovecraft racist essay (1915), the phrase was used around the 1890’s to denote a particularly horrible crime, a political murder, or the background of the Spanish-American War. However, I have discovered examples where the term was used in a context similar to the essay’s subject. In the 1890’s a black newspaper called the treatment of Negroes “the crime of the century.” A 1906 racist speech in the South used this phrase to describe granting suffrage to blacks (see “Was It a ‘Crime’” in The New York Times (28 January 1906) for a response that is not exactly a repudiation of the idea), suggesting why HPL could argue as he did. However, I am intrigued by the fact that HPL, a fan of Nick Carter, might have lifted the phrase from The Crime of a Century: or,  Nick Carter’s Phonograph Clue (1911).


HPL as Character

     Peter Cannon has written an alternative history of Lovecraft in The Lovecraft Chronicles (Mythos Books, 2004), which is reviewed in Publishers Weekly (16 Aug 2004, p. 48).



     There’s a collection of tales by Francis Stevens, The Nightmare and Other Tales of Dark Fantasy (Bison Books, 2004) edited by Gary Hoppenstand, who writes in “Editorial: Collecting Popular Culture” (Journal of Popular Culture (Nov 2004), p. 235-238): “She was a contemporary of A. Merritt and H. P. Lovecraft, and strongly influenced the fantasy and horror fiction of both” (p. 235).


Richard Matheson

     I’ve read volume one (2003) of Collected Stories by Richard Matheson, arranged in chronological order. Each story has an accompanying commentary by Matheson, who does not state any influence by Lovecraft, though he does for Bradbury, Bierce, Stoker, Oliver Onions, and Machen.

     I will give a brief summary of each story along with a bit of evaluation. First is the classic “Born of Man and Woman,” which ought to be read as a companion piece with Lovecraft’s “The Outsider.” Both are first-person monster narratives that end in revelation. “Third from the Sun” is, like the rest of the stories, well written, which compensates for its tired idea revolving around escape from a coming planetary disaster. “When the Waker Sleeps” has a Philip K. Dick quality, and unfolds pleasantly. “Blood Son” is a good character portrayal of a boy who wants to be a vampire. “Clothes Make the Man” is a joke told as a story and has, as Matheson writes, a “zinger” in the end. There is a zinger, too, at the end of “Dress of White Silk,” but its two words convey so much, a dark lens that throws the rest of this short story into a different focus. The character in the time travel “Return” made me sorry for what happened to him, a ghastly tragedy. “The Thing” is one of those stories that teases you into wondering what the “thing” is that all the characters are hankering to see, and is a case where the reader is more ignorant than most of the people in the story, which is a strategy that I find annoying; and, as Matheson notes in his afterword, the surprise is small.

     “Through Channels” is narratively interesting due to its being completely in a question and answer format, though like some other of his stories it is more of a joke, especially where a TV spells out certain words. “Witch War” was one of the earliest genre stories I ever read (in an anthology from my high school library, Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952), and on re-reading it—more likely re-re-reading it—I find it has a punch through its skill in its telling, characters, and subject matter, which is witches using their devilish craft in the destruction of enemy soldiers. “Advance Notice” has as a first-person a science fiction writer who makes a discovery about the truth of what he has written. Its stylistic cleverness with words is not one I care for, since there is a self-consciousness, an insincerity, and artificiality in the tone.

     “Brother to the Machine” looks at a rather grim future, though (as I no doubt repeat myself) it is well told and has a surprise at the end. “F---”, a satire about the lust for food in a future that lacks it in substantial form, rates more of a “C” in effectiveness. A story of a male eventually raped by an alien female—though not stated so baldly—“Lover When You’re Near Me” is solidly terrific. The punning title of “Mad House” provides a memorable character sketch of a man constantly exploding with anger and the eventual effect on himself and others. Far more shivery is another title with a pun, “Shipshape Home” (one of my favorite stories), which depicts the suspicion of apartment dwellers as they become convinced that they are sharing the building with non-humans; this one was dramatized pre-Twilight Zone, with Peter Lorre playing the character who is said to resemble Peter Lorre. “SRL Ad” is one of Matheson’s more successful stories in a light-hearted vein, with the entire short a series of letters, chiefly between a man who answers the personal ad and a mangler of language who tells him she is from outer space.

     As “Mad House” is a character study of someone who is nasty, “To Fit the Crime” profiles a cruel poet who finds an untenable afterlife. Later made into an episode of The Twilight Zone, “Death Ship” tells of three spacemen landing on a planet to discover a shipwreck with images of themselves aboard; the conflict among the three men about the meaning of this anomaly furnishes the dramatic spring (the interaction reminded me of such Bradbury stories as “The Long Rain” and “Kaleidoscope,” a favorite). Another Twilight Zone adaptation, “Disappearing Act,” is much scarier than the original story, a first-person narration where a man starts to lose his memory, his grip on reality, and more.

     “The Disinheritors” uses a smart alecky tone and “wit” to tell a rather boring story involving Goldilocks and the bears, though things prove in the revelation to be something else. “Dying Room Only” is also about illusion, here of a conspiratorial kind, where a husband disappears at a café in the desert—and when the wife is told by some patrons that he did not exist, she calls the sheriff; in today’s paranoid times, the officer would prove to be part of the conspiracy, but relievedly the gentler world of fifties fiction believes in putting things to right. The heart of “Full Circle” is too much of a social commentary about the way that the Earth treats an extraterrestrial race, a representative of which is acting in a play. How humanity and one man in particular react to “The Last Day” of the world is told in terms that rather dulled me. “Lazarus II” is a son who is driven to suicide, yet parental possessiveness brings him back as a robot, making for a grim family drama. A “Legion of Plotters” is an interesting personality study of a paranoiac.

     I think the Matheson dramatization of his own “Little Girl Lost” for The Twilight Zone was better than the story itself, which is about the dimensional disappearance of a small girl and the hunt for her by her parents. On the other hand, I prefer the eeriness of the original “Long Distance Call”—an invalided old lady receives calls from a mysterious voice—to The Twilight Zone episode, though Matheson states his preference for his dramatization

     The best stories are “Born of Man and Woman,” “Witch War,” “Lover When You’re Near Me,” and “Shipshape Home.” Honorable mention goes to “Blood Son,” “Dress of White Silk,” and “Return,” while “Mad House,” “SRL Ad,” and “Death Ship” are on the next level of merit. Throughout, even in the weaker stories the dialogue, character, and style are alive and vivid. Through these gifts his ability to make interesting a story compensates for a prosaicness in imaginative power.


Arkham House

     "For Love of the Craft: Sixty-five Years of Arkham House" is a display that began in October and runs through February, 2005, at Weinberg Memorial Library, University of Scranton. On Hallowe’en AH was also the subject of a program aired by National Public Radio.


“The Rats in the Walls”

     In writing about this tale in “The Hound and the Rats” I had located Exham Priory around other various English place names beginning with Ex--, but not until beginning Ken’s (et al.) Devonshire Ancestry of Howard Phillips Lovecraft did I realize that there could be autobiographical elements to account for the location; and even, possibly, that the de la Poers could be the Lovecraft ancestry. The authors quote HPL: “In direct male line, I can’t get back to the Conquest at all; the family of Lovecroft (early spelling) first appearing in Devonshire, in the valley of the Teign, circa 1450” (p. 2). Devon’s Teign River begins in Dartmoor five miles from the town of Exeter. And Ancestry deduces that “love” is an Englishing of the French “louve” (wolf bitch), and states “there were wolves in the Exmoor area” (p. 3), which fits in with my hound and canine theme in “Rats.”

     I do not know about the likelihood of a connection, but under the Eliott name there is reference to “St. Germans [priory] in Cornwall … the seat of a bishopric … until the see was moved to Exeter in 1046. A Norman church was erected on the site of the former cathedral in 1261” (Devonshire Ancestry of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, p. 6). In “Rats” the built-upon Exham Priory was granted “to my ancestor, Gilbert de la Poer, First Baron Exham, in 1261.” Also, Cornwall is the home of Lady Trevor, who marries into this family.


Letters 125

     Ken: In Moshassuck Monograph Series Number 9, I wish that you had ended with an alphabetical index of all the names recorded throughout the text.

     Ben: As with you, your Joseph A. West cover reminded me of Lee Brown Coye. *** You have not seen W.C. Fields’ It’s a Gift, but I did, thirty-something years ago, and I think it is his funniest film.

     Leigh: It is curious (to me) that there are so many Ofians who adhere to occultism, since this belief system may have been used by HPL for his fiction, but he remained as skeptical of it as he did Christianity. *** Whereas “Pickman’s Model” took up nine pages when it originally appeared in Weird Tales (1927), it takes up just five pages in Pleasure Annual (no. 1) magazine; the pages must be big and the type small. The name “Lovecraft” and title word “model” may have been inducement enough for the casual reader of a sex magazine to think that he was getting something other than what there was. The anecdote of Lovecraft’s objection to W. Paul Cook about a short story in which a model appears nude is too appropriate for me not to mention. *** I enjoyed your account of your neophyte trip to the U.S. I trust that since 1990 you have broadened your attitude and do less stereotyping of Americans who like Disney, etc.—who have different values than yourself. I would have been interested to hear a comparison of them with your fellow countrymen to get a fairer view of your outlook.

     John H.: I too have wondered of late about the status of T.E.D. Klein. It is a loss that he has written so little. Maybe we should all pitch in and ask him to write more. *** Like me, your responses to mailings can leave a reader puzzled, since the thing that prompted you may not be obvious to the other Ofians. *** I didn’t mean to imply, or have you infer, that August Derleth discouraged de Camp from writing a biography, since I recall that the latter explained (in Lovecraft) that he did not do a biography until after Derleth’s death because he surmised that Derleth would do it—and, as I interpret it, there is no use competing for such a small market share, which could’ve happened had both written a biography; I don’t think de Camp could have been intimidated in this case, as he suggests Derleth did to J. Warren Thomas. *** You question if Edmund Wilson read “The Colour out of Space.” There is no reason to think otherwise, since in his essay he commented about it as well as “The Shadow out of Time” (so, one may ask, did he read this story too?). You think that Wilson’s allusion to the atomic bomb suggests he did not read “Colour,” though I think this is incorrect. To pursue this a little, Wilson (1945) compared the idea in “Colour” to the effects of an atom bomb—i.e., the mutations that result from it. Two years later this theme was tackled in a more conventional, but a memorable, way by Poul Anderson in his “Tomorrow’s Children.” It sounds reasonable to me that the alien entity played havoc with the genes and the cells of the Pierces and the other living things about, mimicking the malevolent effects of radiation. *** You believe that S. T. has produced Lovecraft-related books that are “error-free.” Not in my view. *** I have a short attention span (ADD?) and this is reflected in my going for breadth, for numbers of items, rather than expanding on a few; that, and I believe I lack the intellectual firepower really needed to analyze literary, social, historical, etc. ideas as they should be, so I give news chiefly.

     Ben S.: “The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan” shows Smith at the top of his sardonic humor. I get a kick out of it and would include it in a “Best of” collection. *** A work can exist, influenced by another author, yet does not fit into your four categories (pastiches, fan fiction, homage, and plagiarism/re-write). For example, Fritz Leiber did a number of stories influenced by HPL, but they are none of the above. Although you rule that re-writes should only be for the poorly written story, this happens all the time with movies. For example, the second screen version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was a rewrite of the first, and the first was certainly a classic. *** Couldn’t the Cthulhu Mythos be just a superficial collection of proper names (the gods, the places, the books, the characters)?

     S.T.: You, a cat lover! *** In your printing of the articles about HPL by Steven Mariconda, he mis-states, “Lovecraft repudiated [sic] the literary use of Dunsanian fancy in the short novel The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” (p. 2-3). This was his longest work of “Dunsanity.” Here are two more of my sics. The first is a matter of innumeration: “three [sic] authors Lovecraft deemed ‘Modern Masters’: Machen Dunsany, Blackwood, and M.R. James” (p. 4). The second is an omission: “Lovecraft repeatedly failed to convince leading book [sic] to issue a volume” (p. 5).


Chile and Easter Island

     I’m back from a recent trip to the country of Chile, where I passed some time in bookstores. The most popular translated genre writer, judged by the number and omnipresence of his titles, is Ray Bradbury. There was also a bit of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. I was at first unsuccessful in finding HPL, but of all places, at the national airport wing in Santiago, I hit a bonanza. In its modest bookstore six to eight Lovecraft titles were displayed in a box on a shelf. The books were printed in Spain, not Chile. Later, the biggest bookstore I went to in Santiago had slim works by him in a “Biblioteca H.P. Lovecraft.” Each book has room for only a few items, eccentrically joined. Why for example has “The Colour out of Space” been paired with a short draft from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”?

     I also went to that Chilean possession, Easter Island, settled by Polynesians. I asked the knowledgeable, English-language guide if he was familiar with The Web of Easter Island by Donald Wandrei, but he was not. There is a library on the island, but I was unable to get to it to check if this title was available. As I understand it, an unpublished edition of this work will be coming (from Fedogan and Bremer?).


Hugh B. Cave

     The writings of the late Hugh B. Cave awaken a mixed feeling in me. Several years before my acquaintance with H.P. Lovecraft, I read him; he was my first acquaintance with a pulp writer and the first writer who had something Gothic to say. I found him in Boys’ Life magazine circa 1960, though this venue is not listed in his bibliography-in-progress. The nature of the magazine—it is for scouts—meant that its stories would not have any real terror, but even so I found Cave striking a chord that I experienced in horror movies but, until then, not writing. Yet also the Gothicism was just not strong enough, and I felt short-changed.

     As a result, through the years I have thought of Cave as a kind of non-genre writer within the genre, even though I have read stories of his that obviously are horror tales (e.g., “Ladies in Waiting” in the 1970’s). Unfortunately, my first impression has been so strong that it over-rules my others, so unfair as it may be, the Cave name has a connotation that prompts caution.



This has been the 42nd issue of The Criticaster (Hallowe’en 2004, mailing 128) by Steve Walker.  Eventually published on the Net as a The Limbonaut (no 13).