"... a studious, retiring, ineffectual man, a typical Gissing hero."

Although George Orwell was describing a book other than Gissing's The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, it applies. I will stretch. As we are aware, HPL thought of the Ryecroft protagonist as himself, so perhaps here is a bit of ulterior insight from the great GO.



In 1960's and '70's San Francisco, “H.P. Lovecraft” was "a magician whose specialty was his name." (from Disney Magazine *** What's his name in Russian? And who is "Tall chap for devil-worship"? It sounds like an American Indian descriptor, but actually it's an anagram of Howard Phillips Lovecraft. 



At the Mountains of Madness is one of the assigned texts for the course Horror Fiction, an honors seminar at the University of Central Arkansas. *** He's on the list of the history course Studies in American Culture: "Mood Noir," at Hanover College. 



Winnie the Pooh (and Cthulhu, too) get together in the lyrics "House at Cthulhu Corner." *** An audio abstract of  "The Council of the Zoogs" and other pieces is from the album Vertiges by the French musicians Henry Torgue and Serge Houppi.  ("Zoogs" are from The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, in case there was a question.) *** Engine Days is a new CD by the group "Lovecraft." *** French composer and theorist Claude Ballif is responsible for the 1955 orchestral work “Lovecraft” (opus 13, appropriately) and the incidental music for the 1964 stage work La musique d'Erich Zahn. There’s a substantial entry about him in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians.


John Coulthart has graphically adapted both "The Haunter of the Dark" and "The Call of Cthulhu." 



Writer/director/producer Aaron Vanek has been responsible for several Lovecraft films, as I've noted in previous issues, and there's an interview with him.  *** In an article Stuart Gordon discusses the preparation for the filming of Dagon. It is to go directly to video and will be released in 2002. Curiously, this will be the second adaption of this story in the past few years. The other was a short animated film by the legendary Richard Corben and was mentioned in a previous Criticaster.



On TV5 (a French television channel available in America) a daily quiz show asked the question of who created hobbits, and gave as its three choices J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord Dunsany, or Robert E. Howard. Find those choices on an American television quiz.



In reply to a question I raised last issue, Christopher M. O'Brien has informed me that the use of "eidolon" by HPL appears in The American Heritage Dictionary under that entry.



Glocester - The Way Up Country A History, Guide and Directory come "with an introduction from the pen of H. P. Lovecraft" (1976) and is for sale. *** At the Mountains of Madness and all other fiction is available full text at The H.P. Lovecraft Library. The single exception is "The Shunned House." Its cousin, The H. P. Lovecraft Audio Library, is a 45-hour CD "containing fifty-eight audio recordings of the stories of H. P. Lovecraft." The cost is $10. It uses a voice synthesizer with an English accent. The sample download, "Azathoth," I found somewhat difficult to understand.



Author in 1977 of a Monarch Notes' The Major Works of H.P. Lovecraft, John Taylor Gatto appeared on C-Span to discuss his education book, A Different Kind of Teacher. *** There's a general essay on his work by J. Edward Tremlett. *** Of three study questionsabout him in the DISCovering Authors collection (by the reference publisher Gale Group), one is the inconsequential, "Discuss Lovecraft's collaboration on The Watchers Out of Time." Nor is S.T.'s biography included in the biography portion. Update, please. *** Robert M. Price has an article, "H. P. Lovecraft: Prophet of Humanism," in The Humanist (July 2001). *** In “Works Referenced in Supernatural Horror in Literature” several titles in this index are linked to the texts themselves, such as The House on the Borderland



Advertising Slogans Targeted at the Lovecraftian Elder Gods includes "American Express: Don't leave R'yleth without it!" and others by Greg Knauss. 



He's mentioned in a poem, "Through a glass darkly," by Laurence Goldstein; it appeared in the academic TriQuarterly (Spring-Summer 1999). *** He's a favorite author of Nora M. Mulligan. *** Jeffrey E. Barlough's The House in the High Wood (Berkley/Ace, 2001) has been called a cross of Dickens and HPL, while also evoking both Wilkie Collins and Poe. One reviewer judged it "very good" and called its conclusion "horrific." *** In an interview Buffy author and Bram Stoker Award winner Christopher Golden speaks appreciatively of him. *** Richard Lupoff has recently published a collection of his stories entitled Claremont Tales (see a very favorable review of it in the Kansas City Star, 7 October 2001). It includes the Lovecraftian “Discovery of the Ghooric Zone,” whose complete text is available at Infinity Plus



There is a mystifying acknowledgement to HPL at the end of the article "Relative Importance of Abiotically Induced Direct and Indirect Effects on a Salt-Marsh Herbivore" by Daniel C. Moon and Peter Stiling.(Ecology, Feb 2000 v. 81 no. 2). Replying to me, Dan writes "My acknowledgement of him wasn't really based upon relevance to the subject matter of the article, but rather to inspiration.Lovecraft was a constant companion during that project, and much of the time that I was not working on the research, I was reading his work.I could also count on Lovecraft to get me past any writer's block I suffered, as after I read some of his work, I always felt like writing myself." *** "As a public outreach effort, over 1 million names were collected and placed on the STARDUST spacecraft, which will visit Comet Wild 2 in 2004." HPL appears three times on the microchip, as LOVECRAFT; HOWARD P LOVECRAFT; HOWARD P. LOVECRAFT.  *** I came across a book (in French) entitled Réanimation Médicale, fortunately not authored by someone called Herbert West. The word réanimation means "resusitation."



There's a computer-related skit "in honor of Halloween, and in memory of Massachusetts's [sic] classic horror writer, H. P. Lovecraft" at the publishing site of Oreilly, known for its programming works. 



This Fedogan and Bremer page describing each of their publications comes with enlargeable thumbnails of the front (and sometimes back) covers. 



The Dan Clore Necronomicon Page has links to Lovecraft's"History of the Necronomicon," J. Vernon Shea's "The Necronomicon," and other related sites.



Among the offerings by the REH UPA is a Howard photo slide show.  *** The essay "Conan vs. Conantics" by Don Herron is at his site.  *** Writer Graham Joyce has a short essay on "The Great God Pan."



From Banned Books Online: “In 1918, the US War Department told the American Library Association to remove a number of pacifist and ‘disturbing’ books, including Ambrose Bierce's Can Such Things Be? from camp libraries, a directive which was taken to apply to the homefront as well.” 



Spring-Heeled Jack was a character who could jump over twenty feet in the air and wore a skin-tight suit, and so reminds me of a Victorian superman. He as well as the Beetle, Sexton Blake, Sergeant Cuff, Four Just Men, Arsène Lupin, Varney the Vampyre, Prince Zaleski, and many others are at a wonderful site entitled Fantastic, Mysterious, and Adventurous Victoriana. It has impressive background information and some contemporary illustrations. HPL is alluded to in an entry concerning Robert W. Chambers' The Maker ofMoons



Ofian Mike Ashley has authored The Time Machines: The Story of the Science-Fiction Pulp Magazines from the Beginning to 1950 (Liverpool University Press, 2000). This 3 volume set is a revision and expansion of his History of the Science Fiction Magazine.


Says I

Ben, your cover for Ibid 114 reprints the first page of “The Dreams in the Witch-House,” and it identifies HPL as "the author of 'The Rats in the Walls’." This allusion also appeared in the introduction to "In the Vault" in The Other Worlds, the first horror anthology I read as well as the first HPL story I read. Was "Rats" HPL's signature story, the way that Robert Bloch was identified with Psycho? *** It’s on their most recent flyer. Congratulations on being blurbed for an Arkham House book.

Stanley: Your fascinating rundown on Margaret Murray had a section that led me to think about "The Rats in the Walls." This is where you quote the summary of The Divine King in England--that every English king up to James I, "was a secret witch and that many of the country's statesmen had been killed in ritual deaths."

Ben S.: Your collection of HPL on e-Bay was very intriguing. Although I would not have bid on anything, in case I ever change my mind I know that the stuff is obtainable, for a price. I wish I knew who the sellers were--if they were names in the field. I wonder how they came into possession of the titles. (There's a Elizabethan novel based on this idea.) Maybe there is still a Lovecraft history of fans that needs to be told. *** If I understand you, out of 50 Hellboys, these are the only ones with Lovecraft connections?--and of these some are marginal HPL? *** I'd never have thought of your idea that the variora(?) of HPL should be collected. It would require first locating other versions--if they exist--then reassembling them. The reassembler would have to determine what the document should look like. 

John: Another big thanks for the pleasure I've had in reading your Arkham House biography. *** You summer cover states “ASE is really a PBO.” For the un-initi(al)ated, what do those letters signify? *** I think I agree with your observations that HPL was a writer of outside, rather than inside, horror. *** Maybe there are more sightings of UFO’s over water because of how water reflects light. *** Huzzah for your honoring Marc Michaud. Around 1980 the New York Times had a feature article with him among several people interviewed. As I recall, the article ended with the question as to whether or not he would become a publisher. 

S.T.: Your Blackwood piece intrigued me enough that I am willing to re-read some of the work I have and certainly purchase the volume that you've edited. *** Congratulations.

David: Welcome, and congrats on your first zine. I wonder if intelligence and the willingness to believe in what I'll call "para-science" (channeling the dead, etc.) are usually correlated, or is it education rather than mental brightness which makes the difference? For my money, most of the people who write this material up for publication have consulted their imagination for their facts.

Alan: I see your zine has been struck by Azazoth, also known as the stapleless god. Without staples there is Chaos.



In earlier quoting George Orwell I brought what he said to bear on the person of HPL. I'm using this method again: "The mental connexion between pessimism and a reactionary outlook is no doubt obvious enough. What is perhaps less obvious is just why the leading writers of the 'twenties were predominantly pessimistic. Why always the sense of decadence, the skulls and cactuses, the yearning after lost faith and impossible civilisations? Was it not, after all, because these people were writing in an exceptionally comfortable epoch? It is just in such times that 'cosmic despair' can flourish." ("In the Whale") If one were obliged to categorize, from an average man's view, whether Lovecraft's work were optimistic or pessimistic, the latter would win. One may trippingly talk of "cosmic indifferentism," but in normal, actual life, this is a bleak, depressing view--though, to my mind, in Lovecraft’s fantasy it is sweetened by a majestic imagination and other qualities. The force of Orwell's pronouncement is to attach HPL into the milieu in which he lived and wrote, to make him a representative and a sharer of the twenties with other "leading writers." Providence provided him with a comfortable nest, with Boston a mostly unacknowledged re-enforcement. Think of his remarks about wanting to voyage far, and yet have Providence always reliably near. Think of the ending of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.



A finalist both for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and a winner of the Pulitzer Prize, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay: A Novel is not a comic book, but is about the world of comic books. Its author is Michael Chabon, who I have referred to in a previous issue. He stated in an interview (Kansas City Star, 9 September 2001, p. I-10) that HPL was "often a very terrible writer. But it's that power of the imagination." Chabon notes that there's a figure like HPL in his novel Wonder Boys.

He has generously allowed me to ask him “two or three” questions about Lovecraft.

1. SW: What way, if any, has Lovecraft influenced your writing career? 

MC: I am and have always been drawn to the image of the solitary voyager in the imagination; the writer who retreats to a drab room in a drab town (let's say) and, pen in hand or at the keys of his Macintosh, goes sailing off into the limitless void, visiting places and times that he can never hope to see in 'real life.' The less likely it is that he can or will leave his room, his house, his town or his little corner of the world, the more attractive this figure becomes.Robert E. Howard, dreaming away his life in Cross Plains, is one example; Lovecraft is another. When I go out to my little office behind the house, I invoke the memories of those other imaginative adventurers.

(Post-interview comment by me. This, so it seems, is not attributing a writer-to-writer influence but a man-to-writer, and the man (Howard or HPL) is made to conform to a romantic vision that I’ll call the Dreamer.)

2. SW: Do you believe Lovecraft has anything worth saying to mainstream writers?

MC: I think the central predicate of much of Lovecraft's work--that beneath the extremely thin and frangible skin of 'reality' there lies another reality, at once dangerous and transcendent, that is always on the point of breaking through --is a point of view that many modern writers of short stories, for example, would not feel at all uncomfortable with.

3. SW: Why do you continue to read him, if you do, and do you have a favorite Lovecraft tale? (Sorry, I piggybacked one question on another.)

MC: I read him for the same reason I read all my favorites--for pleasure. I guess my favorite is "At the Mountains of Madness." I'm a sucker for Antarctic horror.

(In the KC Star interview Mr. Chabon made some remarks I took as a critque of HPL’s style—imagine that!—and so after my questions I added, gratuitously, that a dislike of HPLesque grammar may mean also a dislike of “similar” styles, like that of Henry James. At any rate, he continued.)

MC: By the way, I LOVE long sentences, and adjectives, and use both freely in my work. Proust, James, Nabokov, are crucial writers to me.It's rather Lovecraft's creaky abstractions, his deliberate dusty anachronisms, and his reliance on dashes and exclamation points to convey unspeakable unnamable horror--and his reliance on words like 'unspeakable' and 'unnamable'--that I have a problem with. He's a clumsy writer, and let's his narratives get too overwrought. When it comes to horror I much prefer a cool hand (no less elegant) like M. R. James'.


The Ancient Track: A Superficial Review

I received his book of complete poetry, trebly swaddled in today's version of Styrofoam. After filling my room with its wrapping I pulled out this sturdy volume, in pristine condition. There's a big wrap-around cover. What it wraps around is all the poetry, categorized in four subject sections by expert S.T.
I won't tread further into traditional review matters. Rather, I ’m putting down my objections to the clunky typography, whose style of lettering is better suited to instructions found on plumbing drainer bottles. In this book of poetry it’s a disaster. It's abetted by the constipated layout, for the spacing of the poems is about as variedas link sausages. One poem ends, another begins with an indifference to how this looks from one page to the other.

Of late, in particular, reading as a sensuous experience has often been remarked about in a way to contrast it with text on computers. There needs no computers to show, here, that reading can be a bummer with the wrong design.

If there is a want of comparison, consider the slim Collected Poems, an Arkham House of the sixties. Its jacket shows a figure--whom I always associate with HPL—at rest on a wooded hill, a book in his hand. This catches the Lovecraftian spirit as good as anything of the macabre. The woodcut illustrations within add to the poems' luster. Their type is neat and appropriate. I don't know that poetry books have to be slim, as if reflecting an innate view that poetry is delicate, but it certainly works in this package. Whereas whatever the intrinsic value of completeness and textual correctness of TheAncient Track, the physical presence is--sausage.


Review: Arkham's Masters of Horrors

It has been noted that the most engaging part of this work are the introductions to each of the authors, which in many instances fills in what have heretofore been shadowy figures and in all instances reveal something new about the relationship between August Derleth, publisher, and the people who have had books or stories for Arkham House. Some of their allure is gossip, which blackens several individuals, such as H. R. Wakefield and Mark Schorer. The weakness of this is that editor Peter Ruber is a Derleth booster, by which he is also a taker of sides against some of these writers. The picture one gets is in enormous contrast to R. Alain Everts' characterization, and I suspect that Ruber has left out certain features that would explain Derleth's relationships in a few instances.

Be that as it may, it is the stories that are to be reviewed. I'll omit the inclusion of HPL's letters and begin with "Prince Alcouz and the Magician" by Clark Ashton Smith. It is early Smith and slight Smith, and as a story it merits no discussion. "Man-Hunt" is a conte cruel by Donald Wandrei. Given a choice of being shot or blown up, what is one to do? "The Valley of the Lost" by Robert E. Howard is a supernatural western; there's a feud, the hero's discovery of a villainous underground race, and its destruction of his human enemies; a formula told with typical Howardian flourish."The Bat Is My Brother" by Robert Bloch is a vampire story told from the perspective of an initiate vampire; it moves along pretty well. 

"The Latch-Key" by H. Russell Wakefield is a non-supernatural story of crime and revenge. Derleth was right in holding a high regard for Wakefield, who did some excellent horror tales, and I wish something in this genre had been included."Dyak Reward" by Carl Jacobi is notable for its exotic locale (Borneo) and is another story about revenge."Sea-Tiger" by Henry S. Whitehead features the jaws of dangerous barracuda, but this demonizing of nature has been done much better since then. "The Dog-Eared God" by Frank Belknap Long is a slight "mummy-comes-alive." "The Beautiful Lady" by David H. Keller deals with another of Keller's lethal people (remember "Tiger Cat"?). “Sweetheart from the Tomb" by E. Hoffmann Price is an Egyptian tale of the seemingly supernatural told from the (third person) viewpoint of the imposed-upon victim. It's the old-fashioned crime story masquerading as a supernatural work. "Wolf of the Steppes" by Greye La Spina is formula and ranks with the Quinn piece as the most unoriginal of the stories here--or maybe I find werewolves trite."Rhythmic Formula" by Arthur J. Burks recounts the usage of jungle magic by a money-digging cad and his (of course) comeuppance. 

"The Small Assassin" by Ray Douglas Bradbury shows Bradbury's strength as a storyteller in exploring the conviction that a baby is a natural-born killer.“George is All Right” by Howard Wandrei is, like the Wakefield, a weird crime story. It has a Chandleresque style, and with the Bradbury is the best told story in this collection. Mary Elizabeth Counselman's "Something Old" is a Babylonian ring that transforms a young, innocent bride into a servant of the old powers, which at least keeps her young. "Property of the Ring" (non-Babylonian) by John Ramsey Campbell--why the name expansion, as with Bradbury?--typically drowns in its original polish of words and figures of speech. Also typical, the story never solidifies, so I am not sure what the story is about. "Bon voyage, Michele" by Seabury Quinn is a work I had to force myself through, so undistinguished and commonplace is it, though at least it improves toward the end. I like (or liked) Quinn's de Grandin stories, but not this."The Master of Cotswold" by Nelson Bond is the most successful story of the collection. This chiller relates the events of a well being opened, which lets in some pagan force. "The Open Window" by Vincent Starrett is intriguing in its development of a mystery, but the solution is a letdown. This is black humor, so a macabre mood does not succeed. A Visitor from Outside” by August Derleth & Mark Schorer is mechanical in its supernatural mystery; why are Persians being burnt to death? To avoid the plot holes and logic jumps and unanswered questions? 

Schorer perhaps is the "master of horror" most damned by the editor, who makes it clear he was guilty of coopting the work of Derleth. Since Schorer was both an anthologized writer and a winner of accolades (for his Sinclair Lewis biography), the supporting evidence against him is weak. More seriously, Ruber's praise for several bad stories, and his aesthetic values in general, mark him as an unsatisfactory editor in this genre. If it were not for the eminence afforded through his Arkham House "pulpit" or his access to the Arkham back files that reveal all kinds of factual goodies about the pulpsters, I doubt if he--his judgement--would rate any more attention than a typical criticaster in an average fanzine. When I read some of his evaluations I wonder if this man is serious. 

As an anthology most of the stories represent pulp values and suggest a bygone era of writing. On the plus side, they get down to the weirdness and feel no compulsion for soap-opera gymnastics, though there are the conventional gooey romances in a few works.



"And wrote a golden story

                                                 That's had its golden day."

                              --Lord Dunsany

This has been the 32nd issue of The Criticaster (October 2001, mailing 116) by S. R. Walker.Published simultaneously on the Net as The Limbonaut.

                                                                      In memoriam: Bernard Heuvelmans