Review of Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth
What follows are comments, inquiries, and identification of typos in this fine two-volume set. Unless otherwise indicated, the letters addressed are those written by Lovecraft. I assume that what I've identified as typos are the fault of the editors, rather than HPL or Derleth; if made by the authors, the typos would have been identified or silently corrected. (I am an expert on typos-as a perusal of my fanzine text makes clear.)
p. 165 It would have helped to identify "the defunct S & B" as Selwyn & Blount. *** p. 167 In November 1928 Lovecraft's mention of "Old Adolphe de Castro" getting the Century Co. to publish his book proved true. It was called Portrait of Ambrose Bierce (1929). *** p. 173 His intention to write The Dragnet about Derleth is cross referenced in a later letter about it being in the appendix (p. 771), where the letter has no date nor indication that the magazine it came from was The Dragnet; it should have been bracketed as an editorial intrusion. *** p. 177 In the endnote "since he confessed HPL had not even read 'The Black Bag'" there is no indication of who "he" is.
p. 178 Of "The Unnamable" he states that Wright "wouldn't have accepted if he'd suspected what it was all about." And what was it all about? One may gather that HPL had stated this in the story, where Whispers (i.e., Weird Tales) is removed from the stands due to complaints. *** p. 183 Lovecraft states in 1929 "After all, I am a pure realist in my tastes the moment I turn aside from the domain of phantasy," an echo in "Pickman's Model": "Pickman was in every sense-in conception and in execution-a thorough, painstaking, and almost scientific realist." Italics are in both. *** p. 245 An omission of a word, which I've bracketed ".to cover such things [as] 'A Descent into Egypt.'"
p. 248 Typo: "I hope to enclosed annotations will be of some use." *** p. 250 & 251 The bracketed date on letter #154 is "3 March 1930," but on #155 the date is "late February 1930." The letters should be reversed. *** p. 268 A typo, which I've corrected with a bracket: "You[r] rate of production." *** p. 269 Mention of a 1930 letter to Lovecraft from J. O. Bailey and his 1947 Pilgrims through Space and Time reminds me that (in the 1960's) it was one of the first studies I read that alluded to HPL, if briefly. *** p. 271 Typo: ".a greater substratum of truth that [than] we are commonly inclined." *** p. 280 Grammatical slip with misplaced comma before parenthesis, e.g., "'John Silence', (my only Blackwood)." *** p. 292 Typo: "You[r] theory." *** p. 322 Typo: ".habits of the people, but [both] overt & concealed, but." *** p. 327 Typo: ".hope that your [sic] can get around."
p. 338 Typo: ". the whole ground surprise alive with scaly." "Surprise"? *** p. 339 As I remarked in my 2000 review (#30 of The Criticaster) of The Annotated Lovecraft, the scientist Alfred Wegener was not a geologist (as he is mis-identified here in a note), but a meteorologist. *** p. 354 Typo: "I haven't read the magazine version yet, though [through] dread of the misprints." *** p. 375 Identification of Frank Belknap Long's short story "The Brain-Eaters" (1932) reminds me of a 1958 movie with the same title, based (uncredited) on Robert A. Heinlein's The Puppet Masters. *** p. 384 Missing word: ".which Bre'r Farnie rather absurdly on the ground." *** p. 445 The letter numbering jumps from 247 to 249. Eventually 248 appears on p. 538, though in the correct chronology. *** p. 458 Superfluous article: "I'll send it around a for a long spell."
p. 464 Apparently the empty brackets followed by "ess" (i.e., ".with all this [ ]ess.") signifies that part of a word is indecipherable. *** p. 479 Typo in the endnote: "The Dream in the Witch House." *** p. 486 Typo: ".a letter form [from] the amiable." *** p. 498 Hugh B. Cave has the same sentiment as E. Hoffman Price when it comes to writing calculatingly for money, and HPL argues with him. I think that Cave was the first Weird Tales graduate that I read, circa 1958. It was a story in Boy's Life that I wished had been far more Gothic than what it delivered. *** p. 502 Typo: ".I have a godly [goodly] supply." *** p. 532 The editors bracket the date of the letter "[after 25 December 1932]," but a P.P.S. on the envelope has Lovecraft saying, "Shall have two Christmas dinners-one with my aunt here this afternoon, & one at Long's tomorrow."; so the letter was completed on 25 December (or possibly Christmas eve).
p. 535 Missing period: ".sort at Sonny's[.] I saw the old year out." On the same page a typo: ".a craved [carved] ivory handle." *** p. 543 Two typos in a Derleth letter: ".these to [two] items." and "pointofview." *** p. 547 Typo: ".magic all [h]is own." *** p. 550 Derleth writes (March 1933) of Wandrei's unpublished novel (Invisible Sun), referencing earlier comments about "the superficial and false cosmic attitude of Don's group at St. Paul." Could this have been a model for the "the more 'advanced' college set" in "The Thing on the Doorstep," Wandrei being Edward Derby? Perhaps HPL was influenced by his reading of the Wandrei novel. *** p. 550 Derleth letter typo?: ".it become necessary." *** p. 553 Typo: ".neither new now [nor] moral." *** p. 560 Typo: "Buy [By] this time."
p. 564 Typo: "I wish I now [know] how people." *** p. 575 Derleth speaks of his short story, "The Shuttered House," which would appear in Weird Tales. An interesting pairing would be with "The Shuttered Room." *** p. 587 Writing of a park, Lovecraft observes "The squirrels here are extremely friendly." I think in Ron Goulart's parody of HPL, "Ralph Wollstonecraft Hedge: A Memoir" the title character was famously afraid of squirrels. *** p. 600 I don't know how likely the truth of "the revival of Astounding Stories (as a largely weird magazine)." *** p. 602 Derleth is prescient in 1933, hoping "that one of the gang has sufficient prestige to force a collection of your stories on to the market . I suspect I shall be the one to do it." *** p. 608 Typo (the "of" should be omitted): ".curl up & die of deprived." *** p. 648 Typo in Derleth poem: ".the bees/Sand [Sang] in the wild."
p. 652 passim. A Lovecraft postcard (#366) postmarked 4 August 1934 states he is at Buttonwood. This is followed (#367) by a 5 August letter where HPL talks about snake and snake-charming and is answer-based on internal evidence-to a 19 July (#366) from Derleth. A 6 August (#368) from Derleth asks if Lovecraft is "taking a second vacation?" which must be in response to the postcard. Derleth mentions reading Out Went the Taper. HPL alludes to this in #369, bracketed as "after 6 August." Derleth's 8 August letter (#370) contains a response to the topic of snakes and snake-charming. Conclusions: Lovecraft's postcards were not part of the back-and-forth of correspondence, which is to be expected. Super-energetic Derleth was probably more prompt of a letter-writer than Lovecraft and would answer postcards. The shortest interval between correspondence (East Coast to or from Midwest) was likely 3 days, with the assumption that for at least 24 hours a letter had to be in transit. Thus, a letter written and sent out on the same day would probably require all of next day to travel, arriving in let's say early the third day. For letter #369, probably the earliest it could have been written is 8 August, so a bracketed note might state "8 August or later." (Since the 1930's the interval between sending off and reception has not improved.)
p. 657 Probably not an error, but Derleth writes, "Which is ko with me." It may be that this reversal of "ok" was common, but I've found no confirmation of this. *** p. 694 The endnote begins "William L. Crawford (b. 1911)," but this date convention is for someone still living; Crawford died in 1984. *** p. 703 Brackets are used for editorial comments, but they are put in the letter's text (".dinosaur bone [a large deposit.]") where they ought to have been parenthesis. The same type of error appears on p. 731. *** p. 708 A sentence ends with the name Leonard Cline followed by a superscript for an endnote that simply reads "unidentified." However, the sentence has two thoughts and should have been at the beginning, after "article": "The article on changing presentations of the spectral in fiction.".
p. 711 An endnote refers to Machen's "The Lost Child" as appearing in Weird Tales (October 1935), but in the book's bibliography-which contains a select listing of stories from Weird Tales-the title of the story is "The Lost Club." Independent verification supports the latter title. *** p. 729 The note "See letter 417" should have added "note 2," which explains the similar contents of both letters. *** p. 760 Typo: ".a very decent quote [quota] of prestige."
p. 771 passim. The various documents in the "Appendix" have titles but no context for where they originally appeared nor cross references to the letters where they are mentioned, as in the aforementioned case of The Dragnet. *** p. 785 A grammatical slip under the identification of Alfred Galpin: ". French scholar, composer, and protégé, then longtime friend, of HPL." The word "then" is problematic, and should be replaced by "and." *** p. 821 In the Weird Tales bibliography there's a typographical slip-up, where the name of the author, Robert E. Howard, is beneath the title of his story rather than across from it. *** p. 829 In the general bibliography under Lord Dunsany's name the title Alexander and Three Small Plays is repeated at the beginning and end of the list of his productions. *** p. 835 Also in the general bibliography, the alphabetical list of titles under Arthur Machen puts The Three Imposters before Things Near and Far.
The index has a bracketed ellipsis as the first entry after "Argus bookshop." This could be an overlooked placeholder for the mention on page 458. The index also omits a reference to William Crawford on p. 642, where he is only called "Brother Bill." It lists the house of Selwyn & Blount as appearing on pages 10 & 13, but it is not there.
Some concluding thoughts. Whereas Lovecraft would give pet or fanciful names to various correspondents, he was always careful with Derleth, going no further than addressing him as the respectful "A. W."
Derleth comes across as full of confidence and resistant to being corrected. He is a fine example of Oscar Wilde's "I am not young enough to know everything." Perhaps he is right in making literary judgments on the salability of works submitted to him from Lovecraft's correspondents, but he has no scruple of doubt in his pronouncements. He is certain when he should be cautious. On the positive side, he needed that confidence and an incredible industry to co-create Arkham House.
In some ways he seems puritanical and moralistic in a manner that HPL was not, though accused of being. He was credulous of phenomena where Lovecraft was not.
Both volumes have different covers, atmospheric and Lovecraftian, but not fantastic nor macabre. I liked them. In a way they have the same tone as Frank Utpatel's dust jacket for Collected Poems (Arkham House, 1963).
Famous Monsters 28 (May 1964)
Other than "The Dunwich Horror" being scheduled for production, there is little else in this issue Lovecraft related.
Propnomicon subtitles itself as "Celebrating the creation and collection of curious devices, intriguing documents, and forbidden artifacts, with an emphasis on items inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos." An issue I've recently looked at features some papercraft of Lovecraft creations. *** Artist Adam Byrne (The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft) is interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. *** Tor's dedication of December to Cthulhu includes examples of Cthulhuoid art.
The 1965 movie Die, Monster, Die-based on "The Colour out of Space"-spun off a 1966 Dell comic of the same title (via Cinebeats). *** Reinhard Kleist's graphic novel Lovecraft (1994) won in 1996 the Max & Moritz Prize for the best German-language comic. *** Artist H. R. Giger provides the introduction to the graphic novel by Michael Zigerlig, H.P. Lovecraft`s Call of Cthulhu (Transfuzion Publishing, 2010).
Bruce Baugh interviews "Ken Hite on Lovecraft and Everything."
David Drake is interviewed.
This article by Jason Thompson shows how the Cthulhu Mythos has left its mark on Japanese manga, anime, pinball, and dating sim games.
Perhaps of marginal interest since the letters have been reprinted (Crypt of Cthulhu), but in an editorial from Magazine of Horror (November 1963) Robert A.W. Lowndes tells of writing to HPL near the end of 1936 and criticizing the fact that his lead characters were typically driven to mad terror. The response was that this must be, that human beings were secondary to the phenomena, so his people were deliberately almost stereotypes.
Kansas State University's Hale Library acquired in 2006 David J. Williams III Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Collection, which has more than 3,500 books and magazines. Williams most notably collected titles by and about Lovecraft as well as those by August Derleth, Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert Bloch.
Planet Lovecraft has changed its title to Strange Aeons! (including the exclamation point).
Nile front man Karl Sanders stated "Lovecraft is very much a part of this band, even from the very beginning on our first record." His favorite story is "The Nameless City."
Download some of his stories at the "H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast."
Now available on a t-shirt is Lovecraft's quote about Republicans, "a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers" etc.
HPL and his associates have a pronounced presence on Wikipedia. According to LibraryThing's list of the "Top 100 Most-Frequently Cited Books in the English Wikipedia," no. 9 is The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Critical and Bibliographic History; no. 20 is The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy Through 1968 (Volume 1); no. 72 is Sixty Years of Arkham House: A History and Bibliography; no. 78 is Arkham House Books: A Collector's Guide; and no. 96 is The Arkham House Companion: Fifty Years of Arkham House.
On the radio show Hour of the Wolf host Jim Freund discusses with Ellen Datlow and Richard Bowes the book Lovecraft Unbound, along with other subjects. In the most interesting section, the host mentioned receiving a call from Willis Conover, which led to a meeting with Frank Belknap Long and Sonia Greene. Too much of the Lovecraft discussion is a compound of ignorance, inaccuracy, disrespect, and forced humor. *** The Agony Column interviews S. T. *** Stephen Hogan played HPL as a narrator of three (non-Lovecraft-penned) stories on Britain's Radio 4.
The Mohr Library (Johnston, RI) hosted events in honor of Poe, Lovecraft, and Clifford M. Eddy, whose grandson discussed his own books as well as the relationship between Eddy and HPL.
He is the subject of a newscast.
Hallowe'en in San Diego saw "Dreams in the Witch House" adapted by Welton Jones III for DangerHouse Productions.
In the Hartford Courant Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Díaz praised "the public library, where he became a fanatical reader, especially of sci-fi tales, from X-Men comics to works by Lovecraft, Tolkien and other fantasy and horror masters." *** Stephen King's recent, mammoth novel Under the Dome has a reference to "Great Cthulhu." *** In Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, 1998), Richard Burgin interviews Jorge Luis Borges, who speaks of an anthology, where there was "a very disagreeable and rather bogus story by Lovecraft. Have you read Lovecraft?" Burgin's answer was no, so Borges continued "Well, no reason why you should" (p. 40). He goes on to say "I don't think anybody would think that Lovecraft wrote the finest story in the world, if the phrase the finest story can have any meaning" (p. 41). The title of the anthology was El Libro de los Autores (1967), and of the six stories selected by Argentinean authors, M. Mujica Láinez chose a translation of "The Dunwich Horror." *** In Fritz Leiber's "Diary in the Snow" the writer narrator states: "I began to see myself crawling back in defeat to the grinning city." Compare with the poet narrator of "He": "and still refrained from going home to my people lest I seem to crawl back ignobly in defeat."
How honest was HPL about himself in his letters? S.T. has observed that he omitted any mention of his marriage to some correspondents. Nor was he (understandably) forthcoming about the reason for an aunt's hospitalization. Yet it appears that he has also contradicted himself. In Letters to Alfred Galpin HPL misleadingly says, "I left high school certified in physics & chemistry" (29 August 1918; p. 39)-the inference being that he graduated. Earlier he had stretched the truth further: "so many things do interest me, & interest me intensely, in science, history, philosophy, & literature; that I have never actually desired to die, or entertained any suicidal designs, as might be expected of one with so little kinship to the ordinary features of life" (27 May 1918; p. 18). In a 1934 letter to J. Vernon Shea he writes of an episode from 1904: "It seemed like a damned futile business to keep on living. Why not slough off consciousness altogether?" Quoting this in H.P. Lovecraft: A Life (Necronomicon Press, 1996) S.T. responds, "Was Lovecraft actually contemplating suicide? It certainly seems so" (p. 60).
Who Do We Appreciate? Mailing One Four Eight
Ken: Having read a collection of Jean Ray stories in French, I've aspired to translate them. The problem is (1) finding a publisher, and (2) getting permission from the copyright holder. It is highly unlikely such will come to pass. While I enjoy them for their weirdness, I identify several flaws in Ray's storytelling. He likes to give his characters funny or outlandish names, and likewise one never knows when he will descend into humor. Too often there is more promise of something frightening than what eventuates, for pertinent questions related to the supernatural go unanswered. *** The most intriguing aspect of "Lovecraft in the 1930 Census" was the description of "occupation: writer-poetry." Did HPL identify himself chiefly as a poet rather than a fiction writer? I think of "His Own Most Fantastic Creation" where Winfield Townley Scott emphasized Suzy Lovecraft's relentless perception of her son as a poet. Also worthy of remark-he was one of seven people rooming at 10 Barnes, but going by the letters one thinks only of him and his aunt. I wonder how he got on with the other boarders, and what they thought of him. We'll never know, since their age means that probably all were deceased by the 1950's.
John N.: Thanks for the Famous Monsters memories from your youth, with the "Ackolyte" pun worthy of FJA. FM #31 was also the first copy I bought off a newsstand, previously only getting back issues. That anecdote of your reaction to the burglar was funny, and understandable. *** The name of the macabre character "Chicken Itza" appears to be a pun on the Yucatan archaeological site of Chichen Itza, though I would have no idea the reason for this. *** As for the first Lovecraft comic where Lovecraft is a credited source, maybe that distinction goes to the 1966 Dell comic adaptation of Die, Monster, Die, based on "The Colour out of Space," a fact repeated elsewhere in this issue. *** The comic book code standards would make an interesting comparison with The Motion Picture Production Code (cf. its "Methods of crime (e.g. safe-cracking, arson, smuggling) were not to be explicitly presented" with "No comics shall explicitly present the unique details and methods of a crime").
Henrik: A problem I find with Bloch's praiseworthy stories is his fondness for punch lines that give a black-humored laugh rather than a frisson.
John H.: I suppose that "magic" had several functions in the fiction. Its presence questioned underlying concepts of a comfortable reality; for if it is real, humankind must be wrong about what constitutes the world of experience. Magic also explains how alien entities, supernatural or extraterrestrial entered this world. It provides atmosphere. Likewise, it is such an established concept and so widely recognized that it helps invoke a suspension of disbelief.
Fred (Dorothea): Unlike you I have seen a cow in Mumbai, and I was impressed because it was standing woebegone (I supposed) on a traffic island like some timid pedestrian; how representative this was of other bovine civic presences, I cannot attest. And in the city of Agra (of Taj Mahal celebrity) I've seen mahouted elephants mingling with cars as they walked in a stately way round a traffic circle. *** I can think of two spots in India that would have intrigued HPL. One is Sarnath, a deserted site of building ruins. The other is the 18th-century Jaipur observatory, where structures are a combination of astronomy and architecture in intriguing geometric shapes.
Leigh: Congratulations on receiving your degree, which I trust that you have by this time. Also, I enjoyed watching you and the other discussants over the internet on that TV show ("Monsters and Bloodsuckers"). *** Unfortunately, the small photographic reproductions you supply are poor, and I cannot make out much about them, despite the captions. *** Thanks for the alert about Scribd; I note your own article there. *** The use of names in HPL certainly lent an exotic distinctiveness. Think of names in two categories-those that were names already established and actually meant something to the reader, adding exotic color. Then there were the Lovecraft-originated names (Cthulhu, et al.) that could suggest the exotic and forbidden through their context. The first time I heard of one was via "The Rats in the Walls," with the line "those grinning caverns of earth's centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly in the darkness to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute-players." Just before this there was a mention of "a winged Egyptian god." The result was a hybridization of mythologies, the Egyptian giving credence to the made up, which suggests a real infernality, with Satan replaced by a monstrosity that intensifies the irrational. *** In contrast to you, I feel that the narrating of a story so that it can be interpreted as either real or a dream makes it more interesting and requires more skill and sophistication on the part of the artist. I would find fault were a story to end unambiguously as "it was only a dream." True, a variation of this can be powerful, as when the story is shown to be concocted or perceived by a madman (say, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), for the mad can be said to be captured by their own dreams.
This screenwriter has died. His most immediate associations with Lovecraft was through his script of Alien; and he brought in artist H.R. Giger, who also has Lovecraft associations. He was also the director of one of the most faithful Lovecraft adaptations, The Resurrected (i.e., The Case of Charles Dexter Ward).
The following are gleaned from America in the Twenties by Geoffrey Perrett (Simon and Schuster, 1982). "I was able to carry very few things in my Spirit of St. Louis but I took special care not to forget my Waterman pen"-from an ad quoting Charles Lindbergh (p. 283) *** Though I can't find the documentation, I've read that HPL was known for overwhelming his coffee with sugar. This might not be quite so unusual. "Sugar had traditionally been a luxury. Now everyone ate it; on average, 115 pounds a year-three times what their grandparents had consumed (p. 433). *** Years ago I observed the incongruity of people tippling in "Pickman's Model" (published 1927), since it was the decade of Prohibition ("Let's have a drink before we get any deeper" says Thurber). According to Perrett (p. 176), "During the Twenties there were places where Prohibition did not even exist. In Harlem, in Boston, in San Francisco, throughout Rhode Island, the Volstead Act was a joke and the Eighteenth Amendment had been repealed." If HPL (a "dry") was not acknowledging this fact, maybe the Boston club of the tale was serving stockpiled booze, or possibly drinking was legal in private clubs.
I was reminded of some of Lovecraft's views from the comment about "the crisis of belief that colored the entire life of the Twenties," this being "large numbers of educated people were now ready to accept what only a handful of advanced thinkers had formerly countenanced-that all belief is rooted in a desire to believe, not in nature; that all ethical systems are based on custom and imagination, not on divine sanction" (p. 147). *** Somewhere in his letters HPL reflects this view of the future: "Serious journal were meanwhile filled with articles on the inevitability of another war in Europe and the absolute certainty of eventual war with Japan" (p. 183).
Various authors on Lovecraft have generally bemoaned that he died too soon, at 46. Yet did he? The average life expectancy for a white male born in 1890, in the U.S., was 42.5 years (had he been born in 1900 it would have been 48). Therefore, he actually lived longer than the average. Also, despite the affectation in his referring to himself as an old man, in a way he was correct, looked at from a relative life span. Even taking into account that Lovecraft was not among the working class-who had a shorter life span-it still may be that he was average. (Life expectancy data is from Infoplease, and elsewhere verified.)
Frequent Words in "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Dunwich Horror"
"Wordcounter ranks the most frequently used words in any given body of text" (excluding articles and prepositions). I have used this application for "The Call of Cthulhu." Here are the first 25 results, the number following the word indicating its frequency: dream-45; one-36; men-34; cult-32; professor-32; old-29; great-29; thing-29; Johansen-27; uncle-25; Wilcox-24; man-24; Legrasse-23; Cthulhu-23; strange-22; told-21; found-21; very-20; time-20; city-19; stone-18; earth-18; come-18; said-17; came-17
For "The Dunwich Horror": Whateley-90; one-73; hill-56; seem-52; Armitage-51; old-50; Wilbur-48; thing-42; Dunwich-37; came-37; great-32; time-32; did-30; know-30; men-28; come-28; though-28; glen-28; o-28; dr-27; down-27; say-27; place-27; horror-26; through-26
This tool could lead to all sorts of interesting analysis of HPL. For example, the frequency of the word "dream" in "Cthulhu" establishes the presence and the importance of this theme. Is the story a dream narrative rather than an external report, and does it bear a close kinship with The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, etc.?
Writers born in 1910 with HPL connections were John W. Campbell, (8 June), Hugh B. Cave (11 July), and Fritz Leiber (24 December).
Hallowe'en Not in a Suburb
At the librarian conference I attend in Monterey, California one invited speaker is a former member of the EOD. Since the conference ends on the day before the World Fantasy Convention, and is in San Jose, I have decided to be there.
I learn a public bus goes to San Jose for $12. This beats the shuttle that charges $35 to take me to the San Jose airport, where I will need to get a taxi to downtown. I carry my luggage several block to the bus stop, the bus arrives ahead of time, and I board. The trip takes me on a road I've never been and I watch with pleasure new scenery. I see a blimp or dirigible-there is surely a difference-with the boast, MetLife. I never see that in Missouri, so it must be endemic to California.
The trip is a little shy of 2 hours. Near noon I unboard the bus a block from the hotel. At first I have trouble finding it. I ask. In the distance I see a sign, and when I come close I discover its entrance requires a guest card. I walk, hunting for a public way in. This may be obvious, but not if you've never visited a locale. I find another-not the main, it turns out-but this one is open. To my pleasure, the room is ready for me. I go up, put myself in order, and go to registration.
There I receive program literature, about 3 pieces. Impressive and ponderous, also comes a cloth sack bearing the WFC logo and filled with books. It is heavy reading. I heroically carry it to my room. Later I weigh it on a scale and find that it is 20 pounds. I cannot take this to the plane. My luggage is small, and could burst under such a strain, even were it able to contain the books. I sort them, keeping a few to give away: a Ramsey Campbell, a Leigh Brackett, an audio book titled Tender Morsels; this goes to my library, which collects children and young adult literature. I later add a science fiction novel by one of the speakers. The other 19 pounds I will loose on Saturday.
The illustration on the program book is a pleasure, and I'm sorry that no t-shirt is sold with that depiction. However, I have brought appropriate t-shirts to wear, one with "Halloween" on it, another with the portrait of Poe along with quotes from his poems.
I will go to wall-to-wall panel discussions in the days ahead. Since the first deals with Poe, I am warm about it. But it is several hours ahead. I go out walking to get an idea of the area. It's a large, sunny, and summery city, its atmosphere unlike the dull fall weather back home. Yet the city lacks a historic ambiance, in contrast with Monterey.
I attend the Poe panel, "Poe's Influence." As will be with all the panels, the people on it prove intelligent and glibly use that intelligence. However, I will seldom recall what was said on any panel, the worse for me, perhaps. I go to the opening ceremonies with its ritual of introductions. The guests of honor provide small, pro forma speeches. Next I attend a reading by Donald Sidney-Fryer. Sitting on one side of the room I recognize S.T. and Wilum on the other. The poet reads his own and Clark Ashton Smith's poetry. I am indifferent to it. A few nights before I had seen and liked very much the movie Bright Star, about the romance betwixt John Keats and Fanny Brawne. The reciting of Keats' poems reminded me how much I enjoyed his work. That is fresh in my mind when I hear the Smith work. Other than his precocity, how could he have earned the soubriquet of "Keats of the Pacific"?
I stay for most of the reading, leaving a little early to dine before the 8 p.m. panel about "The Google Books Settlement." This panel has 5 angry authors, one falling into obscenity. They savage the settlement, finding that their works are taken out of their control, reprinted without their permission in digital format by Google. One panelist later acknowledges that this benefits the public, and only some authors lose. Maybe they do, but it is hard to be sensitive to them, for I am the public. An author comments about the mainstream disdaining genre fiction while at the same time it gives awards to books about (sarcastically) divorce among Minnesotan academics. I have before heard this attitude from genre authors. Yet how happily would they surrender to transports of joy should the mainstream award them? Lurking sour grapes, I think.
The last event for the evening is a poetry reading by a number of published poets, maybe eight. Poe is the inspiration, but the recitations go beyond his subject matter. Sometime while they are speaking I suddenly recall the Poe parody I had written decades before. It was published in an early 'aster.
Friday. I go to as many panels as I can fit in, only taking time off to eat. Most of the participants I have not heard of. My knowledge of the genre is slight after the 1970's. One panel is "Canonical Fantasy - Genre Fiction and The Library of America." First understand that Library of America is a triumph of marketing over substance. Many people and media are convinced it is the authoritative definer of what is literature. I don't. The text is corrupt, as witness the Lovecraft volume. This is my preceding editorial.
On the panel Peter Straub talks about his tribulations in putting together LoA's American Fantastic Tales. He had a lot of unwanted help from administration, so he was unable to get all the writers he wanted, nor particular stories from writers that were included, and some writers were pushed on him. He compromises. (I think of this collaborative editing process as a bloodless counterpart to Julius Caesar: "ANTONY: These many, then, shall die; their names are prick'd. OCTAVIUS: Your brother too must die; consent you, Lepidus? LEPIDUS: I do consent-- OCTAVIUS: Prick him down, Antony. LEPIDUS: Upon condition Publius shall not live, Who is your sister's son, Mark Antony. ANTONY: He shall not live.")
For LoA inclusion S.T. (on the panel) says he would nominate Smith's poetry (with perhaps a selection of his short stories) and the work of Fritz Leiber, though he had doubts about the ready acceptance of either. (Listen to this panel from the Agony Column at tinyurl.com/ylesgr7; AC has other discussions.)
During the day I visit the booksellers' room. I enjoy looking at the pulps available and the books related to HPL and the earlier eras. I also learn what is being published in the field for contemporary writers. I see The Outsider and Others advertised as having Lovecraft's autograph. ? I turn over the pages. The bookseller knows what I'm thinking and enlightens me. The autograph is torn from a book by a Latin author in his library. HPL had practiced his name several times in the volume, which had been in such dire shape someone felt it alright to rip it asunder for the signatures.
The panel "Overlooked Early Writers of the Supernatural" has some obscure but familiar names, but also authors totally unknown to me. Of the former I think one was James Branch Cabell, whose name also crashed another panel. My memory of this and other events is so slight that when weeks later I listened to a webcast of one discussion it was mostly over before I could be convinced that I heard it in real time. Where do all these facts go? As I go from panel to panel, I become aware that Poe is not in much evidence, even though he is the chosen theme of the con.
I go to eat, and return. The single event of the evening is an autograph session. In great wallflower apprehension I force myself to enter the room and walk by every row of tables. There are members of the EOD among the authors. It is a fearful experience, and after a few minutes am relieved to be gone. Outside the room hors d'oeuvres and refreshments are available. I pass them.
Saturday morning I return the books. There are tables for a place to leave them. I suppose one reason I choose this uninhabited time is not to be seen by the authors of the rejected volumes. How would you feel if people will not accept your books even if they are free? Yesterday on a nearby table for announcements I had discovered an invite to a Hippocampus Press party for Saturday at 10 p.m. Why not?
Following the pattern of yesterday I attend the discussions. They feed the mind. At the end of the talks time is set aside for audience questions and comments. Conventionally, people raise their hand for questions. One person, with a nod toward the unkempt, doesn't follow this convention. In several of the meetings he either bursts in or hijacks the talk, turning it into a somewhat personal conversation. The meetings are well-attended, with perhaps an audience average of 40. In the Popular Culture meetings attendance had been much lower, say 8 as an average. However, there were many more simultaneous tracks. At World Fantasy the choice is between one of two panels or some readings.
The elevators here are quick. I'm on the 2nd floor and wait to catch one to go up to my room. The first car to open is going down. Then the second one comes and opens, and it is going down. Then the third one, and it is headed down. Is the hotel saving money by turning off the power and letting all the elevators go down?
Several moderators suggest that conversations between speakers and audience may be pursued afterward at the bar. The phrase "at the bar" is a kind of secret handshake, like mention of HPL. "At the bar" conveys conviviality, let-the-good-times-roll, sophistication, a real hard-drinking, man's man writer and brotherhood-of-the-bottle. (The anthology Muse in the Bottle: Great Writers on the Joy of Drinking snares HPL.) As for HPL as a mark of someone in the know-his name would popup here and there, but as with Poe there was too little about him at the con, for my taste.
The panel "What We Read Just for Fun" discloses the preferences of the participants. Of them, only guest of honor Zoran Zivković mentions writers I identify with, long accepted mainstreamers. I reflect that I spend my fictive or poetic reading on "high" culture chiefly-the older canonicals taught in colleges-and older "low" culture, such as Lovecraft (and his kith) and Raymond Chandler. Both writings have their stigmas. The former, for being dead, white males, the latter for being escapist and not "real" literature.
Another Saturday panel: "What Makes a Good Monster." During the talk the question arises, need a monster be evil? Nobody says it, but an obvious example is from "The Outsider."
A reading of "The Raven" has three authors, each one reciting the Poe poem from start to end. While I do not wish the poem longer, I enjoy the repetitions in different voices. In the evening "Publishing and Bookselling in 10 years" features booksellers, none especially optimistic about the future of independent bookstores, in effect bullied and undersold by the chains, including non-booksellers (e.g., Wal-Mart).
I gather my intestinal fortitude for the 10 p.m. shindig. I had recently sent a check to Hippocampus Press for the Lovecraft/Howard letters and I figure I might get a little return on my investment. I predict I will show up for a few minutes, be quickly enough discomfited that I will then leave. I go in and find an empty seat. I am near where drinks are served and a man asks me if I wish something to drink. I say no. I am too tense to drink or eat. I soon observe the room. At various times I see S.T. and Wilum, and identify through name tags Scott and Derrick. I don't speak to them. They don't speak to me.
A woman sits down beside me. She will be the only person I converse with during the con. She asks me if I write, and I tell her. I find out that she is working on a science fiction novel. (Days later I will look her up online and find she has published some stories.) Other topics develop. A man comes over, who I later learn is hosting the party. He describes to the woman his science fiction novel in progress and the problem of describing an overpopulated earth while a ship fleeing it worries about under population aboard. He leaves, and she leaves. Pizza has arrived, and the place has many people, some standing out in the hall. I have been here over an hour, and I depart.
Sunday is the last day. "Bad Food, Bad Clothes, and Bad Breath" talk about discomforts of the pre-industrial age. I am surprised to hear that hunter societies, without any fixed location, were superior so far that health is concerned; people that stayed in one spot were subject to lack of hygiene and to diseases that roving hunters escaped.
I arrive early for the awards banquet in order to find a seat. But there is nary anybody in the vast hall. I could have dawdled. The meal is good, if overcharged. After the dessert some man comes in, sits at my table, scoops up an abandoned dessert. He looks for a spoon, sees mine, takes it and asks if it is clean. I say "yeah." Before the awards there is introductory comments. Groups representing various interests are asked to stand. I reluctantly get up when fans and readers are called on. I quickly glance round. Maybe a mere one-fifth have stood. One lifetime recipient is not there; the con's change of dates has caused her to miss it due to a conflict.
A final session, "Awards Postmortem," brings in a number of fans. The award judges describe what they face in their responsibilities, reading beaucoup books, and the boxes that arrived. Then it is over, and I am glad to be away from the crowd. To paraphrase, their presence did not supply me company, nor was I allowed solitude. I escape, out of the hotel, to tour the nearby San Jose University. I feel the melancholy that comes with the end of any conference and all the potentials that have not been realized ("the last protest against a destiny that might have made them happy-and has not"-Saki). Returning to the hotel, I walk the floor where the con has been. A few dismantled fragments remain of the dying past.
This should be my last con. Despite intellectual pleasures, the emotional cost is too high. Fortunately, I'm a minority in outlook.
Thanks for reading the 63rd issue of The Criticaster (January 2010, mailing 149) by StephenWalker. Eventually published on the Net as The Limbonaut (no 34).