P. Lovecraft (1890-1937): An Annotated Bibliography by Peter G. Epps had at the time of publishing The Criticaster been on Scribd, but has since been removed. Epps is
also author of A Knocking at the Door: Christian Hope in the Horror Fiction
of H. P. Lovecraft (see Crit' #35). *** Amy H. Sturgis has a
"Looking Back on Genre History" segment that discusses
"Supernatural Horror in Literature," "Some Notes on
Interplanetary Fiction," and "Notes on Writing Weird Fiction" at
site, where it is apparently only available to subscribers. *** Cthulhu
A section in TV Tropes (listing story conventions for fiction) is Lovecraftian Tropes.
Google's newspaper digitization project has been abandoned. But it did make available online a letter (7 October, 1914) to the Providence Evening News. This is by J.F. Hartmann, who is responding to an attack on astrology by "my critic, Mr. Lovecraft." He begins, "It is unfortunate that the advocates of unpopular truth must contend against the prejudice, venom and false teachings of the influential and learned who misuse their reputation for knowledge in their warfare against truth." Hartmann goes on to quote HPL.For context, see I Am Providence, p. 184-85.
(I dare say that a day will come when such a work as I Am Providence will be online, having links to various documents referred to in the work. This would not only be the full text of Lovecraft's letters, stories, poetry, and essays but any supporting matter in any media.)
An upcoming album by Flesh Consumed has lyrics influenced by HPL, Clive Barker, Poe, and Ray Bradbury. *** Daniel Klag's album Weird Tales "is inspired by the writing of HP Lovecraft, Algernon Blackwood, & Lord Dunsany." *** At New York's Terence Koh's gallery called Asia Song Society, Rachel Mason turned "The Outsider" into an art musical.
For July New York's RadioTheatre has "Reanimator" and "The Call of Cthulhu" on stage as the second part of the H. P. Lovecraft Festival, a year-long tribute. *** Readings of his works by the Drama Bums (from Savannah, Ga.) also included a silent auction and art exhibition.
Richard Stanley's segment in the anthology film The Theatre Bizarre shares its title with the Clark Ashton Smith story that inspired it, "The Mother of Toads."
Three of the five nominees for the Locus Best Fantasy Novel have recognized the spell of HPL: China Miéville (the winner for Kraken), Charles Stross, and Gene Wolfe. Winner of the Best Anthology was Fritz Leiber: Selected Stories (Night Shade).
God--or Gorilla: Images of Evolution in the Jazz Age
As I've written about the Darwinian theme in his fiction, I'll add a few comments based on this work (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) by Constance Areson Clark.
1. Concerning human evolution in the 1920's, "many people found references to monkeys, apes, and ape-men horrifying or repulsive, evocative of things nasty and brutish--or of brutish potential within humans" (p. 2). This provides context for the attitude HPL was mining in "Arthur Jermyn." I suppose that the animal nature of the ape represented the id or beast-self which, in terms of the Gothic tradition, was the werewolf, and also relates to the submerged personality theme that threads throughout his fiction. It can be an animal ("The Rats in the Walls"), one of the undead ("The Tomb"), or an alien ("The Shadow [out of Time/over Innsmouth]").
2. "The kidnapping of women by cavemen echoed an older popular motif of abductions of human women by apes. Gorillas began abducting women in European art almost as soon as gorillas became familiar to Europeans, in the mid-nineteenth century" (p. 11). The idea of sexual abductions by sub-humans is more in line with Arthur Machen (say, "The Novel of the Black Seal") or Robert E. Howard (maybe "Spear and Fang" and others) than HPL. In Ufology lore aliens (super-humans) perform this function.
3. The series of Little Blue Books by socialist autodidact Emmanuel Haldeman-Julius was "especially interesting in the context of the evolution debates because they reflected Haldeman-Julius's extreme antipathy to organized religion" (p. 60). HPL was a reader of some items in this series, although whether he knew of Haldeman-Julius' opinion--with which he felt conditional affinity--I don't know.
4. Then there was Ernst Haeckel. A scientist noted that in an evolutionary diagram by him "'man is for convenience placed at the center of the tip of the tree, although Haeckel was anything but anthropocentric in his teachings'" (p. 138). Compare this with Lovecraft's allusions to Haeckel in his correspondence and essays as well as their corresponding attitudes about anthropocentricism.
And Old Lace
"Arsenic, n. A kind of cosmetic greatly affected by the ladies, whom it greatly affects in turn"-- Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
As a Victorian lady, had you wanted to look better, arsenic was available. There were such choices as Dr. Campbell's Safe Arsenic Complexion Wafers that was sold by druggists everywhere; Dr. Rose's Arsenic Complexion Wafers; and [shades of Edgar Poe] Dupin's Arsenic Complexion Tablets. The British Medical Journal (1898) observed "arsenic was the fashionable drug and Society papers teemed with advertisements of arsenical granules which were warranted to improve the complexion and do many other things besides." Thanks in part to a best-selling popular-science book "the notion that arsenic-eating is Mother Nature's great beauty secret established itself firmly in popular imagination through the rest of the century" (James C. Whorton, The Arsenic Century: How Victorian Britain was Poisoned at Home, Work, and Play [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010], p. 273). Complexion enhancement worked, according to Whorton: "In small quantities, arsenic does indeed improve the appearance of the skin, for a time at least, creating a milk-and-roses complexion by dilating capillaries" (p. 237-38).
By the end of the 1860's, American ladies were generally following what was "almost a mania." This became an industry, as "it did not take long for patent medicine manufacturers to perceive the gold that lay buried in arsenic" (p. 274). Some people remained jittery, such as a woman speaking "about her two daughters, who, she says, have been secretly using arsenic wafers for their complexions, and asks if it is not against the law for a man to advertise a poison" (New York Times, 26 April 1887).
S.T. (brackets in the following are his) quotes Clara Hess on Susie: "She was very pretty and attractive, with a beautiful and unusually white complexion--got, it is said [by who?], by eating arsenic, although whether there was any truth to the story I do not know. She was an intensely nervous person." Maybe the last sentence is unrelated to the former and is a new thought. S. T.'s comment on the Hess description leans to the prudent: "What to make of the arsenic story--and whether this had anything to do with Susie's later physical and psychological maladies--I have no idea" (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft [Hippocampus Press, 2011], p. 11). Since arsenic-eating was a condoned and representative fashion of its time, it seems as predictive of her later behavior as, say, wearing poodle skirts showed future abnormality in the girls and women of the 1950's. The rumor repeated by Hess should be understood in this spirit.
(In much of the nineteenth century arsenic also was an ingredient to treat "a host of maladies" [Whorton, p. 189]. One of these was chorea, a condition of tics that some have claimed afflicted HPL.)
In Herman Melville's great Moby Dick Ishmael talks of a colt that has never been near a buffalo, yet shies in panic from a buffalo robe.
Thou beholdest even in a dumb brute, the instinct of the knowledge of the demonism in the world...
Thus, then, the muffled rollings of a milky sea; the bleak rustlings of the festooned frosts of mountains; the desolate shiftings of the windrowed snows of prairies; all these, to Ishmael, are as the shaking of that buffalo robe to the frightened colt!
Though neither knows where lie
the nameless things of which the mystic sign gives forth such hints; yet with
me, as with the colt, somewhere those things must exist. Though in many of its
aspects this visible world seems formed in love, the invisible spheres were
formed in fright.
The sense that behind the mask of reality is the demonic and terrible is very Lovecraftian.
That Thing Concerning Lovecraft and Leiber
Going by specific stories, the one by Lovecraft that shows the most obvious influence on Frtiz Leiber is "The Thing on the Doorstep." I've mentioned this in Cri'ster 40. In recently first reading Leiber's "The Dead Man" (think of Poe's "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar") I thought that I had discovered another example--in this case the use of a rapping code to identify the real personality--but I had totally forgotten that Stefan Dziemianowicz had already made this connection (see Critica'r 46). There is also a trace of the concept of a male personality commandeering a woman's body in "Adept's Gambit," summarized by the line that the Grey Mouser "believed that [the woman] Ahura was a man." A supplement to my contention comes from a Lovecraft letter to Leiber: "'The Thing on the Doorstep' is, contrary to my usual practice, more of a character study than a geographical study. I'll be interested to learn of the reason for your particular interest in it" (quoted p. 46, Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark [Wildside Press, 2005]).
Of course, Leiber pays tribute to other Lovecraft stories. In "The Sunken Land" Fafhrd is forced to accompany some piratical gentlemen through a passage that appears when a fabled land has uplifted from the ocean. It is as though the sailors in "The Call of Cthulhu" had gone through the entrance that leads to R'lyeh. (However, if you're a Clark Ashton Smith fan, you might think of "The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.")
Mail Call of Cthulhu
Ken: Re: "Tyson believes that Lovecraft (while he never acknowledged it himself) was a gifted psychic 'receptive,' and that his dreams reflected other-dimensional realities." Maybe HPL was psychic, for he preemptively answered this notion in a 1933 letter to Clark Ashton Smith, where occult-believer William Lumley "is firmly convinced that all our gang ... are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension. We may think we're writing fiction, and may even (absurd thought!) disbelieve what we write, but at bottom we are telling the truth in spite of ourselves--serving unwittingly as mouthpieces of Tsathoggua, Crom, Cthulhu, and other pleasant Outside gentry." Also, granting the truth of your statement that "we really know much less of our universe than mainline scientists believed in Lovecraft's day" makes occultism no more likely than it does the reality of a Santa Claus.
John N.: I hope that someone at the Massachusetts Historical Society is aware of that detailed essay about Danvers State Hospital by Michael Ramseur.
Martin: I had no luck at trove.nla.gov.au in locating that 1906 letter about trans-Neptunian planets that was a response to an HPL message to Scientific American. What keywords would produce it? *** You state that you discovered Heinlein at 10, post-Tolkien and pre-Lovecraft. I wonder if there is a typical pattern in discovering such writers, i.e., most readers move from Tolkien to Heinlein to HPL. Or perhaps it is just serendipitous. A sub-consideration--does the reading level for each author play into the sequence in which they are read? I guess the solution is unanswerable. *** I also liked Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and wish there were more movies like that. It would make a good double bill with The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (and if it were a triple feature, I'd vote for Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze).
Fred: While Cthulhu does not represent Satan, as Fritz Leiber wrote the "immense loss of prestige for Satan and his hosts, left the emotion of supernatural fear swinging around loose, without any well-recognized object. Lovecraft took up this loose end and tied it to the unknown but possible denizens of other planets." *** I suspect that the number of people who make a living at poetry could be counted on one hand (with the standard four fingers and a thumb).
John C.: Thanks for The Dunwich Horror posters. One of the posters "quotes" HPL, but as Don G. Smith observes (H.P. Lovecraft in Popular Culture), this is really a paraphrase.
Chris: Hackles is a fine title; along with the erstwhile TerraBytes, this shows that you have a talent for double meanings. *** Re "Does a devout believer simply ignore HPL's own atheism?" That can be answered in a number of ways. For examples, a devout believer may be much more tolerant of other views than one who is not. Likewise, if a reader cannot separate an author's personal views from his product, he'll have a very contracted field of what he reads. Also, I am unaware where a "shocking revelation" shows "religion is powerless against prehuman survivals." What stories are you thinking of?
Laurence: Thanks for introducing me to the word "nympholepsy," which I had to look up.
Randy: That August Derleth was a man of gargantuan appetite reminds me of a parallel with Orson Welles. Derleth was mega-talented, able to write prolifically as well as help found and run a specialty publishing house that was the pioneer in putting out quality weird fiction. His alleged practice of nudity and his sexual proclivities in some ways parallels that of Robert A. Heinlein (see the Patterson biography). You leave the impression that in vices Derleth would have given Satan a run for his money. You paint him so black on black that I question not only your interpretation but also the ostensible facts you offer.
T.E.: You're too hard on your young self. Naiveté is not a crime, nor is failure to meet your aspirations. It is better to have them and try, then to lack them. *** Speaking of naïveté or simplicity, I must wonder that since Cameron is a billionaire, why couldn't he afford to fund on his own the $150 million At the Mountains of Madness; why need a studio be involved when it comes to funding?
Kennett: Missouri weather is not a patch compared with New England's, but this winter was the snowiest in my decades' experience. An early February snow measured (by me) was 13 inches deep. The University where I work was for the first time closed for three days. I don't know much about global warming, but one scenario is that it is responsible for putting more precipitation into the atmosphere.
Others: As is my wont, I've read all contributions, but having nothing cogent to remark (beyond generally enjoying them), I've not singled the others out.
A Series of Commentaries on I Am Providence
Unlike the earlier version, I find I am not reading this with the same relish and precipitancy. Reasons: I am older; I have read it before, in an "abbreviated" version; other things get in the way; etc. Yet so far as I have read, this version seems more polished, probably more judicious, and less typographically suspect as well as being more complete. There is one editing lulu--on the "Abbreviations" page (x), the definition of the most ubiquitous that is later used, "SL," is omitted. *** What to me is a stylistic defect throughout the book is a kind of prolepsis, as (p. 23) "I shall have more to say on the racist content of one of his hallucinations later." These promises to say more about a subject are superfluous and do nothing to cohere the narrative.
*** Quoting Susie's doctor (in 1919) that her "abnormality had existed at least twenty-six years" S. T. concludes "that the onset of her 'abnormality' dates to 1893" (p. 24). This overlooks the conditional "at least," for that wouldn't fit in the convenient scenario where Winfield's derangement engendered his wife's.
*** The biography quotes Lovecraft stating time was "some especial enemy of mine" (p. 30). This is from a 1933 letter. Could he have been paraphrasing a Yeats poem, "In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markiewicz," written in 1927 and published in Yeats' 1933 collection The Winding Stair and Other Poems? The line runs "The innocent and the beautiful / have no enemy but time." HPL looked favorably on Yeats, with whom Dunsany had a kinship, and in Supernatural Horror in Literature described him as "today perhaps the greatest living poet."
*** S. T. coins the term "nightmarer" to describe him as a dreamer. Some of his dreams were nightmares, or at least nightmarish, but a number were mixed with the fantastic and wondrous, so "dreamer" remains a satisfactory term for him.
*** S. T. writes that "the battleship Maine was blown up" (p. 72). Better would have been "the battleship Maine blew up" because (a) the alternative phrase is active rather than passive and (b) there is disagreement whether the ship was attacked or had an accident, and "blew up" covers both contingencies.
The Dunwarf Horror
Due to some intriguing reviews on Amazon I read Geoffrey Household's Dance of the Dwarfs (Little, Brown, 1968), where the action takes place in a South American jungle. The beginning is classic. Skeletons are found at a research station, but no one knows how the people died until a journal reveals the all. The narrative begins as though it will follow the Arthur Machen route of dealing with the "little people," but it loses its way in romance and politics, though the Gothic atmosphere occasionally sputters through. What I thought would be a supernatural horror story at about the last third switches to the cryptozoological, as the dwarfs are revealed to actually be a new kind of aggressive and carnivorous otter (or something similar). Though Household tries to make them scary, I didn't buy either their credibility nor superbeast behavior. I wish it had worked.
I was reminded of the novel upon reading its summary in Fantasy and Horror: A Critical and Historical Guide to Literature, Illustration, Film, TV, Radio, and the Internet (Scarecrow Press, 1999). I commend this title as a way of learning about many classics or what is worth reading, but with a caveat. In the instance of Dance of the Dwarfs, the menace is described as a human type, which is wrong. There are other errors I picked up on as I jumped around the book. The worst error was the omission of any mention of Machen's The Three Imposters, which includes "The Novel of the Black Seal" and "The Novel of the White Powder." Even if The Hill of Dreams and "The Great God Pan" made it in, how can one exclude such major works?
There were title mistakes I caught. Magical Realism should have been Magical Realist Fiction. Mary Elizabeth Counselman's "Paradise Mansion" should have been "Parasite Mansion."
Brian Stableford and Stefan Dziemianowicz are among the authors of individual chapters--some on fantasy or horror books that appeared within a time span, and there are author studies, teaching the topic, etc. References to Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian are many.
"The Time Machine"
I'm rereading the H. G. Wells' story (Ben Indick's favorite science fiction), and parts here and there remind me of Lovecraft tales.
"The Shadow out of Time." The Time Traveler describes by analogy his bewilderment at being in a future world. "Suppose you found an inscription, with sentences here and there in excellent plain English, and interpolated therewith, others made up of words, of letters even, absolutely unknown to you?" Compare with "the queerly pigmented letters . were not indeed any nameless hieroglyphs of earth's youth. They were, instead, the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language." In Wells the letters are of the future, in Lovecraft the past.
"The Beast in the Cave." The paleness of the underground Morlocks reminds the Traveler of "the outcome of a long-continued underground look common in most animals that live largely in the dark--the white fish of the Kentucky caves, for instance." The Lovecraft story takes place in Kentucky's Mammoth Cave where the narrator believes that the beast "doubtless obtained as food the eyeless fish, bats, and rats of the cave." Evolution or adaptation shaped both the type (Morlock) and the individual (man).
"Pickman's Model." The Traveler has seen what he takes to be shafts scattered about the future world and deduces of the Morlocks that "Beneath my feet, then, the earth must be tunnelled enormously, and these tunnellings were the habitat of the new race." He also states that they live in "burrows." A Pickman painting shows "a vast cross-section of Beacon Hill, with ant-like armies of the mephitic monsters squeezing themselves through burrows that honeycombed the ground." Also, wells (no author pun intended) lead to a "network of tunnels that used to undermine the hill." (Speaking of puns, maybe there could be a story called "Pick-man's Mor-locks.")
"The Rats in the Walls." The Traveler goes to the Morlocks underground. "I came to a large open space, and striking another match, saw that I had entered a vast arched cavern, which stretched into utter darkness beyond the range of my light." He also sees "a little table of white metal, laid with what seemed a meal" (later revealed to be human flesh). The explorers of the realm beneath the de la Poer house find "that apparently boundless depth of midnight cavern where no ray of light from the cliff could penetrate." They find evidence of cannibalism. As the Morlocks breed the Eloi ("These Eloi were mere fatted cattle, which the ant-like Morlocks preserved and preyed upon--probably saw to the breeding of"), so are the various humans and semi-humans bred by the de la Poers. Wells calls the Morlocks "human rats," while HPL similarly draws a parallel between the rats and the cannibals.
Obviously the theme of time is big in "The Time Machine" and throughout the Lovecraft corpus, but another Lovecraftian element is not explicit, nor does it relate to the episodes of the Morlocks and Eloi. It is the atmosphere that Wells evokes when the Traveler goes to the far future of the dying earth. That is where the story is at its best, where an eerie sense of wonder materializes, and you think of the cosmic and your own smallness.
(Finally, to shift gears a bit, that description of the earth's far future also reminded me of another work, The House on the Borderland by William Hope Hodgson. I shall have to re-read it to make mental comparisons.)
Famous Monsters of Filmland 34 (August 1965)
FJA mentions Boris Karloff's And the Darkness Falls (it contains "The Thing on the Doorstep"). *** Announced for filming: "The Dunwich Horror and The Color of Space [sic]." Also, Karloff is to be a monster in The House at the End of the World (this would be released as Die, Monster, Die, based on "The Colour out of Space"). *** There's an ad for the first issue of the horror comic magazine Creepy, which in 1968 would feature an adaptation of "The Rats in the Walls."
A QR code is a bar code that can embed images or text. For example, below is the first line from a Lovecraft story. You'll need a smart phone to read it.
Thanks for reading the 4025 words of the 69th issue of The Criticaster (Summer 2011, mailing 155th for the Esoteric Order of Dagon) by Steve Walker. Eventually published on the Net as The Limbonaut (no 40). (N.B., last issue was mis-yeared as 2010; mea culpa.)