The Limbonaut




     Several years past on I came across a discussion of the pronunciation of "Dunwich". One view holds that the "w" is sounded; the other that it is not. For a long time I was a "w" advocate--I wasn't biased by the beginning of my surname--but in the past years I've changed my mind. The evidence for the "w" camp is that the presence of the letter should be sounded since it is there. There is also the fact that there is no witness to Lovecraft pronouncing the name, so the "w" may or may not have been preferred by him.[1]

     There's far more to be said on the side of the anti-w camp. The presence of a letter in a word does not mean it is pronounced.[2] As language expert Allen Walker Read put it, "The current orthography of a name may represent a strain different from that out of which the pronunciation has been derived."[3] As a common example, the terminal "e" in many English words is ignored, being a functional fossil that hasn't been used in centuries. The letter "w" at times is also silent, as in "wreck" and "answer". When it comes to proper names, rules of pronunciation are idiosyncratic. In Missouri the town of Versailles rhymes with "fur sales" while the Illinois town of Cairo has a long "a" for the first syllable.

     According to the online The Columbia Gazetteer of the World (Columbia University Press), the U.S. has 33 places that end in "wich" and it is certainly possible that the "w" is sounded in some. Of that number, the name most similar to "Dunwich" is "Greenwich", as it is the only one that has a first syllable ending in "n" before "wich".[4]

     There are those who pronounce the "w" and those who omit it. In the camp of the latter is the 1945 radio adaptation with Ronald Colman; the San Francisco Theater Pub; and William Roberts in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories (Naxos, 2010). However, the "w's" are far more numerous. The announcer on the trailer of the 1970 film adaptation puts it in as does Robert M. Price in his reading (formerly on Youtube); and so too The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society's Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. On a 1976 Caedmon lp reader David McCallum goes with "w". A random canvassing on online pronunciation supports "w", and S. T. Joshi when I've heard him speak.

     Still, I'll venture that the following evidence favors its omission. Henry Alexander notes that the "process of reduction in unstressed syllables is particularly noticeable in the British pronunciation of names" and among his examples finds "Greenwich becomes Grinidge, Norwich is Noridge".[5] More explicitly, "the ending -wich is pronounced (ĭj) when it is preceded by a single consonant, e.g., Dunwich (dŭ'nĭj)".[6] Since Lovecraft attested that Rhode Islanders (e.g., HPL)  "pronounce Greenwich as Grinn'idge (in N. Y. and Conn. they call it Gren'-itch),[7] Norwich as Norridge" it's a logical inference that the similarly patterned "Dunwich" will elide the "w" sound.[8] Aside from personal experience, he could also learn through available reference works, or through analogy with other British place names, about the pronunciation of "Dunwich".

     As he chose British spellings--"shew" for "show", etc.--he'd favor the British way of saying things. Britain held sway over him, partly through his family background. I imagine his pride when he writes "In America, the Lovecraft line made some effort to keep from becoming nasally Yankeeised--and here for the first time we see an influence which may have directly affected me... [M]y father was constantly warned not to fall into Americanisms of speech and provincial vulgarities of dress and mannerisms-so much so that he was generally regarded as an Englishman despite his birth in Rochester, N.Y. I can just recall his extremely precise and cultivated British voice... [I]n my youth I, too, resented being called anything but an Englishman".[9]

     Through his family, too, he knew about the dropping of the "w" in a name.  In a note about the character George Gammell Angell from "The Call of Cthulhu", Cannon and Joshi state "Gammell appears to be a variant of Gamwell (indeed Gamwell, the name of one of Lovecraft's uncles-in-law, was evidently pronounced with a silent 'w')".[10]

     Clues in the tale point to the British American pronunciation of "Dunwich". History provides a context. The reader learns that "Dunwich is indeed ridiculously old--older by far than any of the communities within thirty miles of it." Its early families came from Salem in 1692,[11] and its "ancient Bishop house . was built before 1700". Lovecraft would not establish his Dunwich in an haphazard vacuum, but envision it as an eventual result of actual colonial immigration that originated from the mother country.

     A few miles from England's Dunwich is the town of Southwold, designated "the home of a number of Puritan emigrants to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1630s".[12] Examining English colonists' folkways, David Hackett Fischer explains "In the Puritan great migration ... English speech ways were carried to Massachusetts, where they were mixed with one another".[13] At the same time, writes Albert H. Marckwardt, colonists "brought with them a host of names for places familiar to them in their own country, which they immediately applied to their newly created settlements. Particularly in New England does one find perpetuated the names common to the English countryside."[14]

     Now, an inferred history for Lovecraft's Dunwich is that settlers from the area of Dunwich, England came to colonise, by way of Salem, a region they named "Dunwich," using the spelling from the original as well as the pronunciation. Fischer presents a map of Britain with an inset labeled "English Origins of Massachusetts Place Names Before 1660", showing the large area of East Anglia, which includes the county of Suffolk, location of Dunwich. He found that "English speaking America retained its linguistic identity for many years after independence",[15] so the fictional residents should hardly have departed from original pronunciations, especially when it came to place names, which create their own precedents. 

     The community's proper name is Dunwich Village. The second name may be a nod to Lovecraft's beloved colonial times when there was Salem Village and similar habitations.[16] Bishop, Corey, Frye,[17] Sawyer, Whateley--the inhabitants have British surnames that serve to emphasize the monocultural nature[18] of the area as it connects them to the past, to their home country.

     Through the natives' speech--eye dialect--Lovecraft is characterizing the persistence of outmoded pronunciatory behavior in isolated communities.[19] He was drawing on a popular and reasonable belief.[20]  "In one form or another," wrote Michael Montgomery, "the idea of tracing American dialects back to the old country or to earlier times has been around for quite a while."[21] There is a substantial amount of commentary about archaic speech patterns in mountain communities. In a newspaper article Nancy Lyon wrote "Mountain English, spoken in the Appalachian and Ozark Mountain regions of the U.S., is characterized by archaic words, 18th-century pronunciations preserved through oral tradition, malaprops, odd grammar and wildly colorful figures of speech."[22] In a 1930 article Vance Randolph and Patti Sankee found that "although the English language in England changed rather rapidly during the eighteenth century, very few of these changes affected the speech of the American colonies."[23]

     Newer understandings have replaced the somewhat romantic view that those in remote areas hung on to a Shakespearean English, an English that remained intact since it was brought over on the Mayflower and its contemporary ships.[24] While people and their customs don't exist in a kind of timeless amber, change depends on exposure to outside influences as well as being generational. I'd argue that the sound of place names are less likely to reflect influence. The pronunciation of Dunwich might alter if people learned of it through reading, but as children the natives are going to hear the name before they read it, so the "w" becomes one of those letters that are treated as a non-existent sound.[25] Even if Lovecraft didn't subscribe to the notion of linguistic survivals (however it might appeal to him), he could use it for aesthetic effect. 

         The artist Lovecraft--also the realist--is at pains to emphasize the difference of the residents through their dialect, tied as it is to the past.[26] He had already established the link of archaic dialect through such stories as "The Tomb" and "The Picture in the House".[27] The outside speech culture is represented by up-to-date people like Armitage, his colleagues, and indeed, the world beyond Dunwich. There is no eye dialect for the academic and his associates.

     The preceding evidence for dropping the "w" sound in "Dunwich" is compelling when compared with keeping it. Early British colonists, bringing the name from England, would have called it Dŭ'nĭj. As with a name such as "Greenwich", generations would have continued to pronounce it in the same vernacular, especially when conditions of rural isolation entered into it. Temperamentally and artistically--and as an Anglophile and antiquarian--Lovecraft had reasons to choose this pronunciation, and so should the reader.


[1] What I haven’t addressed here are other letters that affect pronunciation, chiefly the vowels, leaving that to those with an aptitude for comprehensiveness.

[2] Nor need the pronunciation of sounds be consistent.  Think of the Dr. Seuss book, The Tough Coughs as He Ploughs the Dough.

[3] Allen Walker Read,  The Basis of Correctness in the Pronunciation of Place-Names” (American Speech, Feb. 1933), p. 43. He adds “the spoken sound is the primary form and that the written form is but a clumsy reflection of it” (p. 44).

[4] My premise throughout is that “Greenwich” and “Dunwich” share similar rules of pronunciation in American English. If anything this is strengthened because the first syllable of “Green-” is a half- rhyme with “Dun-”.

[5] Henry Alexander, The Story of Our Language (Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1940), p. 182; p. 183. Likewise, “Place names, such as Norwich, Greenwich, and Warwick, generally lack the [w] in pronunciation”--Elly van Gelderen, History of the English Language. (John Benjamins Publishing Company, 2006), p 118.

[6] Thorleif Larsen and Francis Cox Walker, Pronunciation: A Practical Guide to American Standards (Oxford University Press, 1930), p. 117

[7] Rhode Island has an East Greenwich and a West Greenwich, and according to one contemporary Rhode Islander the “w” is silent in both. However, in The English Language in America (The Century Co., 1925) George Philip Krapp states “In England the word Greenwich is commonly pronounced ['gr ? ?ˈɡrɪnɪdʒ], but the almost universal pronunciation in the town in Connecticut of that name is [ˈɡrɛnˈwɪtʃ]” (vol. 1, p. 59); though I’ve done my best, the IPA transcription is not exact with the text--but the point is, it shows the “w” sounded.  Perhaps this is an exception or--it seems more likely--there is no agreed upon correct pronunciation. According to a commuter in 1929 “I used to hear a young conductor carol ‘Grennidge’ at one end of the coach and a middle-aged one come back at him from the other with ‘Green-witch’” (quoted in Read, p. 46).

     Pronunciation guides are ambiguous. A Pronouncing Dictionary of American English (G. & C. Merriam, 1953) by John Samuel Kenyon and Thomas Albert Knott omits the “w” sound for Greenwich England, but for the U.S. has: “places usually grinwɪtʃ. How far grɪnɪtʃ, grɛn- are traditional and prevalent for some Eastern places, or recent imitations of Brit is doubtful. grɛnɪtʃ appears to prevail for Greenwich Village, NY” (p. 190). Pronouncing Dictionary of Proper Names (Omnigraphics, 1998) has a bevy of choices. As a town in Connecticut and Rhode Island, possibilities are GREN-ich, GRĒN-wich, GRIN-wich; for a town in New York, GRĒN-wich; for a London borough, GRIN-ij, GREN-ij, -ich; for one of the Shetland Islands, GREN-ich, GRIN-ich, -ij; and for Greenwich Village, GREN-ich, GREN-ij. The third edition of NBC Handbook of Pronunciation (Thomas Y. Crowell, 1964) offers only Greenwich England and Greenwich Village, both without the “w”. The thirteenth edition of Everyman’s English Pronouncing Dictionary (J. M. Dent & Sons, 1967) by Daniel Jones provides one unidentified “Greenwich”, and that without the “w” sound.

[8] To Duane Rimel, 8 October 1934 (Selected Letters V, p. 47). He had earlier written to the same correspondent “My speech is simply the ordinary literate medium of Southern & Central (not Northern) New England outside Boston--the daily speech of Providence” (9 October 1931 Selected Letters III, p. 420).     

[9] HPL to Maurice W. Moe, 5 April 1931 (Selected Letters III, p. 362). While there have been several speculations about the quality of Lovecraft’s voice, none that I am aware of go into his typical pronunciation of ordinary words, beyond Lovecraft himself.

[10] Peter Cannon and S. T. Joshi in More Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (Dell Trade Paperback, 1999), p. 175.

[11] Date of the Salem witch trials. At a stretch, it is possible that Lovecraft was playing on the printed resemblance between “witch” and “-wich”. The word “witch” appears a few times in the text, and the tale’s epigraph--whose essentialness to the story ought to be explored more--comes from Charles Lamb’s “Witches and Other Night-Fears”. See also note 17.

[12]; I’m suggesting a possible migration pattern from Dunwich and its vicinity to Dunwich Village. I work on the assumption that the village was named after its British antecedent, and is not related to the Dunwich township in Ontario, Canada.

[13] David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 58.

[14] Albert H. Marckwardt (revised by J. L. Dillard), American English. 2nd ed. (Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 157. Transplanting place names went back to the earliest days of the colonies. Fischer (p. 36) notes that “the first counties in the Bay Colony were called Suffolk, Essex, Norfolk and Middlesex”.

[15] Fischer, p. 37; p. 832.

[16] Cf. Pawtuxet Village (Rhode Island) mentioned in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.

[17] Coincidentally or not, “Bishop”, “Cory”, and “Fry” are among the surnames--there are well over a thousand--on the transcripts of the legal documents of the 1692 Salem witchcraft outbreak.

[18] Think of Dunwich as a Gothic Grover’s Corners, where the concept of the melting pot has not reached. Several years ago I saw a professional production of Our Town with a multi-ethnic cast. I think this goes against the play’s reality of a closed community, locked in its past.

[19] Lovecraft had a sensitive ear for the pronunciation of words. Besides several instances in his Amateur Press Association criticisms where he takes to task near rhymes, he poeticized this view in the humorous “The State of Poetry”. And in a variety of letters he mimics--convincingly, so far as I can tell--stereotypical speech to caricature blacks, Jews, Irish, Italians, New Yorkers, etc. The contemporary reader may be amused, or appalled.

[20] In the same way that he and others were moved by Margaret Murray’s thesis of a secret religion surviving from European prehistory. “Although her theory gained very little support from professional historians, it reached the general public both through her entry in the authoritative Encyclopedia Britannica and indirectly through novels and films that exploited it”--Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Western Tradition edited by Richard M. Golden (ABC-CLIO, 2006), vol. III, p. 796. Today the idea is much more outlandish than that of extant colonial dialects.

[21] Michael Montgomery, “The Scotch-Irish Element in Appalachian English: How Broad? How Deep?". Similarly, “In the general area of pronunciation, the American variety of English is equally notable for its perpetuation of older features of the language”--Marckwardt, p. 79.

[22] Nancy Lyon, “Mountain English has `Lizabeethan' lilt”, The Gazette [Montreal, Canada] 02 Jan 1993: H2.

[23] Vance Randolph and Patti Sankee, “Dialectical Survivals in the Ozarks, I. Archaic Pronunciation” (American Speech  Vol. 5, No. 3, Feb., 1930), p. 199 (p. 198-208).

[24] In the words of Michael Montgomery “The idea that in isolated pockets somewhere in the country people still use “Elizabethan” or “Shakespearean” speech is widely held and is one of the hardier cultural beliefs or myths in the collective American psyche.” (Montgomery in a revised version of an essay that originally appeared in Myths in Linguistics edited by Laurie Bauer and Peter Trudgill [Penguin, 1998]. See . He also states “In one form or another the idea of tracing American dialects back to the old country or to earlier times has been around for quite a while.”

[25] You could argue that those who first learned about Dunwich through reading might pronounce it literally, as they might Greenwich; but I suspect that HPL, in part due to his antiquarian temperament, would think in terms of the colonial British way of speaking. As with monsters and architecture, speech ways are survivals from the past, a pervasive concept in his stories.

[26] Rhode Island’s “local speeches” (as Lovecraft calls them) “are … most marked among the old rustics” (HPL to Duane Rimel, 8 October 1934 [Selected Letters V, p. 48]).

[27] From “The Tomb”: “My speech, always susceptible to environmental influences, was the first thing to succumb to the change; and my suddenly acquired archaism of diction was soon remarked upon.” From “The Picture in the House”: “His speech was very curious, an extreme form of Yankee dialect I had thought long extinct”.



     Co-author J. David Spurlock receives the interview treatment from Bill Baker about The Alluring Art of Margaret Brundage: Queen of Pin-Up Art (Vanguard Productions, 2013).   


Comic Books and Graphic Novels

     I. N. J. Culbard talks about his various Lovecraft adaptations.



     The Daily Argus bears on its front page a headline that begins "Mrs. M. L. Mellon Dies at Home Here" (Mount Vernon (NY), 31 May 1916). The daughter of George and Helen Lovecraft of Rochester, NY, among those that survives her is "Howard Phillips Lovecraft, of Providence, R. I., a nephew". *** Another obituary from the same newspaper years later (8 September 1925): "Mrs. I. C. Hill, a Well Known Pelhamite, Dead" (p. 12). Last named of the survivors: "a nephew, Howard Lovecraft, of Providence, R. I."

     *** According to The Statesman (Yonkers, NY) at the public school in West Mount Vernon "one of the incorrigible boys who are allowed to congregate there, kicked Miss Lovecraft, a female teacher, so violently that she has been confined to her room" (21 March 1872). *** The announcement (17 April 1926; Oswego Palladium-Times) of a marriage of Gordon Lovecraft Brown in Rochester (New York) suggests that "Lovecraft" was not extinct as a name and that HPL was not the only bearer of that name.



     For his M.A. Dustin Geeraert has written Spectres of Darwin: H. P. Lovecraft's Nihilistic Parody of Religion (University of Manitoba, 2010). ***  H. P. Lovecraft's Dark Arcadia: The Satire, Symbology and Contradiction (Mcfarland, 2013) by Gavin Callaghan assists his text with hundreds of endnotes. *** Reviewing The Portable Novels of Science in 1945, Fred Schwed, Jr. describes "The Shadow out of Time" as "elegant, verbose and devoid of scientific invention" (P. M. Daily). *** The French Faeries no. 7 (Nestiveqnen, 2002) is a special Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith issue.


Fans and Others

     Jack Matthews finds Something About Cats is "a strange and shabby little Arkham House edition", while HPL's "disciples and defenders . are many and of an interesting variety of temperament and background" (Collecting Rare Books for Pleasure and Profit [Putnam's, 1977], p. 185) *** T. G. L. Cockcroft has died (via July 2013 Ansible). Among his writings are "Addendum: Some Observations on the Carter Glossary" in The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces (Arkham House, 1959). For a full listing, see



     Filmed in Germany, the short "Fragment 1890" includes the characters of Dr. Barlow, Morgan Derleth, and Robert Blake.  



      The Salvation Army offers a "Band of Lovecraft classes" (p. 3, 27 May 1944; Daily Sentinel [Rome, NY]). *** "Lovecraft Waltzes" is one of the titles under "Sheet Music Sale" (p. 5, The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 20 March 1904) 



     A former worker at Hippocampus Press as well as an aspiring writer, Michael Abolafia receives a profile from (20 June 2013)



       Whether as a reading or dramatization, "Pickman's Model" was scheduled for Hallowe'en by WAMC-FM, according to The Knickerbocker News (p. 16A, 28 October 1964).



      The H. P. Lovecraft Festival features "Reanimator" and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" courtesy of Radio Theatre. (Retrieved 28 April 2013) *** Monstrous Invisible by playwright Stephen Near "tells the relatively unknown story of [Lovecraft's] brief courtship, marriage and subsequent divorce to a woman named Sonia Greene." It played in May at Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton (Ontario).



     In Lovecraft and Influence: His Predecessors and Successors (Scarecrow Press, 2013) editor Robert H. Waugh includes the usual suspects. *** Joyce Carol Oates tweeted a photo of her cat with the bust of HPL in the foreground.  



     Panic on the British Borderlands: The Great God Pan, Victorian Sexuality, and Sacred Space in the Works of Arthur Machen is a Ph.D thesis (Temple University, 2013) by Jeffrey Michael Renye, who says Supernatural Horror in Literature "contains the earliest critical discussion of Arthur Machen's fiction in the 1890s" (p. 217).



     A fanzine and magazine editor, Ray Palmer is treated in The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey (Tarcher, 2013) by Fred Nadis. Read it along with War over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction (McFarland, 2013) by Richard Toronto. For a bit more on Lemuria, see The C'aster 45 (August 2005). *** Mama's Boy: Momism and Homophobia in Postwar American Culture (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012) by Roel van den Oever has a chapter "Character Engagement and Psycho". *** Robert A. Wilson briefly exposes Samuel Loveman's "forging career" in Modern Book Collecting (Knopf, 1980), p. 199-200.



     S. T. has decreed that this mailing be the 40th anniversary of the EOD. According to  Lovecraft favorite Arthur Schopenhauer, "The first forty years of life give us the text: the next thirty supply the commentary." What follows is my typical selective commentary on the previous mailing.

     Ken (EOD Letter): The occupations of those who lived at 169 Clinton may reveal something about who could afford to live there. That one was a farmer seems an anomaly for New York City.

     Graeme (Cyäegha): I'm glad that there are several EOD zines online--would there were more. Unfortunately, the researcher of Lovecraft is incomplete when he or she sticks with the traditional methods of finding literary information: say, the MLA Bibliography, Annual Bibliography of English Language and Literature, bibliographies on Lovecraft, and WorldCat. The dedicated, thorough researcher should have access to the resources of Brown University, such as the EOD mailings. In this way the person is less likely to miss a significant portion of scholarship or semi-scholarship. Nor forget such sites as Tentaclii. Perhaps I'm wrong in the following appraisal, due to my own ignorance about what others are doing in their fields, but Lovecraft may occupy a unique position among authors due to the scholarship that has gone on for decades underneath the radar of recognized indexing entities.

     Phillip (The Poetaster): I suspect your piece on "Zaman's Hill" had editing remarks erroneously left in; I'm too untechnically backgrounded in poetry to appreciate your analysis. More power to you in rounding up criticism and appearances of Lovecraft's poems.

     Martin (Aurora Borealis): You list a typo in The Complete Fiction as "the abhorred practice of grave-robing". Think of the story this could have been--a cult of fashionistas digging up graves to dress the inhabitants in outrageous clothing (that you wouldn't be caught dead in) so as to photograph them (saves modeling fees) and sell the photos to "underground" publications. *** Congratulations on finding the Lovecraft revision of Robert L. Selle's "A Prayer for Universal Peace".

     David (Drake's Potpourri): Back in the 1960's I read my only Joel Townsley Rogers story, "Beyond Space and Time", in an Anthony Boucher two-volume anthology, A Treasury of Great Science Fiction. Alas, I have no memory of it. Looking up Rogers in Wikipedia, I discover he was born in Sedalia, Missouri, which is 30 miles from my current home, and is where part of my family was from.

     Chris (Hackles): The weather where I live fortunately can't compare in severity with your misadventures. The winter had an unprecedented amount of snow, including two late storms--the last being preternaturally in May--that broke tree limbs. *** I have my own burglar story from the 1980s. I was asleep in my bedroom when some noise awakened me before dawn. I sat up groggily in bed, looked about, and found a figure crouching at the foot of my bed. I proceeded to ad lib, flinging out my fingers and opening and closing them three times, at the same instant saying "Boo! boo! boo! What can I do you for?" The male figure raised up, and after replying in a deep voice "Nothing" hurried out of the room; I heard the front door open and close. Later it was discovered he got in by prying open a window screen. Nothing went missing, including my Lovecraft material.

     Laurence (Pleasures of Death): I like a lot Alfred Kubin's fantastical art, though I've not tried to investigate his The Other Side. I've seen a couple of museum collections that also include his mundane material, and have a t-shirt showing a figure on wheels going down a formidable slope.

     Alex (Inane Titter): If Toni Morrison believes that students have the most talent who don't use a word processor (so that there is a record of their drafts up to the final manuscript), then she subscribes to a superstitious generalization. At least, I fail to grasp the categorization of tyros by their method of composition. *** Unlike you, I treasure Lafcadio Hearn. You mention both the book and the movie Kwaidan, but only the book The Woman in the Dunes--have you been able to see the well-regarded movie made from it? *** I'm no enemy of footnotes, as you can tell from the lead article, that shows I've never met a footnote[28] I didn't like. *** Instead of a comparison betwixt Poe and HPL, how about Matheson and HPL?

     T. E. (The Cosmicomicon): Congratulations on your appointment as Managing Editor of Science Fiction Horror for Dark Regions Press. The woodcut(?) of Walpurgisnacht looks like something from the imagination of Hans Baldung Grien.

     John (Hesperia): There need be no discriminatory motive by E. F. Bleiler against the August Derleth by failing to credit him as presumably the index compiler. It may be standard editorial procedure to omit credit to indexers. The same treatment may have been given to Barlow or Wetzel or whoever if they had indexed. It's not personal. *** The genesis of "The Haunter of the Dark" is an intriguing topic. One reason HPL may have written it when he did was that mood and inspiration happened to combine with the suggestion from the reader in "The Eyrie". One of the challenges of a sequel is it may lock in the imagination to the prior creation. I'd call this a loose sequel, a sequel-by-courtesy, for you can certainly read the story without any knowledge of Bloch's "The Shambler from the Stars". (The case for "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" is less clear cut.)

     Leigh (Mantichore): The Mary Schell Bacon book is item 58 in Lovecraft's Library (Necronomicon Press, 2002). *** Thanks for providing the text of the 1940 August Derleth newspaper article.

[28] Or a digression, its conversational counterpart.


Harryhausen, Vance, Matheson

     Perhaps my first encounter with Ray Harryhausen's work was a political cartoon with an octopus that referenced It Came from Beneath the Sea (1955); yet that seems far fetched, so it may be a distorted memory. I recall a short publicity documentary at the end of one episode of the television series Warner Bros. Presents about his animation of dinosaurs in the nature film The Animal World (1956); the sequence proved to be what a dinosaur fan hopes for. Then came the first movie of his that I saw, 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957), with a growing beast brought from Venus. And so through the movies I followed his career of mythological beings, dinosaurs, and various monsters and anomalies. Around 1964 I learned about him from the first issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland I read, where he was labeled as the man who saw King Kong 100 times. Subsequently there have been several books about his work. His monsters had presence and an aesthetic reality that was thrilling and attractive, and occasionally he would create the Gothic through a possessed skeleton or Medusa. I've often wished he had been able to animate Cthulhu. With his friends Forrest J Ackerman and Ray Bradbury I regarded him as part of a privileged triumvirate. Now they're all gone.

     Jack Vance's work attracted me somewhat late in my period of readerly enthusiasm for science fiction, say the late sixties. Had I to choose the writing of a single science fiction author to take to a desert island, his would be one of my top picks. Although he is celebrated for his fantasy series of The Dying Earth, that has not moved me. In his science fiction Vance had an unerring ability to create poetic, exotic neologisms for unusual customs and concepts as well as evocative names for transgalactic places. Somewhat reminiscent of Clark Ashton Smith, his style is the sort that lends itself to a dry irony, with humor ever lurking about the edges. Whether this is intentional I cannot vouch, though in the first novel of his that I read, The Blue World, I don't know how you can overlook the satire. Vance has a resemblance to Smith's tone in the black-humored "The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan", and there is also something of Saki about him. I hope his work eventually gets the discriminating respect that it deserves.

     I've discussed a collection of Richard Matheson stories in prior issues, so there'll be little of that here. Also I've recounted that perhaps my first encounter with actual Lovecraft- influenced horror was his adaptation of "The Return of Andrew Bentley". My introduction to Matheson was "Witch War" in one of the first science fiction anthology I read, The Best Science Fiction Stories: 1952. At that time (circa 1962) I didn't know any genre names. It was probably The Twilight Zone that did it, though I thought of him as a kind of mainstream writer, and it took me years to start appreciating his imaginative material. Eventually I found that when Matheson had his name attached to a screenplay--as with the Roger Corman Poe series, The Night Stalker, and The Legend of Hell House--I had a satisfying experience. I also delved more into his fiction and was rewarded. I consider him a lineal ancestor of a writer such as Stephen King, whereas Lovecraft is at best collateral. The latter creates a parallel world but Matheson--when he's writing or adapting his own material-- presents, like Fritz Leiber, a reality that you share with him, an everyday kind. While he has been more fortunate than Vance, he also hasn't received the recognition his talent deserves.  


OUP RIP, or, Luckless Luckhurst

     Via his blog S. T. has made available his review of a Lovecraft selection, The Classic Horror Stories (Oxford University Press, 2013) edited by Roger Luckhurst. I think his indignation is misdirected against the editor. The bitterness, and perhaps extravagance, of the judgements border at times on ad hominems: "Even Luckhurst appears dimly aware that"; "the degree of his ignorance of Lovecraft textual scholarship is betrayed by his comment"; "Luckhurst tries to justify his use of the Astounding texts"; "blithering idiocy"; "borders on the moronic; the selection is flawed, the introduction is windy and contentless". With the anthology's textual sins I can get het up on my own, without this lambasting, which distracts rather than convinces and adds heat in lieu of light. The review neatly makes its point just with the facts provided.

     Yet S. T. virtually gives a free pass to the principal miscreant, Oxford University Press, whose one acknowledgement is "The end result is a textual mishmash more worthy of some fly-by-night print-on-demand publisher rather than of one of the world's great academic presses." If this had been a self-publishing or vanity press, I suspect that S. T. and others wouldn't have bothered with a review of The Classic Horror Stories. But since it is Oxford University Press, with its reputation and distributive muscle, the lion's share of blame lies with them. It is the responsibility of the editorial department to set the standards for textual integrity, and it failed, as S. T. has documented in his review.

     Claiming that it "reflects the latest scholarship" the series Oxford World's Classics has dozens of titles in its American section alone with works by Twain, London, James, Poe, and others. Even though not part of the series, the carelessness in the Lovecraft contents casts questions on the reliability of any text the Press produces. If it nods here, where S. T. has shown us the flaws, what about all the other titles where we are strangers to the textual reliability? In classical or canonical literature--literature typically in the public domain--OUP has competitors (Penguin, etc.). Unless the reader knows that the other publishers equally lack professionalism and a scholarly standard, better to buy one of their offerings when there is a chance to choose.

     Beyond reviews, a form of showing dissatisfaction with this corrupt Lovecraft production is to write what I'll call "An Open Letter to Oxford University Press". The gist of it could be the details--and not the judgments--that S. T. enumerated. It could be signed by interested parties--scholars, knowledgeable fans, etc.--and sent to the editorial offices of OUP in America and England as well as to the head of the firm. Any possible blowback would be political, in that if there is resentment the signers may never be able to do business with OUP, which in my case is not a consideration. However, I suspect that the matter will simmer, The Classic Horror Stories will eventually be remaindered, and the contretemps go into obscurity.



Thanks for reading the 5760 words of the The Limbonaut (no 48), transcribed online 18 November 2013. Its print counterpart is issue 77 of The Criticaster (Summer 2013), Esoteric Order of Dagon mailing 163 (happy 40th) by Stephen (Steve) Walker. In various Georgia font sizes.