The Limbonaut




      For a fine look at genre magazine and book covers--as well as a description of the contents--see Weirdletter Postcards. *** Colored pencil artist Allan Servoss has a new exhibit, “Drawings and Paintings: A Variety Show by Allan Servoss”, in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. *** Here’s another collection of illustrations that combines HPL with Edward Gorey (for an earlier site, see summer ‘aster 2012).



     H.P. LOVECRAFT” is a trademark by Lovecraft Holdings, LLC for clothing, from shirts to rainwear.



      There a bit on him and others in The Mind of the Novel: Reflexive Fiction and the Ineffable (Dalkey Archive Press, 2006) by Bruce F. Kawin. *** James Goho’s Journeys into Darkness: Critical Essays on Gothic Horror (Rowman and Littlefield, 2014) has three essays singling out HPL plus one titled “Poe's ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’: A Predecessor to Lovecraft's ‘The Outsider’?”; and chapters about Charles Brockden Brown, Ambrose Bierce, Arthur Machen, Algernon Blackwood, Fritz Leiber, and witchcraft. *** Searchable Sea Literature has an entry for him along with other American authors who have written about the sea and large rivers and lakes.



     Countries have national libraries. Should you be interested, say, in Finland, try Finna, where a search for “lovecraft” yields 100+ books, articles, etc., such as Lovecraftin lähteillä (Jalava, 2013).



      The five-volume Arkham House Selected Letters has been indexed on a wiki, with a summary describing the contents of every letter (via Tentaclii).



     Back in the seventies I read about The Cry of Cthulhu--here’s background on it scanned from Starlog: “The Lovecraft Movie That Never Was: The Cry of Cthulhu”.



      Had Lovecraft’s fiction been a book in the Bible, it would be Revelations--as in the revealing of knowledge and the sense of the apocalyptic.



     If you want to look at original documents in researching Lovecraft’s life and times, consider the article United States Online Historical Newspaper Links, which has links by state to their eligible newspapers; some of the newspapers are free, some not.



     The 25 Greatest Homes in Literature” includes “The Strange High House in the Mist”.


The Yellow Sign and Other Stories: Review

     I’ve been on a Chambers kick as a result of reading “The Repairer of Reputations,” as I noted in the last issue.  Most of the reading has been between the covers of The Yellow Sign and Other Stories (Chaosium, 2004), which reprints volumes of Chambers works, some of which are complete anthologies and some are selections, with the non-fantastic being omitted. Looking at these in the order they are presented, I’ll refrain from further commenting on “Repairer” and the title tale--the best in the collection--and begin with “The Mask” where an artist creates a solution that turns living things into mineral; by an outlandish way the woman who is the inevitable Chambers’ love interest becomes a victim; the story is mawkish and is hard to be taken seriously. In “The Demoiselle d’Ys” the narrator meets a woman in a medievalized French setting. The story has similarities with the urban legend or traditional ghost narrative of the vanishing hitchhiker--a man in a car gives a ride to a female hitchhiker one night, provides her with her overcoat, and after she departs eventually learns that such a woman had died years past; and going to the spot where he picked her up, discovers a cemetery, and at her grave is the overcoat he gave her.

     The title story of The Maker of Moons is the second best in TYSaOS. Its opening statement about the necessity of telling the tale (“Perhaps what I write … may arouse the scientific world to action”) has the flavor of AtMoM (“I am forced into speech because men of science have refused to follow my advice”) while the final section (“Barris is gone and the thing that killed him is alive to-day”) smacks of “Cthulhu still lives, too”.[1] Chambers builds a background based on Chinese legendry and provides some imaginative terror (“This monster is horrible, for it not only lives in its own body, but it has thousands of loathsome satellites,—living creatures without mouths, blind, that move when the Xin moves”). There are also creatures that remind me of the things in the movie Fiend Without a Face. The story may shed light on the idea behind the King in Yellow play through the observation “yellow is the symbol of faith”, though in the context used--the ability to see spirits of murdered children--faith may mean contact with the supernatural realm.

      “The Purple Emperor” concerns the rivalry between butterfly collectors and what happens to them. (The idea is played for burlesque in the last story in TYSaOS, “The Eggs of the Silver Moon,” which uses the device of a caterpillar [instead of a butterfly] to locate what is missing.) Chambers may have had the “King in Yellow” label in his mind with the earlier story; the “Purple Emperor” could be rearranged as the Emperor in Purple, while someone else in the work, the Red Admiral, could be the Admiral in Red. And there’s the Black Priest. Chambers was drawn to high titles with colors.[2]

     Chambers developed a series of humorous tall tales[3] where the narrator is a scientist associated with the Bronx Zoological Garden; a running gag is his failure with women, who always wind up with someone else. The first, “The Harbor-Master”, is transitional, the humor mostly in abeyance as it tells of an aquatic “man” that could be kin to the Deep Ones or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. There are some near-chills in this story, which has echoes in “The Third Eye” where a strange guide named Grue kills a duck at sea with his teeth; comedy diffuses the potential for eeriness. The story is reminiscent of Irvin S. Cobb’s “Fishhead” that came out two years earlier (1913).

     A handful of stories flirt with mysticism. One of the few worth a mention is “The Pythagoreans”, a Saki-kind of mischief dealing with an aunt who becomes a cat; the conclusion is a killer.

     Here and there Chambers anticipates HPL. Though his tall tales of “covert frivolity” are designed not to convince but to entertain, he provides a patina of documentation, as with extinct or invented creatures given scientific Latin names. Some names he originates are hidden jokes. He writes “I shall tell what I have to tell concerning the dingue, the mammoth, and—something else” which suggests the “dingue” is something prehistoric, like the mammoth. If the reader was as conversant with French as Chambers--who had lived in France--the word would be recognized as meaning crackpot, lunatic. He attributes to a non-existent person  quotes--bits of poetry--that is less memorable than Lovecraft’s “strange aeons” and less important to the story. Aside from the purported King in Yellow play, Chambers evokes another sinister book, Chronicle by Jacques Sorgue, son of an unfrocked priest. It appears in one of his serious stories, “The Messenger”, which is the description for a sphinx or death’s head moth and also the star of Poe’s joshing “The Sphinx”.[4]

     “The Spirit of the North” takes place in the far reaches of Canada. In one AtMoM type episode the narrator asks the guide what three things he has seen, and he answers the dingue and mammoth.


“He had never answered this third question but once, and that time he fairly snarled in my face as  he growled: ‘I seen what no Christian oughter see.’

So when I repeated: ‘And you saw something else, William? he gave me a wicked, frightened leer, and shuffled off to feed the mules. Flattery, entreaties, threats left him unmoved; he never told me what the third thing was that he had seen behind the Hudson Mountains.”


In “One Over” Chambers reports on emotional states with a Lovecraftian eye: “we became first uneasy, and then really alarmed”.

     Other HPL resemblances: the serious, mystic Tracer of Lost Persons has an ancient, preserved Egyptian turn into “a gray layer of finest dust” whereas Joseph Curwen becomes “a thin coating of fine bluish-grey dust”. 

     Within some tales Chambers does have satire both obvious and less so. In “Un Peu d’Amour” a character observes of the landscape that “so many things seem to be circular out here”. Later the narrator wonders if a painter of the area “was infected by Cubist tendencies”. Maybe this is not a nudge in the ribs; still, Chambers had begun as a painter before he decided on writing as an occupation.


Winston Churchill

     Earlier in his career the British politician Winston Churchill sent a letter to his namesake, a novelist from St. Louis, Missouri who, at the time, was the better known of the two. The former good-naturedly observed the confusion because of their names. Index to Selected Letters twice lists “Churchill, Winston”. In one the Lovecraft reference is to the novelist. In the other--which has “Churchill, Winston (actor)”--the entry is in error. In his letter Lovecraft provides only the last name, where it is associated with the title role of the play David Garrick seen by Suzy. The actor’s name is Berton Churchill, a Canadian, who played in various stock companies, including those in Providence. Written by T. W. Robertson, the successful play first appeared in 1860’s London and was later adapted for several films.



     “The traveller from Limerick toward Dublin, after passing the hills of Killaloe upon the left, as Keeper Mountain rises high in view, finds himself gradually hemmed in, up the right, by a range of lower hills. An undulating plain that dips gradually to a lower level than that of the road interposes, and some scattered hedgerows relieve its somewhat wild and melancholy character.”--J. Sheridan Le Fanu, “The White Cat of Drumgunniol”.

     “When a traveller in north central Massachusetts takes the wrong fork at the junction of Aylesbury pike just beyond Dean's Corners he comes upon a lonely and curious country.

The ground gets higher, and the brier-bordered stone walls press closer and closer against the ruts of the dusty, curving road … Those sides loom up so darkly and precipitously that one wishes they would keep their distance, but there is no road by which to escape them.”--”The Dunwich Horror” (For another possible influence on the opening paragraph, see below “‘The Dunwich Horror’ Sources”)


From Summer to Spring (LoC’s for the Previous Mailing)

     David (Cthulsz): Paul La Farge is a novelist and academic who has touched lightly on HPL in his writing. Since he and Donald A. Wollheim are both New Yorkers, I imagine he found the latter’s letters in New York. University of North Texas library is the possessor of the Willis Conover collection.

     Ken (EOD Letter): I was dismayed to read of your departure and will miss your friendly and informative presence, but I trust the new chapter of your life will prove equally rewarding.

     Graeme (Ghosts of a Different Dream): The spelling of “Dunwich” is no more a pivotal guide to its pronunciation than is the spelling of “Greenwich”--or “night” (“nite”?) vs. “knight”, ad infinitum. *** Numbering a zine is a challenge. I’ve slipped up in the past. The late Ben Indick solved this by fixing his issue number to that of the mailing. *** It seems to me that the term “amateur” can be used as a designation of quality, especially when contrasted with “professional”.

     Charles (Forgotten Thoughts, Forgotten Words): Thanks for sharing some of your collection, including the manuscript photos.

     Kennett (Lovecraftian Ramblings): I appreciate your reprint of the articles about the tunnel below Providence and about HPL (in the Providence Phoenix), which I would have missed otherwise.

     Don and Mollie (The Morgan and Rice Gazette): When I was in your state last year I saw a tumbleweed that had got into a fenced yard and continued to roam around it, never able to get out. There’s a ridiculous Outer Limits episode (“Cry of Silence”) where they are taken over by alien intelligences and menace the hero and heroine. *** And which one of you is Morgan, and which Rice?

     Ben (The Man Who Feared to Sleep): Your inclusion of the bookplates was welcome and interesting--the Robert Bloch was my favorite. When for a few years I was collecting Lovecraft--probably sixties to seventies--I got a coverless, worn copy of Marginalia with a bookplate by Edd Cartier that shows a spaceman with aliens on either side; it bears the name of “William J. Jenkins”. To see a similar bookplate--which belongs to Harlan Ellison--and others check out Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie. *** Concerning the connection between T. E. Lawrence and Lord Dunsany, I’ll quote from my ‘aster 27: “Soldier and author T. E. Lawrence wrote how he enhanced the facts of a story, ‘and piled black Pelion on Ossa, to shake the scene out of fact into Dunsanity’ (p. 153, Letters, no. 357 (1928)”. *** Durbin’s “The Bone Man” was three-fourths excellent, with the climax failing to deliver on the promise (notably when it comes to the fate of the protagonist).            


“The Dunwich Horror” Sources

     S. T. Joshi has written of Charles M. Skinner’s Myths and Legends of Our Own Land (J. B. Lippincott, 1896) “HPL derived certain folklore elements in ‘The Shunned House’ and ‘The Dunwich Horror’ from this volume”.[5] Concerning the latter tale there is another contender, however, in A Book of New England Legends and Folk Lore in Prose and Poetry (Roberts Brothers, 1884) by Samuel Adams Drake.[6]

     Let’s first take a look at evidence on the side of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land.

Under the heading “Moodus Noises” are intriguing passages: “The village of Moodus, Connecticut, was troubled with noises… Rev. Mr. Hosmer, in a letter written to a friend in Boston in 1729, says that before white settlers appeared there was a large Indian population, that powwows were frequent, and that the natives ‘drove a prodigious trade at worshipping the devil.’ He adds:... ‘Now, whether there be anything diabolical in these things I know not, but this I know, that God Almighty is to be seen and trembled at in what has been often heard among us’.” One reason for the noises: “It was finally understood that Haddam witches, who practised black magic, met the Moodus witches, who used white magic, in a cave beneath Mount Tom, and fought them in the light of a great carbuncle that was fastened to the roof. The noises recurred in 1888, when houses rattled in witch-haunted Salem, eight miles away...”[7]

     The next section, “Haddam Enchantments” mentions the “Devils' Hop Yard”[8] in association with witches. The Drake lacks this information.

     In the Drake book there is a section “Rhode Island Legends,” which would have drawn Lovecraft’s attention and is missing from the Skinner. Under it is the chapter “The Place of Noises”, whose scene actually is in Connecticut, despite being in the Rhode Island section. There is more detail in connection with Mr. Hosmer:


“The Indian name of the town was Machemoodus, which in English is the place of noises,—a name given with the utmost propriety to the place. The accounts given of the noises and quakings there are very remarkable. Were it not that the people are accustomed to them, they would occasion great alarm. The Reverend Mr. Hosmer, in a letter to Mr. Prince, of Boston, written August 13th, 1729, gives this account of them: ‘As to the earthquakes, I have something considerable and awful to tell you. Earthquakes have been here (and nowhere but in this precinct, as can be discerned,— that is, they seem to have their centre, rise, and origin among us), as has been observed for more than thirty years. I have been informed that in this place, before the English settlements, there were great numbers of Indian inhabitants, and that it was a place of extraordinary Indian pawaws,—or, in short, that it was a place where the Indians drove a prodigious trade at worshipping the devil… Now whether there be anything diabolical in these things, I know not; but this I know, that God Almighty is to be seen and trembled at in what has been often heard among us. Whether it be fire or air distressed in the subterraneous caverns of the earth, cannot be known,—for there is no eruption, no explosion perceptible,—but by sounds and tremors, which sometimes are very fearful and dreadful…”[9]


     Drake adds, “The poetic version of the story is introduced by the following account in prose,...“A traveller who accidentally passed through East Haddam made several inquiries as to the Moodus noises that are peculiar to that part of the country.” This is reminiscent of the “Dunwich” opening “When a traveller ... takes the wrong fork...”

     Both books were in Lovecraft’s library and both overlapped in the text. The noises, the Reverend Hoadley sermon, and the place where sinister Indians met could have been transferred from either text. The Skinner did have exclusive material in the Devils’ Hop Yard, but it is Drake who made the Rhode Island association. For what it is worth, the Drake appeared twelve years before the Skinner, which was more popular. It’s inaccurate to state that Skinner was the single choice when Drake may have been the primary source with addendum from Skinner.



     In a 1917 letter to the Kleicomolo (Selected Letters 1, page 45) HPL quotes the 17th century Florentine astronomer Francesco Sizzi. The quote is exact in wording and punctuation as confirmed by various online sources--but which did he use? There were a number of candidates, but none that I checked were also in Lovecraft’s Library (2002); nor did the edition of Encyclopedia Britannica assist. The mystery remains for the time being.




Thanks for reading the 3,226 words of The Limbonaut (no. 52); published in print as The Criticaster (no 81; Esoteric Order of Dagon mailing 167 for Summer 2014). Written by Steve Walker in Georgia font, sizes 9 through 10.5.

[1] While I’m making comparisons, The Maker of Moons seems the sort of narrative A. Merritt would choose.

[2] Not quite qualifying is the Man in Purple Tatters (in “The Messenger”).

[3] As with the use of rustic dialect in “One Over” where a backwoodsman refers to mammoths as “ellerphants”.

[4] According to Chambers, the moth has “a yellow death’s head on the back”. More of this color appears as “yellow corpuscles” in human blood. The story ends with a serviceable poem, “The King’s Cradle Song”, with its indirect reference to yellow as it begins “Seal with a seal of gold”.

[5] S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue (Hippocampus Press, 2002), 127. The item number is 807.  I’m going through the Skinner book, and have found “The Green Picture,” a story that influenced “The Shunned House”. Aside from S. T., others have had their say about it. See, for example, H. P. Lovecraft and His Legacy.

[6] Lovecraft’s Library item number 264.

[7] As applied to Arkham, “witch-haunted” appears in “The Unnamable”, “The Silver Key”, and The Dream- Quest of Unknown Kadath.

[8] “Devil’s” in “The Dunwich Horror”; however, Lovecraft used the correct rendition, as in Devil's Hopyard State Park.

[9] From pages 427-428.