The Lovecraft Annual No. 1 [2007]

September 22, 2017 | Author: Nello Pazzafini | Category: The Dunwich Horror, H. P. Lovecraft
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THE LOVECRAFT ANNUAL Edited by S. T. Joshi Contents Lovecraft Read This Darrell Schweitzer Lovecraft and Lawrence Face ...



No. 1 (2007) Contents

Lovecraft Read This Darrell Schweitzer


Lovecraft and Lawrence Face the Hidden Gods: Transformations of Pan in “The Colour out of Space” and St. Mawr Robert H. Waugh


Memories of Sonia H. Greene Davis Martin H. Kopp


Letters to Lee McBride White H. P. Lovecraft


The Negative Mystics of the Mechanistic Sublime: Walter Benjamin and Lovecraft’s Cosmicism Jeff Lacy and Steven J. Zani


Unity in Diversity: Fungi from Yuggoth as a Unified Setting Phillip A. Ellis


“They Have Conquered Dream”: A. Merritt’s “The Face in the Abyss” and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Mound” Peter Levi


The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: H. P. Lovecraft’s Influence on Thomas Ligotti Matt Cardin


Thomas Ligotti’s Metafictional Mapping: The Allegory of “The Last Feast of Harlequin” John Langan




Briefly Noted

26, 83, 90, 93, 160

Abbreviations used in the text and notes: AT CE D DH HM MM MW SL

The Ancient Track (Night Shade Books, 2001) Collected Essays (Hippocampus Press, 2004–06; 5 vols.) Dagon and Other Macabre Tales (Arkham House, 1986) The Dunwich Horror and Others (Arkham House, 1984) The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions (Arkham House, 1989) At the Mountains of Madness and Other Novels (Arkham House, 1985) Miscellaneous Writings (Arkham House, 1995) Selected Letters (Arkham House, 1965–76; 5 vols.)

Copyright © 2007 by Hippocampus Press Published by Hippocampus Press, P.O. Box 641, New York, NY 10156 Cover illustration by Allen Koszowski. Hippocampus Press logo designed by Anastasia Damianakos. Cover design by Barbara Briggs Silbert. The Lovecraft Annual is published once a year, in Fall. Articles and letters should be sent to the editor, S. T. Joshi, P.O. Box 66, Moravia, NY 13118, and must be accompanied by a self-addressed stamped envelope if return is desired. All reviews are assigned. Literary rights for articles and reviews will reside with The Lovecraft Annual for one year after publication, whereupon they will revert to their respective authors. Payment is in contributor’s copies. ISSN 1935-6102

Lovecraft Read This Darrell Schweitzer One of the difficulties in the not-always-rewarding art of literary influence-tracing is determining exactly what an author read and when. It is one thing to say that elements in “Shambles of Eldritch Horror” by J. Batrachian Hackwort prefigure a key passage in The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, but quite another to prove that Faulkner actually read Hackwort, and did so prior to writing The Sound and the Fury. In the case of H. P. Lovecraft and his influences, we may often resort to his letters, his essays, and writings about him, which taken together make him one of the most documented literary persons of all time. It is only a slight exaggeration to say that if there is a three-day stretch in Lovecraft’s life in which we do not know what he was reading, who he was with, what they were talking about, and what flavor the ice cream was, that constitutes a “lost period.” Nowhere does Lovecraft mention The City of the Unseen by James Francis Dwyer, a fantastic adventure novel published in the Argosy for December 1913, but it is still possible to make a strong case not only that Lovecraft read it, but that its central image stayed with him and reappeared in later works. That Lovecraft never mentioned this novel is easily explained by the fact that it isn’t a very good story and might have even inspired Lovecraft to throw the magazine across the room in disgust at some point. But the influence may have lingered. How do we know he read it? He must have owned a copy of this issue at some point, because the letters column contains the first return volley in the great Fred Jackson War which Lovecraft instigated in the pages of the Argosy. To reiterate quickly: Lovecraft, in the September 1913 issue, published a tirade against one Fred Jackson, a writer of sappy romantic tales, the likes of which Lovecraft wanted to see considerably less. In the December issue we find one letter headed “Bomb for Lovecraft,” 3


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another “Elmira vs. Providence,” yet another “Virginia vs. Providence,” and still another “Agrees with Lovecraft,” and so on. Most readers seemed to be pro-Jackson, anti-Lovecraft. Some of the criticisms parallel much that has been written since. Elizabeth E. Loop, of Elmira, N.Y., wrote: “If he would use a few less adjectives and more words with which the general public are more familiar. . . . Plain English, correctly spoken, sounds better in my estimation. It saves the trouble of a dictionary at one’s elbow” (Joshi 12). Lovecraft thrived on this sort of controversy. He made himself a personality in the pages of the Argosy (a magazine to which, as a professional writer, he never contributed). The Jackson battle raged for about a year. Much of it, letters from Lovecraft and responses by the Argosy readers, may be found in the short volume H. P. Lovecraft in the Argosy, edited by S. T. Joshi. Here for almost the first time we see Lovecraft displaying his characteristic wit, erudition, and critical ability. There is even a blast in heroic couplets, “Ad Criticos” (January 1914). He was twenty-three at the time, unemployed, and as much of an invalid recluse as he ever actually was in his life. This was his first real attempt to reach out to anyone, and as a result of it, Edward F. Daas, Official Editor of the United Amateur Press Association, invited Lovecraft to join, and that undeniably changed his life, the amateurpress scene becoming the catalyst for his literary career, marriage, and most of his lifelong friendships. It is obvious from Lovecraft’s letters to the magazine that he read the Argosy almost cover to cover. He is first quoted in the November 1911 issue praising Albert Payson Terhune, an opinion he does not seem to have sustained in later years. It is safe to say, then, that Lovecraft read The City of the Unseen. The cover of the December 1913 issue shows a man and a woman, leaning romantically against each other, with a camel towering over them. The blurb says, “A complete book-length novel of adventure in Arabia.” Not too promising, but in the Munsey magazines of this period one can hope for lost-race adventures in the H. Rider Haggard mode, and this is what The City of the Unseen proves to be. The blurbist either had not read the story or was weak on geography, because it takes place, not in Arabia, but in Somalia, upon the coast of which a cast of stereotyped characters—the hero, the heroine, the hero’s pal and his girlfriend, an eccentric French scientist, a muscle-bound sailor, and a Steppin Fetchit type comic-relief Arab

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with the unlikely name of Sarb—are shipwrecked. Dwyer (one of those all-purpose pulp hacks like H. Bedford-Jones, widely travelled, hugely prolific, versatile, completely forgotten today) wasn’t very strong on his sense of place either, as he describes cacti growing in the Somali desert. (Then again, the Munsey magazines were not so strong on realism generally. All-Story, the companion to The Argosy, had just let Edgar Rice Burroughs get away with a tiger in Africa when Tarzan of the Apes was published in the October 1912 issue. None other than H. P. Lovecraft wrote in and objected.) Without supplies or a source of fresh water, and apparently not much worried about it, the survivors set out to walk south along the coast to the nearest outpost. But suddenly they encounter the Frenchman, Leroux, behaving oddly, racing crazily across the desert and scooping up something out of the sand. He tries to discourage the others, but soon the secret is out that he has found a trail of triangular gold coins strung out across the landscape, as if a camel-rider with an impressive gold-hoard and a leaky saddlebag had passed that way. The coins are of vast antiquity, supposedly minted in Miletus (an ancient Greek seaport in Asia Minor) many centuries before Christ, bearing the “Eye of Cybele” on one side and the figure of a “gladiator” on the other. (As something of an amateur in ancient numismatics, I can assure you this is nonsense.) At once, everyone, except for the whining, gibbering Sarb the Arab (who consistently shows a lot more common sense than anyone else in this story), becomes completely crazed with gold fever. Off they go, all considerations of survival forgotten, picking up gold pieces. They come to an oasis, where the camel-rider may have stopped without discovering his bag was leaking. They cross a chasm the size of the Grand Canyon on one of those rickety, swaying rope-and-bamboo bridges so familiar in cliff-hanger movies. (You may reasonably ask where, in a desert, the builders got the bamboo. No one does.) But never mind that. The cast then comes upon the central mystery, the City of the Unseen itself, the stuff of Arabian legends, a lost and mysterious city of the remote desert, where a massive Black Pillar rises up out of the sand, with a curse written upon it by the armies of the Prophet Mohammed, who were apparently unable to penetrate the City in the seventh century. Our heroes find their way inside rather quickly. Down they go, into the bowels of the Earth, into black tunnels of ineffable mystery


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. . . but even the French scientist shows little interest in the discovery itself. He is in it for the money. Soon the vast treasure-hoard is discovered and the maddened characters are literally wallowing in gold. The chamber in which the gold is kept is partially lighted by archways which open into the same chasm over which everybody crossed on the bamboo bridge. Some sunlight filters down from above. Only cowardly, whiny Sarb thinks to suggest that maybe they should fill their pockets quickly, then get out of there before the sun goes down. But nobody listens. The sun goes down. The City of the Unseen proves to be inhabited by . . . the Unseen, slightly built, light-fearing folk a little bit like the Morlocks in H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine, although somewhat less ambitious, at least of late. They have been hoarding that gold all this time, making no use of it whatsoever except for a bit incorporated into an attractive floor design. For all they are apparently responsible for numerous carvings of exquisite quality, the Unseen People seem to possess no edged weapons of any kind at present, or even hammers. They resist the burglarious outsiders with their fists, and also with the curious stratagem of entangling them with ropes in the dark, in an attempt to heave them out the archways and into the chasm. Things look very bad indeed. The little party fights their way back in the dark, misses the stairway, and is trapped in a far room. Their doom seems certain. Then, somehow, they are befriended by a maiden of the Unseen Folk, who mercifully lets them out. You would think they’d have enough sense to escape at that point, but, no, for all Sarb’s whining, the gold-madness overcomes them yet again and back they go to the goldvault, where the obsessed French scientist is ultimately killed and entombed. More perils follow, a desperate escape through the chasm and an underground river, while the troglodytes hurl boulders from above. The hero credits his lady-love, Dorothy, with coaxing him back to sanity. No credit is given to Sarb, whose incantations and mysterious circular signs drawn in the sand seem to repel the Unseen Folk and stave off pursuit—at least for a time . . . although the menace remains and eventually Sarb runs away into the desert, gibbering mad. We never do find out about the camel-rider with the leaky saddlebags. There is no denying this is a rather silly, if sporadically entertaining novel, decently written in parts, verbosely redundant in others. The escape through the chasm at the end is actually exciting.

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As in many pulp lost-race novels of the period (Rex Stout’s Under the Andes, published in All-Story for February 1914, comes immediately to mind), once the explorers of The City of the Unseen discover the lost city, the rest is a matter of fights and chases. There is so much action that nothing happens in terms of development of idea or character. And, usually, such stories include a beautiful priestess and a dinosaur. There is only a hint of the priestess here, and no dinosaur, so readers must have felt short-changed. But there are occasionally effective, atmospheric descriptions of the accursed and legendary Black Pillar, the buried city, and the subterranean depths. One imagines that after Lovecraft tossed the magazine across the room (if he did), some of the images stayed with him. The relationship between this story and “The Nameless City” or even At the Mountains of Madness is rather like that of Anthony M. Rud’s “Ooze” (which Lovecraft undeniably read, in the first issue of Weird Tales) to “The Dunwich Horror.” The Rud story, with its mysterious doings in a remote estate in the Alabama swamps, where something (a gigantic amoeba, we eventually learn) is growing bigger and devouring an uncanny number of cattle, is sort of an idiot’s version of the Lovecraft. Few would dispute that Wilbur Whateley’s “brother” is a tremendous improvement over Rud’s amoeba. Likewise, Lovecraft, having read The City of the Unseen, would have realized how much more interesting the story could be if the Black Pillar opened to reveal something more than an improbable coin-hoard and troglodytes with ropes, and if the entire ridiculous cast of characters were dispensed with. The carvings on the walls, admired by the hero in moments of lucidity, are enormously suggestive. Lovecraft, who had a far superior imagination to Dwyer, substituted prehuman and cosmic mystery for the mundane melodrama. Lovecraft conveys a sense of increasing awe, as discovery follows discovery, an effect Dwyer is either incapable of or no more than momentarily interested in. One also cannot overlook poor Sarb with his magical circles in the sand, which seem to repel the menacing Unseen for a while. The Elder Sign, anyone? There are, very likely, many more such “sources” of Lovecraft’s fiction. We know that he read very widely in the pulp magazines between about 1905 (when he started with the Argosy) and sometime in the 1920s. Like many superior writers, he was no doubt exasper-


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ated with the tripe he encountered, particularly when he saw more potential in the material than the authors apparently did. Recall his famous comment about Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin series, that these had managed to bungle so many ideas and situations that a more competent writer ought to get permission to go back and write the stories. There are other evident cases of this sort of oneupmanship in Lovecraft. Unimpressed with the tame “gossip” of Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, Lovecraft produced a story with a really shocking family secret in it—“Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” J. Paul Suter’s “Beyond the Door” (Weird Tales, April 1923), a story Lovecraft actually admired, bears more than a passing resemblance to “The Rats in the Walls” (Weird Tales, March 1924). If there is a link, it is simply that Lovecraft saw the potential in the material and did it better. Such an approach can seem arrogant. One thinks of the possibly apocryphal Beethoven insult, “I liked your opera. I think I’ll set it to music.” But if the writer can actually pull it off, then he is entitled. That is the difference between mere talent and genius.

Works Cited Dwyer, James Francis. “The City of the Unseen.” Argosy 74, No. 1 (December 1913): 1–91. Joshi, S. T., ed. H. P. Lovecraft in the Argosy: Collected Correspondence from the Munsey Magazines. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1994.

Lovecraft and Lawrence Face the Hidden Gods: Transformations of Pan in “The Colour out of Space” and St. Mawr Robert H. Waugh Recent studies of “The Colour out of Space” have explored its dense literary quality. As a story that alludes to and plays with a variety of texts, it has slowly become as iridescent a work as the stone that it celebrates. First, it contains a network of allusions and parodies of various biblical moments: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; the leading of the children of Israel out of Egypt; the incarnation, death, resurrection, and second coming of Christ; and the prophecies of the Antichrist.1 Most of these allusions parody the original texts as well as prepare the way for an apocalyptic event. Also, in a complex fashion the story layers allusions to Macbeth with allusions to Paradise Lost.2 What we have not yet recognized is the possibility that some of the imagery of Lovecraft’s story that we have so far ascribed to biblical material and some of its salient themes may have been suggested by Lovecraft’s reading D. H. Lawrence’s long novella St. Mawr, which appeared two years before Lovecraft’s work. Once more, as Gayford and Mariconda have argued, we must consider the extent to which Lovecraft has connections with modernism. The evidence for this possibility is textual rather than direct. Lovecraft refers to Lawrence only twice in the letters, some three years after the writing of “The Colour out of Space.” The second reference is appreciative, clearly the result of some thought. It begins by contrasting to writers who “violate people’s inherited sensibilities for no adequate reason” other writers “whose affronts to convention are 1. Price (23–25), Burleson (116), and Waugh (“Landscapes” 234–36) deal with these allusions in detail. 2. Burleson (111–13) and Waugh (“The Blasted Heath”) discuss these particulars.



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merely incidents in a sincere and praiseworthy struggle to interpret or symbolize life as it is” (SL 3.264). Among these Lovecraft includes Voltaire, Rabelais, Fielding, and Lawrence: We would be simply foolish not to recognise the vigourously honest intent to see and depict life as a balanced whole, which everywhere animates their productions. When they commit a blunder in technique or proportioning, it is our place to excuse it—whether it concern a difficult or a common theme—and not to adopt a leering or sanctimoniously horrified attitude if the theme happens to be difficult. (SL 3.264–65)

Censorship, so often a question that arose with Lawrence’s career, does not concern Lovecraft because “no censorship law ever kept any high-grade scholar from reading and owning all the books he needs— Bostonians read Dreiser and Lawrence, and Tennesseeans understand the principles of biology” (SL 3.265). Then, as is so often his wont, Lovecraft draws back from the fray: “But life is a bore! And I don’t know but that the frank expressers are about as damned a bore as the vacant-skull’d suppressors! That’s why I light out for the fifth dimension” (SL 3.266). We must wonder, however, whether before he lit out “beyond the rim of Einsteinian space-time” (SL 3.266) Lovecraft had in fact, like those Bostonians, read Lawrence. It is possible. The novella was published by Knopf in 1925 and from May through November reviewed in such places as the Saturday Review, the Nation and Athenaeum, the New York Times Book Review, the New Statesman, the New Republic, the Saturday Review of Literature, and the Dial (Roberts 75–76). The publication of anything by Lawrence was not a minor event. And it is possible that Lawrence’s repetitive, hypnotic style, exploring in close detail the atmosphere of a landscape, might have appealed to Lovecraft, whose aesthetic depends so much on landscape and atmosphere. Whether Lovecraft had read that story, we do know from a remark in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” that he had read Lawrence’s groundbreaking Studies in Classic American Literature (D 402), which had been published in 1923 shortly before the novella. A propos of Hawthorne’s The Marble Faun Lovecraft writes that the romance “cannot help being interesting despite the persistent incubus of moral allegory, anti-Popery propaganda, and a Puritan prudery which has caused the late D. H. Lawrence to express a longing to treat the au-

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thor in a highly undignified manner” (D 402)—perhaps, his memory in this point not being too good, referring to Lawrence’s image of sinful man in The Blithedale Romance dropping his pants for a flogging (111). Lawrence and Lovecraft are interested in different Hawthornes; the Englishman is fascinated by the duplicities of The Scarlet Letter and The Blithedale Romance, whereas the American is concerned with The Marble Faun and The House of the Seven Gables. Nevertheless, I think Lawrence did guide Lovecraft’s reading of Hawthorne; and Lawrence’s description of the American attempt to slough off European consciousness and to grow a new consciousness may also have attracted him. Most often, Lawrence writes, the laborious process plunges the American into a profound sickness: Out! Out! He cries, in all kinds of euphemisms. He’s got to have his new skin on him before ever he can get out. And he’s got to get out before his new skin can ever be his own skin. So there he is, a torn, divided monster. The true American, who writhes and writhes like a snake that is long in sloughing. (62) Wilbur Whateley in “The Dunwich Horror,” trying to introduce an alien monster, his brother, through the means of the Necronomicon, a book of hidden wisdom from the old world, suffers this fate, a “torn, divided monster,” on the floor of Miskatonic Library. The story renders in narrative terms the analysis Lovecraft makes of the contradictions of Puritanism in the early paragraphs of “The Picture in the House.” Lovecraft and Lawrence are not far apart when they consider the dilemma of being an American. With all these points in mind, let us consider Lawrence’s novella. St. Mawr relates the story of a young woman who, because of her encounter with a totemic Welsh horse, decides to leave her husband and his shallow English society for the mountains and deserts of Arizona. It is a conversion story that challenges basic assumptions of contemporary life, even the assumption that sexuality and intimacy can save the individual or that individual psychology has any significance whatever. Instead, the novella investigates the kerygma of the horse and of the western landscape. It is the description of that landscape, the climax of the novella, which most concerns Lovecraft; but the


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work has other moments which must have interested him, and we shall begin with them. First we should note the story of the horse itself, staring out of the darkness as a challenging presence that is both solar with its sun-arched neck and chthonic with a neck that starts forth like a snake; he is a stallion, but does not “seem to fancy the mares, for some reason” (12), and his Welsh name means St. Mary. He is phallic, as his “lovely naked head” and his resemblance to a snake indicate, but he is also feminine; opposites coincide in him. When Lou Witt, the protagonist, looks at him that first time he stands there, “his ears back, his face averted, but attending as if he were some lightning-conductor” (12). The crisis of the novella occurs when the horse rears up and falls upon her husband who, not man enough to master it, pulls it back onto himself. One of the uncertainties of the work is whether the horse startles at a whistle or at the sight of a snake that children have stoned to death; but the text makes it most probable that it startles in sympathy with the death of a kindred spirit. That image of the snake is to recur much more forcefully at the end of the novel. Horses play a part in Lovecraft’s story. Ammi’s horse is sensitive to the transformation of the landscape (DH 61), breaks loose when the Colour in the well begins to move (DH 71), and in the climax of the story screams and dies: “That was the last of Hero till they buried him next day” (DH 77). The totemic name “Hero” indicates its chthonic aspect, the son of the Great Mother and the snake (Harrison 260–94). In addition, the name is androgynous if we keep in mind the Hero for whom Leander drowns or the Hero of Much Ado about Nothing. And St. Mawr no more endures to the end of Lawrence’s novella than Lovecraft’s Hero does, for before Lou retires to her ranch where she has her climactic vision, her stallion deserts his heroic celibacy to pursue mares. No god is the ultimate god. This description of the horses in Lovecraft’s story, however, in no way testifies to the real presence of St. Mawr, for with his androgyny, his power, his hidden threat, and his character as a conductor of lightning, he much more suggests the role of the meteor, that messenger from another world. It is a stone, but with hollows inside. It possesses “a torrid invulnerability” (DH 58) that renders it immune to chemical solvents. Most interestingly, the color of St. Mawr is difficult to fix. At first he is described simply as a bay, but three paragraphs later, when Saintsbury pats him, “Lou saw the brilliant skin of

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the horse crinkle a little in apprehensive anticipation, like the shadow of the descending hand on a bright red-gold liquid” (11). He emanates “a dark, invisible fire,” an oxymoron related to Milton’s “darkness visible” that indicates how dangerous an animal he is (11); he has already killed two men, Mr. Griffith Edwards’s son who had “his skull smashed in” and a groom “crushed . . . against the side of the stall” (12). The influence from the meteor kills Gardner’s sons, and the horse kills the young also, culminating in the injury he wreaks on Lou’s husband. Before Lou’s vision on the ranch another god is introduced, the god Pan. The son of Hermes, himself an ambiguous figure in Greek mythology, Pan is both goat and human, an image that may have influenced the traditional image of the devil with his sharp ears, tail, and cloven hoof. He feeds his flock of goats (Pan may in fact not mean “all” but “the feeder”), plays his panpipes, and sometimes at noon causes a panic in anyone who encounters him. Coleridge, in a proto-Lawrentian mood, read the figure as “intelligence blended with a darker power, deeper, mightier, and more universal than the conscious intellect of man” (2.93). Lawrence introduces his Pan through a character that to some extent resembles an ironic self-image of the parody of Lawrence that was beginning to move through the popular press; this character, Cartwright, a man who dabbles in alchemy and the occult, is about thirty-eight years old (49), and Lawrence was almost forty when he began the novella. Lawrence, however, may have had someone else in mind, whom Lovecraft would have recognized, Arthur Machen, a Welshman with a taste for the occult who in 1894 published a novella well-known in its day, The Great God Pan. With his eyes “that twinkled and expanded like a goat’s” (50), Cartwright is emblematic of the priapic god, but he argues that Pan is a force beyond the male and the female: “Pan was the hidden mystery—the hidden cause. That’s how it was a Great God. Pan wasn’t he at all” (51). This god transcends the misogyny inherent in Machen’s story, at the conclusion of which a beautiful woman disintegrates into a loathsome jelly: “I saw the form waver from sex to sex, dividing itself from itself, and then again reunited. Then I saw the body descend to the beasts when it ascended, and that which was on the heights go down into the depths, even to the abyss of all being” (1.65). Finally a form appears that cannot be described, but “the symbol of this form may be seen in ancient sculp-


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tures . . . as a horrible and indescribable shape, neither man nor beast” (1.65). Helen Vaughn, however, through whom in this story Pan is incarnated into the world of the fin de siècle, is not monstrous because of her descent to the original protoplasm but because she engages in bisexual relations that transgress gender categories; though Pan is incarnate in a woman, the imagery attempts to suggest a biological force that lies beneath the male and female. And thus we return to Lawrence’s vision. A more classical Pan appears in E. M. Forster’s 1902 tale, “The Story of a Panic,” in which an “indescribably repellent” (1) young boy called Eustace becomes the apparent incarnation of the god when on a picnic with his relatives in the hills above Ravello, in a hollow that resembles “a many-fingered green hand, palm upwards, which was clutching convulsively to keep us in its grasp” (2). When everyone runs in a fit of inexplicable animal panic, Eustace remains behind and undergoes a transformation; goat-prints surround him, evidence to his tutor that “the Evil One has been very near us in bodily form” (9). Worse than all this, however, is the sudden friendship that Eustace now feels for an Italian servant, who dies that night as Eustace escapes in a pantheistic ecstasy: He spoke first of night and the stars and planets above his head, of the swarms of fireflies below him, of the invisible sea below the fireflies, of the great rocks covered with anemones and shells . . . He spoke of the rivers and waterfalls, of the ripening bunches of grapes, of the smoking cone of Vesuvius and the hidden fire-channels that made the smoke, of the myriads of lizards who were lying curled up in the crannies of the sultry earth . . . (16)

Like Machen’s Pan, this is a being whose power is inamicable to human life. The lesbian imagery of Machen’s story transforms itself here into gay imagery, but the point of sexual transgression and transformation is the same. When Lawrence read Forster’s story in 1915 he objected forcefully: “Don’t you see Pan is the undifferentiated root and stem drawing out of unfathomable darkness, and my Angels and Devils are oldfashioned symbols for the flower into which we strive to burst? . . . But your Pan is a stumping back to the well head, a perverse pushing back the waters to their source, and saying, the source is everything” (Letters 2.275–76). The myth, in Lawrence’s view, is always insuffi-

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cient; he does not want to examine where Pan came from, as Machen and Forster seem to do, but where the force that he represents is going. Pan needs to disappear back into the landscape, become once more a hidden god, if he is to become potent. A more benign Pan appears in Kenneth Grahame’s Wind in the Willows as a Christ-figure, the true Christ of the animals, following a tradition based upon a story that Plutarch related, one found in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “The Dead Pan,” Friedrich Schiller’s “Die Götter Griechenlands,” and also on the lips of a would-be artist in Forster’s story. A sailor, Thamus, hearing a command in the air “to proclaim that the great god Pan has died” (Plutarch 400), does so and hears a loud lament (Plutarch 400–403). “As this story coincided with the birth (or crucifixion) of Christ it was thought to herald the end of the old world and the beginning of the new”; scholars today connect the story with the traditional lament for the fertility god Tammuz or Adonis (“Pan” 663). Something ambiguous resides, then, in the traditional interpretations of the story; either the voice announced the birth of Christ and the dispersal of the pagan gods, including Pan, or, more interestingly, it implied that Pan, the all who was the logos of the world, had died. In Grahame’s novel Christ manifests himself as the god who cares for every lost creature, “lest the awful remembrance [of death] should remain and grow, and overshadow mirth and pleasure, and the great haunting memory should spoil all the afterlives of little animals” (77; ch. 7). Lawrence and Lovecraft know of another Pan, however, one much more ambiguous than we have observed so far, in Hawthorne’s romance The Marble Faun. The work concerns four friends in Rome, one of whom, a young innocent named Donatello, bears an uncanny resemblance to the statue of a faun, though only a few minutes later they doubt the resemblance because “faces change so much, from hour to hour, that the same set of features has often no keeping with itself” (9.20), any more than the stone out of space has any keeping with itself. Nevertheless, Donatello may more than resemble the faun, since he refuses to allow anyone to touch his ears, which are hidden by his thick hair. But though in the fancy of his friends he seems to incarnate the golden age and Eden, he suffers a fall, throwing a man over a cliff to his death, and Donatello’s guilt infects the innocence of his friends. As one of them says, perhaps meaning more than she realizes, “If there be any such dreadful mixture of good and evil


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. . ., then the good is turned to poison, not the evil to wholesomeness” (10.244–45). Hawthorne is in some perplexity about such an argument, and his perplexity extends throughout the ambiguous work; but Lovecraft would wholeheartedly agree, and “The Colour out of Space” may be read as a confirmation of that view. The Marble Faun concerns several mixtures, human and animal, natural and supernatural, innocence and guilt, real and fantastic, male and female, European and American, Puritan and Catholic, mixtures by which the characters are attracted and repulsed. However we understand these mixtures, we must take this language almost literally in the case of the innocent Puritan Hilda who witnessed Donatello’s murder: “Poor well-spring of a virgin’s heart, into which a murdered corpse has casually fallen, and whence it could not be drawn forth again, but lay there . . . tainting its sweet atmosphere with the scent of crime and ugly death” (10.168–69). Machen and Forster suggest something much more sinister about Pan than Grahame or Hawthorne, Lawrence something much more powerful and amoral, and Lovecraft something much more aloof and destructive. For Lovecraft of course knows of Pan. By 1920 he had passed beyond his pretty classicizing and wrote of “dreaded Pan, whose queer companions are many” (D 30). But considering Machen, Forster, Grahame, and Hawthorne we now have a better idea who those queer companions could be. Several of these details recur in Lovecraft’s story, the deliquescence, the death of god, the physical and moral fall, the well, and the taint of innocence. The bisexual element does not surprise Lovecraft since he had found in Margaret Murray’s account of the witch-cult a description of its god that contained bisexual elements. Originally “the god of this cult was incarnate in a man, a woman, or an animal; the animal form being apparently earlier than the human, for the god was often spoken of as wearing the skin or attributes of an animal” (12), not surprisingly of a goat or a horse (68–70). Murray does not suggest that Pan was this god but indicates the two-faced god Janus, Dianus, or Diana (12). So bisexual details find their place in “The Colour out of Space.” The stone and its hollow globules are both male and female, testicles and womb. The lightning-bolt is a male fertility motif, but the iridescence of the Colour suggests Iris, the goddess of the rainbow. It lies in the water of the well, but it ascends to the constellation Cygnus, the swan into which Zeus transformed himself in order to seduce Leda. The Colour manifests itself as both male

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and female. In this regard it is significant that in St. Mawr two major characters, Lewis and Lou, bear the same name. Lawrence hints in a number of ways that Pan, whatever Pan may be, presides over the crisis in which St. Mawr rears back. It is noon, the panic hour, and the whistle indicates the sound of the Panpipe, a detail found in Forster’s story. When the horse rears, “his eyes were arched, his nostrils wide, his face ghastly in a sort of panic . . ., his face in panic, almost like some terrible lizard” (62). St. Mawr becomes the embodiment of the chthonic moment in Pan appears as terror. The figure of Pan recurs in Lawrence’s novel when Lewis, the Welsh groom, speaking out of the darkness where Pan lives (95) reacts to a falling star by telling Lou’s mother how it feels to live inside a mythology. For Lewis the trees are alive, watching the humans who move among them and eager to hurt them; the trees watch and listen and will kill the humans if possible (95–96). Lewis reacts in this way because for him the sky is not the empty space suggested by Newtonian science, not like “an empty house with a slate falling from the roof”; instead, “many things twitch and twitter in the sky, and many things happen beyond us,” and so when a meteor falls from the sky Lewis thinks, “They’re throwing something to us from the distance, and we’ve got to have it, whether we want it or not” (97). Just as Lovecraft animates the universe of Einsteinean space with an indifference that seems malevolent and also describes trees thrashing in a windless night, Lawrence argues for a world where neutral space is filled with a vital life. Closely connected with the figure of Pan is the myth of the horse that so much concerns the plot of the novel. When Lou first encounters the horse he already bears a totemic impact, his eyes arching out of the darkness with a challenge that Lou slowly responds to as the novella proceeds. He is demonic, like the classical daemons that encounter mortals in a personal fashion. Half snakelike, though with the sun in his neck, he represents an early version of the divinity that shall appear at the end of the novella. Lovecraft develops very little of this in connection with the horse itself, but it is possible that this imagery combines with the image of the oracular, cannibal horses in Macbeth to produce the horse that takes on an admonitory character in “The Colour out of Space.” The climax of Lawrence’s novella occurs in an impassioned description of “the power and the slight horror of the pre-sexual primeval world” that Lou finds in the Arizona landscape. Lawrence’s


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profound distrust of human individualism expresses itself as the individual vanishes in the animated divine landscape where “pillars of cloud” appear in the desert. This is a divinity, however, which only slowly appears and which explicitly has nothing to do with the Christian god of love. It is a world “before and after the God of Love” (139), a repudiation of Grahame’s Pan which Lovecraft also repudiates. First the “debasing” (133) and “invidious” malevolence of the landscape is once more insisted upon; it eats the soul of anyone who attempts to live within it a life of trade and production (133–34). Especially, it reduces a New England woman who had moved there with her husband. No longer able to speak, she spends her days staring (137), unable to engage “the seething cauldron of lower life, seething on the very tissue of the higher life, seething the soul away, seething at the marrow” (141), a passage that recalls both the disintegration of Helen in Machen’s story and the cauldron of the witches in Macbeth. The landscape, which is also to say the demonic divinity that is slowly becoming manifest within it, transforms her into a corpse that she tries to hide from, “the corpse of her New England belief in a world ultimately all for love” (141). And what happens to the New England woman happens to Lou’s mother: “She sat like a pillar of salt, her face looking what the Indians call a False Face, meaning a mask. She seemed to have crystallized into neutrality” (142). Like Lot’s wife, who looks back at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Lou’s mother freezes into a mask because she is unable to move into the new world of the Arizona landscape that her daughter finds so meaningful. This entire section of the novella has an obvious relevance to the description of Mrs. Gardner, the New England woman traumatized and transformed by the Colour that has fallen as though it were a falling star. She becomes sure that “something was taken away—she was being drained of something. . . . By July she had ceased to speak and crawled on all fours” (DH 65). All these events become a religious challenge. The god of the Gardners’ was never a god of love; Lovecraft knows his Puritans too well, better than Lawrence. For Nahum Gardner God’s overwhelming election has become preterition: “it must all be a judgment of some sort; though he could not fancy what for, since he had always walked uprightly in the Lord’s ways so far as he knew” (DH 68). For Lovecraft the visitation of the meteor has meant an emptying of any metaphysical sanction, even that god of a greater life of which Lawrence was the prophet.

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One of the most telling details of Lovecraft’s story is the supernatural abundance that the landscape seems to manifest even as the people are destroyed within it: “The fruit was growing to phenomenal size and unwonted gloss, and in such abundance that extra barrels were ordered to handle the coming crop” (DH 60), though at last everything crumbles, “and it went from mouth to mouth that there was poison in Nahum’s ground” (DH 62). The same abundance appears in Lawrence’s landscape, filled with an intense, fiery, vegetative life: “The very flowers came up bristly, and many of them were fangmouthed, like the dead-nettle; and none had any real scent” (138). They do, however, possess colors that declare an inhuman savagery, “the curious columbines of the stream-beds, columbines scarlet outside and yellow in, like the red and yellow of a herald’s uniform” (138), or the honeysuckle, “the purest, most perfect vermilion scarlet, cleanest fire-colour, hanging in long drops like a shower of fire-rain that is just going to strike the earth” (139), or “the rush of red sparks and Michaelmas daisies, and the tough wild sunflowers” (139). The apocalyptic landscape is overrun in “a battle, a battle, with banners of bright scarlet and yellow” (139). Even the rose, the traditional flower of love, is “set among spines the devil himself must have conceived in a moment of sheer ecstasy” (139). This mention of the devil, like the earlier mention of those flowers that are “fang-mouthed,” makes us consider what kind of divinity, what kind of “spirit of place” (141) inhabits this landscape. Certainly Pan has a part in it, for it had been a ranch of goats that the Mexicans called “fire-mouths, because everything they nibble die” (131–32), and as we noted Pan, half-goat, may be one of the sources of the traditional image of the devil. The landscape, however, is animated by a spirit of place, “a great reality” (Studies 16), that slowly becomes explicit. A part of that god can be seen in “the vast, eagle-like wheeling of the daylight, that turned as the eagles which lived in the near rocks turned overhead in the blue” (135). Beneath them “the vast strand of the desert would float with curious undulations and exhalations amid the blue fragility of mountains” (135–36). In comparison to this desert charged with enormous energy, mortal life is as nothing: “The landscape lived, and lived as the world of the gods, unsullied and unconcerned. The great circling landscape lived its own life, sumptuous and uncaring. Man did not exist for it” (137). Finally the god appears, “the animosity of


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the spirit of place: the crude, half-created spirit of place, like some serpent-bird for ever attacking man, in a hatred of man’s onwardstruggle towards further creation” (141). This is Quetzacoatl, the god that Lawrence will celebrate in his next novel, The Plumed Serpent. The details of this description could have originated in many places. Though he had only arrived recently in the Southwest, Lawrence soon became fascinated by the mythic materials of the region. Some of its aspects, however, appear reminiscent of Tennyson’s poem “The Eagle: Fragment”: He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring’d with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls. (110) Several of these details are to be found in both Lawrence and Lovecraft. In Lawrence the landscape seems a “seething cauldron” (141), where “sometimes the vast strand of the desert would float with curious undulations and exhalations” (147). In Lovecraft the narrator looks forward to the time when the reservoir “will mirror the sky and ripple in the sun. And the secrets of the strange days will be one with the deep’s secrets; one with the hidden lore of old ocean” (54). In Lawrence the lightning, a symbol of Zeus and fertility, has left a “perfect scar, white and long as lightning itself,” upon a totemic pine (138); and we recall that St. Mawr is a “lightning-conductor” (12). In Lovecraft, the lightning strikes where the meteor has fallen and scarred the ground. The sense of the sun, though, is very different in these works; Lawrence shares with Tennyson a sense of its dominance in the high mountains, whereas Lovecraft mutes the sun as he represents the viewpoint of the Gardner family, slowly drowned in the effects of the miasmic Colour. A difference between Tennyson’s and Lawrence’s vision and Lovecraft’s is the ring and circle of the horizon that obsesses the English imagination, the open space of the great world, and Lovecraft’s narrow landscape of a claustrophobic New England valley. Tennyson’s eagle appears in Lawrence as an actual creature and as a part of the metaphoric landscape. Though no

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implicit eagle appears in Lovecraft the lightning itself, as his classical mind would have recognized, belonged to Zeus, whose bird is the eagle. He would, for instance, have been aware of the portent in the Iliad when an eagle seizes a snake: Jove’s Bird on sounding Pinions beat the Skies; A bleeding Serpent of enormous Size, His Talons truss’d; alive, and curling round, He stung the Bird, whose Throat receiv’d the Wound. Mad with the Smart, he drops the fatal Prey, In airy Circles wings his painful way. (12.233–39) Hector’s brother warns that the eagle “Retards our host” (12.258); it warns humanity not to exceed its limit. More generally, the portent is an image of the antagonism between the sky and the earth; though it is the first plumed serpent that appears in European literature, before anyone in Europe had begun to interpret world mythology, it represents a failure at reconciling sky and earth, rather like what occurs in Lovecraft’s story. Another way to understand Tennyson’s lines presents itself, however, and thereby another way to understand St. Mawr and “The Colour out of Space.” Given the traditional significance of the eagle as an emblem of contemplation, its domination of the earth may symbolize the poetic imagination, attempting in a lordly fashion to seize its subject, a seizure that is no more successful an act than is “Kubla Khan,” if we keep in mind that each poem presents itself as a fragment. Lawrence’s novella is also a fragment; its failure of closure points beyond itself at the novel that he was shortly to write, The Plumed Serpent, in which he would much more thoroughly investigate that archetype. Like the eagle that circles and submerges itself in its landscape, Lawrence perceives himself as circling and submerging himself in every new landscape in which he attempts to find the new form of the gods that shall be. This interpretation makes us reconsider Lovecraft’s story as an attempt to revision his own poetic imagination; that is to say, in Hillman’s sense of the word, he treats the Colour as a myth of his own power to create weird fiction. When the Colour returns to the sky, it aims itself at Deneb in the constellation of the Swan, which is a traditional image of the poet. Socrates seems to put aside irony when he


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imagines himself as a swan, one that as a poet and a philosopher praises the good things it shall see after its death (Phaedo 85b). With more irony, and I think more akin to Lovecraft’s mode, at the end of the second book of the Odes Horace imagines himself as a halfhuman and a half-swan, almost but not quite transformed into the great bard he believes and fears3 that he shall be regarded as after his death (2.22). Lovecraft’s Colour remains in this halfway state, bizarre and threatening while a small part of it remains in the well to infect Ammi, the narrator, and the reader. In this infection Lovecraft imagines his art as successful, but insofar as it cannot return to that great otherness in which it originates as unsuccessful; and even the return aims itself at Deneb, the tail of the Swan, not its eyes or its wings. And just as the Swan in the constellation represents the swan into which Zeus transformed himself when he seduced Leda, with its own voice echoing internally, “Ipse deum Cycnus condit vocemque sub illo, / non totus volucer, secumque immurmurat intus” [The swan itself conceals a god and his voice within him, not completely a bird, and murmurs to itself within] (Manilius 5.381–82), just so the Colour, a messenger from the outside, retains its secret within itself; and Lovecraft, despite his voluminous letters, retains the secret of his creativity in the dreams from which so many of them originate. Tennyson and Lawrence’s imagination glories in the day, Lovecraft’s in the night. Tennyson’s eagle, a contemplative that stands “Close to the sun in lonely lands” and with great energy falls upon its prey, performs an act of the apocalyptic imagination that informs the sense of final things found in both Lawrence and Lovecraft. These final things, the consummation of the world and its judgment, are quite complex with both authors. In Lawrence it is a question of what gods shall appear and what gods the protagonist Lou shall serve. She gives an indication of this early in her approach to her Arizona farm, as she turns to the hidden gods and the hidden fire. Now it is no longer a question of Pan, but of various mythological presences, which correspond to and argue with “the successive inner sanctuaries of herself” (129). As she puts it at this point, the chief god shall be “my Apollo mystery of the inner fire,” which is also “the hidden fire . . . alive and burning in the sky” (129). It is as though she 3. This word refers to Horace’s anxiety that a classic is good for nothing but teaching children their grammar (Epis. 1.20.17–18).

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were about to become Vestal virgin, the oracle of Delphi, and St. Simon Stylites all at once, dedicated to the gods that rule the zenith of the sky and the private hearth. In contrast to this god, the goats of Pan that once roamed the mountain are the spirits of inertia with their fire-mouths that kill everything and their smell that “came up like some uncanny acid fire” (132), the creatures that represent all the forces that slew the New England woman. These preside over the poison-weed and the “curious disintegration working all the time, a sort of malevolent breath, like a stupefying, irritant gas, coming out of the unfathomed mountains” (133). This language is very like that language that Lovecraft uses to describe the effect of the Colour that has left a scar on the landscape “like a great spot eaten by acid” (DH 55), on occasion like a gas that brushes past Ammi or the narrator and leaves them unable to react. Above all, it is a poison that cannot be leached out of the soil (65) and that in the climactic moment is revealed as an “undimensioned rainbow of cryptic poison from the well” (78). In both books the inimical powers are fiery, impalpable, acidic, and poisonous, the destructive forces of the snake that has not yet raised itself from the earth. Thus Lovecraft’s story does hint at the snake and bird. After the narrator has assured us several times of the poison and acid that the Colour spills upon the landscape, he speculates, “Whatever daemon hatchling is there, it must be tethered to something or else it would quickly spread. Is it fastened to the roots of those trees that claw the air?” (81). The rhetoric cannot permit us to see the serpent or bird of prey still hidden in the landscape, but for a moment the story points at a snake and bird groping beneath the ground. Despite this mythological mode I must admit that Lovecraft's story contains no bird except the poultry that “turned greyish and died very quickly” (DH 66), a nasty end from which it is difficult to draw any haruspicinal consequence. His serpent is not plumed. Mrs. Gardner perceives things that “moved and changed and fluttered” (DH 65); the trees are “clawing at the grey November sky” (DH 69), at the crisis “twitching morbidly and spasmodically, clawing in convulsive and epileptic madness at the moonlit clouds; scratching impotently” (DH 76), but they are never able to escape the ground in the flight that they desire. This eagle tears from underneath the earth, not from above it. The plumed serpent does not appear. In this landscape Lovecraft can see no way how the things above and the things below


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can be reconciled; the coincidence of opposites does not take place. Though it comes from the sky and returns to it, a sign in the heavens and its messenger, this monster assumes a peloric form in the well; the reader experiences it for only a short time as a teratic portent.4 It returns, explosively propelled from the center of the earth into the otherness from which it came, but a portion of it falls back; it tries to become one or the other but lags behind both. It is too, too American, “a torn, divided monster.” Though the two stories work towards a revelation that is very similar, the differences are striking. Lovecraft’s short story, to the mind of many critics one of his best,5 is condensed, unveering, and inevitable. Lawrence's novella is more diffuse, beginning as an analysis of a modern marriage, moving into a satire of modern culture, and only at the end revealing itself as a religious challenge. Also, something of a reversal of expectations takes place here. Lovecraft, the quondam disciple of Poe, deserts his fantastic pantheon and takes decisive steps by which “The Colour out of Space” becomes a science fiction work rather than a weird tale, though not a science fiction work that remains content with the Newtonian laws of science. Lawrence, who began as a naturalist in the mode of Hardy, creates in the final pages of the novella a fantasia of the unconscious that plays with a variety of mythological figures. Who would have expected that they could meet across such differences?

Works Cited Burleson, Donald R. Lovecraft: Disturbing the Universe. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1990. Cannon, Peter. H. P. Lovecraft. Boston: Twayne, 1989. Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. Biographia Literaria. Ed. J. Shawcross. London: Oxford University Press, 1962. “Cygnus.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica. 11th ed. Forster, E. M. The Machine Stops and Other Stories. Ed. Rod Mengham. London: André Deutsch, 1997. 4. I have in mind here the contrast that Jane Harrison drew between teratic and peloric manifestations; the teratic is a sign in the sky, a manifestation of the rational powers, the peloric a monstrous growth in the earth (458–59). 5. Cf. Joshi (134–39) and Cannon (86).

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Gayford, Norman R. “The Artist as Antaeus: Lovecraft and Modernism.” In An Epicure in the Terrible, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. 273–97. Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. Intro. Peter Green. Oxford: Oxford University Press/World’s Classics, 1983. Harrison, Jane. Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion. 2nd ed. Cleveland: World Publishing Company/Meridian Books, 1962. Hawthorne, The Marble Faun; or, The Romance of Monte Beni. Vols. IX and X in the Old Manse Edition, 22 vols. Cambridge, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, 1900. Homer. The Iliad of Homer: Books X–XXIV. Trans. Alexander Pope. In The Poems of Alexander Pope. Vol. VIII. Ed. Maynard Mack. London: Methuen, 1967. Horace. Opera. 1st ed. Ed. Edward C. Wickham. 2nd ed. Ed. H. W. Garrod. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1912. Joshi, S. T. A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft. San Bernadino, CA: Borgo Press, 1996. Lawrence, D. H. The Letters. Vol. II. Ed. George J. Zytaruk and James T. Boulton. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. ———. St. Mawr. In The Short Novels. Vol. II. London: Heinemann, 1956. ———. Studies in Classic American Literature. 1923. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Doubleday, 1951. Machen, Arthur. Tales of Horror and the Supernatural. 2 vols. New York: Pinnacle, 1971. Manilius, Marcus. Astronomia/Astrologie. Trans. and ed. Wolfgang Fels. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1990. Mariconda, Steven J. “H. P. Lovecraft: Reluctant American Modernist.” Lovecraft Studies Nos. 42/43 (Autumn 2001): 20–32. Murray, Margaret A. The Witch-Cult in Western Europe. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1921. “Pan.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica. 11th ed. Plato. Opera. 5 vols. Ed. John Burnet. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1900. Plutarch. The Obsolescence of Oracles. In Moralia. Vol. 5. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press/Loeb Classical Library, 1936. Price, Robert. “A Biblical Antecedent for ‘The Colour out of Space.’”


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Lovecraft Studies No. 25 (Fall 1991): 23–25. Roberts, Warren. A Bibliography of D. H. Lawrence. London: HartDavis, 1963. Tennyson, Alfred, Lord. The Poetic and Dramatic Works. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1927. Waugh, Robert H. “The Blasted Heath in ‘The Colour out of Space’: A Nightmare Theodicy.” Lovecraft Studies No. 45 (2005): 10–21. ———. “Landscapes, Selves, and Others in Lovecraft.” In An Epicure in the Terrible, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. 220–43. ———————

Briefly Noted Lovecraft’s works have appeared in all manner of media, from films and television to comic books and role-playing games. One of the purest transformations of Lovecraft’s words into an alternate medium is the audio recording. Lovecraft has not been entirely lucky with his audio interpreters: Roddy McDowall’s 1961 Caedmon recording is splendid, but subsequent ventures—by David McCallum and others—have left a bit to be desired. It is therefore with great pleasure that we can announce the recent release of four splendid audiobooks by AudioRealms. The first contains “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Call of Cthulhu,” the second has “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “Dagon” (a felicitous pairing indeed!), the third includes “Herbert West— Reanimator,” “The Horror at Red Hook,” “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and “The Outsider,” and the fourth contains “The Rats in the Walls,” “The Shunned House,” and “The Music of Erich Zann.” Each audiobook contains three CDs and lasts well over three hours. They are read by Wayne June, whose deep, cavernous, almost sepulchral voice, subtly modulating its timbre and emotional resonance with the fluctuations of the text, forms an ideal vehicle for Lovecraft’s richly textured prose. Uncluttered by distracting and unnecessary music or other frills, these audiobooks provide a wonderful vehicle for appreciating Lovecraft’s dense and complex work. For further information, go to:

Memories of Sonia H. Greene Davis Martin H. Kopp [The following memoir by Sonia Davis’s nephew provides valuable sidelights on the life and career of H. P. Lovecraft’s wife.—ED.] It occurs to me that a memoir of my recollections regarding my Aunt Sonia is probably timely, since I have recently become aware of the importance of her life with H. P. Lovecraft. Accordingly, I’ll begin with my earliest memories. My grandmother, Rachel Moseson (when I knew her) was living in the small village of Ichnya near Kiev in the Ukraine at the time Aunt Sonia was born (March 16, 1883). Since Sonia was named Sonia Haft Shafirkin, I assume that Grandma was married to a Mr. Shafirkin (of whom I had never heard).1 Furthermore, the inclusion of the Haft name in Sonia’s implies to me that Grandma’s maiden name was Haft. This fits with my memories of the Haft family connections in New York during the 1920s, of which there is more later. S. T. Joshi (H. P. Lovecraft: A Life 262, note 4) mentions that Grandma left Sonia with her brother in Liverpool. I have never heard of Grandma’s brother, but that is more likely than the inference that the “brother” referred to is Sonia’s. So I have to assume my grandmother had a brother of whom I never heard. I do remember two cousins of the Morris W. Haft family who worked for them in their New York offices in the 1920s. These two men were, as I remember it, Jack and Jules Friedman. I remember that they definitely had “English” accents! Thus, I wonder if they were descendants of that “brother.” Apparently, my grandmother arrived in New York sometime be1. S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life (West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1996), p. 262. I have to say that Mr. Joshi’s book has been most interesting for information that I never knew about my family.



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tween 1883 and 1892. As she was a widow, alone, but a member of the Haft family, I have long pondered how she was supported. I knew of the Morris W. Haft & Brothers coat and suit manufacturing company as a leading business on Seventh Avenue in New York City all through the 1920s, and even later. Their trade name was “Donnybrooke.” In business with Morris were at least two brothers: Harry and Jules. But their relationship with and friendship toward my mother, Anna, has always led me to think they were first cousins. If they were my grandmother’s “wealthy” cousins, which seems most likely, I would have to suppose they made sure she was provided for. In retrospect, I believe they made sure she was okay. Picture this: Rachel Haft, a widow, with a pre-teen age daughter, needs a husband. Somehow, she is matched up with a guy from the Sevastopol region on the Black Sea who now (1892) lives in Elmira, N.Y. He is a widower, with a daughter and two sons, and needs a wife. And Grandma marries Solomon Moseson. They lived in a fine big house at the comer of John and Water Streets. They then had two more children: my mother, Anna (born September, 1894) and Sidney (born in 1897). Of course, there is a mystery in how Grandpa Moseson got to Elmira. Not only did he get there, but so did his sister Sarah (who married a Mr. Linker, the Elmira train station telegrapher), and his brother, Mike. Thus, there were a lot of Mosesons in Elmira, N.Y, in the early 1900s. But all was not happy in this new family. Apparently, Grandpa was an overpowering, dominating Orthodox man, and here was Grandma, the product of a very cultured, urbane family environment. It must have been an interesting situation: six children, etc. The oldest of Grandpa’s children from his first wife was Max. He ran away from home at the age of fourteen. Somehow, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy just before 1898 and the Spanish-American War. To avoid detection, he changed his name to Morrison. By 1910, Grandma finally gave up and took her two children from this marriage to New York. I believe that Grandpa’s other two children, who were young adults by this time, were also living in New York. In fact, Jenny married an architect whose last name was Suskind. She and Mr. Suskind had four children, two boys and two girls. Regrettably, Mr. Suskind was killed in a subway accident, leaving Jenny with Henry, 8, Milton, 6, Rena, 4, and Norma, 2. The shock

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was too much for Jenny and she wound up in Rockland State Hospital for the Insane for the rest of her life. The other son from Grandpa’s first marriage was Mike. Uncle Mike undertook to bring up the four kids, and did so successfully, but he never married. Interestingly, he and Uncle Sidney, became very close in their later years. In the meantime, Sonia had left Elmira for a career in New York. It was there, in 1899, that she married Samuel Seckendorff and my cousin, Florence, was born March 19, 1902. Their name was changed sometime later to Greene. He died sometime in 1916, the year I was born. I have no memories of him ever being mentioned. Nor did I ever hear of a baby boy (who only lived three months). I do have a memory of meeting Florence. But she vanished from connections sometime thereafter (Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life 333). I do remember that Aunt Sonia worked for the millinery firm Ferle Heller, and that she was well paid. The Parkside Avenue address that Mr. Joshi refers to in his study is a vaguely familiar one. My memory is that Sonia’s mother lived on the upper floor of that place. My mother and Sonia were very close. I remember occasions when Sonia visited with us in our home at 117 Coligni Avenue in New Rochelle, N.Y., and I remember her steaming hats with feathers, etc. on the kitchen stove. There is a reference in Mr. Joshi’s text (on page 335) to some real estate that Sonia and Mr. Lovecraft bought in Yonkers, N.Y. I can remember a trip from New Rochelle when my mother drove us over there for Sonia to have some business dealing at the Homewood Company. Perhaps it really was “Homeland” company. Anyway, my memory was that it was a cemetery, and involved burial plots! Wow! But I had to be about eight to ten years old at the time. Grandma died around 1925. She lived with us in New Rochelle at the time. I remember Uncle Sidney coming to her funeral, but I have no memory of Aunt Sonia in that connection. Nonetheless, she and my mother continued their close relationship. This was evident to me, since Aunt Sonia would take me on trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Bronx Zoo, etc. And, despite the depression, she paid for my first (and only) semester at the University of Pennsylvania from September 1933 to January 1934: a sum of $400.00, for which she asked nothing in return, except that I succeed as a student. (I then transferred to CCNY


Martin H. Kopp

at night until I graduated in June 1941.) It may be of interest to know that Sidney’s grandson is J. J. Goldberg, the author of a powerful book Jewish Power. He is also the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, published in New York City. Jenny has a grandson, Ira Russell Suskind, who is a prominent attorney in Newark, Ohio. I have never heard of any descendants of Florence. It would be interesting to learn of them if there are any. Sonia moved to California around 1933 where she met and married Nathaniel Abraham Davis. Interestingly, Aunt Sonia attended a gathering during Word War II in Los Angeles at which a Boy Scout Troop presented the “colors.” And who was their Scout Master? He was Sonia’s step-brother, the runaway Mike! And she recognized him! He was now the highest ranking Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy! But nothing came of their meeting except that it happened. I also heard that Sonia located Florence, who, as I remember it, was living in the San Francisco area. This was after World War II. They finally met. It was a disaster, and Sonia returned to the Los Angeles area, and never discussed the matter again.

Letters to Lee McBride White H. P. Lovecraft Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz

Lee McBride White, Jr., was born on June 24, 1915, in Monroe, North Carolina, the son of a Baptist minister. In his early years his family lived in Jacksonville, Florida, but it moved to Birmingham, Alabama, in the summer of 1932, where White attended his final year of high school at John Herbert Phillips High School. It is likely that he contacted Lovecraft in the autumn of 1932 through Weird Tales. In 1933, after his graduation from high school, White went to Howard College (now Samford University) in Birmingham, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1937. He worked on a number of college publications at Howard, including The Howard Quill (at least one issue of which he sent to Lovecraft), Campus (also sent to Lovecraft), The Crimson, the college’s weekly newspaper, and the 1937 edition of the college yearbook, The Howard Crimson. White also acted in a number of college stage productions, as did his younger brother Harvey. White then did graduate work at Harvard (working with Howard Mumford Jones) and Columbia, then returned to Birmingham, where he worked on the Birmingham Age-Herald. He enlisted in the armed forces on June 27, 1941, and during World War II he was in the Air Force, staying in North Africa until 1945. He then moved to Montgomery, Alabama, where he worked as the editor of a paper, Folsom’s Forum, for Alabama’s Governor Jim Folsom. He married Anne Mary Trebing on May 31, 1947, and eventually had four children, two sons and two daughters. The couple moved to Atlanta, where in 1950 White began working at the regional headquarters of the Communications Workers of America; in 1957 he moved to the central office in Washington, where he lived until his retirement in 1980. For the Bicentennial he edited a book, The American Revolution in Notes, 31


H. P. Lovecraft

Quotes, and Anecdotes (Fairfax, VA: L. B. Prince, 1975). He died on February 5, 1989, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. White had one of the greatest private collections of 78-rpm jazz records of his day, and was also a voluminous book collector. Lovecraft’s correspondence with White probably did not consist of many more than the nine surviving letters we have. The first extant letter dates to September 1932. After an early hiatus of two and a half years, they reestablished contact in May 1935. Although Lovecraft’s letters to White are short, infrequent, and somewhat impersonal, they reflect his literary tastes and reading, even his general awareness of modern literary works and modern sentiments about writers from other periods of history. We find that in 1932—six years after he wrote “Cool Air”—Lovecraft could still say that Poe “probably continues to [influence me] more than any other one author.” And it is amusing to know that the blue-nosed Lovecraft could recommend bookstores where one could purchase what was euphemistically termed “curiosa” (i.e., erotica). The letters by H. P. Lovecraft to Lee White are printed by permission of Robert C. Harrall of Lovecraft Properties LLC and the John Hay Library, Brown University. For information on White, the editors are grateful to Lee White’s widow, Anne (Trebing) White, and White’s brother, Harvey O. White.

Abbreviations ALS JHL LL SHL WT

autograph letter, signed John Hay Library, Brown University S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue, 2nd ed. (Hippocampus Press, 2002) The Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature (Hippocampus Press, 2000) Weird Tales

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[Letter non-extant.]




10 Barnes St., Providence, R.I., Septr. 12, 1932 Dear Mr. White:—

I found yours of the 3d awaiting me upon my return from a combined eclipse expedition & antiquarian pilgrimage to points north of here.1 The eclipse was highly impressive as seen from Newburyport, Mass. (a picturesque & ancient town well within the zone of totality), & I afterward visited Montreal & Quebec2—the latter being perhaps the most delightful 18th century survival on this continent with the possible exception of Charleston, S.C. When in the Boston zone I did not fail to visit my favourite seaport village of Marblehead—which remains today much as it was two centuries ago, & which is the prototype of the “Kingsport” mentioned in my tales. I think I told you that I am a confirmed amateur antiquarian whose chief delight is to visit places where reliques of the past survive. I am glad you agree with me regarding Poe, especially the merit of “Silence—A Fable”,3 which I have long considered notable both as a piece of visual imagery & as a triumph of musical language; Poe has influenced me since early youth—& probably continues to do so more than any other one author. I first came across Dunsany in 1919, & was prodigiously influenced by him—more, really, than I ought to have been; since my own tales became almost imitative of his during the next six or seven years. Now, however, I am trying to be more independent in style. Baudelaire is certainly a titanic figure, & has greatly influenced Clark Ashton Smith, whose magazine work you doubtless know. Smith has vividly translated Baudelaire, though the translations are still unpublished except for minor items.4 Yes—Aristophanes is surely an important figure; & Petronius & Apuleius are permanent enough, though on a somewhat minor level.5 Among the cheaper modern writers A. Merritt is surely one of the most distinctive—his “Moon Pool” in its original version6 being almost a landmark of weird magazine fiction. I have never read the famous “Justine” of de Sade,7 or the equally famous “Venus in Furs” of


H. P. Lovecraft

von Masoch.8 Both are undoubtedly significant in the history of psychology, though perhaps less so as works of art. Probably they can be obtained at any time from dealers in so-called “curiosa” like the Falstaff Press or Esoterika Biblion of New York. I have read parts of “Maldoror”,9 which is certainly a triumph of impassioned chaos— exceeding even Rimbaud’s Bateau Ivre10 in delirious intensity. I don’t know where a copy would be obtainable—indeed, I have forgotten where I saw the extracts I did. “Marpessa” is by the late Stephen Phillips,11 (author of “Herod”) & ought to be obtainable without difficulty at any public library. I’ll send you a copy of “At the Mts. of Madness” very shortly—also any other tales of mine which you may wish to see. Enclosed is a list of my various attempts on which you can check, in pencil, the items that interest you. Some of them, though, are rather crude & poor. I wish you the best of luck in your own literary ventures, & would be interested to see some of your work. Your activities at the camp must have been pleasant & piquant indeed. Just now I am expecting a visit from Donald Wandrei, whose weird tales & verses you have doubtless seen in various magazines.12 He has a great deal of unpublished material, including a weird novel—“Dead Titans Waken”.13 With all good wishes,

Yrs most cordially & sincerely, H. P. Lovecraft Notes 1. HPL and W. Paul Cook had gone to Newburyport on 31 August to see the solar eclipse (cf. SL 4.63). 2. HPL visited Quebec on 2–6 September; it was his second trip to Quebec (the first was in 1930), and his first trip to Montreal. 3. “‘The Masque of the Red Death’, ‘Silence—A Fable’, and ‘Shadow—A Parable’ are assuredly poems in every sense of the word save the metrical one, and owe as much of their power to aural cadence as to visual imagery” (SHL 45). Cf. also SL 2.70. 4. It appears that Smith translated Charles Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du mal nearly in its entirety (most poems remaining only in preliminary literal prose translations), but few of his verse translations appeared in print, most notably in his column in the Auburn Journal and in Sandalwood (1925). 5. Aristophanes (450?–385? B.C.E.), Greek comic playwright; T. Petronius Arbiter (1st century C.E.), author of the Satyricon (LL 688); Lucius Apuleius

The Lovecraft Annual: 2007


(2nd century C.E.), author of The Golden Ass (LL 37). 6. All-Story Weekly, 22 June 1918 (LL 17). HPL listed it among his ten favorite weird tales. 7. Donatien Alphonse François, marquis de Sade (1740–1814), Justine; ou, Les Malheurs de la vertu (1791); first Eng. tr. as Justine; or, The Misfortunes of Virtue (1889). Cf. SL 3.106. 8. Leopold von Sacher-Masoch (1835–1895); Venus im Pelz (1870); first Eng. tr. as Venus in Furs (1921). Cf. SL 3.108. 9. Comte de Lautréamont (1846–1870) [pseud. of Isidore Ducasse], Les Chants de Maldoror (1868). 10. Arthur Rimbaud (1854–1891), “Le Bateau ivre” [“The Drunken Boat”]. HPL owned Edgell Rickword’s Rimbaud, the Boy and the Poet (1924; LL 735). 11. Stephen Phillips (1868–1915), Marpessa (1900); a poem. The drama Herod was also published in 1900. 12. Wandrei visited HPL in mid-September 1932 (cf. SL 4.68–69). 13. The original version of The Web of Easter Island (1948).


[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I. May 31, 1935.

Dear Mr. White:— Very good to hear from you again! Your story is interesting & well-written, & seems to me to indicate marked promise for a fictional career. You have a vivid way of putting things, & a flow of words bespeaking competence & assurance. There is, too, a sense of drama & of climax which augurs well. Later on perhaps you will choose to emphasise modern technique a little less, & to substitute more ordinary phases of life for the extremely dramatic moments here represented—but the best course to follow is that of natural evolution. You are certainly started splendidly—& perhaps the newspaper columning will prove a benefit in the end, because of the training it gives in observation & narrative values. Your extensive reading is all in the right direction—& I trust that the general college curriculum has not been quite so barren of benefit as you may at the moment assume. Your impressions of Shakespeare are not far from those which I have entertained at various times. Ultimately, though, one has to concede the bard’s vast superiority as a whole over any of his contempo-


H. P. Lovecraft

raries. He had a breadth & insight—& a tremendously apt mode of characterisation—which none of the others could parallel. Of course he was very uneven, so that many dull & mediocre passages can be found in his works. Some of his plays are undeniably less effective than various single plays of others. But in spite of all this, a general survey of his achievements will easily demonstrate his superiority. The idolatry given him during the 19th century was perhaps excessive—but after all allowances are made, he remains clearly the premier reflector of human nature so far as our civilisation is concerned. D. H. Lawrence, on the other hand, is almost certainly overrated at present. He had, of course, great power—but his fame was fortuitously boosted by the fact that he was a biassed neurotic in an age generally permeated by the same neurosis.1 I have seen reviews—all favourable—of the work of Howell Vines,2 but have not yet read any of his books. I surely must repair this omission before long. Most of the vital writing in America seems to come from the South nowadays—a condition which I think will increase rather than decrease. A settled, homogeneous people has much to say & generally says it powerfully. I think you have Swinburne sized up about right. He tried to make a few inches go a long way—& really got by largely because of his matchless melody, & because of the fatuous Victorian notions from which he was luckily free. Henry James was assuredly solid, but I can’t bring myself to like him intensely. His care in expressing precise states of mood & meaning often becomes fumbling & oldmaidish—& he had an unfortunate habit of confining his attention to certain very artificial (& basically not very significant) human types. I haven’t read much of Aldous Huxley, since literary “smartness” does not appeal to me. That kind of writing seems to involve values & perspectives of very doubtful reality or permanence. However, I’ll admit that Aldous is an arresting social thinker when he chooses to be. Accurate thinking runs in the family!3 I have not read “Ulysses”, but believe that the principle of the stream-of-consciousness method is a valuable one—destined to influence fiction in the future. However, I doubt its value as an exclusive method of narration.4 It will probably work best when assimilated to the main stream of fiction—supplementing objective narration in places where thoughts or inner life are at variance with external manifestations. Hope your friend can put his novel across success-

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fully—that kind of thing makes a good beginning even when one grows beyond it or builds upon it. I liked George Meredith in youth, for he seemed to deal with real people & events—a refreshing contrast to the sentimental caricaturist Dickens, whose work I’ve always detested. Now I can see how essentially Victorian—how influenced by artificial & erroneous conceptions—Meredith was. But he did try to put serious psychology into fiction. Galsworthy I admire rather than relish. Bennett I don’t care for. George Moore doesn’t interest me greatly—though perhaps I haven’t read his best specimens. Hardy strikes me as overrated—there is an underlying pomposity & sentimentality in him. The fact is, I don’t think our race is very successful in fiction. The French are the real masters of that field—Balzac, Gautier, Flaubert, de Maupassant, Stendhal, Proust . . . Nobody can beat them unless it is in the 19th century Russians—Dostoievsky, Chekhov, Turgeniev—& they reflect a racial temper so unlike ours that we really have much difficulty in appraising them. On the whole, I believe that Balzac is the supreme novelist of western Europe. Many try to put Proust ahead of him today, but I believe Proust is too narrow in his field & too specialised— even abnormal—in his psychology to take first rank. Balzac hasn’t yet met his match. The drama certainly fills an important niche. I used to enjoy it vastly, though latterly pure narration seems to captivate me more. Acting is assuredly a major art—as creative in its way as composition. It has not, however, the infinite breadth & depth of composition—since it always involves the interpretation of what someone else has conceived & recorded. That is, unless one acts in one’s own plays. Your assistant editorship has undoubtedly been excellent practice, & I hope you’ll remain in college & edit the magazine next year. Editing exercises one’s literary judgment as few other things can do. Clark Ashton Smith’s address is Box 385, Auburn, California. I’m enclosing a circular of his brochure of fantastic stories5—which I advise you very strongly to get if you haven’t it already. He is easily the leader of all the writers in W T, & these stories (rejected by Wright) are better than any which have appeared in the magazine. W T is pretty mediocre lately, though something passable appears now & then. So you saw that “Gates of the Silver Key”?6 I’ll confess I don’t think much of it—it doesn’t represent any original impulse of


H. P. Lovecraft

mine, & tends to be artificial & mechanical. I simply can’t collaborate successfully. Since then I have written two more stories, but have not sent them in for publication.7 Wright has rejected my best things, & I doubt whether he has much more use for my work. There has been talk of a collection of my stories in book form—Derleth’s publishers, Loring & Mussey, having asked to see my stuff8—but all this seems to be coming to nothing. By the way—did you see the little magazine devoted to the discussion of weird fiction—The Fantasy Fan—during its brief career (Sept. ’33 to Feb. ’35)? If not, I’ll send you one or two issues of which I have duplicates. Another little publication of the same sort—Fantasy Magazine—carries my brief autobiography & portrait in its current issue.9 And have you seen William Crawford’s Marvel Tales? I can let you have a copy of that. Hope you’ll see New Orleans sooner or later—though as I may have said, I vastly prefer Charleston. Charleston is, in my opinion, the most delightful & fascinating city in the United States. Nowhere else had the mellow beauty of the past so completely survived. Other towns which I prefer to New Orleans are St. Augustine, Savannah, & Natchez. St. Augustine, with buildings going back to the 1570’s & 1580’s, is something utterly unique. My trips since last writing you have included one to ancient Quebec in Aug.–Sept. 1933, & one to De Land, Florida (where I visited the young weird tale enthusiast R. H. Barlow for nearly 2 months) in May & June, 1934. On the latter trip I also stopped in Charleston, Savannah, St. Augustine, Richmond, Washington, Fredericksburg, Philadelphia, & N.Y. It is possible that I shall visit Barlow again very shortly, though straitened finances will cut down intermediate stops. In Sept. 1934 I visited the island of Nantucket (only 90 miles from here) for the first time in my life, & found it an infinitely quaint & unspoiled survival of New England whaling days. Around New Year’s I visited Long in New York, & met several others of the weird group—including Barlow, who was up from the South. The present spring has been an atrociously late one in the north, & I have had very few outings so far. Just now some real warmth seems to be coming— so that, even if I don’t get to Florida, I can probably resume my openair programme before long. Well—again let me congratulate you upon your excellent story. Keep it up, & I’m sure you’ll be able to do something serious in fiction. I suppose you know that Derleth is really getting into the liter-

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ary world—making Scribners & the Atlantic,10 & being about to have his 4th novel published.11 Only 26 years old, too. All good wishes—

Yrs most cordially, H. P. Lovecraft Notes 1. “Writers I’d call morbid are D. H. Lawrence & James Joyce, Huysmans & Baudelaire” (SL 3.155). 2. Howell Vines (1899–1981), author of A River Goes with Heaven (1930) and This Green Thicket World (1934). 3. HPL refers to Thomas Henry Huxley (1825–1895), biologist and philosopher, grandfather of Aldous Huxley (1894–1963) and his brother Sir Julian Sorell Huxley (1887–1975), biologist and humanist. 4. James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922) was banned in the U.S. from its publication until 1933. HPL himself sparingly employed stream-of-consciousness techniques in accordance with this dictum, for example, in the closing paragraphs of “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935). 5. The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies (Auburn, CA: Auburn Journal Press, 1933; LL 810). 6. HPL and E. Hoffmann Price, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” WT, July 1934. 7. “The Thing on the Doorstep” (August 1933) and “The Shadow out of Time” (November? 1934–March 1935). 8. Cf. SL 5.111. The collection was rejected (SL 5.317). 9. F. Lee Baldwin, “H. P. Lovecraft: A Biographical Sketch,” Fantasy Magazine 4, No. 5 (April 1935): 108–10, 132. The “portrait” is a linoleum cut by Duane W. Rimel. 10. August Derleth, “Crows Fly High,” Scribner’s Magazine 96, No. 6 (December 1934): 358–62; “Now Is the Time for All Good Men,” Scribner’s Magazine 98, No. 5 (November 1935): 295–98. For Derleth’s appearance in the Atlantic Monthly, see letter 6, n. 2. 11. Place of Hawks (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1935; LL 235).


[ALS] Ancient San Agustin— August 20, 1935.

My dear White:— As you may perceive, I am on my way at last! I accompanied the Barlows to Daytona & helped them settle in the flat


H. P. Lovecraft

they are to occupy for a fortnight. Then the diligencia for ancient San Agustin! It surely is good to see centuried gables & facades & balconies & garden walls—& hear the sound of tinkling fountains at twilight, & of cathedral chimes cast in 1682—after 2 months & 9 days of rural modernity! Am revelling in the atmosphere of a 370-year-old city—a city founded when Shakespeare was a year old, & still containing houses which had 40 years behind them when the first settlers landed at Jamestown. I’m staying a week—at my usual hotel, the cheap but cleanly Rio Vista on the bay front—& cutting my food bill down to a minimum. I spend most of my time absorbing ancient vistas & writing atop the venerable fortress of San Marcos. Moving north at midnight August 25–6—& will get 5 hours in Savannah before striking my beloved Charleston . . . the most fascinating town of this continent (north of Mexico, at least) except Quebec. Am so short of cash that my stay in Charleston will be badly cut down—& hopes of stopping anywhere north of that grow dimmer & dimmer. However, it surely has been a great trip, all in all! I left home on the 5th of June—& heaven knows how I’ll get all the accumulated papers read up upon my return! Now about your story. Bless my soul, but you are arriving! Honestly, this is a tremendous piece of work—with surprising fidelity to human nature, & tremendous cleverness in manipulating turns of emotion. One of the best touches is at the very last—where you disappoint the anticipations of the mediocre reader, who expects the hero to end it all in the river after his disillusionment. No charge for borrowing my sentiments toward the northern winter, my preferences in Floridan zones, & my hateful task of revising bum MSS.!1 The whole thing is natural without being tame, & is full of vividly original illustrative touches. The only change I could possibly suggest is a slight toning-down of places where the quest for originality tends to torture idiom into Euphuism, or to dictate obscure words (geniculate, phantuscular, nemophily, &c.) which are really less effective than ordinary words because of their lack of mellow associations. But these matters are trifles. The point is, that the story is really powerful & admirable—a conclusive testimony of your writing ability. I return it as per request—& with a goodly quota of thanks & admiration. Regarding your “Saddypost” experiments—before you put great amounts of time & energy into them, I wish you would read Edward J. O’Brien’s “Dance of the Machines”, & the introductions to his vari-

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ous year-books of the short story.2 For the fact is, that this “slick” sort of story is really very far from being authentic art—forming, rather, a mere artificial device to gratify the expectations of an unreflective & un-analytical bourgeois public. Plot, in the common sense of complex events artificially arranged to produce certain clashes, interactions, & climaxes, is an utterly meretricious device unworthy of employment by any serious man of letters. It is a distortion—a concoction of things without a counterpart in actual life. Action in the overspeeded sense is closely akin. Dialogue can be an artistic medium of narration—but seldom is as employed by the popular commercial writers. The trouble with Satevepost junk is that it simply follows an empty formula—deliberately twisting, obscuring, & misrepresenting human values & motives. It is clever but meaningless. Certainly, it is hard enough to write—but it is tragic that so much human energy & intelligence should be wasted on a frivolous & irrelevant object instead of going into actual aesthetic creation. However—don’t let me preach! Yes—I must get a look at “Lust for Life”. “Ouroboros” is a favourite of mine—I must look up Eddison’s latest.3 You size up “Jurgen”4 pretty well—I must pass that observation on to Barlow! As for a Bierce-Hearn resemblance—well, I suppose they did have a certain common stylistic element derived from 19th century journalism; but Hearn soon outstripped his contemporary in all the subtleties & musical graces of expression. No—I never heard of a book by Wallace Smith.5 If he can write as well as he draws, his Mexican tales ought to be worth reading! Congratulations on discovering a source of old magazines! I’m telling Barlow about it—he has files of Argosy, Cavalier, &c. which he might possibly commission you to fill out. Yes—I do very much want extra copies of my tales for lending purposes, & will empower you to pick up any that don’t cost too much. Just now, however, I’m so broke that I wouldn’t dare contract a bill for a quarter! I’m eating on 20¢ to 25¢ per diem—with nickel cans of beans as a basis! Fine weather so far in St. Augustine. I dread the plunge northward (Salzor6 has nothing on me!), but shall at least have good furnace heat furnished within a month. Old bones need to be thawed out . . . today is my 45th birthday! Thanks for permission to retain the cutting. I’m very glad to have a likeness of you for my private Hall of Fame!


H. P. Lovecraft

All good wishes, & renewed congratulations on the excellence of your story— Yrs most sincerely—

HPL Notes 1. White had sent HPL another story in his letter of 17 August. He wrote therein, “I regret to say it is not what it was meant to be. I used your feeling for New England winter, and your liking for the central portion of Florida, which I hope you will not mind” (ms., JHL). 2. “Saddypost” refers to the Saturday Evening Post; HPL felt that the stories it published were trite and conventional. Edward J. O’Brien (1890–1941), The Dance of the Machines: The American Short Story and the Industrial Age (1929; LL 651); cf. SL 3.32; 4.73, 91. O’Brien edited The Best Short Stories of the Year from 1915 to 1941. 3. Irving Stone (1903–1989), Lust for Life (1934), a fictionalized biography of Vincent Van Gogh; E. R. Eddison (1882–1945), The Worm Ouroboros (1922; LL 291); Eddison’s “latest” was Mistress of Mistresses: A Vision of Zimiamvia (1935). 4. James Branch Cabell (1879–1958), Jurgen (1919). The book was the subject of an obscenity trial in 1920. Cf. “The Omnipresent Philistine” (1924): “That censors actually do seek to remove . . . legitimate and essential matter, and that they would if given greater power do even greater harm, is plainly shewn by the futile action against Jurgen, and the present ban on Ulysses, both significant contributions to contemporary art” (CE 2.77). 5. Wallace Smith (1888–1937) was primarily an artist, illustrating, among many other things, Ben Hecht’s Fantazius Mallare (1922). HPL refers to Smith’s The Little Tigress: Tales out of the Dust of Mexico (1923). 6. Possibly a character in the story by White mentioned earlier in this letter.


[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I., Octr. 28, 1935

Dear White:— Well—my total incarceration didn’t begin so early as I feared it would, since the autumn has been distinctly above the average in warmth. Possibly I mentioned my visit near Boston Sept. 20–23, when my host & I took many delightful side-trips to places like rocky Nahant, ancient Marblehead, brooding, hilly Wilbraham [the “Dunwich” of my story], & sandy, willow-decked Cape Cod. On Oct. 8 I had a trip to New Haven—a place which I had never thoroughly explored

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before. Though not as rich in colonial antiquities as Providence, it has a peculiar fascination of its own—& I explored it quite thoroughly, seeing all the old houses, churches, college buildings, &c., & visiting 3 museums & 2 botanic gardens. The most impressive sights of all, perhaps, are the great new quadrangles of Yale University—each an absolutely perfect reproduction of old-time architecture & atmosphere, & forming a self-contained little world in itself. The Gothic courtyards transplant one in fancy to mediaeval Oxford or Cambridge—spires, oriels, pointed arches, mullioned windows, arcades with groined roofs, climbing ivy, sundials, lawns, gardens, vine-clad walls & flagstoned walks— everything to give the young occupants that massed impression of their accumulated cultural heritage which they might obtain in Old England itself. To stroll through these quadrangles in the golden afternoon sunlight; at dusk, when the candles behind the diamond-paned casements flicker up one by one; or in the beams of a mellow Hunter’s Moon;1 is to walk bodily into an enchanted region of dream. It is the past & the ancient mother land brought magically to the present time & place. The choicest of these quadrangles is Calhoun College—named from the illustrious Carolinian2 (whose grave in St. Philips churchyard, Charleston, I visited only 2 months ago), who was a graduate of Yale. Nor are the Georgian quadrangles less glamorous—each being a magical summoning-up of the world of two centuries ago. I wandered for hours through the limitless labyrinth of unexpected elder microcosms, & mourned the lack of further time. Certainly, I must visit New Haven again. But this was not all. On Oct. 16 my friend Samuel Loveman came on from New York, & we proceeded at once to Boston to absorb books, museums, & antiquities. Stayed 3 days, & had a very enjoyable time. It is just possible that I shall have one trip more—a ride over the Mohawk Trail & just into Vermont in a friend’s3 well-heated Chevrolet—but I’m not counting heavily on that. Congratulations on your notable record of academic attendance— a record which I hope will not soon be marred! Your studies sound interesting & congenial, & I’d like to see that Gothick tale essay of yours some day. If you have a spare copy, I’ll wager young Barlow would be eager to use it in his amateur paper, The Dragon-Fly.4 Have you, by the way, received a copy of this latter? If not, I’ll try to induce the editor to send you one. A very high-grade venture despite a trifle of mechanical crudity. Glad your musical library is growing, & hope the radio will soon be restored to working order. I prefer silence for reading or writing of


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any kind, but can imagine how some might find a melodic accompaniment agreeable. Glad also that you have had opportunities for choreographic observation. I can’t appreciate the dance, but realise that it has a secure place among the arts. Sorry you were disappointed in the cinematic “Anna Karenina”—a production I have not seen.5 Glad Marvel Tales was of some interest. “Sarnath” is an old story—written in 1919—& differs vastly from any of my recent efforts. It shews the Dunsany influence to a marked extent.6 Coming to my overcrowded programme, I have read very little this autumn—though a formidable pile of borrowed books still adorns my library table. What I’m going to tackle now—after I wade through Derleth’s new detective novel & tell him what I think of it— is the Wells-Huxley “Science of Life”—a really important contribution to the popular understanding of biology, if critics report aright.7 Your own reading sounds very sensible & solid—& I want to get hold of “The Shape of Things to Come”8 some day. Sorry H G is trying cheap tricks to attract attention—& he doesn’t need to! The place of Wells in pure literature is distinctly problematical. As a thinker he is unsurpassed—but most of his works lack a certain imaginative convincingness. They are too didactic—remaining as abstract intellectual problems instead of coming alive. I read “Anthony Adverse” a year or two ago.9 An excellent panoramic glimpse of the late 18th century, though full of curious drawbacks such as the childish overworking of coincidence, the excessive plastering on of sentimentality & naively obtrusive philosophising, the primitive acceptance of the idea of “fate”, & a general slowing-up & letdown during the final third—after the passage of the Alps & entry into France. Good luck with your stories—& hope the novel will eventually surpass your present expectations. I’ve never tried a full-length novel, though some of my stuff reaches “novelette” length. The muchrejected “Mountains of Madness” comes to about 38,000 words.10 W T is rather lousy of late. In the Sept. issue “Vulthoom” & “Shambler from the Stars” barely save it from being a total loss, while “Cold Grey God” & “Last Guest” perform a similar service for the Oct. number.11 In one of the Sept. stories the author spoke of New Orleans as a full-fledged city—cathedral & all—in 1720, whereas of course the site was scarcely cleared at that early date.12 As for the covers—I never yet saw one that was worth the coloured inks expended on it. Of course the luscious & irrelevant nudes are rabble-

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catchers & nothing else but—an attempt by Wright to attract two publics instead of one.13 A similar attempt is represented by the ringing-in of cheap detective junk with a thin, pseudo-weird veneer. What will ever become of the magazine I’m hanged if I know! By the way—have you seen The Phantagraph, published by one Wilson Shepherd of Oakman in your own state & edited by Donald A. Wollheim of 801 West End Ave., N.Y.C.? Crudely printed by William Crawford, but not so bad as to contents. It is endeavouring to take the place of the lamented Fantasy Fan. Derleth has another detective novel out—“The Sign of Fear”.14 Price is starting out on a motor trip to Mexico—& will visit Robert E. Howard en route. You’ll be sorry to hear that Clark Ashton Smith’s mother died Sept. 9—a not unexpected event, yet no less a blow on that account. W. Paul Cook has gone to St. Louis to engage in a neighbourood newspaper venture. I’m enclosing a circular & application blank of the National Amateur Press Association—an organisation which sometimes proves very helpful to the literary experimenter, & in which I’ve been active for 21 years. It is with this society that Barlow’s Dragon-Fly is affiliated. Despite its occasional crude spots, I think you’d find membership very pleasant and encouraging, hence I hope you’ll utilise the blank. I am now a verse critic in the association, & have just prepared my report for the official organ.15 All good wishes—

Yrs most cordially & sincerely, H. P. Lovecraft P.S. Just had word of the acceptance by Astounding Stories of my long novelette “At the Mountains of Madness”, previously rejected by Wright. Don’t know when it will appear. Notes 1. The first full moon following the harvest moon, which is the full moon occurring nearest the autumnal equinox. 2. John C. Calhoun (1782–1850). 3. Edward H. Cole. 4. White’s essay was not published in the Dragon-Fly. 5. Anna Karenina (MGM, 1935), produced by David O. Selznick, directed by Clarence Brown; starring Greta Garbo and Fredric March.


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6. “The Doom That Came to Sarnath” (1919), Marvel Tales of Science and Fantasy 1, No. 4 (March–April 1935): 157–63; orig. The Scot (June 1920). 7. H. G. Wells, Julian Huxley, and G. P. Wells, The Science of Life: A Summary of Contemporary Knowledge about Life and Its Possibilities (1929–30; 3 vols.). See letter 6; cf. SL 5.256. The book was lent to HPL by J. Vernon Shea. 8. H. G. Wells (1866–1946), The Shape of Things to Come (1933). 9. Hervey Allen (1889–1949), Anthony Adverse (1933). Cf. SL 4.379, 390. 10. HPL had submitted At the Mountains of Madness (1931) only to WT. By “much-rejected” he refers to the generally cold reception of the story by his correspondents. 11. WT, September 1935: Clark Ashton Smith, “Vulthoom”; Robert Bloch, “The Shambler from the Stars”; WT, October 1935; C. L. Moore, “The Cold Gray God”; John Flanders, “The Mystery of the Last Guest.” 12. Ethel Helene Coen, “One Chance.” 13. Both covers were by Margaret Brundage (1900–1976). Her artwork was featured on virtually all covers of WT from mid-1933 through mid-1936. 14. Sign of Fear: A Judge Peck Mystery (New York: Loring & Mussey, 1935; LL 236). 15. “Some Current Amateur Verse,” National Amateur 58, No. 2 (December 1935): 14–15.


[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I., Dec. 20, 1935.

Dear White:— Thanks for the congratulations—& you can double ’em if you like, for no sooner had the “Mts. of Madness” incident sunk into my consciousness than I was given a second pleasant surprise . . . . in the form of another cheque from Street & Smith. It seems that Donald Wandrei, to whom I had lent my newest novelette “The Shadow out of Time”, had taken the liberty of submitting the MS. to Astounding without my knowledge—& through some inexplicable coincidence the editor was favourable again! This certainly was a lifesaving windfall, & it is needless to say that I feel tremendously encouraged by the incident. I know that such “winning streaks” don’t keep up—but the impression is pleasant while it lasts. This dual stroke gave me such a psychological boost that I’ve just written a new tale—a short specimen called “The Haunter of the Dark”. From what I hear, the “Mts.” will be a 3-part story in the February, March &

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April Astounding. I’ve no idea when the “Shadow” will appear.1 Yes—Derleth certainly is landing big! I must see his Atlantic piece.2 It is very probable that Scribners will henceforward be his publishers, & that he will embark on a series of historical novels dealing with his native Wisconsin background. In preparation for this series he is conducting a course of antiquarian research which puts me to shame. He is going exhaustively over all the old records, newspapers, & diaries he can find in local files, libraries, & attics, & is hiring people to copy headlines & topics from the Milwaukee papers of 50 or 75 years ago. He means to know those times as intimately as if he had lived in them—& the result will be apparent when he comes to write the novels. Of all our group, Derleth is certainly making the greatest progress toward a solid place in literature. Congratulations on the further Quill placements—you’ll be giving Derleth a run for his money before long! Don’t be discouraged because your present work fails to satisfy you. Every new effort is invaluable practice, & one by one you will overcome the various problems of composition. From what I have seen of your work, I’d tend to say that you are making an unusually good start—& the extent of your reading is also a favourable element. Commiserations on the loss of your one first-rate professor!3 That surely is a blow—but with the start you have I fancy you’ll be able to extract considerable from the course as it is. Meanwhile let me congratulate you upon securing material from Howell Vines. I simply must get hold of something of his—for he seems to be the sort of chap I respect . . . . a man who writes honestly, not “pleasantly”, & who will not make himself trivial with the artificial, jackin-the-box device called plot! I can sympathise with his inability to write when worried—& also with his perpetual brokeness! Poverty & anxiety certainly are—as he would say—the goddamdest sons of bitches! You surely were lucky to get that haul of 16 records for 80¢! I can imagine what a boon the phonograph is to a discriminating music lover. In these latter years I fancy the instrument is acquiring a new dignity and status—becoming a fixture among persons who wish to hear particular selections at particular times, rather than an indiscriminative purveyor of jazz to the herd. The radio has largely absorbed the old-time army of casual phonograph-users. Glad you have some new bookcases. Don’t worry about the


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empty spaces—they’ll fill up before you know it, so that a fresh problem of congestion will be on your hands. I keep getting new bookcases, but the volumes pile up & overflow despite all I can do. Nowadays I try to get the sort of cases which take the least space— plain, shallow ones which can be piled atop one another. The effect is that of mere shelving—but of course the cases can be moved, whereas shelving can’t. I also have ancestral bookcases of a more pretentious sort, some of them with glass doors. One of the latter has its upper shelf reserved for curiosities—an Aztec image, an Egyptian ushabti,4 a primitive African idol, & so on—a museum in miniature, as it were. I really need more space for this kind of thing, & wish I had a regular display case. Quaint, ancient, & exotic objects exercise a strong fascination upon me. Your bibliothecal accessions strike me as very sensible on the whole. I seem to have read most of them—though oddly enough, I’ve never read Rabelais! Incidentally, I lost my copy of “Sartor Resartus”5 when moving into #66—don’t know where it slipped to, but it was the only missing item when the great rearrangement was completed. “Peter Schlemiel”6 disappointed me when I read it a decade ago. It had been very strongly recommended, but I found it curiously flat. On the other hand, I’m an enthusiastic “Undine”7 fan. I can understand the fascination exerted upon you by the pictures in historical manuals. They have always charmed me, & I could point to dozens which seem to open gates into a magical world of the past. A couple of years ago I found a marvellous set of 10¢ books at Woolworth’s— all pictures, but covering British history from neolithic times to the present in considerable detail. Everything illustrated—events, persons, architecture, landscape, costume, articles in common use—a veritable pictorial museum. It would be a marvellous aid if one were composing a story with a bygone setting. It is indeed seldom that we can capture from our youthful fairy-tale reading the same thrill that we derived when 4 or 5 years old—although I’ll confess that the Arabian Nights (Andrew Lang’s edition)8 still gives me a kick. What duplicates best the glamour & adventurous expectancy of juvenile reading in my case is Dunsany. “A Dreamer’s Tales”,9 when I discovered them at the age of 29, gave me precisely the same feeling that Lang’s Arabian Nights did when I was 5. Proust is certainly solid & important— the greatest figure, without question, of the early 20th century. I’ve read “Swann’s Way” & “Within a Budding Grove”, & mean to go

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through the whole series some day.10 It certainly forms a rich & vivid picture of an age—or one angle of an age. You are certainly right in believing that one should know the standard older authors—must have, that is, a sympathetic understanding of the whole literary stream which has moulded our perspective & modes of expression— in order to write intelligently & well. One of the unfortunate things about the present age is its plethora of raw, crude books—things written without background or grace, & with the superficial, fumbling diction of the ignorant & traditionless. Glad you had an opportunity to see Cornelia Otis Skinner11—who is now in Providence, & of whose work my late elder aunt was especially fond. Her father was certainly a great old boy—I recall him in such things as “Kismet”. He must be getting toward 80 now, but is still active in many ways. Not long ago I read an article of his—either in Harpers or the Atlantic.12 I never saw a performance of Miss Skinner’s, since I am curiously unappreciative of dramatic readings. I require a full cast and scenery to get my imagination really working. In late years my interest in drama has greatly waned, & I see very few cinemas. Like you, I deplore the inability of cinema performers to sink themselves in their parts. I agree concerning the merits of Charles Laughton, whom I have seen as Nero, Henry VIII, Dr. Moreau, Edward Moulton-Barrett, & Inspector Javert.13 His Henry was surely magnificent, & his Nero scarcely less distinctive in its way. Speaking of Nero & books about him—have you read “The Bloody Poet”, by Desider Kostolanyi,14 which was published 7 or 8 years ago? It got at the frustrated artist side of the poor old scab rather well. Further anent the theatre—I heard a pretty good lecture on the recent work of Shaw by the critic Bonamy Dobrée the other night. Also was invited to see the Le Gallienne repertory company last month—in two clever & surprisingly traditional comedies by the brothers Quintero. Smooth but undistinguished. They had “Rosmersholm”15 the next night, which I’d a damn sight rather have seen. Just my luck to get invited to the wrong show! Hope the Frentz performance didn’t disappoint you. My aunt went to hear Kreisler the other night, but I didn’t. No especial events hereabouts—& winter is obviously at hand. 5-inch snow Nov. 23—earliest in the history of the local weather bureau. I am reading the Wells-Huxley biological outline—“The Science of Life”—& find it a truly monumental piece of popular exposition. ¶


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All good wishes— Merry Christmas & Happy New Year—Yrs most cordially—

HPL Notes 1. Astounding paid HPL a total of $630 for the two stories, $350 (less $35 commission to Julius Schwartz) for At the Mountains of Madness and $280 for “The Shadow out of Time” (June 1936). 2. August Derleth, “The Alphabet Begins with AAA,” Atlantic Monthly 156, No. 6 (December 1935): 734–39. 3. August H. Mason. 4. A gift from Samuel Loveman (see SL 4.347). 5. By Thomas Carlyle. An edition was found in HPL’s library (see LL 154). 6. Adelbert von Chamisso (1781–1838), Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte (1814); tr. as Peter Schlemihl. The novel was mentioned in the original version of “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (Recluse, 1927), where HPL says of it: “[It] tells of a man who lost his own shadow as the consequence of a misdeed, and of the strange developments that resulted.” 7. Friedrich Heinrich Karl, freiherr de La Motte-Fouqué (1777–1843), Undine (1811). HPL had an edition with Sintram and His Companions and other works (LL 513). 8. The Arabian Nights Entertainments, selected by Andrew Lang (New York: Longmans, Green, 1898; LL 38), given to HPL by his mother on Christmas 1898. 9. By Lord Dunsany (LL 273). 10. HPL never read the final four novels of A Remembrance of Things Past. 11. Cornelia Otis Skinner (1901–1979), actress and author of several books of humor. 12. Otis Skinner, “Sneak Music,” Harper’s 171, No. 6 (November 1935): 748–53. 13. HPL refers to several movies starring Charles Laughton (1899–1962): The Sign of the Cross (1932), The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Island of Lost Souls (1933), The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1934), and Les Misérables (1935). 14. Dezsö Kosztolányi (1885–1936), A véres költö (1921); tr. as The Bloody Poet (1927). 15. Henrik Ibsen (1828–1906), Rosmersholm (1885–86; first American production 1904). HPL saw A Sunny Morning (one-act play) and The Women Have Their Way (two-act play) by Serafin and Joaquin Alvarez Quintero, starring Eva Le Gallienne.

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[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I., Feby. 10, 1936

Dear White:— My tardiness in acknowledging yours of Jany. 9 & the interesting issue of The Quill springs from an unfortunate combination of circumstances. First I was crowded to the breaking-point with an accumulation of more tasks than I could possibly perform, & then came down with an attack of grippe—which leaves me still rather shaky & easily fatigued. I am surrounded by mountains of unanswered mail, & have had to shelve or transfer many labours which I ought to perform. Therefore besides being late, this epistle may likewise be very disjointed, stupid, & inadequate. I enjoyed the Howard Quill 1 very much—& can scarcely recall seeing a better student publication. The proportion of really vital & well-written material is surprisingly high, & I certainly congratulate all connected with it. The cover, too, is very harmonious in design & colour. I was very glad to get a first glimpse of Howell Vines’s work, & enjoyed his closeness to the atmosphere & folklore of his native soil.2 That is what important novels grow out of. “Leonard Clintstock”3 also rings true—while “So South the South”4 very justly points out an especially irritating phase of popular literary hokum. “Michaely”5 overdoes ultra-modern mannerisms a trifle, but the author shews that he has an ample fund of images for soberer use later on. Your own story6 is an excellent psychological study—a bit highly coloured, perhaps, but full of the insight which distinguishes the sincere fiction writer. The verse in the magazine includes some splendid stuff—your departing preceptor Mason being especially powerful.7 As you say, “Shakespeare’s Father”8 is highly unusual—indeed, all the verse seems to reach a gratifyingly high level. Your brief columnar lines are very clever!9 Thanks immensely for this delightful glimpse of contemporary university journalism. Hope you’ll do equally well with the future issues—in all of which I wish you the very best of luck. Your latest bibliothecal additions seem to be as well-chosen as the earlier ones—including several which I lack, & 3 or 4 which I’ve never read. Before long your walls will consist mostly of shelves! Glad you have read “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”10—I must some day. I became acquainted with “The Decline of the West”11 just a decade ago, & believe


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it is one of the most important books of the century. There is certainly a great deal of truth behind Spengler’s central theses—that agricultural cultures are healthier than industrial-commercial cultures, that cultures have or tend to have a natural rise, summit, & decline, & that our existing civilisation is on the down-grade. Mixed with the truth is a great deal of extravagance—as in the attempt to treat a culture as a typical biological organism—but this is characteristic of all philosophic systems. As you remark, the amount of massed erudition which Spengler puts into his work is almost bewildering. Many an ordinarily welleducated man rises from a perusal of “The Decline of the West” with a feeling of helpless ignorance & scholastic humility! Your postscript12 puts me in rather a difficult position, since I am a most emphatic opponent of the critical attitude it embodies. I have, however, tried to comment (on the other sheet) as best I can—at least explaining my own position, which you will probably deem absurd. My notes on—& tentative changes in—your really excellent poem must be regarded only in the light of suggestions—to be put aside, no doubt, as the biassed dodderings of fossilised & unreceptive old age. They at least illustrate a point of view—& may or may not prove vaguely helpful in one way or another. Speaking of poetry—here’s an advertisement listing the collected verse of my friend Samuel Loveman, published last month.13 You would probably consider the verse reprehensibly traditional & classical, but I regard it as great stuff. Loveman knows—or at least used to know—your fellow-Donnite Allen Tate. Glad you had a pleasant Yuletide. We had a tree here—giving quite a momentary illusion of restored childhood. Around New Year’s I visited Long in N.Y.—seeing most of the old group & meeting a number of science-fiction authors (Arthur J. Burks, Otto Binder, &c.) who were new to me. We had several gatherings at various places, & I attended a dinner of the Am. Fiction Guild—where I saw good old Seabury Quinn for the first time since 1931. Long, Morton, Loveman, Talman, Kline, Kleiner, the two Wandrei boys, Leeds, Sterling, Kirk, &c. &c. (some names may be known to you, others not) were on deck, & weird literature received quite a bit of discussion. Fortunately the weather was not as cold as it has since been, & I was not feeling quite as run down. On two occasions I visited the new Hayden Planetarium of the Am. Museum of Natural History, & found it a highly impressive de-

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vice. It consists of a round, domed building of 2 storeys, joined at one point to the museum edifice. On the lower floor is a circular hall whose ceiling is a gigantic orrery—shewing the planets revolving around the sun at their proper relative speeds. Above it is another circular hall whose roof is the great dome, & whose edge is made to represent the horizon of N.Y. as seen from Central Park. In the middle of this upper hall is a projector which casts on the concave dome a perfect image of the sky—capable of duplicating the natural apparent motions of the celestial vault, & of depicting the heavens as seen at any hour, in any season, from any latitude, & at any period of history. Other parts of the projector can cast suitably moveable images of the sun, moon, & planets, & diagrammatic arrows & circles for explanatory purposes. The effect is infinitely lifelike—as if one were outdoors beneath the sky. Lectures—different each month (I heard both Dec. & Jan. ones)—are given in connexion with the apparatus. In the annular corridors on each floor are niches containing typical astronomical instruments of all ages—telescopes, transits, celestial globes, armillary spheres, &c.—& cases to display books, meteorites, & other miscellany. Astronomical pictures line the walls, & at the desk may be obtained useful pamphlets, books, planispheres, &c. The institution holds classes in elementary astronomy, & sponsors clubs of amateur observers. Altogether, it is the most complete & active popular astronomical centre imaginable. It seems to be crowded at all hours, attesting a public interest in astronomy which did not exist when I was young. The latter half of the winter is proving wretchedly cold & snowy hereabouts (I haven’t been out of the house since Jany. 13), & believe that even our generally milder region has suffered somewhat from the universal chill. It surely cheers me to realise that the vernal equinox will be reached in a month & ten days! All good wishes, & thanks again for the Quill which speaks so well for your editorship!

Yrs most sincerely— HPL [P.S.] As an anti-Donnite I fear I can’t be of much real help regarding your verses—but I can at least offer a few concrete suggestions— probably to be rejected at once as the quaint mouthings of an archaic


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fogy. ¶ In the first place, I think you have rather outdone Donne—or out-Donned Donne!—in deliberate ruggedness. His lines always retained some resemblance to the metres from which they diverged—& I can’t recall that he carried his principles into blank verse—which always needs greater regularity. ¶ Secondly, it seems to me you have gone too far in the use of technical & prosaic terms (infra &c.)—a characteristic fault of this age. In trying to offer suggestions for improvement, I have endeavoured not to alter the general atmosphere of the poem—which is really excellent. Because of the blank verse medium, I have felt obliged to make the lines closer to iambic pentameter, & in one or two places I have straightened out diction which seemed to me wilfully & unmotivatedly (& therefore inartistically) obscure or inverted. I may have bungled everything—but here are the suggestions to heed or reject at will. Not sweet, this man: more he implacable: Unreconciled to sugar of Shakspere, Or music of the mighty-lined Marlowe Combined of rare components, he remained Supple, infrangible, with prism-perception Of a vast world and of himself in it. Below, above, beyond, this man; his view Wide, metasensual; his rugged words Dimensioned by mind, soul, body—bound By four stern walls of closely coffined space. All shining metal, this man’s leaping verse— The mercury of fluid lyric love Silver of resonant God-pointing hymn, Rough ore of youthful satire, grating harsh. . . . Nor ever sags the bold arc of his flight: A force centrifugal keeps tautly strung The thin cool wires of subtle intellect. Of bright & sudden tangent-thought composed— This man, light-winged, eccentric of good things: Body of woman, mind of man, God’s soul— Long time before his fire shall flicker out, Yet molder now the canons he defy’d.* *A sentiment with which, in any permanent sense, I basically disagree!

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I approach this Donne business with much trepidation, since I am on the other side of the fence. While appreciating the depth, subtlety, & penetration of Dr. Donne, I cannot in any way endorse his manner & medium. He was not primarily a poet—but rather a thinker & minute analyser of human nature. Poetry must be simple, direct, nonintellectual, clothed in symbols & images rather than ideas & statements, & above all limpid & musical—& employing the familiar, traditional words which have had a chance to pick up centuries of halflatent overtones & associations. If it isn’t all this—or largely so—it simply isn’t poetry. It is prose—psychological analysis, philosophy, or what have you—masquerading as poetry but using the appeal & channels of prose. Wilde knew what he was talking about when he pulled that famous mot—“Meredith is a prose Browning, & so was Browning.”14 Donne was the typical product of a decadent age—the petering-out of Elisabethanism. He thought that the poets had said everything that could be said about anything—hence began to experiment with minute analyses & intellectual subtleties which are not really poetry at all. He transferred the atmosphere of the Euphuistic conceit to verse—& founded a whole school of rhyming metaphysicians whose cleverness was enormous, but whose products were not poetry. Of course there was poetic feeling & material in Donne, but his mode of embodying it & his manner of uttering it detracted enormously from its net force. There was no excuse—no real reason—for his harsh & careless diction. Some of his poems are great in spite of it, but none because of it. He simply neglected & rejected one of the most valuable adjuncts to poetic expression. Dryden (who admired him) once very sensibly spoke of the need of translating Donne into English verse.15 For remember this always: harshness, obscurity, verbal inversion, far-fetched allusions, thin-spun conceits, &c. never serve any useful end in themselves. They are a dead weight to be carried by the poetry unfortunate enough to possess them. Donne was on the wrong track—Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley, & Keats on the right track. Irrespective of temporary fashions cropping up in ages akin to Donne’s own in decadence, this is what posterity has confirmed & always will confirm in the long run. You’ll live to see the truth reaffirmed—for good taste generally comes back in the end. I am fully aware of Donne’s present wave of popularity—whose beginning 20 years ago interested me greatly.16 Undoubtedly the restless, unpoetic, over-analytical taste of this jaded & bewildered age—


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an age upset by the fall of its hereditary illusions through scientific discovery, the reorganisation of its ways of life through mechanical development, & the threat of collapse inherent in its sociological maladjustment—finds a kindred voice in the old metaphysical poet—but that is the fault of the age rather than the virtue of the bard. This age is too scientific & intellectual to be aesthetic, & all the arts exhibit a pitiful sterility which no amount of radical experimentation & extravagance can conceal. Eliot confesses as much in his “Waste Land”. I feel little hesitation in betting that the most recent trends in poetry represent a blind alley—to be rejected in another generation or two in favour of the main line. The wise man, I think, is the one least swayed by fashion. A slave to no one age, but an impartial surveyor of western aesthetics from the beginning. Notes 1. The Howard Quill 8, No. 1 (Winter 1936), edited by Lee White. 2. Howell Vines wrote an article in the issue entitled “In a Novelist’s Notebook” (pp. 1–4). 3. A story by Harold R. Dunnam (p. 8). 4. A story by Hugh Frank Smith (pp. 24–25). 5. A story by Morrison Wood (pp. 4–5). 6. “Out of Sorrow” (pp. 26–27). 7. August H. Mason, “Geography Is Good” (p. 21). 8. A poem by LeRoy Mooney (p. 9). 9. White had contributed a brief humorous poem, “Look at Your Thumb,” in a section entitled “A Page for Woollcott” (p. 23). 10. T. E. Lawrence (1888–1935), Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (1926). 11. Oswald Spengler (1880–1936), Der Untergang des Abendlandes (1918–22; two vols.); tr. as The Decline of the West (1922–26; two vols.). HPL read the first volume no later than February 1927 (SL 2.103). 12. As a postscript to his letter of 9 January, White attached his untitled poem about John Donne: Not sweet, this man: more he implacable: Non-reconciled to sugar of Shakspere Music of Mighty-lined Marlowe Combined of rare component, Supple, infrangible, prism-perception Of a vast world and of himself in it. Infra-ultra, this man metasensual; Dimensioned by mind, soul, body

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[In margin, HPL has written:] Bound by four walls of coffins. All metal, verse of this man Don’t drag in scientific jarMercury of fluid love lyric gon. Simplicity & directness Silver of God-pointing hymn, are what make poetry. Rough ore of youthful satire. Never sagged the arc of his flight: The centrifugal force keeps taut The thin cool wires of intellect. Of bright sudden tangent-thought this man Eccentric of good things: Body of woman, mind of man, soul of God: Long time before flash of his fire shall be dying Yet molders the canon of his defying.

See HPL’s revised version in the postscript. 13. The Hermaphrodite and Other Poems (Caldwell, ID: The Caxton Printers, 1936; LL 550). 14. The statement is in the first section of Wilde’s The Critic as Artist (1891). HPL quoted this in his “Preface” to John Ravenor Bullen’s White Fire (Athol, MA: The Recluse Press, 1927), which he edited. 15. “Donne alone, of all our countrymen, had your talent; but was not happy enough to arrive at your versification; and were he translated into numbers, and English, he would yet be wanting in the dignity of expression.” Discourse concerning the Original and Progress of Satire (1693), dedicated to Charles, Earl of Dorset and Middlesex. 16. Reinterest in Donne can be traced to Edmund Gosse’s The Life and Letters of John Donne (1899; 2 vols.).


[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I., July 12, 1936

Dear White:— Glad to hear from you again—though as the fates would have it, the last few months have been such a nightmare of ill health, congested work, & nervous exhaustion that I could hardly have done justice to an earlier letter had I received one. Even now I fear my reply will seem sadly sketchy & inadequate. I believe I was rather down with grippe when I wrote in February. That was only the beginning of 1936’s disasters! My aunt soon developed a case infinitely worse than mine, so that I was at once reduced to the state of a combined nurse, secretary, butler, market-man & errand-boy. Later the patient had to go to the hospital—but since April 21 she has been


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back & is steadily recovering. I myself have been miserable. The cold spring kept my energies at a low ebb, & the hopelessly crowded state of my programme nearly reduced me to a nervous breakdown. My aunt’s illness & financial complications made a vacation impossible— so that in general ’36 has been a hell of a year so far! I did obtain a time-extension on the heaviest revision job, but am still uncertain about my ability to get it done. Glad the novel-notes have been progressing well, & hope the magnum opus will be taking shape ere long. Congratulations on the library! One can get some excellent bargains in the second-hand shops if one knows just where to look. Most of the standard works of literature are to be found on 10¢ & 25¢ counters, so that even a very moderate sum will go a long way unless one is fastidious about the physical appearance of the volumes. Regarding Donne—I trust I didn’t do him an injustice in my remarks of last winter. His status is surely secure enough, but I was questioning the wisdom of using him too exclusively as a model & inspiration, as some of the moderns are inclined to do. Poetry, after all, must be essentially emotional & imaginative rather than intellectual; & I believe that some of the modernly despised “romantics” were far truer artists—using their medium in the way it was meant to be used—than any of the thinkers who have tried to write philosophy in verse. I must read Vardis Fisher1 & Thomas Wolfe some day—for they seem to be accepted as especially authentic voices of the present. Upholders of the genteel tradition accuse Fisher of “bad taste”— which probably means that he is a serious writer with something to say! By the way—your Communion verses are very clever! Amidst the prevailing chaos my own reading has been very scant, & even now I am engulfed by tons of unread borrowed books. Recently I’ve perused two biographies of Roger Williams,2 plus George Santayana’s “Last Puritan”3—the latter a splendid study of the moribund culture amidst which I grew up. Not a mere piece of cheap debunking—but a sympathetic study which praises strong points while shewing up weak points. In general, such a work as one would expect from the greatest living philosopher. I hope you will find it possible to enter Princeton after your graduation. An academic career would, it seems to me, be admirably appropriate for one with your vital & spontaneous devotion to literature. This has been a bad year for fantasy in general as well as for cer-

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tain of its devotees—both M. R. James (aet 73) and George Allen England (aet 59) being on its recent necrology roll.4 Most tragic of all from the standpoint of our little circle is the suicide of Robert E. Howard—who shot himself on June 11 when told that his mother would not recover from her illness. She died the next day without knowing of his act. The blow to his father—a physician—is terrific. His books will be given to his alma mater (Howard Payne College, Brownwood, Texas) as the nucleus of a Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection. Weird fiction’s loss is irreparable—for no other popular magazine fantaisiste’s work had half the zest & power & spontaneity of his. Poor old Two-Gun Bob! All good wishes—

Yrs most cordially— HPL Notes 1. Vardis Fisher (1895–1968), prolific regional novelist. 2. Emily M. Easton, Roger Williams, Prophet and Pioneer (1930); James Ernst, Roger Williams, New England Firebrand (1932). See HPL to R. F. Searight, 27 August 1936, H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Richard F. Searight, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1992), p. 84. 3. George Santayana (1863–1950), The Last Puritan (1935); cf. SL 5.312–15. 4. James died on 12 June 1936 (one day after Robert E. Howard), England on 26 June 1936.


[ALS] Rock Bluff on the Edge of a Woodland Tarn in the Forest of Quinsnicket, some 6 Miles North of 66 College Street., Prov. R.I. —Oct. 15, 1936

Dear White:— One of my last afternoon outings, with work & correspondence along in the inevitable black bag. Autumn closes down early in this sub-arctic zone, & tropical-constitution’d old gentleman can’t enjoy sitting in the open very much after this time of year. Oh, to be in Charleston, now that autumn’s here!1 Glad you have been managing to have a reasonably good time despite minor worries & wearinesses. Don’t mind occasional unproductive or even un-studious spells. The best of minds have to lie fallow


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now & then, & are all the better after their periods of restful idleness. Hope you’re rid of asthmatic troubles—which, by the way, always bothered Ambrose Bierce. Things hereabouts go much as usual. Barlow left for the west Sept. st 2 1 , pausing in N Y to see Long, Howard Wandrei, & others of the weird fiction group, & calling on Miss Moore in Indianapolis.3 I’ve had several guests since then—shewing each the usual round of antiquarian sights. Busy as the devil with revision—worked 60 hours without sleep a fortnight ago on a job whose deadline loomed perilously close.4 My aunt is still improving, & I’m as tolerable as might be expected with cold weather leering threateningly ahead. And so you are sampling the celebrated Gertrude Stein! I must admit that I’ve never read any book of hers, since scattered fragments in periodicals discouraged any interest I might otherwise have acquired. I suppose she has been an influence, or something of the sort—otherwise substantial literary figures would not take her so quasi-seriously. But I can’t think that she counts very heavily in the long stream of continuous English tradition. As steins go, I think I’ll do my betting on Ein! I wish my camera were of the right size & focussing potentialities to get good views of Klarkash-Ton’s grotesque miniature carvings. Donald Wandrei—with a better apparatus—did photograph them, & if I can worm a set of prints out of him I’ll be delighted to let you see them. C A S does better in three dimensions than in two, & some of these sculptural horrors are imaginatively provocative indeed. Glad ideas for tales & novels are not lacking & hope you’ll have a chance to develop the best of them. Contact with Howell Vines must be inspiring & beneficial—& I hope Vines will have better literary luck in the future than in the past. The part played by commercialism in writing is infinitely discouraging. Little, Brown, & Co. surely have a curious attitude—willingness to publish but not to push—but that’s at least better than unwillingness to publish at all. Hope the new agent will be able to bring about better conditions. I haven’t read “Eyeless in Gaza”, but greatly admire Aldous Huxley as an honest & vigorous thinker. He & Julian are certainly nobly upholding the traditions of their grandsire! The picture of Proust surely lacks nothing in force & concrete imagery, & probably does form a cruelly just criticism of Proust’s weaker side. It is, however, undoubtedly unjust to Proust on the whole—for the old boy cer-

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tainly did manage to grind out a tremendously graphic picture of various phases of society & various aspects of human nature. Proust is a veritable idol of sundry friends & correspondence of mine— especially Derleth, Barlow, & J. Vernon Shea. Others—like Long— have no use for him.5 I take a middle ground (from a very limited acquaintance—only the first two books)—which is none the less favourable enough to place P. at the top of 20th century novelists. Glad the acrostic6 sounded passable for a mechanical thing of its kind. That half-hour’s churchyard pastime has had an amusing series of echoes—more of which, perhaps, are still to come. Although it would never have occurred to Barlow & me to submit our results for publication, old de Castro did—& secured an acceptance from W T! After that, Bob & I did send our results in—but they were turned down because Wright had already taken one. Now that the ball has started rolling, we’ll probably let one or another of the “fan” magazines have our specimens. Meanwhile correspondents began to emulate. Young Henry Kuttner devised a splendidly poetic acrostic—best of all because written at leisure. And an old friend M. W. Moe of Milwaukee—a high-school teacher who visited here in July & to whom I shewed the hidden hillside churchyard—prepared a very clever academic variant & is about to incorporate all the acrostics into a hectographed booklet for use in his English classes. Nor is that all. Derleth is editing a Wisconsin Poetry Anthology for the publisher Henry Harrison, & having seen Moe’s acrostic decided to include it in the volume. All this from little Bobby Barlow’s idle notion of writing an acrostic (his original idea was to have each of us contribute parts to a single poem, but this soon proved impracticable) while seated on a tombstone on a summer’s afternoon!7 No—I haven’t read “The Circus of Dr. Lao.”8 Thanks abundantly for the proffered loan, of which I trust I may ultimately take advantage. If I borrowed it now, though, I’d have to keep it an indefinite time, since my heaps of unread borrowed books come near to hitting the ceiling. This has been the most feverishly rushed year in my recent annals, & many departments of my activities have perforce lapsed into utter chaos. By the way—I can understand Vines’ preference for the pen over the typewriter. I can’t bear the process of typing, & simply couldn’t think coherently with a machine in front of me. Well-patterned phrases with me take form only when I can mould them by hand


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with the traditional equipment of the writer. The other night I attended a meeting of a local society of amateur astronomers—loosely connected with Brown University—& was astonished by the scope & seriousness of their activities. There was an address on early Rhode Island astronomy, & a reflecting telescope used in 1769 was exhibited. I was half-tempted to join—since astronomy used to be a specialty of mine. Best wishes— Yrs most cordially— HPL Notes 1. Robert Browning (1812–1889), “Home-Thoughts, from Abroad,” (1845), ll. 1–2, but read “England” for “Charleston” and “April” for “autumn.” 2. R. H. Barlow visited HPL in Providence from 28 July to 1 September. 3. I.e., Catherine L. Moore. 4. The job was Well Bred Speech: A Brief, Intensive Aid for English Students by Anne Tillery Renshaw ([Washington, DC: Standard Press, 1936]; LL 726). Much of HPL’s work (including the essay now titled “Suggestions for a Reading Guide”) was excised from the final work. Cf. SL 5.421–22. 5. HPL gave a copy of Swann’s Way—“an appropriately sophisticated Christmas present”—to Long in 1928, with the accompanying poem, “An Epistle to Francis, Ld. Belknap . . .” (see SL 2.255–57). 6. I.e., “In a Sequester’d Providence Churchyard Where Once Poe Walk’d” (1936). 7. Moe’s acrostic was published in August Derleth and Raymond E. F. Larsson, ed., Poetry out of Wisconsin (New York: H. Harrison, 1937). All five acrostics were published in David E. Schultz, “In a Sequester’d Churchyard,” Crypt of Cthulhu No. 57 (St. John’s Eve 1988): 26–29. 8. Charles G. Finney (1905–1984), The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935).


[ALS] 66 College St., Providence, R.I., Nov. 30, 1936.

Dear White:— Congratulations on the first issue of your consolidated magazine enterprise! Campus1 truly presents an admirable blend of good appearance & well-selected contents, & I hope its announced

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policy2 may develop with complete success. I read the entire contents, & cannot find any point on which to dissent from the opinions you have expressed. I would say that your own Huxley review3 & Mason’s stream of reflections4 form the genuine high spots. Both of these seem to me tremendously thoughtful & well-expressed. The news & other items are competent & piquant, while the verse all reflects cleverness & wit. There is a certainly a gratifying absence of crude or conspicuously mediocre spots. I was especially tickled by the column of ‘weary words’,5 since one of my recent jobs has involved compiling a set of typical stock phrases.6 I wish I had had this column before I prepared my list! Glad to note items concerning your dramatic progress,7 & to see the pleasant-looking snapshot of you in the gallery of celebrities.8 I appreciate the originality of the consolidation idea, & congratulate you on the honour of launching this innovation as editor-in-chief. It surely must, though, have been a devastating job—considering the complexity & diversity of elements involved! No very striking events have distinguished the programme hereabouts—though autumn has brought sundry lectures at the college & kindred things to compensate for the waning of outdoor opportunities. The season was not quite as bad & prematurely arctic as I had feared it would be—occasional good days persisting far into October. Oct. 20 & 21 were phenomenally warm, & I went exploring on both days—finding a fascinating forest three miles away which I had never seen before. This place—of which I had heard vaguely in the past, but which happens to be between my usual routes of exploration—is called the “Squantum Woods”, & lies down the east shore of Narragansett Bay—in the town of East Providence. It is now a state reservation, & was made accessible by the cutting-through of the Barrington Parkway. Ædopol, but what I’ve missed for almost half a century! Still, I’m almost glad that some new discovery at my very doorstep was held in reserve for my later years. It renews the illusion of youth & of adventurous expectancy to come upon something fresh & unexpected when one had thought all such things were past! Great oaks & birches—steep sloped & rock ledges—& on both occasions a magnificent sunset beyond the trees. Then glimpses of the crescent moon, Venus, & Jupiter—& the lights of far-off Providence from high places along the parkway. Another goal for next year’s rural rambles! Snow fell as early as Nov. 24—unusual even for this subarctic zone—& I fear the winter may be a trying one. Hibernation of greater


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or less rigidity is my lot from now on. My “Shadow Over Innsmouth” is now out9—but as a first clothbound book it doesn’t awake any enthusiasm in me. Indeed, it is one of the lousiest jobs I’ve ever seen—30 misprints, slovenly format, & loose, slipshod binding. The solitary redeeming feature is the set of Utpatel illustrations—one of which, on the dust wrapper, saves the appearance of the thing as it lies on the library table. With all good wishes, & renewed appreciation of Campus, Yrs most sincerely, HPL Notes 1. Campus: The Newsmagazine of Howard College 1, No. 1 (October 1936), ed. Lee White and Hugh Frank Smith. 2. The policy was enunciated in an unsigned editorial, “The Beginning: Volume One, Number One”: “As it is, this magazine is a combination of The Crimson, student weekly newspaper, The Quill, literary journal, and The Alumnus, alumni quarterly” (p. 1). 3. “For Aldous Huxley” (p. 25) by Lee White, a review of Eyeless in Gaza. 4. August H. Mason, “Words on a Sawmill Air” (pp. 17–18). 5. “Weary Words about Campus People” (p. 10), an unsigned humorous article in which various individuals on the campus are described with trite phrases (“John Hollingsworth is building castles in the air”). 6. This was a chapter entitled “Bromides Must Go” for Renshaw’s Well Bred Speech but not published there; it survives in ms. at JHL. 7. An unsigned news article, “Masquers’ play set for Nov. 13” (p. 7), notes that White will be acting in a production of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. 8. White’s photograph appears in a montage on p. 9. 9. The Shadow over Innsmouth (Everett, PA: The Visionary Publishing Co., 1936).

The Negative Mystics of the Mechanistic Sublime: Walter Benjamin and Lovecraft’s Cosmicism Jeff Lacy and Steven J. Zani In recent years, a small but significant number of H. P. Lovecraft’s critics have begun to address the question of language in his fiction. Language has always been an issue with Lovecraft’s detractors, and anyone familiar with his criticism knows the legacy of critiques of his verbosity and ambiguity. Lovecraft’s early antagonistic reception in the world of critical scholarship was no doubt due in part to his deliberate affect of language and perhaps in part to the generally low opinion of “weird” fiction held by many critics. But it is less our intention to address those old discussions here than to help advance the front of a new one. In John Langan’s postmodern, language-oriented article, “Naming the Nameless: Lovecraft’s Grammatology,” he delivers the argument that “Lovecraft’s language in fact embodies the ideas that drive his fiction” (27). For the new inheritors of the Lovecraft critical tradition, language is the essential question of Lovecraftian texts, and the critical process of this generation should manifest itself in attempting to understand how that language operates. To that end, this essay offers a view of Lovecraft’s texts through the ideological lens of Walter Benjamin. Walter Benjamin is a Frankfurt School Marxist whose influence extends, among other places, to translation studies. Benjamin’s account of translation, published in his article “The Task of the Translator,” is (in)famous in translation studies for its own verbosity and obscurity. In it, Benjamin challenges the traditional notion of translation (i.e., the transmission of information in a different language), stating, “a transmitting function cannot transmit anything but information—hence, something inessential” (69). To Benjamin, the essential qualities of a work of literature are “the unfathomable, the mysterious, the ‘poetic’” (70). 65


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Thus, rather than imparting information or giving the same content as the original, the act of translation—in the Benjaminian sense—should do something else: seek out the “pure language” that is only hinted at by the original text. “Pure language” is, in essence, a sort of Platonic ideal of what the author of the original text meant but inadequately described in the text’s limited content. The translator, then, follows the cues of the original text to apprehend that pure language and point to it using the literary tools available in another language. For Benjamin, the process of translation is useful because it opens up a question of the limitations of language. In sum, he argues, “It is the task of the translator to release in his own language that pure language which is under the spell of another, to liberate the language imprisoned in a work in his re-creation of that work” (80). The problem of translation—how to “say” the same thing in a different language—becomes a manifest question of the meaning behind the texts themselves. In the words of Ian Almond, “what Benjamin initially calls ‘the echo of the original’ is actually the voice of the translator” (190). When attempting to translate a text, restating the intention of the original author is impossible since the translator can only (re)state a conjecture of what the original author’s intention might have been, based on a reading of the original text. The actual meaning of the text is something of an indeterminate, understood only by virtue of a number of doublings and redoublings that occur when a message is expressed, received, and understood. As Benjamin notes, the translated text is a growth from, an echo of, or a tangent to the original text. Following Almond’s argument, the original text has a similar relationship the author’s own inspiration or intent—besides acting as a point of origin, there is not necessarily any direct correlation of the author’s intent and the original text. This idea is especially applicable to Lovecraft criticism, where critics often “translate” his epistolary statements into his fiction. As Benjamin indicates, however, translation from one mode of expression to another “liberates the language” from the limitations of the original. This liberating project is what goes on in Lovecraft’s fiction, or, at the very least, in the process of trying to figure out what that fiction means. Lovecraft’s fiction, delivered by narrators who recollect fragments of texts and who speak of unspeakable things, deliberately enacts a process of indeterminacy in translation, leading readers to a different relationship to language and, hence, to Lovecraft’s version of

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a mystical truth. As we shall see, truth in Lovecraft’s fictional universe is always revealed as a mystical truth with a negative twist; it is a truth whose meaning is nonmeaning.

II Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. —H. P. Lovecraft, Letter to Farnsworth Wright (SL 2.150) Horror in Lovecraft is essentially cosmic indifference. It is the realization that there is no purpose to the universe. —David Clements, “Cosmic Psychoanalysis: Lovecraft, Lacan, and Limits” (6)

Lovecraft himself and numerous critics agree that one of the major themes in his fiction is the revelation of a philosophy of cosmic indifference. Critics also note the importance of Lovecraft’s nonfiction (especially “Supernatural Horror in Literature” and “Some Notes on a Nonentity”) and his copious letters as sources of supplementary information to help understand his fiction. Lovecraft foresaw the challenge his themes might pose. In a letter to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales at the time, Lovecraft comments, “I presume that few commonplace readers would have any use for a story written on these psychological principles” (SL 2.150). A review of Lovecraft’s critical reception, “Lovecraft Criticism: A Study” by S. T. Joshi, addresses the complaints of several early critics for whom this presumption proves true. This lack of understanding may have more to do with Lovecraft’s prose style, however, than the shortcomings of “commonplace readers.” For instance, whereas Finnish critic Timo Airaksinen frankly admits that Lovecraft is a “problematic stylist,” several of Lovecraft’s defenders, such as James Arthur Anderson, take it upon themselves to demonstrate “that much of what are mistakenly perceived to be flaws in Lovecraft’s work are really essential components of his overall theme and meaning” (Airaksinen 3, Anderson ii–iii). Likewise, in an article titled “Lovecraft and Adjectivitis: A Deconstructionist View,” Donald R. Burleson attempts to explain how Lovecraft’s apparent misuse of adjectives—often discussed by


Jeff Lacy and Steven J. Zani

Lovecraft’s detractors—is actually an effective literary device. Suffice to say, then, with so much controversy over its effectiveness, that Lovecraft’s fiction is challenging at best. Compared to his fiction, however, Lovecraft’s nonfictional texts are very straightforward, explanatory, and declaratory—such as the “fundamental premise” comment in the above epigraph. Little wonder, then, that Lovecraft’s defenders often find it necessary to cite his nonfiction and his letters to help make their cases. For example, both Timo Airaksinen and S. T. Joshi make testament to the importance of encountering Lovecraft’s ideas in his nonfiction to properly understand his fiction. According to Airaksinen, “Lovecraft . . . develops a comprehensive literary theory, a personal philosophy, and a metaphysics which he follows in his fiction. . . . Without knowledge of this background philosophy, to discover what he is writing about is difficult” (3). S. T. Joshi claims that Lovecraft’s essays and letters provide “invaluable information on the understanding of Lovecraft’s thought and, hence, his fiction,” that Lovecraft’s “world view is worth examining in some detail so that we can then see how precisely and systematically the fiction is an expression of it,” and that “[the] failure to read Lovecraft’s letters has in particular caused problems for certain critics” (“Decline” 170, 171, 229). When critics employ his letters and nonfiction to understand his fiction, they are in effect employing a method of translation, but it is not a Benjaminian translation. The intent of this intertextualism is to interpret the content of Lovecraft’s fiction as if it were a translation of the ideas expressed in his nonfiction—what Benjamin might call an attempt to understand the transmission of information, i.e. to understand what really is not essential to the work. If Lovecraft’s fiction and nonfiction say the exact same thing in a different way, there would be no point in reading one after reading the other. One could simply read Lovecraft’s letters or “Supernatural Horror in Literature” to “get” his cosmic philosophy and not trouble with his complex and problematic fictional texts. This is assuredly not the case, however; surely there is some value in the differences between Lovecraft’s modes of writing. Lovecraft’s fiction expresses his philosophy differently than his nonfiction. The qualities that make Lovecraft’s fiction so challenging are exactly those same qualities that, in Benjamin’s opinion, are essential to the literary work: “the unfathomable, the mysterious, the ‘poetic’ ” (70). According to Benjamin’s principles, Lovecraft’s fiction should be

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able to stand well apart from his nonfiction. Perhaps, by employing a Benjaminian method, readers may be able, as S. T. Joshi suggests, “to forget this body of peripheral material and read again the stories as stories” (“Decline” 229). In Benjaminian terms, Lovecraft’s (and, for that matter, any author’s) work attempts to enact a revelation of “pure language.” If one reads his fiction as such a process, that reading, as such, is not much different from any number of other recent postmodern critics of Lovecraft. However, applying Benjamin allows one to dismiss Lovecraft’s nonfiction as the apparent origin of meaning for his fiction, and replaces this author-centered, intertextual critical view with a more language-oriented methodology that explains just why Lovecraft’s fiction is worthy of critical attention in the first place without the need to “supplement” of Lovecraft’s additional texts and explanations.

III Of the supposed “problems” or “flaws” of Lovecraft’s writing, the one that may be most responsible for hindering the comprehension of his cosmic themes is the misunderstood outlook of his narrators. Despite Lovecraft’s claim that “scene, mood, and phenomena are more important in conveying what is to be conveyed than are characters and plot,” the character of his narrators are of key importance in his fiction (“Some Notes on a Nonentity” [MW 562]). Deborah D’Agati touches on this idea in her article “The Problems with Solving: Implications for Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft Narrators.” Lovecraft’s narrators tend to be very rational. As they encounter the uncanny, they conduct “a search dictated by rational inquiry” (57). Some readers criticize Lovecraft’s narrators for being too logical, claiming that the narrators seem to possess an unrealistically tenacious hold on logical but implausible explanations for uncanny events rather than concluding that the supernatural is at work. As D’Agati explains, however, the narrators have no reason not to expect logical answers—in their empirical and materialist worldviews, supernatural explanations are just not a thinkable option. The narrative voices of these empiricists are often so appropriately dry and objective that readers may forget that there is, in fact, a character with a particular worldview narrating the story. To be fair, reader expectations also play into this quandary. Upon


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encountering a Lovecraft story, especially if it is contained in a context such as an issue of Weird Tales, the reader understandably expects the uncanny, unnatural, and weird to occur. One may assume that the readers of Weird Tales and its ilk in fact want to read about aliens, ghosts, monsters, and whatnot. Indeed, such elements would be the whole point of the story to most readers of weird fiction. However, since readers of weird fiction assume, expect, and want the presence of supernatural entities and paranormal forces, the appearance of such entities or forces is not as shocking and horrible to the reader as they are to the unsuspecting narrators. As D’Agati notes, “Lovecraft’s narrators are stunned because they find the opposite of what they expect” (59). Because of this discrepancy in expectations, many readers have been unable to easily identify with Lovecraft’s narrators and thus fail to understand the mystic quality of the narrators’ tales. To be sure, Lovecraft writes fiction in the language of the mystic; his narrators encounter what lies outside of the mundane sphere of human experience and attempt to explain the unexplainable, describe the indescribable, and name the unnamable. In short, his narrators experience the ineffable and struggle to communicate it. Lovecraft’s stories, then, express cosmic indifference via illustration and demonstration, as opposed to the version of cosmicism present in his letters and nonfiction, where he reveals his philosophy in simple declarations or explanations. As Fritz Leiber states the case, readers of Lovecraft’s fiction encounter “confirmation rather than revelation” (56; emphasis in original). Thus, Lovecraft’s fiction, in a sense, is what Airaksinen calls a “sacred” text: “The vision is apocalyptic but at the same time liberating, just like the touch of holiness must be. . . . The Lovecraftian text robs the world of its meaning, yet forces his reader to cling to it, as the only road to salvation” (217–18). Lovecraft’s stories, then, often “fail” to adequately express his cosmicism because what he is attempting to do, in fact, is relate a mystical experience, or at least what would pass for a mystical experience in his mechanistic fictional world, which is somewhat different from mystical experiences in our world. Epistemologist Bimal Krishna Matilal explains the mystic viewpoint as follows: “‘Mysticism’ has been loosely used for an assortment of views. The salient feature of these views is that they envision an integrated picture of the cosmos and promote a special type of human experience that is at once unitive and nondiscursive, at once

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self-fulfilling and self-effacing” (143). Christian philosopher William P. Alston defines as mystical “any experience that is taken by the subject to be a direct awareness of (what is taken to be) Ultimate Reality or (what is taken to be) an object of religious worship” (80). Thus, the mystic experience is a confrontation with reality such as it is, typically an event perceived as a coming to terms with universal totality or connection. The experience is self-fulfilling because it provides a sense of place and purpose, and self-effacing because it does away with individual identity as one connects with the sublime. Didier T. Jaén’s article on mysticism in fantastic literature discusses the mystical experience as a kind of unsettling confrontation with the cosmos which forces a new understanding of its laws and rules. For Jaén, this confrontation originates in “disquieting art”: “The disquieting art object forces or presumes in the spectator a revision or reconsideration of the everyday laws of nature” (110). These definitions of mysticism put Lovecraft’s fiction well within the mystical paradigm. In regard to Jaén, consider the numerous examples of “disquieting art” found in Lovecraft. To name but a few: the wild viol playing in “The Music of Erich Zann,” the idol and strange architecture in “The Call of Cthulhu,” and the mural sculptures in At the Mountains of Madness. Just as Jaén states, these art objects influence Lovecraft’s narrators to reconsider their understanding of the world.1 The narrators eventually apprehend what Alston terms “Ultimate Reality.” In Lovecraft, this Ultimate Reality is “a single truth, a terrible truth from the human point of view: namely, that mankind is but a tiny insignificant speck, without hope and without meaning. The more we learn, Lovecraft says, the smaller we become” (Anderson 166). While the notion of mysticism in Lovecraft falls in line with Jaén and Alston, it diverges from Matilal’s definition at this point. As the quote from Anderson notes, Lovecraft’s mystical experience is indeed self-effacing; the narrator’s sense of self is suitably sublimated. The difference, also illustrated by Anderson’s quote, is that Lovecraft offers no self-fulfillment. It is because of this distinction that Lovecraft’s narrators are negative mystics. Lovecraft’s narrators become chagrined instead of fulfilled, despondent instead of hopeful, disillusioned instead of content. 1. By the same token, Lovecraft’s work in itself is disquieting art, forcing readers to reconsider their worldview.


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Reading mysticism into Lovecraft is by no means entirely new. Bradley A. Will and Richard E. Dansky, for example, both explore Lovecraft’s inside/outside cosmology in some detail. Lovecraft’s “inside” is the limited realm of human experience; the “outside” is the cosmic. Lovecraft often refers to the cosmic as the “beyond,” which is apropos since it is actually what is beyond human ken. This cosmology is also characteristic of mysticism: “[the] world as we know it is a delusion that hides the true nature or state of things, or else it is no delusion at all, revealing all there is, if only we could see. The mystic thus learns to see the world in this double perspective” (Jaén 107). This is exactly what happens to Lovecraft’s narrators. Will’s article “H. P. Lovecraft and the Semiotic Kantian Sublime” compares Lovecraft’s cosmic vision with Kant’s description of the apprehension of the sublime. Kant concludes that encountering the noumenal (or sublime) sphere results in a sense of awe and wonder for that which is greater than ourselves. Lovecraft’s version of the noumenal sphere— the cosmic—is “mechanistic and material” rather than spiritual, but it is mechanistic beyond human comprehension (Will 16). Dansky, in his article “Transgression, Spheres of Influence, and the Use of the Utterly Other in Lovecraft,” discusses Lovecraft’s fictional universe in terms of Mikhail Bakhtin’s epic (immutable) and novel (mutable) spheres and how Lovecraftian narrators transgress between the two. Lovecraft’s fiction, then, consists of narrators attempting to express their version of a mystical truth, to discuss in the human sphere that which lies beyond it, to approach the limitless “pure language” within the limits of language. Going back to Benjamin, the only way to understand such content is to understand that it cannot be translated, to understand that it attempts an approximation of the ineffable, of what lies outside of comprehension altogether. This untranslatability is obviously a crucial element in Lovecraft’s work. Furthermore, psychoanalytic critic David Clements argues that a narrator struggling to express the ineffable is not just an element of Lovecraftian fiction but is rather precisely what defines a work as weird fiction: the narrator cannot entirely repress the knowledge gained in the tale. He will therefore turn to writing this story. Writing is Lovecraft’s solution as well; it allows Lovecraft to both express the absolute truth of cosmic indifference while simultaneously reveling in a jouissance.

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This is the special mixture that results in weird fiction. (10; emphasis in original)

Thus proceed a great number of Lovecraft’s narrations. They are expressions of cosmic indifference that reveal what expressing things with dry, critical—one might say indifferent—language cannot, primarily the fact that a true revelation of cosmic indifference is something that is so totally antithetical to normal human conception, and hence so horrifying, that it cannot be stated dryly or critically. The mystical experience, in short, is one to which one cannot be indifferent, objective, and critical. Quite often, a Lovecraft narrator offers a cautionary tale and a salvation narrative all in one. Unlike traditional mystical and/or sacred writings, however, the salvation lies entirely in avoiding, not embracing, the forces that provide a transcendent meaning to the world. The difference between Lovecraft and, say, St. John of the Cross, then, is that while their texts have the same purpose structurally—they offer a new ontological vision of the world and humanity’s relation to it— one structure is the negative image of the other. John (or Teresa of Avila, or any other traditional mystic) urges belief in order for the reader to gain admittance to God’s infinite love and compassion. Lovecraft’s narrators, too, urge belief, but it is a negative belief—a belief in a godless universe that bears infinite indifference to humanity’s actions. In the world of Lovecraft’s fiction, the positive belief that one lives in a world where one’s motives and proceedings are substantive lays the foundation for horrific peril when the narrative of self-importance comes undone. The stories prove to the characters that not just faith, but reason, too, is false and the narrator is damned both spiritually and logically. In the mystic tradition, to be enlightened—to learn of the “big picture” of the cosmos—is to be saved or to be one with the universe. However, in Lovecraft’s fiction, to be enlightened is to be damned to hopelessness. In order to believe that one is saved or at one with the universe, one must maintain ignorance of the cosmic reality. Lovecraft’s narrators often pine for such ignorance, which in this case is literally blissful. Ignorance is the only path to salvation. “Consciousness, then, is fundamentally based on denial. It is in this sense that our everyday world, our daytime world of consciousness, is a buffer, a blanket of merciful ignorance” (Clements 28). The offering


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of salvation emphasizes Airaksinen’s opinion that Lovecraft’s fictional texts have sacred qualities. However, the stories expose the audience to truths that should remain hidden and, thus, the audience is damned by the very text that would offer salvation. If the purpose of traditional mystics is to spread the gospel,2 or “good news” of what they have known, then the Lovecraft’s narrators should endeavor to keep their mahspel,3 or “bad news,” to themselves. If these stories are, in effect, the mahspel expressing the negative mystical experience of the narrators, then it should be obvious that Lovecraft’s fiction creates a much more potent and nuanced vision than his nonfiction. According to Alston, no statements, not even rough, imprecise ones, are possible with respect to mystical experience or its objects. In mystical literature, language is limited to evocative or expressive uses. Mystics should be understood as saying what they do in order to evoke in the hearer some faint echo of the mystical experience and/or to express that experience or their reactions thereto. (82; emphasis in original)

This is exactly why it is a mistake to equate the ideology found in Lovecraft’s letters with the “meaning” of his fiction: rational, explanatory prose can offer nothing but rational, explanatory comprehension. Lovecraft’s fiction, in contrast, does something very different and Lovecraft’s narrators offer something more because, in short, Lovecraft does not have the same kind of mystical experience that his narrators do. Lovecraft himself comes about his cosmic philosophy based on information within the human sphere. His narrators come to similar, but subtly more profound, conclusions by acquiring information from outside the human sphere. They offer absolutely bleak and nihilistic revelations that come from having confronted the outside of rationality. Lovecraft’s letters and essays, which by their genre classification as nonfiction hold an implicit assumption of truth and presence of meaning, can only build up that which his negative fiction tears apart by archaic and obscure language, hints, and suggestions. To put this argument another way, it is a mistake to translate the message of Lovecraft’s letters into his fiction because reason is everything and serves as the solid basis of the cosmicism in his nonfiction, but 2. From the Old English god, meaning “good,” and spell, meaning “tale.” 3. As above, but formed the Old English mah, meaning “bad.”

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reason is paradoxically nothing and everything in his fiction. In his fiction, while the story serves to probe that rationality is nothing, the message of the negative mystic is that rationality is indeed everything, for it is all one has left to which to cling.

IV No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener. —Walter Benjamin, “The Task of the Translator” (69) My object is such pleasure as I can obtain from the creation of certain bizarre pictures, situations, or atmospheric effects; and the only reader I hold in mind is myself. —H. P. Lovecraft, Letter to Edwin Baird (MW 506)

Perhaps it is impossible for a critical attempt to accomplish the same thing as the fiction it criticizes. At best, all that a critical essay—such as Lovecraft’s own “Supernatural Horror in Literature” or the one you are now reading—can offer is the transmission of content, the inessential. That being said, however, what can be done in an essay is attempt to understand how Lovecraft’s stories go beyond mere content. They point to the outside of content, which is where Benjamin’s translation project seems best suited with Lovecraft, particularly since critics have proclaimed Benjamin’s own project an ambiguous and ineffable one: Thus readers cannot use “The Task of the Translator” as a secondary reference at all, since what it says at any given point is always provisional, and often contradicted elsewhere in the text. To read Benjamin is too hard for anyone to sustain. . . . His writing cannot be narrativized, organized and applied and worked out onto a literary text. As such, it is completely unusable as a theoretical basis for establishing a critical reading. (Fréche 105)

Benjamin’s “unusable” methodology works well with Lovecraft, however, not just because of the apparent symmetry in critical frustration that arises from reading them (a fairly standard trait in postmodern writing, after all), but because invoking the language of Benjamin’s translation allows us to stop looking for meaning in either the Love-


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craft “mythos” that has sprung up around his works, or in the apparent connection(s) of those works to the worldview espoused in his letters and essays. Instead, we can look at the fiction in and of itself, in the function and structure of its language. One aspect of Lovecraft’s fiction that virtually asks to be read in light of Benjamin is its apparent audience. Looking strictly at the text itself, then, who is Lovecraft’s apparent audience, and what does it mean to be not the “intended reader” so often discussed in critical works, but rather to be exactly who we are—some person who, according to the interior structure of the work itself, is an incidental reader who has come upon a text not addressed to them? This shift in critical perspective, if it is not already clear, reveals that Lovecraft’s texts often, and not coincidentally, mirror themselves in structure and content. To wit, a narrator slowly and shockingly discovers that his own projects and values are meaningless, while those who receive that narration similarly find that the message is not even intended for them, revealing their own lack of consequence or relational value. Both Benjamin and Lovecraft, then, purport that a text is not really written for its receiver; only it is Lovecraft who deliberately enacts this message in his fiction. This structure is best revealed with a look at what Lovecraft considered “my best story,” the novella At the Mountains of Madness (SL 4.24). The text begins out of necessity, “I am forced into speech,” and the rest of the narrative contains the same frantic urgency implied by those first words, not unlike the urgency of a preacher exhorting his congregation to become saved, for it becomes eventually clear that salvation is at stake in the narrative (MM 3). The explicit goal of the narrator is that his story will be read by those who have control over future expeditions to the Antarctic, expeditions that would be disastrous for mankind. However, regardless of when or how the reader first comes upon Lovecraft’s story, that reader is assuredly not one of those expedition organizers. The effect is striking, and one that seems to have been overlooked by a number of critics in the history of Lovecraft’s reception. Not only does any given reader learn of mankind’s ineffective and inconsequential position in the scheme of reality, she learns about it by virtue of a narrative structure that similarly displaces her from being capable of effecting that truth. Hence, again, the subtle but significant difference between traditional mystical writing and Lovecraft’s negative mysticism is evident. Mysticism offers a displacement of identity and, through that very

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displacement, the possibility of a future reconciliation with sacred meaning. It invokes a “pure language” lost to history—“In the beginning was the Word”—that promises the “pure presence” of a future reality. The negative mystic, however, reveals that “pure language” is ultimately only a “pure absence,” a referential structure that is always only revealed in an abridgment. In At the Mountains of Madness, the narrator states that his story is such an abridgment, noting, “[the] full story . . . will shortly appear in an official bulletin” (MM 61). Likewise are the sculptured walls of the alien city an abridgment of an ancient race’s history. The translation is but an echo of the original, and as with traditional mysticism, reconciliation with the sacred is always only a promised future event. In the negative mystic experience, however, those who truly glimpse the truth (and not just its sketches), such as unhappy Danforth in the narrative, reach only eventual madness. Revealing that Danforth has seen something that “he will not tell even me,” the narrator evokes signs of absence rather than presence (MM 33). Lovecraft’s circularity in language and structure is significant, too. Airaksinen discusses Lovecraft’s circularity at length, stating that the circularity emphasizes the sacred quality of Lovecraft’s texts and that Lovecraft’s “major stories are circular such that the snake always eats its own tail, creating the perfect form, a circle, which cannot be doubted or criticized. The form of the text is a holy mystery” (218). It is worth mentioning another detail that emphasizes this combination of circularity and negativity: even the very identity of the Mountains narrator, just like Danforth’s secondhand vision, is revealed only as a secondary textual admission. That is, the reader discovers the narrator’s name, Dyer, not from the primary source of the narrator himself, but as an aside written in a letter within the narration, as Dyer is admonished for “having tried to stop” the fateful trip (MM 22). The narrative, told by a man whose name we know only from the writings of another, gives a preliminary sketch of a race of beings that he himself understands through their artistic productions. When Dyer and Danforth finally both see their pursuer in only a “half-glimpse,” a “flash of semi-vision,” it is discovered that even that fateful, final vision is but a shoggoth (MM 99). As a beast of burden of the Old Ones, the shoggoth is yet another “manufactured” production, rather than a revelation of the thing itself (MM 62). Within Dyer’s narrative we have yet another detail that reinforces


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the negative truth of the next. The negative mystic produces a tale of desire, but always of negative desire. As Dyer—who is revealed in the text as a man against the Antarctic project both during and after the initial event—urges that further expeditions not go ahead, he reveals an attitude that is the ultimate negative position: he wants for something not to occur rather than an active positive event. Negative mysticism reveals the signs and symbols of an outside of human availability, but those who receive the message are urged to be content solely in the sign itself, to dwell within an absence that substitutes for a presence, since the coming of that presence would invalidate all meaning whatsoever. This language of negation and deferral is an element that, in an extended sense, is present in a great number of texts that precede Lovecraft, and are part of a tradition that he exemplifies and maintains. Perhaps it is because of Lovecraft that we can now better understand just how a novel such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or Matthew Gregory Lewis’s The Monk operates. In the gothic Romantic tradition, as in Lovecraft, there are countless epistolary revelations, stories within stories, and secondhand narratives. But besides this distancing of the narrator from event, there is another element of Romanticism that is present in Lovecraft, correspondent with the negative mysticism argued here. For every nineteenth century poem and novel encouraging an encounter with the moral truth of nature and the positive influence of powerful feelings (which is to say, texts that encourage the apotheosis of a mystical encounter) there are cautionary tales in novels, plays, and poems (such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Christabel,” Joanna Baillie’s Orra, among many others) that reveal the madness and despair that will result from such an event.4 In response to extreme emotion and the encounter with the unknown, Lovecraft’s narrators offer negation and deferral. In fact, the entire text itself is offered as that exact deferral; Lovecraft’s narrators are not without their own tools of recuperation, tools designed to offer an alternative for living in relation to madness. Constantly in the text of Mountains, Dyer offers a barrage of seemingly irrelevant facts and figures. It may seem odd that the narrator would be so specific, 4. For a much more thorough account of Lovecraft and Romanticism addressing at least some of the concerns listed here, see Donald R. Burleson’s “Lovecraft and Romanticism” in Lovecraft Studies Nos. 19/20 (1989): 28–31.

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for example, in providing directions to a place he does not want anyone to visit: “Latitude 82°, E. Longitude 60° to Latitude 70°, E. Longitude 115°,” yet this citation is but one example of many in the text (MM 70). Besides repetitive references to locational directives, Dyer makes use of geological language for descriptions, “Jurassic,” “lower Eocene to upper Cretaceous,” “Pleistocene,” “Pliocene,” “Comanchian,” et al (MM 52, 60, 64, 69, 71). There is no necessary purpose for including these details. In fact, if the purpose of the narrative is to discourage investigation, giving specific locations and tantalizing, groundbreaking geological information is highly inappropriate. This “evidence,” however, can be understood as an effect of the negative mystic impulse. While a traditional mystic eschews the world of reality in favor for a Platonic world of eternal forms, trading the world of man for the world of God, the negative mystic embraces physical details and rational construction as the only possibility of salvation. The reliance on such details in what Roland Barthes calls “presenting the discourse of the real”;5 the text proclaims its own evidential reality and offers that as the authenticity of its meaning (142). Why these details are “negative” is that they act as the focus for a narrator who is attempting to concretize and organize his world. They are the structural referent and binary opposite to the world of madness and dissolution that is embraced in the mystical arena.

V By using negative mysticism as a paradigm for understanding Lovecraft, and addressing these issues of “translation” in the search for sacred writing, we can perhaps explain, as well, some of the history of Lovecraft’s reception. Glen St. John Barclay is a fine example of a critic who understands Lovecraft’s negative mystical narrators all too well, and perhaps in some perverse sense is one of the few people who actually “reads” Lovecraft correctly—because, unlike most Lovecraft fans and critics, he is truly horrified by what he has read. Barclay writes: 5. The article that addresses this function that is the most correspondent with a reading of Lovecraft is Barthes’ “Textual Analysis of Poe’s Valdemar,” a reading of the Poe short story “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar.” Poe uses detail to a similar effect in the story.


Jeff Lacy and Steven J. Zani Lovecraft is in fact an essentially tragic and ineffectual figure, possessed of virtually insane prejudices, and almost totally alienated from human sympathies or human experience, who contrived with the aid of a limited imagination to construct thoroughly artificial images intended to be horrific, but lacking any element of physical or psychological credibility to make them convincing. The fact that it is still possible to talk of a Cthulhu Mythos at all is due far less to Lovecraft’s own efforts, than to those of three men without whose interested endeavors Lovecraft himself would be the most unlikely ever to have achieved publication. (91)

Barclay’s reaction to reading the work is to produce a desperate frontal assault on all aspects of Lovecraft’s abilities as a writer. His frenzy reveals that he has encountered the “pure language” that is the goal of the narration. Like a post-Antarctic Dyer, he urges his reader to discontinue his projects, and marshals a great deal of “evidence”— Lovecraft’s poor imagination, insanity, prejudice, etc.—to support his work. After reading Lovecraft, Barclay has, in effect, become a Lovecraftian narrator! Even some of Lovecraft’s admirers act like his characters. Take, for instance, readers such as August Derleth, who obviously admire yet misinterpret Lovecraft’s work. As Robert M. Price discusses in “Lovecraft’s ‘Artificial Mythology,’” Derleth and others seek to establish a pantheon of gods based on Lovecraft’s fictional entities and, further, to write more stories to flesh out the background “mythos” of this pantheon, “so that Lovecraft’s tales have become merely source documents, raw materials for the systematicians’ art” (247). The characters of Lovecraft’s fictional world, often informed by ancient texts such as the Necronomicon, “see the Old Ones as gods or devils . . . because they refuse to see the terrible truth that the Old Ones are simply beings that do not care about humans” (249). The alien entities are just that: alien entities. Both the writers of texts such as the Necronomicon and the more modern cultists and investigators in Lovecraft’s stories “cannot face the terrible human-minimizing implications of the existence of the overshadowing aliens and take superstitious refuge in religion, deifying the Old Ones as gods” (249). Like Dyer in At the Mountains of Madness (and Barclay), Derleth and his ilk attempt to counter, intentionally or unintentionally, the negative mysticism implied by Lovecraft’s texts. The counter to negative mys-

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ticism, naturally enough, is mysticism. So where Lovecraft’s characters fixate on gods and devils, Derleth, et al., likewise fixate on a fictional pantheon to catalog and systematize. The reason for their devotion can be understood as a following of the mystical impulse, albeit a misguided one. Corresponding to the original argument on translation, it is interesting to note that, according to Price, Derleth’s misinterpretations begin when he attempts to translate Lovecraft’s nonfiction into his fiction. Or, in this case, what he thinks is Lovecraft’s nonfiction. As Price discusses in his article, Derleth bases much of his interpretation of Lovecraft on the now infamous but misappropriated “black magic” quote, where supposedly Lovecraft says his stories are “based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practising black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled.” Derleth receives this “quote” second-hand through Harold S. Farnese, who evidently passed on his own translation of Lovecraft’s themes. In a sadly vicious cycle foreshadowed by Benjamin’s theories, Farnese thinks he ascertains the “pure language” of Lovecraft, communicates this to Derleth, who then reinterprets Lovecraft in light of it. This progression, with the chicken ever coming before the egg, further illustrates the dangers of reading any text as an interpretation of another. Unlike Lovecraft, we do not have the skill to reveal the pure language of the Real, so it seems unlikely that anyone will read this article and become Barclay, or even Derleth, nor would we urge them to do so. Today, the task of the Lovecraft critic is to think about the limits of Lovecraft’s fiction, not to critique his supposed limitations as a writer. In doing so, we will understand what it means to encounter the endpoint of our own thinking, our own projects. The result is a cruel revelation of an inherently meaningless world. But to think otherwise, as Lovecraft’s negative mystics tell us, would be to rush headlong towards the mountains of madness without even knowing that we journey there.

Works Cited Airaksinen, Timo. The Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft: The Route to Horror. New York: Lang, 1999. Almond, Ian. “Different Fragments, Different Vases: A Neoplatonic


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Commentary on Benjamin’s ‘The Task of the Translator.’” Heythrop Journal 43 (2002): 185–98. Alston, William P. “Literal and Nonliteral in Reports of Mystical Experience.” In Katz, Mysticism and Language. 80–102. Anderson, James Arthur. “Out of the Shadows: A Structuralist Approach to Understanding the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft.” Ph.D. diss.: University of Rhode Island, 1993. Barclay, Glen St. John. “The Myth That Never Was: Howard P. Lovecraft.” In Anatomy of Horror: The Masters of Occult Fiction. London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1978. 81–96. Barthes, Roland. “Textual Analysis of Poe’s ‘Valdemar.’” Trans. Geoff Bennington. In Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young. Boston: Routledge, 1981. 133–61. Benjamin, Walter. “The Task of the Translator.” In Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. Trans. Harry Zohn. New York: Harcourt, 1968. 69–82. Burleson, Donald R. “Lovecraft and Adjectivitis: A Deconstructionist View.” Lovecraft Studies No. 31 (Fall 1994): 22–24. Clements, David Cal. “Cosmic Psychoanalysis: Lovecraft, Lacan, and Limits.” Ph.D. diss.: State University of New York at Buffalo, 1998. D’Agati, Deborah. “The Problems with Solving: Implications for Sherlock Holmes and Lovecraft Narrators.” Lovecraft Studies Nos. 42/43 (Autumn 2001): 54–60. Dansky, Richard E. “Transgression, Spheres of Influence, and the Use of the Utterly Other in Lovecraft.” Lovecraft Studies No. 30 (Spring 1994): 5–14. Fléche, Betsy. “The Art of Survival: The Translation of Walter Benjamin.” SubStance 28, No. 2 (1999): 95–109. Jaén, Didier T. “Mysticism, Esoterism, and Fantastic Literature.” In The Scope of the Fantastic—Theory, Technique, Major Authors: Selected Essays from the First International Conference on the Fantastic in Literature and Film, ed. Robert A. Collins and Howard D. Pearce. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1980. 105–11. Joshi, S. T. “Lovecraft Criticism: A Study.” In H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980. 20–26. ———. “H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West.” In The Weird Tale: Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Algernon Blackwood, M. R. James, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990. 168–229.

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Katz, Steven T., ed. Mysticism and Language. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Langan, John P. “Naming the Nameless: Lovecraft’s Grammatology.” Lovecraft Studies No. 41 (Spring 1999): 25–30. Leiber, Fritz, Jr. “A Literary Copernicus” (1949). In H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980. 50–62. Matilal, Bimal Krishna. “Mysticism and Ineffability: Some Issues of Logic and Language.” In Katz, Mysticism and Language. 143–57. Price, Robert M. “Lovecraft’s ‘Artificial Mythology.’” In An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. 247–56. Will, Bradley A. “H. P. Lovecraft and the Semiotic Kantian Sublime.” Extrapolation 43 (2002): 7–21. ———————

Briefly Noted Timothy H. Evans has recently written several impressive pieces of Lovecraft scholarship. The most notable is “A Last Defense against the Dark: Folklore, Horror, and the Uses of Tradition in the Works of H. P. Lovecraft,” Journal of Folklore Research 42, No. 1 (January–April 2005): 99–135. An earlier article is “Tradition and Illusion: Antiquarianism, Tourism and Horror in H. P. Lovecraft,” Extrapolation 45, No. 2 (Summer 2004): 176–95. Professor Evans has also written a cordial review of Robert H. Waugh’s The Monster in the Mirror in Extrapolation 47, No. 1 (Spring 2006): 164–66. Lovecraft continues to be fodder for academicians. Several articles have appeared recently in academic journals, but they have not been seen. These include: Wouter J. Hanegraaf, “Fiction in the Desert of the Real: Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos,” Aries 7, No. 1 (2007): 85–109, and James Kneale, “From Beyond: H. P. Lovecraft and the Place of Horror,” Cultural Geographies 13, No. 1 (January 2006): 106–26. Any readers who have had access to these articles are advised to contact the editor, who is preparing an exhaustive revision and updating of his 1981 bibliography of Lovecraft and Lovecraft criticism.

Unity in Diversity: Fungi from Yuggoth as a Unified Setting Philip A. Ellis Enough words have been spent on looking at Fungi from Yuggoth as a coherent and linked narrative, both pro and contra, and not enough have been spent looking at the wider issues of unity within a more general sense. To what degree, we may ask, are the sonnets unified, and how does this unity create a sense of a singular narrative to the sonnets? By looking at how the sonnets are unified, and, in a sense, why, we can begin to understand the basis behind seeing the sonnets as a narrative. We can begin to see why the unity displayed in the sonnets stimulates this reaction. Further, we can begin to ask further questions of both the sonnets, and the other poems of H. P. Lovecraft. S. T. Joshi, in his essay “Lovecraft’s Fantastic Poetry” (203), points out that the sonnets display an “utter randomness of tone, mood and import.” He goes on, in the same place, to state that they “have miniature horror stories . . . cheek by jowl with autobiographical vignettes . . ., pensive philosophy . . ., apocalyptic cosmicism . . ., and versified nightmares,” and that he “cannot see any ‘continuity’ or ‘story’ in this cycle as R. Boerem and Ralph E. Vaughan purport to do.” This question of continuity, story, within the sonnets is, though ultimately unimportant, integral to a better understanding of them. Is it possible that they are unified, while lacking such a continuity? Quite clearly, in no sense is there a unified “I” behind the poems. The “I” of the first three sonnets, who writes “I entered, charmed, and from a cobwebbed heap / Took up the nearest tome” (“The Book,” AT 64, ll. 9–10), is not the same who writes, in “The Gardens of Yin” (AT 71, ll. 13–14): “I hurried—but when the wall rose, grim and great, / I found there was no longer any gate.” Even if it were the case that each “I” of the sonnets was the same, not all the sonnets are in the first person: some sonnets, such as “Zaman’s Hill,” “Nyarlathotep,” and 84

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“The Elder Pharos,” dispense with the narrative “I,” being in the third person, for example. The overall impression is, surely, a collection of disparate poems, unified by factors other than a simple or complex narrative. There is no unity among them that can account for an overarching narrative structure beyond the initial three sonnets, which are an aborted, failed narrative.1 To look more closely at the initial sonnets, we can see clearly the point at which a supposed narrative breaks down. It is true that the first three sonnets are coherent, and a clear narrative is present. All three have a unified “I,” and all three give us the start of a first-person narrative: the narrator enters a bookshop, steals a book, and returns home, followed by a mysterious being. Then, immediately, the scene switches, in “Recognition.” The setting is not the same as that of the earlier sonnets, but Yuggoth. Here the narrator sees himself consumed by alien beings that (AT 66, l. 10) “were not men”; the shift here is too great, too abrupt, for a coherent narrative, and thus any attempt to find one will fail. We see these abrupt shifts, in mood, in tense, in voice, and in narrative thereafter, through the entire sequence. No attempt is made to unify or link the sonnets on the level of narrative or symbology. Clearly, what we have here is a collection of disparate sonnets, though unified by other, differing factors. It is to these factors that we must now turn our attention, to see why the problem of a narrative seems so attractive to scholars. Yet there is a question as to why there is unity in the first place. What factors in these sonnets make us see the collection, as a whole, as a tight, close-reading experience? Briefly, there are four main areas that demand investigation, and which lead to greater unity. There are, of course, others, but these four should serve for the moment. The first is a shared body of allusions and references outside of the sonnets themselves. The second is a shared vocabulary, which creates a greater sense of unity through both word choice and mood. Third, shared tone helps unify various sonnets, though not all, within the greater collection. Fourth, the question of the sonnets’ creation leads to closer ideas of unity. All four interact and help create a unified setting for the individual sonnets. All four, furthermore, help contribute in their own way to the magnificence that is the achievement of the 1. These three sonnets form the basis of a later, equally abortive narrative, “The Book.” See Joshi, Life 542–43.


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cycle as a whole. Therefore, it is important to look at the first of these areas, the question of shared allusion. There are two ways in which the shared allusions of the sonnets can be categorised. First are those allusions to the external world, second are those to an external body of writings. Of these first allusions, the process is such that the reader and narrator relate the details of the sonnet to a shared experience of a world, and thereby help create the sonnet’s import. The use of Egypt and Egyptian motifs is illustrative. Briefly, by referring to Egypt, certain sonnets create a relationship with the author’s “real” Egypt and the narrator’s “assumed” Egypt. For example, “The Lamp” (AT 66, l. 2) has a “chiselled sign no priest in Thebes could read,” and the later reference in the same poem of “forty centuries” relates the lamp to a perceived antiquity. There is no precise date for the events of the poem; we can assume that it is set, as so many others of the cycle seem to be, in contemporary times, although the use of the word “priest” leads me to see it as set in antiquity. Thus, although in this way the setting leads away from a unified narrative, it leads to further unity with another, later sonnet. This is “Nyarlathotep.” The first line sets the scene: Nyarlathotep “himself” has come from “inner Egypt” (AT 72). This shared allusion to the real Egypt is important. Both “The Lamp” and “Nyarlathotep,” then, rely in part on our personal construction of what is Egyptian, in order to convey its intended meanings. This process of external allusion then lends an air of reality, whereby we in some measure see the events and features of the sonnets as related to real, external phenomena and places, and, henceforth, as somehow more plausible. Thus, we receive a notion of antiquity, through the line (“The Dweller,” AT 76, l. 1) “It had been old when Babylon was new”; and we can easily imagine from our own experiences the “old farm buildings” of “Continuity” (AT 79, l. 10) that help make more vivid that particular sonnet. By referring in these ways, and others, to the “real” world, Lovecraft makes the sonnets as a whole more unified, and creates in many of them a sense that the events depicted are, or could be, as real as the world in which they seemingly occur. This leads in turn to the allusions to a shared body of writing. In various sonnets, we find references to various places and beings of Lovecraft’s wider writings. Thus, we have Arkham in “The Port” (AT 67, l. 1), Innsmouth in “The Port” (AT 67, ll. 4, 9) and “The Bells” (AT 72, l. 7), night-gaunts and shoggoths (“Night-Gaunts,” AT 72), Thok

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(again in “Night-Gaunts,” l. 9), and Yuggoth in both “Recognition” (AT 66, l. 12) and “Star-Winds” (AT 70, l. 10). We also have the wider use of a shared vocabulary. Thus, for example, the word “fantastic” appears not only in the sonnets “Star-Winds” (AT 70, l. 5) and “The Dweller” (AT 76, l. 7), but also in other poems, such as “The Eidolon” (AT 38, l. 14) and “Clouds” (AT 41, l. 3), and other fiction and letters. This sharing of places, beings, and other vocabulary bring to mind the concept of intertextuality, and it unifies further these sonnets into the larger body of Lovecraft’s work. Thus, they achieve a form of unity by their shared essence with other works, leading us to read them as part of a wider body of writing, where aspects of Lovecraft’s fiction, for example, can be expected in the sonnets. The aspect of the shared language in general with other texts leads necessarily to the shared language within the sonnets as a whole. As we have seen, both Innsmouth and Yuggoth appear twice within the sonnets. Since, for example, we encounter Innsmouth in “The Port,” the later appearance in “The Bells” leads us to read these two sonnets as unified by setting, and thereby enabling us to postulate a unity of setting in the other sonnets. Similarly, in the more general language of the sonnets themselves, terms recur, leading us to associate the sonnets with each other. Thus, taking again the example of “fantastic,” we read “Star-Winds” and “The Dweller” as unified in some closer way, even if subconsciously. Of course, there will always be an amount of shared vocabulary that fails to gain significance. Such basic words as the various articles, or prepositions, among others, are shared by most English texts; they remain structural words, around which more significant words, such as various substantives or adjectives, are set. It is only through such a tool as a concordance that a fuller understanding of the sonnets’ shared vocabulary can be made.2 These questions of vocabulary lead in turn to other aspects of the poems, namely, mood and tone. Neither aspect is uniform. The poems themselves vary considerably, and some seem more pensive, for example, than others. Thus, we find that the mood and tone of “Background” is pensive, philosophical, being concerned with the 2. Although I have assembled a concordance of the sonnets, it awaits a decision as to whether it will be published or not. A wider concordance, covering the complete poetic works of H. P. Lovecraft, is currently under construction.


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poet’s worldview upon old things that “cut the moment’s thongs and leave [him] free / To stand alone before eternity” (AT 76 ll. 13–14). “Azathoth,” on the other hand, is both cosmic in its outlook and lacks pensiveness; it is concerned, basically, with conveying a sense of unease, disquiet. Yet each poem has a degree of relationship with other poems. The mood and tone of any one poem is shared to a degree by others. Thus, the pensiveness of “Background” is taken up not only in the expected “Continuity,” also similar in subject and a fitting end to the cycle as a whole, but also in the immediately preceding “Nostalgia,” which is, however, more fantastic and elegiac in tone. The first three sonnets are also a case in point. Their prominence from the bulk of the later sonnets, despite similarities of tone and mood with many of them, is highlighted by their relationship as a multi-sonnet narrative. This narrative is heightened by the unity of both tone and mood, and this unity helps lead us to expect that the relationship between the later sonnets is as close and involved as that of the first three. These considerations of how unity is achieved lead into the final ones, those involving the composition of the sonnets. These considerations, these questions of creation, need to be addressed before we can look at why the unity creates the reaction that the sonnets are a unified narrative. Briefly, the bulk of the sonnets of Fungi from Yuggoth were written between December 27, 1929, and January 4, 1930. This brief time period is, I feel, significant toward looking at the unity of the sonnets. As a poet, I find that work produced in a very short burst, over a matter of days rather than weeks or months, tends to have a higher degree of unity than other works separated over a period of time. Thus, it is not surprising that, producing an average of four poems a day for over a week, there is a higher degree of unity than otherwise. Indeed, it is possible to speculate that the initial three sonnets are the product of the first day of writing, stimulating in turn the following days’ work on the others. Of the sonnets, only “Recapture” was not produced in this burst of writing. Its presence in the sonnets, and the ease with which it assumes its place, speaks more for the sonnets as a product of a general period, rather than a specific one: they share much, that is, with the other poems created around that time, and should be seen more readily within that wider context.3 As a result, 3. Unfortunately, such other poems are beyond consideration in this essay.

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then, of the short period of creation, the poems share a degree of similar vocabulary, mood and tone, since these are factors of the author at the time of creation. Just as vocabularies and concerns develop and change over time, so too do the basic productions of an author. What the sonnets represent is, rather than a wide period and diversity of an author’s output, a detailed segment, a slice of life centred closely upon one highly creative period, caught between the older creations and what will become his later, more mature work. So, then, why does this unity lead scholars to read the sonnet as a unified narrative? Briefly, the first three sonnets lead us to expect a unified narrative, since they set up this expectation within the reader. As the second and third follow on, clearly and unambiguously, from their predecessors, then the others must have a similar relationship to those preceding them. Thus, for example, R. Boerem’s attempt to find in the sonnets a sequence of seven groupings that make the sonnets as a whole a “dream journey which in turn, reflects upon reality to give it a new appeal” (224). However, although such attempts are interesting, they nonetheless fail, because the simplest and best explanation for the sequence as a whole is that, although initially started as a narrative, as evinced by the first three sonnets, the sequence as a whole is a disconnected collection of poems unified by such factors as allusions, vocabulary, tone, and mood, and that this unity lends the air of a greater unity of narrative, such that it remains tempting to construct such a narrative from the poems. What we are seeing, then, is the propensity of the human mind to seek order in disconnected fragments, in this case, the sonnets. What, then, can we gather from the sonnets, looking at this question of unity, and applying what we learn to other aspects of Lovecraft’s work? Clearly, we understand that the circumstances of a work’s creation can play a part in our construction of its meaning. Where we know the circumstances of a given group of poems’ creation, we can gain a degree of understanding of their relationship other than that purely derived from superficial similarities of theme and authorship. We can, further, look more closely at the prose works and see their relationships in a similar manner, how texts produced in close proximity relate to and reflect upon each other, especially in regard to the development of Lovecraft as a writer. Further, we can better understand the relationships between the various works of Lovecraft, such as his poetry, fiction, essays, and letters, in relation to


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each other, and not just to themselves. If we start to do this, a wider understanding, not only of Lovecraft, but his works, is possible. Demonstrating that such a unity is possible here, on a microscopic scale, is important before demonstrating it on a macroscopic scale.

Works Cited Boerem, R. “The Continuity of the Fungi from Yuggoth.” In H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism, ed. S. T. Joshi. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1980. 222–25. Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1996. ———. “Lovecraft’s Fantastic Poetry.” In Primal Sources: Essays on H. P. Lovecraft. New York : Hippocampus Press, 2003. ———————

Briefly Noted The H. P. Lovecraft Forum, an annual conference held at the State University of New York at New Paltz, is planning a substantial convention for October 19–20, 2007. Planned events are tours of the Lovecraftian sites in the area (Lovecraft visited the nearby towns of Kingston, Hurley, and West Shokan on several occasions), panel discussions, and much else. Such leading scholars as Peter Cannon, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and Ben P. Indick are expected to attend. Michael Cisco is the writer guest of honor; S. T. Joshi is the critic guest of honor. For further information, please contact John Langan ([email protected]) or Robert H. Waugh ([email protected]). One of the most innovative discussions of Lovecraft occurs in Jason Colavito’s The Cult of Alien Gods: H. P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture (Prometheus Books, 2005), which maintains that Lovecraft’s fiction was critical in the proliferation of “extraterrestrial invasion” accounts in the decades following his death. Although perhaps anticipated by Charles A. Garofalo and Robert M. Price’s “Chariots of the Old Ones?” (Crypt of Cthulhu, Roodmas 1982), Colavito presents exhaustive evidence of the similarities in the work of Lovecraft and that of such writers as Erich von Däniken, Louis Pauwels, and others. Colavito is careful to indicate that Lovecraft was a complete disbeliever in the possibility of extraterrestrial invasion by alien species.

“They Have Conquered Dream”: A. Merritt’s “The Face in the Abyss” and H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Mound” Peter Levi H. P. Lovecraft was profoundly influenced by Abraham Merritt, reading and admiring all his tales. Lovecraft was clearly influenced by them; for example, Merritt’s “The Moon Pool” played a role in the genesis of “The Call of Cthulhu”). One such influence that has gone hitherto unnoticed is that of Merritt’s “The Face in the Abyss” on Lovecraft’s revision, “The Mound.” Merritt’s tale first appeared in the Argosy in 1923, later to be “rehashed” (Lovecraft’s word) as “The Snake Mother” in 1930. Lovecraft owned the story in its 1931 novelization (LL 603), and admits that he bought the 1923 Argosy issue containing the earlier version.1 Lovecraft wrote “The Mound” in 1929–30, and while Merritt’s work may not have been fresh in his mind at the time, there are clear correlations between the two works. The stories are both told by an unnamed intermediary narrator (in Merritt a vacationer discovers the hero Graydon [FF 22], while in Lovecraft a researcher finds the records of Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez [HM 113]). Both Zamacona (HM 117) and Merritt’s Graydon (FF 24) are treasure-seeking, and both are part of groups with Native guides (HM 117) or followers (FF 25) who know something of the horror ahead. Both are going to regions known to be haunted (HM 98, FF 25), and each dismiss the haunting as superstition (HM 99, FF 28). Each of the regions, the Oklahoma mound and the Cordillera de Carabaya, are found to be the home of an ancient race who are the ancestors of mod1. See Lovecraft to August Derleth, 16 February [1933] (ms., State Historical Society of Wisconsin).



Peter Levi

ern humanity (HM 118, FF 73), and in both cases, anomalously white). Merritt’s Yu-Atlanchi are immortal, ancient, living in a region nearly impossible to find, cut off from outside humanity and ruled by a snakelike god (FF 73). They use dinosaurs called Xinli (FF 30) and have part-human, part-insect creatures as servants and for sport (FF 60). Invisible birdlike beings help defend their land from interlopers (FF 69). Graydon, Merritt’s adventurer, learns a great deal from his loveinterest, Suarra of the Yu-Atlanchi. She tells him that the Yu-Atlanchi are the most ancient people, living in Cordillera de Carabaya because of the upheavals of land over time, but also enjoying their isolation: “[T]hey let the years stream by while they dream—the most of them. For they have conquered dream. Through dream they create their own worlds; do therein as they will; live life upon life as they will it. . . . Why should they go out into this one world when they can create myriads of their own at will? . . . Why should they mate with their kind, these women and men who have lived so long that they have grown weary of all their kind can give them? Why should they mate with their kind when they can create new lovers in dream, new loves and hates! Yea, new emotions, and forms utterly unknown to earth, each as he or she may will. And so they are—barren. Not alone the doors of death, but the doors of life are closed to them, the dream makers!” (FF 73–74)

Lovecraft’s Xinainan (usually called K’n-yan [HM 113]) are also immortal and ancient, having come from the stars and begotten mankind, from whom they eventually sundered themselves (HM 117–18). They live in isolation underground, the doors to their realm shut, worshipping Yig, the Father of Snakes, as well as Tulu (aka Cthulhu [HM 118–19]). They use half-human, half-animal servants (called gyaa-yothn, HM 139), their animated dead, and a subhuman slave class to run their society (HM 134). The people of K’n-yan are capable of becoming immaterial (HM 132), and use that state for both pleasure and defence. Like Graydon, Zamacona develops a local loveinterest (T’la-yub, HM 150), who also helps him attempt to escape the hidden country. The people of K’n-yan, like the Yu-Atlanchi, spend their time trying to amuse themselves: “He [Zamacona] felt the people of Tsath were a lost and dangerous race—more dangerous to themselves than they knew—and that their growing frenzy of monotony-warfare and novelty-quest was leading them rapidly toward a

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precipice of disintegration and utter horror” (HM 147). I cannot imagine so many similarities are simple coincidence. However, it is not to be thought that Lovecraft has merely calqued his story on Merritt’s. “The Face in the Abyss” contains no social critique (except very simplistic moralizing about greed, FF 86), nor does “The Mound” contain a sappy romance (Zamacona’s thoughts on T’layub as they try to escape are anything but romantic, HM 151). Merritt’s tale ends without resolution (we do not know if Graydon successfully reunites with Suarra), while Lovecraft’s Zamacona suffers a horrible fate (HM 163). Merritt, perhaps too pulpish to gain mention in Lovecraft’s “Supernatural Horror in Literature,” was considered highly by him nonetheless. “The Mound” is much more than what we see in “The Face in the Abyss”—a horror story that explores Lovecraft’s beliefs about society and its phases (LL 468). While Lovecraft lifted some images and elements from Merritt, “The Mound” is very much his own work.

Works Cited Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick: Necronomicon Press, 1996. ———. Lovecraft’s Library: A Catalogue. 2nd ed. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2002. [Abbreviated in the text as LL.] Merritt, Abraham. “The Face in the Abyss” (1923). In Famous Fantastic Mysteries, ed. Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenberg. New York: Gramercy Books, 1991. [Abbreviated in the text as FF.] ———————

Briefly Noted Jack Morgan’s The Biology of Horror: Gothic Literature and Film (Southern Illinois University Press, 2002) is one of several academic studies of horror literature containing random discussions of Lovecraft but is one of the few that takes account of recent scholarship. Morgan discusses “The Shadow over Innsmouth” throughout the volume, citing in the process the annotated edition prepared by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz (Necronomicon Press, 1994/1997).

The Master’s Eyes Shining with Secrets: H. P. Lovecraft’s Influence on Thomas Ligotti Matt Cardin

Introduction: The Shade of Lovecraft Jonathan Padgett, the originator of Thomas Ligotti Online, relates the following anecdote in his Ligotti FAQ: “In a phone conversation I had with Mr. Ligotti in the Spring of 1998, he explained that Lovecraft’s fiction had had the most profound influence on his life rather than his fiction, as reading HPL’s work was the impetus for Ligotti’s writing career. Aside from this fact, Lovecraft really has had very little to do with the subject or style of Ligotti’s writing.” From this, one might infer that Lovecraft’s influence is not readily apparent in Ligotti’s work. But if this is so, then what are we to make of the phenomenon noted by Ramsey Campbell, who in his introduction to Ligotti’s first book, the short story collection Songs of a Dead Dreamer, stated, “At times [Ligotti] suggests terrors as vast as Lovecraft’s, though the terrors are quite other than Lovecraft’s” (SDD ix). In other words, if it is true that “Lovecraft really has had very little to do with the subject or style of Ligotti’s writing,” then how can we account for the fact that, as Ed Bryant has put it, “Hardly anyone seems to discuss or even mention the Ligotti name without evoking the shade of H. P. Lovecraft”? It is tempting to try to answer this question simply by turning to the available Ligotti interviews and assembling a montage of quotations, since he has spoken repeatedly and extensively about his relationship to Lovecraft. But a more thorough and satisfying answer can only come from examining the evidence and extrapolating independent conclusions from it. This will also give us the opportunity to examine in depth some of Lovecraft’s own writings and representative attitudes, and to compare and contrast them with Ligotti’s in order to 94

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arrive at a general understanding of where both men stand in relation to each other. We may begin, however, with the aforementioned interviews, and in perusing them construct a chronology of Ligotti’s acquaintance with Lovecraft, and also with the field of horror fiction in general, that may prove instructive.

I. Dark Guru, Personal Presence: Lovecraft in Ligotti’s life Ligotti was born in July 1953 and, by his own account, had no significant exposure to horror fiction, nor any serious desire to read it, until he was eighteen years old and accidentally discovered Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House at a garage sale in 1970/71. In fact, prior to this he had never felt much interest in books and literature at all. In his own words, “Until reading Jackson’s horror novel, I had read only a few works of literature in my entire life and almost all of those were reluctantly scanned under the duties of assignments in school. Having been something of a burnout in the late 1960s, I never really learned my way around a library and the concept of bookstores was wholly alien to me.” When he began reading Jackson’s novel, it came as a sort of revelation to him to realize that the book had served as the basis for a film he had liked, director Robert Wise’s The Haunting (1963). Upon finishing the book, he “felt a definite hunger for more horror stories, but not necessarily those of the Jacksonian type.” What he wanted to read were not stories about modern characters set in modern times, but ones more like the movies he had enjoyed as a child, “the more clichéd Gothic horror movies set in the Victorian era. . . . [T]his was the kind of horror fiction I was seeking, the progeny of Poe’s tales” (Ford 31). Before going on to describe Ligotti’s successful search for this type of story, it is necessary to step back briefly and look to an event that had occurred prior to all this, and that had laid precisely the right emotional and philosophical foundation to render him exquisitely responsive to Lovecraft’s fictional vision of the universe. It had occurred when Ligotti was seventeen years old and under the influence of drugs and alcohol. He himself describes the event, and also his mindset leading up to it, thus: “As a teenager I had a tendency to depression. To me, the world was just something to escape from. I


Matt Cardin

started escaping with alcohol and then, as the sixties wore on, with every kind of drug I could get. In August of 1970 I suffered the first attack of what would become a lifelong anxiety-panic disorder” (Angerhuber and Wagner 53). Elsewhere he has described the event as an “emotional breakdown” and averred that although it occurred “following intense use of drugs and booze,” we should not assign a purely causal role to these intoxicants, since they “served only as a catalyst for a fate that my high-strung and mood-swinging self would have encountered at some point” (Schweitzer 30). More than a mere panic attack, the episode involved a terrifying vision of the universe, and of reality itself, that permanently altered his worldview in a direction that was, although he could not know it at the time, proto-Lovecraftian. He has made this connection clear in several interviews, such as the one conducted by Robert Bee, in which Ligotti described Lovecraft’s famous “cosmic perspective” as “the idea, as well as the emotional sensation, that human notions of value and meaning, even sense itself, are utterly fictitious,” and then added, “Not long before I began reading Lovecraft’s stories I experienced—in a state of panic, I should add—such a perspective, which has remained as the psychological and emotional backdrop of my life ever since.” Similarly, he told Thomas Wagner and Monika Angerhuber that he discovered Lovecraft “not too long after” that first attack and “found that the meaningless and menacing universe described in Lovecraft’s stories corresponded very closely to the place I was living at that time, and ever since for that matter” (Angerhuber and Wagner 53). So: In August of 1970—the very month in which, eighty years earlier, H. P. Lovecraft had been born—a seventeen-year-old Thomas Ligotti experienced a horrifying vision of the universe as a “meaningless and menacing” place in which “human notions of value and meaning, even sense itself, are utterly fictitious.” Shortly afterward, near the end of 1970 or beginning of 1971, he discovered Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, read it, and hungered for a different type of horror fiction. Since he was not familiar with libraries or bookstores, his search took him in an unlikely direction that produced an equally unlikely, though fortuitous, result: “The first place I looked in my quest for horror literature was the local drugstore, of all places. What strange luck that contained in its racks was a paperback entitled Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen. And I

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soon discovered that this was exactly what I had been looking for” (Ford 31). Shortly after reading the Machen collection, at some point in 1971, he returned to the same drugstore and bought another book. It was the Ballantine edition of Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Volume 1 (Ford 31; Bryant). And even though he had enjoyed the Machen book, the experience of reading Lovecraft did what Machen had not: it set off an explosive sense of identification and inspired Ligotti with a desire to write horror stories himself. The reasons for this are various, but they all center around the overwhelming sense of empathy that he felt for Lovecraft’s outlook. Lovecraft was “the first author with whom I strongly identified . . . a dark guru who confirmed to me all my most awful suspicions about the universe” (Paul and Schurholz 18). Still fresh from the initial attack of his anxiety-panic disorder and still living in the grip of the horrific worldview it had opened to him, Ligotti felt “grateful that someone else had perceived the world in a way similar to my own view” (Angerhuber and Wagner 53). And although the inspirational connection may not be obvious or necessary, for Ligotti it was an organic part of his remarkably intense emotional response to Lovecraft: “When I first read Lovecraft around 1971, and even more so when I began to read about his life, I immediately knew that I wanted to write horror stories” (Wilbanks). As it turned out, Ligotti did not actually undertake the writing of fiction or anything else besides school assignments until late in his college career, when he “found the required writing that I was doing to be very stimulating: it made me high, or at least distracted me from my chronic anxiety, and I wanted to do more of it” (Schweitzer 24). But his path as a writer had already been determined by that initial experience of responding to Lovecraft from the depths of his being, in the wake of which “there was never a question that I would write anything else other than horror stories” (Angerhuber and Wagner 53). Recently (as of February 2005), he has provided a bit more explanation about the specific nature of Lovecraft’s inspirational influence upon him: As soon as a receptive mind discovers the works of someone such as Lovecraft, it discovers that there are other ways of looking at the world besides the one in which it has been conditioned. You may


Matt Cardin discover what kind of nightmarish jailhouse you are doomed to inhabit or you may simply find an echo of things that already depressed and terrified you about being alive. The horror and nothingness of human existence—the cozy façade behind which was only a spinning abyss. The absolute hopelessness and misery of everything. After publishing his first book in French, which in English appeared as A Short History of Decay (1949), Cioran learned from that volume’s enthusiastic reception that his manner of philosophical negation had a paradoxically vital and energizing quality. Lovecraft, along with other authors of his kind, may have the same effect and rather than encouraging people to give up he may instead give them a reason to carry on. Sometimes that reason is to follow his way—to communicate, in the form of horror stories, the outrage and panic at being alive in the world. (Ligotti 2005)

From what has already been said, it should be obvious that Ligotti is speaking autobiographically here. Elsewhere, he has stated directly that he took Lovecraft not only as a literary model, but also as a model for living itself: It was what I sensed in Lovecraft’s works and what I learned about his myth as the ‘recluse of Providence’ that made me think, ‘That’s for me!’ I already had a grim view of existence, so there was no problem there. I was and am agoraphobic, so being reclusive was a snap. The only challenge was whether or not I could actually write horror stories. So I studied fiction writing and wrote every day for years and years until I started to get my stories accepted by small press magazines. I’m not comparing myself to Lovecraft as a person or as a writer, but the rough outline of his life gave me something to aspire to. (Wilbanks; emphasis added)

Thus it seems impossible to overstress the importance of Lovecraft to Ligotti, not just as a writer whose works he loves, but as a human being with whom he feels a deeply personal sense of kinship. Ligotti himself has stated the matter definitively: “H. P. Lovecraft has been, bar none other, the most intense and real personal presence in my life” (Paul and Schurholz 18). “I don’t know what would have become of me if I hadn’t discovered Lovecraft” (Wilbanks).

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II. Notes on the Horror of Writing: Lovecraft in Ligotti’s Work, and vice versa What remains is the question of whether and how Lovecraft’s influence can be seen in Ligotti’s actual writing. Darrell Schweitzer offered a typical observation, and one that echoes Ramsey Campbell’s sentiment expressed above, when he told Ligotti that “your stories only resemble Lovecraft’s in the most tenuous manner, in that you too seem to depict a bleak and uncertain universe in which human assumptions don’t apply very far. But the more overt Lovecraftisms, from the adjectives to the tentacular Things From Beyond, are conspicuously absent” (Schweitzer 25). This amounts to saying that Ligotti’s stories recall Lovecraft purely in terms of mood and worldview, and for the most part this is correct, although a number of Ligotti’s stories do incorporate specific Lovecraftian names and themes. One example is “The Sect of the Idiot,” in which Ligotti mentions Azathoth, the deity or cosmic principle which Lovecraft created to symbolize the ultimate ontological horror. Another is “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” the earliest-written of Ligotti’s published tales, whose plot motifs explicitly recall Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Festival,” and which ends with a dedication “To the memory of H. P. Lovecraft.” But even in these and the few other stories in which definite Lovecraftian elements can be discerned—e.g., “Nethescurial,” “The Tsalal,” “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum”—Ligotti does not mimic Lovecraft’s prose style or call out a litany of fictional gods and monsters in the manner that has come to typify Lovecraftian “mythos” fiction. Instead, he returns to the same psychological/spiritual source of nightmarish horror that animated Lovecraft’s stories, and works it outward into original tales told in an original style. This style itself may be decidedly non-Lovecraftian—Ligotti’s stylistic masters, let it be recalled, are Poe, Nabokov, Burroughs, Schulz, and the like—but the spirit is Lovecraftian to the core. And this is all to say that Ligotti nowhere apes Lovecraft, but instead, in a certain (purely metaphorical) sense, embodies him, or at least a version of him (see below). In my essay “Thomas Ligotti’s Career of Nightmares,” I have speculated that Ligotti’s writing may be taken “as a kind of distillation and expression in contemporary terms of what was best in Lovecraft” (Cardin 16). Regarding what qualifies as Lovecraft’s “best,” Ligotti has expressed a definite preference for


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the earlier, more poetic, dreamlike tales over the later, longer ones such as “The Shadow out of Time” and At the Mountains of Madness in which Lovecraft attempted to build a combined atmosphere of cosmic horror and scientific/documentary realism. “I find Lovecraft’s fastidious attempts at creating a documentary style ‘reality’ an obstacle to appreciating his work,” he has said. “To me, reading a horror story should be like dreaming and the more dreamlike a story is, the more it affects me” (Ford 33). Given such a literary predilection, we can appreciate why Ligotti has designated Lovecraft’s dreamlike “The Music of Erich Zann” as his favorite amongst Lovecraft’s works. “To me,” he has said, “it was in ‘Erich Zann’ that Lovecraft came up with the perfect model of horror story” (Ayad). He has described this story as “Lovecraft’s early, almost premature expression of his ideal as a writer: the use of maximum suggestion and minimal explanation to evoke a sense of supernatural terrors and wonders” (Ligotti 2003, 82). “Erich Zann” has long been recognized as one of Lovecraft’s most successful stories, and for our purposes here, it is important to recall that Lovecraft wrote it in 1921, only four and a half years into his mature fiction-writing career, which had begun in 1917 with “The Tomb.” When we recall his famous assertion from 1936, just a little over a year before his death, that “I’m farther from doing what I want to do than I was 20 years ago” (SL 5.224) and put this together with Ligotti’s claim that he himself has “tend[ed] to take more cues from Lovecraft’s earlier work” (Bryant), we can at last understand what it really means to say that Ligotti’s writing distills the essence of Lovecraft’s best. Lovecraft himself felt that he had produced his best writing early on, and Ligotti agrees. Considering the deep affective kinship between the two men, it seems reasonable to regard Ligotti’s writing as a continuation of the type of writing Lovecraft produced early his fiction writing career, before he made the changes in his approach which hindsight later represented to him as a misstep. Perhaps this is the appropriate point to highlight the obvious fact that not everyone agrees with Ligotti’s preference for Lovecraft’s earlier work, and thus not everyone agrees that Ligotti’s own authorial choices have been for the best. In the world of horror literature and entertainment at large, most people associate Lovecraft with, and venerate him for, the branch of his writing typified by “The Call of Cthulhu,” At the Mountains of Madness, “The Shadow out of Time,”

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and his other, longer stories told in a realistic tone and mounted as documentary-type expositions of cosmic and/or supernatural themes, as opposed to the earlier stories that Ligotti values most. S. T. Joshi is one prominent figure who believes that Lovecraft produced his most significant work in this later “supernatural realist” mode and that, moreover, this mode has characterized the greatest works in the supernatural horror genre as a whole. “Ligotti’s own tastes notwithstanding,” he has said, “few will doubt that Lovecraft initiated the most representative phase of his career when he adopted the documentary realism of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ in 1926; if he had stopped writing before that point, we would have little reason to remember him” (Joshi 1993, 152). By contrast, Ligotti believes that Lovecraft “was at his worst when he tried to be ‘convincing’ in the manner derived from the late 19th century realist-naturalist writers,” and that these attempts failed to achieve the effect Lovecraft had intended. “Lovecraft,“ he says, “always veered off into a highly unrealistic, as well as highly poetic style,” and it is this very deviation from the ideal of realism that Ligotti finds most laudable and valuable (Schweitzer 26). The upshot of the matter, generally speaking, is that Ligotti thinks Lovecraft was at his worst in the very stories where Joshi thinks he was at his best. What we have here is a case of methodological and even philosophical disagreement, the details of which come out most clearly in the two men’s respective assessments of “The Music of Erich Zann.” Joshi, like Ligotti, notices something distinctive about this story. On the one hand, he praises it, saying that it “justifiably remained one of Lovecraft’s own favourite stories, for it reveals a restraint in its supernatural manifestations (bordering, for one of the few times in his entire work, on obscurity), a pathos in its depiction of its protagonist, and a general polish in its language that Lovecraft achieved in later years.” And yet he also expresses a reservation, already hinted at in the parenthetical aside quoted above, about “the very nebulous nature of the horror involved” in the narrative. “There are those,” he writes, “who find this sort of restraint effective because it leaves so much to the imagination; and there are those who find it ineffective because it leaves too much to the imagination, and there is a suspicion that the author himself did not have a fully conceived understanding of what the central weird phenomenon of the story is actually meant to be. I fear I am in the latter camp.” Although Joshi, like Ligotti,


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thinks Lovecraft was sometimes a bit too overexplanatory in his later stories, “in ‘The Music of Erich Zann’ I cannot help feeling that he erred in the opposite direction” (Joshi 1996, 271, 272). But this is of course the complete opposite of Ligotti’s opinion, since Ligotti, as we have seen, regards the same story as a masterpiece precisely because of its use of “maximum suggestion and minimal explanation” to evoke a specific type of philosophical-aesthetic response. For him, the story’s refusal to give any hint of explanation regarding the precise nature of its central horror, in tandem with the skill of its telling, “suggest[s] to us the essence, far bigger than life, of that dark universal terror beyond naming which is the matrix for all other terrors” (Ligotti 2003, 80), whereas for Joshi the same quality merely hints at the author’s underdeveloped conception of his own theme. In light of this, we should not be surprised that Joshi has criticized Ligotti’s stories for falling short of the ideal of supernatural realism. In 1993 Joshi expressed concern at the fact that Ligotti “seems, apparently by design, not to care about the complete reconciliation of the various supernatural features in a given tale,” which, in conjunction with several other problems Joshi perceives in Ligotti’s style (including obscurity, excessive self-consciousness and self-referentiality, and a lack of “spontaneity and emotional vigour”), prevents his work from ranking with the best in the supernatural horror genre. Joshi opined that Ligotti needs to produce more completed tales, as opposed to vignettes and such, and more work in the supernatural realist mode of the later Lovecraftian stories “if he is to join the ranks of Lovecraft, Blackwood, Dunsany, Jackson, Campbell, and Klein, as he is on the verge of doing.” Among Ligotti’s works that already fulfill this order, Joshi counted “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” “Nethescurial,” and “Vastarien” (Joshi 1993, 151–52).1 1. More recently, Joshi has spoken positively of the increased stylistic realism evident in Ligotti’s My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002). In this short novel, Joshi says, “Ligotti has tempered what in the past might have been regarded as his excessively tortured prose, and has instead evolved a smoothly flowing narrative style that, if perhaps a bit more spartan in its exotic metaphors than before, is nonetheless capable of powerful emotive effects” (Joshi 2003). The change Joshi notes is indeed prominent in My Work Is Not Yet Done, and is somewhat surprising in light of Ligotti’s longstanding, selfavowed shunning of realism in favor of surrealism and oneiricism—a fact that Joshi also notes. But we may observe that Ligotti has clearly not aban-

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Ligotti, for his part, is quite self-aware about the choices he has made in matters of style and authorial philosophy. He has even employed a metafictional approach to incorporate his thoughts about such matters into some of his stories. “Nethescurial” is one such story, and ironically (in light of Joshi’s praise), we can find within it an answer to Joshi’s criticism of Ligotti’s supposed over-vagueness. “Nethescurial” is constructed as a series of frame stories, and the narrator of the topmost frame is portrayed as possessing a certain savvy about the field of supernatural horror. In commenting on the contents of a manuscript he has found, which forms one of the lowerlevel frames, and which purports to give an account of a supposedly true quasi-supernatural/metaphysical horror story, he says, “The problem is that such supernatural inventions [i.e. the god Nethescurial, a “demonic demiurge”] are indeed quite difficult to imagine. So often they fail to materialize in the mind, to take on a mental texture, and thus remain unfelt as anything but an abstract monster of metaphysics—an elegant or awkward schematic that cannot rise from the paper to touch us” (G 82). Although in this passage the narrator/Ligotti is talking not about the problem of authorial vagueness, but instead the ontological and affective barrier that separates the world of written words from the world of existential reality, we may still read these thoughts as addressing the former issue as well. This is especially true since the “demonic demiurge” Nethescurial, which forms the story’s central metaphysical horror, remains fully and fundamentally as unexplained in the end as does the nameless horror confronted by Lovecraft’s Erich Zann. Ligotti’s concluding words at the end of the passage quoted above may thus be taken not only as an apologia for the power of literary horror to move us, but also for the power of a minimally explained supernatural premise to have a similar impact: “Even if we are incapable of sincere belief in [the various stock narrative elements found in supernatural horror stories like the tale of the doned his commitment to warped and fantastical narrative and prose styles, as evidenced by such relatively recent stories as “Our Temporary Supervisor” (2001), “My Case for Retributive Action” (2001), and “The Town Manager” (2003). Another tale, “Purity” (2003), represents an interesting hybrid of Ligotti’s typically oneiric thematic content, couched in a realistic narrative style reminiscent of the one he employed in My Work Is Not Yet Done.


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island cult of Nethescurial], there may still be a power in these things that threatens us like a bad dream. And this power emanates not so much from within the tale as it does from somewhere behind it, someplace of infinite darkness and ubiquitous evil in which we may walk unaware” (G 82). Not incidentally, these thoughts were prefigured, and Ligotti’s low opinion of the value and effectiveness of supernatural realism was given clear expression, in his words to interviewer Carl Ford in 1988, three years before “Nethescurial’s” first publication: I discovered some time ago that I am not necessarily interested in fictional confrontations between the so-called everyday world and the world of the supernatural. If I am affected by a writer’s vision, it is never because he has caused me to believe during the course of reading that there is truth to a given supernatural motif. . . . What seems important to me is . . . the power of the language and images of a story and the ultimate vision that they help to convey. . . . Lovecraft’s Cthulhu aided his expression of certain sensations that were profoundly important to him. The pure idea of such a creation—not if it exists or doesn’t—is the only thing of consequence. That idea may be rendered poorly or with great power, and beyond that—nothing matters. (Ford 33)

Obviously, Joshi is correct in believing that Ligotti cares nothing for “the complete reconciliation of the various supernatural features in a given tale.” What matters to Ligotti is the evocation of mood and the conveyance, preferably with consummate literary skill, of an overwhelming artistic-horrific vision. In fact, we could substitute “Nethescurial” for “Cthulhu” in the above quotation to arrive at a viable statement from Ligotti about his own guiding philosophy as a writer. (For more on the parallels between Ligotti’s personal aesthetic as a writer of horror fiction and his statements about Lovecraft, see the final section of this essay.) If it is ironic that Ligotti has answered, after a fashion, some of Joshi’s criticisms in one of the very stories that Joshi has singled out for praise, then it is doubly ironic that Lovecraft’s own words indicate that by the end of his life, he probably would have agreed more with Ligotti than Joshi on this issue. Although Lovecraft did begin employing a documentary-realist approach to fiction writing beginning in 1926, his self-stated ultimate goal in the writing of even these realistic

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stories was the evocation of mood, not the “complete reconciliation of [their] various supernatural features,” which formulation may be taken as one of the hallmarks of supernatural realism. “[Weird fiction] must,” he wrote in 1935, if it is to be authentic art, form primarily the crystallisation or symbolisation of a definite human mood—not the attempted delineation of events, since the ‘events’ involved are of course largely fictitious or impossible. . . . A really serious weird story does not depend on plot or incident at all, but puts all its emphasis on mood or atmosphere. What it sets out to be is simply a picture of a mood, and if it weaves the elements of suggestion with sufficient skill, it matters relatively little what fictitious events the mood is based on. (SL 5.158, 198)

In the case of Lovecraft’s own writing, the point is illustrated by his 1931 short novel, At the Mountains of Madness. He wrote this one in an ultra-realistic tone, complete with a generous overlay of scientific jargon, but as he said in a 1936 letter to his friend E. Hoffmann Price, at root his goal was simply “to pin down the vague feelings regarding the lethal, desolate white south which have haunted me ever since I was ten years old.” In other words, he simply wanted to write a story that would express for him, and that would convey to others, an undefined feeling. This emotional closeness that he felt to the setting and subject matter of the story may account in part for the fact that when it received a hostile reception and was subjected to severe editorial mishandling, he was so discouraged that, in his own words, the episode “probably did more than anything else to end my effective fictional career” (SL 5.223, 224). The point is reinforced later in the same letter to Price, where Lovecraft used similar mood-based terms to explain his motivations for writing “The Haunter of the Dark” (1935): “The sole purpose of this attempt was to crystallise (a) the feeling of strangeness in a distant view, and (b) the feeling of latent horror in an old, deserted edifice” (SL 5.224). Again, this ideal of mood, and not the achievement of a successful supernatural-realist effect, was so important to Lovecraft that his self-perceived failure deeply discouraged him. These words about “The Haunter in the Dark” are followed directly by his alreadyquoted claim that he was farther from “doing what I want to do” than he had been twenty years earlier. In a more formal vein, in his 1933 essay “Notes on Writing Weird


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Fiction,” Lovecraft had made the same point when he wrote, “My reason for writing stories is to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy which are conveyed to me by certain sights (scenic, architectural, atmospheric, etc.), ideas, occurrences, and images encountered in art and literature” (MW 113). And if we look to the introduction to his classic essay Supernatural Horror in Literature (written 1925–27), we see him flatly asserting that the “one test of the really weird”—that is, the litmus test for whether a supernatural horror story succeeds or fails—is simply whether it generates the right mood. More specifically, and to quote Lovecraft’s famous words in full, “The one test of the really weird is this—whether or not there be excited in the reader a profound sense of dread, and of contact with unknown spheres and powers; a subtle attitude of awed listening, as if for the beating of black wings or the scratching of outside shapes and entities on the known universe’s utmost rim” (D 368–69). At this point, the attentive reader may have begun to think that I am confusing categories in my argument. Supernatural realism, the reader might say, is a stylistic approach, whereas Lovecraft’s weirdfictional ideal of evoking mood is a fundamental authorial motivation, prior to and separate from the selection of a literary style. In other words, supernatural realism was merely one of several stylistic vehicles that he employed in pursuit of his emotional goal, and therefore to oppose the two is to commit a category error. In my defense, I do not think I have committed this error, because what I have been attempting to show is precisely that primacy of his emotional motivation for writing stories at all. My point is not that his stories can be discretely divided into “mood-based” ones and supernatural realist ones, but simply that he was more emotionally invested in the idea of writing stories to convey ethereal moods than he was intellectually invested in the idea of writing stories to create a convincing air of realism or to offer a coherent explanation or reconciliation of supernatural motifs. When he reached middle age and began to take stock of his writing, he felt that the work he had produced prior to adopting the realist approach had more successfully achieved and fulfilled his emotional goals. And in this opinion, he is at one with Ligotti. Nor does this identity of opinion stop there. Although an author’s assessment of his or her own work should not always be taken as

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valid, it is a telling fact that Ligotti’s opinion about Lovecraft’s fiction echoes that of Lovecraft himself. Late in life, Lovecraft maintained that he regarded “The Music of Erich Zann” and “The Colour out of Space,” each of which in its respective way defies the conventions of supernatural realism by leaving the narrative’s central horror utterly unexplained, as his most successful stories. Of course, Joshi, too, admires “The Colour out of Space,” specifically—and oddly, in light of his criticism of “The Music of Erich Zann”—for the way it “captures the atmosphere of inexplicable horror” perhaps more effectively than any of Lovecraft’s other stories (Joshi 1996, 420). Ligotti, for his part, has said of this story that he admires the way it “delineat[es] a condition of pervasive strangeness and unease,” the achievement of which is necessary for his enjoyment of horror fiction (Schweitzer 27). So on this point, regarding this story, Ligotti and Joshi are in agreement. But we have already seen that Joshi holds reservations about what he perceives as the possible overuse of underexplanation in Lovecraft’s “The Music of Erich Zann,” whereas for Ligotti the same story serves almost as an Ur-type template. The overarching point that I have been laboring to make through all of this is that Ligotti’s sense of identification with Lovecraft is so profound, and their sensibilities are so closely aligned, that the two of them even share Lovecraft’s self-opinion as a writer, no matter whether this clashes with the expressed opinions of the world’s foremost Lovecraft scholar or anyone else. If this seems an overstatement, I will at least argue for the heuristic value of the idea by pointing out that Ligotti’s position enables him to offer an explanation for Lovecraft’s late-in-life lament about his self-perceived failure to realize his authorial goals. The answer is really quite simple: Lovecraft’s experimentation with supernatural realism may have produced the stories that he has become most known for, but they failed to satisfy him as much as his earlier work had done. For both Lovecraft and Ligotti, these later stories failed to approach the same summit of suggestive horror, and failed to capture and express the same delicate emotions, that his earlier ones had achieved, and thus both men prefer the earlier work to the later. Thus it was natural for Lovecraft to claim at the age of forty-five that he was farther from producing the work he wanted to produce than he had been at twenty-five. But Joshi can only be baffled by the claim and call it an “astonishing assertion” (Joshi 2000). Or perhaps (and this is more likely) he fully un-


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derstands Lovecraft’s subjective reasons for saying such a thing, but still finds it astonishing because he considers the stories from Lovecraft’s supernatural realist period to be patently superior, meaning more significant, meaningful, and mature, than the earlier ones. In any event, the question here is not that of the objective literary value of Lovecraft’s pre- or post-1926 work, but of the way that he, along with Ligotti, felt about such things. And the answer is clear. Perhaps most telling of all, in the same letter where he averred that a serious weird tale sets out to be “a picture of a mood,” Lovecraft reflected on his then-current approach to fiction writing and expressed confusion over the most effective way to achieve his goals: “I’m pretty well burned out in the lines I’ve been following . . . that’s why I’m experimenting around for new ways to capture the moods I wish to depict.” He specifically classifies “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Shadow out of Time,” both of which he had written in his realist mode, as counting among these “experiments,” and asserts, “Nothing is really ‘typical’ of my efforts at this stage. I’m simply casting about for better ways to crystallise and capture certain strong impressions . . . which persist in clamouring for expression.” Then he makes a most interesting statement: “Perhaps the case is hopeless— that is, I may be experimenting in the wrong medium altogether. It may be that poetry instead of fiction is the only effective vehicle to put such expression across” (SL 5.199). In this same vein, only a month after writing the letter to Price from which I have quoted extensively above, he wrote Price another one in which he disparaged his own earlier work, lamented the influence of pulp fiction on his thought process and therefore writing style, and then hinted indirectly, and tantalizingly, that he was groping toward yet another shift in his writing. And in this second expression of dissatisfaction, he made it clear that his lament from a month earlier referred not only to the quality of his work, but to its very form. “[F]iction,” he stated, “is not the medium for what I really want to do” (emphases in original). But regarding the type of writing he did want to do, he expressed confusion: “(Just what the right medium would be, I don’t know—perhaps the cheapened and hackneyed term ‘prose-poem’ would hint in the general direction)” (SL 5.230). Lovecraft, we will recall, had already written four prose poems earlier in his career: “Memory,” “Ex Oblivione,” “Nyarlathotep,” and “What the Moon Brings.” In keeping with the conventions of the form, each

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of these pieces is characterized by a poetic, dreamlike tone and an atmosphere of unabashed surrealism. In fact, we might anachronistically describe his prose poems as some of the most Ligottian things he ever wrote. This is a clue worth following. Certainly, Ligotti himself has made extensive use of the prose poem form, or something resembling it, in what Joshi has described as “the vignettes, prose poems, sketches and fragments that so far [as of 1993] constitute the bulk of his output.” It was Ligotti’s repeated use of this semi-fragmentary form that led Joshi, with his preference for supernatural realism, to say that Ligotti “will, I believe, have to start writing more stories—as opposed to [prose poems etc.]—if he is to gain preëminence in the field” (Joshi 2003, 152). Regardless of Joshi’s judgment here, are we perhaps justified in speculating, based on the considerations already offered, that the different medium and/or style for which Lovecraft was blindly groping; the one that would have expressed to his satisfaction the poignant and powerful subjective impressions and imaginings that had dominated his life; the one that would have given him the same sense of creative fulfillment that his early works gave him in retrospect—are we perhaps justified in speculating that this new type of writing which he unsuccessfully sought to conceive may be found today in the works of Thomas Ligotti? In pursuit of this idea, let us consider Ligotti’s metafiction “Notes on the Writing of Horror,” which stands as his quintessential statement on matters of literary style as they relate to the horror story. In this tour de force, he expresses, through the voice of the narrator, his thoughts about the various styles or “techniques” available to horror writers. These are, he says, essentially three in number. First is the realistic technique, which is simply another name for conventional supernatural realism. The description that he gives would serve well as a textbook definition: “The supernatural and all it represents, is profoundly abnormal, and therefore unreal. . . . Now the highest aim of the realistic horror writer is to prove, in realistic terms, that the unreal is real.” The second technique is the traditional gothic technique, which places characters and plotlines in a recognizably gothicfantastic setting and can therefore dispense with the strictures of realism by, for example, employing an “inflated rhetoric” that would seem hysterical in a more realistic context. Third is the experimental technique, which a writer adopts when the first two would fail to tell


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the story rightly, and which is defined by the writer’s “simply following the story’s commands to the best of his human ability. . . . [L]iterary experimentalism is simply the writer’s imagination, or lack of it, and feeling, or absence of same, thrashing their chains around in the escape-proof dungeon of the words of the story” (SDD 104, 108– 9, 110–11). By way of example, Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” and Ligotti’s “The Frolic” may be cited as instances of the realistic technique. Lovecraft’s “The Outsider” and Ligotti’s “The Tsalal” may be cited as instances of the traditional gothic technique. For the experimental technique, it is more difficult to pin down a Lovecraft story. Probably his prose poems are the best ones to single out, and perhaps “The Music of Erich Zann,” which also qualifies as gothic. For Ligotti, so many stories fall into the experimental category that it is impractical to list them here. Examples include “Dr. Voke and Mr. Veech,” “The Night School,” “Mad Night of Atonement,” “The Red Tower,” the entire contents of “The Notebook of the Night” (the final section of his collection Noctuary), and the chapbook Sideshow and Other Stories. Given Ligotti’s assertion that a writer adopts experimentalism when the more traditional styles prove inadequate, we might speculate that it was this style that Lovecraft had in mind when he was searching for a new means of expression. Statements he made around the same general period that might seem to contradict this idea by cementing him firmly and exclusively in the role of scientific realist, such as his late-1936 claim to Fritz Leiber that one of his “cardinal principles regarding weird fiction” had always been the idea that “an air of absolute realism should be preserved (as if one were preparing an actual hoax instead of a story) except in the one limited field where the writer has chosen to depart . . . from the order of objective reality” (SL 5.342), may be taken simply as one more sign of the confusion he was then experiencing over stylistic matters, since it was this very approach that he had been expressing frequent and severe doubts over, almost to the point of repudiating it, during the preceding months. Moreover, his words to Leiber are perhaps doubly suspect since they echo sentiments he had expressed three years earlier in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction,” where he had counseled prospective weird fiction writers to “be sure that all references throughout the story are thoroughly reconciled with the final design” since “Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to over-

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come, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel” (MW 114, 115). Throughout literary history, the descriptions that writers have given of their own compositional and creative processes, and also, especially, the prescriptions they have offered to other writers based upon these, have proven notoriously unreliable, in that these writers have not really practiced what they preach, or have not done so as casually and easily as they make it appear. It almost seems as if the principles and points where writers present the greatest appearance of self-assurance are those where they should be most carefully interrogated, since these are the areas where they privately experience the greatest doubt and confusion. What we have already seen from Lovecraft should indicate that his words in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” and in the letter to Leiber are no exception to this rule, since they resound with a dogmatic certitude that conceals a very real, deep, and sincere uncertainty. Having said all this, it may not be experimentalism alone that Lovecraft, or even Ligotti, was/is reaching for. In “Notes on the Writing of Horror,” Ligotti/the narrator makes brief mention of “another style” that would supersede and obliterate all others. In order to do full justice to the story of Nathan, the protagonist whose example story he has been taking through permutations of the three standard styles, Ligotti/the narrator says he “wanted to employ a style that would conjure all the primordial powers of the universe independent of the conventional realities of the Individual, Society, or Art. I aspired toward nothing less than a pure style without style, a style having nothing whatsoever to do with the normal or abnormal, a style magic, timeless, and profound . . . and one of great horror, the horror of a god” (SDD 112). In other words, he was trying to burst the bonds of the written word (which recalls the narrator’s thoughts in “Nethescurial”) by writing a horror story that presented pure horror, the pristine experience in and of itself, on a veritably cosmic-divine level, and that would therefore be able to invade the reader’s experience and become, instead of just a story on a page, his or her existential reality. The attempt failed, of course, because it was necessarily founded upon the very unreality (of the world of fiction) that it was attempting to overcome. That is, the whole idea was a categorical impossibility. But the passion behind it was and is real in the minds of both the narrator and Ligotti himself, and also, I think, in the mind of


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Lovecraft, whose passionate desire to give literary expression to his deepest emotions, and thereby to affect his readers deeply, at least equaled that of his successor. Speaking of categorical impossibilities, the idea that I have been advancing—that the different form of writing the middle-aged Lovecraft inchoately desired to produce may have been the very form of writing that Ligotti is producing today, and that both may have ultimately longed to write in an impossible godlike style—is of course a categorically unverifiable conjecture. It is also a somewhat outlandish one, and I fear that the very articulating of it may seem extravagant. But for all that, I still feel that it is a worthwhile possibility to consider, if only for the way it illuminates the writings of both men. And having considered them together, as literary soulmates, it is now time to recognize their differences.

III. Lovecraft and Ligotti, sui generis It should be obvious by now that in stating Lovecraft’s authorial ideal as “the use of maximum suggestion and minimal explanation to evoke a sense of supernatural terrors and wonders,” Ligotti was stating his own ideal as well. And this ought to lead us to suspect the objective validity of his judgment. In truth, it is probably the case that his understanding of Lovecraft is too strongly colored by his personal feelings to qualify as objective, and that it is Joshi, the scholar, and not Ligotti, the literary artist, who can validly lay claim to the most technically accurate assessment. For my own part, in poring over Ligotti’s essays and interviews, I have gathered the impression that his response to Lovecraft, and in particular his sense of identification with Lovecraft’s worldview, has been so intense that it has led him to impute too much of himself to his idol. In other words, he has to a certain extent reimagined Lovecraft in his own image. A pertinent example of this can be seen in his descriptive analyses of Lovecraft’s nightmare vision of reality, which are, in my opinion, entirely Ligottian, but not entirely Lovecraftian. My own reading of Lovecraft has given me the impression that while he was entirely serious about the cosmic despair and philosophical concerns that undergird his stories, he did not experience precisely the same kind of existential torture and cosmic-ontological nightmare that characterizes Ligotti’s fictional world and personal life. Lovecraft, it seems to

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me, was emotionally and intellectually focused on the horror of “cosmic outsideness,” of vast outer spaces and the mind-shattering powers and principles that may hold sway there, and that may occasionally impinge upon human reality and reveal its pathetic fragility. Even a minimal knowledge of his biography leads to the conclusion that this was an entirely appropriate focus for him, given his infatuation with, and wide-ranging knowledge of, astronomy in particular and natural science in general. The same personal interests also indicate that his forays into supernatural realism were far from being a waste, since they utilized a definite portion of his knowledge and side of his character that otherwise would have languished in muteness. Ligotti, by contrast, seems focused more upon the horror of deep insideness, of the dark, twisted, transcendent truths and mysteries that reside within consciousness itself and find their outward expression in scenes and situations of warped perceptions and diseased metaphysics. As with Lovecraft and his own idiosyncratic themes, these themes are characteristically Ligotti‘s, characteristically Ligottian through and through, and they have grown out of his life. Whereas Lovecraft was passionately interested in astronomy, chemistry, New England history and architecture, and many other subjects that found their ways into his fictional writings, Ligotti’s “outside” interests include the literature of pessimism, the composing and playing of music, and the study of religion and spirituality, especially in its mystical or nondual aspect.2 Thus the idiosyncrasies of his typical style and themes are as natural and expectable as were Lovecraft’s. Importantly, despite their significant differences, the Ligottian and Lovecraftian brands of horror do exhibit manifest family resemblances. It may even be that they represent opposite poles on the same continuum, with Lovecraft’s outer, transcendent, cosmic focus and Ligotti’s inner, immanent, personal one finding their mutual confirmation and fulfillment in each other. But the really important thing to notice is that the distinction between Lovecraft’s and Ligotti’s re2. An important aspect of Ligotti’s psychological preparation for becoming a horror writer that I have not yet mentioned in this paper is his Roman Catholic upbringing, which he himself has cited as an important influence: “I was a Catholic until I was eighteen years old, when I unloaded all of the doctrines, but almost none of the fearful superstition, of a gothically devout childhood and youth” (Schweitzer 29).


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spective horrific visions, combined with a recognition of their underlying kinship, helps to answer our original question about Ramsey Campbell’s reasons, in that introduction to Songs of a Dead Dreamer, for mentioning in the same breath both Ligotti’s separateness from and perceptible relationship to Lovecraft. Another difference that I find between Lovecraft and Ligotti, and one whose significance is even more foundational, is that Lovecraft, as both a human being and an artist, was powerfully shaped by a lifelong experience of sehnsucht, whereas in Ligotti this quality, while present, is overshadowed or even overpowered by stark, staring horror and a desperate bleakness. Lovecraft’s poignant yearning after an experience of absolute beauty can be seen in many of his stories, such as “The Silver Key,” where young Randolph Carter, Lovecraft’s fictional alter ego, yearns for a return to the reimagined supernal peace and beauty of his childhood world; and also in his letters and essays, where he speaks repeatedly of finding himself overcome by aesthetic rapture and a sense of longing and “adventurous expectancy” at the sight of sunsets, cloudscapes, winding streets, rooftops angled in certain suggestive arrangements, and the like. The following passage from a 1927 letter to Donald Wandrei is typical: Sometimes I stumble accidentally on rare combinations of slope, curved street-line, roofs & gables & chimneys, & accessory details of verdure & background, which in the magic of late afternoon assume a mystic majesty and exotic significance beyond the power of words to describe. Absolutely nothing else in life now has the power to move me so much; for in these momentary vistas there seem to open before me bewildering avenues to all the wonders & lovelinesses I have ever sought, & to all those gardens of eld whose memory trembles just beyond the rim of conscious recollection, yet close enough to lend to life all the significance it possesses. (SL 2.125–26)

Or again, from a 1930 letter to Clark Ashton Smith: My most vivid experiences are efforts to recapture fleeting & tantalising mnemonic fragments expressed in unknown or half-known architectural or landscape vistas, especially in connexion with a sunset. Some instantaneous fragment of a picture will well up suddenly through some chain of subconscious association—the immediate excitant being usually half-irrelevant on the surface—& fill me with a

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sense of wistful memory & bafflement; with the impression that the scene in question represents something I have seen & visited before under circumstances of superhuman liberation & adventurous expectancy, yet which I have almost completely forgotten, & which is so bewilderingly uncorrelated & unoriented as to be forever inaccessible in the future. (SL 3.197)

Additional examples could be multiplied at length, and all would show, like the above passages, that Lovecraft was gripped by an ingrained and, we might say, “classical” sense of sehnsucht, the “infinite longing that is the essence of romanticism,” as E. T. A. Hoffmann famously formulated it. It was precisely this faculty that led him to respond with such intense delight to the mystically charged writings of Lord Dunsany, which exerted an enormous influence on his own subsequent work. Lovecraft’s Dunsanian stories can and should be read not only as outflowings of his love for Dunsany’s aesthetic vision, but as expressions of his own personal sense of infinite longing. Lovecraft even went so far as to assert that this feeling of longing, this heightened responsiveness to beauty that seems to hint at a transcendent world of absolute aesthetic fulfillment, is the impulse which justifies authorship. . . . The time to begin writing is when the events of the world seem to suggest things larger than the world—strangenesses and patterns and rhythms and uniquities of combination which no one ever saw or heard before, but which are so vast and marvellous and beautiful that they absolutely demand proclamation with a fanfare of silver trumpets. Space and time become vitalised with literary significance when they begin to make us subtly homesick for something ‘out of space, out of time.’ . . . To find those other lives, other worlds, and other dreamlands, is the true author’s task. That is what literature is; and if any piece of writing is motivated by anything apart from this mystic and never-finished quest, it is base and unjustified imitation (SL 2.142–43)

The fact that he made all of these statements after his 1926 conversion (as we might call it) to supernatural realism demonstrates beyond all doubt that the longings and mood-based authorial motivations he experienced during his earlier period were still in full force later on. And this provides still further explanation for why those later, more realistic stories, with their tendency toward narrative over-explicitness and


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a certain clinical, “scientific” coldness of style, while they may constitute significant literary works in their own right, appeared to him a deviations from his true path and desire. Ligotti is fully aware of all this, of course. No one who has made even a casual study of Lovecraft’s life and works can be unaware of this aspect of his character, and Ligotti has studied him more seriously and extensively than most. He has read Lovecraft’s stories, essays, and letters, and has seen his repeated claim that his life was made bearable solely by virtue of those transcendent intimations of a supernal beauty. And Ligotti has, I think, responded to this after his own fashion. At the very least, he has recognized that even in a horror story like “The Music of Erich Zann,” Lovecraft “captured at least a fragment of the desired object [i.e., the unattainable goal of that burning sehnsucht] and delivered it to his readers” (Ligotti 2003, 84). But as mentioned above, in Ligotti’s fictional world this yearning after beauty ends up being utterly subjugated to the experience of cosmic horror. I think it might even be possible to do a chronological study of the appearance and eventual complete submergence or subversion of this impulse in his stories. Early on, in such tales as “Les Fleurs,” “The Frolic,” “The Chymist,” and “The Lost Art of Twilight,” one can sense a world of suggestive beauties, laced with horrors (or vice versa), being painted in the descriptive passages, and in the hints of an alternate realm that borders the normal world: the “blasphemous fairyland” where John Doe frolics with his young victims (cf. SDD 12–13), the “opulent kingdom of glittering colors and velvety jungle-shapes, a realm of contorted rainbows and twisted auroras” where the narrator of “Les Fleurs” dwells amidst a riotous floral beauty of hideous luxuriance (SDD 25). The emotional center of this subset of tales is summed up in a single sentence from “Vastarien,” which itself stands as Ligotti’s most singular, unified expression of this sort of longing: “Victor Keirion belonged to that wretched sect of souls who believe that the only value of this world lies in its power—at certain times—to suggest another world” (SDD 263). The very wording, aside from the description of those who are subject to this longing as “wretched,” recalls some of the Lovecraft passages quoted above. But as Ligotti’s art progresses, the longing expressed in his stories mutates, until we are presented with such grim spectacles as “The Tsalal,” in which protagonist Andrew Maness’s longing is described in

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terms that subvert and transmute the desire for beauty into a desire for gothic horror and bleakness. Andrew, the story informs us, was conceived as part of a sinister mystical rite that was intended to bring the Tsalal, a god or principle of ultimate darkness, into this world. As “the seed of that one,” he will find that throughout his life he “will be drawn to a place that reveals the sign of the Tsalal—an aspect of the unreal, a forlorn glamour in things” (Ligotti 1995, 93). This attraction takes the form of a longing that still bears certain similarities to Lovecraft’s, since it is still based on the desire to see and experience another world—and yet for Andrew Maness, the sights and scenes that evoke the longing, and the fundamental character of the other world that he desires, have nothing whatsoever to do with sunsets or mystical vistas, or indeed with any sort of beauty at all: Perhaps he would come upon an abandoned house standing shattered and bent in an isolated landscape—a raw skeleton in a boneyard. But this dilapidated structure would seem to him a temple, a wayside shrine to that dark presence with which he sought union, and also a doorway to the dark world in which it dwelled. Nothing can convey those sensations, the countless nuances of trembling excitement, as he approached such a decomposed edifice whose skewed and ragged outline suggested another order of existence, the truest order of existence, as though such places as this house were only wavering shadows cast down to earth by a distant, unseen realm of entity.

For this narrator, such grim and spectral scenes inspire the sense of an imminent, nightmarish transformation being worked upon the world through the agency of his own being, and this in turn “overwhelm[s] him with a black intoxication and suggest[s] his life’s goal: to work the great wheel that turns in darkness, and to be broken upon it” (N 83). Obviously, this is light years from Lovecraft’s “vague impressions of adventurous expectancy coupled with elusive memory— impressions that certain vistas, particularly those associated with sunsets, are avenues of approach to spheres or conditions of wholly undefined delights and freedoms which I have known in the past and have a slender possibility of knowing again in the future” (SL 3.243). This difference, not incidentally, has resulted in dramatic differences in the two men’s fictional representations of longing. One need only compare any of the above-quoted Ligotti passages, or any of a dozen others, to analogous descriptive passages from Lovecraft’s dream sto-


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ries in order to see the difference.3 Ligotti has inadvertently given us a clue as to how to articulate this particular distinction between Lovecraft and himself. He has written, “Like Erich Zann’s ‘world of beauty,’ Lovecraft’s ‘lay in some far cosmos of the imagination,’ and like that of another artist, it is a “beauty that hath horror in it’” (Ligotti 2003, 84). For Ligotti, the order of primacy is reversed: his other-world is a horror that hath beauty in it. It is world of horror first and foremost, with its undeniable, intermittent beauty standing only as an accident or epiphenomenon—and perhaps as a kind of deadly lure. Understanding this, we will not wonder at the fact that his oeuvre contains nothing even remotely resembling Lovecraft’s Dunsanian stories. He has never written, or at least never published, anything like Lovecraft’s “The Quest of Iranon” or “Celephaïs,” the first of which is entirely lacking in horror and the second of which only lightly brushes past it, and both of which take for their primary themes not gothic darkness but ethereal beauty and bittersweet poignancy. 3. Consider, for example, the already-quoted passage from Ligotti’s “The Tsalal” with the following passage from Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath: “Three times Randolph Carter dreamed of the marvellous city, and three times was he snatched away while still he paused on the high terrace above it. All golden and lovely it blazed in the sunset, with walls, temples, colonnades, and arched bridges of veined marble, silver-basined fountains of prismatic spray in broad squares and perfumed gardens, and wide streets marching between delicate trees and blossom-laden urns and ivory statues in gleaming rows; while on steep northward slopes climbed tiers of red roofs and old peaked gables harbouring little lanes of grassy cobbles. It was a fever of the gods; a fanfare of supernal trumpets and a clash of immortal cymbals. Mystery hung about it as clouds about a fabulous unvisited mountain; and as Carter stood breathless and expectant on that balustraded parapet there swept up to him the poignancy and suspense of almostvanished memory, the pain of lost things, and the maddening need to place again what once had an awesome and momentous place” (MM 306). The parallels and divergences are equally instructive. Both passages present protagonists who are in the act of surveying and responding to moody architectural scenes. Both are written from the intensity of the respective authors’ genuine emotional and artistic visions. But what a titanic difference there is between their respective tones and intents! The very magnitude of the difference suggests a fundamental disparity between the respective metaphysical absolutes which the authors are straining to conceive.

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The thematic progression of Ligotti’s fiction away from any sort of expressed longing and toward a zenith, which is to say an emotional nadir, of despair and horror is completed in “The Bungalow House,” which portrays the miserable death of the very capacity to yearn. The protagonist of the story, a solitary librarian, becomes infatuated with a series of bizarre audio performance tapes that he discovers at a local art gallery. These tapes contain first person “dream monologues” narrated by an oddly familiar voice, and the bleak, surreal scenes they describe touch an emotional chord deep within him, causing him to respond with the same feeling of “euphoric hopelessness” described by the taped voice. Expressing a sentiment that rather recalls Ligotti’s closing words in his essay “The Consolations of Horror,”4 the narrator of “The Bungalow House” says he feels comforted by the tapes, since they demonstrate that someone else has shared his most private and powerful insights and emotions. “To think,” he says with rhetorical emphasis, “that another person shared my love for the icy bleakness of things” (NF 523). But by the story’s end, he has been emotionally devastated by a personal confrontation with the owner of the anonymous voice, and by a “twist” that has revealed a depth to his own wretchedness that he had not previously suspected. The result is that he has been robbed of that selfsame ability to feel “the intense and highly aesthetic perception of what I call the icy bleakness of things” that had initially attracted him to the tapes (NF 531). The story’s closing lines explicitly describe the nature of his loss: I try to experience the infinite terror and dreariness of a bungalow universe in the way I once did, but it is not the same as it once was. There is no comfort in it, even though the vision and the underlying principles are still the same. . . . More than ever, some sort of new arrangement seems in order, some dramatic and unknown arrangement—anything to find release from this heartbreaking sadness I suffer every minute of the day (and night), this killing sadness that feels as if it will never leave me no matter where I go or what I do or whom I may ever know. (NF 532)

4. “This, then, is the ultimate, that is only, consolation [of fictional horror]: simply that someone shares some of your own feelings and has made of these a work of art which you have the insight, sensitivity, and—like it or not—peculiar set of experiences to appreciate” (NF xxi).


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This emotional death signals a lasting shift in Ligotti’s writing; in his post–“Bungalow House” stories, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find evidence of the same yearning, however dark its character by the time of “The Tsalal,” that informed much of his earlier work. This leads us to suspect a strong autobiographical component to this thematic arc, and we are confirmed in our suspicions by Ligotti’s nonfictional description of his agonized struggles with anhedonia in The Conspiracy against the Human Race (q.v.). One of the most fundamental elements of any writer’s psychological makeup is the central impulse that motivates him to write at all. When we compare Ligotti’s expressed motivations with Lovecraft’s, we find that this dividing line between them—Lovecraft’s golden longing contrasting with Ligotti’s gloomy one that eventually dies in desolation—extends all the way inward to that foundational level. We have already seen that Lovecraft said he wrote directly out of his sehnsucht, “to give myself the satisfaction of visualising more clearly and detailedly and stably the vague, elusive, fragmentary impressions of wonder, beauty, and adventurous expectancy” that he derived from various sources. In the same essay, he went on to explain why he wrote the particular kind of story that his readers have come to associate him with, and his words are of paramount significance to our concerns here: I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which forever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis. These stories frequently emphasize the element of horror because fear is our deepest and strongest emotion, and the one which best lends itself to the creation of Nature-defying illusions. Horror and the unknown or the strange are always closely connected, so that it is hard to create a convincing picture of shattered natural law or cosmic alienage or “outsideness” without laying stress on the emotion of fear. (MW 113; emphasis added)

The import of this statement for Lovecraft’s status as a horror writer is obvious: he was saying, circa 1933, that he only wrote horror because it was efficacious for achieving another effect that is not intrinsically horrific. In other words, for him, horror was a means and not

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an end. It was his poignant, wistful longing after transcendent beauty and cosmic freedom that animated his authorial life—and not only that, but his life in general: in the same letter where he described his “vague impressions of adventurous expectancy coupled with elusive memory,” he claimed that this intense emotional experience was chief amongst the reasons why he did not commit suicide—“the reasons, that is, why I still find existence enough of a compensation to atone for its dominantly burthernsome quality” (SL 3.243). Such an attitude contrasts sharply with the reason, quoted earlier, that Ligotti has given for going on with life: “to communicate, in the form of horror stories, the outrage and panic at being alive in the world.” He frames this as “following Lovecraft’s way,” and to a degree he is correct, since the horror Lovecraft expressed in his stories was entirely authentic. But as we have seen, it was not the whole of his subjective reality, nor, by his own account, was it the ultimate end of his creative endeavors. This means it is just one more indication of Ligotti’s radical emotional and intellectual appropriation of Lovecraft when he holds up horror as Lovecraft’s real message and meaning, and for the most part relegates every other aspect of his life, writings, and character to peripheral status. For Ligotti, horror—the kind he experienced at the age of seventeen in that Lovecraftian epiphany of a meaningless, menacing cosmos—is all that is “really real,” and whenever he, Lovecraft, or anybody else departs from living in the full nightmarish intensity of it, this equates with “think[ing] and act[ing] like every other goof and sucker on this planet” (Bee).5 5. For a general elucidation of this point, see Ligotti’s words in The Conspiracy against the Human Race, in the section titled “Happiness,” where he points out that even Lovecraft, who in his letters wrote about his nervous breakdowns and other personal troubles, as well as about the ultimate futility and miserableness of existence in general, “more often . . . wrote about what a fine time he had on a given day or expatiated on the joys of his travels around the United States and Canada or simply joked around with a correspondent about a wide range of subjects in which he was well-studied.” Ligotti closes the section by asserting that “the very idea of happiness [is] an unconscionable delusion conceived by fools or a deplorable rationalization dreamed up by swine.” Obviously, he does not think Lovecraft was a fool or a swine, so the implication is that Lovecraft was merely taking a break, as it were, from his real concerns—i.e., he was being just another “goof and sucker”—whenever he distracted himself from the final truth of perpetual, horrified misery.


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So we are left with a kind of paradox or contradiction, in that Ligotti identifies strongly with Lovecraft as a writer and human being, and has modeled his own life and writings upon Lovecraft’s example, and yet the aesthetic longing that was central to Lovecraft’s character and writings, and which comes out most clearly in the early stories Ligotti so greatly admires, is something that Ligotti is forced, by virtue of his own personal vision and experience, to view as peripheral. A likely explanation for this fact is that when Ligotti first discovered Lovecraft and fastened upon his writings as expressions of the emotional and philosophical horror that he (Ligotti) was experiencing, this resulted in his gaining a one-sided understanding. His private predisposition illuminated with stunning intensity an important facet of Lovecraft’s vision, but at the same time it relegated equally important facets to secondary status. We may view the overall result as ironic, since the part of Lovecraft’s life and work that has hitherto been overlooked by the reading public at large—his longing after beauty— in favor of framing him purely and solely as a horror writer (witness the contents of the 2005 Library of America volume, which omit entirely the dream and Dunsanian stories), is also obscured by the overwhelming horrific focus of Ligotti, who is widely recognized as one of Lovecraft’s most prominent literary heirs.

IV. Conclusion: The Enchanting Nightmare Having gone on at such length about Ligotti’s “appropriation” of Lovecraft, let me now hasten to add that I do not consider his subjective attitude to be at all inappropriate. Far from being a detriment, it is the proper attitude for any artist who comes under the sway of a powerful, life-changing forebear. Indeed, it recalls the response of Lovecraft himself to the writings of Lord Dunsany. Lovecraft first read Dunsany’s A Dreamer’s Tales in 1919, and later said the first paragraph had “arrested me as with an electrick shock, & I had not read two pages before I became a Dunsany devotee for life” (SL 2.328). He felt that Dunsany was saying everything that he, Lovecraft, had hitherto wished to say as an author, and four years later he still claimed a thorough sense of identification with the man: “Dunsany is myself. . . . His cosmic realm is the realm in which I live; his distant, emotionless vistas of the beauty of moonlight on quaint and ancient roofs are the vistas I know and cherish” (SL 1.234). Far from injuring

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or cheapening his work, Lovecraft’s love affair with Dunsany served as a catalyst for the crystallization of thoughts, emotions, and a narrative style that were already imminent in his own writing. His felt identification with the man acted as a midwife for his own birth into creative maturity. I cannot think but that Ligotti’s position with regard to Lovecraft is analogous. Intellectually, he probably has as balanced an understanding of Lovecraft as any scholar, but this necessarily takes a second place to his emotional response. As an artist, his primary calling is not to pursue the strict scholarly accuracy of a Joshi, but to bear witness to what he sees, feels, and knows within the depths of his being. And even though his understanding of Lovecraft is intensely subjective, it is also for that very reason all the more potent. In an artistic or “spiritual” sense, it may even be more accurate than Joshi’s, the evidence of which can be seen in the fact, with which we commenced this exploration, that while Ligotti’s stories “only resemble Lovecraft’s in the most tenuous manner,” they almost invariably “evoke Lovecraft’s shade” in the minds of his readers. “I hope my stories are in the Lovecraftian tradition,” he has said, “in that they may evoke a sense of terror whose source is something nightmarishly unreal, the implications of which are disturbingly weird and, in the magical sense, charming” (Shawn Ramsey, “A Graveside Chat: Interview with Thomas Ligotti,” 1989, quoted in Joshi 2003, 142). He has also said, “In my eyes, Lovecraft dreamed the great dream of supernatural literature—to convey with the greatest possible intensity a vision of the universe as a kind of enchanting nightmare (Ford 32). Whether or not he is technically accurate in this assessment of the deep nature of Lovecraft’s artistic vision—and in this particular case I think he is dead-on—his belief that this was Lovecraft’s dream has led him to produce a priceless body of weird fiction. One likes to think that Lovecraft himself would have been deeply pleased by this showing from his most worthy disciple.

Works Cited Angerhuber, E. M., and Thomas Wagner. “Disillusionment Can Be Glamorous: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” In The Thomas Ligotti Reader, ed. Darrell Schweitzer. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. 53–71. Also at The Art of Grimscribe, January 2001.


Matt Cardin

Accessed January 22, 2005. Ayad, Neddal. “Literature Is Entertainment or It Is Nothing: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” Fantastic Metropolis (31 October 2004). Accessed 24 January 2005. Bee, Robert. “An Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” Thomas Ligotti Online. Accessed January 31, 2005. Originally published at Spicy Green Iguana (September 1999). Bryant, Ed (and others). “Transcript of Chat with Thomas Ligotti on December 3, 1998.” Accessed 31 January 2005. Originally posted at the online magazine Event Horizon. Cardin, Matt. “Thomas Ligotti’s Career of Nightmares.” In The Thomas Ligotti Reader, ed. Darrell Schweitzer. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. 12–22. Also at The Art of Grimscribe , accessed 31 January 2005. Originally published in “The Grimscribe in Cyberspace,” a special Ligotti issue of the email magazine Terror Tales (April 2000). Ford, Carl. “Notes on the Writing of Horror: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” Dagon Nos. 22/23 (September–December 1988): 30–35. Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1996. ———. “H.P. Lovecraft.” The Scriptorium, at The Modern Word. Revised 1 June 2000. Accessed 25 January 2005. Revision and expansion of the introduction to An Epicure of the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in the Honor of H. P. Lovecraft, ed. David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi. Rutherford, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. ———. “Ligotti in Triplicate” [review of My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror by Thomas Ligotti]. Necropsy: The Review of Horror Fiction Vol. VI (Summer 2002). Accessed 21 January 2005. ———. “Thomas Ligotti: The Escape from Life.” In The Thomas Ligotti Reader, ed. Darrell Schweitzer. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. 139–53. Originally published in Studies in Weird Fiction

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No. 12 (Spring 1993) and rpt. in The Modern Weird Tale. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001. Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy against the Human Race. Prepublication manuscript. Forthcoming from Mythos Books, Poplar Bluff, MO. ———. “The Dark Beauty of Unheard-of Horrors.” In The Thomas Ligotti Reader, ed. Darrell Schweitzer. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. 78–84. Originally published in Tekeli-li! No. 4 (Winter/Spring 1992). ———. Grimscribe: His Lives and Works. New York: Jove Books, 1994 (1991). [Abbreviated in the text as G.] ———. The Nightmare Factory. New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers, 1996. [Abbreviated in the text as NF.] ———. Noctuary. New York: Carroll & Graff Publishers, 1995 (1994). [Abbreviated in the text as N.] ———. Songs of a Dead Dreamer. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1989. [Abbreviated in the text as SDD.] Padgett, Jonathan. “Thomas Ligotti FAQ.” Accessed 24 January 2005. Paul, R. F., and Keith Schurholz. “Triangulating the Daemon: An Interview with Thomas Ligotti.” Esoterra No. 8 (Winter/Spring 1999): 14–21. Also at Thomas Ligotti Online. Accessed 31 January 2005. Schweitzer, Darrell. “Weird Tales Talks with Thomas Ligotti.” In The Thomas Ligotti Reader, ed. Darrell Schweitzer. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. 23–31. Originally published in Weird Tales No. 303 (Winter 1991/92). Wilbanks, David. “10 Questions for Thomas Ligotti.” Page Horrific, February 2004. Accessed 22 January 2005.

Thomas Ligotti’s Metafictional Mapping: The Allegory of “The Last Feast of Harlequin” John Langan For Fiona, Without Whom . . . Up to now, Thomas Ligotti has achieved his considerable success writing horror fiction through the media of the short story and novella. Nor does he seem likely to write anything else, having expressed his doubts about his ability to write a successful horror novel in an interview. “I find this form too difficult for me,” Ligotti has said, attributing the difficulty to the “realist novel . . . [making] . . . certain demands that are entirely alien to supernatural literature as I understand its aims and possibilities” (quoted in Joshi, Modern 8). “The best” Ligotti believes he could achieve with the novel “would be to produce a mystery or suspense narrative with a supernatural plot motive. But,” Ligotti adds, “such a work bears little resemblance to the masterpieces of the form that it’s been my ambition to ape” (Modern 8).1 These masterpieces include “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Willows,” “The White People,” and “The Colour out of Space” (Modern 8), all examples of what Ramsey Campbell has termed “the tradition of visionary horror fiction” (Campbell vii). Leaving aside the question of whether Ligotti’s observations are accurate (no small matter, given his position within the horror genre), we come to his 1991 collection Grimscribe, which seems to me his most This essay is forthcoming in the second edition of The Thomas Ligotti Reader, edited by Darrell Schweitzer (Wildside Press). 1. Ligotti’s short novel My Work Is Not Yet Done (2002) falls under the designation of the suspense novel.


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serious attempt so far to work at the very length he writes of in his remarks above. Grimscribe, I contend, represents Ligotti’s effort to solve the problem of book-length horror in a way that is faithful to his conception of the genre. He does so by employing the short-story cycle, a group of stories held together through use of common characters and/or themes. He thus transforms what might otherwise be little more than a grouping of thirteen interesting stories into a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.2 Grimscribe is not the first attempt by a horror writer to employ the short story cycle: such works as Skipp and Spector’s Dead Lines (1988) and Clegg’s Nightmare Chronicles (1999) have preceded it, but it is among the most effective. Where Dead Lines and The Nightmare Chronicles try to unify their various stories by placing them within a framing narrative to which they have no real link, Ligotti makes the telling of the stories in his collection the central interest. He does so principally through his Introduction. In the Introduction, an unnamed narrator meditates on the identity of a being whose name is a mystery to him but whose “voice” he has always known (Ligotti ix). This voice he recognizes “even if it sounds like many different voices . . . because it is always speaking of terrible secrets. It speaks of the most grotesque mysteries and encounters, sometimes with despair, sometimes with delight, and sometimes with a voice not possible to define” (ix–x). “Everyone needs a name,” the narrator declares, and then, in a clever rhetorical twist, asks, “What can we say is the name of everyone?” (x). In reply to his own question, the narrator declares, “Our name is Grimscribe,” adding, “This is our voice” (x). Grimscribe’s Introduction makes the collection into something more: not the broken-backed novels of In Our Time and Go Down, Moses, perhaps, but a work with greater unity than a simple sampling of stories.3 The stylistic congruences that mark the contents of any story collection as the work of a single author here become evidence of the great voice of Grimscribe speaking with a multiplicity of 2. Indeed, the importance of treating Grimscribe as a whole is underscored by Ligotti’s including the entire collection in his 1996 retrospective, The Nightmare Factory (although, interestingly, without its Introduction). 3. Ligotti appears to find the form of the short story cycle a congenial one, as witnessed by his continuing use of it in such series as In a Foreign Town, In a Foreign Land (1997) and My Work Is Not Yet Done: Three Tales of Corporate Horror (2002).


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tongues. In a sense, Grimscribe is Ligotti’s aggrandizing and mythologizing himself as a writer, since he is the voice behind all the voices, the face behind all the masks. At the same time, the Introduction suggests that Ligotti himself may be no more than another role Grimscribe is playing. Thus Grimscribe jeopardizes Ligotti’s own identity as a writer, as an individual author. Indeed, the collection returns time and again to questions of authority and identity. Its stories are full of older characters who relentlessly threaten and betray their younger charges. This is perhaps most dramatically the case in “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” which dramatizes such themes more strikingly than any other story in the book. The first and longest story in Grimscribe, its concerns continue to resonate throughout the tales that follow it, making it a particularly fitting story on which to focus our discussion. S. T. Joshi has remarked on Ligotti’s facility for writing stories that “metafictionally enunciate” his concerns, and “The Last Feast of Harlequin” confirms this insight (Joshi, “Escape” 32). As Robert Scholes’s Fabulation and Metafiction shows us, however, there are different varieties of metafiction, and it will help our understanding of Ligotti’s work if we can identify the kind of metafictional frame around which he constructs his story (Scholes 1–4). In “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” the frame Ligotti employs is that of allegory. It is possible to read the story with no awareness of the subtext boiling beneath its surface and enjoy it greatly. A series of clues placed throughout the story, however, point to its subterranean concerns. The story encodes the general problem of the influence of the past, and the more specific dilemma of literary influence, particularly that of H. P. Lovecraft. As such, the story represents Ligotti’s attempt to engage Lovecraft’s continuing presence in the horror genre in a way that goes beyond mere imitation or pastiche. Rather than simply adopting or adapting Lovecraft’s themes, locations, or objects, Ligotti writes about the actual experience of influence itself. In this way, he succeeds admirably in doing something new with Lovecraft’s continuing presence in the horror genre. The most obvious signpost pointing us beneath the story’s surface is its dedication, “To the memory of H. P. Lovecraft,” which, interestingly, is not listed until its very end, as if it were the story’s true conclusion (Ligotti 48). With “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” Ligotti places himself in a tradition that stretches back to Poe, taking in Blackwood and Machen on the way, with Lovecraft very much at its

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center. Such affiliation is fraught with peril. In positioning yourself within a tradition, there is the danger that it will overwhelm you, that your new family will swallow you whole, that you will become just another face in the family portrait hanging over the fireplace, your own identity as a writer lost in the sepia crowd. The view of literary relations I invoke here is a more sinister one than we might be used to. In this regard, I myself am influenced by the ideas of Harold Bloom. In The Anxiety of Influence, Bloom formulates the view of literary influence as anything but benign. As it were, the younger writer does not receive the torch of literary greatness from her/his predecessor, to pass it on in turn to her/his descendent; rather, Bloom contends, influence has more in common with the Freudian Oedipus Complex (Bloom 8). Faced with a great predecessor, the younger writer feels a sense of her/his own belatedness, that s/he is too late, that the older writer has been there first, done that first, written what could be written as well as was possible (6). The only course available to the younger writer is one of struggle with the older writer’s priority. This struggle does not take the younger writer away from the predecessor’s influence; instead, the younger writer, if s/he is sufficiently strong, ends up writing a kind of variation on a theme, plunging into the very heart of the older writer’s work and rewriting it (15–16). At best, the younger writer may be able to produce the illusion in the reader that the lines of influence flow backwards, that s/he is in fact the one doing the influencing, which is to say, through deep engagement with the predecessor’s work, the younger writer may cause us to see it in a new way (16). Bloom presents influence, and literature in general, as a claustrophobic, self-referential affair. His theories remain controversial, and I do not want to suggest that we accept them wholeheartedly.4 They are useful to us for the model of authorial relations they establish, a particularly Gothic model in which, to paraphrase Gothic scholar Judith Wilt, enjoyment is the province of the old, suffering that of the young (Wilt 29). Every writer, Bloom argues, is under threat from 4. I do believe, however, that given his day job doing “editorial work” for the “literary criticism division” of Gale Research, there is a good chance Ligotti would have been exposed to Bloom’s ideas at greater length and depth than most readers (Schweitzer 70). My argument does not hinge on this being the case, however.


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those who came before; at the beginning of her/his career, every writer is really little more than a mask for her/his predecessor(s). In Bloom’s formulation, the danger for a writer is that s/he will remain such a mask, never achieve any kind of identity (however circumscribed such an identity may, in the end, be). For anyone, the thought of being nothing but the mouth for someone else’s speech would be horrifying; for the writer, whose identity is founded in the expression of her/his self in the creative act, it is an especially terrible prospect. It is this fear that drives “The Last Feast of Harlequin.” The story relates the quest of an unnamed, first-person narrator to discover the inner workings of the Winter Festival of the Midwestern town of Mirocaw. An anthropologist with a particular interest in the figure of the clown, the narrator is intrigued to discover that the town and its festival were the subject of a scholarly article by his old teacher, Dr. Raymond Thoss. Attending the festival himself, the narrator is intrigued to notice the presence of two types of clowns among the entertainers. The first are the subject of acts of spontaneous abuse by the festival’s participants. The second, who all appear to hail from the poorer part of town, inspire the opposite effect: the onlookers conspicuously avoid them. Disguising himself as one of the second group of clowns, the narrator travels with a group of them by truck to a spot outside the town proper, where they leave the truck to descend a tunnel winding deep under the earth. At the tunnel’s end is a great cavern, where the narrator discovers his old instructor, Dr. Thoss, presiding over a ritual that transforms the clowns into giant worms that fall on and devour the girl chosen to be the Festival’s Winter Queen. Horrified, the narrator flees, to be pursued by Thoss’s echoing remark that, “He is one of us. He has always been one of us” (Ligotti 48). As both Robert Price and S. T. Joshi have pointed out, Ligotti’s story draws on two stories by Lovecraft: “The Festival” (1923) and “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1931) (Price 29; Joshi, “Escape” 33). Its connections to “The Festival” are particularly strong. Lovecraft’s story is also a first-person narrative related by a nameless young man who returns to his ancestral home to be part of its Yuletide festival. His activities include a descent under the earth with a man who is probably his many-times-great-grandfather (or what used to be him, anyway), and a confrontation with monstrous creatures and a monstrous ceremony. The story ends with a worm-ridden quotation from the notorious Necronomicon: “For it is of old rumour that the soul of

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the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth’s pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl” (Lovecraft 118). “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” then, can be read as Ligotti’s updating of the earlier story.5 The horror of Ligotti’s narrative, however, runs deeper, to a vision of the relationship between generations, between the past and the present, old and young; with those who have come before us— teachers, mentors, models, parents—presented as at best impotent and at worst actively malevolent. In addition to its dedication, there are three principle features of the story that indicate its concern with influence, Lovecraft’s in particular. They are the descriptions of Mirocaw’s landscape, its townspeople, and of Dr. Thoss. Taken together, they lead us to what waits beneath the story’s skin. Our first clue to the story’s allegorical concerns comes long before we have reached its dedication, in its imagery. The narrator describes the town’s “irregular topography,” and comments on the effect it has on his perception of Mirocaw: Behind some of the old stores in the business district, steeply roofed houses had been erected on a sudden incline, their peaks appearing at an extraordinary elevation above the lower buildings. And because the foundations of these houses could not be glimpsed, they conveyed the illusion of being either precariously suspended in air, threatening to topple down, or else constructed with an unnatural loftiness in relation to their width and mass. This situation also created a weird distortion of perspective. The two levels of structures overlapped each other without giving a sense of depth, so that the houses, because of their higher elevation and nearness to the foreground buildings, did not appear diminished in size as background objects should. Consequently, a look of flatness, as in a photograph, 5. I must note here a faint echo of Hamlet’s remarks concerning the “supper” where Polonius does not eat “but where he is eaten” by “a certain convocation of politic worms” (Shakespeare 4.3.20–21). I am unsure what to make of such resonance, but suspect it connects to Shakespeare’s play’s concern with generational struggle. The narrator of Liggoti’s story would figure as a kind of Hamlet manqué.


John Langan predominated in this area. (Ligotti 5–6)

What should be reduced in perspective, the houses behind, is not; rather, it looms over what is in front of it. The houses seem lofty, without foundation, sinister castles in the air. So, too, does the past loom over the present in the story; specifically, so does the narrator’s old teacher overshadow him. This overshadowing defeats depth, frustrating perspective in both a literal and figurative sense, giving the past more significance than it should have. To readers familiar with Lovecraft’s efforts at representing strange and distorted landscapes in his fiction, the passage is clearly Ligotti’s attempt to mine the same vein. The passage is noteworthy because it symbolizes its own status: it bears the influence of an earlier writer while giving us a trope for that same influence. Later, the narrator will write, “Mirocaw has another coldness within its cold. Another set of buildings and streets that exists behind the visible town’s façade like a world of disgraceful back alleys” (23). This impression of more lurking behind the surface of things resonates with the earlier description, transforming the tangible houses leaning over the shops into something intangible, something that cannot be seen yet whose presence can be felt lurking behind everything. The narrator draws an x across the page in an effort to repress such thoughts, but, in the end, they can not be denied. X marks the spot. Our second indication of the story’s subtext comes in the description of the town’s inhabitants. The characterization of Mirocaw’s population as “solidly midwestern-American, the probable descendents in a direct line from some enterprising pack of New Englanders of the last century,” as well as the suggestion that there might be a “Middle Eastern community” in the town, also point in Lovecraft’s direction (9). The great majority of Lovecraft’s stories are set, of course, in New England, so for Ligotti to stock his town with transplanted Yankees is for him to suggest that he is re-imagining the older writer’s concerns in a new locale. Ligotti follows up this reference to New England with another, even more provocative one, which occurs while the narrator is summarizing an article Dr. Thoss published on the Mirocaw festival. It is the festival’s “link to New England that nourished Thoss’s speculations. He wrote of this patch of geography as if it were an acceptable place to end the search. For him, the very words ‘New England’ seemed to be stripped of all traditional connotations and had come to imply nothing less than a gateway to all

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lands, both known and suspected, and even to ages beyond the civilized history of the region” (16). The narrator admits he can “somewhat understand this sentimental exaggeration” due to his own acquaintance with the region (16). “There are,” he declares, “places that seem archaic beyond chronological measure, appearing to transcend relative standards of time and achieving a kind of absolute antiquity which cannot be logically fathomed” (16–17). If we were to change the name in this passage from Thoss to Lovecraft, we might be reading a slightly overwritten piece of literary criticism. The passage distills Lovecraft’s sense of place, his use of the deus loci. That sense of place supercharges certain areas with meaning because of their ability to stir the imagination; in this regard, there are interesting connections to be made to Faulkner and Lawrence’s uses of the idea. As a rule, it is not a technique Ligotti himself particularly emulates, either in this story or others. He favors strange and alien landscapes that do not evince the added qualities of antiquity and particularity that so appealed to Lovecraft. It is possible to locate the originals for Arkham and Innsmouth; I am not sure it would be possible for us to do the same for Mirocaw (in fact, I rather doubt it). The rituals that are celebrated in “The Last Feast of Harlequin” are old, but the place where they are observed is not. There is an implicit contrast between Lovecraftian New England, which in ironic contradiction of its name is soaked in history, and the story’s Midwest, whose history lies more lightly upon it. Still, if Ligotti does not employ his own sense of place in the story, he succeeds in evoking Lovecraft’s. In similar fashion, the suggestion that the horrors under Mirocaw have a connection to the Levant (a connection bolstered by reference to “a sect of Syrian Gnostics” [12]) references Lovecraft, who in such figures as the notorious Abdul Alhazred locates the sources of his horrors in the exotic other. As is the case with his use of sense of place in the story, Ligotti does not develop his references to the exotic; again, it is as if they are more significant for the way they bring Lovecraft into the story. With the figure of Dr. Raymond Thoss, Ligotti gives us his most complex figure for influence. As we have glimpsed already, Thoss emerges as the story’s substitute for Lovecraft, and for the more general past leaning over the story’s present. Thoss is associated with writing, and that connection runs deep. He is introduced to the story through reference to his article on the Mirocaw festival, “The Last


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Feast of Harlequin.” The story we are reading is thus the second document both to bear its title and treat its subject.6 Thoss is brought into the story, then, as the one who was there first, the man the narrator is trying to emulate. An anecdote the narrator relates indexes the difficulty, if not outright impossibility, of ever bettering Thoss: during one of Thoss’s lectures, the narrator offered a differing interpretation of the material at hand—in this case, the “tribal clowns of the Hopi Indians”—and sought to bolster his argument through his “personal experience as an amateur clown” (11). In response to this challenge, Thoss revealed “that he had actually acted the role of one of these masked tribal fools and had celebrated with them the dance of the kachinas” (11). Not only has Thoss been there first, he has had a fuller, more authentic experience while he was. Thoss’s article makes two significant allusions. The first is to Poe’s poem “The Conqueror Worm,” a loaded reference. Most obviously, it foreshadows the story’s climax, when the symbol of the conquering worm is made hideous reality. It invokes Lovecraft in two ways: in the more general sense of his well-known fondness for and esteem of Poe, and in the more specific sense of the ending of “The Festival,” which might be taken as another gloss on the notion of the conquering worm. Finally, naming Poe brings him into the story as another statue in Ligotti’s gallery of influences, albeit one who stands a bit farther in the distance. Poe is an influence who is reached, as it were, through Lovecraft.7 The article’s second significant allusion is to Roman god Saturn, who enters the story through reference to “the modern Christmas celebration, which of course descends from the Roman Saturnalia,” as well as to that “early sect of the Syrian Gnostics” who “called them6. There is a difference, of course between the order in which we as readers experience these events and the order in which the characters do so. Nonetheless, the reference to the second title causes us to revisit and revise our understanding of the first, making it seem to us as if we had encountered the first reference secondly. 7. There is more to be done with this allusion; indeed, an essay might be devoted to exploring the specific connections between “The Last Feast of Harlequin” and “The Conqueror Worm.” I note here that Poe’s poem makes reference to a “play,” to “mimes,” and of course to the eponymous conquering worm (Poe 88–89). The poem presents another great production that ends in horror; it also presents the image of God being played by a mime.

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selves ‘Saturnians’” (12–13). Given the story’s festival setting, the invocation of Saturn and his principle celebration is not surprising: Saturnalia was a time of unrestrained festivity, when full license was given to its revelers, so allusion to it helps to present the Mirocaw festival as one in which similar license is granted, to perform acts that would have made even the Romans blanch (Webster’s). It is interesting to note that when Christmas is named, it is brought into the story as another example if influence, something else whose identity is not fully its own. The more significant sense of the reference, though, is to Saturn himself, whom the Romans identified with the Greek Chronos. Saturn/Chronos was the father of Jupiter/Zeus, and, as such, the god who devoured his own children for fear that one of them was going to overthrow him (Hamilton 80–81). In the end, this was exactly what happened to him. He is thus a symbol of the past, and of the devouring past in particular, the past that eats its own get in an attempt to forestall the future. Saturn’s role as evil father intersects nicely with Bloom’s Oedipal model of literary influence: he is the Freudian father, all his metaphoric terror made literal. As such, he is the prefect god to preside over the telling of this story. The style of Thoss’s article, like that of the lectures the narrator once attended, is described as marked by “its author’s characteristic and often strange obscurities,” and by “the somber rhythmic movements of his prose and . . . some gloomy references he occasionally called upon” (Ligotti 12). As was the case with the evocation of Thoss’s sense of place, change the name in this quotation to Lovecraft and we might be reading a somewhat vague extract from a critical article. As is the case with Lovecraft’s work, Thoss’s article ultimately gives the impression that he “knew more than he disclosed” (13).8 Thoss always knows more, occupies a position to which the narrator may aspire, but never reach. The idea of hidden knowledge is, of course one of the hallmarks of horror fiction. The narrator’s sense of this hidden knowledge contributes to his decision to attend Mirocaw’s Festival and discover its secrets. What he discovers, beyond the horrors under the earth, is that Thoss still knows more. Indeed, 8. To be more precise, such a description would be most accurately applied to Lovecraft’s early work, what S. T. Joshi has identified as his “Dunsanian” phase (Joshi, Magick 72). Given Ligotti’s admitted esteem for this period in Lovecaft’s work, the description makes particular sense (Joshi, “Escape” 33).


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Thoss’s climactic recognition and description of the narrator at the story’s end demonstrate the reach of his knowledge. It is during that climactic vision of Thoss that the narrator makes his most telling remarks regarding Thoss’s influence over and importance to him. Looking at Thoss dressed in his white ceremonial robe with its “abysmal folds,” the narrator asks, “Had I really come to challenge such a formidable figure?” (42). He proceeds, “The name by which I knew him seemed itself insufficient to designate one of his stature. Rather I should name him by his other incarnations: god of all wisdom, scribe of all sacred books, father of all magicians, thrice great and more—rather, I should call him Thoth” (42). Thoth was the god associated with the very invention of writing. To re-name your professor/predecessor after such a deity is to make a dramatic statement about his relation to the written word, namely, that he made it, that he is its point of origin.9 To do so is to envision his influence on you as absolute, overpowering, and irresistible. At the crucial moment, the narrator loses his Oedipal struggle; loses it, really, before he even attempts it. His reference to the “abysmal folds” of Thoss’s robe indexes the limitless depths of the older man’s knowledge, as well as the professor’s knowledge of the limitless depths. It is for this reason that I disagree with Robert Price’s assertion that “[i]t is absolutely clear that the narrator of ‘The Last Feast of Harlequin’ is his mentor Raymond Thoss at a later time, simply a recurrence of the same note in a later symphony” (Price 30). Granted, it is possible to take the narrator’s descent under the earth as a symbolic journey down into his own subconscious. What he finds there, however, is not himself, but another. Price suggests that this other represents a self sundered from itself by a “psychotic break,” but this does 9. I must confess to wondering if Ligotti’s reference to Thoth incorporates a more subtle allusion to Jacques Derrida’s seminal essay, “Plato’s Pharmacy.” Derrida’s essay references the Platonic parable, found in the Phaedrus, of the invention of writing by Thoth. When Thoth presents writing to the king of the gods, it is denounced as a pharmakon, a word that can be translated as both medicine and poison. Derrida’s essay turns on an extended consideration of this ambiguity in the word, and in writing itself. As such, it would be a fitting text for Ligotti to invoke in his story. Again, given his work with Gale Research, there seems a fair possibility Ligotti would be aware of Derrida’s essay. Cf. Jacques Derrida “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Disseminations (1983, trans. Barbara Johnson).

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not fit with what we have seen of the story (30). It makes more sense to say that the narrator discovers his self as little more than the mask for another self, which will wear him as a hand wears a glove. This discovery returns us, once more, to Bloom’s notions of influence (not that they have been that far). Individual will plays an important part in Bloom’s theory, since it is only through the exercise of such will that the young writer can struggle with the older. For Ligotti, however, will is not the province of the narrator; indeed, rarely is it the province of any of his narrators. Rather, in best Gothic fashion, will in Ligotti’s work is reserved mostly for the old.10 The best the young can do is flee, as the narrator does at the story’s end. Even then, there are still Thoss’s words, the words of his teacher, his predecessor. With them, Thoss claims the narrator as his own. In terms of the allegorical subtext we have been exploring, the narrator is marked as a horror writer. In such an identity, he will always be under his old teacher’s sway, little more than a mouth for someone else’s voice. The story mentions Gnosticism, and Robert Price has considered some of the more cosmic implications of that reference (28–29). He does not mention, however, that Gnosticism also involves knowledge of the self, the journey into the self.11 S. T. Joshi has praised the story for its evocation of ancient and loathsome rituals that have survived into the present (Joshi, “Escape” 35). I would suggest that the story’s deeper horror lies in its plumbing of the depths of the self only to discover it as no more than a vessel whereby another writer continues to work out his strange obsessions, a space wherein the loathsome rituals of someone else’s creativity are made manifest. Thus far, we have kept to those aspects of “The Last Feast of Harlequin” that most clearly demonstrate its allegorical subtext, its concern with influence, Lovecraft’s in particular. As we conclude our discussion of the story, and make our way back to Grimscribe as a whole, there is one more feature that requires our attention, and that is the story’s use of the clown. With this figure, Ligotti appears to depart most strikingly from Lovecraft. Early in the story, the narrator tells us that he has authored an article on “The Clown Figure in American Media,” which has 10. The role of will in Gothic fiction has been discussed especially well by Judith Wilt in her Ghosts of the Gothic: Austen, Eliot, and Lawrence (cf. esp. her discussion of Gothic fathers in chapter one). 11. See Elaine Pagels, The Gnostic Gospels (1989).


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been published in the Journal of Popular Culture (Ligotti 3). By the story’s end, he has come to understand the figure of the clown in a new, much less pleasant way, as have we along with him. Given the story’s extensive exploration of influence, it is reasonable to suppose that the clown has some relation to that concern. The clown features in the story in three ways. The first is in the title, which references the Harlequin, a character from Renaissance Italian commedia dell’arte (Webster’s). A youthful trickster, Harlequin stars in dramas that pit him against the older Pantaloon, a caricature of the staid, stolid middle class, with Harlequin’s object the hand of Columbine (Smith 12, 202). Pantaloon is mocked and humiliated at the hands of Harlequin, old age defeated by youth. Given the age difference between the narrator and Thoss, it is reasonable to associate him with Harlequin, and Thoss with Pantaloon. Such an association ironizes the references, since it is Thoss who stands triumphant at the story’s end, Pantaloon who has routed Harlequin. The only figure who might play Columbine is the young girl elected to be Mirocaw’s Winter Queen, who appears in the story just long enough to be the main course at its hideous feast. The story’s concern with influence, then, infects and perverts its first and most obvious allusion.12 In similar fashion, the clowns who feature in the festival itself reverse conventional notions of the role. Rather than figures of fun and laughter, these clowns are sources of contempt and of terror. Two types of clowns wander the festival: the first hail from Mirocaw’s more affluent neighborhoods and wear a “costume” of “red and white with matching cap, and the face painted a noble alabaster. It almost seemed,” the narrator observes rather acidly, “to be a clownish incarnation of that white-bearded and black-booted Christmas fool” (Ligotti 27). These clowns are the targets of random abuse by the festival’s participants. This “playful roughhousing” appears “to have humiliation as its purpose” (29, 28). The clown is thus transformed from comedian and fool to scapegoat. The second type of clown originates in Mirocaw’s underside. “Its clothes were shabby and nondescript,” the narrator tells us,

12. The resonance of the Harlequin allusion extends beyond the abbreviated treatment of it I have given here, and a more detailed consideration of it is in order.

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almost in the style of a tramp-type clown, but not humorously exaggerated enough. The face, though, made up for the lackluster costume. I had never seen such a strange conception for a clown’s countenance….The thin, smooth and pale head; the wide eyes; the oval-shaped features resembling nothing so much as the skull-faced, screaming creature in that famous painting (memory fails me). This clownish imitation rivaled the original in suggesting stricken realms of abject horror and despair: an inhuman likeness more proper to something under the earth than upon it. (30)

The conclusion of the narrator’s description is ironically accurate, as it is these clowns who will be gathered up and transported underground, where they will transform into the great worms that will feast on the Winter Queen. While they wander its streets they are avoided scrupulously by the townspeople, each clown surrounded, as it were, by an invisible circle. These clowns transform the role from one of laughter to one of screaming, from joy to terror. The narrator intuits a relation between the two species of clown, noting Saturn, whose significance we discussed earlier, is also “the planetary symbol of melancholy and sterility, a clash of opposites contained within that single word” (30). The two clowns represent “a conflict within the winter festival itself,” one that “appeared to be that secret key (to the festival’s significance) which Thoss withheld in his study of the town” (30). The presence of the second type of clown seems to him “nothing less than an entirely independent festival—a festival within a festival” (32). In his journal, the narrator speculates that, “Mirocaw’s winter festival . . . appeared after the festival of those depressingly pallid clowns, in order to cover it up or mitigate its effect” (32). “The bright clowns of Mirocaw who are treated so badly,” the narrator notes, “appear to serve as substitute figures for those dark-eyed mummers of the slums. Since the latter are feared for some power or influence they possess, they may still be symbolically confronted and conquered through their counterparts, who are elected precisely for this function” (34). It is with these clowns that the story becomes most challenging, its allegory veering towards opacity. The temptation exists to see the two kinds of clowns as halves of a whole, as representing, say, a fundamental divide in human consciousness. What we are being given, however, is an elaborate figure for self-knowledge and the lengths to


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which we will go to escape it. To describe the matter spatially, the two types of clowns do not stand beside each other so much as the bright clowns struggle in vain to keep the dark clowns hidden from view. And the bright clowns have much more to hide than the dark clowns’ final metamorphosis. That horrific transformation is forecast much earlier, in Thoss’s article on the Festival, with its reference to the sect of Syrian Gnostics. Those Gnostics believed that “mankind was created by angels who were in turn created by the Supreme Unknown. The angels, however, did not possess the power to make their creation an erect being and for a time he crawled upon the earth like a worm. Eventually, the Creator remedied this grotesque state of affairs” (13). Humanity is no more than a worm that walks upright; thus, the clowns’ final transformations are actually a return to humanity’s true origins. Rather than disguising them, the dark clowns’ costumes call attention to the impoverished state of humanity. Saturnalia, with its emphasis on the throwing off of human custom, becomes the perfect time to throw off the custom of humanity. Such a revelation is, needless to say, too much to be borne, and so the necessity for the bright clowns. In their resemblance to Santa Claus, these clowns are associated with gift-giving, with sentiment and sentimentality, with all those shining decorations we put up against the winter darkness. Despite such associations, however, the bright clowns are the subject of abuse. It is abuse of a particularly ignorant kind: when the narrator asks a group of young men why these clowns are the recipients of such violence, none of them can tell him the reason. For them, this is the way things are. The men do note, however, that there is nothing special about the role, that any of the town’s inhabitants can and probably will play it at some time or another. If these bright clowns are supposed to oppose or counter the dark clowns, they do so in a rather unique way, one marked by its passivity. The narrator is correct in his assertion that the bright clowns are the townspeople’s effort at symbolically mastering the dark clowns; they take the violence the townspeople feel toward the other clowns onto themselves. Since the dark clowns represent what it fundamentally means to be human, though, the violence the townspeople project against them is actually violence against themselves, against the horror that is human nature. Thus, the significance of the young men’s remark about the universal availability of the bright clowns’ role: anyone can assume it because everyone has some-

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thing to hide. Since the knowledge with which this displacement deals is intolerable, the ritual is wrapped in an ignorance one suspects to be very deliberate. Needless to say, such a view of human nature is one of the hallmarks of the visionary horror tradition with Ligotti has aligned himself, especially of Lovecraft’s work. Indeed, it is in this regard that “The Last Feast of Harlequin” shows most strikingly the influence of Lovecraft’s “Shadow over Innsmouth.” In a sense, Ligotti goes Lovecraft one better: when Lovecraft’s narrator discovers the horror at the root of his existence, it is that he is a human-monster hybrid; Ligotti’s narrator discovers horror in his humanity alone. The presence of the two clowns, then, is an effort to escape identity. Through their association with human origins, the dark clowns represent the awful past that continues to live amongst us; that is us, really. In this regard, they may be seen as the background against which Thoss has his being. Thoss, of course, does not flee that past, but embraces it, and in so doing rises to master it. It is tempting to see the dark clowns as symbols of the horror writer, who is in some sense more in tune with the darker part of humanity than others. This is especially true of the horror writers to whom Ligotti referred above, as well as of those others for whom he has expressed his admiration, a list that includes “Aloysius Bertrand . . . Georg Trakl and Bruno Schultz . . . Samuel Beckett, Dino Buzzati, and Jorge Luis Borges” (Schweitzer 69). If such is the case, though, the allegory becomes somewhat hard to follow. What are we to make of the bright clowns? Do we take them to be other writers in general? And if so, then why are they visited with so much abuse by their fellows? As a rule, we do not witness such displacement in the pages of the New York Review of Books. I must admit the urge to identify the bright clowns with those popular(ist) writers of horror fiction Ligotti parodies in “Notes on the Writing of Horror: A Story” (1985). In such a configuring, the bright clowns would suffer for trying to make more agreeable what cannot be made so. Such an interpretation verges on the needlessly obscure itself, however, and so is unlikely. It seems simpler to say that the two kinds of clowns represent the horror that is our nature and our past, which continues to walk among us even as we try to cover it over. The clowns thus give the story’s concern with influence an added layer of resonance. The third and final way in which clowns function in “The Last


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Feast of Harlequin” centers on the narrator. As he tells us early on, he is an amateur clown himself, and part of his reason for attending the Mirocaw Festival is so that he can break out his own clown makeup and participate in the Festival from, as it were, the inside out (Ligotti 3–4). In so doing he imitates Dr. Thoss, who is famous for researching his subjects in a similar manner (including, we are told, an insane asylum in Massachusetts: another nod to Lovecraft [11]). Near the story’s end, this leads to the narrator’s making himself up as one of the dark clowns, a richly ironic action. Where the narrator believes he is disguising himself, he is, as we have seen, only revealing his true, loathsome humanity: paradoxically, by putting on his white clown makeup, the narrator discloses his essential self. He does not disguise himself from Dr. Thoss, as Thoss’s climactic pronouncement about him reveals. His imitation of his predecessor fails. If the clown is a kind of fool, then the narrator succeeds in achieving the role, but, needless to say, in a way he did not anticipate. The joke is on him. The narrator’s clown makeup figures in one of the more important moments in the story, when he returns to his hotel room to find its door open and a riddle written across his mirror in his makeup pencil: “What buries itself before it is dead?” (36). In the context of the story, the answer seems obvious: the worm. There is another answer open to us, however, and that is indicated by the surface on which the riddle is written, by the mirror: the narrator himself. In descending under the earth he will bury himself alive literally, and in his role as representative of the young writer he buries himself alive by wrestling with the influence of his predecessor. The image of the riddle written on the mirror is key to the story: it recalls the end of Lovecraft’s “Outsider” (1921), in which the mirror is essential to revealing that narrator’s identity. This mirror serves a similar function, but with a difference: there is writing on it. That writing both asks a question and, through what Jacques Derrida calls its subjectile, the substance on which the question is written, provides its own implicit answer (Derrida 61). Writing is thus what causes the self to question itself, unpleasantly at that, and it is what points to that question’s answer. We should add that the riddle seems most likely to have been scrawled on the mirror by none other than Raymond Thoss. So, following this scene, when the narrator makes himself up as a clown, using that same makeup pencil on himself, there is a sense in which he is disguising himself with Thoss’s medium, with his language. In

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this regard, it is no wonder that Thoss should be able to recognize the narrator, as he is wearing, as it were, Thoss’s words, making the narrator’s disguise still more ironic. The story’s third and final use of the clown returns us to influence, giving us a striking and subtle figure for it in the riddle written on the mirror.13 It is clear, then, that the clowns in “The Last Feast of Harlequin” are more than ornament, more than mere caprice on Ligotti’s part. Their presence in the story adds depth and complexity to its concern with influence; indeed, it is through the clowns that Ligotti achieves many of his most memorable tropes for the presence and pressure of the past, that is allegory achieves some of its most memorable moments. With “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” Thomas Ligotti has succeeded in writing a story that transforms a traditional Gothic plot form, the revenge of the past, into a figure for the writing process. Given more time and space, we could consider the myriad of ways the other stories in Grimscribe approach the same theme. In particular, we might examine “Nethescurial” (1991), in which Ligotti engages and rewrites Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu” (1926) as part of his continuing exploration of the Providence writer’s influence. Even without such additional consideration, though, Ligotti’s profound engagement with not just the tradition of horror fiction, but with what it means to be so engaged, is obvious. Because of its use of non-realistic images and plots, fantastic fiction in general is already a step closer to romance and allegory, to the metafictional, than most genres. While a few horror writers have recognized this proximity and explored it, in many ways it remains undiscovered country.14 With his fiction, Thomas Ligotti joins the company of the new cartographers of horror, mapping the genre’s blank spaces with each story he writes. 13. For these insights, I am grateful to Professor Robert Waugh of SUNY– New Paltz, who first suggested to me the importance of the writing on the mirror. 14. I have in mind principally Peter Straub (especially in Ghost Story [1979] and The Hellfire Club [1996]) and Jonathan Carroll (especially The Land of Laughs [1980] and A Child across the Sky [1989]; although all Carroll’s work is metafictional). I might add here that, from a critical standpoint, the implications of such metafictional moves by horror writers remain in need of further study. As well, we need to consider the cultural context against which such moves have been made. Much work is to be done.


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Works Cited Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Campbell, Ramsey. Midnight Sun. New York: Tor, 1991. Derrida, Jacques. “To Unsense the Subjectile.” In The Secret Art of Antonin Artaud. Trans. M. A. Caws. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998. 60–157. Hamilton, Edith. Mythology. Boston: Little, Brown, 1942. Joshi, S. T. The Modern Weird Tale. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001. ———. A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft. 1996. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Wildside Press, 1999. ———. “Thomas Ligotti: The Escape from Life.” Studies in Weird Fiction No. 12 (Spring 1993): 30–36. Ligotti, Thomas. Grimscribe: His Lives and Works. New York: Jove, 1991. Lovecraft, H. P. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Ed. S. T. Joshi. New York: Penguin 1999. Poe, Edgar Allan. The Complete Poetry of Edgar Allan Poe. New York: New American Library, 1996. Price, Robert M. “Thomas Ligotti’s Gnostic Quest.” Studies in Weird Fiction No. 9 (Spring 1991): 27–31. Scholes, Robert. Fabulation and Metafiction. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979. Schweitzer, Darrell. Speaking of Horror: Interviews with Writers of the Supernatural. San Bernadino, CA: Borgo Press, 1994. Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. New York: Pocket Books, 1976. Smith, Winifred. The Commedia dell’Arte. New York: Arno Press, 1964. Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language. Wilt, Judith. Ghosts of the Gothic: Austen, Eliot, and Lawrence. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980.

Reviews MICHEL HOUELLEBECQ. H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life. Translated by Dorna Khazeni. Introduction by Stephen King. San Francisco: Believer Books, 2005. 247 pp. $18.00 tpb. Reviewed by Kevin Dole. Is it possible that H. P. Lovecraft has not only been finally accepted by the mainstream literary establishment, but is for the moment actually hip? There has been something of a buzz about Lovecraft as of late. In 2004 we saw the publication of The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories, the last in a well-received series of Penguin editions annotated by S. T. Joshi, as well as the re-release of Joshi’s definitive biography H. P. Lovecraft: A Life by Necronomicon Press. The February 2005 issue of a Lovecraft volume by the Library of America, edited by Peter Straub and called simply Tales, apparently only further cements Lovecraft’s place in the canon of American literature, and now in May 2005 we have H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life by Michel Houellebecq, perhaps the most controversial contemporary novelist in France if not all Europe. The English translation by Dorna Khazeni of Houellebecq’s critique-cumtribute has been released by Believer Books, a division of McSweeney’s, one of the trendiest publishers around. This may be as hip as Lovecraft will ever become, however, for he is, in his way, still unknown. At least other reviewers seem to think so, seeing as they feel the constant need to reintroduce him. As with Joyce Carol Oates’s initial 1996 review of A Life in the New York Review of Books (a piece that later served as the foreword to Tales of H. P. Lovecraft, edited by Oates herself), reviews of the Library of America edition have invariably served as introductions to Lovecraft, in which the reviewer trots out familiar anecdotes and repeats the occasional myth. I shall not continue this trend here, since anyone 145



reading this periodical is presumably familiar with the Providence author whose name graces its cover and because Houellebecq’s piece is something of an introduction to Lovecraft in itself. Although it at times treads familiar ground, Against the World, Against Life is a pleasure to read. In addition to being exceptionally well-written, it is as passionate and creative a piece of criticism as you are likely to find, offering original insight and fierce partisanship. Houellebecq’s titular essay is padded with an enjoyable, if inconsequential, foreword by Stephen King, a pro forma chronology of Lovecraft’s life and work, a bibliography of Lovecraft’s writing available in French, and two of Lovecraft's stories (“The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Whisperer in Darkness”), but the treatise is substantial enough to stand on its own, regardless of length. In “Another Universe,” the first of three sections, Houellebecq makes the flattering and provocative claim that Lovecraft is unique among virtually all other authors because we find in his fiction a muchneeded “supreme antidote against all forms of realism.” Testament to Lovecraft’s impact can be found in the cultlike devotion his work inspires in other authors, who slavishly work to “continue” to his literature, something unheard of in literature, Houellebecq notes, since Homer. He finds this especially impressive considering that “[t]here is something not really all that literary about Lovecraft's work.” According to Houellebecq: Lovecraft’s body of work can be compared to a gigantic dream machine, of astounding breadth and efficacy. There is nothing tranquil or discreet in his literature. Its impact on the reader’s mind is savage, frighteningly brutal, and dangerously slow to dissipate. Rereading produces no noticeable modification other than that, eventually, one ends up wondering: how does he do it?

In “Technical Assault” Houellebecq seeks to answer that question. This second chapter is divided into six subsections, each honing in on a specific element of Lovecraft’s technique. His narrative innovation, rejection of the mundane, use of architectural description, achievement in sensory imagery, scientific precision, and cosmic scope are all analyzed with admirable precision and insight. And as a sort of a peculiar bonus, the subsection titles form a poem: Attack the story like a radiant suicide

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Utter the great no to life without weakness Then you will see a magnificent cathedral And your senses, vectors of utter derangement, will map out an integrated delirium That will be lost in the unnameable architecture of time Houellebecq compares Lovecraft’s vision of a scientifically objective horror to Kant’s attempts at formulating a system of universal ethics. Much like Kant, Lovecraft rejected the worldly in the pursuit of the transcendent. But unlike Kant, Lovecraft was an atheistic materialist who expected nothing of the universe. Here the question long laid implicit becomes explicit: why would one so firmly grounded in reality as Lovecraft feel the need to escape it? For one of Houellebecq’s disposition (Against the World, Against Life begins with the statement “life is painful and disappointing”) the answer is self-evident, but for Lovecraft the explanation is a bit more complex. Houellebecq lays out his most provocative (perhaps unfortunately so) theory in the books final chapter, “Holocaust.” In Against the World, Against Life Houellebecq identifies two phenomena that induced in Lovecraft an almost hallucinatory “trancelike” state. The first of these is architecture, Lovecraft’s passion for which is well known. The second phenomenon is race, specifically the nonAnglo-Saxon variety, Lovecraft’s passionate disdain for which is equally well known. Lovecraft’s relation to both these phenomena hit a sort of boiling point in New York, Houellebecq theorizes, and from these deranged fascinations comes his greatest work: “It could be posited that a fundamental figure in [Lovecraft's] body of work—the idea of a giant, titanic city, in whose foundations crawl repugnant nightmare beings— sprang directly from his New York experience.” The impact of New York on Lovecraft’s life and work is undoubtedly significant, but never before have I seen it put quite this way. Still, it is hard to argue with Houellebecq here. The stories that he correctly identifies as “The Great Texts” began directly after the New York period, the massive city Lovecraft once thought beautiful he now calls monstrous, and in a letter to Frank Belknap Long we find descriptions of New York’s immigrant population match those of his most hyperbolic horrors.



Consider the following, which is only a brief excerpt of a much longer tirade: They were monstrous and nebulous adumbrations . . . amoebal, vaguely moulded from some stinking viscous slime of earth's corruption. . . . I thought of some avenue of Cyclopean and unwholesome vats . . . about to burst and inundate the world in one leprous cataclysm of semi-fluid rottenness.

Despite this display, Houellebecq shows great sympathy for Lovecraft during this period, especially when relating his marriage to Sonia Greene and his crushing inability to make ends meet, for it is here that he finds the source of Lovecraft’s rejection of life. Lovecraft was already likely predisposed, but after trying to embrace a normal existence and failing his apathy was transformed into antipathy. The steady march of society toward pluralism and modernism that had once merely been an annoyance became intolerable, and Lovecraft had to retreat to maintain his sanity. His protagonists are not just autobiographical in their interests and background, Houellebecq says, but also in their total victimization by forces they hardly understand and that are wholly beyond their control. It is ironic, and portentous, Houellebecq believes, that Lovecraft’s popularity continues to increase in what seems to be direct proportion to the spread of that which he loathed. Houellebecq also believes that Lovecraft’s genius and dedication allowed him to achieve a sort of late transcendence, not just in the success of his writing after his death, but in the way he lived. In its totality, Houellebecq views Lovecraft’s rejection of life as a sort of philosophical victory: “To offer an alternative to life in all its forms constitutes a permanent opposition, a permanent recourse to life—this is the poet’s highest mission on this earth. Howard Phillips Lovecraft fulfilled this mission.” Is Houellebecq right? Aside from one niggling factual error (Houellebecq repeatedly cites as evidence of Lovecraft’s complete asceticism “not one reference” to money in Lovecraft’s entire oeuvre, which is technically not true), he is never incorrect. His argument, however provocative, is never slanderous or mendacious, and is sufficiently supported. And whether provable or not, there is certainly room for this type of hypothesis. However modest or stoic his selfportrayal, H. P. Lovecraft was an exceedingly complex figure whose body of work is open to broad interpretation: if the man or his writ-

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ing were at all facile I would probably not be writing for a publication called Lovecraft Annual. So with Lovecraft now readily accessible to the public, we can safely assume that Against the World, Against Life, a well-written treatise by a leading contemporary novelist, published by a fashionable press, will serve to introduce to Lovecraft to a whole new readership. But given this conclusion of this introduction, that the cornerstone of modern horror is the therapeutic spleen of a pathological racist, perhaps a sort of phantasmagoric The Turner Diaries, I suspect that any period of hipness enjoyed may be over. BEN J. S. SZUMSKYJ and S. T. JOSHI, ed. Fritz Leiber and H. P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark. Holicong, PA: Wildside Press, 2003. $19.95 tpb. Reviewed by Phillip A. Ellis. H. P. Lovecraft has become instrumental in the development of modern speculative fiction. Not only did he directly influence such authors as Frank Belknap Long, who played a now-neglected role in fantasy, horror, and science fiction, and August Derleth, whose most lasting contribution to the field must surely be Arkham House itself, he influenced at second hand many others, such as Ramsey Campbell. Yet none of these influences was to have quite the effect of that between Lovecraft and his young acolyte, Fritz Leiber, Jr. Like Lovecraft, Leiber was to prove among the more talented in the field of weird and speculative fiction. He was instrumental in the fields of heroic fantasy, urban horror, and comic science fiction, and this instrumentality is the result of the fortuitous combination of his native talents and the influence of his brief yet productive relationship with Lovecraft. This book presents both that relationship and its results. It exhibits the relationship by gathering together what remains of the correspondence between Lovecraft and Leiber. Although, unfortunately, it is incomplete—the letters between the two are limited to partial transcripts of Lovecraft’s correspondence, with none of Leiber’s surviving—it still reveals the importance of the relationship thereby conveyed, to both Lovecraft and Leiber. The Lovecraft that we see, or read, is open, generous, intimately interested in the life and work of his correspondents, and this is a counterweight to any misguided notions of him as a recluse.



This warmth and openness is reflected in turn in the remainder of this book. The central portion consists of Leiber’s fiction, written as a result of his friendship with Lovecraft, and in commemoration of it. The version of “Adept’s Gambit” herein is illustrative of the initial outpourings of his creativity, and it alone displays the promise evident in the young Leiber. That he would felicitously fulfill this promise is evident in the entire body of his work. This is not the “Mythos” version, although that has been recently found and will be published by Midnight House. “The Demons of the Upper Air” was another early work seen by Lovecraft. It shows promise, too, but here the promise is of a shift in weird verse away from an unchallenging formalism. It displays, that is, the technical and imaginative possibilities that Leiber was to offer to the field, and this challenge has been met, and taken up, by such later poets as Ann K. Schwader, among others. The later “To Arkham and the Stars,” in itself a poignant elegy for Lovecraft, and the wonderful “The Terror from the Depths” are both testaments to the later, and more mature, fondness with which Lovecraft was remembered. They are, as with most of the other stories, evidence of the profound influence that Lovecraft was to play for Leiber, imaginatively and creatively. Although “The Dead Man” has affinities with some of Lovecraft’s earlier, less cosmic fiction, its emphasis upon the relation of the central characters is most unLovecraftian, and diminishes its relevance, despite Stefan Dziemianowicz’s work on highlighting its affinities with “The Thing on the Doorstep.” One final note: there is one piece missing, The Dealings of Daniel Kesserich. This was omitted mainly because of its size and recent publication, hence it is readily available elsewhere. Such an omission does not diminish this book’s achievements: the stories serve to illustrate the relationship between the two writers, and the effect of both this and Lovecraft’s creativity upon Leiber. Their inclusion more than compensates for the paucity of the correspondence, and it is proof enough of the strength and importance of this relationship for Leiber. Finally, the third section, the essays by Leiber, gathers together key documents in our contemporary view of Lovecraft as a man and artist. Although for the most part the arguments contained therein seem self-evident, this is due to the essays’ importance and influence since initial publication. Their age and circumstances of creation are such that the Derlethian Mythos is countered, and they serve to re-

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mind us that Lovecraft’s memory owes so much to the friendship and insight of such figures as Leiber himself. Being able to read them here reminds us of the basics of Lovecraftian thought and fiction, and it is a refreshing reminder that should be welcome to most. Like the letters and the stories, these essays are worth the price of purchase alone; that all three sections are presented here, together, makes this book indispensable for a fuller evaluation of Lovecraft, and of Leiber. In summation, this book is well worth purchase. It illustrates the depth, warmth, and humanity of Lovecraft’s and Leiber’s relationship directly through the correspondence, indirectly through the stories and poetry, and, again indirectly, through the essays. It preserves and presents key texts in our understanding, so that we may in future trace and ascertain for ourselves the ramifications of their relationship for ourselves. We should not neglect this book, and the delights within it, for it is an indispensable volume, a sheer joy to read, and an important reminder that the friendships we make may have lasting consequences, both personally and creatively. PETER CANNON. The Lovecraft Chronicles. With illustrations by Jason C. Eckhardt. Poplar Bluffs, MO: Mythos Books, 2004. 179 pp. Reviewed by S. T. Joshi. It is a testament to H. P. Lovecraft’s enduring and ever-growing celebrity that he is not merely the subject of innumerable critical and biographical studies but that his own life has become the stuff of legend. As a cultural icon, the gaunt, prognathous-jawed dreamer from Providence has served as the focus of any number of tales and novels, from the provocative (Richard A. Lupoff’s Lovecraft’s Book, 1985) to the inconceivably awful (David Barbour and Richard Raleigh’s Shadows Bend, 2000). To some degree, the portrayal of Lovecraft in these variegated works can at times descend to a caricature: Lovecraft the “eccentric recluse,” the unworldly bookworm, the sexless misfit—all of which have some elements of truth, but which are so engulfed in misleading falsehoods that they end up being parodies of the real Lovecraft. It takes the analytical talents of the critic and scholar conjoined with the creative talents of the novelist for any such portrayal to ring true, and such a fusion of skills, rare enough in the mainstream literary community, is particularly scarce in the realm of weird fic-



tion. Thankfully for us, however, there is Peter Cannon. Cannon has established his bona fides as a scholar with H. P. Lovecraft (1989), a volume in Twayne’s United States Authors series, and the culmination of nearly two decades of his work on the Providence scribe. With the exception of Donald R. Burleson, he is the only Lovecraft scholar to excel in the writing of fiction, and Burleson has not sought to feature Lovecraft as a character in his various novels and tales. Cannon, meanwhile, has to his credit the pungent if lighthearted novella Pulptime (1984), in which Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes are put on stage, along with the gorgeous Lovecraft/Wodehouse parodies in Scream for Jeeves (1994). With The Lovecraft Chronicles, he has set a high, perhaps unassailable mark in the curious subgenre of “Lovecraft-as-a-character-in-fiction”—a mark that only he himself may be able to eclipse in future. The Lovecraft Chronicles is not merely a fictionalised biography. It is what I believe is termed “alternate history”: that what-if brand of science fantasy that conjectures the state of the world if, say, Hitler had won World War II, or the telephone had never been invented, or George W. Bush had not stolen the election of 2000. In this case, Cannon wonders: what if, in 1933, the prestigious New York firm of Alfred A. Knopf had actually accepted, instead of rejecting, a collection of tales by Lovecraft? Would Lovecraft’s life have changed? Would subsequent history—literary, political, social—have changed? Cannon provides an emphatic yes to the first query, but is a bit more reserved as to the second. Nevertheless, his conclusion that Lovecraft would have gone far beyond his forty-six and a half years and lived to a normal life span of seventy years, dying only in 1960, is unexceptionable. But the charm of The Lovecraft Chronicles is in seeing exactly how Lovecraft’s life and career change—and change, generally, for the better—with that Knopf acceptance. The book is structured in three parts, each narrated by a different person. Each of these persons—the vivacious teenager Clarissa Stone, the somewhat older Englishwoman Leonora Lathbury, and the first-year Brown University graduate student Bobby Pratt—happens to be Lovecraft’s secretary, a position he can now afford given his new-found literary success. The novel, I will admit, takes a little while gathering steam, but with the Knopf deal things pick up quickly. One of the stories in the book, “Herbert West—Reanimator,” becomes a movie from the studio of Hal Roach; and, still more surprisingly, when Lovecraft goes to Hollywood to be

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a possible screenwriter, his stiff and vaguely corpselike features make him the perfect candidate for a bit part as a reanimated corpse! So begins Lovecraft’s brief career as a Hollywood actor. It is all good fun, but the experienced Lovecraftian will derive the greatest pleasure in seeing exactly what liberties Cannon does and does not take with the historical record. Consider this passage: During this period [the fall of 1933] H. P. produced two new stories, one a recasting in prose of some of his “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnets, the other an elaboration of a dream about an evil clergyman in a garret full of forbidden books. . . . H. P. did not send these new tales on the rounds of his literary circle, but instead submitted them, along with “The Thing on the Doorstep,” directly to the editor of Weird Tales. [Farnsworth] Wright . . . snapped up these three new tales immediately.

There is such an exquisite mixture of fact and fiction here that untangling them is nearly impossible. The first sentence is strictly factual, although Cannon deliberately obscures the fact that that rewriting of the Fungi sonnets (“The Book”) is a fragment, not a completed story. Moreover, the second story—“The Evil Clergyman”— was merely an account of a dream included in a letter to Bernard Austin Dwyer, and it was Dwyer who submitted the “story” to Weird Tales after Lovecraft’s death. Finally, “The Thing on the Doorstep,” although written in August 1933, was not submitted to Weird Tales until the fall of 1936. Cannon, I repeat, is fully aware of all these facts, and his manipulation of them is in strict accord with his contention that Lovecraft’s career would have flowered rather than petered out as the 1930s advanced. The second part of the book, set mostly in 1936, is to my mind the most successful. Lovecraft, with his new-found success (he is by no means a best-selling writer, but now has sufficient means for his own comfort), fulfils a lifelong dream by travelling to England— where, surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly, given his later political views), he becomes friends with George Orwell and actually participates briefly if somewhat ignominiously in the Spanish Civil War against Franco. But the real heart of this section is his halting romance with Leonora Lathbury. In part one Lovecraft had managed to dodge the young Clarissa’s schoolgirl crush on him, but he is not so successful with the more mature Leonora. If readers think it implau-



sible for Lovecraft to be the protagonist of a love story, they should read how Cannon handles this segment of the novel. It is delicate, true to character, and entirely without sentimentality. There is a wistful poignancy throughout this section: not only is it heart-warming to see Lovecraft finally attain his goal of reaching Mother England, socialising jovially with Arthur Machen among others, but in his involvement with Leonora he seems to be ripening emotionally just as his work is ripening intellectually. How his impending marriage to Leonora is shattered at the last moment is too good to reveal here. The third section of the book is the skimpiest both in length and in substance. One gets the suspicion that Cannon is getting a bit tired. The narrative skips abruptly to 1960, at which point the ageing Lovecraft has managed to repurchase his birthplace, 454 Angell Street in Providence and decorate it in the manner he remembered as a boy. He has written almost no fiction since the 1940s, when Edmund Wilson harshly reviewed several of his books in the New Yorker, but additional film adaptations and the generosity of August Derleth’s Arkham House allow him continued comfort, if not luxury. Frank Long and his actual wife, the late lamented Lyda, make a rather buffoonish appearance. Without giving away the ending, I will simply remark that the conclusion left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. My keenest regret is that The Lovecraft Chronicles was not twice or three times as long as it is. Cannon’s literary gifts are of such a high order—skill at character depiction, an unfailing ability to keep the narrative moving, a penchant both for dry humour and for pathos— that we would like to see him exercise them to their fullest extent. Instead of hastily and sketchily summarising the events of the twenty-four years between parts two and three, why not elaborate them in detail? Cannon’s portrayal of Lovecraft—nearly all his utterances are cleverly extracted or adapted from statements in his letters—rings so true that we would like to see him put Lovecraft on stage at other key moments in history. What, for example, would Lovecraft have made of World War II, and in particular the appalling revelations of the Holocaust, which definitively made the abstract racism of his earlier years morally indefensible? How would Lovecraft have adapted to the outwardly staid but inwardly seething 1950s? What would he have had to say of (or to) James Dean, Joe McCarthy, Elvis Presley? Or is it possible that Cannon is saving all these matters for a sequel?

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But whatever one may think of the ending, The Lovecraft Chronicles is a book to enchant and captivate everyone who has the least interest in the dreamer from Providence. How many of us have wished that he had not been so poor, not eaten so badly, and not been so discouraged at the rejection of his best work? By all rights, Lovecraft should have lived to 1960 or even 1970, and enjoyed at least a modicum of the fame that came to him only after death. Kenneth W. Faig once wrote: “we would surely all wish for him a better share of life were he to be given a second round; he surely never lacked the ability to do hard, careful work and perhaps only his disinclination toward self-promotion denied him greater material success.” The Lovecraft Chronicles gives Lovecraft that second round, and shows that, with only a minimal augmentation of self-promotion, he might indeed have had the material success that would have made such a difference in his life. It is that air of “what if”—that sense that Lovecraft was so close, and yet so far, from reaching the goals he had set for himself as man and writer—that makes The Lovecraft Chronicles the poignant human document that it is. ROBERT H. WAUGH. The Monster in the Mirror: Looking for H. P. Lovecraft. New York: Hippocampus Press, 2006. 302 pp. Reviewed by S. T. Joshi. Robert H. Waugh is a remarkable phenomenon in Lovecraft studies. No one could have predicted, when he published his first, relatively brief essay, “The Hands of H. P. Lovecraft” (Lovecraft Studies, Fall 1988), that he would evolve into one of the most dynamic and challenging critics of the Providence dreamer in recent years. At a time when, perhaps through a kind of exhaustion or surfeit, some of our leading critics—Barton L. St. Armand, Donald R. Burleson, Robert M. Price, David E. Schultz, even the indefatigable S. T. Joshi—appear to have finished saying what they have to say on Lovecraft, Waugh has written article after substantial article breaking new ground, not so much in the accumulation of facts (most of these have by now already been unearthed), but in the advancement of bold new interpretations of Lovecraft’s work. In a sense, Waugh’s career mirrors that of Lovecraft himself. Just as the Providence writer proceeded from rather nebulous, adjective-



laden sketches and prose-poems to immense, richly complex novellas, so have Waugh’s essays become increasingly longer and denser, with an exponential increase in their substance and their suggestiveness. The radical revision of that first essay, now titled “Lovecraft’s Hands,” would be sufficient to prove it—it has been rewritten so exhaustively as to constitute a new piece. I will be honest and say that I am not always clear on the overall thrust and direction of some of Waugh’s essays, but every one of them contains flashes of insight, sometimes tossed off almost incidentally, that make their reading a rewarding experience. At times Waugh seems almost to be freeassociating, leading the reader from one topic to another as a bee flits from one flower to the next; but he does so with such intellectual rigour that each point is illuminated before the next is approached. No Lovecraft scholar has read Lovecraft’s work (fiction, poetry, essays, letters) more sensitively; no one has absorbed the best Lovecraft scholarship with a due understanding of both its virtues and its shortcomings; and no one has placed Lovecraft in a broader aesthetic and philosophical spectrum that brings the entire history of Western literature and thought into play. There are two original essays in The Monster in the Mirror, and they constitute the final two essays in the book. The first, “Lovecraft and Leopardi: Sunsets and Moonsets,” compares the writings and thought of Lovecraft and the great Italian poet, essayist, and thinker. This kind of “compare and contrast” essay could easily have become sophomoric, for of course there is no reason to think that Lovecraft was in any way familiar with Leopardi; one is reminded of Peter Cannon’s whimsical essay comparing Lovecraft and John F. Kennedy. But Waugh’s analysis is written with such panache and sensitivity that at times it seems as if Lovecraft and Leopardi are speaking to each other, discussing their respective views on cosmicism, fantasy, and human morality in a dialogue that spans the centuries and their differing languages. Waugh had done the same in an earlier essay, “Lovecraft and Keats Confront the ‘Awful Rainbow,’” but here it is managed with still greater verve and subtlety. The other original essay, one of the longest in the book, is “Lovecraft Born Again: An Essay in Apologetic Criticism.” The thrust of this essay is not merely to show that some of Lovecraft’s conceptions are harmonious with Christian thought but that Lovecraft’s stories make some “kind of sense . . . to a Christian.” I suspect that the great majority

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of Christians do not read Lovecraft’s stories with the kind of care that Waugh himself does, and therefore they are not particularly disturbed with the manifestly atheistic subtext found in them—they read them as entertaining stories, and that is the end of it. A few readers take Lovecraft’s work much more seriously; a decade or two ago Edward W. O’Brien actually maintained that Lovecraft’s tales were “evil” and should be avoided by the devout—perhaps an extreme reaction, but one that at least perceives that there is more going on in those tales than merely the exhibition of bug-eyed monsters. In putting forth this partial and tentative reconciliation of Lovecraft with Christianity, Waugh resurrects the notion (first propounded by Barton L. St. Armand) that Lovecraft is a kind of aesthetic or philosophic schizophrenic: that he maintains one thing in his letters (the expression of his philosophical views) and another thing in his fiction. In this formulation Waugh is not nearly so crude as St. Armand, who went to the extent of maintaining that Lovecraft was “at once a defender and upholder of a strict universe of natural law as well as its secret subverter”; but his general tendency is in this direction. I believe, however, that both Waugh and St. Armand have not fully grasped the complex rhetoric of Lovecraft’s fiction. How is that fiction an expression of his mechanistic materialist stance? Is it, in fact, an expression of it? Great care must be taken in interpreting Lovecraft’s statements regarding the nature and purpose of weird fiction. Lovecraft well knew that he could not possibly induce fear in others if he did not induce fear in himself. What, to a materialist like Lovecraft, would constitute the most fearful conception he could imagine? Would it not be the revelation (convincingly expressed in a work of fiction) of the inadequacy of materialism? In “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction” Lovecraft writes: “I choose weird stories because they suit my inclination best—one of my strongest and most persistent wishes being to achieve, momentarily, the illusion of some strange suspension or violation of the galling limitations of time, space, and natural law which for ever imprison us and frustrate our curiosity about the infinite cosmic spaces beyond the radius of our sight and analysis” (CE 2.175–76). Waugh quotes this remark but does not seem to grasp its full implications. If Lovecraft were not, in actual fact, convinced that the universe is materialistic, then he could not possibly find any kind of imaginative release in the “illusion” of its subversion or violation; and that violation occurs only “momentarily”



because it takes place only within the context of a work of fiction. In a sense, Waugh seems guilty of regarding Lovecraft’s tales as mimetic—as reflections of events that could conceivably happen in the real world. But Lovecraft’s brand of weird fiction posits events that “could not possibly happen” (SL 3.434). It is not sufficient to say that Lovecraft did not believe (philosophically) in the literal reality of Cthulhu; it is that he knew that an entity like Cthulhu could not possibly exist in our cosmos. It was only the convincing exhibition (through all the aesthetic means available to him) of the possibility of a Cthulhu that gave him the imaginative liberation he sought. Consider this passage from a letter of 1930: I get no kick at all from postulating what isn’t so, as religionists and idealists do. That leaves me cold—in fact, I have to stop dreaming about an unknown realm (such as Antarctica or Arabia Deserta) as soon as the explorers enter it and discover a set of real conditions which dreams would be forced to contradict. My big kick comes from taking reality just as it is—accepting all the limitations of the most orthodox science—and then permitting my symbolising faculty to build outward from the existing facts; rearing a structure of indefinite promise and possibility whose topless towers are in no cosmos or dimension penetrable by the contradicting-power of the tyrannous and inexorable intellect. But the whole secret of the kick is that I know damn well it isn’t so. (SL 3.140)

I am not sure that this does not express the sum total of Lovecraft’s aesthetic of weird fiction—and that final sentence is the key that unlocks the entire riddle of Lovecraft’s apparent “schizophrenia” in seeming to postulate non-materialistic or super-materialistic phenomena in his stories. He knew damn well it wasn’t so. This is why it is highly dangerous to appeal to the stories when attempting to ascertain what Lovecraft “believed.” Waugh occasionally falls into this error. When Waugh writes that Lovecraft “does believe in the existence of physical law, its coherence, rationality, and uniformity—but breaking with Haeckel he also entertains the idea that the universe is so large that areas might exist where the universality of law breaks down,” his evidence for this astonishing assertion is . . . the opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu.” But that utterance is made precisely for the purpose of laying down the foundation for the tale’s ultimate (fictional and fictitious) subversion of materialism—

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something Lovecraft knew damn well wasn’t so. Consider a passage in a 1929 letter where he is coming to terms with the theory of relativity and maintaining (in contrast to a wide array of mystics and religionists who were attempting to maintain that relativity had suddenly justified all kinds of outmoded thoughts regarding the existence of God): “We know these [natural] laws work here, because we have applied them in countless ways and have never found them to fail. . . . for many trillion and quadrillion miles outward from us the conditions of space are sufficiently like our own to be comparatively unaffected by relativity. That is, these surrounding stellar regions may be taken as part of our illusion-island in infinity, since the laws that work on earth work scarcely less well some distance beyond it” (SL 2.264–65). Similarly, Waugh asserts (from the evidence of the fiction) that “For Lovecraft dreams represent a remarkable evasion of the appearance of things,” but they do nothing of the sort. In other instances where Waugh attempts to establish that “the philosophic dregs of religion tainted Lovecraft,” he comes mighty close to special pleading. No one is likely to think that Lovecraft is the more religious simply because he uses names taken from the Bible, since of course these names are bestowed mostly upon New England characters whose nomenclature, derived largely from the Old Testament, Lovecraft is echoing merely for the sake of verisimilitude. And when Waugh maintains that the Gardner family in “The Colour out of Space” suffers “damnation,” he seems guilty of a misuse of the word—for the notion of damnation cannot possibly be separated from the notion of some kind of post-mortem punishment, something entirely absent in the story. The Gardners simply die—horribly and grotesquely, to be sure, but that is all there is to it. Waugh quotes a line from the story in which the Gardners “walked half in another world between lines of nameless guards to a certain and familiar doom”—but a doom is very different from damnation. I trust the above remarks sufficiently suggest that, even when one differs with Waugh’s analyses and conclusions, they nonetheless stimulate thought to an exceptional degree and compel one to come to terms with one’s own understanding of the Providence writer. Substantial as The Monster in the Mirror is, it by no means embodies Waugh’s final words on Lovecraft. Several previously published essays (to say nothing of the essay included in this number of the Lovecraft Annual) do not appear in the book, and so Waugh already has



the nucleus of a second volume of essays. It is to be hoped that some of our leading scholars absorb the variegated intellectual nourishment this book has to offer, so that they may be reminded that the work of interpreting Lovecraft is far from over. ———————

Briefly Noted The fifth and final volume of the Hippocampus Press edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Essays has now appeared. Volumes 1 (Amateur Journalism) and 2 (Literary Criticism) appeared in 2004; Volumes 3 (Science) and 4 (Travel) appeared in 2005; and Volume 5 (Philosophy; Autobiography and Miscellany) is now available. A CD-ROM containing the full text of all the volumes, along with a transcript of the entire contents of Lovecraft’s amateur journal, the Conservative (1915–23; 13 issues), scanned images of all issues of the Conservative, a complete chronology of Lovecraft’s writings (fiction, poetry, and essays), and other matter, will be available shortly. With this fivevolume set, in addition to the four Arkham House volumes of fiction and revisions, the remaining fiction contained in Miscellaneous Writings (1995), and the collected poetry found in The Ancient Track (2001), readers will possess the Collected Works of H. P. Lovecraft, exclusive of letters. A review of the Collected Essays will probably appear in the next issue of the Lovecraft Annual. The Library of America edition of Lovecraft’s Tales (2005), aside from completing his definitive inclusion in the canon of American literature, was one of the best-selling volumes published by the Library of America, selling 25,000 copies within the first few months of publication. It received wide, if mixed, reviews in major newspapers and magazines, including the New York Times Book Review, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Review of Books, and elsewhere. Assembled by Peter Straub and using the corrected texts established by S. T. Joshi, the volume includes 22 stories covering the entire chronological range of Lovecraft’s fiction-writing career, although it contains none of the “Dunsanian” fantasies. Perhaps a second volume, containing some of these stories along with essays, poems, and letters, should be contemplated.

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