Monday, November 2, 2015

Considering H.P. Lovecraft, Part 2

For this post, what I want to do is explore five trade paperbacks from Del Rey which might be said to round out our look at Lovecraft's prose fiction.  Three of these are composed almost entirely of the same stories we covered in Part 1 of this series, but I thought they were worth mentioning simply because they represent a good way to track down most of Lovecraft's stories.

I enjoyed reading that Knickerbocker Classics edition of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, but it's 1100 pages long, which means that it's pretty dang heavy.  One night, I dozed off for a few seconds while reading it with a cat in my lap, and I worried -- literally -- that it might split my poor kitty's skull open if it slipped out of my hands when I nodded off.  I'd like for my reading not to risk feline fatalities, so I suspect that future re-explorations of Lovecraft will almost certainly come via the paperbacks on today's agenda.

*****
  
If my first indirect exposure to H.P. Lovecraft was via Stephen King's Night Shift and its tales "Graveyard Shift" and "Jerusalem's Lot" (as I think likely) then my first direct exposure to his work was via this collection:
  
  
  
I hate to do this, but right here at the outset, I'm going to explore some of the self-indulgent realms of personal memory and recollection which sometimes seem to threaten to bring this blog crashing to a fiery halt.  Much of it will have nothing to do with H.P. Lovecraft; it'll be me-centric.

I'm going to make it super-duper easy for you to skip right over all that stuff, though.  See the gnarly cover art above?  That's the work of Michael Whelan, whom Dark Tower fans will know as the artist for books one and seven of that series.  Below, I've posted better versions of the two paintings which comprise his art for this Lovecraft collection, and they will serve as signposts marking our re-emergence from St. Self-Indulgenceberg.  So alls you've got to do is scroll down a bit, and you'll have vaulted right over my meanderings.

Everyone else, I'll try not to take up too much of your time.


I've been trying to figure out  a couple of things since I began working on this series of posts: (1) roughly when I bought this book and (2) roughly when I read it for the first time.  In my first Lovecraft post, I stated that the early nineties was when I bought it.  That, ladies and gentlemen, was a bluff.  I don't quite want to call it a lie, because I more or less believed it when I wrote it (just as I more or less believe it now).  But do I know for sure?  Nope.  So when I hint that I do, that's a bluff.

I know that I bought a brand-new copy.  This tells me a few things.  I've written before about the fact that my initial rush of King collecting was accomplished primarily by way of The Book Rack, a used bookstore near where I spent most of the summer of 1990.  I became a fan very quickly, but I was a fan on a budget, so used was the way to go for me.  I got a lot of stuff via trade-in, too.  Once I'd run through all the King I could get from there, trading in old novelizations and whatever else I had that seemed dispensable, I began working my way through their horror section, picking up stuff by people who seemed similar: Straub, McCammon, Koontz, Barker, and so forth.

I could occasionally afford to buy a new book, and when I did, I typically got it from Bookland (which was a B. Dalton type store, and may actually have been owned by B. Dalton).  I think there was another shop in town that I went to on occasion, but Bookland -- in good old University Mall -- was where I went most frequently.  I can remember buying books there, and I can almost remember buying The Essential Lovecraft there; almost, but if I claimed more, I'd be bluffing again.

My guess?  It would have been something of a lark as far as purchases went.  I don't recall making any concerted effort to find it, for example.  By the time I was a senior in high school, I'd discovered the magic of special orders, and I remember having Bookland order L. Frank Baum's Oz books for me one at a time.  The ones they didn't already have, at least, which was most of them.  (STILL haven't read most of those, by the way; but that day will assuredly come.)  I can remember seeking out a hardcover of The Lord of the Rings around the same time.

But in the case of The Essential Lovecraft, I have no memory of anything like that.  Therefore, I think that it is likely that I didn't buy it until I was in college and had my first actual job.  I'd have felt rich, and that would have meant that I began taking chances on books that were new in the same way I'd taken chances on used books.  I'd almost be willing to bet -- almost -- that that is what prompted me to shell out for a Lovecraft collection.

So there's one mystery that has been quasi-eliminated.

As for when I read it...?  Man, I've got nothing.  The closest I can get is to say that I feel certain I had read it by the time I attended my first Dragon*Con (in the year 2000), because I remember seeing and being amused by a Cthulhu-themed t-shirt.  Something in the back of my brain tells me that it may have happened around the time I was taking a Creative Writing course, circa 1997/1998.  But I can't pin down any sort of a rationale for why I think that, so I'm standing by 2000 as the official date.

I'd in roughly the middle of my middle age currently, and the notion of being able to remember stuff like that is growing more important to me.  It's a big part of the reason why I blog at all (as I know I've mentioned before).  I suspect that at some point in the future, when my memory has degraded even further, I'll be able to come back to some of these posts and read through them and feel as if I was undergoing a process of legitimate rediscovery.  As I suppose, in fact, I will be.

The subject is not one that is inappropriate to a conversation of Lovecraft.  I issued an easy out for people to skip this stuff, but in all honesty, if I didn't feel it was germane then I would exercise some self-editing and remove it.  The motion of memory is an important one within Lovecraft's canon, though.  A story like "The Shadow Out of Time," for example, is rife with it.  "The Quest of Iranon," "The Quest of Unknown Kadath," ditto.  And so forth; there'd be a fine essay for me to write on that subject, and if I ever start a Lovecraft-centric blog -- which I might well do some day -- then it's be a good fit there.  But I'd want to call it Blog-Sothoth, and somebody beat me to that name, so my enthusiasm is dampened.

Suffice it, then, to say that Lovecraft definitely uses the notion of memory and loss of same as a subtheme.

I'd like now to delve into a quartet of personal memories of mine.  They've got nothing to do with Lovecraft, but they do have a lot to do with things that I'm afraid of; and the notion of memory is important to this conversation in a major way.

Memory #1

I had several friends in the neighborhood where my parents and I lived from 1983-1991, two of whom were sleep-over-type friends.  you know, really good friends.  I remember one of their names; the other, it's utterly lost to me.  We weren't friends all that long, though, so that makes sense.
  
A few times, we went "camping" in the woods that surrounded the neighborhood.  This consisted of listening to music, eating snacks, farting, talking about movies, etc.  We were sitting out in the woods on one of these occasions, with a battery-powered lantern giving us a little light, doing our normal thing.  We heard a noise from a few feet away, looked toward it, and saw a two-foot-tall monkey-like animal with white fur, long arms, and red eyes coming toward us.  Its mouth was open and it was screaming at us.
  
Neither me nor my friend hesitated for even one second; we both jumped up, sprinted away from our little camp, and ran back home.  We'd ostensibly been spending the night at his house, but I actually ran all the way to mine.  The next day, I went over to his house to talk to him about it; he wouldn't admit that it had even happened.  I said, if it didn't happen then why did we get up and run away?  He said he'd been following me.  But, like, you could tell that he was lying.  He got mad about it when I kept bringing it up, and we stopped hanging out.  This was during summer break, and we actually became neighborhood antagonists.  We even got into a quasi-fistfight later on; he put me in a chokehold and totally incapacitated me, too.  Not much of a fighter, me.

The point is that to this day, I can remember what that fuckin' thing looked like.

Memory #2:

Same neighborhood, different friend (Brandon).  We were hanging out with his older brother and his brother's friends, and they were hanging out in a house that was under construction across the street from Brandon's house.  They were older, probably fifteen or so, so they were making out and drinking and smoking and all that stuff.  We were younger, so we were just farting around.

Everyone was in one room, the soon-to-be den of the house.  I was sort of on the edge of the group.  Brandon was doing something else, so I was kind of on my own, and I was looking around into the empty rooms surrounding the den.  In what I think was the kitchen, there was a guy standing there, by himself.  He was smoking.  He didn't have a cigarette; he was just . . . smoking.  He was staring straight at me, and he had red eyes.

I turned around to try to get Brandon's attention; I wasn't scared, I just wanted to point the guy out.  But I couldn't get Brandon's attention, and when I turned back around, whoever it was was gone.

Memory #3:

I had been hanging out at Brandon's one night, but wasn't sleeping over.  I was walking back home, and when I got within maybe a hundred yards of my house, I looked up the street and saw a very pale white man standing in the middle of the street in an enormous shaft of light.  He was looking at me.  At some point I realized he was not there any more, but I never looked away from him; yet somehow, I didn't see him disappear.  It was just like he'd never actually been there at all.

Memory #4:

A few years later, while I was in high school, I'd gone to spend the weekend at my grandmother and grandfather's house in Clanton.  I'd gone with my parents and my brother; we used to go up there for a day or two pretty regularly.

My grandparents had been having a problem with somebody coming and knocking on their doors and windows at certain points of the night.  Now, let me clarify: they lived in a very rural environment.  There was a house across the street (my aunt and uncle lived there at the time, I think; or that might have been later and my great-grandmother still lived there) and a house half a mile or so up the road, but otherwise, they were in the boonies.  So this isn't like the sort of ring-and-run pranks you get in neighborhoods; this is somebody purposely coming out into a rural area that barely has any streetlights, and knocking on somebody's window.

My Dad and I knew about this, and we were sitting around watching television that night.  In my memory, we were watching a network-tv broadcast of Manhunter (retitled Red Dragon for this broadcast), which would have been in 1991 thanks to the popularity of The Silence of the Lambs.  My Dad and I had been entertaining notions of how, if we heard the knocking, we were going to go beat the snot out of whoever was doing it.  Never mind that I'd never beaten the snot out of anyone.

The knock came.

I jumped to my feet with no hesitancy, ran out of the house, ran around one side of the house, and started running up the very dark road that led even further into the boonies.  I could barely see, but I could see just well enough to know that I was chasing someone.  There was a cornfield (not my grandparents', but a sort of community cornfield, I think) right behind the house, and I sensed whoever it was run into the corn.  I followed them, but I couldn't really see much of anything.  But I knew they were there.  I began screaming at the top of my lungs; not in fear, nor even in anger, but in challenge.

I was playing high-school football at the time, and I was in the prime physical condition of my life.  With that much adrenaline running through me, I'd bet you that I could have torn whoever this was from limb to limb.  So I screamed at him, and I literally beat my chest, and I told him to come out.  (I remember saying it like a mantra: "come OUT, come OUT, come OUT.")

There was no sound other than me and the rustling of the corn.  There was no moon; it was pitch black.  But I could see something, and, more importantly, I could sense it.

And I knew that it was not afraid of me.  It should have been, but it wasn't.  So I backed out of the cornfield and went back to the house.  I was never afraid; I wonder if I should have been.  A few years later, during one of my Creative Writing courses, I wrote a short autobiographical story/prose-poem that included this as a scene.  In the story, I gave the man/thing in the cornfield -- you guessed it -- red eyes.  But that was an invention of the story; no eyes, red or otherwise, were apparent.

*****

Alright, now here's the thing.  I'm wondering something: do you believe any of those four stories?

I don't believe them, not a single one of them.  But, the thing is, I remember them.  I didn't make any of them up for the benefit of this post; I didn't exaggerate them.  I feel certain, however, that not a single one of them happened, or at least, that none of them happened the way I remember them.

And yet...

I know for a fact that my friendship from Memory #1 busted up as a result of the argument over this occurrence.  So, like, did something else entirely happen?  Did we both repress whatever that was in similar ways?  Did we both repress whatever it was in different ways?  I have no idea, but do I believe that a two-foot-tall white ape with red eyes came screaming at us out of the forest?  Sir, no sir.

But I remember it.
  
The red-eyed fellow in Memory #2 could have been some sort of optical illusion.  A teenager with glasses maybe?  Some sort of reflection in the glasses?  I remember him expelling smoke without having a cigarette, but that could have been a trick of the light.  So this one is less strong, but the memory does persist.
  
I think we all know what's up with Memory #3.  UFO, amirite?  I must have been abducted by aliens, and then dropped back in the street at some point later.  Except I really don't believe that.  There's never been anything else UFO-related in my life, except for two different occasions when I was out driving with girl friends (not girlfriends, sadly, in either case) and we thought we saw some sort of bogey in the sky and drove around trying to see it.  UFOs over Tuscaloosa, y'all!  I don't think we saw alien spacecraft in either instance.  Don't get me wrong; I don't discount the possibility, I just don't think that this was that.

As for the figure in light in the street, I suspect that was an optical illusion.  I genuinely don't believe anything or anyone was there.  But, again, that doesn't prevent me from remembering it.

This brings us to Memory #4.  It's possible that you read that harrowing little vignette and thought, jeez-louise, this dude is a nutcase.  Hulking out in a cornfield, what a loony.  what I'll say about that is this: it triggered some sort of primal defense mechanism in me, and I responded in the manner one might respond if you felt one's family was being threatened and one somehow reverted to instinctive behavior.

Nothing like that had ever happened to me before, and nothing like it has ever happened since.  I do have a temper, but it has never been directed at people; if I get mad, I like to yell and kick over chairs.  And I don't even do that much anymore.  But apart from this cornfield incident, the aforementioned "fight" in which I was put in a chokehold, and two very brief scuffles in school (one in elementary school and the other during football practice), I've never been in a fight.  I've never hit anyone (and that includes those various fights I just mentioned), and have never wanted to.

That night, though, was something else entirely.  It's the closest I've ever felt to being possessed by some other entity, except for the fact that I never felt any consciousness except my own.  It was all me; it was just . . . Me Plus, somehow.

But here's the thing: when I went back inside my grandparents' house, nobody else acted as if anything weird had happened.  You'd think my Dad would have run out after me, right?  Didn't happen.  Years later, around the time I wrote the short story, I asked my parents if they remembered the incident.  They didn't.  I asked my brother; he didn't remember it, either.

Does that make sense?  If you had discussed with your son the notion of delivering retribution on prank-knockers in the form of whoop-ass, and then such an incident (sort of) occurred, would that be a thing you would forget?  If you were eleven years old, as my brother was, and such a thing happened, would you forget it?  I can assure you that my screams would have been heard for quite some distance.  But even if they weren't, I got up and ran out to chase somebody who, for all anyone knew, might have been an armed potential home-invader.

And nobody remembered?!?

Here is where things get weird for me.  Because let me tell you, I can remember all of that clear as a bell.  I can even pin down the date it happened, because looky here at this article about NBC airing Red Dragon.

So...

What gives here?  Something strange is afoot, no doubt about it.  Because either I am misremembering something that is an incredibly vivid memory (in which case I think questions about my sanity perhaps come into play), or, like, my family was visited by the Men In Black and their memories were erased.

Here's what I think: I think I probably did run outside.  I think I probably did run up the street.  I think whoever had knocked on the window had run in the other direction, around the other side of the house; I think, therefore, that I was chasing nobody except my own imagination.  I think I probably then yelled a little bit, but not enough to be heard over the television.  Consequently, nobody else in the house took it as seriously as I took it, and therefore the memory did not stick with them the way it has stuck with me.

It may even be possible that there was no actual knock; that I responded to some sort of phantom sound in my own brain.  So maybe my family thought I'd gotten scared of the movie or something and had run outside for a minute to get away from it.

Any of those things could be true, I guess.  But, as I must emphasize for one final time, I remember every bit of it happening in just that fashion.  And by the way, in case some of you have thought of this and are wondering if I haven't, let me mention that the notion of a red-eyed figure in the corn has certain echoes with The Stand and Randall Flagg.  I'd probably read that novel three or four times by the late spring of 1991, and while I have no memory of seeing anything with red eyes in the corn that night, I wouldn't be surprised if, when I wrote that detail into the short story I wrote in college, I didn't subconsciously get that detail from The Stand.

In case you were wondering, that possibility is certainly not lost on me.

Let me be clear: I do not think I am crazy.  I do not think any of these things happened the way I remember them; but neither do I think I dreamed them, or anything like that.  I just think that memory is maybe a much odder thing than many of us consciously realize.

The alternatives to thinking that are unpleasant.

Lest you think I am haunted by any of these incidents, or by the sum of them, I can only insist that I am not.  I rarely think of them; I occasionally consider trying to develop one of all of them into short horror stories (or maybe even a novel of some sort), but I lack the work ethic to actually do so.  The ideas pop up on occasion, though, and I'll think how strange those four moments in my life were.  But it's not like I wake up in a cold sweat, having dreamed of the red-eyed white ape.
  
I have few nightmares, and the ones I do have tend to be very trifling.  I kid you not, in 1998 I had a nightmare in which I dreamed that then then-filing new Star Wars movie had come out and had been terrible.  I kind of did wake up from that one in a cold sweat; I lay back down secure in the knowledge that it had, after all, only been a dream.  A prophetic one, as it turned out, but not an especially terrifying one.

Sometimes I even wonder if any or all of these memories might be especially vivid dreams that I somehow convinced myself later had actually happened.  Lovecraft wrote a number of stories about dreams, and in them, he posited that the dream world was not only just as "real" as the "real world," but that it was in fact more so.  Randolph Carter could tell you all about it; he might have some insights for me, too, who knows?

The bottom line to my experiences as detailed above is this: I think that they, taken as a whole, indicate that something about my reality -- those four moments of it, if nothing else -- does not quite align with conventional conceptions of what "reality" is.  It could be that I dreamed them, or it could be that I mentally revised whatever actually did happen.  If either of those things is true, then what does it say that unreality can become just as forceful an aspect of one's mental life as "reality"?  That's a troubling topic, isn't it?
  
Conversely, if neither of those things is true, then what is?  What if one or more of those incidents actually occurred the way I remember them?  What would that mean?  What if I've had a small handful of brushes with the extra-normal?  If that were true, then good lord, what else might be true that I'd previously assumed was pure fiction?  Vampires?  Werewolves?  Space aliens?  Bigfoot?  The Loch Ness Monster?  Time travel?  Heaven?  Hell?  Could Elvis Presley still actually be alive somewhere?

Man, I kind of doubt it.  But then again...

Not all of Lovecraft's fiction speaks to these ideas, but a lot of them do.  Many of his narrators are people who don't believe in the supernatural.  Not in any conventional, conscious sense, either; for them, it simply isn't even an issue.  But then they are confronted by the supernatural, and they can't quite bring themselves to face up to what is happening.  The protagonist in "The Whisperer in Darkness" will walk right into that house toward the end of the story; we know he shouldn't, and we think he's nuts for doing it (and, moreover, that Lovecraft is an unconvincing and sloppy writer for making him do it), but in the end, can we really blame him?

I think of that house in that story sometimes, and in my mind's eye, it is my grandparent's house in Clanton.  I tend to be frightened of rural settings in horror stories, because I can associate them with that actual house from my own past.  My grandparents are both dead now, and I have not been to that house in many years.  I'm unlikely ever to go there again, because it is no longer in our family; for all I know, it might not even exist anymore.

But I remember it.  I remember trying to fall asleep in the un-air-conditioned top-floor bedroom, with the sounds of the house creaking all around me.  I was never scared, because what was there to be scared of?  But if my mind got to working, I could invent things to be afraid of.  I saw some movie when I was a kid, a bit of it, at least; it was set in a rural setting, and some crazies were terrorizing people.  I remember a woman running outside, screaming while trying to get away; she runs into a hooded figure, which turns out to be somebody hanging on a hook or something.  The figure's head separates from the rest of its body, which slides to the ground.  I'm pretty sure, based on a bit of research, that this was Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and I'm too scared to watch it to find out for sure.  I'm not even positive the scene happens the way I've represented it; but that's how -- notice a theme here? -- I remember it.  (Nowhere near as strongly as I remember the other, actual memories I've described, though.)

So as I lay there in bed, the silent noise all around me, I could imagine that hooded thing creeping across the field, and up the steps, and to the door; and then coming inside, and its footsteps on the stairs, and then...

Or I could imagine werewolves in the fields, slavering and hungry.  Or aliens landing in their spaceships.  If I looked out the top-floor window, out at the empty and moonlit field, would it actually be empty?

So, yeah, when one of Lovecraft's narrators is lying in bed, listening to the sounds of the house around him and hearing something that ought not to be there, I can relate to that, and I picture that house as a house in which I spent a good bit of time.

And it may be that one night in 1991, I went running out of the house and into a cornfield.  It may be that for a brief span of time, I reverted to some primitive version of myself, and prepared to fight to the death with some unknown thing that lurked in the darkness.

Or not.  I've been blogging about memory off and on for a while now, but it's beginning to look as if memory might not be all it's cracked up to be.

If so, why does it seem like it's the only thing that actually does matter?





Hoo-boy!  Those of you skipped to this spot, lemme tell you: y'all missed some shit.

In any case, let's talk briefly about The Best of H.P. Lovecraft.  It kicks off with a 14-page essay by Robert Bloch, who didn't merely write Psycho but also, much earlier in life, corresponded with Lovecraft regularly.  Bloch's essay hails from 1982, which is when the first edition of this collection was issued.  It's not a particularly good essay.  Bloch rambles, and fails to keep the focus as tightly on Lovecraft as one would wish from a book titled The Best of H.P. Lovecraft.  For example, he spends the better part of two pages mounting a pointless defense against notions that (citing an editor named Ted White) people who write and read fiction of this sort are "sick."  Later, he spends about three pages attempting to chart a history of modern horror's popularity; good reading, but it's got little to do with Lovecraft, and Bloch's attempts to reconcile that problem are weak.

Elsewhere, Bloch says something that was probably iffy in 1982, and damn sure wouldn't fly in 2015.  In an effort to disprove the notion that Lovecraft (and/or his work and his readers) were "sick," Block writes thus:

After all, the man didn't drink, smoke or do drugs.  His sex life was apparently limited to a brief marriage but his wife pronounced him an "adequately excellent lover" and even his most ardent detractors have failed to find any evidence of homosexual activity.

Huh.  Not sure I'd have equated those various things, personally, but this is the author of Norman Bates talking, so there's that.  I doubt it's worth getting stirred up about; then again, I'm not homosexual, so I'll leave it to them to decide what they should and shouldn't get stirred up about.

The book definitely deserves a better introductory essay, but the reason to pick it up is the stories.  The table of contents reads thus:


  • The Rats in the Walls
  • The Picture in the House
  • The Outsider
  • Pickman's Model
  • In the Vault
  • The Silver Key
  • The Music of Erich Zann
  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • The Dunwich Horror
  • The Whisperer in Darkness
  • The Colour Out of Space
  • The Haunter of the Dark
  • The Thing on the Doorstep
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth
  • The Dreams in the Witch-House
  • The Shadow Out of Time
  
By virtually any standard I would care to employ, that's a very fine collection of stories.  But I feel obligated to go through them one at a time and answer the following question: do they belong in a best-of collection?
  
"The Rats in the Walls" -- Unquestionably.  It also serves as a terrific leadoff story.
  
"The Picture in the House" -- Absolutely.
  
"The Outsider" -- I'm not as fond of this story as many Lovecraft fans seem to be, but yeah, I'd say it deserves a spot in this collection.
  
"Pickman's Model" -- Oh, yeah; definitely.  Any Lovecraft great-hits that didn't include this would not be worth owning.
  
"In the Vault" -- It's a good story, but for me, no; this one does not belong.
  
"The Silver Key" -- I suspect this was included so as to have something from the dream-cycle stories represented.  (Although "The Shadow Out of Time" fulfills that role, too.)  It feels to me as if maybe it's slightly out of place, although I do like the story.
  
"The Music of Erich Zann" -- I think you could make compelling argument for or against.  I'd put it in.
  
"The Call of Cthulhu" -- There is no argument against this one.
  
"The Dunwich Horror" -- Ditto.
  
"The Whisperer in Darkness" -- Ditto.
  
"The Colour Out of Space" -- Ditto.
  
"The Haunter of the Dark" -- I could go either way with this one, to be honest.  I do like it, though, so why not let it stay in?
  
"The Thing on the Doorstep" -- Ditto.
  
"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" -- Try leaving it out and see what happens.  Just you try it, mister!
  
"The Dreams in the Witch-House" -- Yep, this one goes in.  By the way, a quick sidebar about that.  For whatever reason, when I read The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, I'd totally forgotten about this story.  Before I got to it, I even point-blank told a friend that I'd never read it, but was looking forward to it.  I also seem to have almost entirely forgotten "In the Vault," "The Silver Key," and "The Picture in the House"; none of them rang any bells when I read them recently, despite the fact that I'd obviously read each of them three or four times due to their inclusion in The Best of H.P. Lovecraft!  I begin to wonder if I am not part of the Quantum Leap project...
  
"The Shadow Out of Time" -- Absolutely.
  
The most obvious omissions are probably the three missing novels: At the Mountains of Madness, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.  Including them would have swelled this 375-page collection to about twice its present size, so I get why none of those were included.  They would make for an excellent Vol. 2, though.
  
Other stories I would say deserve consideration:
  
  • The Doom That Came to Sarnath
  • The Cats of Ulthar
  • The Temple
  • The Festival
  • The Shunned House
  • Cool Air
  • Through the Gates of the Silver Key
  
If I were the editor of such a book, I would remove "In the Vault" and put "Cool Air" in its place; I would relocate "The Silver Key" to a Vol. 2 and then include "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" in sequence with Unknown Kadath as part of the Randolph Carter saga.  In place of "The Silver Key" in The Best of, then, I would put "The Festival."  And I'd add "The Cats of Ulthar," because it's only three pages.
  
Overall, though, I'd have to say that The Best of H.P. Lovecraft does a good job of actually delivering on its title.  If you're looking to dip your toes into the Lovecraftian waters, this is almost certainly the book to do it with.
  
Let's move along and examine another Del Rey collection:
  
  



The Neil Gaiman introduction begins thus: "If Literature is the world, then Fantasy and Horror are twin cities, divided by a river of black water."

That's what I'm talkin' 'bout!  Every time I hear, see, or think the name "Neil Gaiman," I chastise myself for not having read more of his work yet.  Like, what the fuck am I waiting on?  The answer is, for more time.  I deeply suspect that whenever I do start reading Gaiman, I'll have to read it all, and I'm currently not quite willing to devote the time.

But it WILL happen, and his fine introduction to this book only solidifies my intent.

The thesis lying behind the compilation of this collection's contents seems to have been that if you put all of Lovecraft's dream-focused stories together, they would create a cohesion that strengthens them both as a whole and individually.  That's probably correct; I've never sat down and read them in that manner (owing to the fact that I've never actually read this book, only its constituent contents elsewhere), but it feels true to me.

Let's have a look at the contents:

  • Azathoth
  • The Descendant
  • The Thing in the Moonlight
  • Polaris
  • Beyond the Wall of Sleep
  • The Doom That Came to Sarnath
  • The Statement of Randolph Carter
  • The Cats of Ulthar
  • Celephais
  • From Beyond
  • Nyarlathotep
  • The Nameless City
  • The Other Gods
  • Ex Oblivione
  • The Quest of Iranon
  • The Hound
  • Hypnos
  • What the Moon Brings
  • Pickman's Model
  • The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath
  • The Silver Key
  • The Strange High House in the Mist
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
  • The Dreams in the Witch-House
  • Through the Gates of the Silver Key
I think there are a few things that are missing, arguably: the short piece "Memory" probably belongs, as do "The White Ship" and (especially) "The Shadow Out of Time."  The latter already appeared in The Best of from the same publisher, so maybe that's why it's excluded; that did not stop them from reprinting "The Silver Key" here, although, to be fair, excluding it from this collection would be an editorial crime.  
  
You could probably make a case for "The Tree," "The Very Old Folk," and "The Evil Clergyman" belong here, too.  I'm not entirely sure why "The Nameless City," "The Hound," or The Case of Charles Dexter Ward are included, but let's assume that that is due to faulty memory on my part and not to their actually being misplaced.
  
Essentially, though, what you've got here is indeed the vast majority of Lovecraft's dream cycle (minus "The Shadow Out of Time").
  
As I read The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, I found myself struggling to engage with the material at certain points, especially toward the beginning; i.e., with a lot of the dream-cycle material.  I loved a few of the stories ("The Doom That Came to Sarnath," "The Cats of Ulthar," "The Quest of Iranon") but was indifferent to many.  That changed once I got to "The Silver Key" and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and once I had those works in mind, I found myself wondering if the understanding of Lovecraft's intent that they gave me might make me enjoy some of the earlier stories more.
  
That question remains unanswered, but I plan to revisit Lovecraft's work on a continuing basis (I think I'm going to designate October as Lovecraft-reading month here at The Truth Inside The Lie), and I plan to read this book and see whether I do indeed get more out of the individual components of the dream cycle now that I have the key to them by way of enjoying the major works within it.
  
Time will tell!

[Edit: Here's how you know I'm a dumbass -- there's a story in this book that isn't in The Complete Fiction, but I forgot to note it during my first pass of this post, despite the fact that noting things like that was about half the reason for me doing the post in the first place!  But I discovered it while making a list that will appear later on, so let me add a brief look at it here.

"The Thing in the Moonlight"
(written by/with [depending on your perspective] J. Chapman Miske, 1927-1941, published 1941)
  
The editors of Dreams of Terror and Death list this as a story fragment alongside "Azathoth" and "The Descendant," but in fact it's a story revised by J. Chapman Miske.  It appeared in the January 1941 issue of Bizarre, supposedly, although I've also seen references to it being in the January 1937 issue of Weird Tales.
  
The genesis of the story comes from a letter Lovecraft sent to Donald Wandrei in 1927.  He described a dream he'd had.  Miske somehow got his hands on this later, made some changes to Lovecraft's prose, added  paragraphs at the beginning and end to make the whole thing work as a brief story, and got it published.
  
You can read a side-by-side comparison of Lovecraft's letter excerpt with the Miske revision here; most Lovecraft scholars have seemingly stricken "The Thing in the Moonlight" from their lists now, but I think that's the wrong move.  Miske did retain the majority of Lovecraft's writing, and I think you can consider it to be a posthumous collaboration.  It's not particularly good, but should it count?  I think it should.]
  
Let's now continue with a look at Del Rey's third collection of Lovecraft stories:
  
  

  
  
The thesis behind this one is that it charts Lovecraft's progress from developing writer to master writer.  I think that's an acceptable way to approach the compilation of a collection that, if Vol. 1 is "Greatest Hits" and Vol. 2 is "Dream Cycle," may as well be subtitled "Everything Else."
  
Which is not to suggest that this book's contents are unworthy.  There is a lot of good stuff here, and I'd say that roughly half of it is great.  The book might indeed have been compiled with an "everything else" intent, but enough of it is essential that it won't exactly feel like a book-length afterthought.
  
The introduction by Barbara Hambly is good; she is apologetic for the racism and sexism of the man's work, but approaches it with a "so be it" attitude.  She writes about how she returns to Lovecraft quite frequently, and I always enjoy hearing about another artist who does that; it makes my urge to revisit authors like (especially) King and Ian Fleming and Larry McMurtry and Lovecraft himself seem somehow more legitimate.
  
I'm unfamiliar with Hambly's work, with one exception: she has written a trio of Star Trek novels, and one of them, Ishmael, is one I owned and read as a kid.  I remember nothing about it except that I enjoyed it; I've still got it, and would love to revisit it one of these days.
  
Now, let's have a look at the contents of The Road to Madness:
  
  • The Beast in the Cave
  • The Alchemist
  • Poetry and the Gods
  • The Street
  • The Transition of Juan Romero
  • The Book (A Fragment)
  • Dagon
  • The Tomb
  • Memory
  • The White Ship
  • Arthur Jermyn  [note that the title has been condensed from "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family"]
  • The Temple
  • The Terrible Old Man
  • The Crawling Chaos
  • The Tree
  • The Moon-Bog
  • Herbert West -- Reanimator
  • The Lurking Fear
  • The Festival
  • The Unnamable
  • Imprisoned with the Pharaohs  [note that this is an alternative title for "Under the Pyramids," the Harry Houdini story]
  • The Shunned House
  • He
  • The Horror at Red Hook
  • Cool Air
  • Nathicana
  • At the Mountains of Madness
  • In the Walls of Eryx
  • The Evil Clergyman
  
Being as this marks the end of Del Rey's three-volume collection of Lovecraft's fiction, I feel obliged to point out that there are several stories in The Complete Fiction which did not make it into any of Del Rey's books.  Those are: "A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson," "Old Bugs," "Sweet Ermengarde," "The Very Old Folk," "History of the Necronomicon," and "Ibid."  In the case of the latter story, as well as the first three, I would guess that Del Rey excluded them because they are completely outside the realm of horror, fantasy, or the supernatural.  But there's no excuse for "History of the Necronomicon" being omitted, and all of them would have fit with the theme of Lovecraft as a developing writer.  Ah, well.
  
Some of you may also have noticed that there are a few titles in The Road to Madness which do not appear in The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  Well, here's the thing about that: that book isn't actually complete.  What a rip-off!
  
To some extent, it's understandable.  Most of what was left out consists of stories that Lovecraft wrote in collaboration with another author; this dilutes the purity of the authorship, so leaving them out of a complete-fiction collection is understandable on those grounds...
  
...provided you are editorially consistent.  Knickerbocker, however, included both "Under the Pyramids" (ghostwritten by Lovecraft from a story by Harry Houdini) and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" (co-written by E. Hoffman Price).  If those are included, I think you must be open to considering including others.  My guess is that Knickerbocker (A) did not want to increase the book's length by several hundred more pages and (B) felt that "Under the Pyramids" and "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" were both too good and too Lovecraftian to omit.  If so, they were certainly correct about the latter, and can be forgiven for the former.
  
Lovecraft wrote quite a few stories with other authors, by the way; and we will be covering many of them in the third post in this series.
  
Before that, though, let's now, talk about the handful of stories stories in The Road to Madness which are not in Knickerbocker Classics' Complete collection:
  
"Poetry and the Gods"  
(written with Anna Helen Crofts, published 1920)
  
When researching the various stories for my review of The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, I was almost always able to easily find a bit of background information by consulting Wikipedia.
  
There does not appear to be a Wikipedia entry for "Poetry and the Gods," however, and in digging deeper, I discovered that that may be because very little is known about the story (which Lovecraft apparently never mentioned in any extant letters) or its co-author, Crofts.  This post at Tentaclii explicates that somewhat.
  
The story is about Marcia, a woman who reads some poetry, is visited by Hermes, and is taken to Mount Olympus for further communion with the Greek pantheon.  
  
At first glance, this does not seem much like a Lovecraft story; I would speculate that Crofts wrote the majority of it, with Lovecraft possibly revising it for her.  It's worth remembering, however, that Lovecraft's early writings often found him imitating the styles of other authors (Lord Dunsany, for example); therefore, saying that a story from 1920 "does not seem much like a Lovecraft story" is not quite as meaningful a statement as it might appear to be.
  
There are a few themes that pop up which could be called Lovecraftian: the visit to Mount Olympus might well be a dream of the sort Randolph Carter would recognize; and Hermes explicitly tells Marcia that the Green pantheon of gods is not dead, but merely asleep and awaiting their time coming around again.  Not, then, unlike Cthulhu; an interesting and compelling notion, that.
  
Overall, I don't think it's much of a story; it's got its interesting moments, but I'm not sure I understand why it was included in this collection when there were a few other solo-Lovecraft pieces which could have taken its place.  "Poetry and the Gods" would better have been held for inclusion in The Horror in the Museum.
  
"The Crawling Chaos"  
(written with Elizabeth Berkeley, published 1921)
  
I have not read this story yet.  The reason for that is that, unlike "Poetry and the Gods," it is included in The Horror in the Museum.  Therefore, I will be reading it as part of my exploration of that book.
  
"Nathicana"  (date of composition unknown)
  
"A horrible coma called living," reads one line of this three-page poem; for me, that marks this as something that really ought to have been included in The Dream Cycle instead of The Road to Madness, but since nobody is asking me to re-edit these collections, I guess we're stuck with it as-is.
  
Lovecraft wrote quite a lot of poetry; enough to fill a 600-page collection called The Ancient Track (we'll get it to it sometime down the line a ways).  Until now, I'd read none of it.  "Nathicana" appears to perhaps have been written slightly in emulation of Poe, and it's okay.  I can't claim to be knowledgeable enough to critique poetry, good or bad.  I took a few poetry courses during college, and in my poetry-writing classes I eventually found myself learning to engage with really good poetry on its own level.  I would say that doing so is a skill that must be maintained, however; unlike riding a bicycle, you do forget how to properly read and critique poetry.  I did, at any rate.  
  
If you think of poetry-reading as a skill that can be lost, then all of a sudden we've got an echo of one of Lovecraft's running themes: the loss of the ability to explore the dream worlds.  "Poetry and the Gods" contains the notion that poetry is the means by which gods communicate with humans, and Lovecraft's dream cycle contains the idea that through dreaming in certain ways, humans can actually become gods.
  
Do you think it's likely that there might be fruit on the trees should one go exploring this forest farther?  If so, you and I are on the same page.  but it's a topic for another day.
  
By the way, while I am not currently familiar with Lovecraft's poems, I know he wrote a poetry cycle titled "Fungi From Yuggoth."  The title alone suggests to me that it ought to have been included in both The Road to Madness and The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.
  
"In the Walls of Eryx"  
(written with Kenneth J. Stirling in 1936, published posthumously 1939)
  
I'd love to be able to ask somebody at Knickerbocker Classics about their decision-making process in electing to omit "In the Walls of Eryx" from The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft.  If they had similarly omitted "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" and "Under the Pyramids," I'd have no need to ask.  
  
My best guess would be that they felt the sci-fi elements of "In the Walls of Eryx" marked it as being too unlike Lovecraft's typical work, and therefore they assumed it had more of Sterling in it than of Lovecraft.  
  
No matter what, I think it was the wrong decision.  This is a very good story, one which does indeed contain more pulp-era outer-space sci-fi than any other Lovecraft story, but which also contains a fair bit of horror.  And anyways, it's not like Lovecraft never wrote any science fiction.  He wrote plenty; it didn't have a ray-gun, whereas "In the Walls of Eryx" kind of does, but so what?
  
In any case, the story is about a hired prospector working on Venus to collect native crystals which apparently have massive energy-making potential; one of them can power a city on Earth for a year.  The crystals are seemingly worshiped by a race of man-sized tentacled lizards that, apart from their skills in constructing weapons and architecture, can barely be considered sentient.  The narrator finds them loathsomely animalistic, and wishes his company would send a force large enough to wipe them all out.  Lovecraft's xenophobia is given full force here, albeit at a remove.  (If you roll your eyes at that and find yourself thinking again that Lovecraft was irredeemable in this regard, I'd caution you not to leap to any assumptions; I believe that in this case, he knew exactly what he was doing, and the end of the story bears it out.)
  
I won't say any more about the plot, except to note that one day the narrator finds what appears to be the largest crystal yet discovered (almost too large to even hold in one's hand).  At this point, things become difficult.

Here's what S.T. Joshi has to say on the subject of "In the Walls of Eryx," by the way, in his An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia:

Sterling has stated that the idea of the invisible maze was his and that this core idea was adapted from Edmond Hamilton's story (which HPL liked), "The Monster-God of Marmuth" (WT, August 1926), which concerns an invisible building in the Sahara Desert.  Sterling wrote a draft of 6,000 to 8,000 words; HPL rewrote the story ("in very short order," Sterling declares) on a small pad of lined paper, making it considerably longer in the process (see Sterling, "Caverns Measureless to Man" [1976]; in Lr, pp. 375-78).  Sterling's account suggests that the version as we have it is entirely HPL's prose, and indeed it reads as such; but one suspects (Sterling's original draft is not extant) that, as with the collaborated tales with Price and Lumley, HPL tried to preserve as much of Sterling's own prose, and certainly his ideas, as possible.
  
In other words, "In the Walls of Eryx" is best viewed as an actual collaboration, and not as pure solo Lovecraft.  In any case, it is very good, and not only should it have been included in The Complete Fiction, I think you could make a case for it belonging in The Best of.  I don't think I actually would make that case; but I did like the story quite a bit, so if you made it, I'd probably go along with you.  I'm easily-led like that.
  
  
Art by Mark Foster; image borrowed from http://hplovecraftart.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-forests-of-venus.html.

  
Next, let's turn to the meat of this post: a final Del Rey collection of Lovecraft stories, The Horror in the Museum, which collects 24 tales which Lovecraft co-wrote, revised for others, or . . . well, I don't know what all else.  I haven't read it yet!
  
As with my previous post, I'm going to read the book and write a bit about each story as I progress.  I'm currently on Day #1 of thirteen consecutive days off, so I'm hoping I can get this knocked out fairly quickly.  Not because I'm anxious to depart the world of Howard P. Lovecraft, but because I'm anxious to go further into it.
  
  

  
  
This collection has three introductions: one written by Stephen Jones for the 2007 edition; and one each by S.T. Joshi and August Derleth for the 1989 and 1970 editions.  All three use different approaches to signal the reader that what they are about to ingest both is and isn't pure Lovecraft.
  
An interesting bit of knowledge is dropped on the reader here: that these stories (and, presumably, many another not included herein) actually formed the major basis of Lovecraft's income.  I quote now from Stephen Jones:
  
With money always tight, and as a method of subsidizing his precarious income, Lovecraft provided a literary revision service, giving advice and suggestions where needed, or completely changing the work of some of his less talented clients.  In fact, these (usually uncredited) revisions became Lovecraft's major source of income, with his own fiction merely a sideline.  Although much of this work consisted of correcting spelling, punctuation and grammar, or copying out manuscript pages, he would sometimes entirely revise and rewrite a story, retaining only its title or the nucleus of the plot if its content inspired his imagination.
  
This collection, then, represents a group of stories to which Lovecraft's contributions are known or strongly suspected to be significant enough that they might be said to be authored (or, at the very least, co-authored) by him.  One suspects there must have been a great many such stories to which his contributions were indeed of an editorial rather than an authorial nature.
  
[By the way, Stephen Jones has had a professional affiliation with Stephen King, including editing A Book of Horrors, wherein "The Little Green God of Agony" first appeared.  He also wrote Creepshows: The Illustrated Stephen King Movie Guide, which is very good.]
  
In his introduction, S.T. Joshi -- who, in case you did not know this, is almost certainly the world's preeminent Lovecraft scholar, having written a two-volume biography, edited any numbers of collections of both fiction and nonfiction, and produced reams of criticism both of Lovecraft and Lovecraftian influences and contemporaries -- makes it plain that in selecting the stories to appear here, much care and conservatism have been applied.  He specifies why some tales are known to be almost entirely the work of Lovecraft, and why others should be seen as true collaborations, and why others have a bit of a question mark beside them as to who did what.  I'll cover these issues in the sections for each individual story.
  
The book is broken down into two sections: Primary Revisions and Secondary Revisions.  The Primary Revisions comprise about two-thirds of the book, and are stories that in one way or another can be thought of having been authored by Lovecraft.  The Secondary Revisions are stories in which his role was perhaps less all-encompassing.  As I've yet to read a single one of these stories, we'll find out my thoughts along the way.
  
"The Green Meadow"
(written with Winifred V. Jackson 1918-19, published 1927)
  
Lovecraft collaborated with Jackson on two stories, including this one, and S.T. Joshi points out that they are two of the very rare instances in which Lovecraft accepted a byline alongside his collaborator.  The other instances he lists are "Poetry and the Gods," "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," and "In the Walls of Eryx."
  
In the case of his work with Jackson, however, his name did not actually appear; the pair billed themselves as "Elizabeth Neville Berkeley and Lewis Theobald, Jun."  They also produced "The Crawling Chaos," which we will cover next.  Joshi's assessment: "there is little evidence to suggest that Jackson contributed any prose to either tale."
  
"The Green Meadow" does indeed read like early Lovecraft.  It tells the story of a notebook written by somebody from ancient Greece that is found -- improbably -- inside a meteorite that crashes into the sea off Maine's coast.  The notebook (it is "translated" by Berkeley and Theobald, who write an introduction for it) tells of a man who found himself on an island that inexplicably began shrinking and eventually...
  
...eventually what?  We never find out.  The "translation" simply ends.
  
As such, this is an unsatisfying story.  It isn't bad; it is of a piece with Lovecraft's early dream-cycle writing (and was apparently written based on a dream of Jackson's); indeed, it mentions Stethelos, a city also name-dropped in the dream-cycle story "The Quest of Iranon."  But it is all tease and no payoff, and therefore ranks as a very minor work.  Nevertheless, it reads as Lovecraft to my way of thinking.

I think it might be worthwhile for me to render judgment on a few issues at the end of each story.  First, I'll tell you whether I feel it to be substantially Lovecraftian to merit inclusion in some alternative edition of his complete works.  Second (and third), I'll render judgment on whether each story fits into the dream cycle and/or the Cthulhu mythos.
  
The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  yes

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


"The Green Meadow" was first published here.

  
"The Crawling Chaos"
(written with Winifred V. Jackson 1920-21, published 1921)
  
As with their first collaboration, Lovecraft/Jackson's "The Crawling Chaos" is said to have been written by Lovecraft alone based on a dream by Jackson.
  
In this story, the narrator overdoses on opium (not his fault, but his doctor's) and falls into a deep dreamlike state in which he meets a young "child" and a group of singing people who may or may not be gods of some sort.  Meanwhile, the Earth is falling to pieces all around him and eventually is destroyed altogether.
  
Given the title and the proximity of this story's composition to the story in which Nyarlathotep first appeared (1920's "Nyarlathotep"), it is almost impossible to believe that Lovecraft did not have his own work in mind when writing this story.  In "Nyarlathotep," the titular character is referred to as "the crawling chaos," a description that will appear again many times in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath in reference to the same character.  Nyarlathotep is also apparently able to appear in almost any form, so it's very tempting to simply assume that the golden-haired "child" in "The Crawling Chaos" is the chaos itself.
  
I would not say this is a great story, but it's not bad.
  
The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  yes

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  maybe (leaning toward yes)


This can be yours for a mere $2000.

  
"The Last Test"
(written with Adolphe de Castro 1927, published 1928)
  
Joshi says this on the subject of Lovecraft's revisions for de Castro:

For the two tales revised for Adolphe de Castro, "The Last Test" and "The Electric Executioner," we have de Castro's original versions: they were published in his collection In the Confessional (1893), under the titles "A Sacrifice to Science" and "The Automatic Executioner."  Lovecraft has rewritten both stories completely, preserving only the skeleton of each work.

I'll take Joshi's word for it, but "The Last Test" reads to my eyes less like Lovecraft than it does like somebody trying -- and mostly failing -- to sound like Lovecraft.  This story is really quite poor, in my opinion.  It's about two childhood friends, one of whom becomes a noted physician and the other of whom becomes the governor of California.  One of their fathers ruined the other on the stock market so badly that he committed suicide, and if you read that plot point early on and expect it become a major facet of the fifty-page story that follows, let me assure you that your expectations will not be fulfilled.

The meat of the story involves the doctor's appointment to a prison, where he works to contain and cure an outbreak of plague.  If you've read much weird fiction, you probably assume that his sinister servant with a skeleton-like head has some sort of shadowy hand in the proceedings; and in this, you'd be correct.

My guess is that de Castro's original story probably contained no supernatural elements, and that Lovecraft's contributions were to add the skeletal servant, the references to Yog-Sothoth and Nyarlathotep and the Al Azif, and to change any and all spelling of "show" to "shew."  That's purely a guess on my part, of course.

In any case, this is rather ineffective stuff, and the mind boggles to consider that Lovecraft produced it at around the same time he wrote masterpieces like "The Call of Cthulhu" and "Pickman's Model."  My suspicion is that he was, around this time, much more heavily invested in writing his own fiction than he was in improving the fiction of others; and if so, then the fact that "The Last Test" is garbage is just fine by me.

The story does include a major female character, whom Lovecraft and/or de Castro causes to faint at least three times.  She is a poor enough creation that you are glad Lovecraft primarily wrote male characters.

Ultimately, for me, this simply does not have the ring of genuine Lovecraft.  As I've said, I take Joshi at his word when he says that Lovecraft in fact did totally rewrite the story.  Be that as it may, if someone had brought me a copy of this story a week ago and asked me to read it and guess whether it had been written by Lovecraft or by a Lovecraft impersonator, I'd have said it was an impersonator, and not an especially good one.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes


De Castro got his name on the cover with this one.  The Mexican theming of the cover has nothing to do with "The Last Test," but it's a pleasant coincidence given the Mexican setting of the next Lovecraft/de Castro story.


"The Electric Executioner"
(written with Adolphe de Castro 1929, published 1930)
  
While I would not rank "The Electric Executioner" particularly highly as literature, I will unequivocally say that it is a substantial improvement on "The Last Test."  The only similarities of style that I see between the two which might be said to represent the mark of de Castro are: a (partial) setting in California, especially San Francisco; the mention of politics; and the presence of a character who might reasonably be said to be a mad scientist.

"The Electric Executioner" would likely have been revised by Lovecraft between the writing of his own "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Whisperer in Darkness," and while it is vastly inferior to those stories, it does at least read to my eyes like the work of the same author.  Both the prose and the story seem like something Lovecraft might have conjured, and while I'm guessing the story itself was almost entirely de Castro's, there is room for doubt in my mind.

The story is about a man whose mining company sends him as an agent to capture a thief who has fled to Mexico.  He boards a train to get there, where he meets a man who is abnormally large and who is carrying a valise toward which he seems very protective.  As it turns out, the valise contains a wire helmet which is, in essence, a traveling electric-chair cap.  Guess who he thinks would make an excellent test subject?

The ending is nonsensical, but not in an entirely unappealing fashion.  Where the tale truly falls flat on its face is in its plot development that allows the narrator to survive the story: he tricks the inventor into putting it on his own head so that he can draw an illustration of it that the man can send to a newspaper.  This is preposterous to a cartoonish degree; I can more easily believe that when Wile E. Coyote runs off a cliff, he won't fall so long as he doesn't look down.

The Lovecraft fan may find some amusement during a scene in which the narrator, in another attempt to save himself, begins spouting pseudo-religious jargon.  The man has been waxing on and on about Aztec deities such as Quetzalcoatl, and the narrator gets in the spirit by invoking some of the same deities.  He adds a few, though, such as "Cthulhutl" and "Yog-Sototl."  Who says Lovecraft can't be funny?

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes




 "The Curse of Yig"
(written with Zealia Bishop 1928, published 1929)
  
First, let me ask: how would you pronounce "Zealia"?  Here are a few options:


  • ZEE-lee-uh
  • zee-LEE-uh
  • ZEAL-yuh
  • ZAY-lee-uh
  • ZALE-yuh
  • zee-AY-lee-uh
  • zee-AYLE-yuh
  • ZEE-uh-LEE-uh
I suppose that I lean toward "ZEE-lee-uh" as the best of the lot, but you could sell me on any.  And no matter what, I like the name; I tend to assume that any woman with that name is hot as hell.  
  
  

  
Not sure "hot as hell" applies, but attractive?  You bet.

Why does this matter?  It doesn't.  Let's move on; honestly, I'm not sure why you brought it up to begin with.  Jeez.
  
Anyways, Lovecraft worked with Bishop -- who was also billed as Zealia Brown Reed and Zealia Brown-Reed Bishop -- on three tales, this being the first.  Let's see what S.T. Joshi has to say on the subject:
  
All three stories revised for Zealia Bishop -- "The Curse of Yig," "The Mound," and "Medusa's Coil" -- were, as Lovecraft notes, based on the scantiest of plot-germs and are accordingly close to original works by Lovecraft.
  
Hmm!
  
What's interesting to me about "The Curse of Yig" is that it both does and does not read like genuine Lovecraft to me.  It tells the story from a familiar Lovecraftian point of view: a narrator is being told a story by someone else who in turn learned most of it at a remove.  Structurally, there is no doubt that this is the real thing (or an admirable replication).  The story itself is about a man and woman from Arkansas who move to Oklahoma; the husband is deathly afraid of snakes, and does not find his lot in life improved one iota upon discovering that his new home is smack in the middle of Yig's land?  Who's Yig?  Oh, he's the legendary snake-god who wreaks brutal vengeance upon anyone who kills any of his children, is who.
  
The old-West setting is atypical for Lovecraft; the presence of a female protagonist is very atypical for Lovecraft; and the lack of blatant racism toward the various American Indian tribes who feature in the story's background is perhaps even more atypical for Lovecraft.
  
So, did all of that come from Bishop?  If not, does "The Curse of Yig" represent Lovecraft stretching himself in those regards?  Either way, I think it suggests that Lovecraft was perhaps more sympatico with Bishop than with de Castro.  My guess is that he simply put more effort into these collaborations, and was able to stretch himself by way of trying to honor the settings and characters established by Bishop.
  
The bottom line is that this is a pretty good story.  I wouldn't say that it's great, but I think most Lovecraft fans would enjoy it.
  
The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes
  
dream-cycle y/n:  no
  
Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no (although Wikipedia disagrees for reasons not yet clear to me)
  
  
  
  
"The Mound"
(written with Zealia Bishop 1929-30, abridged version published posthumously 1940, unabridged version published 1989)

Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

As I hope was evident from reading my review of it, I greatly enjoyed the months-long trek through The Complete Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, but I have to confess to feeling a bit of melancholy upon finishing it.  "Well," I thought, "I guess that's it; no more Lovecraft to read."  I did not at that time know that a book of collaborative stories existed, and when I found out about it, I bought it immediately.

My hope in reading The Horror in the Museum would be that it would yield up at least one story that would feel to me like top-shelf Lovecraft.  I'd already found one such story not in the Complete Fiction ("In the Walls of Eryx"), so I hoped there might be at one one more.

And here it is!  Some may disagree; I've seen a few Internet-based opinions indicating that it is tedious and nonsensical.  Whatever.

First things first: this is Lovecraft, end of discussion.  Bishop (so sayeth Wikipedia) seemingly contributed a mere two-sentence outline: "There is an Indian mound near here, which is haunted by a headless ghost. Sometimes it is a woman."  From this, Lovecraft produced a novella-length tale which not only serves as a spinoff of "The Curse of Yig" but also brings many of his familiar cosmic tropes into play, such as references to "Tulu" and Shub-Niggurath and so forth.

It's also a crackerjack of an underground-world story.  The setup is that an ethnologist investigates a strange mound which undeniably has ghost-like apparitions that appear around it at regular intervals.  He unearths a centuries-old manuscript left by a Spanish explorer from Coronado's party.  The manuscript tells a frankly incredible story.  Will any of it be verified before "The Mound" ends?  I think you know the answer to that question.

S.T. Joshi has this to say:

The persistent rumor that Frank Belknap Long assisted in the writing of "The Mound" is false: Long, as Zealia Bishop's agent, merely abridged the story in a vain attempt to place it with a pulp magazine; after these efforts failed, the original version of the story was restored, remaining in manuscript until after Lovecraft's death.    August Derleth then radically revised and abridged both "The Mound" and "Medusa's Coil" and marketed them to Weird Tales.  This edition represents the first unadulterated publication of both works.

We'll speak more of August Derleth soon, but the guy sounds like a bit of a prick to me.

In any case, I enjoyed "The Mound" quite a bit.  It even gives me cause to mention Stephen King -- remember him? -- due to its brief plot point dealing with Cibola, the fabled (and nonexistent) city of gold that the Trashcan Man raves about during his trek to Las Vegas in The Stand.

Other points of interest: similarities to "The Rats in the Walls" that arguably have clarifying implications for that story; and, perhaps, an explanation for the entirety of the dream cycle!
 
The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n: maybe; it depends on how you interpret certain elements, and you could make an argument either way

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes (and "The Mound" makes it clear that it's a yes for "The Curse of Yig" also, though indirectly)




"Medusa's Coil"
(written with Zealia Bishop 1930, abridged version published posthumously 1939, unabridged version published 1989)

Lovecraft's third and final collaboration with Zealia Bishop, like the first two, includes snake-lore.  This one, however, is not set in plains Oklahoma but in a former slave plantation in Missouri.

Uh-oh...

That's right; I said "former slave plantation."  If it worries you that Lovecraft might not bring the greatest degree of sensitivity to a tale in which some characters are former slaves, then rest assured: you are right to be worried.  "Medusa's Coil" is perhaps the single worst offender in the pantheon of blatantly-racist Lovecraft stories.  He even includes a line early on about how back in the day, it was one of life's great joys to hear the sounds of (I'm paraphrasing) the happy workers laughing and playing their banjos and singing at night.

Yikes.

And there's even a racist plot twist!

That said, this is a pretty good story; not quite as good as "The Mound," but a hair or two better than "The Curse of Yig."  And, yes, palpably Lovecraftian.

The setup: in a manner not unlike that found in "The Picture in the House," our narrator finds himself needing to unexpectedly spend the night in a decrepit-looking house that he initially assumed to be deserted because the elderly and somewhat infirm occupant doesn't answer the door quick enough for his tastes.

This leads him to hear from the old man a tale about a son who returns from Paris with a wildly beautiful but obscurely disturbing wife who apparently was once big-time into the occult.  Eventually, they are visited by an artist friend, who really quite badly wants to have the wife model for a painting.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no (although you could make the argument that it's similar enough to "Pickman's Model" that it could be said to count via implication)

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes


Here, the "author" is billed as Z.B. Bishop!


"The Man of Stone"
(written with Hazel Heald 1932, published 1932)
  
S.T. Joshi says there is plenty of evidence that Lovecraft wrote the entirety of all five of the Hazel Heald stories, and while -- as I've stated before -- I've got no reason to not take him at his word, I have to say that this particular story simply doesn't read like Lovecraft to me.  The style feels like someone else's; the dialogue feels like someone else wrote it.  A few "!"s pop up here and there, but so they do in nine out of every ten Lovecraft pastiche ever written.

The story is about a couple of guys who go into the boonies trying to find a vanished sculptor friend.  They find some astonishingly lifelike sculptures, which turn out not be sculptures so much as petrified dogs and people and whatnot.  How did this happen?  Read the story and find out.

It's not a bad story, but is it Lovecraft?  Joshi says so, so it must be; but in my heart, it's a no.  Joshi also mentions that Hazel Heald maintained that Lovecraft's input on this story was less than it would later be on others; he sees no evidence of that in the text, but I think I lean toward Heald's camp.  I can't quite say why that is without delving into the micro side of the story; and that's well outside the purview of this blog, so that shall remain a topic for some other time.  In the meantime, I'm sticking with my gut.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes, but not to a compelling or interesting degree


I'll admit that I know little about it, but based on that cover, I'm not sure how a good a fit Wonder Stories "The Man of Stone" was.  Should have probably been Weird Tales, like always,


"The Horror in the Museum"
(written with Hazel Heald 1932, published 1933)

The second Lovecraft/Heald collaboration seems much more palpably Lovecraftian to me, although there are still places where it seems that some other writer's work is coming through for a sentence or paragraph or two at a time.

Nevertheless, I'd say the odds are strong that Lovecraft fans will enjoy this one greatly.  I mean, after all, the collection of revisions bears this story's name, so you've got to figure it's a highlight.  And so it is, although not to the extent "The Mound" is, for me.

The setup: a skeptical visitor to a wax museum composed of exceptionally lifelike and uniquely hideous sculptures is cajoled by the artist into spending the night.  After all, if there is no truth behind the wax figures, what can there possibly be to fear?

He'll find out.

It's not as clunky as I just made it sound, and there are several moments which come close to rivaling any of Lovecraft's scenes of horror.  I have to confess that I wish it didn't rely on the familiar Lovecraftian pantheon of cosmic horrors; by this point, it's beginning to seem less as if Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth are arcane secrets and more like every Tom, Dick, and Harry knows about them and is trying to bring them back.  There can't be enough copies of the Necronomicon to go around for all these loonies!

Still, if you've made this deep into Lovecraft's canon, then odds are you don't mind.  And neither do I, really; this is the result of mainlining all of his work in a relatively brief span of time.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes


Dig that Margaret Brundage cover!  Lovecraft got his name on the cover for this one, but that's only because "The Horror in the Museum" (which WAS published under Heald's name alone) appeared in the same issue as "The Dreams in the Witch-House"!  That makes this a hell of an issue for the Lovecraft aficionado.  Somebody buy me one!


"Winged Death"
(written with Hazel Heald 1932, published 1934)
  
Enjoyment of "Winged Death" likely hinges upon two buy-ins the reader is called upon to make: (1) not being so put off by the persistent racism of the narrator that the story sinks under its weight; and (2) acceptance of what may well be the daffiest revenge plot ever committed to paper.

As you already know my feelings on the former, I'll say only this much further: the story's "protagonist" is intended to be a complete shitbag.  So while the racism of the story is worrisome, I think there's plenty of room to feel the author(s?) passing judgment upon that mindset in some small measure.

As for the latter...?  Well, the story concerns a physician who has (he feels) been wronged by a colleague.  His reputation has been tarnished and his future career potentially lessened, and he intends to gain a measure of retribution by killing the man.  Does he plan to shoot him?  Strangle him?  Slit his throat?  Cut the brake line on his car?  None of the above.

He plans to send the man a box full of deadly flies.

This is silly.  But let's be honest: is it significantly sillier than Dr. No hiring somebody to drop a poisonous centipede into James Bond's hotel room, under the assumption that it will bite him and cause him to die?  No, not really.

Here's where it gets next-level silly: in order to prevent the targeted man from recognizing the breed of fly, the doctor genetically modifies them so as to alter their appearance.  And as if that weren't enough, he then dyes their wings blue so as to obfuscate their identity even further!

This plan, to put it mildly, is bonkers.  If you can't roll with that, then you need not even begin reading "Winged Death."  Here's my take on it: the protagonist is already cast in a suspect light, and we are not being asked to find him likable, sympathetic, or charismatic.  As I've said, he's a shitbag; what's more, he's a shitbag whose plans are nutso.  I was reminded mildly of the narrator of "The Tell-Tale Heart," who is also a bit of a loony; if you don't read the story with that in mind, then why bother?

Just so for "Winged Death."  And I found this one to be an absolute blast, personally.  It's one of the best stories in this collection thus far.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


Heald made the cover this time, albeit at the bottom of the roster.

"Out of the Aeons"
(written with Hazel Heald 1933, published 1935)

In which a mummy on display at a museum turns out to be perhaps less dead than its curators might have expected.

This story is palpably Lovecraftian in every way, and we apparently have letters from H.P. in which he says in no uncertain terms that he wrote the story, and that Heald supplied only the  core idea: a mummy with a living brain in a museum.

What a strange business all this ghostwriting must have been...!  In virtually every way, this reads as the work of Lovecraft, and I can't help but wonder why -- in so many instances, as we have seen -- he bothered to put so much of himself, so much evident effort and care, into stories that he knew were destined not to bear his name.  I'm not suggesting that he ought to have purposefully given his clients shoddy work; that would be wrong.  However, one can't help but wonder whether his career might not have benefited from his holding back the really good stuff entirely for himself.

It remains a  mystery.

As for "Out of the Aeons," I'm not sure I'd grant it really-good-stuff status; but it's creepy, and has a massive info-dump of mythos-lore within it.  And there's even a cameo from a character who ought to be familiar to devoted Lovecraft readers!

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes


image stolen from http://noldofinve.deviantart.com/art/Out-of-the-Aeons-409901935


"The Horror in the Burying-Ground"
(written with Hazel Heald, published posthumously 1937)

Whatever Hazel Heald paid Lovecraft for his "revision" services, she seems to have gotten a bargain; with the exception of "The Man of Stone," it is virtually impossible for me to see anything except Lovecraft in the stories he wrote for her.  This is something that is not necessarily true of all of Lovecraft's collaborations; his stories for/with Adolphe de Castro, for example, feel very much like collaborations at best, and like another author altogether at worst.

"The Horror in the Burying-Ground" was the final time Heald and Lovecraft worked together, and while it is not the best of their efforts, it is a solid horror tale that anticipates EC-style morality.  It's the story of an undertaker who has a disagreement with a local rustic over his sister; he engages in some unorthodox embalming procedures one day, and the rest you shall have to discover for yourself.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle yes/no:  no

Cthulhu mythos yes/no:  no


If you're like me, you wish somebody would gift you a complete collection of issues of Weird Tales.  If you're like me, you're almost certain to be disappointed in that regard.

"The Diary of Alonzo Typer"
(written with William Lumley 1935, published posthumously 1938)

A guy goes to an abandoned old house, there's a thing underneath making loud slithery noises, he can't leave, et cetera.  This isn't by any means a bad story, but it does read more than a bit like a Lovecraft parody.  The final line will make you laugh, and it probably wasn't supposed to, although it wouldn't entirely surprise me; something tells me that Lovecraft knew what he was doing with this one more than you might think.

According to Joshi, Lovecraft rewrote what was originally a nearly "illiterate" story by Lumley.  He did so gratis, hoping to encourage Lumley to keep writing.  Many of the concepts -- especially a few fictional names and places -- were Lumley's, but otherwise, the story is substantively Lovecraft's in every way.  It certainly reads as if that were the case.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  yes

By the way, this is the final entry in the "Primary Revisions" section, which likely means that the remaining hundred or so pages could be bumpy road.  But we're in it for the long haul, so let's get to it!


Weird Tales was really committed to the whole scantily-clad (or barely-clad...or unclad) woman thing, weren't they?  Bless their hearts.

"The Horror at Martin's Beach"
(written with Sonia H. Greene 1922, published as "The Invisible Monster" 1923)

The section of The Horror in the Museum devoted to what S.T. Joshi calls "Secondary Revisions" kicks off with "The Horror at Martin's Beach," a story which Lovecraft revised for his future wife Sonia H. Greene.  It's a fairly simple story: a group of fishermen attempt to reel in what seems to be a very large fish indeed.  If it is a fish...

It's a slight story, but an enjoyable one, and the prose sounds to my ears almost entirely like Lovecraft.  Presumably there is a good reason for this to be listed as a Secondary and not a Primary revision, but that reason is not immediately evident to me.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  not explicitly, but I think you could make an argument for it; I'll say "no"


 
"Ashes"
(written with C.M. Eddy, Jr. 1923, published 1924)

If you're looking for a dead giveaway that a story was not written by H.P. Lovecraft, a major part of the plot hinging on the narrator trying to save his beloved wife from near-certain doom has GOT to be good enough to serve.

A mad doctor has developed a solution that will instantly turn anything except glass into ashes.  This is a thoroughly weak story; it's not even as good as Lovecraft's juvenile stories "The Beast in the Cave" and "The Alchemist," which is saying something.  I see nothing whatsoever of his hand in this story, and my guess would be that he merely performed touch-ups of the proofreading variety.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


"Ashes" was published in the same issue of Weird Tales in which "The Rats in the Walls" appeared.

  
"The Ghost-Eater"
(written with C.M. Eddy, Jr. 1923, published 1924)

The word "eldritch" appears in this story, so you've got to figure Lovecraft had at least something to do with it.  It's about a traveler who gets waylaid by a storm and has to spend the night in an old house with somebody who may or may not be a werewolf.

I was reminded of both "The Picture in the House" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by elements of this story, but not to any significant degree; and not to this story's favor, either.  It's better than "Ashes," but it's mediocre at best.  Some of the prose does sound like Lovecraft, but the dialogue -- which is awful -- does not.  Unless this is the story that convinced Lovecraft to avoid writing dialogue wherever possible...

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


For the second consecutive issue, Harry Houdini got the cover; and for the second straight issue, a story by Eddy/Lovecraft appeared in the same issue as a proper Lovecraft tale (in this instance "The white Ape," a.k.a. "Facts Concerning The Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family").
 
"The Loved Dead"
(written with C.M. Eddy, Jr. 1923, published 1924)

The fact is, it's just not that easy to make a story about necrophilia seem appealing.  But doggone if Lovecraft (by way of Eddy) doesn't make a go of it in "The Loved Dead," which is about a guy who realizes at a fairly early age that he's just not happy unless there are dead people around.  He becomes an undertaker's assistant, goes to WWI, and eventually turns to a life of creating his own dead people.

When this story appeared in Weird Tales, it evidently caused authorities in Indiana to attempt to ban the issue.  It's not hard to see why; this is quite gruesome stuff by 1924 standards.

Unlike the first two Eddy stories we looked at, "The Loved Dead" does read to me like the work of Lovecraft.  It's somewhat in the vein of "Herbert West" and "The Outsider," though nowhere near as good as either.  It's not bad, though; in fact, I thought it was rather good.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


Lovecraft made the cover on this one!  Granted, it was under Harry Houdini's name; but still, better than not at all.  "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" is also known by the title "Under the Pyramids," by the way.  In addition to that and "The Loved Dead," this issue also contained "Hypnos," published under Lovecraft's own name.  Apparently an issue of that sold on eBay for a bit less than $1800 recently.  Yowza!

"Deaf, Dumb, and Blind"
(written with C.M. Eddy, Jr. 1924, published 1925)

There is a seed here that could have grown into an extremely effective story: a man rendered deaf, dumb, and blind by his soldiering during the war, sits in a room at the typewriter which is his only means of communication with the rest of the world.  Strange things begin happening, and he writes about them as they do.

Unfortunately, it never quite manages to come together, although it is effective at times.  Parts of the end remind me of the end of Stephen King's "1922," although King's approach is much more satisfactory.

Overall, however, I'd say there is enough here to serve as an argument that it's as much a product of Lovecraft as of Eddy.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no




"Two Black Bottles"
(written with Wilfred Blanch Talman 1926, published 1927)

A dude visits a church where his uncle was once the pastor, and finds that an old worker is holed up there with two peoples' souls in bottles.

Some of the writing marks this as Lovecraft's work, especially the preponderance of dialect.  It's not a bad story, but it's decidedly non-essential.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no




"The Trap"
(written with Henry S. Whitehead 1931, published 1932)

A student becomes trapped inside a mirror he finds in his teacher's home, and begins appearing to the teacher in his dreams; the two try to find a way to get him out of the mess.

Some (though by no means all) of the prose feels like Lovecraft's to me, but the story almost wholly does not.  This suggests that "The Trap" might be closer to being an actual collaboration than many of the other stories in this collection.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no; you could go either way, really, but for me it's a no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


Strange Tales evidently lasted for only seven issues.

"The Tree on the Hill"
(written by Duane W. Rimel 1934, published posthumously 1940)

A photographer snaps a shot of a tree and find out later that what he saw and what he photographed might not entirely match up.

Not bad, but a bit on the inconsequential side.  Doesn't seem to contain much Lovecraft, in my opinion.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  no

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


"The Disinterment"
(written with Duane W. Rimel 1935, published 1937)

A man who has contracted leprosy (though without exhibiting any of its symptoms) has a doctor friend who concocts a scheme to fake his death and allow him to begin a new life somewhere else where, like, people won't be so judgmental about his being a leper and stuff.  Will there be a plot twist?  Rely on it.

Says Joshi:

Rimel maintains that Lovecraft's revisions in the story were very light, and letters by Lovecraft unearthed by Murray and myself appear to confirm that claim.

Be that as it may, this story reads very much like Lovecraft to me.  It's a very solid piece of work that has several notably Lovecraftian touches: scenes of imaginative horror; a conflicted relationship between two men; and blatantly racist undertones.  It's entirely possible that Rimel was merely a Lovecraft fan who was teaching himself to write by imitating someone whose work he enjoyed; if so, that would certainly account for Joshi's comments above.

Who can say for sure?  I can't; but I can follow my instincts, which say this is as least as much Lovecraft as Rimel.  Good stuff.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


This January 1937 issue of Weird Tales contained both "The Disinterment" and "The Thing on the Doorstep."  Lovecraft died in March of 1937, making this the final publication of his work in his lifetime.

" "Till A' the Seas" "
(written with R.H. Barlow 1935, published 1935)

Robert H. Barlow was a friend and frequent correspondent of both Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and they were close enough that Lovecraft named Barlow his literary executor in his will.  Barlow was apparently forced out of the Lovecraft business by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, and while I'm sure there's much more to all of this, now is probably not the time to attempt an exploration of it, whatever it may be.

" "Till A' the Seas" " (the quote comes from a Robert Burns poem called "A Red, Red Rose") is a moving and apocalyptic story that literally tells the tale of mankind's ultimate extinction.  S.T. Joshi says that there is an extant typescript of Barlow's original draft that shows Lovecraft's "exhaustive revisions" in pen.  The tale does not, to me, feel entirely like Lovecraft, but he is certainly there.  My gut tells me that this story is simply a more successful collaboration between Lovecraft and Barlow than he often experienced with writers.  I also suspect Barlow was an inherently better writer than most of those others, which explains why this is a fundamentally good story.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  yes

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no


Lovecraft and Barlow


"The Night Ocean"
(written with R.H. Barlow 1936, published 1936)

"The work was probably largely Barlow's, although with heavy revisions and additions by Lovecraft at random points," says Joshi of this tale in which a vacationer is disturbed by reports of people who have drowned at the beach nearby.  Might there be more to this than accident?  Well, it's possible.

This is a solid story that both does and doesn't strike me as Lovecraftian.  Something supernatural might be happening, and if you're inclined to do so you can certainly read it that way.  However, the bulk of the story's twenty or so pages are spent in plotless contemplation.  That's not a negative, though; and in fact, it put me in mind of some of Lovecraft's early prose-poem-style pieces about dreams.  In this case, however, I think that stuff is coming from Barlow; my guess is that Lovecraft might have added a grace note here and there, but that his primary role was to merely steer Barlow in the direction he was already heading in.

The Complete Fiction y/n:  I'm going to say yes, even though I think this is much more a Barlow story than a Lovecraft story; my decision is based mostly on how much I like the story, because given its quality I think it would be better to err on the side of caution and simply bill it as being "by R.H. Barlow and H.P. Lovecraft."

dream cycle y/n:  no

Cthulhu mythos y/n:  no, although if you wanted to do so, you could connect the story to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (though there is nothing explicit to allow you to do so)


You'll enjoy Mr. Barlow...and he'll enjoy you.

And with that, we have reached the conclusion of The Horror in the Museum, which means we have now discussed all of H.P. Lovecraft's fiction.

Right...?

Sadly, no.  It came to my attention during the writing of this post that there were still a small handful of Lovecraft stories (some of them spurious in terms of whether they actually count as Lovecraft or not) that had not made it into any of the books thus far discussed.  For the sake of mentioning them all, I'm going to now make a list of everything that's left over, along with explanatory notes.  I've read none of these; I'll get around to it, but probably not until the next post in my Lovecraft series.  If you've a mind to, you can read many of these stories online here.


  • "The Battle That Ended the Century" (written with R.H. Barlow):  This brief comedic story was written by H.P. and R.H. as a spoof on various of their colleagues.  There is a two-volume set edited and annotated by Joshi that collects all -- one can hope it's all, at least -- of Lovecraft's collaborative works: the volumes are The Crawling Chaos and Others: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Volume One and Medusa's Coil: The Annotated Revisions and Collaborations of H.P. Lovecraft, Volume Two.  "The Battle That Ended the Century" is in Vol. 2.  Have I ordered copies of both volumes so that I can include them in the third post in this series?  Yes I have.
  • "Bothon" (written by Henry S. Whitehead): According to Joshi's Lovecraft encyclopedia this story seemingly contains no prose by Lovecraft, but may have been based on a detailed synopsis he wrote. One scholar has speculated that Derleth wrote it based on Lovecraft's synopsis, and then published it under Whiteheads's name. But basically, nobody knows.  I'm not sure how to find it in book form, but it can apparently be read here.
  • "The Cancer of Superstition" (fragment, with C.M. Eddy's collaboration): This was something C.M. Eddy and Lovecraft were ghostwriting for Harry Houdini, but they did not finish it because Houdini died. I dug a little further and found that this was not fictional (as it was listed when I first heard mention of it -- hence its inclusion here); it was intended to be a nonfictional polemic by "Houdini" against superstition. Lovecraft's notes on the project are in Vol. 3 of a five-volume set compiling Lovecraft's essays.  We'll talk more about those volumes in the third post on my Lovecraft series.
  • "The Challenge from Beyond" (written with C.L Moore, A. Merritt, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long):  This round-robin story can be found in Medusa's Coil.
  • "Collapsing Cosmoses" (written with R.H. Barlow):  A brief story fragment in which the two authors traded back and forth by paragraphs.  It's in Medusa's Coil.
  • "Four O'Clock" (written by Sonia H. Greene):  At one point, this story was thought to have been worked on by Lovecraft, but later scholarship has seemingly revealed that not to be true.  Joshi included it in the appendix of Medusa's Coil just for good measure, though.
  • "The Haunted House":  This piece of juvenile fiction is known to have been written by Lovecraft, but no copy is known to exist.
  • "The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast" (written with R.H. Barlow):  I know nothing about this, but it's in the increasingly-desirable Medusa's Coil.
  • "The Little Glass Bottle":  This piece of juvenile fiction can be found in a 2011 Barnes & Noble edition of The Complete Fiction.  Why Knickberocker Classics omitted it from their edition is a mystery to me.  I found a cheap used copy of the B&N edition, though, so it's on the way.  Hooray for obsessiveness!
  • "The Mystery of the Grave-Yard":  More juvenilia, and again available in the B&N Complete Fiction.
  • "The Mystery of Murdon Grange":  Written around the same time as "Polaris," this story was never published and is nonextant.  Maybe it'll turn up someday; that'll mean I have to buy yet another edition of the Complete Fiction, but so be it.
  • "The Noble Eavesdropper":  Another nonextant piece of juvenilia.
  • "The Picture":  Ditto.
  • "Satan's Servants" (written by Robert Bloch story):  Joshi says that Lovecraft gave Bloch advice on it, but does not appear to have actually written any of it.  It was published (under Bloch's byline) in an Arkham collection of Lovecraft ephemera, Something About Cats and Other Pieces.  If you feel like shelling out about $100 you can get a secondhand copy of that.  Otherwise, you are stuck trying to find it in one of two magazine appearances, or in a French collection of Bloch stories.  Here's a bibliographic entry on the subject.
  • "The Secret of the Grave":  More nonextant juvenilia.
  • "The Secret Cave or John Lees Adventure":  More juvenilia, but this is extant and can be found in the Barnes & Noble Complete Fiction.
  • "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (discarded draft):  Wha...?!?  I've got no clue how different this draft is, but when I get my B&N Complete Fiction, I will find out.
  • "The Slaying of the Monster" (written with R.H. Barlow):  Ditto my comments on "The Hoard of the Wizard-Beast."  I really enjoyed the two Barlow stories, so I'm looking forward to reading more from him and Lovecraft.
  • "The Sorcery of Aphlar" (written by Duane W. Rimel): In his encyclopedia, Joshi mentions that Lovecraft revised two stories for Rimel ("The Tree on the Hill" and "The Distinterment") but does not mention this story. It IS, however, referred to in an appendix of Medusa's Coil, which I assume means that it was once thought to have had Lovecraft's involvement, but has been taken out as the result of additional scholarly findings.
And that, perhaps, is that.  
  
It isn't the end of this particular post, however, because I want to cover a fourth and final Del Rey book:
  
  

  
  
Here's the deal with August Derleth: he's a controversial figure within Lovecraft fandom.  I don't know all the ins and outs of this, and even if I did, this wouldn't be the place for it.  But I can deliver a short version of the story as I understand it.
  
The good: without August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, the odds are decent that Lovecraft's name would not be as well-known today as it is.  Both of them were colleagues and friends of Lovecraft's, and after his death they tried as hard as they could to convince a publisher -- any publisher -- to issue a collection of his stories.  They had no luck.  Their determination was such that they founded their own publishing company, Arkham House, and published Lovecraft themselves.  As it turned out, that was about all it took to turn the name "Lovecraft" into a well-respected (and very marketable) one.  Arkham House is still active to this day, and their influence has stretched far beyond merely being the first publishers of Lovecraft books: for example, they also published Dark Carnival, the first book of stories by Ray Bradbury.
  
When you can lay claim to having published the first collections by both Lovecraft and Bradbury, you've staked a powerful claim to being considered to be A Big Fucking Deal.
  
There are other writers, including Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley (yes, I'm stealing this from Wikipedia), who acknowledge Derleth as an important force in their careers, and former Stephen King associate Kirby McCauley has cited Arkham House's style of book as a primary inspiration behind his own collection, Dark Forces.  That collection of original works included the first appearance of King's "The Mist," by the way.
  
The bad: Derleth was apparently a bit of a prick, and it's been said that he and Wandrei forced R.H. Barlow away from being associated with Lovecraft's legacy despite Lovecraft having named him as his literary executor.  (At some point, Derleth apparently seized control of that mantle; the specifics of how and when that happened are unknown to me.)  Barlow committed suicide in 1951; I'm not necessarily intimating that these things are related, but it would naive to automatically assume they were unrelated.  At least, I'm sure it didn't help.
  
Lovecraft scholars also balk at the fact that it was Derleth who coined the term "Cthulhu mythos," which is something Lovecraft himself never said; he preferred the term "Yog-Sothothery," but in this matter I would say that Derleth's is by far preferable.
  
More seriously, perhaps, Derleth marketed and published a number of stories as being "by H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth."  These were "posthumous collaborations" (Derleth's term) that had their genesis in Lovecraft's commonplace book,  In other words, the ideas may have originated with Lovecraft, but the writing was (in most cases, at least, or so I suspect) wholly Derleth's.  Therefore, Derleth was strip-mining Lovecraft's notes and scraps in order to make a profit for himself by marketing them under Lovecraft's name.
  
I'm unsure how I feel about this.  On the one hand, as I've indicated, I've read a few things about Derleth which make me think me might not necessarily have been the world's nicest guy.  On the other hand, he was unquestionably a friend and colleague of Lovecraft's; he made it a personal crusade to ensure that Lovecraft's name and work would not be forgotten.  It would be a real shame to try to minimize or cheapen that aspect of Derleth's role in the Lovecraft story.  And given the sheer passion that Derleth showed for Lovecraft's work, I think it would be a mistake to assume that his motives in marketing those "posthumous collaborations" was entirely ego-centric and/or profit-driven.  Even if they were, I feel a bit as if Derleth had earned that right; but I'm by no means going to assume that that was what Derleth was up to.
  
In Danse Macabre, Stephen King refers to Derleth as "an editor of pure genius," but Derleth was also a prolific writer in his own right.  He published plenty of fiction that had nothing to do with Lovecraft whatsoever, both before and after his "posthumous collaborations."  In other words, this wasn't some no-account schmo who seized upon an opportunity to exploit somebody else's good name; this was a noted author who took some leftover ideas never explored by one of his friends and colleagues, and tried to see if he could do something interesting with them.  Was this done for money?  Was it done to honor a departed friend?  I have no idea.  And that's why I think it's best to let the end results speak for themselves.  That won't keep me from forming an opinion on the matter, of course, and I suspect that as this section of the post develops, I'll find myself coming down on one side or the other.
  
However, I want to do so with an open mind.  If the stories are good, I'll benefit from that stance; if they aren't, then the matter will resolve itself.
  
Derleth apparently sold a grand total of sixteen stories under the "Lovecraft/Derleth" byline.  All of them except one are represented here; the sixteenth, The Lurker at the Threshold, was short-novel length and was not included in this collection.  I've ordered a copy of it, though, and will likely read it so I can cover it in some other post during this series.
  
So, with all that said, let's turn our attentions to the stories.
  
"The Survivor"
(Weird Tales, July 1954)
  
This page quotes S.T. Joshi's H.P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography as saying that this story "was based on a comparatively lengthy plot sketch plus random notes for the story jotted down by Lovecraft in 1934."  In other words, relatively speaking, this one gets close to being genuine Lovecraft in terms of the story, if not the writing itself.
  
Thing is, Derleth does a very passable job of sounding at least somewhat like Lovecraft.  If you had, two months ago, handed me copies of this and "The Last Test" and asked me which one was Lovecraft and which was not, I'd have picked this one with confidence.  (Unless I assumed you were trying to trick me; but let's not bring reverse psychology into an otherwise good conversation.)
  
The story is about a man who takes up residence in a creepy old house because he is intrigued by it.  Once there, he begins researching mysteries about its recently-deceased former owner and occupant; the more he investigates them, the deeper the mysteries get.  Will he eventually find a bunch of books with titles like Unaussprechlichen Kulten?  Brother, you know it.
  
I enjoyed this story.  It's fairly well-written (although individual sentences would strongly dispute my claim), and it's definitely Lovecraftian.  It could easily have been titled "The House on Benefit Street," and that phrase does indeed appear within the story; interestingly, the same title has been mentioned (in Stephen King Goes to the Movies) by Stephen King as the prospective title for a yet-to-be-written story that will further and clarify the relationship between Carol Gerber and Raymond Feigler that is mentioned in Hearts In Atlantis.  Whether King had this Derleth/Lovecraft story in mind in any way is unclear; it seems likely that he did not.
  
  
Oddly, Lovecraft and Derleth did not make the cover for "The Survivor" in its July 1954 Weird Tales publication.  By the way, in looking for the cover to that magazine (the penultimate Weird Tales), I learned that the cover art for the issue had also been used for the January 1944 issue.  I guess that's the sort of thing you can get away with right before your magazine goes under.

  
"Wentworth's Day"
(The Survivor and Others, 1957)

In casting my net around the Internet for information about this story's origins, I had very little success; by which I mean I had no success.  I didn't look that hard, to be fair; it's a topic that interests me, but I'm not motivated to scour Google in search of any little scrap of info I can find.  It ain't that deep, y'all.

I did find several negative opinions about the story, though, and based on that and on my general reaction to "The Survivor," I'm beginning to think that I will almost certainly end up as a bit of a minority-report sort of guy as regard the Derleth/Lovecraft "collaborations."  What I mean to say is, I thought "Wentworth's Day" was a hoot.

It's about a salesman who delivers a stove to somebody near Dunwich -- you remember Dunwich, surely? -- and then gets beset by a rough storm.  In search of shelter from his car being flooded, he stops by an old house, where the solitary old man tells him that it's Wentworth's Day.  What's that mean?  Well, a feller name of Wentworth loaned him $5000 and gave him precisely five years to pay up on it.  This is the final day of that five years; when he heard the salesman's knock on the door, he thought it might be him.

More than that, I will not say.

I couldn't find any info about what, if any, hand Lovecraft had in this story; and that's fine, because my guess is it was very minimal indeed.  The setting and some of the developments are certainly Lovecraftian, though, and even if one assumes -- as I do -- that this story is 99% the invention of August Derleth, that doesn't mean that it's worthless.  It's a good "weird tale" that will make you think of both Lovecraft and EC, and that's good enough for me.

By the way, one sure sign that Lovecraft didn't write this in any way: the salesman drives a car.  Is there one single Lovecraft story with an automobile in it?  I can't think of one, but if I'm wrong, correct me in the comments.

If you've a mind to, you can go here and read a graphic adaptation that appeared in the 1966 paperback Christopher Lee's Treasury of Terror.  It's okay, but the prose version is better.


"Wentworth's Day" debuted in this 1957 Arkham House collection, alongside many of the other stories we will be discussing.

"The Peabody Heritage"
(The Survivor and Others, 1957)

A guy inherits his family's mansion, and goes to live it while repairs are being undertaken.  Turns out...?  Witchcraft, sacrifices, et cetera.

Three stories in, and I'm enjoying this book.  As with "Wentworth's Day," I see very little of Lovecraft in "The Peabody Heritage."  However, I do see a capable Lovecraft pastiche/homage.

We haven't talked about this much yet during the course of the Considering Lovecraft series of posts, but there is a HUGE body of Lovecraftian fiction that was not written by Lovecraft.  He encouraged contemporaries such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, and so forth to use elements of his mythos, so the process began early, and it seemingly never ceased.  Get on Amazon and start looking for anthologies inspired by Lovecraft.  Feller, if'n you was to buy 'em all and sink 'em into the ocean, they'd choke a whale if'n a whale was to swaller 'em.  Apologies for the dialect; seemed like the thing to do.

Bottom line is that the number of intentionally Lovecraftian stories must outnumber the canon of actually-written-by-Lovecraft stories by a very powerful number.  I already had two of those collections, and in the course of beefing up my Lovecraft library (as writing these posts has inspired me to do), I've already picked up a handful more.

We'll get to them eventually, but the point I wanted to make was this: the Lovecraftian tale is literally a subgenre unto itself.  It could not be more clear to me after reading three stories from Derleth that he was working within that subgenre (and perhaps helping to solidify it, if not create it outright).  It seems likely that the only reason anyone balked at him doing so is that he put Lovecraft's name alongside his own for a select group of stories.  If he'd simply published them as having been inspired by Lovecraft, I don't know that there'd be any controversy over these tales.

In the case of "The Peabody Heritage," I've been unable to find any specifics as to the degree to which it was derived from specific writings of Lovecraft.  As with "Wentworth's Tale," I assume it was very minimal.  But, again, that didn't prohibit me from enjoying the story.


August Derleth

"The Gable Window"
(Saturn, May 1957)

Yet another case of a dude going to live in a deceased ancestor's house and finding creepy things.  This time, it's a glass from Leng that shows other dimensions.

My tolerance for this one was fairly slim.  I mean, good lord, how many times can I read about a guy discovering a library of unsavory books, and then hear him list their names off as though the same thing had never happened before?  Lovecraft himself overused that device, and while I understand the urge to toss a scene like that in when writing a pastiche of his work, I don't support it once you've done it more than once.  Derleth has now done it more than once.

Beyond that, he begins to inject a Christian subtext -- one might even refer to it as text -- into his versions of the mythos.

That's a complicated topic.  Lovecraft, of course, was an atheist; and therefore, any specifically Christian impositions upon his work seem to me to be in very poor taste.  Same would hold true of other religions, too; Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, fucking Scientology, whatever.  You might reasonably make the claim that Lovecraft's fiction was devoted to establishing a mythology freed from religion, so to turn around and connect it to any religion is perhaps to be considered an attack on Lovecraft's work.

I believe that to be true, and yet, I'm conflicted.  After all, there were occasional references to the major world religions in Lovecraft's work; it's not as if he were attempting to create an alternative Earth in which none of that existed.  That being the case, is it not reasonable to assume that within the universe created by Lovecraft, there would be interesting stories to tell in which one's Christian worldview was confronted by knowledge of Cthulhu?  I think that there is a lot of potential there.

Derleth isn't doing any of that in this story.  He's also not taking the religious content of the story in what seems like too drastic a direction; he's merely introducing it, and I think the reader is free to make of it whatever one wishes to make.

I'm curious to see if this is a trend that continues further into the collection.  I'd already seen references by Lovecraft fans to the inappropriate Christianity of Derleth's mythos stories; perhaps this applies only to mythos stories published under his solo credit.  We shall see, I suppose.


Once again, Derleth and Lovecraft couldn't even get their name on the cover.  The implication behind some of the criticisms of Derleth putting Lovecraft's name on these stories is that he only did so for the money.  But if the stories weren't even getting their names on magazine covers, how much money could they possibly have brought in?


"The Ancestor"
(The Survivor and Others, 1957)

A man goes to work for his cousin, a doctor conducting experiments in retrieving forgotten memories (including race memories).

A stylistic quirk bears mention: five stories deep, a third of the way through the book, and each story has ended by having several sentences italicized for shock-effect.  I can't recall offhand whether any of Lovecraft's stories ended in that manner, but if they did, there were not many of them.  Derleth seems perhaps to have felt that this was a key component of Lovecraft's style.  Ridiculous!

With "The Ancestor," I feel my resistance to Derleth beginning to steepen.  I'll be curious to track this feeling as it progresses or regresses.


"The Shadow Out of Space"
(The Survivor and Others, 1957)

The title suggests a mashup of "The Colour Out of Space" and "The Shadow Out of Time," but the actuality presents merely a harmless retread of certain aspects of the former.  A doctor receives into his care a man who claims to have been mentally displaced for a period of years, his consciousness residing during that time with a race of alien "rugose cones."

The only thing of interest in this story is a statement saying that Christianity derives from the interpretation of ancient humans of a struggle between two factions of cosmic entities.  It's not a primary focus of the story, but it suggests that Derleth's intent was to establish the presence of human religions as misapprehensions of the truth.  From an atheist-storytelling viewpoint, that seems perfectly acceptable; it's certainly not a perversion of Lovecraft's philosophies, which is what seemed to potentially be in the cards when I read "The Gable Window."

I'd also like to call your attention to one bit of shoddy writing:

Only yesterday, he said -- a time which seemed infinitely long ago, for the length of the days and nights was equivalent to a week on Earth -- one of the minds had returned from Mars and reported that their planet was farther along the way toward death than even their own star, and thus one more prospective haven had been lost.

Now, correct me if I've somehow misread this, but is Derleth saying that on this alien world a day is roughly equivalent to an Earth week?  I think he might be saying that daytime equals a week, and nighttime equals another week; so let's be liberal and assume that a full day on this planet equals two Earth weeks.  I do not believe there is any argument for declaring a period of two weeks to seem like it is "infinitely long."  Not even if you're conducting a viewing of the complete filmography of Adam Sandler on a repeating loop would two weeks seem to be infinitely long.

This is three consecutive Derleth stories that have left me cold.  I'm still mostly not offended by them the way some Lovecraft fans seem to be; but I'm also quickly losing my enthusiasm.


"The Lamp of Alhazred"
(The Survivor and Others, 1957)

A writer named Ward Phillips -- who is plainly intended to be read as being H.P. Lovecraft -- obtains a lamp once owned by an Arab named Alhazred.  When he uses it, it casts scenes of spectacular vistas, of which the writer writes.

Apparently, some descriptive moments of this story were taken from a letter (of November 18, 1936) sent by Lovecraft to Derleth.  Overall, it reads as a loving tribute to a deceased friend.  However, its implication -- albeit fictional -- that many of Lovecraft's ideas came from a supernatural lamp is somewhat distasteful.  I didn't hate this story, but by the time it was over, I didn't like it much, either.

The good news?  The climactic italicized sentences stopped several stories ago.


"The Shuttered Room"
(The Shuttered Room and Other Pieces, 1959)

This story serves as a quasi-sequel to both "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," and is woefully inferior to both.  It's about a Whateley who -- like few Whateleys before him -- has left Dunwich and gone into the world to obtain some learnin'.  After his grandfather's death, he inherits the old man's house, and goes to it for a visit.  In so doing, he unwittingly sets free a creature that might reasonably be called "the second Dunwich horror," a toadlike creature that is, improbably, also a descendant of Innsmouth's peculiar families.

The story is not without its merits, but I found myself quite exasperated by it.  A Lovecraftian pastiche is one thing, and a Lovecraftian mythos story is another thing; but a story that knowingly treads on the very ground established by Lovecraft is another thing altogether, and if you're going to go down that route you had better have a damned good reason for doing it.

"The Shuttered Room" does not.  As such, I could not help but wonder why I was reading the story.  It's merely a hollow imitation; it has no spark, no vitality of its own.  It isn't bad; but, owing to its singular lifelessness, it is relentlessly mediocre.  I can imagine impressionable readers enjoying it quite a lot (adolescents, for example); I can also imagine someone who was unfamiliar with the stories that spawned it being entertained.  Anyone with a power of discernment and a familiarity with Lovecraft, however, is apt to be unimpressed.

And yes: the concluding riot of italics returns for this one.  Boy, does it.


I give a thumbs-up to any book whose co-author is Divers Hands.


"The Fisherman of Falcon Point"
(The Shuttered Room & Other Pieces, 1959)

I quote S.T. Joshi from H.P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography: "In most cases, the stories" [comprising the so-called posthumous collaborations between Derleth and Lovecraft] "were based on one or more ideas noted in Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book; for example, 'The Fisherman of Falcon Point' was based on this entry: 'Fisherman casts his net into the sea by moonlight—what he finds.'  Plotting, description, dialogue, characterization, and other elements were entirely by Derleth."

"The Fisherman of Falcon Point" is a very short story, and describing it more fully than Joshi does above would be pointless.  It's a decent little story, and finds Derleth seemingly trying to replicate the deliberately-antiquarian style of Lovecraft's early tales.  It has mentions of Innsmouth, and I think that without them, the story would be even better.

As is, it's okay.


"Witches' Hollow"
(Dark Mind, Dark Heart, 1962)

A teacher becomes interested in a student who seems both too large and too smart for his age, and investigates his family.  He ends up consulting a copy of the Necronomicon and gaining a professor's assistance.

In the early going, I was afraid this story was going to turn out to be merely a blatant ripoff of "The Dunwich Horror."  Luckily, that didn't happen.  It's one of the better stories in the collection thus far, though that assertion seemingly means less with each passing tale.


A new horror story by H.P. Lovecraft?  Nosir.  That's simply incorrect, and at worst, it's an outright lie.


"The Shadow in the Attic"
(Over the Edge, 1964)

A woman's naked breast appears in this story.  Additionally, the narrator has a female companion with whom he has evidently had pre-marital sexual relations.

I've been living in Lovecraft country fairly consistently for the past month, and the tame-by-2015-standards (or even by 1964 standards) sexual content seemed positively shocking to my sensibilities.  It's surprising to have a woman even appear in a Lovecraft story; for one to be naked in bed with a Lovecraftian narrator seems almost pornographic.  I'm reminded a bit of issue #5 Alan Moore's Providence, in which a naked old witch appears; it is, intentionally, extremely provocative and disturbing.  To some extent, it was the effective horror of that particular issue that kicked my exploration of Lovecraft into overdrive; I've been there ever since, and in all that time, "The Shadow in the Attic" is the only prose that has ventured into the vicinity of sexuality.  (Two Lovecraft film adaptations -- The Dunwich Horror and Reanimator -- also swam in those waters, with moderate success.)

There is, of course, a great deal that could and should be said about Lovecraft and sex.  This is not the venue for it; perhaps when a fuller exploration of Moore's Lovecraftian fiction happens for this blog.

In any case, "The Shadow in the Attic" is yet another story in which somebody ends up living in the creepy old house of a deceased ancestor.

Dead horse = beaten.  Or maybe not quite dead; this story does manage to produce a few mildly effective moments.  Overall, though, it is quite poor.  It's the worst prose of the collection thus far, and suggests that by 1964, Derleth was well beyond his prime as a writer.  Or maybe this story represents him having a bad day at work; I can't say for sure.

All I know is that it does not work.


"The Dark Brotherhood"
(Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces, 1966)

A man and a female friend are out walking one night when they see and begin a conversation with a man in a cape.  The man looks a lot like Edgar Allan Poe.  So do his six "brothers."  The man has a seance with them, in which they show him visions of the aliens from "The Shadow Out of time."  Later, they try to clone the woman, but the man burns their house down.

This story is really quite nuts, so much so that I found myself kind of digging it for the majority of its length.  However, it falls apart by the end.

I'd love to know what, if any, of this was inspired directly by some scrap of Lovecraft's writing.  Apart from the fact that the narrator is a character reminiscent of Lovecraft himself, I see no H.P.L. in this story whatsoever.



 

"The Horror from the Middle Span"
(Travellers by Night, 1967)

God almighty.

YET ANOTHER story involving a narrator taking possession of an ancestor's home.  In Dunwich, of course.  Why the residents of Dunwich do not simply shoot any new arrival in town dead upon sight is a mystery to me.

I have to confess that I only skimmed this story.  My patience has given out almost entirely.  From what I did read, it appears that not only is the story itself uninvolving, but that it comes to a sudden and unsatisfying ending.





"Innsmouth Clay"
(Dark Things, 1971)

A man's friend disappears in Innsmouth, last seen swimming away into the ocean.  This story is such a rip-off that it features the Innsmouth-ian trope of a drunk old man telling a story he ought not to tell.

Lame.




"The Watchers Out of Time"
(The Watchers Out of Time, 1974)

The final story in the collection, it was unfinished at the time of August Derleth's 1971 death.  This did not stop his daughter, April Derleth, from slapping its name onto a collection, claiming that it had been written by "H.P. Lovecraft and August Derleth," and wringing one final drop from the stone.

In case you were wondering, yes, the story DOES include a protagonist who goes to live in a deceased relative's house.  In case you're not keeping count, let me sum 'em up for you: seven of this collection's fifteen stories include that plot device.  (In one case, "The Survivor," it's not a relative's house; but I'm still counting it.

I was ready to be done with Derleth, and so I only skimmed this one; by which I mean I glance at the first and last sentence on each page.  I saw nothing to indicate that I should have been more generous in my devotions.

And so, with that, we bring to an end our exploration of The Watchers Out of Time and the rape of Lovecraft's name by August Derleth.  Is that too harsh?  I don't think it is.  Remember, I went into this book with an open mind; hell, I wanted to like it.  And I did like the first three stories, but beyond that, I found only sameness and hucksterism.

The problem isn't that Derleth put Lovecraft's name to inappropriate use (though I think that would be a fair assessment); it's that he did nothing interesting with the opportunity.  Lord knows there's nothing wrong with paying homage to a writer's work, but I feel it is imperative that if one is going to do so, one bring something of oneself to the table.  How else can you make it worth reading?  Without that, it seems to me that all you are doing is trying to speak in a dead man's voice.

Shouldn't you feel obliged to have something interesting to say?

*****
  
Overall, I've found the writing of this post to be an instructive one.  I began it with a quasi-existential pondering of the nature of memory and fear, and then spent quite a bit of time wrestling with the notion of what made some stories definitively Lovecraft and others moderately Lovecraft and yet others scarcely Lovecraft at all.  Reading the book of Derleth stories reinforced for me the notion that Lovecraft did have a distinctive voice, and that while it certainly could be imitated, it was not necessarily easy to do so and keep it going for an extended period of time.

With that in mind, I think it serves to make the most Lovecraft-intensive of the collaborative stories seem to be even more genuine than they might have already.  And indeed, of the Derleth stories, I'd be willing to tentatively suggest that "The Survivor" might best be considered to have been co-authored by Lovecraft.  The writing is Derleth's, but the plot does indeed contain what seems to me to be a quintessentially Lovecraftian spark.  It's present to a much smaller degree in two other Derleth stories, and missing wholly from the remaining twelve.

All of which means that something like "The Mound" increases in stature as a result.  And that means that something like "The Rats in the Walls" increases even farther as a result.

Reading the substandard The Watchers Out of Time was sort of a drag, but if its end result was making the actual body of Lovecradft stories seem richer, then it was worth doing.

This series of posts Considering Lovecraft will resume at some point relatively soon.  The third post in the series is going to examine the small library of Lovecraft-centric books that I purchased while this H.P.L. binge was occurring.  I've read none of them, and at this point I'm not immediately sure when I actually will read them; but I think it would be worth posting a few images of them and mentioning them, so that anyone who is interested in them and is reading along with my blog will at least know about them.  My plan is to tackle one of theme very once in a while, and then to either update the post, or simply put my reviews in the comments section; we'll see.

The fourth post will be similar to that, but it will cover collections of Lovecraft pastiches and homages, whereas the third post will specifically be about Lovecraft and his work.  As with that one, I've read none of these, but plan to; and will update in the same fashion.  I'd also like to do posts on both Lovecraftian movies and the Lovecraftian comics of Alan Moore, but I'm not even vaguely prepared to do so at this time, so those will be topics for the future.

All of which is to say that this blog will continue to explore Lovecraft off and on for the foreseeable future.

You'll probably see #s 3 and 4 this week at some point, but then, after that, we'll be returning to actual posts about Stephen King's work.  He's got a new book out tomorrow -- The Bazaar of Bad Dreams -- and I plan to write a general-reaction-to-each-story type of post about it, not dissimilar to the sort of thing I've been doing in the first two Lovecraft posts.

After that, the time has come for me to return to Revival and say something in-depth about it.  Then, I owe this blog a Finders Keepers post.  I'd also like to get a few more entries in my chronological-short-story series under my belt.  So many posts to write!  It's all in the works, so stay tuned, and maybe some it will be to your liking.

See you soon!

17 comments:

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i6FkDC5Qaxg

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    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QVSaWYMrhRY

      I haven't listened to either one yet, but I assume they are great!

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  2. The white apes of Mars: https://goo.gl/R7GRsl

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  3. All in all this post is a good example of how much catching up I got to do.

    I own a copy of those Derleth stories. While it's good to see the guy being treated more fairly, your overview seems to justify his collection of more of a "skip it" affair.

    Still, it's a shame if that's all he wrote, I wonder if he did any other.

    Other than that, there are those four memories.

    I'm of two simultaneous reactions to all the above. The first is to marvel not only that you claim to remember thee experiences, but also how oddly at least one of them put me in mind of an early scene from the movie "Signs". Tell me, how must it have been to watch "that" early scene with those memories in mind?!

    The second reaction is more one of curiosity. "Have you seen the Yellow Sign?"

    ...Okay, all kidding aside, that just sounds both effed up and somehow cool at the same time. What it may or may not say about memory I don't know, although if I had to hazard a guess, it "might" (and that's a big IF) posit some kind of proof of the idea of half-remembered racial memories and the collective unconscious.

    It would be an extreme rarity for anyone to go as all out you claim to have by the idea of someone stalking around the house. It could be that somehow these trace memories (all of which, perhaps center around a very primitive idea of self-defense) were triggered at various times (perhaps leaving trace images that manifested in semi-visual form at various times?)

    ...Okay, I pretty much winged that last one. I have no idea what to say to any of that really, except that its all darn well interesting.

    On a final note, here's some Lovecraft homages Neil Gaiman wrote. One called "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar":

    http://lovecraftzine.com/2013/08/14/shoggoths-old-peculiar-read-by-neil-gaiman/

    And two pieces (one a Sherlock Holmes pastiche called "A Study in Emerald) from his official website:

    http://www.neilgaiman.com/Cool_Stuff/Short_Stories

    ChrisC


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    1. "Still, it's a shame if that's all he wrote, I wonder if he did any other." -- I'm no expert on Derleth (and will never aspire to be), but I know he wrote a goodish amount of Cthlhu-mythos fiction that he did not try to present as being collaborations with Lovecraft. It's possible some of those are better; if he put more of himself into them and did not try so hard to ape Lovecraft, they might be okay. If so, I doubt I'll ever find out for sure.

      "Tell me, how must it have been to watch "that" early scene with those memories in mind?!" -- I don't think I connected the two things at all, to be honest. Which seems a bit surprising in retrospect, now that you mention it. With "Signs," however, what I primarily remember is that (A) the scene did indeed scare me and (B) it reminded me of a similar scene in "E.T." (which, when I was a child, also scared me big-time).

      "some kind of proof of the idea of half-remembered racial memories and the collective unconscious" -- That makes as much sense to me as anything else I can think of.

      I think I've got "Shoggotth's Old Peculiar" in a collection! The title is immediately familiar to me. I've never read it, though; a story for another day.

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  4. Nice incorporation of the Bazaar artwork. Do you change that up often? I've only been following for a month or two. I did enjoy Danse Macabre, although as I mentioned before, it's pretty dated. Which is fine, but he spends a ton of time on books and movies that I'm completely ignorant of and I have a hard time believing that anyone else loves them as much as he seems to.

    Looking forward to the King-related stuff soon. Just starting on Bazaar of Bad Dreams myself.

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    1. When I'm working on the blog steadily, I change it very frequently, to sort of match up with whatever the most recent post is or what I'm reading or something like that. This seemed appropriate.

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  5. Finally made it through pt. 2 of these Lovecraft posts. These things are epic! I enjoy the personalized tour of work I've always been interested in. When I find my way into the considerable terrain of Lovecraft - and it's a certainty-barring-death that I will, just not sure when; it could be blogs will have disappeared as a thing by then. If so, I'll write you an old-fashioned letter or send a holonote or whatever it is we do in the future - I look fwd to diving back into these.

    As for the supernatural memories, more please! I can't speak to whether or not they happened, of course, but I loved reading these.

    I love the cover(s) of that Del Rey HPL In Transition book.

    Zaelia is a bad-ass name, indeed.

    I need to look up this Margaret Brundage. All of these Weird Tales covers are fantastic.

    Awesome post.

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    1. Thanks! It was fun to write, and it was fun to live in Lovecraft country for a while. I was reluctant to jump-start the blog by means other than King-centric posts, but the way I see it, Lovecraft is easily King-adjacent enough to be worth exploring here. And anyways, there's a "mostly" in the blog's title, so I'm covered no matter what I do!

      Holonotes! That'll be a thing for sure.

      I resisted the urge to go on a Brundage-cover-hunting session, but only barely. And it might yet strike.

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  6. Those memories, man, those memories. I dig it.

    I wish I had something like that in my past. The only real incident I can think of are things I saw on television that disturbed me and yet I can find no record of their existence today.

    I wrote about them in a story called "Fragments of Memory", embellishing the story by suggesting these snippets of TV were in fact supernatural in nature. That part didn't happen, but the setup in that story sure as hell did. Not a word of those memories was an embellishment: http://thereissomethingbehindme.blogspot.ca/2015/09/fragments-of-memory.html

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    1. I have bookmarked that link and will check it out soon. Sounds like it's right up my alley!

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    2. I sure hope you like it. My stories have a bit of a following, mostly through creepypasta sites, and considering yours and my tastes are so similar, I'd love to know what you think of them.

      One commenter (on creepypasta.org) said that my story "Shut That Damned Door!" felt "lovecraftian" to him.

      By the way, you do realize that the thing you chased was He Who Walks Behind The Rows, right? I mean, who else? It was HE who wiped your family's memories!

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    3. "He Who Walks Behind the Rows After Running Up and Knocking On Your Door"

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    4. As soon as you said "corn field" I couldn't resist, especially since I just read COTC all the way through for the first time the other day.

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  7. 'Is there one single Lovecraft story with an automobile in it? I can't think of one, but if I'm wrong, correct me in the comments.'

    'The Thing on the Doorstep' - "...in the old days he could not drive a car, he was now seen occasionally to dash into or out of the old Crowninshield driveway with Asenath’s powerful Packard, handling it like a master, and meeting traffic entanglements with a skill and determination utterly alien to his accustomed nature."

    Also, the Lurking Fear, Medusa's Coil, The Silver Key, Through the Gates of the Silver Key, The Whisperer in Darkness,

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    1. Thank you, Bret!

      I'm already kinda nostalgic for last year, when I was reading fistfuls of Lovecraft. Good times!

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