Momentous news! My copies of the Variorum Lovecraft (officially titled H. P. Lovecraft: Collected Fiction: A Variorum Edition) have arrived! They are a beauty to see, to say nothing of the (off and on) forty years of work that went into them. I have about 7 or 8 sets that I would be happy to peddle to interested customers for $150 for the three-volume set. (The list price is $180.) I fear this offer will have to be restricted to US customers, as I would have to a prohibitively high additional postage fee for overseas shipping. This will indeed be the standard text of Lovecraft’s original fiction for the foreseeable future. The print run is currently restricted to 750 copies in hardcover; at some unspecified later date paperback and ebook editions will become available—but probably not for at least a year.
Other interesting developments have also been occurring. I have now seen the cover design (and read the proofs) of The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume 2, due out soon (no later than October) from Titan Books. This contains many fine tales, one of the best being a novelette by Jason C. Eckhardt, “The Hollow Sky,” that I am urging Jason to turn into a full-length novel. (I am also encouraging Jason to assemble a volume of his collected weird tales for Hippocampus. He has written a number of pungent and engaging stories over the years—he is far more than just a supremely talented pictorial artist!) Here is the cover design, for those who are interested.
I am also happy to see the appearance of Innsmouth Nightmares, edited by Lois H. Gresh, a new anthology of all-original Lovecraftian fiction from PS Publishing (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/innsmouth-nightmares-hardcover-edited-by-lois-h-gresh-2750-p.asp), which has a new story by yours truly, “Some Kind of Mistake.” (The title is derived from that poignant line from Arthur Schopenhauer, “Human life must be some kind of mistake.”) I fear I received only one copy of the book, so people will have to order it from PS Publishing or from some possible venues in the US that may be carrying the book (I would suggest trying the book dealer Gavin Smith or Subterranean Press). There will be a publication party for the book at the NecronomiCon (August 20–23), but I have a panel at the time of the party, so I will probably not be able to attend.
The July/August issue of the American Rationalist features (aside from my review of Kevin M. Kruse’s trenchant study One Nation under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America) a review by my neighbour, Jim Dempsey, of Mike Huckabee’s unwittingly hilarious treatise, Gods, Guns, Grits, and Gravy. I was planning to review this book myself, but I simply could not bring myself to undertake the task, so I thrust it on to my hapless neighbour. To add insult to injury, I was compelled to abridge the review pretty heavily for space reasons. So I am happy to present the full review here—which reveals the priceless asininity of Mr. Huckabee for all to witness! Jim is one of the keenest political and economic minds of my acquaintance, and it is always bracing to listen to him. I believe he has a blog, but to my mortification I have never peeked at it!
I was thrilled to find, upon returning from a brief visit with my mother in Muncie, Indiana, a sheaf of new books from Hippocampus Press. These will all debut at the NecronomiCon (August 20–23), and I am glad to have them in hand now to offer to any interested customers on the usual terms:
In order to “move” these titles, I can offer a discount on the books (not including Dead Reckonings) as follows: 2 for $25, 3 for $35, and 4 for $50. Come and get ’em!
I am also pleased to note that K. A. Opperman’s splendid poetry collection The Crimson Tome is now available for pre-order from Hippocampus (http://www.hippocampuspress.com/mythos-and-other-authors/poetry/the-crimson-tome-by-k.-a.-opperman). Publication is imminent, although I do not believe the book will be ready for the NecronomiCon. Nevertheless, it is one of the most scintillating books in the entire realm of contemporary weird poetry, and will doubtless create a sensation when it appears.
I can also mention the appearance of my second book of the year—my edition of an omnibus of David Case’s weird tales in Centipede Press’s Masters of the Weird Tale series (http://www.centipedepress.com/masters/davidcase.html). Unfortunately, I do not have any spare copies to offer to customers.
As a final plug, I’d like to draw readers’ attention to a crowdfunding effort being undertaken by my colleague Drew Ford, an editor at Dover Publications: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/speculate-01-a-comic-book-short-story-collection. This venture sounds fascinating, and I urge all to contribute to it.
Our trip to Muncie was surprisingly pleasant, although we did little but eat my mother’s wonderful Indian cuisine and take a dip in the pool at the Best Western where we were staying (a hotel that in other regards was sadly deficient). My mother is doing surprisingly well as she approaches her 88th birthday (October 17—also the birthday of Lovecraft’s mother!), although her mobility is limited by arthritis and plantar fascitis. But she carries along valiantly. We didn’t have much time (or, more likely, energy) for any exploration—not that there was much to explore. We did drive by my old school, Burris Laboratory School (which I attended from 7th to 12th grade), as well as Westview School, where I attended 6th grade and which is only a block or two from my house. I plan to drag Mary to my 40th (!) high school reunion next summer!
As always, many things are going on—although I don’t seem to have a great deal to show for it in terms of actual publications. I have now received an actual copy of the book in which my essay on Guillermo del Toro appeared: John W. Morehead’s The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2015), pp. 11–21. I was flattered that my essay was the first in the book, following the editor’s introduction.
Speaking of introductions, I have now written one for Ann K. Schwader’s forthcoming book of poems from P’rea Press, Dark Energies. I do not yet see this book announced on the publisher’s website, but I understand it will be out for the NecronomiCon. So it shouldn’t be long! It is a remarkable and bountiful collection of vivid and terrifying poems by an author who is very close to the pinnacle of contemporary weird verse.
I was thrilled to receive a deluxe 2-CD package containing a reading of Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth sonnet cycle and other matter, just issued by Fedogan & Bremer (http://www.fedoganandbremer.com/products/pre-release-fungi-from-yuggoth-deluxe-2-disk-set). I believe the Fungi reading—superbly done by John Arthur, with music by Mike Olson—is a reissue of the very first item ever issued by the publisher, back in 1987. But it is the material on the second disk that will be of even greater interest. Here we find, for the first time (so far as I know), recordings of the two Harold S. Farnese piano/vocal pieces based on Lovecraft’s “Mirage” and “The Elder Pharos” (two of the sonnets from Fungi from Yuggoth). We have two versions of each of these items: first, a piano solo rendition (by Daniel Evan Walczak), and a vocal rendition (by soprano Maria Jette) with piano accompaniment. On top of this, we have Farnese’s piano piece “Elegy for H. P. Lovecraft” (1937), Alfred Galpin’s exquisitely moving “Lament for H. P. Lovecraft” (I still recall listening, many years ago, to a tape of Galpin himself playing this piano solo), Jonathan Adams’s choral arrangements of “The Ancient Track” (first published in the Lovecraft Annual) and “Sunset,” as well as other rare and interesting items. You can’t go wrong picking up these wonderful CDs!
Speaking of the Lovecraft Annual, this year’s issue is ready to go to press. It is, I believe, an exceptional issue, containing all manner of highly informative pieces that actually advance our knowledge of Lovecraft. Included among them are Kenneth W. Faig, Jr.’s detailed genealogical study of clergymen (!) in Lovecraft’s ancestry; Donovan K. Loucks’s account of how he found the exact location (and later, a photograph) of the Joseph Curwen house; Todd Spaulding’s examination of the French response to Lovecraft, from Jacques Bergier to Michel Houellebecq (this was a condensation of his recently completed Ph.D. dissertation, on which I was proud and flattered to be one of the “outside authorities” and participated in his oral defense via Skype); and much other interesting material. Lovecraft’s complete letters to his neighbour, Marian F. Bonner, are included (complete with reproductions of his delightful drawings of cats in the margins), and I took the liberty of including my long response to Charles Baxter’s odious article in the New York Review of Books. Steven J. Mariconda has a long review of the Variorum Lovecraft—which should be available within a few weeks.
I have lately been engaged in the surprisingly enjoyable task of preparing four of my older titles—The Weird Tale (University of Texas Press, 1990), H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (Starmont House, 1990), A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft (Starmont House, 1996), and The Modern Weird Tale (McFarland, 2001)—for eventual publication as ebooks from Hippocampus Press. I am finding that these books actually hold up pretty well—in fact, I will say in all frankness that I think they are quite brilliant!!! I’m beginning to wonder whether I was a better critic in the late 1980s and 1990s than I am now. Actually, I think that these books—especially The Weird Tale—allowed me to write my first extended discussions of such writers as Machen, Dunsany, and Blackwood, writers whose work is so rich and substantial that it provides tremendous fodder for the literary critic who can read them comprehensively and sympathetically. And the two Lovecraft-focused books also allowed me to talk about this author in far greater compass than I had been able to previously (A Subtler Magick was the product of the publisher’s request for a radically expanded version of my tiny H. P. Lovecraft monograph [Starmont Reader’s Guides, 1982]). I’m not sure when the ebooks will emerge, but I hope they will come soon. And we are also planning ebooks of such things as Donald R. Burleson’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Critical Study (Greenwood Press, 1983), Peter Cannon’s H. P. Lovecraft (Twayne, 1989), and perhaps other titles.
Apologies for the long silence! Things have been crazy around here, as always. I had intended to write something before I left on our Danube cruise (June 12–22), but didn’t get the chance. Anyway, that cruise was most entertaining, as we canvassed the cities of Passau (in Germany), Linz, Salzburg, Vienna (in Austria), Bratislava (capital of Slovakia), and Budapest (Hungary). Naturally, we had only a day or so in each city, and in most cases that was a criminally insufficient time to explore the given city’s ancient treasures. I particularly regret not spending more time in Vienna (where I wished to pay homage to Beethoven, who is buried in the Vienna Central Cemetery, but was unable to do so) and Budapest. I now see that Antonio Vivaldi was also buried in Vienna, after his death there in 1741. According to Wikipedia, his funeral took place in the exquisitely Gothic St. Stephen’s Cathedral (which I saw), and he was buried near Karlskirche (which I did not see).
But now I’m back to projects. As I’ve mentioned, the Variorum Lovecraft is now at the printer and should be available in late July or early August. The appearance of this edition will finally increase my year’s total of books from a pathetic one (Black Wings IV) to four. I can think of several other books that will appear later this year: my edition of Lovecraft’s Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus); The Madness of Cthulhu 2 (Titan); my edition of the weird works of David Case (Centipede Press); possibly my edition of the stories of Dennis Etchison from Centipede (I am not listed as “editor,” but in fact I did edit the book and will list it among my books). My revised Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos will also be out, but I will of course not consider that a new book, since it is merely a revision and expansion of the 2008 edition. I see that the David Case book is now listed as forthcoming in July: http://www.centipedepress.com/masters/davidcase.html.
What else is going on? Well, plans for the NecronomiCon is already gearing up, and I see that I am on “only” 7 panels, rather than the 12 I appeared on (to my exhaustion) in 2013. Others, such as Robert M. Price and Leslie Klinger, will appear on 11 or 12—more power to them! I have just been interviewed by Tony Pacitti of the Providence Monthly, which will presumably have an article on Lovecraft and the convention in its August issue.
Speaking of interviews, I was just interviewed on film by Darin Coelho for a documentary he is planning on Clark Ashton Smith. Darin came up to Seattle to interview Wilum Pugmire and myself, and he seems well positioned to do a fine documentary in due course of time. On July 17, Kirk Whitham will interview me for a documentary he is preparing on Ambrose Bierce.
I am just finishing up my edition of Bram Stoker for the Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction. It will include the complete texts of Dracula (text graciously provided by Leslie Klinger), The Jewel of Seven Stars, and the stories “Dracula’s Guest,” “The Squaw,” “The Judge’s House,” and “The Burial of the Rats.” A most entertaining volume. I was intrigued by the textual problems surrounding Jewel of Seven Stars. There was an abridged version published in 1912 in which Stoker radically rewrote the ending to make it more cheerful; but I rejected this ending (and other changes Stoker made) and stuck to the original 1903 text.
I am renewing a push to complete (or at least continue) work on my treatise on the detective story, Varieties of Crime Fiction. I recently wrote a chapter on Dashiell Hammett and got well into a chapter on Raymond Chandler before my cruise. I hope to finish it and then write a chapter on Ross Macdonald (a dozen of whose books I read with general enjoyment recently) before moving on to some recent writers, such as P. D. James, James Ellroy, Ruth Rendell, and Sue Grafton. All this has been a refreshing break from what would otherwise be a non-stop dose of weird fiction.
I am delighted to say that work on Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction: A Variorum Edition is now all but complete. Derrick Hussey, the publisher of Hippocampus Press, has been incredibly diligent and meticulous in going over all the texts (as well as my own textual notes) and has saved me from countless errors. It appears that my own records of textual variants were not at all as accurate or coherent as they should have been (but remember that I started doing this work as a callow eighteen-year-old freshman in 1976!). But now the work is done, and all that remains is to look over the final proofs before sending them to the printer. Derrick vows that this will be done on or before June 1, which means that the three-volume edition should be ready by mid-July. I am a bit mortified that we first announced the edition as appearing in late 2014—but the long delay is well worth it, trust me!
I have recently been told that my edition of Edward Lucas White’s weird tales (first published as The Stuff of Dreams by Arcane Wisdom in 2013) will be reprinted in paperback by Dover. Glad to hear it! I continue to work on my anthology of weird tales by women writers, tentatively titled The Cold Embrace (after a story by Mary Elizabeth Braddon), for Dover. Even though the deadline is not until October, I hope to finish it before Mary and I go on our cruise down the Danube (June 12–22).
Speaking of Mary, she gave me a fright a while back by contracting pneumonia—on her birthday (May 9)! We had to rush her to the emergency room at the University of Washington Medical Center, where they kept her for seven hours before decreeing that she needed to stay overnight. In fact, she ended up staying in the hospital for four days, chiefly because her oxygen intake was quite low. But she is now out and recovering well. Nevertheless, during the past two weeks I have (as Lovecraft once said when his aunt, Annie Gamwell, had to go to the hospital for a mastectomy) “been a sort of combined nurse, secretary, market-man, butler, & errand-boy.” But, as HPL also added, it was no doubt far worse on the patient than on me!
I am in receipt of an interesting publication, Windy City Pulp Stories #15, edited by Tom Roberts. Evidently this is a booklet (actually, a full-size book of some 204 pages) containing all manner of essays and other matter pertaining to Weird Tales and also designed to commemorating the 125th anniversary of H. P. Lovecraft’s birth. It contains my article “Lovecraft and Weird Tales”—which is nothing less than a revised version of my somewhat combative introduction to H. P. Lovecraft in “The Eyrie” (Necronomicon Press, 1979). But Joshi collectors need not seek out this item, as the essay is already in my Lovecraft and a World in Transition (2014).
I am also in receipt of proofs of Nicole Cushing’s first short story collection, The Mirrors (due out from Cycatrix Press in a month or two), which I copyedited and for which I wrote a foreword. There is striking cover art by Zach McCain, and the book, even in this somewhat preliminary state, exhibits the fine production values of the publisher, Jason V Brock. An item well worth purchasing when it appears!
I have just sent in the final manuscript of The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume 2 to Titan Books. I imagine it is on schedule to appear in October. I cannot recall if I have previously supplied the table of contents, but here it is:
I am just about finished editing my immense collection of Robert Aickman’s stories for Centipede Press. Regrettably, the book will not contain much, if any, matter from a recent volume of Aickman miscellany just published by Tartarus Press under the title The Strangers and Other Writings (http://tartaruspress.com/aickmanstrangers.htm). But I suspect this volume does not contain anything of truly earth-shattering quality or importance. Anyway, my edition—which I imagine will come in at more than 400,000 words—is plenty big enough on its own!
I am happy to announce the completoon of Black Wings V—a volume that I do feel is one of the better books in this series. Here is the official table of contents:
That last item is, of course, a poem—following the pattern established in Black Wings IV by Charles Lovecraft with his striking sonnet sequence based on “The Lurking Fear.” Wade’s poem is a more general riff on the “forbidden book” theme.
I was pleased to have the contributions of two British writers. John Reppion had written one of the more notable stories in Salomé Jones’s Cthulhu Lives (Ghostwood Books, 2014), and he delivered a powerful story set in a small town in England. David Hambling always does good work, and his story here is along the lines of those that will (I trust soon) be released in his PS book, The Dulwich Horror and Others. Jason C. Eckhardt’s “The Walker in the Night” is a poignant evocation of the figure of Lovecraft himself, stirringly set during the great hurricane that struck Providence in September 1938.
Pete Crowther, the publisher of PS Publishing, has given me the go-ahead to assemble a Black Wings VI, but I will not begin work on that book for several months—and, of course, it will again be by invitation only. After that, I may take a break from the Black Wings series and compile a general weird anthology, which I am inclined to title Apostles of the Weird.
I was pleased to receive a copy of a striking book by Sammy Maine, titled Necronomicon: Dark Fantasy, Digital Art and H. P. Lovecraft (London: Flame Tree Publishing, 2015). I wrote the foreword to it. This is a vivid art book with all manner of striking illustrations derived from the work of Lovecraft and his successors. It appears the book is only available for sale in the UK (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Necronomicon-Gothic-Dreams-S-T-Joshi/dp/1783613203/ ), but perhaps copies can be obtained from various US dealers.
I was somehow not notified that a “signature review” of a reprint of Gore Vidal’s pseudonymous novel Thieves Fall Out (1953), which I wrote for Publishers Weekly, had appeared in the February 9 issue. I see it is available online: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-78116-792-2. This is a book that Vidal wrote during a period when (in his view) the New York publishing community was prejudiced against him because he had come out as gay. It has been reprinted by Titan Books—which I hope will allow me to set up my own imprint of weird/horror titles. My agent has forwarded to Titan a long list of titles (mostly reprint) that I have proposed for my series.
Hippocampus Press is preparing a revised version of its Ten Years of Hippocampus Press, 2000–2010, covering the first fifteen years of its existence as a publisher. It certainly does contain an impressive list of titles, and I am writing brief notes on each of its publications to give some background on them. The publisher, Derrick Hussey, has apparently found that such a booklet is a good publicity tool, so we hope to have it ready at least by the NecronomiCon II convention (August 20–23), if not much earlier.
Speaking of conventions, I enjoyed CthulhuCon in Portland (April 24–26), even though I felt a cold coming on as we drove down from Seattle and ended up spending most of the three days in bed. But I managed to participate in various functions, including a very lively panel on weird poetry (with Wade German, W. H. Pugmire, Jason V Brock, and Evan Peterson). This convention was a spinoff of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, which will take place in early October. It will also feature a substantial number of panels and other events beyond the films it will be showing. I'll keep open the possibility of my attendance.
Work continues on many fronts—my edition of Robert Aickman for Centipede Press; a new volume of W. H. Pugmire’s stories (mostly reprint but some original) for Centipede; final work on the Variorum Lovecraft (which should be out around late June or July); reading proofs for the Dennis Etchison volume (Masters of the Weird Tale) for Centipede; and so on and so forth. Never a dull moment!
I am happy to announce that I am assisting in the preparation of a major volume of stories, essays, and other matter as a tribute to the work of Caitlín R. Kiernan, who I regard as the leading writer of weird fiction of her generation. I will be working closely with Caitlín and her partner, Kathryn Pollnac, on the book, which will be published in 2016 by Centipede Press. Kathryn and I will be the officially designated editors of the book. We have an impressive lineup of authors and artists who have expressed an interest in contributing, but I am not at liberty to mention any of their names at this time. Since it is a Centipede Press publication, readers can be assured that it will be a superb-looking publication with the highest standards in design, layout, artwork, and other elements. We intend to title the book Below the Wide, Carnivorous Sky: A Tribute to Caitlín R. Kiernan.
I am also happy to have received, at last, some copies of Black Wings IV: New Tales of Lovecraftian Horror (PS Publishing). I believe it is one of the most successful of the books in this series, with outstanding tales by Fred Chappell (“Artifact”), Richard Gavin (“The Rasping Absence”), Ann K. Schwader (“Night of the Piper”), Jonathan Thomas (“We Are Made of Stars”), John Pelan & Stephen Mark Rainey (“Contact”), and much else besides. Regrettably, I only have 2 spare copies to offer to my customers. The list price in the UK is £25 (about $40), so I will be happy to let these 2 copies go for $35 on the usual terms.
I am also wrapping up Black Wings V, which has plenty of interesting material in it also. I am undecided what to do next: whether to go ahead and compile a Black Wings VI or to compile a general anthology of weird fiction (tentatively titled Apostles of the Weird). I will ask my publisher, Pete Crowther of PS Publishing, what he prefers.
I continue to do more work for Dover Publications, which has now signed me up to assemble a volume of weird tales by women writers. There have been several such volumes in the past, but I hope that my research into the history of supernatural writing (embodied in Unutterable Horror) has given me some insights into lesser-known tales and authors. The compilation begins with Mary Shelley (there is nothing short by the “queen of the Gothics,” Ann Radcliffe) and ends with Virginia Woolf (“A Haunted House,” 1921)—for of course all the material has to be in the public domain.
Dover has generated a cover for the edition of Maurice Level’s Thirty Hours with a Corpse: here it is!
I was saddened to hear of the death last week of Sherry Austin, the outstanding author of subtle and superbly written weird tales such as Mariah of the Spirits and Other Southern Ghost Stories (2002) and Where the Woodbine Twines (2006). Hippocampus Press was planning an omnibus of her weird work, and we hope to proceed with this volume, which will include the material in the two books just mentioned along with several uncollected tales.
Work continues here at its usual hectic pace, chiefly focused on preparing my immense edition of the complete “strange stories” of Robert Aickman. But an interesting new discovery pertaining to Lovecraft has been passed on to me by a colleague, Stephen Spector. Mr. Spector was kind enough to send me an old science fiction magazine, Marvel Science Fiction (November 1951), which contains a rare and (until recently) unreprinted novella by Richard Matheson, “Mountains of the Mind.” The importance of this item rests in the fact that it clearly betrays the influence of Lovecraft, chiefly in its hints of a race of entities called the “Great Ones” who appear to have controlled human development over the millennia—an idea that clearly evokes “The Shadow out of Time.” There may also be echoes of At the Mountains of Madness in other parts of the tale. The story has indeed been reprinted in Matheson Uncollected, Volume 2 (Gauntlet Press, 2010), but is otherwise very difficult to find. To be frank, it is not a stellar piece of fiction, although it does develop a cumulative power as it goes along. But given that this may be the only story by Matheson that unequivocally shows an influence from Lovecraft, it remains noteworthy. Congratulations to Stephen Spector for the discovery!
I see that three more volumes of the Illustrated Lovecraft have come out from PS Publishing: Volume 4 (The Shadow out of Time), Volume 5 (The Shadow over Innsmouth), and Volume 6 (At the Mountains of Madness). All the volumes, aside from containing spectacular illustrations by Pete Von Sholly, contain interesting ancillary matter that makes them well worth securing. Volume 4 has essays by Paul Montelone, Pete Von Sholly, and W. H. Pugmire. Volume 5 reprints two key stories that influenced HPL’s tale (“The Harbor-Master” by Robert W. Chambers and “Fishhead” by Irvin S. Cobb), along with original essays by Pete Von Sholly and Robert M. Price. Volume 6 reprints the hard-to-find story “In Amundsen’s Tent” by John Martin Leahy (from Weird Tales, January 1928) that clearly influenced HPL’s novella, along with original articles by Pete Von Sholly, Robert M. Price, and myself (a brief discussion of the Leahy story). I regret that I have no spare copies of these books to sell to customers.
For no accountable reason, I have received from Greenwood Press two copies of the Hippocampus Press paperback reprint of An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (2001), which I wrote in collaboration with David E. Schultz. As I believe that this is a pretty useful resource for Lovecraftians, I would be happy to part with these copies for $15 each on the usual terms. Come and get ’em!
I have completed the assembly of my next collection of essays, Varieties of the Weird Tale, due out next year from Hippocampus Press. The great majority of the contents come from essays or introductions that have appeared in a wide range of books and magazines. Some of the earlier pieces have been revised to some extent, but most are pretty much identical to their original appearances. To some degree the volume can be considered a pendant to Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction (2012), since I go into much greater detail on certain authors and works that I could only treat relatively briefly in that treatise. Here is the final table of contents:
Maybe I should hold a contest to see if readers can identify where all these items originally appeared!
I am at last in receipt of the paperback of Black Wings III, which Titan has (absurdly) retitled Black Wings of Cthulhu 3. My copies arrived quite a bit after the contributors received theirs—the editor is always the last to know! I have several spare copies available for sale, and would be happy to dispose of them to interested customers for $15 each.
Speaking of books, I find that sales of the Hippocampus Press books I offered last time have not exactly been robust. So I am forced to hold a kind of fire sale even at this early date, just to get the books out of here. In other words, I am happy to offer the books at a price of two for $25 (or, if you wish one book and one copy of the second issue of Spectral Realms, you can have them for a total of $20). I can assure you that you will not be disappointed by any of the items in question!
I am also in receipt of a copy of That Is Not Dead, a new anthology of Lovecraftian fiction edited by Darrell Schweitzer and issued by PS Publishing (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/that-is-not-dead-hardcover-edited-by-darrell-schweitzer-2671-p.asp). This volume contains my story “Incident at Ferney,” in which Voltaire encounters Nyarlathotep! The story isn’t quite as silly as this description makes it sound; in fact, I think it rather good. I believe it is the first publication of a work of fiction by me in quite some time—maybe since the appearance of my novel The Assaults of Chaos (Hippocampus Press, 2013). I have now been invited to write stories for two other Lovecraftian anthologies, although I am not certain of my ability to write anything suitable for one or even both of these. Also, I am contemplating the writing of some novel-length works, both detection and horror. We’ll see if they come to anything.
I have now begun in earnest the editing of the collected weird tales of Robert Aickman for Centipede Press’s Masters of the Weird Tale series. This project is proving to be most entertaining, and I believe it will be the first time that Aickman’s tales will be presented in chronological order by date of original publication. The Tartarus Press edition of Aickman’s Collected Strange Stories (1990) attempted a chronological arrangement, but didn’t get it quite right.
I am also working on a large volume of Théophile Gautier’s weird and fantastic tales for Dark Renaissance Books. This volume should be done soon, although I have no idea when it—or the previous books I have assembled for this publisher (the weird tales of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, E. Nesbit, and [in one volume] Irvin S. Cobb and Gouverneur Morris)—will appear.
I have fashioned the rough contents of a new collection of essays on weird fiction, to be entitled Varieties of the Weird Tale. This will include essays I have written over the past decade or more on all manner of authors (Bierce, Dunsany, Leiber, etc.), as well as some introductions to my editions of various authors. The book should appear sometime next year from Hippocampus Press.
PS Publishing should be receiving copies of the hardcover edition of Black Wings IV any day now, and they will presumably reach me a week or two after they do so. I will then be able to offer my spare copies for sale to interested customers. I have almost finished the compilation of Black Wings V and hope to pass it on to the publisher (for release in the spring of 2016) within a month or so.
I have at long last received several of Hippocampus Press’s recent titles, and I am happy to offer them at slight discounts from the list price, as follows:
The collections by Smith and Hughes are full of interesting matter; Hughes in particular has one of the most idiosyncratic imaginations of any writer I’ve ever encountered, and his stories are unfailingly piquant and memorable. The Tyson book is a pair of Lovecraftian novellas, both exceptional. Aronovitz’s short novel and Kent’s full-length novel (set entirely in rural Appalachia) are also works that you are not likely to forget. So feel free to snap these up on the usual terms!
I received my copies of Spectral Realms only yesterday. It is an exceptional issue, with poems by such notable writers as John Shirley (2 poems!), Gemma Files, William F. Nolan, Jason V Brock, John C. Tibbetts, W. H. Pugmire, Mike Allen, Stephanie M. Wytovich, Adam Bolivar, Michael Fantina, and several others, along with the first part of Leigh Blackmore’s exhaustive essay on the poetry of Leah Bodine Drake.
Hippocampus is gearing up to publish a number of interesting books for the NecronomiCon II convention (Providence, R.I., August 20–23), among them Antonis Antoniades’s novel The Necronomicon, my revised Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos, story collections by Ann K. Schwader (Dark Equinox and Other Tales of Lovecraftian Horror), Jonathan Thomas (Dreams of Ys and Other Invisible Worlds), and other volumes.
One of these is Lois H. Gresh’s Cult of the Dead and Other Weird and Lovecraftian Tales, which I have just finished going over; I also wrote an introduction for it. It is an exceptional collection of her tales, and I am proud to note that I myself published a number of them in my own anthologies.
We are also working on a collection of Donald R. Burleson’s essays on Lovecraft, as assembled by Phillip A. Ellis. This will also be a superlative book and will bring back into print many of Burleson’s splendidly illuminating articles. Burleson will, I believe, be the Critic [or maybe Scholar] Guest of Honor at NecronomiCon II.
I was pleased to renew my contract for my compilation of Lovecraft’s Against Religion: The Atheist Writings of H. P. Lovecraft, first published in 2010. The book will remain available from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/dp/0578052482/). I do believe this is a fine collection of material, containing both essays and letters that show Lovecraft to be a pioneering atheist thinker and polemicist. Well worth securing!
I was tickled to see that Black Wings I has been translated into Czech (http://www.laser-books.cz/knihy/ant01.html#stjckc). I am hopeful that this will be only the first of several foreign-language editions for this series; indeed, I believe a Spanish version is in the works. I am also waiting on tenterhooks for the massive two-volume German edition of I Am Providence, the first volume of which is, I think, imminent.
Speaking of Black Wings, I am still waiting for (a) the paperback edition of Black Wings III (retitled by Titan Books as Black Wings of Cthulhu 3), which some contributors have apparently already received, and (b) the hardcover of Black Wings IV from PS, which should appear any day now. Naturally, I will let readers know at once when these volumes reach me, as I should have at least a few copies to sell.
My attention has been drawn to yet another attack on Lovecraft, this time by one Robert Dunbar (https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/7724333-hatecraft). I had a bit of difficulty figuring out who Robert Dunbar is, for by some regrettable accident he has not yet been made the subject of a Wikipedia entry. It turns out that Mr. Dunbar has written a few supernatural novels recently, along with a “literary” novel and (Gawdelpus) some poetry. Ordinarily I would let this item pass in merciful silence, but it presents such juicy targets for rebuttal that I cannot resist a response.
Dunbar opens with yet another criticism of Lovecraft’s prose style. He quotes the celebrated final paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”:
“Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken once more, for the Vigilant sailed over the spot after the April storm; but his ministers on earth still bellow and prance and slay around idol-capped monoliths in lonely places. He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy. Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come—but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye.”
In regard to which, Mr. Dunbar writes plaintively: “Does that passage truly inspire anyone to read more? Anyone who hasn’t sustained a cranial injury?”
Well, as a matter of fact, my own judgment (derived from reading a fair amount of the great literature in English, Latin, Greek, French, German, and other languages) is that this is not merely good prose; it is superb prose. I am getting to the point of thinking that anyone who doesn’t think Lovecraft a fine prose writer is simply an ignoramus—someone who simply doesn’t know anything about prose. It is as if you’ve put a dunce cap on your head and said to the world, “I don’t know the first thing about good writing.”
What is more, I would be willing to bet any amount of money that such writers as Neil Gaiman, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Laird Barron, and dozens of other contemporary writers in the weird fiction field have also found this passage powerful and effective. These and many other writers have all been significantly influenced by Lovecraft and are happy to admit it. Straub, indeed, edited the 2005 Library of America edition of Lovecraft that (pace Mr. Dunbar) officially and permanently placed him in the ranks of canonical American writers.
What does Mr. Dunbar have to counter these authorities? He puts forth one Peter Damien, who writes that Lovecraft is “a godawful writer. He was so bad. I really cannot stress this enough.” I had even more difficulty figuring out who Peter Damien is than in ascertaining Mr. Dunbar’s identity; amusingly enough, a Google search ends up confusing him with Peter Damian, a Catholic priest in the 11th century! All I can ascertain is that Mr. Damien is some kind of bloviator who enjoys spouting off on all manner of subjects he appears to know little about. And yet, Mr. Dunbar quotes him as some eminent authority on prose style (and of course his meticulous and well-reasoned comment proves that he must be!).
As for me, I will repeat one more time the views of a real critic (and a real writer), one Joyce Carol Oates, who I trust is eminent enough even for Mr. Dunbar. What does she say about Lovecraft’s prose? “Most of Lovecraft’s tales…develop by way of incremental detail, beginning with quite plausible situations…One is drawn into Lovecraft by the very air of plausibility and characteristic understatement of the prose, the question being When will the weirdness strike? There is a melancholy, operatic grandeur in Lovecraft’s most passionate work, like ‘The Outsider’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness’; a curious elegiac poetry of unspeakable loss, of adolescent despair and an existential loneliness so pervasive that it lingers in the reader’s memory, like a dream, long after the rudiments of Lovecraftian plot have faded.”
But let’s keep the focus on Mr. Dunbar. If he thinks Lovecraft is such a bad writer, he must think that he himself can do better. Let’s see if he can. I take a passage at random from the author’s novel Wood: “Rosaria almost felt sorry for him. After all, Miss Whatsis could be snippy and officious, even toward him, or especially toward him. (Except when they imagined themselves to be unobserved.) He just stood there, grinning, and Miss Whosis had already started yammering at him.”
This is supposed to be good prose, in contrast to Lovecraft’s? I would call attention to the clumsy slang of “snippy” and “yammering,” the ungrammatical sentence-fragment enclosed in the parenthesis, and in general an utter lack of rhythm, music, and modulation. No wonder I can barely stomach reading much contemporary prose (with rare exceptions such as Ramsey Campbell, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and a few others)!
It is breathtaking that Dunbar is prepared to dismiss the entire field of weird fiction as “anti-literary.” Surely an odd assertion about a field that has seen contributions by such writers as Daniel Defoe, Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James, Edith Wharton, Jorge Luis Borges, and dozens—perhaps hundreds—of others who strike me as being tolerably literary. (Question: If the genre is so anti-literary, why is Mr. Dunbar dabbling in it? Maybe he is trying to uplift it into some level of “literariness”! Judged by the passage I quoted above, he isn’t doing a very good job of it.)
It should be no surprise that Dunbar fills himself with righteous indignation about Lovecraft’s racism. It now appears that any defenders of Lovecraft are giving him a “free pass” on the subject. How so? I myself (who am surely one of his chief defenders—not to mention a person of colour, which Mr. Dunbar emphatically is not) have stated in my biography that racism is “the greatest black mark on Lovecraft’s character” and gone into considerable detail about how racism affected his life, work, and thought. Just because I don’t get hyperventilated and self-righteous when talking about the subject, or because I don’t append every single utterance I make about Lovecraft with, “Oh, and by the way, Lovecraft was a racist,” it would appear that I am giving him a “free pass.” Are we giving a free pass to Jack London for not constantly harping on his “yellow peril” screeds while we read The Call of the Wild, or on T. S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism while reading The Waste Land, or on Roald Dahl’s racism and anti-Semitism while reading Someone Like You? (And let’s not even approach the adjacent genre of science fiction. There is abundant evidence that such figures as John W. Campbell, Jr., Robert A. Heinlein, and Orson Scott Card were and are racists of a much worse stripe than Lovecraft—but no one is advocating not reading them anymore.)
And why stop there? Why not ban other writers for their erroneous opinions on other subjects? Lord Dunsany was politically conservative and a member of the idle hereditary aristocracy—so of course we must not read A Dreamer’s Tales. Ambrose Bierce was a vicious misogynist—so of course we must not read “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge.” Edgar Allan Poe was a drunkard and a pedophile (he married his 13-year-old cousin, for Gawd’s sake)—so of course his poetry and short stories are off-limits.
The details of Mr. Dunbar’s analysis (I use the word loosely) of Lovecraft’s racism leave much to be desired. He quotes the luminous Charles Baxter as saying (in reference to Leslie S. Klinger’s New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft): “Klinger notes that Lovecraft’s support of Hitler’s eugenic programs, including the ‘racial cleansing’ advocated by Ernest Rüdin and others, is well known.” This is wrong on two counts; first, Klinger made no such assertion, and Lovecraft in fact did not endorse the Nazi eugenic scheme. A letter to Robert Bloch (22 November 1934) goes on at some length on the subject, but this passage is representative: “The complexity of the laws governing organic growth is enormous—so enormous that the number of unknown factors must always remain hopelessly great. We can discover & apply a few biological principles—but the limit of effectiveness is soon reached. For example—despite all the advances in endocrinology & all the experiments in glandular rejuvenation, there is no such thing as a permanent or well-balanced staving-off of senescence & dissolution. … What is more—there really is no one idea of racial excellence. Even if the principle of eugenic control were accepted by a nation, there would remain a constant struggle among various factions advocating different goals of development. One group would advocate the cultivation of this or that group of emotions, or the establishment of this or that blood mixture, while another would campaign ceaselessly for a directly opposite result. Thus the Nazis in Germany want to get rid of every trace of Jewish blood, while other groups believe that the highest intellectual qualities in all races come through prehistoric & forgotten infusions of Semitic blood! Amidst such a confusion of objects, what single policy could ever gain an effective ascendancy?”
How odd that rational passages like this are never quoted by Lovecraft’s detractors!
The other strange thing about Dunbar’s screed is his odd assumption that everyone who “defends” Lovecraft on the racism issue must be politically conservative, while those who exhibit noble sanctimoniousness on the subject must be politically liberal. I hardly imagine that my liberal bona fides are in much doubt, given how liberally (pardon the pun) and enthusiastically I lambaste conservatives in the pages of the American Rationalist, or in such of my books as The Angry Right: Why Conservatives Keep Getting It Wrong (2006). But I am not blind to liberalism’s flaws, and one of its worst is, I fear, exactly the kind of political correctness that gets all hot and bothered about the views of an author nearly a century dead while not doing much to combat real evils we face today. If Mr. Dunbar is so outraged at Lovecraft’s racism, I wonder what he would say if, fifty years from now, our own society is crucified for its oversexed, violence-ridden, thoroughly misogynistic culture—as, indeed, it should be. And if Mr. Dunbar thinks that we collectively have dealt with racism a great deal better than Lovecraft’s generation did, he simply isn’t paying attention to what is going on in this country or around the world. (Dunbar ought to consider himself lucky that no one will bother to probe the skeletons in his closet when he is dead. Does he deny that he has any skeletons?)
What is more, Dunbar reveals not the faintest awareness that Lovecraft himself became (except on the issue of race) not merely a liberal but a socialist—one who enjoyed lambasting the Republicans of his era as hidebound reactionaries. One such passage, written late in life, should suffice:
“As for the Republicans—how can one regard seriously a frightened, greedy, nostalgic huddle of tradesmen and lucky idlers who shut their eyes to history and science, steel their emotions against decent human sympathy, cling to sordid and provincial ideals exalting sheer acquisitiveness and condoning artificial hardship for the non-materially-shrewd, dwell smugly and sentimentally in a distorted dream-cosmos of outmoded phrases and principles and attitudes based on the bygone agricultural-handicraft world, and revel in (consciously or unconsciously) mendacious assumptions (such as the notion that real liberty is synonymous with the single detail of unrestricted economic license, or that a rational planning of resource-distribution would contravene some vague and mystical ‘American heritage’ …) utterly contrary to fact and without the slightest foundation in human experience? Intellectually, the Republican idea deserves the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead.”
Those words are truer now than when they were first written.
Dunbar also seems inclined to the seriously erroneous view that weird fiction as a whole is somehow a “conservative” or even a “reactionary” genre. I have no idea why or how he could have come to such a view. His own understanding of politics seems about as crude and undeveloped as his understanding of literature. My own acquaintance with the leading writers of this field confirms that a substantial majority of them are politically liberal. But why that should have any bearing on our evaluation of their purely literary merits is a query that I happily admit I fail to understand.
To wrap up. I unhesitatingly declare H. P. Lovecraft not merely a good writer but a great writer—great in his management of prose, great in his imaginative scope, great in the philosophical and aesthetic underpinnings of his fiction, and great in the effective construction of a tale that allows it to become so compellingly readable. His influence is now perhaps greater than that of Edgar Allan Poe, and on its purely intrinsic merits his work is superior to that of every writer in the history of weird fiction with the possible exception of Ramsey Campbell.
And as for Lovecraft’s politics, I think it would be vastly better if a certain amount of rationality and understanding could be brought to bear upon the subject. Self-righteous indignation may make one feel momentarily virtuous, but it accomplishes little else. As an atheist I am not much inclined to quote the Bible as an authority, but one pungent utterance does strike me as appropriate in this context: “Judge not, lest ye be judged.”
I wonder why Lovecraft’s detractors don’t just give up. Their foolish screeds are so easily refuted that there is really no sport in it anymore. And yet, they seem unable to resist the temptation to reveal their ignorance and prejudice for all the world to see.
Things seem to be even more hectic than usual these days, and I am having difficulty keeping track of—let alone working on—the multitude of projects I have committed to completing. But before I go into that, I am happy to see the appearance of a superb article on Lovearaft by a real critic (one Michael Dirda, formerly the editor of the Washington Post Book World and a critic always sensitive to the value of genre fiction), who appreciates Lovecraft (and, ahem, me) as they deserve. Don’t let the whimsical title fool you; it is a splendid piece, and its appearance in a most noteworthy venue (the [London] Times Literary Supplement] will get the sour taste of Charles Baxter’s article out of our mouths: http://www.the-tls.co.uk/tls/public/article1512314.ece.
On the downside, I was saddened to see Scarecrow Press/Rowman & Littlefield cancel my series, Studies in Supernatural Literature. The sales of the published titles have been pretty anaemic, and the publisher is generally cutting back on the number of titles it publishes. I was not really sorry, for I had encountered more difficulty than I had expected in coming up with viable titles—and I was not enthusiastic about signing up books on such popular but inferior writers as Stephen King (although Stefan Dziemianowicz, who had thought of submitting a proposal on him, would no doubt have done a splendid job) and Dean R. Koontz. Some titles that have been contracted—e.g., a monograph on Richard Matheson by June Pulliam and Tony Fonseca, and an anthology of essays on Weird Tales edited by Jeffrey Shanks—will be published; others have been dropped. One of these—Gary William Crawford’s monograph on Robert Aickman—may be picked up by Hippocampus Press. I was particularly sorry to see that John C. Tibbetts’s book on Peter Straub was cancelled, but I imagine John can place this with an academic press.
I was pleased and surprised to receive a copy of David J. Schow’s The Shaft, now available in a beautiful hardcover edition (a reprint of the 1990 UK edition from Maconald) by Centipede Press: http://www.centipedepress.com/horror/shaft.html. I received only one copy of this book, so interested readers will have to purchase a copy for themselves. I had made a strong pitch to the publisher to reissue this book, which I regard as one of the finest novels of the “horror boom” of the 1970s–1990s; and I scanned the text for the publisher, since the author did not have an electronic file available. The next step is to ensure that the book is picked up in paperback, since the limited Centipede Press edition will no doubt go out of print in short order.
I was amused to see the publication of The Starry Wisdom Library (PS Publishing), an amusing fake book catalogue featuring descriptions of many of the “forbidden books” invented by Lovecraft and others, assembled by Nate Pederson. The catalogue contains contributions by a remarkable number of prestigious writers, including Ann K. Schwader, Darrell Schweitzer, Donald Tyson, Don Webb, F. Paul Wilson, Gemma Files, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., John Langan, Matt Cardin, Michael Cisco, Nick Mamatas, Ramsey Campbell (on The Revelations of Glaaki, of course), Richard Gavin, Robert M. Price, Simon Strantzas, and W. H. Pugmire. I wrote the foreword. A most engaging compilation! Again, I received only one copy, so I hope readers will hasten to purchase it from the publisher (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/the-starry-wisdom-library-jhc-edited-by-nate-pedersen-2564-p.asp).
Speaking of PS, I see that Darrell Schweitzer’s anthology That Is Not Dead is announced as forthcoming (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/that-is-not-dead-hardcover-edited-by-darrell-schweitzer-2671-p.asp). This contains my immortal story “Incident at Ferney,” depicting the encounter of Voltaire with Nyarlathotep! Absurd as it sounds, I think the story came out reasonably well. Black Wings IV (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/black-wings-iv—-new-tales-of-lovecraftian-horror-hardcover-edited-by-st-joshi-2625-p.asp) is also listed as forthcoming and should be available at any time. I have also heard that the paperback (from Titan) of Black Wings III (retitled Black Wings of Cthilhu 3) is available; indeed, I saw Wilum Pugmire’s copy the other day. But I have not received any copies myself as yet.
I was delighted to have done a light copyedit of Nicole Cushing’s story collection The Mirrors, which should appear from Cycatrix Press in time for the World Horror Convention in Atlanta in early May. It is a splendid volume with some remarkable tales in it. I was pleased and humbled to have written the foreword. Don’t hesitate to pick it up when it comes out!
Apparently a number of new titles from Hippocampus Press have appeared, but I have not received any copies; the moment I do, I will make them available for purchase to interested customers. We are planning a number of provocative titles to appear for the NecronomiCon II convention in Providence, R.I., in August, among which will be a revised version of my Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008), now retitled The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos. I have just finished preparing the index, although I do not know whether cover art has been completed, or even begun.
Another hugely important title to appear later this year from Hippocampus will be nothing less significant than David E. Schultz’s long-awaited annotated edition of Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. Aside from the fact that every poem in this 36-sonnet cycle will be illustrated (I believe there are six different illustrators, each tackling six sonnets), Schultz’s commentary may cover some 200 pages and illuminate both the literary sources of each poem but their influence on subsequent works by Lovecraft. This is a project that has been more than thirty years in the making. I remember seeing a draft of it when I first met Schultz in 1986, at Steve Mariconda’s wedding; and the project had been in progress before then. It will no doubt be the last word on this sonnet cycle!
My colleague Lynne Jamneck is undertaking an exciting project called Dreams from the Witch House, an anthology of all-original Lovecraftian stories written by women. Lynne is undertaking an Indiegogo campaign to raise funds for the project (https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/dreams-from-the-witch-house-women-of-lovecraft). Some nice goodies are being offered for contributions (see https://www.facebook.com/events/707915729307537/715125678586542). I’m confident the anthology will be a splendid one, so best to get in on the ground floor!
Speaking of anthologies, our Gothic Lovecraft volume received a late but splendid contribution by John Shirley, “The Rime of the Cosmic Mariner”—in which John perfectly mimics the style and manner of Samuel Taylor Coleridge while also producing a splendidly chilling Lovecraftian weird tale. Also, we have decided to go with Caitlín R. Kiernan’s “As Red as Red” (2010) over her story “Andromeda among the Stones” (2002). The latter, while a fine story, did not seem to us quite to reflect the fusion of Gothic and Lovecraftian themes we wished, and in any case it has been reprinted a number of times; but the former story is a brilliant evocation of HPL’s “The Shunned House” and its allusions to vampire activity in Rhode Island in the 1890s.
My article on Lovecraftian elements in the films of Guillermo del Toro is now definitely scheduled for publication in the volume The Supernatural Cinema of Guillermo del Toro, which will be appearing this spring or summer from McFarland (http://www.mcfarlandbooks.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-9595-5). Another essay of mine, on Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial, has been sent back to me for some minor revisions. I can’t remember when the book containing it will appear, but I imagine I will know soon enough.
I have now read proofs of the PS edition of Black Wings IV (due out this month, perhaps) as well as the proofs of the paperback edition of Black Wings III (also due out this month from Titan Books—under the altered title Black Wings of Cthulhu III). My compilation of Black Wings V proceeds apace. But after that, I may take a break from Lovecraftian anthologies (although I am still negotiating with Titan for Cthulhu Noir) and compile a general weird anthology. My tentative title for such a book is Apostles of the Weird. The idea is to present as wide-ranging a volume as possible, to demonstrate the broad scope and parameters of the weird tale.
I was a bit surprised to see that a highly truncated version of my response to Charles Baxter’s article in the New York Review of Books has been published in the new issue of that paper (dated February 19, 2015). I had sent my response to the editors of NYRB and was told that only a 400-word letter could be published. (My full response was ten times that length.) I hastily prepared such a letter, but then never heard from the editors as to whether it would be published or not.
Adding to the bizarrerie, Mr. Baxter has appended a reply that addresses, not the letter as published in NYRB, but my full response! I am not particularly impressed by Mr. Baxter’s reply, which I will hereby subject to a sentence-by-sentence analysis:
Things get curiouser and curiouser. Another letter published in the NYRB issue is by one Mark Halpern. It addresses nothing in Baxter’s own article but attacks me for some perceived failings in my biography of Lovecraft—or, rather, one failing in particular, to wit: “Joshi must have been suffering from one of his rare moments of fatigue when it came to linking his subject’s attitude toward Jews and other sorts of non-Nordic immigrants to New York’s Lower East Side to the emotional source of Cthulhu and his like, because he writes not one word about the topic in his otherwise painfully detailed biography.” Well, lordy me! I confess to be guilty as charged—because there is little or no connection between Lovecraft’s racism and his creation of the “gods and monsters” in his fiction.
It is most curious how many recent critics (Charles Baxter, Laura Miller, and now Mr. Halpern) have put forth this view without providing the slighest evidence for it. Let us examine the physical properties of Lovecraft’s iconic creation, Cthulhu. When the narrator of “The Call of Cthulhu” first sees Wilcox’s bas-relief of the creature, he describes it as follows: “If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.” Lovecraft’s description of the actual sight of Cthulhu by Johansen is deliberately vague, but we do have this: “The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own.” Uh-oh—Cthulhu is green! Maybe this means that he is a stand-in for “people of colour”! If you believe that, there’s a bridge nearby that I’d like to sell you.
It is true that the Cthulhu cultists in Louisiana do symbolise Lovecraft’s disdain of certain types of foreigners: they were “men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattoes, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult.” Well and good; but this whole passage (the second section of the story) is largely an elaborate “info dump” whereby we learn the basic properties of Cthulhu and his “spawn,” as recounted by “old Castro.” I don’t see that there is anything specifically anti-Semtiic in the passage above. Mr. Halpern (who predictably refers to Lovecraft’s “pathological anti-Semitism”) will be surprised to learn that Lovecraft repeatedly declared his belief that Jews in both America and Europe were in several ways culturally superior to Anglo-Saxons—something that could certainly not be said of the Cthulhu cultists in Louisiana.
How about Lovecraft’s other “gods and monsters”? Azathoth? He is described in one story as follows: “that shocking final peril which gibbers unmentionably outside the ordered universe, where no dreams reach; that last amorphous blight of nethermost confusion which blasphemes and bubbles at the centre of all infinity—the boundless daemon-sultan Azathoth, whose name no lips dare speak aloud, and who gnaws hungrily in inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond time …” Any racist implications there, people?
Yog-Sothoth, maybe? We hear of him as “a congeries of iridescent globes.” There must be a racist implication there somewhere, but—Gawdelpme—I just don’t have the critical acumen to detect it.
Shub-Niggurath? Well, she is usually mentioned in the same breath as “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young.” Omigod!—black goat! All right, that’s it: she must be a stand-in for HPL’s disdain for black women who breed a lot! What else is possible? Well, wait a minute…HPL does describe her elsewhere as “a kind of sophisticated Astarte,” so I guess we can presume that HPL was prejudiced against the ancient Mesopotamians.
Nyarlathotep also seems very promising. He is first described as having the bearing of a Pharaoh. OK, no question about it—this must reflect HPL’s prejudice against Arabs! But it seems that Nyarlathotep emerged “from the blackness of twenty-seven centuries”—meaning that he emerged about thirteen centuries before the birth of Mohammad. But didn’t HPL describe him as the “Black Man” in “The Dreams in the Witch House”? Oh, wait—that was the standard designation for the leader of a witch coven. And HPL states specifically that the Black Man in that story was devoid of negroid features.
How about the fungi from Yuggoth in “The Whisperer in Darkness”? Well, they’re described as “half-fungous, half-crustacean creatures from a planet identifiable as the remote and recently discovered Pluto”; so unless we assume that HPL had a prejudice against mushrooms or crabs, I don’t see any racist undercurrent here.
The Old Ones of At the Mountains of Madness? They are barrel-shaped creatures with starfish-heads and tentacles. Again I struggle to connect them with HPL’s racism. Anyway, aren’t they substantially superior to humans in intellect and many other qualities? What about those loathsome shoggoths? I suppose something could be made of the fact that they are immense, amorphous masses of black protoplasm …
The Great Race of “The Shadow out of Time”? They are huge, rugose, cone-shaped creatures who are also vastly superior to human beings, since they are virtually omniscient and have conquered time. Not much racism there, I fear.
I have repeatedly maintained that the only major story by Lovecraft based on racist presuppositions is “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” And (pace Mr. Halpern) I do in fact discuss this matter at length in my biography. Here is some of what I wrote there: “‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ is…clearly a cautionary tale on the ill effects of miscegenation, or the sexual union of different races…It is, accordingly, difficult to deny a suggestion of racism running all through the story.” There is much more to this effect, but I trust that will do.
Our valiant critics have also failed to notice the several stories in which various unsavoury characters are unmistakably Caucasian. This applies particularly to the aristocratic Dutch-American family in “The Lurking Fear,” the wealthy Anglo-American family in “The Rats in the Walls,” and even the “decadent” inhabitants of Dunwich in “The Dunwich Horror.” The Dunwich denizens are clearly a racially homogeneous (white) clan of backwoods New England farmers; there seem to be no ethnic minorities there. If one didn’t know who wrote these stories, one could easily conclude that their author was prejudiced against white people!
The plain fact is that most of Lovecraft’s “gods and monsters” are meant to symbolise the immensity—both spatial and temporal—of a universe where human beings occupy a derisively insignificant place. Their titanic power and anomalous physical properties are metaphors for the inscrutability of a universe where things may be very different from the way they are here.
Those hostile critics seeking to maintain some intimate connection between Lovecraft’s racism and the creation of these alien entities will have to put forth more than mere assertions to make their case. In my mind, the evidence is overwhelmingly against them.
I am happy to announce that the anthology that Lynne Jamneck and I have been assembling for some time, Gothic Lovecraft, is now done. Here is a peek at the table of contents:
All the stories save the last are original, and every one is a powerful fusion of Gothic elements of various sorts with Lovecraftian motifs. A splendid book! It should be published by Cycatrix Press in time for the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, NY, which I will be attending (as will the publisher, Jason V Brock).
Meanwhile, I am mortified and dismayed that there has been so little interest in the Weird Fiction Review, whose bumper-crop fifth issue I announced last time. I have received very few offers to take my spare copies of the issue off my hands. So at great personal sacrifice I am offering the issue for a bargain price of $20. Come one, come all! And, when the issue goes out of print and begins commanding high prices (as it inevitably will), don’t say I didn’t give you a chance!
I am in the process of preparing the index and reading the proofs of my revised Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos—which is now retitled The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos. Hippocampus Press hopes to have this book ready for NecronomiCon II this August, if not earlier. It has now been significantly expanded in size and may check in at more than 400 pages.
Proofs of Black Wings IV have arrived from the publisher (PS Publishing), and on the whole they look pretty good. PS had announced the book as being available in February, and let’s hope it is able to keep that promise. The signature sheets of the signed/limited edition are also beginning to circulate, so that edition may not be quite as delayed as the one for Black Wings III was. (As a matter of fact, I never even got a copy of the signed/limited edition, nor did any of the contributors.) I believe the paperback of Black Wings II will also come out pretty soon, maybe February or March.
I am contemplating the issuance of e-books of some of my older titles, specifically The Weird Tale (1990), H. P. Lovecraft: The Decline of the West (1990), A Subtler Magick: The Writings and Philosophy of H. P. Lovecraft (1996), and The Modern Weird Tale (2001). These books may or may not actually be in print (the first three in reprints from Wildside Press; the fourth from McFarland), but I have retained e-book rights. But since I no longer have electronic files of these books, such files will have to be generated—a tedious process. But I think it is worth doing. I shall probably let Hippocampus issue the e-books. Of course, in the process of preparing electronic files I shall probably do some revision. Indeed, I wish I could slap on a new title to A Subtler Magick, whose title and subtitle were determined by the publisher; but I suppose that is not possible.
I have been labouring with a cold/cough ever since my return from Vancouver, BC (January 8–11), where I attended the Modern Language Association conference. Actually, Mary and I spent as little time at the conference as we could, spending most of the time in exploring this most interesting city. I was on a panel discussion on “weird fiction” on Sunday, January 11. I was dreading the event, because I know from experience that this conference (attended almost exclusively by academics) can be and usually is insufferably pompous and stuffy; but our panel, to my surprise, went reasonably well. One young person professed considerable familiarity with both HPL and my work, and I encouraged him to attend NecronomiCon II. I also met the poet Wade German and his charming wife, and we had much lively discussion on various subjects as well as a nice tour of an anthropological museum. On our own Mary and I walked around Stanley Park and had a splendid lunch at the Fish House there. (Pardon us, HPL!)
I cannot leave my readers without commenting on the miraculous conclusion of the NFC championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Seattle Seahawks. The game was going so badly for my Seahawks that I was going to give up watching—but Mary said she would watch to the bitter end, so I decided to stick to it. And I’m glad I did. I don’t recall a more remarkable conclusion to a game in all my fifty years of watching football. All I say, however, is that the Seahawks had better not make so many mistakes if they expect to win the Super Bowl in two weeks.
I received copies of Weird Fiction Review No. 5 (2014) a week or so ago. Of course, it looks splendid from a purely physical perspective, but I believe the contents are also exemplary. It includes four separate interviews (Dennis Etchison on Ray Bradbury; Jonathan Johnson on Michael Aronovitz; Jason V Brock on Al Feldstein; Wayne Edwards on Stuart David Schiff); fiction by Brian Stableford, Jason V Brock, Donald Tyson, Jonathan Thomas, Robert H. Waugh, Darrell Schweitzer, and others; and articles by Dennis Etchison (on Forrest J Ackerman), Jan Vander Laenen, Stefan Dziemianowicz, and others; poetry by Wade German, Ann K. Schwader, and others; and columns by John Pelan and Danel Olson. The publisher, Centipede Press, states that the list price is $35 but is currently offering it for $25. I will follow suit and offer my spare copies for $25, which includes shipping for US customers.
Well, my threat—er, promise—to dig out my violin and play it at the Northwest Chorale’s play-along/sing-along of Handel’s Messiah on December 30 turned into a reality, and it was an enthralling experience. I was substantially assisted by three other violinists (one first violinist and two second violinists) who covered up my numerous mistakes and bad intonation. But I know the work so well (from a choral perspective) that I was able to “lead” the orchestra quite effectively. I was hoping that my wife, Mary, would take some pictures of the event, but she was ill and stayed home; however, some pictures taken by others have been forwarded to me, and I am hoping that my webmaster can make one of them visible here. I will, however, not repeat this undertaking or take up the violin on a regular basis: no time and no real interest!
Continuing on the musical theme, I have heard a rough CD of our choir’s December 13 performance, and—aside from the irritant of a crying baby—it turned out reasonably well. We will be able to fine-tune the recording in various ways to make it better still, and there is a good chance that this one will in fact be offered for sale commercially, since I am securing permission for all songs that are still under copyright.
Mary and I took a brief trip to Los Angeles over the Christmas holidays to see my two sisters and their families. One December 26 I was please to make the personal acquaintance of two young poets, Kyle (K. A.) Opperman (whose The Crimson Tome will appear this year from Hippocampus Press) and Ashley Dioses (who has a poem in the new Weird Fiction Review and is likely to have a poetry book from Hippocampus sometime in the future). We engaged in several hours of lively discussion of poetry and other matters. Indeed, Kyle suggested to me that I encourage Leigh Blackmore to assemble a volume of the collected weird poetry of Leah Bodine Drake. Leigh has just written a long article on Drake’s poetry (which will appear in two parts in the next two issues of Spectral Realms)—an article that notes that, aside from the fabulously rare Arkham House book A Hornbook for Witches (1950), Drake also published a second poetry volume, The Tilting Dust (1956), which has some weird specimens. In addition, there is a third, unpublished poetry manuscript, Multiple Clay, among her papers at the University of Kentucky. I have just asked the library there for a copy or scan of this text. So I hope that a volume of Drake’s poetry, under Leigh’s editorship, can appear in the next year or two.
I am just now wrapping up my edition of the weird tales of Irvin S. Cobb and Gouverneur Morris for Dark Renaissance Books. It will be called Back There in the Grass, from the title of Morris’s most famous story. This is really a very interesting compilation, and the weird work of these two author is quite creditable. I think I will then proceed with an assemblage of the weird tales of Thomas Burke, a writer I have always admired. Jessica Amanda Salmonson seems to have assembled a pretty comprehensive volume of Burke’s weird tales (The Golden Gong and Other Night-Pieces [Ash-Tree Press, 2001]), but this book is long out of print and no doubt quite expensive. I may include the complete contents of Burke’s classic collection Night-Pieces (1935), even though not all the stories are weird; and there are other weird stories scattered in other collections that I will also include. After I assemble the Burke volume, I will put together a substantial book of Théophile Gautier’s weird tales.
Lynne Jamneck and I have pretty much completed our assembly of Gothic Lovecraft, and the volume has come out quite well indeed, with contributions from Lois H. Gresh, Orrin Grey, Nancy Kilpatrick, Lynda Rucker, Jonathan Thomas, Donald Tyson, Don Webb, and several others. This will be appearing from Jason V Brock’s Cycatrix Press later this year—perhaps around the time of the World Fantasy Convention in Saratoga Springs, New York. I am also helping Jason assemble Nicole Cushing’s first short story collection, The Mirrors, which he hopes to bring out for the World Horror Convention in Atlanta (May 7–10). I am not sure I will be able to attend that event, as I would have to miss one of my choir performances (currently set for May 9 and 16).
So this year is likely to be a busy one!