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!