In addition to his classics of horror fiction, it is estimated that Lovecraft wrote 100,000 letters — or roughly 15 every day of his adult life — ranging from one-page diaries to seventy-page diatribes. Perhaps 20,000 of those letters have survived, in the hands of private collectors and at the John Hay Library in Providence.
In each episode of this podcast, we'll read one of these letters (or part of it) and then discuss it. In his letters HPL reveals an amazing breadth of knowledge of philosophy, science, history, literature, art and many other subjects, and forcefully asserts some highly considered opinions (some of which can be upsetting).
And of course his letters offer a fascinating window into his personal life and times. Although we've been working with Lovecraftian material for over 30 years, we still find interesting new things in his letters, and while we don't claim to be experts we look forward to sharing them with a wider audience.
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A pair of letters to soldier of fortune and pulp fictioneer E. Hoffmann Price, Lovecraft's friend and collaborator from New Orleans, in which HPL talks of writing weird fiction, playing with kittens, his rambling walks in Providence woods, and the allure of East Indian curry.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Hippocampus Press for including this letter and more in their new edition of Letters to E. Hoffmann Price and Richard F. Searight. Special thanks to Leslie Baldwin for making the delicious curry! And thanks to listener/HPLHS member Bill Barbato for making the handy Voluminous Database.
The Brown Digital Repository has at least one of the missives from Price to which the first letter in this episode is a response. Price describes his experience in writing the Shamballa story which was published under the title "The Devil's Crypt" in Strange Detective Stories magazine for January of 1934. Our old friend Will Hart has a PDF of the story you can read in his vast online archive of Lovecraftian stuff, CthulhuWho1.
Theosophy is far too big a topic for us to cover either in the episode or here on the website, but it's fascinating stuff. HPL mentions Helena Blavatsky, Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater, three of the founding figures of the movement. Shamballa is a mythical, spiritual kingdom or hidden land, home of the mystic brotherhood of Masters who figure prominently in Theosophy. It has been described (and spelled) in numerous ways by numerous people, and mentioned in passing in various works by Price.
HPL was surprised to see an issue of Nick Carter magazine on his local newsstand in 1933, perhaps even the very issue pictured here. The famous detective character was introduced in dime novels in 1886, created by Ormond Smith and John Coryell, and after initial fame had indeed waned in popularity. But with the success of "The Shadow" in the early 1930s, he was brought back and went on for many more decades of thriller fun in fiction, comic books, radio, movies and television.
The Worm Ouroboros by Eric Rücker Eddison is a heroic fantasy novel written in Jacobean style in 1922. Nominally set on Mercury, as Lovecraft notes it is much more like a fantasy version of Earth combining elements of medieval Europe, Viking lore, and classical mythology. Apparently some of the characters in the novel refer to their home as "Middle Earth", and the novel influenced later more famous works of fantasy like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Eddison belonged to the same literary club at Oxford as Tolkien and Lewis. James Branch Cabell, an American author of fantasies that Lovecraft did not care for, admired the work and wrote the introduction for the 1926 American edition. Eddison expanded on his fantasy world starting in 1935 with a trilogy of novels set in the land of Zimiamvia.
We don't know exactly what year or model of "Hu'd-Su'un" Price was driving in 1936, but if it was anything like this 1935 Hudson Eight, it is easy to see why Lovecraft referred to it as a "super-juggernaut". Hudson also made a similar car called the Terraplane, which was popular with actual aviators like Amelia Earhart and Orville Wright. It's fun to imagine Price taking HPL for rides in Rhode Island in such a car. Hudson itself merged with Nash-Kelvinator to become AMC, and the Hudson brand name was retired after 1957.
Although Farnsworth Wright did not accept Price's Shamballa story, he did publish "The Return of Balkis" in the April 1933 issue of Weird Tales. Lovecraft described the story as "good, vivid stuff". It starred occult detective Pierre D'Artois, who lived in Bayonne, France. D'Artois appeared in at least eight stories by Price, including "The Peacock's Shadow" and "The Bride of the Peacock". You can read "The Return of Balkis" online here. And while you're there you can read Clark Ashton Smith's "Ice Daemon"!
Price and Lovecraft made a habit of signing their letters to each other in foreign languages. Here you can see HPL's signature from the second letter covered in this episode. Between his penmanship and our ignorance, we can't say whether or not this is meant to be Arabic. You can see the entire letter in the trusty Brown Digital Repository.
S. T. Joshi and David E. Schulz have some excellent footnotes in their new collection of the letters to Price, including a detailed explanation of the "ritual of approach to the Rajah of Kandi" mentioned in the second letter of this episode. You should check them out!
Posted June 6, 2021
Long and Love-Kraft
In this fun, fascinating, archetypical letter of October 17, 1930 to Frank Belknap Long, HPL talks a bit about business, philosophy, his growing library, the nature of art and work, and the profound importance of cheese. The letter is part of the collection of original manuscripts recently acquired by Brown University Library, and we can finally tell the story of that acquisition in some detail.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Arkham House for transcribing this letter and publishing it in abridged form in Selected Letters III. Thanks also to S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for making the complete Arkham House transcript available for us to read. Our thanks to all the HPLHS fans and Voluminous listeners who contributed to the fundraising effort to put this and other letters into the collection at Brown University! We all owe an enduring debt of gratitude to S. T. Joshi and Hippocampus Press publisher Derrick Hussey for spearheading that endeavor.
While we wait for this letter — among others — to be added to the Brown Digital Repository, you can go there now to see the original manuscript of "The Whisperer in Darkness", written entirely on the backs of other letters! You can also see the "bulky letter" from George Henry Weiss which HPL prominently mentions. It's a fascinating, if difficult, read.
There is some discussion of the November, 1930 issue of Weird Tales, a contributor copy of which neither HPL nor FBL received despite the fact that each of them had a poem published in it. You can see those poems, as well as Clark Ashton Smith's glowing review of Long's story "The Black Druid" and the cover story that made HPL so angry, by reading the issue online. "The Black Druid" had appeared in the July, 1930 issue, and you can read that one here! H.G. Wells' story "Æpyornis Island", which FBL cited as an excuse not to write a dinosaur egg story, was first published in 1894, and was featured on the cover of Pearson's Magazine in 1904 with this illustration by Wallace Blanchard.
Dinosaur eggs had been discovered and identified during the Central Asiatic Expeditions of the American Museum of Natural History led by Roy Chapman Andrews in the early 1920s. There's some silent footage taken of one such discovery online, which is fascinating even if it might be partly staged.
Here are the "libellous" pictures of Clark Ashton Smith and George Henry Weiss (a.k.a. Francis Flagg) that HPL mentions appearing in "Barber-Swindler" Gernsback's Wonder Stories magazine in October of 1930.
HPL describes cottage cheese as the "rudis indigestaque moles" of cheese. That is a phrase from Ovid's Metamorphoses, and you can read more about it here!
Whatever one may think of his Mythos fiction, it was awfully nice of August Derleth to send HPL such a bonanza of weird books and magazine stories. If you're interested in reading his novel Evening in Spring, you can find a first edition copy at the website of L.W. Currey, the very same dealer who sold the huge collection of Long letters to Brown University at an institutional discount price. They also have a first edition of Long's The Horror from the Hills, which introduced Chaugnar Faugn to the Cthulhu Mythos and is mentioned in this letter!
Currey is also currently offering a couple of copies of The Beetle by Richard Marsh. First published the same year as Dracula, it outsold Bram Stoker's masterpiece at the time. Signe Toksvig was Danish but wrote in English, and was a frequent contributor to Weird Tales. Her novel The Last Devil first appeared in 1927. Paul Busson was an Austrian who wrote in German. His works don't seem to have achieved much fame in English. Herbert Russell Wakefield was a British master of the ghost story. His first collection, They Return at Evening, came out in 1928. Frederick Britten Austin was a British author who served in WWI and frequently wrote on the topic of war. The haul for which Lovecraft's aunt paid $1.19 in postage is now worth thousands.
One passage we failed to mention during the conversation bears a little explanation. HPL writes: "I am a caseist in diet, a cattist in zoology, and an Anglo-Cathartic in religion. Shantih, Shantih, Shantih." This is clearly a play on T. S. Eliot, who in 1928 (in the preface to his book For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order) declared himself to be "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-Catholic in religion." And in case Long didn't get the allusion, HPL clinches it with the three Shantihs, which are quoted from the end of Eliot's famous 1922 poem The Waste Land, which HPL didn't care for. "Caseist" appears to be a word HPL made up, derived from the Latin caseus for "cheese". Between this and his Ovid reference, Lovecraft demonstrates a very impressive ability to create puns from Latin, and to quote obscure/highbrow poetry and literary criticism, probably from memory. People have been using the word "cheesy" to describe things that are cheap or lame since at least 1896, so HPL was probably playing on that meaning of the word as well. He was pretty smart. Our thanks to listener David Kellogg for calling our attention to that passage and providing the Andrewes reference!
Posted May 2, 2021
Four for Farnsworth
A set of four letters to Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright, spanning from July of 1927 to July of 1936. Over a nine year period, we see the evolution of their relationship and delve into topics including the submission of "The Call of Cthulhu", a mystery tale by Zealia Bishop, and the untimely death of Robert E. Howard. We try to get to the bottom of the "black magic" quote and find there's no bottom to the copyright question.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks again to Hippocampus Press for their book The Lovecraft Annual #8, which includes all of these letters to Farnsworth Wright. Thanks to Cryptic Publications for Crypt of Cthulhu Vol. 6, Num. 6, 1987, which includes David E. Schultz's essay about the "black magic quote". Thanks also to Arkham House for Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter H. Cannon, which includes Donald Wandrei's memoir of HPL. If you want to read more letters to Zealia Bishop, you can check out our very own book, The Spirit of Revision.
Here's Wright posing on what appears to be Michigan Avenue in Chicago, with the iconic Palmolive Building in the background, not far from the Weird Tales offices. He was described as a tall, thin man with a small voice who seemed prematurely aged (he was barely two years older than Lovecraft). That might be due in part to the traumas he suffered in his youth, including the death by drowning of his college roommate and being drafted as an infantryman in WWI.
Although HPL did pile considerable scorn on the readers of Weird Tales, he did have some praise for a couple of items in the issue that came out the month he wrote this first letter. Click on the link to read "The Mystery of Sylmare" by Hugh Irish, and at the same time see a drawing by Hugh Rankin, the new illustrator HPL liked. Rankin would make drawings for a number of HPL's appearances in the magazine, including "The Call of Cthulhu", "The Dunwich Horror", "The Silver Key", "Pickman's Model", "The Curse of Yig" and "The Lurking Fear".
In the second letter, HPL asks when "The Curse of Yig" might appear. It was not published for another 14 months, in the issue for November of 1929, but Zealia's name made the cover, and she was in good company: the issue also featured pieces by Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Seabury Quinn and David H. Keller.
Here's the postcard that Donald Wandrei sent to Lovecraft after his first day in Chicago. We can only hope actually meeting Farnsworth Wright at the Weird Tales offices improved his opinion of the city, which, for the record, is wonderful. Wright infamously rejected some notable HPL stories, including "The Shunned House", "The Call of Cthulhu" (too obscure), "At the Mountains of Madness" (too long), "In the Vault" and "Cool Air" (too gruesome), and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" (rejected twice!).
HPL mentions a number of "horror" movies that greatly disappointed him in the third letter. Frankenstein and Dracula are pretty famous films from 1931, but you might not have seen The Bat, made in 1926. Based on a hit stage play, which was itself based on a popular novel, The Bat was intended as a comedy/mystery, so HPL's criticism that it wasn't sufficiently "horrible" might be a little unfair. Directed by Roland West, the movie opens with what might be one of cinema's first "spoiler alerts". Because it was based on hit properties, they made a number of changes to the plot so that people who had already seen the play or read the book could enjoy the movie as something new. It featured a number of people on the crew who would go on to be heavy hitters in Hollywood, including cinematographer Gregg Toland and production designer William Cameron Menzies. The movie was itself a hit, and Roland West remade it as The Bat Whispers in 1930, this time as a talkie. This was also a very influential film, being one of the first productions to use widescreen technology that wouldn't be attempted again until the 1950s, and made extensive use of miniatures and models. We don't know if HPL watched that version, but Bob Kane did, and was still thinking about it in 1939 when he created Batman. That movie was itself remade in 1959, once again titled The Bat, but this time starring Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead. All three versions of the movie are watchable online, and you can see the first two below!
All these movies were ultimately based on the novel The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart, who has been called "the American Agatha Christie" and apparently invented the mystery trope of "the butler did it". She was quite happy to see her work adapted into film, which happened numerous times. Lovecraft did not want "The Dreams in the Witch House" to be adapted into a radio show, but it has been done not only in that format but also as a stage play by Chicago's WildClaw Theatre, as a movie by Stuart Gordon, and as a rock opera we happen to like! Furthermore, Roald Dahl's 1983 novel The Witches features a character named "Bruno Jenkins". Since "Bruno" is derived from an old German word for "brown" and the boy gets turned into a mouse, it would seem that character is a wink to HPL's story. HPL probably wouldn't have liked any of these things.
Chris J. Karr has explored the question of Lovecraft's copyright status in depth, and he has published the results of that study at The Black Seas of Copyright.
The two manuscripts HPL casually included with the fourth letter, presuming (or maybe pretending?) they would be rejected, were "The Haunter of the Dark" and "The Thing on the Doorstep". Wright accepted both of them and they were published in December of 1936 and January of 1937, respectively. The disastrous financial flop of The Moon Terror doomed any further attempt Wright might have made to publish anthologies, but some of HPL's stories did appear in the "Not At Night" series published in the U.K. by Selwyn & Blount.
HPL clung to hope that the news of Robert E. Howard's suicide was somehow wrong. He had not seen this clipping from the June 14, 1936 issue of the Abilene Morning Reporter-News with details of the double funeral of REH and his mother.
Posted April 4, 2021
An Antiquated Mummy from the Other Side
The surviving sections of a very long and shockingly timely letter to Catherine L. Moore, written during Lovecraft's final illness and just over a month before his death. Is this the fabled letter in which Lovecraft rejects his racist attitudes? No, but the letter's a doozy all the same, addressing art, politics, religion, the royal family and much more.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Chris Lackey of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast for suggesting this one. Thanks again to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to C.L.Moore and Others. This book also contains the letter from C.L. Moore to which HPL's is a response, and it sheds additional light and is well worth reading. To quote just one passage:
"The whole panorama of the background which your arguments cover is a little too big for me to grasp—perhaps too big for anyone to understand fully.... In fact, I am very little interested in the question except when confronted with such lucid and graphic explanations as yours. That is, of course, a wholly reprehensible attitude, but represents pretty well, I suppose, the outlook of the great majority. Very few of us have minds which, like yours, enclose the whole scope of the political-social situation and can look ahead past individuals. Most of us are like me, who have got to have money which can only be earned by daily work and who do not question the source of the salary so long as it's forthcoming. I can understand but not share your subtle scorn of the capitalist's parasite who, accepting the polluted gold as a means of providing bread and butter for dependents, feels no responsibility for the luckless majority whom the capitalistic system dooms beyond a mild regret that such things happen.... Most of us are so tied down with hostages to fortune that we have not even the desire to destroy the system which sustains us though we may recognize it as pernicious for the majority." —C.L. Moore to HPL, Dec. 11, 1936
This letter is absolutely loaded with so many specific references that we couldn't possibly touch on them all during the episode, or even here, but we'll highlight a few. He refers to some of his and Moore's friends by their nicknames: "Sultan Malik" is E. Hoffmann Price. "Little Whiskerando" is Robert H. Barlow. "Kid Sterling" is Kenneth Sterling. Below are works by a few of the numerous painters he mentions.
Top Left: "The Freedom of the Seas" (1917) by Frank Brangwyn. Brangwyn was a prolific Welsh autodidact artist.
Top Right: "Tibet. Himalayas" (1933) by Nicholas Roerich. Roerich painted vivid landscapes and lots of esoteric symbolism.
Bottom Left: "Celestina" (1906) by Ignacio Zuloaga. Zuloaga was a Spanish painter who did portraits and landscapes.
Right: "The Windmill at Wijk bij Duurstede" (1670) by Jacob van Ruisdael. Ruisdael was one of a whole family of Dutch landscape painters with similar names.
HPL mentions a number of writers he admired, some of whom are less well-known today. Alfred Noyes was a British poet and dramatist who wrote, among other things, an epic trilogy in verse called "The Torch Bearers", started in 1922 and concluded in 1930, covering the history of science and singing the praises of its pioneers. Romain Rolland was a French novelist who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1915 "as a tribute to the lofty idealism of his literary production and to the sympathy and love of truth with which he has described different types of human beings". Selma Lagerlöf was a Swedish author, who in 1909 became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Sigrid Undset was a Norwegian novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 1922. Her most famous work was Kristin Lavransdatter, a trilogy set in medieval Norway told from the point of view of a woman from birth to death.
Lovecraft names a couple of contemporary architects he likes, including Cass Gilbert. Gilbert designed a number of landmarks, including the Woolworth Building in New York City, which was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1930, a number of state capitols, and, in 1936, the United States Supreme Court building.
HPL mentions a number of right-wing speakers and groups with considerable disdain. "Coughlinism" refers to the preachings of Father Charles Coughlin, a populist Catholic priest who started out as a fan of FDR but grew increasingly antagonistic in his sermons which were broadcast widely on the radio. The Black Legion started as the paramilitary wing of the KKK, but then splintered off and became its own domestic terrorist organization, centered in Michigan, committing murder, arson, kidnapping, and the like. The Silver Shirts was the name given to members of the Silver Legion, a nationalist/fascist organization founded in North Carolina by William Pelley, a successful writer who believed in the occult and various antisemitic conspiracy theories. The Silver Shirts wore uniforms and waved flags with a big red "L" on them, which stood for "loyalty, liberation, and legion". Pelley actually tried running for president in 1936 as the candidate of the Christian Party—which he also founded—but after WWII started, he was convicted of sedition and treason and spent eight years in jail.
Lovecraft mentions "Dr. Carrel" in this letter, who is Alexis Carrel, a brilliant French vascular surgeon who invented numerous techniques still in use today and paved the way for organ transplants. He also had a touch of Herbert West about him, and allegedly kept a culture from an embryonic chicken heart alive in a petri dish for 20 years to prove that cells can live forever. Carrel was an advocate for both eugenics and euthanasia, and might well have been tried for collaborating with the Nazis but he died before he could be brought to court. HPL heaps scorn on "Macfadden rags", which is a reference to Bernarr Macfadden, another delusional, narcissistic media tycoon with self-aggrandizing political ambitions. He published numerous trashy pulp magazines, and a daily tabloid newspaper, The New York Evening Graphic, so sleazy that no library bothered to collect it so no copies are known to survive. Lovecraft also mentions the "Buchmanites", who were the followers of Frank Buchman, an American Lutheran minister who believed the world's problems were all caused by personal dishonesty, fear and selfishness, and that the only way to fix the world was for people to surrender to God's plan and publicly confess their sins. He marketed his ideas as "moral re-armament", and many of his teachings were later adopted by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous.
HPL mentions more favorably a number of left-wing figures in this letter, including Corliss Lamont, who was one of the directors of the ACLU in the '30s and was very friendly toward the Soviet Union without ever actually becoming an outright Communist. He also describes his approval of Rabbi Stephen Wise, one of the most prominent Jewish thinkers in the US at the time. He was a founding member of the NAACP, tried to organize boycotts of Nazi Germany before WWII, and was a good friend of Albert Einstein's.
Below you can watch the last movie HPL ever saw, Winterset. It is based on a play by Maxwell Anderson, one of the dramatists Lovecraft thought was particularly good. They tacked on a happy ending for the movie which HPL objected to: the play does not have one. You can also hear the abdication speech of King Edward VIII, whose departure from the throne HPL thought was regrettable.
Posted March 7, 2021
Wales, Whales, and the Stars
We offer a pair of letters this month, both to HPL's Welsh friend and fellow amateur Arthur Harris. In the first, from September 1, 1934, HPL writes from his vacation on Nantucket, sharing the history of the island and touching on the Roman era in Britain. In the second, from February 26, 1936, Lovecraft describes his trips to New Haven and New York City, rhapsodising about the new Hayden Planetarium.
And if you haven't already noticed it, please do check out the update about Paul Campbell below!
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks again to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others.
We found these images of Harris' journal Interesting Items on David Haden's ever-interesting blog Tentaclii. We don't know if the Christmas cover pictured here is the same one HPL mentions in this letter, but it is an inviting scene!
Although the postcards and folder that HPL sent to Harris have not been preserved, he sent a lot of postcards from that same Nantucket trip to other friends, and you can see several of them in the Brown Digital Repository. They also have a folder which, if not exactly the same, is no doubt quite similar to the one he sent to Harris.
HPL mentions being gifted by his friend Ernest Edkins with a book about London with "Pennell plates". The illustrator in question was Joseph Pennell, an American artist who was known for landscapes and architectural renderings. He had contributed to a few different books about London, but HPL might well have been referring to the one shown below, which came out in 1928.
Here's that wonderful cross-section view of the new Hayden Planetarium HPL visited. You can learn lots more about that as well at David Haden's blog. No doubt Maria Mitchell would also have found it very impressive.
Our thanks to HPLHS member Joseph Ryan for allowing us to scan his copy of "Causerie", which just might have been Lovecraft's personal copy. On the third page shown here you can see one of the handwritten corrections. It's a tiny sample, but it does look like HPL's handwriting....
Posted February 26, 2021
Paul J. Campbell
Researcher extraordinaire Dan Pratt comes to our rescue once again, with a treasure trove of information about Paul J. Campbell!
Dan writes: "I did some looking into the "oasis group" mentioned in HPL's letter to Paul J. Campbell, but you're right—it's a dud search. However, Campbell may have been referring to the Mecca Temple, the original meeting place of The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrines (A.A.O.N.M.S—get it?), aka the Shriners, at the Knickerbocker Cottage building (aka the Old Cottage), 456 Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village. The Shriners (and a lot of other secret social societies in the nineteenth century) co-opted a lot of Egyptian and Middle Eastern symbolism and often couched discussion of their meetings in terms of deserts and oases. ...If Campbell was referring to a Shrine meeting, that might explain HPL's comment about the oasis sounding 'vivid and colorful.'" Dan included a number of newspaper clippings proving his point that many Shrine temples were referred to as an "oasis", including the one shown here from the Brooklyn Citizen of Feb. 4, 1900.
Dan found this picture of Campbell circa 1890. Campbell was born in 1884 in Georgetown, Ill., and received an 8th-grade education. In or around 1902 he joined both the National and United Amateur Press Associations. In 1906 he severely injured his right knee hopping off a moving streetcar on the way to his printing business in Danville, Ill., and the leg was amputated nine years later after an infection. In 1918 he married his second wife, Eleanor J. Barnhart, with whom he had two sons. In the early 1930s he moved to East St. Louis and became a newspaper editor. In 1939 he established the Fraternity of the Wooden Leg.
Dan uncovered some great newspaper articles about Campbell's organization from the 1940s. It seems possible that Campbell's own connections in the newspaper business helped generate such feature coverage, although certainly the Fraternity of the Wooden Leg was a worthy subject in any case. Dan continues: "On December 7, 1940, his son, Paul M. Campbell, lost his left leg in a motorcycle accident with an ambulance driven by a Civilian Conservation Corps worker. The War Department found the driver at fault and in August 1943, Campbell requested a $5,000 settlement to help with his son's rehabilitation. The Secretary of War said that amount seemed to be "excessive" but the Campbells got their payment in November of the next year. Campbell's eloquent letter to Illinois congressman Calvin D. Johnson is heartbreaking." Dan uncovered the official report of the actions taken to pay the Campbells some compensation for young Paul's accident. Paul J. Campbell died just over a year later, at the age of 60, on August 16, 1945. The Fraternity of the Wooden Leg was led after his death by Augusta B. Weaver of Sapulpa, Oklahoma, who took over as editor of the magazine Courage.
Posted February 7, 2021
In this unintentionally topical letter from March 2 of 1927, Lovecraft talks with fascinating fellow and longtime correspondent Paul J. Campbell about fascism, the decline of western civilization, social justice and other challenging and hard-to-discuss issues, dropping the names of a number of fascinating figures, and impressive stories, along the way.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks as usual to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others.
Copies of Paul J. Campbell's magazine Courage seem to be quite rare nowadays, but we managed to score this one from 1944.
Here are three difficult and potentially upsetting books that were very influential in the early 1920s and which we're planning to add to our shelves, if not right away to our reading list. Here's a little bit more about Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard.
Alvin "Shipwreck" Kelly sat on top of a flagpole for 49 days in 1930, but that was absolutely nothing compared to the feat of St. Simeon Stylites!
At the time HPL wrote this letter, Campbell was in the oil business. Scott Nearing, a left-wing figure mentioned in this letter, wrote a very interesting piece about the political implications of the oil business in 1923: yet another item still amazingly relevant. You can read it HERE.
And if you want to learn a little more about Thomas De Quincey, you can check out this article.
The final "delicious" paragraph of Penguin Island by Anatole France (translated by A.W. Evans) is as follows: "It grew very rich and large beyond measure. The houses were never high enough to satisfy the people; they kept on making them still higher and built them of thirty or forty storeys, with offices, shops, banks, societies one above another; they dug cellars and tunnels ever deeper downwards. Fifteen millions of men laboured in the giant town."
Posted January 3, 2021
Happy new year! In this lengthy letter from November 16 of 1916, the young Lovecraft tells his friend Rheinhart Kleiner about his childhood. Many details are revealed, and yet many mysteries remain! BLEEP ADVISORY: HPL uses the word which we bleep a couple of times in this letter.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Donovan Loucks for letting us know about Joe Shea's attempt to find the lost paintings of Lillian Clark. (It seems there was a somewhat later painter also named Lillian Clark, whose watercolors turn up on eBay from time to time....) Thanks as usual to Hippocampus Press for their new edition of Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others.
Here are some musical selections from the 1916 operetta Katinka, which HPL had seen and very much enjoyed just a few weeks before writing this letter. It was a Broadway hit in 1916 and toured nationally, and was often produced prior to the second World War.
One of the hit numbers from the show was called "Allah's Holiday", which became popular with dance orchestras in the 1920s.
And here is the original "Negro Laughing Song". Although extremely popular in the first decade of the 20th century, HPL did not whistle or hum this one. !
HPL mentions a poem called "The Pool" in this letter, with which he clearly assumes that Kleiner was already familiar. Lovecraft had recently published the poem in his own amateur journal, The Conservative. It is by Winifred V. Jackson, and it follows: Above my head a leaf-lock’d sky,
A brown bowl set beneath my feet;
About my face pale ferns grow high,
And over all is silence sweet.
But Oh! Sometimes in dreams I hear
A whisper, then a torrent’s roar:
The shriek of wind, the belch of fear,
That I have known somewhere before!
Posted December 6, 2020
Live from the Lovecraft Film Festival
We're back with a special episode recorded live with a guest commentator! In this lengthy letter from August 16 of 1932, HPL continues his ongoing discussion with Robert E. Howard about the comparative appeals of civilization and barbarianism. HPL opines about the existence of God and immortality, the use of alcohol by the working classes, excessive use of force in policing, and the difficulties of depicting graphic violence in literature. Please be advised: the audio for this episode was captured from the internet and the quality is not quite as good as usual.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to guest Stephen Fazio for selecting this letter and bringing the goods! Thanks also to Hippocampus Press for their two-volume work A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. This letter appears in volume 1 of that excellent set. Very special thanks to Brian and Gwen Callahan of the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival. This episode was part of the online programming of the 2020 edition.
We had to edit the letter for time, and one of the parts we cut out discussed the fate of the "Bonus Army" of 1932. You can learn more about that incident here.
You can watch the live video of this episode on YouTube! Thanks to Brian and Gwen for making it available!
There are still Festival Tees and posters available at the Arkham Bazaar! Go get them! And all of the panels and author readings from this year's HPL Film Festival are available to watch on the HPLFF YouTube channel!
Posted November 8, 2020
Fernando King and John F. Mazur
We're going monthly, so no new episode this week, but we do have a fascinating update about a couple of the people mentioned in last week's letter thanks to indefatigable researcher Dan Pratt!
Dan scoured online newspaper archives and found a number of items about John F. Mazur, whose extravagant claims about creating artificial life in his laboratory got a fair amount of press coverage in the spring of 1926. Here is a big feature article from the June 6 issue of The Times of Shreveport, Louisiana. This clipping postdates HPL's letter so it can't be the one Aunt Lillian sent him, but syndicated stories about Mazur were being published from time to time that spring and no doubt something similar appeared in the Providence papers. Also shown below is a clipping from the March 26th Eau Claire Leader-Telegram.
Dan writes: "Mazur may have seen an ad in Popular Mechanics in the late 1910s for the American College of Bacteriology, a possibly-fictitious institution that offered correspondence courses in public health, bacteriology, and sanitation (even offering a 3-month nursing degree—yikes). I say Popular Mechanics because he later advertised his own services there: "CHEMICAL and bacteriological examinations guaranteed accurate. Formulas, processes. Write me about your chemical problems. List free. J F Mazur M.B., 937 W 20th St. Lorain, Ohio" (March 1923).
Mazur apparently made his living by processing biological samples for physicians in his private lab, but used his spare time to try to manufacture life from basic chemical components. He was embarrassingly convinced that he'd created cells, yeast—finally, even snails. He also had an odd religious angle on his process, which didn't help the newspapers (or other reputable scientists) take him seriously.
The poor guy was undoubtedly a little mentally ill and it seems like the scientists asked to comment on his work were relatively kind. Less kind was the San Francisco Examiner (Sep 19, 1926): "It took Frankenstein, of fiction, five years to create his monster. Mazur has been working for six years, and all he has been able to do is create, by means of chemical formula and mixtures, artificial snails." Damn. Some people are never satisfied. (Props to the reporter, though, for providing the complete synopsis of Frankenstein.)"
Dan also found out pretty much the entire life story of Fernando King, HPL's barber, by searching census records, Providence city directories, and other archives. Born in 1858 and working in a mill by the age of eleven, King went through a few jobs before becoming a barber.
Dan writes: "The first listing for the King & Fountaine salon appears in the 1895 City Directory: Room 112 at 72 Westminster Street (site of the present Turk’s Head Building, constructed 1913). Fernando’s business partner was Eduard Fountaine (a.k.a. Edward Fontaine) (b. 1864), a French Canadian who emigrated to the US in 1875." They changed locations and even split up over the years.
King lived to the age of 78, and passed away just one month before HPL himself did in 1937. He is buried in North Scituate, Mass. CLICK HERE to download a PDF full of more detail, including numerous photos of the places where King lived and worked.
Posted November 1, 2020
Whoop! Bang! Hooray!
In this exuberant letter to his aunt Lillian from March 27, 1926, HPL reacts to her recent suggestion that he come back home to Providence after his miserable years in New York City, and along the way talks about Freud, M.R. James, abiogenesis, Italian food, the high price of laundry, and a great many other things.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to Family and Family Friends. This letter comes from volume 2 of that excellent set.
HPL apparently really enjoyed the military band music of his youth, and was very glad to know that Providence was erecting a monument to David Wallis Reeves, the "father of American band music". You can hear one of Reeves' most popular marches played by Lovecraft's favorite band at America's Juke Box from the Library of Congress. The American Band still exists in Providence, and the HPLHS' own Reber Clark has played with them and conducted them, and they have played Reber's music!
After gorging himself on a celebratory seven-course Italian meal, HPL took himself to see this movie. It is one of the westerns that made John Ford into a superstar director of American cinema.
Although we couldn't find the specific Mazur abiogenesis experiments that HPL refers to in this letter, we did learn about some other fascinating Herbert West types who were working at the same time. Alexander Oparin was a Russian biochemist who wrote The Origin of Life in 1924 and introduced the idea of the "primordial soup". In 1926, Hermann Muller discovered that x-rays can mutate genes, often with drastic results.
Posted October 25, 2020
HPL: Colonial Tourguide
In this letter to his aunt Lillian from two weeks after his marriage, HPL makes a very surprising proposal before describing in elaborate detail his recent honeymoon trip to Philadelphia and his walks through New York with his aunt Annie. CONTENT WARNING: Although racism is not a major topic in this letter or discussion, there are a couple of passing slurs that have been bleeped.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book H.P. Lovecraft: Letters to Family and Family Friends. They are also the publishers of Lovecraft and a World in Transition, a book of very interesting essays by S.T. Joshi, including one about Sonia and HPL's marriage.
This is a copy of the little leather-bound guidebook to New York that his aunt Annie gave to HPL for Christmas, highlighting the numerous colonial sites in the city. HPL used it in turn when escorting Annie on a tour of the city, and recommended this booklet to other correspondents who planned to visit NYC. Measuring a very tiny 3 x 4 inches and 124 pages, it features some simple line illustrations and very sparse maps like the one shown at right. It was written by Bernardine Kielty and published by the Bowman Hotel chain, which included the Providence Biltmore.
Seen at left is the Butler Exchange building, built in downtown Providence in 1872 and somewhat disdained by HPL for being "Victorian" in style. It served as an office and retail building and as a school before it suffered a devastating fire and was torn down in 1925. The Industrial National Bank Building, shown at right, was built on the same site in 1927. Lovecraft didn't like this building either. Known familiarly as the "Superman Building", it is the tallest building in Rhode Island. Sadly, it has been vacant since 2013, when the last tenant, Bank of America, moved out. Rather deteriorated, it has been appraised as having "no value", and there has been talk in recent years of tearing it down so that Hasbro can build a taller building there to use as a new headquarters.
Here's an itinerary page from the Royal Blue Line tour that HPL and Sonia took on their honeymoon. HPL mailed a copy of this pamphlet to Aunt Lillian in another letter.
Two letters from Lovecraft to Smith in the summer of 1923 display HPL's great enthusiasm for Smith's work as both writer and illustrator. He optimistically discusses a new magazine called Weird Tales which might prove to be a good market for their stories.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to listener Andreas Bylow Jensen for recommending this pair of letters. Thanks also, and as usual, to Hippocampus Press for their book Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. They are also the publishers of Lovecraft and a World in Transition, a book of very interesting essays by S.T. Joshi. (His essay "Lovecraft and Dunsany's Chronicles of Rodriguez" sheds specific light on subjects mentioned in this episode.)
Andreas wanted us to let folks know that a book we have discussed in previous episodes, The Haunted Castle by Eino Railo, has just been released in a new edition by Routledge Press. A study of the elements of English Romanticism, Lovecraft read the original edition when it came out in 1927 and recommended it to numerous correspondents.
Here are Smith's illustrations for "The Lurking Fear" that HPL so admired. Necronomicon Press issued a facsimile version of the original Home Brew publication in 1977 with all of Smith's drawings, and have since offered an augmented version. We don't know if the trees are any sexier, but they are now in color!
Lovecraft mentions recently reading Arthur Machen's The House of Souls in this letter. HPL read a later edition, and so we don't know if he ever actually saw this cover design, but the first edition published in London in 1906 has this spectacular creature drawn by one of HPL's favorite artists, Sidney Sime. We haven't seen a copy of this book ourselves, and maybe this drawing is repeated inside the edition that HPL read. If you know, we'd be glad to hear from you!
In order to raise money to help pay for the publication of "Ebony and Crystal", Clark Ashton Smith wrote a column for his local newspaper, The Auburn Journal (and Placer County Republican). Pictured here is the column from July 3, 1924. There are a good number of other clippings of the column in the Brown Digital Repository, which demonstrate that sometimes the title was presented correctly. The paper in the 1920s was only 10 pages long, and two of those pages were devoted to automobile news. There was a brand of automobiles called Auburn in the 1920s, but they were manufactured in Auburn Indiana, not California.
Posted October 11, 2020
REH Part 2: Witch Cults
This is part two of a long letter from October of 1930 to Robert E. Howard. HPL provides his Texan friend with a fascinating look at the history of witch cults in Massachusetts, before reflecting on his own genealogy and the perils of immigration in his America. CONTENT WARNING: This episode involves issues that are still a hot-button topic today.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks again to Hippocampus Press for their book A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
Posted October 4, 2020
REH Part 1: Rhode Island
In part one of this long letter from October of 1930, HPL writes to his friend, writer Robert E. Howard. After a discussion on the merits of Arab culture, HPL moves into a lengthy recapitulation of the history of Rhode Island and the dark forces that shaped its unique culture. CONTENT WARNING: This episode touches on slavery and racism and dubious anthropology.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard.
Today we recorded a special episode of the podcast as part of the live feed from the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland. That episode also covered a letter to Robert E. Howard, but this is a different letter. Stay tuned for our special HPLFF episode which we will release here several weeks from now.
Posted September 27, 2020
The Case of Old Dolph
In a letter from October of 1934, HPL talks with one of his most difficult revision clients about the challenges of the job and whether or not Jesus ever really existed.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Alfred Galpin and Others.
Like HPL, we had never heard of Tyrus of Mayence, but we found this interesting article from MacLean's Magazine from 1924. The story it tells is quite entertaining, but no one since seems to have taken it very seriously, because this article seems to be just about the last place it appears.
We couldn't find out too much more about the author of this piece, Henry W. Fisher. He seems to have been a well-known international newspaper journalist in his day, widely travelled and familiar with important people all over the world. He wrote a book published in 1922 called Abroad with Mark Twain and Eugene Field: Tales They Told a Fellow Correspondent. Eugene Field died in 1895, and Mark Twain passed away in 1910, so the tales they might have told Fisher were decades old by the time Fisher produced his book.
To complicate matters, there was another writer at the same time named Harry W. Fischer, spelled with a C, who wrote a number of apparently fabulous books, including Behind the Scenes with the Kaiser (1888-1892) The True Story of the Kaiser as he Lived, Loved, Played and Warred, by the Baroness von Larisch [pseud.] of the Imperial Household. It's possible that the two writers were actually the same person, or that the story about Tyrus of Mayence was written by Fischer and his name was just misspelled or Anglicized in MacLean's. "Henry Fisher" is a very common name so it's hard to pin him down.
Both of them seem to have been interesting characters, on a par with DeCastro himself!
Posted September 27, 2020
In previous episodes we have encountered mentions of Delilah, a Lovecraft family servant. Our friend Donovan Loucks of the H.P.Lovecraft Archive has now provided us with her last name! He cites this letter from HPL to his aunt Lillian from August 1, 1924:
On this occasion I met for the first time the Michigan amateur Clyde G. Townsend (no relative of Delilah’s, but a fine Nordic specimen with yellow hair and blue eyes!), the prepossessing Alabaman W. Alvin Cook, my literary enemy Edna Hyde of New Jersey, and an attractive young man named Albert Rader, from Lorain, Ohio, whose tempestuous experiences have recently preëmpted front page space in the Evening Bulletin.
Donovan goes on to say "The medium-length story is that I was tracking down the location of Curwen’s townhouse in Providence, found a home at 6 Olney Street that seemed to fit the bill, and then found a city directory that listed a Delilah Townsend at that address. The name “Delilah” sounded familiar, so I started digging in Lovecraft’s letters and found the above quote. So, Delilah and her husband, William, were the inspiration for Hannah and Asa in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and their home that of Joseph Curwen.
"I wrote an article about my discovery that appeared in the 2015 issue of Lovecraft Annual. It included part of a 1918 plat map, and the two photos of the house (demolished around 1931) that I miraculously discovered in the basement of the Stephen Hopkins House!
"I’ve actually been discussing the birth year of Delilah Robinson Townsend with Ken Faig recently. I’ve got data showing that she was born in December 1872 and Ken has data indicating she was born in 1868, backed up by an 1870 census indicating she was two years old. Of course, either of us might have information on a different Delilah Robinson or any of our information could be in error. So, we’re going to be doing our best to correlate all the contents!"
Listener and HPLHS Member Dan Pratt also added to the Delilah Townsend information by sending along the page from the US Census of 1900 shown here. About halfway down the page you can learn a lot about Delilah and her family, including the fact that she had a son named William who was just six years younger than Lovecraft himself. We thank Dan and Donovan both for shedding so much added light on this interesting woman.
Posted September 20, 2020
I Am Home
In a letter to Frank Belknap Long from 1926, HPL describes his unbridled joy at returning to Providence after his unhappy years in New York City.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Arkham House for their book Selected Letters II.
The model of the Pantheon that HPL admired in New York was part of a collection commissioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, sculpted by A. Joly under the direction of French architect Charles Chipiez. The collection was on display in the 1920s but was moved into storage sometime in the 1950s, when the museum could afford to acquire genuine antiquities instead of plaster reproductions. We found the old postcard shown at left, but we couldn't find any clue as to where that model is now. Sean did find a gorgeous model of the Pantheon at Sir John Soane's Museum in London by François Fouquet that is well worth a look, seen at right. (And don't forget to view the gift shop and the VR museum tour!) There are also some spectacular model Pantheons at museums in Milan and Rome.
We couldn't find any photos of the billboards that made HPL feel like he was finally home, but here are some 1920s ads for Packer's Pine Tar Soap and Gorton's Codfish, two longtime New England brands both still going strong.
Posted September 13, 2020
Oh Mighty Ar-Ech-Bei
In a letter from 1934, HPL tells his future literary executor that typing the manuscripts of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath is not worth the trouble. This letter shines a light on why Lovecraft might have selected him for the job, as young Mr. Barlow is already at work protecting HPL's legacy. We also learn of some other very interesting fantasy fans and aspiring publishers of the time.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to listener @RossbyrneW, who recommended this letter via Twitter, and to S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for their book O Fortunate Floridian: H.P. Lovecraft's Letters to R.H. Barlow, published by The University of Tampa Press.
HPL signed this letter using this very strange and slightly disturbing sigil. This letter is preserved in digital form and you can view the whole thing in the Brown Digital Repository.
Barlow never actually completed typing The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, but click here to see how much he did accomplish.
Posted September 6, 2020
A Lovecraftian Romantic Comedy
In a pair of short letters from 1921 and 1922, HPL tells his friends Kleiner and Moe of his early encounters with Madame Greene (who will go on to become Mrs. Lovecraft). Is HPL the leading man in a romantic comedy or is he merely a Providence tour guide caught up in forces beyond his control?
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz for their books Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Both are available from Hippocampus Press.
The Crown Hotel, where Sonia stayed when she visited Providence, was located downtown on Weybosset Street, a few blocks around the corner from City Hall. Sometime after these letters were written, they opened a lounge with an undersea theme where Cthulhu investigators might have enjoyed a drink.
Sonia invited HPL to visit her in Magnolia, Massachusetts, a fancy suburb of Gloucester where the rich and famous built vacation homes. HPL was more interested in the rugged coastal scenery. One of the sights is a reef off the coast called "Norman's Woe". The scene of numerous shipwrecks, it is rather reminiscent of Innsmouth's Devil Reef.
Posted August 30, 2020
Greetings From St. Augustine
A letter from June 28, 1934 in which HPL writes to a young friend of Clark Ashton Smith, telling of his travels in St. Augustine, Florida. The travelogue segues into useful advice about dealing with depression and communists.
At left is the little sketch HPL made of the strange man who interrupted him while he wrote. You can see this entire handwritten letter, and the envelope it came in, in the Brown University Digital Repository. You will also find there a postcard that HPL sent to Sully about a week before he wrote this letter, at the start of his visit to St. Augustine, showing one of the buildings he mentions.
Below is a later postcard view of the Timucuan burial site that had just recently been discovered when HPL wrote this letter. The graveyard remained on exhibit as a tourist attraction and grade-school field trip destination until 1991, when the remains were reinterred.
The Silver Springs folder HPL included with this letter does not survive, but there is an orange water stain on all the pages of the letter, so maybe it was a copy of this orange vintage brochure advertising the amazing electric glass-bottom boats that were popular in Silver Springs at the time. One of the original boats from 1934, the Princess Donna, is still in service in Florida, the oldest still-operating tourist boat in the state!
Posted August 23, 2020
A letter from March 9, 1924 in which HPL breaks some big news to his poor Aunt Lillian. HPL's run off and married Sonia Greene in New York! This letter is amazing not just for what HPL reveals, but for how he reveals this shocking news.
Howard and Sonia were married at St. Paul's Chapel, the oldest surviving church building in Manhattan. George Washington and other Founding Fathers worshipped there.
HPL mentions Pennsylvania Station a couple of times in this letter. It was an iconic train station in New York City and we really wish we could have seen it in person, but it was torn down in 1963.
They spent their honeymoon in Philadelphia, and when they weren't busy typing "Imprisoned With the Pharaohs", they did get in some sightseeing. HPL included a copy of this Royal Blue Line brochure with this letter, so Lillian could get an idea of what they saw.
If you'd like to follow the exercise regimen that Sonia encouraged HPL to follow, then check out the Daily Dozen!
Posted August 16, 2020
In a letter of February 8, 1935 to young writer Emil Petaja, HPL talks about just who is and who isn't a "weird" author and how hard it is to make that distinction. Also we finally learn definitively how to pronounce some of the names of HPL's friends and correspondents, including Petaja's own!
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book H.P. Lovecraft: Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja.
Here are a couple of illustrations by Petaja's close friend and roommate Hannes Bok. In black and white Bok's pointillistic style is similar to Virgil Finlay's, and here is his interpretation of Pickman's Model. At right is one of his covers for Weird Tales from 1941.
After moving to Los Angeles, Petaja hung out at storied Clifton's Cafeteria with Ray Bradbury, Henry Kuttner, Forrest Ackerman and others.
Posted August 9, 2020
The Dark Swamp
In a letter of August 1923 to original Weird Tales editor Edwin Baird, HPL talks a bit of business and literary theory before describing his plan to visit a legendary site of dark mystery and monster-inhabited potholes with his friend C.M. Eddy, Jr. Then as a bonus we'll hear him describe how the plan worked out in a letter to Frank Belknap Long from November 8 of the same year.
Here are the front and back of our exciting new acquisition, an actual handwritten letter from HPL to Clifford M. Eddy, Jr. This one was written in November of 1924, about a year after the letters that we read in this episode. Although it's written on stationery from the Hotel Vendig in Philadelphia, the fact that HPL turned the letterhead upside-down suggests he was not actually writing from the hotel. HPL and his wife Sonia used the stenographer's office at the Vendig during their honeymoon in March of 1924, so they could re-type the manuscript of "Under the Pyramids" to meet the Weird Tales publication deadline. It's possible HPL picked up some of the letterhead on that occasion and saved it for later use.
Just a few years after these letters were written, Chepachet, Rhode Island began to host an annual Ancient and Horribles Parade. Coincidence?
Posted August 2, 2020
I Wish I Were a Housecat
In this rare letter of March 1923 to the poet Samuel Loveman, HPL talks with great sensitivity about their mutual friend Alfred Galpin, and rather less sensitivity about his own wife, Sonia Greene. Loveman later burned all his letters from Lovecraft, and this is one of the few that survive.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Others.
Posted July 26, 2020
I Genuflect, I Grovel
In which HPL writes to Wilfred Talman, abjectly apologizing for miscommunication regarding the idea of HPL writing a novel. This letter from late in Lovecraft's life is revealing about both his work and his concerns for his young friend's reputation.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully.
Noh theatre makes extensive use of masks, and here's a wonderful example. This mask shows a different facial expression depending on the angle at which it is seen! Learn all about Noh theatre!
At right is the bookplate that Wilfred Talman designed for HPL.
Posted July 19, 2020
In which HPL writes to his friend Maurice Moe and questions the truth (or lack thereof) in religion, and defends the idea that a person can be moral without being religious. Lovecraft gives a spirited argument to his friend while leaving plenty of room for them to agree to disagree.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their book Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Others.
Above is a 1904 cylinder phonograph recording of Enrico Caruso, one of the most famous singers in the world when Lovecraft was a boy, and a 1909 phonograph recording of John McCormack, another famous tenor who inspired young HPL.
HPL mentions a couple of magazines in this letter. The Outlook was a weekly magazine published in New York from 1893 to 1928. It started life in 1870 as The Christian Union, but changed its title when it shifted focus to social and political issues. There was a British magazine with the same title at the same time. The Truth Seeker was a prominent freethought journal founded in 1873, which is still being published and is headquartered in San Diego.
HPL quotes the popular newspaper character Mr. Dooley, created by Finley Peter Dunne. You can read more of Mr. Dooley's pithy sayings in Mr. Dooley Says.
The Bible verse that HPL cites at the end of the letter is "And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad."
Posted July 12, 2020
Danger: Politics Ahead
In which HPL writes to C.L. Moore, one of his female correspondents. Howard unleashes a torrent of thoughts on life in the Great Depression and the response of political parties to the challenge of the times. Not for the politically squeamish.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to the team at Hippocampus Press, including S.T. Joshi and David E. Schultz.
Posted July 5, 2020
Laundry and Influenza
Written during his time in New York, this richly detailed letter to HPL's Aunt Lillian discusses quotidian issues like laundry, and more impactful issues like the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. A special thanks this week to Donovan Loucks, for pointing this letter out and for his work to find the Peck Garden, and to David E. Schultz for making the letter available for us to read.
We found this clipping from the Burlington Free Press of September 20, 1941 about W. Paul Cook. And at right is a portrait of Providence public health titan Dr. Charles Value Chapin.
You can check out the archive of old Providence restaurant ephemera that Sean found here!
This letter is absolutely loaded with specific but glancing references and we couldn't talk about all of them in the episode. HPL refers to the price difference between coke and bituminous coal, which reminds us that in his day most American homes were heated by burning coal of some kind in a furnace. Coke is a kind of refined fuel made from coal that was once popular. It's better and safer than straight bituminous coal, and therefore more expensive, but producing it was poisonously devastating to the environment around coking facilities. Today fewer than 130,000 homes nationwide are heated with coal.
HPL refers to his friend Everett McNeil's book Tonty of the Iron Hand. The title character is based on a real person, Henri de Tonti.
HPL mentions the "Pemaquid idea". We don't know exactly what he's talking about, but he may have been referring to the Pemaquid Point Light, a lovely lighthouse in Maine.
HPL confessed to ignorance of the Rowan tree legends. You need not be ignorant if you click here!
HPL also talks about "Laswell's Corners & Characters". This was a column that ran in the Providence Journal and Evening Bulletin in the 1920s, with drawings by staff artist George D. Laswell. Items were collected and published as a book in 1924, and it's loaded with lovely ink drawings of Providence architecture which HPL must have greatly enjoyed. You can see it online at the Internet Archive.
HPL mentions the "Peck Garden" which is next door to "Hathaway and Douglass". The garden was apparently the yard of a private home. His Aunt Lillian was staying at a boarding house in Waterman St., and must have discovered that the view from her window looked out over the neighbor's beautiful garden. Our friend Donovan Loucks is an expert on Lovecraftian sites in Providence, and with some amazing detective work he found the very location!
Donovan writes: "I've highlighted (in red) three buildings on the 1918 plat map seen at right: from right to left they are 115 Waterman Street, 113 Waterman Street, and 109 Waterman Street. 115 is the boarding house at which Lillian was staying, 113 is identified on the map as the home of "W. A. Peck" (which must be the site of the "Peck garden"), and 109 is shown on the map as "W. Douglas Co.". Armed with these addresses, I returned to the house directories. (Note that I only have house directories from 1895 to 1936.)
The house at 115 Waterman Street where Lillian stayed seems to have been a boarding house beginning around 1917 and all the way through 1936. It appears to have been a private home prior to that. At no point is Lillian listed among the residents. It’s likely that she only lived at this location for a few months.
The home at 113 Waterman Street was that of Walter A. and Louise L. Peck. The 1895 and 1903 directories just list Mr. Peck, the 1896 through 1901 directories list both Mr. and Mrs. Peck, and the 1905 to 1934 directories list Mrs. Peck only. These folks were probably Walter Asa Peck and Louisa (not Louise) Lyman Aborn Peck, who are both buried in Swan Point Cemetery. The only directory that indicates Mr. Peck’s occupation is the 1895 which merely says “wool”.
Note that on the map above I’ve also underlined what looks like the “L. L. Peck” property on Brook Street. I didn’t turn up anything in the house directories along that stretch of Brook Street between Waterman and Manning Streets, as if the lot was empty for decades. However, the map seems to show a driveway through this property to what may be a carriage house at the rear of the W. A. Peck property. It’s possible that a portion of the “Peck garden” was on this property as well.
Finally, the building at 109 Waterman Street is listed as William Douglas & Co., Contractors in the 1921 through 1934 directories. But there’s no mention of a “Hathaway”. Going back further, the company is listed as William Douglas & Co., Carpenters from 1920 back to 1905. Then the company name changes to William Douglass & Co., Carpenters in the 1903 and 1901 directories. Finally, Hathaway & Douglass, Carpenters appears in the 1900 directory, going all the way back to the 1895 directory. At left is their advertisement from the 1897 directory."
In the postscripts to this letter, HPL asks his aunt if she can pick up a new calendar for 1926. We don't know if she did, but HPL's calendars from 1925 and 1927 are brilliantly preserved in the Brown Digital Repository.
Posted June 28, 2020
CONTENT WARNING: This letter covers some intense issues and contains explicitly and intensely racist language. Writing in 1933, HPL speaks candidly to his young friend Robert Bloch about the recently-elected Chancellor of Germany: Adolf Hitler. Lovecraft carefully explains his opinions about the ongoing rise of the Nazi party.
Robert Bloch drew this sketch of Shub Niggurath in 1933, the same year HPL wrote this letter. You can find a high-resolution version of it, along with a few other Bloch sketches, in the Brown University Library Digital Repository.
At right is the iconic Margaret Brundage cover painting from the Weird Tales issue of October, 1933, in which Lovecraft's tale "The Festival" was reprinted.
Our brother podcaster Chris Lackey recently posted a link to Your Heroes Were Monsters, an essay by D. G. Valdron that seems highly apropos this week.
It might bear repeating this week that the HPLHS unequivocally believes that Black lives matter. We can’t change Lovecraft, but we can help change our world. We must evaluate the past unflinchingly, see the present honestly, and embrace changes to create a future that brings justice and equality to everyone. To pursue that change, the HPLHS donates to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
Posted June 21, 2020
In part two of this long letter from the summer of 1921, HPL tells his buddies in the Gallomo of another key figure he's become acquainted with: Frank Belknap Long. This young man from New York goes on to become HPL's colleague, business partner, and one of his closest friends. HPL also sets the record straight on who wrote "The Crawling Chaos".
Our friend Donovan Loucks, who runs the H.P. Lovecraft Archive, also shared with us this photo of a page from The Tryout, the amateur journal edited and printed by HPL's Haverhill friend "Tryout" Smith. Here is the poem by Myrta Alice Little that HPL mentions in this letter.
Donovan writes: "As luck would have it, I happen to have the issue of The Tryout which includes Myrta Alice Little’s poem, “My Willow Lane” (March 1921, volume 7, number 2, page 32). Unfortunately, I have no idea of the location of the site Myrta wrote about. I do see there’s a swampy area behind the Little property with a brook that extends northwest and southeast out of it. However, I don’t see a “willow lane” in the immediate vicinity. Of course, much may have changed over the intervening nearly 100 years. In that letter Lovecraft also mentions the “Pinnacle”, which I suspect is a hill about one-third of a mile east of the Little house, easily accessible from the parking lot of the Hampstead Hospital. Pam and I took a hike up to the top of it the same day I took the photos of the Little house. It’s just an unremarkable pine-topped hill that’s no higher than any other hills in the area, though it is the highest hill in the immediate vicinity."
We thank Donovan for his graciousness and generosity.
Posted June 14, 2020
In part one of this long letter from the summer of 1921, HPL tells his buddies in the Gallomo of a return to his boyhood clubhouse as a middle aged man. He regales his friends with accounts of his active social life, including a meeting with an intriguing woman: the future Mrs. Lovecraft.
The museum of the Haverhill Historical Society that HPL visited is now The Buttonwoods Museum. We look forward to visiting in person someday!
If you're interested, you can get your own copy of Swamp Yankee here. Thanks to listener Chris Kalley for pointing it out!
Our friend Donovan Loucks runs the H.P. Lovecraft Archive, and one of his missions is to find and photograph every Lovecraftian site that still exists. He very graciously shared with us some photos he's taken of a few of the places mentioned in this letter! Seen below is all that remains of the Great Meadow Country Clubhouse: the stone fireplace built by Civil War veteran James McKay. Also below is a view of the home of Myra Alice Little and her family, where Lovecraft stayed on his trip to Haverhill. For more photos of HPL during his happy summer of 1921, be sure to visit Donovan's photo gallery, and particularly this picture of HPL and HBM.
Posted June 7, 2020
Shut Up and Listen
In view of recent heartbreaking events, we have decided not to read a letter from HPL this week. It's a time for other voices to be heard. We'll be back next week.
Instead of us, here are a couple of other podcasts we recommend.
Fanti is a relatively new podcast, but very much worth a listen.
Posted May 31, 2020
Divorce and Bigamy
In this letter of July 2, 1929 to Maurice Moe, HPL discusses his thoughts on marriage and, more importantly, divorce. Written after the collapse of his own marriage, Lovecraft is quite candid about the institution and his personal life.
Lovecraft has never been famous for the brevity of his style, but even for him the opening sentence of this letter seems long, weighing in at 164 words.
HPL mentions Judge Benjamin Lindsey in this letter, who co-authored The Companionate Marriage with Wainright Evans in 1927.
SLANG ALERT: HPL uses the word "flivvers" in this letter. The ubiquitous automobile of the 1920s was the Ford Model T, often referred to as a "flivver", but the word in general means "failure".
HPL mentions "flaming youth", a phrase which alludes to the shocking novel of 1923 and/or the notorious film adaptation of it. The novel was written by Samuel Hopkins Adams, but published under the pseudonym "Warner Fabian" to protect his reputation. You can read Flaming Youthhere. Only one reel of the film version survives, kept in the Library of Congress.
Posted May 24, 2020
Shea Part 3 — War, Peace, & Justice
In the sometimes uncomfortable finale of our three-part letter to J. Vernon Shea, HPL opines on weightier topics including the looming forces of war and peace, and issues of justice (social and otherwise) surrounding the famed Scottsboro Boys trial. CONTENT WARNING: This episode includes numerous bleeps, racist language, and painfully awkward discussion thereof. Listener discretion advised.
HPL mentions Lincoln Steffens in this letter, a famous liberal muckraking journalist who wrote about the corruption of politics in Rhode Island, St. Louis, and other places. If you want to hear more about corrupt Providence politics, we recommend the podcast Crimetown.
Another left-wing radical HPL cites is V.F. Calverton (born George Goetz), who founded Modern Quarterly magazine, published from 1923 to 1940.
The "Coates book" that HPL refers to is The Eater of Darkness by Robert Myron Coates, published in America in 1929 and described as "the first surrealistic novel in English". Coates went on to be a prominent art critic for The New Yorker.
In the section about art, HPL mentions having seen stained glass by noted designer Joseph G. Reynolds. That stained glass was installed at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church of Pittsburgh. You can see more photos at their website.
Lovecraft does mention George Bernard Shaw in a number of other letters, but usually in a list with other prominent writers with liberal leanings.
The "nice little Jew" HPL mentions at the very end of the letter was Julius Schwartz, who would go on to become a prominent editor of famous titles at DC comics, including both Superman and Batman. He also helped organize the first World Science Fiction Convention. Schwartz commissioned the collaborative story "The Challenge from Beyond", jointly written by Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Abraham Merritt and C.L. Moore in 1935.
You can get a copy of The Lady Who Came to Stay from our friends at Hippocampus Press. We did!
Posted May 17, 2020
Shea Part 2 — Bedelia and Friends
In part two of this three episode letter from February 4 1934, HPL gets into pop culture, describing to J. Vernon Shea his favorite songs, magazine stories, plays, and motion pictures. Even in 1934 movies about time travel had plot holes.... BLEEP WARNING: Although the vast majority of this episode is light and whimsical, there are a couple of passing mentions of racist language.
There was a version of Lovecraft's favorite film, 1933's Berkeley Square, on YouTube, but it seems to have vanished. We have been informed by listener Charles Power that the film has been screened on the Turner Classic Movie channel. The version above seems to be the best we can do at the moment, but sadly it has no sound. Here is a still from the movie, in which we think Leslie Howard gives off a very Lovecraft vibe. Below is one of the few short clips from the movie that at least you can hear.
Our thanks to listener David Kellogg, who writes to solve the mysterious reference to the "Ah Wilderness year" that left us stumped by saying "...while Ah, Wilderness was produced in 1933, it is *set* on July 4, 1906."
Jules Romains was nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature 16 times!
Posted May 10, 2020
Shea Part 1 — Let Suicide Wait
In part one of this lengthy (three episode!) letter from February 4 1934, HPL writes to his friend J. Vernon Shea. Among the many topics he delves into are Lovecraft's youthful contemplations of suicide and what kept him from going through with it.
At left is a small sample of the hundreds of titles in the "Little Blue Book" series published by E. Haldeman-Julius. Lovecraft read many of the Little Blue Books and bought spare copies to send to friends and clients.
HPL uses the term "scientifiction" in this letter. That word was coined by Hugo Gernsback in 1916 and was used in the early years of the genre, but ultimately failed to catch on.
Many of the works of juvenile fiction that HPL enjoyed as a boy (and lamented as an adult) were written and/or published by Edward Stratemeyer, including the Rover Boys and Tom Swift series.
Posted May 3, 2020
In a letter to his revision client Zealia Brown Reed Bishop dated August 25, 1929, HPL emphatically defends the editorial work of his young protege, Frank Belknap Long. He gives lots of writing advice before moving on to vivid description of some of his recent local travels.
You'll find this letter in The Spirit of Revision published by The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society! Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Christian Matzke, Sean and Jackie McCall, Mary Sullivan, S.T. Joshi, and the John Hay Library.
Our book The Spirit of Revision is lavishly illustrated, but mostly in black and white. If you'd like to see some scans of the original letters (and some of the extra things HPL included) in color, along with portraits of Zealia, please check out the Spirit of Revision page on this very website!
The Fairbanks House in Dedham, about which Lovecraft waxes rhapsodic in this letter, is still open as a museum run by the Fairbanks Family organization. Normally they give tours from May to October, but this year their opening day is a little uncertain. But you can make a virtual visit! And maybe even donate to help them through these hard times.
Here's the 1909 map of Buzzards Bay that Sean found online. Onset Beach, where HPL vacationed with Frank Belknap Long's family, is at the northmost end of the bay. The aeroplane that Lovecraft rode in probably didn't get high enough to get this kind of vista, but it's fun to think of him getting a similar bird's-eye view.
Posted April 26, 2020
Cats, Cheese and Hawaiians
In which Lovecraft speaks to Duane W. Rimel of many things, but most extensively on his fondness for cats. That leads to a discussion of local colloquialisms which then leads to an interesting discourse on local cheese nomenclature and the Owyhee Idaho Spud, among other things. It's a fun ride!
This letter was written November 19, 1934. Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, Duane W. Rimel, and Nils Frome.
Here is the portrait of Lovecraft that Rimel made using the linoleum carving technique. Although apparently originally intended for an earlier issue of Fantasy Fan, it was eventually published as an illustration of a short bio of HPL written by F. Lee Baldwin in Fantasy magazine in April of 1935. CLICK HERE to download a PDF of a typographical replica of the entire article, in which HPL describes his close encounter with a certain circus freak-show performer!
Lovecraft refers to the Idaho Candy Company and its signature product, the Owyhee Idaho Spud bar. It is not made with potato, but has a light cocoa flavored, soft marshmallow center drenched with a dark chocolate coating and then sprinkled with coconut. We're happy to report they're still in business and you can get your own Idaho Spud and other delicacies from their website. Although we haven't personally sampled all of it, we can attest that the butter toffee they make is quite wonderful.
Here's a look at the some of the ads for WLW that Sean found while researching this episode. WLW was one the country's most powerful radio stations in Lovecraft's day. You can learn more about them, and see bigger versions of these ads, here.
We checked in with our old friend Nick Offerman to see if in fact "wind shake" is prized by woodworkers. Apparently it is not, although other kinds of wood deformities, such as burl, do make for some very lovely furniture.
In later life Duane Rimel went on to write, among many other things, pulp erotica under the pen name "Rex Weldon". Here are some covers of just a few of his many books. Still haven't found that one about the tobacconists....
HPL used his own very personal spellings for dialects and the nicknames of his various correspondents, which makes this letter a different experience visually than it is aurally. Here are some of his idiosyncratic presentations:
Rimel = Rhi´-Mhel
F. Lee = Eph-Li
R.H.B. = Ar-E'ch-Bei
This is how Lovecraft renders the regional pronunciations of the word "half":
Cleveland = haff • Providence = häf [hahf] • Boston = hääf
The International Phonetic Alphabet had been conceived in the 1880s, but it was still under active development in Lovecraft's day, so it's not surprising if he never heard of it or thought to use it himself.
Posted April 19, 2020
In which HPL writes about space travel, alien life, and the shortcomings of fictional science in a suite of letters to one of the first fans of science fiction: Nils Helmer Frome. PLEASE NOTE: During the recording of this episode, Andrew could not recall the name of the man with whom J.B.S. Haldane corresponded, and referred to him repeatedly — and inaccurately — as a "preacher". The man in question was, in fact, Arnold Lunn, who deserved to be better remembered. Andrew regrets his failure in this matter.
These letters were written between December 1936 and February 1937. Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, Duane W. Rimel, and Nils Frome.
The blueprint on the right was the design for the gate to the headquarters of the Theosophical Society in America designed by Claude Fayette Bragdon, the architect who reminded Andrew of Ivo Shandor. Click the blueprint for more info!
Lovecraft didn't care for anthropomorphic aliens like the ones on Star Trek, but our brother podcaster and dear friend Chris Lackey, co-host of The H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast, pointed out an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation that explains why so many alien races in that universe look basically human. It's called "The Chase". Chris and his wonderful wife Rachel Lackey have their own Star Trek podcast that you can check out here!
Posted April 12, 2020
Things That Go Bump in the Night
In one of the last letters he would ever write, HPL tells young correspondent Harry Otto Fischer about things he's afraid of. He also provides his etymological interpretation of the meaning of the title Necronomicon.
This letter was written in February of 1937. Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their Letters to C.L. Moore and Others.
Click on the image at left to read Andrew's contribution to the Greek etymology question from Strange Eons.
Posted April 5, 2020
Dunsany and Childhood: My Favorite Things
In which HPL writes to the Gallomo (Alfred Galpin and Maurice Moe) of his potent dreams, his personal encounter with Lord Dunsany, and his idyllic youth at 454 Angel Street in Providence.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Arkham House for their Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft.
If you want to see HPL's reference to his Eben Spencer dream, check out page 16 of The Commonplace Book. It's full of fascinating stuff!
If you want to read the book that inspired HPL's childhood village of "New Anvik", check out Snow-Shoes and Sledges by Kirk Munroe!
Here is some of the newspaper coverage HPL and his friends must have seen of Lord Dunsany's American lecture tour, including an ad for the Boston appearance that HPL himself attended.
Posted March 29, 2020
In which Lovecraft opines to his young friend Frank Belknap Long about the perils of pornography and includes a ribald cautionary poem in an 18th century style to drive the point home. Yes, this episode is safe for work.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Arkham House for their Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft.
HPL may not have cared for pornography, but Anthony Comstock really hated it....
Posted March 22, 2020
Anything But The White Ape
In which HPL writes to Edwin Baird, the founding editor at Weird Tales. Lovecraft talks a bit of business before launching into his autobiography. Yes, we have no bananas!
Lovecraft mentions the name of his childhood cat in this letter, and after wrestling with very mixed feelings Andrew chose to bleep it.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Arkham House for their Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft.
Baird was not persuaded by HPL's arguments, and his story "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" did indeed get published in Weird Tales as "The White Ape" in April of 1924, with an illustration by William Heitman.
Lovecraft cites a book that changed his life when he was a little boy: "The Story of the Odyssey in the Harper's Half-Hour Series." We've been looking for a copy of this very rare book (HPL may be misremembering the title), published some time in the 1870s, but in the meantime Andrew was reminded of a book that changed his life in a similar way: McCall's Giant Golden Make-It Book. We spent a couple of minutes talking about it and Lovecraft's childhood books, but decided to cut this audio out of the episode. But you can listen to it above!
Posted March 15, 2020
Melmoth the Wandrei
In which Lovecraft writes to Donald Wandrei, a young correspondent who will go on to be one of the founders of Arkham House, and play a key role in preserving Lovecraft's legacy.
This episode is coming out on the Ides of March, the 83rd anniversary of Lovecraft's death. We want to take a moment to humbly recognize HPL's vast contributions to popular culture and to our lives. Ave et Vale!
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Our thanks to Hippocampus Press for their Letters to Donald Wandrei and Others.
Learn more about the historical figure HPL hated more than any other: Elagabalus!
There are several versions of Fritz Lang's 1927 classic film Metropolis, but this seems to be the most complete one and features the original score.
Here is a very nice restoration of a film that HPL really enjoyed, The Thief of Bagdad (1924), starring Douglas Fairbanks.
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is an international organization for fans of the author H.P. Lovecraft. The Society produces motion pictures, audio dramas, musical projects, publications, prop replicas and much more - all of which take Lovecraft’s creations to a whole new level. Our motto is "Ludo Fore Putavimus" (We Thought It Would be Fun).