- Episode 81
- Posted March 5, 2023
Podcast worlds collide as we are joined by Chad Fifer and Chris Lackey of Strange Studies of Strange Stories, to discuss a letter from March of 1936 to Clark Ashton Smith in which HPL mentions a vampire story called "The Black Abbott of Puthuum".
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Chris and Chad for joining us, and to Dan Pratt for his amazing research skills! Thanks to Joe Ryan for the Causerie scans. Also thanks to Hippocampus Press for their two-volume work Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill.
If you are not listening to Chris and Chad's podcast, then you are missing out on a lot of interesting fun. You should subscribe immediately. In their current episode they are covering the story that is mentioned in this letter, and we are guests!
This letter is available to read online in the Brown Digital Repository. You can also go online to read Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Black Abbot of Puthuum", which was published in the March 1936 issue of Weird Tales.
HPL starts off this letter with a mention of the catastrophic floods that had recently swept through New England. HPL boasted that Providence, or at least College Hill, was invincible, but the damage elsewhere in New England was so great as to inspire new federal laws to deal with similar situations in the future.
HPL mentions Smith's "Hyperborean sculpture" which is making the rounds of the Lovecraft circle. While we don't know exactly which of Smith's numerous sculptures were included in that collection, here are some photos of a number of exemplary pieces. Our sincere thanks to Dan Pratt for rounding up all this imagery, which includes figures of Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Chaugnar Faugn, goblins, ghouls, moon-dwellers, fish-men, werewolves, and any number of unidentified characters. You can see a gallery of Smith's art, including drawings as well as sculptures, here!
The "Herm volume" HPL mentions with enthusiasm is this edition of The Hermaphrodite and Other Poems by his friend Samuel Loveman. It had just recently been published by the Caxton Printers, Ltd., of Caldwell Idaho, and contained 68 of Loveman's poems and an introduction by Benjamin De Casseres.
The "Dold drawings" HPL mentions were part of this book, Night, a collection of very dubious poetry by Harold Brainerd Hersey which had been privately printed for subscribers only in 1924. Hersey was an author and pulp editor who worked in science fiction and other fields. He apparently fell in love with Margaret Sanger, the famous birth control activist, for a while, and made it to the fringes of New York literary circles as her personal secretary and speech writer. He spent most of his career on the seamier side of the pulp magazine business, and wrote a memoir about it called Pulpwood Editor in 1937.
Here is one of the poems: NOCTURNE IV
Her voice is thin as an echo:
She shrinks away,
As light under pleading fingers
As a cobweb . . .
* * *
Her hair is yellow like old parchment:
Her eyes are mirrors
Wherein appear arms and faces of drowning people
Going down into purple waters . . .
* * *
She is trembling now
Because you have kissed her breasts,
And run your hands quietly, quietly, over her thighs:
She forgets those other lovers,
The while waiting for the ecstasy of that moment
Between two seconds . . .
* * *
After she will rise and bathe her little body.
You could not love her, then, unless you knew
How easy it would be to kill her . . .
Noted pulp artist Elliott Dold did 63 drawings for the book, most, like the poems themselves, featuring a disturbing blend of sex and horror and menace. It was generally conceded that the drawings were by far the best part of the publication. You can see a number of the drawings below, and you can see the rest, and read all the poems, HERE.
There was another Hersey/Dold collaboration: a pulp magazine called Miracle Science and Fantasy Stories. It was published by Hersey and edited/illustrated by Dold, but lasted for only two issues in 1931. The fiction was unremarkable, but Dold's cover art and illustrations were high quality, which has made the magazine a collector's item. The magazine ceased publication when Dold became ill and was unable to continue his duties both as editor and artist.
We don't know exactly what "postcard of the old bank at Coloma" Smith had sent to Lovecraft, but it might have been like the one seen here. Coloma was the place where, in 1848, James W. Marshall found gold at Sutter's Mill, precipitating the 1849 Gold Rush. It was quite a place until 1852, but since then has become mostly a ghost town.
Though HPL did not have much hope for the project at the time he wrote this letter, William Crawford did succeed in printing "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" as a book, the only one produced in hardcovers during HPL's lifetime. You can get one of HPL's personal copies from noted book dealer L.W. Currey if you can spare $25,000.
HPL is glad to hear of Smith's plans for De Sadoque Oraculo, which was a story Smith outlined in his "black book". Just as Lovecraft kept his famous "Commonplace Book" full of story ideas, Smith had his "black book" for the same purpose. You can read the summary for De Sadoque Oraculo HERE!
The Californian that HPL mentions was the amateur journal of Hyman Bradofsky. Lovecraft's essay about interplanetary fiction appeared in the winter issue of 1935. It had originally been intended for publication by William Crawford, but that plan did not materialize. Causerie was the amateur journal of Ernest A. Edkins, who published a review of Frank Belknap Long's book of poems, "The Goblin Tower", in the issue for February of 1936, just the month before this letter was written. HPLHS member Joe Ryan has a copy of that issue and graciously allowed us to scan it so we could share it here.
HPL thanks Smith for the "page of fantastic social cartoons", and here it is! It was published in the San Francisco Examiner on Sunday, February 2, 1936. All of the cartoons are striking, but the one HPL especially liked (in the bottom right position) was by a 15-year-old girl from Austria named Roswitha Bitterlich. She was regarded as something of an artistic child prodigy, and had a book of watercolor paintings published in Berlin in 1933. Her work was exhibited in European galleries throughout the 1930s.
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