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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In this special double-header final(?) episode, we discuss a letter from close to the beginning of HPL's epistolary career and one from close to the end. We see young and elder Lovecraft continuing to think about the need for both fantastical wonders and also scientific materialism at the same time. We reflect a bit on what we've learned over a multi-year deep dive into HPL's letters and what it means to a be a Lovecraft fan.
Music by Troy Sterling Nies. Thanks to Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press for the books Essential Solitude and Miscellaneous Letters. Thanks also to Bill and Sue-On Hillman's ERBzine, where Sean first encountered the letter he chose. Their article features a number of other interesting links worth checking out. Thanks to S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz, Bobby Derie, August Derleth, Farnsworth Wright, and all the people who have contributed and listened to our podcast all this time. Most of all, thanks to H.P. Lovecraft.
Not every story HPL praises in his letter made the cover of All-Story, but quite a few did, and here's a gallery of some of them. The magazine was launched in January of 1905 by pulp king Frank A. Munsey. It was originally issued monthly, and changed titles a few times over the years. At the top left in this array of covers is the issue in which HPL's letter appeared. It's rare and highly collectible in part because of Lovecraft's contribution but also because it was the first ever weekly issue of the magazine. Just a couple of months after this issue, All-Story Weekly was merged with another Munsey magazine, The Cavalier, and the publication bore both titles for a year, after which "Cavalier" was dropped. Then in 1920 it was merged with Munsey's original pulp magazine, The Argosy, with Argosy getting top billing.
At right is Charles MacLean Savage (b.1884) — who could be the model for Rich Uncle Pennybags — author of "Prince Imbecile" (cover in the bottom right corner above), The Turn of the Sword, "The Scarlet Samurai", "Mastodon-Milk-Man" and "The Courtship Superlative" among others. It seems he also acted in a number of Broadway plays over the years, which might explain his very dandy appearance. Several of his works are set in Japan.
Although we couldn't find any link to Pilgrims in Love, the story of "Oriental love" by De Lysle Ferrée Cass that HPL found so unspeakably nauseating, you can read Martha Stanley's "distinctly disagreeable" The Souls of Men.
HPL starts his letter to Derleth thanking him for the offer of a good copy of Prince Zaleski, a novel by M.P. Shiel first published in 1895. You can read it online HERE. We could not find August Derleth's essay "Retreat to Nature" anywhere online, but it seems he also sent a copy of Robert E. Howard, and Howard also praised it quite highly.
Hamlin Garland was a prolific author and interesting personality, who won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1922. A lot of his stuff is readable online, including 1908's The Shadow World, but we could not find a digital version of Forty Years of Psychic Research, the book referred to in this letter.
HPL also name-checks Leon Chevreuil, author of On ne muert pas "We Don't Die" (1916) and Spiritism in the Church (1923), and Nicolas Flammarion, author of The Unknown (1900), Mysterious Psychic Forces (1909) and Haunted Houses (1924). Flammarion was an astronomer who believed in reincarnation and that there was intelligent life on Mars. The engraving shown above right was made by an uncredited artist for one of Flammarion's books, The Atmosphere: Popular Meteorology (1888), and has since then become a kind of stock image to illustrate some of the very concepts HPL talks about in these letters.
Johann Heinrich Jung-Stilling was quite an interesting character, author of Theory of Pneumatology; In Reply to the Question, What Ought to be Believed or Disbelieved Concerning Presentiments, Visions, and Apparitions, According to Nature, Reason, and Scripture.. HPL owned a copy of this work.
HPL congratulates Derleth on a couple of his recent literary accomplishments. His story "The Old Lady Has Her Day" appeared in the July 1936 issue of Scribner's magazine, and he was named as one of the editors of Poetry Out of Wisconsin, published by the dubious Henry Harrison. The dust jacket was illustrated by Frank Utpatel, who also did the illustrations for Lovecraft's The Shadow Out of Innsmouth book.
HPL also congratulates Derleth on his latest story in Weird Tales, "They Shall Rise".
HPL happily reported the arrival of the latest issue of The Phantagraph, a fanzine edited and published by 22-year-old Donald A. Wollheim. Wollheim was one of the earliest influential fans of science fiction and wrote and published in the genre until 1990.
Here is the photo of Robert E. Howard with a moustache, thanks to Bobby Derie. We don't know what "pleasing new snap" of himself Derleth might have sent to HPL, but it might have looked something like the picture shown here. There appear to be a number of Clark Ashton Smith sculptures on Derleth's shelves.
French listener Olivier Decker has taken it upon himself to prepare transcripts of episodes of Voluminous, and has generously made them available to us. If you'd like to read them, go to the Episode Database which you will find linked in the white bar at the top of this page. There you'll see at a glance which episodes have transcripts and which do not. We'll be adding links to transcripts as long as Olivier keeps making them, provided he doesn't go stark raving mad. We thank him very much for his efforts!
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