H. P. LOVECRAFT: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1970s

H. P. LOVECRAFT: PRINTED AND MANUSCRIPT MATERIAL, 1912-1970s

Introduction by Boyd White

Since the publication of “The Call of Cthulhu” in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales, H. P. Lovecraft’s influence on modern and contemporary popular culture cannot be overestimated.

A prolific correspondent, during his short lifetime Lovecraft befriended and mentored such seminal writers of fantastic fiction as Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith.  Stephen King has called Lovecraft “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” Not surprisingly, one of the many aliases of King’s immortal sorcerer Randall Flagg, the villain in The Stand (1978), The Eyes of the Dragon (1987), and The Dark Tower series (1982 to 2012), is “Nyarlathotep,” a direct nod to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu’s Mythos.  As one might expect, Lovecraft’s influence is easy to detect in the work of many of the late twentieth- and early twenty-first century’s most important writers of supernatural fiction, such as Clive Barker, Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Caitlin R. Keirnan, and Thomas Ligotti.  Literary giants as diverse as Jose Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs, Michael Chabon, and Joyce Carol Oates have also praised Lovecraft’s work, as have French cultural theorists Delueze and Guattari.  In 2005, the Library of America cemented Lovecraft’s acceptance among the first tier of American arts and letters with the publication of Tales, a selection of Lovecraft’s best fiction chosen by Peter Straub.

Lovecraft’s influence, however, extends well beyond fiction and literature.  Directors John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro have long acknowledged Lovecraft’s influence on their films.  Dan O’Bannon, who wrote the screenplay for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), has stated that Alien was “strongly influenced, tone-wise, by Lovecraft,” a remark which should surprise no one since H. R. Giger’s conceptual designs for Alien were a direct follow-up to Giger’s first published book, the Lovecraft-inspired art compendium The Necronomicon (1977).  Junji Ito, Hideyuki Kikuchi, and Chiaki J. Konaka have incorporated elements of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror into their various manga and anime storylines, and Alan Moore’s graphic novels The Courtyard (2003), Neonomicon (2010 to 2011), and Providence (2015 to 2017) are firmly rooted in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  Likewise, Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s Eisner-Award winning Locke and Key (2008 to 2013) takes place in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, while Hellboy creator Mike Mignola’s The Doom That Came to Gotham (2000 to  2001) pits an alternate universe Batman against an ancient entity known as The Lurker on the Threshold.  Lovecraft’s influence in the gaming world is no less extensive.  Chaosium’s highly regarded Call of Cthulhu has been one of the most popular role-playing games since its initial release in 1981 and has spawned a cottage industry of table games steeped in Lovecraftian elements.  Video games, such as Alone in the Dark (1992), and online role-playing games, such as The World of Warcraft (2005), also draw heavily from Lovecraft’s work.  Lovecraftian references even crop up in popular music, particularly heavy metal, such as Black Sabbath’s “Behind the Wall of Sleep” (1970) and Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” (1986).  As a crowning achievement, Narragansett Brewery in 2015 inaugurated its Lovecraft Series of beers that now includes Lovecraft Honey Ale, Innsmouth Olde Ale, and Reanimator Helles Lager.  What other author of fantastic fiction can claim such a pervasive influence?

Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, is a curated gathering of Lovecraft’s writings that provides fascinating insights into Lovecraft’s life and work.  To be sure, the catalog contains seminal works by Lovecraft such as The Shunned House (1928), The Outsider and Others (1939), and Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943), but the most intriguing and important items in this catalogue are unique offerings that are virtually unobtainable.  Only 42 copies of The Cats of Ulthar (1935) were printed by the Dragon-Fly Press—the copy offered by Lloyd is inscribed by Lovecraft to his close friend Samuel Loveman with the note “A ‘Rare First Edition’ with ye / Perpetrator’s Compliments.”  The complete set of tear sheets for “At the Mountains of Madness” is a remarkable item, one of three known copies with extensive handwritten revisions in pencil by Lovecraft himself.  As Lloyd notes, these tear sheets “made their way (presumably through HPL’s literary executor, R. H. Barlow) to August Derleth at Arkham House where they provided the ‘revised’ text [of Lovecraft’s novella] for its appearance in The Outsider.”  The revisions include not only “minor corrections of spelling or punctuation” but also “insertions of major blocks of copy that were cut from the original text.”  The most astonishing item, however, is an archive of 55 letters from Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, totaling 509 pages, 80% of which is unpublished.  The archive is a treasure trove of insights into the most significant decade of Lovecraft’s life, 1921-1931, the period when Lovecraft’s mother died and Lovecraft began publishing in professional magazines, as well as composing “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”  In addition to his assessment of Poe and his recent reading discoveries, these letters reveal Lovecraft’s thoughts about a wide range of subjects, including literature, history, theology, philosophy, anthropology, and race.  The archive is a major find of significant interest to research institutions with holdings in supernatural fiction and to scholars of Lovecraft’s fiction.  Additional manuscript material include letters to Robert Bloch and a six-page handwritten synopsis of revisions for a Wilfred Blanch Talman horror story called “The Pool.”

Lloyd has supplemented his selection of Lovecraft manuscript material with the inclusion of amateur press publications from the beginning of Lovecraft’s career, several of which contain the earliest publications of Lovecraft’s fiction.  The November 1919 issue of W. Paul Cook’s The Vagrant features the first printing of “Dagon,” considered by many to be Lovecraft’s first mature weird tale, a clear precursor to ideas that would be developed more fully in “The Call of Cthulhu.”  The November 1925 issue of C. W. Smith’s The Tryout contains the first printing of “In the Vault,” a story of supernatural vengeance originally rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright.  The April 1922 and June 1922 issues of Home Brew contain the first printings of parts three and five of “Herbert West—Reanimator.”  Other amateur press publications include all three issues of The United Cooperative, which Lovecraft helped edit and publish, and several issues of W. Paul Cook’s The Ghost featuring E. Hoffman Price’s reminiscences of Farnsworth Wright and Robert E. Howard that would later be collected in Arkham House’s Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers and Others (2001).

In addition, a handful of rare publications highlights Lovecraft’s poetry and criticism.  Further Criticism of Poetry (1932) is a critique of amateur verse written by Lovecraft that the National Amateur would not publish because it was too long.  Some Current Motives and Practices (1936), one of the rarest Lovecraft publications with only eight extant copies, is a mimeograph of Lovecraft’s open letter to the National Amateur Press Association in which he defends NAPA president Hyman Bradofsky against attacks from the association’s membership.  HPL (1937), a twelve-page booklet limited to twenty-five copies sent to subscribers of Corwin F. Stickney’s Amateur Correspondent, collects eight of Lovecraft’s poems with occasional commentary by Stickney.  Issued in an edition of 75 copies, The Notes & Commonplace Book Employed by the Late H. P. Lovecraft (1938) includes Lovecraft’s musings on various elements of weird fiction and potential story ideas.

 For anyone interested in H. P. Lovecraft’s life and works, Lloyd Currey’s H. P. Lovecraft: Printed and Manuscript Material, 1912-1970s, is essential reading.  As always, Lloyd’s catalog entries contain a plethora of interesting details, and the pictures Lloyd has included of these publications and manuscripts are the only way many readers and enthusiasts will ever see these often unique items.