The hotel had an H. P. Lovecraft room, which Laetitia had booked for us when she learned of my interest in the man and his writings. She was verye excited about it for the desk clerk remarked that Lovecraft himself had once stayed there. I did not want to burst her bubble of adorable enthusiasm by telling her that, despite his desire to visit Clark Ashton Smith in Northern California, he had never had the chance to visit the West Coast.
—Denise Dumars, Lovecraft Slept Here 199
Even when he was alive, H. P. Lovecraft was a name to conjure with. Friends like Frank Belknap Long, Jr. and Robert Bloch put characters based on him into their stories, so did his future wife, Sonia H. Greene in “Four O’Clock” (1949). After his death, writers in Weird Tales like August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman sometimes dropped his name into their stories, blending fact and fiction, making the creator of Cthulhu into an expert in Mythos lore who disguised fact as fiction. It was a short step from there until Lovecraft became a kind of legendary figure, and not every story that invoked or involved Lovecraft necessarily tied directly into the Mythos.
Sometimes, things run in series. Robert Bloch’s “The Man Who Collected Poe” (1951) inspired Gregory Nicoll’s “The Man Who Collected Lovecraft” (1977), Randall Larson’s “The Thing That Collected Bloch” (1977), Phillip C. Heath’s “The Man Who Collected Bloch” (1987), Phillip Weber’s “The Man Who Collected Lovecraft” (1987), Kim Newman’s “The Man Who Collected Clive Barker” (1990), Mark Samuel’s “The Man Who Collected Machen” (2010), and Nick Mamatas’ “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” (2017). These are stories less about their subjects than about the obsession with their subjects, the fandom and the kind of behavior it can generate.
This is metafiction in the sense that there is a nod and a wink to the stories; plenty of historical figures have fiction written about them, but these are generally stories written by fans, about fans, with in-depth knowledge of the fandom, and mostly for fans. When you read a story like Fritz Leiber Jr.’s “To Arkham and the Stars” (1966) or “Lord Dunsany’s Teapot” (2011) by Naomi Novik, the narrative leans more heavily toward homage, but for the stories that are focused more on the legend, Lovecraft himself doesn’t have to appear at all. It’s his legacy, the idea of him that informs the atmosphere and drives the action.
Which is the case with “Lovecraft Slept Here.”
Denise Dumars is familiar with Lovecraft fandom, with articles in ‘zines like Crypt of Cthulhu and Tekeli-Li, poems like “Cthulhu” and “The Whitleys Have The Innsmouth Look” published in Space and Time and The Arkham Sampler—and there is a lot about “Lovecraft Slept Here” that might strike a fellow Lovecraft-fan as correct. The protagonist as the ardent devotee of Lovecraft, secure in their formidable knowledge and constantly dropping “eldritch” and “squamous” into the descriptions of the scenery; the chintzy Oregon hotel that claims Lovecraft slept there, even though that is an impossiblity. It is a reasonably solid set-up, it hits a few of the right cues…so why doesn’t it work?
There is a degree of tongue firmly in cheek in “Lovecraft Slept Here,” which ends with a last line that strives to do one better than “The Diary of Alonzo Typer,” and in terms of content and approach it is a close cousin to stories like Mamatas’ “The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft” and the other variations on the theme. Pacing is one problem; the story drags a bit at the beginning, then is rushed at the end; the reveal, when it happens, has no real foreshadowing or build-up. Good atmosphere and pacing can make up for limited plot, but lacking both, this is a fan effort that falls a bit flat. The poor protagonist is ultimately a caricature of fandom, like Comic Book Guy, but not nearly so entertaining as he strikes his final pose.
Which is, really, the point of these kind of metafiction stories. Not necessarily to be moralistic, or to excite the imagination by tying supernatural fantasies to fandom, but as a kind of acknowledgement of fan behavior—an ability for the community to look at themselves and laugh, and maybe to acknowledge something of the absurdity that underlies the seriousness and drama in all human endeavors. These stories are the mirrors in which fandom reflects something of itself, warts and all, and often thumbs a nose at its own face.
“Lovecraft Slept Here” by Denise Dumars was published in the anthology of the same name.
It has not been reprinted.
Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.
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