An Australian Woman Looks At Lovecraft

An Australian Woman looks at Lovecraft
by Cecelia Hopkins-Drewer

My involvement with Lovecraft scholarship goes back some twenty-seven years. At one stage I was a huge Stephen King fan, and I found a reference in King’s non-fiction work Danse Macabre to Lovecraft (see King, 1982:132-5). I was studying English literature at Master’s level, around 1992/3, and in the realm of academia, historical writers were more acceptable research subjects than contemporary writers, so I approached the department about a project. The project was approved, but the resident Gothic expert was unable to provide supervision, and I struggled along against a curtain of institutional resistance regarding texts associated with popular culture. My assumption that as a ‘dead white male’ to quote the cliché, Lovecraft would be respected academically was incorrect, and instead he proved to be a controversial and polarizing figure. 

One thing that appealed to me about Lovecraft was his evocative ability which appeared to tap into Jungian archetypes. Motifs such as mysterious civilizations to be found under the sea in “The Temple”; forbidden underground activity in “The Rats in the Walls”, together with long-lived/reincarnated sorcerers in “The Alchemist” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” all fascinated me. I felt that these tales remained in the imagination long after the first reading and tapped into something in the collective unconscious. Lovecraft’s letters appeared to support my case, declaring: “There are certain standard stories invented before the dawn of history or later, which generations whisper about” including “Man changed to animal, diseases miraculously cured… vampire, dead man moving, ghost, premonitory warning of death &c.” (Letters with Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja, 435).

Another thing that appealed to me was Lovecraft’s references to women in his stories. Hold on–you are going to say–Lovecraft is known for having very few female characters! Remember, I was enclosed by academic conventions at the time, and the majority of the lauded writers were male, with their female characters being stereotypes and/or love interests. Moreover, some of Lovecraft’s contemporary writers, such as the popular Arthur Conan Doyle, had created dynamics where the “homosocial” friendship of males was the entire frame for the story. (McLaughlin 2013:11) Charming though some of these pairings were, the implications were that intellect was a male characteristic and women unwitting domestics.

Lovecraft’s women were different. Not represented in abundance, but with an astuteness and sympathy which biographically speaking, could have come from living much of his life with his mother and aunts. His letters recount his profound admiration of his older aunt, Lillian Delora Phillips Clark, and his dedication to caring duties when she became ill.

Let us look at a couple of examples of Lovecraftian references to women that I haven’t had the opportunity to explore elsewhere. In The Shadow Out of Time (which incidentally journeys to Australia) the narrator includes the names of a mother, wife, and daughter as identifying features in his brief biography. 

I am the son of Jonathan and Hannah (Wingate) Peaslee, both of wholesome old Haverhill stock. I was born and reared in Haverhill—at the old homestead in Boardman Street near Golden Hill—and did not go to Arkham till I entered Miskatonic University at the age of eighteen. That was in 1889. After my graduation I studied economics at Harvard, and came back to Miskatonic as Instructor of Political Economy in 1895. For thirteen years more my life ran smoothly and happily. I married Alice Keezar of Haverhill in 1896, and my three children, Robert K., Wingate, and Hannah, were born in 1898, 1900, and 1903, respectively. In 1898 I became an associate professor, and in 1902 a full professor.
–H. P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Out of Time

In this passage, possessing a wife, mother, and daughter receive equal acknowledgement with an education and career. The account contrasts sharply with patriarchal genealogies such as those found in the Bible (e.g. Genesis 5, Matthew Chapter 1, NKJV) that are only concerned with the male line.

A few pages later, we find that the wife has a mind of her own and astute judgment. “From the moment of my strange waking my wife had regarded me with extreme horror and loathing, vowing that I was some utter alien usurping the body of her husband.” The wife demonstrates independent agency by obtaining “a legal divorce”, then the “elder son” and “small daughter” also reject the father. The story will show the wife’s interpretation holds truth, receiving confirmation when Peaslee finds an ancient scroll written in his own hand.

The story then begins to detail the narrator’s occult research, travel, and descent into madness. One of the main points of interest in this section is the role female presence plays. At the height of alien possession, even female domestics are denied access to the house. “On the evening of Friday, Sept. 26, I dismissed the housekeeper and the maid.” For a brief time, only a policeman, “a foreign-looking man” and “Dr. Wilson” are allowed entry. On “Sept. 27” Peaslee’s consciousness reappears “just after noon” with “the housekeeper and the maid having meanwhile returned.” Thus, the metadata places madness and alien possession in the realm of the masculine, with normality and health in the realm of the feminine. It is a division of the genders, but it is one I don’t mind, as the mad-woman stereotype has had more than its fair share of exposure elsewhere.

Lovecraft is condemned for his racism. The period before the First World War and especially the years leading up to World War II were times of deplorable social prejudice; and I find in Lovecraft’s letters a record of societal attitudes that are both regrettable and cautionary. I also subscribe to the theory that Lovecraft’s extreme expressions of repugnance might have been products of mild Asperger’s or Autism Spectrum. I know this could upset some fans, but Gary and Jennifer Meyers Lovecraft’s Syndrome: An Asperger’s Appraisal of the Writer’s Life makes interesting reading.

Many people have negative attitudes that constitute racism, but Lovecraft’s reactions to crowded and dirty conditions were so extreme that he saw the stain embodied in visages, prompting ugly outbursts I prefer not to reproduce here. In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, August 21, 1926, Lovecraft wrote:

The city is befouled and accursed—I come away from it with a sense of having been tainted by contact, and long for some solvent of oblivion to wash it out! (Selected Letters 2.68) 

This nauseated attitude does appear close to the level of disability. High intelligence and creative output are quite possible for some persons, while large-scale social interactions may remain stressful.

I was challenged to look deeper into Lovecraft’s racism and compare it to the Australian situation. In this country around 1930, significant minority groups included Italian, Greek, and Chinese immigrants. Lovecraft admits admiring the Greek and Roman civilizations more than his own “biological lines” in a letter to Robert Barlow dated 1936. (O Fortunate Floridian! 347) In a letter to Natalie Wooley he refers to “a Chinese gentleman”, and also calls Japan “one of the greatest and most influential nations in the modern world” (Letters to Robert Bloch and Others 200-2001). It appears that when a nation had produced significant cultural artifacts, Lovecraft became an admirer, at least in theory.

The remaining problem is his prejudice regarding Australian Aborigines. This attitude does appear irredeemable: “Equally inferior—and perhaps even more so—is the Australian black stock […] This race has other stigmata of primitiveness, such as great Neanderthal eyebrow ridges.” (Letters to Robert Bloch and Others 199)

This sort of talk is ignorant, reprehensible, and based on outmoded science. Lovecraft ought not to have been disseminating it. However, he by no means originated the heresy, and I would like to respectfully point out the harm similar beliefs have done when espoused by persons of influence and the ability to create policy.

The colonisation of Australia, which commenced in 1778, was largely motivated by the British Empire’s need to acquire space for its subjects. Eckermann (2006:17) suggests that there was a subsequent need to “rationalise and justify” supplanting the Indigenous inhabitants. Borch (2001:225) ) reports that according to Calvinist reasoning, countries ought to be ruled by Christian people. Moreover, following Darwin’s theories, the Aborigines represented a lower stage of the evolutionary scale than the European settlers. These theories and prejudices were solidified into pervading scientific and Institutional racism (Eckermann 2006: 8-12).

The Aboriginal people, who had maintained a complex custodial relationship with the land for thousands of years, were incorrectly perceived as unsophisticated “hunter-gatherers.” According to Locke’s beliefs property rights depended upon working the land, and the colonial government felt this justified applying a doctrine of “Terra Nullis” which violated Indigenous possession (Borch 2001: 231). Initial amiable relations involving trade soured, and conflict resulted in large-scale massacres of Indigenous people (Eckermann 2006: 14-15, 19).

Ramsland (2006:50-51, 55) observes the surviving Indigenous people were considered “a child race incapable of handling their own affairs.” Their autonomy was removed, and decisions were made for them by the so-called “Aboriginal Protection Board.” Between 1900 and 1950 Indigenous families were deliberately taken from their home areas and settled in remote regions, where they lived in overcrowded conditions. The policy of forced relocation failed to acknowledge the Indigenous spiritual connection to their traditional land, causing identity loss and emotional trauma (McMurray and Param 2008: 168; Crespigny et al 2006: 278).

Moreover, the residents of missions and reserves were denied the right to vote or own real estate. They also had limited access to medical attention (Forsyth 2007: 35-38). At an extreme, institutionalised abuse was performed, with Aurukun women reporting children separated from their parents and put into gender-specific dorms. Adults were also chained to trees, flogged and starved (Slater 2008: 6). The practice of “exclusion on demand”, which meant white families could request Indigenous children not attend community schools, resulted in the loss of educational opportunities (Tatz 2001: 32).

A change of government tactic led to policies of “assimilation and integration” being applied between 1950 and 1972. However, Indigenous savings accounts were controlled by the government, effectively quarantining any money they received. The living conditions on reserves continued to be poor, with disease sweeping through camps. An extreme administrative imposition required Indigenous people to seek permission to marry (Forsyth 2007: 38-40; Eckermann 2006: 27; Stolen Wages). In another scandalous social engineering program, Indigenous children were removed from their birth families and placed in foster homes in an attempt to ‘bring them up white’, so as to speak. Wilson (1997:177) details some of the detrimental effects of this program.

In 1967 a national referendum granted the Aboriginal people citizenship (Dugdale & Arabena 2008: 156). Some key improvements include the recognition of native title and land rights through the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act 1976, and the 1992 High Court Decision, Mabo v. Qld (Healey 2007: 2-5). On 13 February 2008 the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made a formal apology to the Indigenous people regarding the “stolen generation” (The National Museum of Australia 2021).

Unfortunately, Indigenous people continue to experience high levels of unemployment, poor living conditions, and vulnerability to disease. The infant mortality rate is high, and Aboriginal persons have a significantly lower life expectancy than the general Australian population. (See Einsiedel et al 2008: 568; Healey 2010: 6, 8-14; Mathews et al 2008:613-614, 621-622) All this was sadly brought to reality to me a few years ago when an Aboriginal friend died prematurely, becoming another statistic.

So my point is, repeating prejudicial statements can lead to belief, and belief can lead to bigoted actionbut let us ask ourselves honestlyare we still at risk of perpetuating things which ought not to be disseminated?

Cecelia Hopkins-Drewer lives in Adelaide, South Australia. She has written a Masters paper on H.P. Lovecraft, and M. Lett. Dissertation on “Fairy Tale Motifs” in Nineteenth Century English novels. Cecelia’s poetry has been published in Spectral Realms (edited by S.T. Joshi) and PS: It’s Poetry compiled by the Poetry Soup community. Micro-fictions have appeared in the “Dark Drabbles” series published by Black Hare Press, and the “Scary Snippets” series produced by Nocturnal Sirens. Cecelia’s research interests include Gothic horror, fantasy and popular culture: including film & television.


Copyright 2022 Cecelia Hopkins-Drewer.

Her Letters To Clark Ashton Smith: Margaret St. Clair

Margaret St. Clair, of Berkeley, California, writes: “I’ve been a good quiet uncomplainng reader of WEIRD TALES for about ten years—but the prospect of another story by Edmond Hamilton moves me to hysterical outcry. He makes me want to scream and bite my nails—’captured thirty-six suns’ indeed! His style is nothing but exclamation marks; his idea of drama is something involving a fantastic number of light-speeds; he is, in the words of one of my favorite comic strip characters, flies in my soup. He is science-fiction at its worst: all WEIRD TALES needs to make the science-fiction atmosphere perfect is a letter from Forrest J. Ackerman and a story by Hamilton. Oh, and another gripe—I dislike the blurbs you are printing at the first of the stories. They are just a waste of space. I hate vampire and werewolf stories—my blood refuses to congeal for any number of undead clammily hooting about. There was a time when I could be made to shiver by the mention of garlic, but now it’s just something to put in salad. Things like Shambleau are what I like. As long as WT prints stories by Clark Ashton Smith, however, I’ll keep on reading it. His tales have a rounded jewel-like self-containedness that is, artistically, a delight. … And Smith’s drawings are, I think, by far the best in the magazine. … In conclusion, Jules de Grandin is a pain in the neck.”
—WEIRD TALES, June 1934

Eva Margaret Neeley was born in 1911; if she was reading Weird Tales for about a decade, then she had begun reading the Unique Magazine from almost the beginning, probably picking up her first issue as a teenager of 13 or 14. She would have read the fantasies of H. P. Lovecraft, C. L. Moore, and Clark Ashton Smith—and in time she would become a prolific pulp writer and novelist herself, one of the last lights of Weird Tales during its waning years in the 1950s under editor Dorothy McIlwraith. Yet Smith is the only one she would come into correspondence with…and therein lies a problem.

Few enough writers get the treatment of even a single book of selected letters, or of a full book-length biography. Lovecraft’s double handful of biographies, from the slight Lovecraft: A Short Biography to the comprehensive I Am Providence, and the dozens of volumes of his letters are a testament to his ongoing popularity and the dedication of fans and scholars. Robert E. Howard has likewise received multiple biographies, and many of his letters were preserved and all of those that survived published in the three volumes of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. Other Weird Talers were not so lucky: there is no Collected Letters for Seabury Quinn or Robert Bloch, no book-length biographies of C. L. Moore or Margaret St. Clair.

Compared to Lovecraft and Howard, Clark Ashton Smith runs a bit of a distant third in terms of scholarship. While bibliographies of his work had been published, and efforts have been made to preserve his fiction, poetry, and translations in print, and even a documentary titled Clark Ashton Smith: The Emperor of Dreams, there is as yet no full biography of the longest-lived of the “Three Muskateers” of Weird Tales, and the volumes of his letters that have been published are relatively few, covering his correspondence with his mentor, the poet George Sterling; the poet and bookman Samuel Loveman who introduced him to Lovecraft; fellow Weird Talers H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth; a slim pamphlet dedicated to his letters with Weird Tales artist Virgil Finlay; and a volume of Selected Letters from Arkham House.

While those six volumes represent a considerable work of scholarship, it does mean there are gaps in Clark Ashton Smith’s life and letters that are difficult if not impossible to fill in compared to Lovecraft or Howard. One of those gaps is his correspondence with Margaret St. Clair. We know they did correspond because four of Smith’s letters addressed to Margaret St. Clair and her husband were published in the Selected Letters; but seeing as this covers a period of 7 years from 1933 to 1940, and that both Smith and Margaret St. Clair lived far past the final letter we have, suggests at least the possibility of longer and richer correspondence which has either been lost or simply not published yet. None of Margaret St. Clair’s letters to Clark Ashton Smith have been published.

The first letter is dated 23 May 1933, and opens:

My dear Margaret and Ray:

Your letter was indeed interesting, and I had meant to write before this, but have been swamped by housecleaning and various other duties.

I have never read Thorndyke’s book on magic, but am listing it as a future purchase if I should ever have any more money to spend for books. In reality, I have read very little daling with the occult science, and, in writing about such things, have merely turned my imagination loose. One of my most prized possessions is Montague Summers’ erudite and curious monograph on The Vampire, which contains much that is récherché. [sic] Summers actually seems to believe in the existence of vampires.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 207

Margaret Neeley had graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1932, and on May 25th of that year she married Raymond Earl St. Clair—who would publish children’s stories under the name Eric St. Clair. The Great Depression was in full swing, but 1932-1933 was a period of great productivity for Smith; he would have stories in eighteen out of twenty-four issues of Weird Tales in those two years, in addition to stories in other pulps and The Fantasy Fan. From Smith’s letter, we can tell that Margaret and her husband were interested in his fantasy and science fiction, and eager for a collection of his work. Smith commented on his upcoming stories, and noted with a touch of bitterness:

Wonder Stories has nothing more of mine at present, and they have been so dilatory in payment that I hesitate to submit anything more. Since I have given Gernsback some of my finest work, I really think he could make an effort to pay at least a small part of his indebtedness.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208

1933 was also marked by Smith’s self-publication of a pamphlet titled The Double Shadow and Other Fantasies, which was advertised in Weird Tales and The Fantasy Fan, and based on comments in the letter they had purchased or received a copy from Smith and praised it. Smith also mentioned the appearance of his work in the British Not At Night anthologies edited by Christine Campbell Thomson. The end of the St. Clairs’ letter must have shifted to personal news, because Smith wrote:

I think you are wise to purchase your own house, particularly at a time when monetary values and realty are down to rock-bottom. I know the Cragmont district well, and congratulate you on your selection. My best thanks for the invitation which, sooner or later, I hope to accept.
Clark Ashton
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 208

The Cragmont is a district in Berkeley, where Margaret St. Clair was doing her graduate studies. She would obtain her master’s degree in Greek Classics in 1934.

The next letter from Clark Ashton Smith to Ray and Margaret St. Clair would be dated 20 January 1937, in response to a present received around New Years. At this point, Smith was selling original sculptures and castings of the same that he carved by hand from the local rock around his cabin in Auburn, California, and the St. Clairs had bought some:

I am glad the several casts and carving arrived intact, and trust that you achieved satisfactory results from the New Year’s Eve ceremony of interrogation. Perhaps I should have told you that if one drink doesn’t draw a reply, the ibation should be repeated. Perseverance is invariably rewarded by such words of golden wisdom as may well serve to illustrate the old adage, in vino veritas. But no doubt you discovered this.

Re your questy as to the order in which the four carvings were done: do the best of my recollection, The Dog of Commoriom was the oldest, the Sorcerer next, and The Mermaid’s Butler third, with Tsathoggua the most recent. Tsathoggua was done in a curious fibroid form of serpentine; and the casts, as a consequence, tend to look like wood-carvings if tinted with colors appropriate to wood. You will note the fibrous structure if you look closely.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 280-281

Smith carved several hundred figures. An advertisement in The Science Fiction Critic fanzine for March 1937 lists casts for sale with prices, among them “Tsathogguarelief…40¢,” “The Dog of Commoriomrelief…30¢,” and “The Sorcerer Eibonhead…60¢.” Photos of some of these exist:


The Dog of Commoriom

A decade later, Smith would publish “Checklist: The Carvings of Clark Ashton Smith” in The Arkham Sampler (Winter, 1948), where he describes “The Mermaid’s Butler” as “Head in porphyry. Semi-human, with gills and fish-like side-whiskers.”

Much of the rest of the letter is given over to responses to specific points in the St. Clair’s letter; some are impossible to understand without context (“Your Nazir Indian must have been rather good”), but it is clear elsewhere that they had asked to visit Smith at Auburn, and recommended he try to place some of his art in San Francisco art stores. The tone is more personal and casual than in the previous letter, as might be expected from a longer acquaintance.

The third letter is to Margaret St. Clair alone, and dated 22 February 1940:

Dear Margaret:

I wonder if I can be forgiven the long interim—at last I fear that it is long according to temporal notation—since I last wrote you? But I believe you would forgive if you could know all the circumstances. First, there was my father’s death (I am quite alone now), and since that, a strange and fantastic history of happenings, some of which, I am convinced, have taken place in the realms of fable and socery. So many letters I had meant to write, and should have written, have gone to the bourn of other “good intentions.”

I hope all is well with you and Ray, and that the bulb-gardens (of which you wrote and sent me a fascinating catalogue are flourishing. I can’t think of a better avocation or occupation than gardening.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 328

Timeus Smith had died on 26 December 1937; that would mean Smith’s later letter to the St. Clairs would have been at least a bit more than two years ago. The bulb-garden that Smith mentions is the St. Clair Rare Bulb Garden, and he would no doubt be referring to the 1937 catalog or 1938 catalog. Smith was himself an avid gardener, which he would take up as an occupation in later life. The St. Clairs would operate the Rare Bulb Garden until 1941; possibly the onset of WW2 made it difficult to source plants from overseas.

A major point of the letter involved the change in editorship at Weird Tales; Farnsworth Wright had been fired and was replaced with Dorothy McIlwraith. There was some hard feelings among the older guard of writers about Wright’s treatment, and Wright himself apparently floated the idea of forming a competing weird magazinebut this would not come to pass, and Wright himself would pass away on 12 June 1940. On a lighter note, Smith also noted that the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy had been established not far away from his cabin. In a postscript to the letter, Smith wrote jocularly:

Can’t we start some sort of coven in opposition to that nunnery?
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 329

Smith had a penchant for joking references to sorcery, witchcraft, and necromancy in his letters to Lovecraft et al., and perhaps the jokes in his letters to the St. Clairs is no more than that sort of harmless fun. Yet the St. Clairs apparently did have at least some more-than-typical interest in subjects of magic and witchcraft. Some decades later, according to “Letters from Hardscrabble Creek: Chasing Margaret,” the St. Clairs were initiated into Wicca. While they aren’t known to have started a coven, Smith might have been accidentally prescient in suggesting they might.

How the couple felt about hearing from their friend after such a long silence can only be imagined.

The fourth and final letter was dated 21 April 1940, and begins:

Dear Margaret and Ray:

I had meant to write before this but have been dreadfully busy with the attempted perpetration of hackwork fiction. A very small income, which I have had for many years, dried up at the source some months ago, and I am now absolutely dependent on writing if I am to eat, let alone drink. None of the present fantasy markets (Unknown is the best, I guess) appeal greatly to me; so I am having to compromise more and more with my own tastes and learn new tricks. My latest yarn is a filthy mixture of sex and pseudo science, aimed at one of the “spicy” markets, which won’t appear under my own name but under that of a friend, a very successful pulp writer, who had more commissions on hand han he could get through with.

It was good to hear from you. I have never forgotten you at any time during my cyclic silence. But, for a long time, I wrote no letters at all, except business ones and billets doux.
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 330

Smith had struggled throughout his life with poverty; his poetic genius had never managed to translate itself into any sort of ongoing employment or financial success, and periodic handouts from patrons of the arts kept him a bit above living hand-to-mouth, but to survive he was forced into seasonal labor, piecework, and pulp magazineseach of which carried their own issues. The “spicy” story was probably either “Dawn of Discord” (Spicy Mystery Stories Oct 1940) or “The Old Gods Eat” (Spicy Mystery Stories Feb 1941), which bore the byline of his friend E. Hoffmann Price, who sold successfully to the spicy magazines. Despite Smith’s disparagement of his writing, the spicies were not pornographic: all sizzle and no steak.

The severity of Smith’s financial woes is apparent when he admits that he is looking to sell his plot of land, and even offers to sell some of his books as he considers the possible necessity of moving. The letter would end:

As to those nuns, I guess I really wouldn’t need a dachshund to protect me. And I don’t know what seducing a nun would be like, never having had any experience. Balzac says, somewhere, something to the effect that the pleasure is never so great as when the soul is believed to be in danger of damnation. I fear that my notions of damnation are hardly the orthodox ones. The pleasure would be one-sided in that regard. However…even that…
Clark Ashton
Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith 331

The reference to dachshunds may seem a non sequitur, but among her other interests Margaret St. Clair is known to have bred dachshund puppies for sale, so she probably did offer one (seriously or not).

That is the rather unsatisfactory end; it would be five years before Margaret St. Clair would publish her first pulp magazine story in what would become a prolific career (as she said once: “You just have to keep turning out the paragraphs.”), and there are no mentions of her in the later letters of Smith that have been published. Whether they had a falling-out, or if Smith lapsed once more into a “cyclical silence” from which he never emerged, we don’t know. The finding aid for Margaret St. Clair’s papers at the University of California-Riverside is not especially promising, but perhaps might hold some clue for future researchers into this little mystery.

What we do know is that for those years at least, Clark Ashton Smith and Margaret St. Clair shared a connection, however brief, that matured over the years and letters. We might never know how much or how little Smith influenced St. Clair’s own pulp career and writingbut certainly she doesn’t seem to have ever tried to pastiche Smith in the way some have tried to do with Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. Margaret St. Clair found her own voice, one that fitted the pulp era she found herself inoften lighter and more comedic than Smith’s own sardonic humor. One has to wonder what the author of “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis” (Weird Tales May 1932) would have thought of “Flowering Evil” (Planet Stories Summer 1950)…but we may never know.

For more details on the life of Margaret St. Clair, see “Wight in Space: An Autobiographical Sketch” in Fantastic Lives: Autobiographical Essays by Notable Science Fiction Writers.

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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“Not All Anglo-Saxons” (1911) by Herbert O’Hara Molineux

H. P. Lovecraft grew up in a culture where racism was relatively commonplace, and prejudices with regard to race, ethnicity, language, and cultural heritage dominated the national discourse. 135 years after the Declaration of Independence and 46 years after the end of the American Civil War, people still argued about who was a “real” American, or who could be.

In the New-York Tribune for 30 June 1911, an anonymous editor filled some column inches with the article “‘American’ Is Right,” which reads in part:


The article argues in favor of the continued use of “American” as a demonym for citizens of the United States, and “American” as an adjective related to the United States of America and its people—and in common use, the term continues to carry that meaning into the present day.

Buried as it is on page 6 of a slim 14-page daily newspaper, the “‘American’ Is Right” elicited little immediate attention. Some months later, however, reader John L. M. Allen wrote in to the editor concerning the article, and this letter was published in the 10 September 1911 New-York Tribune as “Wants An American Language”:


The years before World War I were marked by increasing nationalism in the United States and abroad; relations between the United States and the United Kingdom were undergoing a change, as close economic relations, common language and culture, racialist ideas, shared history, and similar political ideologies fostered a Great Rapprochement between the two nations. Still, anglophobia remained in the United States, and ultranationalists emphasized the differences rather than the commonalities between United States and United Kingdom culture, a sentiment especially strong in immigrants or those with ties to Ireland or British colonies.

In September 1911, H. P. Lovecraft was in his seclusion; the death of his grandfather in 1904 had forced his mother Sarah Susan Lovecraft and himself to move out of the family house where he had grown up and into smaller quarters; nervous illness in 1908 forced his withdrawal from high school, so that he did not finish his formal education or receive a high school diploma. Twenty-one years old and unemployed, he seems to have largely made his own hours, and filled them in part by reading extensively in newspapers and magazines. As this was some years before Lovecraft’s joining amateur journalism or any regular correspondence that has come down to us, there is little data to go on. However, we know that Lovecraft read “Wants An American Language”—because the opinionated young man wrote his own letter to the editor“The English Language” was published in the 21 September 1911 New-York Tribune:


Lovecraft was a lifelong and ardent anglophile, a point which would in a few years bring him into contention with the Irish-American amateur journalist John T. Dunn, first with regards to Lovecraft’s support of the United Kingdom in World War I, and then with regard to the Irish War of Independence. As a lover of the English language, Lovecraft was also in favor of British (and, to a point, British Colonial) spelling, as is evident in many of his letters and stories. It would not be out of line to suggest that Lovecraft saw himself as essentially English except in certain trifling legal definitions, and saw the English language as his own:

I deny flatly that American civilisation is composite, or in any way otherwise than Anglo-Saxon. This land was bleak, Indian-haunted wilderness when England found it. England made it what it is. […] If this nation ever becomes really composite; if the polyglot lower elements ever rise to the surface and direct the destinies of the whole people, then the United States will have undergone intellectual and moral death, and must be content to take its inferior place beside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other decidedly immigrant nations. […] If other nationalities are now represented here, it is only on sufferance. They are charity boarders, as it were. For this is an Englishman’s country.
—H. P. Lovecraft to John T. Dunn, 14 Oct 1916, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 166

I stick to the civilisation my blood & people belong to—the Old English civilisation of Great Britain, New England, & Virginia. To that, & to the language & manners characteristic of it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1930, Letters to James F. Morton 215

At this point in his life, Lovecraft’s white supremacist notions (“Anglo-Saxons […] by their racial superiority”) and nativist bias (“polyglot mass of sodden foreigners”) were likely as yet unperturbed by broad travel, first-hand experience, or vocal opposition.

Lovecraft’s use of the term “Anglo-Saxon” as synonymous with “English” in this instance is worth examining. “Anglo-Saxon” is an often misunderstood and misused term that found its place in racial hierarchies because it fit the narrative of an “English race” that the people at the time wanted to impose on their understanding of history—the idea of a homogenous, and above all white, population that was distinct from the indigenous Gaelic peoples of the British Isles or from the British Empire’s colonial possessions. When Lovecraft uses the term “Anglo-Saxon,” he is specifically invoking that idea of racial and cultural unity and the added implications of white supremacy.

By comparison, while “American” has gradually become a term to refer to all citizens of the United States regardless of race or ethnicity, during Lovecraft’s time it was still predominantly seen as a synonymous term for “white” — the default assumption was that “American” referred to someone descended from Northern Europe, probably British, and English-speaking — “Anglo-American” was used when Lovecraft or others felt the need to specify such descent to differentiate from other ethnicities, but even this sometimes involved pushback. After a visit to New Mexico, Robert E. Howard wrote:

The native population is, of course, predominantly Mexican. Or as they call them out there, Spanish-Americans. You or I would be Anglo-Americans according to their way of putting it. Spanish-American, hell. A Mexican is a Mexican to me, wherever I find him, and I don’t consider it necessary for me to hang any prefix on the term “American” when referring to myself.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Jul 1935, A Means to Freedom 2.872

Lovecraft, Howard, and many others during this period were inculcated in the use of racialist language to both define and promulgate the ideas of white supremacy. To Lovecraft, the use of “Anglo-Saxon” was a technical and specific term to emphasize the English people he felt himself a part of, biologically and culturally. Even though the idea that “Anglo-Saxon” race and culture are essentially pseudo-scientific and historical fictions, they were commonly accepted as real at the time, and used by folks like Howard and Lovecraft to define their own identities. While we don’t have much material from the period of 1910-1912 to work with, based on Lovecraft’s later letters this kind of comment slipping would probably have been relatively common—after all, “Anglo-Saxon” and “Anglo-American” were the prevailing paradigm. Who was going to correct him?

An answering letter to the editor appeared as “Not All Anglo-Saxons” in the 25 September 1911 New-York Tribune:


This is an impressive turnaround time…all the more so since Lovecraft’s letter was published on the 21st, yet Herbert O’Hara Molineux’s reply is dated the 20th! What likely happened is that the next day’s paper was sold in the late night or early morning of the 20th/21st, and Molineux was incensed enough to write a letter to the editor immediately, complete with date (or else there was an error somewhere in the transcription and printing). Even with Molineux in New York at the time, it must have been delivered and read by the editor within a day or two, who then chose to publish it only a day or two after that, so only four days after Lovecraft’s letter was published there was an answer. This small controversy in letters foreshadows Lovecraft’s later disputes-by-mail in the letters column of the Argosy and All-Story in 1913-1914.

Not much is known Herbert O’Hara Molineux (sometimes Molyneux); a number of short articles and letters to the editor were published by that name, mostly between 1910-1914 in New York papers, often on subjects of Ireland and Irish or “Celtic” peoples in newspapers, and those same articles describe him as an antiquarian and a member of the Gaelic Society of New York. Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans in the United States were still often discriminated against in the early 20th century and its racialist schemas, but the rise in nationalism had affected Ireland and the Irish diaspora too, with a renewed interest in Irish language and culture called the Gaelic Revival, which would precede and inform the broader Celtic Revival of the 1920s and beyond.

It is not surprising to see in this letter that Molineux’s hibernophilia or celtiphilia ran up hard against Lovecraft’s anglophilia. The most notable point in Molineux’s argument is not his assertion that most Americans are Celts, but his deriding Lovecraft for his racial prejudice. If Lovecraft read these lines, it might be the first denunciation of his racism he had ever seen in print—predating “Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson by some years.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Lovecraft ever read this rebuke. This period of Lovecraft’s life is simply too poorly documented; where we would normally turn to his letters to find some reference to Molineux or the brief affray in letters, there is nothing in the indices to shed any light on the subject. It is interesting to speculate how Lovecraft might have responded; in 1915, private correspondence with friends and peers ultimately tempered and muted Lovecraft’s instinct for a vicious reprisal in print, and even his poetic rejoinder went unprinted. Interestingly, there is a poetic barb aimed at Herbert O’Hara Molineux, but it is from several years later, in a different newspaper, and not at all in Lovecraft’s normal style or signed by one of his known pseudonyms.

In the context of Lovecraft’s other letters, this brief exchange doesn’t share much of anything new in terms of his prejudices—we knew he was a nativist and an anglophile—but it is a data point that extends our understanding of how Lovecraft’s views on race were received during his own lifetime. While white supremacy prevailed in the United States, even down to the terminology of history and science, it was not the sole viewpoint. Lovecraft would learn, as he emerged from his period of relative obscurity into the company of amateur journalism and then pulp writing, there were many people who did not agree with the prejudices he had long accepted as facts, and other perspectives of history and biology that would challenge his preconceptions. 

As with several of his other letters, Molineux’s “Not All Anglo-Saxons” was picked up and published in at least one other paper, which can be found in an online newspaper database; from there the chain of letters-to-the-editor can be traced back through papers whose scans don’t include sufficiently accurate optical character recognition to search for specific names. Otherwise, this small affray in letters might have gone unnoticed.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Canal” (1927) by Everil Worrell

In the new issue I found more good stuff than usual. “The Canal” is truly fine—real terror woven into the inmost atmosphere—& “Bells of Oceana” comes close to packing a genuine kick.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 4 Nov 1927, Essential Solitude 1.113

“The Canal” by Everil Worell was first published in Weird Tales December 1927, which is where Lovecraft read it. This was Worrell’s fourth published story in Weird Tales; she would publish 19 in the magazine between 1926 and 1954, when the pulp ceased publication, being one of the prolific women weird talers who made their mark on the magazine. Lovecraft wasn’t keen on every story Worrell wrote…but “The Canal” was special, and Lovecraft repeatedly listed it among the best stories ever published by Weird Tales:

Looking over the whole contents of W.T., one’s final impression is that of a devastating desert of crudity & mediocrity, relieved by a very few oases. The high spots that impress me are Suter’s “Beyond the Door”, Humphrey’s “The Floor Above”, Arnold’s “The Night Wire”, Worrell’s “The Canal”, Burks’ “Bells of Oceana”, & Leahy’s “In Amundsen’s Tent”. Those things have the atmosphere & suggestion which spell power.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 18 Feb 1930, Essential Solitude 1.247

As for my favourite W.T. authors—it would be hard to make a list. The very best tales have been written by persons not at all well known. In my opinion, the relaly high spots run something like this:

Beyond the Door___________Paul Suter
The Floor Above___________M. Humphreys
The Night Wire____________H. F. Arnold
In Amundsen’s Tent_________John Martin Leahy
The Canal________________Everil Worrill [sic]
Bells of Oceana____________Arthur J. Burks
Passing of a God___________Henry S. Whitehead

[…] W0rrill [sic] is good in the main, but has produced some fearsome trash.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 19 Jun 1931, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 18-19

Yes—”The Canal” is great stuff. I once cited it as one of the 6 best stories WT ever printed—the other 5 being “Beyond the Door”, “The Floor Above”, “In Amundsen’s Tent”, “The Night Wire”, & “Bells of Oceana.” The author is a woman, & has written other stuff—some very poor (“Light Echoes”) & some distinctly good (“the Bird of Space”).
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 22 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 247-248

Lovecraft wasn’t originally aware of Worrell’s gender, and refers to her as “he” in his correspondence until 1930, when he received a bit of news:

[Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales] adds that Everil Worrell (who turns out to be a woman) is about to become associate editor of W.T. & Oriental Tales.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 14 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 242 (cf. ES 1.281)

Oriental Stories was a new magazine produced by Popular Fiction Publishing the publishers of Weird Tales and edited by Farnsworth Wright, with the first issue appearing in Oct-Nov 1930; Wright also wanted to bring out a third magazine titled Strange Stories, but a dispute regarding the name hung up production and SS was eventually abandoned. Lovecraft was positive about the idea of Worrell as associate editor, based solely on her fiction—and that mainly “The Canal”:

I hope that the co-editorship of Everil Worrell, whose “Canal” shewed a genuine comprehension of the principles of weirdness, will cause some slight improvement in the magazine’s principles of selection.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 17 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 246

Unfortunately, it was not to be. Oriental Stories by itself was a strain on Popular Fiction Publishing’s resources, with Weird Tales having to go bimonthly for three issues in 1931 to help keep Oriental Stories afloat. Whether the financial strain couldn’t support an associate editor, or Wright didn’t need an associate editor because the magazines went bimonthly, or Worrell chose not to accept the position—she did not join the Popular Fiction Publishing editorial staff.

What was it about “The Canal” that attracted Lovecraft’s undying appreciation? The protagonist is coincidentally very Lovecraftian, with a love of nocturnal walks and strange places and an appreciation of odd beauty. So too, some of the philosophical themes, such as the loss of freedom that an office job would require, might have struck a chord. The premise of the plot—quite literally love at first sight—is not at all the usual kind of story that Lovecraft enjoyed. But as with “Shambleau” (1933) by C. L. Moore and “Black God’s Kiss” (1934) by C. L. Moore, Lovecraft could appreciate sudden and sensual attachments if the story had a truly weird element, carefully told with the appropriate atmosphere. Werewolves and vampires were rather conventional horrors that held little interest for Lovecraft, but they had their place in the weird oeuvre, and HPL never said a word against Dracula’s brides in the castle.

Lovecraft’s appreciation for “The Canal” led to a brief but illuminating discussion with another master of the weird tale:

By the way, I have just been re-reading “The Canal”, which you mention. It certainly creates a memorable atmosphere; but the one flaw, to me, is the wholesale dynamiting, which seems to introduce a jarring note among the shadowy supernatural horrors. However, this is just my own reaction. I would have had the narrator simply kill himself, overwhelmed by despair at the irremediable scourge he had loosed, and leave the horror to spread unchecked. However, I shouldn’t be captious: it is the only good vampire story I have ever seen, apart from Gautier’s “Clarimonde” and my own “Rendezvous in Averoigne.” […] It seems to me also that Everil Worrel’s co-editorship should help to counter-balance some of Wright’s dunder-headed decisions; and I shall re-submit Satampra and perhaps also “The Door to Saturn” at some future date.
—Clark Ashton Smith to H. P. Lovecraft, 24-30 Oct 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 254

“The Canal certainly has atmosphere. The final dynamiting—like my dynamiting of the house on Tempest Mountain in “The Lurking Fear”—is probably less subtly handled than it ought to be, yet is in a certain sense necessary as a means of explaining why the whole world hasn’t “gone vampire”. Whenever a fantastic tale introduces a horror which, if unchecked, would shortly produce strikingly visible results throughout the earth, it is necessary to explain why those results have not occurred—necessary, in short, to check the full action of the thing—unless the tale is laid in the future. There is really no way of escaping this dilemma. We must either explain the present survival of the existing order, or choose a remotely future period at which the existing order is assumed to be destroyed. The only adumbration of a middle course open to us is to have the original horror so subtle as to produce only imperceptible effects for a very long period, or to have a partial checking in which the action of the horror is vastly minimised or delayed. In “Dagon” I shewed a horror that may appear, but that has not yet made any effort to do so. In “Cthulhu” I had a coming horror checked by the same convulsion of Nature which produced it. [earthquake-sinking of R’lyeh] In “The Colour Out of Space” I had a partial checking. Just enough of the Outside influence remains in the well to provide a slow, creeping blight. And in “Dunwich” I had full artificial destruction, as in “The Canal”. When one does have full artificial destruction, the important thing is not to make the process too bald, crude, or incongruous with the atmosphere or action of the narrative as a whole. I agree that very few good vampire tales exist.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 Nov 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 261-262

This is a rare case where Lovecraft gives us insight on the craft behind writing his stories, in part because the nature of the ending of “The Canal” caused him to reflect on how he ended his own stories. There is an interesting point of comparison there: when August Derleth reprinted “The Canal” in The Sleeping and the Dead (1947), the story was revised, cutting about 2,000 words and radically changing the ending; the abridged version can be read on Wikisource. The abridged ending is more melancholy and less climactic than the first; the intention of suicide remains, but there is no dynamite, no colony of bat-creatures; it is, in fact, a bit closer to Clark Ashton Smith’s suggested ending.

Lovecraft’s appreciation of “The Canal” did not lessen with the years, and his letters in 1935 give evidence of that when Worrell’s story was reprinted in the January 1935 Weird Tales. His two longest comments to younger Weird Tales fans are succinct:

In the previous issue, the “Canal” reprint was the real feature. Yes—Everill Worrell was said by Wright to belong to the feminine gender. He once considered hiring her as associate editor, but finally decided not to. Viewed collectively, her work was very uneven—descended from the high level of “The Canal” to the unutterable namby-pamby of “Light-Echoes”…rather a Blackwoodian condition. I have seen nothing new of hers in years, & have no idea whether she is dead or alive. But “The Canal” is a landmark in WT history.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11? May 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 259

“The Canal” is one of the most powerful tales W.T. ever printed—but I didn’t like “Light Echoes”, which to me suggested the namby-pamby. “The Bird of Space” wasn’t bad. I understand from Wright that Everil Worrell is a woman. He once thought of hiring her as assistant editor, but later decided not to. I don’t know her address, but fancy WT would gladly forward a letter address to her in its care. She ought to be glad to furnish an autograph to one who appreciates her work.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Emil Petaja, 31 May 1935, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 437

Everil Worrell was not dead, though Lovecraft could be forbidden for thinking so; she published no stories in Weird Tales under her own name after 1931 until 1939, two years after Lovecraft’s own death. Though they never met or corresponded, she was one of Lovecraft’s esteemed peers at Weird Tales.

“The Canal” would go on to be reprinted many times, sometimes in abridged form. Leonard Nimoy in his directing debut provided an adaptation of the story for The Night Gallery titled “Death on a Barge.” The original published text of the story can be read for free online.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

El Puritano (2021) by El Torres, Jaime Infante, & Manoli Martínez

¿Dónde está Bess?
El Puritano (2021)

“Where is Bess?” said Solomon Kane.
“Woe that I caused her tears.”
“In the quiet churchyard by the sea
she has slept these seven years.”
The sea-wind moaned at the window-pane,
and Solomon bowed his head.
“Ashes to ashes and dust to dust,
and the fairest fade,” he said.
—Robert E. Howard, “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” (1936)

For any other pulp writer, Solomon Kane would be a breakout character. Robert E. Howard’s original pulp stories, even the unpublished drafts, fragments, and synopses, have been collected, published, translated into other languages, and recorded as audiobooks. Kane has been adapted to comics by at least Marvel, Blackthorne, Dark Horse, Diabolo Ediciones, and now Karras Comics. In 2009 a feature film titled Solomon Kane was released; no less an author than Ramsey Campbell handled the novelization, and Campbell had also previously completed some of Howard’s Solomon Kane fragments. There is a Solomon Kane roleplaying game, a Solomon Kane board game, toys and action figures, and bootleg t-shirts. Solomon Kane has even been borrowed into the work of other authors, like Paul Di Filippo’s “Observable Things.”

Few pulp characters can claim as much success in publication, commercialization, and longevity. Yet Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane has since the 1930s dwelled in the shadow of Conan the Cimmerian. While Solomon Kane was Howard’s first successful series character, Conan was easily his most popular, and the tales and poems of the Puritan swordsman are often discovered by readers after they have already been hooked by Conan.

El Puritano (“The Puritan,” 2021, Karras Comics) is an original graphic novel based on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane, who has fallen into the public domain in Europe. The creators of this graphic novel are El Torres (script), Jaime Infante (pen & inks), & Manoli Martínez (colorist); the logo was designed by Ferran Delgado. While it is a standalone graphic novel in that the story is self-contained, the framing narrative makes this a kind of “second chapter” to Sangre Bárbara (2021) by El Torres, Joe Bocardo, & Manoli MartínezEl Puritano begins where Sangre Bárbara ends, with the former slave Mary Bohannon telling tales to a young Robert E. Howard, so while each stands on its own, taken together there is an episodic narrative…or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that Robert E. Howard’s own story, the narrative and mythology of his life, have been closely entwined with his characters so that he becomes the common bridging element between them.

Solomon Kane did not attract as much fan interest as Conan in the 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s, so there were fewer efforts to define a canonical chronology of his adventures—and indeed, Howard made no particular effort to set down a timeline; certain adventures clearly take place after others, because they refer to earlier events or Kane had acquired his strange cat-headed staff, but trying to fix real-world dates gets problematic. We never see Solomon Kane’s parents or home, we never get a fix for when he was born or how old he is; Kane steps onto the page, fully formed, and leaves the same way after completing his mission.

In El Puritano, El Torres and Jaime Infante have placed a much older but still spry Solomon Kane in the English colonies of North America. Various influences are at play here, some more obvious than others: Arthur Miller’s The Crucible (1956); Twins of Evil (1971), starring Peter Cushing as a witch-hunter; and The VVitch (2015) by director Robert Eggers all play their part in the mix, with little nods and homages to the various creators, actors, and storylines at play. Solomon Kane, the self-declared Puritan, is present in a colony of fellow believers, and yet he is apart from them. As it may be, since Howard noted:

All his life he had roamed about the world aiding the weak and fighting oppression, he neither knew nor questioned why. That was his obsession, his driving force of life. Cruelty and tyranny to the weak sent a red blaze of fury, fierce and lasting, through his soul. When the full flame of his hatred was wakened and loosed, there was no rest for him until his vengeance had been fulfilled to the uttermost. If he thought of it at all, he considered himself a fulfiller of God’s judgment, a vessel of wrath to be emptied upon the souls of the unrighteous. Yet in the full sense of the word Solomon Kane was not wholly a Puritan, though he thought of himself as such.
—Robert E. Howard, “Red Shadows”

The story that unfolds is a love letter to the character, with many references to past adventures without dwelling on them. Kane is faced once again with supernatural evil, and the need to defend an innocent young woman whose only crime may have been to love a witch. But Kane is also faced with his own conscience and past deeds—and how his own people, with all their superstition and ignorant faith, judge him and others. N’longa makes a surprising but very appropriate appearance, this time inhabiting the flesh of a Wampanoag woman, a kind of transgender experience that is at once novel and yet very fitting for the character.

Jaime Infante’s subdued, realistic artwork greatly compliments the script, and Manoli Martínez does some really notable work as a colorist, shifting the palette of the scenes to depict flashbacks, astral visitations, somber daylight, and vicious battle.

The story ends, not with Mary Bohannon talking to a young Robert E. Howard, but with Bob himself in his room, standing before the typewriter. The house still stands in Cross Plains, TX, now a museum with Bob’s room restored. You can see a Tour of the Robert E. Howard Home by Ben Friberg online, if you can’t get out there in person, and see it just as Infante tried to capture it on the page. Bob needs to write a story, and begins to type the opening words of “Red Shadows”…so it is both an ending and a beginning; what might be the last tale of Solomon Kane loops around as Howard records his legend. It begins and ends with Robert E. Howard.

El Puritano can be purchased from Karras Comics; they are working on other new works based on Robert E. Howard’s stories and characters as well.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

A Serbian Looks At Lovecraft

A Serbian Look At Lovecraft
by Dejan Ognjanović

I was born into a culture in which Lovecraft was not a household name: hell, he was not even a cult name. He came to my neck of Balkan woods pretty late. Yet eventually he ended up as the subject of my first, unfinished MA thesis, and one of the subjects of my (completed and defended) PhD thesis, and ultimately an author whom I translated and edited in his later appearances in Serbia. He is also a spirit looming above and behind many of my horror fiction writings, despite the fact that they are not set in New England but in Old Serbia.

In my childhood, in the early 1980s, during my initial investigations into the scarce horror fiction then available in Serbian, Lovecraft was literally unknown. Not a single story by him had been translated by my late teens, i.e. by 1989. Thus my first encounter with him was indirect – it was through the idea of Lovecraft, as re-imagined in an Italian comic series Martin Mystere, the episode “The House at the Edge of the World” (“La Casa ai confini di mundo”, 1982), which I read in the summer of 1986, when I was 13. It was love at first sight: for the first time I encountered the concept of houses haunted not by ghosts or any traditional monster, but by unnamable inter-dimensional entities; it also involved places serving as portals into non-Euclidean spaces, nameless cosmic vistas, alien temples and weird-looking gods/demons. Even from a distance of 35 years, I can safely claim that this episode is one of the most inspired, sinister, and clever comic adaptations of HPL’s writings, based more on his spirit than on any particular tales. Up to that point I had not been aware that one was allowed to mix real places and people (Lovecraft himself included) with the fictional ones. I was instantly enthralled by it, and it has remained my favorite approach in my own fiction.

Strangely enough, for more than half a century since Lovecraft’s death, none of his fiction had been available in Serbian, and then, out of nowhere, came a sudden boom in 1990-1991. Within twelve months three books were published: a slim and pretty random selection of mostly minor stories was followed by his two major novels, At the Mountains of Madness and The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, the latter accompanied by his essay on supernatural literature which, at the time, served as a more than welcome guide to authors and works then locally mostly untranslated. While Lovecraft was elsewhere, at the time, mostly relegated to the provenance of small presses and independent publishers, in Serbia all initial three books were published by major, state-owned publishers (Rad and Bigz), or at least state-and-local municipality-funded (Gradina).

The sudden boom of Lovecraft in this region was immediately followed by the explosions of Yugoslavia’s break-up in bloody civil wars. A coincidence? One is left to wonder… Later, when I started writing my own horror fiction, I used HPL’s large-scale entrance into Yugoslavia through Serbia just before the war as a springboard for a mixture of fact and fiction in a story titled “Necronomicon, The Third, Updated Edition” (“Nekronomikon: treće, dopunjeno izdanje”, 2014), where Nyarlathotep, the crawling chaos, comes to the environment ripe for destruction and quickly joins forces with the local politicians.

My earlier story “Dagon, God of the Serbs” (“Dagon, bog Srba”, 2010) was a playful parable about a country in transition from one type of totalitarianism to an apparent “democracy” which, you guessed it, hides the cosmic evil in plain sight, and where “the new normalcy” of strange cults and weird worship is quickly taken for granted. Black-robed Orthodox priests are easily supplanted by the black-robed cultists who take over the Byzantine churches for human sacrifices and other rituals. The story’s title and central conceit is rooted in an actual medieval document which mentions that Serbs used to worship a god named Dagon (Karlovački rodoslov).

My most ambitious deployment of Lovecraft was in my first novel, In Vivo (Naživo, 2003). I have never been a fan of HPL pastiches or “Mythos fiction” written by his epigones, nor did I intend to become one myself. Therefore, in the plot dealing with the occult background of the civil wars and various brutalities in Balkan’s mid-1990s, Lovecraft is explicitly referred to only twice: in a cruel ritual invocation Yog-Sothoth is mentioned as just one of the many names for the Guardian of the Gate, equal to Choronzon (also named); and on the suggestive inscription on a mysterious man’s t-shirt, which after much divining of the hyper-stylized script, says: Nyarlathotep. What I strove for in that novel, rather than puerile winks and homage, was to apply Lovecraft’s notions of what constituted good storytelling, with painstaking realism in all aspects except the (suggestions of the) fantastic, with carefully placed hints alluding towards the bigger picture which is never explicitly delineated. Always having in mind Lovecraft’s ideals, I also strove to build a strong atmosphere of doom and gloom, for which Serbia in the 1990s, under sanctions, and affected by inflation, neighboring wars, and various forms of degradation, was all too perfect a background.

As can be divined from the above, Lovecraft’s fiction for me has never been just a repository of cool monsters, demons, and other paraphernalia: when I used them literally, it was in a tongue-in-cheek, openly satirical manner, but I mostly avoided them, or used them sparingly, when I was trying to say something more ambitious. It is sad, but true, that when I finally came across all of his writings in the mid-1990s, I found his pessimistic vision about humanity and the universe to correspond with what I’d already seen and felt in my own environment, but also, indirectly, in the rest of the world.

Yes, it took a full decade between my first encounter of the idea of Lovecraft, in a comic, and actually finding and reading all of his masterpieces, including “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” because it was pretty difficult or next to impossible buying books in English in Serbia during economic sanctions in the 1990s. However, when a friend brought me a few Lovecraft’s collections from London, my mind was blown. These stories were all that I imagined and hoped for during those ten years, and then some! This aspect may be hard to imagine for a today’s reader who is one click away from ordering anything by HPL through online sellers, or from accessing it online, across the web. But, in the age before the internet and before books in English became reasonably accessible, for Serbian readers Lovecraft was at least twice as esoteric. And yet, I must stress that in my case Lovecraft’s long unavailability was instrumental in whetting my horror appetites and my imagination: before I was able to read his best works, I imagined them, I thought about them and I dreamed them. 

I was aware of Lovecraft’s denigrating attitude to immigrants, including Slavs, especially Poles, among other races and nations turned monstrous in “The Horror at Red Hook.” I also came across his early story “The Street” in which an old Yankee narrator feels a particular repugnance caused by the appearance of a Slavic business venture, “Petrovitch’s Bakery,” in his beloved, ethnically pure WASP town and street. 

Of the various odd assemblages in The Street, the law said much but could prove little. With great diligence did men of hidden badges linger and listen about such places as Petrovitch’s Bakery, the squalid Rifkin School of Modern Economics, the Circle Social Club, and the Liberty Café. There congregated sinister men in great numbers, yet always was their speech guarded or in a foreign tongue.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Street”

Petrovitch is a common Russian family name, but it is also found often among Serbian surnames. This story, admittedly minor, exemplifies the author’s prejudice towards Slavic races, including Serbs, which can be found expressed more explicitly in his essays and letters.

For example, talking about “greater Serbia (Jugo-Slavia)” in a letter to Arthur Harris he describes “Jugo-Slavs” as “a relatively unknown Eastern race” (13 Dec 1918, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner and Others 237). His ignorance of the region, and the race, are typical of his times, because Serbia, until the outbreak of World War I was perceived, if at all, as just another insignificant “land behind the great forest.” At least he was willing to admit as much:

I’d hate to admit how little I know about the Slavonic nations, the Tartars, and even of Germany. […] The Balkans certainly are a hopeless mess, with wide racial variations
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 16 Aug 1932, A Means to Freedom 1.367

A good example that Lovecraft was far from alone in such estimate, and with similar arguments, is found in Howard’s letter from 9 Aug. which actually instigated the above statement, where he says:

But what a tangled mess and confusion Balkan history is! And what a mixture of blood-strains the average Balkan must be! Celtic, Roman, German, Slav, Greek, Mongol, Turkish—no wonder they’re always ham-stringing each other” (ibid. 1.345)

A “hopeless mess“ is a phrase which could just as easily be used to describe Lovecraft’s anti-Slavic rant in his letter to the Gallomo, of 6 Oct 1921, in which he claims:

(I) do not think any Slav nation will rise even to semi-civilisation. Whatever the Slav conquers will be lost to civilisation, for the race-stock is deficient. Slavs are emotional and irrational… (Letters to Alfred Galpin 112)

Still, I did not mind the implications of his private rants nor his published, fictional diatribes, for several reasons. First, I do not self-identify as a Serb so fully and unreservedly that I would take such minor offences, clearly based on Lovecraft’s meager acquaintance with this subject (and on unfortunate race theories about Germanic and Anglo-Saxon supremacy, widespread in his times) as obstacles for my reading enjoyment, even in such a poor and shallow parable as “The Street.” Second, most of my favorite authors held some questionable views or had lifestyle choices which I may not fully condone (M. De Sade, E. A. Poe, L. F. Celine, W. Burroughs, T. Bernhard), yet it never occurred to me to “cancel” them or stop reading their fictions because of certain aspects of their thoughts or deeds which I did not share. Third, from reading HPL’s letters I realized the expanse of his mind, which included willingness to amend his ideas based on new findings, and felt certain that, if only he’d had a chance to meet some great Serbs who lived and worked in USA at the time, like Nikola Tesla or Mihajlo Pupin, he’d be more respectful, and perhaps even eager to enjoy some pita, or burek, from “Petrovitch’s Bakery.”

With only slightly more exposure to those “aliens,” he wouldn’t have perceived them as “sinister men” nor would he have feared their speech as “guarded” and “foreign.” After all, Tesla with his mysterious personality and public exhibitions of the new electric power may have at least partially inspired his conception of Nyarlathotep as a sinister “itinerant showman” with nightmarish exhibitions and performances… This connection, first suggested by Will Murray in his essay “Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep”, is found by S. T. Joshi to be likely (see his “Explanatory notes” in The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Penguin, 2002, 369). Had Lovecraft actually met Tesla, say, during his stay in New York, he might have even befriended the eccentric, reclusive and world-weary Serbian genius whose attitudes towards humanity, wealth and sex, among others, were rather similar to his own. Perhaps based on such an acquaintance a more benevolent character would have been created: someone closer to his good professors and scientists than to avatars of the Old Ones. 

In any case, when in 2008 the opportunity arose for me to edit the first ambitious selection of Lovecraft’s best horror tales in Serbian, in a large format 600-pages hardcover with original illustrations, titled Nekronomikon, I accompanied the tales with my introduction, a lengthy afterword, annotated bibliography, detailed author’s biography and chronology of his entire opus, so that Serbian readers could, for the first time, see the full scope of his poetics and the literary context which shaped it. This was continued in a series of books (twenty five so far), named “Poetics of Horror,” for which I edited two more selections of Lovecraft’s stories, plus I did a new translation of Mountains, and among the authors I presented, most of them for the first time in Serbian, were many of his major influences (Machen, M. R. James, Blackwood, Hodgson) and followers (Ligotti, T.E.D. Klein). 

Nekronomikon had three editions so far, each slightly different in content and design, and sold in almost 4.000 copies. His other collections are also in high demand. Serbs have embraced the scribe from Providence and his cult in this country is now quite strong. From a virtual unknown, thirty years ago, he grew into a cult figure in the 21st century’s first decade, while now his name on the covers guarantees sales comparable to those of better-known genre bestsellers. A nice feat for a spirit who, for more than fifty years after departing the body, evaded this part of the world. Once he was finally summoned to Serbia, he was not received as a foreigner and outsider, but as a long-lost prophet of doom whose bleak vision became immediately understandable and relatable.

Born and living in Niš, Serbia, Dejan Ognjanović received his PhD in Literature (“Historical Poetics of Horror Genre in Anglo-American Literature”). Writes reviews and articles for Rue Morgue magazine. In Serbia published three horror novels, three studies on horror cinema, two collections of essays and a book on Djordje Kadijević, pioneering director of Serbian horror films. Contributed to Steven Schneider’s 100 European Horror Films, 501 Movie Directors, and 101 Horror Movies You Must See Before You Die, and also to academic collections Speaking of Monsters (2012) and Digital Horror (2015). He is editor at Orfelin Publishing since 2015, where he edits the series “Poetics of Horror,” and writes reviews and articles for Rue Morgue magazine, who also published his booklet The Weird World of H. P. Lovecraft (Rue Morgue Library #11, 2017).

Copyright 2022 Dejan Ognjanović.

Sangre Bárbara (2021) by El Torres, Joe Bocardo, & Manoli Martínez

“Sabed, oh Principe…

“…que entre los años en que los océanos enguilleron Atlantis y sus resplandecientes ciudades, y el surgir de los hijoes de Aryas…

“…hubo una edad no soñada.”

Brillantes reinos se esparacían por el mundo como mantos azules bao las estrellas.

“Nemedia, Ofir, Brithunia, Hiperbórea…”

“Zamora, con sus mujeres de oscuros cabellos y sus torres plagadas de arácnidos misterios…”

“Zingara y su gallardía, Koth, que lindaba con las tierras de pastoreo de Shem.

“Estigia, con sus tumbas custodiadas por sombras.

“E Hirkania, cuyos jinetes vestían de acero, seda y oro.

“Pero el reino más orgulloso del mundo era Aquilonia, que reinaba suprema en el oeste.

“Ya hacía años que allí regia el poderoso Rey Conan, el cimmerio, aquel que fue guerrero, ladrón, pirata y saqueador antes que gran monarca.

“Y llegó el tiempo en que una sombra se agitó en las junglas Pictas que dormitaban al oesta de Aquilonia.”
“Know, oh Prince…

“…that between the years when the oceans engulfed Atlantis and her resplendent cities, and the rise of the sons of Aryas…

“There was an untold age.”

Brilliant kingdoms spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.

“Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea…”

“Zamora, with its dark-haired women and its towers plagued by arachnid mysteries…”

“Zingara and her chivalry, Koth, which bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem.

“Stygia, with its shadow-guarded tombs.

“And Hyrkania, whose horsemen wore steel, silk, and gold.

“But the proudest kingdom in the world was Aquilonia, which reigned supreme in the west.

“It had been years since the mighty King Conan, the Cimmerian, ruled there, the one who was a warrior, thief, pirate, and plunderer before being a great monarch.

“And the time came when a shadow stirred in the Pictish jungles that slept west of Aquilonia.”
Sangre Bárbara (2021, Karras Comics)

So begins Sangre Bárbara (“Barbarian Blood,” 2021, Karras Comics). It is a fitting opening, with a variation of the incipit that Robert E. Howard wrote for “The Phoenix on the Sword,” which was the very first Conan the Cimmerian story, and which ran as a masthead across the Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics for decades, and even ran in a slightly different form at the beginning of the Conan the Barbarian (1982) film that starred Arnold Schwarzeneggar. The opening sets the mood; it immediately places the reader in the time and place for the action, and then the story opens…

As with The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi and The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez, this is an original work which takes advantage of the fact that Robert E. Howard’s characters and fiction have fallen into the public domain in Europe. The creators of this graphic novel are El Torres (script), Joe Bocardo (pen & inks), & Manoli Martínez (colorist); the logo was designed by Ferran Delgado.

Like The Barbarian King, Sangre Bárbara is set after the series of stories written by Robert E. Howard, giving the creators a freer hand in writing the adventure. Unlike that work, the principal character in the story is not Conan of Cimmeria…although he is still very much in the story…it is his son, the Prince Conan. A lean young man with the lean build and close-cropped hair of a boxer or legionnaire, scouting in the Pictish wilderness over the Aquilonian border, much as his father did in “Beyond the Black River.”

The story that follows wears several of its literary and artistic influences openly: the iconography of the 1982 film runs through the book like a river, from the cover to almost the last page. There is strong dedication to the original Howard texts, as shown in the opening. And there are hints of suggestions from the Marvel comics as well; I wouldn’t liken it to any kind of borrowing, but more of an inspiration: there was a storyline in Marvel’s Conan the King series titled “The Prince is Dead” which might have been the seed of this story…but Karras Comics takes the storyline much further than Marvel would ever have dared.

There is nudity, and there is gore; the writers and artist get away with it because they finally can—the same way the writers and artists of the French Glénat adaptations, and the Italian Leviathan Labs The Barbarian King books. Conan comics have almost always been a little more mature than the standard superhero fare, a little more bloody and sexy and visceral, but they have never been primarily ago either sex or blood. There are plenty of pornographic and horror comics that go in for plenty of each, if those are what readers want; so the trick for Conan comics nowadays is finding the right balance—in 2006, Dark Horse released a nude cover for Conan the Barbarian #24, and that was too much for some. In Sangre Bárbara, for the story being told and the atmosphere being set, it is certainly not much more explicit than in the 1982 film.

When reading this neo-Howardiana, it is interesting to see the choices that the writers and artists make in the depiction of the Hyborian Age. In this particular case, it is notable how racially diverse the cast is. Robert E. Howard held many of the racial prejudices one would expect of a young white man who grew up primarily in small towns in Texas; it was mentioned in the memoir One Who Walked Alone (1986) by Novalyne Price Ellis how Cross Plains was a sundown town. Some of this 1930s Texas racial stratification made it into Howard’s tales of the Hyborian Age—and some of that was continued in the Conan pastiches by other authors, which is why Charles R. Saunders wrote “Die Black Dog! A Look At Racism In Fantasy Literature” (1975, rev. 2011)—but they aren’t essential to it. Of course you can have Black characters in the Hyborian Age. Why not?

It is difficult not to compare Sangre Bárbara and The Barbarian King, since both works are branching off from similar premises, but they go about their work very differently. The Barbarian King is more acid sword & sorcery, heavier on the magic and the melancholy, the dream-like sequences and monstrous clash of color. Sangre Bárbara is much more gritty, subdued, and realistic; there is sorcery, but it isn’t bolts of flame erupting from fingertips, and the conflicts in the story are more complex than just a math problem of how many bodies can be piled up with a sword. There is a constant thread on the nature of civilization that runs through the story…right down to the last, and my favorite page.

As regards African-legend sources, I well remember the tales I listened to and shivered at, when a child in the “piney woods” of East Texas, where Red River marks the Arkansaw and Texas boundaries. There were quite a number of old slave darkies still living then. The one to whom I listened most was the cook, old Aunt Mary Bohannon who was nearly white—about one sixteenth negro, I should say.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Sep 1930, A Means to Freedom 1.44

This is, as far as I am aware, the first appearance of Mary Bohannon in comic book or graphic novel—and I like the sentiment, that to honor the past does not mean to be bound to every part of it irrevocably, and that the future remains to be written. The adventures of Conan are far from over, there are tales of the Hyborian Age left to tell—and maybe they will be a little more mature in more ways than just enough blood and nudity to ensure an NC-17 rating, but in what stories they tell and how, and how race fits into the age undreamed of. Certainly, this is a good start.

Sangre Bárbara can be purchased from Karras Comics; they are working on other new works based on Robert E. Howard’s stories and characters as well.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Georgina de Castro

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

Illness (cold) prevents Dr. de Castro writing or doing anything at present, but Dr. de Castro hopes to see Mr. Lovecraft soon.

—Mrs. G. de Castro

The above note is, as far as is known, the only communication by card, letter, or note between Georgina de Castro and H. P. Lovecraft. Who she was, and how they came to share this brief correspondence—and an acquaintanceship that stretched a bit beyond that—involves the complicated and murky marital history of her husband, Adolphe Danziger de Castro, in whose adventures she shared for twenty-eight years.

Born in Poland in 1859 as Abram Dancygier, when he emigrated to the United States in 1883 he used the name Gustav Adolphe Danziger—with variations in spelling in various documents as Gustave, Adolph, Adolf, or simply G. A. Danziger. He practiced as a dentist, rabbi, and writer, though his English was at first imperfect, which led to a collaboration with Ambrose Bierce. In 1888, Danziger became a naturalized citizen of the United States, and married Bertha R. Levy. She bore two children by him: Beatrice Danziger (b. 1892) and Nathan Moses Danziger (b. 1895).

In 1900, Danziger left for New York, without his family. Whether this was intended abandonment or some other reason is not clear. He became enmeshed in local Republican politics in New York, and became acquainted with Ida Silbert, who worked as stenographer. Danziger’s politicking bore fruit: in 1903 he was off to Madrid to fulfill a post as Vice-Consul. In Spain he met and apparently became secretly engaged with Lucy M. White Watts. Their relationship was carried on long-distance, by letter and telegram, and was cut off abruptly when she married the Baron von Thielen. Danziger served for a time as Vice-Consul in Aberdeen, Scotland, but by 1906 was back in the United States.

1906 is a complicated year in the life of Adolphe Danziger. According to newspaper accounts, during that year he married Ida Silbert in a Jewish ceremony officiated by a rabbi and before witnesses; I have not yet been able to find any marriage license or registration, but the bride presumptive changed her name to Ida Silbert Danziger. Subsequent to this, Adolphe sued for divorce from his wife Bertha. In response, Bertha charged him with bigamy. It is known that Danziger’s divorce suit was dismissed.

According to Ida, they stayed together for a year before he left for Europe on business, from which he did not return. By that time, Ida was already pregnant. The 1910 census lists Ida Danziger living with her parents and siblings, along with a two-year-old Martha Danziger.

Adolphe Danziger was by this point back in California, working as a lawyer among various other ventures, which makes tracking his movements with any precision difficult. Apparently c.1907 he met and fell in love with Georgina McLelland, a 34-year-old Irish immigrant who had come to the country in 1895.

Ida S. Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe in 1910, and asked for child support; Adolphe answered by claiming that they had never been married. In 1915, Bertha Danziger sued for divorce from Adolphe, and she alleged he was living with a woman with bleached blonde hair. That may well have been Georgina.

Documentation on Georgina and Adolphe’s life is scarce, and in places flawed or contradictory. Among Adolphe’s surviving papers is the manuscript for a book that consists of love-letters from himself to Georgina, dating from 3 April 1907 to 22 January 1935—however, there is evidence that these letters have been edited, and it isn’t clear if these are all authentic or partially written after the fact with the aim of collection or publication. It is not known when or if they ever legally married, but a document in Adolphe’s papers titled “Transfer of Patent of invention in the Incandescent Lamps from Adolphe Danziger to Georgina de Castro-Danziger of LA, 11/27/17″ is the first indication that they either married or were presenting themselves as man and wife.

Adolphe Danziger’s legal career hit a snag in 1917 when he was sued by a client for embezzlement; the allegation was that unnaturalized German immigrants were concerned that the United States government might seize their funds or property during the war with Germany, and that Danziger had sheltered the money for them…and then not given it back. While Danziger was eventually acquitted, it would have been a scandal. For this or some other reason, in 1921 he legally changed his name from Gustave Adolphe Danziger to Adolphe de Castro. If the hope was to save his legal practice, it failed: de Castro was disbarred in 1922.

Adolphe moved to Mexico, where he became a journalist; Georgina was apparently with him, at least part of the time. In 1925, the couple left Vera Cruz for New York. The arriving passenger list gives her age as 39, though she was really 52 at the time; the 1930 U.S. Census (which transcribed her name as “Georgeanna” gives her age as 40. This might have been a scribal error…or, perhaps not; many women have been 39 for a few more years. They settled in New York City, and in 1927 Adolphe got a bit of a break when an article he wrote about Ambrose Bierce was picked up nationally. He hoped to further his success by republishing some of his old stories…and to this end, he sought someone to revise them for publication. So he came into contact with H. P. Lovecraft…and Lovecraft met Georginia de Castro.

References to “Mrs. de Castro” in Lovecraft’s letters are few; they apparently met in person at least once, when Lovecraft visited Adolphe de Castro in New York, and Adolph himself writes in a later letter:

Lovecraft and the late Mrs. de Castro and myself were at dinner at the Styvensen in New York. He had been revising a short story for me, the scene of which was laid in my native land, Poland. There had been some difference of opinion regarding the plot – made by correspondence. In response to his last letter I – stante pede, as it were, made a new plot and sent it to him. Thereupon he flattered me by saying that it was not likely I had so quickly made so new and excellent a plot. My reply was, “come to New York and we’ll discuss it.” At an elaborate bit of dinner we talked the matter over.

Adolphe de Castro to John Stanton, 9 Mar 1949, MSS Wisconsin Historical Society

This dinner would have taken place in 1928, and the work discussed is believed to be the lost “third revision” after “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test,” now probably non-extant, but based on “In the Confessional” (1892) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

One notable point about Lovecraft’s revisions for Adolphe is that in “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) the name of the female lead is Alvira; when Lovecraft revised this story into “The Last Test,” it was changed to Georgina.

Lovecraft’s references to Georgina de Castro pick up in 1934, in response to some comments in Adolphe’s letters:

He is aged, infirm, & absolutely penniless—& believes he is slowly going blind. And his wife is in an advanced stage of tuberculosis.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 25 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 181

Given Lovecraft’s own brief experience caring for his sick wife, he was sympathetic with what Adolphe and Georgina were going through:

I am surely sorry to hear that recent years have dealt you so many blows, & hope most profoundly that Mrs. de Castro’s health my presently take a turn for the better. It is easy to understand the anxiety you must feel—& with your own ocular troubles the burden is further aggravated.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 14 Oct 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 357

References to Adolphe and Georginia pop up here and there in his letters, part of the normal pulp grapevine. Lovecraft never gives any indication he was aware of Adolphe’s other wives, but the older man apparently kept him up to date…including when Georgina was admitted to the hospital as her condition worsened.

I am tremendously sorry to hear that Mrs. de Castro’s illness is necessitating an hospital sojourn—but hope that observation & treatment there may afford decidedly favourable results. Sometimes the expert care & continuous medical attention in such a place produces unexpected upturns in cases which seemed very discouraging at home. […] Again expressing the hope that Mrs. de Castro’s health will soon respond favorably to treatment—I remain yrs most sincerely

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 6 Nov 1934, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 367, 372

To others, Lovecraft was more pragmatic and pessimistic:

Old de Castro is in severe straits now, & almost paralysed with grief over the probably fatal illness of his wife—an advanced consumptive who lately went to the hospital, perhaps never to return.

H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 23 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 116

Yet when Lovecraft wrote to Adolphe, he sought to be optimistic and reassuring:

Let me express my sincerest sympathy regarding your recent illness—which I trust may not soon be repeated. Considering the nervous strain you must be under, I can hardly wonder at the attack—but the rest obtained through the collapse will probably help to ward off another. I hope that, upon reflection, you will not take the tactless pessimism of that nun too seriously. A mere nurse is not a physician, and the lesser fry around an hospital sometimes acquire a casual outlook greatly subversive of accuracy. It does not do to give up hope prematurely in anything as potentially controllable as tuberculosis. As I have mentioned, there are thousands of persons living with lungs impaired to a vast degree—for once the spread of the trouble is checked, a surprisingly small fraction of the pulmonary apparatus can serve to carry on the vital processes.

So if I were you I wouldn’t be totally discouraged. A spirit as indomitable as that of Mrs. de Castro is itself a great bulwark against disease—you may recall that in vast epidemics the psychology of the patients is so influential that the most hopeful and determined are usually the ones to pull through. It is certainly tremendously lamentable that this affliction has had to come—but at the same time it is far too early to conclude that it will not safely pass over and lead to a pleasanter outcome. Don’t believe all the croakers—they’ve had many a person mentally in his tomb, who is today hale and hearty again!

With renewed thanks for the acrostic, and with every good and hopeful wish for you and Mrs. de Castro, I remain, Yrs most cordially

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 26 Jan 1935, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 374

Well wishes, however, could not stave off the inevitable.

Melancholy note—old de Castro’s wife died Jan. 23 at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I dropped Dolph a line of sympathy & told Price & Belknap to do the same. The poor old boy is considerably broken up—he had a two-week’s nervous collapse earlier in January, so that we might have been able to see him had we called during our metropolitan sojourn.

H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Feb 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 206-207

Barlow and Lovecraft had been in New York for New Years, but had apparently missed visiting Adolphe. Find A Grave gives a different date for her death, but the New York State death certificate confirms she died on 23 January 1935 from pulmonary tuberculosis (although it gives her name as “Georgia,” and lists her age as 45). Among Adolphe’s papers is a poem manuscript titled: “L’amour ne Peut pa Mourir” (“The Love That Cannot Die”), with the note “written three days after the passing of Georgina—my first love which lasted for twenty-eight delightful years.”

Georgina was, inadvertently and posthumously, to set the stage for another of the small episodes in Lovecraft’s life. Her expressed last wishes had been, apparently, to have her ashes cast into the ocean—presumably toward her native Scotland—and this Adolphe de Castro finally did, choosing to take the bus up to Boston to do so. On his way back, he stopped into Providence to see Lovecraft, who was at the time hosting R. H. Barlow as his guest:

Another social event was the sojourn of old Adolphe Danziger de Castro early in August. You’ve probably heard me speak of old Dolph—the semi-charlatanic chap whose biography of Bierce Belknap adorned with a preface, & whose stories I used to doctor up. He was here for 5 days at the Hotel Dreyfus—on his way back to N.Y. from Boston, where he had been to scatter his late wife’s ashes on the sea in accordance with her last wishes. Old Dolph vainly tried to saddle me with some wholly unprofitable revision work, & is now pestering Kleiner about the same stuff. On one occasion we all—he, Barlow, & I—sat on a tomb in the hidden hillside churchyard & wrote rhymed acrostics on the name of Edgar Allan Poe—who 90 years ago used to roam that selfsame necropolis when on visits to Providence.

H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 29 Aug 1936, Letters with Donald & Howard Wandrei 354

Adolphe de Castro actually managed to sell his acrostic to Weird Tales; the others saw publication in fanzines and poetry collections over the years. Lovecraft and de Castro stayed in touch, even as Lovecraft’s own terminal illness took hold, and one of his final letters is a word to the grieving old man, who had left New York for California once again:

I am glad that you have some of the pictures and other things collected by yourself and Mrs. de Castro, and feel sure that their ultimate effect will be one of consolation rather than melancholy.

H. P. Lovecraft to Adolphe de Castro, 17 Feb 1937, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 397

Lovecraft would die. Adolphe de Castro would live on, and marry again for the “third” time (presumably, he had decided Ida didn’t count) in 1947, to pass away at the age of 99 in 1959.

Who was Georgina McClellan de Castro? Sadly, in death she is largely attested to only as “Mrs. de Castro,” and that one among many. We know almost nothing of her background or habits, her interests or activities, and that is a direct reflection of the fact that Lovecraft himself no doubt knew little to nothing of these things. Their lives intersected only once or twice, in a note to explain an absence or a seat at a dinner table, connected as they were only by their association with Adolphe de Castro, who had brought them into proximity and contact. What little remains of Georgina’s memory rests now amid his papers…aside from a few scattered references in the voluminous letters of H. P. Lovecraft.

Thanks to Dave Goudsward for help and assistance on this piece.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020) by Barbara Giorgi & Nicolò Tofanelli

Salomé muore e arriva nell’Aldilà.

La vista dell’Inferno è così terrificante de spaventare a morte anche la strega.

Con le ultime energie rimaste stringe un patto con un demonio, un traghettatore di anime, prigioniero anch’egli degli Inferi.

Salomé gli dona parti del suo corpo e quel che rimane della sua anima per fuggire dall’Inferno. In cambio dovrà donare al demone un erede, ma fare patti con il Male ha sempre delle consequenze terribili.
Salomé dies and arrives in the afterlife.

The sight of Hell is so terrifying that it scares even the witch to death.

With her last remaining energy she makes a pact with a demon, a ferryman of souls, also a prisoner of the Underworld.

Salomé gives him parts of her body and what remains of his soul to escape from Hell. In exchange she will have to give the demon an heir, but making deals with Evil always has terrible consequences.
Back cover copy to The Last Barbarian: Salomé (2020)

One of the surprises in The Barbarian King 1: Le Spade Spezzate (2019) by Massimo Rosi & Alessio Landi was the appearance of Salomé, the witch-queen from Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “A Witch Shall Be Born” (Weird Tales Dec 1934). This was a surprise not only because of a tie-in with another classic Conan tale, but because Salomé was quite firmly deceased at the end of that episode, long before Conan won his kingdom of Aquilonia. So how did she show up in The Barbarian King?

To answer that, Leviathan Labs published a spin-off: The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020). The creative team for this effort was Barbara Giorgi (script), Nicolò Tofanelli (pencils/inks), Angelo Razzano (colorist), Massimo Rosi (editor), Mattia Gentili (letter), and Lucrezia Benvenuti (logo & map design). This graphic novel covers what happened to Salomé between the end of “A Witch Shall be Born” and her appearance to aid the stricken Conan in The Barbarian King 1.

Robert E. Howard did populate his Conan tales with various non-Conan characters, but he never wrote any separate adventures of Bêlit or Valeria, or of Conan’s grandfather or sons or daughters, so there was no exact precedent for spin-offs. Thus it should not be surprising that in the seventy-odd years of Conan pastiche stories and novels, and fifty-odd years of Conan comics, spin-offs for side characters are comparatively rare. Pasticheurs, faced with the choice of writing new Conan tales or new non-Conan tales set in the Hyborian Age, generally went with the former; although The Leopard of Poitain (1985) by Raul Garcia-Capella is a notable early exception, and The Song of Bêlit (2020) by Rodolfo Martínez focuses in large part on Bêlit, though it is still a Conan story at heart.

In comic books, Marvel was largely skittish about spin-offs, early in Conan the Barbarian‘s run Roy Thomas and Gil Kane had produced a “Tale of the Hyborian Age” backup feature, echoing the successful “Tales of Asgard,” but the idea was never repeated. As Thomas tells it:

So I enlisted Gil to do a “Tale of the Hyborian Age”—a series I’d hoped to use occasionally in the 52-page Conan to give Barry [Windsor Smith] a rest. “The Blood of the Dragon” introduced the concept (which may have been Gi’s idea, since we co-plotted the story) that, when the hydragon was killed, its human assassin was magically changed to take its place. I was always proud of the name “hydragon,” combining the mythical “hydra” and the word “dragon,” and intended one day soon to use the hydragon of the Bossonian Marches in an actual Conan story.

Roy Thomas, Barbarian Life. vol. 1, 76

Conan never faced the hydragon, and there would be no more “Tales of the Hyborian Age.” Instead, Thomas created Red Sonja—an original Hyborian Age character loosely inspired by Robert E. Howard’s Red Sonya of Rogatino from “The Shadow of the Vulture” (The Magic Carpet Magazine Jan 1934). Red Sonja would go on to become a character who could be the protagonist of her own series—or series of series—which are still ongoing as of this writing.

Leaving Red Sonja aside, there were very few non-Conan series to spin-off from the main line: Conan: The Book of Thoth (2006, Dark Horse), Age of Conan: Bêlit (2019, Marvel), Age of Conan: Valeria (2020, Marvel), and Bêlit & Valeria: Swords vs. Sorcery (2022, Ablaze) are the only other spin-off series centered on characters from the Conan line; one might add Robert E. Howard Presents Thulsa Doom (2010, Dynamite) which spun out of Dynamite’s Red Sonja comics, though the character shares little more than a name with Howard’s original creation. Even so, that is a rather sparse showing from the dozens of series and hundreds of Conan and Red Sonja comics produced.

Red Sonja probably gives a good explanation why: for all of the worldbuilding that was put into the Hyborian Age by Robert E. Howard and subsequent writers, many of the comic adventures made little use of this. Red Sonja and Conan often tackled monster-of-the-month in their individual comics, or adventured through cities and countries never named by Robert E. Howard, in what were effectively generic sword-and-sorcery stories starring familiar protagonists. Even when Marvel published both Conan and Red Sonja comics at the same time, the two series were not written with reference to one another; they were effectively standalone S&S series that only nominally shared the same setting.

The same issue is evident in the spin-off series based around Thoth-Amon, Bêlit, Valeria, and Thulsa Doom. Many of these stories were well-written and illustrated—Sana Takeda’s covers for Age of Conan: Bêlit are absolutely gorgeous—but for the most part, these stories veer fairly far from Howard’s original conception of the characters and often have limited continuity with the Hyborian Age in the series they’re nominally spinning off from. Readers interested in greater lore for the Hyborian Age, like readers of the Cthulhu Mythos that desire more fragments of the artificial mythology to fit into their puzzle, were disappointed.

The Barbarian King: Salomé certainly takes it liberties with the character and the setting—but it begins very faithfully to “A Witch Shall Be Born.” Salomé begins just as Howard and Conan had left her, dead and her schemes unraveled. What we get next is her afterlife, which Howard never depicted or wrote about, so the writer and artist had a very free hand. I rather suspect that a possible inspiration for the series was Claudia Chevalier Vampire (2004- , Pat Mills & Franck Tacito), which is a spin-off of the popular Requiem Chevalier Vampire (2000-2012, Pat Mills & Olivier Ladroit)—both series have an emphasis on Hell, violence, sexuality, and mature storytelling, with the spin-offs taking a prominent female supporting character and turning them into a protagonist to expand on their characterization and tell their story.

Salomé’s harrowing, and the physical and mental transformations of her character—something less than redemption—lead her very far from the character that Robert E. Howard created. Yet it does change her into exactly the strange, wan, damaged character who aids Conan in the pages of The Barbarian King. Nor do they ever lose sight of where Salomé came from; her own abandonment as an infanticide and rescue being important themes in her interactions with other characters.

In that sense, Salomé follows the same philosophy of The Barbarian King: Robert E. Howard’s work is the launching point from which the creators start, but they are pushing into new, unwritten territory…but not without losing sight of where they came from, or where they’re going. If you like The Barbarian King, Salomé is an interesting accessory that goes deeper into the background and character of an important supporting character.

The Barbarian King: Salomé (2020) is available from Leviathan Labs. Like The Barbarian King it is in Italian, with no English translation yet.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

“The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” (2010) by Penelope Love

An often underestimate influence on Lovecraft’s genre is the immensely popular and long time market-sayer, the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, published by Chaosium, Inc.  […] The game’s influence extended further than just the gaming community, for Lovecraftian and Cthulhu Mythos authors were quick to discover that Chaosium’s sourcebooks provided a wealth of information, by categorizing and defining Lovecraft’s visions. Soon the game became an encyclopedia, the first point of call for all things Cthulhuoid. This influence is so profound, that new creations which first appeared in the Call of Cthulhu game now appear regularly in the fiction of modern day Lovecraftian authors.
—David Conyers, “Introduction” to Cthulhu’s Dark Cults viii

Tabletop roleplaying games involve many different types of writing and editing. If you were to sit down and write a new game ex nihilo, you would need to first engage in some top-down game design, probably starting with a concept or pitch for the game—who are the player characters and what do they do?

In Dungeons & Dragons, you are an adventurer and you go on adventures! In Shadowrun, you are a shadowrunner, a mercenary criminal in a fantasy cyberpunk future, and you go on shadowruns, which are illegal jobs that can range from smuggling to murder-for-hire to corporate espionage…only with dragons and elves. In Vampire: the Masquerade, you are a vampire and navigate the complex politics of undead society while striving to sustain yourself and control the beast within. In Call of Cthulhu, you are an investigator and you solve cases and delve into mysteries.

The pitch often but not always contains the basic premise of the setting. Dungeons & Dragons is largely setting agnostic; while the default setting is a quasi-medieval fantasy, the basic rules can (and have) been adapted to many different settings, and players are quite capable of creating their own. For games with specific settings like Shadowrun, a certain amount of setting information has to be brainstormed and written so that players know where the action is taking place. Games set in a historical period of the real world like Call of Cthulhu have a distinct advantage in this case because a great deal of raw setting information is widely available—all you have to do is pick up a history book or delve through old newspaper archive and you can find whatever facts you need for playing in the 1920s or 1890s.

Additional writing involves mechanics—the game’s systems, the mathematical and conceptual specifics that indicate how certain actions like combat or magic are to be resolved, tracked, and sometimes abstracted. It isn’t always possible or desirable, for example, to track how much blood a character loses if they get stabbed; the player marks off a couple hit points on their character sheet and moves on. All of that, and how it integrates into the setting and the gameplay experience, is a matter of game design and editing—complicated stuff!

The last, but not the least, bit of work that goes into a tabletop roleplaying game is what most readers would recognize as narrative fiction: short stories and short-shorts which are set in the setting and are told from the perspective of characters that are in that setting. All the rest of the game give the readers—the prospective players of the game—tools and references so that they can play, but the narrative fiction is what sells the tone and style of the setting, free from any considerations of play.

Most games have to create this from nothing. Dungeons & Dragons took inspiration from Robert E. Howard, J. R. R. Tolkein, Fritz Leiber, etc. in creating the game, but none of those authors was specifically writing D&D fiction. Shadowrun added in cyberpunk influences from William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Pat Cadigan, but again, those cyberpunk authors weren’t specifically writing Shadowrun stories—they were writing their own stories from which the Shadowrun authors took inspiration, and then the Shadowrun authors wrote their own stories.

With Call of Cthulhu…the lines are a bit blurrier. What exactly is the difference between a Cthulhu Mythos story, and a Call of Cthulhu story? Is there even a difference?

Unlike Dungeons & Dragons or ShadowrunCall of Cthulhu was specifically inspired by the body of Cthulhu Mythos fiction created by Lovecraft, his contemporaries, and all those who came thereafter. So while D&D wasn’t designed to let player characters actually journey around Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Howard’s Hyborian Age, Call of Cthulhu was designed for player characters to be able to visit Lovecraft’s Innsmouth or Howard’s Stregoicavar, to read the Necronomicon and, if they were very unlucky, to even catch a glimpse of Cthulhu. In that sense, yes, all Call of Cthulhu fiction is part of the Mythos by default—because the game is about playing in that Mythos setting.

However, writing for roleplaying games has very different goals than most narrative fiction. Lovecraft & co. were not obliged to keep any strong continuity between their disparate productions, or to go into detail on the people, places, and objects in those stories. Lovecraft’s map of Arkham and Howard’s essay on the Hyborian Age were, in the 1930s, anomalously deep background for the period, and much of that data never made it into any story—but for roleplaying games, that level of detail is relatively common and expected. More, where earlier Mythos writers were free to be loose or even contradictory with their artificial mythology and how magic worked, in a game things typically have to be more concrete—or at least, the format of the game encourages categorization and specification where narrative fiction favors imagination and non-specificity. You can see this in works like the Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), which has strong roots in roleplaying gaming.

Beyond the strict game design considerations, there are economic ones. A roleplaying game is typically more than a single book, it is an entire line of products with different subjects which involve the same setting and/or system. Overall development of a game line requires high-level decisions on which books to produce, and how to keep setting material and style consistent between products, because what is written in one book can impact every other book in the line. Line development influences how the setting or its presentation changes over time, and players are often quick to harp on real or imagined discrepancies between rules or setting information between books…and by building on developments from one book to the next, the game setting and rules grow richer and more complex, which often draws readers and players in.

With Call of Cthulhu, this sets a complicated relationship with the Mythos. The game itself takes inspiration and makes reference to a set group of stories and concepts created by Lovecraft & co.—and the line developers, editors, writers, and artists need to make decisions when that material is vague or conflicting. Yet those same creators have no control over what anyone else creates, so while they strive to keep consistency within their own game line, the Mythos continues to proliferate outside of those artificial boundaries…and with many writers and artists taking inspiration from each other, it can be very fuzzy as to whether a given Mythos story is “in” the setting (or settings plural, as it is now) of Call of Cthulhu fiction, or if it is general Mythos fiction that has taken, as David Conyers pointed out, some inspiration from the game and the reference materials it has generated.

For most readers, the distinction is negligible or academic. As Conyers noted, many creators have dipped into or taken inspiration from the volumes of material produced by Chaosium and creators of various related Cthulhu roleplaying games over the years. To take one example, the popular image of Nyarlathotep as a three-legged being with a long tendril for a head and a bloody maw with a long tongue is not referenced anywhere in the works of Lovecraft, Derleth, or other first-generation Mythos authors; it was created for the roleplaying game, but has gone on to become one of the most popular depictions of Nyarlathotep. Some other aspects of the popular Mythos were created or codified by Call of Cthulhu, such as the Order of the Silver Twilight which has featured heavily in spin-off works like Arkham Horror and Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game.

As a roleplaying game, Call of Cthulhu tends to be very conservative in terms of mechanics, setting development, and presentation. That is part of the reason that a good deal of the actual innovation in the setting in terms of critically analyzing and rethinking the setting and pitch of how the game is played and who is playing it devolves to related games like Harlem Unbound (2017) by Darker Hue Studios.

This has led to a certain domination of the game by nostalgia. The Masks of Nyarlathotep (1984) campaign written by Larry DiTillio with Lynn Willis, for example, has been revised, re-packaged, expanded, and re-released for six different editions of the game. Because of the strong influence and constant re-publication of Masks, it has tied into many subsequent Call of Cthulhu products and become something of a cornerstone of the identifiable Call of Cthulhu line identity. Fans have created original art, spin-offs, prequels, sequels, soundscapes, and props based on the campaign. The Good Friends of Jackson Elias podcast is a direct reference to the campaign, where the player character investigators are good friends of one Jackson Elias.

Madness is the mark of gods, the response to the whisper of ancient secrets, and the unseen hand that turns the world in its disordered course. With it, I have peered beyond mere dream and pattern, beyond childhood impetuosity and adult grief, beyond the analysis of which other men are capable. Accepting madness, I accept the gods and rule well with their gifts thereby.
The Masks of Nyarlathotep (4th edition, 2010) 185

Last but not least, Masks of Nyarlathotep has inspired Call of Cthulhu fiction such as “The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” by Penelope Love. The background is a bit necessary because while this story can be read and enjoyed on its own, it is so tied into the Call of Cthulhu setting and Masks of Nyarlathotep and its ancillary materials to such a degree that is fundamentally a product of the game rather than an independent Mythos story that is just borrowing some names or characters.

Pastiche takes as its hallmark a slavish devotion to the outer forms and tropes of Mythos fiction, but this is something much more relaxed and intimate. Love isn’t trying to ape Lovecraft’s style or anyone else’s, it’s a story that demonstrates a profound amount of Mythos lore as codified by Call of Cthulhu over the previous five decades but doesn’t really seek to capture anything of the Lovecraftian tone of mystery or cosmic horror. It is very much a peek behind the scenes, at the kind of happenings that occur off the page in a regular Mythos story or as a result of decisions made by the Keeper or gamemaster as to how the story will react to what the player characters are doing.

Like “Scritch, Scratch” (2014) by Lynne Hardy, to really appreciate what Love does with this story really requires understanding that background of game design and the culture of Call of Cthulhu as distinct from how other Mythos writers approach the material.

“The Whisper of Ancient Secrets” was published in Cthulhu’s Dark Cults (2010). It has not yet been reprinted.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard and Others and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos.

Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein uses Amazon Associate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.