Deeper Cut: Hart Crane

And saw thee dive to kiss that destiny

Like one white meteor, sacrosanct and blent

At last with all that’s consummate and free

There, where the first and last gods keep thy tent.

Hart Crane, “The Dance,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 47

H. P. Lovecraft did not rub shoulders with Ernest Hemingway in Key West; did not correspond with F. Scott Fitzgerald or Gertrude Stein. If he argued with Henry Miller over a bookstall in Brooklyn, or sipped coffee in an automat across from Dorothy Parker, we have no record of it. Lovecraft’s brushes with the famous literary names of his day were few and brief, and the most notable of these encounters was with the gay poet Hart Crane.

On 21 July 1899, Grace Edna Hart Crane gave birth to Harold Hart Crane, her only child. Her husband was Clarence A. Crane, a successful businessman. Their relationship was rocky, and ended with divorce in 1917, the young Hart Crane living with his mother in Cleveland. The circumstances of Hart Crane’s life at this point offer some superficial similarities with Lovecraft’s own: both young men lived with mothers who suffered nervous breakdowns, both were unprepared for college and largely autodidacts who read voluminously; poetry and literature were overwhelming passions, and money was a pressing concern. However, the similarities break down in detail. By age 18, Crane had already attempted suicide and had his first homosexual experience; his father was alive, and if Crane didn’t always get along with him, they had a relationship; and while Crane struggled to hold a steady job he did try everything from working in a munitions plant during the Great War to writing copy for an advertising agency to working for his father’s candy business.

Samuel Loveman, the amateur journalist, poet, and bookman, recalled meeting Crane in Cleveland in 1919, shortly after Loveman had been discharged from the army (Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 315). Loveman and Crane became friends, bonding with their mutual love of books and poetry (they were also both gay, though there is no indication they were ever lovers). Despite Prohibition, Crane had begun to drink, and alcohol and conversation flowed easily in the literary and artistic crowd that he moved in.

Among his friends, there was a steady round of parties. Every time one of the Cleveland artists or writers had a visitor, the entire group was called together. One such visitor was the poet James Daly, a friend of Charles Harris’s, and another was H. P. Lovecraft, the writer of horror stories and weird tales, who came to see Sam Loveman and Alfred Galpin and who described for this aunts in Providence, Rhode Island, the Loveman-Crane-Sommer-Lescaze circle

Voyager: A Life of Hart Crane 256

Cleveland, August 1922

H. P. Lovecraft had encountered Samuel Loveman’s poetry in amateur journals c.1915, and in 1917 he wrote to Loveman, coaxing him back into amateur journalism and beginning a correspondence—despite the fact that Loveman was Jewish and Lovecraft antisemitic, the two became good friends. Loveman and Lovecraft finally met in New York City in 1922, as guests of Sonia H. Greene, who hoped that Lovecraft’s encounters with them both would disprove his antisemitic notions (The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985)). It didn’t work, but they all became fast friends, and in 1922 Loveman invited Lovecraft to Cleveland. Lovecraft’s letters to his aunt detail the trip, although his mention of Hart Crane is brief:

We held a meeting here of all the members of Loveman’s literary circle, at which the conversation covered every branch fo aesthetics. […] I met some new figures—Crane the poet, Lazar[e], an ambitious literary student now in the army, & a delightful young fellow named Carroll Lawrence […]

Tonight Galpin, Crane, I, & a fellow I have not yet met are going to a concert held in the art museum building. Great days!!

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 9 Aug 1922, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.54, 55

This was probably a program at the Cleveland Museum of Art, possibly under the direction of Ernest Bloch of the Cleveland Institute of Music, whom Hart Crane mentions in several letters (cf. Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393). Lovecraft did not go into detail about the crowd he was hanging out with to his aunt, but in a later letter he particularly recalled:

Mention of S. L. reminds me of this Hatfield person. To be sure, I recall him! Dear, dear! how he used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Eglin’s, little white sailor’s cap tucked gracefully under one arm, sport shirt open at the neck, gazing soulfully up at Samuelus and discoursing of the arts and harmonies of life! I’m afraid he thought me a very crude, stupid, commonplace, masculine sort of persons—and am indeed surprised that he recalled me! Hatfield and Crane were mortal enemies, and it use to be amusing to watch them when they met by accident, each trying to humiliate the other by veiled thrusts and conversational subtleties hardly intelligible to an uninitiated third person. And so he has hit the big town! Here’s hoping it will be kind to him, and not crush his flower-like delicacy!

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 8 Jan 1924, Selected Letters 1.281-282

Eglin’s was a Cleveland bookstore where Samuel Loveman (“S.L.” above) was employed; Gordon Hatfield was a minor composer and, apparently openly homosexual or possibly displayed “camp” mannerisms. In another letter, Lovecraft was less discreet:

Have you seen that precious sissy Gordon Hatfield, that I met in Cleveland? [Frank] Belknap [Long] says he’s hit the big town, U that he’s had some conversation with him. When I saw that marcelled what is it I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it! I t used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Elgin’s & gaze soulfully upward at Loveman. It didn’t like me & Galpin—we was too horrid, rough & mannish for it!

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1924, Letters to James F. Morton 63

How much Crane disliked Hatfield is unclear; Crane’s letters barely mention Hatfield at all. However, Samuel Loveman weighed in on the subject during an interview:

But during that period there was a very rich young man whom I had known in Cleveland, alienated from his family and made much of by an aunt who lived in a cottage on the lot where they lived. […] His name was Gordon Hatfield. He was of the troiseme sex, but he absolutely never approached me and never referred to it. But I knew what was going on. […] Hart knew [Gordon Hatfield]. Hart disliked him, he disliked Hart. Because he didn’t like Hart’s action when he was drunk. Hart was boisterous, and since many of these people were like porcelain figures, Hart was like a bull in a china shop when he came there. He grabbed. There was no end to it. […] But Gordon liked me, liked my company because he sought it. He was completely different from Hart.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 465-466

The contrast between Hart Crane and Gordon Hatfield led to an interesting comparison in Lovecraft’s account:

. . . . . Alfredus never spoke a harsh word to the creature, but I suppose he couldn’t conceal the contempt of an ultra-masculine personality for such attenuated exquisteness. Alfie, you know, has no nonsense about him, but is a gruff reg’lar feller with disordered hair, clothes likely to be out of press, and a brusqueness of gesture and expression which says more than harsh words . . . . On the whole, I think my Alfredus-grandchild can show contempt without words better than any other living mortal. Then too, Galpin unmistakable liked Crane—though acquainted in advance with the darkest side of his character—better than he did the sisters. Crane has at least the external appearance and actions of a man, and for that much Alfredus respected him. Crane didn’t like Alfredus, as that precocious child soon learnt through the mediation of Samuelus, but he was not so intolerable a spectacle as his mincing foes. On the whole, Alfie didn’t make much of a hit in Cleveland, because the gang there were affected and sissified to the last degree–sentimental, emotional, and given to absurd expressions of the arts they studied in the lives they led.

H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.291-292

“The darkest side of his character” and “at least the external appearance and actions of a man” is the only suggestion in all of Lovecraft’s correspondence that he might have been aware that Hart Crane was gay. Loveman himself confirmed Lovecraft’s perception of Crane’s demeanor, noting about Crane that “He prided himself on his appearance of masculinity” (Hart Crane: A Conversation with Samuel Loveman 21), and expanded on that in another interview:

[John Unterecker]: You told me also about his once telling you that he deliberately schooled himself to appear masculine.

SL: He told me once . . . Now, Hart was a very masculine person. He smoked cigars. He chewed tobacco—I thought an abominable vice, a filthy vice—and spat, and it was revolting. But had had a stride, a very masculine stride. So he told me that he deliberately, as you say, schooled himself to adopt this to avoid any feeling of resentment against him on the score of masculinity or non-masculinity. […] He could not tolerate feminine people.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 402

Prejudices surrounding non-gender-conforming and non-heterosexuality in the 1920s were blatant and pervasive, and the distinction between feminine behavior and homosexuality was often blurred in public understanding. Lovecraft’s reaction was not uncommon, and violence was a perpetual threat that LGBTQ+ folks lived with. Whether Crane’s posture was a defensive one to protect himself from discrimination, or an aspect of his identity, in Lovecraft and Galpin’s case it seemed to work. Despite Hart Crane’s sexuality, Lovecraft appeared to have no difficulty interacting with him during their brief encounters, at least not on that score.

New York, 1924-1925

In March of 1923, Hart Crane left Cleveland and his mother to live in New York City. A year later in March 1924, H. P. Lovecraft moved from Providence, R. I. to New York to marry Sonia H. Greene and try his luck in the great metropolis. Lovecraft knew from Loveman’s letters that Crane was in New York (Letters to Maurice W. Moe and Others 498), but the two had no reason to seek each other out and apparently did not encounter one another. Another mutual friend, the bookseller George Kirk, moved from Cleveland to New York in August 1924. As Lovecraft reported to his aunt:

Most of Loveman’s friends, including George Kirk, Hart Crane, and Gordon Hatfield, are already in the metropolis; and he now means to follow—fortified by the virtual certainty of the literary success and recognition for which he has so long striven.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 1 Aug 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.144

While literary success might not have been guaranteed, Loveman did soon arrive in New York (c. 8 Sep 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.156). Not long after Loveman got settled, Lovecraft took his friend to see the sights, which involved a great deal of tromping into the early hours of the morning. This was reported in the first of the few references to Lovecraft in Crane’s published letters:

I have just come back from a breakfast with Sam, and he has left to spend the rest of the day with the widow of Edgar Saltus (whom you must have heard him talk about enough to identify). I have been greeted so far mostly by his coat tails, so occupied has Sambo been with numerous friends of his here ever since arriving; Miss Sonia Green and her piping-voiced husband, Howard Lovecraft, (the man who visited Same in Cleveland one summer when Galpin was also there) kept Sam traipsing around the slums and wharf streets until four this morning looking for Colonial specimens of architecture, and until Sam tells me he groaned with fatigue and begged for the subway!

Hart Crane to Grace Crane & Elizabeth Belden Hart, 14 Sep 1924, Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 396
Also published in: Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 342-343, The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 187, and Oh My Land My Friends: The Selected Letters of Hart Crane 195

There are no diary-like letters from Lovecraft during most of September 1924, but he alludes to this incident in a later letter, where Lovecraft encountered Crane again:

After dinner we walked down to the Brooklyn Heights section to call on his friend Hart Crane in Columbia Heights, with whom he had stopped till he moved up to Kirk’s in 106th St., Manhattan. […] We found Crane in & sober—but boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he had been picked up dead drunk from the street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist poet E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—& put in a homeward taxi. Poor Crane! I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him. He is a genuine poet of a sort, & his excellent taste is reflected in the choice of objets d’art with which he has surrounded himself. I would give much for a certain Chinese ivory box of his, with panels exquisitely carved into delicate pastoral scenes in high relief—every detail of landscape & foliage standing out with that absolute beauty & amateurly assured perfection for which the best Chinese art is distinguished. After some conversation we all went out for a scenic walk through the ancient narrow hill streets that wind about the Brooklyn shore. There is a dark charm in the decaying waterfront, & the culmination of our tour was the poor old Fulton Ferry, which we reached about 9 o’clock, in the best season to enjoy the flaming arc of Brooklyn Bridge in conjunction with the constellation of Manhattan lights across the river, & the glimmering beacons of slow-moving shipping on the lapping tides. […] Thence we returned to Crane’s, threading more old streets, & incidentally looking up rooms for Loveman in Columbia Heights. […] I can’t, though—& I think I’ll get in touch with Crane and ask him about the smaller $5.00-per-wk. Rooms which he was likewise recommending to Samuelus.

Leaving Crane’s about 10:30,Samuelus & I proceeded to the subway, crossed the river, emerged at Wall St., & prepared to finish that nocturnal tour of colonial sights which his fatigue cut short last September.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 4 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.190-191

The room was 110 Columbia Heights, in Brooklyn; the same room where, by coincidence, Washington Roebling had watched the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, and where Crane would conceive and begin to write his modernist epic The Bridge. The drinking binge Crane supposedly bragged about is not attested in his letters, but there are many anecdotes of Crane’s drunken antics in memoirs and biographies.

The reference to the hunt for cheap rooms or apartments is also typical; in a letter to his mother dated 20 April 1924, Crane mentioned “What I pay here is about the lowest on record,—six dollars a week. The back room will cost 2 more, but that will be very reasonable.” (“Hart Crane and His Mother: A Correspondence” in Salmagundi #9 (Spring 1969), 85). In another letter, where separation with his wife was imminent and Lovecraft needed an apartment of his own while she was out-of-town, he remarked:

In that latter case, the neighbourhood of Brooklyn Heights—where Hart Crane lives, & which I shewed to A E P G—would appeal most strongly to me.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 17 Nov 1924, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.222

Loveman would, at various times, live in the same building in Columbia Heights as Crane and with Lovecraft at 169 Clinton Street. Hart Crane, writing home, would note wryly:

It’s amusing how Sam has finally got all his circle, including Kirk and Lovecraft, located over here now, right nearby. I really think he’s as happy as he ever will be, and he wants to be a little miserable, you know.

Hart Crane to Grace Crane, 29 Jan 1925, Letters of Hart Crane and His Family 387

During this time in New York, Lovecraft met Crane at least a few more times. The exact number is a little unclear; Hart Crane’s letters of the period are not encyclopedic, and Lovecraft’s letters, for all that they were often detailed day-by-day entries to his aunts in Providence, still have a few gaps. However, Lovecraft’s 1925 diary lists two encounters, the first of which is:

[26] up noon–Tel. Mrs. Long Sonny call–GK call–RK call–SL with Keats Mask–Leeds–out for walk over bridge to Downing St–closed–Sheridan Sq–Crane–back to 169–Lamb meeting–Sonny lv.–all adjourn Scotch Bakery–SL lv. Disperse–write and retire (rest)

Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Apr 1925, Collected Essays 5.157

There are two accounts of apocryphal meetings between Crane and Lovecraft. One is recounted by John Wilstach in “The Ten-Cent Ivory Tower” (1946), and is probably fictitious; the other is by Frank Belknap Long, Jr., which deserves consideration:

Loveman, Howard, and F. B. L. dropping in at a cafeteria on Seventh Avenue for coffee and doughnuts, a rather stocky figure arising from a table near the door.

“Howard, how are you? Sam didn’t tell me you were in New York!”

“Good evening, Hart.”

That tied it! I had never met Hart Crane, but that afternoon, at the library, Sam had showed me one of his poems in manuscript.

Howard had never seemed more depressed—he was writing such lines as these: “My coming to New York had been a mistake; for whereas I had looked for poignant wonder and inspiration I found only a sense of horror and oppression. Instead of the poems I had hoped for there came only a shuddering blankness and ineffable loneliness.”

His pallor and emaciation that night were alarming, and as he shook hands with Crane a line from the poem I had read at the library (I remembered Sam’s words as he handed me the poem–“Here’s something by Hart. You’ve never seen his stuff, have you?”)—a line from the poem flashed across my mind: “And when they’ve dragged your weary flesh through Baltimore—did you betray the ticket, Poe?”

It strains coincidence, but it happened, it happened—and I’m setting it down for the record because it sems somehow tremendously significant. That line actually crossed my mind, and at the time I thought: “No greater single line was ever written about Poe?”

Now consider this. I never saw Crane again, and neither did Howard. (Howard had met Crane briefly in Cleveland two years previously.) Both men were completely unknown at the time. Both now seem destined to have a place in American letters. Samuel Loveman, who was present at that meeting, knew Bierce, knew George Sterling (21 Letters of Ambrose Bierce: Published by George Kirk, circa 1927—a voluminous correspondence with Sterling, with whom I had also corresponded). Crane was a boyhood friend of Loveman’s. Crane professed to admire Poe above all other figures in American literature. Upon Howard’s shoulders the mantle of Poe had indubitably descended. The inner circle of his friends sensed it even then. […]

Frank Belknap Long, “Some Random Memories of H. P. L.” (1944) in Marginalia 334-335

The situation is plausible: Loveman was friends with Lovecraft, Crane, and Long, and Lovecraft mentioned in his letters how he would go out to cafeterias and automats with his friends. However, the timing is a bit hinky. Crane certainly knew that Lovecraft was in New York since September 1924 (because of the letter that mentions Lovecraft dated 14 Sep 1924, quoted above). The quoted passage from is from Lovecraft’s “He” was probably not written until August 1925. The line from Crane’s poetry which Long misquotes comes from section VII of The Bridge, which reads:

And when they dragged your retching flesh,

Your trembling hands that night through Baltimore—

That light night on the ballot rounds, did you,

Shaking, did you deny the ticket, Poe?

Hart Crane, “The Tunnel,” part of The Bridge (1930), in Hart Crane: Complete Poems & Selected Letters 69

It is known that Crane was editing “The Tunnel” in 1926 (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 274-275), so he must have written it earlier, probably in 1925; it isn’t impossible that Loveman had access to an earlier version in manuscript. On the face of it, this presents a contradiction, since Long claims the meeting occurred in 1924. Possibly, after twenty years, Long’s memory became slightly confused. It’s not implausible for Long to have met Lovecraft and Crane at a cafeteria, it’s just that the details don’t quite match up. A much more well-attested meeting is mentioned in Lovecraft’s diary later in 1925:

[14] up early–write letters–out to barber’s–back & downtown–see SL & MK–RK arr–dinner automat–sub. To 169–with dishes &c. Via Scotch Bakery to SL’s. Morton there. Crane drop in–discussion–out for coffee–refreshments–wash dishes & discuss, pack up & disperse–in 169 & write–retire [In margin: RAIN]

Lovecraft 1925 Diary, Oct 1925, Collected Essays 5.170

Lovecraft gave an account of this in his letter:

At one time Loveman had a caller in the person of his bibulous fellow-poet Hart Crane, (formerly of Cleveland) who was just back from the country & only about ¼ “lit up” by his beloved booze. Poor Crane! A real poet & man of taste, descendant of an ancient Connecticut family & a gentleman to the finger-tips, but the slave of dissipated habits which will soon ruin both his constitution & his still striking handsomeness! Crane left after about an hour, & the meeting proceeded.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 15 Oct 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.448

This was the last account in Lovecraft’s diaries or letters of Crane during the time they both lived in New York, and for part of that period (1924-1926), Crane had returned to Cleveland and visited friends in Pawling, New York (“Tory Hill”—the country spot Lovecraft had mentioned).

A Final Meeting, 1930

Samuel Loveman was the sole factor that had brought Lovecraft and Crane together in 1922, and during the 1924-1925. Yet in 1926 Lovecraft left New York to return to Providence, and Crane was already off on a series of voyages, from the Isle of Pines to California and France, passing through New York periodically. Hart Crane’s career as a poet can be said to have taken off with the publication of White Buildings (1926) and The Bridge (1930). Yet drinking and solicitation formed two of Crane’s continued vices; borrowing money and drunken antics alienated his friends; the revelation of his homosexuality to his mother occasioned a break from her. All of these issues dogged Crane and sapped his creative energies.

Yet Lovecraft had not forgot Crane, and mentions him a few times in his letters:

Loveman knows this Allen Tate—or is at least slightly acquainted with him. He is, I believe, one of the Greenwich Village clique of which Hart Crane, E. E. cummings, & Waldo Frank are other members—not a very promising milieu for the rendering of Baudelaire.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 5 Jun 1929, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 176

Lovecraft even noted the publication of The Bridge:

I note the item about Hart Crane’s new poem with much interest, since Crane is a friend of my friend Samuel Loveman. He comes from Cleveland, & when sober—as he is once or twice a year–is an admirably attractive chap. I have met him several times, for he lived in Brooklyn when I did—having a room in an old house on the harbour side of Columbia Heights, within sight of the spidery arc of Brooklyn Bridge, which formed the subject of his then-nascent chef d’ouevre. If he doesn’t die of delirium tremens before another decade is over, he will form one of the standard figures in the poetry of the younger generation. He is part of the semi-Greenwich-Village crowd which includes E. E. Cummings, Waldo Frank, John Dos Passos, & other well-known modernists.

H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 24 Apr 1930, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 143

It happened that in May 1930, Lovecraft was passing through New York and visiting Samuel Loveman when Hart Crane arrived. What followed was their last meeting, and perhaps Lovecraft’s best picture of the poet:

About 8 o’clock the bell rang, & there appeared that tragically drink-riddled but now eminent friend of Loveman’s whom I met in Cleveland in 1922, & once or twice later in New York—the poet Hart Crane, whose new book, “The Bridge”, has made him one of the most celebrated & talked-of figures of contemporary American letters. He had been scheduled to speak over the radio during the evening; but a shipwreck off the coast (demanding the use of the ether for important messages) had cut off all local radio programmes & left him free. When he entered, his discourse was of alcoholics in various phases—& of the correct amount of whiskey one ought to drink in order to speak well in public—but as soon as a bit of poetic & philosophic discussion sprang up, this sordid side of his strange dual personality slipped off like a cloak, & left him as a man of great scholarship, intelligence, & aesthetic taste, who can argue as interestingly & profoundly as anyone I have ever seen. Poor devil–he has “arrived” at last as a standard American poet seriously regarded by all reviewers & critics; yet at the very crest of his fame he is on the verge of psychological, physical, & financial disintegration, & with no certainty of ever having the inspiration to write a major work of literature again. After about three hours of acute & intelligent argument poor Crane left—to hunt up a new supply of whiskey & banish reality for the rest of the night! He gets to be a nuisance now & then, dropping in on Loveman for sympathy & encouragement, but Loveman is too conscious of his tragic importance & genuine genius as a man of letters to be harsh or brusque toward him. His case is surely a sad one—all the more so because of his great attainments & of the new fame which he is so ill-fitted to carry for any considerable time. He looks more weather-beaten & drink-puffed than he did in the past, though the shaving off of his moustache has somewhat improved him. He is only 33, yet his hair is nearly white. Altogether, his case is almost like that of Baudelaire on a vastly smaller scale. “The Bridge” really is a thing of astonishing merit. In connexion with this poem—which is on Brooklyn Bridge—a very surprising coincidence was brought to light. It seems that the house in Columbia Heights where Crane lived in 1924 when beginning the poem *& which I visited with Loveman at the time, my first sight of the illuminated Manhattan skyline being from its roof!) turned out—though he did not know it when he lived there—to be the old Roebling house, where the builder of the bridge dwelt when construction was in progress; & furthermore, that Crane’s own room (a shabby, $7.50 per week affair) was actually the room from which the crippled Washington A. Roebling watched & superintended the work with the aid of a telescope! And to heighten the coincidence, Crane swears that he finished the poem (while in Jamaica, knowing nothing of what was happening in the outside world) on the day that Roebling died at his final New Jersey home in 1925 . . . . which also happened to be Crane’s own birthday! Personally, I think the matter of finishing the poem on that date is an imaginative exaggeration of Crane’s although his birthday is certainly the day on which Roebling died. The coincidence of the house is certainly genuine—& it amuses me because my own first glimpse of the bridge & skyline from a window was from Crane’s window—undoubtedly the one which had been Roebling’s! Crane, by the way, was interested to hear of my liking for Charleston; &, though he has never seen it, talked of going there himself as a refuge from a New York he has come to detest. But alas! I fear it would take more than Charleston to bake the alcohol out of him! After Crane’s departure the conversation continued till a late hour—the rain meanwhile having stopped.

H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 24 May 1930, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.848-849

Lovecraft’s praise for The Bridge is notable in no small part because Lovecraft was not himself keen on modernist poetry at all, having once written a satire of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” (1922) titled “Waste Paper: A Poem of Profound Insignificance” (1923). When he read a critique of Crane’s poetry, Lovecraft was obliged to agree:

It is the same tendency which has worked to the advantage of poor Crane & made him such a symbol of the poetic present. I can agree with Mr. Untermeyer regarding Crane’s unintelligibility, & am myself convinced of the unsoundness of any symbolism whose key rests with the author alone. You may have seen an article—largely based on Crane, &including an image-by-image interpretation (furnished by the poet on request) of one of his shorter verses—on this subject some few years ago in Harpers . . . “Poets talking to Themselves”, by Max Eastman. He conceded that Crane’s obscure allusions are not capricious or irresponsible, but expressed strong doubts of the value of associative processes so purely dependent on the contents & workings of one person’s mind.

H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 20 Jun 1930, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 332

Perhaps Lovecraft found something in the images of The Bridge that spoke to more than just Crane’s own experience.

Port Mortem, 1932-1937

Hart Crane would apply for a Guggenheim fellowship in August, and with that money would go to Mexico. On the return trip to the United States, Crane would commit suicide on 27 April 1932 by leaping off the cruise ship and into the Gulf of Mexico. Samuel Loveman, who was a close friend of his mother Grace Crane, worked with her to dispose of Hart’s library and belongings, and became literary executor for Hart Crane’s estate. Lovecraft noted:

I lately heard of Contempo from Loveman—they wanted him to do, on very short notice, a critical & biographical sketch of the late poet Hart Crane; (he was practically Crane’s only remaining close friend among normal & wholesome people—Crane’s mother now wants him to edit an edition of her son’s collected shorter pieces) but he decided the proposition was too hurried to be feasible.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 12 Jun 1932, Essential Solitude 2.486

Lovecraft himself went on voyages, traveling down to New York to visit friends, and bus trips to the southern United States. Like Ernest Hemingway and Hart Crane, Lovecraft visited Key West on the southern tip of Florida, though he did not stay there. A Christmas visit to Loveman in New York gave Lovecraft physical relics to remember Crane by:

Well—at 1 a.m. I broke away from Middagh St. & returned to 230 . . . . bearing with me two valuable antique gifts which Loveman insisted on my accepting. Wait till you see them! One is a very primitive & prehistoric idol of stone—about 4 inches tall, & meant to lie on is back—found in Mexico, & probably made by the Mayas before their rise to civilisation 4000 or 5000 years ago. The sketch on the left gives an idea of its general nature. The other antique is an equally primitive flint chisel in an ivory handle—from Africa, & perhaps a relique of tribes forgotten by all the world. Both items were the property of poor Hart Crane, & were given by his mother to Loveman. Loveman ought not to be giving them away–but who can stop that generous soul when he sets out to exercise his generosity?

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 27 Dec 1932, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.952-953

I also went over to Loveman’s new flat at 17 Middagh Street—where for the first time his various art treasures are adequately display’d. My generous host presented me with two fine museum objects (don’t get envious, O Fellow-Curator!)—to wit, a prehistoric stone eikon from Mexico, & an African flint implement, with primitively graven ivory handle; both from the collection of the late Hart Crane, which Crane’s mother turned over to him.

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 12 Jan 1933, Letters to James F. Morton 308

It is not clear if this was a tourist tchotchke or something else that Crane had picked up on his travels; while there is mention of Crane participating in a brief archaeological dig, all they reportedly found were “some very interesting chips and pieces of the true Aztec pottery” and “one of those incredible sharp fragments of obsidian, part of a knife blade” (The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932 379-380), neither of which seem to match.

Were these actual artifacts from Crane’s collection? Samuel Loveman would “authenticate” Hart Crane’s sombrero, and Grace Crane would give or sell him Hart Crane’s bookplates, which Loveman would apply to other books and sell as if they came from Hart’s own library. In later life, he developed a reputation for these kinds of swindles, as mentioned by Walter Goldwater, Robert A. Wilson, Joe Nickell, and others. Yet why would Loveman lie to Lovecraft?

Crane continued to pop up occasionally in Lovecraft’s letters throughout the last years of his own life, never often but showing that the poet was not forgotten:

Your defense of personal & clique codes sounds admirable in theory—& of course one cannot be dogmatic one way or the other—but I saw Hart Crane go to pieces little by little in the years after 1922, & reserve the right to maintain an old gentleman’s quizzical skepticism.

H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 Apr 1933, Essential Solitude 2.557

And on New Year’s eve he wants me to attend a gathering at his place as I did last year. One of those present will be the mother of the unfortunate Hart Crane. I met her—& Crane’s grandmother also—in Cleveland in 1922. This gathering, I fear, will tend to be something of a bore; but I can’t politely evade it.

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 26 Dec 1933, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.957

Later in the evening I started for the New Year gathering at Loveman’s, which was attended largely by the same group that was there last year. The mother of the late Hart Crane was present—looking vastly older than when I mer her in Cleveland in 1922.

H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 1 Jan 1934, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.964

I saw the old year out at the Loveman flat—amidst a small gathering which included the mother of the late poet Hart Crane.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, c.8-11 Jan 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 509

I read some of the Eastman papers in Harper’s a couple of years ago. There is something in what he says—for when a poet gets too subjective & individual he certainly ceases to have a message for anybody else. Poor Hart Crane (his mother, now visibly an old lady, was at Loveman’s New Year’s gathering) probably justified Eastman’s strictures. Did you notice the analysis of “At Melville’s Tomb”? One can hardly do otherwise than concur with Eastman in his estimate.

H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 4 Feb 1934, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 233

The latter a reference to Max Eastman, “Poets Talking to Themselves,” Harper’s 163, No. 5 (October 1931), which quotes the entirety of Hart Crane’s poem “At Melville’s Tomb” (1926). “Poor Hart Crane” appears to have been Lovecraft’s feeling in truth, for while Lovecraft was a teetotal and homophobic, he seemed to have felt a genuine pity for Crane’s suffering and his end, at least what he knew of it, but not just for Crane himself but what he took Crane to represent: the waste of potential, the decline and degeneration from tremendous promise to self-destruction. In his final reference to Hart Crane in his letters, Lovecraft wrote:

The race will always breed its pitiful odds & ends, & these will always be doubly pitiful when their aberrations are linked with lofty heritage or distinguished intellectual or aesthetic capacity. We weep at a tragedy like the late Hart Crane—but find a saving grain of comedy when aberration is linked with stolidity or mediocrity, as in the case of my unwashed Dunkard caller of an hour ago. What a piece of work is man!

H. P. Lovecraft to Helen V. Sully, 28 Jun 1934, Letters to Wilfred B. Talman 373-374

I will tell you why; so shall my anticipation
prevent your discovery, and your secrecy to the king
and queen moult no feather. I have of late—but
wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all
custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily
with my disposition that this goodly frame, the
earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most
excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave
o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted
with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to
me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me,
what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not
me: no, nor woman neither, though by your smiling
you seem to say so.

William Shakespeare, HAMLET, Act 2, Scene II

Samuel Loveman would survive both of his more famous friends, and would be there at the bedside of Grace Crane during her final hour, as she lamented her son. He was there too when, in accordance with her final wishes, her ashes were released from the Brooklyn Bridge which has become a part of Hart Crane’s memory and legend.

The Literary Afterlife of Lovecraft & Crane

The publication of Lovecraft’s letters has probably done greater service to Hart Crane than vice versa; while there are a number of mentions of Crane, including some detailed accounts of their meetings, in Lovecraft’s correspondence, Crane either did not bother to record his side of the experience or he did and those letters are lost to us. After their deaths, both men achieved a kind of fame that eluded them in life, and once again Samuel Loveman was the bridge between both men, a source of memoirs and reminiscence—although regrettably, most of these happened rather long after their deaths, and Loveman’s recollections are not always so full or detailed as might be hoped. To give an example:

JU: […] Somewhere in here Lovecraft comes in, doesn’t he?

SL: Yes, that was a feud. Hart took a dislike to him, and Lovecraft, as a I said a few minutes ago, was a prig and prissy in his choice of language—you would imagine that the vocabulary of the Queen’s English had been manufactured for him for his sole use. I could see where Hart disliked him.

JU: That was in Cleveland where he first met him.

SL: Yes. Then they came together one evening at my apartment on Colombia Heights with that miraculous view [of] the river and New York, and they began to talk astronomy. Lovecraft was very conversant with the subject, had been writing for years a weekly diatribe on the austere heavens. He discussed it with Hart and Hart listened to him, and I thought to myself, “Well, this should do a lot to cement an acquaintanceship, certainly not a friendship.”

Well, after they left, separately each said to me that both were amazed at one another. I don’t know whether Hart’s attacks on Howard Lovecraft were before or after this incident, as the letters convey in the Brom Weber book, but he certainly attacks him.

JU: Yes, he does. Well, Lovecraft didn’t have any great affectation for Crane.

SL: No, no.

JU: But that first time in Cleveland, Lovecraft did seem to like Crane. Was it Lovecraft and you and someone else… Galpin… went down to hear. . . .

SL: Another prig.

JU: You went to hear a concert of music by [Ernest] Bloch, wasn’t it?

SL: Oh, did I? Well, I’ve forgotten that.

JU: At least there’s a letter that says that you and Galpin and Lovecraft and Hart went to hear this concert.

SL: That has escaped me. You see, what seventy-six years does.

“Conversations with Sam” in Out of the Immortal Night (2nd ed.) 392-393

Yet it was the brush of greatness which interested biographers. Crane’s biographies tend to mention Lovecraft, Lovecraft’s biographies end to mention Crane. The accuracy of these mentions varied considerably. For instance, compare:

Loveman introduced Lovecraft to members of his literary circle. One was (Harold) Hart Crane (1899-1932), who in his short life earned a repute as a major poet. Like Lovecraft, Crane had a monster-mother—sexually frigid, foolish, possessive, erratic, and unpredictable. Crane himself, when sober, was a man of great charm—a fascinating talker and a born storyteller.

Crane was, however, a drunkard and an active homosexual, who cruised bars to pick up sailors and was sometimes beaten up for his pains. Because of his charm, he was always being asked to people’s houses. When he got drunk, however, he became an appalling guest. He would run naked through the house, screaming threats and obscenities; he chased one hostess with a boomerang, trying to brain her. Or he would pick up his host’s furniture, or throw it out the window. During Lovecraft’s visit to Cleveland, however, Crane was on good behavior.

Another member of the circle was Gordon Hatfield, with whom Crane was feuding; the two spent the evening needling each other. Unlike Crane, Hatfield proclaimed his deviation by patently effeminate mannerisms. Lovecraft later wrote: “Have you seen that precious sissy that I met in Cleveland. . . . I didn’t know whether to kiss it or kill it!”

L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 172

H. P. Lovecraft, a Cleveland native, writer of horror stories and Gothic tales, fastidious friend of Sam Loveman’s—that “queer Lovecraft person,” Crane called him—had his own assessment of Crane. He’d known Hart Crane in Cleveland back in 1923, and—seeing him here in New York—noted that he seemed now “a little ruddier, a little puffier, and slightly more moustached.” Neither man really cared for the other, and Crane, with his bristling hair, brawling strength, and fox-glint eyes, no doubt frightened Lovecraft as he frightened others. “An egotistical young aesthete,” Lovecraft noted condescendingly, “who has attained some real recognition in The Dial and other modernist organs, and who has an unfortunate predilection for wine when it is red.”

And five weeks later, in early November, on another visit to 110 Columbia Heights to see Sam Loveman, Lovecraft was surprised to find Crane the legend actually sober, but “boasting over the two-day spree he had just slept off, during which he’d been picked up dead drunk off a street in Greenwich Village by the eminent modernist E. E. Cummings—whom he knows well—and put in a homeward taxi.” Poor Crane, Lovecraft summed up, “I hope he’ll sober up with the years, for there’s really good stuff & a bit of genius in him.” “Who asks for me, the Shelley of my age,/Must lay his heart out for my bed and board.” The words, meant for Crane, are Robert Lowell’s, written thirty years later, and give a better sense than Lovecraft’s of who Crane was, this Catullus redivivus, this stalker of sailors, seducing his prey, then scattering “Uncle Sam’s/phony gold-plated laurels to the birds.”

Crane’s two-day spree, if it happened, would have taken place in late October. After all, he had a way of telling the most outrageous stories on himself deadpan for the sake of people like Lovecraft. In any case, he did not record this spree in the letters he sent home.

Paul Mariani, The Broken Tower: A Life of Hart Crane, 165-166

De Camp tends to distort his subject by emphasizing the most extreme anecdotes; for him, Crane and Lovecraft are both freaks. Mariani is more balanced, though he makes a few mistakes—Lovecraft was a Providence native, for all that he met Crane in Cleveland in 1922—and perhaps it is for the best that when James Franco adapted his biography of Crane into a film project (The Broken Tower, 2011) they left Lovecraft out of it.

In truth, Crane scholars seem most interested when Lovecraft’s letters from New York give a glimpse of Crane during that critical period that might be otherwise lacking, while Lovecraft scholars are more interested in the first encounter in Cleveland. The “kiss it or kill it” moment about the “sissy” Gordon Hatfield is the most explicit statement of homophobia that Lovecraft would ever make in his life, and the whole emphasis on masculine vs. feminine behavior—the confusion of gender identity and sexuality—is critical in understanding Lovecraft’s views on sex and gender.

Much of Lovecraft’s reputation as a homophobe rests on that one encounter in Cleveland. It is not a subject that ever comes up in his relation to Hart Crane in New York, with gay friends like Samuel Loveman or R. H. Barlow, and there are only vague intimations when discussing amateur associates like Elsa Gidlow. While there should be no doubt that Lovecraft was homophobic, the scantiness and diffusiveness of the evidence, spread out as it is over three decades worth of letters, is something that sometimes eludes people—but “kiss it or kill it” is clear, concise, and easy to quote.

To understand Lovecraft’s homophobia is also to understand Crane’s homosexuality. Both men were caught up in the early 20th century ideas of maintaining the appearance of masculinity. They both understood (and misunderstood) the social issues of sexuality and gender identity during the 1920s and 30s, a time when simply being homosexual, or gender non-conforming was often not just illegal and met by violence. While it is easy to quote “kiss it or kill it,” this relationship between their views is something that only emerges from the aggregate whole of their published correspondence—to read not just selected quotes from individual letters, but to understand how both Lovecraft and Crane were acting out their roles within a larger social context.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

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A Short History of the LGBTQ+ Mythos

[…] and all the queer things were fixed very strongly in his mind.

H. P. Lovecraft, “The Colour Out of Space”

LGBTQ+ folks have existed throughout history, though changing gender and sexual norms, and shifting understanding of human biology, psychology, and sexuality, have changed how LGBTQ+ folks were historically understand and identified. H. P. Lovecraft, for example, never used the term “transgender” because it hadn’t been coined until several decades after his death, and when he used the term “queer” he meant odd, strange, or weird.

Yet even if Lovecraft didn’t have the same vocabulary to describe LGBTQ+ folks that people do today, they still existed. He met and interacted with them. LGTBQ+ folks had their part to play in his life and the development and dissemination of the Lovecraft Mythos, and after his death LGBTQ+ authors have played an increasing part in the expansion and redefining of the Cthulhu Mythos.

This brief history is primarily a quick history of the involvement of LGTBQ+ folks with the Mythos; it cannot be and does not pretend to be comprehensive, but aims to provide a quick overview of the last century and change.

Lovecraft, Homophobia, & LGBTQ+ (1914-1937)

I guess it is true that homosexuality is a rare theme for novels—partly because public attention was seldom called to it (except briefly during the Wilde period) until a decade ago, & partly because any literary use of it always incurs the peril of legal censorship. As a matter of fact—although of course I always knew that paederasty was a disgusting custom of many ancient nations—I never heard of homosexuality as an actual instinct till I was over thirty…which beats your record! It is possible, I think that this perversion occurs more frequently in some periods than in others—owing to obscure biological & psychological causes. Decadent ages—when psychology is unsettled—seem to favour it. Of course—in ancient times the extent of the practice of paederasty (as a custom which most simply accepted blindly, without any special inclination) cannot be taken as any measure of the extent of actual psychological perversion. Another thing—many nowadays overlook the fact that there are always distinctly effeminate types which are most distinctly not homosexual. I don’t know how psychology explains them, but we all know the sort of damned sissy who plays with girls & who—when he grows up—is a chronic “cake-eater”, hanging around girls, doting on dances, acquiring certain feminine mannerisms, intonations, & tastes, & yet never having even the slightest perversion of erotic inclinations.

H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 14 Aug 1933, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 146

Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender and queer identities were publicly, scientifically, and often legally seen as a sexual perversion and mental illness during H. P. Lovecraft’s lifetime (1890-1937), and for some time beyond that. Lovecraft’s experiences with LGBTQ+ folks reflect the social norms, taboos, and medical stigmas that were attached to any sexuality or gender identity that veered away from the heterosexual cisgender norm, and consequently the understanding of these sexualities, identities, and issues was often very poor.

In the quote above, for example, it can clearly be seen that Lovecraft was confusing sexuality and gender identity, and conflating homosexuality with pedophilia (as many bigots continue to do today). Lovecraft was raised in a culture that praised masculinity and masculine identity, and often deprecated undesirable individuals as “effeminate.” To Lovecraft, it was perfectly in keeping to assume that gay men would desire to have sex with other men because they were effectively women in men’s bodies (Uranian). This perceived deviation could be the subject of mockery, and even violence:

Have you seen that precious sissy that I met in Cleveland? Belknap says he’s hit the big town, and that he’s had some conversation with him. When I saw that marcelled what is it I don’t know whether to kiss it or kill it! It used to sit cross-legged on the floor at Elgin’s and gaze soulfully upward. It didn’t like me and Galpin—too horrid, rough and mannish for it!

H. P. Lovecraft to James F. Morton, 8 Jan 1924, Letters to James F. Morton 63

Lovecraft met relatively few individuals that were “out” during his lifetime, because individuals who weren’t closeted faced violence and/or legal persecution, as was the case of Oscar Wilde. Lovecraft is not personally known to have acted on this information beyond a few brief passages in his letters. When critics and biographers talk about Lovecraft’s homophobia, this is what they are talking about. It isn’t entirely clear if Lovecraft was even aware of the sexuality of his gay friends and colleagues, and it is worth mentioning the most prominent and important ones briefly.

Samuel Loveman (1887-1976) was a gay Jewish poet, bookman, and amateur journalist. Lovecraft stumbled across Loveman’s work in 1917 and admired his poetry, and the two began a long correspondence and friendship, with Lovecraft often praising and boosting Loveman’s work. The two finally met in 1921 in New York City, both of them invited there by Sonia H. Greene (Lovecraft’s future wife). In 1922 Lovecraft visited Loveman in Cleveland, where he met Loveman’s friend the gay poet Hart Crane (1899-1932), and others in their circle, including composer Gordon Hatfield, the “precious sissy” in the above letter. In 1924 Lovecraft and Greene eloped to New York; Loveman and Crane moved there as well, with Loveman as Lovecraft’s upstairs neighbor for a period. In time, the marriage failed, and Lovecraft moved back to Providence, RI.

Lovecraft never directly referenced Loveman’s homosexuality, and may have been ignorant of it; Loveman would go on to write “To Satan” (1923) dedicated to Lovecraft, and “To Mr. Theobald” (1926). They remained friends until Lovecraft’s death. It is also unclear if Lovecraft knew of Crane’s sexuality, although there are hints in Lovecraft’s letters that suggested he knew, and Frank Belknap Long wrote in a memoir: “Howard and the rest knew of it, but that didn’t affect their friendship with Crane” (Long Memories and Other Writings 56). Ultimately, Lovecraft and Crane were only passing acquaintances.

Amateur journalism also included several other LGBTQ+ numbers, most eminently lesbian Elsa Gidlow (1898-1986) and her gay associate Roswell George Mills (1896-1966). Gidlow and Lovecraft were presidents of rival factions of the United Amateur Press Association, and while they had little direct contact, his letters give evidence that Lovecraft was certainly aware of them and their publication of the amateur journal Les Mouches Fantastiques, which he was critical of. Whether Lovecraft was aware they were homosexuals is not clear. In any event, these too were brief contacts that had little effect on Lovecraft.

The most substantial LGBTQ+ friends Lovecraft had were August Derleth (1909-1971) and Robert H. Barlow (1918-1951). They shared a love of weird fiction and an appreciation of Weird Tales, and were regular correspondents for the rest of his life. Together, both men would have a profound impact on the life and legacy of H. P. Lovecraft, and shape Mythos fiction for decades to come.

August Derleth began corresponding with H. P. Lovecraft in 1926. In her biography Derleth: Hawk…and Dove (1997) by Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky made the claim that Derleth was a closeted bisexual and had carried on affairs with both men and women. The evidence to support the claim of Derleth’s sexual relationships with men is a bit scanty, but Derleth’s letters with Lovecraft (Essential Solitude) and Ramsey Campbell (Letters to Arkham) show Derleth was at least more cognizant of and conversant with homosexuality than Lovecraft.

R. H. Barlow was younger than Derleth when he began corresponding with Lovecraft in 1931. In 1934, on one of his trips to Florida, Lovecraft was invited to stay with Barlow and his family—where Lovecraft found out his friend’s true age. Lovecraft would visit the Barlows again in 1935, and young Barlow would visit Lovecraft in New York in 1935 and Providence in 1936. If Lovecraft was aware that Barlow was homosexual, he gave no hint in his letters, although Derleth appears to have suspected Barlow’s orientation since 1936.

Before his death in 1937, Lovecraft had left instructions naming the teenage Barlow his literary executor; and Barlow’s efforts to have Lovecraft’s papers deposited at Brown University’s John Hay Library preserved letters, manuscripts, and other materials that would form the core of Lovecraft scholarship to the present day. August Derleth worked with his friend Donald Wandrei to preserve Lovecraft’s literary legacy by bringing his work to print; and when major publishing houses turned them down they founded Arkham House in 1939 to publish Lovecraft’s fiction and letters. As an author, editor, publisher, biographer, and critic, Derleth worked tirelessly to promote Lovecraft’s work and promote his legend.

Given the stigma attached to LGBTQ+ issues during his lifetime, it’s no surprise that early Mythos fiction contains almost nothing directly pertaining to sexuality or gender issues during Lovecraft’s lifetime. The major exception is “The Thing on the Doorstep” (1937), the last of his stories published in Weird Tales during his lifetime.

From Lovecraft to Stonewall (1937-1969)

Lovecraft met and was influenced by many people in his life, and that no doubt included more LGBTQ+ folks than just those mentioned above. Suggestions that fellow-writers and correspondents like Henry S. Whitehead (1882-1932) and Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) were gay generally lack evidence, but the very fact those claims are put forward showcases an awareness of and interest—some would say an obsession—with identifying closeted homosexuals as part of the Lavender scare moral panic. Nor was Lovecraft immune from speculation about his sex life and sexuality:

His stories are sexless and one supposes the man was nearly so, all but mothered into impotency. One can say that almost all of his adult relationships were homosexual, if the word is intended in the blandest sense: there is no sign of strong sexual impulse of any kind. He was “not at ease” with women. His marriage was a mistake and a quick failure. He was disturbed by even mildly sexual writing.

Winfield Townley Scott, “His Own Most Fantastic Creation: Howard Phillips Lovecraft” (1944) in Lovecraft Remembered 26

Nearly every word of that is factually incorrect, but it showcases the thinking of the time. The decades after Lovecraft’s death were not good ones in which to be LGTBQ+, as persecution and discrimination heightened after World War II. R. H. Barlow committed suicide in Mexico at the beginning of 1951; one of the possible reasons he took his own life was an attempt to blackmail him over his homosexual lifestyle. We may never know if that is true, but it emphasized the duress under which LGBTQ+ folks lived.

Derleth continued tirelessly with Arkham House. Working with Wandrei and Barlow, Derleth worked to shape Lovecraft’s literary legacy with collections of his fiction, letters, and essays, as well as memoirs about him. With Barlow’s absence or compliance on most matters related to Lovecraft and an agreement with Lovecraft’s surviving aunt, Arkham House had de facto control of the Lovecraft copyrights—and Derleth used that to bluster, sometimes threatening legal action, to squash publication of material antithetical to Lovecraft’s image (e.g. James Warren Thomas’ masters thesis H. P. Lovecraft: A Self-Portrait, 1950) and any Mythos fiction produced outside Arkham House (e.g. C. Hall Thompson’s fiction such as “The Spawn of the Green Abyss,” 1946).

Mythos fiction under Derleth’s aegis largely consisted of reprinting Lovecraft’s published and unpublished fiction, and the related Mythos fiction of his friends and colleagues such as Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, and himself—the latter of which consisted of both original fiction and so-claimed “posthumous collaborations.” In the 1960s, Derleth began to publish more Mythos fiction from other writers, notably Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley. This new generation began to bring differing attitudes of what was acceptable in horror fiction, and Ramsey Campbell’s “Cold Print” (1969) is the first English-language Mythos story to address homosexuality.

Despite these efforts, Derleth did not have complete control of publishing, and some Mythos fiction became published outside his purview (and perhaps without his knowledge). For example, “Celui qui suscitait l’effroi…” (1958) by Jacques Janus, published in France, revisited the gender-bending issues raised by “The Thing on the Doorstep”; and “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ is probably the first Mythos fiction written by a lesbian, although Russ was not out about her sexuality at the time. The first Mythos parody published by a gay writer might be “At the Mountains of Murkiness, or From Lovecraft to Leacock” (1940) by Arthur C. Clarke, but again, Clarke was not open about his sexuality at the time. Many fans might have been reading fiction from LGBTQ+ writers for decades and never known it, as the consequences of being outed could be severe.

So there wasn’t exactly an LGBTQ+ Mythos underground sticking it to the man in the form of August Derleth. What was happening is that a new generation of LGBTQ+ writers was coming of age and ingesting Lovecraft and Mythos fact and fiction. Paperback publication in the 1960s and a handful of film and comic book adaptations were bringing Lovecraft and the Mythos to a wider and wider audience…and in 1969 the Stonewall riots became the spark for the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.

It was, in other words, increasingly okay to be gay and a Lovecraft fan.

Beyond the Derleth Mythos (1969-2015)

August Derleth died in 1971, and with his passing came a shift in Mythos publishing. The legal bluster that Derleth had used to try and exert influence over Lovecraft’s posthumous image largely died with him; and critical assessments of fiction (“The Derleth Mythos,” 1972) sparked a pushback against Derleth’s interpretation of Lovecraft and his Mythos. The fanzine and newspaper articles of yesteryear began to give way to scholarly and academic essays and hardbound books. Many of these still evinced the lavender scare hangups; in the first full Lovecraft biography, L. Sprague de Camp summarized the issue so far as HPL was concerned:

The question of Lovecraft’s sexuality has stirred much interest. Some writers have called him “sexless.” Others have surmised that he might have been a homosexual or at least a latent one. They have cited his indifference to heterosexual relationships; the lack of women in his stories, whose leading characters are often a single male narrator and one close male friend; and his many friendships with younger men, some of whom either were overt homosexuals or had tendencies in that direct.

“Latent homosexuality,” however, is a vague, slippery concept. Moreover, the charge of “latent homosexual tendencies” has become such a fad that it is leveled at almost any notable whose love life is at all unusual.

L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 189

De Camp (1907-2000), however, was of the older generation, and the newer scholars, fans, and writers attracted to the Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction were more open to new and accepting interpretations of sexuality and gender identity and fresh takes on Lovecraft and the Mythos. What’s more, without Arkham House throttling production, other publishers could publish their own Mythos fiction by new writers. While there are far too many Mythos writers during these decades to name them all, some stand out as helping to shape a more inclusive Mythos literary landscape, writers who by their work and by their lives stand out from the rest.

William S. Burroughs (1914-1997) became a leading postmodernist and member of the Beat Generation; his explicit writings on homosexuality shocked audiences, but also helped expand the possibilities of science fiction. The influence of Lovecraft on Burroughs can be seen in works like Cities of the Red Night (1981).

Richard A. Lupoff (1935-2020) broke ground when he wrote “The Discovery of the Ghooric Zone” (1977), re-interpreting an homage to Lovecraft in the form of New Wave science fiction, explicitly including the first explicit transgender and bisexual characters in Lovecraftian fiction.

Stanley C. Sargent (1950-2018) broke ground in Mythos fiction in the 90s with stories like “The Black Brat of Dunwich” (1997), offering far different readings and interpretations of Mythos classics. Stan also authored what is probably the most coherent argument for Lovecraft as a closeted homosexual in a 1997 interview with Peter A. Worthy. Whether or not readers agree, it shows how openly LGBTQ+ people could now become in discussing their lives, and how they felt their experiences were reflected in the Mythos—which had its scholarly counterpart in work like Robert M. Price’s essay “Homosexual Panic in ‘The Outsider'” (1982).

W. H. Pugmire (1951-2019) grew up in the era of punk rock and Boy George, and became the self-declared “Queen of Eldritch Horror.” While mostly remembered today for his sensual, evocative prose, including his re-workings of familiar Mythos entities (e.g. “An Imp of Aether,”1997) and his own personal corner of Lovecraft country in the Pacific Northwest called Sesqua Valley (e.g. “Some Distant Baying Sound,” 2009), Pugmire was also influential as an editor. While a good deal of Mythos publishing in the 90s was focused on pastiche, Pugmire emphasized the importance of Lovecraft’s themes and atmosphere over his eldritch tomes and unspeakable names. He also collaborated with similar-minded writers like Jessica Amanda Salmonson (1950-) with works like “Pale, Trembling Youth” (1986) that explored these themes.

Caitlín R. Kiernan (1964-) has sometimes been called “Lovecraft’s spiritual granddaughter,” and it shows. Kiernan’s Mythos and Lovecraftian stories often feature strong female characters, including several prominent depictions of lesbians in stories such as “Paedomorphosis” (1998) “Paedomorphosis” (1998), and sometimes broaches transgender themes such as in “Pages Found Among the Effects of Miss Edith M. Teller” (2005). These people are not caricatures but realistic depictions of LGBTQ+ folks as flawed human beings, often struggling with themselves and their relationships.

Billy Martin (1967-) who wrote as Poppy Z. Brite, also pushed boundaries in the Lovecraftian milieu with stories like “His Mouth Will Taste Of Wormwood” (1990) and “Are You Loathsome Tonight?” (1998). Like Kiernan and Pugmire, they were part of a 90s generation that pushed the limits of what Lovecraftian was and could be.

Writers whose work post-2010 stand out for their inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters and themes include Jordan L. Hawk, who writes the Whyborne & Griffith series, a homosexual romantic fantasy with Lovecraftian elements begging with Widdershins (2013); Molly Tanzer whose works include “Herbert West in Love” (2012) and “In the Garden of Ibn Ghazi” (2021); Ruthanna Emrys with “The Litany of Earth” (2014) and Winter Tide (2017).

While some of the work of the above authors verged on or crossed the line into erotica, actual pornographic material has also included LGBTQ+ characters and creations, from the lurid Teenage Twins (1976) to the often-overlooked hardcore bisexual comics of John Blackburn (1939-2006) such as Dagger of Blood (1997), and Logan Kowalsky‘s (1971-) Le Pornomicon (2005). While these and other works may seem n the tawdry side, they’re important examples of the increasing acceptance of non-heterosexuality; while some folks may look on porn as exploitative of sexuality, others find freedom in being able to explore their sexuality through sex work, or just to enjoy porn that matches their interests.

In that vein, you might compare the salacious depiction lesbian characters in Mystery of the Necronomicon (黒の断章, 1999) with the more developed, conflicted gay characters in Cthulhu (2007); while the feature film obviously has more to say about LGBTQ+ folks finding their role in the Mythos, even bad representation is representation—which is more than LGTBQ+ Mythos fans got for decades after Lovecraft’s death.

Which is not to say that all depictions of LGBTQ+ folks and non-heterosexuality/cisgender identity were positive. Far from it. Homophobic and transphobic biases run deep and sometimes pop up in unexpected places, like “The Curate of Temphill” (1993) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price. However, the dawn of the internet has substantially widened access to information on sexuality and gender identity; communities have formed to help and support LGBTQ+ folks and connect writers, publishers, and audiences together, and social media often provides a panopticon for intolerance almost inconceivable in the past. Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband continued her abuse for years despite serious allegations, but J. K. Rowling‘s transphobia received immediate pushback on social media.

Revolution & Reimagination (2015-2022)

The Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction scene of today is profoundly different than it was even a decade ago. While intolerance and bigotry are still with us and still very real issues that LGBTQ+ folks face, the Mythos publishing environment is more open and diverse than ever before. This is in part due to a publishing revolution fueled by desktop publishing software, affordable print-on-demand technology, and crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter. Small press publishers continued to grow and diversify in the 2010s, often using crowdfunding to raise awareness and investment in their products, including an increasingly diverse range of Mythos books. Ebooks also provide a new niche for LGBTQ+ authors, such as “(UN)Bury Your Gays: A Queering of Herbert West – Reanimator by H.P. Lovecraft” (2022) by Clinton W. Waters.

The impact of this publishing shift is still being felt, but one thing that seems clear is that there is increasingly a market for more diverse Mythos fiction, and writers willing to cater to that need. In 2016, publisher Tor shifte focus on publishing a more diverse array of Mythos fiction, including Hammers on Bone (2016) by Cassandra Khaw and its follow-up A Song for Quiet (2017), The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (2016) by Kij Johnson, and Agents of Dreamland (2017) by Caitlín R. Kiernan. While the days of photocopied Lovecraftian fanzines may not be completely over, it’s become clear that these works are more than just a fad. It’s also increasingly become clear LGBTQ+ folks aren’t just writers and artists, but editors and publishers as well, as interviews with folks like Carrie Cuinn (Cthulhurotica), Lynne Jamneck (Dreams From the Witch House), and Erica Ciko Campbell and Desmond Rhae Harris (Starward Shadows Quarterly).

What the future holds for the LGBTQ+ Mythos is hard to say—there has been so much progress in the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights in the decades since Lovecraft’s death, and the reactionary political and cultural efforts to claw back those rights and discriminate against folks based on their sexuality or gender identity, whether they want to play a sport or transition, is a terrible ongoing challenge. Yet it helps to look back and see how far the genre has come. The Mythos has long outgrown the ignorant homophobia that Lovecraft expressed in a few of his letters, and many of the LGBTQ+ fans his works inspired have become some of the best and brightest creative voices we now have.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

A Brazilian Looks At Lovecraft

A Brazilian Looks At Lovecraft
by Davi Braid

It was a strange night in Michigan. The gibbous moon lurked behind tenebrous clouds. A barely illuminated terrene town was slowly recovering from the fetid consequences of a cacodaemoniacal college party. Eldritch shadows followed the rhythm of ululating winds, forming a blasphemous image of a chthonian forest at the horizon. Ignored by a lonely exchange student, a cup of the local, noxious coffee was getting cold by the window of a noisome hotel.

For some reason, that cup of coffee caused me to panic. Its horrible taste was a clear indicator of how far this place was from home. I had no friends, no family, no coworkers, and I kept asking myself the reason behind that trip. The original plan was to find personal growth out of my comfort zone. It was not working as intended, though.

The hotel room did not have much to offer, so my free time was spent observing the town from afar and reading. It was fun and exciting at first, but it didn’t last long. The cultural differences, the lack of a deeper connection to people, and the constant feeling of being an outsider are things that hit hard when you are entirely by yourself.

Due to being isolated and depressed, my mind would constantly spiral down into nearly inescapable cycles of fear and nihilism. Socializing is an activity that demands a lot of effort from introverts, and the trouble of trying that in a foreign culture was a great excuse to never do it at all. It seems that being a foreigner was not necessarily a charming characteristic in a small town where half the population was college kids.

Even within the Latino community, it was tough being Brazilian. We speak Portuguese, not English, so there is a language barrier that prevents us from completely fitting in. It is hard to think of a moment that felt worse than being among many other foreigners from South America and feeling like an outcast.

I do not remember exactly how or when Lovecraft’s tales really caught my interest for the first time. After researching gloomy things, taken by desperation and anxiety, the concept Cosmic Horror found its way into the screen of my laptop. I never liked horror as a genre, but the title “The Outsider” caught my eye for obvious reasons. On top of that, something about unknown entities that overshadow mundane problems felt weirdly comforting at that point.

The story failed to impress me with its simplistic structure and a generic monster. However, the ending hit me as no written story has ever done before:

I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.

Thoughts about the pointlessness of living when death is certain were just some of my recurring demons, which didn’t make me popular at parties. The outsider never belonged, and the monster was not hunting him. The narrator did not see itself as the ghoulish shade of decay that it was. This horror story was my polished glass.

That ending was digested by my brain and became the first step toward a life-long obsession with cosmic horror. Solitude in a small room was not an issue for someone who had just opened the Necronomicon. The observer triggered a long introspection that resulted in a few failed attempts to socialize, turning this newly found genre into the best way to escape reality and self-pity.

One must wonder how many demons Lovecraft had. The themes of his writings were painfully clear. Narrators were always finding out horrific truths, and madness was the natural state of those who see the world for what it is. Convinced of the lack of meaning in life, I became one of his characters. On the other hand, reading his characters was about to turn me back into a functional person.

A sudden sense of urgency—acquired after reading “Dagon”—caused me to slowly break out of an old delusion. Happy, inaccurate memories of a big city chased me to the other hemisphere, much like the old ones chased the narrator:

The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!

With the help of my thanatophobia, the old one by the window caused the panic attack that shaped my following days. The end was near, time was limited, and nothing was being done. How can someone take control of their future when shackled by insecurity and hopelessness?

After so many of his tales, Lovecraft’s antediluvian view of the world became painfully obvious in “The Horror at Red Hook.” Luckily, I was about to get lectured by them:

The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles.

I was not an immigrant, but it would hardly have mattered to him. Being a descendant of Native, Scottish, and Portuguese people myself, tangled enigma was an excellent definition of my heritage. Besides, Brazil is a melting pot. Consequently, it is a tangled enigma, as the writer himself defined. Funny enough, taking offense was not my first reaction. Building anger towards an author from two centuries ago due to his outdated views felt like a pointless mental effort.

The descriptions used by the author for certain ethnicities are revealing. They seem to echo how he talks about monsters and gods—as if everything was otherworldly and incomprehensible. Maybe he was afraid of what was different and unknown. Not understanding other languages being spoken in his own country clearly disturbed him somehow: “From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of a hundred dialects assail the sky.”

Digging into his correspondences and stories, I ended up finding something disturbing in one of his letters:

It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant in their classes—calculatingly & schemingly brilliant—but their ideals were sordid & their manners coarse. I became rather well known as an anti-Semitic before I had been at Hope Street many days.

H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 November 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 72

To my surprise, he married a Jewish woman who shared his passion for literature. At that point, a lambent idea crawled its way into my outré neurons. If Lovecraft shared the same hobbies and passions with an immigrant, would he dislike that person the same way? What if people could see how much they had in common instead of how different they were? And that’s when it hit me: What if I started looking for things I had in common with others instead of reminding them of our differences?

I used to think of myself as a unique, awake person who could see the world for what it is—a cyclopean blasphemy—and therefore, there was no point in trying to enjoy my time on earth. It turns out that person was just a socially impaired snob who constantly reminded others of how different he was. Fortunately, “The Horror At Red Hook” pushed some sense into my head in a peculiar way.

We are all people aimlessly navigating life, trying to make the most of it. If I have my doubts and fears, chances are other humans do too. Instead of trying to stand out as the eccentric foreigner, my approach was changed to “I like that too,” which changed not only my experience in the United States but my whole life as well. 

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of weird cultural barriers to be dealt with. Nonetheless, putting some effort into breaching those barriers proved to be a much better way to make meaningful connections. Colleagues slowly became friends, and friends presented me to a whole new world and lifestyle. 

Michigan was quite life-changing, and I miss my time there so much. I ended up loving snow, hockey, Detroit, and much of the local culture. I went to college parties, had terrific burgers, and even learned how to shoot a gun—although I passed on hunting. I made friends, built a professional network, and even helped many newcomers to feel welcomed.

My introversion never left me, and it will not be going anywhere. The process of changing that old behavior into something more productive took months, yet I managed to get there. It never stopped being a conscious effort, but it was a significant improvement. Ironically, all that happened thanks to a xenophobic, antisemitic man who wrote horror stories.

Besides leaving me with a life lesson, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was also the reason behind my regained interest in Brazilian legends. Many of my country’s backcountry myths inspired me to return to fiction writing, giving it a Lovecraftian spin.

When I’m having a really bad day, I return to “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Someone like me is never truly free from old, obdurate demons. Maybe he wrote them down to take them out of his mind. Reading those stories reminds me that there is much more in the world to be seen and discovered, rekindling my passion for life itself.

It is possible that he would not be pleased with how his unearthly entities helped a Brazilian student to fit in the United States. Especially considering what he used to think of my country—or most countries, according to what he wrote in a letter:

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. For the glory of the world is the glory of England. […] 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 Dunn, 14 Oct 1916, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 166

Being a polyglot myself, this was the first time I ever read this word in such a negative connotation. Not having to deal with people like him was possibly pure luck. Sure, I was in several uncomfortable situations here and there. Some people wanted to try their Spanish with me as if it was my first language, and some others thought I lived in a jungle, but it felt more like ignorance than anything else.

In the end, all the situations that I had to endure were nothing like what happened to the Saudi Arabian kids. Most North Americans would actively avoid them because of their country of origin, even though they were perfectly nice and polite young men. Truth be told, It was heartbreaking to watch, which caused me to constantly check on them. In their case, as Lovecraft stated, they were there on sufferance.

I do not admire the man, just what came out of his imagination and personal fears. I read his stories during a vulnerable moment, but what I took from them is my merit. There is no point in spending any energy deliberating on his archaic opinions. Howard Phillips Lovecraft is long gone, and I have my whole life ahead of me. 

Davi Braid is a Brazilian freelance writer and a games journalist who often gets out of his niche to write about different and exciting topics. Although he does not like horror stories, Cosmic Horror fascinates him like no other kind of fiction. You can contact him via email at or find more of his work at

Copyright 2022 Davi Braid

“Up from Slavery” (2019) by Victor LaValle

They had done the same thing on other planets; having manufactured not only necessary foods, but certain multicellular protoplasmic masses capable of moulding their tissues into all sorts of temporary organs under hypnotic influence and thereby forming ideal slaves to perform the heavy work of the community. These viscous masses were without doubt what Abdul Alhazred whispered about as the “shoggoths” in his frightful Necronomicon, though even that mad Arab had not hinted that any existed on earth except in the dreams of those who had chewed a certain alkaloidal herb.

H. P. Lovecraft, “At the Mountains of Madness”

Slavery was a part of Lovecraft’s heritage. While his immediate family never owned any slaves or showed any inclination to, the oldest of his aunts could remember the American Civil War and emancipation; Lovecraft himself was well aware of the part slavery had played in his own native Rhode Island, and liked to remind correspondents that his ancestor Robert Hazard had left 133 slaves in his will.

When Lovecraft wrote his alien entities, the two most detailed civilizations—the Old Ones in Antarctica in At the Mountains of Madness and the people of K’n-yan in The Mound—they were both defined by slave ownership. Why isn’t exactly clear; the exact forms of slavery involved were both like and unlike the chattel slavery of the American system or the slavery practiced by civilizations like the Romans in antiquity. There was no way for slaves in Lovecraft’s stories to earn freedom, and in fact much of the economics and social ramifications of slavery are unexamined…except for one: as in the antebellum South, the Old Ones and K’n-yans lived in the shadow of a slave revolt.

Victor LaValle’s “Up from Slavery” is a riff on an uncommon theme; a companion piece in many ways to “Shoggoths in Bloom” (2008) by Elizabeth Bear. In both stories, the experience of Black people in America, who deal every day with the legacy of slavery, draws parallels with the plight of the shoggoths.

“You were born to serve,” he said. “It’s genetic.”

Victor LaValle, “Up from Slavery” in Lovecraft Mythos New & Classic Edition 217

In many ways, the slavery of the shoggoths is closer to that of replicants in Blade Runner than to what is described in the first chapter of Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery (1901)—but the overall morality is identical. Whether a sentient being is kidnapped and forced into service, or grown in a lab and made to serve, the end result is the same. Because of this, slavery narratives work for shoggoth characters. No one has written Uncle Tekeli-Li’s Cabin yet, and maybe never will, but there is real empathy for shoggoth characters who run away from slavery, or fight back to avoid being returned to a state of slavery.

That is important because in a lot of ways the protagonist Simon Dust is unlikable. He carries a big chip on his shoulder, and not without reason. The world through his eyes is stacked against him because of his race. It colors his interaction with others, and his response to little things…people not sitting next to him on the train, muted anger at discovering he has a father after 29 years as an orphan who grew up in foster care, the white neighbor’s disbelief when he shows up. It is familiar territory; LaValle explored the Black experience in his novella “The Ballad of Black Tom” (2016) as well, and he is excellent at presenting an individual who has labored all their life under a sword of Damocles, and has to deal with a thousand little microaggressions every day or face the consequences.

It is weird to think that Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) and H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were contemporaries…but their lives did overlap, even if they did not intersect. LaValle’s use of Washington’s autobiography helps ground Dust’s experience, and that of the shoggoths. Up from slavery shows that being born into slavery may only be the first chapter of someone’s life, even if the experiences and scars of that first chapter stay with them. Likewise, we may say that though Lovecraft may have written slavery into his Mythos, that too is only the first chapter in the saga of the shoggoths, and there is much more that may be written.

“Up from Slavery” by Victor LaValle first appeared in Weird Tales #363 (2019) and was reprinted in Lovecraft Mythos New & Classic Edition (2020), The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2020 (2020), and Nightmare Magazine #100 (Jan 2021). The story won the 2019 Bram Stoker award for Superior Achievement in Long Fiction.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“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.

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“Black God’s Kiss” (1934) by C. L. Moore

As to the work of C. L. Moore—I don’t agree with your low estimate. These tales have a peculiar quality of cosmic weirdness, hard to define but easy to recognise, which makrs them out as really unique. […] In these tales there is an indefinable atmosphere of vague outsidesness & cosmic dread which marks weird work of the best sort. How notably they contrast with the average pulp product—whose bizarre subject-matter is wholly neutralised by the brisk, almost cheerful manner of narration! Whether the Moore tales will keep their pristine quality or deterioriate as their author picks up the methods, formulae, & style of cheap magazine fiction, still remains to be seen.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William F. Anger, 28 Jan 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 227

C. L. Moore burst into the pages of Weird Tales in 1933 with “Shambleau”—a science fantasy that earned universal praise and introduced her character Northwest Smith. She followed that success with three more tales of Smith: “Black Thirst” (WT Apr 1934), “Scarlet Dream” (WT May 1934), and “Dust of the Gods” (WT Aug 1934). These stories were all self-contained, with a common setting and and characters, but with no strong narrative continuity. These episodes all took place during Smith’s life as an interstellar outlaw, but there was no overarching plot between episodes, and few if any clues to put them in any order aside from order of publication.

Then in the October 1934 issue of Weird Tales, Moore introduced a new character—a fiery, red-headed warrior-woman in medieval France—Jirel of Joiry. In later years, recalling the character, Moore remembered:

Long, long ago I had thoughts of a belligerent dame who must have been her progenitor, and went so far as to begin a story which went something like this: “The noise of battle beating up around the walls of Arazon castle rang sweetly in the ears of Arazon’s warrior lady.” And I think it went no farther. So far as I know she stands ther eyet listening to the tumult of an eternal battle. Back to her Jirel of Joiry no doubt traces her ancestry.

Jirel’s Guillaume whom I so ruthlessly slew in the first of her stories, yet whom I can’t quite let die, was patterned after the drawing of Pav of Romne with which I illustrated her latest story, “The Dark Land” in Weird Tales. I made that drawing somewhere in the remote past, and have cherished it all these yars in the confidence taht someday it would come in handy. I meant to use it to illustrate “Black God’s Kiss,” first of the Jirel tales, but somehow the story got out of hand, and I’ve never since been able to introduce a situation it would fit until “The Dark Land.”
—C. L. Moore, “An Autobiographical Sketch of C. L. Moore,” Echoes of Valor 2, 37-38

Weird Tales v27 n01 [1936-01]_0054

Weird Tales Jan 1936

In later years, she would write of her two most famous redheads:

Shambleau and Jirel bear a close relationship to each other, and both, I believe, unconsciously reflect the woman I wish I could have been. I owe a great deal of my literary outpourings to Himself, My Unconscious.
—C. L. Moore, The Faces of Science Fiction

The basic plot, of a strange journey and a Faustian bargain, are familiar enough elements from a dozen weird fiction stories. Female protagonists, especially swordswomen, were rare. Robert E. Howard had included Bêlit in “Queen of the Black Coast” (WT May 1934), and long-time readers might recall R. T. M. Scott’s “Nimba, The Cave Girl” (WT Mar 1923), so it wasn’t as if Jirel was exactly the first to grace the pages of the Unique Magazine—but Moore brought her own unique style.

At least, H. P. Lovecraft thought so, and wasn’t shy to tell others about it:

Black God great stuff—real nightmare outsideness.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 7 Oct 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 183

Oct. W.T. about average, on the whole. The Moore item is really very notable—full of a tensity & atmospheric suggestion of encroaching dream-worlds which none of the other authors seem able to achieve. I’ll try to look up the item in Astounding, even though it be les from the the hackneyed & conventional.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 26 Oct 1934, O Fortunate Floridian 187

“The Black God’s Kiss”, despite overtones of conventional romance, is great stuff. The other-world descriptions & suggestions are stupendous.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 22 Dec 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin et al. 248

Nor was Lovecraft alone in his praise, as the story received praise in “The Eyrie,” Weird Tales‘ letters pages, such as:

I (and I’m sure many others) want to hear a great deal more of Jirel. She’s the kind of person I’d like to be myself. A sort of feminine version of Conan the Cimmerian. He, too, is one of my favorites.
—Mary A. Conklin, Weird Tales Dec 1934

The creator of Cthulhu’s admiration for the tale can be easily understood; this is easily the most Lovecraftian of C. L. Moore’s early stories. Jirel’s descent into the tunnel recalls stories like Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Festival,” and her description is as pure an effort at non-Euclidean geometry as anything Lovecraft attempted:

There was something queer about the angles of those curves. She was no scholar in geometry or aught else, but she felt intuitively that the bend and slant of the way she went were somehow outside any other angles or bends she had ever known.
C. L. Moore, “Black God’s Kiss” in Weird Tales Oct 1934

The comparison of Jirel with Conan is one that would be made again, as Jirel and the Cimmerian’s adventures continued. They were contemporaries, and their creators thought a bit alike, as they would find out through correspondence, when Robert E. Howard let her read his own story about a flame-haired French swordswoman, Dark Agnes de Chastillon. Moore’s Jirel stories tend to lean more into the sorcery than the swordplay; while she has a sword and uses it in “Black God’s Kiss,” her quest is a very un-Conan-like one for a sorcerous weapon to aid her where force of arms has failed, and in many of her other stories she faces supernatural threats where her blade is useless.

If many of the readers liked “Black God’s Kiss,” at least one of them did not:

The Black God’s Kiss was by far the poorest C. L. Moore story yet. The first three of C. L. Moore’s tales were excellent, but the last two were rather pediculous.
—Fred Anger, Weird Tales Dec 1934

William F. Anger’s sour note in “The Eyrie” might be forgotten, except for one coincidence: he had become a correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft. Though Lovecraft had not yet started to correspond with C. L. Moore, as he later would, he felt obliged to defend the merits of Moore’s fiction, including “Black God’s Kiss”:

Regarding the Moore stories—one has to separate the undeniably hackneyed & mechanical romance from the often remarkable background against which it is arrayed. “The Black God’s Kiss” had a vastly clever setting—the pre-human tunnel beneath the castle, the upsetting of gravitational & dimensional balance, the strange, ultra-dimensional world of unknown laws & shapes & phenomena, &c. &c. If that could be taken out of the sentimental plot & made the scene of events of really cosmically bizarre motivation, it would be tremendously powerful. The distinctive thing about Miss Moore is her ability to devise conditions & sights & phenomena of utter strangeness & originality, & to describe them in a language conveying something of their outre, phantasmagoric, & dread-filled quality. That in itself is an accomplishment possessed by very few of the contributors to the cheap pulp magazines. For the most part, allegedly “Weird” writers phrase their stories in such a brisk, cheerful, matter-of-fact, colloquial, dialogue-ridden sort of style that all genuine ene of shadow & menace is lost. So far, Miss M. has escaped this pitfall; though continued writing for miserable rags like the current pulps will probably spoil her as it has spoiled Quinn, Hamilton, & all the rest. The editors will encourage her worst tendencies—the sticky romance & cheap “Action”—& discourage everything of real merit (the macabre language, the original descriptive touches, the indefinite atmosphere, the brooding tension, &c.) which her present work possesses. Nothing will ever teach the asses who peddle cheap magazines that a weird story should not & cannot be an “action” or “character” story. The only justification for a weird tale is that it be an authentic & convincing picture of a certain human mood; & this means that vague impressions & atmosphere must predominate. Events must not be crowded, & human characters must not assume too great importance. The real protagonists of fantasy fiction are not people but phenomena. The logical climax is not a revelation of what somebody does, but a glimpse of the existence of some condition contrary to nature as commonly accepted.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William F. Anger, 16 Feb 1935, LRBO 229

While Lovecraft never wrote these exact words to C. L. Moore, when they did get to corresponding she had her own response:

Also, since I’m disagreeing with everything today, I’ll have a shot at your dislike for romance contrasted with your love and understanding of fantasy. You don’t ahve to take Dumas any more literally than you do Dunsany. Of course lots of people probably do look persistently through rose-colored glasses, but then dear, sincere old Lumley believes implicitly in his phantasms. To me it’s just as pleasant to imagine during the duration of the story that there is a loely springtime world people exclusively by handsome heroes and exquisite heroines and life is one long romp of adventure with no unpleasant attribtues at all, as it is to believe for the length of the story that time, space and natural law can be elastic enough to permit the existence of a Shambleau or a Cthulhu (have I spelled him right?). Your point, of course, is that to be acceptable as release-literature the hapenings must be incredibly outside, not aganst the phenomena of nature. Does that mean that you can’t with self-respect, enjoy Howard’s gorgeous Conan sagas, which are surely pure romance for the most part?
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 88-89

A large part of the charm in the early Moore stories, be they tales of Northwest Smith or Jirel of Joiry or science fiction tales like “The Bright Illusion” (Astounding Stories Oct 1934) is the imaginative and lush descriptions, often trying to capture in words some utterly alien emotion or experience above and beyond what anyone might imagine a young woman working as a secretary in an Indianapolis bank during the Great Depression might ever dream of. Yet she did dream them, and her early fantasies made a mark.

There are two interesting sequels to “Black God’s Kiss.” The first is quite literally a direct sequel: “Black God’s Shadow” was published only a couple months later in the December 1934 issue of Weird Tales. This would be the first direct sequel she had ever written, a step away from the disconnected adventures of Northwest Smith—and while she never developed the setting of Joiry with as much depth as Robert E. Howard did the Hyborian Age for Conan, it was still a step in the direction of the fantasy worlds that would follow in coming decades.

The second sequel is more complicated. In early 1934, Lovecraft’s young friend R. H. Barlow began to correspond with C. L. Moore. Barlow learned that Moore was in talks with William Crawford to try and publish some of her stories. Barlow was an amateur printer and bookbinder, and wanted to publish a small edition of her stories. The correspondence between C. L. Moore and Lovecraft actually began when Barlow enlisted Lovecraft’s aid to try and convince here to give Barlow the good stories:

I shall be glad to cooperate in any way possible, & will endeavour at the earliest opportunity to write the authoress such a letter as you suggest—pointing out sound as distinguished from commercial lines of development, yet avoiding any air of supercilious fault finding or lack of appreciativeness. There is no question but that her work possesses a strain of authentic cosmic alienage & extreme originality found in no other weirdist since Klarkash-Ton—a pervasive atmospheric tension, & a curious facility in evoking images of utter trangeness & suggesting monstrous gateways from the tri-dimensional world to other spheres of entity.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 16 Mar 1935, O Fortunate Floridian 217

There was some finagling, but eventually Barlow and Lovecraft convinced Moore to allow Barlow to publish a small edition containing “Shambleau,” “Black Thirst,” and “Black God’s Kiss”—Lovecraft considered her best stories at the time. As it happened, neither Barlow or Crawford’s volumes ever came to press, although Barlow did print and bind some other works of Moore’s, notably a few copies of “Were-Woman.”

Without “Black God’s Kiss” and Jirel of Joiry, H. P. Lovecaft and C. L. Moore may never have begun to correspond—which would have changed the trajectory of both their lives.

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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“The Automatic Executioner” (1891) & “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

Dear Sir,

My friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, was kind enough to mention that you might be inclined to aid me in bringing out one or the other of my labors which sadly need revision.

If you can, please let me know and under what conditions we can co-operate. 

Yours sincerely,

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 20 Nov 1927,
Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others

In 1927, an article was published in the Associated Press proposing new evidence for the demise of Ambrose Bierce. The source was Dr. Adolphe Danziger de Castro, who had picked up the gossip while down in Mexico. De Castro and Bierce had been friends for twenty-five years, and had collaborated on a translation of The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter (1891), and the Western Author’s Publishing Association which published de Castro’s collection of stories In the Confessional and the Following (1893), some of which had been previously published in newspapers and magazines. The friendship ended rather badly, with Bierce breaking his cane over de Castro’s head—but the article on Bierce achieved wide circulation, and de Castro smelled an opportunity:

Years and years ago I published a volume of short stories (now not to be had at any price, and Uncle Sam and myself are the only ones who have copies of the same) and if these stories could be licked into shape, I am certain they would be published. It all depends upon my literary godfather. Suppose I send you part of one of these stories just for a passing judgment whether you could be inclined to consider the matter, if all things become equal?
—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 25 Nov 1927, LAG 342

Lovecraft in 1927 was in Providence, Rhode Island; his effort to make his way in New York had failed, and so had his marriage, although his wife would not press him for a divorce until 1929. With no steady employment, Lovecraft and his friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr. did revision work for clients, re-writing stories and offering advice for modest fees. Their friend Samuel Loveman was not officially an agent, but steered potential clients their way: Zealia Brown Reed (Spirit of Revision 8-9) and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

Initially, de Castro was looking for one or two books of stories to be revised; there are some calculations on a letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 5 Dec 1927 to this effect (LAG 345). This quickly expanded as he suggested Lovecraft assist him in writing a memoir or biography titled Bierce and I, mentioned in a letter dated 8 Dec 1927. Lovecraft was wary: de Castro had no money to pay up front, and Lovecraft was in no financial position to take work on a speculative basis. At this point (December 1927), Lovecraft claims:

He’s too gordam fussy to make his work a paying proposition for me—for his fiction is unspeakable, his paying ability meagre, and his demands for revisions—after his first version—extensive. I about exploded over the dragging monotony of a silly thing which I renamed Clarendon’s Last Test; and after I wearily sent in the result of a whole month’s brain-fog, (incurred for a deplorable pittance!) the old reprobate shot it back with requests for extensive changes (based wholly on the new ideas I had injected!) which would have involved just as much work again, and without any additional fee. That was too much. I hurled the whole Hastur-hateful thing back at him—together with his measly cheque and a dollar bill to cover the postage he’d expended—but he took it all in good part, and returned the cheque and dollar with a laudably generous gesture! Now—after thinking it over—he decided to use the tale just as I fixed it up. Vaya con Dios, Don Adolfo—he’s one reviser who won’t raise any controversy by claiming authorship of the beastly mess! But I can’t tackle any more of his fiction. It raises a choking kind of mental “complex” preclusive of effort. I’ll consider his straight prose memoirs, but nothing where constructive art is concern’d.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, January 1928, Selected Letters 2.207-208

A letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 4 February 1928 confirms Lovecraft’s claims (LAG 347-348), and returns the check (for $16), begging Lovecraft to accept it.

The story in question began as “A Sacrifice to Science”; de Castro claimed:

Thinking back to the fate of “The Last Test,” I recall its first publication in 1889, then titled, “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery.” In 1893, I published a volume of short stories, incorporating “Dr. Clinton” but had changed his name to Dr. Calrendon [sic]. The issue of seven thousand copies, paper-covered at 50 cents, sold out in record time. I think I am the only person who has a copy of the volume. In 1900 I went from San Francisco to New York. There I re-wrote the story and named it “The Last Test.” Excepting the introductory paragraph to the story which I wrote in New York, the body of the tale suffered no change from that published in the collection.
—Adolphe de Castro to August Derleth, 20 November 1949

The actual publishing history appears more complicated. No publication under the title “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery” has been found; the earliest publication for “A Sacrifice to Science” is in The Californian vol. III, no. 2 (January 1892); it was then subsequently published in In the Confessional and the Following (1893), with minor changes in the text. The Photoplay Weekly for August 1915 includes the snippet:

[Danziger] has completed many scenarios, including The Ghetto Apostate, The Human Devil-Fish, The Fatal Love Letter, and Dr. Clarendon’s Discovery, all of which are feature productions.

This screenplay appears to be non-extant. In any case, for the 1928 version de Castro had provided Lovecraft with the 1893 text.

For most readers, the interest in “A Sacrifice to Science” is as the bones on which “The Last Test” is built, and from that lens, the story is especially interesting because it is rare for us to have the “before” of a Lovecraft revision; most of his clients provided either only a plot-germ or synopsis, or the story is based on a draft that does not survive. Here, we have both the original story (in two texts) and the revision to compare.

“A Sacrifice to Science” is a turn-of-the-century thriller (that is isn’t very thrilling), very vaguely in the line of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more fantastic and better-composed tale of mad science such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), which had inspired Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” (1894) or “The Novel of the White Powder” (1895). There is a germ of a solid idea there, but the plot and writing don’t develop any tension in the reader. The skeleton-like character of Mort feels almost allegorical—Death always at the doctor’s side—but he is ultimately very mortal indeed, and far less interesting in his role as Igor to Clinton’s Dr. Frankenstein.

In comparing the 1892 and the 1893 texts, it is apparent that despite the small spelling and formatting changes, a number of passages and even entire paragraphs have been cut; all references to the “Typhus Clintoni” were excised. It isn’t clear why this should be so—one would assume that since In the Confessional and the Following would not have a strict word-limit. The most interesting detail is the bare sketch of a background on Mort, and the implication of testing on prisoners in the West Indies, making Dr. Clnton even more diabolical.

In comparing “A Sacrifice to Science” and its revision, the surprising thing is how much of the essential story and its details Lovecraft retained as he transitioned it to the form of weird pulp fiction. All of the essentials of the plot are reproduced, only with more detail and drama given to events, and perhaps surprising for those who think them Lovecraft’s weakest points as a writer, more attention and focus on character motivation and dialogue. Many of the fine details are kept as well, such as the sister referring to the assistant as the doctor’s “evil genius,” and the outbreak of fever among the Mexican population—which is, perhaps surprisingly, more developed in de Castro’s original.

Study of this story also shows where some of the less Lovecraftian story beats in “The Last Test” come from. Georgina’s tendency to faint—a trait Lovecraft decried in Gothic heroines—comes from Alvira’s episodes. The jealous romantic triangle began with de Castro, it was Lovecraft that gave it the “Fall of the House of Usher” proportions of “The Last Test.” The curious reticence of Surama to handle the afflicted Dick must have its origins in Mort’s complaint at the toll taken on his dogs.

As was also typical, Lovecraft sent a handwritten manuscript, and wished for no changes to what he wrote, to which de Castro wrote in reply:

I haven’t as yet had the time to look up Mr. Long. And mentioning Mr. Long recalls that I have never asked you if, in your opinion “Clarendon’s Last Test” is likely to have a market. I shall not make any changes in the story, but when it is typewritten I shall send it on its rounds, and le bon Dieu peut savoir if it will find some one to take it. The horror story isn’t much in demand now, I fancy.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 Feb 1928, LAG 349

Despite this promise to not make any changes, apparently de Castro did:

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

With my own suffering fingers I finished last night the copying on the typewriter of THE LAST TEST, and don’t know whether to send you an abrazo – a brotherly embrace – or, you, being so much younger than I, to give you my fatherly blessing for what you did for me; for the more I read the story the more I find that it has “workmanship” and a masterly touch.

For a moment I wanted to send you the story as I copied it, thinking you might perhaps elect to change a word here and there, as your own judgment should direct, and then I said to myself “Lovecraft’s eye has missed little as he went over it ‘scratching'” and I sent the story to “Weird Tales” at Indianapolis.

You will notice that I underscored the words “as I copied it”, meaning thereby that I took the liberty to write a phrase or use a word as I had been taught by Ambrose Bierce. These are: the word ‘persons’ for people. The latter referring to the people of a city, county, state or nation, the former referring to individuals, – “there were a number of persons” and not “people”; or many people for many persons. The second is a Biercean doctrine that a sentence ought never to begin with a negative assertion of something denoting a positive, and vice versa, such as: “I don’t believe Jim cares for it”; whereas it should be “I believe Jim doesn’t care for it”, which is really the essence of the assumption or belief. In other words: we believe a thing is or is not, it is our attitude in the matter, but if we say we don’t believe, we establish a non-attitude (although it might equally be a non-believing attitude) in the case where a positive is concerned.

I am very eager to hear your opinion in the matter, comprehending, of course, that idiomatic form or usage is, excepted.

I confess that your entire review of the matter relative to the story is correct, although I do not regret to have written you as I did, since it brought forth your most illuminative letter. And what is more, Egad! I really like the story.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Apr 1928, LAG 353

Lovecraft’s chagrin at this turn of events must be imagined; his response does not appear to survive. As Lovecraft’s manuscript does not survive, it is not clear what changes de Castro made, although it seems it was he who changed it from “Clarendon’s Last Test” to “The Last Test.” Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, could likely not help but notice the references to Lovecraft’s Mythos embedded in the story. Nevertheless, the story was accepted for $175.00, and duly appeared in the November 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Whatever the changes de Castro introduced, they could not have been extensive, for Lovecraft commented:

Old de Castro’s story that I revised is in the current Weird Tales. It doesn’t look so bad now. The element of Atlantean mystery is wholly of my own introducing. De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 27 Oct 1928, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165

In June 1929, de Castro was again asking Lovecraft to revise his 1893 stories (ES1.196), and as before, eventually agreed to Lovecraft’s terms of cash in advance:

I am just now confronting a damnable revision job from old De Castro—the Bierce satellite & biographer—who has made delay impossible by paying in advance! Consider me, then, as lost in chaos & woe for the next couple of weeks. It is like what I did for him in 1927-8—doctoring up some fictional junk he wrote in 1893. The old boy is going abroad on the 10th, & wants the work delivered while he is in London.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 8 Jul 1929, Essential Solitude1.200

The de Castro story in question was “The Automatic Executioner,” which was first published in The Wave, 14 Nov 1891. As before, Lovecraft completely rewrote the story, although keeping the essential plot and most of the names, and hewing closer to de Castro’s original plot, Lovecraft still added in references to his artificial mythology.

In one sense, “The Automatic Executioner” is an example of one of the earliest and most prominent modes of science fiction: gadget fiction. Thomas Alva Edison was still the wizard of Menlo Park in the 1890s, inventors like Alexander Graham Bell were honored as heroes. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells postulated on technological advances and their potential impact, and the basic idea of a new invention that revolutionizes the world—and the inventor that receives fame for it—was still current well into the 1920s and 30s, when writers like Robert E. Howard tried their hand at it with stories like “The Iron Terror.”

At the same time, the story is not strictly gadget fiction. The invention (Chekov’s noose, as it were) is only one part of a story which involves suggestions of hypnotism and astral projection, relatively occult concepts for what otherwise might be a “pseudo-scientific” story in 1920s pulp parlance. When compared to “A Sacrifice to Science,” it makes a kind of sense that Lovecraft had far less to add or change to the original tale—his principal changes being to turn the “automatic electric executioner” from an electric noose down to a portable electrocution device, and to transform the nature and depiction of Feldon’s madness. In this, Lovecraft incorporated elements of indigenous Mexican religion, his own artificial Mythos, and a curious encounter that Lovecraft himself had on a train:

The journey was made amusing by the presence in the seat beside me of a slightly demented German—a well-drest and respectable-looking fellow whom I had observ’d at the tavern reading a German paper before the start of the coach. He shew’d no signs of his affliction till we reach’d a sort of stagnant mill-pond near Newark, in New-jersey, when suddenly he burst forth the the question, “iss diss der Greadt Zalt Lake?” deeming the inquiry address to me, I reply’d that I scarcely thought his identification correct; whereupon he reliev’d me of all responsibility by remarking in a far-off, sententious voice—“I vassn’t talkingk to you; I vass shooter leddingk my light shine!” Properly rebuk’d for my officious desire to give information, I held my peace and permitted my seatmate to illuminate without hindrance. After a time he became vocal again, confiding to the empty air ahead, “I’m radiating all der time, und nopotty knows it!”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Travels in the Provinces of America” (1929) in Collected Essays 2.34

Lovecraft also expanded upon Feldon’s motivations for stealing the papers, which de Castro does not go into, an attempt to provide at least a moderately stronger explanation for the experience in the train car, and Feldon’s death—since de Castro leaves him alive at the end, while Lovecraft makes sure the executioner executes. What Lovecraft probably didn’t know is that de Castro was himself an inventor—he had patents for incandescent electric lamps and X-ray tubes—so possibly de Castro knew something of the paranoia of the inventor at getting scooped, and the singular obsession that Feldon expressed, the pride in the technical details of its working. More curious are the bits that Lovecraft left out: the name of the protagonist and his betrothed (and her position as editor of a newspaper, if that was not a spur-of-the-moment lie) and Feldon’s background so that he was never a sheriff in Montreal.

Being a nebulous mix of genres, it’s possible that de Castro could have sold this story to The Black Cat in the 1910s, or even possibly the earliest issues of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales—but there is no denying that the language is often stilted, and by the late 1920s badly needed the updated that Lovecraft provided if it was to have any hope of getting published. That Lovecraft wrote it with Weird Tales in mind seems almost certain; it might have found a home at Wonder Stories, but that would have meant dealing with Hugo Gernsback, whose reputation for non-payment Lovecraft was well aware of by 1929.

“The Electric Executioner” was accepted rather promptly by the end of February 1930 (ES1.249), and would be published in the August 1930 Weird Tales. This caused at least one reader to inquire:

Adolph de Castro, I note, mentions these gods, places, or whatever they are, only the spelling is different, as Cthulhutl, Yog Sototl. Both you and he, I believe, use the phrase fhtaghn.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.37

The reasons for its echoes in Dr. de Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine—into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 14 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.40

Lovecraft apparently also explained this to Farnsworth Wright:

I suppose he was curious about getting stories from several authors—Heald, de Castro, Reed &c (besides parts of mss. From Barlow, Bloch, Rimel, &c)—which contained earmarks of my style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William Lumley, 14 Nov 1935, Selected Letters 5.207

Lovecraft did apparently revise a third tale for de Castro, and it was sold to Farnsworth Wright for Strange Stories, a magazine projected to be published alongside Weird Tales, much as Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet would be, but legal troubles with the name prevented the magazine from coming out, and this revision is believed to be lost.

Since their publication in 1928 and 1930, the only extant versions of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” have been the versions published in Weird Tales, which were eventually published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949, Arkham House), and afterward became accepted publicly as Lovecraft revisions or ghostwriting jobs and subsequently reprinted in many other places.

However, this was not quite the end of the story. In 1953 when de Castro was 94 years old, he had bound a typed manuscript titled Surama of Atlantis and The Horror In A Mexican Train Plus Narrative Poems; the two lead stories “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are variants of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner,” respectively, differing sometimes slightly and in other places markedly from the Weird Tales text. De Castro’s papers, now at the American Jewish Archives, also contain an undated typescript of “The Electric Executioner” with small variations from both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text. For more on these, please see the companion post on “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

“A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner” are in the public domain, and the 1893 versions may be read online for free here; the 1892 version of “A Sacrifice to Science” is also in the public domain, and may be read online for free here. They have also been reprinted in the variorum edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction, Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations) (2017), alongside “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test.”

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” (2018) by Fiona Maeve Geist

The comments frequently contain the cryptic couplet:

The wallowing darkness of rutting pigs
Suckling at the teat of a stillborn goddess

—Fiona Maeve Geist, “Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” in Ashes and Entropy 133

The weft of the story is built on the bones of Cyclonopedia: Complicity With Anonymous Materials and Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal UndergroundThere are threads of Lovecraft and William Hope Hodgson in the warp, though nothing so garish as a direct callout to “The Rats in the Walls” or “The Hog.” Mostly, it is dense ideas fired at machine-gun speed but with great precision, perforating the paper targets of a pretty fundamental premise:

  • What if Black Metal got into something properly Lovecraftian?

Which is not to say that metal hasn’t already gotten pretty Lovecraftian at times, with everyone from Arkham Witch to Innzmouth, Morbid Angel to Nox Arcana getting in on the act. Bands have named themselves after Shub-Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth, and the Lovecraftian influence spreads across genres, from the 70s psychedelic band H. P. Lovecraft to the punkish Rudimentary Peni to the rocking Darkest of the Hillside Thickets. All that really binds them together is Lovecraft.

Black metal, though, has a certain appeal. While getting a little long in the tooth, it has always been a subculture that sought certain extremes, reveled in rebellion, wrestled with the consequences. Which is probably why Geist wisely doesn’t look to name-drop actual Lovecraftian metal bands, instead building a new mythology and symbolism for her protagonist to pursue. One that marks itself with ouroboros of twined maggots and the face of a corpulent sow.

Geist’s protagonist Kelsey is a journalist in the way Arturo Perez Reverte’s Lucas Corso from The Club Dumas is a book detective. Someone puts them on assignment, gives them money and tells them to sniff it out like a good truffle-hunter. It’s a classic plotline which has worked for everyone from William Gibson on down, and Geist makes good use of it. In the words of one famous journalist:

When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.
—Hunter S. Thompson, The Great Shark Hunt 530

So much for the “Black Metal” of the title; the “Red Stars” gets into the Marxist connections of the Brotherhood of the Black, Corpulent Sow, the weird connections that metal music has had with politics over in Europe. This is closer to Cyclonopedia or Charles Stross’ Laundry Files than most anything else in the Lovecraftian milieu; old conspiracy theories, shades of cyberpunk, the occult underground of the Cold War gently unraveling in the present day.

This isn’t a mystery that you need a key to, although at least a passing familiarity to the bones of what the characters are referring to and experiencing certainly help. As prose goes it’s fairly dense, but there’s a texture to it. New flesh on old bones; the ending isn’t particularly surprising, but neither is it unsatisfying. Mythos readers often like works like this, spiritual heirs of John Carpenter’s Cigarette Burns and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” where the search for something leads to a personal transformation or transfiguration.

“Red Stars/White Snow/Black Metal” was published in Ashes and Entropy (2018), it has not yet been reprinted. With Sadie Shurberg, Geist wrote the essay “Correlating the Contents of Lovecraft’s Closet” in Lovecraftian Proceedings No. 3 (2019).

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).


Widdershins (2013) by Jordan L. Hawk

Now I ride with the mocking and friendly ghouls on the night-wind, and play by day amongst the catacombs of Nephren-Ka in the sealed and unknown valley of Hadoth by the Nile.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Outsider”

Some of the trustees were still unhappy, but Christine’s stunning find of the tomb of the Black Pharoah Nephren-ka had commanded headlines across the globe.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 14

1897. Somewhere between Boston and Providence lies the small city of Widdershins, a quiet place where a man can start over…at least until the Liber Arcanorum drops into the lap of a closeted translator of dead languages and the bodies start piling up. Nothing like an unexpected mystery to bring two people together.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins (2013) is an historical paranormal romance with two little twists: the world is set in the same country as Lovecraft’s Mythos (Dr. Whyborne even went to college at Arkham), and the protagonists are two homosexual men. It may, in fact, be the first homosexual Mythos romance novel—somewhat of a weird distinction to make, but previous Mythos romance novels like Margaret L. Carter’s The Windwalker’s Mate (2008) and Robin Wolfe’s Arkham Dreams (2011) were focused on heterosexual relationships, and homosexual characters and relationships remain rather rare in the Mythos by comparison. The closest comparable work in the field is probably “Moonshine” (2018) by G. D. Penman.

The depictions of the men and the challenges they face are sympathetic; the construction of the setting is very competent. Hawk does their research:

A: But the research into the period!! How much did you actually do to capture the period as well as the paranormal element?

JLH: As much as I can! I have a replica Sears & Roebuck catalog from 1897 so I could figure out what sorts of goods and furnishings an average person in the period would have in their home. And I managed to find plans for middle class homes and hotels of the era online, which was a major boon.

My biggest problems research-wise actually came from the American setting. Casually glancing over the history section, you’d think America in the 1800s was nothing but the Civil War, followed up by the western expansion. At times it wasn’t easy to find out about the day to day life of people living in the northeast, especially if I needed something really specific. Most of the “daily life” books of the period center on Victorian England rather than Gilded Age America, and although there is some overlap, there are a lot of differences beyond drinking coffee versus tea.
Author Interview: Jordan L. Hawk

The Mythos elements are also rather refreshingly grounded: Arkham and the Necronomicon and all exist, but to the majority of the world (and the two protagonists), they are but part of the setting. The protagonists only discover gradually that there are secret cults about and some brands of paranormal science actually work, if you know how to pronounce the Aklo. Once that is established, given an expert in dead languages and a genuine grimoire, progress is fairly rapid.

The tone established falls somewhere between Cthulhu by Gaslight and Lois H. Gresh’s Sherlock Holmes vs. Cthulhu: The Adventure of the Deadly Dimensions (2017); magic exists, there’s a mystery afoot, and by chapter 7 the two principals have met and teamed up to solve it. As they continue through the adventure, the two grow closer; the common goal, trials, and tribulations provide the crisis for both men to open up, commiserate, empathize, and grow fond of one another.

“Damn it, Griffin, fuck me,” I growled.
—Jordan L. Hawk, Widdershins 152

There is a sex scene. Not a weird one; no naughty tentacles or atypical anatomies. It is no more or less than the same kind of scene that would appear, without comment, in any number of other novels; only the genders of the particulars are different. That in itself is almost exemplary of the attitude of the novel as a whole: the book is not a homosexual pornographic novel. There is more hanging between Whyborne & Griffin that Victorian reticence, personal and social boundaries that have to be overcome and guards let down; readers who just want to see the two get together have to wait for it.

Then there’s the small matter of saving the world.

While not written in a pulp style, there’s a pulpish appeal to Widdershins. The stakes rise like something in an Indiana Jones film, the protagonists have to take into account all the possibilities that magic and the Mythos bring to their setting, and there’s an action scene at least every couple of chapters to keep the pace up. The characters, even beyond the two protagonists, have their own motivations and hangups. The best supporting character is Dr. Christine Putnam, an archaeologist that has fought an uphill battle her entire professional life because of her gender—and succeeded. Her desire to retain her hard-won reputation almost gets her killed, but that’s all the more endearing.

Searchers after horror will have to haunt stranger places than Widdershins to find what they’re looking for, but it is a well-written novel in its own mode of historical paranormal romance. It never descends into any attempt to ape Lovecraft’s style like a bad pastiche, nor does it hold slavishly to the tropes of a roleplaying game. Hawk refers to Lovecraft’s setting, but she makes few direct references to any particular story so the story is fairly accessible to the lay reader—which is also rather rare for a Mythos novel.

Jordan L. Hawk’s Widdershins is the first in the Whyborne & Griffin series, which as of 2018 includes a total of 13 novels and novellas.

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).


“H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge

He calls us not (as modern craftsmen do)

To scenes attained, where sin’s hideous scars

On human souls are gilded—no—but to

The far, pure, foamy glaxies of stars!

Terrors he brings and things not known before

From lone and dismal haunts of old dead suns.

Yet are our spirits outward-drawn—to soar

Through vastnesses where a stainless Wonder runs!

—”H. P. Lovecraft” by Elizabeth Toldridge, Leaves #1 (Summer 1937)

Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge was a poet, who had worked as a clerk for the U. S. government, and the author of two books of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She sold fiction and poetry, sometimes under her own name and sometimes under the name of her father, Barnet Toldridge. (Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8)

In the letters of H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, Catherine Lucille Moore was sometimes “sister Kate”—and Elizabeth Toldridge was “Aunt Lizzy.” (O Fortunate Floridian! 360) And to Toldridge herself, Lovecraft was “Judge.” Lovecraft had first encountered Toldridge’s verse in 1924 when he was enlisted as a judge for a poetry contest, in which she was an entrant. They finally began a correspondence when Toldridge wrote to Lovecraft about the contest in 1928, and they would continue to write to one another until 1937 and Lovecraft’s death. (LETAR 7) Barlow, who would be named Lovecraft’s literary executor, visited Toldridge in her home in Washington, D.C. in 1934 and 1936, and she received copies of his amateur publications such as the Dragon-Fly.

Lovecraft and Barlow encouraged Toldridge to submit her poetry for publication, and to join the National Amateur Press Association, of which they were both members. Some of her poetry was published in the same amateur journals where Barlow and Lovecraft’s work was published. In 1934, she proposed a collection of poetry for publication to Alfred A. Knopf with the title Winnings, with Lovecraft’s support, but it did not come to fruition.

In late 1936, Barlow commenced gathering material for a new amateur periodical titled Leaves, which consisted of material from Lovecraft and his circle of friends and correspondents: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore, August Derleth, Frank Belknap Long, etc. Most of these were incidentals: unsold manuscripts from the pulps, bits of poetry or prose, some of them taken from Lovecraft’s letters. The first issue, published after Lovecraft’s death, contained two poems by Elizabeth Toldridge: “Ephemera” and “H. P. Lovecraft.”

Nothing is known about the writing of “H. P. Lovecraft.” Given the subject and the date of publication, it is likely a memorial piece written in the event of Lovecraft’s death, but it is also possible that Toldridge intended it as a living tribute to her dear friend and correspondent of nine years. She had already written one such work “Divinity,” which she had sent to Lovecraft in 1929. (LETAR 78, 396)

“H. P. Lovecraft” is certainly a tribute to the “cosmic horror” which Lovecraft championed in their letters and his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.” It also touches on one of the great effects that Toldridge had on Lovecraft:

[…] it is clear that his correspondence with Toldridge strongly influenced his atempts to avoid artificial diction and to cultivate greater expression of imagery and emotion, all while loosening his former draconian strictures of versification.
—S. T. Joshi, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw 8

While it may be too much to say that without Toldridge there would be no “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet-cycle, it is apparent that the correspondence was a broadening influence for both of them: Lovecraft to focus more on content than form, and Toldridge opened to the world of weird fiction. As an homage, “H. P. Lovecraft” definitely showcases that admiration and appreciation for the weird imagination.

“H. P. Lovecraft” was first published in Leaves #1 (Summer 1937), and republished in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge & Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press, 2014).

Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).