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“Massacre à Miskatonic High School” (2008) by Jean-Jacques Dzialowski & Dimitri Fogolin

Depuis la nuit des temps,
Des dieux noirs corrompent notre monde.
Ce sont les Grands Anciens.

La folie est leur visage.
L’horreur est leur royaume.
Leur éveil approache…
Since the dawn of time,
The dark gods corrupt our world.
These are the Old Ones.

Madness is their face.
Horror is their kingdom.
Their awakening approaches…
Back cover, Les Mondes de Lovecraft

MondesLes Mondes de Lovecraft (“The Worlds of Lovecraft,” 2008, Soleil) is a standalone French-language comic anthology of stories set in the world of H. P. Lovecraft, including an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “Dagon.” Two of the stories in the book are the work of Jean-Jacques Dzialowski (writer) & Dimitri Fogolin (artist): “Le Signe sans Nom” (“The Nameless Sign”) and “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” (“Miskatonic High School Massacre”). The two works are complementary, in that they tell different sides of the same story from different perspectives. “Le Signe sans Nom” is given after-the-fact, during the deposition of a Sergeant McDermot, who responded to the events at Miskatonic High. “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” on the other hand gives the perspective of the school shooters. 

 

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The 1999 Columbine High School Massacre casts a long shadow over culture and pop culture alike. The media blitz helped to inspire numerous copycats; partisan politicians and pundits in the United States tend to quickly politicize shootings to minimize arguments over gun ownership as happened in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School Shootings. Comic books have rarely touched on such controversial and emotionally-charged territory; DC Comics notoriously cancelled the Hellblazer story “Shoot” by Warren Ellis, Phil Jimenez, and Andy Lanning in 1999 over concerns of backlash.

At the bottom of most coverage of such shootings is one question: Why did they do it? What drove these kids to kill other kids?

Real-world causes are complex: psychological issues, a disturbed home life, access to firearms are all contributing factors. In the worlds of H. P. Lovecraft however…it’s rather simple.

They want the books.

Toute sa vie, grand-père a cherché les livres. Il en avait trouvé certains et il m’a laissé plein de notes…

All his life, grandfather searched for books. He had found some and he left me lots of notes …

In real life, the two Columbine Massacre shooters committed suicide in the library. In this Miskatonic Massacre, Dzialowski and Fogolin have something similar happen, but for very different reasons. Taking a page from Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror,” the two shooters want access to the ancient tomes contained (somewhat inexplicably) in the Miskatonic High School library.

“Massacre à Miskatonic High School” is nine pages; “Le Signe sans Nom” is eight. The two works should really be considered as parts of the same story, and being parallel narratives, they have visual and textual echoes and references to one another—the final panels are largely identical. Fogolin, however, approaches each story separately. “Le Signe sans Nom” is darker, with more blacks, greys, and blues, while “Massacre” is brighter, dominated by yellows and greens—appropriate enough given the prominence of Hastur in this chapter of the story. The layouts for both stories also start the same: a regular nine-panel grid, which breaks down in the subsequent pages.

Given the subject matter, there is a certain amount of commendable reticence to show too much. We see bullets, blood, dead bodies, but we don’t actually see anyone get shot on the page, in close up or detail. Readers can be appalled at what is happening without seeing every last bullet hole or shard of bone. At the same time, this gloss of violence and the digital coloring lends a certain muddiness to the compositions; one wonders how it would have been different if Jacen Burrows or Raulo Cáceres might have handled the same material.

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Lovecraft never quite tackled such a mundane horror as a school shooting. Yet the horror in this story is a little different from real life. What if Wilbur Whateley had reached the Necronomicon? Would he have succeeded in clearing off the Earth, or would he have ended up as these two did? The central issue isn’t just the horrors perpetrated, but that the two shooters in this story very nearly succeeded. If someone had been a little more competent…how much more damage could they have wrought?

Perhaps more importantly, what’s to stop the same thing from happening again?

“Le Signe sans Nom” and “Massacre à Miskatonic High School” are both published in Les Mondes de Lovecraft. It has not been translated into English or reprinted, as far as I have been able to ascertain.


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

Insania Tenebris (2020) by Raúlo Cáceres

This dossier collects research on the nineteenth-century engravings of a mysterious Goya student that represent impossible beings and disturbing anachronisms.

Following in the footsteps of the Genius of Providence and inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos, the group of writers The Bastards of Abdul Alhazred and the cartoonist Raúlo Cáceres come together to recreate this universe of madness and darkness.
—Back cover copy, Insania Tenebris, translated from the Spanish

Spanish artist Raúlo Cáceres is no stranger to Lovecraft, and though many fans might not recognize him by name, there’s no mistaking his incredibly detailed, explicit style that often takes horror and eroticism for its subject. His comics and graphic novels in this vein include Elizabeth Bathory, Cuentos Mórbidos, Justine y Juliette (after the Marquis de Sade novels), and Agues Calientes, which have been translated into several languages. Less pornographic but still fun are books like Galeria de los Engendros Album de Cromos de los Monstruos, an album of monsters in the vein of 1970s and 80s compilations for kids.

For English-speaking audiences, Cáceres’ most notable work would include his work on Crossed, Crécy, and The Extinction Parade, but he also provided some gorgeous covers for Alan Moore and Jacen Burrow’s Providence which showcase not just his skill and style, but his deep appreciation for the details of Lovecraft’s Mythos.

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Cáceres was also the artist on the Lovecraftian horror series Code Pru, written by Garth Ennis, and Ennis/Cáceres continued the storyline in the anthology book Cinema Purgatorio, and provided illustrations for the Lovecraftian alien gods of Spanish roleplaying game Eden.

In 2020, Raúlo Cáceres published the first volume of Insania Tenebris: Textos de Los Bastards de Abdul Alhazered (Shadowy Madness: Texts from the Bastards of Abdul Alhazred), a 32-page collaborative project where multiple Spanish writers provided short text pieces to accompany Cáceres’ unique vision of Lovecraft’s Mythos—which takes the form of a series of found documents. Imagine stumbling across a dossier of evidence proving the existence of the Mythos, from ancient times through World War 2 and to the present day—illustrated in glorious and disturbing detail.

It is these collaborators who are the “Bastards of Alhazred”: Gabriel Soriano, Emilio Gómez, J. M. Morcillo, La doctora X, Gómez Navarro, Tito Alberto, and of course, Raúlo Cáceres himself.

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En el lecho de un ataud asiste
sobre absorta dama, su piel mancilla
un lúgubre gul perpetra y resiste.

In the bed of a coffin attends
Above lost lady, her skin stained
A melancholy ghoul persists and remains.
—”Despertar oscuro” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 10

Like many extreme artists, Cáceres is at his best when there are no holds barred—but just because he can show as much graphic detail as he wishes to doesn’t mean every scene has to be fit for a death metal album or a storyboard for a graphic erotic horror film. Look at the names on the niches in the wall: Clark Ashton Smith in the top left, the name “Agatha Tremoth” on the coffin lid. This is an homage and illustration for Smith’s “The Nameless Offspring,” a ghoul story that Lovecraft praised.

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En dicho grabado, y tal como se describe en el texto de Notre-Dame, destaca la figure de un caballero ritualista invocador de seres oscuros que, a través de la utilización de plegarias de sangre, buscará la intersección con seres del más allá, valiéndose para ello de la lectura del libro prohibido De Vermis Misteriis, utilizado como llave conductora a la mediación interdimensional.

In said engraving, and as described in the Notre-Dame text, the figure of a knight ritually invoking dark beings stands out who, through the use of bloody prayers, will seek the intersection with beings from beyond, availing himself by reading from the forbidden book De Vermis Misteriis, used as a conductive key to interdimensional mediation.
—”Las cartas de Notre-Dame” by Emilio Gómez, Insania Tenebris 6

There are influences here beyond just Lovecraftian fiction and in-jokes. As with Monster Girl Encyclopedia II (2016) by Kenkou Cross (健康クロス), the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game had an obvious visual influence in the way Cáceres depicts some of his Mythos entities, notably the Night-Gaunts, Mi-Go, and Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. The nature of the texts are also representative of gaming influence: these are all in-character pieces, found documents, meant to be read and interpreted not as complete stories in and of themselves but as deliberate fragments—like piecing together the clues in a Cthulhu Mythos story, from copied snatches of journals and paintings.

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En esta, encuentra un viejo diario firmado por un tal capitán Pierre Eaudon, escrito en francés, con extraños dibujos de figuras humanas de aspecto reptiloide, cálculos matemáticos, anagramas y las palabras “YIG” y “VALUSIA” repetidas de forma obsesiva a lo largo del texto.

In it, he finds an old diary signed by a certain Captain Pierre Eaudon, written in French, with strange drawings of human figures of reptilian aspect, mathematical calculations, anagrams and the words “YIG” and “VALUSIA” repeated obsessively throughout of the text.
—”Informe de las SS” by J. M. Morcillo, Insania Tenebris 14

There are scenes in this portfolio which might turn a weak stomach or dissuade the prudish; notably a cannibal feast captured in particularly lurid detail, and the final pièce de résistance which captures Cthulhu and his paramour mid-coitus as the acolytes look on…and there are scenes that might make a reader smile, like the nod to death metal church-burning, the Mi-Go and the astronauts…and maybe just the care and detail that went into the written work as well.

For make no mistake, while Cáceres’ art is the main attraction (especially for those who don’t read Spanish), this is a true collaboration and the Bastards deliver appropriately creepy context that adds depth and substance to already fantastic scenes. There is a story here, told in bits and pieces, building up to more than just a portfolio of exquisite artwork. Goya’s student found himself on the trail of something bigger and darker than he could have imagined.

As of this writing, Insania Tenebris (2020) is only on sale in Spain, and has not been translated. A second volume, Insania Tenebris 2, is due to be published in 2021…and if anything, looks more daring and fantastic.

With thanks and appreciation to Iantha Maria Fyolek for her help. Any errors in translation are mine.


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

“La mano de la diosa” (2013) by Fátima Fernández & Paco Zarco

Lovecraftian horror appeals to a blind and sick cosmos where human beings are little more than ants. The abysses of the human soul that the tortured characters of Poe traversed, give way, in Lovecraft, to a struggle of inhuman powers, nightmarish deities that dispute the dominion of the living beings and that have, among us, their brotherhoods, their cults and their devotees.

Since the disappearance of the master, his fictions have gradually increased in popularity until they became, together with The Lord of the Rings, one of the most fascinating literary mythologies of our time. His influence on popular culture is still valid, demonstrating a surprising ability to adapt to the tastes and sensibilities of several generations.

The authors of CTHULHU magazine come together again to pay tribute and emotional tribute to what we can consider the father of modern horror and his pantheon of nightmare creatures and deities. A journey through 15 stories that demonstrate the variety and richness of a privileged imagination.
—Manuel Mota, Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas (2013), back cover copy
Translated from Spanish

Diábolo Ediciones of Madrid has been publishing Cthulhu, a Spanish-language anthology of comics and dark fiction, since 2007. Despite the name, the majority of the stories in any given issue aren’t necessarily explicitly devoted to the Cthulhu Mythos, although most issues have at least some Lovecraftian reference. The focus is on horror and dark fantasy, and the editors are not afraid for the works to be gory or involve nudity, if that’s what the story calls for, but they also contain moments of light-hearted ghoulish fun like the episodes of El Joven Lovecraft by José Oliver and Bart Torress. Special issues have been devoted to William Hope Hodgson and Robert E. Howard.

In 2013, Diábolo Ediciones published Lovecraft en los cómics. Un homenaje en 15 Historietas (Lovecraft in the Comics, An homage in 15 stories). The creators all presented diffrent styles and approaches, from a straight adaptation of “The Transition of Juan Romero” by Juan Aguilera to original works, every mood from ghoulish comedy and satire to visceral body horror, styles ranging from neatly inked black-and-white to digitally colored works. It is probably the first Mythos comic anthology to include former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton among its characters—which is to say, the book showcases not just the depth of talent that the editors of Cthulhu can draw upon, but the vast variety of approaches there are to the subject of the Mythos.

“La mano de la diosa” (“The Hand of the Goddess”) by writer Fátima Fernández & artist Paco Zarco is an original Cthulhu Mythos story, set in contemporary Spain, in a rather classical Cthulhu mode: a journalist after a story  finds themselves on the trail of something more than they expected.

No se trataba de seguir la logica, sino las pistas.
It was not about following the logic, but the clues.

The story is based on a real-life series of curious events. The Fuente de Cibeles (Fountain of Cybele) in Madrid includes a statue of the goddess Cybele—the Magna Mater of Lovecraft’s “The Rats in the Walls”—by sculptor Francisco Gutiérrez. In 1994 and 2002, the left hand of the statue was broken off. The events were seemingly unrelated, the statue was repaired…

…pero nunca se recupero la mano robada de la diosa.
…but they never recovered the stolen hand of the goddess.

As setups go, this is a solid premise for a Mythos story. Fernández conveys the minimal amount of information necessary in a few succinct captions, as if the reporter was giving the voice-over on a film, and Zarco captures the mood of the events in an economical and effective manner. The focus of the panels is drawn to the statue of Cybele, to the stump of the hand, to the trenchcoat-wrapped reporter who moves between shadows on cracked pavement. This could almost be a Kolchak story…or, if it had been cast in stark blacks and whites, a noir. Essentially an occult detective tale, with a protagonist that doesn’t yet know it’s an occult detective tale.

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Turn the page, and the dialogue begins. Human players also complicate the simplicity of one person’s narration; readers now have to deal with multiple points of view, conflicting motivations, weigh each word and sentence carefully to look for hidden meaning. Who do you trust now?

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Mi madre era une persona gentil y hermosa en todos los sentidos. Pero ambiciosa.
My mother was a gentle and beautiful woman in every way. But ambitious.

Lovecraft had made a study of the detective stories of Edgar Allan Poe, and many of his Mythos tales follow a similar form of nested narrative. There is the story set in the now (here, the reporter investigating the missing hand of the statue), and there is the story in the past (the story being told to him); the story in the past is the nested narrative, like the manuscript uncovered in “The Mound” or Rose’s diary in “The Man of Stone.” The reader simultaneously is in the present, with the protagonist, but they are also looking over their shoulder and reading what they read. This narrative trick allowed Lovecraft to avoid the simple exposition of the narrator simply telling the reader (through some audience surrogate) what they have discovered, and takes the reader on the journey of discovery along with them. It also allows for a very effective reveal when the two layers of the narrative meet: past foreshadowing future.

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Paco Zarco’s artwork is competent, and he has an eye for panel layouts the emphasizes the repetition of key elements—portraits, eyes, hands—in a way the underlines the relatively sparse script. Considering relatively little is happening, this might seem like padding, but it feels more like pacing. At seven pages, “La mano de la diosa” doesn’t overstay its welcome or drag at all, but the Mythos twist, when it comes, is sudden.

In black and white, it might be much more effective; the digital coloring and shading, especially on the backgrounds, does little service to the linework and tends to emphasize the flatness of the faces rather than give them depth. That is a common issue with digital colorization, trying to achieve effects with the palette instead of the pen tends to catch the eye like a false note catches the ear.

Mi madra siempre me decía que las estatuas disponían de mucho tiempo para pensar y observar…
My mother always told me that the statues had a lot of time to think and observe …

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Zarco knows what he is doing when the actual supernatural element arrives onto the page; the clearly defined boxes of the panels give way to Dutch angles, ragged and uneven panel breaks and gutters. Like Jacen Burrows in Providence, this is visual rhetoric that informs the reader without telling them explicitly that they’ve entered a nightmare; like a horror movie when the killer’s motif begins to play, and the camera shifts from smooth movement to sudden and abrupt close-ups and shifts.

Algo mas fuerte que su ambicion se apoderaba de el.
Something stronger than his ambition took hold of him.

“La mano de la diosa” manages to evoke the Mythos without a single fhtagn, and very few tentacles; a particularly Lovecraftian figure makes an appearance in the final panels in a bit of a well-worn twist, for readers who have read enough Mythos stories to recognize similar endings. At seven pages it is neither too long or too short for the story it has to tell, getting the job done without rushing it or overstaying its welcome, and most of that is told not through the text, but by visual storytelling and unspoken hints. In the context of Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas, it is the most subtle, the most understated of the stories…and one which is set in Spain, and couldn’t really be set anywhere else.

Lovecraft un homenaje en 15 historietas has not yet been translated into English.


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

Her Letters to Lovecraft: Elizabeth Toldridge

Dear Judge Lovecraft,

So pleased to have your wonderful letter today, which will have to be pondered over more than ours! Am hastening to send this out, closed cuttings, for fear they will become untimely, although they are not very astonishing, I do fear me! Am frankly delighted you liked some of my last ones sent—it makes me very proud and happy […]

I am, faithfully yours,

E. Toldridge
4 June 1935, MSS. John Hay Library

In 1924, H. P. Lovecraft—who at this point was well-known in amateur journalism circles for his poetry and poetry criticism—was invited to be a judge for a poetry contest held by the League of American Penwomen. One of the participants was Elizabeth Augusta Toldridge (1861-1940), a graduate of the Maryland State Normal School (now Townson University) who had worked as a clerk at the U.S. Treasury, and the author of two collections of poetry: The Soul of Love (1910) and Mother’s Love Songs (1911). She had also published a fair amount of poetry in newspapers, sometimes under the name of her father Barnet Toldridge.

By 1928, Toldridge was 67 years old, and apparently living alone in the Farragut building in Washington, D.C. There is no evidence she ever married or had children, and seemed to live alone. Toldridge was presumably retired from her work as a clerk, and apparently had recently suffered an accident of unknown severity; Lovecraft later described her as “crippled and shut in,” although newspaper accounts suggest she was still relatively active in the American Poetry Circle in D.C.

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Evening Star, 9 June 1929
Lovecraft’s library included a copy of American Poetry Circle Anthology (New York; Leacy N. Green-Leach, 1929; LL 25), inscribed “to Judge H. P. Lovecraft” from Toldridge. 

Lovecraft’s first letter to Elizabeth Toldridge is dated 16 August 1928; he was answering her inquiry about the long-ago poetry competition. What followed was a correspondence that would last the rest of Lovecraft’s life; 103 letters survive from 1928 to 1937 representing Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence which Toldridge had dutifully kept. Her own letters, kept by Lovecraft, amount to only five plus some miscellaneous cards, preserved among his papers at the John Hay Library. So, as with many of Lovecraft’s other women penpals, most of what we know about their correspondence comes from his letters…and what he mentioned of her in letters to others.

Just before leaving town I shall have to telephone the good old lady amateur poet Miss Toldridge, who (though learned & interesting in letters) is probably a bore, but who would naturally be offended if she heard of my passing through without a word on the wire.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 6 May 1929, Letters to Family & Family Friends 2.792-793

Upon my return I gave my duty telephone call to the old lady—Miss Toldridge—& she cordially insisted that I pay at least a brief call in person. She is a somewhat stately & intelligent gentlewoman living amidst family portraits & reliques in a pleasant apartment-house in Farragut Park. After a short call—less boresome than I had anticipated—I returned to my hotel & spent the later evening reading.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian D. Clark, 7 May 1929, LFF 2.795

Over the next eight years and change, Lovecraft and Toldridge would discuss poetry, writing, ancient history and anthropology, and modern politics. On his trips to the American South, Lovecraft dutifully sent back travelogues and postcards, and Toldridge followed the careers of Lovecraft and his contemporaries in the pulps. A particular aspect of their correspondence was Toldridge’s tendency to send Lovecraft cuttings from newspapers on subjects she thought he would be interested in—anthropology, literature, the British royal family, etc.—which would often serve as meat for Lovecraft’s next dutiful letter. It is from these remarks that we get some of Lovecraft’s most interesting comments on contemporary anthropology during the 1930s…and perhaps they gave him ideas as well.

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This cutting, for example, was sent with Toldridge’s letters of 1 July 1935, MSS John Hay Library. While it’s probably a bit much to say this could have been part of the inspiration for “An Heir to the Mesozoic” (1938) by Hazel Heald, if Lovecraft did have any hand in that work, maybe Toldridge’s clipping proved an inspiration…or perhaps not; there is too little evidence to say anything definite.

What we can say is that Lovecraft continued to keep and touch—and while Toldridge continued to address her letters to “Judge Lovecraft,” he began to affectionately refer to her (at least in his letters to others) as “Aunt Lizzie” or “Aunt Liz.” In 1934 when traveling through Washington, D.C. he stopped by to see her again, and encouraged his young friend R. H. Barlow to do likewise:

By the way—try to get time to call on that good old lady who addresses me as “Judge”—the poetess Miss Elizabeth Toldridge, The Farragut, Farragut Sq. (Telephone District 5870) She is crippled & shut in, & welcomes any pleasant breath from the outside. She’s heard all about you, & hopes to see you. You’ll find her really very cultivated  interesting underneath a veneer of Victorian mannerisms. A kindly & admirable soul, all told.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Sep 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 174-175

Hope you’ll look up Miss Toldridge before long—in the Farragut apartment house at Farragut Square. The poor old soul will probably have to move soon, though she’s lived there 32 years; since the owners want to transform the edifice into a medical building.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 26 Oct 1934, OFF 186

Glad you’ve called on good old Miss Toldridge, & hope he moving will be as easy as possible. It was really a crime to dislodge the amiable old soul from her shelter of 30 years—but I trust she’ll find the La Salle not less comfortable after a while.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Dec 1934, OFF 193

Glad you took nice old Miss Toldridge to see “Don Quixote”—she seems to get around very little nowadays, with lameness & natural timidity acting in conjunction.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 24 May 1935, OFF 275

In 1934, Barlow and Lovecraft perpetrated a hoax, anonymously mailing out copies of “The Battle That Ended The Century” to their friends—which were mailed from Washington, D.C. Toldridge was one of Lovecraft’s few acquaintances in the city at the time, but there is no record of her being the D.C. end of the hoax in their extant correspondence. More likely it was one of Barlow’s friends in the area who mailed off the bit of fun…and the association of Barlow, Lovecraft, & Toldridge had other benefits. Toldridge submitted some of her poetry to Barlow for use in his amateur journals The Dragon-Fly and Leaves, where her poem “H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) was eventually published. When Lovecraft visited her in D.C. in 1935, they discussed the possibility of Barlow publishing a collection of her poetry:

Well—I called on Aunt Liz, but she doesn’t seem to want to name the definite contents of any book yet. Says she wants to write some more & “better” poems for it! Didn’t get a chance to talk amateurdom—-another old lady was there most of the time discussing this & that. You’ll be sorry to hear that Lady Macdonald died last month. Her daughter sent Miss T. the sand news. Aunt Liz sent you all sorts of regards, & said she thought you were the nicest boy she had ever encountered. She marvels at the maturity of your mind.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 1 Sep 1935, OFF 289

A manuscript for a collection of her poetry titled Winnings was left behind after her death.

Periodic references to Toldridge appear in Lovecraft’s letters to Barlow, and Barlow in Lovecraft’s letters to Toldridge, as they all three appear to have kept in touch from in 1935-1937. Lovecraft’s letters appear to show a growing awareness of her own mortality, as age and health issues continue to be referenced, and in late 1936 Lovecraft received an unexpected gift:

Yesterday I received from Aunt Lizzie that heirloom ring which she’s talked so much about. I had tried my best to stop her sending it—she ought to snap out of that “not long for this world” attitude. Hope you drop her occasional cheering letters. I try to do so.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Dec 1936, OFF 384

By the time you have the letter in which I acknowledge—most gratefully & appreciatively—the delightful & memory-surrounded ring which arrived on Thursday. It is pleasant indeed to know its history, & the source of that attractive [“]planetary system” of diamonds. Let me repeat my thanks for this honour of custodianship—& my assurances that the heirloom is at your complete disposal whenever you wish to have it with you again. I am sure that the kinsfolk in the mother land will appreciate most profoundly the other reliques sent to them—although in this case also you really ought to have retained the article for your own enjoyment. No apologies are necessary for the ‘un-shined’ state of the ring—indeed, I always prefer a certain appearance of mellowness in any object to utter, sapolio-suggesting spic-&-span-ness. So once more let me attest my sincerest appreciation & gratitude!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 21 Dec 1936, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 349

Elizabeth Toldridge sticks out as a bit of an oddity among Lovecraft’s correspondents: she doesn’t appear to have had any direct relationship with amateur journalism until relatively late in life, when Lovecraft got her into the National Amateur Press Association, nor was she a fellow pulpster, a fan, family, or a family friend. Little to no mention of her is made in Lovecraft’s letters to anyone except Barlow and his aunts.

Yet she wrote to him in 1928; Lovecraft was too much of a gentleman not to answer. So she kept writing, and he kept answering…and so grew their correspondence and friendship over a period of years. Whether he was humoring her because of her age, or whether she was really lonely and desperate for contact is impossible to say at this juncture, but as with many folks, Lovecraft’s initial assessment became much more positive once he had a chance to meet and talk with her face to face. Their correspondence on poetry certainly appears to have helped Lovecraft away from his strict adherence to meter (he once proclaimed himself a “metrical mechanic”) to the more evocative verse of his “Fungi from Yuggoth.”

Lovecraft’s last letter to Toldridge is dated 7 January 1937. He was glad to hear that the copy of The Shadow over Innsmouth, published by Visionary Press, had arrived to her safely. He included a poetic tribute to his friend Clark Ashton Smith, “To Klarkash-Ton, Wizard of Averoigne”—and he signed off simply:

All good wishes

Yrs most sincerely,

H P Lovecraft

Of the one thousand abridged letters in the Selected Letters, 84 were selected from Lovecraft’s letters to Elizabeth Toldridge; in part, no doubt, to the breadth of the subject matter of their correspondence. The full 103 letters from Lovecraft to Toldridge were published in Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw in 2014. The few surviving letters and cards from Toldridge to Lovecraft, along with many poetry manuscripts she sent, may be read online for free at the John Hay Library—although the faint pencil strokes and the yellowing from the acidic newsprint cuttings laid in with the letters make them difficult to read.


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

“O que dorme” (2016) by Bábara Garcia & Elias Aquino

“O que dorme” (“What sleeps”) by writer Bábara Garcia & artist Elias Aquino is the final entry in the comic anthology O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos (“The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics,” 2016) by Brazilian publisher Editora Draco. The book was edited by Raphael Fernandes, who introduces the volume on the inside cover flaps:

The cult work of H. P. Lovecraft is the main inspiration for this collection with eight comics that will transfer the imagination to the darkest side of the human mind, a cosmic horror in white and green.

[…] The Awakening of Cthulhu in Comics and the horror that cannot be uttered, get lost in images and stories that shouldn’t have been conceived. Now there’s no turning back for those involved by the tentacles of despair, it’s time to wake up to a decadent reality tinged with just two colors.

All of the comics, including “O que dorme” are done in black, white, and green—and the addition of the bright, almost sickly green against the otherwise stark noir black-and-whites significantly enhances both the effectiveness of the individual stories, and the uniformity of the overall book—readers might compare the glowing green Loc-Nar from the Heavy Metal (1981) film, or the sickly yellow in Frank Miller’s That Yellow Bastard (1996)—it’s not that the Mythos are color-coded, since any entities that appear on the page can be seen in black and white as well, but only that the splash of color is used by the artists to convey subtleties of mood and atmosphere. Like in the title page, where the green is a faint tinge against the night sky.

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The setting is contemporary. The sensibility is postmodern. Captions and word balloons, but no thought bubbles, no sound effects. A rural community in the mountains which produces coffee. A young woman named Greta who can’t sleep, but stays up all night reading Edgar Allan Poe, a Bauhaus poster on her wall…

I always planned to leave as soon as I had money or a place to stay. Time passed and neither happened.

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Here, the green frames figures and offers contrast. Varies in depth and intensity, fading into the shadows on the corners, but distinct. It gives texture to what would be a blank wall, but doesn’t bleed past the outlines. The atmosphere is aggressively normal, yet something’s off. People talk about the heat, a bad smell, it hasn’t rained, the panels darken as it shifts to nighttime…most of the storytelling is expressed in these little details, showing rather than telling. Ordinary scenes and remarks receive significance only because they are what are being shown to the reader, in the same way as a David Lynch film or Mike Mignola’s Hellboy.

But the fact is that, little by little, everyone stopped sleeping. An entire city sleepless.

Things move quicker. The timeline grows uncertain, but within a panel the corpses appear, and things shift from uneasy to macabre. There is a Poe-like quality to the rapid downward spiral…but the reader knows there are pages left. How much worse can it get?

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The rain comes.

There’s nothing explicitly Mythos to any of this yet, no ancient tomes, not a whisper of alien entities or black stars. Everything that’s happened to this point, it could a disease, a toxic gas, simple madness as the heat and lack of sleep take their toll on frail human psyches. Then the rules change.

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The green in the story to this point had been balanced, contained, a highlight; this deep splash shows it as pervasive, all-encompassing…and a herald of what’s coming. Maybe it was always that.

The only ones who were saved were those who were lucky enough to be already dead.

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As narratives go, the twenty pages go by swiftly. This is a story all about mood and atmosphere, not explanations. No one is at fault, no one went poking about where they shouldn’t, or read the wrong spell and awakened the eldritch horror. There is no cult to worship the things that crawl down off the mountain. It isn’t a deep dive into the lore of the Mythos, though there is definitely some artistic influence from the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game on the design of the Dark Young of Shub-Niggurath. This is almost the definition of the Mythos as uncaring, not even necessarily malevolent, but simply destroying humanity by its very presence, like a tiger in the jungle stepping on so many ants.

“O que dorme” showcases the universality of the Lovecraftian experience. The liminal spaces we know are out there, the things that creep in from outside.

O Despertar de Cthulhu em Quadrinhos has not yet been translated into English.


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

“R. H. B.” (1978) by Andreas and Rivière

 

À Suivre (“To Be Continued”, 1978-1997) was one of the major Franco-Belgian comic magazines of the period, publishing such great European comics creators as Alexandro Jodorowsky, Milo Manara, Mœbius (Jean Giraud), François Schuiten, and Guido Crepax, a contemporary of magazines like Métal hurlant and Pilote, focusing on comics for a more mature audience.

“R. H. B,” by Andreas (Andreas Martens) and Rivière (François Rivière) was published in À Suivre 6-7, the July-August double issue for 1978. The title stands for Robert Hayward Barlow, friend and literary executor to H. P. Lovecraft. This coincides with the increased enthusiasm for Lovecraft in France, particularly the publication of LETTRES, 1 (1914-1926), which was published May 1978—a translation of Lovecraft’s letters, taken from volume I and part of volume II of Arkham House’s five-volume Selected Letters series. By comparison, Métal hurlant‘s Lovecraft special issue was published in September 1978.

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H. P. Lovecraft received a fan letter from a 13-year-old R. H. Barlow in June 1931; Lovecraft was then 41 years old, and the two continued corresponding for six years, until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. The two met in May 1934, when Lovecraft took a trip down to Barlow’s family home in DeLand, Florida, a visit which lasted seven weeks; they met again briefly in New York during the winter of 1934-1935, where Lovecraft was in the habit of meeting friends for New Years Eve, and Lovecraft repeated his trip to visit the Barlows in Florida in 1935, where he spent ten weeks with his hosts, but begged off the invitation to stay all summer. Their next visit was when Barlow came to visit Lovecraft in Providence, Rhode Island, 28 July 1936, when the teenager stayed more than a month at the boarding house behind Lovecraft’s residence. It was the last time the two would meet; Lovecraft would die of cancer on 15 March 1937. Lovecraft’s “Instructions in Case of Decease,” dating from 1936, named Barlow his literary executor…and it is through Barlow’s efforts that many of Lovecraft’s papers, unpublished stories, and letters were preserved at the John Hay Library.

The comic proper is presaged by an introduction by editor Marc Voline:

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At the time the Ides et Autres (“Ides and Others”) fanzine published an unpublished poem by Lovecraft (3), (A Suivre) presents a comic strip approach of the great writer universe. “Biography of Robert H. Barlow and his relationship with HP Lovecraft” is the first of a five-part series, collected under the title Mythographies. Andreas and Rivière designed this as a kind of oblique exploration, referential and ironic, of sometimes poorly known literary universe. As for Lovecraft the famous “hermit of Providence,” we wanted—they say—to prove that the legend that he would, during his life, never leaves the perimeter of New England was all simply false. From the thick and rather indigestible biography of the author of La malediction d’Ansmouth (“The Shadow over Innsmouth”) written by Lyon Sprague de Camp, we briefly identify with the existence of an endearing and terribly pathetic “fan” most assiduous without doubt Lovecraft. Robert Barlow well deserved homage …

Marc Voline

Most of the material in the comic would come from L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975); this would not be available in French until 1987 when Richard D. Nolane translated it as H. P. Lovecraft ; le Roman de sa Vie, so the creators of “R. H. B.” were working through some linguistic hurdles and miscommunications. As Lettres 1 doesn’t have any actual letters from Barlow, essentially all of the material for “R. H. B.” was drawn directly from de Camp’s book, with many phrases translated directly from the English edition.

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Small issues of translation aside, this is a starkly beautiful comic, with fantastic linework by Andreas, who obviously referenced what photos of Lovecraft were available. Translation of the French above:

Robert’s is not a happy family. There are frequent conflicts between him and his father, who suffers from depression (he is paranoid and continually fears the coming of improbable enemies.) Bernice, the wife of the colonel, spoiled the only son and quarreled with his father.

In spring 1934, Robert makes a profit of the absence of his father to invite Lovecraft to De Land. In April this year, HPL makes this journey. Lovecraft, in contact with the hot climate of Florida, is in an unusual state. He presents himself to Barlow with hatless and coatless.

His first stay in the house of his admirer is as a dream thanks to Bobby, he will see for the first and last time in his life a river full of alligators, at Silver Springs!

By comparison, this is how de Camp described this encounter:

The family home was at De Land, Florida, seventeen miles inland from Daytona Beach. Barlow’s father, Everett D. Barlow, was a retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel and something of a mental case. Subject to moods of intense depression, he suffered from delusions of having to defend his home against the attacks of a mysterious Them. He was cracked on religion and on sex.

Robert Barlow got on badly with his father. At this time, he told his friends that he hated the colonel; although later, after his parents had been divorced, he carried on a friendly correspondence with him. Robert Barlow’s mother, Bernice Barlow, spoiled and pampered her son (somewhat as Lovecraft’s mother had done with him) and quarreled with her husband over the boy’s upbringing.

In the spring of 1934, Barlow and his mother were at De Land while the father, in the North, recuperated with relatives from one of his attacks. In January, Robert Barlow began urging Lovecraft to come for a visit to Florida. By April, Lovecraft had planned the trip. […] At the Barlows’, the heat stimulated Lovecraft. In high spirits he went hatless and coatless and boasted of the tan he was working up. His one disappointment was in not being able to go on to Havana. He was consoled by a trip with the Barlows to Silver Springs. There he had his first view of a jungle-shaded tropical river and even glimpsed wild alligators.
—L. Sprague de Camp, H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography 393-394

There are some errors in de Camp’s portrayal, which were repeated by Rivière. Lt. Col. Everett D. Barlow had seen action during World War I, and may have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder; Lovecraft was aware of the elder Barlow’s mental illness and was notably more sympathetic than de Camp:

I surely am sorry that your father remains under the weather psychologically. These depressed states may be troublesome to others, & may seem exasperating when coupled with good physical health, yet they are really every inch as painful & unavoidable as any other form of illness. The victim can’t help himself any more than a victim of indigestion or cardiac trouble can. The more we know of psychology, the less distinction we are able to make betwixt the functional disorders known as “mental” and “physical.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 April 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 125

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The narrative is, like most biographies, not some action-and-romance-packed account. Artist and writer manage to convey a sense time passing with the arrangement of the panels, particularly an extended shot of a kitten falling through perfect blackness that stretches out over several pages. While Lovecraft is the principal focus of the story because of the narrative, he dies in 1937…and Barlow’s story goes on, to his university education in Kansas, California, and then Mexico.

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He unfortunately suffers the cruel intolerance due to his particular sexuality, at present known to all. It is the subject of an odious blackmail as a result of links with a Mexican youth. On 2 January 1951, it takes a large amount of sedatives and falls asleep forever. He is 33 years of age.

There are large parts of Barlow’s life that are not included in this brief but poignant bio-comic, because de Camp was more focused on those parts of Barlow’s life that concerned Lovecraft. We don’t read much about his career as a poet or writer of fiction; the issue of his sexuality and how de Camp came to publicize it was touched on in “The Night Ocean” (1936) by R. H. Barlow with H. P. Lovecraft, and here we see an example of how information spreads.

Notably absent from “R. H. B.” is an accurate depiction of R. H. Barlow himself. De Camp didn’t include any photographs in his biography for Andreas to base his depictions on, and few photos of Barlow at that point had been published.

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Left to right: H. P. Lovecraft, R. H. Barlow, Bernice Barlow, unknown cat, Wayne Barlow

“R. H. B.” stands as an artistic achievement, and one of (if not the first) graphic adaptations of Lovecraft’s life to feature R. H. Barlow, who did so much to preserve his legacy. Others appear in Alan Moore & Jacen Burrow’s graphic novel Providence (2015-2017); Henrik Möller & Lars Krantz’s Vägan Till NecronomiconCreation of the Necronomicon (2017); Sam Gafford & Jason Eckhardt’s Some Notes on a Nonentity (2017); and especially in Alex Nikolavitch, Gervasio, Carlos Aón, & Lara Lee’s H. P. Lovecraft: He Who Wrote in the Darkness: A Graphic Novel (2018), which showcases Lovecraft’s first encounter with Barlow in 1934…and all of these showcase how Barlow’s story has assumed its own mythical proportion, entwined with Lovecraft’s own.

While it was not uncommon for works in À Suivre to be reprinted, other than the publication in À Suivre, the only other publication of “R. H. B.”  that I have been able to confirm is in The Cosmical Horror of H. P. Lovecraft: A Pictorial Anthology (1991), a tri-lingual guide to Lovecraft comics published up to that point, which reproduces six of the eight pages of “R. H. B.” and Révélations posthumes (1980), a collection of Rivière and Andreas’ biographical comics from À Suivre.


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

Agents of Dreamland (2017) by Caitlín R. Kiernan

The Truth Is Out There
—X Files, “Pilot,” 10 September 1993

The Federal Bureau of Investigation was created in 1908, when H. P. Lovecraft was eighteen years old. In his youth, he had formed a detective agency with his friends, inspired by the Pinkerton National Detective Agency and similar private companies. The Secret Service was the arm of the U. S. Treasury department, set up to crack counterfeiting rings and protect the president; the Black Chamber, forerunner of the National Security Agency, wouldn’t be formed until 1919.

Lovecraft had grown up in a world without G-men. With the passage of the Volstead Act and Prohibition, that would change. Hardboiled pulp crime magazines demanded more than just Sherlock Holmes-style consulting detectives, police detectives, Texas Rangers, federal marshals, or Pinkertons, though all of those characters had their place in the pages of magazines like Black Mask. Dashiell Hammett cut his teeth with The Continental Op, who worked for a fictional Continental Detective Agency modeled after the Pinkertons that Hammett himself would work for. Yet it was the rise of organized crime that came with Prohibition, and the personage of J. Edgar Hoover as head of the new Bureau of Investigation, that put their stamp on the idea of government agents in pulp fiction.

Which is why the opening to “The Shadow over Innsmouth” starts off as it does:

During the winter of 1927–28 officials of the Federal government made a strange and secret investigation of certain conditions in the ancient Massachusetts seaport of Innsmouth. The public first learned of it in February, when a vast series of raids and arrests occurred, followed by the deliberate burning and dynamiting—under suitable precautions—of an enormous number of crumbling, worm-eaten, and supposedly empty houses along the abandoned waterfront. Uninquiring souls let this occurrence pass as one of the major clashes in a spasmodic war on liquor.

H. P. Lovecraft didn’t invent the idea that governments conceal certain things from the public; the Great War impressed on the whole nation the importance of some things remaining secret. Yet it is important to place “The Shadow over Innsmouth” in that context of the rise of the G-men, of government agencies concerned with finding secrets and keeping them…and to understand that the roots of spy fiction in the Mythos, the whole cloak-and-tentacle business in Bruce Sterling’s “The Unthinkable” (1991), Alan Moore’s “The Courtyard” (1994), Delta Green (1997), Charles Stross’ “A Colder War” (2000) and The Atrocity Archives (2004), “The Star that is Not a Star” (2016) by Lucy Brady—they’re all part of a continuing tradition, born out of changes in the United States government, world affairs, and the semiotic impact on an American culture that knows that its government is hiding things from it.

Which leads also to flavors and trends in spy fiction. Ian Fleming’s James Bond is flashy, emotionally damaged, fighting secret wars against terrorists with next-generation gadgetry; Len Deighton’s unnamed protagonist of The IPCRESS FILE is faced with something no less fantastic, but the syntax is different—James Bond doesn’t deal with paperwork and bureaucracy. Spy fiction tends to vacillate between the glamorous fantasy and the grungy reality. The staid George Smiley of John le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is not the psychologically damaged one-man-army of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Identity, but they’re two sides of the same fictional coin, different iterations of the concept of the government agent, the finders and keepers of secrets.

Which is all background to set Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland in it’s proper context: the here-and-now of 2015, with a hazy secret history that extends out of knowing into past and future alike. The post-Cold War zeitgeist married the pre-war concept of G-men with the burgeoning fields of Ufology, the Shaver Mystery, Men in Black and Black Helicopters, and the warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Pulp fiction jumped the semiotic shark when conspiracy fantasies like Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum became more or less indistinguishable from the actual conspiracy theories being peddled in Fate Magazine. When The X-Files hit in 1993, based on the 70s journalistic exploits of Kolchak, the Night Stalker, it was a spike driven straight into the vein of the American collective unconscious.

People want to believe the truth really is out there…and that the government knows and is hiding it.

Post-X Files fiction in this vein is rife, everything from big-budget Hollywood blockbusters like Independence Day (1996), Men in Black (1997), and Paul (2011) to graphic novels like Groom Lake (2009). Some are played straight, others for laughs—the bigger the cover-up, the more people and resources at play, the more it stretches the suspension of disbelief that any government agency can keep a lid on anything for any period of time.

Yet at the same time, everyone accepts that governments do successfully cover up things all the time. Documents are unclassified over time and reveal the details of events that happened in the shadows…and we know there are files still sealed. Secret histories under lock and seal. Anything might be in there—and that’s the attraction of the government conspiracy mindset. The imagination can populate those locked binders with any secrets—never mind that most of them are probably mundane things, like the sexual escapades of past presidents now safely dead, or the schematics for encryption machines rusting away in some government warehouse.

While his parents sleep, the boy is treated to Ray Harryhausen’s Rhedosaurus, Charles Laughton’s Quasimodo, and, finally, English director James Whale’s little-known and once-believed-lost The Star Maiden (1934).
—Caitlín R. Kiernan, Agents of Dreamland (2017), 48

Agents of Dreamland is the first in her Tinfoil Dossier series, which will probably be compared to Charles Stross’s Laundry series by default: both involve the Men-in-Black end of a government cover up, agencies working behind the scenes to investigate and contain the Mythos. The two bodies of work are distinctly different beasts, however. Kiernan’s point-of-view character the Signalman is on the ragged end of a career out on the edge of the spook world, a veteran of too many horrors. Not the smartest or the most clever, no Jason Bourne-style action scenes, just a bone-weary tiredness and a looming sense of desperation hovering over all.

That’s the mood. This is a war that can’t be won, because the people fighting it don’t realize it is a war yet.

The lore is stripped down; this isn’t a roleplaying game supplement about the Men in Black and their valiant secret war against the Cthulhu Mythos. This is grungier, grittier, more homely and with an air of inevitability. There are scenes and themes reminiscent of Mexican Gothic (2020) by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Lovecraft, for all that he created, was working within a late-19th/early-20th century frame of scientific understanding—and science has dug up some much stranger things since 1937.

Kiernan doles out the information from the black dossier in measured doses, switching point of view and time between chapters, balancing exposition and description. The idea isn’t to give the reader too much at once, to let the reader form their own connections, to feel the people that are in these places at these times. It’s a spy story written like a Cthulhu Mythos story, and by the time the reader finds out the truth about The Star Maiden, puts the pieces together and think they have a clue about where this is going…

The truth is weirder than you think.

Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Agents of Dreamland (2017) is the first in the Tinfoil Dossier series, and is followed by Black Helicopters (2018) and The Tindalos Asset (2020).


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

Jim Crow, Science Fiction, and WorldCon

No black fans had become active to any extent by 1957, but females without brothers or husbands in fandom became more numerous. The one who attracted the most notice was Lee Hoffman, whom everyone had assumed to be male until she appeared at a fan gathering for the first time and almost disrupted the New Orleans Worldcon in 1951 in the process.
—Harry Warner, Jr. “Fandom Between World War II and Sputnik” in Science Fiction Fandom 70

Nolacon I, held over Labor Day weekend (September 1-3) in New Orleans in 1951, was the ninth WorldCon. Harry Warner’s pronouncement that no black fans had become active in fandom by 1957 was not true: black fans bought pulps and science-fiction books, and some even participated in “active fandom” as members of science fiction fan clubs and organizations. Allen Glasser in “History of the Scienceers” recalled:

During the early months of the Scienceers’ existence—from its start in December 1929 through the spring of 1930—our president was Warren Fitzgerald. As previously mentioned, Warren was about fifteen years older than the other members. He was a light-skinned Negro—amiable, cultured, and a fine gentleman in every sense of that word. With his gracious, darker-hued wife, Warren made our young members welcome to use his Harlem home for our meetings—an offer we gratefully accepted.
(Science Fiction Fanzine Reader 49)

Attendees at Nolacon might be forgiven for thinking otherwise. While the convention itself made no formal statement regarding race, racial segregation was very much in effect in New Orleans in the 1950s. Public transportation, restrooms, and other facilities were segregated into “white” and “colored” under Jim Crow; restaurants, hotels, and other businesses simply refused to serve black customers, blacks and whites had separate beaches and parks.

There were less than 200 attendees. Nolacon Bulletin #2 (July 1951) lists 196 members; Harry Warner, Jr. in in his memoir of fandom in the 50s A Wealth of Fable says 183 were officially registered “and 300 or more persons were believed to be on hand at one time or another” (352). Membership at the door was $1; tickets for the southern chicken fried banquet, $2.50. The convention hall was at the St. Charles Hotel, which was air-conditioned—and traditionally white-only. Not all the rooms in the surrounding hotels were air-conditioned, and fans sweltered in the heat. Unable to sleep, they began an all-night poker game in room 770, which became a two-day room party that reached legendary proportions.

One highlight was a midnight showing of The Day the Earth Stood Still at the local Saenger Theater. Seating was segregated. Black attendees would have had to enter through a side door, to sit up on the balcony. Had any black science fiction fans done so, the film they watched could have stood as a metaphor for the mythic white space they found themselves in: a film of the possibilities of the future starring white people, for white people; the few non-white actors such as Rama Bai and Spencer Chan went uncredited.

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Segregation had risen as an issue in science fiction fandom long before Nolacon I was a glimmer in the New Orleans Science-Fantasy Society’s eye. In Summer of 1944, archfans Forrest J. Ackerman and Jack Speer had published an 8-page one-shot periodical in the Fantasy Amateur Press Association titled Black & White [PDF]. Ackerman published an editorial denouncing Speer’s racial prejudice and support of Jim Crow; and recalled:

On our way to the Nycon [1939, the first WorldCon], Morojo and I felt distinctly uncomfortable, embarrass[ed] to be members of such a country, when we passed through a certain state wherein seats in the coaches were partitioned temporarily and marked “For Colored Only.” We resented this, we did not like to think any colored people were blaming us in their minds, looking at us accusingly. Beyond personal, selfish considerations, we considered the situation fundamentally unjust. (Science Fiction Fanzine Reader 92)

The other half of the ‘zine was Speers’ rebuttal; which is proof if any was needed that even science fiction fans could be prejudiced and close-minded. The best that can be said is that Speer’s position was soundly thrashed in the fanzines that reviewed the periodical. Seven years later, it was in another fan-periodical that the issue of Jim Crow and Nolacon was raised:

On the subject of this year’s World Science Fiction Convention: It will be of great interest to this editor to discover whether there were both WHITE and COLORED entrances to the convention-hall this year, for the tenets of the sovereign state of Louisiana and the noble city of New Orleans strictly forbid the mingling of ‘Caucasian and non-Caucasian races’ in such public buildings as are usually the sites of conventions. Just as a clinical study, let’s review the case.

We know that the basis for the persecution, discrimination, and segregation of and against the negro in the southern U.S. is an economic one. It is profitable for the Southern bourgeoisie (if we may borrow a work from the marxist lexicons) to oppress the Negro and other minority groups. The only way in which to fight this racist fascism is [to] make it extremely unprofitable for the South to pursue this racist policy.

Cities like Miami Beach and New Orleans derive a sufficient sum from the tourist trade (which includes the many convention dollars spent, not at the auction, but on such relative nonessentials as food and lodging) to make them review with alacrity the necessity of maintaining feudal laws in the face of a serious decrease in this income. Therefore, we must look upon the South’s financial dependency on the tourist trade as a weapon which democratic Americans from more e[n]lightented sections of the county must use, as a club if need be, against the forces of bourgeois reaction and open fascism in the South.

Many progressives are foregoing the annual vacation-trip to Miami Beach, in the hope that this will graphically inform the business interests in the south who profit from such vacation-trips that democratic dollars shall not be spent to uphold [and] strengthen an undemocratic system.

It is up to the fans who will vote on future convention site[s] to make sure that all fans will be able to have an equally good time, regardless of the racial, national, or religious differences that may be evident to the eye of a sovereign state or a noble city.

—Michael DeAngelis, Asmodeus #2 (Fall 1951), 5

The call to action may sound familiar. The World Science Fiction Convention still struggles with issues of making sure that all fans, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ableness are able to fully participate, enjoy, and share their common love of science fiction art, literature, and media. While the Jack Speer of this generation may no longer be arguing explicitly and out loud for segregation, behavior which demeans, denigrates, and disenfranchises others based on such factors accomplishes much the same thing. Likewise, DeAngelis’ suggestion that fans vote with their wallets, choosing not to financially support racist policies, is still very much sound advice.

The editorial in Asmodeus #2 made little splash in fandom; by the time it came out, it isn’t clear that it would have been in time to affect attendance, even if it had achieved widespread distribution. Yet at least two fans chose to respond, in letter to the editors. The first is from L. Sprague de Camp:

Mr. DeAngelis’s attribution of Southern race-prejudice to the economic motives of the Southern reactionary bourgeoisie is the usual Marxian pseudo-scientific fertilizer, based on the ludicrous assumption that people mostly act in accordance with economic class interests. If he’d lived in the South he’d know that the strongest such prejudice is found among the Southern white proletariat, & and that it’s based not on economics but on a psycho-cultural attitude imbibed in childhood and derived from the former Southern caste system. Actually Southern segregational practices are highly unprofitable to all Southerners, but most Southern whites take the view they’d rather be poor than suffer what they consider spiritual defilement. I don’t approve of their attitude any more than deA, but to drag in Communist twaddle merely confuses the issue.
—L. Sprague de Camp, Asmodeus #3 (Spring 1952), 25

This is ultimately nitpicking without addressing the substance of the problem, something else that fans of science fiction today will recognize whenever the issue of discrimination rears its head. A penchant for pedantry often undermines any real progress, and carefully side-steps the issue of acknowledging a problem exists or what to do about it.

The second letter is from Redd Boggs, a prominent fan and fanzine publisher who has been nominated for several Retro Hugo awards for his fan-writing:

DeAngelis seems to be belaboring a dead horse with his remarks on the Nolacon. And after all, it was not the fault of the Southern fans themselves that Jim Crow exists down there. I might think more of them if I know they were doing what they could to break down racial barriers, but I don’t think less of them for putting on a convention despite the segregation that had to be observed. What else could they do? Should we have allowed the South to have a convention? I think we should have. They deserved the chance to have one, and to deny them one on the basis of racial prejudice smacks of another kind of prejudice. Sectional discrimination is almost as bad as racial discrimination. I don’t think fandom should ever allow a con to be held in a hotel where anti-Semitic rules are found, or—if it is anywhere but the South—where Negroes are barred, but if we go to the South there is little or no alternative. If there is an alternative, as there will be almost anywhere north of the Mason-Dixon, I trust we’ll take it. Otherwise, deAngelis’ analysis of the economic basis of segregation leaves much to be desired. I fail to see how an end to the tourist trade, if it affected the South very much, could accomplish anything but the opposite effect Mike desires: making the whites poorer and thus more in competition than ever with the Negro.
—Redd Boggs, Asmodeus #3, 27

“Sectional discrimination” in 1952 was the “reverse racism” of the 2020s—a fallacy used by those who claim that efforts to combat or reverse racial discrimination are themselves a form of discrimination. Boggs’ claims break down what might be the typical white fan’s mindset of the era: philosophically displeased with Jim Crow, but unwilling to actually do anything about it.

Implicit in all the Asmodeus debate are a number of implicit prejudices: that the culture of the American South was monolithic and unchangeable, that economics were a key factor in racial discrimination, that African-Americans were as a population disadvantaged by this discrimination, that science fiction fandom should not support racial discrimination…and that fandom as a whole was unwilling or unable to confront these issues with positive action.

We don’t know if any black fans tried to attend Nolacon I and were turned away at the door, but these issues were not simply theoretical—they were real, and affected real people. We know because there is at least one account of that actually happening:

[Gene Deweese had] been corresponding with a girl, Bev Clark, in northern Indiana, and wanted me to go with him to meet her, which suited me fine; I was finally finding girls I could talk to. Gene arranged things and we went up. It was the first time I’d met a black (or African-American, if you prefer) person socially. We got along fine, and later on we’d arranged that the three of us would drive to Midwestcon, again in my car; that car got a lot of use that summer; Juanita and her friend Lee Tremper would meet us there, and we’d have fun. We arrived at Beatley’s Hotel (or Beastley’s-on-the-Bayou, which was one of the fannish descriptions at the time) but Bev was refused admittance. No blacks allowed. None of us had even considered the possibility. On the way out, we talked to a few fans sitting on the hotel porch and some anger was expressed, especially by Harlan Ellison, who said that all fandom would hear about this outrage. We drove home, and as far as I know, nobody ever mentioned the episode again. Except me, of course.
—Buck Coulson, “Midwest Memories” in Mimosa #13 [PDF] (1993), 36

That was in 1953; Coulson added that later that year Bev attended the 1953 WorldCon in Philadelphia with them and there were “no room problems.” Juanita Coulson (she and Buck married in 1954), would add on to the account:

Lots of people commiserated and thought this was terrible and something should be done about it—but nobody did anything. We happen to know this particular instance pretty well. The convention hotel was Beatley’s at Indian Lake, a Midwestcon, and the Negro girl fan was Beverly Clark. She, Buck and Gene drove over from Indiana, had their reservations cleverly lost by the hotel management, much sympathy and no action from the other con attendees, and turned around and drove back that same night. A procedure I would not recommend. I didn’t find out about this until Saturday night, despite repeated inquiries of other people, some of whom were witnesses to the earlier incident. (I had come on the bus with Lee Tremper, expecting to meet the other trio. Obviously, I never did.) What could have been done? Well, at an outside guess I would say if the managers of the con and plenty of the fans had gotten together and promised the hotel keeper if she didn’t admit a guest with a reservation regardless of color they’d take their business elsewhere something might well have been accomplished. Nobody suggested this, and there was no indication that enough of the fans were willing to put their actions where their mouths were. They had lots of company in mundania at that time. […] It’s nice to think fans are slans and ahead of their times and farseeing and politically and socially advanced and all—but I’d take it with a healthy dose of salt. I been there. At least I got into fandom on the time-line edge, It was at that break point in the early-mid 50s that hotels began realizing there’d been an emancipation proclamation* or Buck and I would have missed a lot of cons. We wrote ahead to the hotel in Philly to make sure Bev Clark and her friend Eleanor Turner would be admitted, or we probably wouldn’t have gone.
—Juanita Coulson, Starling #14 [PDF] (1970), 19-20

Racial segregation in the United States has been officially over for some time; Supreme Court cases like Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States (1964) and legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped end Jim Crow—though it was a long and uphill struggle, and far from bloodless. We still deal with the issues raised by segregation and its ends today, culturally and socio-economically.

The full effects of Jim Crow and racism both implicit and explicit prevalent on early fandom will never be known. How do you measure the effect of those fans who wanted to attend, but were denied access to the hotel where the convention was held? How many fans were turned off by the lukewarm response from fans like Redd Boggs, who didn’t agree with Jim Crow but were willing to implicitly endorse it so that Southerners could have their own science fiction conventions?

While Jim Crow is a thing of the past, it is a part of science fiction fandom history—and one which we forget only at our own peril. There was a time when white fans did nothing, while black fans had to use side entrances and were denied entrance. If we are to not be hypocrites, to embrace and celebrate our diversity and look ahead to the future, we must make sure that all science fiction fans are treated equally—not harassed or discriminated against, not made second-class citizens because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual orientation—and to not retreat when such remarks are made.

Remarks were made at the 78th WorldCon, CoNZealand, in 2020. George R. R. Martin has been criticized for his hosting of the Hugo Awards at the event, where he spent considerable time discussing historically important figures in science fiction like John W. Campbell—long time editor of Astounding (1937-1971) and a noted racist in the Jack Speer vein. Martin has also been criticized for disrespecting the award winners, mispronouncing names and undercutting accomplishments like N. K. Jemisin’s “hat trick” of three Hugo awards for best novel in as many years, and four in the last five (2016, 2017, 2018, and 2020). Several times, Martin reminisced about when fandom was so much smaller, and the convention was simply held in a hotel.

Many fans and writers, including Jemisin and other nominees and winners, tweeted, blogged, and essayed about the awards, but one observation from genre fiction scholar Jess Nevins stood out:

In their way, the SFF gatekeepers are the equivalent of the Lost Cause Southerners: clinging for dear life to this fantasy construction of the past that is at angle to the real thing, making secular saints of white men of reprehensible moralities and behavior. (tweeted by @JessNevins 11:17 AM · Aug 2, 2020)

It can be difficult to get away from the shadow of the past. John W. Campbell and H. P. Lovecraft were racist; that does not negate their accomplishments as editor and writer, respectively, but it does cast a shadow over their legacy. In 2011, Nnedi Okorafor’s response to winning the World Fantasy Award—then in Lovecraft’s likeness and nicknamed “The Howard”—sparked a petition for the replacement of the award, which happened in 2015. In her acceptance speech for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best New Writer, Jeannette Ng called out the award’s namesake:

John W. Campbell, for whom this award was named, was a fascist. Through his editorial control of Astounding Science Fiction, he is responsible for setting a tone of science fiction that still haunts the genre to this day. Sterile. Male. White. Exalting in the ambitions of imperialists and colonisers, settlers and industrialists.

Her words sparked change; the award was renamed to the Astounding Award for Best New Writer, and Ng herself earned the 2020 Hugo for Best Related Work for making that speech.

Positive change can happen, if people raise their voices and work for it.


Originally published in The Cromcast Chronicle #1 (Dec 2020).

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

“The Child of Dark Mania” (1996) by W. H. Pugmire

This story appeals to me more than most of the things I’ve written this past decade. I am fond of the image of the woman with her weird masked face, and was delighted when two pictorial renditions of that image were included in my first American collection, one by my editor and publisher, Jeffrey Thomas, and the other gracing the superb cover illustration by Earl Grier. There is a lot of peculiar passion in this story, and it gets me, deliciously. I was delighted to be able to write it in memory to HPL’s great buddy and fellow weird author, Frank Long. “The Child of Dark Mania” originally appeared in The Pnakotic Series.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Afterword” in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts 113

Frank Belknap Long, Jr.’s “The Horror from the Hills” (Weird Tales Jan, Feb-Mar 1931) is one of his most famous additions to the Cthulhu Mythos—mostly because the novella incorporates a lengthy sequence borrowed from one of Lovecraft’s letters (with permission), describing a Roman dream in ancient Iberia. The main antagonist of the novella is Chaugnar Faugn, which in turn was inspired by a small statuette of the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesha that Long’s aunt Cassie Symmes had gifted him.

Long is busy on a horror tentatively called “The Elephant God of Leng”—based on a curiously carved idol his aunt lately brought him from Europe, plus a suggestion or two of mine.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1930, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 204

The appropriation of an Indian religious icon was not uncommon in Weird Tales during the period. Readers might compare the elephant-headed Yog-Kosha from Robert E. Howard’s “The Tower of the Elephant” (Weird Tales Mar 1933), or the eponymous idol in Seabury Quinn’s “The Green God’s Ring” (Weird Tales Jan 1945). Inspiration comes where it does, and the “Exotic East” was an important inspiration for many pulp writers, and a draw for many pulp readers—and we can perhaps be grateful that Long drew a distinction between the benevolent Ganesha and the malevolent Chaugnar Faugn.

While “The Horror in the Hills” has been long recognized as a part of the Mythos, there has never quite been a distinct “Chaugnar Faugn Cycle.” Lovecraft would include Chaugnar Faugn among the deities in “The Horror in the Museum” (1933), and Long would revisit the character in his poem “When Chaugnar Wakes” (Weird Tales Sep 1932), and a few others have tried their hand at it, notably Robert Bloch with “Death is an Elephant” (Weird Tales Feb 1939), Joseph Pulver, Sr.’s untitled poem that begins “Elephant Lord, Chaugnar Faugn,…” (Cthulhu Cultus #12, 1998), Robert M. Price’s “The Elephant God of Leng” (Black Book #1, 2002), and W. H. Pugmire’s “The Child of Dark Mania” (1996).

Weird_Tales_v20n03_1932-09_sas_0123

As with “An Imp of Aether” (1997), “The Child of Dark Mania” is one of a series of stories that Pugmire wrote in the 1990s in homage to various weird authors that had come before; and as with “Imp” this one has been revised in its various publications, so that while the basic elements of the story remain, the details shift a bit depending on whether you read it in the original Pnakotic Fragments (1996) fanzine, the Tales of Sesqua Valley (1997) chapbook, or paperback publication in Sesqua Valley & Other Haunts (2008) or An Imp of Aether (2019).

Most of these changes are minimal—the consolidation of paragraphs, another word or sentence of description, etc. One notable change is the name of the protagonist, a writer of horror fiction who in the original is Frank or Franklyn, and in the 2019 version is “Sonny” or Francis—no doubt to more closely associate the writer with “Sonny” Belknap, as Lovecraft used to call his friend.

She went to a stand and unwrapped a piece of plastic, from which she removed a cone of incense. This she placed next to me on the bed, along with an incense burner shaped as an Eastern deity, an elephant god whose name I could not recall.
—W. H. Pugmire, “Child of Dark Mania” in An Imp of Aether 169

In keeping with his usual style, Pugmire is not so unsubtle as to name Chaugnar Faugn directly. The story is all the more effective for not being another gushing bit of fanfiction that tries to dump a vast chunk of Mythos lore on the reader. Nor does Pugmire try for anything grandiose; this is a quieter tale than “The Dunwich Horror” or “The Devil’s Hop Yard” (1978) by Richard Lupoff, somewhat closer to Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” in scope—and Melissa is perhaps a close cousin to Helen Vaughn as portrayed in Helen’s Story (2013) by Rosanne Rabinowitz.

Instead, it is a very slight, intimate story, content to communicate the plot by image and intimation, and leave the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. One of the most distinct such images is worth going into a little more deeply:

I tired but found it impossible not to study the grotesque cloth mask, and the bizarre shape that moved beneath it. I had known that Melissa had been born with birth defects, and we had assumed that this had been the result of Diane’s consumption of foreign opiates. (ibid. 168)

Savvy readers might draw any number of references: the masked high priest not to be described in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, perhaps—but also Joseph Merrick, the Victorian performer billed as “The Elephant Man,” who would wear a hood or mask to help conceal his features when in public.

There is that sense of empathy for Diane, the wild child who had “journeyed with a gang of lesbian witches” and returned pregnant, disapproved of by her family, and forced to raise her daughter alone…and now might lose her, as Melissa comes of age—which is the only odd part of the changes between editions. In the earlier versions of the text, Diane gave birth eighteen years before the start of the story, in the 2019 text this is shortened to eight. Whether this is an error or meant to invoke the quick growth of Wilbur Whateley is not clear, and doesn’t effect the final story much.

In conception, Pugmire’s Chaugnar Faugn is more intriguing than Long’s. Here, the deity has an aspect reminiscent of Pan, Bacchus, or Dionysus, who might attract very Lovecraftian maenads, drunk on the cosmic wonder of it all…and dance.

My blood froze as she bent low and kissed the shadow of the rigid god, and I inwardly cringed when that blasphemous silhouette began to blur and bend. (ibid. 171)

Why did Diane flee to Sesqua Valley? Perhaps because that was Pugmire’s corner of Lovecraft Country, and he wished to draw to himself those dark, shining jewels of the Mythos he prized. There is a jealous tendency to the valley, magnetic and sympathetic, like calling to like. The Child of Dark Mania fits in well among those shadowy residents.

The latest version of the text, titled “Child of Dark Mania,” can be read in An Imp of Aether (2019).


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

Her Letters To Lovecraft: Anne Tillery Renshaw

Having finally broken away from Dorchester & attained Copley Square, I at last met in person the celebrated leader of United affairs whom I have known in letters for seven years—Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw of Rocky Mount, N.C., & Washington, D.C. In aspect stout & homely, she is in conversation pleasant, cultivated, & intelligent; with all the force of mind & speech becoming a philosopher, poet, & professor of English, drama, & public speaking. […] At the School of Expression the only amateurs were Mrs. Renshaw & her travelling companion Miss Crist—a colourless young woman who acts as her secretary, typist, & general caretaker; reminding her when she leaves her handbag behind or fails to put on her hat—for Mrs. R. has all the absent-mindedness of genius. […] The conversation consisted almost exclusively of philosophical argument, in which Mrs. R. has all the facility & urbanity of James F. Morton Jr. […] Mrs. McMullen played & sang her “Bumble Fairy”, & Mrs. Renshaw sang two songs (of which she wrote the words) in an excellent controlato, with Miss Crist as accompanist. […] Mrs. Renshaw, who had evidently acquired some of that flattering tendency which is inherent in the air of country villages like Boston, insisted that I ought to write a textbook on English—offering to see to its publication & introduce it in classes at Research University, where she is not head of the English Department. This rather reminded me of the high-flown pipe-dreams of Alnaschar—but another of her commercial suggestions was really practical so far as appearances go. This latter was a plan for me to correct & criticise by mail a number of English themes each week—the exercises of Mrs. R’s classes at the University. Such a procedure would, if the price were sufficiently high, be rather less horrible than Bush work—but there was no time that evening to discuss details. Plans with financial features usually fall through, so I am not yet planning what make of automobile I shall purchase with the fortune gained by text book authorship & associate professorship!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie Gamwell, 19 Aug 1921, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.37-40

In 1914, Anne Vyne Tillery and H. P. Lovecraft first encountered each other in the pages of amateur journalism. They were of an age; Tillery was born in 1899, and Lovecraft in 1890, and had both been recruited to the United Amateur Press Association, the smaller and younger of the two nationwide amateur journalism organizations in existence at the time, and from the first Lovecraft wrote admiringly of her poetry:

“A Garden of Silence and Roses” introduces to the firmament of amateur journalism a new star, in the person of Miss Annie Vyne Tillery, author of professionally published books and poems. Miss Tillery’s style is at once deep and delicate, pervaded throughout with a poetic fervour seldom observed in products of the youthful pen.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 2 (Nov 1914), CE 1.14

“The Dirge of the Great Atlantic”, by Anne Vyne Tillery Renshaw, is a grim and moving bit of verse, cast in the same primitively stirring metre which this author used in her professionally published poem, “The Chant of Iron”. Mrs. Renshaw possesses an enviable power to reach the emotions through the medium of the written word.
—H. P. Lovecraft “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 3 (Jan 1915), CE 1.20

Anne Tillery was educated at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., attended school in Baltimore and Dr. Curry’s Professional School (presumably Curry School of Expression, now Curry College). She had published a collection of verse, Moods, Mystical and Otherwise (1914), and was actively engaged as a writer and educator specializing in public speaking (then called “expression”) and English.

On 10 December 1914, Anne married Joseph Wilroy Renshaw, a lawyer, and became Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw. Her husband was either already involved in amateur journalism or became involved in it soon after, because in 1915 they launched their joint amateur journal Ole’ Miss (Anne having been raised in Mississippi, and both she and her husband were Southerners.) Lovecraft wrote of the new journal:

Ole’ Miss for March, edited by Mr. and Mrs. J. W. Renshaw, easily falls into the very front rank of the season’s amateur journals. In this number Mr. Joseph W. Renshaw makes his initial appearance before the members of the United, producing a very favourable impression with his pure, attractive prose. The introduction, credited in another column to Mr. Renshaw, is of graceful and pleasing character, recalling the elusively beautiful atmosphere of the Old South which is too soon passing away.
—H. P. Lovecraft “Department of Public Criticism” United Amateur 14, no. 5 (May 1915), CE 1.40

Both Lovecraft and Mrs. Renshaw quickly began to rise in the ranks of the United; when Lovecraft was elected first vice president in 1915, Renshaw was elected second vice president, and the two collaborated on efforts to recruit new members to the cause of amateur journalism. He also served as assistant editor to Renshaw in the amateur journal Credential, which was aimed at new members (the first piece published by a new member was referred to as their “credential.”)

Despite being perhaps Lovecraft’s oldest and longest-lasting woman correspondent who was not a member of his family, the surviving letters between Lovecraft and Mrs. Renshaw are few. However, we know they must have had a fairly robust correspondence for the first few years of their acquaintance, because aside from amateur affairs  Lovecraft had joined with Renshaw and her friend Mrs. J. G. Smith in the Symphony Literary Service, a revision service where Lovecraft handled verse. It isn’t clear how long this service lasted, but it seems to have been Lovecraft’s foot in the door to freelance revision work and ghostwriting, which would become one of his major sources of income in life. The first few letters we have from Lovecraft and Renshaw date to the 1918 period, a mix of amateur affairs, poetical disputes (Lovecraft disliked free verse, while Renshaw was an advocate for free expression), and current affairs.

Lovecraft supported Renshaw during her successful candidacy in 1919 as Official Editor of the United, and she seems to have been otherwise keeping busy in teaching and publishing:

Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw, with characteristic energy, has transferred her interests from State College, Pa., to Washington, D.C. During the autumn she was circulation manager of The Suffragist, a large illustrated monthly, whose subscription department she practically revitalised with her efficient management. She has now accepted a chair at Research University, becoming head of the English Department with the title of Professor. Mrs. Renshaw receives the sympathy of the Association upon the death of Mr. Renshaw in November, and upon the illness of her mother at the same time.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “News Notes” United Amateur 20, No. 2 (Nov 1920), CE 1.265

J. W. Renshaw died in November 1920, probably of pneumonia. We know little of their marriage; they had no children, and Mrs. Renshaw would never remarry. After his death, she was located primarily in Washington, D.C.; she met Lovecraft for the first time in 1921 in Boston. The suggestion she made that Lovecraft revise student work was apparently acted upon, because sometime later Lovecraft wrote:

Amateur journalism’s connexion with Penn State (circa 1919-22, if memory serves aright) was established through one of our members—a Mrs. Anne Tillery Renshaw, now head of a school of elocution in Washington—who went there as an associate professor. She organised her classes into a literary club connected with the United Amateur Press Association, hence we of the Association handled a good deal of their work & assisted them to some extent in a critical way. [Fred Lewis] Pattee was there at the time, & Mrs. Renshaw sometimes spoke of him—indeed, she sent me a copy of his weird novel, “The House of the Black Ring.”
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 13 Feb 1935, Letters to J. Vernon Shea 258

Lovecraft and Renshaw met again in 1925 when he came as a tourist to Washington, where she drove him about on a sightseeing tour:

[…] our attention was distracted by a hail from the road, where was fast approaching the Renshaw car, with its owner, Sechrist, and a prepossessing gentlewoman of early middle age as occupants. Mrs. R. had, it seems, arriv’d at the Monument immediately after our departure; and having pickt up Sechrist, follow’d us along the course we had told him we wou’d take. With the years this lady hath become a person of much importance in Washington, being now a select teach of dramatic and oratorical method, and prominent in female political circles. (Republican) She is, however, wholly unspoilt; and shew’d extreme kindness in absenting herself from most of her guests and spending the whole day in the guidance of our party, despite the protests we mixt with our profound thanks. […] The car, being small, seated just the five persons present: Mrs. R. (Driving) and Miss D. in font, and myself, Sechrist, and Kirk (reading left to right) on the rear seat). […] There, in the mellow glow of an afternoon no longer young, Mrs. Renshaw deposited Kirk, Christ, and me upon the pavement for a pedestrian finale; herself driving off toward her ome with Miss Dashiel, accompany’d by the most profound and sincere gratitude of the voyagers. We apologised for our inability to accompany her and meet her other guests, as she had wished; but I regret that I have so far fail’d—amidst the rush of the past week—to write her and Sechrist those expressions of thanks and pleasure which urbanity demands.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Lillian Clark, 21 Apr 1925, Letters to Family & Family Friends 1.274-275, 286

We hear little of the Renshaw/Lovecraft correspondence over the next few years; both of them drifted away from the central role they had held in amateur affairs, and Mrs. Renshaw was herself busy with teaching and running her own school in Washington, D.C., where public speaking and oratory were key skills for politicians. It is possible that there were gaps in their correspondence, which might account for why so few letters survive; or that many of them simply concerned business matters which neither considered worth preserving; Lovecraft used the backs of some letters for writing drafts of his stories.

Still, she must have continued to push at least occasional revision work Lovecraft’s way:

[…] our old-time fellow-amateur Mrs. Renshaw has reappear’d on the horizon with a lot of overflow theme papers from her school to be criticis’d and graded. All this means cash for coach-drivers, of course—but it also means workand nothing repels and discourages me more than the latter.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, 14 Mar 1930, Selected Letters 3.130

While revision didn’t pay much, the amounts that Lovecraft did receive no doubt helped in part to fund his excursions to Florida, Louisiana, and Quebec.

It is hard to say at this point what exactly the relationship was between Anne Tillery Renshaw and H. P. Lovecraft. They were friends, certainly, but they do not appear to have had the sort of mentor-mentee relationship that Lovecraft had with some of the younger women writers, professional or amateur, that he would get to know. There is little doubt that Lovecraft saw Renshaw as a peer, and if they did not agree on everything, he seems to have respected her intelligence and the force of her arguments. Unfortunately, it is difficult to say what common ground they might have shared being writing & poetry in general, as Renshaw does not seem to have had any particular interest in weird fiction.

The commercial side of their dealings is harder to pin down, although it would become the focus of their final and most substantial surviving communications. Anne Tillery Renshaw was at this point dean of the Renshaw School of Speech, whose curriculum was based on the Curry Method (a system of public speaking that included a combination of technical exercises and encouragement to express real emotion and natural gestures), and she availed on Lovecraft to help write a textbook for a new course—much as she had proposed some fifteen years earlier, when they first met in Boston.

Lovecraft was already busy with other jobs in 1936, but agreed to take the work on—he needed the money. 

I now made an attempt to go on with the one revision job which I have not yet returned—in the hope that I might be able to perform at least part of it & receive remuneration therefor. Results remain doubtful, since the more original parts will need leisure & concentration. It is a text-book on English usage by Mrs. Renshaw—& most of my time today was spent in straightening out historical & mythological errors in the section where certain familiar allusions are explained.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Annie E. P. Gamwell, Diary for 29 March 1936, LFF 2.991

Notes on the massive revision job reoccur in Lovecraft’s letters throughout 1936, and the stress built up as Lovecraft required extensions on the original deadline.

I had a hell of a siege getting that Renshaw ghost-writing job done on time—the deadline having been extended a bit. The last chapter—where I had to dope out a complete reading course in literature, the sciences, & the arts, mentioning the latest text-books in fields covering the rapidly changing sciences–was the really killing part. At the end I had to work 60 hours without sleep—but I finally got the damn thing into the mails. There may be more to do on it yet—& the trivial detail of price is not yet settled. If Mrs. Renshaw tries to drive me under 200 bucks, she’s a cheap skate!
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 30 Sep 1936, O Fortunate Floridian! 363

As a matter of fact, owing to the lateness, Lovecraft only requested $100 for the massive job…and got it.

RenshawLetter

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library

In fact, much of what Lovecraft had written was seriously abridged or cut from the final book, which was published as Well-Bred Speech (1936). Lovecraft performed the final revisions amiably enough:

Well—I am still working on that Renshaw text-book. The manuscript, considerably abridged, came back once more for revision, & now (am reading the printer’s proofs & catching a number of errors therein.) The job is being handled by the Standard Press of 930 H. St., N.W.—perhaps you know of it. It will have to be done & delivered by Nov. 5th, since the course involving the book opens on the 6th. Haste has made this job more difficult than it would otherwise have been.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Elizabeth Toldridge, 29 Oct 1936, Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge 344

RenshawLetter2

Read the whole letter at the John Hay Library.

It is not clear whether Lovecraft and Renshaw corresponded during the final months of his life remaining to him, although his last, unfinished letter to James F. Morton in 1937 includes reference to the ordeal of getting the manuscript together.

Anne Tillery Renshaw continued to teach, lecture, and write until her death on 24 June 1944.

For twenty-two years of correspondence (1914-1936), very little survives. Ten letters from Lovecraft to Renshaw are published in The Letters of Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw, along with the previously unpublished sections of Well Bred Speech that Lovecraft wrote but were cut from the final product. Portions of six of these letters were previously published in the Arkham House Selected Letters. Eight letters & cards from Anne Tillery Renshaw to Lovecraft, all dating from 1935-1936, have been scanned and may be viewed online at the John Hay Library website.


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