“The Devil’s Pool” (1932) by Greye La Spina

It is really very hard to work with a superstition as well-known & conventionalised as those of the vampire & werewolf. Some day I may idly try my hand, but so far I have found original synthetic horrors much more tractable.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 Nov 1930, DS 262

By the 1930s, werewolf stories were already an established genre. While many of the tropes that we associate with pop culture lycanthropy today were not yet standard—silver bullets, the infectious bite, the influence of the moon on the transformation, the werewolf as a sympathetic character or power fantasy—they already existed, both in myth and legend and in dozens of stories and novels, from The Were-Wolf (1896) by Clemence Housman and The Thing In the Woods (1924) by Harper Williams to any number of stories in Weird Tales from leading authors like Seabury Quinn, H. Warner Munn, and Greye La Spina. Pulp writers worked many variations of the werewolf tale, most of which today are rather old-fashioned…and even when first published, as Lovecraft noted, sometimes the premise and rules were just a little too familiar. What fear of the unknown can there be, when dealing with the known quantity of a werewolf?

Yet for all that, werewolves were a perennial favorite, for both weird fiction fans and authors. There were endless variations on the theme to explore, and many of the tropes had not quite been codified yet, which added to the possibilities.

Greye La Spina knew a thing or two about werewolves. Though they never corresponded, La Spina was one of Lovecraft’s foremost women contemporaries at Weird Tales during the 1920s and 30s, and in terms of sheer published output she was much more successful than the Old Gent from Providence, publishing over a hundred short stories, novelettes, and serials in a dozen pulps. She had dealt with werewolves previously in “Wolf of the Steppes” (The Thrill Book, Mar 1919) and Invaders from the Dark (Weird Tales, Apr-May-Jun 1925), and in 1932 she returned to the theme again with a story titled “The Devil’s Pool” (Weird Tales June 1932).

The story earned the cover illustration for the issue, but there was little praise for it—especially from Lovecraft:

The La Spina novelette somehow drags along very dully—with triteness & triviality sapping at what might be suspensefully horrible.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 6 May 1932, DS 367

Klarkash-Ton appears to advantage, but the La Spina thing left me cold even though I recognised a fine chance for horrific atmosphere in the wanderings of the hero around the forbidden wing of the accursed farmhouse.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 May 1932, ES 2.477

In fairness to La Spina, the “triteness & triviality” that Lovecraft noticed is not the result of any sort of formula plot. There are some vivid and effective images in the story, which is no doubt part of what earned it that cover illustration. The story is notably reminiscent of what would become Manly Wade Wellman’s most notable type of weird tale, with supernatural horror overtaking relatively simple but forthright people in a largely secluded rural setting, and “The Devil’s Pool” would not be out of place in an anthology alongside some of his southern mountain stories.

Nor was La Spina simply repeating the same werewolf lore that had characterized “Wolf of the Steppes” and Invaders from the Dark, but followed a different vein of lore:

The writer of Perigord tells how at the beginning of the nineteenth century it was believed in this district that at each full moon certain lads, particularly the sons of priests, are compelled to become werewolves. They go forth at night when the impulse is upon them, strip off their clothes and plunge naked into a certain pool. As they emerge they find a number of wolf-pelts, furnished by the demon, which they don and thus scour the countryside. Before dawn they return to the same pool, cast off their skins, and plung into the water again, whence emrging in human form they make their way home. […] Exorcism and, above all, the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar will disperse all glamour and objectively restore to human shape those upon whom an evil spell of fascination and metamorphosis has been cast.
—Montague Summers, The Werewolf (1933)

While Summers’ book on werewolves came out after La Spina’s story was published, she obviously drew on similar legends from some book of folklore—and improved on them with a few of her own twists, which had they been worked out a little more carefully would have made for a better story. As it stands, there’s some fairness to Lovecraft’s criticism: the story is drawn out and slow, the characterization is lacking, the inability of the characters to explain anything utterly frustrating, the action lacks punch, and the story is ultimately on the weaker end of Christian horror, with the evil vanquished by a handful of holy wafers.

Other aspects of the story have not aged well. One of the supporting characters is Harry Epstein, “a young Jewish fellow”—and while Harry’s religion has absolutely nothing to do with the story, La Spina makes his Jewishness the central and nearly constant aspect of his character. While the characterization is not explicitly a negative stereotype, it is constant and depicted in a manner reminiscent of many broad ethnic depictions. Phrases like “The dark, Hebraic face scowled.” only work if both the writer and audience have an idea in their head as to what a Jew looks like as distinct from anyone else. It’s good to get a little diversity into what is otherwise a cast of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, but that’s very much a pulp formulation, with zero subtlety or purpose than to add a bit of color.

The fact that the 14-year-old Janie wants to marry Harry someday is a separate issue.

Janie Baumann is integrally tied with how the story addresses disability and ableness, which is one of the major themes. For most of the story, young Janie cannot walk and is confined to her bed, out of sight of the narrative—yet it is ultimately her condition, and the stresses placed on her aged grandfather as caregiver, which is the driving factor for the supernatural events of the story, and she is vital in their eventual resolution. In addition to physical mobility issues, she is also characterized with suggestions of mental disability: “Janie isn’t stupid, but she isn’t very…what I’d call bright.” Between the physical disability issues and suggestions of mental disability, Janie is presented as a pathetic figure, a subject of empathy for all of the adults around her—except for the villainous Lem Schwartz, who seeks to take advantage of the sympathy the other adults have for Janie.

Representations of disability in weird fiction during the early 20th century were often not great, as examined in A Disability Scholar Looks At Lovecraft by Farah Rose Smith; characters with disabilities were often characterized as either pathetic or monstrous. In “The Devil’s Pool,” there’s a bit of both. Janie is, for most of the story, characterized as “a cripple”—though this physical disability is overcome by the end, and the mental disability is never as evident or depicted in the manner as initially described. The one bright spot for Janie in the story is that she never allows her disability to define her…it is the motivations and outlooks of other people as they act based on their ideas of her disability that lead to the events of “The Devil’s Pool.”

The monstrous depiction of disability is something that happens to the main character, who finds himself faced with his own difficulties walking. If La Spina had allowed a bit more room for introspection, this could have been an interesting as a depiction of how an individual comes to terms with such a sudden change in their ableness—but at this point in the story, the plot was finally getting to the “good” parts, and speeding along toward the climax. So although the setup would seem to call for the protagonist to gain some insight and deepened understanding for what Janie has been going through, and that she is not necessarily as helpless and needy as supposed, not as much is made of the disability as a theme as it could have been.

By the end of the story, all of the disabilities are miraculously resolved; no doubt Lovecraft would have rolled his eyes at the rather prosaic happy ending.

Mrs. La Spina is distinctly mediocre—full of clichés and cheap romantic devices. Two or three of her older stories weren’t bad, but her latest attempt was pitifully weak.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Natalie H. Wooley, 22 Nov 1934, LRBO 197

References to Greye La Spina are few in Lovecraft’s letters; no doubt he read her stories as they appeared in Weird Tales, but like the work of Seabury Quinn, he rarely felt the need to comment, and when he did it was usually to make some remark lamenting her conventionality. He was right that La Spina gave the readers what they wanted—and that was why, no doubt, she was commercially more successful at it than Lovecraft. Unfortunately, that’s also why she has largely fallen into obscurity: “The Devil’s Pool” isn’t exactly a forgotten classic of the werewolf genre; it isn’t even her best werewolf story, and easily forgotten among the dozens of other lycanthrope stories in Weird Tales and other pulps.

“The Devil’s Pool” (Weird Tales June 1932) is in the public domain and can be read online.

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

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“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” (1932) by Donald Wandrei

I recently saw a newer and better Wandrei tale, The Tree-Men of M’Bwa, which he should have no difficulty selling to either Bates or Wright.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 14 Aug 1931, Essential Solitude 1.360

[…] I must congratulate you on the novel & original cosmic thrills, & the extremely effective climax, of The Tree-Man. I surely hope this has found—or will find—favour with the editorial fraternity.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, 25 Sep 1931,
Letters With Donald and Howard Wandrei and to Emil Petaja 271

“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” by Donald Wandrei was published in the February 1932 issue of Weird TalesIt is neither explicitly a tale of the Cthulhu Mythos nor not a Mythos tale. As with “The Fire Vampires” (WT Feb 1933), Wandrei makes no specific reference to Cthulhu, the Necronomicon, etc. But “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” involves some very Lovecraftian elements, passing references to Atlantis and Mu, and uses the incredibly ambiguous term “Evil Old Ones.” The ambiguity has helped ensure the general obscurity of the story: it has never been published in any English-language Mythos anthology. Indeed, it would probably not be considered part of the Mythos at all except that it was posthumously adopted as part of the Mythos by the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, appearing as part of the “African Mythos” in works such as Malleus Monstrum (2006), Secrets of Kenya (2007), and The Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion (2014).

The desire to incorporate “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” into the Mythos likely has less to do with the relative merits of the story than the general lack of Mythos fiction dealing with Africa in general. Lovecraft ghost-wrote “Winged Death” for Hazel Heald and “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” for Harry Houdini, but there are extraordinarily few stories from the first generation of Mythos-writers set in Africa, unless you count Robert E. Howard’s adventures of Solomon Kane, which do not deal with the Mythos directly.

Even then, there is nothing particularly special about this story that separates it from any other weird tale set in Africa and that doesn’t directly contradict any other bit of Mythos-lore, except that Donald Wandrei was part of the circle of Lovecraft’s correspondents and did write at least one actual Mythos story. Hugh B. Cave’s “The Cult of the White Ape” (Weird Tales Feb 1933) might as easily have been borrowed into the Mythos, but as Cave corresponded only briefly with Lovecraft it is generally forgotten, whereas “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” has gone on to its weird literary afterlife.

In context, “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” is a typical “mysteries of darkest Africa” story, where intrepid great white hunters and explorers (led by at least a dozen of the indigenous people who have been there their entire lives and know pretty much where everything is and why you don’t want to muck about with the crashed aliens, etc.) stumble into some unknown peril. The focus of these stories is almost solely on the white people who are telling the narrative, and center it on themselves; the black people are often little more than an afterthought, and Wandrei does not vary from formula.

Most of the country we were going through was unexplored. Even today there’s no telling what may turn up in some out of the way spot. They haven’t begun to exhaust the mysteries of Africa.
—Donald Wandrei, “The Tree-Men of M’bwa”

How much actual research Wandrei did for the story is debatable. The geography is roughly correct, if one makes general allowances (i.e. that the fabled Mountains of the Moon” referred to are the Rwenzori Mountains of Uganda, and “Kola” is actually “Kole,” a town closer to the border) it’s safe to say that he at least glanced at a map. I have not yet found a people in the region named “Neguchi” or similar; either Wandrei picked the name out of an obscure text or made it up. The word “M’bwa” is Swahili, and means “dog.” Whether Wandrei knew that or not is, again, unknown; he may have simply liked the sound of it as sufficiently alien to English.

“M’bwa” is the only African named in the story. The indigenous guides are only the “Neguchi boys,” which turn of phrase could be read as discriminatory when applied by a white man to a group of black men in the 1930s. Africa itself is veritably a character in this story, hostile and alien to the white men who seek to probe its mysteries; Wandrei emphasizes early on:

Why my boat had stopped in this filthy hell-hole on the Gold Coast, I don’t know, but here we were overnight and I had gone ashore to break the monotony of scalding days at sea. It wasn’t much imporvement, even after sunset. Fierce, steamy heat that made you boil with sweat. An unpleasant smell, half-native, half-decayed vegetation, that every village seemed to have. (ibid.)

There are a couple of interesting details to the encounter with M’bwa and the Whirling Flux. The first is the number of trees—despite this being an “unexplored” part of Africa, it is quite evident that there have been at least twenty “explorers” there before him, and the indigenous peoples seem well-informed of the spot in general. The earliest visitors were an Atlantean, an Egyptian, and a Roman—in the 1930s, that would implicitly mean “three white men,” although such racial divisions would have been meaningless in ancient Rome or Egypt. The one tree-man that speaks to Daniel Richards did so apparently in English, suggesting he too was white.

The word zombie is never used in the story to refer to M’bwa, although the dead man has many of the attributes of the revenant; the word was just coming into vogue with the publication of William Seabrook’s The Magic Island (1929), and the film White Zombie (1932) which it inspired; many writers at Weird Tales penned zombie stories during this period, and readers would have been aware of that, even without a voodoo connection.

“The Tree-Men of M’bwa” is arguably not as bad as “The Cult of the White Ape” or “Mother of Serpents” (1936) by Robert Bloch in terms of its portrayal of black people, but neither did Wandrei go out of his way to give an informed or sympathetic portrayal either. It is a white person’s story, written by a white person for what would presumably be a white audience, and it reads like that. That it has been seized on by the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying crowd as a component of the “African Mythos” speaks more to the general paucity of such material available than to any particular merit of the story itself.

Donald Wandrei’s “The Tree-Men of M’bwa” was first published in Weird Tales (Feb 1932); it was reprinted in Wandrei’s collections The Eye and the Finger (1944, Arkham House) and Don’t Dream: The Collected Horror and Fantasy of Donald Wandrei (1997, Fedogan & Bremer; paperback edition 2017). The long gap between publications is one reason why this story has remained so obscure for many decades, but now that it is more available perhaps it will find a new audience.

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

“Polaris” (1920) by H. P. Lovecraft & “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” (1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer

That night had the news come of Daikos’ fall, and of the advance of the Inutos; squat, hellish, yellow fiends who five years ago had appeared out of the unknown west to ravage the confines of our kingdom, and finally to besiege our towns. Having taken the fortified places at the foot of the mountains, their way now lay open to the plateau, unless every citizen could resist with the strength of ten men. For the squat creatures were mighty in the arts of war, and knew not the scruples of honour which held back our tall, grey-eyed men of Lomar from ruthless conquest. […]

They say there is no land of Lomar, save in my nocturnal imaginings; that in those realms where the Pole Star shines high and red Aldebaran crawls low around the horizon, there has been naught save ice and snow for thousands of years, and never a man save squat yellow creatures, blighted by the cold, whom they call “Esquimaux”.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Polaris”

At the end of the 19th century, the Yellow Peril or Yellow Terror had gripped the imagination of the Western world; works such as weird fiction author M. P. Shiel’s The Yellow Danger; Or, what Might Happen in the Division of the Chinese Empire Should Estrange all European Countries (1898) were pure invective, fueling racist and Orientalist fantasies about Asia and the prospect of a global conflict on the lines not of nation-states, but of race. The victory of an industrialized Japan in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) stoked these fears, and a year before the Great War broke out found an avatar in Dr. Fu Manchu, the villainous star of what would become thirteen novels by Sax Rohmer. Fu Manchu would inspire hundreds of copycats, not a few of whom appeared in Weird Tales, and even by favorite authors; Robert E. Howard’s “Kathulos” from the serial “Skull-Face” (1929) definitely has Fu Manchu in its literary DNA. The Yellow Peril, in more generalized form, would be familiar in Weird Tales throughout its entire run from 1923-1954, as was the case in many pulps.

Throughout his life H. P. Lovecraft was clear in his genuine belief in the Yellow Peril, at least as an impending threat. One passage from a letter will suffice to give the general substance of this racialist paranoia, although in many other instances Lovecraft wrote admiringly of Japanese culture and aesthetics, and of Japanese actors and artists:

Of Japan I have not so far spoken, because I think it a certain enemy of the future, which no plan can permanently make a friend. It demands free access to Anglo-Saxon soil for its citizens, and this can never be given. Orientals must be kept in their native East till the fall of the white race. Sooner or later a great Japanese war will take place, during which I think the virtual destruction of Japan will have to be effected in the interests of European safety. The more numerous Chinese are a menace of the still more distant future. They will probably be the exterminators of Caucasian civilisation, for their numbers are amazing. But that is all too far ahead for consideration today.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Alfred Galpin, 30 Sep 1919, Letters to Alfred Galpin 57

Despite this belief, which was relatively common during the period, the Yellow Peril is scarce in Lovecraft’s fiction. He never quite develops a Fu Manchu type character, the cult in “The Horror at Red Hook” has overtones of the multiethnic criminal enterprise of Rohmer’s villain, the “corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng” in “The Hound” is located in Central Asia, and Castro in “The Call of Cthulhu” claims that he has spoken to the “undying leaders of the cult in the mountains of China,” likely a reference to the mythical Shambala and the claims of the Theosophical Society to receive their guidance from the Great White Brotherhood in Asia. There are only two stories where the idea of a racial conflict on these lines is suggested in Lovecraft’s fiction: a glancing reference in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (“that Pickman Carter who in the year 2169 would use strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia”) written with E. Hoffmann Price, and the very short story “Polaris.”

The story came from an odd start. In 1918, Lovecraft was arguing about religion in one of his letters, which led to a discussion of truth and recalling a recent dream:

Several nights ago I had a strange dream of a strange city—a city of many palaces and gilded domes, lying in a hollow betwixt ranges of grey, horrible hills. There was not a soul in this vast region of stone-paved streets and marble walls and columns, and the numerous statues in the public places were of strange bearded men in robes the like whereof I have never seen before or since. […]
—H. P. Lovecraft to Maurice W. Moe, 15 May 1918, Letters to Maurice W. Moe 70

Shortly thereafter, Lovecraft shaped the dream into “Polaris,” about a man who dreams (or is possessed by the spirit) of an ancestor from 26,000 years before, in the land of Lomar situated in the far north. This would be familiar to audiences at the time as a reference to racialist theories of Caucasians originating from Northern Europe. Lomar is under peril from the Inutos—and these are explicitly Asian stereotypes, which Lovecraft near the end directly associates them with the Inuit people, foreshadowing his reference to the “degenerate Esquimaux” in “The Call of Cthulhu” a decade later.

At this point in his life, Lovecraft’s racialist beliefs were strongly influenced by Thomas Henry Huxley, who categorized the Inuit and other Native Americans and trans-polar peoples as “Mongoloids” alongside many Asian ethnicities. Lovecraft typically shortened this to reference to “Mongolians” or “Mongols,” regardless of nationality or ethnicity. The fantasy racism that Lovecraft engages in here, equating a contemporary group of people with a mythical precursor, was not unknown—the entire “Lost Race” subgenre of scientific romance depends on such linkages, and the basic ideology can be seen in Robert E. Howard’s “The Hyborian Age” (1936) essay and in some of the worldbuilding of J. R. R. Tolkien, who at the same time was crafting what would the background of The Hobbit (1937) and The Lrod of the Rings (1955).

Lovecraft’s use of the term “Esquimau” and its plural “Esquimaux” was a touch archaic in the 1910s, 20s, and 30s, but not necessarily intended as a pejorative. The term “Eskimo” was in general use (as evidenced by the 1933 film Eskimo, which Lovecraft had seen), and Lovecraft’s preference for the older form an apparent affection. The term “Inutos” suggests he was at least aware of the term “Inuit,” even if he chose not to use it; the suffix “-os” would make the name match the other pseudo-Grecian names in the story. While there are no contemporary accounts of Lovecraft’s thoughts on the Inuit, later in life his few references in his letters categorize them as a “degenerate offshoot” of the “Mongolian race.” (A Means to Freedom 1.482) This was a very typical distinction for Lovecraft to make, when regarding a culture that he was generally ignorant of but perceived as “primitive” compared to contemporary (and white) civilization.

Which is a great deal to unpack from a few lines in a story of a little over 1,500 words. Nor was it an immediate success; Lovecraft shared it in the amateur Transatlantic Circular, and it was published in the amateur journal The Philosopher in 1920. In 1925, Lovecraft submitted it to editor Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, but it was rejected as a “prose-poem.” In 1931, Lovecraft submitted it to editor Harry Bates at Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, who likewise rejected it, and in 1932 to Carl Swanson’s projected magazine Galaxy, which never came out. “Polaris” was finally reprinted in the fanzine The Fantasy Fan (Feb 1934), where it was well-received by readers. The first professional publication of “Polaris” was posthumous, in Weird Tales (Dec 1937). August Derleth and Donald Wandrei included it in their initial Arkham House publication The Outsider and Others (1939), sealing its place in the Lovecraft canon.

That wasn’t necessarily the case. Lovecraft had a soft spot for the little tale, but soured on it nearer the end of his life:

“Polaris” is a sort of semi-favourite of mine—written in 1918 & therefore largely experimental.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Aug 1930,
Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 229

I’ve expunged both from my list of acknowledged writings—relating them to the oblivion now enjoyed by such failures as “The Street” & “Juan Romero”. Before long I shall strike other times out in the same way—”The Tree”, “Polaris”, “The Hound”, “The White Ship”, “He”, & perhaps a few more. It doesn’t do me any good to have my name associated with absurd crap.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 19 Mar 1934, O Fortunate Floridian! 120

The real legacy of “Polaris” and the impact it had on Lovecraft and his writings is that the idea of Lomar as this mythical ancient northern land became an intertextual element in Lovecraft’s fiction, mentioned in “The Other Gods,” “The Quest of Iranon,” “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “The Mound” (with Zealia Bishop), At the Mountains of Madness, “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (with E. Hoffmann Price), and “The Horror in the Museum” (with Hazel Heald), and “The Shadow out of Time,” which contains Lovecraft’s only other reference to the Inutos:

I talked […] with that of a king of Lomar who had ruled that terrible polar land 100,000 years before the squat, yellow Inutos came from the west to engulf it […]
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow out of Time”

Which is where things get a little weird. In “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” Lovecraft says:

[…] the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoë and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”

Just to make things complicated, a very different entity with a similar name and geographic bound is given in another story:

A small bulge in the canvas far to the right suggested the sharp horn of Gnoph-keh, the hairy myth-thing of the Greenland ice, that walked sometimes on two legs, sometimes on four, and sometimes on six.
—H. P. Lovecraft & Hazel Heald, “The Horror in the Museum”

The accounts are contradictory and at a glance irreconcilable; it is difficult to tell if Lovecraft was deliberately muddying the waters of his own Mythos, or if his conception of what caused the fall of Lomar had shifted from 1918 when he wrote “Polaris” to 1926 when he wrote “Dream-Quest” to 1932 when he wrote “The Horror in the Museum” for Hazel Heald. Later writers made efforts to gloss these contradictions, which resulted in stories such as “Nautical-Looking Negroes” (1996) by Peter Cannon & Robert M. Price.

It is too much to suggest that Lovecraft made the change from Inutos to Gnophkehs because he recognized the Yellow Peril influence of the work and wished to change it; the last appearance of the Inutos is in “The Shadow out of Time,” written in 1934, and there is no evidence in Lovecraft’s letters that his basic prejudices regarding the Inuit changed substantially by that point in his life.

When we talk about talk about the effect that Lovecraft’s prejudices had on his fiction, and by extension the fiction of other writers, it is not necessarily the very blatant examples of an N-word in print, or even the infamous ending to “Medusa’s Coil.” It is the much more subtle impact of racialist thought and tropes, however common and accepted they may have been in Lovecraft’s time, which persist as part of the Mythos. The Inutos, thankfully, are not especially pervasive in the wider Cthulhu Mythos; Lomar and Gnoph-Keh/the gnophkehs are more popular.

This is not always the case.

One of us was home for the summer from a year of teaching at a military academy in Missouri and preparing for post-graduate work at Wisconsin and Harvard, the other was back to stay in Sauk City, Wisconsin, having resigned an editorial position with Fawcett Publications in order to do or die as a writer. Though both our homes were in Sauk City, we chose not to work in them but to rent what had once been a summer cottage on the village’s main street, just north of the business section, in a relatively quite zone on the west bank of the Wisconsin. […] the method of work was this—the basic outline for each story was set down by Derleth, the entire first draft then written by Schorer, a final revision made by Derleth. […] he went over the manuscript, sometimes rewriting, sometimes simply retyping selected pages or paragraphs; and prepared the story for submission—usually to Weird Tales or Strange Tales, and rounded out the evening by outlining the next story to be done.
—August Derleth & Mark Schorer, Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People

The industrious collaboration during the summer of 1931 netted the two young writers 17 stories, one of which was a Mythos story titled “The Statement of Eric Marsh,” echoing Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” and it would introduce a new element to the expanding artificial mythology:

Though your major field will probably be much broader, you nevertheless have a very distinct aptitude for convincing spectral creation; & it would be a pity if things like the Tcho-Tchos & Rigelian daemons were to remain for ever unchronicled.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 3 Aug 1931, Essential Solitude 1.354

Herewith the Tcho-Tcho story, The Statement of Eric Marsh; I don’t like the story. Have you any suggestions for a better one? But then, the story is rotten, too.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 21 Aug 1931, ES1.365

As for a new title—how would “The City of Elder Evil” do? Or “The Lair of the Star-Spawn”? I’m not much for fancy titles, but I presume something on this order is what you’re looking for. I shall undoubtedly use the Tcho-Tchos in some later story—let Wright say what he please!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 26 Aug 1931, ES1.367

“The Lair of the Star-Spawn” became the title; the story was accepted and published in Weird Tales (Aug 1932). Among the elements that Derleth & Schorer added or referenced in the story were the Tcho-Tcho:

It is true that strange legends had reached us, even before we had left Ho-Nan province, of a weird race of little people, wo whom the natives applied the odd name, Tcho-Tcho, supposedly living near or on the Plateau of Sung.

So the Hawk Expedition proceeded into Burma (present-day Myanmar). The story in many ways is a very typical Lost World/Lost Race narrative, comparable to H. Rider Haggard’s She (1886), Edgar Rice Burrough’s At the Earth’s Core (1914), Robert E. Howard’s “The Slithering Shadow” (1933) and “Red Nails” (1936), C. L. Moore’s “The Tree of Life” (1936), and many others—only with a Mythos twist, as the Tcho-Tcho are servants of Lloigor and Zhar. The descriptions of them are stereotypical:

[…] the tallest of them no more than four feet, with singularly small eyes set deep in dome-like, hairless heads. These queer attackers fell upon the party and had killed men and animals with their bright swords almost before our men could extract their weapons. […]

The Tcho-Tcho people could not believe them dead, since it is impossible for them to conceive of such a weapon as a gun. At base, they are very simple people. Yet they are inherently malevolent, for they now that they are working for the destruction of all that is good in the world. […]

Then the Old Ones, the Elder Gods, returned to the stars of Orion, leaving behind them ever-damned Cthulhu, Lloigor, Zhar, and others. But the evil ones left seeds on the plateau, on the island in the Lake of Dread which the Old Ones caused to be put here. Anf rom these seeds have sprung the Tcho-Tcho people, the spawn of elder evil, and now these people await the day when Loloigor and Zhar will rise again and sweep over all the earth!

Damning an entire species to be unapologetically or uncomplicatedly “evil” from birth is a gross oversimplification—but easy moralities play well in politics, pulp stories, and fairytales; J. R. R. Tolkien would do much the same thing with Orcs in his legendarium, with all the unfortunate implications still being worked out decades later. It’s not necessarily a problem of having a group of antagonists depicted as irredeemable—its the use of racialist language, ideas, and reasoning behind it.

Like the Inutos of “Polaris,” the Tcho-Tcho are depicted as aggressive, primitive, and adversarial to the main viewpoint of the story; Lovecraft doesn’t make the Inutos explicitly evil (or the men of Lomar good), but the framing of the story as a quasi-fable of the Yellow Peril would establish those relationships with the readers. Derleth & Schorer are if anything more explicit, even if they make the Tcho-Tcho a “race apart,” from both the Caucasian Eric Marsh and the Chinese Dr. Fo-Lan.

If it had been a one-off story where the Tcho-Tcho were never mentioned again, this would be worthy of a footnote—none of them appear to survive the end of Derleth & Schorer’s tale, though Derleth references them again in “The Thing That Walked On the Wind” (1933) and a few later stories; “The Sandwin Compact” (1940) moves them from Burma to Tibet—but of course, it didn’t end there.

“Do you remember,” he shouted, “what I told you about that ruined city in Indo-China where the Tcho-Tchos lived? You had to admit I’d been there when you saw the photographs, even if you did think I made that oblong swimmer in darkness out of wax. If you’d seen it writhing in the underground pools as I did. . . .”
—H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald, “The Horror in the Museum”

Of earthly minds there were some from the winged, star-headed, half-vegetable race of palaeogean Antarctica; one from the reptile people of fabled Valusia; three from the furry pre-human Hyperborean worshippers of Tsathoggua; one from the wholly abominable Tcho-Tchos; two from the arachnid denizens of earth’s last age; five from the hardy coleopterous species immediately following mankind, to which the Great Race was some day to transfer its keenest minds en masse in the face of horrible peril; and several from different branches of humanity.
—H. P. Lovecraft, “The Shadow out of Time”

Lovecraft doesn’t expand much on the original conception of the Tcho-Tcho, aside from adding the “s” for a plural; he places them alongside the Serpent-People of Robert E. Howard’s “The Shadow Kingdom,” the Voormi of Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Seven Geases,” and his own Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness—all in good fun, just an inside joke for astute readers and members of the gang. Yet it cemented, if that was necessary, the Tcho-Tcho as part of the Mythos.

For many readers the occasional references to the Tcho-Tcho people encountered in Cthulhu Mythos fiction do not really register. Aren’t these hard-to-prounounce people just one more of the so-called “servitor-races” of the Old Ones? So what?
—Robert M. Price and Tani Jantsang, “The True History of the Tcho Tcho People”
in Crypt of Cthulhu #51, 24

Unlike the Inutos, several later authors decided to elaborate on the Tcho-Tcho, to various purpose and effect. The term “servitor-races” that Price and Jantsang use is particular to the Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game, and is exemplary of the problem that the Tcho-Tcho embody: the long shadow of the Yellow Peril, sliding uncomfortably into the contemporary day. Call of Cthulhu came out of Runequest which came out of Dungeons & Dragons, which based itself on the borrowed racialist terminology of later 19th and early 20th century popular fiction: scientific romance, science fiction, fantasy, pulp fiction, Lost World and Lost Race tales, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber…and more, but the gist is that in the translation to the roleplaying milieu, the Tcho-Tcho, Deep Ones, and other strange critters of the Mythos were translated into D&D-esque terms: where Tolkien (and thus D&D) had “races” of Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, and Humans, CoC had Humans, Deep Ones, Serpent People, Voormis, and Tcho-Tcho.

The habit of thinking of groups of sentient humanoid entities as biologically and culturally distinct from anatomically modern humans and essentially not human and morally irredeemable can be problematic in and of itself—there are plenty of parallels to scientific racialism and racial discrimination, which some authors of the Mythos have explored, such as in “The Doom That Came to Innsmouth” (1999) by Brian McNaughton & “The Litany of Earth” (2014) by Ruthanna Emrys.

In the case of the Tcho-Tcho, there are added wrinkles: their original placement in Southeast Asia, and subsequent movement around Asia by different authors, their depiction as inherently autochthonous and antagonistic to “human” life, and their initial description aspects of Asian visual stereotypes (short stature, different eyes), has allowed them to pick up several more Yellow Peril characteristics in their general depiction. Many Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game products, including spin-offs like Delta Green, depict the Tcho-Tcho as Asian characters, often conflating them with negative stereotypes as criminals and drug-dealers.

The issue of the Inutos and the Tcho-Tcho is a problem that transcends the Cthulhu Mythos. Those are symptoms, the result of many different writers working independently toward different goals, not stepping back to consider where some of the conceptions they were using came from or how they were being used. Fantasy racism can be used to explore some of the consequences of real-life racial discrimination and prejudice in a way that echoes the experience of ethnic minorities without calling them out…and it can be used very lazily, so that Tcho-Tcho (or Orcs,  etc.) can serve as easy villains and faceless fodder for the heroes to kill without moral compunction.

It is seductively easy to use stereotypes to apply to entire groups of people. That’s why pulp fictioneers did it; painting with a broad brush, using tropes the readers were familiar with, they could sketch out stories quickly and the reader could suspend disbelief. It is also why many people use it today; discrimination is terribly easy, appreciating the nuance and complexity of human relationships and seeing them as individuals rather than representatives of a group is hard.

Perhaps because of the initial complexity of “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and their tremendous popularity, the Deep Ones have gotten a lot of attention and engendered a good deal of sympathy from later Mythos writers. The Tcho-Tcho have not attracted anything like the same level of development or empathy, and have fallen into a very weird space where they have largely become “acceptable villains” in Mythos roleplay and fiction—and, if they have not already, are in danger of becoming nothing more than a Mythos-flavored Yellow Peril.

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

“The Man of Stone” (1932) by Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft

I’ve seen the new Wonder Stories, & agree that it seems to be improving. A revision client of mine has a story in the current issue—”The Man of Stone”—in which you may possibly recognise my prose style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 12 Sep 1932, O Fortunate Floridian! 37
I note, by the way, a story in the Oct. Wonder Stories (which featured my “God of the Asteroid”) which I am willing to gamble was revised and partly “ghost-written” by H.P. The tale was called “The Man of Stone,” and was signed by one Hazel Heald. It contains reference to Tsathoggua, the Book of EIbon, The Goat with a Thousand Young, etc.
—Clark Ashton Smith to August Derleth, 24 Dec 1932, Selected Letters 198

In 1932, Hazel Heald was a divorcee, working as a clerk or bookkeeper in Massachusetts. She had some aspirations to be a writer, and had developed a macabre plot:

In this same year, 1932, I formed a little New England writers’ club of my own, and one of my members, a divorcee was very anxious to succeed in the weird writing field. She sent me an original manuscript with a very passable plot, yet told unconvincingly and amatuerishly. I let Lovecraft read it when he next came to our house on Pearl Street, and he agreed that it did have possibilities.

I wrote to the Cambridge, Massachusetts, club-member and told her about H.P.L., adding that he, too, was divorced. Would she like to have him look over her manuscript, “The Man of Stone”? She would! So I gave Lovecraft a note of introduction to Hazel Heald and another chapter in his life was soon taking place.
—Muriel M. Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 22-23

Lovecraft’s fiction writing had been dwindling since his collaborations with Zealia Bishop, most of which failed to find publication during his lifetime, although he had just managed to complete “The Dreams in the Witch House.” He was still doing revision work, however, and traveling as best as his means allowed. This included a very exhausting trip to Quebec on a cheap fare:

Early the following Tuesday morning, before I had gone to work, Howard arrived back from Quebec. I have never before nor since seen such a sight. folds of skin hanging froma  skeleton. Eyes sunk in sockets like burnt holes in a blanket. Those delicate, sensitive artist’s hands and fingers nothing but claws. The man was dead except for his nerves, on which he was functioning. that evening he had a dinner appointment in Somerville with a woman for whom he was doing some revision, and he had plans for things he wanted to do during the day.
—W. Paul Cook, “In Memoriam: H. P. Lovecraft” in Ave Atque Vale 59

Eddy, who apparently conceived a notion that the two divorcees might kindle a romance, provides a rose-tinted account of the meeting:

She invited him up to her house for Sunday supper and arranged to have everything that H.P.L. liked best on the menu. they ate by candlelight, and he was greatly intrigued by her thoughtfulness in not having a household of people to greet him. He used to say he could think better whn there were not too many people around to disturb his train of thought.

He tactfully explained to Hazel that her story, though very good, really needed a little touching up here and there, something to stir the reader’s imagination. Would she allow him to do it for her? He’d consider it an honor and a privilege. She agreed.
—Muriel Eddy, The Gentleman from Angell Street 23

Hazel Heald and H. P. Lovecraft would go on to collaborate on five stories, beginning with “The Man of Stone” and continuing with “The Horror in the Museum,” “Winged Death,” “Out of the Aeons,” and “The Horror in the Burying-Ground.” Lovecraft’s brief notes in his letters suggest that the latter stories were essentially ghost-written by him, based on a brief outline or idea provided by Heald, exactly as was the case with Zealia Bishop. “The Man of Stone,” however, may have started off as an actual text.

Writing on 30 September 1944 of one such story, “The Man of Stone,” the late Hazel Heald admitted, “Lovecraft helped me on this story as much as on the others, and did actually rewrite paragraphs. He would criticize paragraph after paragraph and pencil remarks beside them, and then make me rewrite them until they pleased him.” But of course Lovecraft did considerably more with Hazel Heald’s later stories: he rewrote them from beginning to end so that they are essentially Lovecraft stories, retaining only the plot or central theme of the author whose by-line appeared over the work—and not even this in every case.
—August Derleth, “Lovecraft’s Revisions” in The Horror in the Museum xi-xii

It was typical of Lovecraft in his collaborations to virtually re-write the prose, so that is not surprising; the Cthulhu Mythos references in the story are certainly his addition, and possibly Mad Dan’s whole diary portion was Lovecraft’s own invention, to explain the mechanism of the action. What then is left of Heald’s original work?

Probably quite a bit, at least in conception, overall plot, and characterization. The love triangle of the woman with an abusive spouse, enamored with a younger artist, is definitely outside of H. P. Lovecraft’s normal milieu. The latter part of the story especially, with Rose Morris’ diary providing her point of view, is very exceptional for any story Lovecraft had a hand in. Even if we can see little Lovecraftian touches (the parallels between Mad Dan’s practicing “all sorts of hellish ceremonies handed down by his mother’s people” and “The Dunwich Horror” are especially acute), it’s rare for any Lovecraftian tale to touch on the personal horror of domestic abuse:

No one will ever know what I went through as his wife. It was not simply common cruelty—though God knows he was cruel enough, and beat me often with a leather whip. It was more—more than anyone in this age can ever understand. He was a monstrous creature, and practiced all sorts of hellish ceremonies handed down by his mother’s people. He tried to make me help in the rites—and I don’t dare even hint what they were. I would not, so he beat me. It would be blasphemy to tell what he tried to make me do. I can say he was a murderer even then, for I know what he sacrificed one night on Thunder Hill. He was surely the Devil’s Kin. I tried four times to run away, but he always caught and beat me. Also, he had a sort of hold over my mind, and even over my father’s mind.
—Hazel Heald & H. P. Lovecraft, “The Man of Stone”

It is worth noting that Lovecraft would never again have quite such a strong female viewpoint in any of his works.

The story in broad strokes has parallels with “The Mask” in Robert W. Chamber’s The King in Yellow, which likewise deals with a lover’s triangle and petrification through some unsubtle alchemy. It is impossible to say if this was intentional, with Chambers’ providing inspiration or simply coincidence. Did Heald come up with the petrification bit? Or was it originally a more conventional sort of poisoning? As no manuscript, notes, or correspondence have come to light from the collaboration, we’ll probably never know for certain.

“The Man of Stone” was published in Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories (Oct 1933), then being edited by David Lasser. There were few “fantastic” pulps on the market, and whether this acceptance was because Weird Tales rejected the story or if Heald submitted it to Wonder Stories first is unclear. Unfortunately, Heald eventually ran into a common problem with many writers: non-payment.

One of my clients is about to write an indignant letter to the Authors’ League concerning his financial shotcomings—though I imagine its effect will be close to zero.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 2 Feb 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 403
Yes—my Gernsback-mulcted client is Mrs. Heald—whose story was nothing extra, although it surely deserved some remuneration.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 10 Feb 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 404

Smith gave Lovecraft the name and address of Ione Weber, a lawyer in New York who made a specialty of suing Gernsback for non-payment; Lovecraft in turn passed the information to Heald, and Weber was apparently successful in getting her client’s money. (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 483) This is perhaps why all of the subsequent Heald-Lovecraft collaborations appeared in Weird Tales. Payment from WT was on publication, which could sometimes be months or years after the story was accepted, and even that often late during the 1930s due to the pressures of the Great Depression, as a consequence, it appears Heald owed Lovecraft some monies for his ghostwriting, which she partially paid off by typing his “The Thing on the Doorstep”:

Meanwhile (my hatred of the typewriter being stronger every day) I have had a delinquent client type the story I wrote last August, & have started the carbon on the rounds of the gang–beginning with Dwyer.
—H. P. Lovecraft to J. Vernon Shea, 8 Nov 1933, Letters to J. Vernon Shea &c. 175
I lately had a client type my story of last August—”The Thing on the Doorstep” (which isn’t very satisfactory), & am circulating the carbon amongst the gang (you’ll get it in time).
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 13 Nov 1933, O Fortunate Floridian! 85

However, the stories were received with some praise by Weird Tales, even if Lovecraft’s friends quite clearly knew he had written most or all of them. One reader wrote in, unaware of the irony:

I cannot say enough in praise of the work of Hazel Heald. She is veritably a female Lovecraft. (Weird Tales Jun 1935)

It is likely that the financial and creative relationship would have gone on longer, but around 1934 Lovecraft ended it, though he and Heald continued to correspond. Lovecraft’s reasoning for this had nothing to do with the content of the writing, but personal and professional reasons:

But it doesn’t pay to do this sort of work—when one could have just as good chances of full pay with a piece nominally as well as actually one’s own. I’ve cut it out now—though the last two reliques of my collaboration (one more Heald opus & the collaboration with Sultan Malik) are yet to be printed.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 9 Mar 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 544
I have refused point-blank to do any more such jobs for Mrs. Heald & old de Castro & others—& recently declined to collaborate with Price on a sequel to the “Gates of the Silver Key”. I simply can’t tackle so much when my time & nervous energy are so limited—& when so many stories of my own are veritably howling to be written.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, Feb/Mar 1935, Letters to Robert Bloch & Others 130

This was not the end of Lovecraft’s collaborations, but it was largely the end of his remunerative collaborations; from 1934 on his revisions were often with fans, and on a non-paying basis. Of the stories “howling to be written,” only two were finished: The Shadow Out of Time and “The Haunter of the Dark” before Lovecraft’s death in 1937. Heald would write of Lovecraft in Weird Tales (Jun 1937):

I want to express my sorrow in the passing of H. P. Lovecraft. He was a friend indeed to the struggling author, and many have started to climb the ladder of success with his kind assistance. To us who really knew him it is a sorrow that mere words cannot express. His was the helping hand that started me in the writers’ game and gave me the courage to carry on under the gravest difficulties. But we must try to think that he is “just away” on one of his longest journeys and that some day we will meet him again in the Great Beyond.

Hazel Heald herself would largely drop from view; whether or not she continued to write is unknown, but no more weird or pulp stories are known from her.

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