In France, Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels discovered and launched him. They had spoken of him as early as Le Matin des magiciens, and gave him a significant role in their great enterprise by publishing a tale of his in the first issue of Planète. To them we owe our first encounter with the “grand génie venu d’aileurs,” and we are deeply gratefl to them. Thanks to them, Lovecraft is, paradoxically, better known and more appreciated n France than in his own country.
—Maurice Lévy, trans. S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft, A Study in the Fantastic 12
Translated collections of Lovecraft’s work began to appear in France in the 1950s, beginning with La Couleur tombée du ciel (1954, Editions Donoël). Yet Lévy is correct that Bergier and Pauwels played a substantial part in raising awareness of Lovecraft in France during the 1960s; first in their conspiratorial opus Le Matin des magiciens (1960) translated into English as The Morning of the Magicians (1968), an incredibly influential work that helped popularize everything from Ancient Astronauts to Nazi occultism, and then in the French science fiction magazine Planète (1961-1972) which they co-edited.
In the first issue of Planète, which included a translation of Lovecraft’s “Hypnos”, Bergier claimed that he had actually corresponded with H. P. Lovecraft for six years in the 1930s, and quoted from his letters about “The Music of Erich Zann.” Scholars consider this correspondence apochryphal—Lovecraft makes no mention of a French correspondent, and Bergier was never able to present the letters—but not impossible. After all, issues of Weird Tales made their way to continental Europe in the 1930s, and Bergier had two letters published in Weird Tales, in the March 1936 and September 1937 issues; it would not have been impossible for him to have written Lovecraft care of the editor of the magazine.
Then again, Bergier had a complicated life, and many of his more fantastic claims could not be verified; a point Patrick Clot touches on in “Jacques Bergier, mythe ou réalité?,” his preface to Bergier’s in Admirations (2001). One of the stranger episodes involves one of the first French-language original Cthulhu Mythos stories.
Satellite (1958-1962) was a French science fiction magazine, which featured a combination of translated material and original French-language fiction. The third issue included the Mythos pastiche “Celui qui suscitait l’effroi…” (“The One Who Arouses Fear…”) by “Jacques Janus”—with an introduction by Bergier:
|Il était une fois un peintre et un docteur tous deux également épris de science fiction au point de passer des journées entiéres à la Bibliothèque Nationale pour y découvrir les trésors enfous dans les viuex «ROBINSON» d’avant-guerre.|
Ils s’ignoraient jusq’au jour où ils réclameérent en même temps un episode passionnant de GUY L’ÉCLAIR…
Et de cet ÉCLAIR devait jaillir Jacques JANUS, un auteur bien particulier puisqu’il n’a jamais écrit que des pastiches, mais don’t la plupart sont de véritables bijoux, plus vrais que nature.
Nous en avons sélectionnés quatre autres que nous vous présenterons dans les mois à venir.
Voici pour aujourd’hui un récit noir, trés noir et cependant chargé d’intentions ironiques que vous ne manquerez pas de noter au passage…
A Jacques Bergier
|Once upon a time, there was a painter and a doctor, both equally fond of science fiction to the point of spending whole days at the Bibliothèque Nationale to discover the treasures buried in the pre-war “ROBINSON” books.|
They did not know each other until the day when they demanded at the same time an exciting story of FLASH GORDON…
And from this FLASH was to spring Jacques JANUS, a very special author since he only ever wrote pastiches, but most of which are real jewels, larger than life.
We have selected four others that we will present to you in the months to come.
Here is a black story for today, very dark and yet full of ironic intentions that you will not fail to note in passing…
Two things stand out in this opening: the claim that “Jacques Janus” is a collaborative pseudonym between Bergier and another writer (which makes sense: Janus is the Roman god of two faces), and that a total of five pastiches were planned. These apparently didn’t pan out: I have only been able to find one more story under this name: “Une Librairie… Très Spéciale” in Satellite no. 9 (Sep 1958), a pastiche of Robert Sheckley.
“Celui qui suscitait l’effroi…” has been reprinted only once, in Jean-Jacques Nguyen’s fanzine Le Courrier d’Arkham (1991). Nor has it ever been translated into English in any anthology or periodical. It was written at a time when the Cthulhu Mythos wsa dominated by pastiche, much of it from August Derleth, and which included his novel The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), but before Lovecraft’s popularity really bloomed in France in the 1960s. The result is a quirky, but very lovingly rendered effort by a pair of dedicated Lovecraft fans to write an original tale in the style of Lovecraft.
The opening sets the scene:
|J’ai longtemps gardé le silence, espérant que ma mort viendrait éteindre jusqu’au souvenir de la deplorable publicité faite autour de mon nom durant tout le mois de septembre 1923 à la première page de l’Arkham Advertiser ainsi que dans les principaux journaux du Massachusetts.|
Mais je viens d’apprendre que des archéologues aussi réputés que le professeur Arthur Kennelon et que Sir Dennis Osterwell s’apprêtaient à entreprendre de nouvelles fouilles sur la vieille colline de Ranwich. Je crois de mon devoir aujourd’hui de parler et de répéter une fois encore ce que je n’ai cessé d’implorer tout au long du procès: qu’on laisse la tour s’écrouler… que personne ne touche à la paroi Maudite de la dernière cave…
Hélas, j’écris ces lignes à regret car je sens qu’ils auront la légèreté coupable de n’y attacher aucune importance réelle.
Aucun être n’a, je pense, éprouvé autant d’attachement, autant de solicitude attentive que moi pour l’homme qui se nommait Rolf Chapvet. Aucun ne l’a observe avec une curiosité aussi insatiable, avec une perseverance plus soutenue et il n’est personne au monde qui puisse affirmer l’avoir mieux connu.
Pourtant j’attest que ce sont bien mes doigts qui ont imprimé leurs marques sur sa peau blême au cours de l’effroyable nuit dans le caveau Shadmeth. Ce sont mes mains qui ont serré son cou glacé et c’est dans mon esprit, guidé par la certitude absolue de débarrasser la Terre du plus abominable monster qu’elle ait jamais porté, que j’ai puisé le courage necessaire pour aller jusqu’au bout de ce contact hideux et pour étrangler sans remords cette creature qui n’aurait jamais du être appellee à la vie.
|I kept silent for a long time, hoping that my death would extinguish even the memory of the deplorable publicity made around my name during the whole month of September 1923 on the front page of the Arkham Advertiser as well as in the principal newspapers of Massachusetts.|
But I have just learned that such renowned archaeologists as Professor Arthur Kennelon and Sir Dennis Osterwell are preparing to undertake new excavations on the old hill of Ranwich. I believe it is my duty today to speak and to repeat once again what I have constantly implored throughout the trial: that the tower be allowed to collapse… that no one touch the cursed wall from the final cellar…
Alas, I write these lines with regret because I feel that they will recklessly not attach any real importance to them.
No being has, I think, felt as much attachment, as much attentive solicitude as I for the man who was called Rolf Chapvet. No one has observed him with such insatiable curiosity, with more sustained perseverance, and there is no one in the world who can claim to have known him better.
Yet I attest that it was my fingers that left their marks on his pale skin during the dreadful night in the Shadmeth vault. It was my hands that gripped his frozen neck and it was in my mind, guided by the absolute certainty of ridding the Earth of the most abominable monster it had ever borne, that I drew the courage necessary to go as far as at the end of this hideous contact and to strangle without remorse this creature which should never have been called to life.
The story is set in Lovecraft country; principally in and around Arkham. Indeed, an English translator might well simply retitle it “The Ranwich Horror” to emphasize the degree to which the author is riffing off of “Dunwich” in their naming. The opening narration is very strongly reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and much of the unnamed narrator’s focus is on the strange history of his friend Rolf Chapvet, beginning with his father:
|Jonathan Chapvet était l’homme le plus paisible du monde, du moins à l’époque où je le connus. Il avait énormément voyage, au cours d’une vie bien remplie et sa demeure, une des plus belles de la ville, était bourrée d’objets exotiques et singuliers ramenés de tous les coins du monde et don’t les forms déconcertantes pour la plupart des habitants de la cite qui n’avaient jamais quitté la Nouvelle Angleterr, n’étaient sans doute pas étrangères aux rumeurs qui couraient sur son compte.|
Elles cessèrent d’ailleurs lorsque Jonathan se maria et qu’il s’intall définitivement à Arkham pour y exercer la profession tranquille d’architecte.
A la lumière de ce que je sais maintenant, je ne peux m’empêcher de croire qu’il y avait quelque chose d’assez déconcerant dans les conceptions architecturales de Jonathan.
|Jonathan Chapvet was the most peaceful man in the world, at least when I knew him. He had traveled a lot during a busy life and his home, one of the most beautiful in the city, was stuffed with exotic and singular objects brought back from all over the world and whose forms were disconcerting for the most part. inhabitants of the city who had never left New England, were doubtless no strangers to the rumors which ran about him.|
They ceased when Jonathan got married and settled permanently in Arkham to practice the quiet profession of architect.
In light of what I know now, I can’t help but believe that there was something rather disconcerting about Jonathan’s architectural designs.
Much of the story makes direct reference to H. P. Lovecraft’s map of Arkham, which had been published by Arkham House in Marginalia (1944). If you have the map, you can follow along as the story as it references Saltonstall Street and Garrison Street, and you know what the narrator is talking about when he mentions the deserted island in the middle of the Miskatonic River.
The elder Chapvet died, and Rolf grew up strange, morbid, and brilliant, surrounded by rumors. At one point after his father’s death illness seized him:
|Son corps se tordait, son visage devenait blanc, ses narines se pinçaient, tandis qu’il roulait des yeux hagards qui paraissaient voir un spectacle inconnu des hommes.|
Il arrivait à l’enfant de prononcer d’étranges paroles où revenaient sans cesse des mots inconnus comme Askairoth… Yog-Shoggoth, et parfois comme une plainte craintive: Tekeli-li, Tekeli-li…
|His body writhed, his face turned white, his nostrils pinched, while he rolled haggard eyes that seemed to see a sight unknown to men.|
It happened to the child to utter strange words in which unfamiliar words kept coming back like Askairoth… Yog-Shoggoth, and sometimes like a fearful complaint: Tekeli-li, Tekeli-li…
“Yog-Shoggoth” appears to be an unintentional error—easy enough if the author(s) were working from memory instead of having the books in front of them—but it is hard to tell. Lovecraft himself may have confused the issue a bit when he used constructions like “Niguratl-Yig” in “The Electric Executioner,” or the confusion may have been deliberate. Keep in mind that in the 1950s, much less of the “lore” of the Mythos had been set in stone by repeated usage.
Chapvet survived, and at an early age matriculated to a very famous university:
|Vint le temps d’études plus sérieuses. Rolf entra à l’Université de Miskatonic à quatorze ans, très en avance sur ses condisciples.|
Il ne s’y lia avec personne, sauf avec le poète Sandy Baskerfield, celui qui devait publier un extravagant volume de vers intitule « Shaggaï ou les Horreurs Indicibles » deux ans seulement avant d’être interné à l’asile de Lipgood où il mourut d’un mal inconnu qui lui faisait le corps entièrement recouvert d’une sorte de tegument écailleux…
|The time came for more serious studies. Rolf entered the Miskatonic University at the age of fourteen, far ahead of his classmates.|
He became friends with no one there, except with the poet Sandy Baskerfield, the one who was to publish an extravagant volume of verse entitled Shaggai or the Unspeakable Horrors only two years before being interned in the asylum of Lipgood where he died of an unknown illness which made his body entirely covered with a sort of scaly integument…
The planet “Shaggai” was first mentioned by Lovecraft in “The Haunter of the Dark”; it would become more infamous in Ramsey Campbell’s “The Insects from Shaggai” (1964) and other stories that utilized those particular extraterrestrial entities, and Lin Carter’s “Shaggai” (1971). Sandy Bakersfield is in good company with the likes of poet Justin Geoffrey from Robert E. Howard’s “The Black Stone” and Edwin Derby in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” and generations of other Mythos poets who met their strange and terrible dooms.
Rumors and unusual incidents continued to cluster around Chapver at Miskatonic, but that didn’t stop him from doing the inevitable:
|Il passait tous ses instants libres à compulser sans relâche les précieux volumes de sciences occultes qui font depuis longtemps la célebrité de l’Université de Miskatonic.|
C’est ainsi qu’il put se plonger tour à tour dans le terrifiant Livre d’Eibon, le De Vermis Mysteriis de Ludwig Prin, et le Culte des Goules du trop fameux comte d’Erlette, sans oublier l’épouvantable Nécronomicon de l’arabe dément Abdul Alhazred.
Il alla même jusqu’à recopier des fragments de l’Unaussprechlichen de Von Junzt pour lesquels il fit faire une reliure spéciale en peau luisante, et il se procura, Dieu sait comment, la majeure partie des odieux manuscrits Pnakotiques.
|He spent all his free time relentlessly perusing the precious volumes of occult sciences that have long made Miskatonic University famous.|
This is how he was able to immerse himself in turn in the terrifying Book of Eibon, De Vermis Mysteriis by Ludwig Prinn, and Culte des Goules by the too famous Comte d’Erlette, not to mention the dreadful Necronomicon of the demented Arab Abdul Alhazred.
He even went so far as to copy fragments of Von Junzt’s Unaussprechlichen for which he had a special binding made in shiny leather, and he obtained, God knows how, the major part of the odious Pnakotic manuscripts.
Even in the 1950s, this kind of scene was cliché; it would be easier to count the Mythos pastiches published up to this point that didn’t include a shelf-full of the old familiar favorites from among the eldritch tomes. It was part of the game, and “Jacques Janus” had to know what they were playing at. Mythos fiction today is not necessarily more sophisticated, but this is part of the reason why pastiche fell out of favor: you almost know the story beats before they’re going to happen, and there’s very few surprises…but imagine reading this before there were Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1969), when Mythos stories were scarce and scattered in magazines and books. Many readers of this story may have heard or read of Lovecraft, but probably wouldn’t be familiar with much of the rest.
Chapvet graduated and came of age:
|A vingt at un ans, Rolf entra en possession de la plus grande partie de la fortune de son père, et c’est alors qu’il fit l’acquisition de la tour de Ranwich et du lopin de terre qui l’entourait.|
Il déménagea sa biblithèque et s’enferma à Ranwich.
La tour était bâtie au sommet d’une colline de fort mauvaise reputation. On assurait que des séances orgiaques et même des sacrifices humains s’étaient consommés là au siècle precedent. Il se trouvait encoure des vieillards qui avaient connu les précédents ccupants du château, avant l’incendie qui, en une nuit, sans un soufflé de vent, avait dévoré toute la bâtisse, et ses propriétaires, ne laissant subsister que la tour, croulante, mais au sujet de laquelle circulaient des bruits fâcheux.
|At the age of twenty-one, Rolf came into possession of the greater part of his father’s fortune, and it was then that he acquired the tower at Ranwich and the plot of land which surrounded it.|
He moved his library and shut himself up in Ranwich.
The tower was built on the top of a hill of very bad reputation. It was said that orgiastic seances and even human sacrifices had been consumed there in the previous century. There were still old people who had known the previous occupants of the castle, before the fire which, in one night, without a breath of wind, had devoured the whole building, and its owners, leaving only the tower, crumbling, but about which annoying rumors circulated.
The idea of a tower or castle on a hill is much more reminiscent of rural France than Massachusetts. If a reader wanted to justify the presence of such a structure, they might point to the tower in The Lurker at the Threshold for a possible inspiration, but this definitely feels like more of a European plot point than an American one. The superstitious peasants who live around Ranwich and spread even more rumors likewise feel like something out of a Dracula or Frankenstein film than the degenerate inhabitants of Dunwich.
|Au commencement de l’été 1923, la rumeur publique prit un autre ton. On affirma qu’une femme étrangère au pays vivait à la tour, d’une beauté inquiétante et qui ne pouvait être, disait-on, qu’inspirée par le démon.|
Je savais parfaitement que Rolf vivait seul, là-haut. Il ne s’était jamais intéressé aux femmes, d’ailleurs, qu’il jugeait indignes de partager la vie d’un homme tel que lui. Aussi mis-je ces nouvelles inventions sur le compte de l’imagination débridée de quelque fermier qui avait dû prendre ses désirs pour la réalité un soir de libation.
Peu après, deux, puis trois jeunes gens disparurent. Il fut impossible d’en trtrouver aucune trace. La police enquêta. En vain. Tout ce qu’on put savoir, c’est que l’un d’entre eux s’était juré de découvrir l’identité de la Dame Noire, comme on la nommait. La dernière fois qu’il avait été vu vivant, il se dirigeait vers Ranwich.
|At the beginning of the summer of 1923, public rumor took on a different tone. It was said that a woman from outside the country lived in the tower, of disturbing beauty and who, it was said, could only be inspired by the demon.|
I knew perfectly well that Rolf lived alone up there. He had never been interested in women, moreover, whom he considered unworthy of sharing the life of a man such as himself. So I put these new inventions down to the unbridled imagination of some farmer who must have taken his wishes for reality one night of libation.
Shortly after, two, then three young people disappeared. It was impossible to find any trace of them. The police investigated. In vain. All that could be known was that one of them had sworn to find out the identity of the Dark Lady, as she was called. He was last seen alive heading for Ranwich.
The disappearances among the locals led to an investigation, but nothing came of. More people disappeared, and one, Jommy Lagrest, went to the asylum…and it was something he said that sent the nameless narrator to investigate Ranwich himself, and would lead ultimately to the events mentioned at the beginning of the story:
|C’est alors que je pris ma decision: j’irais à Ranwich et je verrais Rolf. Il y avait un mot qui m’avait frappe, dans le récit de Jommy Lagrest, un mot qu’il ne pouvait avoir inventé, un mot que je me rappelais avoir entendu en d’autres circonstances tout aussi troublantes: Shoggoth… le bouc aux mille chevreaux.||It was then that I made my decision: I would go to Ranwich and see Rolf. There was one word that struck me in Jommy Lagrest’s story, a word he couldn’t have invented, a word I remembered hearing in other, equally disturbing circumstances: Shoggoth… the goat with a thousand young.|
Canny readers might, at this point, wonder at the authors’ error—first mistaking “Yog-Sothoth” for “Yog-Shoggoth,” and now “Shoggoth” for “Shub-Niggurath”—and that’s not something that’s easy to answer. Had they, in their limited access to Mythos fiction, drawn the wrong idea? Was it an error in some early translation or transcript that led to the confusion of barbarous names? We don’t know. If one insists on trying to make the story fit with other Mythos stories, then one explanation might be that someone—perhaps the narrator—has misheard or misconsrued. But in the narrative of the story itself, the error is of little import.
The narrator enters the tower, and goes then beneath it, into the cellars. The reader, if they have been paying attention, already knows what is going to happen, much as the readers of “The Thing on the Doorstep” knew at some point a revolver would be emptied. The only question left was why…the key to all the little mysteries…and then that final veil is lifted:
|« YOG… OH YOG SHOGGOTH… HUISH NYARTH’O… L’GEB… UAAH OGHTROP… »|
Et je vis avec horreur ce qui arrivait: petit à petit, au rythme de l’invocation immonde, le brouillard s’élevait, pregnant une forme vaguement humaine.
Il s’étrait, formant des bras, un corps, toute une infâme parodie d’être vivant. Sa masse vibrait, des volutes se tordaient, s’étiraient en prolongements hideux, entourant Rolf d’une étreinte caressante et monstreuse.
ET SOUS L’INFLUENCE DE L’EFFROYABLE ENTITE QU’IL AVAIT EVOQUEE, LE CORPS DE ROLF CHAPVET SE TRANSFORMAIT!
Ses traits tremblaient, le brouillard paraissait, s’infiltrer à travers toute sa peau. Une modification insensible commençait à dessiner un masque féminin d’une diabolique perversité sur les contours de son visage: l’atroce réalité de la Dame Noire et de ses sacrifces sanglants…
Oui, c’est bien vrai, je le confesse sans honte aucune, de mes propres mains, moi, sa mère, j’ai étranglé Rolf Chapvet.
|“YOG… OH YOG SHOGGOTH… HUISH NYARTH’O… L’GEB… UAAH OGHTROP…”|
And I saw with horror what happened: little by little, to the rhythm of the filthy invocation, the fog rose, pregnant with a vaguely human form.
It stretched, forming arms, a body, a whole infamous parody of being alive. Its mass vibrated, spirals twisted, stretched out in hideous extensions, surrounding Rolf in a caressing and monstrous embrace.
AND UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE TERRIBLE ENTITY HE HAD CALLED UP, ROLF CHAPVET’S BODY WAS TRANSFORMED!
His features trembled, the fog seemed to seep through all his skin. An imperceptible modification began to draw a feminine mask of diabolical perversity on the contours of her face: the atrocious reality of the Dark Lady and her bloody sacrifices…
Yes, it’s very true, I confess without any shame, with my own hands, I, his mother, strangled Rolf Chapvet.
The twin revelations no doubt strike readers differently today than they did in 1958. The narrator’s identity explains away how they know all they do about Rolf Chapvet, while at the same time almost constituting a sly poke at Lovecraft’s habit of silencing or ignoring mothers in his fiction. Her discovery of Rolf’s transgender activities—whether one considers that the occultist was possessed, as Asenath Waite was in “The Thing on the Doorstep,” or simply transformed in accordance with their wishes—no doubt strikes a chord considering the rejection and violence that many transgender people face today. It definitely invites new reading of the line “Il ne s’était jamais intéressé aux femmes, d’ailleurs, qu’il jugeait indignes de partager la vie d’un homme tel que lui.” (“He had never been interested in women, moreover, whom he considered unworthy of sharing the life of a man such as himself.”)
One might ask: who is “Celui qui suscitait l’effroi…”? Was it Rolf that was afraid of his mother, or was it the Dark Lady who instilled fear in the people around Ranwich?
I wonder how this story would have been received, if it had been translated and published in English decades ago. In terms of writing, a more skilled and erudite translator could no doubt do better with the prose. As a pastiche, it is of middling grade, neither the most excruciatingly dull or immediately compelling. What other writers might have picked up the idea of Yog-Shoggoth and expanded on it? Would transgender readers might have responded to this story differently than their cisgender peers?
Perhaps nothing. “Celui qui suscitait l’effroi…” has very little legacy today; not even a footnote in Mythos history. A very deep cut, but one that deserves to be better known.
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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