Magic of Atlantis: Sauthenerom: The Real Source of the Necronomicon (1985) by Frank G. Ripel & Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred (2022) by Mirando Gurzo

Occult readings of Lovecraft’s fiction began while he was still alive, with correspondents like William Lumley and the unnamed Salem witch descendent and “Maine wizard” expressing interest or belief in the reality of the artificial mythology and lore that Lovecraft and his contemporaries concocted. As Lovecraft put it:

[William Lumley] is firmly convinced that all our gang—you, Two-Gun Bob, Sonny Belknap , Grandpa E’ch-Pi-El, and the rest—are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension. We may think we’re writing fiction, and may even (absurd thought!) disbelieve what we write, but at bottom we are telling the truth in spite of ourselves—serving unwittingly as mouthpieces of Tsathoggua, Crom, Cthulhu, and other pleasant Outside gentry. Indeed—Bill tells me that he has fully identified my Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep ……. So that he can tell me more about ‘em that I know myself.

H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 3 Oct 1933, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 449

Lovecraft, as an ardent materialist, always disabused those who wrote to him asking for the reality of the Necronomicon or for occult lore; while he was happy to play the game of terrible incantations and rites in fiction and in his letters, he did not wish to actually misinform or mislead anyone. The interest generation in such works did, however, present an interesting possibility:

I dont wonder that you recieve letters inquiring about the Necronomicon. You invest it with so much realism, that it fooled me among others. Until you enlightened me, I thought perhaps there was some such book or manuscript sufficiently fantastic to form the basis of fictionized allusions. Say, why dont you write it yourself? If some exclusive house would publish it in an expensive edition, and give it the proper advertising, I’ll bet you’d realize some money from it.

Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, c. Apr 1932, A Means to Freedom 1.279

While neither Lovecraft or Howard pursued the idea, long after their death others acted on the idea. Two of the earliest and most prominent of these were the Necronomicon by Simon, first published by Schlangekraft in 1977 and in 1980 as an affordable mass-market paperback (which has never yet gone out of print) and in 1978 The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names edited by George Hay. These two books were both hoaxes that claimed to derive their text from a genuine manuscript; the Simon Necronomicon took as its inspiration Sumerian mythology and a dash of Aleister Crowley’s Thelema, while the Hay Necronomicon riffed off the European medieval grimoire tradition.

Of the two, the Simon book was more “serious” and aimed at fooling students of the occult, while the Hay book (with a lengthy introduction by Colin Wilson) was more fun. However, both books were embraced by burgeoning occult communities in the 1970s and 80s, were referenced by Kenneth Grant (a successor to Aleister Crowley) in his occult workbooks The Typhonian Trilogies (1972-2002), and continue to influence contemporary works of occultism such as Necronomicon Gnosis: A Practical Introduction (2007) by Asenath Mason. For more on the complicated Lovecraftian occult scene, see The Necronomicon Files by Daniel Harms & John W. Gonce III.

Nor were they the only such works; many occult Necronomicons have proliferated over the years…and not all of them in English. Many non-English language Necronomicons are, in whole or in part, translations of the popular Simon and Hay Necronomicons, sometimes with their rituals and imagery mixed together, sometimes interpolated with original material. Other works are largely original. Two particular works from Italy are good examples to compare and contrast how the occult Necronomicon tradition functions.

Magic of Atlantis: Sauthenerom: The Real Source of the Necronomicon (1985) by Frank G. Ripel

This Work is essentially divided into two parts. The first reveals the Text “Sauthenerom” whose source is lost in the Night of Times, and the other is an essay on particular esoterical matters that are related to the Ordo Rosae Misticae (The Order of the Mystic Rose) and connected with the Current of Occult Knoweldge that reaches back 4,000 years to the end of the Stellar-Lunar Cults and the beginning of the Lunar Cults. […]

I can assert that the Sauthenerom (The Book of the Law of Death) is the Text of the Real Necronomcion (The Book of Dead Names), i.e. the Text out of which later on the Necronomicon had developed.

Frank G. Ripel, “Introduction” to Magic of Atlantis 7

Frank Giano Ripel is an Italian occultist whose works primarily derive from Aleister Crowley’s system of ceremonial magic, whose best-known practitioners are the Ordo Templi Orientalis (O.T.O.). This system of ritual magic in turn grows out of the teachings of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, which in turn attempted to distill, codify, and systemize various occult practices such as the Western grimoire tradition such as The Sacred Book of Abramelin the Mage, Christian Kabbalah, and tarot (for more on which, see Eldritch Tarot (2021) by Sara Bardi).

After Aleister Crowley’s death, his last secretary Kenneth Grant sought to expand the system of Thelema through a series of books, starting with The Magical Revival (1972), which began to incorporate fictional elements—particularly the Lovecraft Mythos—into the already complicated system of occult correspondences. Other occultists picked up on this thread, and the Simon Necronomicon in particular included a table of correspondences suggesting that the Necronomicon and the Lovecraft Mythos were associated with Crowley’s teachings; Grant referred back to this in his later books, and like how the Cthulhu Mythos grew up from different authors pursuing their own writing goals and referencing one another’s work, the Lovecraftian occult began to expand. Ripel was part of that expansion.

As with many occultists and groups, the background is a little hazy. It appears that in the 1980s Ripel began self-publishing his own occult works for a relatively small and select audience; the principal volumes of these are the Sabean Trilogy which consists of three books, with the titles Magic of Atlantis, Red Magic, and Stellar Magic in English. Various translations of some of these were made in English, Spanish, and Serbian by small presses, and today several editions are available as ebooks, but the early English translations Magic of Atlantis are quite rare and it isn’t clear if the other books in the trilogy were ever translated into English, so Ripel’s influence on English-speaking Lovecraftian occultists appears to be minimal.

Ripel’s Magic of Atlantis is a sort of hybrid between Kenneth Grant’s and Simon’s approaches. The first part of the book, called the Sauthenerom, is implicitly a “received text” on the order of “The Book of the Forgotten Ones” (1977) by Nema Andahadna—or at least, unlike The Book of Dzyan (1888) by Helena Blavatsky there is no suggestion that Ripel was pretending to work off of a physical manuscript he had discovered. This Necronomicon ur-text borrows rather liberally from Lovecraft, though not without its original changes:

The Old Ones Are, the Old Ones Were and the Old Ones Will Be. From the Dawn of Times, in the Primordial Chaos, in ever Centre of the Infinite called Naxyr, the Gods Were and Were-Not; They were floating in the formless Waters of Darkness, in the Void of Naxyr. […]

At the Centre of Naxyr resideth his Manifestation in the form of that Protoplasmic Chaos, that Boiling Energy; the Manifested Father who is also the Son, the Projection of the Mother.

His Name is Azathoth,the Blind God who Explodes with no End, and out of his Death, the Manifested Worlds are born; and Planets and Stars and Suns and their inhabitants. He is the One that sits on the Double Throne. He is the One that clothes Yog-Sothoth of his Mother.

Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 11

This mythological section borrows fairly heavily from Theosophy…too much, in that it reproduces some of the inherent racism of the “root races”:

There were divisions among the Races caused above all by climactic conditions. For example, the South Race developed the faculty of enduring the bruning Sun’s Rays through the emission of a substance which darkens the skin. In the span of Ten Generations, this factor became hereditary.

Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 25

References to Lovecraft’s Mythos aside, the Sauthenerom section is relatively brief (26 pages) and divided into 13 chapters with a combination of myth, cosmology, and ritual. The bulk of the book is the second section, which details the magickal practices and beliefs of the Ordo Rosae Misticae, which presents itself as a splinter of the O.T.O.; Ripel both criticizes Grant’s publications while borrowing from them—like Crowley and Simon, Ripel borrows in Lovecraft’s creations to his system, though much of the Magic of Atlantis involves “correcting” Grant’s errors:

Talking of the relation between Lovecraft’s Cult and that of Crowley, we must point out an erroneus assertion of Kenneth Grant (see The Magical Revival) that Lovecraft did not know the Work of Crowley. Lovecraft’s letters, instead, demonstrate precisely the contrary. Besides, Grant’s comparative table between the Two Cults contains considerable mistakes.

Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 56-57

The third part of the book is devoted to the grades of Ripel’s order, and the actual magickal operations are described in part four; these mostly involve fairly typical instructions for how to create various ritual tools and spaces, and variations of familiar Thelemic rites—in place of Crowley’s “Mass of the Phoenix,” for example, is given instructions for the “Host of Satan”:

To prepare the Host of Satan (Lucifer’s Bread of Light) various types of Blood could be used, the best is that of the Moon, that is the Menstrual Blood. One will have ot burn the Blood making cakes out of it.

Frank G. Ripel, Magic of Atlantis 179

There is little to nothing of Lovecraft in this “operational” portion of the book, and that rather reveals Magic of Atlantis for what it is: a handbook for by and for practicing Thelemic magicians working within Ripel’s particular interpretation of Crowley and Grant’s system.

The fanciful pseudo-Lovecraftian material that fronts the book ultimately gives way to almost prosaic repetition of standard Hermetic ceremonial matters in the back half; despite grand claims to have at his access ultimate secrets, at least in this book Ripel’s imagination falls far short of expectations. Would-be Lovecraftian cultists may be disappointed not to find anything as weird or grand as in the Simon and Hay Necronomicons…but actual serious-minded occultists will probably appreciate Ripel’s criticisms of Grant (provided they agree) and his efforts at magical scholasticism.

Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred (2022) by Miranda Gurzo

La versione di Hay e Wilson, ad esempio, è interessante per tutta la parte introduttiva, che tesse un intricato mistero attorno alla figura di John Dee e alle sue “comunicazioni angeliche”, ma il testo vero e proprio del libro maledetto è piuttosto breve e modellato senza tropa fantasia sull’impronta dei manuali magical medievali.Hay and Wilson’s version, for example, is interesting throughout the introductory part, which weaves an intricate mystery around the figure of John Dee and his “angelic communications”, but the actual text of the cursed book is rather short and modeled without too much imagination on the imprint of medieval magical manuals.
Miranda Gurzo, “Introduzione” in Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred 7

Where Magic of Atlantis is a book for magicians by magicians, Miranda Gurzo’s Necronomicon is plain about being a work of fiction more in the vein of the Hay Necronomicon—but to go it one better and try and produce a work of fiction that is more in keeping with the spirit and scope of the Necronomicon-as-medieval-grimoire. Rather than overly concerning itself with contemporary Lovecraftian occultism, Gurzo focused on creating something closer to what the Necronomicon in Lovecraft’s stories might have looked like, if it was a real book.

There have been a few other books with similar approaches, but most of them are ultimately prop books—works that look the part, but without a particularly coherent or interesting original text. Italian publisher Libri Prohibiti for example creates beautiful, functionally unique works of book art, but the texts of these imaginary-books-made-flesh aren’t original, being often taken from some public domain text, sometimes with alterations to reflect the theme. Efforts to actually write the Necronomicon in whole or in part tend to run up hard against a lack of effort, lack of creativity, or both. L. Sprague de Camp, for example, famously published a version of the Al Azif in 1973 that consists only of a long narrative introduction and eight pages of the same pseudo-Duriac text.

It looks the business, but you can’t actually read it.

Many other authors have tried to write pieces of the Necronomicon, as collected in the Chaosium book of the same name, but the results usually fail to meet expectations. In part, that has to do with the reputation that the Necronomicon was attributed by Lovecraft in his early fiction, and which has only grown over subsequent generations. It’s pretty much impossible to distill something sufficiently shocking, terrible, revelatory, occult, grotesque, and weird into a single book…and if you did manage that feat, it would still fail to live up to expectations, because the whole point of the Necronomicon is a book which is literally defined as being beyond your imagination. If you can pick it up and read it, how could it ever compare to that ancient, moldering tome kept under lock and key in the Miskatonic University library?

In a sense, Gurzo tries to get around this by tempering expectations.

Ma io, Abdul Alhazred, ho potuto con i miei stessi occhi scrutare i mistici caratteri delle Cronache di Nath, la cui antichita’ supera quella del nostro cosmo, e la cui origine si situa nel mondo da cui Quelli di Prima vennero in principio, che i mistici conoscono come Nath dei Tre Soli.But I, Abdul Alhazred, was able with my own eyes to scrutinize the mystical characters of the Chronicles of Nath, whose antiquity surpasses that of our cosmos, and whose origin lies in the world from which Those who First came in the beginning, which the mystics know as Nath of the Three Suns.
Miranda Gurzo, Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred 16

Basically, the Gurzo Necronomicon is a kind of pseudo-medieval occult textbook, combining aspects of fantastical geography, cosmology, theology, metaphysics, and “functional” occultism. It is written in a pseudo-archaic style—as far as tone and format—although the actual language is contemporary Italian rather than another dialect (such as Venetian), and all the proper names (Abdul Alhazred, Shub-Niggurath, Cthulhu, etc.) are in recognizable contemporary forms. In this, it probably more closely resembles translations of actual medieval grimoires into contemporary languages than it does a genuine medieval product…but you can actually read it (or, if you don’t read Italian, translate it by hand or via an app).

If the Gurzo Necronomicon doesn’t promise the most terrible secrets of the universe, it does at least present a reasonable and readable facsimile of what a medieval occult textbook based on the Mythos might actually have looked like. It is relatively long (356 pages of text), detailed, and certainly a labor of love to gather bits and pieces of Mythos lore from across dozens of stories and try to weave them together into something like a coherent narrative. This goes beyond just Lovecraft, but borrowing from Clark Ashton Smith and other Mythos writers as well:

COmpresi allora aldila’ di ogni dubbio che quello che avevo veduto altro non era che l’Idolo dei Ciechi, il simulacro di un mostruoso Essere venuto dall’Esterno; Egli dimora nel lago sotterraneo del deserto di Chaur, e nelle tenebre tartaree e’ adorato e servito da una razza degenerata di Aihai chiamati Yorhis, i quali sono costantemente mantenuti dall’Abitatore dell’Abisso in uno stato di oblio e inconsapevolezza, cosi’ che non possano ribellarsi alla tirannia del loro Signore.I understood then beyond any doubt that what I had seen was none other than the Idol of the Blind, the simulacrum of a monstrous Being who came from Outside; He dwells in the underground lake of the desert of Chaur, and in the Tartarean darkness he is worshiped and served by a degenerate race of Aihai called Yorhis, who are constantly kept by the Dweller of the Abyss in a state of oblivion and unawareness, so that they cannot rebel against the tyranny of their Lord.
Miranda Gurzo, Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred 107; referencing “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis.”

Probably the closest equivalent in English would be Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (2004) by Donald Tyson, which was part of a series of Necronomicon-related works of dubious merit for the new spirituality shelves at your favorite local chain bookstore. Tyson’s books are almost the definition of cheap pop-occultism, utterly unambitious and aimed at a reader that doesn’t know much of anything about either magic or the Mythos. Gurzo at least delves deep into Mythos lore, to the point where you might want to keep the Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia handy to look up an obscure reference or two.

Gurzo hasn’t neglected the Lovecraftian occult elements, but the incantations, magic circles, and other instructions tend to be interspersed through the text; to give the flavor of it:

E le labbra degli stregoni, e con loro le mie, iniziarono a cantilenare le Parole proibite del Rituale Nero di Yaddith:

Gn’narh ng’gha w’zah hey m’nah k’ha nay Shub-Niggurath
R’ahay w’nah kbah t’agh tr’ogh b’naeh sh’baah Yog-Sothoth
Yah’hay t’lagh’ ph’nuy d’nah mnha ghaay ptha lw’ha u’nahy
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
And the sorcerers’ lips, and mine with them, began chanting the Forbidden Words of the Black Ritual of Yaddith:

Gn’narh ng’gha w’zah hey m’nah k’ha nay Shub-Niggurath
R’ahay w’nah kbah t’agh tr’ogh b’naeh sh’baah Yog-Sothoth
Yah’hay t’lagh’ ph’nuy d’nah mnha ghaay ptha lw’ha u’nahy
Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Ia! Ia! Shub-Niggurath!
Miranda Gurzo, Necronomicon: Il Libro Proibito di Abdul Alhazred 348

Like the Hay Necronomicon, the Gurzo Necronomicon is not attempting to be a complete magical system or text in the sense of the Simon Necronomicon or Ripel’s Magic of Atlantis. What it is trying to do, more than the other books, is to present a Necronomicon that is reasonably accurate to the contents of the Necronomicon as Lovecraft and his contemporaries and heirs described it, with explicit and frequent reference to the Mythos entities, places, books, and magical operations that you can read about in Mythos fiction.

Which probably won’t stop some eager cultists from trying out a few of the tongue-twisting incantations on their own. The nature of the Lovecraftian occult is to spur the imagination of practitioners, who tend to borrow from myriad sources as they explore the weird world of magick. Ripel and Gurzo are coming from different perspectives, and in different ways: Magic of Atlantis is a relatively slim hardback that was published in a single edition in limited numbers, and the main illustrations are a series of line-diagrams of the Tree of Life and poorly-reproduced black-and-white photographs; Gurzo’s Necronomicon is a fat hardback published print-on-demand with relatively more diagrams…but the images show loss of resolution, blurring and pixelization. Both are primarily products of single creators rather than corporate products, but the publishing environment has shifted vastly in the nearly 40 years between the two books.

Ripel is attempting to appeal to occultists, and Gurzo to weird literature fans—but they have ended up in practically the same place, both of them crafting new recensions in the Necronomicon occult tradition. The line between “real” occultism and fiction is blurry, and the two influence one another all the time; the Necronomicon quotes that Lovecraft came up with in “The Dunwich Horror” have been assimilated into these fictional grimoires, and some of those practices have in turn inspired new Lovecraftian fiction like Trolling Lovecraft (2021) by V. McAfee.

How much influence these particular works will ever have on English-language Mythos fiction or the Lovecraftian occult is hard to say; the language barrier can be difficult to pass. Plus, the market is saturated: we are in the fifth decade of Lovecraftian occult publishing, and there is no end in sight, and would-be practitioners have a lot of raw material to choose from.


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 Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) by Sonia H. Davis

I’ve heard from various sources in town that Lovecraft’s wife has suddenly put in an appearance and is causing somewhat of a rumpus. Is this true, or is it, as usual, the kind of ill thought out gossip that is prevalent among the inept citizens of the L. A. Fantasy Society?
—Ray Bradbury to August Derleth, 19 Nov 1947 

Lovecraft’s wife did turn up; she is now a Mrs. Sonia Davis, the widow of the husband (no. 3) she had after HPL. She wrote a biography called THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and wanted to incorporate a lot of his prejudices as if they were major parts of his life, seen through her Yiddish eyes; she also wanted to include letters of Lovecraft, but we pointed out that the only way she could do that would be with our permission first. We have heard nothing further from her, though I had a talk with her in New York City.
—August Derleth to Ray Bradbury, 21 Nov 1947

Howard Phillips Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene at an amateur convention in Boston in 1921; on 3 March 1924 they were married. The union was brief; they cohabited for only about fifteen months in New York City, with Sonia forced to seek work in the Midwest where Howard would not follow, and Howard returned to Providence. In 1929, Sonia petitioned Howard for a divorce; due to the laws in place at the time, this could not be granted without cause, and the pretense was made that Sonia had deserted him. Howard, however, did not sign the final decree. They remained in touch for some years, and Howard even helped her with her travelogue. In 1933 Sonia left for California, and in 1936 she remarried, to Nathaniel Abraham Davis. H. P. Lovecraft died in 1937; Sonia was not made aware of this until 1945, when informed of the fact by their mutual associate Wheeler Dryden. Nathaniel Davis died 6 April 1946.

So it was, in the immediate aftermath of the second World War and the revelations of the Holocaust, that Sonia H. Davis cast back her mind some twenty years to write her memoir of her second husband, H. P. Lovecraft. The resulting document is a valuable account on several fronts: no one was as intimate with H. P. in the way of his wife, and since H. P. was very reluctant to write about his marriage in his letters, Sonia’s account provides the major source for their domestic life, as well as incidental information on their courtship.

Getting published, however, was a bit tricky.

While here Belknap Long put me in touch with Mr. August Derleth, who seems to have full rights to HP’s work; at least so he states.

I read a few pages to him from my scribbled manuscript (it was almost illegible to myself).

At first he told me that he wanted to publish it. Then he shunted me off to one Ben Abramson who, he said would publish it. At first Derleth said he would me $600.00 for it at the end of three years, with possibly a small initial sum against royalties.

I’m not young enough to wait three years. If the work is important to those who are most interested I felt it ought to be paid for outright.

So upon reflection I wrote to Mr. Derleth telling him I would have my own publisher do the work and that I would use my story of the “Invisible Monster” as revised by H.P. of mine first as well as some very personal letters and poems of his revision.

In reply he shot back a spec. del. letter that all HP. material belong to the estate of H.P.L. and that “Arkham House” (ie. he) alone had full legal rights to its use; and that I was likely to find that the could would restrain the sale of the work, would confiscate & destroy it.

I have written him stating that I had already offered the material to you, but that I may have to retract the offer if I am to be punished for using letters that were addressed to me personally.

Perhaps I am quite ignorant of the law but I cannot see how these can belong to the Lovecraft estate, to Mr. Barlow (as he stated) or to himself! Personally I no longer feel an interest in my past. Other interests have developed since then. However, because Mr. D. & you and others clamored for HPL’s private life with me, I thought it might be a source of income, and at the same time tell some truths that would throw more light on his character and perhaps on his psychology.

Since I do not know the law regarding these matters and as I have no money to start any “fights” it might be the better part of valor to drop the matter altogether, since while I do not fear Mr. D’s veiled threats and open intimidation I’m not in a position to fight.

Mr. D’s method of “high pressuring” me into doing what he wants is not to my taste. It would be interesting to contact the county clerk in Providence and make sure my reasons to believe that H.P. died intestate. If so, how does the property belong to Barlow and Derleth?

Had HP. lived and known of D’s aims, I feel sure he would not have countenanced D’s intimidation of me, no matter how much he would have liked to have his words read by his followers.

Sonia Davis to Winfield Townley Scott, 13 Sep 1947

We will never know exactly what passed between August Derleth and Sonia when they met in New York, but some correspondence survives regarding the meeting and its aftermath. After his death, Lovecraft had provided instructions that R. H. Barlow was to be his literary executor, and whether or not the document was exactly legal his surviving aunt Annie Gamwell respected his wishes. August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were anxious and eager to get Lovecraft into print so that their friend’s work would not be lost; to this end they quickly got to work, and after securing permission from Mrs. Gamwell, began looking for a publisher. Failing to find one, they founded their own small press: Arkham House.

Barlow’s position as literary executor was a complication; especially as Barlow was at university at the time and moved from Kansas City to San Francisco, and then down to Mexico. Donald Wandrei joined the U.S. Army during WWII (Derleth was exempted from the draft for health reasons), leaving Derleth in essential control of Arkham House—and by extension, the Lovecraft estate, having secured Barlow’s essential cooperation for access to Lovecraft’s manuscripts and letters and Gamwell’s permission to print. Derleth took a very proprietary stance with regard to Lovecraft’s fiction, claiming that Arkham House had sole and exclusive rights to all of it, as well as his letters and any other materials—if it was to be published, it would be through Arkham House. In part, this legal bluff was hard-nosed business sense, Arkham House was not exactly a cash cow, with small print runs of relatively expensive books that took a long time to sell, the company basically supported by Derleth’s other writing. But also in part Derleth wished to preserve the memory of H. P. Lovecraft and his image. So Derleth would also threaten legal action against C. Hall Thompson during this period for using the Mythos without permission, and in 1950 would refuse publication of Warren Thomas’ thesis on Lovecraft, which cast an unflattering light.

Meanwhile, did I tell you Sonia Lovecraft Davis turned up with some laughable idea of cashing in on HPL’s “fame” and the desire to publish a “frank” book, entitled THE PRIVATE LIFE OF H. P. LOVECRAFT, and quoting generously from his letters. She read me part of the ms. in New York, and in it she has HPL posing as a Jew-baiter (she is Jewish), she says she completely supported HPL for the years 1924 to 1932, and so on, all bare-faced lies. I startled her considerably when I told her we had a detailed account of their life together in HPL’s letters to Mrs. Clark [Lovecraft’s aunt Lillian Clark]. I also forbade her to use any quotations from HPL’s letters without approval from us, acting for the estate. I told her by all means to write her book and I would read it, but it was pathetically funny; she thought you could get rich on the book. She said it would sell easily a million copies! Can you beat it! I tried to point out that a biographical book on HPL by myself, out two years, had not yet sold 1000 copies, and that book combined two well-known literary names. She thought she should have $500 advance on her book as a gift, and royalties besides! I burst into impolite laughter, I fear.
—August Derleth to R. H. Barlow, 23 Oct 1947

Sonia probably didn’t have an idea about the realities of publishing, and she did likely need the money. An agreement was finally reached: Sonia cut all the quotations from Lovecraft’s letters, and the journalist Winfield Townley Scott heavily edited the piece, which was published in the 28 August 1948 edition of the Providence Journal as “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him.”

In September 1948, Sonia suffered a heart attack.

“Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him” was published in Books at Brown vol. XI, nos. 1-2; Lovecraft’s papers had been placed at the John Hay Library at Brown University in Providence by R. H. Barlow shortly after Lovecraft’s death. Cordial relations between Sonia and August Derleth were re-established. In 1949, Arkham House published Something About Cats and Other Pieces which included “Lovecraft As I Knew Him” (a Derleth-edited version of “Howard Phillips Lovecraft As His Wife Remembers Him”) as well as the stories “The Invisible Monster” and “Four O’Clock.”

Little other material was forthcoming; Sonia broke her hip in 1960 and ceased to work, moving into a rest home. Arkham House eventually published a briefer remembrance “Memories of Lovecraft I” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1969), and later a letter that Lovecraft had sent her as “Lovecraft in Love” in the Arkham Collector (Winter 1971). A young student named R. Alain Everts, interviewing Lovecraft’s surviving correspondents interviewed her and obtained a copy of Alcestis which he would eventually publish. His final telephone call with her was 22 December 1972; Sonia H. Davis would pass away four days later.

While a few more items would be published after Sonia’s death, her memoir of Lovecraft remains her single largest work. It was eventually published in its original form—sans any quotes from Lovecraft’s letters but before Scott or Derleth edited it, with an appendix on their mutual friend Samuel Loveman—in 1985 from Necronomicon Press under her original title: The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft.

As an historical document, Sonia’s memoir is both extremely valuable and not without its flaws. On the one hand, it is a first-person account, even if some of the events being written about are twenty years in the past. Many of the basic facts that can be checked against other sources do check out; there are a few claims that probably deserved caveats—S. T. Joshi in his introduction to the text notes:

The extent to which Sonia harps upon money matters in her memoir may in part be justified—she was clearly trying to set the record straight and correct the inadequacies of previous treatments, especially by W. Paul Cook—but also underscores another point of tension which Lovecraft was perhaps reluctant to mention to his correspondents. For a full two years—from 1924 to 1926—Lovecraft was essentially supported financially by his wife. he had virtually no independent income, and his bootless efforts to find employment in New York are poignantly chronicled in his letters of the period. (5-6)

Some claims have to be measured against what else we know. Sonia’s assertion that:

He admired Hitler, and read Mein Kampf almost as soon as it was released and translated into English. I believe he was much influenced by that book. It may have had much to do in influencing further his hate, not only for Jews, but for all minorities, which he made little effort to conceal. (28)

This claim is on the last page of the book, in an addendum of afterthoughts that are predominantly about Lovecraft’s racial views. Keeping in mind that Sonia was writing this after World War II, when antisemitism was more prominent, and that she had very limited contact with Lovecraft after 1932 when Hitler came to power—which she and Lovecraft chronicled a small part of in their European Glimpses. The first English edition of Mein Kampf was the Dugdale abridged version published in 1933; it is possible Lovecraft read this, although there is no mention of it in his correspondence, and excerpts were published in the Times. So the claim is a bit iffy on the face: it’s not clear how Sonia would know this, the timing is a bit suspect, and there is no clear corroborating evidence from Lovecraft’s letters that he read Mein Kampf. But it cannot be completely discounted; they may well have continued corresponding in the mid-30s, and Lovecraft may have read the excerpts in the Times and mentioned them.

Similar consideration has to be given to every claim in the book. Her insistence on the importance of The Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft to Howard does not seem borne out by a study of Lovecraft’s letters, but many other little details are. In some cases, such as the writing of “The Horror at Martin’s Beach,” Sonia is essentially the sole source we have to go on. Her manuscript sans Scott and Derleth’s writing is often disordered, written down as she remembers it, or to counteract specific points in previous memoirs about Lovecraft that had been written at that point (1946).

Also telling at the things that Sonia does not talk about. She makes almost no mention of her previous marriage or family; barely mentioning her mother (Lovecraft’s mother-in-law), who was alive and in New York at the time of their marriage, or her adult daughter Carol Weld (they had become estranged sometime in the 1920s), and no mention of her half-siblings in the Midwest. Juicy details on the Lovecrafts’ sex life were also not forthcoming, although Everts would provide what few we have from his interviews with Sonia, and Derleth noted after meeting Sonia in Los Angeles in 1953:

A propos your piece on Lovecraft, the question of HPL and sex had been bothering me for some time […] so in 1953 when I was in Los Angeles, I asked Sonia Davis—the ex-Mrs. Lovecraft—rather bluntly about HPL’s sexual adequacy. She assured me that he had been entirely adequate sexually, and since she impressed me as a well-sexed woman, not easily satisfied, I concluded that HPL’s “Aversion” was very probably nothing more than a kind of puritanism—that is, it was something “gentlemen” didn’t discuss.
—August Derleth, Haunted (1968) vol. 1, no 3, 114

Much of the actual domestic life and some of their later visits after their separation are not included in Sonia’s memoir. We know from Lovecraft’s letters to his aunts that he spent an extensive amount of time out of the household, visiting friends and the Kalem Club; we know that they enjoyed going out to dinner and to the theater; that when she was ill he would visit her in the hospital for hours; that they struggled with finances after Sonia lost her job and ended up selling some of her furniture.

It is an important memoir; perhaps one of the most important memoirs of Lovecraft that we have. Nearly forty years were required to get Sonia’s unedited words to the public, and she did not live to see that happen. The few errors in it or the critical assessment of some claims do not detract from its importance; it is the nature of historical research to question sources, to view them critically, to weigh the evidence against other accounts. To ask ourselves why Sonia was writing this, and to whom. There she was, alone once more, writing about a husband that had died nearly a decade before, and whom she had first met over twenty years before—and there are moments in her recollections that may be a bit rose-tinted, and others where Sonia was clearly trying to answer to claims about Lovecraft’s prejudices, or refute the inaccuracies of early biographers. Yet she wrote what only she could—and we are the richer for it.

“The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft” has been most recently published in Ave Atque Vale (2018) from Necronomicon Press, alongside other memoirs of Lovecraft.


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

The Leopard of Poitain (1985) by Raul Garcia-Capella

“Just—Irem. Ah, I see by your expression you too know of my namesake, that legendary place—”

You have heard of the city called ‘Irem’?”

“I’ve read esoterica about the City of Magicians. ‘Tis said to be but fancy, master. But a poet never forswears such dreams.”
—Raul Garcia-Capella, “Caravan to Kuthchemes” in The Leopard of Poitain 57

The fictional worlds of Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft are intertwined, one Mythos shading into another. In his long and varied career Conan faced Lovecraftian horrors such as the tentacled monster Thog in the lost city of Xuthal, and dealt with wizards birthed on Dagoth Hill which might have been cousins to Wilbur Whateley. Lovecraft himself put small references to Valusia, Bran Mak Morn, and the Serpent Men into his fiction…so it is not too much of a gloss to say that the Howardian heroes existed in the same world as nameless Lovecraftian protagonists.

Fans took note of this, and the Lovecraftian element has never quite left Howardian fiction even to this day.

I was born in Puerto RIco and brought up in San Juan in P.R., and in Miami. My paternal grandmother, a schoolteacher, taught me my first couple of grammar school years. Mom and Dad were readers; Dad was also a movie fna. As a kid, I’d read fairy tales to my younger cousins, while Dad introduced me to the serials, some of which were the Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon and the Nyoka serials, not to mention a number of Tarzan movies, Westerns, etc. Here’d by books for Christmas, and by the time I was eight had read Tarzan of the Apes and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea in Spanish.
—”An Interview with Raul Garcia-Capella” by James Van Hise
in Sword & Fantasy #6, 44

Raul Garcia-Capella is better known as an illustrator for science fiction and fantasy books and magazines, with dozens of covers and interior art to his credit, sometimes under the name Ray Capella or R. Garcia Capella. Born in 1933, his family arrived in Brooklyn in the 1940s, just in time for the last decade-and-a-half of the pulp magazine craze.

DID YOU READ WEIRD TALES AT THE TIME?

No. Weird Tales didn’t attract me, I knew it was horror and my interest was more for science fiction/adventure. Through collecting and coming across Lovecraft’s work in the Boys High Library I realized HPL and Howard had written for Weird Tales.

I’d buy writers that had appeared in WT but I didn’t get the magazine itself, as when I did, I never could get through an entire issue. Later, I discovered Clark Ashton Smith and began appreciating the quality of material published by it. but I never got into collecting it. (ibid., 47)

This was during the period Dorothy McIlwraith was editor at Weird Tales, where she dropped science fiction and adventure stories. It wasn’t until about 1960 that Garcia-Capella became involved with Howard fandom, in the pages of the prominent fanzine Amra, and it was there that he began to write:

I wrote the brief autobiogrpahy of an Argossean; a fanciful bunch of ideas featuring a character who lived in the Hyborean Age. I thought it’s be presumptious to mess with Conan, who could only be done by Howard. So my creation tried to add more color to Conan’s world without altering it. In a word, it was a tribute. But [George H.] Scrithers wouldn’t let me off the hook because I’d outlined stories and titles. He kept nudging me by mail whenever I contributed illos or articles. Although hesitant to do it, when I finally started, the tales wrote themselves. It was great fun. I was reading Howard and Brackett and all the people that influenced me. But it was just—boom; they came out. (ibid., 51)

“The Leopard of Poitain” was published in the April 1960 issue of Amra, the outline inspired by “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career” (P. Schuyler Miller & John D. Clark, 1938). This was followed up over a period of years with other adventures of Arquel of Argos. They were fun; Raul Garcia-Capella was a competent fantasist, and he knew what he wanted to write—action-driven sword & sorcery inspired by Robert E. Howard, Leigh Brackett, A. Merritt, and Fritz Leiber. Arquel himself, the eponymous “Leopard of Poitain,” is no Conan-clone or pastiche. An adventurer, certainly, but like Leiber’s Gray Mouser more interested in the thaumaturgical and wizardly side of things than the Cimmerian.

Working in another man’s story-world is a tricky business. […] Capella wisely—very wisely—uses Howard’s world without using Howard’s principal characters in on-stage rôles. Arquel is neither Conan nor an imitation of him; Capella is no Howard—he’s far saner, far easier to know and like. In doing so, Capella has illuminated corners of the Hyborean world that Howard overlooked: what was going on behind the scenes; why the enemies were foiled in their attempt to launch a sneak attack or to bring into being a evil, magical past best left buried; and how magic and magicians can work for good as well as for evil.
—George H. Scithers, “Introduction” to The Leopard of Poitain ii

The book-length collection The Leopard of Poitain (1985) is a bit of a hybrid. The first half (“Book I”) is a stitch-up novel that collects all of the Arquel adventures published in the pages of Amra and Fantasy Book up to that point, and pieces them together with brief episodes (“Witch’s Pebbles”) that forecast the new and longer novella (“The Winds of Acheron”) which makes up the second half (“Book II”), and takes place in and around the events of the final Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon (1936). As he put it:

Jim Kelly, a fantasy fan who wanted to get into publishing, wrote asking why no one had put all the Arquel stories into one volume. The editors forward the letter to me. While exchanging letters, I let Jim know the project would need the final novella; it hadn’t been written. He agreed to wait and sent an advance check when the book was ready. The rest you know. Morgan Holmes proposed using the novella—”The Winds of Acheron”—and I did some polishing on it for that edition.
—”An Interview with Raul Garcia-Capella” by James Van Hise, 53

Explicit Lovecraftian references in Garcia-Capella’s Arquel stories are few—a reference to Irem here, a Serpent Man there—and he made no attempt to create new entities and tomes as was common in Mythos pastiches of the period. One of the most Lovecraftian is “Turutal” (1965), which involves a lost dwarf race known as the Ituru awakened from a curse to reclaim their miniature citadel; shades of Robert E. Howard’s “Little People” stories and Conan tales such as “The Devil in Iron” and “Shadows in the Moonlight,” although it has no direct connections to either.

As a result, The Leopard of Poitain is often overlooked and forgotten compared to the Howardian pastiche novels published by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Björn Nyberg, Poul Anderson, Karl Edward Wagner, Andrew J. Offutt, and Robert Jordan of the period. Yet it is no less than any other work expanding the world that Howard created, and by extension is a serviceable a sword & sorcery offshoot of the Mythos as any other—and more conscientious of the source material and style than most pasticheurs. As he put it:

[Robert E. Howard’s] style balances mood and action almost seamlessly. Whether he’s doing horror or adventure, he has a flair for making scenes segue almost so well that you’re carried headlong. You can’t stop, go back, catch a gltich in the plot or—in the case of the “spicy” stories, for instance—an unevenness about the relationship between the characters. But you don’t care. In other words—his pacing is some of the best there is, in the pulp era or now.

In Moorcock’s aricles on fantasy, he traced the influences of gothic horror and the manner in which a description set story mood or was made to reflect the feelings of the characters involved. Lovecraft overdid it. C. L. Moore did this more lengthily than Brackett; Howard learned how to do it with a few words. In “The Devil in Iron,” the fisherman loosens the knife in its scabbard at the beginning of the opening paragraph—which ends with a sentence that sets the mood. Conflict comes first; mood closely follows and is interspersed through the fisherman’s exploration to his climactic demise. (ibid., 55)

Raul Garcia-Capella continued to write and illustrate, including other “Hyborian Age” tales such as “The Lair” (2006). He died in 2010.


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

Alcestis: A Play (1985) by Sonia H. Greene & H. P. Lovecraft

Alcestis. As by “Howard phillips Lovecraft and Sonia Haft Greene Lovecraft.”
Madison, WI: Strange Co., 1985. 15 pp.
Facsimile of the A.Ms. of a play (in Sonia Greene’s handwriting) that the editor, R. Alain Everts, maintains was co-written by Lovecraft and Greene. The degree of Lovecraft’s involvement (if any) is, however, undetermined.
—S. T. Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography (2009) 195

Prior to their marriage, Sonia had suggested three ghost story plots, two of which Lovecraft expanded into stories that appeared in WEIRD TALES magazine. The third tale rests unpublished as did this play, written out in longhand by Sonia, sometime in the early 1930’s. This play was written much the same way—Sonia suggested the theme, the classical Greek subject matter delighting Lovecraft, and then Lovecraft set out to flesh out the play. His notes on Greek Mythology and on Alcestis particularly have survived, indicating that as was usual, most of the writing was his alone. despite the handwriting being that of Sonia, who likely was acting as Lovecraft’s scribe, the play bears the mark more of Lovecraft than his wife.
—R. Alain Everts, introduction to Alcestis: A Play (1985)

In the late 1960s R. Alain Everts, using a tape recorder provided by Brown University (where Lovecraft’s papers are archived), conducted a series of interviews with surviving acquaintances of H. P. Lovecraft and his circle, notably including Wilfred Blanch Talman and Sonia Davis, Lovecraft’s former wife. After the conclusion of the interviews, it became clear to Brown University that Everts had also collected materials from some of the interviewees which he did not turn over to the university. The university took out the unusual step of issuing a notice to booksellers against purchasing this material, which began a series of legal suits (see 757 F.2d 124).

In the 1970s, Everts began publishing articles based on his interviews including “Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Sex: or The Sex Life of a Gentleman,” as well as fanzines and chapbooks under the imprint “The Strange Company,” including previously unseen photographs of Lovecraft & co., letters, and Alcestis: A Play (printed in 1975 but not published until 1985). Released in an edition of only 200 copies and never reprinted, it is the rarest and most contentious of Lovecraft’s collaborations.

The play is based on Euripides’ play of the same name, which was available in several translations during Lovecraft’s lifetime, including Coleridge’s 1906 verse translation. The exact translation Howard and Sonia might have been familiar with is unknown, as no such work is listed in Lovecraft’s Library: A Cataloguebut Lovecraft specifically mentions Alcestis among Euripides’ plays in his Collected Essays (2.185). Sonia’s memoir of their marriage, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) likewise emphasizes their appreciation for ancient Greece:

The nomenclature of “Socrates and Xantippe” were originated by me because, as time marched on and our correspondence became more intimate, I either saw in Howard or endowed him with a Socratic wisdom and genius, so that in a jocular vein I subscribed myself as Xantippe.
—Sonia Davis, The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft 27

The is no mention of Alcestis: A Play in the published correspondence of H. P. Lovecraft; then again, Lovecraft rarely mentioned his marriage or his wife in his correspondence after their separation, so this does not preclude collaboration. Even after Sonia filed for divorce, they remained on friendly terms and continued to correspond. Lovecraft is known to have visited her in March 1933, as she was recovering from an illness after returning from a trip to Europe (ibid. 22). Possibly this visit allowed for collaboration or at least inspired her to make this holograph manuscript; Sonia herself never alludes to the play in her memoir.

Absent all other evidence the only determination as to whether Lovecraft and Sonia did or did not collaborate on Alcestis: A Play is to look at the text itself.

Prologue

Scene I

Night. A cemetery beside a high-road, under a horned moon. Edge of road with low wall in the foreground. Ground covered with asphodel (the flower of the dead) and studded with tombs and stelae, rises unevenly to wall of cyclopean masonry overgrown with vines and lichens.

“Cyclopean” is famously one of Lovecraft’s favorite adjectives, but otherwise there is no exact bit of language readers can lean on to discern who is the author; it’s a work for stylometrists. If Lovecraft was involved, the play marks a departure from his usual style: being all-dialogue, with a few descriptions of scenes and action.

Worth noting is that despite carrying her name, the character of Alcestis—who sacrificed herself so that her husband might live—never appears in the brief play. It is more accurate to say that Alcestis: A Play is a kind of prologue, setting up the events where Apollo is made the servant of Admetus and the bargain with the Fates, ending on the rather hopeful upbeat that someone will be found willing to die in the king’s place.

Addendum: Since writing this entry, I’ve discovered that a typewritten edition of the play and prologue, probably made in the 1960s, survive at the John Hay Library and can be viewed online for free.


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