Her Letters To Lovecraft: Catherine Lucille Moore

Dear Mr. Lovecraft:

Your letter has impressed me tremendously. It’s awfully nice to be flattered, and Mr. Barlow’s compliments in particular have pleased me a great deal, but not until yesterday when I read your letter did it really occur to me that my “pulp”-published and extrav[ag]ant romances might actually, after all, contain a nucleus of worth which should be taken seriously.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 3 Apr 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 28

If C. L. Moore had never received a letter from Howard Phillips Lovecraft, she would still be known and regarded as one of the greatest Weird Talers of the 1930s. Yet they did correspond, from 1935 until Lovecraft’s death in 1937, and in that brief span of time that exchange of letters changed both of their lives.

Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) was an employee at the Fletcher Trust Company in her native Indianapolis, Indiana, and engaged to be married. The Great Depression had caused her to leave Indiana University after only three semesters; she needed the $25 a week from her job as a typist to help support her parents and brother. On the sly, she read pulp magazines like Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, and Weird Tales—and she began to write, after hours. In 1933, she sold her first story: “Shambleau” (Weird Tales Nov 1933) was an instant hit among the readers of Weird Tales, receiving high acclaim from fans and pulpsters alike. To keep her bosses from finding out about her extra source of income, she was published under the name “C. L. Moore”—but her gender was an open secret, revealed in a fanzine in 1934.

That same year, Moore received her first correspondence from a member of Lovecraft’s circle: the young R. H. Barlow, then living in Florida, who had a habit of writing his favorite pulp writers and asking for copies of their manuscripts and artwork. Moore provided both, and through Barlow she was eventually put in touch with others, including E. Hoffmann Price, Robert E. Howard, and in 1935…H. P. Lovecraft.

On the subject of titles, I envy you your ability. The most painful part of writing, so far as I’m concerned, is naming the stories. Mr. Wright more or less takes it out of my hands sometimes, as in the case of a story scheduled for mid-summer sometime, which he is calling “The Cold Grey God”. I’m getting a regular spectrum of colored gods, starting with black and working slowly upward thru grey toward goodness knows what.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 May 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 34

With most of Lovecraft’s correspondents, the reader’s interest is on Lovecraft himself. His letters to them typically survive, and hopefully are published; Lovecraft himself rarely kept the letters of those who wrote to him, and many of those he did keep are lost. Volumes of his letters thus tend to be very one-sided affairs; we get only Lovecraft’s side of the conversation, his perspective—and generally, that is what people are interested in. Lovecraft’s correspondents are rarely as interesting to readers of today as the Old Gent himself.

More to the point, the vast majority of Lovecraft’s correspondents are not folks whose letters are often kept. Fans, often-forgotten pulpsters, agents at publishing companies; family, friends, and acquaintances personal and professional—these are some of the great, mostly silent masses of history who are little more than names on the page. When they die, their letters and journals are rarely kept or archived, much less read. Their literary afterlife is quiet, sometimes no more than a few lines on a census form or a government registry or a name in a family bible. Sometimes not even that.

Not so with C. L. Moore. Not only is there interest in her life and writing outside of and independent of her correspondence with Lovecraft, but a considerable portion of her side of the correspondence has survived and been published, so that we can actually read the back-and-forth between those two masters of the weird tale, which comes out to about 37 letters and 200 pages. A bit more of her correspondence with R. H. Barlow survives, though that remains unpublished. Other than that…a handful of letters buried in fanzines and pulps; interviews and introductions.

There has never been a volume of the Collected Letters of C. L. Moore. There might never be. How much of it still exists is unclear; there is no centralized archive of her papers at any university. The bulk of her published correspondence are her letters to Lovecraft, and those were published only recently. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others was only printed in 2017, though portions of Lovecraft’s side of the correspondence had been printed in his Selected Letters from Arkham House. So much of what we know about her life in the crucial period of 1935-1937 comes, then, from her letters to Lovecraft.

Things did happen in that brief period. In 1935, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long collaborated on the round robin “The Challenge from Beyond.” Moore began corresponding with Robert E. Howard, praising his story “Sword Woman” who, like her own heroine Jirel of Joiry, was that rare female pulp protagonist. They talked writing, poetry, economics, politics…and of more somber subjects.

Thank you for your sympathy. I can’t yet dwell on the topic without becoming a bit maudlin, so had better change the subject.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 May 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 112

On 13 February 1936, Moore’s fiance Herbert Ernest Lewis  a 28-year-old bank teller at the Fletcher Trust Company where Moore worked, died while nominally cleaning his firearm. The death certificate records it as a suicide. Lovecraft immediately rushed to reply:

Despite my upheaved programme I at once started a letter of what I thought to be the most consoling & useful sort—with sympathetic remarks & citations of others who have bravely pulled out of similar bereavements) gradually giving place to the cheerful discussion of general & impersonal topics in which long time-stretches (thus placing local & individual sorrows at the small end of the telescope) are concerned—answering a letter received early in February. History was the main theme—the dominant topic being Roman Britain & its long decline, as brought up by C L M’s discussion of Talbot Mundy’s “Tros” stories. That, I fancy, is the kind of stuff a bereaved person likes to get from the outside world—sincere sympathy not rubbed in, & a selection of general topics attuned to his interests & quietly reminding him that there is a world which has always gone on & which still goes on despite personal losses. […] I managed to finish & despatch the epistle last Monday. But the tragic accident surely is a beastly shame—far worse than deaths which do not his promising young folk with everything before them.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 11 Mar 1936, O Fortunate Floridian! 321

In the wake of her grief after the fatal sundering of her long engagement, perhaps Lovecraft’s letters proved a distraction and a relief. A few months later, on 11 June 1936, Robert E. Howard would also take his own life using a firearm when informed of the impending death of his mother. It was Moore who received the news first, and quickly passed it to Lovecraft—who spread his bereavement at the loss of his friend and one of the greatest pulpsters the world had ever known far and wide. For her part, Moore would do as Lovecraft had done, and send Howard’s father a letter commiserating in the death of his son and consoling him. Dr. Howard had it published in the local newspaper:

Nothing that I can say now would help you—I know, for four months ago I too suffered bereavement under very similar circumstances. The young man whom I was to marry this year was accidentally shot in the temple and instantly killed while leaning a gun which he thought unloaded. So I can understand what you are enduring now, and I know that nothing but time will help you find life worth living again. In one respect you are luckier than I, for you have memories of a full and happy life with your wife and son that nothing can take away.
—C. L. Moore to Dr. I. M. Howard, 26 Jun 1936, Cross Plains Review 3 Jul 1936

Life went on. In less than a year’s time, Lovecraft himself would be dead. Yet he was inadvertently to set the stage for Moore’s future.

Henry Kuttner had just broken into Weird Tales in the March 1936 issue with “The Graveyard Rats,” but Lovecraft quickly adopted him as a new pen-pal, and set him to circulating some views of Marblehead, Mass. (the inspiration for Kingsport):

Keep these views—when they come—as long as you like; & when you’ve finished with them you may forward them to Miss C. L. Moore, 2547 Brookside Parkway, South Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana—the gifted creator of “Shambleau” having expressed a wish to see these glimpses of crumbling “Arkham” & “Kingsport”.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 18 May 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 240

It isn’t clear whether Kuttner had written to Moore before this, but when he did finally send her a letter in 1936, she recalled with amusement that he addressed it “Dear Mr. Moore.” By February 1937, they were collaborating on their first joint piece of fiction, “The Quest of the Star-Stone.” Lovecraft would not live to see it—nor would he be there in 1940, when C. L. Moore stopped working at the Fletcher Trust company and married Henry Kuttner, becoming half of one of the most prolific and noteworthy partnerships in science fiction during the 1940s and 50s.

Most of the fiction written after Moore & Kuttner’s marriage was under Kuttner’s name, or a shared pseudonym, regardless of how much or little each had contributed to the work. For this reason, to weird fiction fans Moore seemed to all but disappear just as Weird Tales was undergoing a period of transition—in 1940, Farnsworth Wright was fired and Dorothy McIlwraith took over, heralding many changes to the magazine she would helm for the next 14 years. Moore was not gone, nor forgotten; and she continued contact with other former correspondents of H. P. Lovecraft such as R. H. Barlow and E. Hoffman Price.

Their letters were not quite formal affairs, but they never got beyond “Dear Miss Moore” and “Dear Mr. Lovecraft”—though in her letters with Barlow later on, she would sign herself as simply “KAT,” and in his letters with Barlow, Lovecraft would dub her CLM, Doña Caterina, Catherine the Great, Katrinje, Sister Kate and Sister Katy, and Katie or Katey. She was accepted by Lovecraft as a peer, one of the group. What would Moore have done without that? How differently would life have played out, if each of them did not have such a crucial roll in the long series of events that were their lives!

Her last letter to Lovecraft was a long one, written in bits and pieces from 24 October to 15 December 1936, as was sometimes necessary due to the constraints of work and life. There she wrote:

A correspondent of mine, Thurston Torbett of Texas, friend of REH’s, has been regaling me with passages from books on the occult which state that all the dreadful things we imagine must have had origin or fact or we would be unable to picture them. If one reverses that, then by the very act of writing of Cthulhu (spelling right?) and Shambleau we must conjure them into vague life, and you will doubtless eventually wind up the victim of your own ingenuity. I hope that you aunt does not some morning find you a mass of black putrescence on the floor […]
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1936, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 199

A gruesome little joke, but a fitting one. It is easy to think of Lovecraft smiling at the jest, planning his own riposte. Yet how fitting at at last Cthulhu and Shambleau, their two more popular and enduring creations, would be cast side by side at last. For those two would be remembered more for their pulp fiction than anything else they ever wrote or did later in life…and part of that was due to this correspondence.

Catherine Lucille Moore and H. P. Lovecraft’s correspondence has been published in Letters to C. L. Moore and Others (2017, Hippocampus Press); some of Lovecraft’s letters to Moore had previously been published in volume 5 of the Selected Letters V (1976, Arkham House).


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

“The Challenge From Beyond” (1935) by C. L. Moore

Didn’t the F. F. [sic] “Challenge from Beyond” turn out well, considering? Yours was by far the best installment insofar as originality and workmanship are concerned. You had the hardest section, too—having to explain all the unconnected ramblings of your predecessors. Several of the installments, including mine, were carelessly written and loosely phrased, but yours, as usual, was a miracle of exact wording. And wasn’t it interesting to see how the personality of each writer colored his installment.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 87

Catherine Lucille Moore was one of the most prominent female writers at Weird Tales during its heyday, a contemporary and correspondent to H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and others in “the circle,” who praised her fiction. Several of her stories have definite aspects reminiscent of the nascent Cthulhu Mythos: Moore’s “Shambleau” (Weird Tales Nov 1933) and Robert E. Howard’s “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933) both feature tentacled aliens who carnally assault their victims; the strange angles and dimensions of the  tunnel in the depths of Joiry Castle in “Black God’s Kiss” (WT Oct 1934) and “Black God’s Shadow” (WT Dec 1934) are reminiscent of Lovecraft’s non-Euclidean geometries. Moore was introduced to her future husband and writing-partner Henry Kuttner through Lovecraft, and Kuttner made his own contributions to the Mythos, such as the Book of Iod.

Moore never participated directly in the collaborative universe of H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, and others—made no addition to the library of eldritch titles, no strange god with an unspeakable name, there was no road from Joiry to Averoigne or Arkham, Hyboria or Hyperborea. Neither did Lovecraft or the others reference her fiction in their own works. This was not in itself exceptional—other writers in “the circle” chose not to participate, or participated only through collaboration, like E. Hoffmann Price, who together with Lovecraft wrote “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (WT Jul 1934), but who by himself never wrote a Mythos story, nor had any of his works referenced by his contemporaries in their Mythos stories. Moore was much the same; a colleague but not a co-conspirator… except for in one thing.

“The Challenge from Beyond” was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz, the teenage editor of the Fantasy Magazine; for the third anniversary issue of the fanzine, he had cooked up the idea of two round-robins, both titled “The Challenge from Beyond,” one being weird fiction and the other being science fiction. Schwartz successfully managed, after some effort and shake-ups, to attract a solid line-up for both; for the weird, C. L. Moore, A. Merritt, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, and Frank Belknap Long each wrote a section, building on each other’s efforts. Moore started it off.

Julius Schwartz has inveigled me into one of these chain-story things in which you are also scheduled to be drawn. I wrote a first installment and mailed it to him on the 18th. Certainly not a brilliant thing by any means—it’s hard to get very brilliant in three pages, especially if they’re chiefly devoted to setting the stage—but the best I could think of just then If it comes to you next, as I think it will, perhaps you can do better on the second installment. If you want to be bothered.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 22 Jul 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 53

I hope you haven’t had too much trouble over your installment. Mr. Schwartz asked me to be as weird and original as possible in starting it out, and I was notably neither. At least there was a vast expanse of room for improvement as the story advanced. Frankly, if I’d been able to think up something strikingly weird and new  I wouldn’t have given the idea away for nothing. Anyhow, it will be interesting to see what the others have done with such a poor start.
—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 22 Jul 1935, Letters to C. L. Moore and Others 62

Self-effacing to a fault, Moore’s section of “The Challenge from Beyond” is, despite her mea culpas, perfectly competent. True, not much happens and there is no mention of fantastic monsters, evil sorcery, lost races, or aliens from another planet or dimension—but it manages to hint of otherness, and establishes tone, character, setting, and subject, staying true to the basic premise while providing an obvious hook for the next writer. For 857 unpaid words, that’s not bad—and while dwarfed by Lovecraft (2,542) and Howard’s (1,037) sections, it is the third-longest section overall.

But is it a contribution to the Cthulhu Mythos?

And yet—that writing. Man-made, surely, although its characters were unfamiliar save in their faint hinting at cuneiform shapes. Or could there, in a Paleozoic world, have been things with a written language who might have graven these cryptic wedges upon the quartz-enveloped disc he held? Or—might a thing like this have fallen meteor-like out of space into the unformed rock of a still molten world? Could it—
—C. L. Moore, “The Challenge from Beyond”

Moore’s section was followed by a rather generic entry by A. Merritt—and it was up to Lovecraft to tie together the elements from their respective sections and actually begin to weave a story out of the thing. In Lovecraft’s section, Moore’s queerly-marked cube becomes an alien artifact, mentioned in the Eltdown Shards—a Mythos tome created by his correspondent Richard F. Searight. This is essentially the single element that ties “The Challenge from Beyond” into the larger collaborative universe that Lovecraft and his contemporaries were creating.

Reaction to the story in the letters of Lovecraft et al. is fair, with most of the focus on the interplay between Lovecraft and Howard’s sections—Lovecraft swapping the mind of Moore’s geologist with that of a sentient extraterrestrial worm on a distant world, and Howard deciding that said geologist rather liked being an alien worm and developing a desire to conquer this new planet—but this amusing juxtaposition of style could never have taken place without Moore’s initial contribution.

Debating C. L. Moore’s place as one of the early contributors to the Cthulhu Mythos is a strange hair to try and split, though I have done it myself in discussing “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket … But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ. Moore wrote an idea, Lovecraft picked it up and ran with it, and any ties to the Mythos are through Lovecraft’s efforts. This was typical: Lovecraft’s previous collaborations with Anna Helen Croft, Winifred Virginia Jackson, his wife Sonia H. Greene, Clifford M. Eddy Jr., E. Hoffmann Price, R. H. Barlow, etc. had involved him expanding on the ideas of others, while adding his own. The difference here is that we know exactly where Moore’s prose ends and Lovecraft’s begins, because of the nature of the round-robin; in general collaborations, Lovecraft had a tendency to re-write much of the prose himself, muddying the issue of exactly how much each writer contributed in terms of pure wordcount and conception.

Whether or not you agree that Moore should be counted amid the co-creators of the Cthulhu Mythos, she was one of the peers in the circle of Weird Tales pulpsters and her contribution should not be neglected.

“The Challenge from Beyond” was first published in the Fantasy Magazine Sep 1935; it has been republished and recollected numerous times since then. It is out of copyright and may be read for free online.


Bobby Derie is the author of Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014)