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).