“Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft & Adolphe Danziger de Castro

To say that “The Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are discoveries is a bit of a misstep: they were never really lost. After de Castro’s death in 1959 his papers made their way to the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, who in turn donated them to the American Jewish Archives in 1988 as Manuscript Collection No. 348. The excellent inventory of the de Castro collection by Chris Powell in 1996 notes both the existence of the texts and their relation to Lovecraft’s revisions. J.-M. Rajala noted in the 2011 Lovecraft Annual:

2 linear feet of de Castro’s papers, including unspecified manuscripts, are in the American Jewish Archives of the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati (The Jacob Marcus Rader Center, MS-348), and I wonder if these have been carefully examined by anyone. (56)

Powell had, writing in “The Revised Adolphe de Castro” in Lovecraft Studies #36:

He minimally revised “The Electric Executioner” and retitled it “The Automatic Electric Executioner”. He also revised “The Last Test”, creating “The Surama of Atlantis”. He made minimal revisions to most of the story but made more substantial changes at the beginning to describe the origin of the shadowy character, Surama, and to the final outcome of the story. (24)

Powell also noted that:

“Surama of Atlantis” is planned to be included in The Nyarlathotep Cycle being edited by Robert M. Price for upcoming release by Chaosium. (24n14)

However, “Surama of Atlantis” and the other texts were not published in The Nyarlathotep Cycle or anywhere else, though Price thanks Chris Powell in his introduction. There is likely a story there, but the end is that “Surama of Atlantis” has remained in obscurity to the present day.

The original texts by Adolphe de Castro which Lovecraft worked from are those published within In the Confessional and the Following (1893). As is characteristic of Lovecraft, he completely rewrote both “The Automatic Executioner” and “A Sacrifice to Science.” Presumably this would also have been the case with the third revision, though no text of this revision is known to survive.

This work would initially have been done by hand; though no manuscript copies survive, and were later typed by someone (de Castro for “The Last Test,” Lovecraft for “The Electric Executioner”) for submission to Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. These final typescripts are also non-extant, so it is not clear what editorial changes, if any, that Wright made when they were published in the pages of Weird Tales. Martin Andersson has pointed out that there are also minor differences between the Weird Tales texts and the version of the stories published in Something About Cats and Others (1949, Arkham House); these differences are not reflected in the AJA texts, so we can be reasonably certain de Castro did not reference the Arkham House text.

For the three new typescripts, the variations from the Weird Tales text include variant titles, spellings (and misspellings), typographical errors, and changes in phrase and formatting that range from slight to rewriting entire paragraphs. The most substantial differences are with “Surama of Atlantis,” which is about 500 words longer, adding a relatively substantial beginning scene and slightly expanded ending, among other changes.

It is difficult to say who is responsible for the differences between the Weird Tales texts and the AJA typescripts; part of the differences (typos, dropped and repeated words, etc.) can be put down to typist error, but not the insertion or substitution of phrases and entire passages. As these do not appear in the Weird Tales texts, they are either survivals from a previous draft (Lovecraft was known to do multiple drafts of stories), or were added in afterwards (almost certainly by de Castro). The possibility of both cannot be ruled out; that is de Castro may have re-typed “Surama of Atlantis” from an older draft of “Clarendon’s Last Test” by Lovecraft and made his own alterations on top of that. The very-unLovecraft-like passage that ends “????” is almost certainly from de Castro.

The passengers on the Satsu Maru cascaded down the gang-plank, glad to be once more on American soil. There was a slight pause in the flow and then a tall thin man, wearing a gray ulster and a fedora hat that shaded his bespectackled eyes, short nose and bearded chin appeared.

Following him was a pretty young woman, dressed in gray with a large straw hat, the brim held down over the ears by a wide blue ribbon. Her left hand held the chain of a gold mesh bag, while her right clutched the collar around the neck of a magnificent St. Bernard dog.

Closely following them was an individual, tall beyond the ordinary, garbed in a long black cape that hung on his shoulders, and covered his entire body, what was seen of his face when the wind lifted the wide brim of his soft large slouch hat, was shocking; it indicated that the head had no hair. His eyes, like glinting black obsidian, were set so deep in the sockets that they seemed black pools in a cavernous skull. In fact, a closer view strengthened the assumption that it was a skull. there was no nose other than a depression and there were no lips over the large yellow teeth.

A moment he stood still, gazing at the sunlit wharf, at the people, and the large Hotel bus which was stationed a short distance from the gangplank.

As the black-clad skeleton halted, it irritated the bespectackled gentleman who turned and said, “What makes you so slow, Surama?”

The individual called Surama, grinned horribly and said, “Coming, doctor.”
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

What parts of “Surama of Atlantis” were written by Adolphe de Castro, and why? What parts might be strange survivals from an earlier Lovecraft draft? Is there any way to tell? Objectively, no. Without access to Lovecraft’s original manuscript, it is impossible to say definitively one way or another. Yet we can say a few things.

Lovecraft did not make any fuss over substantial errors when “The Last Test” was published, so we can assume the text in Weird Tales is predominantly as he wrote it in the final draft. Also, given that the first title Lovecraft mentions in his letters is “Clarendon’s Last Test,” it is apparent that “Clarendon” was not a change made by de Castro to the manuscript sent to Weird Tales. In “Surama of Atlantis,” the doctor’s last name is “Schuyler” rather than Clarendon. It is also notable that the name “Schuyler” does appear in the Weird Tales script, as Alfred Schuyler Clarendon and Frances Schuyler Clarendon both attest. This oddity could be the result if Schuyler was the original name, and that Clarendon was then added later—but this presumes two drafts, an early draft and a final one. In any case, it is notable that at no point does de Castro revert to the names in “A Sacrifice for Science” (i.e. Clinton for Clarendon/Schuyler, et al.)

The character of Surama evolved from the character of Mort in “A Sacrifice to Science,” but the Atlantean background was pure Lovecraft—“De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!” (Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165) Much of the variant material in “Surama of Atlantis” focuses on Surama, from the title and the opening scene to the bizarre ending. If we do accept the idea that there was a previous draft, and that “Surama of Atlantis” retains several features from it, the most obvious are the ones that describe turtle-like attributes to Surama. In “The Last Test” only a single such descriptor exists:

Unlike the ideal subordinate, he seemed despite his impassive features to spend no effort in concealing such emotions as he possessed. Instead, he carried about an insidious atmosphere of irony or amusement, accompanied at certain moments by a deep, guttural chuckle like that of a giant turtle which has just torn to pieces some furry animal and is ambling away toward the sea.

In “Surama of Atlantis,” however, numerous references of turtle-like characteristics are applied to Surama. The idea of Surama as a kind of monstrous turtle-man works within the logic of the story except for one part: the double-aftermath.

In the afternoon the leisurely firemen overhauled the ruins and found two skeletons—or rather one human skeleton with the skull intact with the frame; of the other only the skull—a very human skull, but with osseous outlines disturbingly suggesting a saurian of some sort. The skull reminded people of Surama, and only well-cut clothing could have made a body as indicated by the skeleton look like a man.

An added horror to the situation was a big hole found under the stout fence back of the destroyed building, and Pat McMonigall, the street car watchman, returning from his beat, assured neighbors that he had seen “a turtle as big as a house” ambling down the hill to the bay, a statement that was not take quite seriously, although Pat McMonigall was a rather abstemious chap. Did Surama go back to Atlantis????
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It is completely incongruous for Surama to make his way back down to the sea and to leave behind a skull and skeleton for paleontologists to muddle over, at least not unless Surama was wearing the skull like a hat and peering out through the eye-sockets. If this is a survival from an earlier draft, it isn’t clear how this discrepancy might be resolved—either de Castro wrote the entire ending himself (the unLovecraftian line “Did Surama go back to Atlantis????” is almost certainly his; it reads like an annotation accidentally copied onto the line), or possibly de Castro borrowed verbiage from the Weird Tales version and grafted it onto the earlier draft to give a double-aftermath where there was only one before.

It is also worth noting that in the Weird Tales version, it is specified “that’s all that can reach him, James, unless you can catch him asleep and drive a stake through his heart.” A very vampire-like touch which is at odds with Surama as a kind of turtle, but also much simpler and perhaps more reasonable in keeping with his corpse-like appearance. This is changed in “Surama of Atlantis,” with the suggestion that no ordinary weapon can pierce his shell.

A less evident but more serious problem in “Surama of Atlantis” is the question of narration: who is the narrator? Lovecraft gives no specific identity, the story is related anonymously. Yet the beginning of “Surama of Atlantis” specifies that the narrator is a reporter who was injured by Surama and has not long to live, while the ending states:

Dalton probably gave Dr. Jackson an inkling of the truth, and that good soul had not many secrets from his son, who is the writer of these lines.” (ibid.)

It is a very unLovecraftian mistake; but is it the case of a botch in trying to merge an earlier draft with the later Weird Tales text, or de Castro failing to notice the discrepancy as he added his own additions to the story? Notably, there is a reporter who is injured (though not seriously) by Surama in the course of the story, who plays a key role in events; however, if Lovecraft provided such an opening, would he not have also included a suitable closing? It seems an odd plot hook to leave hanging.

It is important to note several places where the Weird Tales text has expanded on the same text in “Surama of Atlantis.” The appointment of Schuyler/Clarendon to San Quentin is given much more space in “The Last Test,” which foreshadows the governor’s political struggles and losing his appointment power. The benefits of Schuyler/Clarendon’s appointment are noted at greater length, as is the emotional argument when Dalton asks for Georgina’s hand in marriage. Instructing Dalton to blot out the Greek passages but send Miller the notebooks makes much more narrative sense than just telling Dalton to blot out and burn everything, as happens in “Surama of Atlantis.” These are the kind of changes which reinforce the narrative as a whole—and they are the kind of changes that one would expect to see between earlier and successive drafts.

It is the omissions as much as anything which suggests that de Castro was not working directly from a copy of Weird Tales. There does not seem to be any narrative reason to have not copied these sections as-is, since they have little overall impact on the other changes in the story. Yet this cannot be taken proof positive of an earlier draft; it could simply be that de Castro made all the changes on his own. It is notable that of the major changes, two—the extended opening and ending—provide an identity for the narrator of the story. The burrowing-turtle aftermath leaves the story open for a hypothetical sequel.

The rest of the changes are minor, and a couple are mysterious. “The Last Test” refers to the Royal Hotel, which burned down in 1906; “Surama of Atlantis” instead refers to the Phelan Building—which also burned down in 1906, but was then rebuilt in 1908 and still survives today; it’s not clear what benefit one has over the other, since both were still standing in the 1890s when the story takes place. The focus at on “microbio death” is a bit weirder:

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro & H. P. Lovecraft, “The Last Test”

“Don’t look so shaken up, old fellow! A veteran politician-fighter like you must have seen plenty of unmaskings before. I tell you, I never had even the start of a fever cure. But my studies had taken me into some queer places, and it was just my damned luck to listen to the stories of some still queerer people who preach microbio death.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “Surama of Atlantis,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

It seems to be an effort to provide some reason for Schuyler’s mania with watching people die from the black fever, but the phrase makes so little sense in context it’s hard to see what the author was getting at. If that phrase was a survival from a previous Lovecraft draft, dropping it for the simpler obsession on the power of life and death over a patient seems much cleaner.

The searchers had found the place only because of the chanting and the final cry. It had been close to five that morning, and after an all-night encampment the party had begun to pack up for its empty-handed return to the mines. Then somebody had heard faint rhythms in the distance, and knew that one of the noxious old native rituals was being howled from some lonely spot up the slope of the corpse-shaped mountain. They heard the same old names—Mictlanteuctli, Tonatiuh-Metzli, Cthulhutl, Ya-R’lyeh, and all the rest—but the queer thing was that some English words were mixed with them. Real white man’s English, and no greaser patter. Guided by the sound, they had hastened up the weed-entangled mountainside toward it, when after a spell of quiet the shriek had burst upon them. It was a terrible thing—a worse thing than any of them had ever heard before. There seemed to be some smoke, too, and a morbid acrid smell.

Then they stumbled on the cave, its entrance screened by scrub mesquites, but now emitting clouds of fetid smoke. It was lighted within, the horrible altars and grotesque images revealed flickeringly by candles which must have been changed less than a half-hour before; and on the gravelly floor lay the horror that made all the crowd reel backward. It was Feldon, head burned to a crisp by some odd device he had slipped over it—a kind of wire cage connected with a rather shaken-up battery which had evidently fallen to the floor from a nearby altar-pot. When the men saw it they exchanged glances, thinking of the “automatic electric executioner” Feldon had always boasted of inventing—the thing which everyone had rejected, but had tried to steal and copy. The papers were safe in Feldon’s open portmanteau which stood close by, and an hour later the column of searchers started back for No. 3 with a grisly burden on an improvised stretcher.
—Adolphe Danziger de Castro, “The Automatic Electric Executioner,” Jewish American Archives (MS-348)

Unlike “Surama of Atlantis,” the changes between the three texts of “The Automatic Electric Executioner”/“The Electric Executioner” are much more minor, although strangely a bit more complicated since there are three texts to work with, and in addition to the small but substantial changes, both of the typescripts in the de Castro Archive contain numerous typos and errors of spelling, as well as idiosyncratic formatting differences.

The 1930 text of “The Electric Executioner” in Weird Tales may be assumed to be the oldest of the texts; “The Automatic Electric Executioner” text is bound in a manuscript dated 1953, and may be assumed to be the newest. However, the undated, unbound typescript of “The Electric Executioner” does not sit neatly between the two; textually, the undated text and the Weird Tales text follow each other more closely than “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text, but the undated typescript contains several small but notable additions and rephrasing not in either of the other texts.

Most likely, this means that both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the unbound text of “The Electric Executioner” represent two different branches of transcription, both copied from the same source (either a copy of Weird Tales, or the typescript received from Lovecraft) and copied and altered at different times, without reference to one another. This would explain the differences and similarities between the three texts without requiring any hypothetical earlier drafts. (Why de Castro would type out “The Automatic Electric Executioner” fresh without making reference to the undated typescript, which has differences from the published version, is another questionbut not one with any ready answers.)

Of the substantial differences, they are few: the title of “The Automatic Electric Executioner” is a combination of “The Automatic Executioner” and “The Electric Executioner”; the story is set in 1899 in the standalone typescript of “The Electric Executioner” and 1889 in the others; the discovery of the body scene in “The Electric Executioner” is a bit longer, and there are some minor geographical differences.

S. T. Joshi in his annotations for this story notes that the San Mateo Mountains are actually in New Mexico; and this is apparently an error on Lovecraft’s part. De Castro’s “The Automatic Executioner” has the protagonist go to Mexico City, and from there towards Orizaba which is in the Sierra Madre Oriental range, although it is never named. “The Electric Executioner” standalone typescript has the nameless narrator headed both to Guadalajara and via Guadalajara to Mexico City—it isn’t clear why the change was made, but was obviously a bit of geographic confusion. In one text the narrator goes to the The Fonda Nacional (“National Inn”) and in the other to the Hotel Interbide; both were hotels in Mexico City. Why the change from one to the other is also unclear.

Something perhaps notable is that all three texts retain the odd racism against Mexicans expressed by Arthur Feldon in the story, which reflects something of Lovecraft’s own prejudices and understanding regarding Mexicans and Native Americans—a combination of racial and class prejudice. From De Castro’s other writings, he either agreed with these generally or at least appears to have felt no need to alter them, as the key phrases (“I hate greasers but I like Mexicans!” etc.) remain intact in every textual variation. Treatment of Mexican characters in “A Sacrifice to Science” (right down to using the slur “greaser”) would seem to suggest no major disagreement between de Castro and Lovecraft on the matter.

Aside from noting how difficult some of the Nahuatl and quasi-Nahuatl names appear to have been for de Castro to type, the most interesting part about the variations on “The Electric Executioner” is simply their existence. There isn’t any evidence that the undated typescript came from Lovecraft’s typewriter (at least, the number of typos would seem to argue against it, given Lovecraft’s punctiliousness), and the variations between the texts are comparatively minor. While it is not impossible that Lovecraft was responsible for some of the bits that don’t appear in the Weird Tales text, the changes are so small and affect so little of the story, compared to “Surama of Atlantis” that like as not the average reader would miss them on a read-through unless specifically pointed out.

As a point of hardcore Lovecraftian scholarship and nerdism, “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” provide interesting insight on how changes to Lovecraft stories can not work, and perhaps reflect on the difficult process of drafting and revision. That these stories have gone unpublished is perhaps not surprising; the audience for a variorum of such texts is small, and the rights would presumably remain with de Castro’s estate. But that they exist at all should interest and thrill Lovecraft fans: who knows what else may yet remain, in some dusty archive, or in an amateur journal not yet thoroughly picked-over?

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

“The Automatic Executioner” (1891) & “A Sacrifice to Science” (1893) by Adolphe Danziger de Castro

Dear Sir,

My friend, Mr. Samuel Loveman, was kind enough to mention that you might be inclined to aid me in bringing out one or the other of my labors which sadly need revision.

If you can, please let me know and under what conditions we can co-operate. 

Yours sincerely,

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 20 Nov 1927,
Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others

In 1927, an article was published in the Associated Press proposing new evidence for the demise of Ambrose Bierce. The source was Dr. Adolphe Danziger de Castro, who had picked up the gossip while down in Mexico. De Castro and Bierce had been friends for twenty-five years, and had collaborated on a translation of The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter (1891), and the Western Author’s Publishing Association which published de Castro’s collection of stories In the Confessional and the Following (1893), some of which had been previously published in newspapers and magazines. The friendship ended rather badly, with Bierce breaking his cane over de Castro’s head—but the article on Bierce achieved wide circulation, and de Castro smelled an opportunity:

Years and years ago I published a volume of short stories (now not to be had at any price, and Uncle Sam and myself are the only ones who have copies of the same) and if these stories could be licked into shape, I am certain they would be published. It all depends upon my literary godfather. Suppose I send you part of one of these stories just for a passing judgment whether you could be inclined to consider the matter, if all things become equal?
—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 25 Nov 1927, LAG 342

Lovecraft in 1927 was in Providence, Rhode Island; his effort to make his way in New York had failed, and so had his marriage, although his wife would not press him for a divorce until 1929. With no steady employment, Lovecraft and his friend Frank Belknap Long, Jr. did revision work for clients, re-writing stories and offering advice for modest fees. Their friend Samuel Loveman was not officially an agent, but steered potential clients their way: Zealia Brown Reed (Spirit of Revision 8-9) and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

Initially, de Castro was looking for one or two books of stories to be revised; there are some calculations on a letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 5 Dec 1927 to this effect (LAG 345). This quickly expanded as he suggested Lovecraft assist him in writing a memoir or biography titled Bierce and I, mentioned in a letter dated 8 Dec 1927. Lovecraft was wary: de Castro had no money to pay up front, and Lovecraft was in no financial position to take work on a speculative basis. At this point (December 1927), Lovecraft claims:

He’s too gordam fussy to make his work a paying proposition for me—for his fiction is unspeakable, his paying ability meagre, and his demands for revisions—after his first version—extensive. I about exploded over the dragging monotony of a silly thing which I renamed Clarendon’s Last Test; and after I wearily sent in the result of a whole month’s brain-fog, (incurred for a deplorable pittance!) the old reprobate shot it back with requests for extensive changes (based wholly on the new ideas I had injected!) which would have involved just as much work again, and without any additional fee. That was too much. I hurled the whole Hastur-hateful thing back at him—together with his measly cheque and a dollar bill to cover the postage he’d expended—but he took it all in good part, and returned the cheque and dollar with a laudably generous gesture! Now—after thinking it over—he decided to use the tale just as I fixed it up. Vaya con Dios, Don Adolfo—he’s one reviser who won’t raise any controversy by claiming authorship of the beastly mess! But I can’t tackle any more of his fiction. It raises a choking kind of mental “complex” preclusive of effort. I’ll consider his straight prose memoirs, but nothing where constructive art is concern’d.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Frank Belknap Long, January 1928, Selected Letters 2.207-208

A letter from de Castro to Lovecraft dated 4 February 1928 confirms Lovecraft’s claims (LAG 347-348), and returns the check (for $16), begging Lovecraft to accept it.

The story in question began as “A Sacrifice to Science”; de Castro claimed:

Thinking back to the fate of “The Last Test,” I recall its first publication in 1889, then titled, “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery.” In 1893, I published a volume of short stories, incorporating “Dr. Clinton” but had changed his name to Dr. Calrendon [sic]. The issue of seven thousand copies, paper-covered at 50 cents, sold out in record time. I think I am the only person who has a copy of the volume. In 1900 I went from San Francisco to New York. There I re-wrote the story and named it “The Last Test.” Excepting the introductory paragraph to the story which I wrote in New York, the body of the tale suffered no change from that published in the collection.
—Adolphe de Castro to August Derleth, 20 November 1949

The actual publishing history appears more complicated. No publication under the title “Dr. Clinton’s Discovery” has been found; the earliest publication for “A Sacrifice to Science” is in The Californian vol. III, no. 2 (January 1892); it was then subsequently published in In the Confessional and the Following (1893), with minor changes in the text. The Photoplay Weekly for August 1915 includes the snippet:

[Danziger] has completed many scenarios, including The Ghetto Apostate, The Human Devil-Fish, The Fatal Love Letter, and Dr. Clarendon’s Discovery, all of which are feature productions.

This screenplay appears to be non-extant. In any case, for the 1928 version de Castro had provided Lovecraft with the 1893 text.

For most readers, the interest in “A Sacrifice to Science” is as the bones on which “The Last Test” is built, and from that lens, the story is especially interesting because it is rare for us to have the “before” of a Lovecraft revision; most of his clients provided either only a plot-germ or synopsis, or the story is based on a draft that does not survive. Here, we have both the original story (in two texts) and the revision to compare.

“A Sacrifice to Science” is a turn-of-the-century thriller (that is isn’t very thrilling), very vaguely in the line of Robert Louis Stevenson’s more fantastic and better-composed tale of mad science such as Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886), which had inspired Arthur Machen’s “The Great God Pan” and “The Inmost Light” (1894) or “The Novel of the White Powder” (1895). There is a germ of a solid idea there, but the plot and writing don’t develop any tension in the reader. The skeleton-like character of Mort feels almost allegorical—Death always at the doctor’s side—but he is ultimately very mortal indeed, and far less interesting in his role as Igor to Clinton’s Dr. Frankenstein.

In comparing the 1892 and the 1893 texts, it is apparent that despite the small spelling and formatting changes, a number of passages and even entire paragraphs have been cut; all references to the “Typhus Clintoni” were excised. It isn’t clear why this should be so—one would assume that since In the Confessional and the Following would not have a strict word-limit. The most interesting detail is the bare sketch of a background on Mort, and the implication of testing on prisoners in the West Indies, making Dr. Clnton even more diabolical.

In comparing “A Sacrifice to Science” and its revision, the surprising thing is how much of the essential story and its details Lovecraft retained as he transitioned it to the form of weird pulp fiction. All of the essentials of the plot are reproduced, only with more detail and drama given to events, and perhaps surprising for those who think them Lovecraft’s weakest points as a writer, more attention and focus on character motivation and dialogue. Many of the fine details are kept as well, such as the sister referring to the assistant as the doctor’s “evil genius,” and the outbreak of fever among the Mexican population—which is, perhaps surprisingly, more developed in de Castro’s original.

Study of this story also shows where some of the less Lovecraftian story beats in “The Last Test” come from. Georgina’s tendency to faint—a trait Lovecraft decried in Gothic heroines—comes from Alvira’s episodes. The jealous romantic triangle began with de Castro, it was Lovecraft that gave it the “Fall of the House of Usher” proportions of “The Last Test.” The curious reticence of Surama to handle the afflicted Dick must have its origins in Mort’s complaint at the toll taken on his dogs.

As was also typical, Lovecraft sent a handwritten manuscript, and wished for no changes to what he wrote, to which de Castro wrote in reply:

I haven’t as yet had the time to look up Mr. Long. And mentioning Mr. Long recalls that I have never asked you if, in your opinion “Clarendon’s Last Test” is likely to have a market. I shall not make any changes in the story, but when it is typewritten I shall send it on its rounds, and le bon Dieu peut savoir if it will find some one to take it. The horror story isn’t much in demand now, I fancy.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 7 Feb 1928, LAG 349

Despite this promise to not make any changes, apparently de Castro did:

Dear Mr. Lovecraft,

With my own suffering fingers I finished last night the copying on the typewriter of THE LAST TEST, and don’t know whether to send you an abrazo – a brotherly embrace – or, you, being so much younger than I, to give you my fatherly blessing for what you did for me; for the more I read the story the more I find that it has “workmanship” and a masterly touch.

For a moment I wanted to send you the story as I copied it, thinking you might perhaps elect to change a word here and there, as your own judgment should direct, and then I said to myself “Lovecraft’s eye has missed little as he went over it ‘scratching'” and I sent the story to “Weird Tales” at Indianapolis.

You will notice that I underscored the words “as I copied it”, meaning thereby that I took the liberty to write a phrase or use a word as I had been taught by Ambrose Bierce. These are: the word ‘persons’ for people. The latter referring to the people of a city, county, state or nation, the former referring to individuals, – “there were a number of persons” and not “people”; or many people for many persons. The second is a Biercean doctrine that a sentence ought never to begin with a negative assertion of something denoting a positive, and vice versa, such as: “I don’t believe Jim cares for it”; whereas it should be “I believe Jim doesn’t care for it”, which is really the essence of the assumption or belief. In other words: we believe a thing is or is not, it is our attitude in the matter, but if we say we don’t believe, we establish a non-attitude (although it might equally be a non-believing attitude) in the case where a positive is concerned.

I am very eager to hear your opinion in the matter, comprehending, of course, that idiomatic form or usage is, excepted.

I confess that your entire review of the matter relative to the story is correct, although I do not regret to have written you as I did, since it brought forth your most illuminative letter. And what is more, Egad! I really like the story.

—Adolphe de Castro to H. P. Lovecraft, 1 Apr 1928, LAG 353

Lovecraft’s chagrin at this turn of events must be imagined; his response does not appear to survive. As Lovecraft’s manuscript does not survive, it is not clear what changes de Castro made, although it seems it was he who changed it from “Clarendon’s Last Test” to “The Last Test.” Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, could likely not help but notice the references to Lovecraft’s Mythos embedded in the story. Nevertheless, the story was accepted for $175.00, and duly appeared in the November 1928 issue of Weird Tales. Whatever the changes de Castro introduced, they could not have been extensive, for Lovecraft commented:

Old de Castro’s story that I revised is in the current Weird Tales. It doesn’t look so bad now. The element of Atlantean mystery is wholly of my own introducing. De Castro wanted it excluded at first—but as it turned out, that was the one thing which Wright singled out to mention in describing the tale!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 27 Oct 1928, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 165

In June 1929, de Castro was again asking Lovecraft to revise his 1893 stories (ES1.196), and as before, eventually agreed to Lovecraft’s terms of cash in advance:

I am just now confronting a damnable revision job from old De Castro—the Bierce satellite & biographer—who has made delay impossible by paying in advance! Consider me, then, as lost in chaos & woe for the next couple of weeks. It is like what I did for him in 1927-8—doctoring up some fictional junk he wrote in 1893. The old boy is going abroad on the 10th, & wants the work delivered while he is in London.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 8 Jul 1929, Essential Solitude1.200

The de Castro story in question was “The Automatic Executioner,” which was first published in The Wave, 14 Nov 1891. As before, Lovecraft completely rewrote the story, although keeping the essential plot and most of the names, and hewing closer to de Castro’s original plot, Lovecraft still added in references to his artificial mythology.

In one sense, “The Automatic Executioner” is an example of one of the earliest and most prominent modes of science fiction: gadget fiction. Thomas Alva Edison was still the wizard of Menlo Park in the 1890s, inventors like Alexander Graham Bell were honored as heroes. Jules Verne and H. G. Wells postulated on technological advances and their potential impact, and the basic idea of a new invention that revolutionizes the world—and the inventor that receives fame for it—was still current well into the 1920s and 30s, when writers like Robert E. Howard tried their hand at it with stories like “The Iron Terror.”

At the same time, the story is not strictly gadget fiction. The invention (Chekov’s noose, as it were) is only one part of a story which involves suggestions of hypnotism and astral projection, relatively occult concepts for what otherwise might be a “pseudo-scientific” story in 1920s pulp parlance. When compared to “A Sacrifice to Science,” it makes a kind of sense that Lovecraft had far less to add or change to the original tale—his principal changes being to turn the “automatic electric executioner” from an electric noose down to a portable electrocution device, and to transform the nature and depiction of Feldon’s madness. In this, Lovecraft incorporated elements of indigenous Mexican religion, his own artificial Mythos, and a curious encounter that Lovecraft himself had on a train:

The journey was made amusing by the presence in the seat beside me of a slightly demented German—a well-drest and respectable-looking fellow whom I had observ’d at the tavern reading a German paper before the start of the coach. He shew’d no signs of his affliction till we reach’d a sort of stagnant mill-pond near Newark, in New-jersey, when suddenly he burst forth the the question, “iss diss der Greadt Zalt Lake?” deeming the inquiry address to me, I reply’d that I scarcely thought his identification correct; whereupon he reliev’d me of all responsibility by remarking in a far-off, sententious voice—“I vassn’t talkingk to you; I vass shooter leddingk my light shine!” Properly rebuk’d for my officious desire to give information, I held my peace and permitted my seatmate to illuminate without hindrance. After a time he became vocal again, confiding to the empty air ahead, “I’m radiating all der time, und nopotty knows it!”
—H. P. Lovecraft, “Travels in the Provinces of America” (1929) in Collected Essays 2.34

Lovecraft also expanded upon Feldon’s motivations for stealing the papers, which de Castro does not go into, an attempt to provide at least a moderately stronger explanation for the experience in the train car, and Feldon’s death—since de Castro leaves him alive at the end, while Lovecraft makes sure the executioner executes. What Lovecraft probably didn’t know is that de Castro was himself an inventor—he had patents for incandescent electric lamps and X-ray tubes—so possibly de Castro knew something of the paranoia of the inventor at getting scooped, and the singular obsession that Feldon expressed, the pride in the technical details of its working. More curious are the bits that Lovecraft left out: the name of the protagonist and his betrothed (and her position as editor of a newspaper, if that was not a spur-of-the-moment lie) and Feldon’s background so that he was never a sheriff in Montreal.

Being a nebulous mix of genres, it’s possible that de Castro could have sold this story to The Black Cat in the 1910s, or even possibly the earliest issues of Amazing Stories or Weird Tales—but there is no denying that the language is often stilted, and by the late 1920s badly needed the updated that Lovecraft provided if it was to have any hope of getting published. That Lovecraft wrote it with Weird Tales in mind seems almost certain; it might have found a home at Wonder Stories, but that would have meant dealing with Hugo Gernsback, whose reputation for non-payment Lovecraft was well aware of by 1929.

“The Electric Executioner” was accepted rather promptly by the end of February 1930 (ES1.249), and would be published in the August 1930 Weird Tales. This caused at least one reader to inquire:

Adolph de Castro, I note, mentions these gods, places, or whatever they are, only the spelling is different, as Cthulhutl, Yog Sototl. Both you and he, I believe, use the phrase fhtaghn.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, 9 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.37

The reasons for its echoes in Dr. de Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine—into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 14 Aug 1930, A Means To Freedom 1.40

Lovecraft apparently also explained this to Farnsworth Wright:

I suppose he was curious about getting stories from several authors—Heald, de Castro, Reed &c (besides parts of mss. From Barlow, Bloch, Rimel, &c)—which contained earmarks of my style.
—H. P. Lovecraft to William Lumley, 14 Nov 1935, Selected Letters 5.207

Lovecraft did apparently revise a third tale for de Castro, and it was sold to Farnsworth Wright for Strange Stories, a magazine projected to be published alongside Weird Tales, much as Oriental Stories/The Magic Carpet would be, but legal troubles with the name prevented the magazine from coming out, and this revision is believed to be lost.

Since their publication in 1928 and 1930, the only extant versions of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” have been the versions published in Weird Tales, which were eventually published in Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949, Arkham House), and afterward became accepted publicly as Lovecraft revisions or ghostwriting jobs and subsequently reprinted in many other places.

However, this was not quite the end of the story. In 1953 when de Castro was 94 years old, he had bound a typed manuscript titled Surama of Atlantis and The Horror In A Mexican Train Plus Narrative Poems; the two lead stories “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” are variants of “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner,” respectively, differing sometimes slightly and in other places markedly from the Weird Tales text. De Castro’s papers, now at the American Jewish Archives, also contain an undated typescript of “The Electric Executioner” with small variations from both “The Automatic Electric Executioner” and the Weird Tales text. For more on these, please see the companion post on “Surama of Atlantis” and “The Automatic Electric Executioner” (1953) by H. P. Lovecraft and Adolphe Danziger de Castro.

“A Sacrifice to Science” and “The Automatic Executioner” are in the public domain, and the 1893 versions may be read online for free here; the 1892 version of “A Sacrifice to Science” is also in the public domain, and may be read online for free here. They have also been reprinted in the variorum edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction, Vol. 4 (Revisions and Collaborations) (2017), alongside “The Electric Executioner” and “The Last Test.”

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