A Letter to Clark Ashton Smith from H. P. Lovecraft

Future Lovecraft

I’m in a Lovecraft mood, currently re-reading the stunning The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, so here’s one of his letters to Clark Ashton Smith.

Letter to Clark Ashton Smith,
27 November 1927
By H. P. Lovecraft
Novr. 27
Dear C A S:—
               I received both your letter & the Overland with a great deal of pleasure. I don’t yet know whether or not the latter is to be returned—if it is, I can assure you that the copy remains safe & secure awaiting instructions. Sterling certainly proves his worth & fascination by the multitude of tributes he continues to evoke—nearly all of them graceful, but your own standing out, to my mind, as especially apt & distinguished. I told you last year that your misgivings regarding its merit were wholly unwarranted. The portrait of Sterling surely has the atmosphere of authenticity—not many poets are graced with such an appropriate & classical physiognomy.
     Your Verlaine translation seems to me marvellously fresh, graceful, & delicate, & I trust you will follow it with others from the same source. I don’t know of any good English version of Verlaine—that, as well as an English Baudelaire, would form a task well worthy of your spare moments. The French verses, in their amended versions, are now doubtless up to the full standard of Galpininan accuracy—I’ll show them to Galpin the next time I get in touch with him, & shall meanwhile be glad to see the others. I’ve come across a real Frenchman through correspondence lately—a bright young native of Southern France named Jean Reçois, who now resides in New York & has aspirations toward fantastic authorship in English. I shall show him your French poetry shortly—& meanwhile you may hear from him, since I’ve given him your address.
     You certainly ought to have a new volume by this time, & I cannot be too emphatic in advising you to get in touch with W. Paul Cook about it. That is just the sort of thing he is interested in at present—publishing small volumes of unusual merit & unique distinction—& I am certain he would be willing to assume the financial risk, as he did in the case of Loveman’s “Hermaphrodite”. He is very reasonable about this detail—if the author is able to bear the risk, well & good; but if not, he will do so himself. It is only in this way that he can ever publish my “Shunned House”, as he keeps threatening to do. Open up correspondence with him on the subject—I am really avid to see something of yours published in a manner befitting its merit, a thing so far true only of your “Star Treader” & “Odes & Sonnets”. Cook can turn out a really fine job when he tries—& I would guarantee to help with the proofreading myself. I suppose you are aware that he is now printing a book for Wandrei—of which I expect to see page-proofs very shortly.
     Dwyer was as enthusiastic as all the rest concerning your pictures, as he has probably informed you directly ere now. Like me, he bitterly regrets his financial inability to invest in some of them—especially the black & white “Dreamland” illustrations, which also exercised a powerful imaginative influence over me. He has now sent them on to Long & the gang in N.Y., & I suppose Loveman will see that they reach the eye of De Casseres. You might drop him a line asking him not to overlook De C. or the Miss Turner you mention—or I’ll do so myself, to save time. Now my curiosity is sharpened by that fresh sheet tacked to your drawing-board. May I behold it ere long, made blasphemous by the visions of daemoniac genius!
     I thought you’d find The Recluse rather enjoyable, & hope that later issues will maintain the same standard. Your prose-poem, as the first contribution to be accepted, forms a favourable augury. By the way—a correspondent tells me that a new professional weird magazine has just been established—Tales of Magic & Mystery, edited by Walter Gibson, 931 Drexel Bldg., Philadelphia Pa.—& I’ve sent in a batch of the stuff rejected by Wright. You might try them with some poems or sketches—or “The Abominations of Yondo”—& see what your luck is; though I don’t know anything about the magazine, or even whether it is a present or future proposition.
     I’m not surprised that you’re discovering your indebtedness to the Auburn landscape, for sooner or later we all learn that our thoughts & impressions are basically reflections of what we have picked up visually & by long association at one time or another. I emphasised that point in the conclusion of one of those probably-never-to-be-typed novelettes which I ground out last winter. It’s all right to travel, but one needs the old familiar scenes to come home to! So far as I’m concerned, Providence with its mellow, ancient life & skyline of old roofs & Georgian steeples will last me amply well for the rest of my days. It’s the mould that shaped me—& the space I most naturally fit into. Our autumn, unlike yours, has been phenomenally & genially warm; giving me an opportunity for several rural excursions. The northern & western parts of the state felt something of the floods that hit N.E. early this month, but Providence was absolutely untouched.
     I have had no chance to produce new material this autumn, but have been classifying notes & synopses in preparation for some monstrous tales later on. In particular I have drawn up some data on the celebrated & unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred! It seems that this shocking blasphemy was produced by a native of Sanaá, in Yemen, who flourished about 700 A.D. & made many mysterious pilgrimages to Babylon’s ruins, Memphis’s catacombs, & the devil-haunted & untrodden wastes of the great southern deserts of Arabia—the Roba el Khaliyeh, where he claimed to have found records of things other than mankind, & to have learnt the worship of Yog-Sothoth & Cthulhu. The book was a product of Abdul’s old age, which was spent in Damascus, & the original title was Al Azif—azif (cf. Henley’s notes to “Vathek”) being the name applied to those strange night noises (of insects) which the Arabs attribute to the howling of daemons. Alhazred died—or disappeared—under terrible circumstances in the year 738. In 950 Al Azif was translated into Greek by the Byzantine Theodorus Philetas under the title Necronomicon, & a century later it was burnt at the order of Michael, Patriarch of Constantinople. It was translated into Latin by Olaus in 1228, but placed on the “Index Expurgatorius” by Pope Gregory IX in 1232. The original Arabic was lost before Olaus’ time, & the last known Greek copy perished in Salem in 1692. The work was printed in the 15th, 16th, & 17th centuries, but few copies are extant. Wherever existing, it is carefully guarded for the sake of the world’s welfare & sanity. Once a man read through the copy in the library of Miskatonic University at Arkham—read it through & fled wild-eyed into the hills . . . . . . but that is another story!
     With best wishes from all the local afreets & djinns—
          Yr obt
               H P LP.S. Heard a lecture by Sir Rennell Rodd last Monday on survivals of classic myth in modern Greek folklore. I was quite astonished—it seems that satyrs, nymphs, the Fates, Charon, &c. are still believed in; & many of the old gods worshipped under thin saintly disguises. Much of the satyr folklore is of extreme weirdness—recalling Machen’s “little people”.

Lord Dunsany (Edward Plunkett)

A Dreamer's Tales

Irish fantasy author Lord Dunsany (1878-1957) is one of my all time favourite writers. His work is so different to anything else that I have read, and the exciting point for me is that I haven’t read them all yet (it’s a pretty big body of work)!

220px-Edward_Plunkett,_18th_Baron_Dunsany

The King of Elfland’s Daughter is my favourite so far, and it’s probably the most famous of his books too. It’s well known that Dunsany was a keen hunter and it’s not so well known that I’m a keen vegetarian and animal lover, so I’m sure I receive The King of Elfland’s Daughter (which contains a fair amount of hunting) quite differently to how he perhaps intended. Having said that, Dunsany was also an animal rights campaigner and was president of his local RSPCA branch, so he confuses me greatly! I guess it had something to do with the difference between animal and pet.

The Charwoman's Shadow

Dunsany made his first literary tour to the USA in 1919, and made further such visits right up to the 1950s, notably to California. Dunsany’s own work, and contribution to the Irish literary heritage, was recognised through an honorary degree from Trinity College, Dublin… In 1957, Lord Dunsany became ill while eating with the Earl and Countess of Fingall, in what proved to be an attack of appendicitis, and died in hospital in Dublin at the age of 79. He had directed that he be buried in the churchyard of the ancient church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Shoreham, Kent, in memory of shared war times… The catalogue of Edward Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany (Lord Dunsany)’s work during his 52-year active writing career is quite extensive, and is fraught with pitfalls for two reasons: first, many of Dunsany’s original books of collected short stories were later followed by reprint collections, some of which were unauthorised and included only previously published stories; and second, some later collections bore titles very similar to different original books. In 1993, S. T. Joshi and Darrell Schweitzer released a bibliographic volume which, while emphasising that it makes no claim to be the final word, gives considerable information on Dunsany’s work. Wikipedia

Many of Lord Dunsany’s stories were illustrated by Sidney H. Sime, who I created a blog post about earlier this year.

If you haven’t read any of Dunsany’s work before, I highly recommend you try a couple of his short stories. Most of them can be found for free online, or through your Kindle! The Public Domain is a wonderful thing. Please comment if you find any particularly good stories that you wish to share.

I hope for this book that it may come into the hands of those that were kind to my others and that it may not disappoint them. —Lord Dunsany (the preface for A Dreamer’s Tales)

As Far as They Had Got – A “Follow-My-Leader” Story

I just read a very silly story by E. Phillips Oppenheim (1866-1946), William Pett Ridge (1859–1930), Arthur Morrison (1863-1945), Horace Annesley Vachell (1861–1955), Barry Pain (1864-1928), Charles Andrew Garvice (1850-1920) and Richard Marsh (1857-1915). It was originally published in The Strand magazine.

In our May number we published an article entitled “A ‘Follow-my Leader’ Picture,” and in the following pages the same method is applied to the writing of a story, with an extremely interesting result. The story was opened by Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim, who alone of the contributors was not required to have a complete story outlined in his mind. This opening was then sent to Mr. Pett Ridge, who wrote the next chapter, and also sent a brief statement of the manner in which he thought the whole story might have been completed. These two chapters were then sent on to Mr. Arthur Morrison, who, in the same manner, added his instalment and his idea of the whole story: and so on, chapter by chapter, till the whole was completed. It should, of course, be remembered that each writer had before him merely the preceding chapters of the story, and knew nothing whatever of his predecessors’ proposed methods of ending it. These explanations are given as footnotes to each chapter, and will be found most interesting as throwing light upon the methods of work of the various eminent fiction-writers, and the way in which a story evolves itself in such widely divergent manners in different minds.

I’m not a writer by any means, but if anyone would like to try a project like this, by all means get in touch (jamiesnelling@gmail.com or comment below) and I’ll get it set up!

10 Short Stories challenge – day 1

I’ve set myself a challenge – to read ten short stories over the next ten days and blog about them here.

 

All of the stories will be strange or odd (of course!) and all will be free to read online. I’ll post a link with each post so that you can read the story too (comments would be lovely so that I don’t get lonely on the challenge).

17165-and-one-thing-we-know-is-real-horror-it-is-so-real-in-fact

So, the first story! Today I read Thomas Ligotti‘s The Night School.

To be honest, I nearly gave up after the first two paragraphs. I found it a bit clunky and it wasn’t holding my interest. Then (and I’m not sure when or how), I was sucked in. The school in the story is such a wonderfully scary building and I don’t know how the narrator managed to continue on his journey. One of my favourite things for a story to do is smell. That may sound weird if you don’t have the same opinion, but I find that with some books (Gormenghast springs to mind), I can smell the room, the person, the feeling. The Night School reeks!

Ligotti is easily one of the most respected horror/supernatural authors alive today, often compared to Edgar Allan Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. I must admit, this is the first Ligotti story that I’ve read and I’m looking forward to more (suggestions and links very welcome). How I’ve not stumbled across him before (although I’ve heard his name dozens of times since the release of True Detective), I really don’t know.

If you prefer to be scared via audio, have a listen to this:

David Tibet of Current 93 is a friend of Ligotti and they have collaborated on numerous tracks. The one above features Tibet reading Ligotti‘s poem I Have A Special Plan For This World, set to eerie music and startling sound effects.

I read The Night School over on Weird Fiction Review. Go and have a read and come back to tell me your thoughts in the comments 🙂