Well, I’ve returned from the World Fantasy Convention (Arlington, Virginia, November 6–9). I cannot say it was the most stimulating convention I have ever attended, but I had a good time fraternising with a small group of my close friends and colleagues, among them Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press, Peter Cannon, Lois H. Gresh, and most notably Caitlín R. Kiernan and her partner Kathryn. I was more than pleased to see Caitlín win not one but two World Fantasy Awards, including that for Best Collection. The honour is well deserved—and overdue!
I had good meetings with my agent, Cherry Weiner, and Steve Saffel, the editor of Titan Books. We have agreed on a course of action to get a new anthology, Cthulhu Noir, moving; we hope to entice a number of leading crime/suspense writers to write for it. There were discussions of other significant projects that I am not at liberty to speak about right now.
There was an opinion poll at the convention asking members if they wished to keep the Lovecraft bust as the emblem of the World Fantasy Awards or change it (there was also the option of writing “I don’t care”). I don’t know the exact final results, but I understand that the votes to keep the bust won narrowly. Let’s hope that has some influence on the committee! I myself have been asked to write an article on the general subject for Publishers Weekly, in response to yet another screed on the subject (although not a harsh or censorious one) in a recent issue of Publishers Weekly.
Two days after I returned from the convention, I made an appearance at the University of Washington Bookstore with Leslie S. Klinger, editor of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft (Liveright). It was a lively session, although not quite as well-attended as I would have expected (but the valiant W. H. Pugmire was in the audience, and the three of us had a nice Indian dinner after the event). Klinger’s book is not only selling very well, but has garnered nice notices in such venues as the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, I am trying to get back to work after the mild illness of last week and the cross-country travel that followed. I have just today finished compiling the Arthur Machen volume for the Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction—a volume that will differ in contents from the Masters of the Weird Tale volume issued a few years ago and (if I may be pardoned for saying so) have considerably superior texts. I am now going to start working on the Bram Stoker volume—and will be vastly aided by Leslie Klinger, who has offered to provide me with the text of the novel (minus his notes, obviously) from his Annotated Dracula. I will also include The Jewel of Seven Stars and some short stories.
Well, I confess to mortification and humiliation on one front: Not one person has ordered copies of Unutterable Horror from me! I have ten sets of books taking up space here on my shelves, and no one wants ’em! I am cut to the quick. Well, I guess I will be forced to offer them at cut rates—say, $35 for the two volumes. I may point out that the book got a very nice notice in Publishers Weekly (http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61498-089-6). There is also a review by Reggie Oliver in the new issue (#23) of Wormwood, but this review apparently cannot be accessed online. The interesting thing is that Oliver (so I have been told) agrees with my low assessment of Le Fanu!
More books from Hippocampus Press should be out soon: Rhys Hughes’s Bone Idle in the Charnel House, Michael Aronovitz’s The Witch of the Wood (I was, incidentally, delighted to spend a few hours with Michael and his wife Kim at the World Fantasy Convention on Saturday, November 8), and The Lovecraft Coven (a pair of novellas) by Donald Tyson. We had planned on getting out James Robert Smith’s collection A Conspiracy of Horrors this year, but the cover art is not finished, so it will appear early next year.
The second issue of Spectral Realms is at last filling up, but I could still use a few more contributions. This issue already has notable poems by such writers as William F. Nolan, John Shirley, Gemma Files, and Jonathan Thomas, to say nothing of such regulars as K. A. Opperman, Wade German, Darrell Schweitzer, Fred Phillips, Leigh Blackmore, Ann K. Schwader, Chad Hensley, and many others.
I am expecting some delightful guests this weekend—none other than Scott Connors, the leading Clark Ashton Smith scholar and a friend of thirty-five years’ standing, as well as Jason & Sunni Brock. We hope to meet up with Jessica Amanda Salmonson and W. H. Pugmire for a meal and general weird discussion. Lively times in the Northwest!
I’m recovering from a cold, but I wanted to get out this blog before I head to the World Fantasy Convention in Arlington, VA (Nov. 6–9). Mary and I will in fact be leaving on Nov. 3, doing a few days of sightseeing before the convention begins.
I have now received copies of the Hippocampus Press paperback of Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction (2 vols.). It is a splendid-looking book, with illustrations by Harry Clarke and Sidney Sime on the covers of the two books. I see that the Hippocampus price is $40 (a bargain!), so I don’t feel I can undercut this price. So I am offering the books at $40 (the price includes media mail postage to US members). If interested customers get their orders in soon, I can probably get the books out before I head to the East Coast on Monday afternoon.
I have now seen the proofs of Weird Fiction Review #5 and can assure readers that it is the best issue ever—an incredible mix of fiction, articles, poetry, and interviews (Dennis Etchison interviewing Ray Bradbury; Jonathan Johnson interviewing Michael Aronovitz; Jason V Brock interviewing Al Feldstein; Wayne Edwards interviewing Stuart David Schiff). The issue comes to nearly 300 pages and should be available in mid- to late November.
Speaking of poetry, I find that I am a bit short of material for Spectral Realms #2, so if there are any poets out there who have weird verse to submit, feel free to do so.
I have just given an interview that has been posted as a podcast by one Daniel J. Glenn (http://fascinatingnouns.com/s-t-joshi/). I was to have given another interview yesterday, but my illness prevented me from doing so. If I feel better by the weekend, I may still be able to give this interview.
My niece has passed on a most amusing online tribute to Lovecraft’s devotion to cats (http://www.buzzfeed.com/summeranne/hp-lovecraft-explains-why-cats-are-the-best). How utterly charming! The quotations, of course, come from HPL’s essay “Cats and Dogs” (1926).
I was astounded the other day when Pete Von Sholly told me of his apparance on a panel discussion with one John Trimble, an elderly science fiction fan who announced that he once heard a tape recording of Lovecraft reading one of his stories! This was at Forry Ackerman’s house. In Von Sholly’s words, “He [Trimble] said things we all know—Lovecraft’s voice was high pitched, he pronounced Cthulhu oddly, and added that HP was a lousy reader (as a dramatist).” It would be a monumental discovery if this tape recording were to surface.
I feel the need to apologise to my overburdened fans for the dismal fact that I have published (or expect to publish) a whopping 18 books this year! (And this doesn’t include the reprint of Unutterable Horror.) I list them herewith (publishers excluded—they can be found in my bibliography), with dates of appearance appended:
There may be at least one more title: a volume of essays on William Hope Hodgson that I coedited (William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland).
But my fans will get a slight reprieve, in the sense that the variorum edition of Lovecraft (3 vols.) has now been a bit delayed and will appear from Hippocampus Press in January 2015. Also to appear at that time will be a volume of Lovecraft’s letters to Robert Bloch, Donald A. Wollheim, and some others.
It would appear that some of those not well-disposed to me are in a fury of righteous indignation over the publication of my 200 Books by S. T. Joshi. The nerve of him! (they appear to be saying) What an appalling excursion into egotism! Evidently my foes have overlooked the self-parodic humour of the item, to say nothing of the fact that it was deliberately compiled to tweak the nose of the eminent August Derleth, who issued 100 Books by August Derleth (Arkham House, 1962) a little more than a half-century ago. Well, I suppose the appreciation of humour and satire are rare traits in these troublous times. But I hereby vow publicly that the moment any of my foes publish 200 books, I will publish their bibliography at my own expense and distribute it on as many street corners as is feasible. Some of these individuals have published as many as four or five books—so their 200th must be just around the corner!
The bounty continues. I am now in receipt of several new publications from Hippocampus Press, and I have a limited number of copies to offer to interested customers at a slight discount from the retail price:
Derie’s book is an incisive and not at all sensationalist treatment of a sensitive but important subject: he treats aspects of sexuality both in Lovecraft’s own writings and in that of many of his disciples and successors (including our own W. H. Pugmire). Wade German has emerged as one of the most powerful and skilful poets in contemporary weird literature, and this first volume of his weird verse is an important milestone. And the Lovecraft Annual has its usual array of scholarship and reviews (including my review of Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Lovecraft), along with rare documents by Lovecraft (including his complete extant letters to Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales).
I also received an advance review copy of my three-volume edition of Lovecraft’s Collected Fiction: A Variorum Edition, but of course this edition is not quite finished, at least as far as cover design and other matters are concerned. I have now seen a preliminary cover design for Volume 1, and it looks superb. This edition should be available around mid-November.
I hope that the Hippocampus paperback edition of Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction will be available much sooner than that, perhaps within the next week or so. I will write a new blog as soon as copies arrive.
It appears that A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos has created something of a sensation, at least among collectors. The book was essentially out of print upon publication, and most of the 500 copies seem to have been snapped up at once. A Finnish colleague tells me that copies in Europe are selling for a minimum of 632 euros, while the one copy available on abebooks.com is going for a whopping $750. But Amazon (the company whose name we dare not speak) still seems to have some “used” copies for as little as $246.
At last, a breath of sanity in the otherwise preposterous debate regarding the bust of Lovecraft that serves as the World Fantasy Award! Some brave person has started a petition advocating the retention of the bust: http://www.change.org/p/world-fantasy-awards-staff-and-the-world-fantasy-convention-keep-the-beloved-h-p-lovecraft-caricature-busts-howards-as-world-fantasy-awards-trophies-don-t-ban-them-to-be-pc. I have of course signed it, and would consider it a personal favour if all those who read this blog do so. I suspect we will overwhelm that other petition (of which we dare not speak) by sheer numbers in short order.
I am happy to note that my colleague Agustin Cordes has set up a fundraiser on Kickstarter for his planned video game based on Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/agustincordes/h-p-lovecrafts-the-case-of-charles-dexter-ward). The video features a brief clip of myself, with fashionably wind-blown hair, speaking about Lovecraft, the novel, and the video game (an early version of which I have seen and admired). I hope to continue advising Mr. Cordes on the project, and I am confident it will be a great success.
I have begun actual work on the revision and expansion of The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (2008). I shall probably not extensively revise the earlier chapters, but at least the last two will have to be much expanded with discussions of the recent work of such writers as Laird Barron, Donald Tyson, Jonathan Thomas (whose The Color over Occam may be the best Lovecraftian novel of the past 50 years), Caitlín R. Kiernan, and many others. Of course, there is no possibility of any exhaustive coverage of Mythos writing over the past decade, which has ballooned beyond all proportion and expectation. I will discuss my own Black Wings series with, I trust, suitable objectivity.
Speaking of Black Wings, I find that I have only about 33,000 words currently accepted for Black Wings V, which I hope to submit to the publisher (PS Publishing) by next January or February. I am not entirely willing (yet) to open up this volume to general submissions, but if anyone out there does have a Lovecraftian story that he or she thinks is worthy of inclusion, I shall read it with care and attention. But I am also hoping to prod some of my regulars (and perhaps other professionals as well) into submitting.
Meanwhile, I have signed the contracts for the Titan Books paperback reprints of Black Wings III and IV. And Lynne Jamneck and I are well on the way to compiling a splendid volume of stories for our Gothic Lovecraft project, due out next year from Cycatrix Press. Cycatrix (run by Jason and Sunni Brock) will be issuing its enormous original anthology A Darke Phantastique (apologies for misspelling its name in my last blog) later this month. We will see whether it can battle one or more of my four anthologies published this year—Black Wings III (PS Publishing), Searchers After Horror (Fedogan & Bremer), A Mountain Walked (Centipede Press), and The Madness of Cthulhu 1 (Titan Books)—for nominations for the Stokers, World Fantasy Awards, and elsewhere.
All my copies of the signed/limited edition of A Mountain Walked are sold, as are my copies of The Madness of Cthulhu 1 and my collected essays on Lovecraft (Lovecraft and a World in Transition). I still have 3 copies of the unsigned (and unslipcased) edition of A Mountain Walked, which I am prepared to offer at the reduced price of $75.
I now see that covers have at last been chosen for the paperback reprint of my two-volume Unutterable Horror: A History of Supernatural Fiction, forthcoming from Hippocampus Press (http://www.hippocampuspress.com/mythos-and-other-authors/nonfiction/unutterable-horror-by-s.-t.-joshi). As soon as copies of this book are printed (later this month, I hope), I will make a limited number of copies available for purchase.
Speaking of purchasing, I have decided to hold a kind of fire sale of various books that have been lying around here for a longer or shorter time. My wife is getting a tad irritated at the number of books that are cluttering up the place, and I feel that is an excellent excuse to try to get rid of them. I do not mean that in any derogatory fashion; I believe all the books in question are well worth purchasing, depending on your tastes. So I am offering the following books for the low price of $10 each except where otherwise noted. Among the latter are the first four volumes of the Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction, a few copies of which I still have here; these are going for $20 a copy. Please note that in most cases I have only 2 or 3 copies available, and in some cases only a single copy:
In an unprecedented occurrence, I have received copies of three new books this week. One of them actually is not particularly new: Lovecraft and a World in Transition (my collected essays on Lovecraft) has been out for at least two months, but my copies took an unconscionably long time arriving. The other two books are A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Centipede Press) and The Madness of Cthulhu, Volume 1 (Titan Books). I am happy to offer my spare copies to customers at the following prices:
A Mountain Walked exists in two states: a slipcased, signed/limited edition (signed by at least 25 authors—all but the late lamented Michael Shea) and a trade edition without the slipcase and without the signing sheets. I am offering the former for $150 (only 4 copies available) and the latter for $100 (7 copies available). I have to say that this is one of the most attractive books relating to Lovecraft ever published. It is already out of print upon publication from the publisher, although copies of the signed/limited may still be available at Subterranean Press and perhaps elsewhere.
I also at long last have copies of the first issue (Summer 2014) of Spectral Realms, the Hippocampus Press journal of weird poetry. I am happy to offer this for $10 a copy. It is a splendid-looking item, with some colour headings and a fine layout prepared by David E. Schultz.
Let me strive to stay off controversial subjects and merely relate some of my recent and future activities. In terms of the latter, I am going to make two appearances at the University of Washington Bookstore—one on November 11, where I will appear with Leslie S. Klinger to promote his New Annotated Lovecraft (Liveright), a fine-looking (and huge) volume that has just appeared. On November 23, I will appear with at least 13 other individuals in a mass signing for Jason V Brock’s anthology A Darke Fantastique, due out soon from Cycatrix Press. This enormous book features a grand total of 50 contributors, and looks to be one of the premier anthologies of the year, if not the decade. I have a story in it (“‘You’ll Reach There in Time’”).
Speaking of stories, I am struggling to write a story for Lois H. Gresh’s Innsmouth Nightmares, an anthology that will be published by PS Publishing. I finally made a little headway on the story yesterday. but I am not confident it will amount to anything. I’m no fiction writer! But I will persevere and hope to finish in a few days.
Much more significant is the fact that I am in the process of transcribing four novels by Lord Dunsany—The King of Elfland’s Daughter, The Charwoman’s Shadow, The Blessing of Pan, and The Curse of the Wise Woman—for eventual publication as ebooks. I will be working closely with the Dunsany Estate and his agents (Curtis Brown) in this venture. It is important to get these and other books by Dunsany into authorised ebook editions, so that his work can find a new generation of readers. The sharp-eyed Martin Andersson will be carefully proofreading my transcriptions. I have already finished the first two novels and hope to finish the third shortly.
I have also prepared two editions of classic weird fiction for Joe Morey’s Dark Renaissance Books—the complete weird tales of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman and the complete weird tales of E. Nesbit. Both projects were very entertaining to compile, and also illuminating—I learned much about the interesting lives of both writers. I hope to prepare more such books for Dark Renaissance in due course of time.
I can officially announce that I am working on a new edition of my Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (Mythos Books, 2008), which will now be called The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos. It will come out from Hippocampus Press next summer, in time for the second NecronomiCon convention. I of course cannot possibly cover all the Mythos writing that has appeared in the last decade or so, but I hope to discuss at least some of the highlights (and mercifully avoid the lowlights).
I was greatly saddened by the death of Kennett Neily a few days ago. Ken was one of the original “Providence Pals”—the gang of Lovecraft devotees who congregated around Brown University in the later 1970s and early 1980s, and which included Marc A. Michaud, Jason C. Eckhardt, Ronald Marshall, Herbert Marshall (no relations, apparently), and several others. Ken, although substantially older than most of us, was an incredibly genial and supportive individual, and his devotion to Lovecraft was second to none. He died suddenly, but peacefully, after suffering a stroke a short time ago. Peace be to his shade!
Before I get to the heart of this blog, I am happy to report that I have finally received some copies of recent Hippocampus Press books, and I am pleased to offer them to interested customers on the usual terms (i.e., media mail postage is included in the price for US customers; for overseas customers, additional postage will have to be negotiated):
I regret to note, however, that the copies of my Lovecraft and a World in Transition that were supposed to come to me have apparently been lost in the mail, so that the publisher will have to send more copies. I hope they come next week. Also imminent are Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, a volume of critical essays on William Hope Hodgson, and other volumes.
Mr. Daniel José Older has at last broken his stupefied silence after my holding him up to public ridicule; and he has done so in the august pages of the Guardian, a leading British newspaper [http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/17/world-fantasy-awards-hp-lovecraft-racism-row-statuette]. I am sorry to report that I find his maunderings even more foolish than before. He appears to have learnt nothing from the immense barrage of facts I have marshalled—so what is to be done in the face of such inspissated ignorance?
Mr. Older begins by asserting that Lovecraft “enthusiastically advocated for genocide”—presumably of African Americans. Older should consider himself lucky that one cannot libel the dead—for where exactly did Lovecraft ever make such a pronouncement? (In general, Mr. Older ought also to thank his stars that stupidity is not a capital offence, otherwise he and many others would not be long for this world.) Let us see what exactly Lovecraft did say on this subject: “It is possible that the economic dictatorship of the future can work out a diplomatic plan of separate allocation whereby the blacks may follow a self-contained life of their own, avoiding the keenest hardships of inferiority through a reduced number of points of contact with the whites.…No one wishes them any intrinsic harm, & all would rejoice if a way were found to ameliorate such difficulties as they have without imperilling the structure of the dominant fabric” (letter to James F. Morton, 29 December 1930). “No one wishes them any intrinsic harm”—that doesn’t sound very much like “advocating genocide” to me!
Older then maintains that, in “honouring” writers like Lovecraft, both their literary contributions and their political views must be considered. He once again does not present any arguments defending this bizarre position, nor does he seem to have the slightest awareness of the incredible can of worms he is opening. Let me see if I can express myself in words of one syllable that even Mr. Older can understand: No one from the past can stand such scrutiny. (I apologise for that three-syllable word at the end; but I trust Mr. Older knows how to do a Google search to find the meaning of that word.) The very idea that every person (writer or otherwise) from the past must pass our current tests for political, social, and cultural correctness (assuming—and it’s a huge assumption—that there is even any uniformity of opinion on what that correctness might be) is a recipe for intellectual disaster. And what is more, none of us today could pass that test if we were subject to such scrutiny a hundred years from now.
A great many individuals before 1970 (and a significant number of them afterwards) were either sexists or outright misogynists. The belief in the inferiority of women—physically, intellectually, and in many other ways—was such a common assumption that it was not seriously doubted except by random members of the advanced intelligentsia. Such beliefs were even absorbed by many women who internalised the sense of inferiority that men had of them. I point to E. Nesbit, who was vehemently opposed to woman suffrage (that means giving women the right to vote, in case Mr. Older doesn’t know what “suffrage” means). So I guess we certainly cannot “honour” E. Nesbit in any fashion, in spite of the fact that she was an immensely influential writer of children’s literature and children’s fantasy (quite a bit more influential, I would say, that Diana Wynne Jones, whom Nnedi Okorafor now offers for a new bust for the WFA).
Mr. Older and his ilk have repeatedly failed to articulate why they are so consumed with hatred and resentment over the racism issue but do not display the slightest concern with misogyny and religious dogmatism. Their outrage seems to me curiously selective. Mr. Older is probably not aware that I have compiled books on all three subjects: Documents of American Prejudice (Basic Books, 1999); In Her Place: A Documentary History of Prejudice against Women (Prometheus Books, 2006); Atheism: A Reader (Prometheus Books, 2000), etc.
Mr. Older continues his attacks on Lovecraft as a writer, now referring to his “sloppy prose.” Once again he fails to justify his view with evidence—because, of course, he cannot justify it. I am now beginning to think that those who criticise Lovecraft as a “bad” prose writer have simply placed a dunce-cap on their heads—in the most literal sense of the word, they do not know what they are talking about. What these people do (and I am here being generous to them in attributing to them an actual course of reasoning) is to define “good” prose by a very narrow and artificial standard (usually based on transient contemporary usage), with an utter failure to comprehend the incredibly wide variations in prose expression as found in thousands of writers over the past 2500 years of literary history in the West. They also entirely ignore (as both Mr. Older and Laura Miller do) the extent to which Lovecraft chose his prose style deliberately to create the precise aesthetic effects he was seeking.
Let us see what our experts in rhetoric make of the following bits:
And so on and so forth.
One would assume that, since Mr. Older speaks so authoritatively on Lovecraft’s prose, his own must be infinitely superior. If it weren’t, we would be forced into the awkward conclusion that, if Lovecraft is a “terrible wordsmith,” Older as a prose writer must be abysmal beyond belief. Let us then consider a representative bit of his deathless prose, taken from his book Salsa Nocturna:
“When the regular fully dead Council agents want to get in touch with headquarters, they just use that special afterlife telepathy shit and it’s done. My half-and-half ass has to use the phone. I receive all their irritating updates and directives perfectly clearly—comes through like a radio blasting inside my head, but for whatever reason, it doesn’t work the other way. They rigged up a phone line and answering machine somewhere in that vast, misty warehouse they taken over in Sunset Park. I call the number, leave my message and wait for the reply to blare through my skull.”
Bravo! Hear, hear! I’m shedding tears of aesthetic rapture…well, at least tears of some sort. But certain things do puzzle me. I cannot imagine what a “half-and-half ass” could possibly be—perhaps an ass somehow made of cream? And the exquisitely radical failure to harmonise subject and verb (“irritating updates and directives…comes”) must mean that Older defies the stale and old-fashioned rules of grammar—which, after all, were instituted by all those dead white males!
Compare this to the opening paragraph of Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926):
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
I will leave it to readers to determine who is the better prose stylist. One should note that, by some incredible mischance, the first sentence of the Lovecraft passage is now cited in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations! Let’s see a show of hands, people—how many think that Mr. Older will ever be accorded a similar “honour”?
People are of course at liberty not to like Lovecraft's prose—but they should be aware that in doing so they are merely recording a subjective impression, not making an Olympian pronouncement of an irrevocable truth. I myself don't care for the prose of the later (or, indeed, the earlier) Henry James, but I am not about to call James a “bad” prose stylist as a result; I simply regret my inability to appreciate his work as many thousands of others have.
As I’ve said before, I weary of this debate. With the whole world seemingly going up in flames, there are surely more important things to think about…such as wondering how the Chicago Bears will fare this season.
[My webmaster informs me that affixing a title to each of my blogs would be variously advantageous, so I begin the procedure with this one.]
I suppose it would be a form of cruel and unusual punishment to jump on the hapless Laura Miller any further…but I will anyway.
It is typical of many of the deficiencies in her work that she cites that online article on Lovecraft’s racism by Phenderson Djeli Clark, which she ingenuously calls “excellent.” That is only to be expected of a person who seems to conduct her “research” only on the Internet. Ms. Miller is blissfully unaware that the article in question contains no original research (it is based entirely on second-hand information) and, in classic British schoolmarm fashion, merely chastises Lovecraft for the utterance of various racist views without making the slightest attempt to contextualise them or determine their historical, political, philosophical, and personal sources. In my 2009 bibliography of Lovecraft, I list 112 books and pamphlets on Lovecraft (down to the year 2007), along with thousands of articles in books, magazines, and newspapers. I can think of at least 20, perhaps as many as 50, items that discuss Lovecraft’s racism more perspicaciously than Mr. Clark has; but, alas, almost none of these items is available online—so they are a closed book to someone who apppears unable or unwilling actually to step into a library or otherwise obtain material available only in the archaic medium of print. But one develops a strange suspicion…perhaps old-fashioned research of this sort might actually lead to somewhat sounder results?
One of the items that is available without the tedium of having to go to a library or bookstore is my biography of Lovecraft, conveniently accessible via Kindle. Ms. Miller keeps referring to me as “Lovecraft’s biographer,” but there is not the slightest evidence that she has read my book (either its current incarnation [I Am Providence] or its two previous versions); if she had, she would never have made the damnfool mistakes she has made in her various writings on Lovecraft.
I have repeatedly asserted that the number and extent of racist passages in Lovecraft’s fiction have been much exaggerated by critics; and I have stated that only five stories (out of sixty or so) are based on racist presuppositions. Casual and insignificant passages appear elsewhere, of course; but let us consider a similar case from another hallowed writer:
I have lately been regaling myself lately by reading some of Raymond Chandler’s short stories. What was my surprise when I found this passage in one of them (“Puckup on Noon Street,” Detective Fiction Weekly, May 30, 1936): “The Negro was enormous in stature, gorillalike, and wore a baggy checked suit that made him even more enormous.” This same story also makes repeated references to “a little Jap.” Egad! Raymond Chandler must have been a racist! (Actually, I know nothing about Chandler’s views on the subject except what might be inferred from the passages quoted.) Let me see if I can summon up sufficient rage and sanctimony and kick the butt of this person (who has been dead for only 55 years, far less than Lovecraft) and banish him to the Gehenna of the unreformed!
Then there is an entirely different issue that has yet to be raised, and which I only raise with some hesitancy, lest more imprecations rain down upon my head: Is it possible that some of Lovecraft’s utterances on race and culture are not quite as “vile” or “vicious” or “venomous” as most of them appear to be? Consider the following:
I doubt that any of these quotations are cited in any of the recent hostile screeds on Lovecraft, for they make him a much more complex and interesting figure than the cheap caricature of the hate-filled racist.
And just as Lovecraft’s opponents cherry-pick their quotations from his work to paint him as a “venomous racist,” so they are very selective in what they quote from his fiction to “prove” that he was a bad prose stylist. It is an unfortunate fact that journalists like Laura Miller—and that is all she is; to think of her as a literary or cultural critic would be equivalent to thinking of Edgar Rice Burroughs as an anthropologist—generally lack the education and training to have anything like a comprehensive grasp of the history of prose expression from the Greeks to the present. Know, then, that there are two poles of prose style (with infinite gradations between them, of course)—the spare, austere Attic style and the more dense, expansive, even florid Asianic style. Writers throughout literary history have gravitated toward the one or the other. Herodotus is Attic, Thucydides is Asianic; Caesar is Attic, Tacitus is Asianic; or, to move ahead a good many years to Lovecraft’s beloved eighteenth century, Jonathan Swift and Joseph Addison are Attic, Samuel Johnson and Edward Gibbon are Asianic.
It is obvious that Lovecraft, for all sorts of temperamental and aesthetic reasons, preferred the Asianic style—in particular, he was significantly influenced by early readings of the prose work of Johnson, Gibbon, and Poe. And yet, what many hostile commentators fail to note is the significant development of Lovecraft’s prose idiom over his relatively brief literary career, so that in his final decade of writing he much more closely approached the Attic style in his fiction except when he felt the need to enhance the emotive power of his narrative; it is then that he reverted to the Asianic style. In a late letter, after condemning the “machine-gun fire” of Hemingway, he wrote pungently (and quite correctly, in my judgment): “There has never been any prose as good as that of the early eighteenth century, and anyone who thinks he can improve upon Swift, Steele, and Addison is a blockhead.”
One more salvo and I am done:
Ms. Miller criticised me for what struck me as a sensible and non-controversial suggestion that those who have won the World Fantasy Award [WFA] but who find Lovecraft’s racism intolerable simply return the award. So far, all of two people (out of the many hundreds who have won it over the past four decades) have expressed such objections. What would Ms. Miller have them do? What they have actually done is to accept the award, then work themselves into a lather of self-righteous indignation over the political views of a dead man. This is preferable, in Ms. Miller’s eyes, to the simple, decent, straightforward, and honorable act of simply giving the award back? I don’t know what that says about Ms. Miller’s values; all I can say is that I’m glad I don’t share them.
Mr. Daniel Older remains in a state of stunned silence in the face of my rebuttals to his screeds regarding the World Fantasy Award [WFA] bust of Lovecraft; but a more superficially notable person appears to have come to his aid. I refer to Ms. Laura Miller, who has addressed the issue in a recent post on Salon.com (http://www.salon.com/2014/09/11/its_ok_to_admit_that_h_p_lovecraft_was_racist/).
Ms. Miller has long been posing as some kind of authority of weird fiction in general and Lovecraft in particular, although I have invariably found her screeds poorly reasoned, poorly researched, and suffused with a sense of ineffable superiority to the lowly genre writers she is deigning to address. Her unilluminating piece on Lord Dunsany (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2004/12/06/minor-magus) embodies all these traits, as does her previous work on Lovecraft (http://www.salon.com/2005/02/12/lovecraft/).
Now Ms. Miller wades into the controversy over Lovecraft’s racism, referring to my own posts about Mr. Older as “egregious.” Alas, the art of satire appears to be dying in this dour and literal age—at least in the eyes of such humourless commentators as Ms. Miller. She quotes one of my remarks about Mr. Older with a total lack of awareness that it was meant satirically; a point she should have realised if she had quoted the original post correctly, with its deliberate italicisation of the word “principle,” a trigger that I was speaking parodically.
Ms. Miller states as an apparent fact that Lovecraft’s “venomous racism is self-evident [in his fiction]; it’s right there on the page.” To which my only response can be: Wanna bet, lady? Let us take a list of what are widely regarded to be Lovecraft’s greatest stories, early and late:
To my understanding, racism underlies only one of these stories (“The Shadow over Innsmouth”), and even there it is indirect and metaphorical (the hybrid Deep Ones as symbols of miscegenation). And yet, this story is also regarded as one of Lovecraft’s greatest. (One wonders whether that makes all the writers who have written sequels or elaborations of that story—and that would include such figures as Basil Copper, Caitlín R. Kiernan, Kim Newman, and many other notables—complicit in Lovecraft’s racism.)
It can also be noted that several of the above stories depict cases of human degeneration—but the degeneration is clearly of white people. I refer specifically to “The Rats in the Walls” and “The Dunwich Horror” (the lesser story “The Lurking Fear” can also be brought into play—where the family at the centre of the tale is not only white but aristocratic).
The case that Lovecraft’s entire fictional oeuvre is premised on racist suppositions was made (and made only) by Michel Houellebecq; no other critic or scholar has ever come to this conclusion, and Houellebecq’s reasoning on the subject is patently weak and derived from a poor and incomplete understanding of Lovecraft’s life, work, and thought.
Ms. Miller goes on to cite my various explanations of the causes and sources of Lovecraft’s racism, without in any way indicating why these are not to be accepted. She then accuses me of inconsistency: “If Lovecraft’s personal behavior is irrelevant to Older’s complaint, then it’s also irrelevant to Joshi’s defense.” But this is conflating two separate issues. What I was doing was (1) stating a general case for why Lovecraft’s racism should be understood in the context of his times and of his personal philosophy; but (2) the issue of why Lovecraft’s bust should remain on the WFA award is a separate matter, where Lovecraft’s character (as the characters of Hugo Gernsback and August Derleth, who also have awards named after them) is indeed irrelevant.
The underlying theme of Ms. Miller’s essay is that “fans” of genre writers have to wrestle to come to terms with the personal failings of the authors whose work they enjoy. Well, I put it to her that this phenomenon is of much wider scope than that. There are any number of mainstream writers—Ernest Hemingway and Norman Mailer are just two of them—whose lives reveal pretty unsavoury truths about them; how do “fans” of their work react? And do “fans” of Thomas Jefferson wrestle with his being a slave-owner? Miller’s whole essay once again underscores her sense of snobbish superiority over genre writers and their devotees; but the broader issue—of which she remains obtusely unaware—is exactly how we are to come to terms with all figures from the past who may not conform to current ideals of political, social, philosophical, and cultural correctness.
Ms. Miller repeats the standard claim that Lovecraft’s prose is over-the-top—beset, in her words, by “hilariously hyperbolic excesses.” Well, maybe not. It is easy to select small bits of Lovecraft’s prose (usually occurring at the climax of his tales, after a slow and painstaking buildup) that seem overdone; but it is more difficult to find fault with such sober passages as these: “Winter came early, and was very cold. Ammi saw Nahum less often than usual, and observed that he had begun to look worried. The rest of his family, too, seemed to have grown taciturn; and were far from steady in their churchgoing or their attendance at the various social events of the countryside.” It would be hard to find, even in the sainted Hemingway, a passage more restrained than this. Ms. Miller reveals her astounding ignorance when she blandly remarks that “Whatever Lovecraft thought he was doing, he wasn’t big on self-awareness.” If she had read even a fraction of the 4 million surviving words of Lovecraft’s correspondence (or even such easily obtainable essays as “Supernatural Horror in Literature” or “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”), she would know that Lovecraft was fully aware of what he was doing; indeed, Lovecraft’s discussions of the theory and practice of weird fiction have made him a pioneering theoretician in this field.
A single passage (from “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”) will get this point across: “In writing a weird story I always try very carefully to achieve the right mood and atmosphere, and place the emphasis where it belongs. One cannot, except in immature pulp charlatan-fiction, present an account of impossible, improbable, or inconceivable phenomena as a commonplace narrative of objective acts and conventional emotions. Inconceivable events and conditions have a special handicap to overcome, and this can be accomplished only through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel. This marvel must be treated very impressively and deliberately—with a careful emotional ‘build-up’—else it will seem flat and unconvincing. Being the principal thing in the story, its mere existence should overshadow the characters and events.” Lovecraft embodied this principle in every one of his major stories.
Even when Lovecraft’s prose seems to be “over-the-top,” it is actually supremely well-modulated. Consider a passage from the climax of “The Colour out of Space”: “This was no fruit of such worlds and suns as shine on the telescopes and photographic plates of our observatories. This was no breath from the skies whose motions and dimensions our astronomers measure or deem too vast to measure. It was just a colour out of space—a frightful messenger from unformed realms of infinity beyond all Nature as we know it; from realms whose mere existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the black extra-cosmic gulfs it throws open before our frenzied eyes.” I maintain that it would be difficult to find a passage in any prose writer of the early twentieth century more elegant, musical, and exquisitely crafted than this. Perhaps it does not conform to our current notions of what one might impishly call “prose correctness,” but it is undeniably effective in its context.
Ms. Miller also ignores the fact that flamboyant prose is a dominant thread in the entirety of weird fiction. Poe’s work is quite a bit more florid than Lovecraft’s, but evidently that is acceptable because he was writing in the benighted nineteenth century before Hemingway, Sherwood Anderson, and others declared adjectives to be verboten. But how about this from Arthur Machen: “The blackened face, the hideous form upon the bed, changing and melting before your eyes from woman to man, from man to beast, and from beast to worse than beast, all the strange horror that you witnessed, surprises me but little.” (This story also betrays a severe—or should that be “venomous”—misogyny that runs through Machen’s work; but evidently misogyny is a lesser offence than racism, so Machen and others are given a pass on it.) Many other such passages from many other weird writers over several centuries could be cited.
So let’s have an end to this ridiculous notion that Lovecraft was a “good bad writer” whom we read in spite of his wretched prose. Lovecraft was a supremely gifted writer whose work was carefully crafted to convey the exact effects its author intended. And no, racism was not at the heart of his fiction, nor of his life or thought.
I am happy to report that Ghostwood Books has now published its Lovecraftian anthology, Cthulhu Lives!, edited by Salomé Jones (http://www.gwdbooks.com/cthulhu-lives.html). I wrote the afterword to it. As I have mentioned before, this is a most creditable anthology with several fine stories, and well worth picking up.
PS Publishing has issued the first three volumes of its Illustrated Lovecraft series (http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/ps-pulps-library-64-c.asp), each of them with a new introduction by me and with much other material (e.g., new or reprinted articles by W. Pugmire, Robert M. Price, and others), along with Pete Von Sholly’s striking illustrations throughout the texts. Six more volumes of Lovecraft’s stories will be released in due course of time. I believe there are later plans to issue individual volumes of stories by Clark Ashton Smith and other authors.
Digby Rumsey, who produced a splendid documentary of Lord Dunsany entitled Shooting for the Butler, notifies me that it is now available to rent or buy online (https://vimeo.com/ondemand/dunsany). It is a splendid piece of work—an incredibly evocative and perspicacious examination of the life and work of the great Anglo-Irish writer. I am one of only about four or five individuals interviewed for the film.
I am expecting an immense shipment of books from Hippocampus Press, containing many new items extending back into the spring: Simon Strantzas’s Burnt Black Suns, Clint Smith’s Ghouljaw and Other Stories, and my own Lovecraft and an Age in Transition and 200 Books by S. T. Joshi. But, alas, the box has not come as of this writing! When it does, I may add a hasty P.S. to this blog to offer these items for sale to all who are interested.
My good friend Mr. Daniel José Older has taken the trouble to make a learned and comprehensive reply to my previous blog: http://ghoststar.net/blog/official-response-to-st-joshis-bizarre-overwritten-blog-about-me. Well, I suppose the poor fellow is unaccustomed to intellectual debate. It is true that my response may have been the equivalent of swatting a fly with a sledgehammer—but it was the principle of the thing, you see. And yet, consider the indignity of Older calling my response “overwritten.” Egad!—I am cut to the quick! With a single deft word he lumps me in with my mentor, Lovecraft, as a presumably “verbose” writer! I guess I shall just have to give up…and, by golly, I was on my way to 300 published books!
At the risk of beating a dead horse (not that I have any prejudices against horses, mind you!—some of my best friends are horses), let me address only a single further issue in this whole affair. The overriding philosophical error made by those who jump on Lovecraft for his racism is the stolid expectation that all historical figures should conform to our own perfect moral, social, intellectual, and cultural stances—and if they don’t, they must be furiously denounced as aberrant. But one begins to wonder…might we ourselves be subject, in a hundred years, to just such criticism? Difficult as it may be to comprehend, the disturbing thought lingers. Offhand, I can think of any number of flaws in our own lives, thoughts, and social arrangements:
We are all complicit in these atrocities, however much we may protest against one or more of them. People of future generations (assuming that global warming even allows future generations to exist) will no doubt shake their heads and say “How could they have allowed such things to happen?” It is also worth pondering whether we as a society are truly non-racist—a point pungently raised in several recent incidents that come to mind, and which New York Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has addressed in a pertinent editorial http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/28/opinion/nicholas-kristof-is-everyone-a-little-bit-racist.html.
There is also the significant question as to whether racism should be regarded as so much more significant a moral, intellectual, and personal flaw than many other stances one could name. In my opinion, religious fanaticism can easily be shown to be a far more serious problem, both historically and currently, than racism, and many of the world’s most intractable problems today can be directly attributed to it. But Lovecraft’s detractors cannot attack him on the issue, since he was, as an atheist who condemned religious intolerance, on the “right” side of it; so they have to seize some other issue, and racism is conveniently presented to them on a silver platter.
None of this excuses Lovecraft’s racism, but it does suggest that a certain humility on our part is in order. We are not perfect; and our schoolmasterly lecturing of dead people only reveals our own smugness and historical ignorance. And there is the further absurdity of thinking that Lovecraft’s undeniable racism somehow negates his immense talents as a writer and also negates the many virtues—intellectual, aesthetic, and personal—that he displayed over his life.
And with that, I am (I hope) done.
It would appear that the satirical screed that constituted my last blog failed lamentably of its prime purpose. That is to say, its intended target—the esteemed Daniel José Older, who had proposed to replace the World Fantasy Award [WFA] bust of H. P. Lovecraft with that of Octavia Butler—did not fully recognise that my document was indeed a satire. I am reminded of Mr. Jonathan Swift, whose satirical pamphlet A Modest Proposal (1729), which wryly advocated that economically oppressed Irish people send their children to be eaten by wealthy folk was taken seriously by a number of those who read it. Alas, what is a satirist to do when such a flop occurs? Who is at fault—the satirist for being too subtle, or the reader for being too thick-witted? This is a delicate issue; but whatever the case, I shall do my best to wipe the smirk off my face and deal with Mr. Older’s latest riposte [http://ghoststar.net/blog/on-butler-and-lovecraft] with the seriousness and gravity it deserves.
I had to do some literary research into the life and work of Mr. Older, of whose existence I had been previously unaware. What lofty literary achievements, I wondered, gave him the right to cast such Olympian moral judgments on a writer against whom, from an objective point of view, he would seem like a flea on the back of an elephant? I am still wondering. I first tried Wikipedia—but, alas, Mr. Older has no Wikipedia entry. It transpires that Mr. Older is the author of a story collection, Salsa Nocturna (2012), published by the distinguished firm of Crossed Genre Publications, and is the author of a novel forthcoming from Tor, Half-Resurrection Blues. No need to worry, thank heaven, that there will ever be any debate about putting his visage on a WFA bust, or a bust of any other sort!
Mr. Older continues to be entirely oblivious of the fact that the promotion of Octavia Butler, an undoubtedly worthy writer (of science fiction), is entirely inappropriate on purely literary grounds as the model for a new bust of the WFA. The World Fantasy Convention itself was created as a counterweight to the World Science Fiction Convention (WorldCon), as it was felt by the proponents of the burgeoning fields of horror and fantasy fiction that the WorldCon was not sufficiently focused on these fields. There is no focus on science fiction in the World Fantasy Convention or the World Horror Convention. The point can be pungently be made by noting that Mr. Older’s paragon, Octavia Butler, properly won several Hugo and Nebula awards but no WFA’s or British Fantasy Awards [BFA] or Bram Stoker Awards [BSA]! It is painfully obvious to everyone except Mr. Older that he is putting forth Ms. Butler chiefly because she was (a) a woman, (b) an African American, and (c) not a racist; her substantial literary contributions (in the wrong genre, as far as the WFA is concerned) are a decidedly subsidiary concern.
Mr. Older goes on to contend that Lovecraft himself was a science fiction writer—but Lovecraft, even in his late quasi-science fiction phase, always considered himself a writer of supernatural fiction, and his contributions to the genre encompass not only the creation of landmark creative work but significant theoretical and critical contributions such as the essays “Supernatural Horror in Literature” and “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction.”
Mr. Older continually refers to Lovecraft as a “hateful” racist. One is reminded of those Southerners who were blithely unaware that the term “damn Yankees” was two words instead of one. I have no doubt that Mr. Older enjoys the deliciously sanctimonious and self-righteous act of condemning Lovecraft for his racism. But one wonders what Mr. Older actually knows about Lovecraft aside from the fact (which he probably obtained at second hand) that he was a racist? What research into Lovecraft’s life, work, and thought has he ever performed? The adage that one should have some knowledge of a subject before one speaks does not seem to have recommended itself to Mr. Older. Has he made any attempt to understand the sources—intellectual, social, familial, cultural—of Lovecraft’s racism? Is he content to hand down facile condemnations on a figure who lived a century ago without the slightest attempt to grasp the reasons why that figure came to his views? That would seem to be the act of a partisan hack, not an informed critic or scholar.
Let me highlight this issue in a very personal way. I am a native of India. In the early 1930s Lovecraft wrote in a letter: “The more one thinks about India, the more one wants to vomit.” What is a plausible reaction of an Indian to this remark? Well, my first reaction was to laugh. My second reaction was to attempt to understand why Lovecraft said it. I concluded that the remark was a response to the turmoil aroused by Gandhi in his quest for Indian independence, and Lovecraft’s comment was a perfectly natural one for an Anglophile devoted to the maintenance of the British Empire. I do not excuse Lovecraft’s remark, but I personally feel no rancour or hatred or resentment at it—what purpose would those emotions serve, in any case?
And why does Mr. Older, and those who think like him on this subject, somehow fancy that racism uniquely defines Lovecraft’s life, work, thought, and character? Does Mr. Older know anything else about Lovecraft? What of his atheism, which to my mind is far more central to his thought and a far more vital component of his literary work than his racism? What of his remarkable transformation from extreme political conservatism to moderate socialism? What of his keen analyses of the social, political, and cultural movements of his time, from World War I to the Great Depression? What of his devotion to the past (embodied in the imperishable utterance, “The past is real. It is all there is”), which led him to study history (ancient Greece and Rome, England and the rest of Europe, colonial America) and led him to travel up and down the Eastern Seaboard in search of antiquities?
Why do Lovecraft’s detractors never exhibit the slightest interest in or knowledge of any of these things? In my 1200-page biography (I Am Providence: The Life and Work of H. P. Lovecraft) I imagine that I discussed Lovecraft’s racism in about 20 pages; that would be about 2% of the entire work. Nobody can accuse me of being soft on the issue; indeed, in many ways I am more vehement on the subject than any of Lovecraft’s opponents. It is simply that there was so much else to discuss, and I simply had to give attention to the myriad other aspects of Lovecraft’s personality.
Does Mr. Older have any awareness of the nearly uniform opinion of Lovecraft’s friends and colleagues that he was one of the most admirable individuals—kind, courteous, dignified without pomposity, witty, immensely learned and aesthetically gifted—they had ever met? Let me quote a remark by James F. Morton, a Harvard graduate who knew Lovecraft for more than fifteen years: “Howard was a person absolutely unforgettable by any who came within range of his influence. I have never known any human being approximating his totally unique characteristics. . . . Howard was always, above all else, the perfect gentleman. . . . But to write in any thorough way regarding one who was in many respects the most remarkable character I have ever known would require volumes.” (Mr. Older can find many remarks of the same sort in the volume Lovecraft Remembered, edited by Peter Cannon [Arkham House, 1998]). Morton, incidentally, clashed repeatedly in letters over Lovecraft’s racism, but that did not prevent him from having the highest regard for his friend.
Is Mr. Older aware of Lovecraft’s immense generosity—not in money (for he had little), but in time, effort, and expertise—in assisting his literary colleagues, ranging from Frank Belknap Long to August Derleth to Robert E. Howard to Donald Wandrei to Robert Bloch to Fritz Leiber to Henry Kuttner to C. L. Moore to Donald A. Wollheim to R. H. Barlow to Henry S. Whitehead and dozens of others? Is it any wonder that all these individuals looked up to Lovecraft as a valued colleague and mentor?
But all this is beside the point. The overriding, catastrophic error that Mr. Older and his compatriots make can be very simply expressed: The WFA bust acknowledges Lovecraft’s literary status in the field of weird fiction and nothing more. It says nothing about Lovecraft’s personality or character—just as the Hugo Award says nothing of the character (a none too savoury one, it appears) of Hugo Gernsback. Lovecraft’s status in weird fiction, in American literature, and in world literature is now so assured that attempts to deny or denigrate it are restricted to cranks and ignoramuses. I am sorry to place Mr. Older in both categories. He makes the breathtaking statement that he has never come upon even an admirer of Lovecraft who has praised Lovecraft’s prose style. I could direct him to dozens of critics on the subject; let a comment by one of the sharpest of them (Steven J. Mariconda) suffice: “His writing, a unique medium as much poetry as fictional narrative, is informed by both purpose and intelligence. An analysis of Lovecraft’s approach shows that he was a consummate stylist who penned some of the most successful prose in the history of weird fiction.”
If Mr. Older wants the opinion of someone even more eminent, let me quote some random sentences from Joyce Carol Oates, one of our most distinguished novelists and critics: “Most of Lovecraft’s tales . . . develop by way of incremental detail, beginning with quite plausible situations . . . One is drawn into Lovecraft by the very air of plausibility and characteristic understatement of the prose, the question being When will the weirdness strike? There is a melancholy, operatic grandeur in Lovecraft’s most passionate work, like ‘The Outsider’ and ‘At the Mountains of Madness’; a curious elegiac poetry of unspeakable loss, of adolescent despair and an existential loneliness so pervasive that it lingers in the reader’s memory, like a dream, long after the rudiments of Lovecraftian plot have faded.” (These sentences come from Oates’s introduction to Tales of H. P. Lovecraft [Ecco Press, 1997], one of the best short analyses of Lovecraft ever written.)
Mr. Older provokes further merriment at his own expense when he ingenuously states that he has been unable to ascertain even the plots of some of Lovecraft’s tales. If this is so, I suggest that the fault lies with him, not with Lovecraft. There is no Lovecraft story whose basic plot I was not able to grasp on first reading at the age of thirteen.
But Lovecraft’s plots and prose style are the least of his virtues. The intrinsic merits of his work—aesthetic, philosophical, and cultural—have been confirmed by a mountain of criticism and scholarship over the past fifty years. (Mr. Older can gain some idea of this body of work by examining my H. P. Lovecraft: A Comprehensive Bibliography [University of Tampa Press, 2009].) My three editions of Lovecraft for Penguin Classics (1999–2004), the edition of his Tales in the Library of America (2005), and any number of prestigious foreign editions (of which I will mention only two: the Italian Tutti i racconti [Mondadori, 1898–92; 4 vols.] and the German Gesammelte Werke [Edition Phantasia, 1999–2004; 10 vols.]) testify conclusively to Lovecraft’s unassailable position in the canon of world literature. And his wide-ranging influence—on weird writers (Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Peter Straub, Caitlín R. Kiernan, and countless others), science fiction writers (Fritz Leiber, Arthur C. Clarke, Philip K. Dick, and many others), and world literary figures (Jorge Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, Michel Houellebecq)—is now almost incalculable. It does not make the slightest difference, for the purpose of the WFA, if Lovecraft was a total scumbag (and yet, all the evidence suggests that he was very much otherwise); the WFA says nothing about that but only about his stature as a writer of weird fiction.
I suppose I am not entitled to criticise the feelings of those who are uncomfortable accepting the WFA because Lovcraft was (among many other things) a racist, but it is worth studying the remarks of the two writers (out of hundreds who have won the WFA) who have spoken on this subject. They are Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville. Okorafor ponders the matter with tolerable gravity, but Miéville has added this bit of unintentional hilarity: “I put it [the WFA] out of sight, where only I can see it, and I have turned it to face the wall. So I am punishing the little fucker for the malevolent clown he was. I can look at it and remember the honour, and above all I am writing behind Lovecraft’s back.” If Miéville intended to suggest that he was a half-crazed idiot, he has succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. This is not the response of a sane and rational person. Indeed, I beg leave to suggest that the “malevolent clown” is Miéville himself. One could be charitable and assume that this screed was written with a satirical intent; but, in my judgment, the pathetic earnestness of the writing suggests that it was meant to be taken quite seriously. (And yet, Miéville was not always so hostile: see his flattering introduction to Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness [Modern Library, 2005].)
Like Mr. Older, these writers focus on nothing but Lovecraft’s racism. I had whimsically mentioned Lovecraft’s atheism in my previous blog, but Mr. Older has entirely misunderstood the purport of that discussion. My point was that, with a person as voluminously documented as Lovecraft, it would be possible to find something—some attitude or belief or utterance—to offend almost anyone. It all depends on one’s perspective, does it not? The great majority of the world’s population adheres to some religion or other; so why do we not hear of umbrage being taken in regard to Lovecraft’s atheism? Surely not all fans and writers of weird fiction, fantasy fiction, and science fiction are atheists! Lovecraft’s early political conservatism is highly offensive to liberals like me; his later conversion to socialism must be highly offensive to conservatives. His attacks on Modernist artists and writers (Hemingway, Picasso, Brancusi) must be highly offensive to the devotees of these figures. But we hear nothing about any of this.
Let me once again personalise this issue. I have won the WFA (twice), the BSA, the British Fantasy Award [BFA], the International Horror Guild Award (twice), the Distinguished Scholarship Award from the International Association of the Fantastic in the Arts, and the Robert Bloch Award from the NecronomiCon. It would appear that Bram Stoker was a Christian (an Irish Protestant). I am an atheist. Would it be legitimate for me to feel uncomfortable accepting the BSA because of my religious differences with Stoker? To state the question is to answer it. Even though my admiration for Stoker as a purely literary figure is not high, I readily acknowledge his immense importance to the field of weird fiction, and in that spirit I happily accepted the award.
I grow weary of this preposterous kerfuffle. If Nnedi Okorafor and China Miéville are so offended at owning the WFA, they should simply return it and be done with the matter. The issue, of course, will never arise for Mr. Older, for the likelihood of his ever winning the WFA—or any other award—is fabulously remote. When he dies, it will have been as if he had never lived. Meanwhile, Lovecraft will continue to gain readers and adherents across the globe, and his memory will live long after the very names of Daniel José Older, Nnedi Okorafor, and China Miéville have descended into the voracious maw of oblivion.
I understand that one Daniel José Older has launched a petition to replace the bust of H. P. Lovecraft, which was designed by Gahan Wilson as the World Fantasy Award, with another one—of Octavia E. Butler. In Older’s opinion, Lovecraft was an “avowed racist and a terrible wordsmith.” All I can say is—Well, I’ll be damned!
I believe it is now sufficiently well established that Lovecraft was in fact one of the great prose stylists of the English language, so Mr. Older’s aesthetic comment can be dispensed with at once. As for Lovecraft being an avowed racist—well, yes, he was. And of course that disqualifies him totally from consideration for the honour he has been granted as the symbol of the World Fantasy Award.
There are several problematical issues raised by this petition of Mr. Older. He appears to believe that the WFA is granted for achievement in “sci-fi/fantasy,” but in fact science fiction has two of its own awards (the Nebula and the Hugo—the latter named after Hugo Gernsback, to whose admirable business dealings Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, and many others have attested with some pungency), whereas the WFA is given to distinguished achievement in horror and fantasy.
The choice of Ms. Butler is problematical on other grounds. Indeed, I have a much better suggestion as to an individual after whom after whom a new bust, should one be desired, could be modelled. That person is, if I may say so without undue immodesty, myself.
Yes, I, S. T. Joshi, humbly put myself in contention as the model of a new WFA bust! It is true that I am of the wrong gender whereas Ms. Butler is of the right one (we have, after all, been taught to despise the many “dead white males” who have exercised undue cultural domination for so many centuries in the West), but I have other points in my favour. Ms. Butler’s publications in and influence on the horror field seem pretty negligible (she was, by her own admission, overwhelmingly a writer of science fiction), whereas my hundreds of books, articles, reviews, and stories all deal (with some insignificant exceptions) with the realms of fantasy or supernatural horror, and therefore my own influence in these realms would seem to be considerably greater than Ms. Butler’s. (Is the fact that I am still in the land of the living a disqualifying factor? If it is, I daresay there are any number of individuals out there who would be happy to rectify that unfortunate situation.)
Even in the matter of skin colour (and that, after all, is what this all comes down to, isn’t it?), I may have the slightest of advantages over Ms. Butler. How so? Well, I assume that there are at least a certain number of other African Americans involved in the realms of science fiction, fantasy, and horror; but what of Indians? After the death some years ago of the scholar Devendra P. Varma, there does not seem to be anyone aside from yours truly who amounts to a hill of beans in these fields. Am I wrong, people? (I suppose it would also help my cause if I were gay, but I cannot claim that distinction—but then, neither could Ms. Butler, from what little I know of her.)
So it can be seen that, from Mr. Older’s perspective, Octavia Butler (an accomplished non-racist black female) has it over Lovecraft (a talentless [but strangely influential] racist white male) hands down; but her superiority over me is less assured. I of course do not know anything about Ms. Butler’s character or personality (in which circumstance I appear to be in precisely the same boat as those hostile to Lovecraft), but I assume she was not a racist. Nor am I. It is true that on occasion all white people look the same to me; and it is true that I have a fatal predilection for blonde Caucasian females, a trait I share with Arabs engaged in the white slave trade; but I repeat that I AM NOT A RACIST! The mere fact that I am a scholar of a racist does not make me one—that would be guilt by association, wouldn’t it? (Incidentally, while I and others have properly kicked Lovecraft in the butt for his racism, I wonder why his equally obnoxious atheism does not engender more discussion. Given that we live in a world where Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, and even Buddhists increasingly display their piety by happily killing one another, it would seem that Lovecraft’s atheism would be mightily offensive to a huge proportion of the human race—and yet one hears nothing about this appalling circumstance. Where is the outrage, people?)
So there it is: Octavie Butler has it over me in terms of gender, I have it over her in terms of my contributions to and influence on the fantasy/horror field, and I may have a slight superiority in terms of my skin colour. So I win! Let’s go, fans of mine, and start up a petition to have my noble countenance put on a new WFA bust! I understand that the Butler petition has garnered more than 1000 names, but I suspect I can do better. But I am a good democrat (as Lovecraft, incidentally, was not—another mark against him), so I am prepared to wait upon the votes of the general public and let the best man—er, person—win.
I am writing this the day after my marriage to Mary K. Wilson, which took place under ideal circumstances (although perhaps a tad too hot for us Seattleites) at the Arboretum here in Seattle. It was a splendid event, and I was grateful that not only my family (including my mother, Padmini T. Joshi, my two sisters, Ragini and Nalini, and their families) and Mary’s family (her mother Nancy; her sisters Julie, Carol, and Katie; and sundry husbands, nieces, and nephews) were in attendance, but also such luminaries of our field as W. H. Pugmire, William F. Nolan, Lois H. Gresh (and her husband Arie), Jason & Sunni Brock, Greg Lowney, David & Marion Verba, and others. Mary and I are grateful for the wonderful wedding presents we received both from those in attendance and those who could not make it. A thousand thanks to you all! I imagine that photos of the event will appear (or have already appeared) on various Facebook pages and elsewhere.
Mary wanted us to read some poems before the actual “I do” part of the ceremony. I chose a superb poem by George Sterling, “The Face of the Star”:
The wedding took place five days after I returned from my two-week trip to Ireland, where I was lodged at Dunsany Castle in County Meath and spent the entire time sorting through thousands of pages of manuscripts by Lord Dunsany. By some miracle—and with the invaluable assistance of Martin Andersson, who in many ways knows Dunsany’s work better than I do—we were able to catalogue all the loose manuscripts (novels, short fiction, essays/reviews, poetry, plays), although a few of the items were unknown or unclassifiable. Dunsany also wrote any number of works directly into notebooks or scrapbooks, and we catalogued a good many of these. (There were also several scrapbooks of clippings relating to Dunsany’s plays, but we did not have a chance to examine these.)
The end result is that we came upon hundreds of uncollected or unpublished works of whose existence neither we nor anyone else were aware. Now that this material is catalogued, it can serve as a quarry for many future volumes. Martin will work on what will no doubt be a delightful and potentially popular collection of Dunsany’s writings (stories, essays, poems) about dogs. These are some of his most charming works, and I think a volume of them will prove very successful. I myself came upon 8 or 10 unknown plays (some, admittedly, only 2 or 3 pages in length), and they will be added to my ongoing edition of Dunsany’s collected plays. But we are also determined to get out some e-books of Dunsany’s most important novels—The King of Elfland’s Daughter (1924), The Charwoman’s Shadow (1926), The Blessing of Pan (1927), and The Curse of the Wise Woman (1933)—to attract a new generation of readers who like reading on Kindles and tablets. So much work is to come!
I cannot leave this issue without expressing my inordinate thanks for the courtesy and hospitality of Maria Alice, Lady Dunsany, and her son, Randal Plunkett, the current Lord Dunsany, who hosted us during our entire trip and provided us free room and board. I trust we worked hard enough to justify our keep, but their kindness is nonetheless much appreciated.
Upon my return I found some interesting books waiting for me. Most notable is Jason V Brock’s treatise Disorders of Magnitude: A Survey of Dark Fantasy (Rowman & Littlefield), part of my Studies in Supernatural Literature series. Here is the publisher’s web page about it: https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442235250. This is probably the most wide-ranging and diverse book in my series to date, full of essays, reviews, interviews (including one of myself), and other matter, and covering literature, film, radio, television, comic books, and other media relating to weird fiction from Mary Shelley to the present day. I received two copies of the book and am willing to part with one for the bargain price of $50.00.
I have also received the first three volumes of PS Publishing’s “Lovecraft Illustrated” series: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, The Deams in the Witch House, and The Dunwich Horror. Each volume contains a new introduction by me, many full-page illustrations by Pete Von Sholly, and reprinted or original essays on the stories by various hands. (Regrettably, W. H. Pugmire wrote a new essay on “The Dunwich Horror,” but it was erroneously dropped from the book and his older—but still worthy—piece “Lustcraft” was included.) Six more volumes will appear in due course of time. I am sorry to report that I have no spare copies to offer.
I am just in receipt of the signed/limited edition of Searchers After Horror (Fedogan & Bremer). Here is the publisher's web page about it: http://www.fedoganandbremer.com/products/searchers-after-horror-deluxe-limited. It is a splendid-looking slipcased edition with signatures of all the contributors including myself. At $110, it is a bargain! Again, I fear I have no spare copies to offer.
I am still waiting for the appearance of my 200 Books by S. T. Joshi; I just made some last-minute corrections a few days ago. Also imminent, I believe, are the first issue of Spectral Realms, the new issue (#15) of Dead Reckonings, the new Lovecraft Annual (No. 8), and of course my huge Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H. P. Lovecraft. All these are from Hippocampus Press. A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos should appear in August from Centipede Press, and The Madness of Cthulhu 1 is due out in October from Titan Books.
By the time most of you read this blog, I will be wending my way to Castle Dunsany in Ireland. I will leave late morning on Monday, July 7, and expect to arrive around noon (local time) on Tuesday. I’ll be there until the 22nd, working with Martin Andersson on cataloguing and arranging various papers, manuscripts, correspondence, etc. at the castle—a job on which Joe Doyle made a great deal of progress in past years, but on which considerably more work needs to be done. Upon my return, things will be no doubt hectic leading up to my wedding on July 27!
I am happy to announce the publication of a paperback reprint of The Ghost of Fear and Others (H. P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Horror Stories, Volume 1) by Joe Morey’s Dark Renaissance Books. It is a splendid-looking book that reproduces the art on the dust jacket from the hardcover edition (Arcane Wisdom, 2011). For some reason, the publisher’s website lists the book as “out of stock,” but otherwise lists the book at $16.95. I have several spare copies and will be happy to let copies to for the minimally discounted price of $15. I will probably be able to receive e-mail queries on this matter while in Ireland, since I will be going there with a laptop that has wireless access, but I obviously won’t be able to fill orders until I return.
There will apparently be a signed/limited edition of this book (and, presumably, Volume 2 of the set, The Dead Valley and Others), but the signature sheets that I had signed were apparently damaged, so they have to be signed again upon my return.
I will be doing several other books for Dark Renaissance Books. Joe Morey wishes to start a line of books called Classic Weird Fiction, and we have agreed on the following titles to start:
The Blackwood book had originally been somewhat informally scheduled for Hippocampus Press as part of the “Lovecraft’s Library” series, but we are struggling to keep that series going in the midst of so many other projects. We still hope to issue a “double” containing Robert Hichens’s The Dweller on the Threshold and Eleanor M. Ingram’s The Thing from the Lake, but after that the series will probably go into abeyance for a time.
I am also happy to see a new edition (incorporating my extensive copyediting and David E. Schultz’s skilful formatting) of Sam Gafford’s anthology of original stories, Carnacki: The New Adventures (Ulthar Press, 2014). The stories themselves were on the whole quite good (I have written a review of the book for the next issue of Dead Reckonings), but the copyediting and design left a little to be desired. I have one spare copy of the new edition available, and would be happy to let it go for $12.00. (The list price is $15.95.)
Upon my return, I hope to undertake extensive work on my revised edition of The Rise and Fall of the Cthulhu Mythos (Mythos Books, 2008), which will be retitled The Rise, Fall, and Rise of the Cthulhu Mythos. This new edition should appear next year from Hippocampus Press. It will be difficult to incorporate discussions of all the new Mythos writing that has appeared over the last decade or so, so I will restrict myself to some of the more noteworthy items; I will also revise earlier parts of the text where needed. The book could well be substantially larger than the original edition.
My 200 Books by S. T. Joshi should be released fairly soon, and I see that there is a page for it on the Hippocampus Press website: http://www.hippocampuspress.com/mythos-and-other-authors/nonfiction/200-books-by-s.-t.-joshi. I am particularly pleased to see the cover by my old friend Jason C. Eckhardt, whose art adorned my very first book—my edition of H. P. Lovecraft’s Uncollected Prose and Poetry (Necronomicon Press, 1978). We have come a long way, the two of us!
I was pleased to have gotten back, however briefly, into the practice of writing critical essays. I recently wrote a piece entitled “The Magical Spirituality of a Lapsed Catholic: Atheism and Anticlericalism in the Films of Guillermo del Toro,” which will be published in a book about del Toro being compiled by John W. Morehead for McFarland. I am also putting the finishing touches (but will probably not be able to finish the piece entirely until my return from Ireland) on an essay entitled “A Failed Experiment: Family and Humanity in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial,” to be published in a volume of essays on Jackson being edited by Lisa Kröger and Melanie R. Anderson. I am not sure who the publisher is, but it is apparently some academic press.
One of these days I will probably want to assemble another collection of my various essays on weird fiction. I probably already have enough for a volume, but I do not wish to compete against myself—especially in light of the imminent paperback publication of Unutterable Horror: A History of Superantural Fiction by Hippocampus Press. And I am already putting together a second volume of my collected reviews (a follow-up to Classics and Contemporaries [Hippocampus Press, 2009]), which will include certain pungent reviews that shall probably not make certain people very happy.
I shall venture to make this latest instalment of my blog less controversial than the last two, even though it would appear that I continue to be roundly abused in various online venues. Given the fact, however, that the great majority of my abusers are close cousins of the “hardy coleopterous species” in one of Lovecraft’s more memorable stories (or perhaps are descendants of the Glossina palpalis found in one of his ghostwritten tales), with literary skills to match—my interest in their maunderings is not extensive. My inclination is to give them a hearty laugh and a delicate nose-thumbing—when, that is, I can waste more than two consecutive seconds thinking about them.
On to more pleasant subjects! I have now received more copies of my edition of Fritz Leiber’s Adept’s Gambit (Arcane Wisdom, 2014), so I am happy to make them available for purchase. I see that the list price of the book is a whopping $45. Since the book is rather small (not quite 200 pages in a 5.5 x 7.5 format), I feel I can charge no more than $30 each for my copies. I have about 8 to sell, so come and get ’em!
That book is no. 212 for me. Given that the publication of my Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H. P. Lovecraft by Hippocampus Press is imminent (probably this month or next) and that A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (Centipede Press) is also somewhat imminent (now announced for August), I have turned over to David E. Schultz, the Hippocampus Press designer, the file of my 200 Books by S. T. Joshi, listing these two additional books. The breakdown of the 214 books listed in the compilation is as follows:
This list does not include 18 forthcoming books (listed toward the end of the compilation), nor does it list books for which I am only the series editor. Still, a lot of work! I of course also have as complete a listing as I can manage of my essays, stories, poems (Gawdelpus!), reviews, magazines edited, etc. etc. So the 200 Books is itself a miniature book of nearly 200 pages!
I was thrilled to write an introduction to Caitlín R. Kiernan’s Beneath an Oil-Dark Sea: The Best of Caitín R. Kiernan (Volume 2), due out from Subterranean Press later this year (I think). Now there is a real writer, in contrast to certain others one could name. In my humble estimation she has ascended to supremacy in the realm of contemporary weird fiction—there is no one better than her right now.
I gave a long interview on “Lovecraft and Science” to one Robert Lamb, who runs several websites. I cannot say that I am at all well-versed in the sciences, but I was able to natter on for nearly an hour on the subject, and I believe the interview as finally edited comes to more than 37 minutes. It can be found here: http://www.stufftoblowyourmind.com/podcasts/the-science-of-h-p-lovecraft/. I also answered a series of questions about Lovecraft and weird fiction on a website called Ask Me Anything, but I am not sure these answers have been posted yet.
I am already working hard to get copy ready for this year’s Lovecraft Annual (due out in August) and Weird Fiction Review (due out in the fall—I have just read the riot act to the publisher, Jerad Walters of Centipede Press, to make sure it comes out before December 1). I contributed two reviews (plus a capsule review) to issue no. 15 of Dead Reckonings, the Hippocampus Press review journal. What I reviewed were William F. Nolan’s Like a Dead Man Walking (Centipede Press) and Sam Gafford’s compilation Carnacki: The New Adventures (Ulthar Press), both of which I liked.
I am now enjoying the reading of John (Jack) Koblas’s The Lovecraft Circle and Others (Battered Silicon Dispatch Box, 2012), which I should have read sooner—and certainly before the author’s sad demise last year (I think). It is a most engaging work of reminiscence, with some surprising little tidbits—such as the fact that, in the late 1920s, Mary Elizabeth Counselman (then only a callow teenager) wrote a fan letter to Lovecraft, which he uncharacteristically never answered. Perhaps it never reached him. It would be hard to imagine the gentlemanly author not replying to a missive from a young lady. There is some other illuminating information that I will highlight in a review for the Lovecraft Annual.
It seems that the little story about the crow that concluded my previous blog has created much merriment, whether at my expense or not. Some of my opponents have appeared to jeer at me for being unable to tell the difference between a crow and a raven. Well, one cannot be learned in everything, and I happily admit my ignorance of ornithology. But I can tell a good writer from a bad one.
It would appear that my failure to supply unmitigated praise of the stories in Scott Nicolay’s recent book, Ana Kai Tangata, has not been terribly well received by the vocal supporters of this writer. I have become inured, over the past 35 years as a practising critic, to any number of kicks in the pants, and I trust I take them with as little rancour as I used to dish them out. (Twenty years ago Ellen Datlow called me “the nastiest reviewer in the field” [her emphasis].) Nor do I imagine that the current contretemps will have the slightest effect on my standing in the field or my personal relations with the many writers whose work I respect and value.
I have already stated my reluctance to write anything about Mr Nicolay at all, given the fact that his book came out almost simultaneously with one of my own from the same publisher, which is one reason I did not write a full-fledged review. I do not believe that I did any disservice to my publisher, or to anyone else, by what I intended—and should have been taken—as an honest if necessarily incomplete evaluation of this promising writer.
One of the oddest comments, which led to a whole separate discussion thread, is Laird Barron’s laconic comment that “unity of effect is overrated” (https://www.facebook.com/laird.barron). He did not explain this provocative utterance, but perhaps he was only seeking to ignite a conversation. Let us recall what Poe actually said on the subject:
“A skilful literary artist has constructed a tale. If wise, he has not fashioned his thoughts to accommodate his incidents; but having conceived, with deliberate care, a certain unique or single effect to be wrought out, he then invents such incidents—he then combines such events as may best aid him in establishing this preconceived effect. If his very initial sentence tend not to the outbringing of this effect, then he has failed in his first step. In the whole composition there should be no word written, of which the tendency, direct or indirect, is not to the one pre-established design. And by such means, with such care and skill, a picture is at length painted which leaves in the mind of him who contemplates it with a kindred art, a sense of the fullest satisfaction. The idea of the tale has been presented unblemished, because undisturbed; and this is an end unattainable by the novel. Undue brevity is just as exceptionable here as in the poem; but undue length is yet more to be avoided.” (Review of Twice-Told Tales, 1842)
This sounds to me like a pretty sound rule of thumb for writing fiction. It is not the be-all and end-all of literary practice, and I’ve never said it was; but it has clear points of merit, as the work of a substantial number of short story writers following Poe attests.
My general feeling is that it is probably advisable to adhere to the unity of effect doctrine unless there is some compelling reason to abandon or modify it. In the hands of the careless or inexperienced, it can too easily become an excuse for lazy, sloppy, undisciplined writing. Cthulhu knows we have enough of that in this field as it is! I cannot recall how many submissions I have received from writers whose work entirely lacked focus and direction, and who apparently expected the lyricism of their deathless prose to carry to reader on to…wherever the story ended up. This happens not only in the case of tyros but also of writers whose work has been very widely published.
Mr Barron then drops the name of Robert Aickman. Once again, he does nothing but mention the name, without the slightest attempt at an explanation. The implication, I imagine, is that Aickman bent or altogether abandoned “unity of effect” and yet is undeniably a great weird writer. There are three serious fallacies in this argument (if indeed that is the argument that Mr Barron is putting forward). (1) In my estimation (and as one other commentator on the discussion thread suggested), Aickman did not in fact abandon or even modify the “unity of effect” principle in his best work—“Ringing the Changes,” “Meeting Mr Millar,” “Letters to the Postman,” etc. I certainly have never accused him of such (see my analysis in The Modern Weird Tale ); I find other deficiencies in some of his lesser work, but this is not it. (2) Even if we assume that Aickman jettisoned the unity of effect, that in itself is no reason to do so ourselves. This is the fallacy of the “argument from authority”: because some distinguished person (say, George Washington) said or did something, therefore it is acceptable for everyone to say or do it. One quickly gets into trouble in this way: Thomas Jefferson was undoubtedly a great man, but his owning of slaves does not mean we should own slaves or advocate African American slavery. (3) Again on the assumption that Aickman departed from the unity of effect, a strong argument could be made that he is a great weird writer not because he did so, but in spite of it. In any case, the appeal to some storied precedent for a particular literary style, usage, or device (whether it be the abandonment of unity of effect or use of dashes in place of quotation marks) elicits certain unwelcome comparisons that may lead inexorably to a paraphrase of Lloyd Bentsen’s well-known put-down: “You’re no Robert Aickman [or Cormac McCarthy]!”
Mr Nicolay himself has chimed in with a remarkable utterance in his defence: “If a critic attempts to judge a novella or any work longer than a short story in the context of U[nity] of E[ffect], then s/he is either being outright disingenuous, or is demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the principle itself.”
I scarcely know where to begin in correcting Mr Nicolay. Can he really fancy that many of the greatest novelettes, novellas, and even short novels of our field—by such writers as Le Fanu (“Green Tea”), Machen (“The Great God Pan,” “The White People”), Blackwood (“The Willows,” “The Wendigo,” “Sand,” “A Descent into Egypt,” etc. etc.), Lovecraft (too many instances to cite), M. R. James (“Count Magnus”), Matheson (I Am Legend), Ramsey Campbell (Needing Ghosts), T. E. D. Klein (“The Events at Poroth Farm,” all the stories in Dark Gods), Thomas Ligotti (“My Work Is Not Yet Done”), and so many others—do not operate on exactly the principle of unity of effect? Is there an extraneous scene—or even an extraneous word or paragraph—in any of these works? The principle can obviously be extended to a vast array of mainstream works, ranging from Candide to The Red Badge of Courage to The Old Man and the Sea.
But let us look carefully at what Mr Nicolay has said. He assumes that I am either ignorant of the principles of literary criticism or that, by being “disingenuous,” I am a hypocrite. To be disingenuous is to know that something is true (or false) but to assert the reverse. That is, at a minimum, a rather odd accusation to make against one who has been writing literary criticism since 1977, who has been published widely in the academic press since 1980, who has published dozens of books on Lovecraft, Dunsany, Machen, Blackwood, Campbell, and the weird tale generally, and who has studied the theory and practice of criticism and aesthetics from Aristotle to Derrida. I naively thought that my long practice of tackling certain sacred cows in our field (King, Straub, Rice, Barker, Koontz) with an honesty and judgment that paid no attention to their popularity or their wide array of devotees had established my reputation as a straight shooter. The best one can say of Mr Nicolay’s comment is that it is, on multiple levels, seriously in error.
One other strain of comment (I am not directly aware of it, but know of it only by hearsay) that strikes me as exceptionally odd is the idea that my views on Scott Nicolay have been influenced, or even dictated, by Jason V Brock or anyone else. I repeat that I have been writing criticism since Jason was seven years old, and my comments on Nicolay are in strict accord with the aesthetic principles that have governed my criticism from the beginning of my career. I should also note—although surely it should be obvious—that my comments were not in any sense intended to be definitive. Criticism is not an exact science; it is not a science at all. It is, par excellence, the exercise of critical judgment. This is not to say that criticism is merely “opinion”; that is a shallow and incomplete conclusion. I do not deny that my critical judgments are indeed opinions, but I believe they are informed opinions—informed by my reading of thousands of works of weird fiction over the past 40 years and my general knowledge and application of certain central principles of literary criticism. I have never maintained that they are pronouncements from the voice of Gawd. I specifically stated, in the preface to Unutterable Horror, that “I trust it will be evident that my judgments are merely suggestive rather than prescriptive.”
There are at least two troubling aspects to this whole kerfuffle. One is that there seems to be an intolerance among a certain claque of supporters against the expression of the slightest bit of criticism directed at a favoured author, however well-intentioned and sincerely expressed that criticism is. I have no quarrel with support or even advocacy of an author, whether a well-established one or a novice. I’ve done so myself, in the case of such writers as Joseph S. Pulver, Sr, Michael Aronovitz, Jonathan Thomas, and others, to say nothing of Ramsey Campbell and Caitlín R. Kiernan (whom I regard as the two leading weird writers of our time); but I hope I am not blind to the weak points in some of their work. I hope and pray that Laird Barron and Scott Nicolay (and their supporters) do not regard their work as perfectly finished or incapable of improvement. It would be a sad day when any writer, however eminent, came to this conclusion.
It is difficult to deny that there is something of a mutual admiration society in certain circles. Laird Barron appears to be the object of one such strain (although I doubt that he had anything to do with its emergence), and I fear that Scott Nicolay is now the beneficiary of another strain. The end result is that it becomes impossible to express an honest, straightforward, and constructive criticism of these authors, because their devotees regard the lowly critic’s assertions as some heinous act of lèse-majesté, to be counteracted not by reasoned argument but by ferocious denunciation.
The second troubling issue is the very nature of forums such as Facebook. In our instant-gratification society, there is a fatal temptation to toss in one’s two-cents’-worth immediately, without a great deal of forethought or attention to detail or elaboration of the complex points at issue. I will choose one remark made in this discussion and let it serve for the whole. Mr Barron stated: “Fortunately, copious typographical errors were never a bar to S. T.’s deification of Lovecraft.” I suppose this is what passes for cleverness on Facebook, but the comment misses its target by a wide margin: (1) I have never deified Lovecraft, readily acknowledging a fair number of his faults as a person, a thinker, and a writer; (2) I was referring not to typographical errors in Ana Kai Tangata but to a deficiency in copyediting, which is an altogether different thing; (3) we all read and enjoyed Lovecraft when his texts were full of typographical errors; but I assume most of us like him a tad better now that those errors (and thousands of other textual errors) have been eliminated.
This is the main reason (aside from the colossal time-wasting it involves) why I do not participate in Facebook and similar venues. It is really not possible to argue such matters in the depth and detail they deserve in such venues, and it is too easy to spout off hasty and ill-considered remarks and let them take the place of well-reasoned debate. I myself, in the present screed, spent several days pondering what I would say and how I would say it, revising my comments periodically so that I achieved the tone I wished. There is something to be said for adhering to a certain old-fashioned method of communication.
Let me end on a lighter note.
Some days ago, my fiancée Mary Wilson was grilling some succulent sirloin steaks. It was a splendid sunny day, and we figured we would have a fine al fresco dinner. After the steaks were (perfectly) prepared, we put them on plates, along with potato salad and a nice garden salad. I placed my plate on a tray in our secluded back garden, then went back in the house because I had forgotten something. When I returned, my plate was empty—at least of the steak. A huge crow (or maybe it was a raven) had picked it up off of my plate and flown off with it! Yog-Sothoth Neblod Zin! The crow/raven actually dropped the meat somewhere or other, and Mary made the not terribly helpful suggestion that I find it, dust it off, and eat it. Well, I was unable to find it, so that put an end to the matter. A vegetarian like Jason Brock might think that I had this coming—that it was some kind of rebuke to my unrepentant carnivorousness—and maybe he is right. I will say that I later threw a big rock at the crow/raven, but it dodged the missile easily and merely cawed derisively at me. This is not over, folks! Stay tuned for further developments.
One Robert Lamb recently interviewed me on “Lovecraft and Science.” Mr. Lamb is a senior writer on a number of websites, including StufftoBlowYourMind.com, where I believe my interview will presently appear as a podcast or something of the sort. I’ll provide further information once the interview is available online.
I am happy to report that my agent is finalising arrangements for paperback reprints of Black Wings III and IV with Titan Books. These editions should appear about a year after the publication of the hardcover editions from PS Publishing, meaning they should be out around January 2015 and January 2016. Let’s hope they bring many new readers to the wonderful stories in both books.
I have just received one or two copies of my 212th book—my edition of Fritz Leiber’s Adept’s Gambit (Arcane Wisdom, 2014). I expect to get 8 more copies soon, so I will make them available to interested readers by the time I write my next blog. Please refrain from reserving copies now!
An Australian company led by Yuri Higashino is at work on a “suspense horror web series” entitled Strange Aeons (glad to see the proper spelling of “aeons”!), based on Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” This seems to be a worthy project, and I urge interested individuals to check out the Kickstarter page, which provides more information about it: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/strangeaeonsweb/strange-aeons-a-hp-lovecraft-suspense-horror-web-s.
I have read the first five stories (comprising about half the book) of Scott Nicolay’s Ana Kai Tangata (Fedogan & Bremer, 2014). I would feel awkward writing an actual review of this book, given that F&B is my publisher also; but I feel obliged to give readers at least a partial indication of my general reaction to this much-heralded author.
I will frankly admit that my verdict is a bit mixed. Scott Nicolay is a writer of tremendous ability, but he has not quite realised his potential as yet. Not one of the five stories I have read is fully satisfactory, and some have fairly serious flaws. Let me discuss them in turn:
“alligators” (yes, there is no capital A) is a story about strange creatures in New Jersey. The problem with this story is a lack of development: there is no sense of cumulative, impending terror or suspense. The narrative proceeds somewhat lackadaisically until the monster suddenly leaps out at the end like a jack-in-the-box.
“The Bad Outer Space” is an interesting attempt to tell a horror tale through the eyes of a small child (in the manner, perhaps, of Arthur Machen’s “The White People”), but the conclusion of the story struck me as something of an anticlimax.
The title story, “Ana Kai Tangata,” is a 52-page novella that is set on Easter Island. Nicolay portrays the topography of the island with splendid vividness; but the problem with this story is too much supernaturalism. There are all manner of strange and bizarre incidents, but they fail to fuse themselves into a unity. Some of them seem to have been included merely to give the reader a jolt. Nicolay needs to fashion a supernatural conception that genuinely coheres as an aesthetic and philosophical totality.
“Phragmites” is another novella (53 pages), but it suffers from an almost grotesque and obtrusive lack of Poe’s “unity of effect.” In other words, there are whole episodes and scenes that have nothing to do with the central narrative. The conclusion of the story is indeed powerful and effective, but the reader’s patience has been tried to the limit before that conclusion is reached. Compression, it would appear, is not one of Nicolay’s strengths; and while his prose is on the whole fluid, musical, and richly textured, he should resist the temptation to include extraneous passages that are insufficiently related to the final outcome.
I wish Nicolay had not used dashes instead of quotation marks to indicate dialogue. Not only does this strike me as painfully pretentious and affected, but it creates needless confusion when a large paragraph has some sentences that are part of a character’s speech and other sentences that are not. It is counterproductive to distract the reader’s attention over something so inconsequential as this; it in fact hinders the reader from paying attention to the actual progression of the story.
I was dismayed at the number of copyediting errors in this book. Nicolay himself should have caught some of them (one does not italicise Bible; Finnegans Wake does not have an apostrophe in the first word; etc. etc.), but I have long become accustomed to even the best authors (with the towering and notable exception of Ramsey Campbell) being unable to copyedit their own work. There are all manner of stylistic, punctuational, and other irregularities that should have been ironed out by someone.
If I have focused on what I believe to be Nicolay’s deficiencies as a writer, it is because one of the most dismaying facets of this book is something over which he presumably had no control. I refer to the introduction by Laird Barron and the afterword by John Pelan, which so ludicrously puff up this novice writer that one suspects some kind of concerted effort to champion him as the second coming of H. P. Lovecraft or Thomas Ligotti. I also notice this tendency in some online reviews I have seen. Scott Nicolay is not another Lovecraft or another Ligotti; he is not even another Laird Barron. He is, in my view, a writer of great promise, but that promise has not yet been fulfilled, at least based on the stories I have read. It would be prudent for his fans to tone down the rhetoric a bit and bring him (and themselves) back to earth. I expect Scott Nicolay to do much better work in the future than he has done in this book.
There appears to be a growing tendency among certain commentators (I will not call them critics or scholars, for they clearly seem to be neither) to focus on Lovecraft’s racism to the exclusion of just about every other facet of his life, work, and thought. This itself is a curious cultural phenomenon, but the upshot is a severe distortion of the overall thrust of his philosophy and his literary work. Why, I wonder, do we not focus on Lovecraft’s atheism; his remarkable conversion from political conservatism to moderate socialism; his keen appreciation of natural beauty; his antiquarianism; his knowledge of science (astronomy, chemistry, physics, biology, palaeontology, geology, etc.); his travels up and down the Eastern Seaboard (and, more generally, his philosophy of travel—i.e., the role of travel and the new stimuli it engenders upon the creative imagination); his sharp analyses of contemporary political, social, and cultural tendencies? All these things seem to me to be much more significant, both to his thought and to his work, than racism.
A recent writer (who shall remain nameless, for I do not wish to give publicity to his screed) has chimed in on the issue, claiming that virtually the entirety of Lovecraft’s fiction focuses on racism, xenophobia, and so forth. This writer has apparently relied entirely on secondary sources for his assertions and done no original research into Lovecraft’s life or thought; and on its face his assertion is preposterous. Here are the facts:
The writer of the article concludes by considering Bryan Moore’s splendid bust of Lovecraft and claiming that the inscription should read: “H. P. Lovecraft / Racist and Anti-Semite / Also wrote stories.” The writer may think this a clever witticism, but it can quickly be turned against him. A fair number of authors and other figures can be shown to have serious deficiencies in their personal lives or philosophies. Consider the following:
But why restrict ourselves to writers? This game can be carried on much more widely:
I trust you see my point. It is, in short, a tad risky to judge figures of past historical epochs by the standards of our own perfect moral, political, and spiritual enlightenment. Difficult as it might be to comprehend, people of the future might make similar judgments on us!
I am dismayed at the extortionate tactics being used by Amazon.com in their contentious negotiations with the Hachette publishing consortium. Amazon has now resorted to making some of Hachette’s titles unavailable, and is delaying filling orders for many other titles. While it may not be any great catastrophe to world literature not to have more copies of the works of James Patterson in circulation, it is of course a matter of principle; and what Amazon is now trying to do with Hachette, it could easily do to some other firm. I am therefore boycotting Amazon personally and advise all others to do so. I have long considered them the Evil Empire, and now I am convinced they are even worse than that.
This blog is unusually argumentative for me, and I shall probably return next time with a more sober recounting of my multifarious activities and publications.
My choir’s performances on May 3 and May 10 were comparatively successful, although there were a few slip-ups here and there. The first performance was recorded, and I have heard a demo CD that sounds very good indeed. Indeed, certain parts of the second work—John Rutter’s Requiem—made me dissolve in tears! It is a very lovely work indeed, and I think we performed it ably. This CD will eventually come out but will not actually be “sold” (because the two works in question—the Requiems by Rutter and Maurice Duruflé—are under copyright), but we will offer them at our subsequent performances free of charge for a free-will “donation.”
I had to return early from the entertaining World Horror Convention in Portland (May 8–11) to participate in the second performance; but the convention itself was nevertheless most entertaining. There was the obligatory Lovecraft panel on which I appeared, along with W. H. Pugmire, Nick Mamatas, Ellen Datlow, Cody Goodfellow (who moderated exceptionally well), and Ross E. Lockhart. I also had good meetings—albeit in some cases abbreviated—with such luminaries as Paula Guran, Jason & Sunni Brock, William F. Nolan, my agent Cherry Weiner, Nancy Kilpatrick, Lois Gresh, Norman Partridge, Joe Morey, Dennis E. Weiler (of Fedogan & Bremer), and others. The highlight of the event, perhaps, was a publication party for Searchers After Horror in Weiler’s suite, where seven contributors to the book (Pugmire, Mamatas, Brock, Kilpatrick, Gresh, Steve Rasnic Tem, and John Shirley) signed a great many copies of the book. I believe they sold briskly in the dealer’s room.
Speaking of which, I myself am now able to offer copies of Searchers After Horror—all signed by the seven contributors and myself, as indicated above—for a discounted price of $25. I have a number of copies available, but they will probably go fast, so get ’em while they last!
I have now seen the final proofs of my huge anthology A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, due out from Centipede Press in late June. It contains a whopping 29 stories (10 of them original), along with spectacular art portfolios by Erlend Mørk, Allen Koszowski, and Stanley C. Sargent, along with much other work. I fear the book will be expensive ($125 for the 500-copy signed/limited edition). I would ask interested readers not to reserve copies from me in advance, as I do not know how many copies I will actually receive from the publisher and have difficulty keeping track of such advance orders. You will certainly be the first to know when copies show up here!
I was happy to provide a blurb in support of Huan Vu’s plans to make a feature film of Lovecraft’s Dreamlands. I viewed three short trailers from this film and found them all riveting and compelling, so I expect outstanding work from the director of Die Farbe, the best Lovecraft film adaptation ever made. See my comments on his Indiegogo page: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-dreamlands.
On a sad note, I was stunned to read of the death of celebrated artist H. R. Giger, who apparently died as a result of a fall. He was only 74. There was an ample obituary in the New York Times that mentioned his book Necronomicon (1977) but did not mention the general influence of Lovecraft on his work: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/14/arts/h-r-giger-swiss-artist-dies-at-74-his-vision-gave-life-to-alien-creature.html.
The social event of the season will no doubt be the Joshi-Wilson cookout here at our house on Sunday, May 25. We hope to have such distinguished guests as W. H. Pugmire, Greg Lowney (my webmaster), Jason & Sunni Brock, and others to the event. My mother just sent me an immense shipment of carnivorous foodstuffs from Omaha Steaks, and they are taking up too much room in our freezer! (For our vegetarian friends we will make sure to provide veggie burgers and other appropriate comestibles.) As with my anthologies, attendance is by invitation only, so no gate-crashers, please! This will of course be only a kind of trial run for the really big event of the year—the Joshi-Wilson nuptials on July 27!
I am happy to announce the publication of the first four volume of the Centipede Press Library of Weird Fiction, which I edited. These volumes are intended to be relatively inexpensive but attractive hardcover volumes of major writers of weird fiction, with extensive selections of the author’s best work and the use of authoritative texts. In all honesty, I think the publisher instituted the series because he received a fair number of complaints of the great expense of his Masters of the Weird Tale series. These four volumes have a list price of $60, but the publisher is currently offering them for $50. I have several spare copies of all the volumes, and am prepared to offer them for $40 at the usual terms:
The volumes range between 750 and 900 pages, with the customary Centipede Press high-quality production values.
These are books numbers 208, 209, 210, and 211 for me. Number 212 should be my edition of Fritz Leiber’s Adept’s Gambit (Arcane Wisdom), whose publication is apparently imminent. A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, my huge anthology from Centipede Press, is also close to publication: all 26 authors and artists have signed the 500 signature sheets (with the lamentable exception of the late Michael Shea), so the book is very close to being sent to the printer. And my Lovecraft and a World in Transition: Collected Essays on H. P. Lovecraft is due out from Hippocampus Press around the time of my birthday (June 22). At that point, I will probably allow Hippocampus to issue my 200 Books by S. T. Joshi.
I have now received several spare copies of both the paperback and the hardcover editions of my annotated version of Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow. Anomalously, the hardcover edition (bearing the imprint of Fall River Press) is less expensive ($6.98) than the paperback (bearing the imprint of Barnes & Noble), which sells for $9.95. I hope readers won’t mind that I’m offering each of these copies at a uniform price of $10, since I am covering postage for US members and can’t really afford to charge any less.
I was very pleased to see a nice review of my Searchers After Horror in Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-878252-26-5. The favourable review was more of a relief to me than a pleasure: one can never predict what these crankly PW reviewers will have to say. They lambasted both Michael Shea’s Copping Squid and Other Mythos Tales (Perilous Press, 2009) and John Langan’s House of Windows (Night Shade, 2009), both of which I thought were superlative volumes.
I am happy to report that I am now working with Joe Morey to find suitable titles for his new imprint, Dark Renaissance Books. (He has turned over his successful Dark Regions Press imprint to his son, Chris—whom I was happy to meet at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival). Joe has agreed to publish a paperback and ebook edition of my two-volume series, H. P. Lovecraft’s Favorite Horror Stories (i.e., The Ghost of Fear and Others and The Dead Valley and Others), issued in super-limited hardcover editions from Arcane Wisdom in 2011 and 2012. He has also agreed on a paperback/ebook edition of Michael Aronovitz’s fabous short novel Alice Walks (Centipede Press, 2013), and is contemplating a volume or two of Michael Shea’s Lovecraftian short stories. I hope to continue advising Joe on future projects for next year.
I need help with my Variorum Lovecraft project. If anyone has the issue of Fantasy Magazine (June 1934) containing “Cigarette Characterizations,” I'd be grateful to receive a copy or scan of the one-paragraph contribution by Lovecraft. Many thanks!
Don’t forget my choir concerts on May 3 and 10 (www.nwchorale.org)!
Lots of things happening! I received two copies of the huge Carl Jacobi volume that I put together (in conjunction with John Pelan) for Centipede Press’s Masters of the Weird Tale series. This slipcased volume, limited to 200 copies, contains 65 stories by Jacobi, from the 1930s to the 1980s, along with a memoir by Dwayne Olson and much other interesting matter. You can get it for $250 from the Centipede Press website (http://www.centipedepress.com/masters/carljacobi.html). I am prepared to offer my lone spare copy for $200 to any interested buyer. (I shall probably have to restrict this offer to US customers, because of the inordinate expense of sending such a large volume overseas.)
On the opposite side of the price range is my annotated edition of Robert W. Chambers’s The King in Yellow, prepared in exactly one week last month for Sterling Publishing (formerly Barnes & Noble Publishing). I assume this can be purchased only at Barnes & Noble bookstores or on their website (http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/king-in-yellow-robert-w-chambers/1100069467?ean=9781435155381). It costs a very reasonable $9.95. I have received only one copy so far, but will be getting more soon. It would probably be best for me to take orders for the purchase of these copies only when they arrive.
Likewise, I have only one copy so far of my anthology Searchers After Horror (Fedogan & Bremer), which was unveiled at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland (April 11–13) and made something of a splash there. The publisher had a number of copies available, and they were sold quickly. I myself sold seven copies at the autograph session on Saturday, April 12. I will not be getting more copies from the publisher until the World Horror Convention in Portland (May 8–11), so I will again have to wait until copies are in hand to take orders for this book.
Other books are soon to come. I have been told that the first volume in my Library of Weird Fiction for Centipede Press, the volume of Lovecraft’s best tales, is about to be shipped to me. I have also signed the signature pages for the signed/limited editions of Black Wings III (PS Publishing) and Searchers After Horror, although these editions are probably months away from publication. I have also just returned from signing, with W. H. Pugmire, the 500 signature sheets for my huge Centipede Press anthology A Mountain Walked: Great Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, so I imagine that the publication of that book is imminent. (There are three other authors or artists who still need to sign. There will be a lamentably blank space where the late Michael Shea was supposed to sign, but the sheets did not reach him before his unexpected death.)
The signing sheets for my edition of Fritz Leiber’s Adept’s Gambit are also coming soon, so I imagine that book is due out soon from Arcane Wisdom. It took some time to correct some lingering errors in the proofs, but I believe this task has now been done.
The H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival was certainly an entertaining event, although largely for the number of fans, scholars, writers, and filmmakers whom I managed to meet, even if briefly in some cases: Scott Nicolay, Jason & Sunni Brock, William F. Nolan, Robert M. Price, W. H. Pugmire, Joseph S. Pulver, Sr., Eileen McNamara (long absent from the Lovecraftian world, but perhaps thinking of re-entering it), and any number of others. A young man conducted a film interview of me for a proposed documentary, but I regret to say that I have forgotten his name. But he seemed knowledgeable and skilled, so I hope to see a good product from him eventually. I did not see a great many films, but I was pleased to see Randal Plunkett’s Out There among the shorts. This 16-minute zombie film was made by the current (21st) Lord Dunsany (his production company is called Dunsany Productions), and I believe it was well received. Another short film, Miskatonic University, was very promising but seemed to end quite abruptly. Perhaps it could be expanded into a full-length film at some point.
Hippocampus Press has been a bit slow in issuing books this year, but I understand that Simon Strantzas’s excellent story collection Burnt Black Suns will be out soon. Advance orders are now being taken for my collected essays on Lovecraft, titled Lovecraft and a World in Transition (http://www.hippocampuspress.com/h.p-lovecraft/about-hp-lovecraft/lovecraft-and-a-world-in-transition), which to my surprise is being published in a limited-edition hardcover (500 copies). I daresay I will have a few copies to sell, but will not have them in hand until the book comes out in June.
I’m looking forward to the World Horror Convention, although I will be there only the first two days (May 8–10), because I have to come back to Seattle to sing in the second of the two performances of my choir (http://www.nwchorale.org/). I hope that any locals who are interested will come to either of these performances, on May 3 and May 10. Later, the choir may also perform a special concert for the survivors of the mudslide in Oso, WA. A performance in the nearby town of Arlington is being contemplated, although this will probably be a private performance, where we will sing John Rutter’s poignant Requiem.
My copies of H. P. Lovecraft’s Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press) have finally come. Several of my spare copies were already reserved previously, but I may have one available for sale. (A customer reserved this copy also, but has not confirmed his interest in it.) So anyone is welcome to put in a request for it in the event that it becomes available.
In the box with that book came another very welcome title—the German translation of my Annotated Supernatural Horror in Literature (the revised edition of 2012 published by Hippocampus Press). This is titled Das übernatürliche Grauen in der Literatur and is published by Golkonda Verlag in Leipzig. It is translated by Alexander Pechmann and includes substantial additions to my bibliography (chiefly in the area of German-language publications) by Robert N. Bloch, a longtime scholar of weird fiction. I have one spare copy of this book that I would be happy to let go for $20.
I recently recorded two vlogs in regard to the recent Penguin Classics edition of Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies. A shorter version—in which I read several pieces from the book, including his moving elegy “To Howard Phillips Lovecraft”—can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5HonrvWSZM. We (i.e., Wilum Pugmire and myself) had initially done a longer vlog, and I had thought that this version was not able to be uploaded onto YouTube, but evidently it has been. Here it is: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hFjmQPFst1U. I read several pieces here also, including the poem to Lovecraft as well as the exquisite prose-poem “From the Crypts of Memory.”
I have recently read two splendid unpublished novels that I hope will get into print eventually. One is Josh Kent’s The Witch at Sparrow Point, which the author had originally submitted to me all of two years ago, when it went under the title Spook. I liked that version but felt that it needed strengthening at various points. The author has apparently been busy at the job of revision, for he has come back now and sent me this new version, which clocks in at nearly 118,000 words. It is a wonderful supernatural novel set in Appalachia, and perhaps inevitably will draw comparisons with the Silver John novels of Manly Wade Wellman. But this is a work that can stand on its own as a contribution to weird fiction.
Kent’s novel is not Lovecraftian, but the other novel I’ve read emphatically is. It is boldly titled Necronomicon: The Manuscript of the Dead, and has been written by a Greek writer, Antonis Antoniades. It focuses around Theodorus Philetas, the (fictitious) translator of the Arabic version of Abdul Alhazred’s nameless tome into Greek in the 11th century C.E. It is a thrilling read, and I hope I can help it get into print somehow.
I have recently received several requests to reprint articles of mine (some of them quite lengthy) in two library reference volumes being prepared by Layman Poupard Publishing LLC (Columbia, SC). One of them is entitled Cthulhu Mythos and the other is titled Robert Ervin Howard. At least four of my articles (including the entire chapter on Lovecraft from The Weird Tale and my long essay “Barbarism and Civilisation: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard”) will be included in these books, which are scheduled to appear this year or next.
I see that my collected essays on Lovecraft, entitled Lovecraft and a World in Transition, is now available for advance order from Hippocampus Press: http://www.hippocampuspress.com/h.p-lovecraft/about-hp-lovecraft/lovecraft-and-a-world-in-transition. Publication will apparently occur in June. I am hopeful that sometime after that date, the paperback edition of Unutterable Horror will also appear from Hippocampus.
I have apparently been scheduled to appear on three panels at the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, OR (April 11–13). Dates and times haven’t been set yet. This time, maybe I’ll actually sample some of the films!
I was flattered to be the subject of a substantial article in the New York Times (March 15, 2014—HPL’s deathday!) by the paper’s “religion” (!) columnist, Mark Oppenheimer—who, in fact, has written extensively on atheism, agnosticism, and freethought. Here is the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/15/us/spreading-the-word-on-the-power-of-atheism.html. The online edition includes a colour photograph; the photo in the print edition is only in black and white. The article has a few slight inaccuracies—chief of them the suggestion that I am more of an agnostic than I really am—but nevertheless the coverage is welcome.
The New York Times article referred to an edition of Chambers’s King in Yellow that I have hastily produced for Barnes & Noble Publishing. This project was inspired by the fact that the creator of the TV show True Detective admitted to being influenced by Chambers’s eccentric work. So I quickly produced an annotated edition, with introduction and other matter, and it will be published as early as next month.
A British filmmaker, Digby Rumsey, has completed his documentary on Lord Dunsany, charmingly titled Shooting for the Butler. The 60-minute film will be shown on March 25 at Directors UK in London. I was interviewed at length for the film when I was in England last fall for the World Fantasy Convention and the “weird” conference at Birkbeck College, and I figure I am in it at least to some modest degree. I look forward to receiving the DVD from Digby in due course of time.
I am pleased to announce that my Penguin Classics edition of Clark Ashton Smith, The Dark Eidolon and Other Fantasies, is now out. It is a splendid-looking book with a lovely Smith painting on the cover, and containing a wide selection of Smith’s fiction, prose-poems, and poetry. I have a number of copies for sale. I can offer it for $15 per copy on the usual terms.
I am scheduled to do a podcast on the Smith book on May 7. This will be conducted by the New Books Network; presumably it will be posted soon thereafter. This is one day before I head to the World Horror Convention in Portland, OR, where my visit will be truncated because my choir will be performing on May 10. The dates and venues of my choir performance (we will be singing two Requiems, one by Maurice Duruflé and the other by John Rutter) have now been set and can be seen here: http://www.nwchorale.org.
I am sorry to report that copies of Lovecraft’s Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw (Hippocampus Press) and of Black Wings III (PS Publishing) have still not arrived; indeed, copies of the latter were only sent out to me (from the UK) last week. But I have been informed that I will receive ten copies of that book. Currently, five individuals have paid for or reserved copies, so I can assure all these individuals that they will in fact receive copies in due course of time; and that still leaves me with four additional copies of Black Wings III that I can sell to interested customers.
The Smith book was my 203rd; my 204th, somewhat unexpectedly, proves to be Michael Aronovitz’s story collection The Voices in Our Heads (Horrified Press), since I was to my surprise listed as editor of the book. I had only done routine copyediting, but I am grateful for the acknowledgement of my work. I am currently reading Michael’s new novel, titled Phantom Effect, and it has some wonderful stuff in it!
A new book in my Scarecrow Press series, Studies in Supernatural Literature, has just reached me: James Goho’s Journeys into Darkness: Critical Essays on Gothic Horror. This is a splendid volume of essays covering authors from as far back as Charles Brocken Brown and as recent as Fritz Leiber, with discussions of Poe, Bierce, Lovecraft, Blackwood, and others. (I fear I have no spare copies for sale.) The next book in the series is likely to be Jason V Brock’s Disorders of Magnitude.
Several individuals have reported receiving copies of Black Wings III (PS Publishing), but I have so far failed to do so. But given the likelihood that I will soon receive at least 5 to 10 copies from the publisher, I will be happy to offer these copies for sale on the usual terms. The list price of the book is £25, which comes to about $40. So I am happy to offer copies for $30 (postage included for US customers; extra postage will have to be added for overseas customers). I believe this constitutes my 202nd book.
My 201st book, my edition of Lovecraft’s Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw, is apparently out from Hippocampus Press, but I have not received copies. I see that this book is listed as being available for $25. I may as well begin taking orders for this book as well, as I expect to get my copies soon. I will be happy to let the book go for $20.
I gave two interviews recently. One was conducted by John Brownlee, a writer for www.fastcodesign.com. I discussed with him the recent phenomenon of the TV show True Detective (on HBO), whose creator has acknowledged the influence of Lovecraft, Robert W. Chambers, and other weird writers on the show. I discussed Chambers at length, talking about the “King in Yellow Mythos” and its influence on Lovecraft. A second interview was conducted by Todd Hatton, a producer for a public radio station, WKMS, at Murray State University in Kentucky. Hatton wished to discuss the interrelations between Irvin S. Cobb (a native of Paducah, Kentucky), H. P. Lovecraft (particularly Lovecraft’s fondness for the story “Fishhead”), and H. L. Mencken (who had written rather harshly on Cobb in an essay in Prejudices: First Series ). The latter interview will probably air later this month. I am not sure what Brownlee plans to do with my interview with him, but no doubt he will inform me in due course of time.
I now see that Michael Aronovitz’s story collection The Voices in Our Heads is listed on Amazon.com (http://www.amazon.com/Voices-Our-Heads-Michael-Aronovitz/dp/1291655638/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393788263&sr=1-2&keywords=michael+aronovitz). It is a splendid book, so better order it soon!
I have just signed the signing sheets of Searchers After Horror for Fedogan & Bremer. I have been informed that some copies of the book may be available as early as the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon (April 11–13), which I will be attending; and copies will certainly be available at the World Horror Convention in Portland (May 8–11), which I shall also be attending. (I shall, however, be there on on May 8–10, as I have to return home that afternoon for a choir performance that evening.) I am convinced it is one of my finest anthologies, so I hope it does well for the publisher.
I see that three books with which I am associated have been nominated in the category “Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction” for the Bram Stoker Awards. Two of them are books in my Scarecrow Press series, Studies in Supernatural Literature: Robert H. Waugh’s Lovecraft and Influence and Gary William Crawford’s Ramsey Campbell: Critical Essays on the Master of Modern Horror (I contributed to both books); the third is William F. Nolan’s Nolan on Bradbury, which I edited. Let’s hope one of them wins!
One more grammar point:
I have noted lately an increase of the peculiar use of “that” for “who” when referring to persons. This is a very odd development—probably springing (as most corruptions of good English do) from writers picking up usages from spoken English. My good friend Jason V Brock wrote a story in which he referred to a “European director that had bogged the whole production down.” I’m sorry, but this must be “European director who had bogged the whole production down.” One can get away with this usage if one is writing archaic English derived from the King James Bible (“He that dwelleth in Heaven shall laugh them to scorn”; “How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace”); but in modern English, who must be used to refer to human beings, and that to refer to other entities. (I won’t address the distinction between that and which, which also throws many readers. British English and American English differ on this usage, so it had best be left alone.)
I am happy to announce that the paperback of Black Wings II (entitled Black Wings of Cthulhu 2) is now out from Titan Books. I have about 4 or 5 copies to sell, as I need to reserve some copies for a Kickstarter campaign that I may discuss at a later time. I see that the list price for the US edition is $14.95, so I am happy to offer copies for $10 on the usual terms.
My essay “Cthulhu’s Empire: Lovecaft’s Influence on His Contemporaries and Successors” is apparently available online as a pdf (http://salempress.com/Store/pdfs/pulp_pgs.pdf). I believe this is a kind of teaser for a book on pulp writers of the 1920s and 1930s, edited by Gary Hoppenstand, that will appear in print later. I’m not entirely clear about this, but I’m happy that the essay (which I quite frankly forgot about) is now available.
I am happy to note that Michael Aronovitz’s story collection The Voices in Our Heads is now available (http://www.lulu.com/shop/michael-aronovitz/the-voices-in-our-heads/paperback/product-21372403.html). The publisher is Horrified Press, a firm in the UK. I went over the book for the publisher, and in fact read most of the stories soon after they were written. I believe I published one or two of them myself, in Weird Fiction Review and elsewhere. Michael’s short novel The Witch of the Wood is forthcoming from Hippocampus, and the author is at work on a new novel that promises to be a blockbuster.
I have been informed that the probable cover artist for The Madness of Cthulhu 1 (and perhaps 2), the original anthology I have assembled for Titan Books, will be John Jude Palencar, a highly distinguished illustrator and painter. (See his website: http://www.johnjudepalencar.com/.) In an ad for Volume 1 at the back of Black Wings of Cthulhu 2, the book is announced for October, but I hope the book will appear a bit sooner than that. Volume 2 will probably follow in a year’s time.
I am doing a considerable amount of work on the future Hippocampus Press publication of Lord Dunsany’s Collected Plays, which may include as many as 53 plays (several unpublished), along with sundry other matter. The book’s publication is of course dependent on our securing permission from the Dunsany Estate and Dunsany’s agents (Curtis Brown UK), but we hope that will occur in due course of time. We are still hoping to publish this year my long-delayed volume of Dunsany’s uncollected short stories, The Ghost in the Corner and Other Stories.
For my amusement (and for an appendix to my 200 Books by S. T. Joshi), I decided to calculate the number of books I have published per year, beginning in 1978. As I expected, the great majority of my books have been published in the last 15 years: 137 in the period 2000–2013. This of course coincides roughly with my need to become a full-time freelance writer with the demise of Chelsea House Publishers in the fall of 1995. I published 12 books in 2010, the most for any year; but in several years during the period in question I published 9 or 10 books.
On a personal note, I am happy to announce that Mary Krawczak Wilson and I are now officially engaged. It was certainly a long time in coming, and I suspect that some friends and colleagues assumed we were already married. We’re not certain when the ceremony will occur—but you’ll be the first to know!
I am not sure there has been an official announcement about this, but Hippocampus Press has decided to publish a biannual journal devoted to weird poetry, entitled Spectral Realms. I have already notified the poets of my acquaintance about the project, and have received splendid contributions by Richard L. Tierney, Ann K. Schwader, Wade German, Michael Fantina, Leigh Blackmore, Phillip A. Ellis, and perhaps others. The journal will also include select reprints of obscure “classic” weird verse, reviews and articles on the subject, and perhaps other matter. We hope to have the first issue ready by July. So if any weird poets out there wish to contribute, by all means send me your work!
Readers will be interested to know that I have been working on preparing two highly provocative books for publication. One is The Dulwich Horror and Others, a story collection by David Hambling. Hambling, a British journalist who writes for the Guardian and the Economist, sent me some stories some time ago, and I at once pronounced them some of the most dynamic and imaginative Lovecraftian tales I had read in years. Based largely on my recommendation, Pete Crowther of PS Publishing instantly accepted the 125,000-word collection, and I have now meticulously gone over it. I suggested the title—a play, of course, on the Arkham House Dunwich Horror and Others (1963), which I revised in 1984. I am not sure when the book will appear, but it may come out as soon as this year.
The other book is Bobby Derie’s Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos, a serious and very perspicacious study of this subject. Derie, a young British critic, has analysed not only Lovecraft’s life and work for its sexual overtones and implications, but also the work of Lovecraft’s contemporaries (Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, etc.) and successors (August Derleth, Brian McNaughton, W. H. Pugmire, Caitlín R. Kiernan)—and has done so in a way that is as far from sensationalist or exploitative as can be imagined. And yet, it is not a dry and academic treatise, but a lively and informative account of this topic. This book should appear later this year from Hippocampus Press, possibly enlivened with some (tasteful) illustrations relevant to the subject.
My work on the Variorum Lovecraft is virtually complete, and the three-volume edition should be on schedule to appear in the summer from Hippocampus Press. This will, I trust, be the definitive edition of Lovecraft for many years to come, and I hope the publisher can issue it in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
Work is also concluding on William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland, a substantial anthology of essays coedited by Massimo Berruti, Sam Gafford, and myself. It contains insightful essays on Hodgson’s life and work by Mark Valentine, Emily Alder (author of a brilliant Ph.D. dissertation on Hodgson), Phillip A. Ellis, Brett Davidson, Brian Stableford, Leigh Blackmore, and several other critics. It concludes with the first comprehensive bibliography of Hodgson, assembled by Sam Gafford, Mike Ashley, and myself. This book should come out later this year from Hippocampus Press.
With this Hodgson bibliography, I will have assembled six author bibliographies: H. P. Lovecraft (1981; revised 2009), Lord Dunsany (1993; revised 2013), Ramsey Campbell (1995; revision in progress), Ambrose Bierce (1999), Gore Vidal (2007), and H. L. Mencken (2009). There is also my bibliography of Arkham House, Sixty Years of Arkham House (1999). Forthcoming are bibliographies of Clark Ashton Smith and Arthur Machen. What a lot of toil these have entailed!
There has not been much movement on my backlog of books, but I have heard that my edition of Lovecraft’s Letters to Elizabeth Toldridge and Anne Tillery Renshaw is at the printer, or perhaps already printed up. I also expect the hardcover of Black Wings III (PS Publishing) any day now, as well as the paperback of Black Wings II (Titan Books).
I am of course writing this the day before the Seattle Seahawks play in their second Super Bowl. I fully expect them to win. Go Hawks!
I’ve decided to write a quick new blog as a means of getting back on my twice-monthly schedule, so here goes. Of greatest importance is that I have submitted Black Wings IV to the publisher (PS Publishing). He promises to get it out by September (the same time that he has promised to issue my edition of Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth, 1961–1971), but I actually think it would be better to issue the book in early 2015, so as not to compete with Black Wings III (whose publication is imminent) and other Mythos-related volumes of mine. Here is the lineup of stories in Black Wings IV:
|Half Lost in Shadow||W. H. Pugmire|
|The Rasping Absence||Richard Gavin|
|Black Ships Seen South of Heaven||Caitlín R. Kiernan|
|The Dark Sea Within||Jason V Brock|
|Sealed by the Moon||Gary Fry|
|Broken Sleep||Cody Goodfellow|
|A Prism of Darkness||Darrell Schweitzer|
|Night of the Piper||Ann K. Schwader|
|We Are Made of Stars||Jonathan Thomas|
|Contact||John Pelan and Stephen Mark Rainey|
|Cult of the Dead||Lois H. Gresh|
|Dark Redeemer||Will Murray|
|In the Event of Death||Simon Strantzas|
|The Wall of Asshur-sin||Donald Tyson|
|Fear Lurks Atop Tempest Mount||Charles Lovecraft|
I was particularly pleased to get the long (9000 words) story by Fred Chappell, a wonderful tale of archaeological horror. That last item is a poem—a series of 12 sonnets based on “The Lurking Fear.”
I was happy to receive copies of the Weird Fiction Review No. 4 (“Fall 2013”) yesterday. It is a splendid-looking issue, with a cover that pays homage to Forrest J Ackerman’s Famous Monsters of Filmland. The 271-page issue has the usual bountiful array of fiction, articles, and poetry. Its list price is $35.00, but I have a number of copies that I would be happy to dispose of for $25.00 on my usual terms to interested customers.
On that note, I would like to hold a kind of “fire sale” of some of my recent books (or books in which I was involved in one way or the other, if only as a copyeditor), just to get the books out of the house and clear some space on my shelves. So I am prepared to offer the following books at the bargain basement price of $10.00 a copy unless otherwise noted. Better act fast, as in most cases copies are very limited!
I was pleased to read two nice reviews of my novel, The Assaults of Chaos, although as of this writing neither has (to my knowledge) actually appeared in print. But I believe they will soon. One is by Tony Fonseca and will appear in the (delayed) “Fall 2013” issue of Dead Reckonings. The other is by Don Webb and will appear in some future issue of the New York Review of Science Fiction.
A long and wide-ranging interview of me, spanning the spectrum from weird fiction to atheism, conducted by Matthew Marczi has appeared online on a website called Heathen Harvest (http://heathenharvest.org/2014/01/12/gods-of-the-godless-a-discussion-on-h-p-lovecraft-with-s-t-joshi/). This interview was conducted over several months some time ago, and I thoroughly enjoyed answering Marczi’s thought-provoking queries.
That’s it for now. Many more projects in the works, as always, but more on them later!
After a restful and enjoyable visit to my sister Nalini’s house in Carmel Valley, CA, over the holidays (Dec. 24–27), I have resumed my customarily hectic round of work. I have virtually completed work on the Variorum Lovecraft, which is now scheduled for appearance in 3 volumes from Hippocampus Press this summer—presumably around the time of HPL’s 124th birthday on August 20. I believe it will be a revelation to many readers.
I have also submitted final corrections to the proofs of Searchers After Horror, my anthology of original weird stories from Fedogan & Bremer. I have still not been informed as to the exact release date of this book, but I am hoping that the publisher can issue it by the time of the World Horror Convention in Portland, OR (May 8–11), where I and several other contributors will be in attendance.
I, along with Sam Gafford, have also taken over the editing of the critical anthology William Hope Hodgson: Voices from the Borderland, which Massimo Berruti has been editing for years. Massimo has had various personal and professional difficulties, but he did pass on as many as ten original essays he had commissioned for the book. I have now augmented this material with several additional essays (including four taken from the first issue of Sam Gafford’s journal Sargasso), some older pieces (including those by Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and August Derleth), and the bibliography of Hodgson that Sam, Mike Ashley, and I have been compiling. The book is now virtually ready and should be a hefty 320 pages or thereabouts.
I expect to complete my bibliography, 200 Books by S. T. Joshi, in the next few weeks, after a flurry of as many as eight of my books appear:
My edition of the stories of Carl Jacobi (edited with John Pelan) is apparently also imminent from Centipede Press, although I am not certain of the exact publication date. My 200 Books, aside from including a complete bibliography of my writings, will also include one of my earliest tales, “Murder” (1973)—although it now appears that I wrote two stories in 1972, which were published in a school publication called The Cosmic Meld of which I have no copies—along with an essay I wrote in 1975, “The Writing of Mystery and Horror Writers of the Twentieth Century,” recounting my first volume of literary criticism. Amusingly enough, this stillborn book—which at one time reached 250 manuscript pages—was the ultimate origin of my Unutterable Horror (2012) and perhaps even of the book on detective stories that I am writing at this moment.
I have received some exciting proposals for books on my Studies in Supernatural Literature series. Justin Everett and Jeffrey Shanks have submitted a proposal for a volume of original essays on the magazine Weird Tales, while Tony Fonseca and June Pulliam (the current editors of Dead Reckonings) have sent in a splendid proposal for a monograph on Richard Matheson. If accepted, both books will be completed in early 2015 and will appear later that year.
I am on the verge of submitting my anthology Black Wings IV to PS Publishing, as soon as one fugitive contribution comes in. When it does so, I shall list the contents here. There is a great deal of splendid material here, by the usual suspects.
On a personal note, I am saddened by the absence of our cat Paolo since the evening of December 26. We have no idea what has happened to him, and we have searched the neighbourhood on many occasions to look for him, to say nothing of putting up fliers, advertising on lost-cat websites, etc. There will be a hole in my heart if that furry little creature is never found.