A New Acquaintance

—Extra! Special! The postman just arrived with the latest bunch of forwarded mail, and guess who that Auburn, Cal. letter was from? CLARK ASHTON SMITH, the author of “The Star-Treader”, “Odes and Sonnets”, “The Hasheesh-Eater”, etc., and the artist who drew the unutterably hideous pictures I sent you! I had written him at Loveman’s suggestion, but never thought he would answer. He’s a good fellow—he has seen one of my stories (“Beyond the Wall of Sleep”, which Loveman sent him), praises it effusively, and wants to see more. I shall accommodate him, you can bet! Did I tell you—or A. E. P. G.—that I have both of his already published works? Galpin (generous little divvle!) gave me “The Star-Treader”, whilst George Kirk (benevolent soul!) gave me “Odes and Sonnets” (deluxe edition, price $6.00) out of his regular stock. As you know, Kirk is a bookseller . . . Smith is a genius. As a poet he is on par with Loveman, and as an artist he is alone in his field. He is going to give me his new book when it is out. I have lent “Odes and Sonnets” to little Longlet, and the child is transported with Smith’s devastating horror.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark, Lovecraft describes his reaction upon receiving a letter from Clark Ashton Smith, a poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Lillian D. Clark.” 1 Sept. 1922. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 18-9.

The Embroidered Robes of Myth

Perhaps it was natural for him to dream a new name; for he was the last of his family, and alone among the indifferent millions of London, so there were not many to speak to him and remind him who he had been. His money and lands were gone, and he did not care for the ways of people about him, but preferred to dream and write of his dreams. What he wrote was laughed at by those to whom he shewed it, so that after a time he kept his writings to himself, and finally ceased to write. The more he withdrew from the world about him, the more wonderful became his dreams; and it would have been quite futile to try to describe them on paper. Kuranes was not modern, and did not think like others who wrote. Whilst they strove to strip from life its embroidered robes of myth, and to shew in naked ugliness the foul thing that is reality, Kuranes sought for beauty alone. When truth and experience failed to reveal it, he sought it in fancy and illusion, and found it on his very doorstep, amid the nebulous memories of childhood tales and dreams.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Celephaïs” (1920), the narrator describes how Kuranes, by distancing himself from modern civilization, finds beauty and meaning in his dreams.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Celephaïs.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 24-30.

Imitating Poe

Others—including editor Wright—agree with you in liking The Outsider, but I can’t say that I share this opinion. To my mind this tale … is too glibly mechanical in its climatic effect, & almost comic in the bombastic pomposity of its language. As I re-read it, I can hardly understand how I could have let myself by tangled up in such baroque & windy rhetoric as recently as ten years ago. It represents my literal though unconscious imitation of Poe as its very height.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend J. Vernon Shea, Lovecraft dismisses “The Outsider” as “almost comic in the bombastic pomposity of its language.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To J. Vernon Shea.” 19 June 1931. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 3, Arkham House, 1971, pp. 378-80.

Early Attempts at Fiction

Regarding early reading, I am able to say that our tastes in childhood were even more similar than you imagine. When I was about twelve I became greatly interested in science, specialising in geography, (later to be displaced by astronomy), & being a Verne enthusiast. In those days I used to write fiction, & many of my tales showed the literary influence of the immortal Jules. I wrote one story about that side of the moon which is forever turned away from us—using, for fictional purposes—the Hansen theory that air & water still exist there as the result of an abnormal centre of gravity in the moon. I hardly need add that the theory is really exploded—I even was aware of that fact at the time—but I desired to compose a “thriller”. Some day I may take up fiction in the amateur press—revealing a side of my nature hitherto concealed from the United. When I write stories, Edgar Allan Poe is my model. I never choose normal subjects, & frequently deal with the supernatural. Only four persons in the association have seen any of my fiction—these being Misses Ballou & Hepner, & Messrs. Fritter & Geo. Schilling. The story they saw is my unpublished credential—”The Alchemist,” which, having been sent to Miss Ballou, then Secretary, was shown to Miss Hepner & Mr. Fritter. Later I sent Schilling a revised copy for publication in a paper he was finally forced to abandon. The tale was written 11 years ago, yet is my latest attempt at fiction.

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes his early attempts at writing fiction.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 20 Jan. 1916. Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Hippocampus Press, 2005, p. 29.

Dunsany’s Influence

Truly, Dunsany has influenced me more than anyone else except Poe—his rich language, his cosmic point of view, his remote dream-world, & his exquisite sense of the fantastic, all appeal to me more than anything else in modern literature. My first encounter with him—in the autumn of 1919—gave an immense impetus to my writing; perhaps the greatest it has ever had.…

DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend and fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft describes the influence Lord Dunsany had on his writing.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 30 July 1923. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 242-3.

An Excellent Habit to Cultivate

It is also important that cheaper types of reading, if hitherto followed, be dropped. Popular magazines inculcate a careless and deplorable style which is hard to unlearn, and which impedes the acquisition of a purer style. If such things must be read, let them be skimmed over as lightly as possible. An excellent habit to cultivate is the analytical study of the King James Bible. For simple yet rich and forceful English, this masterly production is hard to equal; and even though its Saxon vocabulary and poetic rhythm be unsuited to general composition, it is an invaluable model for writers on quaint or imaginative themes. Lord Dunsany, perhaps the greatest living prose artist, derived nearly all of his stylistic tendencies from the Scriptures; ad the contemporary critic Boyd points out very acutely the loss sustained by most Catholic Irish writers through their unfamiliarity with the historic volume and its traditions.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Literary Composition,” Lovecraft recommends that aspiring writers, who wish to improve their style, avoid pulp magazines and study the King James Bible instead.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Literary Composition.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 39-45.

Favourite Authors

Favourite authors, in most intimate sense, are Poe, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Walter de la Mare, and Algernon Blackwood.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Autobiography of Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” Lovecraft lists his five favorite weird writers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Autobiography of Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, p. 205.

Poe and Dunsany

About 1919 the discovery of Lord Dunsany—from whom I got the idea of the artificial pantheon and myth-background represented by “Cthulhu”, “Yog-Sothoth”, “Yuggoth”, etc.—gave a vast impetus to my weird writing; and I turned out material in greater volume than ever before or since. At that time I had no thought or hope of professional publication; but the founding of Weird Tales in 1923 opened up an outlet of considerable steadiness. My stories of the 1920 period reflect a good deal of my two chief models, Poe and Dunsany, and are in general too strongly inclined to extravagance and overcolouring to be of much serious literary value.

DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Some Notes on a Nonentity,” Lovecraft describes his early tales, which were heavily influenced by Edgar Allan Poe and Lord Dunsany, as too baroque “to be of much serious literary value.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Some Notes on a Nonentity.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 5, Hippocampus Press, 2006, pp. 207-11.

The Peculiar Fashion Known as Life

I had always been exceptionally tolerant of West’s pursuits, and we frequently discussed his theories, whose ramifications and corollaries were almost infinite. Holding with Haeckel that all life is a chemical and physical process, and that the so-called “soul” is a myth, my friend believed that artificial reanimation of the dead can depend only on the condition of the tissues; and that unless actual decomposition has set in, a corpse fully equipped with organs may with suitable measures be set going again in the peculiar fashion known as life. That the psychic or intellectual life might be impaired by the slight deterioration of sensitive brain-cells which even a short period of death would be apt to cause, West fully realized. It had at first been his hope to find a reagent which would restore vitality before the actual advent of death, and only repeated failures on animals had shewn him that the natural and artificial life-motions were incompatible. He then sought extreme freshness in his specimens, injecting his solutions into the blood immediately after the extinction of life. It was this circumstance which made the professors so carelessly skeptical, for they felt that true death had not occurred in any case. They did not stop to view the matter closely and reasoningly.

DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “Herbert West—Reanimator” (1922), the narrator discusses Herbert West’s theory concerning the “artificial reanimation of the dead.”

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Herbert West—Reanimator.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 50-80.