All Very Nice in a Lowly Way

I am glad you found my stories worth reading—especially “Polaris”, which was written in 1918 before I ever read a word of Dunsany’s. That tale is a favourite with Galpin & Long, though it is so connected with certain facts of science—astronomical, geological, & physiographical—that it lacks the advantages of simplicity and clearness. Weird Tales has printed another thing of mine—“The Hound”—& the editor has just written me a most flattering letter assuring me that I am a fixture with his magazine, & one of his two “star writers”—the other being Seabury Quinn, whose work you may have noticed. All very nice in a lowly way—if W.T. lasts.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, a writer and poet who would, in time, become one of his closest friends, Lovecraft claims that Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, considered him to be one of his two “star writers,” the other favored writer being Seabury Quinn.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 25 Jan. 1924. Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 65-8.

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Making Concessions in Writing

As you may see, I disagree totally & violently with your belief in making concessions in writing. One concession leads to another—& he who takes the easiest way never comes back. They all say they mean to come back some day—but they never do. Belknap is gone. If Sultan Malik ever pulls out of charlatanry it will be purely the individual & non-representative triumph of a singularly keen objective intellect. Abe Merritt—who could have been a Machen or Blackwood or Dunsany or de la Mare or M. R. James (they never gave in & truckled to the Golden Calf! . . . . why should one if he can get food & decent clothing & warmth & shelter in any less ignominious way?) if he had but chosen—is so badly sunk that he’s lost the critical faculty to realise it. And so on—& so on. The road does not lie through any magazines . . . . that is, the road for a fantastic writer. The “slicks” are just as tawdry & insincere as the “pulps”—with merely a different kind of tawdriness & insincerity—& the reputable magazines (Harpers, Scribners, Story &c.) virtually never handle fantasy. The road to print for the serious fantaisiste is through book-publication alone—save for those incidental magazine placements which lie along the way. And if one can’t make the book grade in the end, he is better off with his work largely unpublished—able to look himself in the face & know that he has never cringed nor truckled nor sold his intellectual & aesthetic integrity. He may go down, but he’ll go down like a free & unbroken gentleman with sword untarnished & colours defiantly flying. Britons never shall be slaves! Actually, all technical training for the popular magazines is in precisely the wrong direction so far as aesthetic expression is concerned. The better magazine hack one is, the less chance one has of ever doing anything worth doing. Every magazine trick & mannerism must be rigidly unlearned & banished even from one’s subconsciousness before one can write seriously for educated mental adults. That’s why Merritt is lost—he learned the trained-dog tricks too well, & now he can’t think & feel fictionally except in terms of the meaningless & artificial clichés of 2¢-a-word romance. Machen & Dunsany & James would not learn the tricks—& they have a record of genuine creative achievement beside which a whole library-full of cheap “Ships of Ishtar” & “Creep, Shadows” remains essentially negligible. It is much better never to have anything published than to cringe to cheap tradesmen—yet in practice the determined anti-concessionist often lands a story. True, he doesn’t land as many as the truckler lands—but that was never his object. He wrote what he wrote because he wanted to write it—& the feat of mood-crystallisation itself was its own reward. If he had merely written what some grasping editorial clown wanted, where would his satisfaction have been? When it comes to a question of industrial production to suit a market demand, it’s rather more dignified to let the commodity be something staple & useful—wheat, oranges, coal, furniture, & so on—than to let one’s production-programme mock & parody the basic human impulse of aesthetic creation.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft argues that writers should, for the sake of their artistic and intellectual integrity, remain true to their own aesthetic vision instead of making concessions to the demands of editors and the public they represent.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To C. L. Moore.” 7 Feb. 1937. Letters to C. L. Moore and Others. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2017, pp. 205-23.

A Dream-Thing of Faint Grey

I spent the five-hour journey reading Dunsany and peering at way-stations. New-London is a dingy little burg—a Victorian relic. New-Haven seems alert and metropolitan from the station angle. Ditto for Bridgeport. Shortly before three p.m., the train reached the lofty and colossal Harlem River viaduct (Only by chance did I secure the unique panorama—because the train was a Washington, D.C. express. Ordinary N.Y. trains go by a tamer route and into the Grand Central Station), and  saw for the first time the Cyclopean outlines of New-York. It was a mystical sight in the gold sun of late afternoon; a dream-thing of faint grey, outlined against a sky of faint grey smoke. City and sky were so alike that one could hardly be sure that there was a city—that the fancied towers and pinnacles were not the merest illusions. It was ten miles away, approximately—that is, the skyscraper region was. Actually, the train had crossed to Long Island, there to move south till a tunnel should take it under the East River and the streets of Manhattan to the Pennsylvania Station.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Maurice W. Moe, Lovecraft describes his first impressions of New York, a city that he would grow to despise.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Maurice W. Moe.” 18 May 1922. H. P. Lovecraft: Letters from New York. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Night Shade Books, 2005, pp. 1-16.

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.

Yog-Sothothery

It’s not a bad idea to call this Cthulhuism & Yog-Sothothery of mine “The Mythology of Hastur”—although it was really from Machen & Dunsany & others, rather than through the Bierce-Chambers line, that I picked up my gradually developing hash of theogony—or daimonogony. Come to think of it, I guess I sling this stuff more as Chambers does than as Machen & Dunsany do—though I had written a good deal of it before I ever suspected that Chambers ever wrote a weird story!


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend August Derleth, Lovecraft describes the origins of the Cthulhu Mythos, citing Arthur Machen and Lord Dunsany as influences.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To August Derleth.” 16 May 1931. Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth. Edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi, vol. 1, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 335-9.

Ode to Dunsany

The hours of night unheeded fly,
And in the grate the embers fade;
Vast shadows one by one pass by
In silent daemon cavalcade.

But still the magic volume holds
The raptur’d eye in realms apart,
And fulgent sorcery enfolds
The willing mind and eager heart.

The lonely room no more is there—
For to the sight in pomp appear
Temples and cities pois’d in air,
And blazing glories—sphere on sphere.


DESCRIPTION: In his poem “On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder,” Lovecraft describes the sense of awe he experiences when reading Lord Dunsany’s works.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “On Reading Lord Dunsany’s Book of Wonder.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 70-1.

The True Function of Phantasy

As against romanticism I am solidly a realist—even though realising the dangerously narrow margin separating romanticism from certain forms of phantasy. My conception of phantasy, as a genuine art-form, is an extension rather than a negation of reality. Ordinary tales about a castle ghost or old-fashioned werewolf are merely so much junk. The true function of phantasy is to give the imagination a ground for limitless expansion, and to satisfy aesthetically the sincere and burning curiosity and sense of awe which a sensitive minority of mankind feel toward the alluring and provocative abysses of unplumbed space and unguessed entity which press in upon the known world from unknown infinites and in unknown relationships of time, space, matter, force, dimensionality, and consciousness. This curiosity and sense of awe, I believe, are quite basic amongst the sensitive minority in question; and I see no reason to think that they will decline in the future—for as you point out, the frontier of the unknown can never do more than scratch the surface of eternally unknowable infinity. But the truly sensitive will never be more than a minority, because most persons—even those of the keenest possible intellect and aesthetic ability—simply have not the psychological equipment or adjustment to feel that way. I have taken some pains to sound various persons as to their capacity to feel profoundly regarding the cosmos and the disturbing and fascinating quality of the extra-terrestrial and perpetually unknown; and my results reveal a surprisingly small quota. In literature we can easily see the cosmic quality in Poe, Maturin, Dunsany, de la Mare, and Blackwood, but I profoundly suspect the cosmicism of Bierce, James, and even Machen. It is not every macabre writer who feels poignantly and almost intolerably the pressure of cryptic and unbounded outer space.


DESCRIPTION: In a letter to fellow writer Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft claims that the true purpose of weird fiction is to awaken a sense of curiosity and awe in its readers.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Clark Ashton Smith.” 17 Oct. 1930. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, Ohio University Press, 2000, pp. 210-13.

A Frank and Conscious Unintelligibility

The ultimate position of Dunsany in literature depends largely on the future course of literature itself. Our age is one of curious transition and divergence, with an increasing separation of art from the past and from all common life as well. Modern science has, in the end, proved an enemy to art and pleasure; for by revealing to us the whole sordid and prosaic basis of our thoughts, motives, and acts, it has stripped the world of glamour, wonder, and all those illusions of heroism, nobility, and sacrifice which used to sound so impressive when romantically treated. Indeed, it is not too much to say that psychological discovery, and chemical, physical, and physiological research have largely destroyed the element of emotion among informed and sophisticated people by resolving it into its component parts—intellectual idea and animal impulse. The so-called “soul” with all its hectic and mawkish attributes of sentimentality, veneration, earntestness, devotion, and the like, has perished on analysis. Nietzsche brought a transvaluation of values, but Remy de Gourmont has brought a wholesale destruction of all values. We know now what a futile, aimless, and disconnected welter of mirages and hypocrisies life is; and from the first shock of that knowledge has sprung the bizarre, tasteless, defiant, and chaotic literature of that terrible newer generation which so shocks our grandmothers—the aesthetic generation fo T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ben Hecht, Aldous Huxley, James Branch Cabell, and all the rest. These writers, knowing that life has no real pattern, either rave, or mock, or join in the cosmic chaos by exploiting a frank and conscious unintelligibility and confusion of values. To them it savours of the vulgar to adopt a pattern—for today only servants, churchgoers, and tired business men read things which mean anything or acknowledge any values.


DESCRIPTION: In his essay “Lord Dunsany and His Work,” Lovecraft speculates that scientific discovery and psychological research altered the way in which intellectuals viewed life and thus engendered Modernism, which rejects traditional art forms.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Lord Dunsany and His Work.” Collected Essays. Edited by S. T. Joshi, vol. 2, Hippocampus Press, 2004, pp. 56-62.

 

The Most Hideous of Connexions

I found myself by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connexions—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum—and was drawn back through nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way. I was told of the pits of primal life, and of the streams that had trickled down therefrom; and finally, of the tiny rivulet from one of those streams which had become entangled with the destinies of our own earth.


DESCRIPTION: In this passage from the short story “The Whisperer in Darkness” (1930), Albert Wilmarth describes the occult knowledge he gains from corresponding with Henry Akeley.

CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “The Whisperer in Darkness.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 200-67.

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.