Howard/Seward

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Frank Belknap Long and HP Lovecraft, New York, 1931. Photo by WB Talman.

Two friends—HP Lovecraft and Frank Belknap Long—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1920s:

Tom Collins (for The Twilight Zone Magazine): I seem to recall a visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art that you two made together.

Frank Belknap Long: You mean the time we visited the Egyptian tomb? Well, the Metropolitan apparently still has it. This was way back in the 1920s. The tomb was on the main floor in the Hall of Egyptian Antiquities, and we both went inside to the inner burial chamber. Howard was fascinated by the somberness of the whole thing. He put his hand against the corrugated stone wall, just casually, and the next day he developed a pronounced but not too serious inflammation. There was no great pain involved, and the swelling went down in two or three days. But it seems as if some malign, supernatural influence still lingered in the burial chamber—The Curse of the Pharaohs—as if they resented the fact that Howard had entered this tomb and touched the wall. Perhaps they had singled him out because of his stories and feared he was getting too close to the Ancient Mysteries.

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William Burroughs, New York, 1953. Photo by Allen Ginsberg.

Two friends—William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg—visit the Egyptian antiquities in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1950s:

Allen Ginsberg: We went uptown to look at Mayan Codices at Museum of Natural History & Metropolitan Museum of Art to view Carlo Crivelli’s green-hued Christ-face with crown of thorns stuck symmetric in his skull — here Egyptian wing William Burroughs with a brother Sphinx, Fall 1953 Manhattan.

When I last wrote about the parallels between Lovecraft and Burroughs in a post from 2014 I wasn’t aware of Lovecraft and Long’s visit to the same museum exhibits that Burroughs and Ginsberg visited some 30 years later. I did, however, use the same photos which are posted here, a curious coincidence when Long wasn’t mentioned in the earlier post. This minor revelation is a result of reading the features in back issues of The Twilight Zone Magazine, one of which is an interview with an 81-year-old Frank Belknap Long. The coincidence is a trivial thing but it adds to the small number of connections between the two writers.

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A Cthulhu Sphinx from The Call of Cthulhu, 1988.

Lovecraft and Burroughs were both living in New York City at the time of their excursions, and both touched on Egyptian mythology in their writings, so their having viewed the same museum exhibits seems inevitable rather than surprising. A more tangible connection between the pair is alluded to in Ginsberg’s photograph note when he mentions the Mayan codices. A few years before the museum visit, Burroughs had been studying the Mayan language and the Mexican codices in Mexico City under the tutelage of Robert H. Barlow, the former literary executor of HP Lovecraft. Burroughs’ studies subsequently fueled the references to Mayan mythology that turn up repeatedly in his fiction, and he was still at Mexico City College in 1951 when Barlow killed himself with a barbiturate overdose, afraid that his homosexuality was about to be exposed by one of his students. Burroughs mentioned the suicide in a letter to Ginsberg. The connections don’t end there, however. After Barlow’s death the rights to Lovecraft’s writings passed, somewhat controversially, to August Derleth and Donald Wandrei at Arkham House, and in another curious coincidence Derleth happened to be one of the complainants against a literary journal, Big Table, in 1959, when the magazine ran Ten Episodes from Naked Lunch, and was subsequently prosecuted for sending obscene material through the US mail. Derleth and Arkham House are both mentioned in the court papers.

I’ve never seen any indication that Burroughs was aware of these connections but if he was I doubt he would have paid them much attention, he always seemed rather blasé about his intersections with popular culture. He did think well enough of Lovecraft (or at least the version of Lovecraft’s fiction as presented by the Simon Necronomicon) to invoke “Kutulu” along with the Great God Pan and the usual complement of Mayan deities in Cities of the Red Night. Years later I remember seeing something in a newspaper about him retiring to Lawrence, Kansas, where he was described as passing the time “reading HP Lovecraft”. (I wish I could give a reference for this but I don’t recall the source.) If so then I like to think he might have given Creation Books’ Starry Wisdom collection more than a passing glance when it turned up at his door.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Taking Tiger Mountain
The Big Fix!
Paging Doctor Benway
Birth of a Zimbu
Seward/Howard
Interzone: A William Burroughs Mix
Sine Fiction
The Ticket That Exploded: An Ongoing Opera
Burroughs: The Movie revisited
Zimbu Xolotl Time
Ah Pook Is Here
Jarek Piotrowski’s Soft Machine
Looking for the Wild Boys
Wroblewski covers Burroughs
Mugwump jism
Brion Gysin’s walk, 1966
Burroughs in Paris
William Burroughs interviews
Soft machines
Burroughs: The Movie
William S Burroughs: A Man Within
The Final Academy
William Burroughs book covers
Towers Open Fire

Illustrating Zothique

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Cover art by George Barr, 1970.

A few years ago I wrote a short piece about Virgil Finlay’s illustrations for a Zothique story by Clark Ashton Smith, The Garden of Adompha, so this post may be regarded as a more substantial sequel. If Smith remains something of a cult author then Zothique is the pre-eminent cult creation from his career as a writer of weird fiction. Most of Smith’s stories can be grouped together according to their location: Atlantis, Hyperborea, Averoigne in medieval France, the planet Mars, and so on. Zothique was a more original conception than his other worlds, being the last continent on Earth in the final years of the planet, an idea which had precedents in earlier novels such as William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land but which hadn’t been used before as a setting for a cycle of stories. The distant future suggests science fiction but, as with the Zothique-influenced Dying Earth of Jack Vance, science and technology is long-forgotten and sorcery rules the day. The poetry that Smith wrote before he took to writing short stories had a distinctly Decadent quality—”like a verbal Gustave Moreau painting“—and Zothique is a richly Decadent world, with the entire planet in a state of decay along with its barbarous, demon-worshipping peoples.

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Weird Tales, September 1932. Art by T. Wyatt Nelson.

All the Zothique stories had their first printings in Weird Tales, a magazine that ran illustrations with most contributions, but unless you’re a pulp collector many of the illustrations have been difficult to see until very recently. One of the pleasures of looking through fiction magazines is seeing how their stories might have been illustrated when they were first published. Popular tales eventually find their way into book collections but their illustrations tend to be marooned in the titles where they first appeared unless the artist is of sufficient merit to warrant a collection of their own.

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Weird Tales, March 1933. Art by Jayem Wilcox.

The examples here are all from recent uploads at the Internet Archive which now has a complete run of Weird Tales from 1923 to 1954. The illustrations also run in order of publication with links to the relevant issues, although I agree with Lin Carter’s ordering of the stories. Smith never organised them himself, and the later reprints from Arkham House and others tend to scatter them through separate volumes. When Lin Carter edited the Zothique collection in 1970 he put the stories into an order that follows the very loose chronology running through the cycle.

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Weird Tales, January 1934. Art by Clark Ashton Smith.

One surprise of this search was discovering that Smith himself had provided illustrations for several of the stories. Some Smith enthusiasts like his drawings and paintings but I’m afraid I’m not among them, his sculpture work is better. It’s doubtful that these would have been printed at all if they weren’t the work of the author.

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The Gable Window

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The Gable Window (1984) by John Coulthart.

Presenting some of my first Lovecraftian illustrations, neither of which have been made public before. This drawing, and the one below, are as much Derlethian as they are Lovecraftian, depicting scenes from a short story and a short novel written by August Derleth from fragments and notes found in Lovecraft’s papers. The Gable Window was collected in The Survivor and Others (1957) which happens to be the only Lovecraft-related title I own in its original Arkham House printing. Derleth’s posthumous collaborations are often more Derleth than Lovecraft but I liked the central idea of The Gable Window which, like The Music of Erich Zann, concerns a window that also serves as a portal to other dimensions.

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The Lurker at the Threshold (1982) by John Coulthart.

Before I began adapting The Haunter of the Dark in 1986 I hadn’t made much of an attempt to illustrate Lovecraft seriously. These drawings and a handful of other pieces were more like experimental sketches, although The Gable Window is obviously a very polished piece of work. Rather than depict anything overtly monstrous, each piece began as an arrangement of ink splotches and washes applied to cartridge paper soaked with water. The Lurker at the Threshold is one of several small pictures made with this technique in 1982, none of which are very successful. This one doesn’t look too bad but the best one, depicting the climax of The Dunwich Horror, I sent to the late Roger Dobson for possible use in an issue of Aklo, and haven’t seen it since. The Gable Window refined the technique by using fewer splotches and a more detailed drawing applied afterwards. I’ve never been happy with the figure, and the books on the left are lazily done, but it’s one of the better things I was doing in 1984. The biggest surprise looking at the drawing again was noticing the crest over the window which features a triangle/crescent motif that’s very similar to the one I designed a year later for Hawkwind’s Chronicle of the Black Sword album. This wasnt intentional.

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Today The Gable Window seems like an indicator of where my head was at during this time. I was tired of doing Hawkwind-related things, and eager to immerse myself in something different; a series of Ballard illustrations was one potential way forward, Lovecraft was another. A year later I’d made a decision and, as it were, stepped through the window.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Yuggoth details
A Mountain Walked
Lovecraft’s Monsters unleashed
Lovecraft’s Monsters
JK Potter and HP Lovecraft
Cthulhu Labyrinth
Tentacles #4: Cthulhu in Poland
Cthulhu Calendar
S. Latitude 47°9, W. Longitude 126°43
Resurgam variations
De Profundis
H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction
Heavy Metal, October 1979: the Lovecraft special
Cthulhoid and Artflakes
Cthulhu for sale
Cthulhu God
Cthulhu under glass
CthulhuPress
The monstrous tome
Cubist Cthulhu

Hodgsonian vibrations

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Illustration by Frank Utpatel from the 1947 Arkham House edition of Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder.

“Presently I got hold of myself a bit, and marked out a pentacle hurriedly with chalk on the polished floor; and there I sat in it almost until dawn. And all the time, away up the corridor, the door of the Grey Room thudded at solemn and horrid intervals. It was a miserable, brutal night.”

The Gateway of the Monster (1913) by William Hope Hodgson

“Word falling – Photo falling – Time falling – Break through in Grey Room”

The Ticket That Exploded (1962) by William S. Burroughs

Among other things, 2013 is the centenary of the first book publication of William Hope Hodgson’s collection of weird tales, Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, and while I don’t believe that William Burroughs was referring to the supernatural eruption that occurs in Hodgson’s Grey Room it would be remiss of me to ignore the connection. Listening this week to Music for Thomas Carnacki by Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle) had me wondering whether there’s any other Hodgson-derived music of note. Lovecraft has inspired hours of musical endeavour while Hodgson’s weird contemporaries, Algernon Blackwood and Arthur Machen, are referenced on some of the Ghost Box releases. Hodgson is the poor relation in these celebrations, often passed over despite the sonic potential of Carnacki stories such as The Whistling Room, The Horse of the Invisible, and especially The Hog, a tale whose manifestations are almost wholly perceived through the medium of sound. Searching around turned up the following examples.

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Borderlands (1999) by Tactile.

The House on the Borderland is the big favourite in this list, this album being a series of tracks by John Everall based on Hodgson’s novel. John Balance of Coil appears on the first track, Grief, reading the poem which opens the book.

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The City of the Singing Flame

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Wonder Stories, July 1931. Illustration by Frank R. Paul.

Looking over Bruce Pennington’s artwork this week sent me back to some of my Clark Ashton Smith paperbacks, many of which sport Pennington covers. One of my favourite Smith stories, The City of the Singing Flame, is also one of his finest pieces, and a story that Harlan Ellison has often referred to as his favourite work of imaginative fiction.

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Tales of Wonder, Spring 1940. Illustration by WJ Roberts.

The story as it’s known today was originally a shorter piece, The City of the Singing Flame, followed by a sequel, Beyond the Singing Flame; both stories were published in Wonder Stories magazine in July and November of 1931, then as one in Arkham House’s CAS collection Out of Space and Time in 1942. The two-in-one story is now the definitive version.

Smith’s tale concerns the discovery of a dimensional portal somewhere in the Sierras. Beyond this there lies a path leading through an otherworldly landscape to a colossal city peopled by a race of mute giants. A temple at the heart of the city protects the prodigious green flame of the title, an eerie and alluring presence whose siren call draws creatures from adjacent worlds who prostrate themselves before the flame before immolating themselves in its fire. A narrator, Philip Hastane, give us details of diary entries from a friend who discovered the portal, and who subsequently has to decide whether to resist the lure of the mysterious flame or follow the other creatures into the fire. More than this would be unfair to divulge if you’ve never read Smith’s remarkable piece of fiction.

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