As is the nature of tragedy, a certain type of human loves to re-teach the same lesson. What desperate and Nietzschean thrill to describe the great Other! Those folk, whose black hearts blaze at the sight of an endless uncaring immensity, are the addicted readers of the Mythos. It is a rare breed that truly wants to consider that everything they know about the cosmos could be wrong. Of course, such people are readers Michael Houellebecq’s
H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life
takes as its premise—that those in love with life are not in love with books, and vice versa. Lovecraft pitted the ultra-terrestrial in all its hellish glory against the pillars of the modern world: money, democracy, progress, and sex. But Lovecraft and his truer disciples do not bore us in the way a miserabilist like Cioran might. It is more fun to be menaced by the symbol of the great unknowable than by the simple dull reflection of anti-life. Lovecraft’s cosmos gives us a fascinating dilemma. The only thing we can use to buffer ourselves against what is waiting in the dark is imagination, but imagination itself ultimately fails, since its own unnatural nature is from the same dark.
Now August Derleth was a good Catholic and he was having none of this. We will win in imagination because human religion is based on winning in imagination. So haul out the holy hand grenade of Antioch—er, star-stone of Mnar—and zap! No more evil threat to human-scale thinking or values. Strictly speaking, this rather hopeful interpretation would be a comedy. Derleth was the inventor of the Cthulhu Commedia. And with this human gesture of hope, the “Mythos” began the slippery slide into parody like a greased pig at a county fair. Now it must be understood that August Derleth was not a weak soul to make these choices; indeed, he stood at the brink of a true unveiling and sought to protect both his own self-knowledge and that of others by reining in the awful dark.
However, there is another seldom-discussed side to Yog-Sothothery. In addition to its tragic and comedic sides there is an epic stance. You can find it in the figures of Randolph Carter, Wilbur Whateley, and Joseph Curwen. These brave souls seek to gain entrance into a heightened realm of perception and will do so by embracing the darkness—not the darkness of Sunday school “evil” but the darkness of the unknown. This strand of rebellion against cosmic injustice has appealed to the silliest sort of occultists and to magician-philosophers who prefer the freedom of an anti-mythology. The former are well represented by Simon’s
and the latter sinister groups like the Order of the Trapezoid. For every hundred readers thinking how dreadful it would be to have one’s brains removed by the Fungi or one’s psyche trans-temporally transposed by the Great Race, there is one who secretly wishes for it to happen.
But I hear my now no longer gentle reader saying, “Surely this high-falutin’ folderol is merely your way of justifying writing and reading about invisible whistling flying polyps instead of using your God-given talents to write something that might help the human condition.” Such a sentiment is exactly what I write against. I think helping the human condition has more to do with passing blankets to the homeless than trying to make a dulled audience feel some attraction to the human condition. Such an attitude earns me thanks from people in wheelchairs whom I have escorted through my local supermarket, but will certainly fail to put my books in the short lists for literary prizes. And if you were to tell me with a serious but hushed tone that the majority of the noisome awfulness is crapola, I would (in the same muted tones) agree. The emotional effect of the good Mythos tale is what the seeker seeks. Borges may deliver it better in his Mythos story than (fill in your choice of name).
I write to create wonder, which can be ecstasy and fear or simple alienation. I write thus to heal my Gnostic soul, the alien man trapped in this world. Fortunately some others share my needs and have bought this little book. I hope I can abduct them from the workaday world into a place of weird realism. I hope you won’t be quite the same when you return to your “real” life.
Hail to the Ancient Dreams!
—DON WEBBThrough Dark Angles
The Man Who Scared Lovecraft
It was a name-thing.
I was up at six and read my fun e-mail before getting down to work. I am a small-time collector of pulp magazines, and I belong to an e-list called Fiction-mags. It had some big-time dealers and collectors and even a few of the old pulp giants on it. I mainly lurked and enjoyed posts about my hobby. I did a little business there; occasionally some piece of memorabilia came into my used bookstore. Ironically, the day that led to the horror began with my reading about a great horror writer of the last century, Howard Phillips Lovecraft.
Lovecraft was a New England fantasy writer who supplemented his meager income by editing the manuscripts of his fellow writers. Sometimes Mr. Lovecraft’s touch was light; in cases where talent was missing from his client, Lovecraft would rewrite most of the tale. Spotting Lovecraft’s revisions is a pastime among certain aficionados of his dark and dreamy tales. Someone had asked a question about a certain story in a magazine called
and Addison E. Steele had replied with a list of writers whom Lovecraft had rewritten (from Hazel Heald to Zealia Bishop) and concluded his well-researched post with “of course Lovecraft’s most obscure client Amos Carter.”
I drove down to my bookstore trying hard to remember where I seen the name. Amos Carter. Amos Carter. Twenties mystery writer? Something in a fanzine? Damn. Amos Carter. I helped customers find books, dissuaded them from the belief that their
was worth thousands of dollars, even if their grandparent had owned it, and attended to the other duties of the used bookstore trade. By the end of the day I was sure that the name was somewhere in my shop and that I had seen it recently.
When I got home I sent a note to Mr. Steele. It was partially a fan letter thanking him for his writings over the years, but also asking about Carter. By the time I was up the next day, he had replied:
Dear John Reynman,
Thank you for your kind words. Amos Carter is famous, or infamous, because of some revision that Lovecraft did for him. Amos was writing a serialized novella for an apparently amateur publication called the
Shocking Mysteries Fantasy Gazette,
a short-lived magazine from a town with the unlikely name of Comesee, Texas. The digest-sized mag ran for four issues with the Carter story in issue number three. The story is a pseudo–Middle Ages tale featuring a Knight called Zauber, who encounters some horror “too eldritch to be described.” The ending of the story did NOT appear in #4. There was a note from H.P.L. instead: “Esteemed Readers, I had assisted Mr. Carter in revising the MS. of the first part of this story, ‘Sir Zauber’s Tale.’ When he presented me the second section of the story, I realized that it would be too devastating for the average reader, and might cause damage to his faculties. Therefore I declined to revise the story and have advised the editors of the
not to publish the ending of the tale or any more of the blasphemous writings of Mr. Carter. Howard Phillips Lovecraft.” I suspect that Carter, if indeed this was not a pseudonym for Lovecraft, was unable to come up with an ending for the story and simply chose the more dramatic warning letter. I think I have a copy of the story somewhere in the boxes in my garage. If I can lay my hands on it, would you like a copy?
I wrote back in the affirmative and asked about the name. Lovecraft had created a fictional alter ego “Randolph Carter” as early as 1919. Since Lovecraft and his friends were always using fictionalized versions of one another in their tales, the whole thing sounded fishy, but a fun thing to figure out. I asked Addison if he could remember more details about the story.
The name still wouldn’t let me go.
I had a dream that night.
I was alone in my shop, the New Atlantis Used Bookstore; no one had come to buy anything all day. Outside rain poured down on Lavaca Street, thunder and lightning filled the sky, and I was thinking what a great day it was for some Gothic fiction. I go up into my SF loft, which housed mainly paperbacks, and I see that the carpet is covered in blood. Lots of blood. As it is a dream, I don’t think about the blood as a horrible thing, just cursing the fact I’ll have to re-carpet. In the corner of the loft is a large veiled statue. I know that I am not supposed to look at it, but I figure I can lift the cover and take one peek while no one is in the store. I squish my way over there, noting with dismay how many of the paperbacks are flecked with blood.
I should have known this would happen,
I think. I reach the statue and start to pull up the veil, and then I remember that I need to read that Amos Carter book, so I walk back to the “C’s” and sure enough just before Lin Carter’s novels is this sick green-colored paperback.
Zauber’s Quest and Other Odd Journeys
by Amos H. Carter. I bend down to pick up the book—it’s on the bottom shelf and therefore has blood on it. As I pick up the book I hear the veil fall off the statue, and suddenly I am as afraid as I can be. Something’s behind me. If I look I will see it. I will see the thing that I’m not meant to see. I think I hear music.
At that point I woke my wife Haidee up screaming. In almost ten years of sleeping with her I had never had a nightmare that made me scream before. She held me and petted me for about an hour before I went back to sleep. It was raining cats and dogs outside, which no doubt colored my dreamscape.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I was scared to go in my store. I went to the coffee shop Decline of the West next door for about an hour—till I actually heard people knocking on my door.
Once inside I felt silly. During a lull I checked out the loft. The roof had sprung a leak, so the carpet was wet at the top of the stairs and did squish. There weren’t any veiled statues that had been installed in the night. The place of honor was still filled by an open cardboard box with the words FREE STUFF magic-markered on the side. I tossed the stuff that I couldn’t sell in there—old small-press magazines, promotional items, and so forth. I decided to look through the box.
I found a fanzine produced by Xerox and saddle-stapled called
The Moon Lily,
dated March 15, 1977. The blue paper cover features a ruined castle on the moon with Earthrise behind it. The cover boasted, “ALL FICTION ISSUE: Schweitzer, Fox, winter-damon, Carter.” This was where I had seen the name before. The story was “Sir Zauber’s Tale, Part 2.” It began with a letter from Carter thanking the editor of
for asking for one of his pulp stories and saying that this story was begun in 1926 and had never had its conclusion printed before. It mentioned that Lovecraft had revised the first half of the tale and evinced sadness that he no longer had that part of the story. There were a few poignant observations about living in a rest home. Mr. Carter had apparently outlived his wife and children and was something of a ward of the state in a rather smelly and sad institution. That was true horror, I decided.
The tale did involve a statue; I had probably glanced at it when I threw the ’zine in the box months ago. It began as follows:
“Sir Zauber found that he could no longer look at the foul idol that dominated the town square. He felt that its strange form (in all its beauty and terror) had already burned into his brain. ‘I will think on this the day I die, and every night I dream,’ he thought. He decided to study the inscriptions on the four-sided base of the statue. Some were uncouth languages of the East, but four words were in the tongue of his childhood. On the north was ‘PHANTOM OF TRUTH,’ on the west ‘A LITTLE SLIPPER ON HER FOOT,’ on the south ‘NOT WITHOUT PAIN,’ and on the east ‘UNKNOWN TO THE SUN.’ Zauber could not fathom what they meant. Part of his soul told him to leave that spot lest he suddenly understand and be damned.
“It grew late in the day, and he knew that he had to reach the castle Draypalo while there was still sunlight. He did not want to meet the Queen under the spell of night when her powers would be at their height.”
The tale continued as a fairly conventional fight-the-vampire story. Sir Zauber arrives at the castle a bit too late and the Queen has risen. He tries his swordcraft against her, but she actually seduces him during the battle. He agrees to share her kingdom with her, knowing however that he will one day become a zombie servitor like the creatures in the dungeons. There are some vague hopes that he might escape this zombie status with the help and love of a village girl—but this is left open in the story, so we cannot tell if he is delusional or properly hopeful. There are no further direct references to the statue, or in fact anything to make clear what the first half of the story had been about.
I closed the shop early to e-mail news of my find to Addison. I asked if he had located the first part of the tale, as I was very anxious to read the whole thing. I also speculated on the possibility of maybe putting the restored story up on a website. I didn’t imagine that Mr. Carter would still be alive, as he would be past a hundred at this point, but I thought the story plus the story of the story would be fascinating (at least for pulp fiction geeks like ourselves).
Addison wrote back that night that he was going to spend all night looking for the story in his garage, and that this was extremely exciting. He had dreamed for years of seeing the story that had scared Lovecraft.
I heard nothing the next day.
Then I got a distressing letter from Mrs. Addison. She had awakened to a horrifying crash in their garage. Her husband, true to his word, had looked long into the night for the magazine and fallen off a ladder while peering in the top of some junk-filled boxes. He had broken a hip and would be bedridden for a while, and it would be some time before he could contact me.