Lovecraft at the Met

John Coulthart has reprinted a suitably weird anecdote about Lovecraft told by Frank Belknap Long. It was originally published in a 1982 issue of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone Magazine. An interviewer asked Long about a visit he and H. P. Lovecraft made to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York some six decades earlier.

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.

The chamber in question is the Tomb of Perneb, which is of course still on display at the Met. It had opened to the public in 1916, roughly a decade before Lovecraft and Long visited. Met archaeologist Caroline Ransom Williams wrote of the unveiling:

People were formed in line two abreast all the way back to the Fifth avenue entrance to get into the chambers. Glass positions electrically lighted illustrate the former position and the taking down of the tomb. There are two cases of the objects found in the course of the excavations including the greater part of Perneb’s skull. A model of the entire tomb makes clear the position of the burial chamber.

Lovecraft had just finished writing “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” around this time. It was the last story he wrote in Providence before moving to New York in 1924, where he lived for two years. The story was ghost-written for Harry Houdini and published under Houdini’s byline in the May 1924 edition of Weird Tales.

Lovecraft and the Inklings

In the December 2018 issue of Mallorn: The Journal of the Tolkien Society, Dale Nelson considers tentative connections between H. P. Lovecraft and the Oxford Inklings.

Devotees of fantastic fiction have wondered if the Ink-lings knew the work of the Lovecraft circle, and vice versa. Several points of likely or certain awareness may be sum-marized as follows:

[1] By sometime late in his life, Clark Ashton Smith, short story writer, poet, and artist, had read The Hobbit and some of The Fellowship of the Ring, according to a posting by “calonlan” on 30 Nov. 2011, in an Eldritch Dark discussion thread. “Calonlan” appears to have known CAS personally.

[2] Lovecraft himself had read more than one of Charles Williams’s spiritual thrillers. Their orthodoxy spoiled them for HPL. He wrote:

“Essentially, they are not horror literature at all, but philosophical allegory in fictional form. Direct reproduction of the texture of life & the substance of moods is not the author’s object. He is trying to illustrate human nature through symbols & turns of idea which possess significance for those taking a traditional or orthodox view of man’s cosmic bearings. There is no true attempt to express the indefinable feelings experienced by man in confronting the unknown . . . To get a full-sized kick from this stuff one must take seriously the orthodox view of cosmic organisation—which is rather impossible today.” (as quoted in S. T. Joshi, I Am Providence, page 878; I’m indebted to a 21 April 2016 posting by John Rateliff on his Sacnoth’s Scriptorium blog for this reference)

Lovecraft could not have read Descent into Hell and All Hallows’ Eve, which contain perhaps the most “Lovecraft-ian” sequences in Williams’s seven novels.

[3] Lewis almost certainly not only read, but was influ-enced by, a story by Lovecraft correspondent and Arkham House co-founder Donald Wandrei. On one of the last pages in his short novel The Great Divorce, Lewis acknowl-edges his indebtedness to an American science fiction story, the title and author of which he has forgotten. This appears to be “Colossus,” which appeared in the January 1934 issue of Astounding. Wandrei’s story plays with the idea of our universe being of subatomic tininess as com-pared to a super-universe; the hero journeys from the one to the other. Lewis’s novel involves a bus trip from hell to heaven. In the fiction, “‘All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world; but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World.’”

[4] Tolkien evidently read a 1963 paperback anthology called Swords and Sorcery, edited by L. Sprague de Camp, who gave him a copy. The anthology contains Lovecraft’s tale in the manner of Lord Dunsany, “The Doom That Came to Sarnath,” Smith’s “The Testament of Athammaus,” and Howard’s Conan story “Shadows in the Moonlight.” According to de Camp, who visited Tolkien in 1967, Tolkien liked the Conan story. Tolkien’s own copy of de Camp’s anthology was offered for bids on ebay a few years ago. http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/tolkien-book-store/000971.htm

[5] It is reasonably likely that Lewis read Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and “The Shadow Out of Time” in Astounding. His reading of American pulp magazines is certain. Below, I’ll say something about possible influ-ence of Mountains on Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet and of “Shadow” on Lewis’s Dark Tower fragment.

All that doesn’t come to a lot, but it’s more than might have been expected.

Tolkien reading Conan is obviously the most satisfying of these nebulous associations. Nelson addresses Lovecraft’s partially formed mythopoeic imagination in greater detail. The essay can be read at the link above.

Lovecraftian Heraldry

In 1927 the weird fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft devised for himself a coat of arms. It was done in the spirit of fun, influenced by his friend Wilfred Blanch Talman, “who has transmitted enough of his enthusiasm” for heraldry to motivate the undertaking. To my knowledge Lovecraft never assumed the arms in any practical sense but he approached the design with a high degree of genealogical seriousness. Anyone who has read his letters knows that he was a repository for family history so this is not surprising.

The personal arms represent a quartering of those granted to various paternal and maternal ancestors, what Lovecraft calls his “four main streams of blood.” In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, he explains the quarters:

The upper two, left to right, are Lovecraft & Phillips, which I have always known. The lower left is Allgood—family of my father’s mother—of which I had the verbal description, but I never saw drawn out till Talman interpreted the language with his facile pen. The lower right is Place—family of my mother’s mother—which I had never seen in my life until yesterday afternoon when when we looked it up at the library…the crest and motto are Lovecraft.

The letter is in the collection of Brown University Library.