Notes on Letters to Wilfred B. Talman – part one

I’m pleased to have bagged a bargain copy of the Talman letters, the full title of which is Letters to Wilfred B. Talman and Helen V. and Genevieve Sully. It’s a hefty 580-page slab, and I’ve made a start on it. Below is my first set of notes.

Lovecraft begins writing to Talman in early September 1925.

Page 17. Lovecraft calls the Kalem member Arthur Leeds… “a very throughout technician, and experienced in the art of practical suggestion”.

Page 18. He must have rated Myrta Alice Little’s intellect very highly, since in 1925 he ranks her in the nine top “active brains” he knows in amateurdom. His own is presumably the tenth. You’ll recall that in the summer of 1921 this tall beauty was Lovecraft’s faint but quite possible marriage prospect. She was religious, though, and soon married a handsome Methodist preacher.

Page 19. One of these “active brains” is British. An “Ernest Lionel McKeag”. Which one assumes he had at least some correspondence with. McKeag lived on until 1974 (other fannish sources say 1976) and wrote stories for British boys’ comics, true-life naval war-stories, and boys’ science-fiction and even two 1950s ‘lost race’ science-fiction books (published from Stoke-on-Trent of all places). Only his Lost City of the Sierras (1927) sounds like a candidate for a Lovecraft revision, but he seems more than capable of churning out his own tales for juveniles.

Page 19. In September 1925, ahead of Kadath, he describes the basic idea for it as… “extremely fantastic — the picaresque progress of a wandering spirit through the marvellous and undiscovered voids and worlds of the remotest universe”. Which makes it sound as if one of its roots was perhaps in “Iranon”.

Page 20. A large section here on the Moon, which would make an excellent appendix to the forthcoming book on Lovecraft and Astronomy. If it isn’t in already.

Page 22. Lovecraft explains the linkage of the signs of the Zodiac to the Babylonian cycle of the seasons and the human year. It didn’t quite hang true in some details, but I could see how it could do so with just a few tweaks. It’s remarkable that this way of understanding the zodiac constellations has escaped me until now. Again, another candidate for an appendix to the forthcoming book on Lovecraft and Astronomy. Could also be the basis for an interesting children’s picture book, if an illustrator is looking for a project.

Page 26. Lovecraft talks of his taking a Providence night-walk on or about 21st April 1926…

… night before last, during the course of which I discovered one of the most hellish slums ever imagined by mankind. It was in a place whose existence I had not before realised – the end of Chalkstone Ave. near Randall Sq. & the railway – and its dark hilly courts approach the very ultimates of blasphemous horror.

A little later in the book there is additional description, and Lovecraft states he plans to use the place in fiction some day.

Page 29. “The bottle idea […] I got it from that old hermit of 30 years ago in Phillipsdale”. Presumably he means the idea of ‘souls in bottles, with which one could converse’ used in “The Terrible Old Man” (1920) and later tweaked and adapted for Dexter Ward (1927), and that he had first heard the idea from a “hermit” circa age six. Phillipsdale being “a historic mill village along the Seekonk River in East Providence, Rhode Island”, and just across the river from College Hill. The idea of extracting and trapping a human essence is one that also crops up in folk-tales, and is by no means unique to East Providence. But an interesting early source, nonetheless. A quick and cursory search reveals no easily-found record of a “hermit” in Phillipsdale in the 1890s.

Page 31. “I ‘did’ […] Federal Hill — & was astonished by the great Italian churches”. This was presumably a trek made without Eddy, from whom he was at that time estranged (though later, in July 1927, there was a partial gathering of ‘the gang’ in Providence and Eddy was there). Surprisingly, he implies he had not seen these churches before, even distantly from the stagecoach when passing through. Perhaps they were relatively new erections?

Page 37. “Conan Doyle has some fair [weird fiction] stuff, too. “Mystery of Sasassa Valley”, “Captain of the Pole Star”, Round the Fire Stories.” The first was Doyle’s first published story, back in 1879. The next mentioned was 1883, in book form by 1890. Round the Fire Stories (1908) is a book of 17 tales. As the author says in his introduction, despite the cosy title these are actually his stories “concerned with the grotesque and with the terrible”. Thus none of the titles suggests that Lovecraft continued reading Doyle after circa 1909. This chimes with my finding that summer 1908 seems to have been when Lovecraft stopped reading Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes tales.

Page 44. The Old Corner Bookshop (‘Dana’s Old Corner Book Store’) had formerly been in Empire Street, Providence, and a comment from Lovecraft on the stock shows that he patronised it there “years ago”.

Page 50. Lovecraft gives his ideas for an extensive revision of Talman’s first version of “Two Black Bottles” (the final version of which is not included in this volume). The Lovecraft Encyclopedia has… “it seems clear that HPL has not only written some of the tale — especially the parts in dialect — but also made significant suggestions regarding its structure.” Horrorbabble has a free reading on YouTube, of the final version as published in Weird Tales in 1927.

Page 57. Lovecraft talks of “my version” of “Two Black Bottles”. Most likely he refers to the extensive outline/reworking given from page 50 onwards, rather than a story he had actually written from this.

Page 65. Room 328 at the New York Public Library was his favoured evening reading room for material on “Old Providence”. This was on the third floor…

Page 66. A gem of a find. Lovecraft did after all read his friend Everett McNeil’s fantasy / weird work. Many assume that Lovecraft had probably only read his later boys’ adventure novel Tonty. Well, it ain’t so…

Honest old Mac has written weird stuff — and by no means bad, either — but none of it has graced our Chicago contemporary [i.e. Weird Tales] as yet”.

Wish I’d had this quote when I wrote McNeil’s biography.

Page 65. A fabulous quote about Broadway in the morning light. Surprisingly this does not seem to have made it into the Selected Letters

[In New York I] explore[d] obscure corners in the small hours […] I’ll never forget the sight of the newly-risen sun streaming in a glorious flood of molten gold up the length of Wall St. into still darkened Broadway one morning. It was as if all the past — the brilliant past of Dutch settlers and glamorous shipping and gay coffee-houses — were shining from a land outside time, & welling up from the sea into the dismal & shadowy present.

Page 66. Mention of James Howard Flower and especially his “gem” of a poem “With Shelley in My Soul”). A footnote reveals Flower was a Vermont revision client whose “Shelley” poem has “not been found”. Well, there’s the J. Howard Flower papers, 1899-1959 archive (no Lovecraft letters, it seems), and the James Howard Flower-Solitary Press Collection 1920-1945. This latter “Collection is unprocessed”, and also mis-titled as it should be “Solitarian Press”. “Collection consists of poetry, essays, pamphlets, and issues written by J. Howard Flower and others and printed by the Solitary [Solitarian] Press of Hartford, VT, founded by Flower.”).

Who was who among North American authors, 1921-1939 suggests that these items by Flower himself might be worth inspecting for signs of Lovecraft’s revision…

Florentine Sonnets (1918);
Flower of the Road (1919) (42 page chapbook of verse);
Songs of Love and Liberty (1920);
Under Blue Ascutney (1921);
Florentine Sonnets and Florentine Lyrics (1923)
Bobolinks at Dawn and Whippoorwills at Dusk (1923)

However, one can find that Lovecraft’s friend Walter J. Coates (Driftwind) was also a revisionist for the Solitarian Press. For instance in 1920 Coates revised the Press’s new book Oriental Songs and other Lyrics by one Henry Clay Webster. Thus it’s possible that Lovecraft was revising for those whom the Solitarian Press published, rather than for Flowers himself. Flowers was an ardent socialist from an early age, even a Stalinist by the 1950s, and does not seem the sort of person Lovecraft would have cared to deal with directly. My guess would be that Lovecraft could have been taking ‘overflow’ revision work for the Press from Coates, this being work which Walter J. Coates was unable to manage due to time or complexity.

Still… if anyone’s in Vermont and near the University, it might be worth an afternoon sifting through the 1919-1925 boxes of the Howard Flower-Solitary Press Collection. “Collection is unprocessed”.

Journal of Ursula K. Le Guin Studies

The University of Northern Iowa is planning a new journal, UKL: The Journal of Ursula K. Le Guin Studies, and currently has a call for papers for the first issue.

You’ll recall that le Guin (real name Ursula Kroeber) was one of the best fantasy writers of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with her ‘Earthsea’ fantasy series (A Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan, The Farthest Shore). And she was equally highly regarded in science-fiction circles for her two classic novels of the same period, The Left Hand of Darkness and The Lathe of Heaven.

Forthcoming: ‘Horror in Architecture: The Reanimated Edition’

Horror in Architecture: The Reanimated Edition (2024)…

A new edition of this extensive visual analysis of horror […] in the built environment. Spanning the realms of art, design, literature, and film, this newly revised and expanded edition compiles examples from all areas of popular culture

The publisher’s page has it as being in dead tree and “2023” at present, and with an ebook due in February 2024. But Amazon UK says February 2024 for both.

The 2013 edition only mentioned Lovecraft three times, very much in passing and among other names. The most substantial mention is when the idea of “putrefaction” is said to be exemplified by “the cursed De La Poer family of Lovecraft’s The Drowned”. One hopes that more will be said about Lovecraft in the 2024 edition, and that such errors will be corrected.

Tentaclii in May 2023

Tentaclii Towers basks in a rare bit of real English sun-kissed summer, and the quasi-dimensional barometer suggests I may just be starting to move over into my usual ‘Lovecraft research’ phase of the year. This phase usually kicks in once the flurry of fine May weather evaporates in a welter of rainy downpours and the muggy heat of late June, dampening the desire to go out. Which requires walking because the Towers stables can offer me no horseless carriage, still less the sort of hyper-air-conditioned panjandrum which transports most Americans.

The notion of ‘research’ has been rekindled by the arrival of a new book of Lovecraft letters (the Talman/Sully volume), which I was able to bag at a very nice price. The Letters volumes are mostly stuck at full price these days, but evidently the patient watcher will sometimes find a genuine bargain. One that can also be sent free to an Amazon locker, thus avoiding the nightmare of couriers. Many thanks on this to a kind patron and his small Amazon gift-card. I’ll be starting a new “Notes on the Letters” series of posts shortly.

This month in my regular ‘Picture Postal’ posts I visited Lovecraft’s Marblehead in both winter and summer. Finding the very snow-laden spot from which he had his chilly Marblehead epiphany. I also had a more artistic splosh around his Cat Swamp, with the aid of one of the new AI art-generators. I was very pleased to find an excellent public domain picture of where Lovecraft passed away, and so far as I know this picture will be new to Lovecraftians. I even had a long trawl through the Smithsonian’s collection of 4.5m online pictures, and found a few Lovecraft-adjacent images. Including a fine on-the-spot etching of the huge snowstorm that hit New York very shortly after Lovecraft had moved to Red Hook.

In academic work, I noted some interesting items on Lovecraft’s adaptation to different media and how that changes the nature of his fandom. I spotted “Understanding H.P. Lovecraft’s Anxiety Narratives through the Medical Humanities”, the second such article I’ve found recently. I suspect there will be more, updating old attempts at armchair diagnosis in the light of the past fifty years of medical advances. It’s a pity he didn’t leave samples of tissue, glands, etc, to be pickled and left in some dusty cupboard, or we might have been able to zap them with the new technologies. On I spotted older scholarly fan-writing, such as the long and footnoted “Lovecraft and The Necronomicon”. In my own work, I’m putting the finishing touches to an 8,000-word article which I hope may be accepted for the next Lovecraft Annual.

Few journals in May, which is usual for the time of year (May-June is busy for academics). Only the new Dead Reckonings: A Review of Horror and the Weird in the Arts (No. 33, Spring 2023). In archives of online journals, I found that the FantaelX event in Spain has produced four annual volumes of scholarly work on the fantastic, free in PDF. Signum University has a conference-moot in New England, “Perilous Realms & Haunted Spaces”, set for 21st October 2023, which at a guess may result in some sort of publication.

The John Hay Library in Providence, home to Lovecraft’s archive of letters, appears to have re-opened after the lockdowns. I guess this might speed up the online delivery of the new Long letters online as scans, thought I see they’re not yet online. I checked to see what the S.T. Joshi Fellowship was doing, too. I assume a Joshi Fellow has been appointed at Brown for 2023 (no news on who, if any), and I see that applications will open again in Spring 2024.

No new books this month, but I noted that the forthcoming ‘HPL in New York’ book Midnight Rambles: H.P. Lovecraft in Gotham had been dated for 7th November 2023. No further news of the known forthcoming probably-2023 books on Lovecraft and Astronomy, and Lovecraft and Florida.

In comics, the collected Lovecraft: Unknown Kadath graphic novel was put back to 12th July 2023. But it’s now complete as a part-work, in what the trade calls ‘floppy’ issues. Cross-border shipping of such paper things is going to become far more expensive to the EU, if the EU’s idiot politicians and bureaucrats have their way on a crazy new customs system (all mail-order sellers into the EU forced to charge EU customs duties and VAT [national sales tax] at the time of even the smallest purchase, while registering with a giant new EU Customs Authority with which they must log all transactions and buyers). In this and other moves they seem intent on taxing or banning or ‘regulating’ the EU back into the Stone Age. Thankfully, here in dear old Blighty we’re no longer part of all that nonsense.

In cinema, the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival had its 2023 deadlines and dates, and I noted a Lovecraft film festival down in Mexico. In theatre, Cthulhu: the Musical! is soon to tour the USA and looks rather fun.

In audio, Dark Adventure announced their next full-cast recording. It’s to be Lovecraft’s “The Shunned House”, due for release on 21st June 2023. I was pleased to find “A Lecture on Dreaming, Writing, PKD, and Lovecraft” by Erik Davis. Elsewhere, some may be interested to know that Tolkien’s seminal essay/lecture “On Fairy-Stories” is now a free two-hour audiobook on YouTube.

The usual Lovecraftian videogames and role-playing games were noticed, but these are not usually covered at Tentaclii. But I did link to what the Germans are doing with their FHTAGN open source ‘pure Lovecraft’ RPG game. FHTAGN has started moves toward a full English version.

I posted a links round-up for Howard Days 2023, although unfortunately no-one has linked to it. Also in events, I found and linked one of the few NecronomiCon 2022 reports.

I posted my annual prognostication about the public domain. In the Lovecraft Circle, the three core Munn ‘werewolf’ books finally enter the public domain in January 2024. The other writer of interest is the pre-Tolkien Christian fantasy writer T.F. Powys, one of the Powys brothers.

There were of course various arty posts in May, from early Chaosium artwork to book covers to the latest AI twiddlings. Several AI Lovecraft-related calls or contests were spotted and linked.

Over in Tolkien-land, my Tolkien Gleanings No. 4 appeared as a free PDF ‘zine. Including a new 5,000-word article on Radagast which, at least to my satisfaction, solves 98% of ‘the Black Riders problem’ (only their supernatural speed in the final race to the Shire remains unexplained). Sadly Gleanings has not turned out to be a money-spinner. Having in its four issues so far generated only enough donations to cover the $12 or so I spent on getting items for the review pages. And no purchases of my own books, that I can see. Oh well, it’ll carry on for now.

I’m still slowly working through the latest Lovecraft Annual, making notes for a review in the late summer. Though that’s been sidetracked somewhat by the new and unexpected volume of Lovecraft letters.

As always, offers of regular paying work are welcome. Or small boosts to your Patreon, or even an Amazon gift-card.

The Great Monster Magazines

New on to borrow, The Great Monster Magazines: a critical study of the black and white publications of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s (2008, McFarland). This has very variable Amazon reviews, with some enjoying it and others saying it’s yet another of McFarland’s many duff and over-priced titles. One even called it “Just a shill for Marvel Comics”… which is not necessarily a bad thing in my view. Though monster-mag collectors may disagree.

On the topic of marketing, it’s sad that today a magazine is very often just regarded as a vehicle for “marketing”. Something to be produced in a cliched dumbed-down, ‘template and boilerplate’ form by a dull marketing department. A good well-curated and dynamic magazine can be so much more than that.

Rhode Island Hospital

Continuing yesterday’s medical theme, this week on ‘Picture Postals’ I take a look at the exteriors of the main Rhode Island Hospital, Providence, as it was in Lovecraft’s time.

His uncle Dr. Clark has been an outpatients surgeon here 1876-1883.

However, in the 1930s both Lovecraft and his aunt were at the Jane Brown Memorial Hospital. Faig Jr. has this at the “Jane Brown Memorial Building of Rhode Island Hospital” and Joshi has “Jane Brown Memorial Hospital (now Rhode Island Hospital)”, so I assumed that JB and RIH are the same institution. But were they at the same location?

Today the “Jane Brown” in Providence has the address of “593 Eddy Street”, but Google Street View has some difficulty in getting me close enough. So, back to the 1930s. Where, exactly, was the 1930s Jane Frances Brown Building for Private Patients? I then found a reference to the…

“Jane Frances Brown Building for Private Patients, Rhode Island Hospital, Providence” (building commenced 1919, opened 1922, gift of Jesse H. Metcalf and Jane Frances Brown).

A 1919 article which anticipated the new “Jane Frances Brown” suggests an coherent and elegant interior…

And this led me to a good photo of the block, newly opened in 1922…

This then is where Lovecraft passed away. However, I was still uncertain if this was on the main Rhode Island Hospital campus, or was somewhere else in the city. A little more jumping around on Google Street View finally landed me at a reasonable view. The hospital block is still there, just across from the Eddy Street car-park. I don’t know if one would be able to ghoulishly peer up at Lovecraft’s exact “death window” from below (likely to be frowned on by the hospital, as it would disturb any current patients), and finding that out would take a lot more research.

An old map then pairs the relevant sites together, with the new 1922 Jane Brown block just south of the older Hospital campus. Seen here in relation to Lovecraft’s 66 College Street…

His mad mother was at the Butler Hospital for the Insane, a different place. Butler was also where his father died, also insane.

Understanding H.P. Lovecraft’s Anxiety

There’s now another recent attempt to fathom Lovecraft’s possible and actual medical conditions, in the new dissertation “Understanding H.P. Lovecraft’s Anxiety Narratives through the Medical Humanities” (2023)…

“I argue that deciphering these writings as anxiety narratives will be giving a new insight about the author, as well as mental illness in general.”

For a Spanish university, in English. Free online, and under Creative Commons.

Interestingly, and somewhat in relation to this, I recently heard that the years 1908-11 are now deemed to have been the coldest years on record in the USA, a run which broke in the “notably fine summer of 1911” before the nation was plunged into the well-documented and bitter winter of the ‘1911–12 United States cold wave’. 1908 coincides quite well with the start of Lovecraft’s hermitage / mystery years of 1908-1916, and this makes me think that new attempts at diagnosis would necessarily have to closely consider the weather and temperatures of New England and also New York City.

The essay on the influence of the fluctuating seasonal temperatures on Lovecraft has yet to be written, I think. Or perhaps a timeline + graph might be a better format. Whatever the format, first one would have to track down the reliable non-‘adjusted’ data, ideally drawn from and referenced to primary data such as local newspapers of the period. I see there are now books on the history of New England weather, but they focus on the front-page headline events and have titles such as Mighty Storms of New England. I find that Lovecraft’s own favoured source, The Old Farmer’s Almanac, can only provide North Providence data back to 1945. Perhaps a Tentaclii reader knows where a good reliable and succinct week-by-week graph for pre-1938 North Providence might be had?

Call: New England Moot, October 2023

The worthy Signum University plans a New England Moot, to be themed as “Perilous Realms & Haunted Spaces”. Set for 21st October 2023 and a little place called Derry, which the map shows translates as “25 miles north of Boston” or about “45 miles north of Providence”.

New England Moot is excited to spirit you away to Perilous Realms & Haunted Spaces. Whether threshold-realms are real or imagined, Faerian or horrifying, deadly or whimsical, mysterious or lucid, they are the playgrounds for imaginative exploration of what is possible. Discovery, danger, failure, and transformation occur in such interstitial spaces.

Whether you are inspired by the Bifrost, the Bermuda Triangle, Wonderland, or an ordinary-looking Wardrobe, we welcome you to question how to define Perilous Realms & Haunted Spaces. How do you know when you’ve entered one? How does the experience of the unknown inform artistic creation? Join us as we traverse the blurry edge of boundaries and venture into the wildlands beyond. You may not be the same when you leave as you were when you arrived…

The Team are currently looking for proposals for “creative presentations, academic papers, or discussion panels”. The Studio Lab physical venue is said to have a 5,376 × 1,344-pixel video-wall. The Moot will also be a hybrid physical/online event.

The deadline for submissions is 7th October, and I’m assuming that’s 2023.