Comet madness

Freely online at the Library of Congress, the book Comet madness : how the 1910 return of Halley’s comet (almost) destroyed civilization (2023).

Hairy Stars: Fear and Loathing in the Heavens
From Astrology to Astronomy
Whither the Comet?
The Fabulous Flammarion
A Dangerous Tail
The Unexpected Visitor
Cyanogen Gas!
From Science to Science Fiction
Aetna and the Wheel of Anxiety
Apocalypse Now
The Death of Kings
Rationality Won’t Keep Out The Rain
Up on a Roof
Cosmic Death Ray
Hysteria’s Highwater Mark
The Case of the Missing Tail
And We (Mostly) Lived Happily Ever After.

Amazon UK will happily take your £17 for the ebook, but the LoC officially has it free.

Lovecraft made a substantial scientific entry on the comet, for 26th May 1910, but seems to make no reference in the letters I have access too. Other than…

I saw Halley’s in 1910 — but missed the bright one earlier in that year by being flat in bed with a hellish case of measles!

Tolkien had an interest in astronomical phenomena, but I am told that his diary does not note Halley’s Comet of 1910. To be fair, he was only a schoolboy at the time and swotting hard for vital exams in central Birmingham, a big industrial city not then noted for its pristine ‘dark’ night skies and star-gazing.

Germany calling…

The German Lovecraftians have posted their club’s monthly update. Items of note:

* Their annual Lovecrafter double-issue magazine is bagged, stacked and ready to mail.

* Notes what sounds like a survey / overview article elsewhere, on…

Lovecraft in film [which] appeared in the German issue #15 of the film magazine Art of Horror. The feature looks at Lovecraft’s own attitude towards the medium, which was still young at the time, the direct film adaptations of his work, and productions that are indirectly influenced by his ideas on cosmic horror.

* The best of Weird Tales has been published in German as a 100th anniversary slipcase edition containing five hardcover books… “This anniversary edition, limited to 999 copies, contains 111 creepy and bizarre stories from the magazine’s first phase (1923 to 1954). Most of them appear for the first time in German.”

* There’s also a panning review (spoilers) of Alan Moore’s Providence comics series / graphic novel. Spoiler-free quote…

But rarely does it [the ‘inspired by Lovecraft’ thing] happen as clumsily and — in my opinion — disrespectfully as here. [The tale becomes] completely disrespectful after the great first volumes. What a story ‘Providence’ could have told if Moore had limited himself to telling a Lovecraftian story. In the ‘Neonomicon’ he succeeded [but] it’s a real shame that at the end of ‘Providence’] Moore resorts to the cheapest of twists to bring this great series to an utterly undignified end. […] Do yourself a favour and skip the ending [of ‘Providence’]. It’s a fiasco.

Speculative Poetry and the Modern Alliterative Revival

The forthcoming book Speculative Poetry and the Modern Alliterative Revival: A Critical Anthology (December 2023) may interest some readers…

If a literary movement arises but no one notices, is it still a movement? […] this anthology collects for the first time over fifty speculative poets. […] Alongside such established names as C.S. Lewis, Patrick Rothfuss, Edwin Morgan, Poul Anderson, Jo Walton, P.K. Page, and W.H. Auden, this anthology also includes representative texts from cultural movements such as contemporary neo-paganism and the Society for Creative Anachronism.

No mention of Tolkien, but I guess it may have been difficult or expensive to get the Tolkien Estate’s permission to reprint?

See also the 2021 article in Studies in the Fantastic, titled “Antiquarianism Underground: The Twentieth-century Alliterative Revival in American Genre Poetry” on…

a wholly neglected subset of the alliterative revival [which] involves American genre poets working in fantasy, horror, and science fiction.

In ‘The Cabinet’

This week on ‘Picture Postals from Lovecraft’, the old home of the Rhode Island Historical Society. No interior pictures that I can find though, which seems a pity. Still, here’s the exterior…

On the right we see the former home of the Rhode Island Historical Society, aka ‘The Cabinet’, and with the name carved above the entrance. Opened in November 1844, an event in which one William Gammell (Professor of Rhetoric) gave the opening address. Gammell was of course the family name of Lovecraft’s aunts. I don’t have the genealogical wizardry of Ken Faig Jr. at my fingertips, but I wonder if Prof. Gammell was somewhere in Lovecraft’s family tree?

The city’s Public Library was then able to furnish me with a bigger but rather more garish scan of a postcard using the same picture…

It housed the Society’s library, and by the early 1890s had added a two-story domed extension. At this point a booklet was produced titled The Library and Cabinet of the Rhode Island Historical Society (truncated scan) and which gave an overview of the contents of its special collections. The booklet reveals the Society held the “Whipple papers” for 1661-1791, which I guess might have been Lovecraft’s grandfather’s line? They certainly later took the papers of Lovecraft’s uncle…

After his death last year, the R.I. Historical Society took over his unpublished manuscripts.” (November 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner)

One wonders if they still have them? Has any Lovecraftian ever looked through them?

Anyway there we have two reasons why Lovecraft might have occasionally visited. Also noted by the 1890s booklet are 1,700 bound local newspaper volumes. There are no further details of the library holdings, which would have been beyond the scope of the booklet, but at that time it held 15,000 books and 35,000 pamphlets.

Then “Brown acquired the [old] building in 1942”, according to the current Brown Repository notes. I’m uncertain of the exact date of the move of the library but Joshi has…

At the very end of his life Lovecraft saw the opening of the John Brown house (1786) as a museum, and it is now the home of the Rhode Island Historical Society.” (Joshi, I Am Providence)

New home of the Historical Society.

“At the very end of his life” and the “1942” date both suggest that in the colour postcards above we see the location for the “Historical Society” that Lovecraft would have known and used, when he wrote things like …

I looked up the R. I. [Rhode Island] Casey line in J. O. Austin’s Genealogical Dictionairy of R. I. at the R. I. Historical Society. I hadn’t done any looking since over a year ago, and had never tackled this book before — but bless me…” (Selected Letters II, page 323).

This was written in March 1929, so “over a year ago” suggests he may have been there late 1927, for some post-“Dexter Ward” work.

Also note that in his “The Shunned House”…

I was forced to ransack both the Rhode Island Historical Society and and Shepley Library

And in Dexter Ward, Ward’s…

hours were spent mainly at home, in rambling walks, in his classes and drills, and in pursuit of antiquarian and genealogical data at the City Hall, the State House, the Public Library, the Athenaeum, the Historical Society, the John Carter Brown and John Hay Libraries of Brown University, and the newly opened Shepley Library in Benefit Street.

Today the ‘old’ Historical Society building is ‘Mencoff Hall’ (68 Waterman Street, Providence). Luxuriously renovated and modernised, expanded up to four floors, and now devoted to Brown’s advanced post-doc training in Population Studies — seemingly as the subject relates to disease and public health.

In a nice nod to history, today the Rhode Island Historical Society’s online catalogue is still called ‘The Cabinet’.

I’d welcome interior pictures of this pre-war ‘Cabinet’, if anyone knows of any.

Audio recordings from PulpFest 2023

Streaming audio recordings from PulpFest 2023, now available. The list includes, among others…

* Sword and sorcery in “The Unique Magazine” [Weird Tales]

* Weird Tales on radio

* Those weird men’s adventure magazines

* Illustrating Conan for the commercial market

* Weird Editors

* Doc Savage and his offspring

No .MP3 downloads, but anyone handy with “Inspect element” and DIV-wrangling will find the link they want.

There are also dates for your 2024 diary. PulpFest 2024 will be in Pittsburgh, USA, from the 1st – 4th August 2024.

Amazon Historical Prices

A new UserScript plugs an Amazon Historical Prices graph into each Amazon listing page. Possibly of use to book dealers tracking price trends over time, or those seeking to buy a more expensive item (perhaps a few weeks ahead of the possible purchase point, as ‘the countdown to Christmas’ has reportedly started very early this year). One might even use it to spot trends (e.g. the item ‘tends to become cheaper for a short while, once every two weeks’) caused by an AI spotting page-visiting trends among other potential buyers. The script’s code looks clean to me.

de Camp’s other essays, more essays

Spraguedecampfan has a new long review of Blond Barbarians & Noble Savages (1975) by L. Sprague de Camp. Not on As de Camp wrote of the item…

This group of essays is a collection of ideas that have come to me in studying the lives and works of H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard

And news of a new book of essays, Beyond the Black Stranger and Others: New Essays on Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft (2023) being essays by Charles Hoffman. In Lovecraft…

* Flights to Hidden Lands: H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness and James Hilton’s Lost Horizon – A Study in Contrasts

* Some Notes on Poe and Lovecraft

330 pages, currently in paperback only.

Fables, read

I’m now paging toward the end of the Fables series, reading through the 22 x ‘trade’ collections (2002-2015). This is the DC series I blogged about recently because the maker has sent all his Fables IP into the public domain.

I’ve only read one DC book in the last 20 years, and without the news of the IP release I’d have been especially wary of a book featuring ‘re-imagined fairy-tale characters’. To me, ‘re-imagined’ is a dog-whistle for ‘made politically-correct’. But a sampling of Fables found it to have excellent brisk storytelling, no political tub-thumping, and the artwork becomes very pleasing after the first couple of trades because it often somewhat emulates Jack Kirby (minus the krackle). Everything is very polished on the page, and as you’d expect…

Fables does have a bit of a creaky start during the first one and a half books, as everything gets hoisted into place. It’s also very “talky” for a comic. You do wonder if being forced to remove 50 words from each and every completed Fables non-action page would have improved the reading experience. Vol. 13 (‘The Great Fables Crossover’) I found to be a no-consequences mid-series filler and it’s definitely skip-able. But otherwise, great… absorbing and imaginative comics entertainment with superb storytelling. How memorable it will be in toto I’m not yet sure. Will it be like those blockbuster TV series, which gripped at the time, yet can’t even be remembered six months later? I have yet to find out, since I still have the last three trade books to go. But I read that the series has a “very satisfying” ending.

Apart from one passing and somewhat jokey mention of “Yuggoth”, there are no Lovecraft influences that I can see. But of course, now it’s public domain, there’s no stopping a Lovecraft crossover.