Who was Ofelia Dracs?

An Abe curiosity popped up. A Lovecraftian collection from 1981. All seemingly by a Spanish writer called Ofelia Dracs.

A homage to one of the most prominent figures in the genre, H.P. Lovecraft … a collection of tales with a Lovecraftian stamp, full of disturbing, mysterious moments and terrifying atmospheres.

Published in Catalan by Edicions 62, at 140 pages. I guess the cover relates to the contents, but perhaps it was also meant to play into the high status of Asimov’s Robots books at that time?

A Spanish blog post from 2013 reveals that ‘Ofelia Dracs’ is now known to have been a pseudonym for a Catalan group of writers, who wrote all the book’s tales in 1981. So it’s effectively a group anthology. It was later issued in Spanish in 1984, and both it and the group seem to be well regarded. The story titles translate as…

E.E. and Mr. Baron.
The Terrifying Testament.
Blood of Blood.
The Revealed Letter.
Cats With Pretty Eyes.
R.I.P. Freewave.
Under the Green Island.
The Invasion.
The Neverending Tale.

So it’s not the ‘Spanish female writer, perhaps writing Dreamlands tales’ that I had at first imagined. The group seems to have gone on to publish several collections of 1980s erotica, if the Amazon listings are anything to go by. Lovecraft, Lovecraft never seems to have been translated into English.

Tanabe’s Innsmouth No Kage to be published by Dark Horse

U.S. graphic-novel publisher Dark Horse has signed on to issue Gou Tanabe’s manga comic version of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. It will be a single-volume English edition. The manga appeared in Japanese as Innsmouth No Kage from 2020 onward as a serial in Tanabe’s Comic Beam magazine. Dark Horse appears to have set no release date for the English edition, but I’d guess a month or so before Halloween 2022 would be likely.

The Innsmouth bus departure and driver.

Tanabe is one of the leading manga creatives, and highly regarded. So this will be a quality book. It’s probably likely to remain in black and white.

Theosophy across Boundaries

Were there actual Theosophists publishing stories in Weird Tales in Lovecraft’s day? Rather than just the occasional Theosophical Press advert and some writers who used a sprinkling of Theosophist notions to ginger up their tales? Tellers of Weird Tales investigates this week.

There’s also a new book on their wider influence, Theosophy across Boundaries: Transcultural and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on a Modern Esoteric Movement, from the State University of New York Press (SUNY)…

This book successfully demonstrates that the Theosophical Society and its derivatives crossed all sorts of intellectual and cultural boundaries, and it makes a strong case that these phenomena — long ignored because of their heterodox nature — must be given the attention they deserve.

New book: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories

Leslie S. Klinger has a new collected edition of Lovecraft tales, The Call of Cthulhu: And Other Stories. It’s billed as an “annotated primer” for Lovecraft, and is a cut-down version of his two-volume oversized Annotated H.P. Lovecraft. “Cut-down” here still means over 400 pages. The selection and ordering is sound, as an introduction for those new to Lovecraft.

Beware of what you’re getting from Amazon, though. As their buttons will happily switch you through to a shovelware Kindle book with the same title but not by Klinger. It appears the new May 2022 Klinger book is only available in paperback.

Thankfully the cover is classy and doesn’t have Cthulhu focused on menacing puny humans, as if he’s just a big dumb Godzilla-like monster. I also like how the ‘mountain’ aspect is conveyed.

Notes on Selected Letters II – part one

Over the summer I’m re-reading H.P. Lovecraft’s five volumes of Selected Letters and this time I’m making notes. Here is part one of my notes on Selected Letters Vol. II.

* Lovecraft mentions Chase’s Drug Store located at the central “bridge” area of Pawtuxet, stating that this store offered all the best available postcards of local scenes (page 58). The Providence Public Library has a picture of Chase’s frontage, with a chap appearing to carry away a packet of drugs that could equally be a set of postcards. I’ve here rectified and faintly colourised it (this kind of picture doesn’t take colour very well). The picture was made by Mr. Chase, so it is his store.

* Lovecraft states that he had his cuttings on Rhode Island and antiquarian matters well-sorted and assembled into scrapbooks by October 1926. These having been in mounded up in piles on his desk, when living in one room at Red Hook (page 77). His scrapbooks, antiquarian or otherwise, do not appear to have survived.

* In April 1926 he was back in Providence and exploring his own city. Though obviously inspired by Eddy’s recent introduction to the reality of an ‘unexplored Providence’, he appears to be alone in the following exploration. He was also presumably using the secrets he had learned about the layout of colonial Providence during the fateful visit to the Shepley Library. He thus begins to visit on foot parts of Providence he had not previously visited…

I discovered one of the most hellish slums ever imagined by mankind. it was a place whose existence I had not before realised — the end of Chalkstone Ave. near Randall Sq. and the railway — and its dark hilly courts approach the very ultimates of blasphemous horror.” (page 43)

It appears to be a dangerous area even today, just to warn any local Lovecraftians who might be thinking of photographing there. The 2022 news reports two shootings in Chalkstone Ave.

* In May 1926, Lovecraft was still exploring previously unexplored “seedy” by-ways, but this time perhaps less squalid ones. As he was in the company of his aunt…

Mrs. Gamwell and I took a walk thro’ a section of the town in which I had never set foot before — an antient and now seedy district east of the river and just south of the good residential area. Colonial houses abounded, and I was astonisht at some of the gorgeously antique effects obtainable here and there. […] It is call’d Dove Street, and has neither pavement nor sidewalk, but consists of irregular rows of simple Colonial cottages with rough stone doorsteps, and here and there a flagstone or two.” (page 54)

Dove Street is one of the parallel side streets that run alongside the main Hope Street at Fox Point, and head down toward the waterfront rail-yards at India Point. Dove Street still exists, though the map hints it may have been truncated in modern times. Today the Rhode Island Historical Society’s Mary Elizabeth Robinson Research Center is located about 160 yards to the north, which means that researchers might also fit a visit to nearby Dove Street in when visiting. The top part of Dove Street appears, from Street View, to be on its way to being gentrified.

* In February 1927 he writes of the Providence waterfront and names four “dark alleys” there…

the vivid, glamorous waterfront with its rotting wharves & colonial warehouses & archaic lines of gambrel roofs & dark alleys with romantic names (Doubloon, Sovereign, Guilder, Bullion, etc) & wondrous ship-chandleries & mysterious marine boarding houses in ancient, lamplit, cobblestoned courts”.

Today “Doubloon Street” etc. One of which might have partly inspired “The Call of Cthulhu” setting…

one of the queer dark courts on the precipitous hillside [of Providence] which formed a short cut from the [dock used by the Newport boat on the] waterfront to the deceased’s home in Williams Street.

* In October 1926 he travelled, seemingly by motor-coach, from Providence and…

the Eddy Street coach terminal over the antient Plainfield Pike […] and later on the region devastated to create the new Scituate reservoir” (page 81)

In March 1927, five months later, he wrote “The Colour Out of Space” with its soon-to-be reservoir setting.

* He cleaned his old telescope in October 1926…

I cleaned the brass of my telescope yesterday for the first time in twenty years. Gehenna, what a green mess! And I couldn’t get it very brilliant even in the end. That’s what neglect does!

So this tells us two things. That he still had his old telescope, but that he had not used it for a long time.

“Gehenna” is a word used in the King James Bible in the final parts of Isiah, and refers to a beautiful garden place, a garden-grove for refined dancing and singing that was near to Jerusalem. An insidious and intractable Moloch worship [i.e. ritual sacrifice of young children by burning alive] came to replace the dancing and song. Lovecraft thus alludes to the later form of the valley when, after being utterly despoiled by the Moloch worship and sacrifice, the later and more respectable kings of the city sought to blot out the memory of the despoliation with further despoliation of their own — they buried Gehenna under a giant tip used for the fire-ashes and waste and unwanted dead bodies of Jerusalem. Thus “Gehenna” became a byword for ashes and filth.

In April 1927 (page 126) Lovecraft gives the vaguest hint that he may have made some winter or early spring 1927 observations through the newly-cleaned telescope…

As in your case, the skies exert the utmost fascination upon me; nor is the weaving of wild dreams about their unplumbed deeps & suns & worlds in the least hampered by the precise astronomical data which my scientific side demands.

* By June 1927 (page 140) Lovecraft had noticed how at least one critic had made the connection of the more fanatical aspects of the Puritan era with “the horror-element in American literature”…

It is easy to see how the critic Paul Elmer More traces the horror-element in American literature to the remote New England countryside with its solitude-warped religious fanaticism.

* Eddy Jr. pops up again in July 1927 (page 156) when he is “hunted up” to join a gathering of visitors at Barnes Street of Morton, the Longs and others. The implication of the wording is that Lovecraft has not seen Eddy Jr. for a while, had not invited him to the gathering, and was not quite sure how to get in touch with him when someone (likely Morton) suggested Eddy Jr. should join them at Barnes Street.

* His birthplace and childhood home at 454 had an “ebony and gold” decorative scheme for the “front hall”, and then a rich “old gold and rose” for the “front parlour”, in which he used to read The Arabian Nights.

* A letter offers us some implied details of Long’s proposed “novelette”, which would have made characters out of Lovecraft and others in the New York City ‘gang’. He chides Long (page 172)…

As for your new novelette — look here, young man, you’d better be mighty careful how you treat your aged and dignified Grandpa as here! You mustn’t make me do anything cheerful or wholesome, and remember that only the direst of damnations can befit so inveterate a daemon of the cosmick abysses. And, young man, don’t forget that I am prodigiously lean. I am lean — LEAN, I tell you! Lean! And if you’re afraid that my leanness will make the horror get you instead, why just reduce [diet] like your Grandpa and escape as well! And be sure to depict me in my new Puritan frock coat. I think I shall adopt an umbrella also.

Evidently the proposed novel had by September 1927 become a “novelette” and was in the planning stage. Lovecraft by then expected it to be in the weird monster-horror vein and likely to feature mysterious demise or else “damnation” for the gang. Presumably it was to be set in the mid 1920s in New York City. That’s about all that can be gleaned here. His use of “LEAN” refers to Long’s humorously ribbing of Lovecraft about the early part of his New York sojourn, during which the master had grown distinctly plump under the influence of Sonia’s cooking and also her largesse in paying cake-shop and restaurant-bills.

* In late September 1927 Lovecraft lists his recent notable reading likely to be of interest to Ashton Smith (page 174)…

Goat Song by Werfel. (a printed play)

Atlantideer by Beniot.

New Lands by Charles Fort (only “skimmed”)

The World’s Desire by Rider Haggard and Long (a mis-transcription for Lang) (planning to read)

The latter was not a new book, and had first appeared in 1889. Lang was the famous late Victorian scholar and folklorist, compiler of numerous useful popular anthologies of fairy and Northern epic stories, and translator of ancient classical texts. Haggard was the florid and fantastical adventure writer, famous for She. Their novel apparently… “continues the story of Odysseus, who returns to Ithaca to find his home destroyed”. He then leaves for a new quest, seeking his former love Helen of Troy. Lovecraft likely did read the still-rather-readable novel, since it spurred entry #141 in his Commonplace Book. Incidentally, the novel’s Wikipedia page has obviously had a severe and politically rebarbative mauling by leftists.

New Lands was a 1923 book by the modern confabulator Charles Fort, in which he focused on apparent “astronomical anomalies” that fall or float down from the sky. Fort used the book to loosely… “pull together examples of falls of stones, gelatinous substances, anomalous earthquakes, fireballs … bright stars, luminescent gas, mirages, ball lightning”, in pursuit of his barmy notion of ‘sky islands’ — actual land floating all unseen in our upper atmosphere. This theme of sky-falls has obvious relevance to Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space”, written March 1927. Since I assume that Fort’s book was “skimmed” before and not after the writing of the famous story. I’ve not seen any other suggestions that New Lands inspired “Colour”, or rebuttals of the notion. Thus this may be my new discovery — if the dates align.

“Atlantideer” is a mis-transcription for Atlantida. This 1919 novel appeared in English in 1920 and was serialised in Adventure. It appears to be a romantic Sahara desert ‘lost race’ adventure with strong similarity to Haggard’s famous She. Indeed so strong that there was a legal case over it.

Goat Song appears to be a romantic coming-of-age tragedy-adventure involving a Spartan boy-warrior and his beloved.

It’s interesting that The World’s Desire, Atlantida and Goat Song could all be construed as having strong female themes which would have allowed Lovecraft to ‘think through’ his relations with the departed Sonia.

* With the visiting Talman’s help he discovered apparent Welsh elements in his family ancestry. Although striking an amused pose, he appears rather peeved and not a little un-nerved by this (page 180). Several slightly later letters see him diving headlong into Ancient Roman history and imagining (and indeed dreaming) himself as a Roman. I intuited that this may have been in reaction to the Celtic discoveries, or as he phrased it “this shocking revelation of hybridism”. This discovery has obvious implications for the development of the later “Innsmouth” and its idea of tainted heredity. The Welsh discovery was not the only shock from his family tree. Later, as Ken Faig Jr. has recently discovered, Lovecraft found an American side of the family line who had been rather lowly fish dealers. Thus offering us another possible inspiration for “Innsmouth”.

Actually the Welsh link in his core line of descent, as I’ve pointed out, may not have been really Welsh by lineage and blood. It may have simply been by residence. Although admittedly his letters do report him discovering one seemingly true-blooded Welsh lady had married into the family. Sadly his Northumbrian / Welsh(?) family line never seem to have been followed by a modern genealogist, and indeed I’m not sure if the relevant data now exists.

* He notes with some pleasure the first appearance of his fiction in hardback, when “The Horror at Red Hook” was re-printed as the concluding story in “Not at Night”. This was actually titled You’ll Need a Night Light, the third of what had only just become the ‘Not at Night’ series. These books contained Weird Tales reprints, selected for the British market by the magazine’s London agent Charles Lovell and then passed to Selwyn & Blount’s anthologist Christine Campbell Thomson for final choice and arrangement.

Despite this being a “third edition” cover the publisher apparently went bust shortly after publication, and the book’s UK rights were promptly purchased by Hutchinson. Which led to a legal tangle with Weird Tales, as a later Lovecraft letter recounts.

* And finally, a line written while joshing with Long (page 202) sounds like an entry in the Commonplace Book, but wasn’t…

… certain queerly-dimensioned cities of windowless onxy towers on a planet circling around Antares

Spanish edition of ‘I Am Providence’

S.T. Joshi’s blog has updated. Of interest is that he has copies of both Lovecraftian People and Places and Lovecraftian Proceedings #4, so they are shipping in paper. He also notes that…

the Spanish edition of I Am Providence is out

It appears that this edition manages to pack the two volumes into a mammoth 830-page table-trembler.

And all for 32 euros, which equates to $33.

The continent appear to do book pricing differently. For instance a few days ago I had a new Polish book arrive, Mitologia Polnocy a Chrzescijanstwo which I had to have for my Tolkien book since it has a chapter on Earendel (not so hot as was touted in a review, as it happens). The book managed to reach the UK, new, for just over £10 ($12.50), including shipping. The low cost was why it was my first new in-paper book for quite a while. It was found to be very handsomely designed and somewhat thick, obviously not print-on-demand. How publisher Avalon can make a zolty of profit on such a price I can’t imagine. I surmised there was perhaps some state-subsidy for worthy books related to national heritage, but the book had no subsidy credits or state logos. Such a nicely-made and rarefied scholarly book in the UK would automatically be around £26 ($33), and I know from my interest in open access that academic humanities publishers whine like hell about (apparently) barely scraping a profit even on £60 monographs featuring unpaid authors. And yet now comes the whole of I Am Providence in Spanish for just $33.

What is the secret? Has some impoverished former Soviet nation in Whereizitagain decided to corner the market in offering cheap book design and printing? Have such presses just found a couple of generous Bitcoin billionaires? Or did the supposed ‘paper shortage’ perversely lead to such an over-supply that the book-paper and printing market is now flooded and thus dirt cheap? Answers written on a night-gaunt’s wing, please, addressed to ‘Tentaclii Towers’.

“Quest of Iranon” is set for the stage in June 2022

An interesting new stage adaptation, “A Dream at the End of Time” by Thomas Blakeley. It’s Lovecraft’s “The Quest of Iranon”, adapted. A cast of five is currently rehearsing for a June 2022 run at the McCadden Theater in Los Angeles.

In fact, I tracked down the casting call — still online — and this reveals it to be opera. I don’t quite recall there being a “gritty” alto singer called “Queen Oona” in the tale, although the lush city of Oonai does feature prominently and the other cast profiles do seem to fit.

Hopefully there might be a DVD recording of the show after the run is over, with subtitles (since opera just sounds like screeching and wailing after a few minutes, to my philistine ears).

‘Picture Postals’ from Lovecraft: Durfee Hill and the Dark Swamp

Following on from yesterday’s “Black Noon” post, this week’s ‘Picture Postals’ looks at Durfee Hill and the adjacent Dark Swamp. Lovecraft attempted to reach these places on expeditions with Morton or Eddy respectively.

Here is the best I can do with approximating the Dark Swamp location, via juggling an overlay of a modern road map and two approximately adjoining old USGS maps…

Dark Swamp was and still is just over a mile west of Durfee Hill and also just a touch south. Some old sources say it was in Exeter, others in Glocester [aka Gloucester]. No roads lead into it, it seems, even today. But it’s now specifically encompassed as part of the Durfee Hill Wildlife Management area. It appears from the map that, in 1923, the Swamp would have needed to be approached by a completely different road than the one running down to and over Durfee Hill. Even then, one might not find trails down to it, unless one was a hunter who knew the safe ways in and out.

A 1990s Rhode Island guide offers a rather useful tip for Lovecraftians looking to visit the wider Durfee wildlife reserve area in the autumn…

This is a hunting area so you [as a tourist] should not plan to visit in the fall.

Lovecraft and Eddy would have visited, had they reached the place, in October. Not only would the heavy rains of that year have made the place treacherous with bog-sumps and the like, but it seems that roving hunters could have presented a peril had the pair entered the dense darkness.

As for the adjacent Durfee Hill it was then considered the highest natural point in the state, commonly stated as being 805 feet in height at the summit. Lovecraft anticipated climbing it with Morton on a visit planned for late summer 1926…

Mortonius, of course, must have his Durfee Hill — for which stiffish jaunt I purpose to keep faithfully in training.

Possibly Morton was a ‘peak bagger’ (i.e. one who seeks to climb all the peaks in a district or state), but I have found new evidence that he may have wanted to visit in his role as a professional geologist…

The peak was rich in minerals, and had even once had a gold mine along a quartz-vein through the woods. Presumably the mine, later flooded, and its tailings yielded the source of the mineral samples being cited here.

However, despite Lovecraft and Morton being prepared, they never actually reached Durfee in September 1926. Morton, though a very experienced hiker, took a wrong turn and they unexpectedly ended up in Pascoag. One will recall that Pascoag is where Lovecraft had his “The Horror at Red Hook” open, a tale written at speed in 1925 in New York City.

NOT MANY WEEKS ago, on a street corner in the village of Pascoag, Rhode Island…

Lovecraft had been in Pascoag in September 1923 and, as I’ve shown elsewhere, he accurately described the fateful corner in “Red Hook”…

encountering the compact section, [Malone] had turned to his left into the main thoroughfare where several modest business blocks convey a touch of the urban.

But in September 1926 Lovecraft had a chance to more fully appreciate the place. Durfee’s loss was Pascoag’s gain, and he rhapsodised over “the early, half-forgotten, beautiful simple America” it presented, the America that Poe had known.

Their going astray may suggest to Lovecraftians that there was no opportunity to study large-scale USGS maps. Not even the well-provided Providence Public Library could, it would appear, furnish the expedition with the USGS sheets for a place so far out from Providence.

Interestingly the Durfee peak also has a part in Lovecraft’s famous “I am Providence” claim…

I am Providence, and Providence is myself — together, indissolubly as one, we stand thro’ the ages; a fixt monument set aeternally in the shadow of Durfee’s ice-clad peak!

Now… there’s an idea for the location of the homeless life-sized bronze statue of H.P. Lovecraft.

Given the ferocity of the New England winters his use of “ice-clad” was presumably no amusing hyperbole, but rather a matter of icy fact. Though curiously there never appears to have been a weather-station sited there. Nor any fire-tower that I can find, re: New England’s extensive post-1940s re-forestation.

The Cthulhu Prayer Society Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 7 (November 2011) has a relatively recent account of Lovecraftians trying to reach the actual swamp, but the expedition had to concede defeat even with motor-transport, maps and compass. Their article is titled “The 1923 Quest for The Dark Swamp, Revisited: By Car and Foot in Chepachet & Glocester”. This article implies that Lovecraft hymned the view from Durfee thus…

Far as the Eye can see, behold outspread
The serried Hills that own no Traveler’s Tread;
Dome behind Dome, and on each flaming Side
The hanging Forests in their virgin Pride.

The poem is not so titled in The Ancient Track and thus may not have been about Durfee, though the lines might seem to imply it. I am however still a little uncertain if Lovecraft ever actually managed to climb this peak. He didn’t manage it in 1926 with Morton, nor it seems on the Dark Swamp expedition. Nor did he ever return with Morton / Eddy for a second try at either Durfee or the Dark Swamp, despite their having located some of the correct paths and turnings. I can find no other evidence that he ever got up to the summit. Many others also failed to do so, judging by the lack of vintage photographs, postcards or even accounts of reaching the summit. One would have thought that some enterprising young buck in the 1910s could have made an artfully-angled postcard of the state’s ‘highest point’, and sold a bundle. But no. Everyone knows it is there but, like the Dark Swamp, no-one ever seems to reach it.

In one letter, arguing with Morton about the new “Einstein theory”, Lovecraft even imagines Durfee…

… removed from the present planet and differently environed in the continuum of space-time.

“Black Noon”

“Letter to Weird Tales”, March 1924 (PDF). Lovecraft tells editor Baird of his new-found Providence pal Eddy, and their coming hike out in search of the mysterious Dark Swamp. Eddy had lingered in a corner-store in Chepachet and by chance overheard local lore about a vast ‘Dark Swamp’ west of Durfee Hill, which hunters said was always dark even at noon. And so…

Eddy began writing a story about it — provisionally entitled “Black Noon” — on the trolley ride home. Now we are both to see it … we are both to go into that swamp … and perhaps to come out of it. Probably the thing’ll turn out to be a clump of ill-nourished bushes, a few rain-puddles, and a couple of sparrows — but until our disillusion we are at liberty to think of the place as the immemorial lair of nightmare and unknown evil ruled by that subterraneous horror that sometimes cranes its neck out of the deepest potholes… It.

“Black Noon” was later partly written — although if from the original 1923 trolley-car draft/notes is unknown — by Eddy in 1967. He had earlier recalled something of the real Dark Swamp journey in his 1966 memoir (see Lovecraft Remembered). Eddy died before the “Black Noon” tale could be finished. It was however substantial enough to be published in…

* The Eddy collection Exit Into Eternity: Tales of the Bizarre and Supernatural, 1973, and 2000 reprint.

* The Robert M. Price edited miscellaneous anthology Acolytes of Cthulhu, 2001. Rights meant it had to be omitted from the later 2014 Titan reprint edition.

So far as I can discover, these are the only places it has been published. Derleth is said to have considered ‘finishing’ it as a tale, but didn’t.