I am providence the life.., p.143

I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES), page 143


I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H. P. Lovecraft (2 VOLUMES)

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  A much more significant later colleague was Donald A. Wollheim (1914–1990). A New York City resident (he lived for most of his life in Rego Park, a district in Queens), Wollheim in 1935 took over a fan magazine started by Wilson Shepherd, the International Science Fiction Guild Bulletin, and renamed it the Phantagraph, continuing it into 1946. Although a very slim publication (some issues consisted of only four pages), the Phantagraph might perhaps be—largely because of its relative regularity of issuance and its longevity—the most significant fanzine since the Fantasy Fan. Lovecraft published a number of minor items—mostly prose poems and sonnets from the Fungi—in its pages from 1935 onward, and Wollheim continued to print such items well after Lovecraft’s death. The correspondence to Wollheim has not surfaced, so it is impossible to gauge its duration (it commenced probably no earlier than 1935) or its substance. Wollheim of course went on in later years to become an important figure in the fantasy and science fiction community, chiefly as the editor of the Avon Fantasy Reader (1947–52) and of many other science fiction anthologies. He also wrote a number of science fiction novels for juveniles.

  In addition to new correspondents, colleagues old and new began descending upon Lovecraft in person throughout 1935. The first was Robert Ellis Moe (1912–1992?), the eldest son of Lovecraft’s longtime amateur associate Maurice W. Moe. Lovecraft had met Robert in 1923, when the latter was eleven; now, at twenty-three, he had secured a position at the General Electric Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and, having a car, paid Lovecraft a visit in Providence on March 2–3. Lovecraft gave him the usual tour of Providence and Newport antiquities, and they stopped at Warren, Bristol, East Greenwich, and Wickford also. Three days after Moe left, Lovecraft took a solitary twelve-mile walk to the Quinsnicket area north of Providence.[5]

  Sometime in early March Lovecraft received another visitor:

  One night last week I was reading the paper in my study when my aunt entered to announce (with a somewhat amused air) a caller by the name of Mr. Kenneth Sterling. Close on her heels the important visitor appeared . . . in the person of a little Jew boy about as high as my waist, with unchanged childish treble & swarthy cheeks innocent of the Gilette’s [sic] harsh strokes. He did have long trousers—which somehow looked grotesque upon so tender an infant.

  Sterling (1920–1995) was not quite fifteen at this time. He was a member of a fan organisation called the Science Fiction League, and his family had recently moved to Providence, where he was attending Classical High School. Knowing that a master of weird fiction lived in the city, Sterling with the boldness of youth took the liberty of introducing himself in the most direct imaginable way. But when they began actually discussing both science and science fiction, Lovecraft’s amusement turned to admiration:

  Damme if the little imp didn’t talk like a man of 30—correcting all the mistakes in the current science yarns, reeling off facts & figures a mile a minute, & displaying the taste & judgment of a veteran. He’s already sold a story to Wonder . . ., & is bubbling over with ideas. . . . Hope he won’t prove a nuisance—but I wouldn’t for the world discourage him in his endeavours. He really does seem like an astonishingly promising brat—& means to become a research biologist.[6]

  Sterling did in fact visit Lovecraft with some frequency over the next year or so, but in the fall of 1936 he went to Harvard, where he gained a B.S. in 1940; three years later he earned a medical degree at Johns Hopkins. He would spend many years on the staffs of the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons and the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in the Bronx. His interest in weird and science fiction would fade rather quickly, but one notable item would emerge from it.

  Robert Moe returned for another visit on April 27–28, at which time the Lovecraft took him again to Newport and then to New Bedford, with its abundance of whaling memories (but the whaling museum was closed). Later they explored an area of southern Massachusetts and southeastern Rhode Island that Lovecraft—because of his own lack of a vehicle—had never seen before: “Splendid unspoiled countryside with rambling stone walls & idyllic white-steepled villages of the old New England type. Of the latter the two best specimens—Adamsville & Little Compton Commons—are both in Rhode Island. Adamsville contains the world’s only known monument to a hen—perpetuating the fame of the Rhode Island Red . . .”[7] This rural area is pretty much the same today. They returned via Tiverton, Fall River (which Lovecraft rightly declares to be “a lousily ugly mill city just over the line in Mass.”), and Warren, where they had a dinner consisting entirely of ice cream.

  Lovecraft went to see Edward H. Cole in Boston on May 3–5, and in spite of the unusually cold weather managed at least to get to beloved Marblehead. Amateurdom was the subject of much discussion, as the NAPA was heating up with a variety of controversies and feuds from which Lovecraft attempted to remain aloof (although quietly supporting those individuals he felt most honourable and most likely to further the amateur cause) but into which he would in the course of time get dragged in spite of himself. But at the moment Lovecraft was a mere observer of the fray.

  On May 25 Charles D. Hornig, the erstwhile editor of the Fantasy Fan, stopped by to visit Lovecraft in Providence. He was given the usual historic tour, which he seemed to appreciate the more because it reminded him of his own hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey. Ken Sterling was on hand for most of the festivities.

  By this time, however, Lovecraft was already in the midst of planning for another grand southern tour—the last, as it happened, he would ever take. For in early May Barlow had invited him down to Florida for another stay of indefinite length. Lovecraft was naturally inclined to accept, and only money stood in the way; but by May 29 Lovecraft concluded optimistically, “Counting sestertii, & I think I can make it!”[8]

  The trip began on June 5. Reaching New York in the early afternoon, he found time so short that he did not look up anyone, not even Frank Long. Instead, he spent some time writing postcards in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, before catching the 9.40 P.M. bus to Washington. Arriving there at 6.15 A.M. on the 6th, he immediately caught another bus to Fredericksburg, managing to get six hours of exploring and postcard-writing there before catching a late bus to Charleston, which he reached on the morning of the 7th. By spending two nights on buses, Lovecraft saved two nights’ expense in hotels or YMCAs. He did spend the night of the 7th in the Charleston YMCA after a full day of sightseeing. The next day was apparently spent in Charleston also, as Lovecraft could not bear to leave the place after only a single day; but late that day he must have caught another bus to Jacksonville, where he stayed in a hotel (the Aragon, apparently) before catching another bus the next morning (the 9th) for DeLand.

  Once again we are in the position of not knowing much of Lovecraft’s activities during his unprecedentedly long stay with Barlow (June 9–August 18). Correspondence to others is our sole guide, and this time we do not even have the supplements of any memoirs—either written at the time or later—by Barlow himself. In a postcard to Donald and Howard Wandrei written in July, Lovecraft gives some idea of his activities:

  Programme much the same as last year, except that Bob’s father—a retired colonel—is home. Bob’s brother Wayne—a fine chap of 26—has been here on a furlough from Ft. Sam Houston, Texas, but has now returned to his 2nd Lieutenanting. ¶ Bob has built a cabin in an oak grove across the lake from the house, & is busy there with various printing projects—of some of which you’ll hear later on. . . . ¶ Last month we explored a marvellous tropical river near the Barlow place. It is called Black Water Creek, & is lined on both sides by a cypress jungle with festoons of Spanish moss. Twisted roots claw at the water’s edge, & palms lean precariously on every hand. Vines & creepers—sunken logs—snakes & alligators—all the colour of the Congo or Amazon.[9]

  The trip to Black Water Creek took place on June 17. The cabin is of some interest, since it appears that Lovecraft actually did some work on it. Barlow later declared that Lovecraft “helped to creoso
te [it] against termites,”[10] and by August 4 Lovecraft was noting: “The edifice is now quite complete, & not long ago I cleared a road to it through the scrub palmetto growths.”[11]

  Of the printing projects Lovecraft mentioned, we know one in particular—an edition of Long’s collected poetry written subsequent to The Man from Genoa (1926), entitled The Goblin Tower. Lovecraft helped to set type on this slim pamphlet, which Barlow managed to print and bind by late October.[12] Lovecraft took the occasion to correct Long’s faulty metre in some of the poems. Barlow was bursting with ideas for other projects, chiefly a collection of Clark Ashton Smith’s poems entitled Incantations; but, as with so many other of his ambitious endeavours, this venture hung fire for years before finally coming to nothing.

  One other idea Barlow had evolved at about this time was a volume of C. L. Moore’s best stories. Catherine Lucile Moore (1911–1987) first appeared in Weird Tales in November 1933 with the striking fantasy “Shambleau”; she wrote under a gender-concealing name because she did not wish to reveal to her employers (she worked for the Fletcher Trust Co. in Indianapolis) that she had an alternate source of income, which during these lean times might give them an excuse to fire her. She went on to publish several more stories in Weird Tales—“Black Thirst” (April 1934), “The Black God’s Kiss” (October 1934), “Black God’s Shadow” (December 1934)—that evocatively combined exotic romance, even sexuality, with otherworldly fantasy. Lovecraft was not long in recognising their merit:

  These tales have a peculiar quality of cosmic weirdness, hard to define but easy to recognise, which marks them out as really unique. “Black God’s Shadow” isn’t up to the standard—but you can get the full effect of the distinctive quality in “Shambleau” and “Black Thirst”. In these tales there is an indefinable atmosphere of vague outsideness & cosmic dread which marks weird work of the best sort.[13]

  Barlow had contemplated a book of Moore’s work in the spring of 1935, but wished her to revise some of her work for the volume; he entrusted Lovecraft with the delicate task of making this request to her. Lovecraft felt very awkward doing so, but he must have sufficiently praised Moore’s work in his first letter to her (probably around April) that she took no offence. A substantive correspondence ensued, Lovecraft continually beseeching her not to kowtow to pulp standards and to preserve her aesthetic independence, even if it meant economic losses in the short term. Unusually for him, he kept all her responses; unfortunately, Lovecraft’s letters to her now exist, for unknown reasons, only in fragments. Had he lived longer, he would have taken heart in her subsequent career, for she became one of the most distinctive and respected voices in the next generation of science fiction and fantasy writers.

  Barlow’s negotiations with Moore about the volume do not seem to have progressed very far, and it must have been dropped when Barlow, with his incandescent temperament, found other projects more compelling. But he had at least put Moore and Lovecraft in touch, and both were very likely grateful for it.

  Aside from printing, some actual writing was accomplished by the pair. Once again they engaged in a whimsy, although unlike “The Battle That Ended the Century” this one was not distributed until after Lovecraft’s death. “Collapsing Cosmoses” is a story fragment of scarcely 500 words, but has some moments of piquant humour nonetheless. The idea was for each author to write every other paragraph or so, although on occasion Lovecraft only wrote a few words before yielding the pen back to his younger colleague, so that considerably more than half the piece is Barlow’s, as are a fair number of the better jokes.

  As a satire on the space-opera brand of science fiction popularised by Edmond Hamilton, E. E. “Doc” Smith, and others, “Collapsing Cosmoses” is undeniably effective; the fact that it is unfinished makes little difference, for the absurdity of the plot would have precluded any neat resolution in any event. The opening (by Lovecraft) tells the whole story:

  Dam Bor glued each of his six eyes to the lenses of the cosmoscope. His nasal tentacles were orange with fear, and his antennae buzzed hoarsely as he dictated his report to the operator behind. “It has come!” he cried. “That blur in the ether can be nothing less than a fleet from outside the space-time continuum we know. Nothing like this has ever appeared before. It must be an enemy. Give the alarm to the Inter-Cosmic Chamber of Commerce. There’s no time to lose—at this rate they’ll be upon us in less than six centuries. Hak Ni must have a chance to get the fleet in action at once.”

  Later, when Hak Ni leads his fleet into space, he hears a sound, “which was something like that of a rusty sewing-machine, only more horrible” (this is by Barlow). Certainly, it would have been an entertainment of this piece had gone on a little longer, but the authors had made their point, and Barlow probably lost patience and dragged Lovecraft to some other activity. He printed the item in the second issue of Leaves (1938).

  But perhaps the most important function that Barlow performed was neither printing nor writing, but typing. By mid-July Derleth had still given no report on the autograph manuscript of “The Shadow out of Time”; and, although Robert Bloch had expressed interest in seeing it, Barlow was still more enthusiastic about it, so Lovecraft asked Derleth to send it down to Florida. By early August Lovecraft was expressing a certain irritation that neither Derleth nor Barlow had apparently made much of an effort to read the thing: “The bad handwriting is perhaps partly responsible for their inattention; but in addition to that the story must lack interest, else they would be carried along in spite of the difficult text.”[14] Now this is all pretty unreasonable, and a clear indication of the near-complete despair into which he had fallen in regard to his own work; but very shortly he was forced, delightedly, to eat his words. For in fact Barlow was surreptitiously preparing a typescript of the story.

  Lovecraft was completely bowled over by Barlow’s diligence and generosity in this undertaking, and he seems not to have suspected anything when Barlow asked him to copy over one page (page 58 of the autograph), probably because it was unusually hard to read. This one-page text—with the note at the bottom, “Copied Aug. 15, 1935”—was all that survived of any manuscript of the story until the recent discovery of the original autograph draft. Although Lovecraft generously wrote that Barlow’s transcript was “accurately typed,”[15] he later admitted, “I fear Barlow’s text had many errors, some of which greatly misrepresent my style—since I recall doing quite a bit of correction on my copy.”[16] Barlow also failed to prepare even a single carbon (Lovecraft usually prepared two). Nevertheless, Lovecraft sent the typescript on the usual round of readers.

  Lovecraft clearly had a wonderful time in Florida, if for no other reason than the climate. It was not that central Florida was hot, in an absolute sense—the hottest it got was 88?, while correspondents from the Northwest and Northeast reported still higher temperatures—but that the absence of low temperatures (it was never below 80? during his entire visit) prevented Lovecraft from experiencing that debilitating enervation he felt during northern winters. In early August he noted with amazement, “At present I’m feeling so well that I scarcely know myself!”[17]

  The Barlows were again insistent that Lovecraft stay on as long as he liked. They even wanted him to stay all winter, and even move down permanently (perhaps being housed in the cabin that Robert had built), but both these plans were clearly impracticable. Lovecraft appreciated the gesture, but would have felt helpless without his books and papers for any extended period of time.

  Lovecraft finally moved along on August 18. The Barlows took him as far as Daytona Beach, where they were spending a fortnight; from there he caught a bus to St Augustine. The antiquity of the place was a balm to him after nearly three months of rustic modernity. On the 20th (Lovecraft’s forty-fifth birthday) Barlow came up unexpectedly, and Lovecraft showed him the sights—including a newly discovered Indian burying ground north of the town, where the skeletons were preserved as they were buried.[18] By the 26th Lovecraft was in Charleston; on the 30th he was
in Richmond for a day; the 31st saw him in Washington, the 1st of September in Philadelphia, and the 2nd in New York, where he holed up with the Wandrei brothers, who had obtained a flat above New York’s oldest bar, Julius’s, at 155 West 10th Street. He finally reached home on September 14.

  One thing Lovecraft did in Charleston and Richmond was finish what he called a “composite story”—a round-robin weird tale entitled “The Challenge from Beyond.” This was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz, who wanted two round-robin stories of the same title, one weird and one science fiction, for the third anniversary issue of Fantasy Magazine (September 1935). He initially signed up C. L. Moore, Frank Belknap Long, A. Merritt, Lovecraft, and a fifth undecided writer for the weird version, and Stanley G. Weinbaum, Donald Wandrei, E. E. “Doc” Smith, Harl Vincent, and Murray Leinster for the science fiction version. It was something of a feat to have harnessed all these writers—especially the resolutely professional A. Merritt—for such a venture, in which each author would write a section building upon what his or her predecessor had done; but the weird version did not go quite according to plan.

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