Monday, November 13, 2017

JRRT & the Cthulhu Mythos, New Nodens Books, and Points on the US editions of Charles Williams's Novels

A few unrelated mini-posts.

Tolkien and the Cthulhu Mythos

It is not possible to consider Tolkien as an influence on H.P. Lovecraft himself, for Lovecraft died in 1937, months before The Hobbit was even published.  Yet the Mythos that Lovecraft created, and which has posthumously achieved the misnomer of The Cthulhu Mythos, has been continued by many other writers up to the present day.  These writers include August Derleth (1909-1971), who is famous as the person behind the publisher Arkham House, founded in 1939. 

Derleth published a collection of six of his own Cthulhu Mythos stories as The Mask of Cthulhu, under his Arkham House imprint in June 1958.  It includes a story "The Seal of R'lyeh", reprinted from the July 1957 issue of Fantastic Universe Science Fiction, where it appeared as "Seal of the Damned."

Basically, the story is about a man named Phillips who inherits his uncle's house in Innsmouth. (There are many more references to Howard Phillips Lovecraft and his invented mythos.) In going through his uncle's effects, including his uncle's occult researches, Phillips finds a ring with some unusual qualities.  Here are some quotes:
"I examined it closely. There was nothing extraordinary about it, save its sizeto look upon; the wearing of it, however, carried with it unimaginable results. For I had no sooner put it on my finger than it was as if new dimensions opened up to me—or as if the old horizons were pushed back limitlessly. All my senses were made more acute."  (pp. 168-169)

"With the assumption of the ring, I became cognizant of the pressure of unseen forces, potent beyond the telling, as were this house the focal point of influences beyond my comprehension; I stood, in short, as were I a magnet to draw elemental forces from all about me, and these rushed in upon me with such impress that I felt like an island in the midst of the sea, with a raging hurricane centered upon it." (p. 169)

"I had put on my uncle's ring one day, and, drawn to the sea, was bent on climbing down to the water's edge, when I found myself, while in the act of crossing the great central room of the house, virtually unable to leave it, so strong was its pull upon the ring, I ceased to try, presently, recognizing that a psychic force was manifest, and simply stood, waiting for guidance." (p. 170)
It is interesting that no other author that I know of used a ring in this manner before Tolkien, the use of which is manifest in The Fellowship of the Ring, published in 1954.  Could Derleth have read Tolkien's book?  We know that certainly he did, for he reviewed it in his regular column, "Minority Report," in the 18 November 1954 issue of the Madison, Wisconsin, newspaper The Capital Times.  Here's the meat of the review:
"It is completely captivating on a grand scale . . . It is set down in memorable prose . . . A vividly imaginative work, it is surely a classic in its field; one will look forward with keen interest to the succeeding volumes. I have no doubt at all that Tolkien's three-volume work will come to be regarded as one of the great books of its kind."  (p. 18)
Derleth also reviewed The Two Towers in The Capital Times, 30 June 1955:
"It is the story of  Frodo the Hobbit, of his possession of a ring which rules all the Rings of Power. . . . Mr. Tolkien's book is almost unique. It is related to such sagas as E.R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, it has kinship to the Arthurian legends, to the Icelandic Sagas, but it stands quite alone. It is a great book in the realm of fantasy. . . . I commend the book to all discriminating readers, old and young; begin it with The Fellowship of the Ring, and go on with The Two Towers. And wait on The Return of the King, soon to come." (p. 20)
No one has yet found a review by Derleth of The Return of the King, but Derleth was one of the dozen or so writers and critics who awarded The Lord of the Rings the International Fantasy Award for 1957,  presented at the London World Science Fiction Convention in September of that year.  Derleth is known to have written a short review of The Tolkien Reader for Books of the Times in 1966, so his interest in Tolkien is shown to have continued.

I do also note that in the "Introduction" to The Mask of Cthulhu, Derleth claims that "The Seal of R'lyeh" was "conceived and written in Los Angeles in the summer of 1953," i.e., in the year before The Fellowship of the Ring was published; and I also note that the manuscript of the story was returned to Derleth by Weird Tales magazine in November 1954, just after the magazine had folded. However, it seems likely that Derleth would have revised it before submitting it to Fantastic Universe Science Fiction, who published it in July 1957.  I have not seen the magazine text, and cannot compare it to that published the following year in The Mask of Cthulhu. [Update: the texts appear to be identical.] But it is not unlikely that Derleth would have revised his story after reading The Fellowship of the Ring, seeing the added aspects he could give to his ring in his story, publishing it three years later. Thus the very Tolkienian echoes of the One Ring found their way into Derleth's Cthulhu Mythos story.

Thanks go to Richard C. West and to John Haefele for help on this topic. 

New Nodens Books 

I've published three books in my Nodens Books imprint since my last blog post here, so let me give some account of them.

Lady Stanhope's Manuscript and Other Stories, by Dale Nelson, is a collection of eleven ghostly tales (think M.R.James and Robert Aickman, not H.P. Lovecraft or Stephen King), written over the last thirty years.  Ordering details click here.

The Laughing Elf, by Ronald MacDonald, is a fairy tale in the style of the author's father, George MacDonald. More details here.

The Man Who Lived Backwards and Other Stories, by Charles F. Hall, collects all three known stories by Charles F. Hall.  The title story of this volume influenced The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.  More details here.

More book will be announced soon.

Charles Williams's Novels and Their Early American Editions

The above title refers to an article I recently published at, for which click here. It is basically a bibliographical study of the publication of Charles Williams's novels in the US by Pellegrini & Cudahy and Wm. B. Eerdmans, with illustrations.  It is not very well-known that there are points on several of the books, including their dust-wrappers.  I have been sorting out these editions for years, and here present my conclusions. I published it on primarily because I couldn't think of an academic venue that would allow the space for all of the dust-wrapper scans, and they are central to my discussion (as well as being interesting to look at!).  

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