Birthday Reviews: Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Terrible Parchment”

Birthday Reviews: Manly Wade Wellman’s “The Terrible Parchment”

Cover by Margaret Brundage
Cover by Margaret Brundage

Manly Wade Wellman was born on May 21, 1903 and died on April 5, 1986.

In 1956, his story “Dead and Gone” received an Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime Story. Wellman’s collection Worse Things Waiting received a World Fantasy Award for Best Collection in 1975, and in 1976 he received a Phoenix Award at DeepSouthCon. He received a World Fantasy Award Life Achievement Award in 1980 and in 1983 was a Guest of Honor at the World Fantasy Convention in Chicago. At ConStellation, the 1983 Worldcon, Wellman was inducted into the First Fandom Hall of Fame. He received a Special Award from the British Fantasy Society in 1985.

“The Terrible Parchment” first appeared in the August 1937 issue of Weird Tales, edited by Farnsworth Wright. The story was dedicated to the memory of H.P. Lovecraft, who had died five months earlier. In 1972, Meade and Penny Frierson reprinted it in the first issue of their fanzine, HPL. Wellman then included the story in his 1973 collection Worse Things Waiting. In 1996, Robert M. Price selected it for the Chaosium Cthulhu Cycle anthology The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab. It was also included in the Wildside Press e-book The Second Cthulhu Mythos Megapack in 2016.

While preternatural horror is often the goal of fiction set in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, humor also has a tendency to sneak in. Wellman’s meta-fictional “The Terrible Parchment” is definitely an early example of humorous Cthuliana, positing a copy of Weird Tales delivered to its subscriber and containing a page from The Necronomicon.

Although the idea of the characters being terrorized by the volume Lovecraft and so many of his followers have described works on a conceptual level, Wellmen’s depiction of the attack undermines the horror and turns the story into a more humorous work. As readers of Weird Tales, the characters are aware of The Necronomicon and its role in Lovecraft’s mythos, and Gwen even suggests that the book has achieved reality based on its legendary nature and fame, already occurring in 1937. The page’s method of attack, moving along the floor like an inchworm and seeping up the narrator’s leg, however, leaves much to be desired as a preternatural horror, as does his means of defense, stabbing at it with his wife’s umbrella.

The story is slight, most notable for showing the communal aspect of the Cthulhu mythos at the time of Lovecraft’s death and the idea that his writing was already entering into popular culture, whatever the reality of 1937 actually was.

Reprint reviewed in the anthology The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab, edited by Robert M. Price, Chaosium 1996.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Business at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

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Bob Byrne

Wellman was a Solar Pons fan and he co-wrote a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with his son: ‘The War of the Worlds.’

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