Cover by Virgil Finlay
August Derleth was born on February 24, 1909 and died on July 4, 1971. It was Derleth who coined the term “Cthulhu Mythos” for H.P. Lovecraft’s stories, although Derleth had earlier suggested the “Hastur Mythology,” which Lovecraft rejected.
In 1939, Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House, a small press dedicated to preserving the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, and eventually those who were influenced by Lovecraft.
Although best known as a proponent of Lovecraft and for his own stories which expand on Lovecraft’s work, Derleth also wrote children’s books and biographies aimed at kids and detective fiction, most notable the Solar Pons series. He felt his Sac Prairie saga, which was based on Sauk City, Wisconsin, where he lived, was his most important work.
“The Return of Hastur” was purchased by Farnsworth Wright and appeared in the March 1939 issue of Weird Tales, which also included a story by Lovecraft. Derleth reprinted the story in his collection Someone in the Dark in 1941 and again in The Mask of Cthulhu in 1958. Lin Carter selected the story for The Spawn of Cthulhu and it was eventually included in Robert M. Price’s The Hastur Cycle. It was included in the Barnes and Noble collection of Derleth stories The Cthulhu Mythos and in In Lovecraft’s Shadows: The Cthulhu Mythos Stories of August Derleth, issued by Arkham House in 1998. The story has been translated into French, Italian, and German. Lovecraft is known to have read and commented on an early version.
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I spent the past year in the frozen tundra on a quest not for gold or oil, but rather that elusive will o’ the wisp men call Ha of Saskatoon. I barely escaped with my life, a sad and broken man. Over the course of many months, I poured through John D. Haefele’s exhaustive tome, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos which the redoubtable Don Herron bequeathed to me in an effort to restore my shattered mind. Having recently closed the book for the final time, I come forth with this my 250th article. A mere trifle for the more prolific blogger, but a milestone for this shadow of a man who once was.
Now in absolute fairness I should disclose a few facts before continuing. First off, I am not an H. P. Lovecraft cultist. I like aspects of the Mythos more than I do his actual fiction. This will be heretical to many, but I did not come upon his prose until later in life – long after Roy Thomas introduced me to his work in various comics he authored for Marvel in the 1970s and well after the time I had absorbed bits and pieces of the Mythos unknowingly while devouring Robert E. Howard’s stories in the pages of the Lancer or Ace Conan paperbacks with their stunning Frazetta cover art which, like that of Boris Vallejo and Neal Adams, frequently displayed brazen muscular buttocks in a fashion that touched something primal and possibly even impolite in my already warped adolescent brain.
I must also refrain from joshing my readers that a particular Lovecraftian scholar earned my enmity like no one since S. J. Perelman when I purchased a pricey, but beautifully bound and illustrated Sax Rohmer collection that was published in recent years only to find said literary critic’s introduction to the same was dismissive, condescending, and pompous in the extreme. It took much restraint not to craft an analogue for this bloated windbag in my third Fu Manchu book and allow the Devil Doctor to feed this bleating goat’s delicate parts to starving centipedes. Despite the appeal of such a notion, I chose instead to let karma find him and that it may have done with Haefele’s scholarly work.
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The Spawn of Cthulhu
H. P. Lovecraft and Others
Lin Carter, ed.
Ballantine Books (274 pages, October 1971, $0.95)
Cover by Gervasio Gallardo
Lin Carter edited more than one anthology for the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series. Up until now, I’ve not discussed any of them. One reason is that where I am sequentially, there have only been two. The other reason is it’s easier to discuss a single novel than the contents of an anthology.
I’m going to break with that practice for this particular entry in the series. Carter has built a thematic Mythos anthology with The Spawn of Cthulhu. Taking references to the work of other writers referenced in Lovecraft’s short novel “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Carter then proceeds to include either the story referenced or other stories written about the Old Ones mentioned.
I’m going to include some mild spoilers in this post. If that is of concern to you, then let this paragraph serve as your warning. The discussion will start after on the other side of the Read More link just below.
Let’s start with “The Whisperer in Darkness,” shall we? It’s 85 pages long, by far the lengthiest story in the book. The story concerns a folklorist at Arkham University named Wilmarth who is writing a series of newspaper articles debunking sightings of strange bodies seen in swollen rivers and creeks after a particularly bad storm in Vermont. The articles generate some lively discussion in the paper, and are eventually reprinted in Vermont papers.
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My colleague Bob Byrne has already introduced many new readers to August Derleth’s wonderfully tongue-in-cheek exploits of the unlikely-named Sherlock Holmes-inspired consulting detective, Solar Pons of Praed Street.
Derleth loved tossing in nods to mystery works outside of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional universe. These included three memorable encounters with Sax Rohmer’s insidious Dr. Fu Manchu.
“The Adventure of the Camberwell Beauty” was the first of the appearances to see publication in 1958. The story presents an unnamed Dr. Fu Manchu hiring the celebrated consulting detective to recover Karah, his beautiful young ward, who has been abducted by his archenemy, Baron Corvus. The tale is set in the early 1930s and although the first chronicled, it is not our heroes’ first encounter with the Devil Doctor.
Structured as a tribute to Rohmer’s 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, the story reveals Karah (named for Rohmer’s Karamaneh) as the granddaughter of the Devil Doctor. Showing a nice bit of fidelity to Rohmer’s early tales, the unnamed Doctor resides in an underground Thames-side lair in Limehouse.
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