Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Religions of Weird Fiction

I'll get right to the point: there aren't any, as far as I know--religions of weird fiction, that is. If you look to the right, you'll see a label, "The Religions of Science Fiction." You'll see also that I have written a lot on this topic, and when you read what I have written, you'll understand that when I refer to the religions of science fiction, I'm talking about religious, pseudo-religious, and quasi-religious beliefs that have arisen from science fiction and its precursors. Chief among these are flying saucers, dating from 1947, and Dianetics/Scientology, from 1950. There are also what you might call proto-science-fictional religions in Theosophy and "I AM" Activity, and there are similar beliefs that have come along since the 1940s and '50s. Shaverism came from that era, too, and though it doesn't reach the level of a science-fictional religion, it has its own religious, pseudo-religious, or quasi-religious characteristics.

At first you might think that religion and science fiction don't go together. After all, science brooks nothing when it comes to unreason, superstition, or claims for the existence of anything supernatural. The other side of that, though, is that science clearly doesn't satisfy certain basic human needs. Believers leave religion and a belief in God behind them, but because they are believers, they need a replacement, and so they search endlessly for something to stand in the place of God. (More on that in a while.) Scientists and science-minded people, then, too easily fall into belief in the religions of science--Scientism, Darwinism (alternatively, Lysenkoism), materialism, atheism, Utopianism, Marxism or "scientific socialism," environmentalism, the cult of global warming, etc. Likewise, readers, writers, and fans of science fiction also fall too easily for the religions of science fiction. At least one of those religions--flying saucers--is pretty well harmless. Another, which shall remain nameless, has done great harm and has even brought about the deaths of some of its current or former adherents.

Weird fiction doesn't have that problem. Writers of weird fiction (notwithstanding Lovecraft's materialism--more on him in a while, too) concede the existence of the supernatural even before they begin. They seem to have their heads on straight and don't fall for pseudo-religious nonsense. They don't suffer the fate of their materialistic characters, who, because they can't bend, break. And so, as far as I know, no author of weird fiction has ever spawned a real-world religion or cult. Likewise, as far as I know, no reader or fan of weird fiction has ever followed his or her favorite author down the rabbit hole of a made-up religion. So my title, "The Religions of Weird Fiction," is about nothing at all. If anyone has a suggestion or assertion that there is or might be an actual religion, pseudo-religion, or quasi-religion of weird fiction, I'm happy to listen.

* * *

In doing research for my series on Harold S. Farnese, I ran across this passage in Lovecraft: A Biography by L. Sprague de Camp (Ballantine, 1976):
He [Lovecraft] argued science and religion with his correspondents. [. . . ] With Catholic Derleth he was polite about religion. But when, in early 1931, Frank [Belknap] Long flirted with Catholicism, Lovecraft went after him hammer and tongs: "that incredible & anti-social anachronism (1) called the Popish church . . . . Popery fosters everything effeminate & repugnant." Although on other occasions he admitted religion to have some practical social value, he now declared: "I hate & despise religion" because, he said, it lied about basic, scientifically established facts. (p. 372)
I have wondered before whether Lovecraft was anti-Catholic. (I wrote on this topic in "Lovecraft and the Mass Rock" on October 21, 2015, here.) Well, if de Camp described the situation accurately, now we know that he was. Lovecraft's comments here seem to me unsophisticated and noncritical, his tone overwrought. I suspect that his hostility towards Catholicism was a kind of knee-jerk reaction that would have come naturally to an old-fashioned Yankee Protestant or Puritan. We should remember that he was also a nativist and that he lived during a high water mark of the very anti-Catholic Ku Klux Klan in America. Only recently (1928) had there been a presidential campaign in which very strong anti-Catholic sentiment showed itself, not only in the United States at large but also in Lovecraft's home state of Rhode Island. (1)

There's more to that passage from de Camp's book, though. Here is another passage:
When we hear the ancient bells growling on a Sunday morning we ask ourselves: Is it really possible! This, for a jew [sic], crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was God's son? The proof of such a claim is lacking. Certainly the Christian religion is an antiquity projected into our times from remote prehistory; and the fact that the claim is believed--whereas one is otherwise so strict in examining pretensions--is perhaps the most ancient piece of this heritage. A god who begets children with a mortal woman; a sage who bids men work no more, have no more courts, but look for the signs of the impending end of the world; a justice that accepts the innocent as a vicarious sacrifice; someone who orders his disciples to drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins perpetrated against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of a beyond to which death is the portal; the form of the cross as a symbol in a time that no longer knows the function and ignominy of the cross--how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past! Can one believe that such things are still believed? (2)
That's not from Lovecraft--it was actually written by Friedrich Nietzsche, and it comes from his Human, All too Human (1878). Note the same hostility and incredulity as in Lovecraft. Note the similar words or phrases, too, Catholicism as an "anachronism" and Christianity as "an antiquity projected into our own times from remote prehistory." In addition, Lovecraft sensed what Nietzsche articulated when the former wrote, "Popery fosters everything effeminate & repugnant," for Nietzsche famously criticized Christianity as a religion that feminizes men, or at least unmans them, for example:
Christianity [. . .] has waged a deadly war against this higher type of man; it has placed all the basic instincts of this type under the ban; and out of these instincts it has distilled evil and the Evil One: the strong man as the typically reprehensible man, the "reprobate." Christianity has sided with all that is weak and base, with all failures; it has made an ideal of whatever contradicts the instinct of the strong life to preserve itself. [Emphasis in the original, from The Antichrist (1888).] (3)
There are of course lots of other quotes like this from Nietzsche. Unlike Lovecraft, however, Nietzsche was not so keen on science. Both, however, were conservative and aristocratic. Anyway, I wonder, was Lovecraft familiar with the writings of Nietzsche? Or did he arrive at some of the same conclusions and for some of the same reasons (at whatever intellectual or philosophical level he may have occupied) as did Nietzsche?

* * *

It seems to me that human beings have a need to believe in things that are infinite, eternal, and absolute, and that when we give up on a belief in God as the source of these things, we are faced with one of two choices: we can either try to find a replacement for God, or we can can try to live without them. Both paths lead to the same destination, for it seems to me also that we have a drive in us towards annihilation, especially self-annihilation, as well as self-defeat and self-destruction. Both paths are blocked, I think, by belief, but if there is no belief and no block, we generally proceed towards self-destruction. Whether Lovecraft would have been saved by a different belief system than the one he held, and whether we would now have his art as he created it if he had believed in something different, we can't really say. But he was certainly lost in the end by believing in what I guess was essentially nothing.

* * *

I came across a really interesting idea recently, but I can't say where I found it. The idea is that there are those among us who are convinced that the Creation is flawed and that it must be corrected. We see this on a small scale in popular culture when we go to a Batman or Superman movie and are treated yet again to the character's origin story, now overhauled by the newest moviemaker. We see it also in the Star Wars saga, in which George Lucas, who is the creator, goes back and alters the original form of his own creation, moreover, when the makers of every new Star Wars movie lay waste to what was done by those who came before them. Anyway, the problem with the idea that the Creation is flawed comes about when we as human beings believe that we can make it right, that we are smart enough, wise enough, and visionary enough to remake it all according to our own ideas, schemes, and systems. This goes beyond the concept in tragedy of hubris and into the territory of an extraordinary arrogance and rebellion. People who dream up these things--intellectual ideas, intellectualized schemes or systems for living, prescriptions on how the rest of us must live--are in love with their own minds and their own ideas. They are possessed of a pride so extreme that the word "pride" no longer applies. We might ask, what is the source of this extreme pride and arrogance? How did your ideas and schemes and systems get to be so fine? How do you know these things so well and with such conviction? The answer that seems to come back is this: I know because I know. This is a Gnosticism for the modern age. Marx is a perfect example of this kind of thinking, but Madame Blavatsky, Richard Shaver, and L. Ron Hubbard also fit the bill to one degree or another. In any case, last week in the U.S. Senate, we saw this phenomenon at work. We saw a group of people who appear to be in love with the fineness of their own minds, their own ideas, their own schemes, their own systems, their own innovations. Their pride is in themselves. They seem convinced that they are in possession of the knowledge and wisdom necessary to correct the perceived flaws in the Creation. They know because they know. There need not be any other explanation or justification, and nothing must stand in their way in the deadly serious business of remaking it. Their belief seems to be that they are God or gods and that they possess God-like or god-like qualities. Their quest is for power, as one of their company so easily saw and diagnosed as the condition running like an epidemic among them. What they don't realize is that they can never and will never have that kind of power. They will never be able to remake the Creation, for it is what it is intended to be. It is unalterable by human effort. They cannot bend reality to their wills, and, falling well short of their imagined godhood, they will all die in the end. Weak, frail, crippled--bed-bound, failing, necessarily mortal--they will one day, we can only hope, be chastened and disabused of their notions of themselves and the fineness of their own minds and ideas. Yes, they will all surely die in the end and the unaltered Creation will go on without them.

* * *

Finally, I have written before about weird fiction against the materialist (see here). Well, I have found another example in a writer who should have been in Weird Tales but never was. His name was Stefan Grabiński, and he was a Polish author active during the pulp-fiction era in America, from 1906 to about 1930. Born in 1887, he was a rough contemporary of H.P. Lovecraft. Like Lovecraft, he died young, in 1936 at age forty-nine. (Nietzsche also died fairly young, at age fifty-five, five days after Lovecraft's tenth birthday.) In our weird fiction book club last week, we read Grabiński's story "The Frenzied Farmhouse," from 1908. The narrator of the story is a man, once a husband and father. Near the beginning of his tale, he tells us, "I am not sick, nor was I ever sick," likewise, "I am not, nor was I ever, a psychopath." We learn not to trust him very well in these claims by what he relates later on. One significant thing about these reverse confessions is that the narrator appears to head off a scientific or medical explanation for what he has done: "I am not sick, I am not a psychopath." He continues:
Instead, I was a complete skeptic. I did not adhere to any principle or doctrine; my temperament was not a suggestible one. In this respect, my friend K., whom I had always considered to be extremely superstitious, stood at the opposite extreme. His strange, at times crazy views and theories constantly raised strong opposition on my part, and we quarrelled [sic] continually, which resulted in us frequently severing contact with each other for long periods of time. And yet, it appears, he was not mistaken in everything.
So here is the former skeptic (note the past tense), now speaking (in the present tense) and telling us that he is not sick or a psychopath, implying that in and by his skepticism he was wrong, conceding that his friend K. (shades of Kafka), who is "extremely superstitious," is right, at least in some small way. In other words, as the materialist usually does in weird fiction, the narrator comes in contact with something that he cannot explain in purely scientific or materialistic terms, and he receives his comeuppance because of it. But this is a strange and not a simple story. It can't easily be categorized, explicated, or explained away. In the inexorableness of the narrator's actions, it puts me in mind of The Stranger by Albert Camus, which is a strange thing to do for a tale of weird fiction.

(1) "Finally, the early 1920s saw the first great 'Red Scare,' the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Rhode Island, and the bitter Al Smith campaign in 1928, all of which produced a new level of anti-Catholic bigotry and heightened tensions between faltering Republicans and the rising Democrats." From "Ten Turning Points in Rhode Island History" by William G. McLoughlin, Rhode Island History, May 1986 (Vol. 45, No. 2), quote from pp. 48-49.
(2) Note the elements of the tale of supernatural horror or weird fiction: things still living out of antiquity or prehistory, a "god," a "sage," Christ as a fortuneteller, human sacrifice, the drinking of human blood (so that we might live forever, like vampires), prayers, miracles, "a beyond," death as "a portal"--"how ghoulishly all this touches us, as if from the tomb of a primeval past!" [Emphasis added.] Might we say that Christianity, or religion in general, is the religion of weird fiction? Or is it actually the other way around, that the genres of weird fiction and supernatural horror are actually protrusions of an internal religious impulse, however primitive it might be, into the very secular and outward world of books, commerce, and pulp magazines?
(3) If Nietzsche's criticism is accurate and Christianity sees "the strong man as the typically reprehensible man, the 'reprobate'," and if our current president is by some measure this kind of "strong man" (thus a "reprobate"), then the reaction to him, especially considering that it comes from so many who are themselves so deeply anti-Christian, is curiously Christian. But then I think that we live in a world teeming with non-believers and atheists who have been set up in their beliefs by two-thousand years of Christianity. I guess you could call them "secular Christians," even "atheized Christians," in any case Christians of one kind or another who are ignorant or unaware of their very origins or what ultimately lies behind their beliefs and actions.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Other Forms of H.P. Lovecraft

I have read a paper by my friend Nathaniel Wallace, who presented at the Dr. Henry Armitage Memorial Scholarship Symposium in Providence, Rhode Island, in August of last year. Nate's paper is about adaptations of Lovecraft's work to musical forms. That got me thinking about other adaptations of Lovecraft's stories and poems. Until someone tells me different, I'll stick with Harold S. Farnese's musical settings for two poems by Lovecraft as the first adaptations of his work to a form other than that of verse or prose. Here are the first adaptations into various forms, in chronological order beginning with Farnese's compositions. The source is the website The H.P. Lovecraft Archive, here.

First Musical Adaptations

1932 "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos," adapted by Harold S. Farnese from sonnets by H.P. Lovecraft from The Fungi from Yuggoth (1930 and 1931 respectively)

"The White Ship" by George Edwards, Dave Michaels, and Tony Cavallari, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (1919)
Side 2, Track 1 (6:33)

"At the Mountains of Madness" by George Edwards, Dave Michaels, and Tony Cavallari, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (1936)
Side 2, Track 1 (4:57)

1969 Arzachel by Arzachel, Released June 1969 (Evolution Records)
"Azathoth" by Mont Cambell and Dave Stewart, based on the concept by H.P. Lovecraft (1919)
Side 1, Track 2 (4:21)

First Radio Adaptation

1945 Suspense, Nov. 1, 1945 (CBS Radio)
"The Dunwich Horror," based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (1929)
Starring Ronald Colman as Henry Armitage

First Comic Book Adaptation

1950 The Vault of Horror, Dec. 1950/Jan. 1951 (Vol. 1, No. 16) (EC Comics)
"Fitting Punishment" by Graham Ingels and Al Feldstein, based on "In the Vault" by H.P. Lovecraft (1925)
7 pp. (pp. 9–15)

First Movie Adaptation

1963 The Haunted Palace, Released Aug. 28, 1963 (American International Pictures)
Based on "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" by H.P. Lovecraft (1941)
Directed by Roger Corman
Screenplay by Charles Beaumont
Starring Vincent Price, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Debra Paget
87 min.

First Television Adaptations

1971 Night Gallery (NBC-TV)
Hosted by Rod Serling

"Pickman's Model," Broadcast Dec. 1, 1971, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (1927)
Directed by Jack Laird
Teleplay by Alvin Sapinsley
Starring Bradford Dillman and Louise Sorel

"Cool Air," Broadcast Dec. 8, 1971, based on the story by H.P. Lovecraft (1928)
Directed by John Badham
Teleplay by Jack Laird
Starring Barbara Rush and Henry Darrow

First Stage Adaptation

(1932) Fen River or The Swamp City, a one-act operetta proposed by Harold S. Farnese to H.P. Lovecraft but never written or performed.

In other words, there has never been, as far as I know, a stage play based on a work by H.P. Lovecraft. That sounds like an opportunity for an ambitious and enterprising playwright.

Thanks to Nate for leading me to this research and the writing of this series.

The blurb says: "Edgar Allan Poe's The Haunted Palace," but that was just to hook potential viewers. The movie is actually based on "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward" by H.P. Lovecraft.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, October 1, 2018

The Fungi from Yuggoth

Here are the two poems by H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) published in the February/March 1931 issue of Weird Tales and set to music (perhaps even performed) by Harold S. Farnese (1890-1945) (1):

XXIII. Mirage

I do not know if ever it existed--
That lost world floating dimly on Time's stream--
And yet I see it often, violet-misted,
And shimmering at the back of some vague dream.
There were strange towers and curious lapping rivers,
Labyrinths of wonder, and low vaults of light,
And bough-crossed skies of flame, like that which quivers
Wistfully just before a winter's night.

Great moors led off to sedgy shores unpeopled,
Where vast birds wheeled, while on a windswept hill
There was a village, ancient and white-steepled,
With evening chimes for which I listen still.
I do not know what land it is--or dare
Ask when or why I was, or will be, there.

XXVII. The Elder Pharos [2]

From Leng, where rocky peaks climb bleak and bare
Under cold stars obscure to human sight,
There shoots at dusk a single beam of light
Whose far blue rays make shepherds whine in prayer.
They say (though none has been there) that it comes
Out of a pharos in a tower of stone,
Where the last Elder One lives on alone,
Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums. [3]

The Thing, they whisper, wears a silken mask
Of yellow, whose queer folds appear to hide
A face not of this earth, though none dares ask
Just what those features are, which bulge inside.
Many, in man’s first youth, sought out that glow,
But what they found, no one will ever know. [4]

From the URL H.P. at this link.

(1) I'm settling on 1890 as the year of Farnese's birth, as I think it's a more likely birth year for him than 1891.
(2) The word pharos refers to a lighthouse.
(3) Note the phrase "Talking to Chaos with the beat of drums." Is that an allusion to Azathoth, whom Lovecraft described as existing "outside the ordered universe" and as an "amorphous blight of nethermost confusion," also as one who "gnaws . . . amidst . . . [the] maddening beating of vile drums"? (From The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.) There are drums also backing Guy Bevier Williams' chant at the beginning of White Zombie. It seems to me that drums in Lovecraft, along with pipes and flutes, signify primitivism and/or decadence in music and, by extension, in a society or culture. Cultists in his stories invariably play these primitive or pagan instruments.
(3) Note here the reference to "The Thing [which] wears a silken mask/Of yellow . . . ." That makes me think immediately of Robert W. Chambers' King in Yellow, from a generation before. Lovecraft made reference to the same figure in "Celephaïs" (1920) and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926, 1943).
(4) One of the newspaper items I cited previously in this series alluded to Farnese's performance (with Jascha Gegna, in late 1932) of two "oriental" pieces composed by Farnese. Although "Mirage" seems to describe a vision of a more Western or European landscape ("steepled" village), "The Elder Pharos" has a subtle, though not unambiguous, Oriental setting: the Plateau of Leng is placed, in one Lovecraft story at least, in Central Asia, while the color yellow, though also used to connote insanity, is associated with the Orient. (It's why pencils are yellow, but think of "the yellow peril" as well.)

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, September 29, 2018

The Lovecraft-Farnese Correspondence

Part of the problem with the Lovecraft-Farnese correspondence is that many of the facts involved and some of the letters exchanged between the two men are missing. For example, in his article from 1987, "The Origins of Lovecraft's 'Black Magic' Quote," the author, David E. Schultz, wrote: "The Lovecraft collection of Brown University's John Hay Library contains only several letters from Farnese to Lovecraft, from 11 July 1932 to 9 January 1933." What does "several" mean? We have a range of six months during which Harold S. Farnese wrote to H.P. Lovecraft. What are the dates of those "several" letters? What are their contents? If these things are in the public domain, why are they not available on the Internet for all to see, especially considering the vast interest in all things Lovecraftian? Why at this late date are Lovecraft's letters still locked up in libraries and expensive hardbound editions rather than out here in the world? Or are there sources available of which I'm not aware?

I guess that's enough grousing for now. What I would like to do is present a timeline of the Lovecraft-Farnese correspondence, along with some other facts and a little on the correspondence between Farnese and August Derleth after Lovecraft's death.
  • January 1931--"Nyarlathotep" and "Azathoth" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales.
  • February/March 1931--"Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales.
  • April/May 1931--"Alienation" by H.P. Lovecraft published in Weird Tales. This was the last poem by Lovecraft published in Weird Tales in his lifetime. Farnese was presumably still a regular (or in his words "habitual") reader of Weird Tales and as such would have seen Lovecraft's published poems of January-May 1931. He would set two of them, "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos," to music some time after their publication.
  • July 11, 1932, to January 9, 1933--"Several" letters from Farnese to Lovecraft, held (evidently like the Necronomicon at Arkham University) at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection. If the letter of July 11 was Farnese's introduction to Lovecraft, then perhaps it was also the letter in which Farnese first informed Lovecraft of his setting of two poems by Lovecraft, "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos," to music. It may also have been the letter in which Farnese first proposed a collaboration on the libretto (by Lovecraft) and music (by Farnese) of an operetta to be entitled Yurregarth and Yannimaid, The Swamp City, or, if L. Sprague de Camp's account is accurate, Fen River.
  • Late July 1932 to Early September (?), 1932--Farnese traveled from the Institute of Musical Education in Los Angeles to Oakland, Portland, and Seattle to teach normal courses.
  • July 28, 1932--The film White Zombie released, with a chant composed, uncredited in the movie, by Guy Bevier Williams of the Institute of Musical Education. I mention this because it could be that Williams and Farnese were working on their separate pieces--presumably "primitive" pieces--at about the same time, i.e. late 1931 to early 1932. They may very well have talked things over or shared ideas. Perhaps one even inspired the other in his composition(s).
  • September 22, 1932--Letter from Lovecraft to Farnese, published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters IV (Arkham House, 1976).
  • October 12, 1932--Letter from Lovecraft to Farnese, published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters IV (Arkham House, 1976).
  • November-December 1932--Performances by Farnese (on piano) and violinist Jascha Gegna of two pieces or two "oriental" pieces, composed by Farnese, at the Institute of Musical Education in Los Angeles. Could these have been Farnese's settings of "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos"?
  • December 7, 1932--Letter from Farnese to Lovecraft, presumably located at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection.
  • January 9, 1933--Last known letter from Farnese to Lovecraft, located at Brown University, John Hay Library, H.P. Lovecraft Collection.
More than four years passed before . . . 
  • March 15, 1937--H.P. Lovecraft died in Providence, Rhode Island.
  • April 6, 1937--Letter from August Derleth to Farnese requesting the loan of Lovecraft's letters to Farnese for a planned published collection of Lovecraft's correspondence.
  • April 8, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth. Farnese wrote: "In my correspondence files I must have at least two or three of his [Lovecraft's] personal letters. These were voluminous letters and highly instructive and interesting, for which reason I kept them. In one of them, if I am not mistaken, he discussed various technical points of the construction of mystery stories of the higher type."
  • April 11, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth in which Farnese included the correspondence he had received from Lovecraft in 1932 or 1932-1933 ("two long letters and one postal card"). Farnese's letter to Derleth is the apparent source of the "Black Magic" quote that is almost certainly misattributed to Lovecraft. Farnese wrote: "Upon [my] congratulating HPL upon his work, he answered: 'You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend: that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again.' 'The Elders,' as he called them." [Emphasis by Farnese.] Farnese also wrote: "If there was another letter, it has been destroyed, for I recorded the salient points in my scrap-book. It had entirely to do with our plans on collaborating on an opera entitled: Yurregarth and Yannimaid or The Swamp City; we were not sure which name to use."
  • April 21, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Derleth in which he acknowledged the return of his Lovecraft letters from Derleth, location unknown, but presumably extant.
  • June 1937--"H.P. Lovecraft, Outsider" by August Derleth published in River, Vol. 1, No. 3.
  • September 15, 1937--Letter from Farnese to Donald Wandrei, location unknown but presumably extant.
  • September 20, 1937--Letter from Wandrei to Derleth, location unknown but presumably extant.
In all, Harold Farnese had two letters and a postcard from H.P. Lovecraft. There may have been a third letter that was lost or destroyed. The location of these letters is, I believe, unknown. They may no longer be in existence. However, if August Derleth transcribed them (or had photostats shot of them) with the idea that he would publish their contents in a collection of Lovecraft's letters, then the text (or images) may still exist, presumably in Derleth's papers. However again, if the "Black Magic" quote has survived this long, all the while being misattributed to Lovecraft, then maybe there aren't any transcriptions (or photostats) and everything was based on memory or misapprehension, starting with Farnese but perpetuated by Derleth, perhaps by mistake or a lack of scholarly rigor, perhaps also because the "Black Magic" quote suited Derleth's purposes.

Again, there are "several" letters from Farnese to Lovecraft in the Brown University library, but I'm not sure whether anybody knows how many there might be, their dates, or their contents. Maybe the librarians at Brown University don't even know. In short, there are too many missing letters, too many unknown locations, too much unknown content, and an overall lack of information on what seems to me a really central question on Lovecraft's vision: "You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend . . . ."

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Harold S. Farnese (1890 or 1891-1945)-Part Six

Farnese and the Late Lovecraft
After the death of H.P. Lovecraft on March 15, 1937, August Derleth wasted no time in beginning another of his innumerable planned projects: he and his soon-to-be business partner Donald Wandrei would publish a collection of Lovecraft's letters. To that end, Derleth wrote to Harold S. Farnese on April 6, 1937, asking that Farnese send Derleth, on loan, his letters from Lovecraft. Farnese replied on April 8, saying that he had "at least two or three of his [Lovecraft's] personal letters." Farnese couldn't put his hands on them just then but he promised Derleth that he would look for them. It didn't take long. In a letter dated April 11, Farnese wrote:
The correspondence I unearthed from my files consists of two long letters and one postal card. If there was another letter, it has been destroyed, for I recorded the salient points in my scrap-book. It had entirely to do with our plans on collaborating on an opera entitled: Yurregarth and Yannimaid or The Swamp City; we were not sure which name to use. (1)
Farnese also wrote the following, which has since become a burr under the blanket of every Lovecraftian scholar between here and Yuggoth:
Upon [Farnese's] congratulating HPL upon his work, he [Lovecraft] answered: "You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend: that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again." "The Elders," as he called them. [Emphasis by Farnese.]
There is a lot wrong with that supposed quote, as the aforementioned scholars have pointed out. More on them in a minute.

So, Farnese is supposed to have sent the correspondence he had received from Lovecraft--"two long letters and one postal card"--to Derleth enclosed in his own letter of April 11. Theoretically, Derleth--if he was indeed planning to publish a collection of Lovecraft's letters--would have transcribed them precisely and in their entirety. But he doesn't seem to have done that. Instead, he seems to have quoted from Farnese's letter of April 11 rather than from Lovecraft's own words. In other words, this conception of Lovecraft's central thesis, held by so many for so long--"that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again"--is just plain wrong. These might be the most famous words that Lovecraft never said.

So the problem began when Farnese summarized what he thought Lovecraft was saying rather than just quoting Lovecraft's exact words. If he had had Lovecraft's letters to Farnese in hand, Derleth could easily have corrected this misapprehension, yet he didn't. Instead he perpetuated the idea that these were Lovecraft's own words, moreover, that this was the foundational idea of what we now call "the Cthulhu Mythos." The question is: Why? The answer seems to be that Farnese's interpretation seems to have fit with Derleth's own, one in which the Lovecraftian universe is moral and human beings count for something rather than merely materialistic where we mean very little, if anything. In other words, Derleth seems to have wanted Farnese to be right and may very well have seen Lovecraft's original creation to be inadequate to his own purposes and perhaps even offensive to his own beliefs. We can't blame Farnese for that. He was, after all, a minor figure in the Lovecraft saga, and he never published a word about the author beyond his letter or letters in Weird Tales. (2) It seems obvious to me that Derleth was instead to blame--Derleth who did so much for Lovecraft and yet seems to have glommed on to Lovecraft's creation in an effort to make it his own.

* * *

Although my research into the life and career of Harold S. Farnese is original, this final part of the series is based upon the research of others, most notably that of David E. Schultz and his article "The Origin of Lovecraft's 'Black Magic' Quote," originally in The Crypt of Cthulhu #48 (1987) and found on the Internet by clicking here. Mr. Schultz and S.T. Joshi discuss the same problem pretty extensively in their book An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, which is kinda sorta on line, too, but better read in print. (Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of this book.) Mr. Schultz and Mr. Joshi also include a long list of related research in their entry on the Cthulhu Mythos. Suffice it to say, it is pretty well accepted now that Lovecraft did not say what Farnese, then Derleth, said that he said. I'll just close by observing that Harold Sulzire (or Sulzer, maybe also Solcetto) Farnese died on October 29, 1945, in Los Angeles city or county. I believe he was without a wife or children, possibly without any heirs, survivors, or family members at all, and I find that sad.

(1) In his biography of Lovecraft, L. Sprague de Camp called the opera an operetta and had a different title for the proposed work, Fen River. So if its co-author called it The Swamp City, where did de Camp get the title Fen River?
(2) Farnese is also supposed to have composed an elegy for Lovecraft in 1937. See the blog Lovecraft and His Legacy, hosted by Chris Perridas, in an entry of January 21, 2008, here.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Harold S. Farnese (1890 or 1891-1945)-Part Five

Farnese and the Living Lovecraft
The first that I ever read of Harold S. Farnese was in L. Sprague de Camp's Lovecraft: A Biography (1975). (I have the Ballantine paperback edition of 1976, which lacks an index.) Here is part of what de Camp had to say about him:
Harold S. Farnese, dean of the Los Angeles Institute of Musical Art [sic], wrote to Lovecraft proposing a joint project: a Cthulhuvian operetta in one act, called Fen River and laid on the planet Yuggoth. As a starter, Farnese had already set two of Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth sonnets, Mirage and The Elder Pharos, to music. (p. 387)
Remember that in a letter to Weird Tales, published in August 1931, Farnese had praised Lovecraft's poems as "very fine," writing that they played "a good second to the author's inimitable stories." In the months before Farnese sent off his letter to Weird Tales, the magazine had published several of Lovecraft's Fungi from Yuggoth cycle, including "Nyarlathotep" and "Azathoth" in January 1931, "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos" in February/March, and "Alienation" in April/May. They would be the last of Lovecraft's poems published in Weird Tales in his lifetime.

De Camp didn't give a date for the letter Farnese sent to Lovecraft in which he proposed this joint project. I suspect that it was in 1932, as there are at least two letters extant from Lovecraft to Farnese, dated September 22, 1932, and October 12, 1932. I presume these to be answers to letters written by Farnese. De Camp wrote that, after Lovecraft demurred, "Farnese kept urging," suggesting that there was further correspondence between the two. A source on the Internet says that Farnese wrote several letters to Lovecraft, beginning July 11, 1932, and ending January 9, 1933. That fits with my supposition. It also fits with the timeline of Farnese's summer of 1932 (see the bullet points below).

One of L. Sprague de Camp's themes in his biography of Lovecraft is the author's self-defeating (and ultimately self-destructive) ways. There are those who have their differences with de Camp, but in this at least, I think he was right: Lovecraft, almost certainly because of his upbringing (and especially because of his father's abandonment of him and his mother's unstable emotional state, which resulted in a kind of emotional abuse of her son), too often defeated himself, sabotaged his own efforts, and in the end more or less destroyed himself by long habits of malnourishment, undernourishment, and perhaps even self-starvation. In any event, Lovecraft, offering various excuses, backed away from a collaboration with Harold Farnese, and so a wonderful opportunity (and to us a fascinating possibility) was missed. None of that changes the fact that if Farnese did indeed set "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos" to music, then these were very likely the first adaptations of Lovecraft's work to a form other than poetry or prose.

Harold Farnese had been interested in weird fiction since at least 1925 when he wrote his first published letter to Weird Tales. There are some other interesting tidbits from his career, though, and I wonder about a couple of them: Could Farnese actually have performed, sometime in 1932, his music based on Lovecraft's poems?
  • On September 25, 1927, the Los Angeles Times published a classified advertisement under the heading "Church Notices--Liberal and Orthodox" that reads in part: "Ancient Spiritual Church [. . .] Mons. Harold Farnese M.A.B.B. of Dyon Un. France will speak on 'What Is Colour?' Piano & vocal solos." (p. 69) (1) That to me suggests that Farnese, like so many other figures in weird fiction, was interested in the occult and alternative spiritual and religious practices. Later correspondence suggests that he was interested at least in black magic.
  • In January 1932, the Los Angeles Times mentioned a composition by Farnese as among those that were recently attracting attention in musical circles. The title of Farnese's composition, a piece for piano, was "Dance of the Moon Dwellers." (2, 3)
  • In the latter part of July 1932, Farnese left on a trip with other instructors from the Institute of Musical Education. They traveled to Oakland, Portland, and Seattle to conduct normal classes in those cities and returned to Los Angeles in early September. If Farnese and Lovecraft carried on their correspondence from July 11, 1932, to early 1933 (see above), did Farnese then complete his settings for Lovecraft's poems prior to leaving on his trip? It would seem so.
  • On the evening of November 21, 1932, violinist Jascha Gegna, recently arrived on the faculty at the institute, played a concert there. Farnese played piano. Included in the program were pieces by Senaillé and Corelli, as well as "two numbers by Harold Farnese" [emphasis added]. Could these have been his settings for "Mirage" and "The Elder Pharos"? (4)
  • About a week later, Gegna and Farnese performed once again at the institute. Senaillé was once again on the program, as were "two numbers of oriental atmosphere by Harold Farnese" [emphasis added]. Again, were these Farnese's adaptations of Lovecraft? (5)
The chance for an operetta based on Lovecraft's poetry, in which Lovecraft would write the libretto and Farnese the music, came and went in 1932-1933. Then, four years later, it disappeared forever, for on March 15, 1937, Lovecraft died in Providence, the city of his birth.  

To be continued . . .

(1) Coincidentally, "The Colour Out of Space"--same spelling--by H.P. Lovecraft was published in Amazing Stories, also in September 1927.
(2) "Southland Composers Versatile in Writings" by Helen Scott, Los Angeles Times, Jan. 3, 1932, p. 44.
(3) The film White Zombie was released on July 28, 1932. Guy Bevier Williams (1873-1955), musical director of the Institute of Musical Education, was the uncredited composer of the chant that plays over the main title sequence of the film. Presumably, Williams worked on that composition in late 1931 or early 1932, perhaps at the same time that Farnese was composing his two settings of Lovecraft's poems.
(4) [Item], Los Angeles Times, Nov. 20, 1932, p. 41.
(5) [Item], Los Angeles Times, Dec. 4, 1932, p. 48.

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Harold S. Farnese (1890 or 1891-1945)-Part Four

In "The Eyrie"
Before he was mentioned in newspapers, Harold S. Farnese had his name in Weird Tales. He didn't write any stories, poems, or articles for "The Unique Magazine," nor did he create any cover designs or interior illustrations. Instead he wrote letters, and it is for his letters, in and out of the magazine, that he has earned his place in the lore of Weird Tales and its foremost author, H.P. Lovecraft.

All together, there were eight letters by Farnese in the letters column of Weird Tales, called "The Eyrie." The first was in the issue of April 1925, just two years after the magazine had made its debut. Farnsworth Wright was the credited editor of Weird Tales as of November 1924. I don't know what Farnese wrote about in his first letter, but I wonder whether it was in response to the recent revival of the magazine under Wright's editorship. I also wonder whether Farnese and Wright knew each other, as both were involved in the musical scene in California, and both had lived at one time in San Francisco.

I don't have access to the next two issues (Sept. 1925 and Feb. 1925) in which Farnese's letters or comments appeared, but in the issue of May 1926, he commented on Elwin J. Owens' story "Dead in Three Hours":
"There is no real motive for all the atrocities," writes Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles; "the story would be acceptable if one did not get the impression that it is weird merely for the sake of weirdness." (p. 715)
I'll have to skip the issue of June 1926, again for lack of access, and go to that of May 1927:
Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles, writes to The Eyrie: "As to the pro and con of reprints, I think it ludicrous to generally praise or condemn them. You have given us some very good reprints, notably What Was It? [by Fitz-James O'Brien, Dec. 1925] and The Upper Berth [by F. Marion Crawford, June 1926]; also the two last ones were entertaining. The one by Andreyeff ["Lazarus," Mar. 1927] shows the hand of a masterly author; it affected me strangely days after I read it. But Ligeia by Poe [Nov. 1926] was awfully drawn out, almost pointless, pages of ravings over the beauty of a certain woman, exhausting the dictionary, as it were, but stylistically old-fashioned and uninteresting. Give us reprints, but when you select them be guided by their style. Some of the old stories read as if they had been written only yesterday, but others assuredly bore us to death. The days of the great Walter Scott, who was permitted to describe a hillside through sixty pages or so, are over. We want action these days, not long-winded descriptions." (pp. 711-712)
More than four years passed before Farnese's next letter in Weird Tales. This one, from August 1931, may have been the start of a little saga, as we'll see in the next part of this series:
"Keep the magazine weird by all means," writes Harold Farnese, of Los Angeles; "not too many mechanical stories, aviation, etc.; a modern atmosphere usually lacks the thrill of things unknown, unless penned by a master hand. Speculative stories of other planets, however, should be welcomed by your readers. H.P. Lovecraft's poems are very fine and play a good second to this author's inimitable stories. His style of building up a weird and eldritch atmosphere has yet to be equalled by other writers." (p. 142)
Farnese here expressed an obvious appreciation for Lovecraft's poems. Note that in so doing he used a musical metaphor: "play a good second." If Farnese was a regular (or habitual--see below) reader of Weird Tales, he would have seen fifteen poems by Lovecraft published in the magazine from April 1924 to April/May 1931. These were in fact all of the Lovecraft poems published by Weird Tales in his lifetime. Eleven were from a series we now know as The Fungi from Yuggoth--thirty-six sonnets penned by Lovecraft beginning in December 1929 and published in their entirety (and in numbered order) only after his death. I can't say that this was Farnese's first mention of Lovecraft in his letters to "The Eyrie." However, the timing is interesting. Before getting into that, though, I'll give Farnese's last letter in Weird Tales, from July 1937:
Harold S. Farnese, of Los Angeles, writes: "Reading your magazine habitually, I sometimes wonder whether you ever realized how great a contributor you had in H.P. Lovecraft. Whether you ever gaged the fineness of his stories, the originality of his genius? Of course, you published them, alongside of others. You sent him his cheque, and that was that. But has it ever occurred to you that in Lovecraft you had the greatest genius that ever lived in the realm of weird fiction?" (p. 125)
In this, his last letter, Farnese didn't mince any words: Lovecraft was, in his opinion, "the greatest genius that ever lived in the realm of weird fiction." Beyond that, Farnese wondered whether Weird Tales had recognized Lovecraft's greatness. Considering some of the editorial decisions it made during Lovecraft's lifetime, we might wonder, too.

Harold S. Farnese's Letters in "The Eyrie"
April 1925
September 1925
February 1926
May 1926
June 1926
May 1927
August 1931
July 1937

To be continued . . . 

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley