Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shaver and Lovecraft

Richard S. Shaver (1907-1975) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) had little in common. They were separated by a generation as well as by a vast chasm of culture. Lovecraft came from an old and at one time well-off New England family. He was both a WASP and a Tory. Shaver was of mixed descent, from what Lovecraft might have called a "mongrel race" of German, French, and other European stock. His family were working class and lived in rural or small-town Pennsylvania. Shaver himself became involved in leftwing politics during the early 1930s.

Shaver was of course mentally ill, probably a paranoid schizophrenic. Despite psychological issues of his own--he suffered, I think, from anxiety and depression at some point--Lovecraft was more well balanced and sane. Nonetheless, he didn't work outside the home and was not a highly functioning person. In contrast, Richard Shaver worked for a living, taking various jobs over the years, including in an auto body shop and at a steel mill. Shaver was also an artist and a publisher of his own works. When Lovecraft died in the spring of 1937 (essentially by starving himself), Shaver was most likely confined to a mental hospital in Michigan.

Coincidentally, both Lovecraft and Shaver married Russian-born Jewish women. Both were older than their husbands. Lovecraft's wife, Sonia Haft Greene (1883-1972), was seven years his senior. They lived as husband and wife for two years, from their wedding on March 3, 1924, until Lovecraft abandoned their marriage by returning to Providence on April 17, 1926 (ninety-two years ago today). Oddly, Lovecraft died the day before his wife's fifty-fourth birthday. (This is assuming that Sonia was indeed born on March 16 by the New Style calendar.) She was by then in a faraway place.

Shaver's first wife was Sophie Gurvitch (1903-1936), who was four years older than he. They were wed on June 29, 1932, in Detroit and also lived together as husband and wife for two years until she had Shaver committed to a mental hospital on August 17, 1934. Their marriage ended with Sophie's death from accidental electrocution on December 29, 1936. Unlike the Lovecrafts, the Shavers had a child, a daughter who I like to think is still with us.

Richard Shaver is supposed to have read pulp fiction and to have been an early reader of Amazing Stories, which first came out in April 1926. (It was probably on the newsstands at the time Lovecraft took the train back home to stay.) Shaver is also supposed to have been influenced in his creation of the people of the caverns by A. Merritt, especially by Merritt's story "The Moon Pool," published in All-Story in its issue of June 22, 1918. 

Lovecraft could never have read Shaver (unless it was Shaver's brother Taylor V. Shaver, who had stories in Boys' Life and The Open Road for Boys in the 1920s), as Shaver was not yet a published author when Lovecraft died. Shaver read Lovecraft, though. Of that we can be sure, for in June 1946, the fanzine Vampire published Shaver's essay "Lovecraft and the Deros" (pp. 14-15). I don't know how this essay reads, but luckily Steve Walker, a librarian at the University of Central Missouri, has extracted a couple of points and quotes from it on the website The Limbonaut: A Correlation of Lovecraftian Contents (here). Mr. Walker writes:
The article ["Lovecraft and the Deros"] concerns Shaver's beliefs. He maintained that an actual artificial underworld existed. There's only one significant paragraph (p. 15) [regarding H.P. Lovecraft]. It concerned "The Mound," [and in it, Shaver wrote:] "as good a picture of the underworld as I ever read. Take off about twenty per cent for Lovecraft's weird ideation and ornamentation--and you have an exact picture of the underworld--except for the radioactive light." He also states[:] "Our race was not the only race on earth; there were greater races and greater times."
"The Mound" was published in abridged form in Weird Tales in November 1940 under the byline of Zealia B. Bishop. Only the original concept was hers, however: Lovecraft ghost-wrote his longer novella based on her proposal. Like the Shaver Mystery and "The Moon Pool," "The Mound" is a story of a subterranean civilization. Both Shaver and Lovecraft based a good deal of their work on the concept that beings from outer space came to Earth eons ago and that at least some of these beings are hostile towards humanity.

So in writing "Lovecraft and the Deros" was Richard Shaver claiming that "The Mound" is somehow a piece of non-fiction? Was he really that incapable of discerning fact from fiction, reality from delusion? Did he believe that Lovecraft shared his knowledge of or experience with the people of the caverns? And was he claiming that Lovecraft's work was continuous with his own or was even subsumed in his own? Beyond that, was Shaver claiming that he, as the expert on the tero and dero, was uniquely qualified to state what in fiction (or non-fiction or pseudo-fiction) is accurate and what is not, or what is part of the canon of his belief and what is not? That's what it seems to me, and I find that extraordinary. But then a man's madness--any man's madness--might extend without limits, and in his search for connections, meaning, and significance, he might very well run himself ragged, never stopping in his relentless pursuit of inner peace.  

Next: A Return to Barker and Bender on the Case

Fantastic Novels Magazine, September 1948, with cover art by Lawrence. "The Conquest of the Moon Pool," originally from 1919, was a sequel to "The Moon Pool." This issue of the magazine came out while the Shaver Mystery was still big. It seems likely to me that those reading it would have noticed its similarities to the Shaver Mystery. But did Shaver ever comment on A. Merritt the way he did on Lovecraft?

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

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