Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Conclusion

H.P. Lovecraft was by all accounts generous. In a final act of generosity, he gave his work to all of us by allowing it to lapse into the public domain. He didn't intend for that to happen, I guess, but he didn't do much to keep it from happening, either. Now anyone can write a Cthulhu story without first securing any rights or trademarks from anyone else. In his lifetime, Lovecraft allowed and even encouraged his fellow authors to use and adapt his creations. I don't think he would have minded that C. Hall Thompson wrote stories in his manner. He may even have taken Thompson under his wing had he lived.

August Derleth, on the other hand, was, by appearances, stingy, greedy, and envious. He seems to have wanted it all for himself. He was, essentially, a fanboy, and like the fanboys of today, he jealously guarded the things that he thought were his. These are my toys, he seems to have said, and you can't play with them. He didn't say that to Robert Bloch, who wrote one of the best post-Lovecraft Cthulhu stories, "Notebook  Found in a Deserted House" (Weird Tales, May 1951), but then Bloch was one of Lovecraft's circle. He had already received an imprimatur from the master himself. (He was also a better and more popular writer than Derleth.) But Derleth said it more or less to C. Hall Thompson, who was younger, a newcomer, and less powerful and influential than Bloch or anyone else from Lovecraft's original circle. Thompson may also have committed an unforgivable sin in Derleth's eyes: he had done a better job at writing a Cthulhu story than had Derleth in his recent and pretty awful novel Lurker at the Threshold (1945). Worse yet, Thompson was popular and his stories well liked. Weird Tales published four of them and paid Thompson for his efforts. Perhaps worst of all, he played with the toys that Derleth had thought were his own. Like I have said, no one will ever know whether Arthur Pendragon was really C. Hall Thompson unless and until a letter or original typescript or some other sound piece of evidence turns up. For now, I guess, we'll just have to read, discuss, study, and speculate about--alternatively, to simply enjoy--two stories from more than half a century ago, written by the mysterious and pseudonymous Arthur Pendragon, and four more by C. Hall Thompson from a time that is rapidly receding beyond living memory.

"The Crib of Hell," originally in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination in May 1965, was reprinted in Strange Fantasy No. 9 in the summer of 1969. Strange Fantasy reused part of Gray Morrow's cover art for Fantastic, the part on the right. It also spelled Arthur Pendragon's name as Pendragan, as Fantastic had done previously. I'm not sure why the name would have been spelled differently in the bylines for two stories that theoretically came from the same author, but you never know about these things. Maybe it was simply a misspelling. Or maybe it was another attempt to throw Derleth off the trail. Or maybe, just maybe, Pendragon/Pendragan was two different authors, the true identities of whom are now lost and not likely to turn up anytime soon.

Text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Five

Arthur Pendragon's two stories in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination:

"The Dunstable Horror" (Apr. 1964) is a long short story told in the first person by a character called Thomas Grail, a British paleographer who arrives in Dunstable in "northern New England" in March 1920 "to find and study the long-buried records of the Massaquoit tribe of red Indians." (p. 52) These records are in the form of pictograms drawn with berry juice on birchbark and packed in ash to prevent their deterioration. Grail is also searching for the grave of the Massaquoit sorcerer Pauquatoag. With the help of Mr. Varnum, a local sawmill owner, Grail finds the grave and the rolls of birchbark records. In the process, though, an ancient curse placed by Pauquatoag upon Varnum's family is carried out, and Grail is forced to flee for his life and sanity, as Lovecraftian heroes so often are. (The curse comes about because of a sexual encounter between a white man and an Indian woman. Lovecraft of course would never have included such an element of plot in his work.) Incidentally, the tale told in "The Dunstable Horror" is only part of a book of memoirs written by Grail. You have to wonder what else he witnessed in his career.

"The Dunstable Horror" includes the following elements:
  • Lovecraftian conventions, structure, language, mood, plot, etc. In fact the blurb at the beginning of the story describes it as "A Gothic, Lovecraftian tale . . ."
  • A Lovecraftian setting in "northern New England," presumably in the wilds of Maine.
  • Lovecraftian place names in the town Dunstable and the river Penaubsket.
  • A blasted sort of landscape where nothing will grow (a "roughly circular fifteen acre clearing"  [p. 61]).
  • A remote and terrifying backwoods setting.
  • A mysterious dying-off of animals.
  • An ancient curse and an ancient vengeance visited upon the heir of the curse.
  • The "eerie call of a night-roving whippoorwill" (p. 63).
  • The dreaded adverbized color: "The light filtered greenly . . ." (p. 60).
  • Found series of manuscripts, one kept in the home of Mr. Varnum, the other recovered at an Indian burial ground deep in the woods.
  • Exotic, literary, and otherwise unusual names in those of Thomas Grail and the deceased Prester Varnum.
Some of these are characteristic of H.P. Lovecraft's stories or of pulp fiction in general. At least three, though, also appear prominently in stories by C. Hall Thompson: the Lovecraftian place names, the found manuscript used to help explain the events of the story, and the unusual names of the characters. (The "northern New England" setting is also in Thompson's "Clay.") So is this evidence of authorship by Thompson? Maybe, but it's still pretty weak. (1) I will say, though, that the writing style in "The Dunstable Horror" is far more restrained than in the work of either Lovecraft or Thompson, at least the early Thompson of 1946-1947. Thompson's style in "Clay," from 1948, is more restrained than in his previous stories, but it still has some Lovecraftian excess. If Pendragon was Thompson, then maybe he no longer wrote at forty-one as he had at age twenty-three, but then who does?

"The Crib of Hell" (May 1965) is novelette-length, and unlike all previous stories I have covered in this series, it is told in the third person. It takes place in Sabbathday, a seacoast town not far from Dunstable in "northern New England." (What's wrong with just saying Maine?) The year is 1924. The house is Cullum House, a "gray New England Gothic mansion." There is a woman with the Poesque name of Ligeia. There are also gothic elements, including witchcraft and a consorting with the devil (hence the "crib" of the title). Unfortunately, I have seen only fragments of this story in an online source. To me it reads like a potboiler, and in terms of style it seems to be the work of someone other than the author of "The Dunstable Horror." Now I wonder whether Arthur Pendragon (or Pendragan as it's spelled here) was a house name at Fantastic used by more than one author. It's pretty late in the game to make a supposition like that one, but then my series on the Thompson-Pendragon controversy was bound to be anticlimactic anyway. And I have to admit that there really isn't a controversy, but you've got to call it something. Now all that remains is a conclusion, and so I write:

To be concluded . . . 

(1) More on "The Dunstable Horror":

First, there are anachronisms, both of which would have come naturally to an author who came of age during the 1930s and '40s. Mr. Varnum asks Thomas Grail, "Did you find your Indian comic books?" (p. 61). Comic books didn't come into existence until the 1930s. Grail describes an entity as like "a mad surrealist's rendering of the Angel of Death" (p. 71). Surrealism did not begin until a manifesto issued in 1924. However, Grail may have been writing this after surrealism had become well known as an art movement.

Second, there is reference to the hair of a corpse growing after death. This was once a common myth. Another once common myth: the last thing that a man sees before he dies is imprinted upon his retinas. C. Hall Thompson referred to the retina-imprint myth in his story "The Pale Criminal."

Third, Pendragon seems to have had some knowledge of anomalous phenomena, describing a phantom blue glow like swamp gas moving through the woods, also translatable chronicles of events made by American Indians. Swamp gas has been used as an explanation for lots of things, most famously the UFO sightings in Washtenaw County, Michigan, in 1966. Indians are now known to have drawn pictograms on rolled pieces of birchbark, as in Pendragon's story. However, these are not known to be chronicles. In the 1950s, though, there was controversy over the Walam Olum, supposedly a chronicle of the Lenape Indians of the Mid-Atlantic region (C. Hall Thompson's home region, too). The Indiana Historical Society even published a book-length study of the Walam Olum. And, although the fifteen-acre circle in "The Dunstable Horror" may be intended to remind us of "the blasted heath" in "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft, it makes me think of the Devil's Tramping Ground in North Carolina.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, February 7, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Four

C. Hall Thompson's four stories for Weird Tales:
  • "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Nov. 1946) is novelette-length and told in the first person by the character James Arkwright, a man convicted of murder and awaiting execution. Within Arkwright's narrative is embedded a manuscript by another man that explains some of what happens in the story. The main action in "Spawn of the Green Abyss" takes place, I think, in the 1940s at a place called Kalesmouth, "sprawled on a forlorn peninsula off New Jersey's northeastern coast." There are elements of  "The Shadow over Innsmouth," "Dagon," and "The Call of Cthulhu" in "Spawn of the Green Abyss." The name of the town Kalesmouth sounds Lovecraftian, as do the names of the characters or beings Zoth Syra, Yoth Zara, and Yoth Kala. There is even a Shoggoth-like creature. But there are no overtly Lovecraftian proper nouns. I didn't find any reaction to "Spawn of the Green Abyss" in the letters column of Weird Tales. We'll have to take the word of Robert Weinberg and others that the tale was popular and well received. August Derleth could not have been very pleased, though. (Aquaman [2018] bears some similarity to "Spawn of the Green Abyss" as well, but the makers of the movie need not have looked any further than "The Shadow over Innsmouth" for inspiration.)
  • "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947) is also novelette-length and told in the first person. It is written from an insane asylum by a patient whom doctors believe to be insane. (You can't blame them.) Set in Inneswich, New Jersey, beginning in the early 1900s and ending in the 1920s, with a climax in 1925-1926 or so (the timeline is a little messed up), "The Will of Claude Ashur" is the most Lovecraftian of Thompson's stories. First the title character, then his brother, travel to Arkham and Miskatonic University for different and opposing reasons. Claude Ashur occupies a room in Pickham Square, where he paints a ghastly portrait of his father. (The reference to "Pickman's Model" here is obvious.) There are elements of the vampire tale and the zombie tale in "The Will of Claude Ashur," but it is most obviously a tale of the so-called Cthulhu Mythos. One difference is that there is a woman--and sex--in Thompson's tale. In this way, it's more Poesque than Lovecraftian, for we know that Lovecraft was squeamish about sex and incapable of writing about women, eros, and any expression of romantic love between the sexes. Poe never shrank from any of those subjects.
  • "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947) is a short story, told in the first person by a police constable, but, like Thompson's other stories, it includes the text of a manuscript written by someone else. In this case, the author of the manuscript is the subject of the story and the constable's investigations. This is Thompson's most Poesque story; Derleth could hardly have objected to it, although there is a scene with a mirror that is reminiscent of a similar scene in Lovecraft's very early (and also Poesque story) "The Outsider." Like a story by Poe, "The Pale Criminal" begins with an epigram, but this one is from Nietzsche and it explains the meaning of the title. Set in Germany in the period 189_  (pertinent information is dropped, as in Poe) to perhaps the first decade of the 1900s, the story closes with a Freudian explanation of its events. Although Lovecraft was erudite, he seems not to have been greatly influenced by two of the revolutionary thinkers of his own time, namely Nietzsche and Freud. Thompson, on the other hand, here mentioned both in one story, though admittedly not in any profound way.
  • "Clay" (May 1948) is a short story narrated by a psychiatrist who once worked at an insane asylum that has now been abandoned. As in Thompson's other stories, there is reliance upon a found manuscript to explain the events of the story, and the text of that manuscript is embedded once again within the main narrative. "Clay" is set in northern New England, at a place called Dunnesmouth. The subject of the story, Jeremy Bone, was born on December 13, 1930, and is now described as a "kid." We can safely assume, then, that the events in "Clay" are more or less contemporaneous with its publication. There are similarities between "Clay" and any number of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, "The Dunwich Horror" being the most obvious.
Now, what about the stories by Arthur Pendragon from the 1960s?

To be continued . . .

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, February 4, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Three

Of C. Hall Thompson's four stories for Weird Talesthree are set in the Northeast and two of those in New Jersey. The main action in all four stories takes place in a remote and lonely house, a conventional setting for the gothic romance. I am reminded more than anything here of Collinwood, from Dark Shadows. There are other gothic elements in Thompson's stories--locked rooms, secret books and manuscripts, twin or switched identities, possession, ancient curses, etc.--but there are also Lovecraftian elements. In "The Will of Claude Ashur," these include an outright naming of Lovecraftian books, beings, and places, including the town of Arkham and its Miskatonic University. Even when they are not obviously set in a Cthulhian universe, Thompson's stories are otherwise Lovecraftian in their conventions, structure, mood, language (ichor, blasphemies, gelatinous, and so on), and treatment of a doomed or fated narrator or protagonist.

It's clear that Thompson read, admired, and wished to emulate Lovecraft. In writing his Lovecraftian stories, however, Thompson made a mistake that too many young and enthralled writers make, for he failed to strain out the worst of Lovecraft's impulses as a writer. There is some bad writing in the younger author's stories, and he succumbed to some of the pulpwriter's many possible diseases, including adverbitis. Witness:
  • "The ocean pounded choppily . . ." (from "Spawn of the Green Abyss," in Weird Tales, Nov. 1946, p. 14)
  • "blood that oozed obscenely" (from "The Will of Claude Ashur," in Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors, p. 494)
  • "smiling evilly" (from "The Will of Claude Ashur," p. 497)
Worst of all, Thompson committed that extreme offense against the human ear, i.e., the adverbized color: blackly, whitely, redly, etc. (If something can be done redly, can it also be done pucely? Teal greenly? Magentaly?) At least he never used the "word" oilily, a crime committed, by the way, by C.L. Moore and Fritz Leiber, among others.

C. Hall Thompson liked exotic, literary, biblical, classical, and Dickensian names. These include Cassandra and Lazarus Heath and James Arkwright in "Spawn of the Green Abyss"; Claude Ashur and Gratia Thane in "The Will of Claude Ashur"; and Jeremy Bone and Peter Gaunt in "Clay." He also seems to have had a special interest in psychiatry, for all four of his stories have some psychiatric angle or element, and two even mention Sigmund Freud. I wonder if Thompson worked in medicine or psychiatry or if he simply recognized the possibilities for storytelling in a world in which Freudianism held sway. (1)

Lovecraft mentioned Freud, too, but Thompson, writing in the immediate postwar period when Freudianism was so much in vogue, seems to have given it more credence than did his predecessor. (2) "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Weird Tales, Nov. 1946) opens with the narrator's telling us why he wishes his narrative remain sealed until after he has been executed: he wishes to die for his crimes rather than to "spend endless remembering years in the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane." In "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947), the narrator is unable to avoid that fate, for he is indeed a patient in an insane asylum and trapped in a body he believes not to be his own.

The Freudian and psychiatric elements became more prominent in Thompson's stories as he advanced in his brief career. "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947), set in the 1890s or early 1900s, is less Lovecraftian than Poesque (3), but Poe could not have written a story like this one, for it offers an overtly Freudian explanation for its events. When the coroner, Herr Roderick, explains what has happened, the narrator, a police constable, interjects, "My dear Roderick, you've read too much of this new fellow Freud. Why . . . it's absurd." It occurs to me now that Thompson set "The Pale Criminal" where and when he did just so he could bring in the Freudian explanation. In the 1890s, such an explanation would have seemed fresh and insightful, not only in real-life investigations of crime but also in fiction. In any case, "The Pale Criminal" is an early and intuitive illustration of the the power of the placebo effect. It also reminds me of Psycho (1960) and of "Eyes," the Joan Crawford sequence of the original Night Gallery movie (1969).

Thompson's last story for Weird Tales, called "Clay" (May 1948), may be, in stylistic terms, his best story. It may also be his most sophisticated, and it indicates an author breaking from his earlier influences and reaching towards a greater maturity. (Thompson was twenty-five when it was published.) As in "The Pale Criminal," the narrator is one looking at a problem from the outside rather than from the inside, unlike in Thompson's first two stories. (4) In this case, the man is a psychiatrist who works at Wickford House, an insane asylum located somewhere in New England. His subject is a young man named Jeremy Bone, who believes he is being influenced by his missing twin. Among the group of psychiatrists at Wickford House, there are those who believe only in material explanations for human affairs and others who are open to supernatural explanations. But this is weird fiction, and so we know who will turn out to be right in the end.

To be continued . . . 

(1) We shouldn't forget the very obvious influence of Freudianism in L. Ron Hubbard's formulation of Dianetics (1950) and Scientology (ca. 1954). Volney Mathison, Hubbard's associate and the inventor of the E-meter, practiced for a time as a "psychoanalyst," by this measure a more or less useless term but one derived from Freudianism. Although Robert Bloch began his career as a part of Lovecraft's circle and wrote stories in the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, he also wrote Psycho (1959), a story heavy with the influence of Freudianism but not quite free of gothic convention. Think of the Bates house, with its literal gothic design, in Alfred Hitchcock's movie version of 1960.
(2) The Hitchcock film Spellbound, with Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, is an early example. It was released on October 31, 1945.
(3) The name of the castle in "The Pale Criminal," Zengerstein, is an obvious truncation of the title of Poe's first published short story, "Metzengerstein: A Tale in Imitation of the German," from 1832. It's probably fair to say that "The Pale Criminal" is a tale in imitation of a tale in imitation of the German, only with a twist of both Nietzsche (who was German, not Polish, as he liked to claim) and Freud (who, though Austrian, spoke not the Austrian language but the German language--I'm not sure why; maybe we should ask our previous president who was so smart about these things).
(4) "The Pale Criminal" and "Clay" are actually hybrids in that they are narrated by a man on the outside of the problem but include a found manuscript written by someone on the inside.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Two

According to Robert Weinberg and his co-editors (or Mr. Weinberg alone), C. Hall Thompson's stories in Weird Tales were among the first Cthulhu stories "written by an author who was not personally invited to join the fun by Lovecraft." According to editor Charles M. Collins, Thompson was "catapulted to fame" after his work appeared in Weird Tales,  with "Spawn of the Green Abyss" receiving "tremendous acclamation" and "hailed as out Lovecrafting the old master himself." All of that appears to have been too much for August Derleth, who pressured Weird Tales to quit publishing Thompson's Lovecraftian stories. This in effect seems to have silenced the younger author, who spent the remainder of his career writing Westerns and crime/detective stories. Thompson may have his revenge, though. His four stories have been reprinted again and again, and if he was indeed the author behind the Arthur Pendragon stories, then he has also been hailed as the creator of two of the best Cthulhu stories of the post-Lovecraft era. These, too, have been reprinted, most recently in Acolytes of Cthulhu (2014). Derleth's byline is missing from that book by the way.

But was Thompson Pendragon? No one knows and no one may ever know. A user named Druidic on the website Thomas Ligotti Online seems to think so, though, and the more I look into the controversy, the more I think things fit. Still, the evidence is circumstantial only. I haven't found anything conclusive.

In going about all of this, I first looked at C. Hall Thompson's stories in Weird Tales. Here is what I found . . .

Thompson's four stories were:
  • "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Cover story, Nov. 1946)
  • "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947)
  • "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947)
  • "Clay" (May 1948)
Of these, only "The Will of Claude Ashur" touches directly on what is now called the Cthulhu Mythos. (That's Derleth's term. I'm not sure that we should use it, but it's too late to do anything about it now.) The others are Lovecraftian to one degree or another, but they could easily take place in a non-Cthulhian universe.

Three of the four are set in the northeastern United States. Only "The Pale Criminal" takes place beyond American shores, in Germany. Of the three stories set here in this country (I write from the cold, snowy Midwest), two are based in New Jersey with side trips to other places. One, "Clay," takes place in Lovecraft's beloved New England. If you're writing while under the influence of Lovecraft, I can see setting your stories in New England. That was his country. But to set your stories in New Jersey seems a little odd to me--unless New Jersey forms a part of your own region, one that you might wish to mythologize in the same way that Lovecraft mythologized New England. Well, C. Hall Thompson was born in Philadelphia and lived in Pennsylvania--like New Jersey, a Mid-Atlantic state--for all or most of his life. (1, 2) In contrast, Arthur Porges, another candidate for the Pendragon title, was from the Chicago area and lived, I think, in California for a good many years.

All four of Thompson's stories have Lovecraftian elements, but they also have conventional gothic elements. There are locked rooms, locked chests, secret books, and hidden manuscripts. There are also ancient curses, forbidden rites and lore, twin or switched identities, cases of possession and malign influence cast by supernatural forces, all of which culminate in ghastly deaths or unfortunate fates visited upon the main characters. As in so many gothic stories--maybe all gothic stories--much of the action in Thompson's work takes place in lonely and forbidding houses. In "Spawn of the Green Abyss," it's called Heath House, located close to a town "sprawled on a forlorn peninsula off New Jersey's northeastern coast." (3) In "The Will of Claude Ashur," the house is Inneswich Priory, not a priory at all but a private home, also located in New Jersey. In "The Pale Criminal," the house is a castle called Zengerstein, which looms on the edge of the Black Forest. (4) Finally, the action in "Clay" takes place at Wickford House, an asylum for the insane located somewhere in northern New England. There is in fact a lot of insanity or presumed insanity in Thompson's weird fiction, but--younger by more than a generation than H.P. Lovecraft--Thompson had a different angle on mental illness, one that would have been in vogue in postwar America.

To be continued . . .

(1) On the other hand, if you're from Pennsylvania and want to mythologize a place, why wouldn't you choose your own place to mythologize?
(2) I wouldn't rule out that Thompson served in the military during or right after World War II. His first known published story was "The Shanghaied Ruby" in the Winter 1945-1946 issue of Fight Stories. That would have been just right for a man separating or soon to separate from the military.
(3) That sounds like Sandy Hook to me, but I'm no Easterner. There are beaches at Sandy Hook, and I wonder if it was a tourist spot for Philadelphians in Thompson's day. There are also military installations at Sandy Hook. Could Thompson have been stationed there?
(4) Or could Thompson, if he was in the military, have been stationed in postwar Germany? Maybe not, as "The Pale Criminal" seems an imitation of a story by Poe and not based on anything from real life.

Copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part One

The story so far:

Charles John Thompson (1923-1991), who published under the pen name C. Hall Thompson, contributed four stories to Weird Tales in 1946-1948. Despite his small output in the field of weird fiction, Thompson wasn't an unknown writer nor a flash in the pan, for he authored dozens more stories, mostly Westerns, and a few novels, also Westerns, over the course of his twenty-plus years as a professional writer. Born in the same month in which the first issue of Weird Tales came out, Thompson was only forty-six years old in 1969, the year in which his last known work of fiction was published. (It was one-half of an Ace Double Western.) Oddly enough, that was the same age at which H.P. Lovecraft stopped writing . . . except that Lovecraft stopped writing on account of a premature case of death. Thompson may have kept on writing--he had to have done something during the last twenty-two years of his life--but for now at least, this is all we have.

Thompson's four stories for Weird Tales are Lovecraftian in one way or another. The story is that they were too Lovecraftian for August Derleth's tastes. An extremely prolific author, the publisher of Arkham House books, and the self-appointed defender of the Lovecraftian faith, Derleth is supposed to have threatened Thompson with legal action if he did not desist from writing in the manner of his master. Thompson's last story for Weird Tales, entitled simply "Clay," appeared in the May 1948 issue of the magazine and he was heard from no more in those pages.

At least one reader who has posted on the Internet has suggested that Thompson was the man behind two stories, published under the pseudonym Arthur Pendragon, in Fantastic Stories of Imagination in 1964-1965. The stories, "The Dunstable Horror" (Apr. 1964) and "The Crib of Hell" (May 1965), are pastiches of Lovecraft. They are considered good pastiches, but they are nonetheless pastiches. Darrell Schweitzer, who knows a thing or two about Weird Tales, has suggested science fiction and fantasy author Arthur Porges as the man behind the Pendragon mask. There is circumstantial evidence in favor of both suggestions but nothing definite. We may never know Pendragon's real identity.

I have looked into the Thompson-Pendragon controversy a little more and have read Thompson's four weird tales. One thing I wanted to find out about is the story that August Derleth threatened C. Hall Thompson if he did not quit with the Yog-Sothothery. This story has been repeated on the Internet without citation and attribution, as all things are in this medium. Well, I just happened to find a telling of that story in print. From the introduction to "The Will of Claude Ashur" in Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors, edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenburg (1988):
C. Hall Thompson's 1947 story, "The Will of Claude Ashur"--with its appropriation of Lovecraftian names and more than casual nod to the plot of "The Thing on the Doorstep"--stands as one of the first stories of this kind [i.e., one of "H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories"] written by an author who was not personally invited to join the fun by Lovecraft. Thompson wrote three other stories for the magazine in the same vein until Lovecraft's publishers asked him to stop. (p. 488)
That quote led me to Mr. Weinberg's earlier history of the magazine, The Weird Tales Story (1977) and this quote:
November 1946 brought forth the "Spawn of the Green Abyss" [sic] by C. Thompson Hall. A direct pastiche of Lovecraft in both style and content, the story was similar to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." However, "Spawn" was well written and entertainingly told. Thompson did several other Lovecraft pastiches until Derleth made Weird Tales stop from publishing them. Derleth maintained a stranglehold on all Lovecraftian ideas, though it was doubtful that he had any legal right to do so. (p. 46)
The way I understand it, Derleth had no legal right to do so. At this late date, I think we can say that he was more or less a jerk about it. Anyway, Robert Weinberg owned the Weird Tales property when he wrote those words. I think we have to assume that he knew whereof he spoke. I think we should also point out that Derleth was competing with Thompson for space in Weird Tales during the late 1940s, not only under his own name but also under his pseudonym Stephen Grendon. We might call his position biased. After all, one more Thompson tale in the magazine could have meant one less Derleth tale. Like I said, jerk.

In 1963, Avon Books issued a collection of weird tales called Fright, later Harvest of Fear. In his introduction, the editor, Charles M. Collins, wrote:
C. Hall Thompson catapulted to fame when his "The Will of Claude Ashur" and "Spawn of the Green Abyss" were published in Weird Tales magazine. The latter, received with tremendous acclamation, was hailed as out Lovecrafting the old master himself. His "Clay," in the Lovecraft tradition, is a minor masterpiece which should generate much enthusiasm among his many admirers. (1975 edition, p. 12)
So if Derleth was really that peeved with Thompson, maybe it was out of jealousy. In any case, those are pretty encouraging words from Collins the editor. If you were C. Hall Thompson, you might have thought pretty well of yourself and that maybe you should take advantage of the situation while you could. Now consider the timing: Fright was published in 1963. Just four months into the following year, Fantastic issued a never-before published Lovecraft pastiche, "The Dunstable Horror" by Arthur Pendragon. Was it an old story dusted off for publication in 1964? Or was a new story, composed and submitted to Cele Goldsmith in short order following the publication of Fright? Whatever might have happened, if Pendragon was Thompson, the timing seems right. Now let's see how Pendragon's stories might match up with Thompson's.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 25, 2019

Who Was Arthur Pendragon?

The other day I wrote about C. Hall Thompson, who contributed Lovecraftian pastiches to Weird Tales in the 1940s. I also wrote that there is at least one person who speculates that Thompson was the man behind two stories by a pseudonymous author dubbed Arthur Pendragon, published in Fantastic Stories of the Imagination in 1964-1965. I say pseudonymous, but I don't think anyone can say for sure that Pendragon wasn't his real name. It just seems really unlikely that it was. His (or her) two stories in Fantastic were "The Dunstable Horror" from April 1964 and "The Crib of Hell" from May 1965. The story goes that in the 1940s August Derleth threatened C. Hall Thompson with legal action if Thompson didn't stop writing Lovecraftian tales. I don't know the source of the claim of Derleth's threatened action against Thompson, but it doesn't sound out of character for him.

The suggestion that Thompson was Pendragon comes from the website Thomas Ligotti Online. It is made by a user named Druidic (I think). You can read the entire short thread by clicking here. Druidic's evidence isn't strong, but sometimes a gut feeling can get you somewhere. Another user--I guess he's called Ancient History--points out that both of Pendragon's stories were reprinted in Acolytes of Cthulhu, from 2001. "In the introduction," writes Ancient History, "editor Robert M. Price says that Darrell Schweitzer suggests this is a pseudonym for Arthur Porges." Here is the evidence for that claim, straight from the source, Robert M. Price's introduction to the book:
As the learned Darrell Schweitzer points out, Pendragon's secret identity was most likely Arthur Porges, who wrote for the magazine under his own (noticeably similar) name during the same period. Sounds good to me.
In other words, there isn't any good evidence one way or another. There is of course circumstantial evidence that C. Hall Thompson was our man. After having written pulp stories--mostly Westerns but also a few weird tales and crime/detective stories--in the 1940s and '50s, Thompson may have gone looking for other markets in the early 1960s. Could he have dusted off a couple of old Lovecraftian pastiches and submitted them to Cele Goldsmith, editor of Fantastic, either under a pseudonym or insisting on a pseudonym so as to avoid any trouble with Derleth? Maybe so. Ms. Goldsmith and Derleth would seem to have been connected in one way or another. Whether distantly or closely, I can't say, but maybe she would have understood the problem--and looked right past it because of her endless need for new material. Or maybe Derleth's ire against other Lovecraftian authors of the late 1940s had died down by the early 1960s. The circle of Lovecraftian authors, editors, artists, and fans could not have been very big in any case. Artist Lee Brown Coye was working for both Cele Goldsmith and August Derleth during the early 1960s. He in fact illustrated "The Dunstable Horror." Maybe that's connection enough. Nevertheless, Cele Goldsmith bought and published two Lovecraftian stories from a now unknown author, despite any objection Derleth might have had.

There is also circumstantial evidence that Arthur Porges was Arthur Pendragon. The first name and both initials match, and it was a pretty common practice for writers of science fiction and fantasy to write under more than one byline, especially for different kinds of stories. One possible weakness in this argument is this question: Did Porges write other Lovecraftian pastiches? Is he known to have been a fan or reader of Lovecraft's work? If he wasn't, then it's harder to believe that he wrote what some consider to be among the better Lovecraftian tales from after Lovecraft's death. Witness the inclusion of both of Pendragon's stories in Acolytes of Cthulhu and Mr. Price's comment in his introduction that Pendragon's "reputation is narrower than it ought to be." None of that is a problem, of course, when it comes to C. Hall Thompson. He had written Lovecraftian stories before and there isn't any reason to think that he couldn't have done it again in the 1960s, alternatively, that he had been sitting on those stories since the 1940s and got them into print when the opportunity presented itself.

So who was Arthur Porges? Well, he was the son of James and Clara (Kurzin) Porges, two Jewish-Russian immigrants who came to the United States as young children in the period 1888-1890, spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue, and lived in the Chicago area for most of their lives. James Porges was born Israel Podgursky but changed his surname to match that of a relative in Chicago. Arthur was the second youngest of James and Clara Porges' four sons. His older brother Irwin (1909-1998), a college professor and musician, wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975). (Burroughs was also a Chicagoan.) The youngest of the Porges boys, Walter Porges (1918-1979), was a teacher of history in Connecticut and at Pierce College in Los Angeles. It seems as though at least three out of the four ended up in California.

Arthur Porges was born in 1915, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and taught college-level mathematics. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, his first published story was "The Rats," which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 1951. He published dozens more stories until his death in 2006 at age ninety. In looking over their titles, I don't see any that jumps out as a possible Lovecraftian tale, but you never know. I'm not sure that it matters anyway, for the question of who Arthur Pendragon really was will remain until someone finds a telltale typescript or letter or some other piece of evidence among the papers of a deceased author or editor.

By the way, Arthur Porges was born on August 20, 1915, H.P. Lovecraft's twenty-fifth birthday.

Arthur Porges had the cover story, "The Shadowsmith," in the September 1960 issue of Fantastic Science Fiction Stories. The cover artist was John Duillo (1928-2003), later the other Conan artist for Lancer Books

Arthur Porges' older brother, Irwin Porges, was also a writer and the author of the book Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975). He and Arthur also collaborated on a story called "A Touch of Sun" for Fantastic, published in the issue of April 1959. The cover artist here is unknown.

Both Irwin and Arthur Porges were of an age to have grown up reading Burroughs' stories. Irwin Porges reached the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which is twelve) in 1921, Arthur in 1927. Burroughs must have captured their imaginations. But what about H.P. Lovecraft? Would they have had the same reaction to his work, assuming they read it? It's impossible to say. But maybe generations matter when it comes to these things. C. Hall Thompson was younger than the Porges brothers by a decade or more. Born in 1923, he would have lived his formative years in a time when Weird Tales and H.P. Lovecraft (as well as Amazing Stories and other science fiction pulps) were at their peak. Could Lovecraft have been his Burroughs? Again, it's impossible to say.

Both C. Hall Thompson and Arthur Porges have been proposed as the true identity of the (presumably) pseudonymous author Arthur Pendragon. Pendragon has two genre-fiction credits. First came "The Dunstable Horror" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination, in April 1964. The illustrations were by Lee Brown Coye, his last work for the magazine. For the next several years, Coye did illustrations for August Derleth's Arkham House. Like Derleth's 1945 pastiche The Lurker at the Treshold, "The Dunstable Horror" is set in rural New England. Also like Derleth's novel, there is an element of the plot that involves an American Indian of unusual power. If C. Hall Thompson was Arthur Pendragon, and if he wrote "The Dunstable Horror" in the 1940s, he or his editor may have felt that his story was uncomfortably close to The Lurker at the Threshold. (Lovecraft's village of Dunwich makes its appearance in Derleth's book, too.) Maybe he didn't want to risk a lawsuit. On the other hand, maybe Thompson--if he was Pendragon and if Derleth had made legal threats against him in the 1940s--couldn't pass up the chance to stick his finger in Derleth's eye after so many years and so submitted his tale to Fantastic. But that's all a lot of speculation. The mystery remains.

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley