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

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