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

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