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

1 comment:

  1. I only just came across "Dunstable" and I've spent part of today trying to track down who is behind the obvious pseudonym, which brought me here. I'm inclined to discount Porges, simply because he's extremely well-documented and his pseudonyms seem to be known. About Thompson, I can make no real judgement.

    I thought the rights page for "Acolytes" might offer some clues, but they seem to have acquired the rights through Ziff-Davis. So much for that thread. The only other possible hint is that I felt like "Dunstable" has a fair amount of influence from Blackwood to go along with HPL. I'm not sure that's really anything to go on, though.

    As you say, barring some ancient typescript, canceled check or an obscure record from the vaults of Ziff-Davis, we'll probably never know.