Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr.-Aside No. 3

Bloch & Lovecraft

Robert Bloch (1917-1994) discovered Weird Tales in the summer of 1927 when he and his aunt were at the Chicago and North Western railroad terminal in his hometown. She told him to choose any magazine he wanted from the newsstand. "I immediately zeroed in on Weird Tales," Bloch recalled more than half a century later. His aunt wasn't very happy with the choice, but at the tender age of ten Bloch had made the discovery of a lifetime. (1)

H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), Bloch's soon-to-be idol and mentor, didn't have a story in Weird Tales that summer. Bloch would have had to wait until the October issue to read one instead. If that's what happened--if the October 1927 issue of Weird Tales really was Bloch's first encounter with Lovecraft--then it would have been a perfect introduction, for that's when "Pickman's Model" first appeared. I'm pretty sure "Pickman's Model"--the Night Gallery version--was my introduction to Lovecraft, too, though I didn't know it at the time.

Six years later, Bloch was living in Milwaukee and rising at 6:30 on the first of every month to dress and then rush away from his home on East Knapp Street to the cigar store on Ogden Avenue, gasping, clutching his quarter, hot to buy the first of only two or three copies of Weird Tales carried by the spinster ladies who ran the store. (One sold cigars. The other smoked them.) (2) Bloch turned sixteen that year. Only a couple of more years would pass before his own byline began appearing in Weird Tales.

Nineteen thirty-three year was a fateful year in Bloch's career. He had already had his first letter printed in "The Eyrie," the letters column of Weird Tales. That was in November 1932. (He asked that Weird Tales remain decidedly weird.) Shortly after his sixteenth birthday, Bloch wrote a fan letter to Lovecraft. In pretty short order, he received a reply, dated April 22, 1933. Thus began a short but voluminous correspondence. "He was the man who I most admired in fantasy, next to Edgar Allan Poe," Bloch remembered. "He is the man who suggested that I write, encouraged me to write. He is the man responsible for my writing career. And I would say he is probably the strongest formative influence--outside of my own parents--on my entire life." (3)

The letters between Bloch and Lovecraft would continue until the end of Lovecraft's brief remaining years on earth. Bloch was devastated when Lovecraft died in March 1937. "At the age of twenty, the news of his fate came to me as a shattering blow," Bloch remembered. (4) In an effort to recuperate from the blow, he answered an invitation from Henry Kuttner (1915-1958), another young author who had suffered the shock, to visit him in California. Bloch made the trip in May. During his stay on the West Coast, he also met Fritz Leiber, Jr. (1910-1992) and C.L. Moore (1911-1984), fresh from her Hoosier home. Kuttner and Moore would later marry.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb) lists more than four dozen published letters and cards from Lovecraft to his young correspondent. (There is no corresponding list, no pun intended, of letters from Bloch to Lovecraft.) Six of these letters were published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters, which were issued in five volumes by Arkham House. (And other publishers, too?--I'm not sure.) They are: No. 624-June 9, 1933; No. 645-Aug. 19, 1933; No. 662-Nov. 1933; No. 748-Jan. 25, 1935; No. 780-Apr. 30, 1935; No. 814-Dec. 4, 1935. Lovecraft's last letter in the ISFDb list was dated January 25, 1937, the same month in which "The Thing on the Doorstep," Lovecraft's last story published in his lifetime in Weird Tales, appeared. Two months after that he was in his grave. Bloch also wrote letters to Weird Tales. According to Thomas G.L. Cockcroft's index, there were twenty-six of them between November 1932 and July 1945. That number puts him in sixth place behind Henry Kuttner in the list of most prolific letter writers in "The Eyrie." 

I have one more piece of information from the Centipede Press book Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (2009). In an article called "Robert Bloch on Weird Tales," the author remembered his association with the magazine and its contributors. Asked by his editor to mention his own favorites among the stories he wrote for Weird Tales, Bloch responded: "Certainly there will always be a special place in my affections for the early yarns written in the Lovecraftian style--the Egyptian cycle which gradually evolved from them," and so on. In this series, I have written about what seems to be a kind of mini-mythos invented by Robert Bloch, with Mysteries of the Worm (or De Vermis Mysteriis) by Ludvig Prinn playing a central role. Now it seems that the mythos has a name: the Egyptian Cycle. It's not in my imagination after all. In fact, Robert Price has already written about it in an article called "The Egyptian Tales of Robert Bloch" on The Lovecraft Ezine. That happened six years ago, on October 14, 2014. You can read it by clicking here. Mr. Price has also discussed the stories in the cycle, all from Weird Tales:
  • "The Faceless God" (May 1936)
  • "The Opener of the Way" (Oct., 1936)
  • "The Brood of Bubastis" (Mar. 1937)
  • "The Secret of Sebek" (Nov. 1937)
  • "The Fane of the Black Pharaoh" (Dec. 1937)
  • "The Eyes of the Mummy" (Apr. 1938)
  • "Beetles" (Dec. 1938)
Half of these were published during Lovecraft's final year on earth. "The Brood of Busbastis" appeared in the same issue in which Earl Peirce, Jr.'s story "The Last Archer" was published. Ironically, that was in March 1937, the same month in which Lovecraft died. Peirce's story seems to be connected to Bloch's Egyptian Cycle. Maybe we can add it to the list as Story Number 7-1/2. As I have already noted, Peirce's first story, "Doom of the House of Duryea," mentions Ludwig Prinn, but doesn't seem to have a connection to the Egyptian Cycle. So were there actually two connected mini-mythos creations, the Egyptian Cycle and the Mysteries of the Worm/Ludwig Prinn cycle? Or maybe a more important question is this: Does it really matter?

Notes
(1) "Time Traveling with H.P. Lovecraft: The First World Fantasy Convention," by Robert Bloch in Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (Centipede Press, 2009), page 255.
(2) Ditto, page 256.
(3) "Robert Bloch Interviewed by Will Murray, 1975," in Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (Centipede Press, 2009), page 269.
(4) "Time Traveling with H.P. Lovecraft: The First World Fantasy Convention," by Robert Bloch in Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (Centipede Press, 2009), page 261.

From left to right, Henry Kuttner, Catherine L. Moore, Robert Bloch, and an unidentified woman, possibly C.L. Moore's friend Marjorie, a picture taken in Southern California in or about May 1937, possibly by Forrest J Ackerman. Bloch made the trip at Kuttner's invitation. Both were in mourning at the death of H.P. Lovecraft in March, but both seem to be having a little fun.

Kuttner had a kind of dour appearance, I think, but he was supposed to have been one of the funniest men in science fiction. He has reason for a little happiness in this picture, even if it isn't showing exactly: that's his future wife sitting next to him. The force of her gravity is even drawing him in a little.

As for C.L. Moore, she must have had the bluest of eyes, so blue that her irises often disappeared in photographs, like the eyes of Johnny Reb or Billy Yank from days of yore--like the eyes of her hero, too, Northwest Smith. Count Kuttner lucky: Catherine L. Moore was an extraordinarily charming and beautiful woman. Count me a little jealous, too.

Bloch doesn't seem to be too broken up, either. Being in the company of women can do that to a man. In fact he's clowning for the camera, pretending the kind of mayhem that one of his characters might have perpetrated. A shy or introverted man is likely to do that kind of thing, too, when women are around.

The other woman is unidentified, but Bloch later remembered a friend of C.L. Moore who accompanied her on the trip from Indiana. He even remembered her name, Marjorie. I suspect it is she, and if it is, I'm happy we have her picture and identity after these many decades.

The photograph is from Alternate Worlds: The Illustrated History of Science Fiction by James Gunn (1975), page 142.

I would like to acknowledge the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, Thomas G.L. Cockcroft, and Robert Price, and to thank Randal A. Everts for the book Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for this look at an aspect of HPL's life I wasn't familiar with. His correspondence output approached the superhuman. Of course, he didn't have Facebook to eat up his productive hours.

    I've found Internet Speculative Fiction Database to be a Fort Knox for sff readers and writers.

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    Replies
    1. You're welcome, Mike,

      I'm not sure that anybody really knows how many letters Lovecraft wrote. The estimate that I have heard is 100,000 or more. That might be more than any person ever. And I agree with you about the ISFDb. It's invaluable to me in the writing and research that I do.

      Thanks for reading and writing.

      TH

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