Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Joseph Payne Brennan (1918-1990)-Part Six

Brennan & Derleth

Joseph Payne Brennan was younger than August W. Derleth (1909-1971) by a little more than eight years. Derleth had his first story in Weird Tales in 1926 when he was just seventeen years old. Brennan waited until 1952 when he was nearly twice that age. Although both men were Roman Catholics, both were also admirers and followers of H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937), a strict (on the surface at least) materialist. Brennan seems to have been solitary, possibly unhappy or even morose. He worked for most of his life in a library, that inner sanctum of the introvert. By all accounts, Derleth was his opposite--big and burly and outgoing, an energetic man and one full of appetites. Brennan and Derleth had some things in common. Both were not only authors and poets but also editors and publishers. And though Brennan was apparently never in touch with Lovecraft, he and Derleth corresponded. Derleth did for Brennan what he had also done for Lovecraft: under his Arkham House and other imprints, Derleth published Brennan's works.

I guess Derleth would have first approached Brennan rather than the other way around. If that's how it happened, I can imagine Derleth's reading "The Green Parrot" in the July 1952 issue of Weird Tales, Brennan's first story for the magazine. By then, Derleth had spent more than half of his life as a published author and more than a dozen years as publisher of Arkham House books. Maybe he was a leading figure in weird fiction, certainly in the publishing of weird fiction. Here in front of him, then, was a new and promising author in the field. Maybe he first wrote to Brennan. Maybe Brennan was happy to receive a letter and to write back. However it happened, I suspect that the two men began corresponding around 1952. Unfortunately, I don't have any direct sources or information on that. I hope that someone can lead the way.

In 1958, under his Arkham House imprint, Derleth issued Nine Horrors and a Dream by Joseph Payne Brennan in an edition of 1,336 copies. The cover art was by Frank Utpatel (1905-1980) (see below). Nine Horrors and a Dream collects four of Brennan's five stories for Weird Tales, plus five others. I recently came across a copy of this book in the collection of the late Margaret B. Nicholas of Bartlett and Marietta, Ohio. Mrs. Nicholas was a wallpaper hanger. She had a fine eye and good taste, not only for books and magazine fiction but also for decorative items. I thank her for what she did in her life, which lasted all of ninety-seven years.

August Derleth published Brennan's poetry as well. Brennan had fourteen poems in Fire and Sleet and Candlelight: New Poems of the Macabre, issued by Arkham House in 1961. Under his Hawk & Whippoorwill Press imprint, Derleth also published The Wind of Time (1961), a slim volume of Brennan's verse. Nightmare Need, again with cover art by Utpatel, followed in 1964, again under Arkham House. Brennan returned the favor in his own journal, entitled Macabre. For example, Derleth's poem "Revenants" was in the Summer 1959 issue of that small magazine.

Of course Brennan and Derleth were also writers of prose. Both wrote weird fiction. Both also created their own occult detectives modeled after Sherlock Holmes. Derleth's detective is Solar Pons. Brennan's goes by the more mundane appellation Lucius Leffing. (Both given names refer to light or sources of light.) Derleth cast his characters and situations into a place he had never been when he began writing. This was London. Brennan kept his detective close to home, in his own native Connecticut. Brennan himself is Leffing's sidekick and Dr. Watson. Brennan and Derleth had stories together in just one issue of Weird Tales before its demise in 1954. That was in July 1953.

August Derleth died suddenly in 1971. We can only imagine what another loss would have meant to Joseph Payne Brennan. Although both men had endured ill health in the previous few years, Brennan survived Derleth by almost two decades. Fortunately for us, Brennan and Derleth put their own works and those of so many other authors into print. Again, we can say thank you to them both.

To be concluded . . .

Further Reading

"Hawk & Whippoorwill: Derleth’s Overlooked Imprint" by Allied Authors, on the blog Allied Authors at the following URL:

In addition to his many other duties, August Derleth was a newspaper columnist. He wrote "Wisconsin Diary" for The Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin. On January 31, 1963, Joseph Payne Brennan wrote to Derleth on the death of fellow poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). Derleth quoted Brennan's letter in his own column of February 11, 1963 (page 2).

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley