Letter to August Derleth

From Clark Ashton Smith

[8]

Auburn, Calif.
April 28th, 1937

Dear August:

Thanks for the fine photograph of HPL, which I prize immensely. Do you know when it was taken? It seems younger than any other picture of him I have seen.

From what you say, the instructions as to preservation and arrangement of stories must indeed be confusing. Truly, it would seem that he must have grouped the stories in relation to creative period and style development rather than theme.[1] Obviously there is no connection between "Cthulhu" and "The Colour", except that they were written in sequence, if I recall rightly. "Dunwich" came later and seems to mark a growing realism of groundwork which is continued through the longer subsequent tales. It seems to me that the grouping you have decided to follow is about as practical as any. As to the varying references to the mythos in different tales: I wonder if these weren't designed to suggest the diverse developments and interpretations of old myths and deities that spring up over great periods of time and in variant races and civilizations? I have, intentionally, done something of the sort in my own myth-creation. In "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros", certain vague legends were briefly cited to explain the desertion of the city of Commoriom. Then, in "The Testament of Athammaus", I cooked up, in fullest and most elaborate detail, an explanation of which the earlier tale gave no hint. I believe a similar theory would account for the discrepant characters given to Azathoth, Nyarlathotep, etc., in different stories. "Cthulhu" contains the germ of the mythos; "The Dunwich Horror" introduces Yog-Sothoth; and I am inclined to think the first mention of Azathoth occurs in Fungi from Yuggoth and "The Whisperer in Darkness". Evidently HPL developed and varied the mythos as he went on. I believe the theory I have outlined above will afford the best explanation of discrepancies: HPL wished to indicate the natural growth of a myth-pattern through dim ages, in which the same deity or demon might present changing aspects.

[. . .]

I have read "The Return of Hastur", twice, with deep interest. Indeed, it is a remarkable production; and yet, as it stands, I do not find the tale very satisfactory. I believe, for one thing, that it suffers (small wonder, under the circumstances!) from too hasty writing; and this is all the more regrettable since it contains the material of a first-rate weird tale. Since you asked me for suggestions, I am going to give you my full reactions — which, of course, may not coincide with those of any other reader. One reaction, confirmed rather than diminished by the second reading, is that you have tried to work in too much of the Lovecraft mythology and have not assimilated it into the natural body of the story. For my taste, the tale would gain in unity and power if the interest were centered wholly about the mysterious and "unspeakable" Hastur, Cthulhu and the sea-things of Innsmouth, though designed to afford an element and interest of conflict, impress me rather as a source of confusion. I believe a tremendous effect of vague menacing atmosphere and eerily growing tension could be developed around Hastur, who has the advantage of being a virtually unknown demon. Also, this effect could be deepened by a more prolonged incredulity on the part of Paul Tuttle and Haddon, who should not accept the monstrous implications of the old books and the strange after-clause of Amos Tuttle's bond until the accumulation and linking of weird phenomena leaves them no possible alternative. One of the best things in the tale is the description of those interdimensional footsteps that resound beneath the menaced mansion. These could be related significantly to Hastur alone by having them seem to mount by degrees on the eastern side of the house, reverberate like strange thunder in the heavens above, and descend on the west in a regular rotation, to echo again in the subterrene depths. Eventually it would be forced upon the hearers that this rotation was coincidental with the progress of Aldebaran and the Hyades through the heavens; thus heralding the encroachment of Hastur from his ultrastellar lair. More could be made of the part about Amos Tuttle's corpse and its unearthly changes: the coffin should show evidence of having been violently disrupted from within; and the footprints in the field, though monstrous in size, could present a vaguely human conformation, like those of some legendary giant; and Tuttle's corpse, when found, would have burst open in numberless places as if through some superhuman inflation of all its tissues; showing that the unknown entity had occupied it but had soon found it useless on account of the increasing corruption. At the climax, just before the house is dynamited, a colossal figure might rise out of, mingling the features and members of Paul Tuttle with the transcosmic monstrosity of Hastur; and this shape, because of its mortal elements, could be shattered and destroyed by the explosion, compelling Hastur to recede invisibly though with soul-shaking footsteps toward the Hyades. Some fragment of the incredibly swollen and gigantic energumen might survive the explosion, to be buried hastily, with shudders and averted glances, by the finders. So much for my suggestions, which you may find worthless, impractical, and too foreign to your own conception. I suggest that you get the opinions of other readers. As it stands, the tale is certainly superior to many that Wright has published; and I agree that the wording is quite unusual for you, and often recalls HPL.

[. . .]

April 29

I started to read over some of HPL's stories last night, with a critical eye to mythologic references. Certainly some of the variations are puzzling, In "Cthulhu", the Great Old Ones are clearly specified as the builders and inhabitants of R'lyeh, preserved by the spells of mighty Cthulhu, and worshipped through the aeons by obscure and evil cultists. Then, in "The Shadow over Innsmouth", Cthulhu and his compeers are referred to as the Deep Ones; and the Old Ones, whose "palaeogean magic" alone could check the sea-dwellers, are evidently something else again. Certainly these latter references would support your theory as to good and evil deities, In the earlier story, it might be argued that Castro was making out a case for his own side and ignoring the true Old Ones or confusing the evil gods with them. In "The Dreams in the Witch House" Nyarlathotep seems clearly identified with the Black Man of Satanism and witchcraft; since, in one of his dreams, Gilman is told that he must meet the Black Man and go with him to the throne of Azathoth.

[. . .]

My best as always,
Clark

* * *

  1. The reference is evidently to a list of three possible story collections drawn up by Lovecraft late in his life; the list is still extant in the John Hay Library.

From: Clark Ashton Smith: LETTERS TO H. P. LOVECRAFT, edited by and footnotes by Steve Behrends (July 1987) Necronomicon Press.

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Printed on: November 24, 2017