Sunday, July 10, 2016

Conan and the Dweller, Part 2 by Bobby Derie

By 1933, William Lumley was a fixture among Lovecraft’s correspondents, and on the circulation list for manuscripts (SLCAS 226; MTS 364, 372; OFF 205) Few other details were forthcoming, that Lovecraft expanded on Lumley’s claims, saying that the aged mystic claimed to see ghosts and “Talks sometimes of being persecuted by enemies” (LRBO 55), as well to have:
[W]itnessed monstrous rites in deserted cities, has slept in pre-human ruins and awaked 20 years older, has seen strange elemental spirits in all lands (including Buffalo, N. Y.—where he frequently visits a haunted valley and sees a white, misty Presence), has written and collaborated on powerful dramas, has conversed with incredibly wise and monstrously ancient wizards in remote Asiatic fastnesses [...] His own sorceries, I judge, are of a somewhat modest kind; though he has had very strange and marvelous results from clay images and from certain cryptical incantations. (SL4.270-1)
Clark Ashton Smith
With regard to the various and interlocking myth-cycles of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft et al., the Gent from Providence assured Smith in one letter:
He is firmly convinced that all our gang—you, Two-Gun Bob, Sony Belknap, Grandpa E’ch-Pi-El, and the rest—are genuine agents of unseen Powers in distributing hints too dark and profound for human conception or comprehension. We may think we’re writing fiction, and may even (absurd thought!) disbelieve what we write, but at bottom we are telling the truth in spite of ourselves—serving unwittingly as mouthpieces of Tsathoggua, Crom, Cthulhu, and other pleasant Outside gentry. Indeed—Bill tells me that he has fully identified my Cthulhu and Nyarlathotep ……. So that he can tell me more about ‘em that I know myself. With a little encouragement, good old Bill would unfold limitless chronicles from beyond the border—but I liked the old boy so well that I never make fun of him. (SL4.270-271)
In this belief, Lumley was several decades ahead of the occultist Kenneth Grant, who made the hidden occult reality of the Mythos crafted by Lovecraft & co. a crucial part of his Typhonian Trilogies, beginning with Dreaming Out of Space (1971) and The Magical Revival (1972).

At this point in 1933, Lumley was corresponding with both Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith—as was Robert E. Howard. As a consequence, Howard began to hear of Lumley from both men. While none of Smith’s letters to Howard survive, from references in Howard’s letters to Smith we know they spoke of Lumley, who is presumably “the correspondent who maintains that reptile-men once existed.” (CL3.137) In a November 1933 letter to Lovecraft, Smith wrote of Lumley: “The idea of a primeval serpent-race seems to be a favourite one with him, since he refers to it in his last letter as well as in one or two previous epistles.” (SLCAS 236)

WT Oct. 1934
Likely the reference to serpent-men arose because Smith was at that point working on “The Seven Geases” (WT Oct 1934), which contains a section referring to a race of Serpent-Men, or else perhaps because he made comment or reference to Howard’s own serpent-folk in “The Shadow Kingdom” (WT Aug 1929). There is an outside possibility that Lumley was familiar with Maurice Doreal (sometimes given as Morris Doreal, real name apparently Claude Doggins), the founder of the Brotherhood of the White Temple. Doreal’s poem “The Emerald Tablets of Thoth the Atlantean” appeared in mimeographed form in the 1930s, and describes the secret history of a shape-changing Serpent Race which have strong parallels to Howard’s story “The Shadow Kingdom.” Another reference to Lumley from Smith’s letters to Howard mentions a “seven-headed goddess of hate,” which intrigued the Texan. (CL3.151)

The story William Lumley was working on, “The City of Dim Faces” was never published—possibly never completed—but Lovecraft continued to encourage Lumley’s creative efforts, telling Robert Bloch: “Probably has a strong latent literary gift—thwarted by ignorance. Some of his weird verses are really good—even if misspelt & mis-capitalised.” (LRBO 55) Lumley had better luck with his verses, which were published in issues of The Fantasy Fan, alongside the work of Howard, Lovecraft, Smith, Derleth and others.

The Fantasy Fan Feb. 1934
“The Dweller” (“Dread and potent broods a Dweller”) appeared in the February 1934 issue The Fantasy Fan, which Lovecraft described to editor Charles D. Hornig as “haunting and excellent” (UL 13), Fantasy Fan regulars Bob Tucker and Duane W. Rimel described it as “a masterpiece” and “certainly have a touch of the bizarre that grips one,” (TFF 97, 114) and Clark Ashton Smith as “a fine thing” (SLCAS 250). Robert E. Howard wrote to Smith:
I read Lumley’s “Dweller” in the Fantasy Fan and liked it very much; it certainly reflects a depth of profound imagination seldom encountered. I hope the Fan will use more of his verse. (CL3.197)
Howard repeated the sentiment in a letter to the Fantasy Fan in a subsequent letter (CL3.203). Hornig obliged with Lumley’s “Shadows” (“There’s a city wrought of shadows”) in the May 1934 number. Clark Ashton Smith wrote to the Fantasy Fan:
I wish to commend Mr. Lumley’s remarkable poem, ‘Shadows,’ in the May TFF. The poem seems to have in it all the mystic immemorial anguish and melancholy of China. (TFF 162)
Apparently, Lumley at some point lost a statue of the Hindu god Ganesha, and Lovecraft endeavored to help replace it. (SLCAS 253) The solution came in the form of Lovecraft’s young friend and correspondent R. H. Barlow, who had recently begun doing some amateur sculpting (including a bas-relief of Cthulhu), who endeavored to make an image of Ganesha for Lumley. (ES 2.636, SL4.411, SLCAS 259, AMtF 2.801; cf. TFF 164) Lumley also received a Cthulhu print that Barlow had made. (OFF 153)

Lumley’s success at publication in the Fantasy Fan was due largely to Lovecraft’s editing of his verses, which the man from Providence freely admitted to Barlow:
Incidentally—old Bill Lumley is getting ahead of me …. Sending more verse than I can possibly attend to. Unless he can find one or more supplementary “angels” I fear his reputation—either for fecundity or for quality—is going to encounter a downward curve! (OFF 180)
Lumley’s final verse publication was “The Elder Thing” (“Oh, have you seen the Elder Thing”) in January 1935—an issue he shared with Robert E. Howard’s “Voices of the Night 2. Babel” (“Now in the gloom the pulsing drums repeat”). This was the penultimate issue of The Fantasy Fan, and though Lovecraft recommended Lumley to Donald Wollheim of The Phantagraph (which would later publish Howard’s The Hyborian Age), nothing came of it. (LRBO 313)

Works Cited

AMtF       A Means to Freedom (Hippocampus Press, 2 vols.)
CL            Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (Robert E. Howard                                                Foundation, 3 vols. + Index and Addenda)
ES            Essential Solitude (Hippocampus Press, 2 vols.)
HPLE       The H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (Hippocampus Press)
LRBO      Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus Press)
MTS        Mysteries of Time and Spirit (Night Shade Books)
OFF         O Fortunate Floridian (University of Tampa Press)
SL            Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (Arkham House, 5 vols.)
SLCAS    Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith (Arkham House)
TFF         The Fantasy Fan (Lance Thingmaker)
UL           H. P. Lovecraft: Uncollected Letters (Necronomicon Press)

Part 1, Part 3

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