Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Lost Weird Anthology, 1931-1933 by Bobby Derie

History is littered with unrealized literary projects—books that were never written, anthologies that were never published. While the primary market of writers like Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith was the pulp magazines, they continued efforts to see their fiction published in book form—efforts which, for Lovecraft and Howard, amounted to relatively little during their lifetimes, besides a handful of placements in the British “Not At Night” anthologies, as well as Dashiell Hammett’s Creeps by Night (1931) collection and a few small-press or self-publishing efforts on the part of Lovecraft.

One of the most interesting of these failed projects is also one of the most elusive, as little correspondence from the main players has survived. However, thanks to the pulp gossip mill that was Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft, we can trace something of the development of what would have been a classic weird anthology. The trail begins in the summer of 1931:

By the way, E. Hoffmann Price writes me that he and Mashburn are attempting to promote a sort of anthology of weird tales—or rather a collection of ten selected stories, which includes your "Pickman's Model" and my "Kings of the Night." I'm all for it, myself. Have they mentioned anything about it to you? I think it would be great.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Aug 1931 (MF1.202-203, CL2.240)

E. Hoffmann Price and William Kirk Mashburn, Jr. were both fellow pulpsters, who shared a common market with Howard and Lovecraft at Weird Tales, where both "Pickman's Model" (Oct 1927) and "Kings of the Night" (Nov 1930) had previously been published, and who at the time both lived in New Orleans, where they frequently met and associated. (BOD 126)

This proposed Price-Mashburn anthology is a new thing to me—I have had no word from either of the twain. I'd be glad enough to have hem use "Pickman's Model", which was included in the British "Not at Night" series, but has not seen book publication in America. Glad your "Kings of the Night" is also considered.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 12 Sep 1931 (MF1.213)

“Pickman’s Model” had been selected for the reprint anthology By Daylight Only (1929), part of the “Not at Night” series. Lovecraft’s response to Howard was quickly followed by spreading the news to others in his correspondence:

As to anthologies—Howard tells me that E. Hoffmann Price & W. K. Mashburn are planning an anthology which will include my "Pickman's Model"—though they haven't said anything to me about it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 9 Sep 1931 (ES1.381)

No further news on the Price-Mashburn anthology [...]
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 18 Sep 1931 (ES1.384)

Did I mention, by the way, that (according to Robert E. Howard) a small weird anthology is contemplated by two veteran W.T. contributors—E. Hoffmann Price & W. K. Mashburn?
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 25 Sep 1931 (DS 324)

At this point, Lovecraft still doesn’t appear to be in direct correspondence with Price, and was receiving the news through Robert E. Howard:

I'm very glad that "Pickman's Model" has been used in a British publication, and will gladder when it appears in American covers. Price said in his last letter that he and Mashburn had not had an opportunity to go further into the business of getting the anthology going, but that they intended to see about it eventually.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Oct 1931 (MF1.228, CL2.269)

The pursuit of the anthology might have been sidelined as Price and Mashburn had difficulties of their own in 1931-1932. In 1931 Price divorced his first wife Helen, and moved back to the Vieux CarrĂ©, the French Quarter in New Orleans; in 1932 Price was let go from his position with the Union Carbide Corporation, and the Texas & New Orleans Railroad discontinued Mashburn’s position, moving him to the Houston end of the line. (BOD 132) Despite these personal setbacks, interest in the anthology continued:

I’ve drifted into correspondence with some more Weird Tailors (as Lovecraft calls them) and Mashburn tells me that there seems to be a good chance of getting that weird anthology published. I hope so, ye gods.
—Robert E. Howard to Tevis Clyde Smith, Mar 1932 (CL2.315)

Price told me about this anthology which he & Mashburn are trying to float, & asked me for "Pickman's Model" to adorn its pages. I'm letting him have it, though without any illusions to the success of such a venture in these uncertain times. I suggest Whitehead's "Black Beast" or "Passing of a God", Long's "Space-Eaters", & some other things as good material to include. There will, if all goes well, be a preface by Wright.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 10 Jul 1932 (DS 375)

Henry St. Clair Whitehead and Frank Belknap Long were both friends and correspondents of H. P. Lovecraft, and had been published in Weird Tales; Price and Whitehead had been in correspondence since 1926. (HSW 7-9, BOD 271) The stories Lovecraft mentions were first published in Adventure (“Black Beast” Jul 1931) and Weird Tales (“Passing of a God” Jan 1931, “The Space-Eaters” Jul 1928). Given that all of the named possible contributors at this point—Howard, Lovecraft, Price, Whitehead, Long—were published in Weird Tales, and that Price had apparently suggested that Farnsworth Wright, the editor of WT, write the preface, the anthology is beginning to look a great deal like a Weird Tales reprint anthology...something that Wright would no doubt be very interested in. The death of Henry S. Whitehead, 23 Nov 1932, may or may not have put a kink into the planned anthology; Whitehead himself was not essential to a reprint of his story—it required only the permission of the copyright holder.

In the 1920s and 30s, it was standard practice at Weird Tales and other pulps to buy all rights to a story if possible, which let them reprint the story, or publish it in reprint anthologies at will without additional payment to the author—they essentially owned the copyright on the story; more canny writers sold only the first North American serial rights only, which only gave the pulp the right to first publication in the US and Canadian markets. Weird Tales had already attempted a reprint anthology once, a volume titled The Moon Terror (1927), containing four novelettes from the 1923 issues of WT; the volume was a commercial failure, with copies still advertised for sale into the 1940s. By contrast, the British “Not at Night” series, which consisted largely of WT reprints, was successful enough to issue annual anthologies from 1925 to 1936. If Price & Mashburn intended to reprint stories from WT, they would have to get permission for the reprints from Wright, and if the anthology proved a success, it could potentially have inspired an American line of weird reprint anthologies along the lines of “Not at Night.”

Price’s release from the Union Carbide job in 1932 prompted him to devote his energies full-time to writing. One of his first moves was to secure an agent, August Lenniger. (BOD 32) In addition to marketing his fiction, Price apparently convinced Lenniger to help compile the anthology:

I surely wish his anthology good luck, but have just learned that he will not be the sole arbiter of its contents. He is submitting all his own choices to a professional critic in New York, who judges by market standards only; & will let this commercial expert decide what is & what isn't to go in the book. Thus my "Pickman's Model" may yet remain in the obscurity which it doubtless merits.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 26 Jul 1932 (DS 377)

Nevertheless, the anthology appears to have still been an ongoing concern, as Lovecraft would continue to write to his correspondents on Price’s behalf:

I was just going to write you at Price's request when your of the 22nd appeared. It seems that he wants your (& Schorer's) story "In the Left Wing" for that anthology which he & others are getting up—& not knowing your address, asked me to pass the word along to you & request you to send him the text of the story if you're willing to have it appear. You'll recall that I liked that story, although you didn't yourself. He also suggests that you name any other stories of yours which you would prefer to have appear. Doubtless you'd pick something like "The Panelled Room" or "The Sheraton Mirror"—but this anthology is a hard, grim, business proposition, & something of sharp sensationalism with an obvious commercial "punch" is wanted. Final decisions on contents are made by a hard-boiled commercial critic in New York—named Lenninger—for whose Philistine judgments Price has an almost superstitious reverence. He turned thumbs down on my "Pickman's Model" (Price's choice), wouldn't even consider "The Colour Out of Space" (my choice), & finally picked "The Picture in the House" (the original Arkham story) as my contribution. But both Price & Mashburn are extremely fond of "In the Left Wing." Send material to E. Hoffmann Price, 1416 Josephine St., New Orleans.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 26 Nov 1932 (ES2.527)

WT June 1932
“In the Left Wing” (WT Jun 1932) was by August Derleth and Mark Schorer, one of a series of such collaborations that appeared in WT; "The Sheraton Mirror" (WT Sep 1932) and “The Panelled Room” (eventually published in The Westminster Magazine Sep 1933) were by Derleth alone. Lovecraft’s "The Colour Out of Space" first appeared in Amazing Stories (Sep 1927), while "The Picture in the House" first appeared in The National Amateur (Jul 1919) but was reprinted in WT (Jan 1924). Lenniger’s decision with regard to Lovecraft’s contribution was not entirely unwelcome, but it did prompt an added difficulty: getting a copy of the text.

Well—in a way I shan’t mind the appearance of the Picture, for that is the first tale to mention the name of Arkham, to which I have since referred so often. Architectural note: if anywhere in the description of the old house you come upon the world fanlight, please change it to transom. POssibly, though, I had made the change in the ms. you have. I know more about colonial architecture than I did in 1920, when I produced this specimen. Again—an old man’s blessing for your lifting of a grievous burthen!
—H. P. Lovecraft to E. Hoffmann Price, 26 Nov 1932 (SL4.112)

What has happened is that Lovecraft, apparently lacking a published copy of the text, had convinced Price to re-type it from his original handwritten manuscript. (cf. ES2.547) Even so, Lovecraft did not appreciate Lenniger’s attitude toward weird fiction:

Price will appreciate your shipment of tales. This Lenniger is the perfect philistine—insists on action, & dislikes the work of Klarkash-Ton and myself because it is unpleasant. He thinks a weird tale ought to leave the reader happy!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Dec 1932 (ES2.529)

Derleth’s part of the exchange is lost, except for Lovecraft’s responses, but he appears to have suggested some other possible tales for his place in the anthology:

Yes—I'd imagine that H. in the M. would be most pleasing of all the tales to Lenniger. Still—zombis are dreadfully gruesome things! My own favourite, as you probably know, is Wind-Walker. But that is something for the Peacock Sultan & the Vizier Lhen-EIghur to fight about betwixt themselves.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Dec 1932 (ES2.531)

"The House in the Magnolias" was a zombie story that appeared in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror (Jun 1932), a Weird Tales competitor; "The Thing That Walked On The Wind" (Strange Tales Jan 1933) was an early Cthulhu Mythos tale. Despite Derleth’s suggestion, Lovecraft added:

Regarding the anthology—"In the Left Wing" seems to be the probable choice, this being an especial favourite of Price's colleague W. K. Mashburn. I don't know what kind of book it will be, on the whole, but its Philistine policy will certainly hurt its quality.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, Dec 1932 (ES2.532)

The literary agent, August Lenniger, wrote the other day, too, and as I suspected he would if he chose any, decided to include IN THE LEFT WING in the Price-Mashburn anthology.
—August Derleth to H. P. Lovecraft, 14 Feb 1933 (ES2.544)

I've had not communication from Lhen-Eighur, Lord of Philistia, so possibly he has overruled Price & excluded "The Picture in the House" from the future anthological best-seller. Your "Left Wing" is good stuff—with real atmosphere—despite all that can be said of the usualness of the theme.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 16 Feb 1933 (ES2.545)

WT May 1932
Clark Ashton Smith, for his part, also appeared to be set to contribute to the anthology with “The Vaults of Yoh-VOmbis” (WT May 1932):

Glad that the Philistine Lhen-Eighur has chosen a tale as good as "Yoh-Vombis" for the anthology. Comte d'Erlette's "In the Left Wing" & my "Picture in the House" seem to be likely co-choices. Now I hope the venture won't proceed to dissolve in thin air!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 7 Jan 1933 (DS 401)

Lenniger apparently also wrote to Robert E. Howard, having decided against including “Kings of the Night” in preference for the first Kull novelette “The Shadow Kingdom” (WT Aug 1929):

Dear Mr. Lenniger:
Here are the copies of “The Shadow Kingdom.” I assume that you have arranged with Weird Tales for the reprint rights. That magazine owns all rights to the story. Please let me know by return mail what arrangements you have made with the magazine company. I enclose a stamped envelope for your convenience.
—Robert E. Howard to August Lenniger, 20 Feb 1933 (CL3.14)

This required permission from Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales, whom Howard apparently wrote to and received word back from:

This is to inform you that I have the permission of Weird Tales to allow "The Shadow Kingdom" to be published in the proposed anthology.
—Robert E. Howard to August Lenninger, 8 Mar 1933 (CL3.41)

Lovecraft, who apparently still had not heard back from Lenniger, received word about the anthology only from Price:

Yes—Price retyped my "Picture in the House". Indeed, I told him I wouldn't contribute anything if I had to type it. I hope he did the job accurately—he says he took especial care. He now says that Prince Lhen-Eighur has succeeded in interesting the Thomas Y. Crowell Co. in the anthology—though of course nothing may come of it.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 27 Feb 1933 (ES2.547)

It is possible that "The Picture in the House" may appear in an anthology, for E. Hoffmann Price & W. Kirk Mashburn have included it in one they are trying to get published. However, the latest news from this venture is a rejection from the Thomas Y. Croswell Co.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert Bloch, 22 Apr 1933 (LRB 19-20)

This is the final reference to the anthology in the correspondence; after two years of wrangling on the contents, with the potential publisher falling through, the book appears to have been dropped by all concerned. Yet it was not quite the final word on the subject. Howard’s original letter had mentioned “ten selected stories,” yet only eight writers have been mentioned in the various letters. The remaining two names are given in Price’s memoirs, and suggest another part of the reason the anthology fell through:

We forgot to discuss that anthology which was to include stories by Quinn, Howard, Mashburn, Kline, Whitehead, and others. Probably against his better judgment, and to humor a client who might some day be profitable, my agent had accepted my proposal on an anthology of weird fiction. After reading the scripts, he decided that the Quinn and the Whitehead selections should be cut, as they went to much greater wordage than the stories warranted. Whitehead readily conceded that there was rarely a story which wouldn't be improved by cutting. Quinn, like Lovecraft, would not change as much as a comma, or delete even a word. The anthology never got into orbit. (BOD 156-157)

Almost certainly, it was prior to this June-July 1933 meeting that Quinn and I had corresponded concerning an anthology of weird stories---one of his, one by HPL, one by Robert E. Howard. Never got into orbit. My agent suggested some of the selected stories should be cut. Seabury Quinn, like H. P. Lovecraft, would no more cut a word than he'd chop off his own head. (MOQ 66)

The final two contributors to the anthology were thus Otis Adelbert Kline and Seabury Quinn, both of whom were prominent contributors to Weird Tales. The final list would then appear to have been something like:

Farnsworth Wright      Preface
Robert E. Howard       “The Shadow Kingdom”
H. P. Lovecraft            “The Picture in the House”
Clark Ashton Smith     “The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis”
August Derleth            “In the Left Wing”
Frank Belknap Long   “The Space-Eaters” (?)
Henry S. Whitehead    “Passing of a God” or “The Black Beast” (?)
E. Hoffmann Price      ?
Kirk Mashburn ?
Otis Adelbert Kline      ?
Seabury Quinn            ?

Lacking any direct documentation, the ultimate selection of stories remains vague—although we can make some educated guesses, based on the other stories. Probably, the contents would have been previously published in Weird Tales before 1933, and would be not too long—if Lenniger was truly concerned about length, the maximum size is probably that of the longest piece we know would be included in the anthology (“The Shadow Kingdom” at ~11,000 words).

WT July 1925
That still leaves a considerable number of stories for each author, but some of them had stories they were notably lauded for—“The Stranger from Kurdistan” (WT Jul 1925) by E. Hoffmann Price and “Placide’s Wife” (WT Nov 1931)—which would be natural fits. Most of Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin novelettes would have been too long, but his first story in Weird Tales, “The Phantom Farmhouse” (Oct 1923, reprinted Mar 1929) was highly lauded by Lovecraft and a possible contender. Kline too was better known for his serials, but his story “The Cup of Blood” (WT Sep 1923) is a possibility...yet lacking any additional evidence, there are too many options for each writer to say with certainty that one story was more likely than another.

It might have been a good anthology; certainly it counted among those named contributors some of the most popular writers at Weird Tales during that period. Lovecraft, Howard, Derleth, Quinn, and Long had or would all see reprints in the “Not at Night” anthologies, so such a volume might well have found an audience among the weird fiction fans of late 1933 or 1934. We run into the old trap of “what might have been,” and can only admire the ambition of those who strove to get into print, and regret that in this case, it simply did not happen.

Works Cited

BOD    Book of the Dead Friends of Yesteryear: Fictioneers & Others
CL       Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard (3 vols. + Index & Addenda)
DS       Dawning Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith
ES       Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (2 vols.)
HSW    Letters of Henry S. Whitehead
LRB     Letters to Robert Bloch and Others
MF       A Means to Freedom: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard (2 vols.)
MOQ   “Memories of Quinn” by E. Hoffmann Price (1969) in Sword & Fantasy #11

SL        Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft (5 vols.)


Ramsey Campbell said...

That's fascinating, and am I right to think that Lovecraft's recommendation of "The Space-Eaters" is the only surviving reference he made to the tale? One would have thought he might have more to say elsewhere, given that it stars him and does away with him, much like "The Shambler from the Stars".

Bobby Dee said...

HPL mentions "The Space-Eaters" several times in his published letters. Trawling through the indices, I've got: ES 1.106, 207, 275, 366, 368; DS 375; MF 41n4; OFF 266; MTS 166, 234; LJVS 275; LCM 256, 353; LRB 56, 142n1, 242, 253n1, 315; SL 2.171-172, 5.209, 267.

Most of these are quite brief. There's probably more in his unpublished letters to Long, which are I believe currently held by L. W. Currey.

Douglas A. Anderson said...

Doubtless the contents of this proposed anthology changed over time. But at one datable point, in a letter from Henry Whitehead to E. Hoffmann Price, Whitehead wrote: "It will give me great pleasure to contribute a story for the collection and also to compose the preface or foreword which you have in mind unless you think someone else could do it better" (letter of 20 May 1932). In the same letter, Whitehead mentions "The story you have in mind is, I think, one entitled THE LIPS" [which appeared in the September 1929 issue of Weird Tales]. Whitehead also suggested that Price and Mashburn read several other of his stories before settling on THE LIPS. And he noted that "I think that, as much as I should like to to the foreword, in the interest of the book you would do no better than to ask H.P. Lovecraft . . . his name would be a better drawing-card than mine." Also, I remember reading somewhere that Whitehead had tried to interest his editor at Putnam's [who published his juvenile, Pinkie at Camp Cherokee, in 1931] in the anthology, to no avail. Obviously that would have to have been between the above-quoted letter of May 1932 and Whitehead's death on 23 November 1932.

Bobby Dee said...

Doug: Neat. I don't think I've ever seen those quotes - have those letters been published?

Douglas A. Anderson said...

The (single) letter was transcribed by Glenn Lord in his EOD zine, Zarfhaana, no. 7 (August 1976)