|WT March 1936|
Keep these views—when they come—as long as you like; & when you’ve finished with them you may forward them to Miss C. L. Moore, 2547 Brookside Parkway, South Drive, Indianapolis, Indiana—the gifted creator of “Shambleau” having expressed a wish to see these glimpses of crumbling “Arkham” & “Kingsport”.—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 18 May 1936, LCM 240 (cf. 243, 140)It isn’t clear whether Kuttner had written to Moore before this, but when he did finally send her a letter in 1936, she recalled with amusement that he addressed it “Dear Mr. Moore.” (Ross 326, Roark 28) Another correspondent also praised Moore in the “Eyrie”:
T. Torbett, of Marlin, Texas, writes: "I've just read with appreciation the February issue of WT. As far as I am concerned, a story each month by C. L. Moore and Robert E. Howard would constitute a complete issue. Howard's Hour of the Dragon is superb and so was Moore's Yvala. Moore's The Dark Land in the January number I also found to be of excellent literary quality and I liked the author's accompanying illustration also. (WT Apr 1936)Frank Thurston Torbett was a friend of Robert E. Howard, who several times took his mother to Marlin for treatment at the Torbett Sanitarium, including the end of February-March 1936. (CL 3.425, 426) Thurston Torbett had previously written in support of Howard’s fiction in Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror Jan 1933), and now was writing in support of both Howard and Moore. In her letters to Lovecraft, Moore mentions that she was in correspondence with Torbett (LCM 130, 199, 200), but not how this came about. Given that Howard was previously in contact with Moore, it would have been simple for the Texas pulpster to supply her address; alternately Torbett may have written to Moore via Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. In any event, their letters seem to have revolved around Torbett’s love of weird fiction and the occult:
A correspondent of mine, Thurton Torbett of Texas, friend of REH’s, has been regaling me with passages from books on the occult which state that all the dreadful things we imagine must have had origin in fact or we would be unable to picture them.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 11 Dec 1936, LCM 199Back in Indianapolis after her brief Florida sojourn, Moore did something a little unusual:
Today I sent off a gory horror-tale to Kline for marketing, the first and only story I've had time to write since I got home.—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 19 May 1936Otis Adelbert Kline was a pulp writer and editor turned literary agent; he was, in fact, the literary agent for Robert E. Howard, and also did some work for E. Hoffmann Price, Frank Belknap Long, and others. Previous to this, Moore had shown no signs of employing an agent: she submitted all the stories herself, handling acceptances and rejections along with writing and her day job. Maybe she wanted to try Kline out, or expand into the shudder-pulp market as Robert E. Howard was doing with stories like “Graveyard Rats” (Thrilling Mystery Feb 1936). According to Moore:
Am making rather feeble efforts to write for the horror-tale and sugary love-story markets to get some money, and have finished one story of the former type which Kline has very competently criticized for me and suggests specific revisions. I may get to it someday.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 26 May 1936, LCM 113As with “Were-Woman,” Moore seemed to have a resistance to revision, although Moore’s relationship may have continued—in December 1936 he apparently suggested writing for Astounding. (LCM 195) Whether this resulted in any sales through Kline’s agency is unknown.
|Otis A. Kline|
On 11 June 1936, Robert E. Howard committed suicide with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Thurston Torbett sent the news to Moore (LCM 131), who on 16 June 1936 in turn sent a postcard immediately to Lovecraft.
Scarcely had I completed the preceding postscript when your card of the Sixteenth arrived—with its depressing and staggering news from Cross Plains. I’m surely glad the books look interesting—but for the moment am engulfed by the melancholy bulletin. It seems incredible, as you say. I had a long normal letter from R. E. H. written May 13. He was worried about his mother’s health, but otherwise seemed perfectly all right. If the news is indeed true, it forms weird fiction’s worst blow since the passing of good old Whitehead in 1932. Scarcely anybody else in the gang had quite the driving zest and spontaneity of Brother Conan. Crom, what a year of disaster is ‘36! This loss will seem especially real to E.H.P., since he was the only one of the group to have seen Two-Gun Bob in person. But if he can feel any worse than I do about it, he’ll be going some. Mitra, what a loss! R.E.H. had gifts of an order even higher than the readers of his published work could suspect, & in time would have made his mark in real literature with some folk-epic of his beloved southwest. He was a perennial fount of erudition & eloquence on this theme—& had a creative imagination to make old days live again. It is hard to describe precisely what made his stories stand out so—but the real secret is that he was in every one of them, whether they were ostensibly commercial or not. He was greater than any profit-seeking policy he could adopt—for even when he outwardly made concessions to the mammon-guided editors & commercial critics he had an internal force & sincerity which broke through the surface & put the imprint of his personality on everything he wrote. Seldom or never did he set down a lifeless stock character or situation & leave it as such. Before he got through with it, it always took on some tinge of vitality & reality in spite of editorial orders—always drew something from his own experience & knowledge of life instead of from the herbarium of sterile & dessicated pulpish standbys. He was almost alone in his ability to create real emotions of fear & of dread suspense. (Crom, those vine-hung paleaogean ruins in forgotten jungles… & those primal vaults beneath accursed cities older than man!) Contrast his “Black Canaan” with the pallid synthetic pap comprising the rest of the current Weird Tales. Bloch & Derleth are clever enough technically—but for stark, living fear ….. The actual smell & feel & darkness & brooding horror & impending doom that inhere in that nighted, moss-hung jungle … what other writer is even in the running with R.E.H.? No author can excel unless he takes his work very seriously * puts himself whole-heartedly into it—& Two-Gun did just that, even when he claimed & consciously believed that he didn’t. And this is the giant whom Fate had to snatch away whilst hundreds of insincere hacks continue to concoct phony ghosts & vampires & space-ships & occult detectives. I can’t understand the tragedy—for although R.E.H. had a moody side expressed in his resentment against civilisation (the basis of our perennial & voluminous epistolary controversy), I always thought that this was a more or less impersonal sentiment—like Sonny Belknap’s rage against the injustices of a capitalistic world. He himself seemed to me pretty well adjusted—in an environment he loved, with plenty of congenial souls (like the “Pink” Tyson & Tevis Clyde Smith of whom he spoke so often) to talk & travel with, & with parents whom he obviously idolised. His mother’s pleural illness imposed a great strain upon both him & his father (the latter a physician, as you probably know), yet I cannot think that this would be sufficient to drive his tough-fibred nervous system to self-destructive extremes. Nor was his financial state at all desperate so far as I know. I wonder if he was alive when my last letter arrived—that must have been a week ago. Probably he never saw its thirty-two pages, that ended with an enthusiastic tribute to his serial & to “Black Canaan”, which I had then just read. Well, anyhow, I think he realised how keenly his work was appreciated. I hope the Phantagraph boys had told him about their plan to issue his Hyborian Age as a separate pamphlet. That ought to prove popular among Conan’s thousands of admirers. Incidentally—since E. H. P. was the only one of us who ever talked with R. E. H. in person, I’m telling him that he ought to prepare a brief obituary and appreciation for Weird Tales as I did when good old Whitehead (whom I alone had met personally) died. Some such word is a necessity—and he is the logical author.—H. P. Lovecraft to C. L. Moore, 19 Jun 1936, LCM 127-129 (cf. SL 5.271, LRBO 278, MTS 378, LA 8.42)
Had you not heard of the Cross Plains tragedy until I wrote you? By the way, I must apologize for sending all of my news of disaster on postcards, blatently [sic], for the mailman to read. Somehow I just didn’t feel up to writing a letter, yet wanted you to know if you didn’t already. I am enclosing the clipping of his death which came in the letter announcing it, from Thurton Torbett of Marlin, Texas. So far as I know he is not in correspondence with any others of the gang, though he was a fairly close friend of Howard’s. I wasn’t sure just where my duty lay in spreading the news of the tragedy, so contented myself with informing you. (May I have the clipping back, please?) I have since received a letter from Dr. Howard, his father, enclosing a note dated May 14 which REH had apparently been saving to send to me. He died on the 12th, and may possibly have received your letter.Moore goes on for an unusual length; remembering her comments to Lovecraft after her fiance’s death, perhaps she felt the need to write about other thing, even as she paused once to reflect on ancestral ways of living: “Perhaps Robert Howard’s great-grandparents lived in wagon and tents and cooked over open fires.” (LCM 142) She also answered Dr. Howard’s letter with one of her own, expressing her sympathy:
The news was like a blow in the face. It’s amazing how real he seemed even through the medium of hi letters. I had hoped to see him next year when and if I get that much-talked-of car and make the California trip, but he could scarcely have become more vivid had I known him personally. As you ay, he seemed to live in every story he wrote, breathing life and color and vitality in the pages until sometime it was a little surprising the paper itself was not sodden and bright with blood and vocal with bugles and the sounds of battle. The end of every story was like the slamming of a door in one’s face upon such a world of color and vividness and peril as never existed anywhere else. He recreated such immensities of aeons in his tales of the past that the mind reeled a little trying to grasp them, and he put into his long-dead lands such shuddering peril in the midst of such brilliantly colored reality as surely no one will ever be able to do again. I am desperately sorry for his father, who has lost his entire family in one blow, but almost as sorry for ourselves who will never read again such stories as Howard wrote.
I had come in from a bridge party the night I received that letter, and had bought a new bathing-suit and tried it on for the benefit of the girl who brought me home, and we were having such a good time. And then they left and I opened the letter. I can’t tell you how horrible—oh, hollow—it made the whole past evening of evening seen. I was ashamed of the fun we’d had, and that suit with its silly little flared skirt. Had that all-gone feeling like going down too fast in an elevator—and yet it didn’t seem possible at all.
It seems to me that there’s something wrong with a civilization that permits such men as Howard to be drive to suicide, yet simply swarms with writers of trash. People like REH ought to be kept in glass and guarded from all danger, mental or physical. But of course it was from his own turbulent life that he drew so much of his writings’ color. I have had this mood before, of glaring about at nonentities and wondering what earthly right they have to draw the breath of life when men so much finer in every way are dead.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 24 Jun 1936, LCM 130-131
Nothing that I can say now would help you—I know, for four months ago I too suffered bereavement under very similar circumstances. The young man whom I was to marry this year was accidentally shot in the temple and instantly killed while leaning a gun which he thought unloaded. So I can understand what you are enduring now, and I know that nothing but time will help you find life worth living again. In one respect you are luckier than I, for you have memories of a full and happy life with your wife and son that nothing can take away.—C. L. Moore to Dr. I. M. Howard, 26 Jun 1936, IMH 52The letter was published in the Cross Plains Review for 3 July 1936. Days later, R. H. Barlow mailed Dr. Howard, inquiring after his son’s papers, with the note that:
A number of writers whom you may know have entrusted to me for preservation their only copy of things—I have two novelettes by Lovecraft, stories by Price, Whitehead, Moore and other of which not even the authors have a copy.—R. H. Barlow to Dr. I. M. Howard, 5 Jul 1936, IMH 72
|WT July 1936|
The July W T is memorable only for the items by Klarkash-Ton & C L M—unless poor old Two-Gun’s serial (I never read serials till they’re done) turns out to be remarkable.—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 29 Jul 1936, LCM 248 (cf. LRS 84)Moore, discussing the works of Arthur Machen reflected on the Welsh writer’s use of language to inspire sensation, and turned once more to Howard:
I've often tried to say that myself, much more inexpertly, and was so pleased to find that someone else had noticed the peculiar power of words without any particularly significant meaning, sometimes, to arouse sensations of deep satisfaction. I've always been intensely delighted by the closing sentence of Howard's VALLEY OF THE WORM: "And so death came to me, in the Valley of the Worm." [...] Almost forgot to thank you for ending me a copy of your sonnet on REH's death. It was well worthy of its subject, and I needn't ay any more in praise of it than that. The whole thing has left me rather speechless.—C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow, 28 Jul 1936
In early September, R. H. Barlow was in New England, on his way to Kansas, and stopped off at Indianapolis en-route to visit Moore. (C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow 28 Aug 1936, LCM 156, LRBO 177, 214, 344, 388; OFF 357, 359, 360, 362; ES 2.749, DS 649, LJS 375, LRS 85)
In the October 1936 issue of Weird Tales, the tenth Northwest Smith appeared, “The Tree of Life.” It shared the issue with the final part of Robert E. Howard’s “Red Nails,” which latter chapter tied with Dorothy Quick’s “The Lost Door” as the most popular with the readers of the issue. Lovecraft’s comment was brief:
October W T is average—the main novelette being unutterable tripe. C L M’s “Tree of Life” adheres more or less to her formula, though it has effective atmospheric touches.—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 30 Sep 1936, OFF 367 (cf. LFB 334, ES 2.752, LRBO 400-401, LRS 86)The “Eyrie” echoed with reminiscences of Robert E. Howard. Dr. Howard founded a memorial collection for his son’s library. Donald Wollheim had conceived a collection of Conan tales, and P. Schulyer Miller and John Clark’s “A Probable Outline of Conan’s Career.” Lovecraft conveyed all this to Moore, who replied:
The loss of REH is—though very faintly—alleviated by the prospect of a collection of Conan tales. The P. Schulyer Miller history of Conan sounds delightful, and I hope Wright decides to publish it. The comparatively few Howard stories which I have read are so consistently good that I wish it were possible for me to collect and read them all. Obviously it couldn’t be done except by someone with more ready access to long past file of magazine, but I do wish someone would do it. The Robert E. Howard Memorial Collection is a splendid idea. Your “Shunned House” will be a valuable addition. I do hope RHB finally succeeds in publishing the Howard poems. It’s sickening to think of all that grand material lying about loose, and me helpless to do anything about it. I wonder if anyone will ever succeed in filling the void left by REH’s death. Such ability as his is lamentably rare, but surely of all the millions who speak English there must be other who in time will produce jut uch vital prose as his.—C. L. Moore to H. P. Lovecraft, 6 Oct 1936, LCM 167-168Another outcome of Robert E. Howard’s death concerned Moore directly:
I intend to send Miss Moore, a Weird Tales writer, one of Robert’ photographs. He admired her very much. He loved to read her stories, and for a long time he did not know that the writer of them was a woman. He said often times that she was a forceful writer and he admired her style greatly.
I do not have Miss Moore’s address, neither do I know her name. Will you please give me both the next time you write?—Dr. I. M. Howard to Otis Adelbert Kline, 30 Oct 1936, IMH 125
I hope that Robert’s photograph has reached you by now, but if it has not please notify me. I thank you for Miss Catherine Moore’s address.
—Dr. I. M. Howard to Otis Adelbert Kline, 7 Nov 1936, IMH 128
That same month, Moore came into touch with Stuart M. Boland, a San Francisco librarian who corresponded with Lovecraft and claimed to write to Robert E. Howard and Dr. Howard as well. Quoting or paraphrasing Lovecraft’s response to a catalog of ancient Aztec gods, Boland claimed that:
Catherine Moore wrote as “an incurable optimist rescuing man from an ill-omened fate by the means of a ‘Star-destined fortune-favored’ element; and hat she would take over these old Mexican gods and dispose of them one by one through the valor, courage, and will power of her characters.” He said she believed that the animal “man” had the undeniable ability to recover from the most hell-shattering catastrophe. The immortal potentialities of mankind, as she saw them, were too enormous a factor to be submerged or intimidated by mere “terror-gods.”(Joshi 31)Similarly, Boland claimed Lovecraft felt Robert E. Howard “would find the Maya-Toltec-Aztec gods easy meat for his blood-lusting warriors” and so on in that vein. (Joshi 32) Whether Boland accurately relayed Lovecraft’s words or not, the sentiment is real: Howard and Moore wrote heroes who struggled and won. The fans in the “Eyrie” knew this:
A hundred international Tarzans could never erase the memory of Conan the Cimmerian. Neither Northwest Smith nor Jirel of Joiry—and in Moore you have an excellent author—can quite supplant his glory.—A. R. Brown, WT Jan 1937
Despite Mr. Howard’s death, Conan should be given another chance at life. I do not know who of weird fiction authors to recommend for the task. Clark Ashton Smith and H. P. Lovecraft possess the same type of visionary mind, but their style seems to lack the fire of Howard’s. Smith is too compact in his writing, with little emphasis on conversation or action, and Lovecraft writes slowly, direction his attention to the mood he is sustaining. C. L. Moore could do it [...]
—Robert Locke, WT Feb 1937
There was no replacing Robert E. Howard, nor apparently any serious consideration of getting another writer to pick up with the Conan series. C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, meanwhile, were growing ever closer in their correspondence, which resulted in something unusual:
Anyhow, [Henry Kuttner] was urging me to do another Jirel and sent on a kind of opening situation to see if I would feel any interest. I did and we sent the m. back and forth to the best of my very dim recollection until we were ready to submit it. (Roark 28)
Glad to hear that you & C L M are collaborating on a dual masterpiece. The result certainly ought to be powerful enough! Staging a meeting betwixt the mediaeval Jirel & the future Northwest Smith will call for some of your most adroit time-juggling—but with two keen imaginations at work no obstacle is likely to be insurmountable. Good luck to both of you aesthetically & financially!—H. P. Lovecraft to Henry Kuttner, 8 Feb 1937, LCM 262Lovecraft died 15 March 1937, and never saw “The Quest of the Starstone,” the first collaboration between C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, which was published in the Nov 1937 issue of Weird Tales. It was a crossover between Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, and almost the end of both of those characters; Moore would write little more about them. The readers voted it the most popular story of the issue. (Moskowitz 1983)
The issue also included Robert E. Howard’s poem “Futility.” Wright had published a good deal of Howard’s material since his death, knowing there would be no more. With Lovecraft’s demise, the magazine’s need deepened. He turned to Henry Kuttner, who produced Elak of Atlantis, borrowing inspiration from Howard and Lovecraft. Moore’s own output during the period dwindled. The final Jirel of Joiry story, “Hellsgarde” was published in WT Apr 1939. The final Northwest Smith snippet was published in the fanzine Scienti-Snap Feb 1940.
Wright petitioned Kline for Moore’s once-rejected tale “Were Woman,” but she had given the story to Barlow; it would eventually be published in his amateur journal Leaves #2 (1938). Forrest J. Ackerman, noting that Wright had published the Robert E. Howard/Thurston Torbett collaboration “A Thunder of Trumpets” (WT Sep 1938) suggested they try to sell him “Nymph of Darkness”—Wright bought it, and published it in the December 1939 issue. In 1940, Farnsworth Wright died; Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore were married, and would continue to collaborate, mostly under Kuttner’s name or pseudonyms like Lewis Padgett.
It is remarkable, looking back at their careers from 1933-1936, how similar Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore could be. “Shambleau” appeared only a month after Howard’s “The Slithering Shadow” (WT Sep 1933), both stories dealing with the erotic caress of tentacled monstrosities. Jirel of Joiry and Dark Agnès were both conceived around the same time, red-headed sword-women with fiery tempers in France. They both wrote stories of strange, half-breed women—perhaps Moore took inspiration from Atla, the were-woman of the moors in Howard’s “Worms of the Earth”; perhaps she wrote a series character because she noted the success of Conan and Jules de Grandin.
Having two fantasy heroes running around the same magazine, comparisons were perhaps inevitable. As early as the Dec 1934 issue of Weird Tales, a reader described Jirel as “A sort of feminine version of Conan the Cimmerian.” Others have made the observation:
Jirel of Joiry was to a later generation of sword-wielding female warriors what Conan was to an innumerable progeny of furjockstrap-clad barbarian warriors. As with Conan, the prototype is not easily surpassed. Jirel’s adventures were set in an imaginary sort of medieval France—calling to mind Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne series, then running in Weird Tales. Like her creator, Jirel was a red-haired beauty and fiercely independent—arguably one of the genre’s first liberated heroines. Jirel was not simply Conan in a brass bra. Moore portrayed Jirel with a depth of characterization and a sure grasp of feminine feeling that placed Jirel generations beyond the rest of the pulp field. (EV2 31)If Jirel was a success for C. L. Moore, she also demonstrated some of her creator’s most glaring flaws. While Moore was a dynamic writer, not prone to formula fiction, her plotting was often weak and endings predictable. As one critic put it:
The climax of each story found Northwest Smith or Jirel of Joiry in the formless haze of spiritual battle with the unknown. The plot situations were rarely solved by a logical sequence of events, but instead by a burst of rhetorical hypnotism. A story that began as logical science fiction would be permitted to lapse into fantasy as an easy way out of a difficult situation. A story that began as an outright fantasy would be buttressed by science when the “willing suspension of disbelief” could no longer be sustained. The battle wa always against evil, but the standard of light was championed by a hero and a heroine who were themselve stained with the sins of humanity. For this honesty in characterization, a great deal could be forgiven. (Moskowitz 1967, 310)Much of this can be attributed to the fact that Moore was not, during this period, a professional writer. She had a dayjob, forced to write when she could. Moore would not quit her position and attempt to write full-time, as Robert E. Howard did, until 1940. Efforts to diversify her writing in both genre and content appear to have been largely stymied by simply not having enough time to write and work.
This too may explain the rather slapdash, though often effective, worldbuilding of the Northwest Smith and Jirel stories. In some of her letters to Lovecraft, Moore shows she was more than capable of developing realistic fantasy settings with realism and depth, or tying her creations in with worlds like Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne—but there was never a Moore equivalent to Howard’s “The Hyborian Age,” nor did she contribute directly to the Cthulhu Mythos, as Robert E. Howard did with “The Black Stone” (WT Nov 1931). In large part, there simply wasn’t time.
|Robert E. Howard|
BOD Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear
CAS Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith
CL The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard
DS Dawnward 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
EV2 Echoes of Valor II
IMH Collected Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
LA8 Lovecraft Annual #8
LCM Letters to C. L. Moore, &c.
LFB Letters to F. Lee Baldwin, &c.
LJS Letters to J. Vernon Shea, &c.
LRBO Letters to Robert Bloch and Others
LRS Letters to Richard F. Searight
MF A Means to Freedom: Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard
MTS Mysteries of Time & Spirit
OFF O Fortunate Floridian!
SL Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft
Other Works Cited
Elliot, Jeffrey M. (1983). Pulp Voices; or Science Fiction Voices #6: Interviews with Pulp Magazine Writers and Editors. San Bernadino, CA: Borgo Press.
Josh, S. T. (2010). A Weird Writer in Our Midst: Early Criticism of H. P. Lovecraft. NY: Hippocampus Press.
Moskowitz, Sam (1967). Seekers of Tomorrow. NY: Ballantine Books, Inc.
______________ (1980). “Some Thoughts on C. L. Moore” in A. Langley Searles (ed.), Fantasy Commentator vol. 4, no. 2
______________ (1983). “The Most Popular Stories in Weird Tales 1924 to 1940” in Jim van Hise (ed.) Sword & Sorcery #13.
Price, E. Hoffmann (2001). Book of the Dead: Friends of Yesteryear. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House.
Roark, Byron (ed.) (1976) Chacal #1. Shawnee Mission, KS: The Nemedian Chronicles.
Ross, Jean W. (1982). “CA Interview” in Frances C. Lochler (ed.) Contemporary Authors volume 104. Detroit, MI: Gale Research Co.
Shroyer, Frederick (1982). “C. L. Moore and Henry Kuttner” in E. F. Bleiler (ed.) Science Fiction Writers 161-167. NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Wagner, Karl Edward (ed.) (1989). Echoes of Valor II. NY: Tom Doherty Associates.
Letters from C. L. Moore to R. H. Barlow are held at the John Hay Library.
Letter from Forrest J. Ackerman to Mrs. Burnhill, 7 May 1936 in personal collection of the author.
Letter from Forrest J. Ackerman to C. L. Moore, 2 Aug 1938 in personal collection of the author.
With thanks and appreciation for the help of Dave Goudsward and Marcos Legaria.