As the John Hay Library at Brown University continues to digitize its collection, and place them online, interesting little tidbits are revealed for the more detail-minded among us.
Farnsworth Wright to H. P. Lovecraft,
2 Apr 1934
Dear Mr. Lovecraft:
I just received your letter of last Friday, and hasten to answer it.
I shall try to look up further authority regarding "unaussprechlich" and "unnennbar". If I can find good authority for "unaussprechlich" I am inclined to let that stand; for "unaussprechlich" has a sinsiter aspect that is lacking in "unnennbar".
Just got a letter from the Sultan of the Southern Kingdom, Lord Malik (accompanying a manuscript). He and Juggernaut are about to leave the land of the Osages and trek westward. He hopes to see Conan the Reaver as he passes through Texas; and the Lord of Xothique and Averoigne after he leaves San Francisco.
I envy him his trip.
I read in yesterday's paper about the death in Baltimore of Edward Lucas White last Friday. He was 68 years of age, and died from illuminating gas--the journal does not say whether it was suicide or accident. He was a strange genius. My wife, who used to be a librarian before I married her, considered his "El Supremo" one of the very best adventure stories she ever read. I have not read it.
We are keeping the windows of our office closed today, so as to retain what cool air there is; that is, cool compared with the air outside. The morning paper says that cooling off has begun in the far Northwest; so I suppose the coolness will reach here within a few days. But until then...
I am glad that Barlow likes the pictures. I myself admired Doolin's illustration for THE STRANGE HIGH HOUSE. The trouble with Doolin is that although he occasionally turned out something good like this, yet the most of his illustrations lacked imagination. The lack of imagination is why we have let Wilcox go.
I was surprized, when I read the page-proofs of THROUGH THE GATES OF THE SILVER KEY, to find no mention whatever of Unaussprechlichen Kulten. So there was nothing to change. In the typescript of Mrs. Heald's story, OUT OF THE EONS, Unaussprechlichen Kulten is mentioned twice; and I have changed this in the typescript (following Howard's example) to Nameless Cults.
Thanks again for your promptness. Regards to both you and Barlow.
Link to letter, with images: https://repository.library.brown.edu/studio/item/bdr:423149/
The beginning and the end of the letter concern Robert E. Howard’s creation Unaussprechlichen Kulten, which first appeared in “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales Nov 1931) and “The Thing on the Roof” (WT Feb 1932) under the English title Nameless Cults. The book, inspired by works such as Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, was well-received by HPL:
this reminds me to remark how much I enjoyed “The Thing on the Roof”. That
carried the sort of kick I enjoy! Before long I mean to quote Justin Geoffrey
and von Juntz’s “Black Book” in some story of my own.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Robert E. Howard, 16 Jan 1932, MF 1.264
Neither Lovecraft nor Howard were fluent in German, but Lovecraft felt the book should have a German title and attempted to create one. Before he used it, however, Lovecraft tried out the title on August Derleth, whose family retained some German (his grandmother being Pennsylvania Dutch), which led to this exchange:
By the way—in case I ever
try any more tales for my own amusement, can you tell me if Ungenennte
Hedenthume is an even approximately decent German equivalent of the title
“Nameless Cults”? I want to be able to make casual allusions to von Junzt’s
Black Book in the original. I only took German a year, & that was in
1906—the present possibly ridiculous attempt at translations being a result of
blind & unintelligent groping in a meagre grammar & wholly inadequate
dictionary. I thought it best to give the word “Cult” its darkest signification—the
phrase as above being really, I suppose, “Unnamed Heathenisms”. Any light you
can shed on this matter will be of the utmost interest to an illiterate old
man. I have a remote notion of some day hinting at the reason why von Junzt’s
great-grandson lately cut his throat after discovering certain papers in his
ancestor’s long-sealed Düsseldorf attic.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August
Derleth, 28 Jan 1932, ES 2.446
Thanks for the original
title of the Black Book. I feel sure that Unausprechlichen Kulten is the
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 2 Feb 1932, ES 2.448
Neither phrase is grammatically correct German, but Lovecraft passed the title on to Robert E. Howard.
I feel honored that you should refer to Von
Junzt’s accursed document, and thanks for the German of “Nameless Cults”, which
I’ll use in referring to it. Though I’ve lived adjacent to Germans for many
years, I know nothing of the language—and neither do a lot of them.
—Robert E. Howard to H. P. Lovecraft, Apr 1932, MF 1.279
The new title did not make an “official” appearance immediately, although Lovecraft began to make reference to it in his letters (cf. DS 367, MF 1.308, etc.) Lovecraft would first make reference to the book under its German title in “The Horror in the Museum” (WT Jul 1933), ghostwritten for Hazel Heald. Farnsworth Wright, however, was not in on the joke, as was apparent when he wrote:
We frequently receive queries from our
readers wanting to know where they can get copies of the Book of Eibon, the
Necronomicon, the Black Book, and von Junzt’s Unassprechlichen Kulten. I answer
such letters personally, for it would be a shame to destroy the illusion of
reality by broadcasting in the Eyrie.
—Farnsworth Wright to Clark Ashton Smith, 29 Sep 1933, DS 467n2
This caused Lovecraft in turn to write:
By the way—to pull a piece
of counter-pedantry, do you notice that Pharnabozus speaks of the Black Book and
von Junzt’s Unauss. Kulten? For shame, Farny! As if any schoolboy didn’t
know that “Black Book” is a colloquial name for von Junzt’s hellish tome
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 22 Oct 1933, DS 464
Price & Wright have
started quite a controversy over our version of von Junzt’s original title—Unaussprechlichen
Kulten. Sultan Malik claims that Unnennbaren (= unmentionable) has
some subtle preferability (in the way of unmistakable evil) over the
earlier choice. Let ‘em fight it out among themselves. Wish Two-Gun Bob had
doped out his own original & saved us the trouble!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August
Derleth, 29 Mar 1934, ES 2.628
Price had taken courses on German while a student at West Point; the division over the name came about because of Lovecraft and Price’s collaboration “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” (WT Jul 1934), the result of a legendary meeting between Lovecraft and Price in New Orleans in October 1932 (thanks to the quick thinking and intercession of Robert E. Howard, MF 1.314). This letter would appear directly after Lovecraft’s 29 Mar letter to August Derleth, and was followed by:
Odds in the Black Book name
debate return toward Unaussprechlichen. Satrap Pharnabazus concedes that
nothing else could be quite as malignly mouth-filling as that. It has a
sinister rhythm about it, compared to which Sultan Malik’s choice—Unennbaren—sounds
—H. P. Lovecraft to August
Derleth, 13 Apr 1934, ES 2.630
controversy goes merrily on! Just before receiving your letter I had a note
from Satrap Pharnabazus saying that unaussprechlichen was quite out—that
it meant chiefly something mechanically or phonetically unpronounceable—hence
I took the liberty of quoting the statements in your letter. I’ve no idea where
Wright got the material for his cocksure statement—though I believe he refers
questions of Germanic erudition to a young Austrian who works in the office.
[...] Had a joint card from Two-Gun Bob & Sultan Malik at Cross Plains,
& fancy they must have enjoyed their personal session.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August
Derleth, 29 Apr 1934, ES 2.631
I had the enclosed just read
when a letter from Satrap Pharnabazus arrived with the following matter
pertaining to the “unaussprechlichen” controversy. Looks as if our side were
winning! But how ironical to have aid coming from the despised Senf!
“Senf wandered into
the office yesterday, & I asked him (without explaining why I wanted to
know) ‘What does unaussprechlich mean?’ ‘It means “unspeakable”’, he
said. Then I told him why I wanted to know, & he commented, ‘The fellow
that said unaussprechlich means “unspeakable” only in the sense of
“unpronounceable” couldn’t have known very much about German.’
“Senf is a little
gnome of a man, with a marked German accent (for he was a grown man before he
left Germany), & he wears a dark brown toupee which is so obviously a
toupee that it fools nobody.”
Well—I guess Wright
will use unaussprechlichen after all—so much for Sultan Malik’s
synthetic West Point German!
reveals the fact that he doesn’t know that The Black Book & Unaus. Kulten
are supposed to be one & the same volume. Evidently he didn’t read
Two-Gun’s Black Stone attentively.
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 29 Apr 1934, ES 2.632
“Senf” was C. C. Senf, an artist at Weird Tales and a native of Germany who had immigrated to the United States; “despised” by Lovecraft because of some of his errors in illustration..
Wright stubbornly refuses to
heed my plea for the retention of Unaussprechlichen Kulten, & plans
to flip tamely back to the “translated” form—simply Nameless Cults in
English! That’s one way of cutting the Gordian knot. Evidently he found that
Price’s Unnennbaren wouldn’t hold water. By the way—he & I were both
considerably surprised to find that the name is not used at all in the text of
the Silver Key sequel!
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 7 Jun 1934, ES 2.642
The whole issue was ultimately a bit moot, as Price apparently removed any reference to von Junzt’s tome from “Through the Gates of the Silver Key.” Lovecraft ended up summarizing the whole debate in a later letter:
Did I, by the way, ever tell
you about last year’s heated controversy regarding a German equivalent for
“Nameless Cults”? Robert E. Howard invented the mythical von Junzt opus, but
did not give it a German name—since he is as ignorant as I of German. I thought
it would be more convincing to have one, so passed the question to Derleth—who
responded with Unaussprechlichen Kulten. Not long afterward Price,
recalling his scraps of West Point German, began to question the correctness of
this phrase for the exact shade of meaning intended, & offered Unnenbarren
as a substitute. Wright—who prides himself on a smattering of German—became
convinced that Sultan Malik was right, & refused to use the Derleth version
…. forgetting that Sauk City was settled by Germans of great cultivation, among
whom the language was kept alive in its best form as a heritage, so that little
Augie knows what he’s talking about. These matters stood deadlocked until, one
day, the ex-illustrator Senf happened in at 840 N. Michigan to talk over old
times. He was born & educated in Germany, & obviously has the right
dope. The subject was brought up, & C. C. unhesitatingly voted for Derleth…
thus settling the matter, & atoning for all the third-rate “art” he
perpetrated in the dear dead days gone by! So it is certain that the monstrous
compilation of Herr von Junzt (with its cryptic borrowings from the Eltdown
Shards) was issued in Düsseldorf under the title Unaussprechlichen Kulten!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Richard F. Searight, 22 Dec 1934, LRS 40
Other matters of interest in the letter involve “Sultan Malik” (E. Hoffmann Price), who at the time was leaving a job at a garage in Pawhuska, Oklahoma to visit Mexico in his “Juggernaut” (a 1928 Model A. Ford), stopping on the way at Cross Plains to visit with Robert E. Howard. Wright here is echoing Lovecraft’s language from his letters:
Juggernaut has been nobly
groomed & supplied with new parts, & stands ready to roll over the
plains to the Cimmerian stronghold of Conan the Reaver—& later to the Black
Temple of Tsathoggua in Au-Bhun.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 10 Apr 1934, OFF 130-131
nickname “Conan the Reaver” came from Robert E. Howard’s story “The People of
the Dark” (Strange Tales of Mystery and
Terror, Jun 1932); “Au-Bhun” is Auburn, California, home of Clark Ashton
Smith, author of tales set in Xothique and Averoigne, who Price would visit on
his return trip. Farnsworth Wright himself was a native of San Francisco.
the time this letter was written, while addressed to 66 College Street,
Lovecraft was preparing to be hosted by R. H. Barlow and his family in DeLand,
Florida, where he would stay for some weeks. Young Barlow had a penchant for
original pulp art and typescripts, writing to pulpsters like Robert E. Howard
asking for pieces (cf. CL 3.212-13,
215). One of the Weird Tales artists
was Joseph Doolin, who among other pieces executed the illustration for
Lovecraft’s “The Strange High House in the Mist” (WT Oct 1931). “Wilcox” is Jayem Wilcox, who worked briefly for Weird Tales and Oriental Stories in 1932 through 1934, his illustrations include
the interiors for Robert E. Howard’s “Worms of the Earth,” “The Phoenix on the
Sword,” “The Scarlet Citadel,” “The Tower of the Elephant,” “Black Colossus,”
“The Slithering Shadow,” “The Pool of the Black One,” and “Alleys of Darkness”—as well as many
illustrations for Clark Ashton Smith, H. P. Lovecraft, Seabury Quinn, Henry S.
Whitehead, and others.
The final interesting note about this letter is the note “FW:RG”
at the bottom. Wright suffered from Parkinson’s disease, with the palsy so bad
that he found it difficult to type, and apparently later in life the Weird Tales offices made use of staff,
at least on temporary basis, to handle typing, opening mail, and other office
work. These workers are often unnamed, but “RG” would be the initials of the
Letters of Robert E. Howard
Spire, Lonely Hill
Letters of Dr. Isaac M. Howard
to Richard F. Searight
Means to Freedom