Letter to August Derleth

From Clark Ashton Smith


Auburn, Calif.
April 13th, 1937

Dear August:

To the best of my knowledge and belief, HPL, in creating the Cthulhu mythology, can have owed nothing more to Poe, Bierce and Chambers than the mere hint of a prehistoric and infra-mnemonic world. This world he peopled according to his own fancy, with beings originally descended from the stars and referred to generally as The Old Ones. Hastur, I think, comes from Bierce through Chambers and is mentioned only casually by HPL. Since I haven't read "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" for at least twenty years, I recall little of the story; and I don't remember anything very specific about Hastur in The King in Yellow. HPL, I suspect, gave him his faculty of "stalking the star-spaces." Hastur is mentioned in "The Whisperer in Darkness", in a listing of fabulous names that includes Bethmoora (from Dunsany) and L'mur-Kathulos and Bran (partly or wholly from R. E. Howard: though there is also a Bran in Celtic mythology). The intent here, it would seem, is to suggest a common immemorial background for mythic beings and places created by various modern writers. Tsathoggua receives his first published mention in "The Whisperer in Darkness" (W.T., Aug. 1931). Tsathoggua, Eibon and The Book of Eibon are, however, my own contributions to the mythos of the Old Ones and their world; and I first introduced Tsathoggua in "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" written in the fall of 1929 but not printed in W.T. till Nov. 1931. Eibon made his debut in "The Door to Saturn" (Strange Tales, Jan. 1932) when Tsathoggua was also featured under the variant of Zhothaqqua. Tsathoggua is again mentioned in "The Testament of Athammaus" (W.T., Oct. 1932); and is linked with the Averoigne legendry under the variant Sadagui, in "The Holiness of Azédarac" (Nov. 1933, W.T. ). I think my only mention of Yog-Sothoth is in "Azédarac", where he is given the Gallicized form, Iog-Sotôt. The Book of Eibon is first mentioned and quoted in "Ubbo-Sathla" (W.T. , July 1933); and Eibon also enters indirectly another Avgeroigne tale, "The Beast of Averoigne" (W.T., May 1933). Tsathoggua plays an important part in "The Seven Geases" (W.T., Oct. 1934) and my still unpublished tale, "The Coming of the White Worm", purports to be Chapter IX of The Book of Eibon. This summary seems to exhaust my own use of the mythology to date. Yog-Sothoth is purely Lovecraft's creation, and first appears, if my memory serves me right, in "The Dunwich Horror" (W.T., April 1929). As to classifying the Old Ones, I suppose that Cthulhu can be classed both as a survival on earth and a water-dwelling and Tsathoggua is a subterranean survival. Azathoth, referred to somewhere as "the primal nuclear chaos", is the ancestor of the whole crew but still dwells in outer and ultra-dimensional space, together with Yog-Sothoth, and the demon piper Nyarlathotep, who attends the throne of Azathoth. I shouldn't class any of the Old Ones as evil: they are plainly beyond all limitary human conceptions of either ill or good. Long's Chaugnar Faugn, the Rhan-Tegoth of Hazel Heald's opus, "The Horror in the Museum", and the Ghatanathoa of her later tale, "Out of the Eons", belong, I should venture to say, among the spawn of Azathoth and the brethren of Cthulhu and Tsathoggua. Rhan-Tegoth and Ghatanathoa, I'd be willing to gamble, were created by HPL in what was practically a job of ghost-writing. The first-named is a survival and earth-dweller, somewhat analogous to Tsathoggua; while Ghatanathoa is a sea-submerged entity more akin to Cthulhu.

I hope all this will be of some use. Bob Barlow, I imagine, can tell you even more about the Old Ones and their affiliations, etc, Personally, I don't think it necessary to enter into quite so much detail in presenting the stories to intelligent readers; but the growth of the whole mythos, the borrowings and contributions by various writers, is certainly an interesting study. No doubt the serious mythologies of primitive peoples sprang up in a manner somewhat analogous, though, of course, non-literary. Every god or demon, somewhere in the dim past, must have had a human creator.

I am terribly curious to see the newly completed "Return of Hastur" and hope you will loan me the carbon if Wright rejects the tale. From what you say, it would seem that some remarkable inspiration, either subliminal or external, is involved. My theory (not favored by scientists!) is that some world, or many worlds, of pure mentation may exist. The individual mind may lapse into this common reservoir at death, just as the atoms of the individual body lapse into grosser elements. Therefore, no idea or image is ever lost from the universe. Living minds, subconsciously, may tap the reservoir according to their own degree and kind of receptivity. HPL would have argued that no mentation could survive the destruction of the physical brain; but against this it might be maintained that energy and matter, brain and ideation, can never quite be destroyed no matter what changes they undergo, The sea of Being persists, though the waves of individual entity rise and fall eternally, The truth about life and death is perhaps simpler and more complex than we dream.

[. . .]

As to my own letters from HPL, I have now recovered nearly 150 of them (not counting numerous closely written postcards) and think that there must be a couple of dozen more about the cabin. The worst gap is in 1935, so there must be a box of recent letters that I have carefully put away and mislaid somewhere. My procedure, a damned sloppy one, has been to clear the answered letters from my desk by bundling them all away in boxes when the accumulation became too unwieldy and topheavy. Few letters have ever been destroyed; but the mixture and confusion make it a herculean task to sort out those from one particular person over a couple of years. My impression is, that you will be forced to limit space given to letters — unless you can publish a ten-volume set! I am starting to read over the ones in my possession, and am making some brief notation as to main contents on envelopes or at top of the most significant and valuable ones. For instance, in one of the earliest, I find an acute summary of H. L. Mencken and his service and detriment to the cause of American letters: this in passing, in a concise paragraph, at a time when few could have had the temerity or acumen to challenge Mencken.

[. . .]

On looking this letter over, I note that the first paragraph doesn't list in strict order my tales referring to the mythos of the Old Ones. Therefore I am typing a separate list to enclose. Of course, the order of publication is not entirely the order in which they were written. HPL certainly got ahead of me when he presented old Tsathoggua to the world before Wright's rejection, vacillation and eventual reconsideration of "Satampra Zeiros" enabled me to present him! The July 1933 W.T., containing "The Horror in the Museum", "The Dreams in the Witch-House" and "Ubbo-Sathla", certainly featured the whole mythos and the fabulous books (Eibon, Necronomicon, etc.) more prominently than any one issue before or since. Incidentally, HPL and I received dozens of queries, at one time or another, as to where The Book of Eibon, the Necronomicon, Von Junzt's Nameless Cults, etc., could be obtained! I believe one of HPL's correspondents, a Maine Yankee with leanings towards wizardry, promised not to put any information given him to evil uses! [. . .]

I hope "The Chain of Aforgomon" will pass muster. "Necromancy in Naat" seems the best of my more recently published weirds; though Wright forced me to mutilate the ending.*******

[. . .]

As ever,

P.S.: I have started to read your novel — opening is most vivid and impressive.

P.P.S. In Adolphe de Castro's yarn, "The Electric Executioner" (W.T., Aug. 1930), there are references to Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu; the names having an Aztec termination — Yog-Sototl, Cthulhutl. H.P.L. must have had a hand in revising this tale. Of course, the Old Ones might be considered relatively evil, since the overwhelming horror and hideousness of their aspect, their ravenousness toward man, etc., are always emphasized. These qualities of terror and horror seem to inhere in their sheer alienage; and all things equally akin would have the same or kindred effect on human sentiency.

Tales by Clark Ashton Smith referring to mythos of the Old Ones

"The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" (W.T., Nov. 1931), Tsathoggua introduced.
"The Door to Saturn" (Strange Tales, Jan. 1932). Introduces the wizard Eibon also, Tsathoggua under name of Zhothaqquah.
"The Testament of Athammaus" (W.T., Oct. 1932). Refers to Tsathoggua and the formless and multiform spawn that came to earth with him.
"The Beast of Averoigne" (W.T., May 1933). References to Eibon.
"Ubbo-Sathla" (W.T., July 1933). Quotations from The Book of Eibon.
"The Holiness of Azédarac" (W.T., Nov. 1933). Mentions Tsathoggua and Yog-Sothoth under Gallicized names of Sodagui and Iog-Sotôt; also features The Book of Eibon.
"The Seven Geases" (W.T., Oct. 1934). Describes Tsathoggua and his underworld lair.
"The Coming of the White Worm" (unpublished). Purports to be chap. IX of The Book of Eibon.

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

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