Letter to August Derleth

From Clark Ashton Smith


Auburn, Calif.
April 21st, 1937

Dear August:

I have one or two suggestions to offer anent the contents of the primary Lovecraft collection. If a choice is necessary between "The Tomb" and "In the Vault", I should vote for the latter as the more powerful tale. However, the earlier yarn certainly has its value and interest too. I am inclined to question the grouping of "The Colour out of Space" amid the Mythology tales, since it seems to me that the incursive agency in this tale is merely an unknown cosmic force, hardly to be classed as supernatural (or even animate. It should find place perhaps more fitly in the Miscellaneous: New England Tales group. However, I haven't the story at hand to verify my impressions about the "Colour". Incidentally, "The Colour out of Space" should make a fine title for the whole collection, as typifying Lovecraft's contribution to literature. Of course, "The Outsider" would be good too for this purpose.

Re the mythology: my own ideas on the subject are taken almost wholly from the stories themselves, especially "The Call of Cthulhu". Oddly enough, I can't find and don't recall any letters in which HPL touched on the general system as he did to you and Dean Farnese. (I have, however, a letter giving detailed data about The Necronomicon and will transcribe it among the letters and passages I am now starting to type!) A deduction relating the Cthulhu mythos to the Christian mythos would indeed be interesting; and of course the unconscious element in such creation is really the all-important one. However, there seems to be no reference to expulsion of Cthulhu and his companions in "The Call". According to the testimony given by the cult-member, De Castro,[1] Cthulhu and the other Old Ones "died" or were thrown into a state of suspended animation "when the stars were wrong." When the stars were "right," some outside force would serve to liberate and resurrect them. This would seem to indicate the action of cosmic laws rather than a battle between good and evil deities. However, the passage that you quote from the letter to Farnese would seem to give the problem another complexion. However, if the "expulsion" was accomplished by animate agencies or gods, it is strange that they are not referred to in the stories. On the other hand, a parallel can certainly be drawn between the ultra-dimensional Old Ones and the Satanic or demonian beings invoked by wizards or witches, or called upon during the abominations of the Sabbath.

By the way, I have received a letter from Lovecraft's Providence friend, Harry Brobst, stressing the point that HPL's philosophic convictions, his atheism and disbelief in immortality, should be made plain in anything written about him and his work. Brobst, an atheist and materialist himself, seems almost pathetically anxious concerning the matter! I told him I felt sure you would touch upon it in your study. Certainly any representative selection of letters will leave no doubt as to HPL's conscious convictions.

[. . .]

I hope you and Don are in no great hurry for the transcribed letter passages. Things have piled up on me here; and the sudden onset of warm dry weather makes it imperative that I should do a lot of outdoor work-brush-burning, firebreak-hoing, extirpation of poison-oak, etc. All of it devolves upon me, since I can't even hire satisfactory help. Also, the financial angle will force me to turn out a few tales as soon as possible. I'll do something on the letters every day, however. The later and meatier ones will certainly present a problem! Possibly I may have to ship an some of them after all -- which I shall hate to do, knowing how overburdened you are. As to safety, no doubt they will be safer almost anywhere out of this region during the fire-season. The risk becomes worse hereabouts every year, because of the tindery dryness over a period of six or sometimes even eight months, and the god-damned carelessness of autoists, hunters and other tobacco addicts — not to mention professional incendiaries. This is one reason (not the only one) why I have thought of quitting California. Of course, it is my native state, and I am attached to the scenery. But there is an increasing destruction and pollution of landscape beauties, and a growing influx of undesirable humans bringing with them filth and pestilence. Auburn, for example, has been ravaged this winter by a virulent species of measles sometimes terminating in death and always serious: an epidemic which, I am convinced, can be blamed on the auto-tramps and their "trailers." California, it would seem, must serve as a kind of sink or cess-pool for the whole U.S. . . . Apart from this, the local attitude toward art and literature is discouraging. Perhaps, however, when I do go (or if I go) I shall make a clean jump out of the U.S. and perhaps end up in the East Indies. But of course this is all nebulous. Any one of a number of contingencies — such as death, marriage or the hoosegow — might forestall my dreamt escape into the exotic! You needn't take it too seriously.

"Hastur", [2] and any other tales you may write continuing the mythology, will present a most unique interest. Those plots in the commonplace book would no doubt be capable of immense development. I am wondering if the plots of stories he had read aren't the synopses he mentioned making at a time (early in 1934, I think) when he was overhauling his own technique with the idea of strengthening his plot-structures. If they are the same, they will include Poe, Machen, Blackwood and James plots — and perhaps even something from my booklet, The Double Shadow! [3]

Here's to your new novel!


* * *

  1. The name of the character in "The Call of Cthulhu" is simply Castro; Smith is evidently confusing him with Lovecraft's associate Adolphe de Castro.
  2. "The Return of Hastur" by August Derleth.
  3. The reference is to an unpublished manuscript, "Weird Story Plots", not identical to Lovecraft's commonplace book.

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

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