Speaking with a client about horror (as I often do) he one day recommended me to seek out the author August Derleth, saying that me being a horror fan of many genres I would greatly enjoy his work. Upon further investigation not only did I discover some of Derleth’s writing but that he had an intimate connection with one Howard Philips Lovecraft the Great-Grandfather of horror himself.
Now no offense but if you are not familiar with H.P. Lovecraft and call yourself a horror fan then you are t robbing yourself of a cultural phenomena who could be credited with laying the foundations to the genre as a whole.
I am not going to delve too deep into the back story of H.P. Lovecraft in this article, I am simply going to introduce how he became acquainted with August Derleth and how Derleth and the publishing company Arkham House helped bring Lovecraft’s work to the prominence it is today.
In 1926 August Derleth sold his first piece “Bat’s Belfry” to “Weird Tales” a horror fiction pulp magazine (1), shortly after Lovecraft published in the same magazine “The Call of Cthulhu” the staple in what he would call “Yog-Sothothery”which in Lovecraft’s work was a cosmic entity with godlike proportions. Derleth saw all Lovecraft’s work as having an overall pattern reflecting (2) Lovecraft’s view regarding a chaos driven world with common themes and beasts from cosmic universes bent on the destruction not only of the physical world but the fragile rational that we protect ourselves in.
Both men greatly admired each other and though lived on the other side of the continent from one another during a time when communication at a distance took effort they continually corresponded. They often shared ideas and drew inspiration in each other’s works, according to sources the fictional French Aristocrat Comte D’Erlette who in Lovecraft lore wrote the book “Cultes de Ghoules” which was studied by background characters in both Lovecraft novellas “The Shadow of Time” and “Haunter of the Dark” was based on Derleth. (3)
Following Lovecraft’s death in 1937 Derleth and Donald Wandrei (another frequent contributor to Weird Tales) attempted to gather a large collection of Lovecraft’s stories and have them published to the mass market.
With little interest from publishing houses Derleth decided the only way to preserve the legacy of his dearly departed friend was to publish the writings himself and in 1939 Derleth and Wandrei found Arkham House named after the fictional Massachusetts towns in many of Lovecraft’s stories. (4)
The first publication by Arkham house was a hardcover copy of mostly Lovecraft novella’s and stories called “The Outsider’s and Others”, at 550 pages they sold enough copies to sustain the business and expand. This aloud Derleth to create a number of writings based on the cyclopedia of Lovecraft’s work including partial notes from uncompleted stories and story outlines left after his death. This was frowned upon by contemporaries who said that Derleth simply used Lovecraft’s name to raise his own appeal to fans in the market, though if compared to now creative license and inspiration especially from Lovecraft in modern times is common place.
This still can be seen as an issue of debate among critics and scholars, some feel the “Cthulhu Mythos” a term coined by Derleth himself (though ironically now is not often credited to him) is not suitable for the amoral themes driven by Lovecraft writing, others have stated that Derleth never once attempted to blatantly pass Lovecraft inspired work off as his purely original piece and always attributed himself as a “contributor.”
This idea alone is a cause for discussion, an example being when Christopher Tolkien began editing and assembling The Silmarillion, some fans felt was unnecessary and would never be pure to the Middle Earth Universe but then again who is to say what the wishes of dead artists are? It was believed that Lovecraft always encouraged expansion and sharing of thoughts, in essence a universe is ever growing and that is what Lovecraft was seeking to create.
Contrary to the point if the culmination of Lovecraft writing with the collaboration of Derleth it is without a question that Derleth’s efforts with Arkham House could be credited with raising Lovecraft from literary insignificance, and the Cthulhu Mythos’ influence echos across decades of writing, television and movies still to this day. It is seemingly peculiar that the man who helped bring H.P. Lovecraft to modern day decades after he died in destitute would be lost in the background noise himself. If you are a fan of Lovecraft than do yourself a favor and look up one of August Derleth’s books and discover the long forgotten friend to the famed horror legend.