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An HP Lovecraft Encyclopedia

by ST Joshi & David E Schultz

(Hippocampus Press, 2001; 339 pages; $20.00; 0-9748789-1-x.)

The Thirst of Satan: Poems of Fantasy and Terror

by George Sterling

(Hippocampus Press, 2004; 215 pgs; $15.00; 0-9721644-6-4.)

Out of the Immortal Night: Selected Works by Samuel Loveman

by ST Joshi

(Hippocampus Press, 2004; 244 pgs; $15.00; 9-780974-878942.)

 

Review by William P Simmons

cover scanReinterpreting weird fiction by exchanging the outdated symbolic conventions and emotional excess of the Gothic and English supernatural tale with an aesthetic approach and philosophical manifesto paradoxically modern in their cosmic world view (deeply attached to the cold wonders of scientific discovery and materialism) and, at the same time, ancient in their attention to those mysteries of time, space, Classical art, and mythological systems of belief which so interested him, H.P. Lovecraft's primary literary themes (as well as the beliefs informing them) crafted/discovered poetic borderlands between the past and the future. The present is often the center of his attention, albeit a present formed by the eldritch malignity of the past (often pasts outside of human conceptions of time or space), emphasizing issues which are themselves timeless, belonging to entities or celestial forces outside of man's finite understanding or ability to comprehend. An aesthetic feeling of vastness exists in his universe, complemented by reinforced suggestions of our frailty when compared to the hugeness of the universe and our inability to properly conceive of "truth." Culminating in ambiguous terrors from spaces outside Man's science or preconceptions of logic, Lovecraft's terrors shaped the cosmic alienation and "outsideness" (metaphorical and literal) so prevalent in Twentieth century literature.

The belated if growing recognition of the literary and cultural importance of Lovecraft's work, philosophy, and times has resulted in various byways of learning from various disciplines and interests. The variety and displacement of such work poses for the scholar or critic the challenge of locating sources or easily obtained reference. As stated in editor S.T. Joshi's preface to An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, much Lovecraft scholarship is scattered heterogeneously throughout small press and academic related publications which are themselves so obscure to escape notice, unable to attain, or out of print. One of the editor's major goals for creating this reference work of obscure and general Lovecraft knowledge was to form a common basic on learning which readers and critics alike could go to for edification -- a single source. It is a goal admirably met, a pleasure to pursue, and sure to be heralded as a standard reference indispensable for those interested in all things Lovecraftian. Picking up where such authors/researchers as Fritz Leiber and Dirk W. Mosig left off, Joshi and Shultz have collected herein a scholarly archive of choice facts, definitions, and descriptions covering everything from individual stories and novels to attractively arranged information on particular authors whom Lovecraft admired, terms, major settings employed in his fiction, and individual characters.

Meticulously researched, edited, and arranged, the encyclopedia includes an informative preface, a chronology of key dates pertaining to the author's works and life, an abbreviation key, general bibliographical details, some of the more important texts by and about Lovecraft, and a useful index. Of course the encyclopedic entrées themselves are the most impressive aspects of the volume, particularly those which focus on Lovecraft's fiction. Each entrée devoted to a particular piece of his fiction is accompanied by a word count, date of first publication, date of first collected state, as well as notes of revised and annotated editions. In addition, each work is given a nice factual summary of plot, setting, and major characters, and includes work written from Lovecraft from age seven to pieces published before his death.

Not all of Lovecraft's numerous letters, essays, reflections, or poems are noted/discussed, but those of primary interest (and not covered in greater depth elsewhere) are granted careful attention. Those thinking to enjoy a thorough reference of all of Lovecraft's deities/aliens/creatures comprising the Derleth termed "Cthulhu Mythos" should look elsewhere, as the encyclopedia mentions little of them outside the context of their respective stories. Forgoing critical commentary for factual snippets, we get literary and biographical sources for each major text, corresponding relationships between his settings and characters, when applicable and pertinent, and, at the end of fictional entrées, citations to texts that further explore each work. Individual characters usually receive less attention although those who feature in some way prominently to Lovecraft's fictional world, such as selected families, are discussed in detail. An understandable decision as Lovecraft's self-admitted interest focused more in phenomena and the universe at large than on flesh and blood representations of men. Simply put, this volume is an admirable starting point for readers interested enough to pursue more than the Lovecraft texts themselves -- concise, attractively designed, and clearly the result of several people's enthusiasm and sweat.

cover scanThe belatedly admitted importance of Lovercaft's work in the horror and science fiction genres (and, dare I say, Literature in general), which has for a while instigated corresponding scholarly interest in such major Lovecraft contemporaries/devotes as Frank Belknap Long, Fritz Leiber, and Robert Bloch, is finally beginning to incite curiosity about other members of Lovecraft's literary and personal circle as well; authors and thinkers, poets and mystic dreamers who aside from their relation to Lovecraft are important in their own right. George Sterling is one such writer, and by examining him and Samuel Loveman (amongst several others) one can better glean the atmosphere and development of an entire era/tradition of the weird tale. A leading albeit largely forgotten lyric poet of the 20th century, Sterling may have been surprised (we hope not dismayed) to realize his poetic creations were being discussed as part of the literary tradition of the weird or fantastique, since he himself seemed (or at least claimed) not to have been consciously trying to create weird poetry but what he referred to as his "Star" poems, several of which appear in The Thirst of Satan.

Investigating cosmic themes and symbols common to all great poets regardless of age, but particularly in sync with the classical practitioners of disciplined rhyme and meter, Sterling busied himself studying life, death, love, hatred, alienation, and the loneliness of space -- both physical and that which is in men's hearts (perhaps another similarity he shared with Lovecraft). One might be persuaded to believe that Sterling simply saw his "star" poems as illuminating simply another branch of life and the cosmos with little of the strange or inexplicable involved. Yet, as pointed out by Joshi, a great amount of his output reflects themes and archetypal images/emotions indicative of fantasy. A protégé of Ambrose Beirce, who helped him shape revisions of "The Testimony of the Sun," one of his better known works of the outré, Sterling's works more often than not mirror or contain the cosmic vistas and eldritch allure of Lovecraft's fiction, both somewhat similar in their suggestion of the loneliness of time and space, the awe and majesty of the universe itself, whose very awe produced fear and trembling, while noting the inability of Mankind to find human meaning in forces, objects, or emotions so very clearly outside the realm of man's finite world.

Including "My Swansong," a piece found after his death which certainly prefigures in its contents and feeling his coming suicide, an Appreciation by Clark Ashton Smith, notes, an introduction, and critical comments where applicable, this collection of Sterling's poetry serves to show the versatility and range of imagination that the poet could employ, allowing his imagination to run free, even as he guided such within the strict confines of traditional structure. The subject matter of the poems ranges from cosmic contemplation and fancy to frank depictions of sex in a time when that was still largely unheard of, all the while adhering to a classical obedience to the lofty aims and rules of ancient poetic expression, believing, like Lovecraft, and later, Clark Ashton Smith, that poetry's major purpose was to ignore the petty dictates of current social and political vogues for the exploration and appreciation of beauty and the sublime. This sentiment of course put him out of favor among an elitist school of expression -- poets, teachers, scholars, readers -- who at the time were convincing themselves they had just discovered symbolism and free verse/free form structures. The poems themselves are arranged here thematically for ease of enjoyment and reference, including "Cosmic," "Weird Realms," "Philosophical," "Fantastic Creatures," "Erotic love," "Dreams," and "Horrific Imagery."

cover scanThe supplementary material, notes, critical suggestions, and literary works comprising Out of the Immortal Night suggest that Samuel Loveman's life, like his work, was both tragic and ephemeral. A friend and contemporary of Ambrose Beirce (the same as George Sterling), Clark Ashton Smith, and Lovecraft, this man's circle of friends and associates often overshadows his personal forays into letters, dooming his creative work to obscurity. A shame considering the richness of thought and poetry infusing so much of his ideas with vibrant relevancy. This book suggests that much can be learned from a study of both his work and the life which he spent in such heated contact with so many prominent literary figures of his day. The National Amateur Press Association was no less important to Loveman's life than it was to Lovecraft's, providing them both with a purpose to continue writing with, and an audience to present it to. It's easy to see how involvement of this sort, besides providing valuable friendships that were sounding boards against which to throw one's developing ideologies and insights against, also provided such men enthusiasm and creative fire. Joshi's introduction to the text, a careful study of his life and work, suggests where his imaginative and intellectual efforts placed him amidst so much paramount talents. If Loveman is destined to be primarily remembered for the invigorating effects that his intellectualism and personality exerted on others, than his own accomplishments surely deserve at least a cursory appreciation.

This volume collects work from The Hermaphrodite and Other Poems, uncollected poems, translations, verse/prose dramas, a small number of stories, and essays on such themes as Keats, Lovecraft, Proust, and Modern Poetry ( a scathing comment on the advent of the modern symbolists/imagists). This alone is quite an accomplishment of scholarship and preservation, considering that Loveman was even more lax than Lovecaft in either trying to publish or preserve his written efforts. Assembled by the editors at the New York public Library, as well as from hand-written transcripts made by Lovecraft himself (so impressed was he by some of Loveman's work), the poetry begins with such early work as "In Pierrot's Garden" and ends with the tragic "John Clare in 1864." Of special note are such small pieces of fiction as "The Dog," an unpublished piece culled from letters to Clark Ashton Smith, and such helpful additions as a bibliography, index of poetry titles, and index of first lines.

As much a snapshot of a man's changing attitudes towards himself, life, and his peers as it is a first class collection of an obscure author's forgotten work, Loveman's bitter change in his estimation of Lovecraft is documented herein as well, it is this sense of cynicism and depression, whistfulness and heartbreak, a longing for something more, that breathes such cosmic emotion into his poetry. Rewarding for the aesthetic pleasure they offer, these poems also offer a unique suggestion of Loveman's internal drives and philosophies, most notably his valuing art of escaping the common banalities of life, the scope and construction of his poetry pitting him against the predominating modernist school of his time. Joshi says it quite well: "Poetry as delicate and ethereal as Loveman's is difficult to analyze, although its general features are evident: precision in meter and diction, an exhaustive use of Greco-Roman myth to focus on concerns of universal significance," and, as evident when reading them, an almost expressionistic sense of the hidden meaning of things, beauty unrestrained, and a sense of timelessness found in early Greek expression.


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