Bibliomysteries

New on Archive.org, a comprehensive plot-annotated checklist of ‘Bibliomysteries’, from the mid 1980s and published in the fine Armchair Detective journal. These being mystery novels across various genres which centre on rare books, book collectors, old bookshops and suchlike.

* Introduction and Part One.

* Part Two.

Even if you don’t care to track down and read any of these, just reading over the abundant setting/plot details could be useful for spurring fresh ideas about plot elements for Mythos fiction or for RPGs.

Note that Part One is immediately followed by a short survey of “The Science-Fiction Detective Story”, up until that time.

“Saturday I took a cheap excursion to the White Mountains…”

Guillermo del Toro has pitched a smaller-scale rewrite of his movie adaptation of Lovecraft’s At The Mountains of Madness. If picked up it could be made by Netflix with an “unknown cast”, and he told a recent podcast

I can go to a far more esoteric, weirder, smaller version of it where I can go back to some of the scenes that were left out. Some of the big set pieces I designed, for example, I have no appetite for. I’ve already done this or that giant set piece. I feel like going into a weirder direction. I know a few things will stay, I know the ending we have is one of the most intriguing, weird, unsettling endings for me. So there’s about four horror set-pieces that I [still] love in the original script.

‘Picture postals’ from Lovecraft: “Rhoby”

This fine postcard evokes the rural world in which the wife of Lovecraft’s maternal grandfather, and later Lovecraft’s mother, came of age. A small public library, barely bigger than a chicken-coop, with a chicken-yard to one side. Possibly eggs were sold for a nominal amount, as an enticement to children to join the library. The location is North Scituate which is about six miles west of the very centre of Providence. Robie (known to Lovecraft as ‘Rhoby’) — Robie Alzada Place (1827–1896) — is the one who gives the place the connection to Lovecraft. S.T. Joshi, in I Am Providence, notes of her…

Of Whipple Phillips’s wife Robie [married Jan 1856] very little is known. Lovecraft states that she attended the Lapham Institute (cited by Lovecraft as “Lapham Seminary”) in North Scituate, Rhode Island … but does not supply the date of her attendance.

Lovecraft explained the somewhat convoluted family line, to Moe in a letter…

These [ancestors] marry’d, respectively, Stephen Place and Jeremiah Phillips — and in the next generation Sarah’s daughter Rhoby Place (nam’d for her aunt) marry’d Rhoby’s son Whipple Phillips …. these espoused cousins becoming my mother’s parents.

The Lovecraft family ‘Commonplace Book’ contained much information about Robie’s Place family and ancestors at nearby Foster, R.I. de Camp’s biography of Lovecraft, perhaps leaning on oral evidence that has not come down to us, has…

In 1855, he and his younger brother James fell in love with two local girls, Robie Alzada Place and her cousin Jane Place. Said Whipple to James: “You take Jane and the farm, while I take Robie and go to Providence to seek my fortune.

The newly married couple then lived a few miles further west, at Foster, in the homestead built there by her father Stephen Place and in which Robie had been born. (Lovecraft’s mother was also to be born at the Foster house). One might then suspect that the unmarried Robie had regularly travelled the few miles from Foster to North Scituate for her schooling. But a little research reveals a new data point. It was a boarding school with large boarding facilities for girls, and she may thus have been staying there in the week and then going home at weekends…

Her most likely attendance dates centre on circa 1845-55. The school would have been known as the “Smithville Seminary”, here seen circa 1900 and with the frontage much unchanged. One assumes a school library matching that of the town itself, and perhaps with some connection between the the two libraries.

Did Lovecraft ever visit? He certainly passed through the general district at his leisure on his 21st birthday. Since he had treated himself to an epic all-day tram (‘car’) ride. This first sent him out of Providence and…

riding westward through the picturesque countryside of my maternal ancestors” (letter to F. Lee Baldwin, 1934)

On his return from New York his family history researches may have taken him there in pursuit of memories of Robie and her schooling, and especially her astronomical work. We know that in the mid 1920s, after returning from New York, he made several long and intensive ‘gleaning’ expeditions to Foster and Greene and roundabouts in search of family history.

However, he may not have found much. By 1923 the Institute had passed through several hands and the old Baptist records and yearbooks had undoubtedly been removed to Baptist archives. By 1923 it had become established as the Watchman Institute, though there were bad fires there in 1924 and 1926 and “both wings burned down” according to one history. One has to wonder if there was much there for Lovecraft and his aunt to glean circa 1926-28, other than a brief stroll past the smoke-stained frontage and around the charred grounds.

But Lovecraft might have learned something of the texture of the old life, in Foster and North Scituate, nearer to home. Because his near-lifelong Providence barber came from North Scituate, and one thus imagines that the barber’s memories of the place and its gleaming ‘school on the knoll’ came up from time to time in the barber’s chair…

Had my hair cut yesterday by the same old barber who removed my flowing curls in 1894. He’s a good old R.I. Yankee of the 7th generation of North Scituate settlers.” (May 1926)

There was also a fine new observatory in North Scituate, albeit 75 years later and private. Lovecraft’s “The September Sky” newspaper astronomy column (1st September 1914) concluded by noting the opening of the then-new observatory there…

Of particular interest to Rhode Islanders is the opening of Mr. F. E. Seagrave’s new private observatory in North Scituate, about two miles north of the village. The building stands on an eminence 342 feet above sea-level, free from the smoke and lights of the city, and commanding a magnificent view of the celestial vault.

There appears to be no evidence of the young Lovecraft being invited to visit. But Robie might have done so, and before the building of the observatory there. Robie had been a Baptist, but that did not then preclude also being an astronomer with a substantial library and presumably a telescope to match. Lovecraft told Moe in a 1915 letter…

My maternal grandmother, who died when I was six, was a devoted lover of astronomy, having made that a speciality at Lapham Seminary, where she was educated; and though she never personally showed me the beauties of the skies, it is to her excellent but somewhat obsolete collection of astronomical books that I owe my affection for celestial science. Her copy of Burritt’s Geography of the Heavens is today the most prized volume in my library.

Robie’s Smithville Seminary was itself on a knoll, perhaps good enough for observing. But back in circa 1845-55 (before the building of the observatory), could Mr. Seagrave’s apparently excellent 342-feet high observing hill have also been one regularly visited by parties of local amateur astronomers — Robie among them?

On the little-considered ‘airplane novel’ genre

Having recently become enamoured of Kipling’s classic “With the Night Mail” and his Aerial Board of Control universe, I was interested to see that Quillette has a long new survey of the genre of the airplane novel. Exploring especially how it was blown off-course in response to terrorist events…

Gone are the days when aviator/authors such as Nevil Shute and Ernest K. Gann and Paul Beaty wrote about airplane travel as if it were an almost spiritual experience. That type of novel lost its hold on the public’s imagination when men […] began boarding airplanes with a nefarious purpose in mind. The golden age of hijacking only lasted from 1965–1972, but its impact on popular culture endures.

I’d add that Lovecraft’s “At the Mountains of Madness” might be considered to be, in part, among the ‘airplane tales’ of the 1930s. But there the ‘spiritual experience’ of height and far-sight is flipped into horror.

I guess, in a way, that the 1970s ‘turn’ in the genre then subtly opened a way for the nascent steampunk to offer a home for the old and vanished ‘romance of air-travel’. If only with dirigibles, zeppelins, balloons and personal ‘fliers’ of various kinds.

Also new on Archive.org. in a Loompanics book from the 1980s, the opposite. A chapter surveying the key examples of The Inner World in Fiction. ‘Inner World’ here meaning various non-horror ideas of subterranean realms under the earth.

Lovecraft’s first letter in its magazine context

Currently on eBay, H.P. Lovecraft’s first publication. In Scientific American for 25th of August 1906.

Interesting to note that this had a cover featuring the New Croton Dam (construction 1892-1906), given the later subject-matter of “The Colour out of Space”. The Dam and its vast lake gathered and sent the first out-of-city supply of water to New York City.

Lovecraft proposed a multi-observatory photographic method of discovering a planet beyond Neptune, at the edge of the solar system. He goes so far as to suggest, basic on his own cosmic observations, that a spot known to him at “50 units” out would be the place to start. The planet Pluto (yes, it is a planet) is sometimes at that distance, a textbook stating it…

averages 40 astronomical units from the Sun, but it ranges from 30 units to 50 units.

It might be interesting for the forthcoming book on Lovecraft’s astronomy to determine: i) when and how he was making the observations that led him to propose “50 units”; and ii) if Pluto was indeed at 50 units out at that time.

November on Tentaclii

The snow lies crisp around Tentaclii Towers. But, wrapped up in warm layers, I’ve still managed to keep up with the daily blogging. In my weekly ‘Picture Postals’ posts at Tentaclii I looked into De Leon Springs, the local attraction near the Barlow’s Florida homestead; at Lovecraft and soda-fountains; at the Providence Woolworth’s store where the low prices of genial Mr. Woolworth helped Lovecraft out in depths of the Great Depression: and finally I considered if prehistoric flying pterodactyls might have been one of the origins of Lovecraft’s childhood ‘night-gaunts’. They were mostly likely not, but it was worth looking into the possibility.

I also looked into the likely pre-America whereabouts of Helen Allgood (1820–1881), Lovecraft’s paternal grandmother (married 1839). It was she and her husband who gave him the (apparently now-unproveable) Northumberland connection in the north of England. As I’ve shown in one of my earlier essays, this connection strongly influenced the topography and details of “The Rats in the Walls”. I made a quick survey of Lovecraft and his Epicurean enjoyment of Thanksgiving. I was spurred (by The Living Age journal coming onto Archive.org) to look briefly at Lovecraft’s curious non-reading of Haggard in 1920, at a time when several correspondents were strongly urging it.

November brought a surprisingly good crop of books, when you might have expected most to have been out by Halloween. S.T. Joshi released the new The Recognition of H. P. Lovecraft; the scholarly booklet Copyright Questions and the Stories of H.P. Lovecraft appeared; there was news of a new uniform set called the Robert H. Waugh Library of Lovecraftian Criticism, including a wholly new third book of essays by Waugh; two substantial new non-fiction items on R. E. Howard; a festschrift of essays in Italian for the major Italian scholar and Lovecraftian anthologist Gianfranco de Turris, and the apparent arrival of the long-awaited book Tour de Lovecraft: The Destinations.

There was nothing in academic journals this month, as the academic year is now in full pelt. Thankfully I’m no longer a part of all that, except remotely via JURN. But there was news of the forthcoming scholarly journal Wormwood #37. The ‘Gothic’ edition of the free Digital Art Live magazine was also circulating this month, in which I paid suitable attention to Lovecraft. The Christmas issue of Digital Art Live will be a bumper tribute to the comics artist ‘Moebius’.

November saw Sonia’s amateur journalism The Rainbow, Vol. 2 No. II (1922) arrive on Archive.org, an important Lovecraft document in an excellent scan. Also the stencil-duplicated book-a-zine Henry Kuttner: A Memorial Symposium.

I linked the call for the work for the book Felis Futura: An Anthology of Future Cats, and noted the forthcoming symposium ‘The Inklings and Horror: Fantasy’s Dark Corners’ which may interest some and eventually result in a publication. I even found some sparse details of an academic mapping project titled ‘Visualizing Lovecraft’s Providence’.

It was a good month for open scholarly archives, I noticed that the Hevelin Fanzines collection scans are now 100% transcribed, including a number of key early Lovecraft ‘zines. I saw that the Keith-Albee Collection of Lovecraft-era Providence vaudeville theatre is now fully transcribed and publicly searchable online. Also newly freed from microfilm are Munsey’s Magazine, 1891-1929 and the Illustrated London News 1842-2003. These Archive.org runs may be of use to researchers on Lovecraft and his Circle.

Not much in podcasts this month, but I noted a one-hour one with S.T. Joshi on Arthur Machen. With the release of the new AIMP 5.0 software audio player, I also puzzled out its new audiobook bookmarking arrangements. And at last worked out how to make the BBC’s 1973 adaptation of Asimov’s Foundation series listenable on headphones, without being deafened by the music.

In the arts I noted there is a video-essay survey of “Weird Swords and Sandals” lurking on a new DVD, with a focus on obscure European cinema in the 1950-70s. Various bits of Lovecraftian visual art were of course noted here, as well as eBay sale pictures of the 1980 Necronomicon Press “Lovecraft Paper Cut-Outs” packet.

Various ‘Black Friday’ sales of likely use to scholars were noted and linked. At Chaosium I spotted deep discounts on three warehouse-clearance Robert E. Price anthologies of various cycles in the Mythos.

I’m still hoping that someone may be able to supply a zipped local folder of the missing Tentaclii images, which they may have acquired by spidering the blog to create a local archive. I’m fairly sure I had one, but the ill-timed hard-disk crash some months back likely took it.

My thanks to my patrons who have stuck with me during the abrupt Web address swop-over, and/or who have been able to increase or to begin their Patreon support this month. I’ve also for the first time ever made the same direct appeal to people who read my various other projects. I have not yet looked at the resulting current total (due in on the 5th), but I still have hopes of Patreon building to an increasingly-vital $100 or more a month. Tentaclii readers who want to help me out can also buy my books or the poster set, or just send a one-off PayPal donation. Many thanks.

Visualizing Lovecraft’s Providence

“Visualizing Lovecraft’s Providence”, a project apparently underway at the Duke Digital Art History and Visual Culture Research Lab since 2019…

Drawing from detailed descriptions of city streets, vanished and current architectures, spooky interiors, urban denizens, and otherworldly intruders, Lovecraft creates a multi-layered, evocative, and at times disturbing imagined world of the city. By highlighting the spatial features of his writing, and the ways in which expressionist landscapes evoke an apprehensive appreciation of his world view, we are examining the potential of spatial media for a new kind of literary criticism and interpretive adaptation. Our first example will focus on The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which combines early 18th-century action with early 20th-century scenes closer to Lovecraft’s own experience of the city.

The only other mention of the project notes the initial taking of…

a scientific approach to visualizing Lovecraft’s Providence from documents and data, but [we] are also thinking about what it means to fill the gaps when we don’t know, or have room for interpretation.

Ask the Lovecraftian scholars who know, perhaps?