Sunday, March 8, 2020

Four collaborations between H. P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr. from Weird Tales

A 2007 paperback edition of
The Horror in the Museum, cover
art by John Jude Palencar
We're still reading The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions here at MPorcius Fiction Log.  Today let's look at four collaborations between Providence residents H. P. Lovecraft and C. M. Eddy, Jr.  Wikipedia suggests these two horror scribes met  because their mothers were both active in the women's suffrage movement...if you are tired of being employed, here is your chance to make a "talk about a truly horrifying cult!" joke.

According to S. T. Joshi, editor of The Horror in the Museum, Lovecraft probably revised "Ashes" only lightly, but it is likely each author contributed equally to "The Ghost-Eater," "The Loved Dead," and "Deaf, Dumb and Blind."

"Ashes" (1924)

Readers of the March 1924 issue of Weird Tales would find behind the Harry Houdini cover (among other things) a poem by Clark Ashton Smith, "The Melancholy Pool;" Lovecraft's famous story, "The Rats in the Walls;" and, next to an ad for books about birth control ("Spare yourself untold misery,") a letter from Lovecraft in which he praises Smith's contributions to the visual arts and declares that "One can't write a weird story of real power without perfect psychological detachment from the human scene....Only a cynic can create a horror--for behind every masterpiece of the sort must reside a driving daemonic force that despises the human race and illusions, and longs to pull them to pieces and mock them."  And of course the matter at hand, "Ashes," in Weird Tales credited solely to C. M. Eddy, Jr., as were all four of the stories we are looking at today when they made their debuts in "The Unique Magazine."

"Ashes" is a brief trifle of a story, acceptable but unremarkable.  Our narrator, Prague, is visited in his office by a visibly disturbed friend, Malcolm Bruce.  Bruce has been working as assistant to a chemist, Professor Arthur Van Allister, and he and Van Allister's other assistant, Marjorie Purdy, have fallen in love.  Van Allister has invented a liquid which can turn anything, except glass, into ashes; Bruce has already seen it tested on a rabbit.  Earlier today Bruce couldn't find his fiance, and searched high and low for her; when he found a new container of ashes in Van Allister's workshop he assumed the chemist had tested his fluid on Purdy and, in an insane rage, attacked the older man.  After knocking out the scientist Bruce put Van Allister in a handy coffin-shaped glass container of the liquid, instantly turning his employer into ashes.  Bruce has come to Prague to unburden himself--with the love of his life dead, and a murder on his hands (and no job, let's not forget that), he tells his buddy that life now has no meaning for him.

Prague is not quite convinced the ashes Bruce saw were Purdy's, and so the two men go to Van Allister's workshop (I guess perps really do return to the scene of the crime!) to look around.  In a room Bruce neglected to look in earlier, they find Marjorie, all bound up; she explains that Van Allister tied her up and was going to force her watch as he put Bruce into that coffin-shaped vat of liquid--it was Bruce whom Van Allister had selected to be his first human test subject.  Those ashes Bruce thought were the remains of his girlfriend were just those of a dog.

"Ashes" is mediocre.  Why does Van Allister need a human test subject after testing his liquid on a rabbit and a dog, as well as various inanimate objects?  The obvious reason for him to murder Malcolm Bruce is that he is also in love with Marjorie Purdy, but the story doesn't go there.  Neither do Eddy and Lovecraft do anything interesting with the liquid that turns you to ashes; acid or fire or a ray gun could have played the same role in the plot that Van Allister's liquid plays.  During the fight, the jar of ashes that we all thought was Marjorie Purdy is broken, and I thought that what was going to happen was that Prague was going to realize, by looking at Van Allister's notes or something, that the ashes could be reconstituted and turned back into living matter.  In my prediction, Prague and Bruce gather up all the ashes of Purdy and resurrect her, but some of Van Allister's ashes have gotten mixed in with the woman's, and what comes back to life is a hideous monster, half-mad scientist and half-hot chick!  This development would lead to scenes in which Bruce tries to learn to love Purdy even though she is in a grotesque hermaphrodite body, and then suspense scenes in which fragments of Van Allister's evil personality lurking in Purdy's wholesome psyche try to take over the body and murder Bruce or reconstitute the rest of his own body or something cool like that.

I am going to humbly suggest that my love triangle/hermaphrodite monster story would have been better than what Eddy and Lovecraft came up with, seeing as my plot outline includes elements of body horror and tackles issues of identity and the question of whether a man's love is mere shallow lust or the meeting of two kindred souls--it's too bad that your humble blogger didn't get a crack at revising this story!

"Ashes" was reprinted in 1982 in a special issue of Crypt of Cthulhu entitled Ashes and Others by H. P. Lovecraft and Divers Hands before being included in Lovecraft collections.

"The Ghost-Eater" (1924)

"The Ghost-Eater" holds together somewhat better than "Ashes," but I'm afraid it is a pretty unremarkable piece of work.

Our narrator is in the backwoods of Maine, and has to get from one isolated village to another before noon tomorrow.  The fastest way to get to the other village is to walk through a dense forest on foot, a march the narrator is told if he leaves in the morning he can make it before sundown.  (How can this possibly be the fastest route, even if the road takes you out of the way?  A car, even crawling at 20 mph, can cover 100 miles in five hours...I'm going to have to call this a plot hole.)  The march is more arduous than he had expected it to be, and when he stops to rest he falls asleep.  When he wakes up it is the night of a full moon, and a storm is approaching!  He finds a house there in the middle of the woods (where there is no road) and the guy in there, a sophisticated gentleman with a limp, provides him a meal that is curiously unsatisfying, and then a room.  While our hero is sitting on a chair in his dark room a third man comes in and reclines in the bed; when our hero touches this interloper his hand goes through him--the intruder is a ghost!  Then a monstrous wolf with a limp comes in the room; our hero shoots the wolf but the bullets go right through!  The ghost wolf tears the ghost man apart as our hero flees the house.

The narrator gets to his destination and there he hears the story of how sixty years ago a guy who people suspected was a werewolf built a house in the woods and later killed some guy; local people then killed the wolf and burned down the house.  Since then on the night of a full moon the ghosts of the house, the wolf and his victim appear to replay the sixty-year-old drama.

Merely acceptable.  The issue of Weird Tales featuring "The Ghost-Eater" also includes Lovecraft's story "The White Ape," which would later appear under the title "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" or just "Arthur Jermyn"--Lovecraft hated the title "The White Ape" (see letter to Duane W. Rimel of June 30, 1935)--and a poem by Lovecraft, "Nemesis."  "The Ghost-Eater" was first reprinted in a 1966 anthology of stories and essays edited by August Derleth, The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces.

"The Loved Dead" (1924)

The Wikipedia page on "The Loved Dead" and the isfdb page about the story suggest that it is an important story in Weird Tales history, though it seems that the facts of the matter are in some dispute.  Apparently, the story is so full of outrageous gore and necrophilia that it gained a lot of attention for Weird Tales; S. T. Joshi says the issue was banned in Indiana, and the note at isfdb claims the magazine's new notoriety lead to an increase in circulation and revenue starting with the next issue.  There is also some evidence that the business in Indiana spooked Weird Tales's editors and lead to a reluctance to accept some of Lovecraft's work in the future.  In two letters to the young Robert Bloch (one from mid-March 1935 and another from mid-May 1936; they can be found on pages 132 and 170 of Hippocampus Press's seventh volume of Lovecraft's letters), Lovecraft claims that Farnsworth Wright was made "timid" by his "run-in with the Indiana bourgeoisie over" "The Loved Dead" and even initially rejected Lovecraft's "In the Vault."  Well, let's read the story all this talk is about!

Whatever its effect on Weird Tales's and Lovecraft's finances, this story is terrific, nine pages of feverish, fast-paced prose that are striking, thrilling and compelling!  The text is the autobiography of a necrophiliac, penned by moonlight in a cemetery as he hides from the police who are hot on his trail!

As a child the narrator was anemic and apathetic, lacking not only the energy to pursue any occupation or pastime but also any interest in doing so.  But at sixteen he attends his grandfather's funeral and finds that the proximity of a dead body energizes him, excites him, gives meaning to his life!  As he matures he becomes addicted to being close to dead bodies, quickly graduating to engaging in the most intimate of contact with corpses whenever he has the chance to do so!  He takes jobs in funeral parlors, morgues, and cemeteries in order to indulge his obsessive desire, and even has the opportunity to embalm his own father's corpse, experiencing a greater love for his father while manipulating Dad's lifeless cadaver than ever he did when the man was alive!  On days when his employment offers no subjects to work upon, the narrator ventures onto the night streets to murder some innocent person and exploit his or her body!  On lucky days he even has the chance to embalm or inter the very person he murdered!

When World War I breaks out he volunteers to fight in the trenches and experiences the "transcendent satisfaction" of being surrounded all day by bodies slain and mangled by artillery shells and machine gun fire!

After the war, back in America, the necrophiliac again takes up serial murder, but he blunders and the police get a lead on him.  As the cops close in, the narrator must decide if he will endure imprisonment or commit suicide and join the ranks of those with whom he is most comfortable, the dead.

"The Loved Dead" is a masterpiece of horror: economical, perfectly paced, internally consistent and novel--I can't find a flaw in it.  In that letter to Weird Tales I quoted above, Lovecraft says "Popular authors do not and apparently cannot appreciate the fact that true art is obtainable only by rejecting normality and conventionality in toto, and approaching a theme purged utterly of any usual or preconceived point of view" and goes on to suggest that stories should be written from the point of view of villains and monsters.  "The Loved Dead" proves that Lovecraft was on to something--this story is compelling because of the twisted and perverted nature of its narrator.

Strongly recommended to horror fans. Five out of five violated corpses!

"The Loved Dead" was first reprinted in 1948 in the Arkham Sampler, a magazine edited by August Derleth which published eight issues over 1948 and 1949, and has since appeared in many Lovecraft and Eddy collections as well as anthologies like Derleth's Night's Yawning Peal.

"Deaf, Dumb and Blind" (1924)

This one is like 11 pages, over half of which is a sort of frame story.  Richard Blake was a genius poet who fought in World War I and was terribly wounded, rendered blind, deaf, and mute, though after the war he continued to communicate with his servant and the world via Braille and typewriters.  Blake and his servant moved into a house on the edge of the swamp, a house where in the 18th century lived the odd Tanner family, a family reputed to be involved in witchcraft.  In 1819 the last of the Tanners died mysteriously in the house--the expression on his face was so horrible that the locals burned his body and all his weird books and blocked up the secret passage under the house that lead into the swamp.

One day in 1924 Blake's servant runs out of the house for help, and when help arrives they find Blake dead before his typewriter, a horrible expression on his face!  Scattered around the dead writer's desk is a manuscript--a doctor collects the sheets and after he reads them he rushes to buy up the old Tanner house, blow it up with dynamite, and cut down the nearer swamp trees.

After this frame we get to read Blake the blind poet's manuscript.  The manuscript is quite vague, but it seems that creatures from another dimension or demons from hell or whatever spoke to him and gave him visions of horrible crimes and debaucheries; they asked him to join them, but he refused and then expired.

The idea behind this story is alright, but "Deaf, Dumb and Blind" feels long and it is so vague that the pay off seems disproportionate to its length.  Merely acceptable.

After its initial appearance in Weird Tales, August Derleth included "Deaf, Dumb and Blind" in a few anthologies, such as The Unquiet Grave, and since then it has been reprinted in various Lovecraft and Eddy collections.


"The Loved Dead" is a keeper, but the rest of these stories are just OK; "Ashes" and "The Ghost-Eater" are pretty conventional and while "Deaf, Dumb and Blind" is kind of unusual, Eddy and Lovecraft don't really develop much from the novel premise of the story.

I plan to read the rest of the stories in The Horror in the Museum in the near future, but I think we'll take a break from the weird for a while and maybe read some things about space travel and adventures among the stars.


  1. The special issue of CRYPT OF CTHULHU with "Ashes" was published in 1982, not 1976.