Saturday, January 20, 2007

Houdini and Lovecraft: Testimony of Muriel Eddy (1961) Part 3

This long passage shows Muriel's years as a story teller. It is crisp, personal, and captivating.

(1) I remember Mr. Eddy’s painstaking revision of Houdini’s “Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off” … an experience which the master magician had undergone in his youth. Harry Houdini said in his story that somewhere in his travels he came across an ancient superstition that if a head was severed quickly and unexpectedly from a body, the brain in the head kept on thinking for several seconds!

According to Harry, the natives of Aden-Aden were eager to test this theory, and when he visited that remote island, they ganged up on him and almost succeeded in amputating his head from his body. They must have been anxious to hear what the brain of a magician would think of, after it was separated from the body!

I am quite sure this story was never offered for sale by Harry Houdini, as it lacked the ring of veracity, … or perhaps it was somewhat exaggerated! When we told H.P.L. about it, he exclaimed, “Oh, what I could have done with that story, but perhaps Houdini wouldn’t have liked it if I’d changed it too much. I took a lot of liberties with his ‘Pharaoh’ story and he seemed satisfied, but this one!” And a far-away look was in his eyes …

Later on, we were discussing the possibility of the truth of a brain functioning after death, and Lovecraft averred that perhaps the brain did function … for a few minutes after the death of one’s body. I sometimes wondered what Lovecraft’s true feelings regarding this matter really were.

We have seen that S T Joshi is suspicious of this memoir, so we must deconstruct this and see if if it can be verified. The first point is that there seems no evidence of a manuscript ever published, "Thoughts and Feelings of a Head Cut Off". But, then, Muriel explicitly states it is lost to history. It certainly seems to be fiction like Lovecraft's "Under the Pyramids".

As to the discussion of whether a brain survives for a few moments after decapitation, we also have no extant evidence of this.

The sitz im leben of the anecdote has to be after the writing of "Under The Pyramids" (after February 1924) and prior to Houdini's death (October 1926). Lovecraft was in New York nearly continuously from March 1924 to April 1926. Therefore one suspects that this would have been been between April 1926 and October 1926.

There is no obvious reason to deny the veracity of Muriel Eddy's report, thus it shores up the idea that Lovecraft, C M Eddy, and Houdini were in close communication.

Despite what HPL may have thought or said (see Part 1) about C M Eddy, we know that he was very, very close to C M Eddy in later years. On 6 February 1929, Annie Gamwell and C M Eddy went to a lawyer with HPL and witnessed that Sonia had deserted Lovecraft to certify evidence for a divorce. (2) The fact that he chose C M Eddy indicates the closeness HPL felt and perhaps - since this was a blatant falsehood on HPL's part (3) - a telling indication of whom he could trust to pull this trick.


1. The Gentleman From Angell Street: Memories of H. P. Lovecraft, Muriel E. Eddy & C. M. Eddy, Jr., ed. Jim Dyer, Fenham Publishing, Narangasett, R.I., 2001. “The Gentleman From Angell Street”, Muriel Eddy, 1961.
2. p. 276, A Dreamer and a Visionary: H P Lovecraft in His Time, Liverpool, 2001.
3. Sonia worked hard to reconcile and actually proposed that she could move to Rhode Island and start a business. This seemed to horify the family - that HPL might be publicly supported by Sonia in their hometown. They were mortified at the possible and perceived humiliation. New York was New York, but not in Providence!

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