Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lovecraft and Houdini: A Pause to Reflect

Over the last few months, Chrispy has studied whether Houdini recruited Lovecraft to assist him. I've looked for a "smoking gun" and there is still no hard evidence.

So, time for a little speculation. It seems sure that CM Eddy, Jr. and HP Lovecraft corresponded, and HPL walked over to his house one August night in 1923. Nearly simultaneously, Henneberger through reading a Lovecraft story had a Eureka moment and realized that HPL might be the 20th century reincarnation of his beloved Poe - and might just make Weird Tales viable. Eddy was no doubt saying much the same to Baird, his editor pal at Weird Tales. In fact virtually everyone, everywhere who'd met HPL over the last several years had come to the same conclusion. The only one unconvinced was ol' Ech Pi El himself.

All that being said, it happened that Henneberger was friends with Houdini - a famous magician who was in a crisis state of his own. Having once believed - or wanted to believe in supernaturalism, he became fast friends with the lofty Arthur Conan Doyle. Then. reality hit. Houdini saw the chicanery of supernaturalism, and then upon closer investigation, the criminality. This he could not bear, and blew the top off of it. In doing so, he drove a stake into Doyle's credulous heart and crushed him.

Lovecraft, then runs off to get married and nearly all hell breaks loose in the Brooklyn enclave known as the Kalem Club. While not famous, a caldron heated with future luminaries such as Hart Crane, Frank Belknap Long, and more all fomenting a Weird Tale brew. It was enough to have Henneberger throw Baird overboard, and offer the magazine to HPL. Houdini must have fallen immediately head over heels with the wit and brilliance of Lovecraft. He certainly threw enough money his way - a trait Houdini frequently exhibited to those he found impoverished - and more so those he admired.

This is where Chrispy goes out on a limb. I believe Houdini did cultivate HPL as an ally. He also used CM Eddy and Henneberger - and anyone else he could - to shine the light on the criminal gangs of spiritualism. That Scientific American was infiltrated by spiritualists - and even the US congress and White House made him livid.

So, why didn't the equally furious Lovecraft - a man who often battled astrologers and quacks in newspaper columns and letters tot he editor - walk away from this fight? It would have paid handsomely. He would have achieved overnight success with his quaint way of speaking, his affectations that endeared him to subsequent generations, and saved Sonia from heartbreak. Why? Even a last minute appeal to come to Detroit by Houdini in 1926, when he was past his psychological crisis and happy and homey with his aunts in Providence failed. Why?

Perhpas this passage (*) to Samuel Loveman on 24 March 1923 says much, "I am so detached and emotionless ... I am simply a bland external eye ... I am so much more an analyst than an emotionalist ... I frankly admit that my object in life is merely to keep fed, warm, & amused till death comes ... I am absoluetly without ambition ... the only two things which could ruin life for me are hard work & the necessity of living in an unaesthetic neighborhood."

Great Gods, these are the exact sentiments that wrecked his marriage, split him asunder from an idolatrous Kalem gang that had about annointed him the new Poesque-messiah, and propelled him back to an upper room in Providence.

Houdini must have been flabbergasted, just as Henneberger must have been when HPL shunned first an enormous salary to edit a dream job, and to go on the road to lambast ill-logicked criminal fakers. Lovecraft would have made mincemeat of them on stage, would have written towering exposes with intricately elaborate and articulate exposition, and would have had Houdini's undying respect.

Lovecraft probably thought, "Sigh, must I be burdened by a 9 to 5 job or shackled by a well meaning, but weakly literate magician?"

And so, history turned and it was not to be. Only the unfinished Cancer of Superstition marked the glimmer of what might have been. Perhaps even Houdini's assasination might have been prevented.

Again, this is but idle speculation. Chrispy has more evidence and anecdotes to add to the blog as time goes one.

* HP Lovecraft Letters to Samuel Loveman and Vincent Starrett, ed by Joshi & Schultz, Necronomicon Press, 1994, p. 13.

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