Thursday, May 03, 2007

H P L on Edgar Rice Burroughs

Here is a rare 1914 letter by Lovecraft on Burroughs.

A extract discusses his obsession with astronomical facts:

For example, in that admirable story, Tarzan of the Apes, we meet Sabor, the tiger, far from his native India, and we behold the hero, before he has learned the relation between vocal sounds and written letters, writing out his name, Tarzan, which he has known only form the lips of his hairy associates, as well as the names of Kerchak, Tantor, Numa, and Terkoz, all of which he would not possibly have seen written.

Also, in The Gods of Mars, Mr. Burroughs refers to the year of the red planet as having 687 Martian days. This is, of course, absurd, for while Mars revolves about the sun in 687 terrestrial days, its own day or period of rotation is almost forty minutes longer than ours, thus giving to Mars a year which contains but 668 2/3 Martian solar days. I note with regret that this error has been repeated in Warlord of Mars.

...

Then he continues with his typical circa 1914 Hyper-Anglophilia:

The broad editorial policy of The All-Story in making the magazine note merely a local American publication, but a bond of common interest between the United Kingdom, the United States, and the various British colonies, cannot too heartily be commended.

Blood is thicker than water; we are all Englishmen, and need just such a leveler of political barriers as this to remind us of our common origin. Let the London reader reflect, that in Boston, Toronto, Cape Town, Calcutta, Melbourne, Auckland, and nearly everywhere else, his racial kindred are perusing the same stirring stories that delight them.

2 comments:

Chris Perridas said...

Chrispy always worries that the 'net will lose a site or a text. Therefore, I will preserve it here just in case.

This is a very important part of Lovecraft's life.

***

LOVECRAFT: A BURROUGHS FAN

The March 7, 1914 issue of All-Story Weekly is a rare and outstanding on, much sought-after by collectors. There are several reasons for this.

It is the first weekly number of the magazine. Then, again, it contains the first printing of Edgar Rice Burroughs' fantasy novel, The Eternal Lover, honored by a splendid cover illustration in cover.

However, there is still another reason why the issue has a peculiar value. Tucked away in the "Letters to the Editor" section is a most unusual missive praising the imaginative school of fiction. Because of this and because of the probable identity of the writer, it is reprinted below.


Providence, Rhode Island
Editor, The All-Story Magazine
Sir:
Having read every number of your magazine since its beginning in January 1905, I feel in some measure privileged to write a few words of approbation and criticism concerning its contents.

In the present age of vulgar taste and sordid realism it is a relief to peruse a publication such as The All-Story, which has ever been and still remains under the influence of the imaginative school of Poe and Verne.

For such materialistic readers as your North-British corespondent, Mr. G.W.P. of Dundee, there are only too many periodicals containing "probable" stories; let The All-Story continue to hold its unique position as purveyor of literature to those whose minds cannot be confined within the narrow circle of probability, or dulled into a passive acceptance of the tedious round of things as they are.

If, in fact, man is unable to create living beings out of inorganic matter, to hypnotize the beasts of the forests to do his will, to swing from tree to tree with apes of the African jungle, to restore to life the mummified corpses of the Pharaohs and the Incas, or to explore the atmosphere of Venus and the deserts of Mars, permit us, at least in fancy, to witness these miracles and to satisfy that craving for the unknown, the weird, and the impossible which exists in every active human brain.

Particularly professors and sober Scotch men may denounce it as childish the desire for imaginative fiction; nay, I am not sure but that such a desire is childish, and rightly so, for are not many of man's noblest attributes but the remnants of his young nature? He who can retain in his older years the untainted mind, the lively imagination, and the artless curiosity of his infancy, is rather blessed than cursed; such men as those are our authors, scientists and inventors.

At or near the head of your list of writers Edgar Rice Burroughs undoubtedly stands. I have read very few recent novels by others wherein is displayed an equal ingenuity in plot, and verisimilitude in treatment. His only fault seems to be a tendency toward scientific inaccuracy and slight inconsistencies.

For example, in that admirable story, Tarzan of the Apes, we meet Sabor, the tiger, far from his native India, and we behold the hero, before he has learned the relation between vocal sounds and written letters, writing out his name, Tarzan, which he has known only form the lips of his hairy associates, was well as the names of Kerchak, Tantor, Numa, and Terkoz, all of which he would not possibly have seen written.

Also, in The Gods of Mars, Mr. Burroughs refers to the year of the red planet as having 687 Martian days. This is, of course, absurd, for while Mars revolves about the sun in 687 terrestrial days, its own day or period of rotation is almost forty minutes longer than ours, thus giving to Mars a year which contains but 668 2/3 Martian solar days. I not with regret that this error has been repeated in Warlord of Mars.

William Patterson White, in writing Sands o' Life, has shown himself to be an author of the very first order. The very spirit of the old Spanish Main pervades the pages of this remarkable novel. It is worthy of permanent publication as a book.

In the domain of the weird and bizarre, Lee Robinet has furnished us a masterpiece by writing The Second Man. The atmosphere created and sustained throughout the story can be the work only of a gifted and polished artist. Very effective is the author's careful neglect to tell the exact location of his second Eden.

I strongly hope that you have added Perley Pore Sheehan permanently to your staff, for in him may be recognized an extremely powerful writer. I have seen Mr. Sheehan's work elsewhere, and was especially captivated by a grim short story of his entitled "His Ancestor's Head."

William Tillinghast Eldridge set such a standard for himself in The Forest Reaper that it seems almost a pity for him to be the author of The Tormentor and Cowards All.

William Loren Curtiss tells a homely yet exciting sort of tale which exerts upon the reader a curious fascination. "Shanty House" seems to me the best of the two he has contributed to The All-Story.

Donald Francis McGrew is one of the "red-blooded" school of writers; he describes the Philippine Islands and the army there with an ease indicative of long residence of military service on the scene of his literary productions.

I hardly need mention the author of A Columbus of Space further than to say that I have read every published work by Garrett P. Serviss, own most of them, and await his future writings with eagerness. When a noted astronomer composes an astronomical novel, we need not fear such things as years of 687 days upon the planet Mars.

As for your short stories, necessarily second in importance to the novels and serials, it may be said that some of them rise much above the middle level, while few of them fall beneath it. The merry crew of humorous writers, such as T. Bell, Jack Brandt, Frank Condon, and Donald A. Kahn, are, though light and sometimes a trifle silly, nevertheless distinctly amusing. Kahn is especially clever in drawing the characters of callow college youths.

I hesitate to criticize adversely such an excellent magazine as this, but since my censure falls upon so small a part of it, I think I may express myself openly without giving offense.

I fear that a faint shadow from t he black cloud of vileness now darkening our literature has lately fallen upon a few pages of The All-Story.

"The Souls of Men" by Marthy M. Stanley was distinctly disagreeable tale, but "Pilgrims of Love" by De Lysle Ferree Cass is contemptibly disgusting, unspeakably nauseating. Mr. G.W.S. of Chicago has written that Cass "diplomatically handles a very difficult subject -- Oriental love."

We do not care for subjects so near allied to vulgarity, however, "diplomatically" they may be "handled." Of such "Oriental love" we may speak in the words of the lazy but ingenious schoolboy, who when asked by his tutor to describe the reign of Caligula, replied, "that the less said about it the better." We prefer a more idealized Orient to read about; let us have "nature to advantage" as in the beautiful romance of Prince Imbecile by C. MacLean Savage or The Invisible Empire by Stephen Chalmers.

Speaking of the last novel, is not the title somewhat misleading? In the United States the name "Invisible Empire" is forever associated with that nob le but much maligned band of Southerners who protected their homes against the diabolical freed blacks and Northern adventurers in the years of misgovernment just after the Civil War -- the dreaded Ku-Klux-Klan.

The broad editorial policy of The All-Story in making the magazine note merely a local American publication, but a bond of common interest between the United Kingdom, the United States, and the various British colonies, cannot too heartily be commended.

Blood is thicker than water; we are all Englishmen, and need just such a leveler of political barriers as this to remind us of our common origin. Let the London reader reflect, that in Boston, Toronto, Cape Town, Calcutta, Melbourne, Auckland, and nearly everywhere else, his racial kindred are perusing the same stirring stories that delight them.

America may have withdrawn from the British government, but thanks to such magazines as The All-Story, it must ever remain an integral and important part of the great universal empire of British thought and literature.

I cannot praise The All-Story Magazine by comparing it with others, since it stands alone in its class, but I think I have made it clear that I hold this publication in the highest esteem, and derive much pleasure from its pages. What I have said in criticism of some parts of it I have said only with friendly intent, believing that the humble opinions of one more reader may prove not unacceptable to you.

But ere I grow more tedious still, let me close this already protracted epistle, and, with the best wishes for the future of The All-Story, subscribe myself as

Your obedient servant,
H.P.L.



It would seem that we have probably "discovered" a little-known piece of writing by a great master of the supernatural who is well known to lovers of the weird tale. It gives us a glimpse of him as a "fan." And it was such letters as his that encouraged the Munsey chain to continue printing these so-called "different" stories, and probably let to the eventual founding of Weird Tales magazine nine years later.

As Howard Phillips Lovecraft wrote the above letter, I wonder if he ever imagined that one day his own ability as an author would outrank by far the very men he was praising!

John Rowlands said...

Sometimes I wonder if there was a click going on or a compteition.

What I find fanscinating is that we Monday morning quarterback the stories and the authors.

HPL horror and ERB adventure both took liberties with factual information and used it to fit their storyline.

This alone endears certain authors to everyone of us. Horror, travel, adventure, romance, poems, you name it facts will be altered to make draw the reader into the story.

Carry on my friend.

Cheers

JR

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