Monday, October 29, 2007

Cats of Ulthar: Story in Lovecraft's Hand

Lovecraft, H[oward] P[hillips]. "THE CATS OF ULTHAR" [short story]. AUTOGRAPH MANUSCRIPT SIGNED (AMsS). 4 pages, handwritten on the rectos of 4 sheets of white 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper with typed and handwritten letters relating to The United Amateur Press Association on versos. Dated "June 15, 1920" at bottom of page 4. Apparently, the final draft of this story. Manuscript annotation in pencil (probably in August Derleth's hand) indicates that this manuscript was once owned by Rheinhart Kleiner. TOGETHER WITH incomplete copy of THE CATS OF ULTHAR (Cassia, Florida: 1935), paper wrappers, two pairs of conjugate leaves comprising title and copyright page and pages 1-2 of story, printed by Barlow in a stated edition of 40 copies (plus two copies on special paper) as a Christmas keepsake for the friends of HPL. These were evidently leftover sheets. TOGETHER WITH typed letter signed (TLS) from August Derleth to Philip J. Grill, dated 11 July 1951, on Arkham House letterhead, with original envelope. The letter, replying to an inquiry from Grill, a collector of Lovecraftiana, quotes several manuscript items, ranging from the present manuscript of Ulthar ($25.00) to several Christmas cards ($1.00). "The Cats of Ulthar" was written during the height of Lovecraft's infatuation with Dunsany and reads very much like a Dunsany story -- but a good one. It was first published in the November 1920 Tryout, and reprinted in Weird Tales twice, February 1926 and February 1933. In the far-off town of Ulthar, a malevolent old couple were fond of trapping and slaying cats that strayed into their yard. The townsfolk were too scared of them to do anything about it. One day there came to town a caravan full of dark strangers (whom the reader recognizes as related to pharaonic Egypt, where cats were held sacred). One of the strangers, the little orphan Menes, had only his tiny black kitten to keep him company. One morning the kitten did not come back. Menes prayed to his strange gods, and ominous cloud formations appeared. That night all the cats disappeared from Ulthar. The next morning they returned: "Very sleek & fat did the cats appear, & sonorous with purring content." So content, they refused food for a couple of days. No lights were seen in the hovel of the old cat-killing couple. The town elders finally worked up their nerve to investigate. What they found inside were "two cleanly picked human skeletons on the earthen floor, & a number of singular beetles crawling in the shadowy corners." The town quickly passed a law that "in Ulthar no man may kill a cat." The story is very short (1350 words) yet feels full and well-developed -- sleek & fat, one might almost say. It is free of the adjective orgies that characterize much of Lovecraft's work. It is derivative from Dunsany, but HPL would have been the first to admit that; it is better perhaps to call it an homage, and a worthy one, with a somber undercurrent that lifts it above much of Dunsany's corpus. The story resonates with a personal quality, calling on the author's own love of cats, who stirred up in Lovecraft as pure a love as he felt for any beings See Joshi, H. P. Lovecraft: A Life, pp. 224-5, etc. Several old mailing folds, but overall the manuscript is in excellent condition. Accompanied by a TLS from August Derleth dated 11 July 1951 offering to sell the manuscript to Philip Jack Grill for $25.00, and trial pages of the legendary 1935 Dragon-Fly Press edition of THE CATS OF ULTHAR, comprising two small folio sheets, the first printing the title and copyright pages, the second printing the first and second pages of the text. (#109134) Price: $20,000.00

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