Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Emil Petaja

Still trying to find gleanings from letters for auction. A few interesting anecdotes in the auctioneers text below.

LETTERS FROM H. P. LOVECRAFT TO EMIL PETAJA, 1934-1937. 28 letters, totaling 104 pages, of which approximately 95% is unpublished. 23 of the letters are entirely unpublished. Extracts, some very brief, from five of the letters are published in SELECTED LETTERS, volume V. Together with: TYPED MANUSCRIPT. Six leaves (of 10) of an unidentified short story by Petaja with holograph corrections throughout by Lovecraft. According to Petaja, the manuscript, missing the first four leaves was written around 1935. The story, which remains unpublished, is a reincarnation fantasy involving Antony and Cleopatra; TYPED MANUSCRIPT. "Alphabetical List of Fantasy Authors." typed by Petaja, with extensive handwritten notes by Lovecraft. 2 pages on 1 sheet mea

Book Description: Emil Petaja was admittedly one of the lesser satellites orbiting around H. P. Lovecraft. Still a college student in Montana when he sent him a fan letter in 1934, Petaja went on to carve out a small literary niche for himself in fantasy literature, primarily by using material from the Kalevala, the great epic of his ancestral Finland. Answering the boy's letter with characteristic generosity, Lovecraft sent back the requested autograph and snapshot, and went on to send him 27 more letters over the next two and a half years, the last a mere two weeks before his own death. Some are perfunctory, many are substantial and all have those characteristic felicities common to one of the great letter-writers of the 20th century. As a lot, they are of interest for documenting the entire span of one of HPL's literary friendships; for the fresh and full self- portrait required by the newness of the relationship; and by the rich, warm sunset tone found in some, when their author put aside his customary grandiosity and cynicism. Elsewhere the reader will find evidence of familiar virtues and idiosyncrasies. And everywhere we see Lovecraft, the person, at his best, in his patient encouragement and gentle tutelage of a wet-behind-the-ears youngster. Several letters contain de facto essays of moderate length that could easily be extracted for separate publication; in particular, letter #25 has a long and touching tribute to amateur journalism that should belong in any core collection of his nonfiction. A few highlights. Comparing himself unfavorably to the masters of weird fiction (Machen, Blackwood, etc.) leads to an unfavorable comparison of these to "the masters of general literature -- whose comprehension & reflection of the human scene are so much fuller & better-proportioned." Finding DRACULA overrated, he recalls the reaction to it by his friend Mrs. Miniter when she was offered (and turned down) the job of revising an early draft of it in 1893. Expounding his materialistic philosophy, he outlines the anthropological basis of superstitions and speculates on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Answering the question of whether he had read the daring 1928 novel of lesbianism, THE WELL OF LONELINESS, Lovecraft expostulates at some length on the "homosexual vices" and other sexual depravities in ancient Greece and contemporary America. Mourns the death, in July 1936, of Robert E. Howard ("Two-Gun Bob"). Directing young Petaja's reading and informing him of the progress of one book or another on the postal book-lending circuit, he comments, sometimes at length, on a number of authors, including Machen, Blackwood, Shiel, Dunsany, Huysmans, Ibsen, Ellen Glasgow, Michael Arlen, James Branch Cabell, Hugh Walpole, Hodgson, Stapledon, Wilde, Homer, Plato, Aeschylus, Euripedes, Toksvig and Meyrink; as well as the contributors to Weird Tales (including, of course, himself), most of the important ones also being friends or at least acquaintances of Lovecraft -- "our weird gang." One of the most interesting items in the archive is Petaja's typewritten list of 169 names, titled "Alphabetical List of Fantasy Authors", with annotations by Lovecraft as well as his supplementary list of some 30 "High-Grade (more or less) Weird Writers" and 37 others, including himself, in an "Inferior Group -- the Pulp Writers." The former list by HPL will contain few surprises for anyone familiar with his essay on "Supernatural Horror in Literature", but Petaja's list contains a good many alluringly obscure names, including 75 not annotated by HPL or mentioned in his essay. Whether these were unfamiliar to him or unimportant to him is impossible to say without further study -- or even if all of them are, indeed, authors of fantasy fiction. But Lovecraft himself notes the foolhardiness of automatically discounting the unfamiliar, confessing that he had never heard of William Hope Hodgson until 1931 or read him until 1934. All in all, a significant cache of documents t. Bookseller Inventory # 108248 $35,000 !

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