August William Derleth

  1. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I don't know how many of you are familiar with the work of John D. Haefele, the author of AUGUST DERLETH REDUX: THE WEIRD TALE 1930-1971. John's book is so important, primarily because Derleth is a vital part of the Weird Tales/Lovecraft story. John just sent me the file to his huge forthcoming book concerning the Derleth Mythos, and it is so important and thrilling that it has inspir'd me to begin work now on a project that has been tickling my mind for a long time -- a collection of weird fiction that is entirely inspir'd by ye supernatural/Mythos/spectral writings of August Derleth. It will be a book that pays homage to Derleth, as my other books have hugely been a paying of homage to H.P. Lovecraft.

    So many of us like to sneer at Derleth's accomplishments, it seems. I became an obsessed Lovecraft fanboy in 1973. Derleth had recently died and the entire face of the Lovecraft scene was changing as a result. The New Scholarship had begun, and people began to erect the image of Derleth as Boogeyman. It became the thing to do, to say that Derleth was a lousy writer, that his Lovecraftian fiction was just bloody awful, with no redeeming features.

    I decided to explore this idea of Derleth as an awful writer with a series of video commentaries in last year in which I re-read the stories in the Arkham House collection, The Survivor and Others, and did a video review of each tale. I found, much to my surprise, that the stories were all pretty damn good, with aspects of originality and fine writing. The borrowings from Lovecraft were mostly exactly that--and I am an author who is far more guilty than Derleth of such borrowings. The charge that Derleth was simply stealing HPL's plots and ideas and rewriting them as pure Mythos tripe did not stand up--with the exception of "The Shuttered Room," which I will say is a ruddy awful story.

    I look forward to really delving into Derleth's oeuvre, and seeing how it inspires me as I write Songs for the Comte d'Erlette. Derleth was a fine writer, absolutely professional. The story of his becoming Lovecraft's publisher still has aspects that remain cloudy and seem disturbing; but his creation of Arkham House, and the sacrifices he made to keep it running, is a story of heroism as far as I'm concerned. As an editor/publisher of wonderful weird fiction and weird poetry anthologies, he has never been surpassed.
     
    Aug 25, 2012
    #1
  2. EricWard

    EricWard Fledgling Writer/Editor

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    "The crux of the biscuit is: If it entertains you,
    Very interesting. By coincidence, I just read "The Dweller in Darkness" and "Beyond the Threshold" yesterday. They certainly weren't as bad as everyone says. I got a chuckle out of the characters pimping out "The Outsider and Others now on sale from Arkham House."

    The thing about such a small, dedicated fanbase for any writer/actor/director is that they're going to think that their favorite person can do no wrong (I adore Lovecraft, but don't get me started on his terrible dialogue). They feel that that person is almost exclusive to them. Someone trying to take up the mantle as "The Next Lovecraft" would naturally be judged harshly no matter what.

    I think Derleth was a victim of timing more than anything. Had Lovecraft lived another two years, things could have been much different.
     
    Aug 25, 2012
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  3. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Had not even been aware of the book on Derleth, so I ought to look it up soon. As for the man's work... it varies. Some of it is, frankly, tripe. Quite a few of his ghost stories (especially those collected in Someone in the Dark) are blatant rehashes of tales by classic writers in the genre, but some of them are also rather good, and occasionally quite original in handling, if not concept. No few of them are rather effective essays into the field. Some of his regional writing is very good indeed, showing him to have a fine eye for the quirks of a place and its people, as well as a true love of his native soil. The detective stories he did are also a mixture of reworkings of the writings of others and simple unabashed homage (often with a good dash of humor added).

    His Mythos tales.... Well, when taken in a body, they can be terribly repetitive, tend toward the unimaginative, and often, overall, rather slipshod in their writing. On the other hand, they do often have points which border on near-genius, wonderful "throwaway" concepts which would serve for the basis for entire novels by many other writers (including some very talented ones, who could make some fine use of the implications), and some lovely passages which border on the magical in power. A mixed bag altogether... yet there is that about them which I find fascinating, and which causes me to return to them now and again over the years. (He also did his own bit of satirizing -- including self-parody -- through some of them, a point which I don't see mentioned by anyone.)

    I do think it is time for a reassessment of Derleth, following the reaction against him of the '70s onward; a necessary step, I think, to break away from the near-stranglehold he had established with his own interpretation of HPL and his works, much of which was patently erroneous, and quite often limiting to the semblance of a straitjacket. Now that there has been this distance put between Derleth and Lovecraft, it is perhaps possible to get a clearer view of Derleth himself, doing the man justice without falling into the trap of praising him unduly. He had many faults, both as a writer and as a person; but he had many strengths, too, and I think he deserves a more impartial view.
     
    Oct 7, 2012
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  4. Lobolover

    Lobolover Well-Known Member

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    No kidding, The Mask of Cthulhu, which he authorised for publication himself mind you, had exactly two plots in it, where one was literaly repeated four times with very slight variations and such similarities in the setup it was sort of embarassing. Heck the stories in the darn thing were originaly written a very long way apart too. It's one thing if it was a collection of his work that would have tried to collect everything, published by someone who wasn't him personaly, but this was realy bizarre.
     
    Oct 7, 2012
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  5. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Yes, both his faults and his strengths come out when you read the two volumes, In Lovecraft's Shadow (his own original Mythos tales and those he wrote with Schorer, as well as a "posthumous collaboration" or two with the likes of REH) and The Watchers Out of Time and Others (which contains all the "posthumous collaborations" with HPL). It is interesting to me how he could write some of the most convoluted, slipshod prose and at other times write prose which is strongly poetic and sensitive... all within the space of a single story....
     
    Oct 7, 2012
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  6. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    John sent me his new mammoth book on Derleth and the Mythos, for which I have written a preface, and the book is utterly captivating. It has inspired me with a perverse ache to write my own version of THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD, as earlier this year I wrote my own version of Grandpa's "The Lurking Fear." Preparing to write my first novel, inspired by Derleth, feels so audaciously and deliciously fanboy. :eek:
     
    Oct 17, 2012
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  7. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Ah, yes, Wilum, you are a fanboy (unabashedly so)... but not just a fanboy. You take it to entirely new levels, and through your work reinterpret those things which influence you. That ability to so openly wear your influences while remaining intensely personal and original may not be unique, but it most definitely is rare!

    Keep me posted on the above item(s); I am very interested in reading the reassessment of Derleth, as well as your own new works....
     
    Oct 17, 2012
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  8. nerd literature

    nerd literature Well-Known Member

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    I have been a fan of Lovecraft for a long time but relatively new to researching him. I was going to start a thread about Derleth and his work on the Cthulu mythos. My question is this since from the research that I have been doing I have seen some people think that he was wrong to take Lovecraft's stories and create the mythos or that he helped create something that shaped horror/supernatural fiction to this day. Just wondering what people think.
     
    Jan 2, 2013
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  9. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    Derleth was very very young when he and Mark began writing their weird stories together, and he began writing his Lovecraftian tales while Lovecraft was still alive--indeed, Lovecraft read some few of the tales, and Augie asked him questions about the Mythos, what it should be called, &c &c. Then Derleth created Arkham House, and the Cthulhu Mythos became something new for him, I believe: a marketing tool with which to sell books. People say a lot of knee-jerk things about Derleth without ever really delving into his history, understanding his circumstances. He made some real enemies, and they spread stories about him that were not completely true. People assume things concerning his hold on the Lovecraft copyrights, his control over tales written in the Mythos, &c &c. I think much of what we think we know concerning Derleth is as much myth as that which people write when detailing Lovecraft's faults -- elements of truth and falsehood combined.

    These stories were written to make money by a young, ambitious writer. They were not composed to withstand "the test of time." And yet, I return to Derleth's Cthulhu Mythos fiction and find much therein that entertains. His one crime, in my eyes, was adding H. P. Lovecraft's name to the byline of stories that were entirely written after Lovecraft's death. The time has come for those stories to be published under their author's name alone: August William Derleth.
     
    Jan 3, 2013
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  10. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Was he wrong? Well... I agree with Wilum on the "posthumous collaborations"; I don't think any of them should have HPL's name attached, even though some of them (e.g., "The Lamp of Alhazred") are actually not that bad; and even those that are, often have much of interest to them. I also think he was wrong in his stating as gospel (pun intended) his views on Lovecraft's mythos being similar to the Christian mythos. If he saw things that way, it was his privilege (though the evidence is completely against him, I'd say); but promulgating this as self-evident goes beyond mere blindness into outright obfuscation. I also think that, despite Lumley's assertion to the contrary, had the mythos continued in the Derlethian vein, it would have stagnated; in fact, it would have become even more moribund than Derleth predicted in his introduction to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, largely because it was straitjacketed into a very narrow focus; whereas Lovecraft's vision left enormous scope for differing approaches.

    I don't think he was wrong for writing his own "Lovecraftian" stories in his way... that, in fact, was precisely what Lovecraft urged people to do; he didn't want followers, he wanted colleagues and individuals developing their own talents and voices. And, for all their faults, as I've said elsewhere, there are also many things to like about most of these stories. Nor do I fault him, particularly, for promoting "the Cthulhu Mythos" as such. Were it not for that, a fairly sizeable amount of weird and fantastic literature would never have been written, and I think those of us who love fantasy in its many branches would have been a lot poorer. I wish he hadn't taken such a narrow view of what it was; but despite this, as an editor he published some fine stories in this subgenre all the same, and encouraged a goodly number of young writers to expand themselves in their own handling of the material.
     
    Jan 3, 2013
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  11. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Lurker at the Threshold is good solid horror novel from beginning to end. The Trail of Chuthlu , very good stuff . The man could write and write well. (y)
     
    Jun 10, 2015
    #11
  12. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I'm afraid I can't agree with you on this. As I've said many times, there are some very good things about some of his Mythos tales, but they also have great flaws. The Trail of Cthulhu in particular has horrific problems from any literary standpoint.

    On the other hand, if you want to look at Derleth at his best, try his early Sac Prairie pieces, or some of his poetry. There he wrote things which really do achieve great literary heights....
     
    Jun 10, 2015
    #12
  13. w h pugmire esq

    w h pugmire esq Well-Known Member

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    I finally bought an Arkham House edition of THE TRAIL OF CTHULHU, and it is so awful I had to set it aside after reading a few chapters and read Dante to get the taste of bad fiction out of my brain. I love THE LURKER AT THE THRESHOLD until the last third of the novel, which seems rushed and not clearly thought-out.
     
    Jun 10, 2015
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  14. Extollager

    Extollager Well-Known Member

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    Derleth wrote a number of outdoorsy historical books for middle school-age readers. I read several of them to my son and we both enjoyed them: Empire of Fur (read this one twice, in fact), Land of Grey Gold, Country of the Hawk, Land of Sky-Blue Waters; later I read The Captive Island to one of my daughters, who liked stories about Indians. Except for Empire, these were library books that I haven't had them in my hands for many years, and I can't say much more than this about them, but for a homeschooling family that read a lot, they were all successes.
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    Jun 10, 2015
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  15. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Bats Belfry 1926
     
    Jun 10, 2015
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  16. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I have a question: How much of Derleth's supernatural fiction aside from the Lovecraftian pieces have you read? I don't often hear these mentioned by anyone, even defenders of Derleth, and I think this is not entirely just, either. He wrote such a plethora of such things that, of course, a fair amount of it is tripe (albeit sometimes entertaining), but there is a substantial residuum which is rather well done, and deserves to be remembered.

    Anyone want to chime in on this?
     
    Jun 11, 2015
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  17. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    Beyond the lovecrafian stuff, a few Solar Pons stories which were quite good. The story Bats Belfry is the only horror tale I've read by him, read it a while ago.
     
    Jun 11, 2015
    #17
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