Thursday, January 18, 2018
Donald Wandrei's Memories of H.P.L.
While I have continued to sample not just Lovecraft's stories but related works by other authors that comprise the vast industry of pastiche that has come to surround him, I have been remiss in not updating my blog. I had planned a look at some of the excellent stories I have read by authors like Darrell Schweitzer, Don Webb, John Langan, Brian Hodge and of course Caitlin R. Kiernan but got sidetracked while I was walking by my shelves. I was once again memorized by the lovely Virgil Findley cover for the Arkham House edition of Marginalia By H.P. Lovecraft. A quick look at the table of contents and I turned to the essay "The Dweller in Darkness" by Donald Wandrei, and was hooked, because no matter how far we journey beneath the sea, not matter how vast time, space, the contents of the human mind are, for me it always comes back to Howard.
Of all the members of the Lovecraft circle my favourites are Clark Ashton Smith and Donald Wandrei, who with August Derleth was a co-founder of Arkham House Publishing. Wandrei's essay concerned a visit to Providence in the summer of 1927. Wandrei was about 19 at the time and had hitchhiked from Minnesota after an invitation to visit.
Of his first meeting he says. "The elderly lady who admitted me led me through the hall of a well-kept old frame house. I was ushered into a room, a room of many surprises.
Though it was afternoon, the windows were all closed and the curtains lowered. One shaded electric bulb threw a weak cone of light upon a desk and chair. In the surrounding gloom, masses of books lined wall bookcases, were piled on tables, stood on stacks on the floor. Scores of magazines, mainly Weird Tales, and a great heap of Providence newspapers were at hand, all in orderly array. A large number of opened letters were arranged on one side of the desk; and on the other lay a thick file of sealed envelopes ready to mail. There was a wash basin in one corner, a two burner gas stove in another. Beside the burner stood a little cabinet with an assortment of small groceries-sugar, coffee, chocolate, jars and packages of cheese, cans of condensed milk and baked beans, bread and crackers and cookies." (362)
A number of Lovecraft's other friends appear during Wandrei's visit including Frank Belknap Long and his parents (The Hounds of Tindalos) H. Warner Munn (Tales of the Werewolf Clan) and M.C. Eddy (with HPL, The Loved Dead). Highlights for Wanderi include a conversation among the tombs of the St. John's church yard (loved by Poe) until 2:30 a.m, a walk on which Lovecraft points out a house that will become the setting for his story "The Dreams in a Witch House", meeting a huge number of cats and accompanied by Lovecraft's friend James F. Morton a trip to Warren Rhode Island where they eat some 28 flavours of ice cream. It is on this visit that Wander is introduced to several of the defining characteristics of Lovecraft's nature, he writes and is more animated at night, he has an almost pathological aversion to sea food and he cannot tolerate the cold.
This is a great remembrance by a man who (along with Derleth) would play a very important role in the posthumous appreciation of Lovecraft's work. Lovecraft pens a long description of the visit to Maurice W. Moe on July 30, 1927.
" Young Wandering Wandrei was the first to come and the last to leave. He blew in on July 12; and at one established himself in a delightful poet's garret in this very house, which the landlady let hime have for $3.50 per week.* The next day I took him to archaick Newport where he wander'd through the living past and revelled in his first sight of the wine-dark sea from titan cliffs." H.P.Lovecraft, Selected Lellers 1925-1929, edited by Agust Derleth and Donald Wandrei, (155).
Certainly reading this letter it is hard to reconcile this visit with the image of Lovecraft as a misanthropic recluse, he talked a good game but obviously his heart was not in it.
* (Wandrei complains of bedbugs.The landlady is also able to accommodate the Longs for a dollar a head each by vacating her study and reception area, Lovecraft was quite a cash cow for her in July 1927)
And just as I type these last few lines the portal has opened and the Black Wings of Cthulhu 5 has appeared in my mail box.