Lovecraftian Donnybrook

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Lovecraftian Donnybrook

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Editat: juny 3, 2013, 10:03am

Preeminent scholar of weird fiction S.T. Joshi is really going after Oxford University Press book editor Roger Lackhurst. The following is from the June 2nd entry of Joshi's latest blog:

One book you may go wrong in ordering is Roger Luckhurst’s edition of Lovecraft’s The Classic Horror Stories (Oxford University Press). I am grateful to Wilum Pugmire for passing on a copy of this book to me, as the publisher has so far refused to send me a review copy. A cursory examination reveals lamentable flaws and failings, the most crucial of which is the failure to use my corrected texts. Instead, Luckhurst has perversely gone back to pulp magazine texts, even in the case of the two stories (At the Mountains of Madness and “The Shadow out of Time”) that were butchered in Astounding Stories. There are many other problems with this book, as I intend out specify in detail in a long review that will appear in this year’s Lovecraft Annual. Wilum and I may do a YouTube video on the subject also. I fear that Professor Luckhurst is simply out of his depth, and I can’t imagine why a prestigious press like Oxford would have issued such a wretched book.

Joshi raises some very pertinent questions. It would be really interesting to hear a rebuttal from Lackhurst/Oxford University Press. In addition, Willum Pugmire weighs in a bit on his June 1 blog post, "An Unfortunate Oxford Edition of E'ch-Pi-El". He also posts a couple of videos from editor Luckhurst, speaking on the subject of his book:

We've looked at this situation a bit under the "HPL as Bad Writer" discussion, which can be found here (at approx. post 30):

The Lovecraft Annual Joshi mentions is published by Hipposampus Press:

juny 3, 2013, 2:04pm

This was going to be a longer comment, but my computer has eaten it.

Wilum Pugmire concedes that Roger Luckhurst's introduction and notes are excellent.

Having different versions of HPL's texts available may be no better or worse than the different versions of classical operas available on CD - the "Prague" version, the "Vienna" version, the "Paris" version with the ballet interlude in the middle, and so forth.

Editat: juny 3, 2013, 2:56pm

Willum seems to be a pretty reasonable person. As a reader, though, I think I'd want the complete version in a collection like this, although you're right that it's always nice to have the also-rans available for comparison. What I would like to find out are the reasons why Luckhurst/Oxford Press would have chosen the original pulp-texts - the "butchered" versions, as Joshi puts it - over the corrected ones. If it was pure sloppiness, that's one thing, but maybe they had another agenda in mind?


Apparently the Oxford edition deliberately chose the original texts to try to preserve the "pulp energy" the the originals. Here is Pugimre's Amazon review:

juny 3, 2013, 2:53pm

The two long stories originally published in Astounding have been reparagraphed - broken up into smaller chunks - in the way F. Orlin Tremaine did it for magazine publication, no doubt to demonstrate that "this breathless form was how they were first encountered by their audience in the Golden Age of science fiction."(Luckhurst).

However with regard to the actual texts, "I have followed August Derleth in restoring deleted passages, and variants arising from S. T. Joshi's work on the manuscripts are recorded in the Explanatory Notes". (Luckhurst again).

juny 3, 2013, 3:05pm

>4 housefulofpaper:

Here is Pugmire, from his Amazon review, mentioned above:

H. P. Lovecraft hated having to write for the pulps, and strove to create work that was Literary Art. He was appalled by the manner in which "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow out of Time" were printed in ASTOUNDING STORIES, to the point where he considered ATMOM as unpublished after seeing how the text was butchered by ASTOUNDING. It is this mutilated text that Lurkhurst has chosen to publish in this Oxford edition, for the absurd, the insane reason that this helps to give the text "pulp energy." It does nothing of the kind, and this version of the text was REJECTED BY H. P. LOVECRAFT after its first publication. The choppy and inane paragraphing is then used by Luckhurst for "The Shadow out of Time," despite the fact that Lovecraft's handwritten manuscript has been found and we therefore can see how he wrote the story. Such editorial choices are inexcusably idiotic. Other tales suffer from this edition's careless editing, and the book cannot be recommended, handsome as its production is (it really is a beautiful book).

It still strikes me as a very curious choice for such a prestigious imprint as Oxford University Press to have made. Are Joshi and Pugmire overreacting? I'd still like to hear arguments from both sides.

juny 3, 2013, 3:33pm

Stephen Jones did exactly the same thing - re-paragraphing the text into smaller units - to M. R. James in his recent collection Curious Warnings. I'm not convinced it really makes any difference to how one reads the texts.

Apart from "At The Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow Out of Time", Luckhurst has used the magazine versions of the stories as reprinted by August Derleth (before Joshi re-edited) for Arkham House.

I wonder if OUP's reasons for using these texts will ever come out - a preference for texts as printed over author's unedited drafts? Worries about paying for Joshi's work or conflicts with Penguin over rights? (like their MR James edition of 2011, this looks like it's intended to be reprinted as an Oxford World's Classics paperback).

Editat: juny 3, 2013, 4:02pm

>6 housefulofpaper:

Paying Joshi is one idea for exclusion, but smaller publishers than OUP have used his corrected texts, so surely it can't be the money... I'd guess that a convoluted rights issue would be possible, too. Hard to believe that OUP would simply be ignorant or dismissive of the corrected texts.

The other customer reviews on Amazon/Amazon UK are pretty much of the rave variety, so the average reader doesn't seem to mind a bit. Following is a review by Peter Cannon at Publisher's Weekly. Cannon (the author of a Lovecraft book himself) mentions the choice to go with the original pulp formatting as a "novelty":

If that's the case, then it goes back to Joshi's original argument about editorial decision-making. I'm looking forward to seeing any forthcoming videos from Joshi & Pugmire.

juny 3, 2013, 4:15pm

I'm looking forward to seeing any forthcoming videos from Joshi & Pugmire.

Oh, yes indeed. Should be interesting!

juny 4, 2013, 8:46pm

>6 housefulofpaper:

I'm not convinced {paragraphing} really makes any difference to how one reads the texts.

Whereas I am convinced it does. Paragraphing is to prose as editing is to film - one of the primary elements the artist uses to created the piece's rhythm. The slow, deliberate, almost hypnotic rhythm of HPL's best tales is created largely by his use of long paragraphs. To split up his paragraphs is, though not unthinkable, surely an ill-advised aesthetic decision that is fundamentally disharmonious with the way Lovecraft wanted to see his work presented.

>6 housefulofpaper: & 7

Regarding paying Joshi for use of the corrected texts: Joshi has stated that he doesn't care if he gets paid for his corrected texts as long as he receives credit for them; surely a very gracious offer considering the enormous amount of work he put into them!

juny 5, 2013, 9:14am

> 6, 9

I'm with Art on the paragraphing issue. It's pretty huge, actually.

Editat: juny 5, 2013, 12:42pm

Obviously the text looks different, depending on whether it has many small paragraphs or fewer, longer ones. It's just that, having bought the M. R. James book in which editor Stephen Jones similarly chose to re-paragraph all the texts, I honestly don't think it changed the way I read the stories.

(The M. R. James book, by the way, is the only easy way to get his children's story "The five Jars" and the fullest possible versions of some uncompleted stories. And yes, for preference I would have had the paragraphs as James wrote them).

Editat: juny 5, 2013, 2:07pm

> 11: Don't get me wrong, not attacking you on this - in fact I find your perception very interesting.

But as a writer - okay, for me that's just a sideline - I spend as much time and effort on paragraphing as on anything else. It provides the structure for whatever I'm trying to say. The rhythm, the flow...


juny 5, 2013, 4:05pm

>9 artturnerjr:

Art, I like your comparison between paragraphing and film editing! Well said!

juny 6, 2013, 5:55pm

I find Joshi's comment on the failure to use his corrected texts to be the most illuminating.

In other words, the new edition will feature HPL's stories as they first appeared. I'm not seeing why this is a problem. No, the stories are not as HPL intended them; but they were published, were read, and influenced horror fiction long before Joshi was able to correct them, so clearly they must have some weight and merit.

I'm sensing a bit of injured ego here.

juny 20, 2013, 5:35am

>14 BruceCoulson: - I completely agree with that statement. At times it seems that Joshi has moved from being supporter of Lovecraft's work to the supreme oracle on all aspects of Lovecraft.

Is there such a thing as a definitive text? Joshi's texts are as much a construction as the original pulp ones.

juny 20, 2013, 5:48pm

>15 Jargoneer:: Thanks for articulating this. I've been thinking the same thing, so I'm happy to see someone else say it. It's certainly a trend I have perceived in the last few years with Joshi's writings (pronouncements?). Lovecraft's fans today owe a heck of a lot to Joshi, but he's not the last word on the subject, nor even necessarily the best. And as Bruce Colson noted in message #14, there certainly *is* value in reading HPL's work as they originally appeared. It seems to me that a really nice ("definitive"?) edition might present both the original and Joshi corrected texts side-by-side with annotations on the differences. Of value probably only to a small audience, but a guy can dream, can't he?

juny 20, 2013, 9:17pm

Joshi fires a salvo at Luckburst in his June 20 blog entry. It includes a link out to his review of the book:

juny 20, 2013, 11:13pm

>17 KentonSem:: That's actually a pretty amusing rant. I think that Joshi makes a good point that Luckhurst’s book doesn't seem to add anything new. For me, I care less that Luckhurst didn't use Joshi's corrected texts and more that his introduction and annotations don't add anything new. Doesn't sound like Luckhurst brings much to the table.

juny 21, 2013, 9:22am

Here is another take on Luckhurst's approach to Lovecraft (much more positive) -

Editat: jul. 13, 2013, 9:15pm

S. T. is currently on a Baltic cruise, and when he gets home he will be exhausted and far behind in work (he is his own intense slave-master and work seems to be an addiction to him). So I doubt that our video concerning the Oxford edition of Lovecraft will actually happen, and I'm no longer interested in it. Oxford sent Joshi a copy so he was going to return mine but I said give it to someone else, I don't want it in my library.

There are, of course, positive things to say about the book's publication that have little to do with ye choice of texts. It is going to introduce E'ch-Pi-El to hundreds of new readers, and that is a good thing. Because it is from Oxford University Press, it heightens Lovecraft's standing as a World Author of Significance--whut is something I obsess about. It will lead to more serious reviews of Lovecraft's Works--although the tone of many of the newer reviews twist my tits--I mean, there is such an emphasis on Lovecraft's ignorant racism, which has such a minor place in his overall philosophy. There is much grumbling over Lovecraft's style--but Lovecraft had different styles for different tales, each perfectly suited to what he was trying to achieve aesthetically. The new reviewers cannot quite take Lovecraft seriously as an artist (he is "a good bad writer," whatever that absurdity means), although Lovecraft took his Work very seriously indeed, which fed his delusion that he had fail'd as an artist to the point where he wrote less and less as years went by (a slowing down that was also a product of more and more work being rejected by WEIRD TALES).

As an author with an extremely strange and unique prose style, I know that I HATE the idea of my texts being tampered with editorially without my consent. I make a lot of mistakes, I am ignorant in regard to much of that which constitutes correct and good writing--but I have worked to create a narrative voice that is all my own, and I want that to sing in my texts. I love copy editors when they find and fix my flaws, but too often they also try to make my prose less queer--and, honey, I wish to be queer to ye core. When I'm dead, don't ye mess with my texts.

I felt certain that our next video will be promotional, encouraging y'all to buy S. T.'s new novel, THE ASSAULTS OF CHAOS, just publish'd by Hippocampus Press, in which E'ch-Pi-El is the major fictive character. I myself have no further interest in condemning the Oxford edition--it exists, it is unfortunate, let us move on.

Editat: jul. 14, 2013, 7:42am

>20 whpugmire:

Good observation on S.T.'s "addiction". The sheer volume of his high quality work, coupled with his blog-reports of what he's currently working on is awe-inspiring. I hope he's actually relaxing on the cruise.

I agree that we can probably put this one to rest, but I would still like to hear Luckhurst's rebuttal, if he should choose to make one.

Wilum, by chance I'm just about to embark on "Your Seventh Eikon" in WFR #3...

jul. 14, 2013, 9:53am

I would still like to hear Luckhurst's rebuttal, if he should choose to make one.

Professor Luckhurst is on Twitter - but he hasn't raised the subject there.

Editat: ag. 6, 2013, 12:53pm

I think if Robert E. Howard had created a two-fisted Lovecraft scholar, that character would have been much like S.T. Joshi. For his July 30th, 2013 blog post, he takes on John D. Haefele and his book, A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos. The review is particularly scathing, but it is also highly detailed. I think the swipe at Wilum Pugmire at the end seems mean-spirited, but the entirety is pretty interesting.

Any thoughts, pro or con on August Derleth, WT members? I think I remember hearing that Centipede Press has a Derleth volume on the slate.

ag. 6, 2013, 1:41pm

One the one hand, there are the arguments that Derleth was proprietorial over the Cthulhu Mythos after HPL's death, but didn't really understand its philosophy - Christianizing and regularising it. And, the two or three Mythos tales of his that I've read didn't impress my very much.

On the other hand, I recently read a non-Mythos story entitled "The Shuttered House" and thought it was a neat little ghost story. He has to be given massive credit for establishing Arkham House and keeping it going, and I've read Ramsey Campbell's crediting him for the help given at the start of his career. On balance, he's a good guy, I'd say.

ag. 6, 2013, 2:37pm

and, actually, quite a decent writer on small towns and nature in Wisconsin.

must say Joshi made me laugh

Editat: ag. 6, 2013, 3:02pm

On Derleth, see my review of The Trail of Cthulhu.

Editat: ag. 6, 2013, 3:35pm

Maybe I should say that I wrote > 24 before reading the Joshi piece. I would still stand by my "verdict". It would be different if Derleth had suppressed or rewritten Lovecraft's original work. I'd make a distinction between that and the posthumous "collaborations".

There's a parallel there with John Gawsworth and M. P. Sheil.

ag. 7, 2013, 9:03am

>24 housefulofpaper:

I think you mean "The Shuttered Room", right? I have that story - I think I'll dig it out thanks to your recommendation. It was also made into a 1967 film with the gorgeous Carol Lynley (Carl Kolchak's original squeeze!). I need to find that too:

It sounds like Derleth might have been at his best (whatever that may have been) writing non-mythos tales. From what I understand, he may have done the world a service by starting Arkham House, but he seriously fumbled the ball due to his actions as the (perhaps false) executor of HPL's literary estate.

ag. 7, 2013, 11:36am

> 28 due to his actions as the (perhaps false) executor of HPL's literary estate

In my review of The Trail of Cthulhu, I mention the similarity between HPL-Derleth and AC-Grant. Part of that is the strange behavior of the younger men as "literary executors." It seems as if these people get a strangely inflated idea about what executorship is. Their role should be limited to ensuring that the author's literary remains fall to the appropriate heirs and assigns. In these two cases, the executors appear to have abused that power, so as to make themselves into heirs.

I'm not as familiar with the details of HPL's estate, but in AC's case, the (poorly-chosen, in retrospect) literary executor collaborated with a self-appointed "official biographer" to defraud the estate on a massive scale.

Editat: ag. 7, 2013, 3:25pm

>29 paradoxosalpha:

The Trail of Cthulhu sounds like an intriguing concept as far as construction of the book's content goes. Too bad it was flubbed so badly! Which reminds that I'd like to re-read Robert Bloch's Strange Eons and see how closely he adheres to HPLs vision. It's been eons since I last read it...

Also, if you have a copy of the Centipede Press edition of Weird Fiction Review #3 mentioned up in >21 KentonSem:, do yourself a favor and check out "Your Seventh Eikon" by Wilum Pugmire and Maryanne K. Snyder. It's a really nicely done tale that reminds me of the more sinister Lord Dunsany tales we know and love. I'd put this one up for a DEEP ONES vote, but I think that this issue of WFR is the only place it's available.

ag. 7, 2013, 1:49pm

> 28

It's definitely "The Shuttered House", at least according to the anthology I read it in. It was apparently published in the April 1937 Weird Tales. The first sentence is "Peter Jepson had made up his mind about it almost at first sight".

The editor was the late Peter Haining, who has himself been accused of literary mischief (to put it no more strongly) - but the plot doesn't tally with the synopsis of the film The Shuttered Room that I've seen.

ag. 7, 2013, 2:18pm

>31 housefulofpaper:

Ah, ok! Derleth has the following in his bibliography:

"The Shunned House"

"The Shuttered House"

"The Shuttered Room"

Confusing! I wonder if the DEEP ONES should examine Derleth next season...

ag. 7, 2013, 3:17pm

> 32 I wonder if the DEEP ONES should examine Derleth next season...

Derleth's "Lonesome Place" was a runner-up in this quarter's voting, and I planned to use it as a seed nomination next quarter.

ag. 7, 2013, 3:25pm

> 28 (again)

Thanks for the link to the film's title sequence. I looked at the comments below (not always enlightening with YouTube!) and I know this has been screened more recently than 1981. I haven't got a copy though.

Completely OT, but ... Composer Basil Kirchin is quite a cult figure now. And, I wonder if the Rick Jones named in the credits is the folk singer who went on to present "Play School" and "Fingerbobs" on BBC children's TV in the '70s? (you would have noticed this was a British-shot film with imported US stars and director).

ag. 7, 2013, 3:35pm

>34 housefulofpaper:

I'm getting The Shuttered Room from Netflix. Should have it by this weekend. If Rick Jones is this guy, he should be pretty easy to spot:

Will let you know!

By the way, TSR is on a double-feature disc along with It! starring Roddy McDowell, also from 1967. I haven't seen it, but I believe it's a golem tale.

ag. 7, 2013, 3:53pm

> 34

That's the fella!

I've seen It! - after showings being incredibly rare for literally decades, the Horror Channel started putting it on fairly heavy rotation. Enjoy it, but bear in mind that they were happy to schedule it for mid-afternoon (i.e., don't expect too much in the way of scares!)

ag. 7, 2013, 4:43pm

> 36 I've seen It!

The germ of a horror cinema "Who's On First?" routine...

Editat: ag. 23, 2013, 8:36am

>23 KentonSem:-33

In Conversations With the Weird Tales Circle, John Pelan writes:

While Derleth is to be commended for his tireless championing of H.P. Lovecraft and other members of the Weird Tales Circle, the price he paid was high, indeed. Derleth became so strongly identified as a practitioner of the Mythos pastiche and publisher of Arkham House that many modern readers have no idea that this was a man who could stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Russell Kirk and Manly Wade Wellman as one of the greatest authors of regional horror stories in the last century.

set. 24, 2013, 7:45pm

I keep forgetting about this site. I've been very busy, attending the NecronomiCon in Providence last month, which has resulted in an opening of my creative floodgates--new fiction is pouring out of me like ichor from a shoggoth's pimple. I've removed my reviews of ye Oxford Lovecraft volume from Amazon, not certain why. I think I've grown weary of thinking about that volume. If it brings new people to Lovecraft, cool. If it inspires more serious reviews of Lovecraft's fiction--I guess that's cool, although of late the new crop of reviewers and such seem obsess'd with Lovecraft's racism and insist that he is a bad writer--or as some say, "a good bad writer," whatever the hell that means.

I had a good laugh over S. T.'s statement, in his review of John's book, that no one takes me seriously as a critique. S. T. can be such a twat at times. But I must confess that I am EXTREMELY excited about the four-volume THE VARIORUM LOVECRAFT. A prelude of this may be found in ye current issue of LOVECRAFT ANNUAL, in S. T.'s article, "Excised Passages from 'The Thing on the Doorstep'": from ye opening paragraph "In my proposed multi-volume edition of THE VARIORUM LOVECRAFT, which could begin publication as early as next year, I hope to present all the relevant textual variants from all the stories that Lovecraft wrote over his short literary career. One phase of that project may include the printing of passages from handwritten or typed manuscripts (chiefly the former) that were excised as Lovecraft was writing the story or as he performed a subsequent revision of it." ~~ I have seen ye files for this four-volume edition, to be publish'd by Hippocampus Press, & this is going to be fascinating!

Editat: set. 24, 2013, 9:19pm

>39 whpugmire:

I enjoyed your blog's NecronomiCon reportage, Wilum. That, combined with details provided by our own bertilak made me feel like I was there! It all sounds so fantastic that I plan to be at the next one (2015?).

Interesting news on THE VARORIUM LOVECRAFT - sounds like a perfect S.T project.

Editat: oct. 1, 2013, 12:12pm

In his 10/1/13 online journal post, Laird Barron mentions a new Weekly Standard review of Joshi's Unutterable Horror by Michael Dirda . It's nicely level-headed, although Dirda does place a well-put Joshi-caveat at the conclusion. I doubt if S.T. will come back swinging on this one - it's actually a rather complimentary piece!

oct. 1, 2013, 12:32pm

Dirda mentions that Unutterable Horror is a bit rife with typos. How painful that must be to someone of Joshi's temperment! Was there no one to read the proofs?

And Joshi is absolutely right to call "Dickens’s A Christmas Carol (1843) a 'wretched piece of sentimentalism.'” But James Morrow wrote an excellent sequel (in his Bible Stories for Adults) that I like to read every Xmas.

oct. 1, 2013, 1:43pm

>42 paradoxosalpha:

How painful that must be to someone of Joshi's temperment!

S.T. has been railing against typos recently, too!

I agree about the "wretched" A Christmas Carol, and Joshi is spot-on regarding Harvest Home. I disagree completely, however, with his dismissal of Daphne du Maurier. I'm also not convinced that Stephen King is without aesthetic merit.

Still, I always enjoy reading S.T., whether I agree with him or not.

I really appreciated this paragraph by Dirda:

Two of the finest recent writers of supernatural fiction have regrettably fallen silent: the reclusive Thomas Ligotti and T. E. D. Klein, the former editor of Twilight Zone magazine. But I envy anyone who has yet to discover the elegant work of Reggie Oliver, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mark Valentine, Laird Barron, Barbara Roden, R. B. Russell, Simon Strantzas, Richard Gavin, Ian Rogers, Jeffrey Ford, Simon Kurt Unsworth, and Glen Hirshberg, among many others. You may have to search for their books, though, most of them having been published by specialty presses such as Tartarus, Ash-Tree, Centipede, Night Shade, PS, Tachyon, Prime, Hippocampus, Swan River, Chizine, and Subterranean.

Editat: oct. 2, 2013, 11:55am

>41 KentonSem:

Thanks for that, Kenton. I love Michael Dirda; he is almost certainly my favorite mainstream literary critic.

>42 paradoxosalpha: & 43

Ironically, I just added A Christmas Carol to my LT library two days ago (haven't read it yet, though).

>43 KentonSem:

I'm also not convinced that Stephen King is without aesthetic merit.

As a long-time champion of King's work, I certainly agree, although I have sort of given up hope of Joshi changing his tune on that topic. Having said that, I enjoyed seeing his hat tip toward King's The Running Man, a very fine and underappreciated piece of work.