Comments on Arthur B's Dermore I See Of Him, Derleth I Like

The start of a three-part tour through August Derleth's Lovecraftian pastiches.

Comments (go to latest)
Daniel F at 02:36 on 2016-12-03
Mention of elemental forces of Good and Evil implies that such concepts are mere puppets that exist to serve the will of Hastur. Probably not Derleth’s intention, but a delicious idea, as is the way the mention of elemental forces of Good and Evil implies that such concepts are mere puppets that exist to serve the will of Hastur (that probably wasn’t Derleth’s intention, but it’s a fun notion).

Um...
Arthur B at 08:46 on 2016-12-03
Thanks for catching that.
Shim at 22:34 on 2016-12-08
Another enjoyable series, particularly as I've slowly started checking out some of the secondary Mythos authors, but not reached Derleth. And from your account, I probably shouldn't!

Nevertheless... can you recommend (I use the word advisedly) a cheap electronic source for any of this? Or did you just pick up second-hand copies?
Arthur B at 07:23 on 2016-12-09
Derleth having died some four decades after Lovecraft, his stuff is still in copyright, so super-cheap sources aren't widely available and those that exist are, shall we say, a bit dubious. I went second-hand.

If you really want to read his stuff I could just give you my copies, I certainly don't want them any more.
Helter Shelter at 21:44 on 2016-12-09
Now, everything I know about Derleth comes from these articles, but I'm having trouble reconciling the facts on him.

1. Derleth was, at the very least, an adequate writer of literary stories.
2. Derleth was incompetent at writing pulp, and especially at writing or even understanding Lovecraft stories.
3. Derleth actively took control of Lovecraft's legacy, to the point of writing his own stories from Lovecraft's notes.
4. Derleth had a complex (if wrong) view on Lovecraft's work, that he tried to paint as the One True Interpretation.

And there are two interpretations of his actions: that he was cynically using Lovecraft's legacy to get rich and famous, and that he was entirely sincere and and just horrendous at it. Each of them explains his actions a little - a cynical shyster who uses a dead man's name to knock up some crap stories as quick as possible; or a wide-eyed idiot who fully believes he's continuing a dead man's legacy as his ego leads him to shit all over it.

But neither of them fully explains his actions - if he was cynical, why did he bother putting so much effort into his Lovecraft interpretation? If he was sincere, why wouldn't he put more effort into his stories - which he could have, if (1) were true? Is there some proof of Derleth's ultimate motivation either way?
Arthur B at 21:59 on 2016-12-09
Definitive proof from his own mouth, I do not know.

I think the issue was that he was simultaneously sincere in thinking he was being true to Lovecraft's legacy, whilst at the same time not actually understanding Lovecraft's actual work or ideas very well at all and not having a high opinion of its standard; he phoned it in when he was writing his Mythos stories because he didn't consider them to be serious writing worthy of a serious effort.

Likewise, I suspect that his insistence on pushing his own view of the Mythos came from a combination of having a very high opinion of his own ideas but a low one of other people's ideas.

Basically, Dunning-Kruger effect in action.
Arthur B at 22:04 on 2016-12-09
Also, I don't think he was using Lovecraft's reputation to get rich and famous, because you didn't get to be either of those things by writing for the pulps in those days. But I do think he wanted to be the big guy in that corner of fandom, and he did want to make a success of Arkham House, and I suspect that a lot of the stuff he did for money (turning stories into adverts for Arkham House books, fake up Lovecraft collaborations) was supposed to stimulate sales - partly to pay the bills, partly to elevate Arkham House's profile within the scene.
Helter Shelter at 04:50 on 2016-12-10
That makes sense. Looking at it that way, there's something perversely noble in trying to keep alive the legacy of someone you didn't particularly care for.

(I was being glib with 'rich and famous', perhaps 'comfortably well-off and respected within a specific circle' would have been a better choice of words)
Shim at 09:36 on 2016-12-10
If you really want to read his stuff I could just give you my copies, I certainly don't want them any more.

I fully believe that this is a terrible idea, but I've got to admit a mild desire to see just how bad they are for myself. Yeah, if you have a convenient opportunity, please do.
Arthur B at 10:19 on 2016-12-10
That makes sense. Looking at it that way, there's something perversely noble in trying to keep alive the legacy of someone you didn't particularly care for.

Thing is, I think Derleth did genuinely like Lovecraft - most of his correspondents did. I just don't think he had a high view of his actual work or the craft needed to do a good Lovecraftian horror story.
Arthur B at 14:56 on 2017-01-17
A little addendum: in poking about the excellent Eldritch Dark website - more or less the only online source on Clark Ashton Smith you'll ever need - I notice they've posted a bunch of letters Smith wrote to Derleth in the immediate wake of Lovecraft's death.

Notably, Smith gives Derleth some sound advice on interpreting the Mythos that Derleth seems to have stubbornly ignored - specifically, he points out that each story should probably be taken on its own merits and that Lovecraft wasn't really striving for consistency from story to story - "HPL wished to indicate the natural growth of a myth-pattern through dim ages, in which the same deity or demon might present changing aspects", and "As to the Lovecraft mythos, probably he had no intention or desire of reducing it to a consistent and fully worked out system, but used it according to varying impulse and inspiration. The best way, it seems to me, is to enjoy each tale separately and without trying to link it closely with all the others. This is the way I have always read them: a rather non-analytic and non-critical way, perhaps; but possibly they were written in a similar spirit." I'm amused that Smith here is advancing a position which Derleth's critics (including me) have kept going to this day; he does seem to have some passing sympathy for Derleth's bid to find some broad underlying canon to the whole thing, but in attempting the exercise himself soon stumbles across contradictions (like the "Old Ones" sometimes denoting Cthulhu and his allies, and sometimes denoting their enemies).

The real gem, though is in this letter, where he goes off on one about a draft of The Return of Hastur. It's evident that a cross-section of Smith's ideas ended up working their way into the story, especially when it comes to the deformation and mutation of Tuttle's corpse - no coincidence that those are easily the best and most memorable bits of the tale - but it's also clear that Smith's hit on some of the basic problems of Derleth's Mythos writing, in the sense that a) it's too rushed and b) Derleth tries to cram in too many Mythos lore details irrelevant to the story. (Also, Derleth seems to have retained the involvement of Cthulhu, which I agree with Smith confuses the story needlessly.)

Moral of the story: if Clark Ashton Smith gives you feedback on your fantasy/horror story, pay attention.
Robinson L at 18:00 on 2017-03-01
Lovecraft didn’t especially mind the term “Cthulhu Mythos”, but he vetoed Derleth’s original suggestion, “The Mythology of Hastur”, for the very simple reason that Hastur didn’t feature in any of Lovecraft’s stories beyond some very occasional name-dropping. Derleth, conversely, had used Hastur very prominently in his own Mythos writings (most prominently in The Return of Hastur), so pushing that tag for the overall body of work by various hands kind of feels like a self-aggrandising move on the part of Derleth.

I suppose if one were inclined to making the most generous possible interpretation of Derleth’s motives here—which for the sake of funsies I suppose I am—one could speculate that the relationship between Derleth pushing “The Mythology of Hastur” for the shared universe Lovecraft created and Hastur’s prominence in Derleth’s own works was correlational rather than causational. I could see Derleth reading about Hastur in one of Lovecraft’s stories and developing a fanboy fixation, going, ‘Oh, man, this Hastur guy must be super important to Lovecraft’s fictional universe.’ This would explain Derleth’s reasoning that the mythology should be named after Hastur, and what’s more natural for someone with a fanboy fixation on a cool mysterious character than wanting to write stories about him? Just a thought.

Derleth described this as “posthumous collaboration”, and as well as this being impossible - at best, you can have “posthumous completion” of an unfinished tale - the end result contains far too much Derleth and far too little Lovecraft

Amusingly enough, I recently read a review of the new James Baldwin documentary I Am Not Your Negro which describes the film as a “posthumous collaboration” between Baldwin and director Raoul Peck. (Although, despite the rave reviews, the people I know who have seen the movie found it pretty underwhelming. My stepmother thought that basic everything that was brilliant in the movie was the stuff taken from Baldwin, and Peck’s contribution added nothing.)/tangent

at least by spoiling an otherwise good story with racism Derleth can claim to have written a truly Lovecraftian tale.

Oh man, this was *priceless*.
Arthur B at 21:09 on 2017-03-01
It'd take a really, really big stretch to imagine that Hastur is especially important to even a tiny fraction of Lovecraft's own work. Lovecraft only really namedrops Hastur in The Whisperer In Darkness, and in context it's entirely possible that
the reference is a load of bullshit thrown out by the Mi-Go and their human allies to throw Wilmarth off the trail
.
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