Image above: Frank Belknap Long, left, and H.P. Lovecraft clowning around for the camera.
Terry Zobeck just told me that he picked up a Complete Stories of Lovecraft on January 3, after seeing all the references to HPL here on These Mean Streets plus lots of chatter on the FictionMags list.
What a way to kick off a New Year — and he’s never read a single yarn by The Old Gent, as far as he remembers.
I almost envy Terry the experience, being able to dive into a writer such as Lovecraft completely fresh, with only the barest hints about his work to suggest you might enjoy it.
But as I’ve said before, I’m glad I got in on HPL early, in time to meet several of his pals, hang out with the major Lovecraftians of our day, reread my favorite stories over the years. Hell, even reread stories I don’t like that much, but if you get into the experience, even those have benefits to offer.
All of which reminded me that I was doing more rereading around Hallowe’en, went through “The Whisperer in Darkness” again (even noticed a bit I tipped John D. Haefele to, a reference dropped in so casually it is easy to miss), and also read once more “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Neither one is in my top tier of faves, but they offer their own sort of thrills.
“Doorstep,” for example, from 1933 — I can’t recall on previous readings ever realizing the fact that the two main characters are based so directly on Lovecraft, as the narrator, and Young Belknapius, as the doomed Edward Pickman Derby — if perhaps not quite as bluntly as the “Howard” and “Frank” of Long’s 1929 yarn “The Space-Eaters,” famed as the first yarn to use Lovecraft as a character.
But this reading it hit me, with such descriptions as “his attempts to raise a moustache were discernable only with difficulty” — HPL was always kidding Long about his ′stache — and “his pampered, unexercised life gave him a juvenile chubbiness rather than the pauchiness of middle age.” In the era Lovecraft knew him, Long was living at home with his affluent parents — you can track down a thousand supporting quotes from the HPL letters.
Lovecraft is describing his young associate exactly, though he does attempt a bit of a disguise by Aryanising Derby as “blond and blue-eyed.”
I enjoyed other aspects of this tale of Black Magick, and the fact that it is a casual, kind of party-lite re-do on the short novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, which Lovecraft had been unable to sell.
But the picture of young Long is haunting, especially as he falls under the spell of Asenath Waite, and marries her. (Yes, other and deeper levels develop, but I’m not shooting for every spoiler in the story here.) Once married, Derby/Long is sometimes held prisoner in his home by the much more forceful personality.
I wonder, could Lovecraft — who died early in 1937 — have had a glimmer of the truth that he was predicting the eventual fate of his protégé? Did he sense that Long — pampered, sheltered — would eventually be scooped up by a domineering woman?
If so — if not — that is what happened, when Long finally married his wife Lyda in 1960. The forceful one in their marriage, from everything I’ve heard Lyda pretty much kept Young Belknapius under her thumb for the rest of his life — some thirty-four years.
I got my scoop on that from my pal Ben Indick, who knew the Longs, and some others in the New York fan circles.
The best account of the relationship to hit print is Long Memories by Peter Cannon, the same guy who is my review editor at PW. If you get a chance to pick it up, it’s excellent — and you can see what happened to Derby if “Doorstep” had been set in the real world and not the fantastic milieu haunted by Miskatonic University, Innsmouth and The Necronomicon.