Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill: The Letters of H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith

Edited by David E. Schultz and S.T. Joshi. Hippocampus, $75 (800p) ISBN 978-1-61498-174-9
One of the greatest correspondences in modern weird fiction—that between horror titan H.P. Lovecraft and imaginary-world fantasist Clark Ashton Smith (or, Éch-Pi-El and Klarkash-Ton, as they playfully addressed one another), between 1922 and 1937—is enshrined in this sumptuous volume. Lovecraft wrote first, enthusing over verse and artwork of Smith’s shown to him by a poet friend. Smith’s first response dates to 1925, at which point both were writing for Weird Tales, the pulp magazine that published most of their fiction and whose fortunes and editorial policies provided a substrate for much of their commentary. Their letters abound with their mutual admiration for each other’s work, and in their discussions of each other’s writing one sees the germination of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos and the securing of the literary legacies by which both are known today: Lovecraft used Smith as a sounding board for the philosophy of cosmic indifference that pervades his fiction (“To me all mankind is too local & transitory an incident in the cosmos to take at all seriously”). The letters are also a treasure trove of data about the hard-knock life of the pulp writer, with Smith complaining about the need to write for payment rather than to indulge in painting, and Lovecraft commiserating about the revision work for other Weird Tales writers that kept him from devoting his full attention to his own literary output; the two are at their best dishing on their fellow Weird Tales contributors and lambasting unappreciative editors. Equally interesting is what is not said in the letters: Lovecraft never mentions his marriage in 1924 to Sonia Haft Greene (from whom he separated in 1926), and in his last letter, he says nothing of the health problems he would die from six weeks later. The editors have done exceptional scholarly work, providing annotations that are informative without being overwhelming, as well as an abundant bibliography and appendices. This is an indispensable book for any fan of either author or of the time and literary field in which they wrote. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/17/2017
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