Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft were frequent correspondents while both – along with Clark Ashton Smith – were steady writers for Weird Tales. Lovecraft, of course, created the Cthulhu Mythos with its grotesque alien super-beings from beyond, often worshipped as gods by misguided or degenerate humans. Howard and Smith, also of course, added references to the beings of the Mythos and the ghastly Necronomicon to their own stories, as well as inventing other bizarre books of occult, forbidden lore. (Like Smith’s Book of Eibon.)
REH, to judge by a letter he wrote to Tevis Clyde Smith around September 1930, for a little while thought there might actually be real cults of Cthulhu and the other entities Lovecraft created, worshipped in odd places in the real world. He had encountered references to them in the writings of a Dr. De Castro and thought they were independent allusions. Lovecraft set him straight instead of kidding him along. REH wrote ruefully, “I got a letter from Lovecraft wherein he tells me, much to my chagrin, that Cthulhu, R’lyeh, Yuggoth, Yog-Sothoth, and so on are figments of his own imagination.”
Lovecraft, as quoted by Howard, had written:
The reason for its echoes in Dr. De Castro’s work is that the latter gentleman is a revision-client of mine – into whose tales I have stuck these glancing references for sheer fun. If any other clients of mine get work placed in W.T., you will perhaps find a still wider spread of the cult of Azathoth, Cthulhu, and the Great Old Ones.
The Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred is likewise something which must be yet written in order to possess objective reality. Abdul is a favorite dream-character of mine – indeed, that is what I used to call myself when I was five years old and a transported devotee of Andrew Lang’s version of the Arabian Nights. A few years ago I prepared a mock-erudite synopsis of Abdul’s life, and of the posthumous vicissitudes and translations of his hideous and unmentionable work Al Azif (called – some blighting Greek word – by the Byzantine (something) Theodoras Philetas, who translated it into late Greek in A.D. 900!) – a synopsis which I shall follow in future references to the dark and accursed thing. Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his – in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude (?) by aside citation.
Howard joined in the game with a will. He created Unaussprechlichen Kulten, also known as the “Black Book” or Nameless Cults, written by the German von Junzt, who was evidently a devotee of the Necronomicon before he ever produced his own damnable occult work. In REH’s story “The Children of the Night”, one of the characters remarks that von Junzt was among the few people “who could read the Necronomicon in the original Greek translation.” As for von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, it was “regarded as the ravings of a maniac.” Von Junzt had “spent the full forty-five years of his life prying into strange places and discovering secret and abysmal things.” (“The Thing on the Roof”)
Since he was found strangled in a barred and bolted room in the year 1840, he must have been born in 1795. (The dates REH gives for his life in “The Black Stone” confirm that.) The battle of Waterloo was fought when he was twenty, and the Napoleonic Wars had raged all over Europe during his boyhood. He perished so weirdly when, in England, Queen Victoria had sat on the throne for three years, and only just married her cousin, Prince Albert. In the U.S.A., Martin van Buren, former Secretary of State under Andrew Jackson, was the nation’s eighth president – during the worst financial depression it had seen until then. More relevantly, Edgar Allan Poe, then aged thirty-one, had just had his Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque published. He would have appreciated von Junzt.
The German’s death occurred six months after he had returned from “mysterious” travels in Mongolia. Nameless Cults had been first printed in Dusseldorf in 1839. He’d probably been absent in Mongolia at the time, so whatever he discovered there – and which may have precipitated his death – it wouldn’t have been recorded in his magnum opus. We’re informed in “The Black Stone” that he worked unceasingly on a manuscript for months before his death. That probably did deal with the results of his last journey. When he was found strangled in that locked and bolted room, the papers had been shredded and scattered about, perhaps by the same “taloned fingers” that had throttled him. His closest friend, who was unwise enough to spend hours piecing the rags of torn paper together and reading what was written on them, promptly burned them and committed suicide with a razor.
The narrator of “The Thing on the Roof” says of a dubious scholar who has approached him for a favor, “He might almost as well have asked me for the original Greek translation of the Necronomicon, making it clear that this is so rare as to be unobtainable. Even von Junzt’s Nameless Cults, we’re told in “The Black Stone”, has only half-a-dozen copies of the original, unexpurgated German edition remaining in the world, and that was published in the age of print, in the nineteenth century. The Necronomicon, on the other hand, was translated into Greek and re-titled by a Byzantine scholar circa 950 CE. At least H.P. Lovecraft assured his readers of this in his “History of the Necronomicon, which he wrote in 1927. He should have known.
It was originally in Arabic, and known as “Al Azif.” According to Lovecraft’s (fictional) history of the book, its author was “a mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiad caliphs, circa 700 CE.” During his last years he lived in Damascus. It was there that he wrote “Al Azif.” He died or disappeared in 738. There are “terrible and conflicting” versions of his end. One 12th-century biographer of his wrote solemnly that he had been seized in daylight by an invisible monster and eaten alive before a crowd of witnesses.
Read the rest of this entry »
Read the rest of this entry »