Back around 1972 I mailed a letter to Lin Carter and expressed my admiration, and appreciation, of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series, and I also stated that I had enjoyed his Lovecraft: A Look Behind the “Cthulhu Mythos” which I had just finished reading. I don’t know if the letter ever reached him—it was full of youthful exuberance and little literary discernment and I hope Mr. Carter threw away my misguided missive without ever reading it. I remember I also noted my sorrow over learning that August Derleth had died about a year earlier; I admired and respected Mr. Derleth back then and was sorry to learn of his demise. Forty and some odd years later that hasn’t changed—he’s still a respected figure around my library shelves.
After Derleth’s death I started hearing some things about him that were none too flattering. His “posthumous collaborations” with H. P. Lovecraft were ridiculed and it was bellowed to the gabled roof tops that he had invaded the Mythos with his own philosophic/religious slants and had taken it into a direction that the man from Providence would not be too overjoyed about. It seemed that examples of his villainy abounded and these were a bit disconcerting to me—some of the first hardbacks I ever bought were Arkham House books and I’ve loved collecting them ever since, so I’d always thought August Derleth was a pretty fair writer, and editor, and a giant when it came to publishing weird fiction.
However, some of the biggest names in Mythos literary circles were crying “foul” and giving him forty lashes with a wet tentacle, expressing their outrage after Derleth had died. I’m certainly no Mythos historian so I just listened and waited for someone to see it from Derleth’s side, and now someone has.
Fellow Cimmerian contributor John D. Haefele has written A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos and it helps to set the record straight. I appreciate authors that do their research and Haefele certainly has done that; I also appreciate writers who know how to write and Haefele fulfills that function handily. The book is easy to read and is filled with everything you wanted to know about Lovecraft and Derleth, from the Black Magic Quote to the “posthumous collaborations.”
Haefele’s history has even gotten me back to reading Derleth—years ago I had pretty much read all of Derleth’s Mythos stories and, while enjoying them, never felt the interest to reread any of them. Going through some of them again has been a bit of a fun romp—he’s no Lovecraft but his Mythos stories, in my opinion, are as readable as anything out there today. It would be nice if future editions would knock the “Lovecraft” off the collaborations but that probably won’t happen; it would also be great if Derleth was still here to answer some of his critics in person. While that will never happen either, one thing is for sure—August Derleth, just like the name of one of his tales, is a survivor.
For those interested, go to Don Herron’s website for more information on Haefele and his book, and ordering information is also available there—I recommend it and give it a five-pointed star, which should be familiar to Derleth fans.