Elder Signs is a website dedicated to the Cthulhu Mythos in general and the Book Collector in specific. The Book Collector is a creation of G. W. Thomas, a dark detective who seeks out the arcane books of the Mythos for his employer, the mysterious Telford.

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WEIRD SITES: THE HELLFIRE CLUB

MALCOLM M. FERGUSON

Weird Tales Author

 

C. HALL THOMPSON: LOST OPPORTUNITIES

August Derleth

August Derleth's choices in the 1940s have come under criticism in recent years. Was he the man who saved Lovecraft? Or was he a petty dictator who ruined Lovecraft's legacy? It often depends who you ask.

Take for instance the work of Weird Tales writer, C. Hall Thompson. He wrote two Cthulhu Mythos pieces: "The Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Weird Tales, November 1946) and "The Will of Claude Ashur" (Weird Tales, July 1947) as well as two other classic horror tales for that magazine. Why did he stop writing Mythos after July 1947? According to Robert Weinberg, Derleth "put a stop to the use of Lovecraft properties by C. Hall Thompson . . ." (from a letter from Derleth to Robert Weinberg, dated November 15, 1969).

Was Derleth afraid of losing the Lovecraft intellectual property? The fact that Lovecraft had shared out the use of his weird cosmology must have caused Derleth some legal frustration. Could he stop old timers like Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch or Henry Kuttner from using it? If you look at the authors of the 1940s Arkham House books you will find many of these names. With the carrot of your own hard cover book, who wouldn't play alone with old Augie? C. Hall Thompson was not one of these Weird Tales superstars. He was, in fact, a writer of Westerns.

So how good were the Thompson stories?

"The Spawn of the Green Abyss" follows a brain surgeon named Arkwright who comes to Kalesmouth for rest. The locals tell him to stay away from Heath House out on a peninsula of land. Despite the warnings, the lovely Cassanda Heath comes to the doctor when her father Lazarus falls ill. Arkwright falls for Cassie and doctors Lazarus, who suffers from scaly skin and a seeming madness. The night Lazarus dies mysteriously on the beach is the night the doctor proposes to Cassie. The two flee to the city but three months later Heath House calls Cassandra back. Slowly Arkwright watches the sickness of the place change his wife. She locks up her father's library and hides the key, demanding that her nobody ever enter the room again. After days of misery, including the discovery that Cassandra is pregnant, Arkwright steals the key and examines the library. He finds Lazarus Heath's diary, which contains the story of how his ship the Macedonia was wrecked by sirens in the fog. He is the only survivor on the slime-covered island, though he too is drawn into the ocean by the siren call. He does not die but changes, growing gills, and encounters great evil in the green abyss. Later he is rescued, along with a mysterious girl child. The diary reveals that Cassandra is the child of Lazarus and the sea creature known as Zoth Syra, the original Greek Syren. When the great old one Yoth Kala, the father of her unborn child, calls Cassandra to the sea, Arkwright is faced with a terrible task, to shoot her dead. Unlike the tale that follows, Thompson uses many Lovecraftian adjectives in this tale but drops them in the next.

"The Will of Claude Ashur" follows two brothers living at Inneswich Priory. Richard, the older must deal with his younger brother, Claude, who from the start brings misery with the death of his mother. Claude grows up, taking his revenge on all who get in his way, including his father, studying magic at Miskatonic University. After studying voodoo for years, a sickly Claude returns home with a bride, the beautiful Gratia Thane. It is Claude's plan to place his soul in her body. Richard falls for Gratia and has Claude declared insane and placed in an asylum, but this can't stop Claude from his revenge. Thompson builds this all slowly, with just the right references to the Mythos, for a tale that shows more characterization than even Lovecraft's work. It is an example of how future good Mythos tales will be written. Compared with the work that Derleth produced at this time, Thompson's tales are by far the better written.

It is hard to say what exactly was Derleth's thought processes. He would have to slog through many dreary "posthumous collaborations" for Weird Tales in the years to come, trying to keep HPL's flame alive. Why hadn't he simply hired Thompson to do it? Certainly he wasn't appalled at Thompson's work, which is some of the best of the post-1930s Mythos. Was Derleth trying to keep the Mythos for himself? For the next three decades, Derleth would collect and publish many of the best of the Pulp horror writers, but the only all-Mythos volumes would be by Lovecraft, himself or both together.

Illustration for "The Will of Claude Asher" by Lee Brown Coye

Until 1964, when Derleth published The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell. Derleth's protege from England was the first new Mythos writer to break the embargo. Up to this time Derleth had published an authorized tale in one of his anthologies but these were few and singular. This was followed in 1969 by Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, featuring the old guard writers along with some new ones like Ramsey Campbell, Colin Wilson and Brian Lumley. After Derelth's death in 1971 the company published many new all-Mythos books including Beneath the Moors (1974) by Brian Lumley and The House of the Worm (1975) by Gary Myers. The Cthulhu Mythos was established. It no longer was necessary to keep it under lock and key.

Sadly, we will never read the other stories C. Hall Thompson might have penned.


Illustration by Boris Dolgov

THE DIARY OF A MAD MAN: GUY DE MAUPASSANT

DR. STYX: FIRST MYTHOS COMIC?

MONSTERS ON MY MIND: HOW TO BECOME A MYTHOS ICON

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK COLLECTOR STORIES

MY CTHULHU STORY PART 1

MY CTHULHU STORY PART 2

ARTISTS OF THE CTHULHU MYTHOS

THE FUTURE OF LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR

WRITING THE MYTHOS & OTHER ADVICE

MYTHOS LINKS

 

 

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