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H.P. Lovecraft the Mystery of the Missing Manuscript

H.P. Lovecraft the Mystery of the Missing Manuscript

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Published by Leigh Blackmore
On the whereabouts of the manuscript of Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark"
On the whereabouts of the manuscript of Lovecraft's "The Haunter of the Dark"

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Published by: Leigh Blackmore on Nov 24, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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by Leigh Blackmore
2668 words
In the past few years, much valuable work has been done on the surviving manuscripts of the late H.P.Lovecraft. Students of Lovecraft's writings are fortunate that many of the autograph manuscripts of hiswork are still extant, largely due to the efforts of Robert H. Barlow, who acted as Lovecraft's literaryexecutor back in the 1930's. The textual corruption of the Arkham House texts is notorious, and thesame applies to most paperback editions of Lovecraft. However, the preservation of various manuscriptshas enabled the author S.T. Joshi to prepare textually corrected versions of many of Lovecraft's tales.Joshi is currently engaged in two major projects of interest to Lovecraftians. Firstly, he is preparing newversions of the Arkham House texts, which will be published by them some time in the future, althoughthey have announced no details of the publication dates. Secondly, Joshi is at work on the monumentaltask of assembling the Collected Works of H.P. Lovecraft, for which no publisher has yet been found.Those of us who believe Lovecraft's work is worthy of serious attention look forward eagerly to thecompletion of these tasks; the Collected Works will probably not be published for some five or moreyears, but in that time there is much to be done to make the project complete and authoritative.One area of difficulty involves the Lovecraft manuscripts which are unavailable to scholars for onereason or another. Most of the extant manuscripts of Lovecraft's tales are in the John Hay Library atBrown University in Providence, Rhode Island - the principal repository for all works by and aboutLovecraft - but there are some which are in the hands of private collectors, and still others whosewhereabouts are either uncertain or completely unknown. No listing of the locations of the manuscriptshas ever been published to my knowledge (although such listings have been attempted by variousscholars working in this field). It seems well and truly time that the situation be clarified, for the benefit of all the thousands of Lovecraft fan and scholars worldwide.Those who have encountered Lovecraft through reading a few of his tales may well wonder what thefuss is about. Is it really important to know where these manuscripts are? I believe that the preservationof the hand-written manuscripts of any major author is important, since we can gain considerable insightsinto the nature of the work's composition by examining the author's drafts of the work. Lovecraft'smanuscripts in particular contain a wealth of information which may help to provide more accurate texts.As Joshi pointed out, many errors of interpretation were made by Derleth and Wandrei (the editors of Arkham House) simply because they were unable to read Lovecraft's handwriting correctly. Inabridgements to parts of Lovecraft's tales so that, despite over forty-five years of publication and re-publication since Lovecraft's death, there are still tales that never have been printed as Lovecraft wrotethem. It is evident that we can never properly study Lovecraft's writings until we have authoritativepublished texts of what he actually wrote. Thus, it is a matter for great concern that the manuscripts notheld by the John Hay should be located, and steps taken to ensure their preservation for posterity.Lovecraft, of course, hated the typewriter, and a number of his works would have perished but for being typed by his friends and correspondents. In some cases where the autographed ms. and thetypescript are both still extant, the typescript has number of errors of transcription. We may fairly guess,then, that in those tales where we have only a typescript still extant, there may be errors which could onlybe corrected by examining the corresponding autograph ms. A large number of Lovecraft's autographmanuscripts are presumed to be lost; but it would be illuminating to have a ready source of referenceshowing which titles are known to be lost or destroyed irretrievably; and which titles have some faintchance of being re-discovered.Of the latter, (those missing but with a chance of being bought to light again), there are two major titlesthat spring to mind. "The Shadow Out of Time" may still be somewhere in America among the effects of R.H. Barlow. The other manuscript is possible in Australia - but I shall come to that shortly.The nature of book selling and the collector's market makes it inevitable that private collectors shouldpurchase various of Lovecraft’s manuscripts. While not opposed to this practice, I feel that there is avery high potential for loss or destruction of material in private hands, especially where the collector doesnot publicly acknowledge his possession of particular manuscripts. The John Hay Library does not have
the resources to purchase every manuscript offered for sale; yet it is an impossible dream to imagine thatsomeday the majority of original Lovecraft material will be located in the JHL, or even in a few libraries,where it can be properly looked after and made accessible to all?It is distressing to consider the irreplaceable material which may be lost through accident or sheer neglect. Take the case of Lovecraft's letters to Robert Bloch, which are currently being sold off in theUnited States. These letters are fetching high prices - so high, in fact, that the sellers realise few will beable to afford to buy entire letters, and are offering parts of letters for sale. Thus, one particular Lovecraftletter may be dispersed among as many as five or six different collectors in various parts of the world.While this may satisfy the urges of the collectors to own a piece of Lovecraftiana, it bodes ill for the futurestudy of Lovecraft's work, for which his letters are a key resource. One cannot ask that this practice bestopped; but it would be highly commendable if collectors purchasing original material would make knowntheir holdings. No one lives for ever, and who can say what might happen to a letter or a storymanuscript in a private collection. It might be tossed into the garbage; it might be lost or damaged. Evenin a collector's lifetime, a change of address or a loss of interest in Lovecraft could lead to the destructionor loss of Lovecraft material, thus depriving the world of important and rare information concerning thebest writer of supernatural horror in the twentieth century.I would like to appeal to all individuals who hold original Lovecraft material to come forward and makeknown the details. This should pose no threat to your ownership, unless in fact you have acquired it byillegal means. On the positive side, knowledge of the locations of this material will make the work of Lovecraft scholars very much easier. I am appealing to a sense of cooperation; there may be some whoprefer to hoard their manuscripts and gloat over them secretly, but such people are doing a positivedisservice to Lovecraftian scholarship. I am sure that the vast majority of Lovecraft devotees willrecognise that this appeal is designed to make the work of H.P.L. more accessible, as it deserves to be.It is my belief that every effort should be made by dedicated Lovecraftians to ensure the preservation of those manuscripts which still survive. Individuals who own such material should recognize that theirs is agreat responsibility. I invite all those who are willing to participate in the completion of a register of Lovecraft's manuscript material, to write to me at the address given at the end of this article.I now come to the curious case of the manuscript of a Lovecraft story which may be in a collection inAustralia. The story starts, for me, with the 1975 Worldcon in Melbourne. At the Worldcon auction, therewas a number of items offered for sale by collector Ronald E. Graham, including an original copy of Lovecraft's "Charleston". Graham was for many years one of the proprietors of Space Age Books,Australia's largest specialty science-fiction bookstore. I met him briefly at the Worldcon, but was unableto afford any of the rare Lovecraft items offered in the auction, as I was a poor high-school student at thetime. Two years later, at the 1977 Sydney Science Fiction Convention, I met up with Graham again. Ihad a very interesting conversation with him, learning that his enormous collection consisted of some70,000 items ranging from books to magazines to original artwork. Ron invited me to see his collection,and gave me his silent number. I have kicked myself ever since, but I lost that number, and not being intouch with other members of Sydney's science fiction community, had no way of getting in contact withRon again.I was particularly upset because one of the things that had excited my attention in talking to Ron washis statement that he possessed an "unpublished" Lovecraft story. He did not give me any details as tothe title of this work, but promised that I could view it when I visited him. Ron's story was that Donald A.Wollheim had found the tale in his files forty years or so after its original submission, and Ron had boughtit from Wollheim. He stated that he did not intend publishing the story himself, because the value of themanuscript would drop as soon as the story appeared in print.It was not until the 1983 Sydney Science Fiction Convention that I had a chance to discuss this withothers who had known Ron Graham personally. Two people that I talked to told me that Ron certainlyhad a Lovecraft manuscript in his possession, although the "unpublished" part of the anecdote seemedrather dubious. But as to what had happened to this manuscript, they could not enlighten me. Oneperson speculated that Ron himself may have destroyed it.Having enrolled at Sydney University in 1983, I had already discovered that the Graham collection hadbeen donated to the university's Fisher Library on Graham's death. It is not yet catalogued in entirety,and there is only one librarian working on it at present, as time permits. Most of the books from theGraham collection will be part of Fisher's Rare Book Library eventually. The librarian in charge of thiswork told me that Fisher did not receive the entire Graham collection. Some items were auctioned by hisfamily, including the Virgil Finlay original artwork that Ron owned. I was permitted to examine thecatalogue of the collection which Ron Graham himself had kept, and which Fisher received along withthe books. It is a title-only catalogue, which made it most laborious to search for Lovecraft items, andindeed, I have not yet finished searching. However, the story about the manuscript seemed resolvedwhen I discovered the following card entry:

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