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In his lifetime, Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890-1937) attracted little attention beyond the pulp fiction market where much of his work was first published. Today, though, he is acknowledged as a master of supernatural literature.
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In the course of this correspondence, Lovecraft remarks on the young R. H. Barlow's love of fine bindings and first editions, noting that he, in contrast, is happy as long as he has the text in good order. Barlow would certainly have approved of this handsomely produced and bound volume; and Lovecraft would be delighted with the scholarly editing. (And, as he also comments on the literary value of some of his friends' epistles, perhaps he wouldn't be altogether shocked, despite his legendary self-deprecation, by the value accorded to his own letters.)
The letters themselves are, as the editors note in their introduction, among the richest and most human of Lovecraft's correspondence yet made available. Of most interest are the discussions of his own and others' writings - it's saddening to read that he considered his great novel The Case of Charles Dexter Ward a failure, and enriching to follow his remarks about Fungi From Yuggoth and his other poems. The warmth of the friendship between the two comes through movingly. The book also contains a memoir of Lovecraft and a brief autobiographical text by Barlow, as well as Barlow's fascinating notes from conversations with Lovecraft.
Comparatively little of the material here is also in Selected Letters. Obviously not for the casual reader of horror fiction, the book is indispensable for anyone interested in Lovecraft as writer, correspondent and human being.
A volume more directly related to pulp studies is Joshi and Schultz's recent collection of letters between Robert Barlow and H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft comes off as a fatherly figure in this series of letters with his encouragement of Barlow's various projects and his advice on writing. While this is an important collection of correspondence, compared to the letters between Lovecraft and Howard, these are relatively lightweight reading--no grand arguments or musings on politics or religion to say the least.
Gossip about the rest of the Lovecraft Circle also crops up in these letters. While most of it focuses on Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap long, and Donald Wandrei, mention of Robert E. Howard does come up. Most mentions are positive comments about his latest story in Weird Tales, though in a letter of July 9, 1936, Lovecraft writes:
His desperate response to the bereavement shows how highly-strung & neurotic he was, since most persons accept philosophically the inevitable loss of the older generation, even when the strongest degree of affection exists. (350)
While De Camp might have popularized the idea, Howard was "crazy," perhaps the idea unintentionally started with Lovecraft.
This volume has two annoying features. Given all the nicknames Lovecraft created for his circle of correspondents, Joshi and Schulz should have had a glossary identifying who they are in appendix. The other annoying feature is that the notes were done as endnotes at the end of each letter--I am much more a bottom of the page reader. Despite these annoyances, this is a valuable collection of letters for those interested in Lovecraft and his circle of correspondents.
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This is an excellent volume of Mr. Lovecraft's letters. I consider it a prize in my collection. Two aspects distinguish it from other work. Mr. Joshi is the foremost expert on Lovecraft's works and the editing is clear and crisp. Few of Lovecraft's writings are published by Universities; this is a rare exception. The University of Tampa clearly took pride in this effort. Recently privy to a private collection of Lovecraft's letter's, I recognize the great difficulty in reading and understanding the smaller, more fluid writing style of the late '20s and early '30s . The great effort put forth here to simply read and present the letters speaks for itself. Very, very, well-done!
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