John D. Haefele’s expertise on the subject of writer August Derleth, and his circle, just got called into action by a find made by Will Oliver, who writes a fanzine for REHupa titled Some Line-Faced Scrivener.
You may recall that Oliver once before surfaced on Mean Streets under his Internet avatar Linedfacedscrivener, when he dug up Brian Leno’s legendary ten-part survey on the boxer Kid Dula.
On June 8, Leo Grin, operator of the Cimmerian Press — well aware the depth of the files I have on writer-publisher August Derleth — sent me this brief note: “In REHupa Mailing #292 for June, 2022, Will Oliver wrote the following. . . .”
REHupa — the Robert E. Howard United Press Association — with a primary focus on that author.
The “following,” in which Oliver summarized a find:
“The Man from Dark Valley” by August Derleth was published in the Fall of 1936 in Fanciful Tales of Time and Space. . . . So, I can’t help but think from the title and the timing that this was written as a tribute to Robert E. Howard. The story is a supernatural tale that reads more like something Howard would have written than Derleth. The woman in the story is “waiting for a man from Dark Valley” and it has a brooding atmosphere about it. The story also speaks of someone going “astral” and the dead returning to seek revenge. Does anyone know if this was meant as an ode to Howard after his death? I’ve never seen anything, but that doesn’t necessarily mean much.
Potentially, an intriguing insight — because more so than during any other time-frame, members of the circle of writers that included Howard, Derleth, H. P. Lovecraft and others entertained each other with artful “name-dropping” in their stories.
Only recently Derleth had read the holograph manuscript of Lovecraft’s “The Shadow out of Time,” and undoubtedly smiled when in the crabbed handwriting he saw HPL referencing Howard’s fictional Valusian serpent folk and that forbidden book the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of Von Junzt — plus his playful nod to Howard’s Conan the Barbarian: “Crom-Ya, a Cimmerian chieftain of B.C. 15,000.”
Derleth himself also engaged in the fun, as in “The Dark Brotherhood” from 1966, a masterful parody in which he dropped: Arthur Phillips for Howard Phillips [Lovecraft]; Rose Dexter (within whom evil likewise resides disguised) for Lovecraft’s famous character Charles Dexter Ward; old Athenaeum, a term insiders knew Lovecraft used for the Providence library he habitually visited.
A tale not openly about Lovecraft.
A parody too often taken as if Derleth intended his story literally.
But “The Man from Dark Valley” was new to me. Alison Wilson in August Derleth: A Bibliography summarized its plot: “Though Jim Everard is acquitted of murdering Tom Burt, everyone thinks he paid off the jury. But Mrs. Burt and some friends from Dark Valley manage to bring the murderer to justice.”
For Howard fans, the name-drop is obvious. The real Dark Valley of Howard’s youth had been a very small Texas community, a wild landscape he often described “sinister” and “malevolent” — inspiring the title of L. Sprague de Camp’s biography of Howard, Dark Valley Destiny.
That name led me to a passage in an October 1930 letter, Howard to Lovecraft: “At the mouth of the valley stood a deserted and decaying cabin in which a cold-blooded and midnight murder had taken place…in later years, the man who committed that murder…never dared ride past that ruined cabin by night-time.”
This letter is relevant because Lovecraft, on November 19, 1932, sent a selection of Howard’s correspondence for Derleth to read: “Here are some of Howard’s earlier letters which dwell especially on the Southwestern frontier.”
Relevant, because the one quoted above was undoubtedly included.
At this point, rather unexpectedly, I discovered I did have Derleth’s story in a fanzine reprint, which I promptly read.
“The Man from Dark Valley” is not a good story at all — a formulaic freebee Derleth probably pounded out in a few spare minutes for the new fanzine — but it does feature an isolated cabin in Dark Valley, and a vaguely supernatural theme. The suggestion of a Western locale.
And there is the timing!
Howard’s letter to Lovecraft (October 1930); Lovecraft sharing the letter with Derleth (November 19, 1932); Howard’s unexpected death (June 11, 1936); Derleth penning his tale for the first (and only) issue of Fanciful Tales of Time and Space (Fall 1936).
An impromptu in memoriam from Derleth on the death of his comrade in letters?
Could be. Could be indeed.