Coming up for air after a long plunge into the edit on John Haefele’s magnum opus on Lovecraft, I thought of an observation from John Locke that I spotted awhile back. I guess the coverage of “The Shunned House” in the Algernon Blackwood chapter brought it bubbling up to the surface, too, tentacles flailing.
Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright famously, or infamously, rejected “The Shunned House” when HPL submitted it in 1925, but when the 46-year-old Lovecraft suddenly died March 15, 1937, desperately looked around and used one story or at least a poem by HPL in every issue for a year — after rejecting many of his best stories, year after year. “The Shunned House” showed up in the October 1937 issue.
I’ve never formally met Locke, but when I saw this bit I presumed he had to be one hell of a Cup Half Full guy. He mentions “The Shunned House,” and then notes on p.227 of The Things Incredible!:
“Cool Air,” rejected in 1926, appeared in the September 1939 issue. Down to the end, Wright’s last issue (March 1940) reprinted a poem, “The Dweller,” from Lovecraft’s hometown paper, The Providence Journal. Only by being so parsimonious about publishing Lovecraft during his lifetime could Wright have unveiled so much about the author after he died.
Arrrggghhhh!!! I could not disagree more.
Essentially, Lovecraft starved to death — a lousy diet leading to intestinal cancer. From the first HPL was one of the most popular authors in Weird Tales, yet Wright never selected one of his stories as the cover subject of a single issue. The list of stories bounced by Wright that now serve as the titles of Penguin editions might blow your mind.
I’ve done lots of verbiage on this topic, in debates in the letters column of The Cimmerian specifically, and Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes and I got into it more in the essay “Conan the Argonaut.” (I’m contemplating which things to assemble in a LitCrit MegaPack or two, and realize I ought to collect “Argonaut” — much of my writings on Texas author Robert E. Howard are gathered in The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All, but by no means all. Lots more good stuff left for the old collected essays and reviews.)
Now, if that’s his opinion, Locke is welcome to it. And I’m surprised he mentions something that late in the run of the magazine, since he’s mostly covering the earliest years. If he ever climbs up to circa 1936-37, though, I hope he’ll get into how Wright’s ridiculous idea that pulp readers would be interested in The Farnsworth Wright Shakespeare Library almost foundered the publishing company. One issue, complete bomb. But Robert E. Howard had some Conan stories in inventory to save Weird Tales’ wood pulp butt.
In 1939 Wright kind of “got his” — if you want to think about a comeuppance for years of bad decisions. The company changed ownership, the new deal required Wright — suffering from Parkinson’s disease for years — to move from Chicago to New York City. He moved.
And what was the indelicate term I once used to describe what happened?
Oh, yeah — they soon shitcanned him.
Score one for Lovecraft, I guess.
A sad story, all around.