Monday 5 August 2013

S. T. Joshi and August Derleth

The noted Lovecraftian scholar S. T. Joshi recently wrote an in depth review of John D. Haeffele's  A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos: Origins of the Cthulhu Mythos (Odense, Denmark: H. Harksen Productions, 2012).

The review is a fascinating critique of Derleth's interpretation of the Cthulhu Mythos and his involvement in developing it along his own lines. When I first became involved in reading Lovecraft back in the 1960s Derleth was the final word on everything Lovecraftian. Or so it seemed to me at the time. And I must admit I swallowed hook, line and sinker everything he wrote about the Mythos, even though I was never, even then, enthusiastic about his own Lovecraftian pastiches, which I thought pretty dull and formulaic. I did enjoy many of Derleth's non Lovecratian supernatural tales and was - and am - a great admirer of his skills as an editor. A Derleth anthology, usually reprinted in the UK by Four Square (later NEL) was always something to look forward to wading into. We don't seem to get anthologies of that calibre very often these days, and more's the pity.

Joshi's thoroughgoing demolition of Haeffele's defense of Derleth's version of the Cthulhu Mythos is ruthless, effective and convincing. Derleth's attempt to turn it into a warped version of the Christian creed always struck me as strange, given Lovecraft's atheism. Thankfully, this interpretation, though significant at the time, seems to have waned in influence over the years and it is good to see that Haeffele's attempt to give it renewed legitimacy has been cut short by someone as erudite and eloquent as Joshi  I still admire Derleth the editor and have fond memories of some of his non-Lovecraftian stories, but with so many writers using Lovecraft's creation today the last thing we need is for it to be warped into the Miltonic version Derleth seemed intent on foisting on us. The cosmic horror of a vast, indifferent universe that Lovecraft created is HPL's legacy to the weird tale and one that should not be softened with the safety net of benign Elder beings.


  1. Interesting, David.

    Of course one needs to recall that Joshi isn't exactly objective when it comes to Lovecraft. He seems determined to place him squarely in the tradition of atheist thinkers (whose particular interpretation of the cosmos he rates more highly than others who don't share that view) and places a higher regard on his thoughts in this context.

    I don't doubt that HPL would have been delighted to have himself represented by his foremost 20th/21st century advocate as a champion of scientific materialism.

    Whether he would have felt that his own philosophy was a pre-requisite in terms of artistic excellence in the field of weird fiction is another question. This is, I feel, where Joshi fails. He is more Lovecraftian than Lovecraft.

    All best
    Mark S.

  2. Great to hear from you, Mark!

    I don't know enough about Joshi's tastes in weird fiction to appreciate, perhaps, his limited tastes. I certainly don't feel that scientific materialism is a pre-requisite for artistic excellence in the genre of weird fiction myself. You are proof that this is not the case yourself! I do agree with him that Lovecraft's Mythos is better served by that approach than Derleth's, though I don't think my own tinkerings in that area of fiction are as scientifically materialistic as all that. I can't help a bit of something more supernatural creeping in!

    Still, in this regard I do prefer Joshi's approach than Derleth's as that seems to me nearer to what HPL was aiming at.

    Best wishes