Derleth Defender

Via the Grim Blogger comes this short post on Derleth’s posthumous additions to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, focusing on the infamous “war in heaven” concept.

For those who don’t remember, Lovecraft turned out tales of beings who are indifferent to humanity (save for Hypnos, Nodens, Nyarlathotep, the Hound… well, it works conceptually, right?).  His de facto literary executor August Derleth, through both his own fiction and his introductions to Lovecraft’s works, maintained that Lovecraft had believed in a battle between the good Elder Gods and the evil Great Old Ones before humanity had risen, which the Great Old Ones had lost and thereby were imprisoned for a time until the stars came right again.

For decades Lovecraft scholars and fans have debated that crucial question:  Would Lovecraft have received the recognition he has today if Derleth had killed his own grandfather using a time machine?   That would likely be a better question than the usual one on Derleth’s influence, because everyone would acknowledge how speculative it was and do something productive instead.

Nonetheless, I have to speak out on behalf of Derleth’s “war in heaven” theory, donning the mantle of Derleth Defender.   (I can’t really don the mantle, because Harris has it.   Really – Harris once went out as the Derleth Defender for Halloween or somesuch.  Ask him about it.)  There are quite good reasons that Derleth believed in the war in heaven.

The first was that a correspondent of Lovecraft’s, Howard Farnese, told Derleth that Lovecraft had said just that:

“You will, of course, realize that all my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on one fundamental lore or legend: that this world was inhabited at one time by another race, who in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside, ever ready to take possession of this earth again.” 

Farnese kept promising Derleth that he had the quote somewhere, but it never turned it.  It largely seems to have been a product of Farnese’s bad memory.  David Schultz has the complete rundown on the “black magic” quote here.

The other factor was the words of Lovecraft himself.  The first story to feature the Elder Gods, as far as we know, was Derleth’s collaboration with Mark Schorer, “The Lair of the Star-Spawn.”  Derleth sent the story, under the draft title “Eric Marsh”, to HPL in 1931, asking for his thoughts after Farnsworth Wright rejected it.  The contents of HPL’s unpublished letter would be a mystery today if some young whippersnapper hadn’t put up the relevant quote from the letter on alt.horror.cthulhu when he wasn’t supposed to. Lovecraft suggests the “Star-Spawn” title to Derleth, and then makes the following statement:

[The story] in general is a really notable piece of work with a genuine kick to it…  I shall undoubtedly use the Tcho-Tchos in some later story — let Wright say what he pleases!

It’s likely that this was the point that confirmed Derleth’s reading of HPL as a saga of a “war in heaven.”  Lovecraft never really mentions that Derleth was not following his vision, and in fact praises the tale considerably.  Perhaps he meant to send a subtle message by embracing the Tcho-Tcho instead of the more powerful good entities, but if so, it was likely too questionable for Derleth.

I’m still not sure where Derleth got his concept of a cosmic battle, but it’s clear that it was what he thought HPL truly believed about his fiction.

Published in: on September 28, 2007 at 10:26 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I wouldn’t doubt that HPL encouraged Derleth to pursue this war in heaven concept. However, it seems to me that Lovecraft wanted to keep his own fiction more vague then that.

  2. […] Aliens and the family unit October 2nd, 2007 Well, according to Grim Reviews and Papers Falling from an Attic Window (hi guys!) I’ve become involved in the online Derleth / Lovecraft debate. To be honest, I […]

  3. […] at 5:15 pm (Cthulhu, Lovecraft) Showing how a single blog post can inspire endless discussion, my Derleth Defender post has now gained international attention with Holger Göttmann’s response. Much of it has to do […]

  4. […] Derleth has a particularly controversial view of how the mythos gods interact, usually called the “War in He…. I actually don’t like the core concept of them fighting ala “Satan rising up against […]


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