I spent a big chunk of last weekend reading Volumes 3 and 5 of the Selected Letters of H.P. Lovecraft, which seems a fine thing to do here in the Halloween Season. As always, I'm amazed at what a nice guy Lovecraft was and how much effort he put into his correspondences. The fun thing about Lovecraft is that his letters are so lively and entertaining that reading them is almost as fun as reading fiction. Over the years I've read collected letters by various authors and the only one who even approaches Lovecraft in terms of fun is the late Isaac Asimov. (Three words about the letters of Jane Austen. Run. Away. Now.)
Here are a few random thoughts I had while reading through Grandpa Theobald's missives.
Lovecraft only knew Robert E. Howard through letters and you can tell, when Lovecraft is writing to other correspondents, that he took most of Howard's hyperbole literally. It's been discussed before that Howard often adopted a kind of persona in his letters to HPL, mostly the real man but larger than life in a tall tales kind of way. Lovecraft thought of Howard almost as one of REH's own characters, even referring to him sometimes as Conan and Solomon Kane. (Lovecraft's favorite nickname for Howard was Two-Gun Bob.)
Lovecraft was devastated by Howard's death. He wrote many letters to his various friends talking about the loss to the world of a great writing talent and a decent human being.
Of all his many fellow writers, I got the impression that Lovecraft thought of Clark Ashton Smith as a kindred spirit. The tone in HPL's letters to CAS is different than in any of the other letters. I was talking to Cliff about this last night and we agreed that Lovecraft seemed to feel that Smith understood and in many ways shared HPL's world view. Lovecraft's nickname for CAS was Klarkash-Ton, which HPL even used in one of his stories. Lovecraft's letters to Smith usually contained some wild opening lines referencing the work of one or both men. (I'll include one here later. Don't have the books in front of me.)
Lovecraft enjoyed his games with the Cthulhu myth cycle (HPL didn't call it a Mythos. That was August Derleth.) and he dearly loved to see other writers join in, creating new elder gods and demons and new fearful books and artifacts. When I see the massive amount of Lovecraft pastiches cluttering up the bookshelves and comics racks, I think Lovecraft would have been pleased about most of it. He often encouraged writers to join in. One of his early letters to Robert E. Howard contains just such an invitation to jump right into the game.
People have estimated that Lovecraft wrote over a hundred thousand letters during his lifetime. Were he around today he'd probably be an internet junkie, posting at forums and blogs and message boards. I doubt he'd do much tweeting. A bit too concise for HPL. I really enjoyed reading Lovecraft's letters. I feel that sometimes you can almost get a sense of a person you didn't know by reading their letters, which are, after all, their thoughts. The closest I'll ever come to knowing one of the most influential writers in American literature.