This year I made my third trip to the Northeastern Writers Conference, better known as Camp NECON. Necon isn’t like any other convention. My pal James A. Moore nailed it when he called it a cross between a con and a family reunion. Now that I’m a member of that family, I look forward to seeing my distant relatives every July.
This year, though, several of us made a side trip of epic proportions. Writer Brian Keene arranged for a group of us, including me, Jim Moore, Mary SanGiovanni, Nick Kaufman, Alexa Antopol , Dave Thomas, and Paul Tremblay, to visit the John Hay Library at Brown University in Rhode Island and view the H.P. Lovecraft manuscript collection.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then think about that for a moment. Me, Charles Rutledge, Lovecraft Fanboy, going to see HPL’s handwritten manuscripts. As you can imagine, I was pretty psyched.
Despite knowing more or less where the library was, we had a little trouble finding the place. Typing the address into the GPS results in you ending up at a different location, almost as if there is something working against you. Perhaps the non-Euclidian angles of the streets resist modern technology. We finally made it though, and because we were a little early for our 10:00 am appointment, I took the chance to make another dream come true and got Jim to take my picture at the Van Wickle Gates, across the street from the library. You see, there’s a famous picture of Lovecraft seated on a stone bench in the corner of one of the gates and that bench is still there, so Jim and I took turns sitting in the exact spot where HPL had been over seventy years ago.
When the library opened we were met by Christopher Geissler, the Librarian for American and British Literary and Popular Culture Collections, who was to be our guide. Mr. Geissler couldn’t have been nicer, and I think he was glad to have some visitors who showed the reverence and enthusiasm for the collection that we did.
Before going upstairs to see the manuscripts, we first had a look at the recently restored main reading room. The John Hay was built in 1910 and over time the huge reading room had been turned into three separate rooms. In the last few years though, the walls were removed and the room was restored to its epic dimensions. It really looks like a set from Hellboy or some Gothic horror film with its high ceilings, tall windows, and busts of authors set above the shelves. I felt like I could have been there to view the Necronomicon and in a way, I guess I was. (Mr. Geissler told us that while they didn’t have a copy of the Necronomicon, they did have Lovecraft’s manuscript for ‘The History of the Necronomicon’.)
Then we went upstairs to one of the rooms used for meetings and other functions, another place that looked like a Gothic set. Walls of dark wood panels. A fireplace with hearthside chairs. More tall windows and heavy furniture. We gathered around a long table and Mr. Geissler began to set out the manuscripts. I’m going to post some pictures with this entry, but I can’t show you everything we saw. Among the treasures were handwritten and typed manuscripts for THE CALL OF CTHULHU, THE DUNWICH HORROR, AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD, and THE COLOUR OUT OF SPACE.
We also saw Lovecraft’s notes for AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS, including a drawing of an Elder Thing. Some of the coolest things we saw were several color drawings of Lovecraft’s creatures made by a teenage Robert Bloch. I’m not allowed to show you any of these, but they’ll be available at a new exhibition at the library, about which I will give you more information later.
While looking at the manuscript for THE CALL OF CTHULHU, I read the first paragraph aloud. Jim Moore got me to do it again so he could video it. Turned out pretty cool. Maybe I’ll post it, if I can figure out how.
Probably the most moving moment for me was reading a hastily added postscript to a letter from Lovecraft to Duane Rimel, telling of just receiving a report of the suicide of Robert E. Howard. Both of these writers are literary heroes of mine and to see the actual handwritten note made my eyes smart, I’ll admit. Made it more real to me, I guess.
Anyway, it was an amazing, even overwhelming experience, so thanks to Brian Keene for setting it up, to Christopher Geissler for his knowledge and patience, and to the other folks who went on the expedition for their enthusiasm. Seeing the manuscripts with a bunch of like-minded people made it even better.
Oh, and thanks to H.P. Lovecraft for writing the stuff in the first place.