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Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark Paperback – 8 Feb 2005
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While Howard Phillips Lovecraft was closing the final chapter of his writing career, Fritz Reuter Leiber was only beginning to open his own. The year was 1936 and Jonquil Leiber, Fritz's first wife, sent a letter on her own initiative to Lovecraft, knowing that her husband had been an avid admirer of his work, ever since his first reading of "The Colour out of Space" and hoping that Lovecraft's presence in Fritz's slow-paced writing career might be the source of inspiration he so dearly needed. Lovecraft replied promptly on November 2 of that year, the seed of an invigorating correspondence, which lasted till Lovecraft's passing. Fritz Leiber and H.P. Lovecraft: Writers of the Dark presents Lovecraft's letters to Leiber, an impressive selection of Leiber's fiction which shows Lovecraft's influence, and a selection of Leiber's essays on Lovecraft and Matters Lovecraftian. Features an introduction by Ben J. S. Szumskyj and an afterword by S.T. Joshi.
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Leiber was astonished when Lovecraft, noting many historical deficiencies in the early version of "Adept's Gambit," followed up with a long letter giving a compete list of valuable references on the history, geography and architecture of the ancient world. When Jonquil dared to ask for details about Lovecraft's astonishing claim that his total food bill was considerably less than $1 per day, Lovecraft followed up with a detailed description of his typical daily menu, a horrific document that biographers and gentle readers have shaken their heads over many times in the years since.
As for the stories (and the one poem that Lovecraft critiqued), the worst of all is "The Dead Man," a sort of collision between Poe and the EC horror comics of circa 1950, which has an ending completely predictable by the time the reader has finished the first page. Of the stories I hadn't seen before, the best are the last two, one in which a visitor to Arkham finds that all the Miskatonic University professors who participated in adventures recorded by Lovecraft are still alive and well at ages in the 70s and 80s, and learns something inspirational about the ultimate fate of Lovecraft himself. In the final story, an obviously-doomed man receives a visit from a Miskatonic professor of English who is in manner and personality identical to Lovecraft himself, before the ultimate catastrophe.
The computer-scanned texts are, like all such texts that never get the attention of a human editor, full of misprints that may bother you.
The first third of the book reproduces Lovecraft's letters to both Leiber and his wife. Many negative words have been written about Lovecraft's personality elsewhere. I was amazed to see how patient, generous, kind, and selfless Lovecraft really was in these letters. Lovecraft was terminally ill and frustrated in his own career but instead of brushing off Leiber, he welcomed the younger writer and gave him advice as a father to a son. I left this section of the book with a deeper respect for Lovecraft as a person, and was in awe as to the type of mentor he might have been.
The second third of the book consists of Leiber's Lovecraft-influenced short fiction. This is in a very different vein from his better-known fantasy material, although it also includes the very first Fafhrd and Mouser tale - the "Adept's Gambit." Leiber is a far more accessible and humanistic author than Lovecraft ever was, and the bulk of the short stories here can be easily enjoyed by any reader. They are eerie, and they are haunting - but easier for a newcomer to appreciate. The final two stories "Arkham to the Stars" and "Terror from the Depths" are more explicitly Lovecraftian in both setting and style. "Arkham" is a cross-over of sorts featuring characters from multiple Lovecraft stories. "Terror" is a sequel to Lovecraft's own "The Whisperer," featuring once again the investigative literature professor Dr Wilmarth. These stories are certainly enjoyable on their own, but the reader will not be able to fully appreciate them unless he has also read the requisite Lovecraft books Leiber uses as source material. It's hard for me to choose a favorite story here, but I lean toward "Terror."
The final third of the book consists of Leiber's analyses of Lovecraft's writing and his memories of the man. Leiber provides thoughtful analysis of his friend's strengths and weaknesses and helps to place Lovecraft within perspective in the worlds of horror and science fiction. This section is repetitious, but it also provides some of the most meaningful insights into Lovecraft that I have ever read.
This isn't the place to begin your acquaintance with either Leiber or Lovecraft but you will learn more about both men as a result of reading this book.