Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Arkham - Scouse

Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth, 1961-1971 (2014): edited by S.T. Joshi: Essential, informative, and educational reading for any reader of horror, and especially for those who admire both H.P. Lovecraft and Ramsey Campbell.

August Derleth was a fantastically important editor and publisher in the realms of the weird. He kept H.P. Lovecraft in print, in book form, for decades until the rest of the world started catching up with the Cthulhu Mythos. And he also published the first book by Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell after Campbell started corresponding with Derleth back in 1961.

In 1961, Campbell was 15. His first collection -- The Inhabitant of the Lake -- would come out from Arkham in 1964. And while the precocious Campbell's early works would be Lovecraftian pastiches not-dissimilar to some of Derleth's own work, Campbell's growth curve as a writer was startlingly steep. By the late 1960's, his voice was uniquely his own and he'd helped pioneer a new approach to visionary horror.

Derleth and Campbell carry on a lively, wide-ranging correspondence for ten years, though the last three years are a bit spotty because many letters have gone missing. While thoughts on horror are the main attraction, Letters to Arkham also offers a glimpse into the cottage industry that was Arkham House. We also learn just how prolific Derleth was as a writer. And a lover, though some of that may be taken with a grain of salt.

As Campbell notes in his afterword, he was something of a fan-boy in his early letters. But that element gradually slips away, leaving the reader with a dialogue between two friends who never met in person. Their debates on the merits of everything from Peter Sellers to Samuel Beckett are lively and fascinating. Derleth functions as a mentor figure for Campbell throughout their correspondence when it comes to writing and, more generally, living. 

And we find out that Derleth took to the Wisconsin woods where he lived every May to collect morel mushrooms. Thousands of them, their number dutifully reported each year. Fungi from Wisconsin. How Lovecraftian is that? Highly recommended.

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