Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Guest Post | The Ghostbreakers Mythos: A Dream

By GW Thomas

Lovecraft's circle shared mention of their separate creations in the pages of Weird Tales, name-dropping here and there a friend's character or some other reference. This was the beginning of the Cthulhu Mythos. Not everyone at Weird Tales was included; just the closest correspondents of Lovecraft’s. Later, August Derleth would take what was largely a game for HPL and tie it into a commercial package that featured monsters, weird books, and a shared world of dreams and terror. I suspect Manly Wade Wellman tried a little of this magic too.

"The Half-Haunted" (writing as Gans T Field), a Judge Keith Hillary Pursuivant ghostbreaker tale, appeared in Weird Tales in September 1941. This tale was the last for the Judge for several decades because Wellman would create a new ghostbreaker of even greater popularity in John Thunstone. But in this tale, Wellman borrows a page from Lovecraft's literary game. He mentions another Weird Tales alumnist's creation, that of Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, without doubt the most popular character in WT's original run. In effect, what Wellman was doing was saying that the Judge and de Grandin existed in the same WT universe:
"...New Year's Eve found him at Harrisonville where de Grandin and Towbridge [sic] wanted his word on translating certain old Dutch documents better left untranslated..."
1941 is an interesting date for this to happen. De Grandin had been around since October 1925 while the Judge had first appeared only three years previous in January 1938. Still, the readers of WT liked both and you can see Wellman trying in a small way to create a Weird Tales Mythos like Lovecraft's. Why hadn't he included some actual Mythos?

Wellman did write one Mythos tale, "The Terrible Parchment" (Weird Tales, August 1937), that appeared five months after HPL's death, written as a memorial to the great author. By 1945, the only Mythos works appearing were August Derleth's pastiches. Derleth had taken control of the Lovecraft material, writing to authors such as C Hall Thompson to cease-and-desist. A number of unauthorized pastiches had appeared in Weird Tales by Gardner F Fox and Thompson. Ironically, "The Half-Haunted" appeared in an issue that sported a cover based on one of Derleth's pastiches about Ithaqua: "Beyond the Threshold."

Wellman did it again in "John Thunstone's Inheritance (Weird Tales, July 1944):
She smiled, with a great deal of maddening mystery. "Why not ask your friend the Frenchman -- Jules de Grandin? You and he are very close. Are you surprised to learn that I keep some watch on your movements?"

He answered her questions in order. "I invited de Grandin, but he and Dr. Trowbridge have all they can do in that line just now..."
Seabury Quinn finally returned the favor to Wellman in Weird Tales September 1945 in a non-de Grandin story called "Take Back That Which Thou Gavest." Instead of including Judge Pursuivant or John Thunstone in a story, Quinn pulls the authors into the frame for one. The opener is Quinn and Gans Field walking the streets of New York, looking for somewhere to drink. Quinn mentions that Field has just finished "The Hairy Ones Shall Dance" and is now working on "The Black Drama." (These stories both appeared in Weird Tales in 1938, seven years earlier. Editor Dorothy McIlwraith must have liked this kind of self-referential promotion for she could have easily cut the entire frame as the story does not need it.) The gist of the frame is that Gans sees an odd old man and curses at him in French. Wellman is well-known for his jovial nature and Quinn comments on this. How could a man be so evil that even the pleasant Gans Field should curse him out?

It's possible that Wellman saw a chance to tie other Weird Tales characters outside of the Mythos (maybe giving Derleth a bit of a poke too?), especially if they were ghostbreakers. A Ghostbreaker Mythos. To make this a reality, more writers would have had to be connected. To my knowledge this never happened. Wellman did tie some of his own ghostbreakers together into this shared universe when he wrote the 1982 novel The Hanging Stones, featuring Silver John and Judge Keith Hillary Pursuivent. He did not have John Thunstone and Silver John meet, but the singer with the silver strings did cross paths with John Thunstone's greatest enemies, the Shonokins, in After Dark (1980). So in this way, all three of his famous ghostbreakers do exist in the same universe.

I wish that E Hoffman Price's Peter D'Artois had flourished in Weird Tales, then he could have been tied into the Ghostbreaker Mythos as well. Unfortunately it was the popularity of Jules de Grandin that forced Hoffman to give up the character, since readers kept accusing him of ripping off Seabury Quinn.

Even if Wellman's mention of de Grandin was just a blip on the screen, a mere whim to please a fellow writer, the idea of a Ghostbreaker Mythos is very appealing to one such as I. Imagine Martin Hessellius, Abraham Von Helsing, Flaxman Low, John Silence, Carnacki, and all who followed belonging to a fraternity of ghost chasers! This idea was irresistible and I have used it in my own work. Thank you, Manly Wade Wellman! The Fraternity of Ghostbreakers goes on...

Using friends in stories was also part of the Cthulhu Mythos game. Clark Ashton Smith used Lovecraft as the model for Tomeron in "The Ephiphany of Death" (The Fantasy Fan, July 1934). Robert Bloch portrayed HPL in "The Shambler from the Stars" (Weird Tales, September 1935) and Lovecraft returned the favor in "The Haunter of the Dark" (Weird Tales, December 1936). Frank Belknap Long used a thinly disguised portrait of HPL in "The Space Eaters" (Weird Tales, July 1938). For Quinn to use the same idea in 1945 is not surprising. It's part of the Mythos game.

Perhaps the most interesting of these portrayals was done by August Derleth in 1966 in "The Dark Brotherhood". This posthumous collaboration with Lovecraft is about a man (who is very much like HPL: keeping strange hours, admiring architecture and graveyards) who finds multiple versions of Edgar Allan Poe popping up. In this way, HPL and Poe get to share a story together just as Derleth and HPL penned the story together.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

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