The following is by Rick Lai.
H. P. Lovecraft’s Letters to Robert Bloch and Others (Hippocampus Press, 2015, edited by S T. Joshi and David E. Schultz) contained discussions of several unpublished early tales by Bloch that never saw print. The text of these stories has been lost, but clues exist in Lovecraft’s letters and elsewhere as to their probable contents. The titles of these lost tales are listed below in alphabetical order with appropriate summaries. Several of these tales were linked to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.
Many of these lost works seem to have been rewritten into published stories. In some instances, the published story didn’t surface until more than a decade later. This was not unusual for Bloch. A letter from Lovecraft (October 15, 1936) reveals that Bloch’s “The Shadow from the Steeple” was in the planning stages long before its publication in the September 1950 issue of Weird Tales. The delay in producing this tale permitted Bloch to incorporate the 1945 invention of the atomic bomb into the plot.
1) “The Blasphemy Beneath” – discussed in Lovecraft’s letter (c. late June 1933).
This story involves “Leng’s direful secret.” The Plateau of Leng was a major locale in several of Lovecraft’s tales. It was introduced in “Celephais,” which placed the mysterious region in Lovecraft’s dreamlands. Leng is ruled by “the high-priest not to be described, which wears a yellow silken mask over its face and dwells all alone in a prehistoric stone monastery.” “The Hound” transplanted Leng from the Dreamlands to Central Asia in the real world. The same tale briefly cited a “corpse-eating cult” centered in Leng. “At the Mountains of Madness” modified Leng’s location once more by placing it in Antarctica. Lovecraft’s correspondence indicated that Bloch was familiar with all these stories before sending “The Blasphemy Beneath” to Lovecraft for his opinion. Lovecraft discusses “The Hound” and “At the Mountains of Madness” in an earlier letter to Bloch (June 9, 1933), and even mailed Bloch a copy of “Celephais” (noted in a letter dated late May 1933). In the same May letter, Lovecraft portrayed Leng as “a cold & horrible plateau inhabited by a nameless race of priests who dwell inside windowless stone towers & traffic with outside powers.” Lovecraft further added that humans visiting Leng never return.
The high priest of Leng was also featured in “The Elder Pharos” (Weird Tales, February-March, 1931), a poem in Lovecraft’s “Fungi from Yuggoth” sonnet cycle. The same issue included the second installment of Frank Belknap Long’s “The Horror from the Hills.” Another of Lovecraft’s letters (late July 1933) answered a query by Bloch concerning Chaugnar Faugh, the dark god from Long’s novel. If Bloch read “The Horror from the Hills,” then he read “The Elder Pharos” as well. The title of Lovecraft’s poem refers to a tower that emits a blue light. The inhabitant of this tower is described as “the last Elder One” who wears a yellow mask. This entity is clearly the high priest from “Celephais.”
None of the previously cited works by Lovecraft explained what the true appearance of the high priest is. That question is actually answered in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” a short novel finished in 1927 , but not published until 1948. Here the high priest is revealed to be a member of the moon-beasts, a race of toad-like beings with facial tentacles. Lovecraft didn’t send this unpublished work to Bloch. Along with “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward,” Lovecraft had never typed up “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.” Consequently, Lovecraft allowed these two works to languish in his hand-written manuscripts, and never circulated them. Therefore, Bloch was unaware that Lovecraft had ever depicted the high priest’s true appearance.
“The Blasphemy Beneath” was probably Bloch’s explanation of the monstrous face beneath the high priest’s mask. Bloch was a bit of an amateur artist who sent his own illustrations to accompany the stories mailed to Lovecraft. Dispatched with “The Blasphemy Beneath” were two drawings. The first was “Bho-Blôk, the Daemon Lama of Night and abhorred Leng.” This character must be the high priest in the yellow mask. Bho-Blôk is derived from Bo Bloch. The high priest of Leng had been christened with a variation on Bloch’s name. Lovecraft had bestowed this nickname on Bloch in their correspondence prior to the writing of “The Blasphemy Beneath.” Bloch’s christening of the high priest of Leng was inspired by Lovecraft using Klarkash-Ton, a nickname for Clark Ashton Smith, as the name of a high priest of Atlantis in “The Whisperer in Darkness.” In one of his published stories, “The Suicide in the Story” (Weird Tales, June 1935), Bloch would create a high priest of Bast, Luveh-Keraph, as a pun on Lovecraft’s love of cats.
The second sketch by Bloch portrayed “the other priest of Leng,” who resembles Lovecraft. Apparently “The Blasphemy Beneath” featured a human assistant to the unearthly priest in the yellow mask.
Lovecraft’s letter asserted that “all the hidden festering evil of pathless Thibet leers from those balefully arching brows” of Bho-Blôk in Bloch’s drawing. The comment indicates that Bloch envisioned the masked priest had a more human face than the visage featured in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.” The reference to “Thibet” (Tibet) also suggests that Bloch used the Central Asian locale from “The Hound” for Leng.
In his letters to his correspondents, Lovecraft would create fictional locations as his address in the heading. He used various locations in Leng in some of his letters to Bloch: “At the Pharos in Leng” (December 22, 1934), “Desert beyond Leng – Hour of the Shapes in the Sands” (mid-April 1935), and “Citadel of Leng” (August 31, 1936, and January 7, 1937). Possibly some of these places titles reflect places featured in “The Blasphemy Beneath.”
Since the moon beasts only figured in “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,” Bloch would gave been unaware of their existence in 1933. However, he may have tied the high priest to an ancient race created by another member of the Lovecraft circle. Bloch would later write “The Shambler from the Stars” (Weird Tales, September 1935) in which a thinly disguised version of Lovecraft would be horribly slain. Before writing the story, Bloch asked Lovecraft’s permission. In a letter dated April 30, 1935, Lovecraft playfully granted his permission by having his signature witnessed by a group of fictional characters including his own Abdul Alhazred, Robert E, Howard’s Von Junzt, Clark Ashton Smith’s Gaspard du Nord and the “Tcho-Tcho Lama of Leng,” a likely alias for Bho-Blôk in “The Blasphemy Beneath.”
The Tcho-Tcho people were a race of dwarves described in “The Lair of the Star Spawn” (Weird Tales, August 1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer. The Tcho–Tcho people originally dwelt in the Plateau of Sung, a Burmese analogue to Leng. Derleth’s “The Sandwin Compact” (Weird Tales, November 1940) would also make the Tcho-Tcho people inhabitants of Tibet, and “Beyond the Threshold” (September 1941) confirmed that the Tibetan habitat of the Tcho-Tchos was indeed Leng. One wonders if “The Blasphemy Beneath” had earlier placed the dwarves in Leng and made the priest in the yellow mask their leader.
Lovecraft commented that “The Blasphemy Beneath” had a powerful climax but lacked a real plot. The tale was a more of “an atmospheric study.” Lovecraft also observed that Bloch’s style was overly flamboyant and florid. Probably this is the reason the story was never published.
However, “The Blasphemy Beneath” might have been thoroughly rewritten into a different story years later. A secret society of Tibetan priests figured in Bloch’s “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance” (Other Worlds Science Stories, December 1951). This tale contained no references to Leng or any other props of the Cthulhu Mythos. Bloch’s story introduced a cult of Asian priests, the Tchen-lam, who guard a fabulous emerald, the Lotus of Lhasa. Tchen-lam looks like a corruption of Tcho-Tcho lamas. Here is Bloch’s description of this clandestine brotherhood:
“The Tchen-lam. The Tchen-lam are the Guardians of the Lotus. They are the spies of the temples of Lhasa and they are the most evil men in the world. They are the Hunters and at the twilight Hour of Mutation they set forth on missions of vengeance.”
Bloch had become a more sophisticated writer by the fifties, but that passage was extremely overly melodramatic with its depiction of the Tchen-lam as “the most evil men in the world.” The style is more reminiscent of the early Bloch that Lovecraft constructively criticized after reading “The Blasphemy Beneath.” Perhaps this passage in
“The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance” was lifted from the earlier unpublished tale. Bloch’s placement of the headquarters of the Tchen-lam in Lhasa may own its inception to Derleth’s “The Thing that Walked on the Wind” (Strange Tales, January 1933). That story made references to both the Tcho-Tcho people of Burma and a cult in Lhasa worshipping air elementals. Bloch’s Tchen-lam had the power to “control winds.”
As previously noted, Lovecraft mentioned a “desert beyond Leng” in a letter written years after reading “The Blasphemy Beneath.” If Leng was made synonymous with Tibet, then the desert beyond would be the Gobi, which played a prominent role in “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance.”
A brief synopsis of the published tale follows. In Tibet, an American adventurer stole the Lotus of Lhasa from the Tchen-lam. Fleeing into the Gobi Desert, the thief was pursued by both a mage of the Tchen-lam and Dagur, an independent Indian wizard. Saving the American from starving in the desert, Dagur and he became partners. Surrendering the emerald to the Indian, the American permitted his new ally to negotiate with the opposing Tchen-lam magician. An accommodation was quickly reached by the two sorcerers. The Tchen-lam representative would spare his two adversaries if he was granted the Lotus and permitted to exchange bodies with the younger Indian. Once their minds were transferred, Dagur double-crossed his Tchen-lam counterpart and slew him.
Still residing in the Tchen-lam magician’s body, Dagur arrived with his new partner in America. Dagur inaugurated a scheme to convince elderly socialites to pay him to swap their bodies with younger women. When the American tried to betray him, Dagur exchanged bodies with his treacherous associate. Trapped now in the former body of the Tchen-lam wizard, the American was shocked to discover that his new flesh was being ravaged by leprosy.
The conclusion of “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance” resembled the climax of an earlier Cthulhu Mythos tale by C. Hall Thompson, “The Will of Claude Asshur” (Weird Tales, July 1947). The mind of Thompson’s narrator was imprisoned in the body of a leper. I don’t believe that Bloch was mimicking Thompson. My theory is that Bloch earlier came up with the same idea in the unpublished “The Blasphemy Beneath,“ and then implemented in “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance.”
“The Blasphemy Beneath” could be a simpler version of “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance.” Here is a theoretical outline for “The Blasphemy Beneath.” An unscrupulous American could have stolen the sacred jewel of the Tcho-Tcho lamas. Pursings the thief in the Gobi, one of the lamas changes bodies with his quarry. The American found himself in a body afflicted with leprosy. The story would reveal that the Tcho-Tcho lama contracted his disease from Bho-Blôk, the Masked Lama of Leng. Beneath the yellow robes and mask, Bho-Blôk was the living embodiment of leprosy.
“The Tchen-Lam’s Vengeance” was reprinted in Skeleton in the Closet and Other Stories (Subterranean Press, 2008).
2) ”Dr. Lichorn” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (June 21, 1933)
Lovecraft felt the plot of this story had merit, but it would need a very Dunsanian approach to be effective. These comments don’t really give us any solid clues to the nature of the story. The reference to Lord Dunsany suggests that the story may have involved dreams. The name of the title character, Lichorn, may have some connection to “lich,” a term for a corpse that has magically been reanimated,
3) “The Evil Genius” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (October 18, 1934)
Other than the title, nothing is firmly known about this tale. A possible clue to its plot can be found in an expanded version of Bloch’s “The Dark Demon.” This story was first published in the November 1936 issue of Weird Tales. The original text of this story was reprinted in The Opener of the Way (Arkham House, 1945) and The Early Fears (Fedogan and Bremer, 1994). The same text was used by Lin Carter when he edited Mysteries of the Worm (Zebra Books, 1981), a collection of Bloch’s Cthulhu Mythos fiction. In 1993, Chaosium published a revised version of Mysteries of the Worm edited by Robert M. Price. Besides including additional stories, Bloch made slight revisions to a handful of stories. Price’s introduction to this edition claimed that only three tales were modified: “The Grinning Ghoul,” “The Dark Demon” and “The Secret of Sebek.” However, “The Faceless God” was also changed (the central character’s name was altered from Carnoti to Stugatche).
In 2009, Chaosium issued a third edition of Mysteries of the Worm. Price updated his introduction. While the revised texts of “The Dark Demon” and the other stories were retained, the new introduction doesn’t mention any revisions. More stories were added including “The Opener of the Way,” which mentioned the events of “The Faceless God.” However, the unrevised text refers to the protagonist of “The Faceless God” as Carnoti rather than Stugatche.
“The Dark Demon” concerned a fictional horror writer, Edgar Gordon. The revised text of “The Dark Demon” has this new paragraph in which Gordon is being interviewed by the narrator:
“In reply to my remonstrance on introducing non-human ideas, he argued that a real weird tale must be told from the viewpoint of the monster or entity itself. This was not a new theory to me, but I did object to the shocking morbid note which his stories now emphasized. Then too, his non-human characters were not conventional ghouls, werewolves or vampire. Instead he presented queer demons, star-spawned creatures, and even wrote a tale about a disembodied intelligence he called The Principle of Evil.”
The Principle of Evil may be a fictionalized version of his unpublished tale, “The Evil Genius.” A disembodied intelligence would then be the “Genius” of the title. Furthermore, the story may have even been narrated by this non-human creature.
Gordon’s advocacy of non-human narrators was borrowed from Lovecraft, who utilized this idea in “The Outsider.” A different lost story by Bloch tried to emulate “The Outsider” (see “Nocturne Macabre”).
If “The Evil Genius” concerned a disembodied intelligence, then it may have been rewritten as “He Waits Beneath the Sea” (Strange Stories, October 1939). The tale had an evil genius survive the sinking of Atlantis by becoming a disembodied intelligence.
“He Waits Beneath the Sea” was reprinted in Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies (Arkham House, 1998).
4) “The Feast” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (June 21, 1933).
This story is not the same as Bloch’s “The Feast in the Abbey” (Weird Tales, January 1935), a grim tale about cannibalism and spectral monks. Lovecraft characterized “The Feast” as “a very clever union of the macabre and the comic.” There is nothing humorous about “The Feast in the Abbey.”
In a later letter to Bloch (September 25, 1933), Lovecraft acknowledged receipt of an untitled manuscript about flesh-eating ghosts. He suggested a series of titles for Bloch’s tale including “The Feast in the Abbey.” Clearly Lovecraft was referring to the story later published under the same name. Lovecraft read a different story entitled “The Feast” three months before encountering a draft of “The Feast in the Abbey.”
Another story by Bloch, “The Mannikin” (Weird Tales, April 1937), contained a cryptic reference to “fhe Feast of Ulder.” Perhaps “The Feast” explained who or what Ulder was.
Both “The Feast in the Abbey” and “The Mannikin” were reprinted in The Opener of the Way and The Early Fears. “The Mannikin” can also be found in Mysteries of the Worm.
5) “The Fog” – cited in two 1934 letters by Lovecraft (early October and October 18).
Only the title is mentioned by Lovecraft, but a clue to the story’s nature may exist in “The Green Sheet” from The Milwaukee Journal (April 6, 1935). This newspaper column contains an interview with Bloch (“Milwaukee Youth Writes Horror Tales, Sells ‘Em”) that was reprinted in Lovecraft’s Letters to Robert Bloch and Others. Bloch recalled spending an extremely foggy night in a cemetery. This spooky event inspired Bloch to write “The Secret in the Tomb” (Weird Tales, May 1935) about a ghoul lurking in a mausoleum. While Bloch emphasized the spookiness of the real-life fog in the interview, his finished story doesn’t do much with the fictional fog. Perhaps an earlier draft of this story did. This hypothetical draft could have been “The Fog.”
“The Secret of the Tomb” was reprinted in Chaosium’s Mysteries of the Worm.
6) “The Fountain of Youth” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (late March, early April 1935)
Set in the Florida everglades, the story featured a sixteenth century map leading to the location of the Fountain of Youth. Once the magical waters are found, the discoverer takes an overdose with horrible results (he may have been transformed into an embryonic stage of existence).
This tale of horror seems to have been reworked into the comedic “You Can’t Kid Lefty Feep” (Fantastic Stories, August 1943), a story which has never been reprinted. The plot had gangsters seeking to exploit the Fountain of Youth, but partaking too much of the rejuvenating liquid. They become babies.
7) “The Gallows” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (June 9, April 1933)
The story has a surprise ending, and uses torchlight in the beginning. Possibly the tale opened with an execution by hanging.
8) “The Glass Eye” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter, (April 27, 1933).
Other than Lovecraft praising the tale as “good,” we know nothing about it.
However, a possible clue surfaced in Lovecraft’s letter to Robert H. Barlow (September 25, 1934). This letter was published in O Fortunate Floridian: H. P. Lovecraft’s Letters to R. H. Barlow (Hippocampus Press, University of Tampa Press, 2007, edited by S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz). Lovecraft noted that Bloch’s fiction “has ‘Yaddith’ as a person instead of a planet.”
Introduced in the poem “Alienation” from the “Fungi from Yuggoth” cycle, Yaddith was a planet fleshed out in “Through the Gates of the Silver Key” by Lovecraft and E. Hoffmann Price. Among Bloch’s published work, Yaddith was only mentioned once. “The Weird Tailor” (Weird Tales, July 1950) had an unnamed book of sorcery listing Yaddith alongside two demons from genuine mythology, Azaziel and Samael. The context of the reference implies Yaddith is a living being. “The Weird Tailor” was reprinted in these collections of Bloch’s fiction: The Skull of the Marquis de Sade (Pyramid Books, 1965) and Such Stuff as Screams Are Made Of (Del Rey /Ballantine, 1979). “The Weird Tailor” concluded with a mannequin with a single glass eye being brought to life through sorcery. “The Glass Eye” could have been later rewritten into
“The Weird Tailor.”
Lovecraft acknowledged receiving a drawing of “Black Yaddith,” a frightening monster, from Bloch in a letter dated November 1933. The existence of this drawing suggests that Lovecraft had earlier be sent a story featuring Yaddith. Lovecraft received “The Glass Eye” in April 1933. Bloch’s misunderstanding of Yaddith as a demonic creature seems to stem from Yaddith’s ambiguous first appearance in a line from the poem “Alienation:” “He had seen Yaddith, yet retained his mind.” “Alienation” was published in the April-May 1931 issue of Weird Tales. “Through the Gates of the Silver Key,” the story clarifying Yaddith’s identity as a planet, appeared in the July 1934 issue.
9) “The Grave” – discussed in two letters from 1933 (late May and June 1).
Bloch wrote “The Grave” before reading Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter.” After Lovecraft mailed him a copy of the story, Bloch was surprised on how similar the plots were. Bloch’s tale involved a grave robber, Matthews, discovering a network of tunnels inside an old cemetery. An occultist named Harley Warren made a similar discovery in Lovecraft’s earlier tale. “The Grave” featured a mile long cavern in the subterranean labyrinth. A group of carnivorous “Nether Things” inhabit this underground maze.
Matthews was a professional body snatcher probably providing bodies to medical students. He found a skeleton in a grave and secreted it in a tree for future recovery. Although not explicitly stated In Lovecraft’s comments, Matthews probably stumbled upon an entrance to the tunnels inside the skeleton’s grave, and then hid the skeleton before investigating the burrows. Before being slain by the Nether Things, Matthews was driven insane by the sight of the monstrosities. The madness of Matthews caused him to squander an opportunity to escape through an old well.
Lovecraft made several comments involving technical matters in “The Grave” such as the articulation of old skeletons and the disposal of earth displaced during tunneling. He also suggested that Bloch link his creatures to a cult whose members were buried in the graveyard.
Bloch later wrote a Cthulhu Mythos story about a network of tunnels inhabited by ghouls, “The Creeper in the Crypt” (Weird Tales, July 1937). The story was reprinted in Mysteries of the Worm. Probably some of the concepts of “The Grave” were recycled in “The Creeper of the Crypt.”
Elements of “The Grave” are oddly similar to Henry Kuttner’s “The Graveyard Rats” (Weird Tales, February 1936) in which a graverobber was pursued by huge rodents in a network of tunnels. Kuttner became close friends and collaborators with Bloch in 1936, but this story seems to have been written before they met.
10) “The Madness of Lucian Grey” – discussed in letters (from June 1, 1933, and late June 1933).
This story was summarized as forthcoming in the July-August 1934
issue of the fanzine Marvel Tales: “A weird fantasy story of an artist who was forced to paint a picture . . , and the frightful thing that came from it.” However, the next issue (Winter 1934) published Bloch’s “Lilies,” a ghost story, instead of “The Madness of Lucian Grey” due to a “mix-up in manuscripts.” Apparently Bloch had planned to submit another story to Weird Tales, but inadvertently mailed “The Madness of Lucian Grey” instead.
The name Lucian Grey was likely inspired by Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. Lucian Grey was described by Lovecraft as a man “in bondage to the Outside Unknown.” The artist had mysteriously disappeared for two years, and his paintings had some connection to dreams. Probably Grey painted monsters that he saw in his dreams. The narrator of the story (probably not Grey) made a “forced entrance” into a “house of horror.” Bloch had Grey reading the Necronomicon, Lovecraft’s fictional book of sorcery, in a single night. Lovecraft replied that this would be impossible since “The Dunwich Horror” mentioned that the tome had over 751 pages.
“The Madness of Lucian Grey” also featured Von Junzt’s Unaussprelichen Kulten (Nameless Cults), a book invented by Robert E. Howard. Bloch gave Von Junzt the first name of Conrad. Howard never mentioned Von Junzt’s first name in his stories, In his letters, Lovecraft claimed that Von Junzt was named Friedrich.
Lovecraft compared “The Madness of Lucian Grey” to “The Picture,” a juvenile story that he wrote in 1907 and then destroyed. An artist drew a picture of a monster that came to life and killed him. A similar fate probably befell Bloch’s artist. In Lovecraft’s “Commonplace Book,” a collection of plot summaries for future stories, there is this entry: “Revise 1907 tale – painting of ultimate horror.”
Possibly “The Madness of Lucian Grey” morphed into “The Dark Demon.” Instead of an artist painting monsters encountered in dreams, Bloch now portrayed a writer writing about monsters from his nightmares. Like Grey, Edgar Gordon read the Necronomicon and other forbidden tomes. Like “The Madness of Lucian Grey,” the narrator of “The Dark Demon” forced his way into a house of horror. He found Gordon possessed by a demon and shot him. Probably the earlier narrator shot a monster standing over the corpse of Lucian Grey.
Evidence that Bloch rewrote “The Madness of Lucian Gray” into another story can be found in a letter from Lovecraft to Bloch (late July 1934): “I shall welcome the sight of ‘Lucian Gray’ in its new form. . .”
11) “The Merman” – analyzed in Lovecraft’s letter (November 1933).
This story was likely inspired by Lovecraft’s “Dagon” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” A ship’s crew captured a fish-man (mostly likely a member of Lovecraft’s Deep Ones from “The Shadow over Innsmouth”). The vessel later was surrounded by the fish-man’s underwater kin.
An earlier letter (mid-July 1933) has Lovecraft reacting positively to Bloch’s “idea of finding a Thing in the hold of a long-sunken treasure ship.” “The Merman” probably utilized this device. Lovecraft also praised Bloch’s proposal for a story about “a revival of man’s atrophied gills.” Lovecraft even suggested combining the two concepts in the same story. “The Merman” may have done so.
While “The Merman” never saw the light of day, Bloch later wrote “Terror in Cut-Throat Cove” (Fantastic, June 1958). The story involved the discovery of a tentacled monstrosity in the hold of a sunken treasure ship. The creature was clearly based on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, a deity worshipped by the Deep Ones. “Terror in Cut-Throat Cove” was likely Bloch’s reimagining of “The Merman.”
Another letter from Lovecraft (dated August 22, 1933) discussed Bloch’s “long picaresque novel of the yacht and its heterogenous crew.” The yacht would encounter a series of horrors on an ocean voyage that might even culminate in a trip to an alien dimension. This proposal seems to be totally separate from “The Merman,” and apparently never evolved beyond the planning stage.
12) “Nocturne Macabre” – discussed in Lovecraft’s letter (June 21, 1933).
This story was narrated by a ghoul, a monster that feasts on corpses in a graveyard. Bloch was also sending his early tales to August Derleth. Lovecraft’s and Derleth’s surviving correspondence collected in the two volume Essential Solitude: The Letters of H. P. Lovecraft and August Derleth (Hippocampus Press, 2013, edited by David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi). Lovecraft informed Derleth in a letter (June 28, 1933) that Bloch was grateful for Derleth’s helpful advice. In a response (July 2, 1933), Derleth noted that he offered Bloch‘s constructive advice regarding a recent story . Derleth felt that Bloch’s tale was too derivative of Lovecraft’s “The Outsider,” a story also narrated by a ghoul. Most likely this was “Nocturne Macabre.“
“The Outsider” concerned a ghoul suffering from partial amnesia. One of Bloch’s later stories, “The Grinning Ghoul” was a variation on this idea. Unlike “Nocturne Macabre,” “The Grinning Ghoul” had a human psychiatrist as the narrator. Bloch may have re-written “Nocturne Macabre” into “The Grinning Ghoul“ and changed the narrator as response to Derleth’s constructive criticism. “The Grinning Ghoul” was reprinted in Mysteries of the Worm.
Among the imaginary books of mystical lore added to the Cthulhu Mythos by Bloch was Cultes des Goules (“Cults of the Ghouls”) by Comte d’Erlette. August Derleth was descended from a count who fled to the United States to escape the excesses of the French Revolution. August’s French ancestor changed his surname from d’Erlette to Derleth. This fact earned Derleth the nickname of Comte d’Erlette among his correspondents. Bloch’s decision to make a man named d’Erlette an authority on ghouls may have stemmed from Derleth’s critique of “Nocturne Macabre.”
Cultes des Goules appeared in three Cthulhu tales by Bloch: “The Grinning Ghoul,” The Suicide in the Study” and the revised version of “The Dark Demon.” While “The Suicide in the Study” was published first (Weird Tales, June 1935), Lovecraft’s letters imply that “The Grinning Ghoul” was composed first. Cultes des Goules was probably created in “The Grinning Ghoul.”
Bloch would eventually write a story, “Nocturne,” for Charles Grant’s “shared-world” anthology, Greystone Bay (Tor, 1985). The narrator was not a ghoul, but a human with an unusual attitude towards corpses.
13) “The Sabbat” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (mid- March 1935).
This tale was dedicated to August Derleth. One of Bloch’s published stories is “The Wine of the Sabbat” (Weird Tales, November 1940). Its plot concerned a magic potion that transformed humans into animals. However, “The Wine of the Sabbat” is missing any dedication to Derleth. Its plot may have no connection to “The Sabbat.”
“The Wine of the Sabbat” was reprinted in Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies.
14) “The Shambler in the Night” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (early to mid-September 1934).
This may be an early version of “The Shambler from the Stars,” but this quote from “The Shambler in the Night” gives the impression that the earlier tale was very different: ” “The frozen moon was his eye, and his limbs were streamers of stars. The snow drifted down like drops of white blood from his body.” This passage sounds like a description of a polar monster similar to the creatures from Algernon Blackwood’ “The Wendigo” and August Derleth’s “The Thing that Walked on the Wind.” By contrast, “The Shambler from the Stars” involved an invisible predator that become visible by feasting on human blood.
“The Shambler from the Stars” was reprinted in The Opener of the Way, The Early Fears, and Mysteries of the Worm.
15) “Sons of the Serpent” – cited in the letter (late June 1933).
This story was probably an early forerunner of Bloch’s “Mother of Serpents” (Weird Tales, December 1936), which dealt with the serpent god of Haitian voodoo. Lovecraft’s only significant comment was that Bloch wanted to introduce comedic elements into this lost tale. The later “Mother of Serpents” contains no humorous scenes.
Two Bloch collections reprinted “Mother of Serpents:” The Opener of the Way and The Early Fears.
16) “The Sorcerer’s Tale” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (June 21, 1933).
Written in 1932 by a 15-year old Bloch, the story mimicked the style of Edgar Allan Poe. The title of this lost work is reminiscent of Bloch’s later tale, “The Sorcerer’s Jewel” (Strange Stories, February 1939). In this later tale, a photographer gained possession of a magical jewel, previously the property of a sorcerer. The jewel caused the photographer to suffer a grisly demise. Perhaps “The Sorcerer’s Tale” was an earlier version of this story with a sorcerer instead of a photographer as the protagonist.
“The Sorcerer’s Jewel” was reprinted in the Chaosium editions of Mysteries of the Worm.
17) “The Soul” – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (June 21, 1933).
Lovecraft briefly observed that the story had an effective climax, but a rather conventional plot. “The Soul” may be an earlier version of “The Suicide in the Study,” (a story about a magical ritual that split the soul into good and evil entities. This story was reprinted in Mysteries of the Worm.
Edgar Gordon, the fictional author of Bloch’s “The Dark Demon,” wrote a book entitled The Soul of Chaos. This excerpt from the novel appeared in all versions of “The Dark Demon:”
“The world is but a tiny island in the dark sea of Infinity, and there are horrors swirling all around us. Around us. Around us? Rather let us say amongst us. I know or I have seen them in my dreams, and there are more things in the world than sanity could ever see.”
Possibly these lines from Gordon’s The Soul of Chaos factually appeared in Bloch unpublished “The Soul.”
18) “Spawn of the Elder Pits” – cited in a letter (August 11, 1934).
Although no definite information exists about this story, it was possibly inspired by Lovecraft’s letter from late June 1933 which jokingly gave a return address of “Crypts of Elder Evil – Hour of the Scratching on the Lower Gate.”
The title of this lost story is reminiscent of “Spawn of the Dark One” (Fantastic, May 1958). Later retitled “Sweet Sixteen,” the story had incubi, demons from hell, impregnating women to spawn a generation of devil worshippers. Perhaps “Spawn of the Elder Pits” was an earlier treatment of this theme.
“Sweet Sixteen” was collected in Pleasant Dreams – Nightmares (Arkham House, 1961) and The Early Fears.
19) “The Torture-Master” – Lovecraft didn’t mention this story in an extant letter to Bloch, but in a letter (October1, 1936) to Wilson Shepherd, the co-editor with Donald A. Wollheim of Fanciful Tales.
Since Bloch was unable to sell the story to a pulp magazine, Lovecraft suggested that the fanzine Fanciful Tales try to acquire it. While Lovecraft’s letters don’t elaborate on the plot of this story, we actually have possible information about “The Torture-Master” due to a elaborate in-joke in a horror story by Henry Kuttner, a correspondent of both Lovecraft and Bloch.
Kuttner’s “The Shadow on the Screen” (March 1938) involved the summoning of a Lovecraftian god by a movie director. The story contained a brief reference to a fictional horror film entitled Torture Master. The plot of this imaginary movie involved the modern reincarnation of Gilles de Rais, the fifteenth century serial killer who sacrificed children to Satan. The screenplay for Torture Master was based on a short story by a fictional writer only identified as Blake.
Blake has to be Robert Blake, a fictional author based on Robert Bloch. Lovecraft created Blake in “The Haunter of the Dark” (Weird Tales, December 1936). Kuttner based the movie Torture Master on the real-life “The Torture Master.”
Did Kuttner do more than just borrow Bloch’s title? Is the summary of the film Torture Master an actual reflection of the plot of Bloch’s short story?
To further complicate matters, Kuttner also wrote “Hell’s Archangel” (Spicy Mystery, April 1938), a horror story featuring a reincarnated Gills de Rais. While some Weird Tales writers like E. Hoffmann Price and Hugh B. Cave had no qualms about contributing to Spicy Mystery, many of their colleagues refused to be openly associated with the magazine whose advertisements catered to sexual fetishes. It was not unknown for a Weird Tales writer to allow a story that the magazine rejected to be re-written by another writer and sold to Spicy Mystery. While the money from the sale would be split between the two authors, the tale would only be published under the secondary author’s byline . Such an arrangement existed between Clark Ashton Smith and Price. Two of Smith’s stories returned by Weird Tales. Were revised by Price to be published in Spicy Mystery solely under Price’s byline: “Dawn of Discord” (October 1940) and “The Old Gods Eat” (February 1941).
Did Bloch and Kuttner have a similar arrangement? The two writers collaborated on four known stories: “The Black Kiss” (Weird Tales, June 1937), “The Body and the Brain” (Strange Stories, June 1939), ”The Grip of Death” ” (Strange Stories, December 1939), and “The Grab Bag” (Weird Tales, Spring 1991). It is not inconceivable that Kuttner revised Bloch’s “The Torture-Master” into “Hell’s Archangel” in order to sell it to Spicy Mystery.
”Hell’s Archangel” is a ”weird menace” story in which the supposed supernatural events are revealed eventually to be a hoax. If Kuttner did indeed revise “The Torture-Master,” then Bloch probably intended to sell his original version to Thrilling Mystery, a magazine specializing in the “weird menace” genre. One of Lovecraft’s letters to Bloch (August 31, 1936) discussed the younger author’s intention to sell to Thrilling Mystery. Bloch was only able to sell the pulp magazine two stories, “Master of the Silver Giants” (Thrilling Mystery, May 1940) and “Death is a Vampire” (Thrilling Mystery, September 1944).
During the late 1930’s, Kuttner sold stories to both Thrilling Mystery and Spicy Mystery. Most likely, some of his stories rejected by Thrilling Mystery were submitted successfully to Spicy Mystery. It would have been very easy for Kuttner to sell a revised version of a Bloch story to Spicy Mystery.
In “Hell’s Archangel,” an unscrupulous man impersonated the devil in order to manipulate a lunatic suffering from the delusion that he was the reincarnation of Gilles de Rais. In a letter to Bloch (July 22, 1933), Lovecraft noted that his correspondent was intending to write a story involving “a false devil.” This phony Satan could have been a character introduced in “The Torture-Master” and then retained in “Hell’s Archangel.”
19) “The Touch of a Corpse” – discussed in Lovecraft’s letter (October1934).
Lovecraft viewed this story as “an excellent variant of the Lukundoo theme.” “Lukundoo” by Edward Lucas White concerned an African curse which caused miniature heads to grow on a victim’s skin. Bloch’s tale had some sort of dual twist in its horrific conclusion. This story must have involved a curse involving some manner of skin disease. Possibly this tale involved a usage of leprosy similar to the plot twist in Bloch’s “The Tchen-lam’s Vengeance” (see the discussion of “The Blasphemy Beneath”).
20) Untitled story about Arkham – cited in Lovecraft’s letter (April 1936).
Lovecraft congratulated Bloch on the acceptance of “The Creeper in the Crypt” by Weird Tales. That story was Bloch’s only published tale to feature Arkham, Lovecraft’s recurring New England town. In the same letter, Lovecraft enclosed a map of Arkham to help Bloch with his continuity while using the town in a new story. Whether Bloch ever finished this Arkham tale is not known.
21) Untitled tale about the medieval rooftop monster (also called the Entity) – mentioned in Lovecraft’s letter to Bloch (November 1933).
Bloch’s story was actually serialized in his high school newspaper. The tale was based on a dream described by Lovecraft in a letter to Bloch (August 22, 1933). Using ladders, a group of men were clambering over the rooftops of a medieval town. The men were being directed by a young officer riding a horse down on the street. The horseman was wearing a silken robe while the men on foot were carrying metal talismans shaped like ankhs.The members of this strange posse were pursuing an entity resembling a gargoyle of Notre Dame. Its body was black as night. The creature had bat-wings. Its face had large ears and a snout. Its size was equivalent to a large dog’s. Surrounded by the pose near a huge chimney, the strange beast flew away toward the leader on horseback. Colliding with the officer, the demon merged with him to become a wingless humanoid with the monster’s face and a silken robe. Squeaking wildly, the monstrosity galloped away on the horse. The dream abruptly ended. Bloch’s story incorporated this scene.
An alternate version of this dream was recorded by Lovecraft in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith (October 5, 1933). The letter was published in Lovecraft’s Selected Letters IV: 1932-1934 (Arkham House, 1976). This version has more detailed descriptions of the monster and his pursuers. The winged creature had an owl-like face and a rubbery body. The posse chasing him consisted of fifteen to twenty men. They had rounded haircuts. Dressed in garb from a century no later than the fifteenth, they were attired in hoses, tight jackets and peaked caps with feather. Instead of an ankh, one of the men carried a large net.
In Bloch’s “The Dark Demon,” Edgar Gordon wrote horror stories based on his dreams. Gordon told the narrator “how he had dreamed the story of his famous Gargoyle tale.” Gordon’s Gargoyle must have been based on Lovecraft’s rooftop monster. Lovecraft’s idea of a demonic entity merging with a human host was utilized by Bloch in both “The Dark Demon” and “The Shadow from the Steeple.”
Could Black Yaddith (see “The Glass Eye”) be the same creature from the story based on Lovecraft’s rooftop monster dream? No, because the same letter mentioning the Black Yaddith drawing asked Bloch to sketch the creature from the rooftop monster dream.
As far as I know, none of the sketches drawn by Robert Bloch were ever reproduced. I assume they have been lost. This is a pity because they impressed Lovecraft enough to make Bloch’s fictional counterpart, Robert Blake, an accomplished artist in “The Haunter of the Dark.”
By Rick Lai