My personal link with Bob Bloch is very special to me, because he was my "direct" link to H. P. Lovecraft, with whom I am utterly obsessed. Bloch wrote a fan letter to Lovecraft at age sixteen, a correspondence that led to an interest in writing horror fiction. One year later, Bloch sold his first story to WEIRD TALES. I was around that age when I first came into contact with Bob, when I asked him to write a tribute to Forry Ackerman for my horror film fanzine. I had no interest in writing horror fiction at the time, but as a Mormon missionary in Northern Ireland, unable to see horror films and still in correspondence with Bob, I began to buy British horror anthologies in which Bob had a story (many were edited by the marvelous Peter Haining). This, and my ongoing correspondence with Bob, led to my own interest in H. P. Lovecraft and my determination to become a horror writer. Bob's weird tales were an excellent school with which to begin, and he highly influenced my early work.
This Arkham House book is his first collection, and it is magnificent. Its contents are:
By Way of Introduction
The Fiddler's Fee
The Strange Flight of Richard Clayton
Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper
The Seal of the Satyr
The Dark Demon
The Faceless God
The House of the Hatchet
The Opener of the Way
Return to the Sabbath
The Mandarin's Canaries
The Feast in the Abbey
Slave of the Flames
The Shambler from the Stars
Mother of Serpents
The Secret of Sebek
The Eyes of the Mummy
One Way to Mars
Writes S. T. Joshi, in SIXTY YEARS OF ARKHAM HOUSE:
"Derleth is to be commended for recognizing the promise of Robert Bloch (1917-1994), whose first story was published in Weird Tales only ten years prior to the appearance of this volume, and who went on to become one of the towering figures of weird and suspense fiction over the next half-century. Ironically, in the mid-1930s, when Bloch's work was marred by overcoloring and flamboyance, Derleth had told Bloch in a letter that he would never amount to anything as a writer. This collection contains stories published in Weird Tales from the mid-1930s to the early 1940s."
"The Cloak" was just reprinted, last year, in Peter Straub's two-volume set from The Library of America, AMERICAN FANTASTIC TALES. It was filmed, in high camp and quite effectively, for the Amicus production, THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, the screenplay of which was based on four Bloch tales. It has one of my favorite aspects of the Gothic horror tale -- the haunted antique or curio shop with its sinister proprietor.
"The Shambler from the Stars" is a very early story, and was dedicated to H. P. Lovecraft. The editor of Weird Tales suggested that Bob needed Lovecraft's permission to portray him in a published work; and in one of Lovecraft's most charming letters, he concented. Lin Carter writes of the incident, in LOVECRAFT: A LOOK BEHIND THE CTHULHU MYTHOS:
"1935 had yet some months to go, and Bloch got one more Cthulhu Mythos story into print in Weird Tales that year -- a story called 'The Shambler from the Stars,' which Wright printed in his September 1835 issue.
"For that story, Bloch had the amusing idea of using Lovecraft himself as the main character. As Derleth described the incident,
'Robert Bloch, having proposed to have a little weird fun at Lovecraft's expense, wrote asking his permission to annihilate him in a story entitled "The Shambler from the Stars." Lovecraft's fine sense of humor brought forth permission not only signed by Lovecraft, but also by his prime creation, the Mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred, and by others of the Cthulhu Mythos -- von Junzt, du Nord, and the Tcho-Tcho lama of Leng.'
"This 'document' was reproduced in 1944 from the original Lovecraft letter and served as one of the illustrations in a book called MARGINALIA, an omnibus volume of odds and ends of fiction, verse and articles by and about Lovecraft. The letter reads like this:
"To Whom it May Concern:--
"This is to certify that Robert Bloch, Esq., of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A. -- reincarnation of Meinheer Ludvig Prinn, author of De Vermis Mysteriis - is fully authorized to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate,transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled 'The Shambler from the Stars.'
"The signatures...are also quite amusing. Alhazred's name is signed in what looks to me like decent Arabic, and Gaspard du Nord's signature is written in flowing swash characters that would not look out of place on a Medieval document. As for the signature of the mysterious Lama of Leng, whose features, you will recall, are ever hidden behind a mask-like veil of yellow silk, and who dwells alone in a prehistoric stone monastery, it is written in what appears to be Sanskrit characters..."
The story itself is delightful, and "Lovecraft's" fate is remarkably similar to that of Abdul Alhared as recording in History of the Necronomicon.
This is a wonderful collection, and it shews the diversity of young Bloch's imagination, which would expand to include the chilling genre of psychological horror that would reproduce his most famous novel.