We really can’t talk about John S. Glasby and his very significant contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos without talking a bit about Arkham House, the venerable specialty press based in Sauk City, Wisconsin, founded initially with the idea of preserving the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. Many years before we had such things as “shared world” anthologies, Lovecraft took the unusual step of inviting other writers either directly or by implication to play in the sandbox that he had created as a bizarre blend of science fiction and the supernatural. This strange world postulated a race of beings so far advanced in their powers as to being indistinguishable from “gods”; these beings, “the Great Old Ones,” were present in various extra-terrestrial locations as well as here on Earth! The human race was nothing more or less to these beings than bothersome insects. This portrayal of a cosmos that was not merely indifferent to humanity, but downright hostile, was something new in weird fiction. Lovecraft’s colleagues eagerly turned their talents to expanding on these core concepts and in short order a whole host of malign entities with unpronounceable names paraded through the pages of Weird Tales, Strange Stories, and Strange Tales of Mystery & Terror.
When two of these writers, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, founded Arkham House as a publishing company to preserve Lovecraft’s fiction, it became readily apparent that readers not only wanted Lovecraft in book form, but were enthusiastic about the work of his colleagues as well. Over the years Arkham House became synonymous with weird fiction in book form, with a strong focus on the alumni of the three magazines mentioned above in general and the fiction of the “Lovecraft Circle” in particular. Collections by worthies such as Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Frank Belknap Long, Robert Bloch, E. Hoffmann Price, and Derleth himself appeared. Arkham House issued frequent catalogs that in addition to offering present wares also advertised forthcoming titles. Unfortunately, these “forthcoming” titles were often no more substantial than the spectres in a Victorian ghost story. In fact, the list of “phantom” Arkham House books is an impressive one, filled with a wonderful selection of “might have beens.”
Some of these books eventually appeared in slightly different forms from different publishers. A Henry Kuttner and C.L. Moore volume may have evolved into the two “Otherness” collections from Ballantine Books, or possibly as A Gnome There Was under the Lewis Padgett by-line from Simon & Schuster. The numerous volumes from the Wandrei brothers announced in the early 1950s were delayed by some thirty-plus years until their release through Fedogan & Bremer. August Derleth, in addition to being a fine author and editor, was visionary as a publisher. While the works of the Weird Tales authors made a very solid foundation to build a company on, it was also a very finite universe, with many of its leading lights being deceased (Henry S. Whitehead, Robert E. Howard, Howard Wandrei, G.G. Pendarves, etc.) or more-or-less retired from writing (Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, etc.). The other major areas that Derleth focussed on included British writers of ghost stories or fantastic fiction such as Algernon Blackwood, William Hope Hodgson, H.R. Wakefield, Jon Metcalfe, et al, and the new generation of writers in the Weird Tales and/or Lovecraftian tradition, such as Fritz Leiber, Ray Bradbury, Joseph Payne Brennan, and his last major “discoveries”: Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley.
These latter two authors were major finds for Arkham House. Campbell, although only sixteen when he submitted his collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, was already writing at a fairly high level and of course has gone on to be perhaps the greatest living practitioner of weird fiction. Brian Lumley’s debut collection came a few years later, and like Campbell’s took the familiar tropes of the Cthulhu Mythos and broke new ground by setting the stories in their native England.
There was to have been a third British author debuting with a collection of Cthulhu Mythos stories—an author who, interestingly enough, actually preceded both Campbell and Lumley by over a decade in his initial forays into Lovecraft country. John S. Glasby as a writer of weird fiction was almost wholly unknown to U.S. readers. His weird fiction had not appeared in any of Derleth’s anthologies, nor had it been published in any of the digest magazines such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Fantastic, or Beyond. No, John S. Glasby confined all of his weird fiction to one publisher in general (John Spencer & Co. Ltd.) and one magazine in particular, Supernatural Stories, often writing the contents of an entire issue under a variety of pseudonyms. When Glasby was busy on any of the hundreds of other books or magazines he wrote, R. Lionel Fanthorpe could be counted on to produce the same volume of fiction. Both men also wrote many other types of genre fiction for Spencer. In Glasby’s case, there is a tremendous amount of science fiction, mysteries, and westerns. And while all is certainly professionally competent, there’s a noticeable difference in quality when one examines his weird fiction. It’s quite obvious that while he could write any type of fiction that an editor needed, he really enjoyed writing weird fiction.
Glasby’s earliest brushes with the Mythos date back to 1954, so Derleth had an inventory of around fifteen years to draw from. I apologize for not being able to definitively provide the planned table of contents for the collection, which would have been released in 1972, following Lumley’s The Caller of the Black by one year. The specific correspondence between Glasby and Derleth may turn up one day, but until such an event occurs, we can only surmise which stories would have been included. We do know that Derleth accepted the collection and, as was his usual custom, found some minor things that he wanted changed and returned the manuscript to Glasby for revision. The manuscript was in transit between Sauk City and England when August Derleth died suddenly. Projects that were further along, such as Brian Lumley’s Mythos novel, Beneath the Moors, and Campbell’s collection, Demons by Daylight, were published as scheduled, but, sadly, the John S. Glasby collection failed to materialize. When new editor, James Turner, was finally brought on board, he took the company in a radically different direction, opting to pursue the science fiction and fantasy market with new books by authors such as Lucius Shepard, Greg Bear, Tanith Lee, Michael Bishop and others, with Michael Shea’s collection Polyphemus being the only release that truly seemed to fit the Arkham House mold.
What would the field of weird fiction have looked like had the Glasby collection been published? We know that Ramsey Campbell wanted to explore other types of weird fiction, which he did with great success. Brian Lumley expanded the Mythos in new and interesting ways before really hitting it big with his Necroscope series. But what about an author as prolific as Glasby with the huge new audience of American readers? We can only imagine, but I think it fair to say that with the exposure of Arkham House, a move to DAW or Tor Books would have been likely, and, given his impressive productivity, it’s easy to imagine several novels and collections of short stories appearing over the next three decades.
The volume at hand is designed to showcase John Glasby’s work in the Cthulhu Mythos at various stages of his career. We have an early piece from Supernatural Stories and several more recent works, leading off with what may well be Glasby’s most significant piece of short fiction in the Lovecraftian realm. I don’t imagine that anyone reading this volume hasn’t read Lovecraft’s The Shadow over Innsmouth, which is without question one of Lovecraft’s best stories of any type. One of two books produced during Lovecraft’s lifetime (if The Shunned House can truly be said to have been “produced”), what many readers don’t know is that the story grew and evolved from Lovecraft’s earliest conception into the finished work that we are all familiar with. But what about the originally plotted tale? Is there a solid connection to “The Thing on the Doorstep” or is the name “Waite” merely a coincidence? What John S. Glasby did was exactly what Derleth himself did on a number of other “posthumous collaborations.” He looked at the earliest draft and notes and wrote the story that Lovecraft himself had originally envisioned.
This novella “The Weird Shadow over Innsmouth” is, without a doubt, one of the most significant additions to the Cthulhu Mythos written by anyone. “Significant” isn’t always synonymous with “best,” but happily in this case it is—“The Weird Shadow over Innsmouth” is also one of the best additions to the Mythos in the last twenty to thirty years. I can’t think of a better way to introduce a new reader to the Cthulhu Mythos tales of John S. Glasby than to lead off with this story.
The new millennium saw a great resurgence of interest in Glasby’s imaginative fiction, with a new collection of supernatural stories published by Sarob Press and two collections of Mythos stories and an important new science fiction novel issued by Wildside Press. There were also a whole slew of new science fiction and supernatural tales commissioned by editor Philip Harbottle for the highly-regarded Fantasy Adventures series also from Wildside Press. And now we have the present volume and its predecessor, and while Mr. Glasby is sadly no longer with us, there is still a veritable treasure trove of uncollected stories that well deserve to be collected in book form, a project that Dancing Tuatara Press intends to see through to its completion.
Spring Equinox 2015
Gallup, New Mexico