CTHULHU INVADES THE UNITED KINGDOM!
If you’re like me, an aficionado of
the Cthulhu Mythos tales by H.P. Lovecraft and many, many others, you may well
have shared the same misconception that I had—namely that the first British
authors to add to the vast universe of the Mythos were Ramsey Campbell with his
debut collection The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants, followed a
few short years later by Brian Lumley and his debut collection The Caller of the
Black. I recall that my very first purchase of Arkham House books was in 1970; I
bought the three basic Lovecraft collections, and with my second purchase a
month later I added Mr. Campbell’s book and Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos to my
collection. The Lumley collection wasn’t published until the following year, but
I suspect that I was among the first customers to order it. For a teenager just
discovering Lovecraft and then learning that more stories of this type were
being written by other authors, this was a truly exciting proposition.
Of all of the writers I discovered in the Derleth-edited anthology, I was the most intrigued by Messrs. Campbell and Lumley, as they had taken the bold step of moving the setting away from New England and back to the British Isles. And for years I believed that they were the first to do so; and for years I missed out on the work of the gentleman who was really the first to import the Cthulhu Mythos to the UK.
John Glasby was a one-man fiction factory. Had he been born twenty years earlier, he would no doubt have rivaled Arthur J. Burks, Hugh B. Cave, and Arthur Leo Zagat as one of the premiere authors of weird fiction in the pulps. As it was, those markets had long-since folded up when Glasby began his writing career. All that was left in the US were the digest SF magazines and Fantastic, which juggled fantasy, horror and science fiction. Occasionally one of the mystery magazines might publish a straight-up horror story, but the cosmic horror of the Mythos was a bit too outré for those markets.
In the United Kingdom things were even bleaker. The only market extant was the digest Supernatural Stories, published by John Spencer Ltd. Supernatural Stories flew under the radar for most American readers, who dismissed it as being solely the province of R. Lionel Fanthorpe, and thus home to a lot of very forgettable fiction. There’s some truth to this, of course: Fanthorpe wrote extremely quickly and often carelessly, and the results were sometimes pretty awful. He also authored a number of very fine supernatural tales, and an enterprising editor would be able to put together at least two substantial volumes of excellent stories from this source. Also appearing were some fine supernatural tales by E.C. Tubb, ably demonstrating that he could do a lot more than simply chronicle the exploits of Dumarest of Terra. There were also a book’s worth of very fine ghost stories by Noel Boston, and, even more importantly, there were Cthulhu Mythos tales by chaps such as Max Chartair, Randall Conway, Ray Cosmic, J. J. Hansby, A. J. Merak and others. Of course, behind these names was one man: John S. Glasby.
Born in 1928, John Glasby worked at two careers for much of his life: the mundane job of research chemist and, as mentioned earlier, a one-man fiction factory. There are a good many writers who, once having found a comfort zone in one type of story, tend to stay there without expanding their horizons. With Glasby the reverse was true—he wrote what editors wanted to buy, whether westerns, science fiction, supernatural horror, mysteries, romance, and adventure, and he was amazingly prolific in all areas. No one is going to produce that high a volume and have every piece award calibre, and John S. Glasby was no exception.
However, there is a noticeable difference between his horror, mystery, and science fiction work and stories in other genres. The reader can tell that his work in those three areas was much stronger and that as an author he cared deeply about his work in the field of imaginative literature. Going back as early as 1954, with the appearance of ‘Frog’ under the by-line of Max Chartair, there’s obviously an abiding enjoyment in writing Lovecraftian fiction. ‘Frog,’ while not a Mythos story per se, is most definitely a Lovecraftian tale. This particular tale was built around the cover art provided by Ray Theobald, but certainly shows that Glasby knew his Lovecraft. Later that year saw the publication of ‘The Seventh Image’ in Out of This World #1, a novelette reprinted in The Lonely Shadows & Other Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos from Wildside Press in 2012. The following year saw the publication of ‘The Hungry Gods,’ a full-blown Mythos piece that will see publication in a future collection.
The 1950s and 1960s saw Glasby turning out a significant amount of weird fiction with several Cthulhu Mythos yarns, most of which appeared in Supernatural Stories. One unfortunate aspect of John Glasby’s better stories is that, like many authors of weird fiction, he was most comfortable writing at the novelette or novella length, which at the time tended to be ignored by many anthologists. However, the 1960s saw him breaking through to US publishers with several science fiction novels being picked up for hardcover publication by Arcadia House, an imprint targeting the library market. The 1960s also saw him produce over four-dozen westerns and a variety of other material. The quality and quantity of his supernatural fiction was sufficient to catch the attention of August W. Derleth, the co-founder of Arkham House and Lovecraft’s leading disciple when it came to the Cthulhu Mythos. Glasby quickly put together a collection in 1971 and submitted it to Arkham House.
August Derleth was a very “hands-on” editor, particularly when it came to the Cthulhu Mythos, which he tended to regard as his personal domain. It was hardly surprising that he would ask for revisions, which Glasby obligingly made. What hadn’t been foreseen was Derleth’s sudden death at the relatively young age of sixty-two. Arkham House immediately went into a sort of holding pattern, publishing only those works that had been completely green-lighted by Derleth and focussing attention on selling existing stock. When a new editor was finally brought on board, the company focus shifted away from Lovecraftian fiction and instead embraced the work of a number of newer science fiction and fantasy authors such as Greg Bear, Lucius Shepard, Michael Bishop and others. The Glasby collection joined the long list of promising titles that failed to appear.
The 1980s and 1990s saw Glasby returning to supernatural fiction with enthusiasm as his work was solicited by Robert M. Price and Richard Dalby for a number of themed anthologies. Price also edited the small press publication Crypt of Cthulhu, which included both scholarly articles on the Mythos and new and newly discovered fiction. Two full issues were devoted exclusively to John Glasby’s fiction, with other issues featuring individual stories. Price also called on Glasby for new stories for a series of Mythos anthologies published by Chaosium, the publisher of the very popular role-playing game The Call of Cthulhu.
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 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 consummation.
Spring Equinox 2015
Gallup, New Mexico