A LONG LIFE: AN INTRODUCTION
In the summer of 1976 I was performing research for a project that eventually yielded two books, or one book in two radically different forms: Lovecraft’s Book (Arkham House, 1985) and Marblehead: A Novel of H. P. Lovecraft (Ramble House, 2009). In preparation for writing these books I had of course read all of Lovecraft’s works that I could lay my hands on, his short stories, novels, travel writings, essays and letters as well as those of his predecessors and contemporaries. I had steeped myself in the events and the culture of Lovecraft’s era.
I had walked the streets of Providence, Rhode Island, and Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, locales that had played such important roles in Lovecraft’s life and works.
I had known several of Lovecraft’s colleagues in person or through correspondence, including August Derleth, Donald A. Wollheim, Kenneth Sterling, E. Hoffmann Price, and Charles D. Hornig. But now I was to meet Lovecraft’s closest friend and sometime collaborator, Frank Belknap Long.
With my wife at my side I stood outside a modest apartment building in New York’s Chelsea district. I found the buzzer marked simply “Long” and pressed. Moments later Pat and I stood inside the apartment of a legendary figure. In a series of interviews that summer I got to know Frank Belknap Long and his wife, Lyda.
I treasure in particular the recollection of one summer’s afternoon when Frank and I climbed the stairs of his apartment building, he carrying a jug of red wine and I carrying a portable tape recorder. We sat on the roof that afternoon during which I found myself drinking that wine and listening while Frank Belknap Long regaled me with stories of his lengthy career and many friendships.
Long was born in Manhattan on April 27, 1901. He was a lifelong New Yorker. He was educated in that city’s public schools and attended both New York University and Columbia University. His favorite reading matter was the fantastic stories of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and L. Frank Baum. He had spent a lifetime as a writer and editor. He had written novels, short stories, poetry, and comic book scripts.
As few comic book stories carried authors’ by-lines in that era, the details of Long’s career in the latter medium are apparently buried in the deep files of publishers, many of them defunct. However, he is known to have charted the adventures of many leading superheroes including Captain Marvel, Green Lantern, and Superman.
He had begun publishing fiction in the milieu of the United Amateur Press Association as early as 1922. It was through this organization that he first made the acquaintance of Howard Phillips Lovecraft, with whom he maintained a close friendship and sometime collaboration until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. Long shortly began selling his stories to the pulps, most notably Weird Tales, where he remained a prolific contributor for many years. In the 1930s he expanded his horizons to include science fiction, placing numerous works with Astounding Stories of Super Science (the ancestor of today’s Analog Science Fiction – Science Fact).
In the years that followed he placed an astonishing 210 stories in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror pulps. He also appeared in magazines of other genres including Thrilling Mystery Stories and Mystery Novels magazine. He was a talented poet and occasional playwright. In later years he served as an editor at Satellite Science Fiction, Fantastic Universe, and Short Stories magazines.
He was also the author of at least 27 novels, several of them under the byline Lyda Belknap Long, a combination of his wife’s name and his own. His collected short stories fill ten volumes.
His most influential story, “The Hounds of Tindalos,” provided the title for his first collection, published by Arkham House in 1946. Loosely connected with Lovecraft’s so-called “Cthulhu Mythos,” this story of malignant carnivores inhabiting the “angles of space” is a powerful, allusive work that has been incorporated into the world-view of many later writers and has even inspired a number of musical compositions.
Now if the reader will forgive me, I will step back into the story. In the early 1950s as an enthusiastic, very young science fiction fan, I came into possession of an intriguing little paperback book called John Carstairs: Space Detective. It had been published in England by Cherry Tree Books.
The cover showed a familiar trio: the square-jawed hero, the nubile heroine, the menacing creature. But there were two odd aspects to the image. One, the menacing creature was not an octopus-man from the planet Bnxx or an inhabitant of the Zonk Dimention, it was a carnivorous plant. And the square-jawed hero was wearing glasses. I was a glasses-wearer myself, victimized with such childish epithets as Four Eyes and Specs. And here was a square-jawed hero rescuing the lovely heroine from the menacing, ah, succulent, and he was wearing glasses!
Of course I was fascinated. But somehow, alas and alack, that little book disappeared before I had a chance to read it. A quarter century later, sitting on the roof of an apartment building in New York’s Chelsea district, I related my sad story to the author of the book, Frank Belknap Long.
Long told me not to be upset, John Carstairs: Space Detective was not, in its author’s estimation, a very good book. I asked if he had any copies of the book (hoping, perhaps, that he might have a spare) but to my dismay, he told me that didn’t have copies of any of his books. Somehow, with the passing decades, he’d lost his collection of his own works. No, he told me, he didn’t even have a copy of the keystone book of any Long collection, The Hounds of Tindalos.
Our conversation drifted to other topics. These included his friendship with Lovecraft, and the relationship between Lovecraft and his arch-nemesis, the German-American agent George Sylvester Viereck. “It took only the mention of Viereck’s name and Howard’s face would turn beet red, his neck would swell until you thought he was going to burst, and he would practically foam at the mouth!”
When I returned to my home in California I set out to scout up a copy of The Hounds of Tindalos. In fact I managed to obtain two copies, both in dust jacket. One was in fair condition and the other looked almost like a new book. I mailed them both to Long and told him that one copy was for his personal collection while requesting that he autograph the other and return it to me.
He complied, retaining the lesser copy for his personal shelf and sending the better copy, graciously inscribed, to me.
That was the kind of man Frank Belknap Long was.
As for John Carstairs, there is a somewhat circuitous trail leading to this year’s reissue of the book. The first story in the series ran in Thrilling Wonder Stories for October, 1941. The remaining stories, a total of seven, appeared in that magazine between 1941 and June of 1943. The eighth John Carstairs adventure, a short novel titled The Hollow World, appeared in a companion magazine, Startling Stories, dated Summer, 1945.
The stories were collected for a hardcover edition by the Frederick Fell company in 1949. For unknown reasons the second and third stories were reversed in sequence, and two others, “The Heavy Man” and “Wobblies in the Moon,” were omitted altogether.
The Cherry Tree paperback, published in Great Britain, followed the text of the Fell hardcover. Consequently, no complete collection of the John Carstairs stories was ever published — until the present time.
We at Surinam Turtle Press have undone the switch of story sequence and restored the two missing stories to the book. The Surinam Turtle Press edition of John Carstairs: Space Detective is consequently the first complete publication of the John Carstairs stories, appearing more than seventy years after the first story was published and more than sixty years after the first, incomplete, book edition was published.
Frank Belknap Long died on January 3, 1994 at the age of ninety-three. For most of his life he had been overshadowed by the fame of his friend H. P. Lovecraft, but his talent was his own, not merely a lesser version of his famous friend’s. Before his death he received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement, the Horror Writers Association Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award.
Despite his many contributions to Weird Tales he was never placed in the pantheon of that magazine’s greatest writers, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, Robert Ervin Howard, and Clark Ashton Smith. But if not a talent of the very highest rank, Long was nevertheless a skilled and heartfelt storyteller. He and his works deserve to be remembered and to be honored.
— Richard A. Lupoff