Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Hyborian Age

The Hyborian Age

| | The Hyborian Age

The following can be found in Marvel's Conan Saga series number 50, 51, 52, 53, 54 and 56. It is an adaptation by Roy Thomas and Walt Simonson of Robert E. Howard's immortal essay commencing with the age of Kull.

"Know, O prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars ... Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandaled feet." -- The Nemedian Chronicles

When Robert E. Howard began to chronicle the adventures of Conan the Cimmerian, more than forty years ago, he prepared a fictional history of the so-called Hyborian Age which he had created. That "history" dealt not only with the period during and after Conan's life, but also with events some eight thousand years earlier, during the Thurian civilization which produced King Kull, exiled warrior of Atlantis in the days before that continent sank into the surging seas.

The Pre-Cataclysmic Age (circa 20,000 BC)

Of that epoch known by the Nemedian Chronicles as the Pre-Cataclysmic Age, little is known except the latter part, and that is veiled in the mists of legend.

Valusia was the westernmost kingdom of the Thurian continent: her capital, the City of Wonders, was the marvel of her age.

Known history begins with the waning of the civilization of the main, or Thurian continent... a civilization dominated by the kingdoms of Ramelia, Valusia, Verulia, Grondar, Thule and Commoria. These people spoke a similar language, suggesting a common origin. Though they don't seem to be in agreement. The barbarians of the age were the Picts, who lived on islands far out on the Western Ocean, the Atlanteans, who dwelt on a small continent between the Pictish islands and the Thurian continent, and the Lemurians, who inhabited a chain of large islands in the Eastern Hemisphere. There were vast regions of unexplored land, the civilized kingdoms, though enormous, occupied a relatively small portion of the whole planet. Valusia was the westernmost kingdom of the Thurian continent: her capital, the City of Wonders, was the marvel of her age. Grondar, whose people were less highly cultured than those of the other kingdoms, was the easternmost land. Among the less arid stretches of desert East of Grondar, in the serpent-infested jungles and among the snow-perched mountains, there lived scattered clans and tribes of primitive savages.

On the Far Eastern shores of the Thurian continent lived another race... human, but mysterious and non-Thurian, with which the Lemurians from time to time came in contact. They apparently came from a shadowy and nameless continent lying somewhere east of the Lemurian islands. Far to the South, there was a second mysterious civilization, unconnected with the Thurian culture and apparently pre-human in its nature.

The Thurian civilization was crumbling, their armies were composed largely of barbarian mercenaries. Picts, Atlanteans and Lemurians were their generals, their statesmen and often, their kings. Of the bickering of the kingdoms and wars between Valusia and Commoria, as well as the conquests by which the Atlanteans founded a kingdom on the mainland... there are more legends than accurate history.

Atlantis and Lemuria sank, the Pictish islands were heaved up to form the mountain peaks of a new continent, while sections of the Thurian continent vanished under the waves or sinking, forming great inland lakes and seas.

Then the cataclysm rocked the world. Atlantis and Lemuria sank, the Pictish islands were heaved up to form the mountain peaks of a new continent, while sections of the Thurian continent vanished under the waves or sinking, forming great inland lakes and seas. Volcanoes broke forth and terrific earthquakes shook down the shining cities of the empires. Whole nations were blotted out and the face of the world was forever changed.

The Rise of the Hyborians (circa 17,000 - 15,000 BC)

When the great cataclysm caused the destruction of Atlantis and Lemuria, the inhabitants of the Pictish isles likewise perished. But a great colony of them, already settled along the mountains of Valusia's Southern frontier, were virtually untouched. Atlantis' kingdom on the main continent also escaped the common ruin, and to it came thousands of their tribesmen, fleeing in ships from the sinking land. Many Lemurians also made their way to the Eastern coast of the Thurian continent, only to be enslaved by the ancient race which already dwelt there. And their history, for thousands of years, became a story of brutal servitude.

In the Western part of the continent, thick jungles covered the plains, wild mountains were heaved up, and lakes covered the old cities in fertile valleys. Forced to battle continually for their lives, the Atlanteans yet managed to retain vestiges of their former state of advanced barbarism. Then, their struggling culture came into contact with the powerful Pictish nation. The stone-age kingdoms clashed, and in a series of bloody wars, the outnumbered Atlanteans were hurled back into savagery, and the evolution of the Picts was halted. Five hundred years after the cataclysm, the barbaric kingdoms had vanished.

To the far South, untouched by the cataclysm, is veiled in mystery, its destiny still pre-human. But a remnant of one of the non-Valusian civilized nations dwells among the low mountains of the Southeast. They are the Zhemri.

Meanwhile, in the far North, another people are slowly are coming into existence. A band of barely human savages had fled thither to escape destruction, they found the icy countries inhabited only by a species of snow-apes, whom they fought and drove beyond the arctic circle, to perish, as the savages thought. The primitive humans then adapted to their hardy new environment and survived.

Then, another lesser cataclysm further altered the appearance of the original continent and left a great inland sea to separate East and West. The earthquakes, floods and volcanoes completed the ruin of the barbarians, already begun by their fierce tribal wars.

A thousand years later, wandering bands of ape-men exist without human speech, fire or tools. These are the descendants of the once-proud Atlanteans.

A thousand years later, wandering bands of ape-men exist without human speech, fire or tools. These are the descendants of the once-proud Atlanteans. To the Southwest dwell scattered clans of degraded cave-dwelling savages, primitive of speech, yet still retaining the name of Picts. Far to the East, the enslaved Lemurians have risen and destroyed their masters. They are savages, stalking the ruins of a strange civilization. The survivors of that civilization have come westward, overthrowing the pre-humans of the south and founding a new kingdom called Stygia. In the North, one tribe is growing: the Hyborians or Hyboai. Their god is Bori, some great chief whom legend has raised to the status of a deity. 1,500 years in the snow-country have made them a vigorous and warlike race. And now, they are pushing southward in leisurely treks.

A wanderer to the North at about this time returned with the news that the Northern icy wastes were inhabited by ape-like men, descended from the beasts driven out of the more habitable land by the Hyborians' ancestors. To exterminate these creatures, a small band of warriors followed him beyond the arctic circle. None returned.

And meanwhile, the tribes of the Hyborians drifted ever southward, to make the following age an epoch of wandering and conquest.

The Hyborian Kingdoms (circa 14,000 - 10,000 BC)

And meanwhile, the tribes of the Hyborians drifted ever southward, to make the following age an epoch of wandering and conquest.

1,500 years after the lesser cataclysm which created the inland sea, tribes of twany-haried Hyborians have moved southward and westward, conquering and destroying many of the small unclassified clans. As yet, these conquerors have not come in contact with the older races. To the Southeast, the descendants of the Zhemri are beginning to seek to revive some faint shadow of their ancient culture. To the West, the apish Atlanteans have began the long hard climb back toward true humanity, while to the South of them, the Picts remain savages, apparently defying the laws of nature by neither progressing nor retrogressing. And, far to the South dreams the ancient, mysterious kingdom of Stygia. On its Eastern borders wander clans of nomadic savages already known as the sons of Shem, while next to the Picts, in the broad Valley of Zingg, protected by great mountains, a nameless band of primitives has created an advanced agricultural system and life.

Meanwhile, the first of the Hyborian kingdoms has come onto existence, the rude and barbaric kingdom of Hyperborea, which had its beginnings in a crude fortress of boulders heaped to repel tribal attack. There are few more dramatic events in history than the rise of this fierce kingdom, whose people turned abruptly from nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by cyclopean walls.

All this time, far to the East, the Lemurians are evolving a strange semi-civilization all their own, built on the wreckage of the one they overthrew. The Hyborians, meanwhile, have founded the kingdom of Koth, on the borders of the pastoral lands of Shem. The savages of the lands of Shem, through contact with the Hyborians and the ever ravaging Stygians, are slowly emerging from barbarism. Far to the North, the first kingdom of Hyperborea is overthrown by another tribe which, however, retains the old name. Southeast of Hyperborea, a kingdom of the Zhemri has come into being, under the name of Zamora. To the Southwest, invading Picts have merged the agricultural dwellers of the fertile Valley of Zingg. This mixed race in turn will be conquered by a roving tribe of Hybori, and from this mingled elements will come the kingdom called Zingara.

500 years later, the kingdoms of the world are clearly defined. The kingdoms of the Hyborians - Aquilonia, Nemedia, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Koth, Ophir, Argos, Corinthia and the Border Kingdom - dominate the Western world. Zamora lies to the East, Zingara to the Southwest of these. Far to the South sleeps Stygia, untouched by foreign invasions, though the peoples of Shem have exchanged the Stygian yoke for the less galling one of Koth. The Stygians have been driven South of the great river Styx, also called Nilus or Nile, which empties into the Western Sea. North of Aquilonia are the Cimmerians, ferocioius savages untamed by any invaders. Descended from the ancient Atlanteans, they are progressing more rapidly than their old enemies, the Picts, who dwell in the wilderness West of Aquilonia.

Far to the South dreams the ancient, mysterious kingdom of Stygia. On its Eastern borders wander clans of nomadic savages already known as the sons of Shem.

Another five centuries and the Hybori peoples are the possessors of a virile civilization, whose most powerful kingdom is Aquilonia, though others vie with it in strength and splendor. They are the supreme in the Western world. In the North, however, golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians have driven the remaining Hyborian tribes out of all the snow-countries except Hyperborea. Their land is known as Nordheim, and they are divided into the red-haried Vanir and the yellow-haired Aesir. Now the Lemurians enter history again, as Hyrkanians. Pushing westward, one tribe establishes the kingdom of Turan on the Southwestern shore of the inland Vilayet Sea. Later, other Hyrkanian clans push westward around that sea's northern extremity.

Glancing briefly at the peoples of that age. The dominant Hyborians are no longer uniformly twany-haired and grey-eyed; they have mixed with other races, but this mixing has not weakened them. The Shemites are men of medium height with hawk noses, dark eyes and blue-black beards. The ruling classes of Stygia are tall men, dusky and straight-featured. The Hyrkanians are dark and generally tall and slender. The people of Nordheim retain their light skin, blue eyes and red or yellow hair. The Picts are the same type as they always were; short, very dark with black eyes and hair. The Cimmerians are tall and powerful, with dark hair and blue or grey eyes. South of Stygia are the vast black kingdoms of the Amazons, the Kushites, the Atlaians and the hybrid empire of Zembabwei. Between Aquilonia and the Pictish wilderness lie the Bossonian Marches, peopled by descendents of an aboriginal race mixed with Hyborians. They are stubborn fighters and great archers, as they must be to have survived centuries of warfare with the barbarians to the North and West.

This, then, was an "Age Undreamed Of", when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars.

This, then, was the age of Conan.

This, then, was the age of Conan.

The Beginning of the End (circa 9,500 BC)

500 years after the time of King Conan, the Hyborian civilization was swept away while its vigorous culture was still in its prime. It was the greed of Aquilonia which indirectly brought about that overthrow. Wishing to extend their empire, her kings annexed Zingara, Argos and Ophir, as well as the western cities of Shem. Koth itself, with Corinthia and the eastern Shemitish tribes, was forced to pay Aquilonia tribute and lend aid in its wars. Nemedia, which had successfully resisted Aquilonia for centuries, now drew Brythunia and Zamora and secretly, Koth into an alliance against that western kingdom. But before their armies could join in battle, a new enemy appeared in the East. Reinforced by Hyrkanian adventurers, the riders of Turan swept over Zamora to meet the Aquilonians on the plains of Brythunia. Defeating the Turanians, the Aquilonians sent them flying eastward; but the back of the Nemedian alliance was now broken. The defeat of the Hyrkanians showed the nations the real power of Aquilonia.

Zamora was reconquered, but the people discovered they had merely exchanged an eastern master for a western one. Auilonian soldiers were quartered there, to keep the people in subjection as well as to protect them. In the North, there was incessant bickering along the Cimmerian borders between the black-haired warriors and their various neighbors, the Nordheimr, the Bossonians and the ever more powerful Picts. Several times, the Cimmerians raided Aquilonia itself, but their wars were less invasions than plundering forays.

But, by a strange quirk of fate, it is the growing power of the Picts in the West which is destined to throw down the kings of Aquilonia from their high places. At about this time, a Nemedian priest named Arus determined to go into the western wilderness and introduce to the heathen Picts the gentle worship of Mitra. He was not daunted by the grisly tales of what had happened to traders and explorers before him. Over the years, the Picts had benefited from contact with Hyborian civilization, but they had always fiercely resisted that contact. They dwelt in clans which were generally at feud with each other, and their customs were bloodthirsty and generally inexplicable to a civilized man such as Arus of Nemedia.

Arus was fortunate in meeting a chief of more than usual intelligence, Gorm by name, who gave him permission to remain among his tribe unbutchered. This was a case unique in the history of the Picts; and better for the flower of Hyborian civilization if Arus had been speared instead. Having learned the Pictish tongue, Arus harangued Gorm at length, expounding rhe eternal rights and justices which were the truths of Mitra. Being a practical man, Arus appealed to the savage's sense of material gain. He pointed out the splendor of the Hyborian kingdoms as proof of the power of Mitra. Arus spoke of wealthy cities and fertile plains, of jeweled towers and glittering armor. And Gorm, with the unerring instinct of the barbarian, passed over his words regarding gods and their teachings, and fixed on the material riches he so vividly described. There, in the mud-floored wattle hut, where the silk robed priest droned on the dark-skinned chief crouched in his tiger-hides, were laid the foundations of the Pictish Empire.

Fire and Slaughter (circa 9,500 BC)

Arus, priest of Mitra, had instilled in Gorm, the Pictish chief a desire to see the civilized lands. At Gorm's request, Arus conducted him and some of his warriors through the Bossonian Marches, where the honest villagers stared in amazement, and into the glittering outer world. Soon, Picts came and went freely into all Aquilonia. Arus no doubt thought he was making converts for Mitra right and left, because the Picts listened to him and refrained from smiting him with their copper axes. But what they really wished to learn from him and did, was how to mine the vast iron deposits in their hills and work them into weapons. With these, Gorm began to assert his dominance over the other Pictish clans.

And then, the Pictish invasion burst in full power along those borders, led by Gorm, an old man now, but with the fire of his fierce ambition undimmed. This time there were no sturdy Bossonian warriors in their path, so that the blood-mad barbarians swarmed into Aquilonia itself (...), and the Aquilonian Empire went down in Fire and Blood.

Aquilonia, meanwhile, pursuing her wars of aggression to the South and East, paid little heed to the vaguely known lands of the West, from which more and more stocky Pictish warriors swarmed to take service in her mercenary armies. These warriors, their service completed, went back to their wilderness with good ideas of civilized warfare and that contempt for civilization which arises from familiarity with it. As for Gorm, he became chief of chiefs, the nearest approach to a king the Picts had in thousands of years. He had waited long, he was well past middle age. Too late, Arus saw his mistake; he had touched only the pagan's greed, not his soul. And making a last effort to undo his unwitting work, he was brained by a drunken Pict. Gorm was not without gratitude; he caused the skull of the slayer to be set on top of the priest's cairn. The Picts burst upon the Bossonian Frontiers, clad not in tiger skins but in scalemail, wielding weapons of keen steel. Still, for years, the sturdy Bossonian Marches held the invaders at bay, thus keeping them from attacking Aquilonia itself.

Meanwhile, the Aquilonian Empire waxed strong and arrogance leading them to treat less powerful peoples, even the Bossonians, with growing contempt. Argos, Zingara, Ophir, Zamora and the Shemite countries were treated as subjected countries, which was especially galling to the proud rebellious Zingarans. Koth, too, was practically tributary and first Stygia, then Brythunia were defeated in battle. Yet, powerful Nemedia directly to the West had never been subdued. Thus, the Aquilonian armies moved at last against their neighbor state. Their glittering ranks however, were largely filled by mercenaries, especially the Bossonians. Because of the eastern war, scarcely enough men were left in the Bossonian Marches to guard the frontier. And hearing of Pictish outrages in their homelands, whole Bossonian regiments quit the Nemedian campaign and marched westward, where they defeated the Picts in a single great battle.

This desertion, however, was the direct cause of the Aquilonians defeat by the desperate Nemedians, and thus brought down on the Bossonians the cruel and shortsighted wrath of the Imperialists. Aquilonian regiments were brought to the borders of the Marches, and the Bossonian chiefs were lured into their encampment. There, the unarmed chiefs were massacred and the Imperial hosts then attacked the unsuspecting people. From North to South, the Marches were ravaged, and the Aquilonian armies marched back from the borders, leaving a ruined and devastated land behind them.

And then, the Pictish invasion burst in full power along those borders, led by Gorm, an old man now, but with the fire of his fierce ambition undimmed. This time there were no sturdy Bossonian warriors in their path, so that the blood-mad barbarians swarmed into Aquilonia itself, before her legions could return from the war in the East. Zingara seized this opportunity to throw off the yoke, followed by Corinthia and the Shemites. Whole regiments of mercenaries and vassals mutinied and marched back to their own countries, looting and burning as they went, while still the Picts surged irresistibly eastward. In the most of this chaos, the wild-born Cimmerians swept down from their Northern hills, completing the ruin, and the Aquilonian Empire went down in Fire and Blood.

The Darkness... and the Dawn (circa 9,500 BC)

Following the collapse of the Aquilonian Empire, the Hyrkanian hordes came riding in from the East. Hyrkanians and Turanians together in time, united under one great chief. With no Aquilonian armies to oppose them, they were invincible.

Following the collapse of the Aquilonian Empire, the Hyrkanian hordes came riding in from the East. Hyrkanians and Turanians together in time, united under one great chief. With no Aquilonian armies to oppose them, they were invincible, sweeping first over Zamora, then Brythunia, Hyperborea and Corinthia. Next, they swept into Cimmeria, driving the black-haired barbarians before them. But, among the hills, where the Hyrkanian cavalry was less effective, the Cimmerians turned on them, and only a disorderly retreat saved them from complete annihilation. The Picts, meanwhile, made themselves the masters of Aquilonia, massacring nearly all the inhabitants in the process. Probably only these fierce Pictish thrusts stopped the raging Hyrkanians from adding even Stygia to their widening empire. Nemedia, never before conquered, now reeled between West and East when a tribe of Aesir wandered South, to be engaged as mercenaries. Meanwhile, the Pictish chief Gorm, whose ambition had begun the slaughter, was slain by Hialmar, a chief of the Nemedian Aesir. 75 years had elapsed since he had first heard tales of the western lands from the lips of Arus, priest of Mitra. Long enough for a man to live, or a civilization to die.

For a short age, Pict and Hyrkanian snarled at each other over the ruins of the world they had conquered. Then began the glacial ages, and many nordic tribes were driven southward by the moving ice fields, driving kindred clans before them in turn. Nemedia, meanwhile, became a Nordic kingdom, ruled by descendants of the Aesir mercenaries. Pressed by the Nordic tides, the Cimmerians were on the march, destroying first Gunderland, then hewing their way through the Pictish hosts to defeat the Nordic-Nemedians and sack some of their cities. Then they continued eastward, overthrowing an Hyrkanian army on the borders of Brythunia. Hot on their heels, hordes of Aesir and Vanir swarmed South, and the newly founded Pictish Empire reeled beneath their strokes. Nemedia was overthrown, and the half-civilized Nordics fled before their wilder kinsmen, leaving the cities of Nemedia ruined and deserted. These fleeing Nordic-Nemedians broke the back of Hyrkanian power in Shem, Brythunia and Hyperborea, forcing the descendants of the Lemurians back toward the Vilayet Sea. Meanwhile, the Cimmerians, wandering southeastward, destroyed the ancient Hyrkanian kingdom of Turan and settled by the inland sea.

Their Western empire destroyed, the Hyrkanians butchered all unfit captives and herded thousands of slaves before them as they rode back onto the mysterious East. They would return thousands of years later, as Mongols, Huns, Tartars and Turks. Meanwhile also, red-haired Vanir adventurers came into Stygia, where they overthrew the reigning class and built up a vast southern empire which they call Egypt. From these red-haried conquerors the early pharaohs were to boast descent. The Western world was now dominated by Nordic barbarians. There were few cities anywhere; the once dominant Hyborians had vanished from the earth, leaving scarcely a trace of blood in the veins of their conquerors. In time, the whole history of the Hyborian age was lost in a cloud of myths and fantasies.

And then, another terrific convulsion of the earth hurled all into choas again, carving out the lands as they are known to us now. Great strips of the western coast sank, and the mountains of western Cimmeria became islands later called British. A vast sea, later called Mediterranean, was formed then the Stygian continent broke away from the rest of the world. The territory around the slowly drying inland sea was not affected, and the Nordics retreating there lived more or less at peace with the Cimmerians already present. In time, the two races became intermingled. In the West, the remnants of the Picts, reduced to the status of stone-age savages, possessed the land once more, till, in a later age, they were overthrown by the westward drift of the Cimmerians and Nordics. This drift resulted from a growing population which thronged the steppes West of the inland sea, now known as the Caspian and much reduced in size -- to such an extent that migration became an economic necessity. Known now as Aryans, these tribes moved into the areas now occupied by India, Asia Minor and much of Europe.

Some variations of these primitive sons of Aryas are still recognized today; others have been long forgotten since. The Nemedians of Irish legendry were the Nemedian Aesir, while the later sea-roving Danes were the descendants of the Vanir. The blond Achaians, Gauls and Britons were decended from the pure-blooded Aesir. The Gaels, ancestors of Irish and Highland Scotch came of pure-blooded Cimmerian clans. The ancient Summerians were of mixed Hyrkanian and Shemitish blood, while from the purer Shemites were descended both the Arabs and the Israelites. The Hyrkanians, retreating to the Eastern shores of the continent, evolved into the tribes later known as Huns, Mongols, Tartars and Turks before they bloodily re-entered Western history.

The origins of the other races of the modern world may be similarly traced. In almost every case, older far than they realize, their history stretches back into the mists of the forgotten Hyborian Age...

Hyborian Age d20 Campaign Site |


Nardole, I want you to lead the evacuation. 

What? No. 

There's another solar farm on floor 502. 
There should be enough livestock in the cryogenic chamber 

You need me with you. 

(The Doctor downloads everything on the laptop into his sonic screwdriver and shuts the lid.

Thanks for all the software. I will take it from here. 

Sir, with respect, I'm worried about your plan. 

Plan? What plan? 

I think as soon as this place is evacuated, you're going to blow the whole floor, killing as many Cybermen as you can. 

No. No, course not. I won't do that until I've left. 

Liar! It can't be done remotely. 

You couldn't do it remotely. 

Neither could you. 
And more to the point, you are not sending me up there to babysit a load of smelly humans. 

Yeah? Well, I'm afraid that's exactly what I'm doing. 

Huh? This is me we're talking about. 
Me. You know what I was like. 
If there's more than three people in a room, I start a black market. 

Send me with them, I'll be selling their own spaceship back to them once a week. 

Please, I would rather stay down here and explode. 

You go and farm the humans. 

Listen. One of us has to stay down here and blow up a lot of silly tin men, and one of has to go up there and look after a lot of very scared people, day after day, for the rest of their lives, and keep them safe. 

Now the question is this, Nardole. 

Which one of us is stronger? 

(Long pause.


DOCTOR: My condolences. 

I'm going to name a town after you. A really rubbish one. 

Oh, I'm counting on it. 

And probably a pig. 
Young lady, you're coming with me. No arguments. 
May I remind you I'm still empowered to kick your arse. 

You'd have to go back down there to that hospital and find it, then. 

Look, Bill 

My arse got kicked a long time ago, and there's no going back. 
(she stands next to the Doctor
All I've got left is returning the favour. 

Oh, great. So she's allowed to explode. 

Are you sure? 

You know I am. 

I don't know what to say. 

You'll think of the right words later. 

Doctor. Bill. 
(starts to leave) 
You're wrong, you know. Quite wrong. I never will be able to find the words.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017


68 After Mass of a morsel he and his men partook.

Merry was the morning. For his mount then he called. 
All the huntsmen that on horse behind him should follow 
were ready mounted to ride arrayed at the gates.
Wondrous fair were the fields, for the frost clung there; 
in red rose-hued o’er the wrack arises the sun, 
sailing clear along the coasts of the cloudy heavens. 
The hunters loosed hounds by a holt-border; 
the rocks rang in the wood to the roar of their horns. 
Some fell on the line to where the fox was lying, 
crossing and re-crossing it in the cunning of their craft. 
A hound then gives tongue, the huntsman names him, 
round him press his companions in a pack all snuffling, 
running forth in a rabble then right in his path. 
The fox flits before them. They find him at once, 
and when they see him by sight they pursue him hotly, 
decrying him full clearly with a clamour of wrath.
He dodges and ever doubles through many a dense coppice, 
and looping oft he lurks and listens under fences. 
At last at a little ditch he leaps o’er a thorn-hedge, 
sneaks out secretly by the side of a thicket, 
weens he is out of the wood and away by his wiles from the hounds. 
Thus he went unawares to a watch that was posted,
where fierce on him fell three foes at once 
     all grey. 
He swerves then swift again, 
and dauntless darts astray; 
in grief and in great pain 
to the wood he turns away. 

69 Then to hark to the hounds it was heart’s delight,

when all the pack came upon him, there pressing together. 
Such a curse at the view they called down on him 
that the clustering cliffs might have clattered in ruin. 
Here he was hallooed when hunters came on him, 
yonder was he assailed with snarling tongues; 
there he was threatened and oft thief was he called, 
with ever the trailers at his tail so that tarry he could not. 
Oft was he run at, if he rushed outwards; oft he swerved in again, so subtle was Reynard. 
Yea! he led the lord and his hunt as laggards behind him 
thus by mount and by hill till mid-afternoon. 
Meanwhile the courteous knight in the castle in comfort slumbered 
behind the comely curtains in the cold morning. 
But the lady in love-making had no liking to sleep
nor to disappoint the purpose she had planned in her heart; 
but rising up swiftly his room now she sought 
in a gay mantle that to the ground was measured
and was fur-lined most fairly with fells well trimmed, 
with no comely coif on her head, only the clear jewels
that were twined in her tressure by twenties in clusters; 
her noble face and her neck all naked were laid, 
her breast bare in front and at the back also. 
She came through the chamber-door and closed it behind her, 
wide set a window, and to wake him she called,
thus greeting him gaily with her gracious words 
     of cheer: 
‘Ah! man, how canst thou sleep, 
the morning is so clear!’ 
He lay in darkness deep, 
but her call he then could hear. 

76 Now indoors let him dwell and have dearest delight, 
while the free lord yet fares afield in his sports! 
At last the fox he has felled that he followed so long; 
for, as he spurred through a spinney to espy there the villain, 
where the hounds he had heard that hard on him pressed, 
Reynard on his road came through a rough thicket, 
and all the rabble in a rush were right on his heels. 
The man is aware of the wild thing, and watchful awaits him, 
brings out his bright brand and at the beast hurls it; 
and he blenched at the blade, and would have backed if he could.
A hound hastened up, and had him ere he could; 
and right before the horse’s feet they fell on him all,
and worried there the wily one with a wild clamour. 
The lord quickly alights and lifts him at once, 
snatching him swiftly from their slavering mouths, 
holds him high o’er his head, hallooing loudly; 
and there bay at him fiercely many furious hounds. 
Huntsmen hurried thither, with horns full many 
ever sounding the assembly, till they saw the master. 
When together had come his company noble, 
all that ever bore bugle were blowing at once, 
and all the others hallooed that had not a horn: 
it was the merriest music that ever men harkened, 
the resounding song there raised that for Reynard’s soul 
To hounds they pay their fees, 
their heads they fondly stroke, 
and Reynard then they seize, 
and off they skin his cloak.

77 And then homeward they hastened, for at hand was now night, 
making strong music on their mighty horns. 
The lord alighted at last at his beloved abode, 
found a fire in the hall, and fair by the hearth 
Sir Gawain the good, and gay was he too, 
among the ladies in delight his lot was most joyful. 
He was clad in a blue cloak that came to the ground; 
his surcoat well beseemed him with its soft lining, and its hood of like hue that hung on his shoulder:
all fringed with white fur very finely were both. 
He met indeed the master in the midst of the floor, 
and in gaiety greeted him, and graciously said: 
‘In this case I will first our covenant fulfil 
that to our good we agreed, when ungrudged went the drink.’ 
He clasps then the knight and kisses him thrice, 
as long and deliciously as he could lay them upon him. 
‘By Christ!’ the other quoth, ‘you’ve come by a fortune 
in winning such wares, were they worth what you paid.’ 
‘Indeed, the price was not important,’ promptly he answered, 
‘whereas plainly is paid now the profit I gained.’ ‘Marry!’ said the other man, ‘mine is not up to’t; 
for I have hunted all this day, and naught else have I got 
but this foul fox-fell – the Fiend have the goods! – 
and that is price very poor to pay for such treasures
as these you have thrust upon me, three such kisses 
     so good.’ 
‘’Tis enough,’ then said Gawain. 
‘I thank you, by the Rood,’ 
and how the fox was slain 
he told him as they stood.

The Sanyassin : H. P. Lovecraft

"I am essentially a recluse who will have very little to do with people wherever he may be. I think that most people only make me nervous—that only by accident, and in extremely small quantities, would I ever be likely to come across people who wouldn't. It makes no difference how well they mean or how cordial they are—they simply get on my nerves unless they chance to represent a peculiarly similar combination of tastes, experiences, and heritages; as, for instance, Belknap chances to do . . . 

Therefore it may be taken as axiomatic that the people of a place matter absolutely nothing to me except as components of the general landscape and scenery. 

Let me have normal American faces in the streets to give the aspect of home and a white man's country, and I ask no more of featherless bipeds. 

My life lies not among people but among scenes—my local affections are not personal, but topographical and architectural. 

No one in Providence—family aside—has any especial bond of interest with me, but for that matter no one in Cambridge or anywhere else has, either. The question is that of which roofs and chimneys and doorways and trees and street vistas I love the best; which hills and woods, which roads and meadows, which farmhouses and views of distant white steeples in green valleys. I am always an outsider—to all scenes and all people—but outsiders have their sentimental preferences in visual environment. 

I will be dogmatic only to the extent of saying that it is New England I must have—in some form or other. 

Providence is part of me—I am Providence—but as I review the new impressions which have impinged upon me since birth, I think the greatest single emotion—and the most permanent one as concerns consequences to my inner life and imagination—I have ever experienced was my first sight of Marblehead in the golden glamour of late afternoon under the snow on December 17, 1922. 

That thrill has lasted as nothing else has—a visible climax and symbol of the lifelong mysterious tie which binds my soul to ancient things and ancient places.

Letter to Lillian D. Clark (29 March 1926), quoted in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 186

However—the crucial thing is my lack of interest in ordinary life. No one ever wrote a story yet without some real emotional drive behind it—and I have not that drive except where violations of the natural order . . . defiances and evasions of time, space, and cosmic law . . . are concerned. Just why this is so I haven't the slightest idea—it simply is so. I am interested only in broad pageants—historic streams—orders of biological, chemical, physical, and astronomical organisation—and the only conflict which has any deep emotional significance to me is that of the principle of freedom or irregularity or adventurous opportunity against the eternal and maddening rigidity of cosmic law . . . especially the laws of time. . . . Hence the type of thing I try to write. 

Naturally, I am aware that this forms a very limited special field so far as mankind en masse is concerned; but I believe (as pointed out in that Recluse article) that the field is an authentic one despite its subordinate nature. This protest against natural law, and tendency to weave visions of escape from orderly nature, are characteristic and eternal factors in human psychology, even though very small ones. They exist as permanent realities, and have always expressed themselves in a typical form of art from the earliest fireside folk tales and ballads to the latest achievements of Blackwood and Machen or de la Mare or Dunsany. That art exists—whether the majority like it or not. It is small and limited, but real—and there is no reason why its practitioners should be ashamed of it. Naturally one would rather be a broad artist with power to evoke beauty from every phase of experience—but when one unmistakably isn't such an artist, there's no sense in bluffing and faking and pretending that one is.

Letter to E. Hoffmann Price (15 August 1934) , quoted in Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters edited by S.T. Joshi, p. 268

I must confess that my estimate of Lovecraft would not have pleased his most ardent admirers. 

The view I expressed in that book [i.e., The Strength to Dream: Literature and the Imagination (1961)] was that, while Lovecraft was distinctly a creative genius in his own way, his pessimism should not be taken too seriously: that it was the pessimism of a sick recluse and had about an element of ressentiment, a kind of desire to take revenge on a world that rejected him. 

In short, Lovecraft was a 19th century romantic, born in the wrong time. 

Most men of genius dislike their own age, but the really great ones impose their own vision on the age. 

The weak ones turn away into a world of gloomy fantasy.

Colin Wilson, preface to his Lovecraftian novel The Mind Parasites, p. 2 (1967)

The Little Glass Bottle
By H. P. Lovecraft
[ Aged 6 ]
“Heave to, there’s something floating to the leeward” the speaker was a short stockily built man whose name was William Jones. he was the captain of a small cat boat in which he & a party of men were sailing at the time the story opens.
     “Aye aye sir” answered John Towers & the boat was brought to a stand still Captain Jones reached out his hand for the object which he now discerned to be a glass bottle “Nothing but a rum flask that the men on a passing boat threw over” he said but from an impulse of curiosity he reached out for it. it was a rum flask & he was about to throw it away when he noticed a piece of paper in it. He pulled it out & on it read the following
Jan 1 1864
I am John Jones who writes this letter my ship is fast sinking with a treasure on board I am where it is marked * on the enclosed chart
     Captain Jones turned the sheet over & the other side was a chart

on the edge were written these words

dotted lines represent course we took

     “Towers” Said Capt. Jones exitedly “read this” Towers did as he was directed “I think it would pay to go” said Capt. Jones “do you”? “Just as you say” replied Towers. “We’ll charter a schooner this very day” said the exited captain “All right” said Towers so they hired a boat and started off govnd by the dotted lines of they chart in 4 weeks the reached the place where directed & the divers went down and came up with an iron bottle they found in it the following lines scribbled on a piece of brown paper
Dec 3 1880
Dear Searcher excuse me for the practical joke I have played on you but it serves you right to find nothing for your foolish act—
     “Well it does” said Capt Jones “go on”
However I will defray your expenses to & from the place you found your bottle I think it will be $25.0.00 so that amount you will find in an Iron box I know where you found the bottle because I put this bottle here & the iron box & then found a good place to put the second bottle hoping the enclosed money will defray your expenses some I close—Anonymus”
“I’d like to kick his head off” said Capt Jones “Here diver go & get the $25.0.00 in a minute the diver came up bearing an iron box inside it was found $25.0.00 It defrayed their expenses but I hardly think that they will ever go to a mysterious place as directed by a mysterious bottle.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft:
The Life of a Gentleman of Providence

by S.T. Joshi

This brief biography first appeared in the
H.P. Lovecraft Centennial Guidebook
and appears here with S.T. Joshi’s permission.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born at 9 a.m. on August 20, 1890, at his family home at 454 (then numbered 194) Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. His mother was Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft, who could trace her ancestry to the arrival of George Phillips to Massachusetts in 1630. His father was Winfield Scott Lovecraft, a traveling salesman for Gorham & Co., Silversmiths, of Providence. When Lovecraft was three his father suffered a nervous breakdown in a hotel room in Chicago and was brought back to Butler Hospital, where he remained for five years before dying on July 19, 1898. Lovecraft was apparently informed that his father was paralyzed and comatose during this period, but the surviving evidence suggests that this was not the case; it is nearly certain that Lovecraft’s father died of paresis, a form of neurosyphilis.

     With the death of Lovecraft’s father, the upbringing of the boy fell to his mother, his two aunts, and especially his grandfather, the prominent industrialist Whipple Van Buren Phillips. Lovecraft was a precocious youth: he was reciting poetry at age two, reading at age three, and writing at age six or seven. His earliest enthusiasm was for the Arabian Nights, which he read by the age of five; it was at this time that he adapted the pseudonym of “Abdul Alhazred,” who later became the author of the mythical Necronomicon. The next year, however, his Arabian interests were eclipsed by the discovery of Greek mythology, gleaned through Bulfinch’s Age of Fable and through children’s versions of the Iliad and Odyssey. Indeed his earliest surviving literary work, “The Poem of Ulysses” (1897), is a paraphrase of the Odyssey in 88 lines of internally rhyming verse. But Lovecraft had by this time already discovered weird fiction, and his first story, the non-extant “The Noble Eavesdropper,” may date to as early as 1896. His interest in the weird was fostered by his grandfather, who entertained Lovecraft with off-the-cuff weird tales in the Gothic mode.

     As a boy Lovecraft was somewhat lonely and suffered from frequent illnesses, many of them apparently psychological. His attendance at the Slater Avenue School was sporadic, but Lovecraft was soaking up much information through independent reading. At about the age of eight he discovered science, first chemistry, then astronomy. He began to produce hectographed journals, The Scientific Gazette (1899–1907) and The Rhode Island Journal of Astronomy (1903–07), for distribution amongst his friends. When he entered Hope Street High School, he found both his teachers and peers congenial and encouraging, and he developed a number of long-lasting friendships with boys of his age. Lovecraft’s first appearance in print occurred in 1906, when he wrote a letter on an astronomical matter to The Providence Sunday Journal. Shortly thereafter he began writing a monthly astronomy column for The Pawtuxet Valley Gleaner, a rural paper; he later wrote columns for The Providence Tribune (1906–08) and The Providence Evening News (1914–18), as well as The Asheville (N.C.) Gazette-News (1915).

     In 1904 the death of Lovecraft’s grandfather, and the subsequent mismanagement of his property and affairs, plunged Lovecraft’s family into severe financial difficulties. Lovecraft and his mother were forced to move out of their lavish Victorian home into cramped quarters at 598 Angell Street. Lovecraft was devastated by the loss of his birthplace, and apparently contemplated suicide, as he took long bicycle rides and looked wistfully at the watery depths of the Barrington River. But the thrill of learning banished those thoughts. In 1908, however, just prior to his graduation from high school, he suffered a nervous breakdown that compelled him to leave school without a diploma; this fact, and his consequent failure to enter Brown University, were sources of great shame to Lovecraft in later years, in spite of the fact that he was one of the most formidable autodidacts of his time. From 1908 to 1913 Lovecraft was a virtual hermit, doing little save pursuing his astronomical interests and his poetry writing. During this whole period Lovecraft was thrown into an unhealthily close relationship with his mother, who was still suffering from the trauma of her husband’s illness and death, and who developed a pathological love-hate relationship with her son.

     Lovecraft emerged from his hermitry in a very peculiar way. Having taken to reading the early “pulp” magazines of the day, he became so incensed at the insipid love stories of one Fred Jackson in The Argosy that he wrote a letter, in verse, attacking Jackson. This letter was published in 1913, and evoked a storm of protest from Jackson’s defenders. Lovecraft engaged in a heated debate in the letter column of The Argosy and its associated magazines, Lovecraft’s responses being almost always in rollicking heroic couplets reminiscent of Dryden and Pope. This controversy was noted by Edward F. Daas, President of the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA), a group of amateur writers from around the country who wrote and published their own magazines. Daas invited Lovecraft to join the UAPA, and Lovecraft did so in early 1914. Lovecraft published thirteen issues of his own paper, The Conservative (1915–23), as well as contributing poetry and essays voluminously to other journals. Later Lovecraft became President and Official Editor of the UAPA, and also served briefly as President of the rival National Amateur Press Association (NAPA). This entire experience may well have saved Lovecraft from a life of unproductive reclusiveness; as he himself once said: “In 1914, when the kindly hand of amateurdom was first extended to me, I was as close to the state of vegetation as any animal well can be... With the advent of the United I obtained a renewal to live; a renewed sense of existence as other than a superfluous weight; and found a sphere in which I could feel that my efforts were not wholly futile. For the first time I could imagine that my clumsy gropings after art were a little more than faint cries lost in the unlistening world.”

      It was in the amateur world that Lovecraft recommenced the writing of fiction, which he had abandoned in 1908. W. Paul Cook and others, noting the promise shown in such early tales as “The Beast in the Cave” (1905) and “The Alchemist” (1908), urged Lovecraft to pick up his fictional pen again. This Lovecraft did, writing “The Tomb” and “Dagon” in quick succession in the summer of 1917. Thereafter Lovecraft kept up a steady if sparse flow of fiction, although until at least 1922 poetry and essays were still his dominant mode of literary expression. Lovecraft also became involved in an ever-increasing network of correspondence with friends and associates, and he eventually became one of the greatest and most prolific letter-writers of the century.

     Lovecraft’s mother, her mental and physical condition deteriorating, suffered a nervous breakdown in 1919 and was admitted to Butler Hospital, whence, like her husband, she would never emerge. Her death on May 24, 1921, however was the result of a bungled gall bladder operation. Lovecraft was shattered by the loss of his mother, but in a few weeks had recovered enough to attend an amateur journalism convention in Boston on July 4, 1921. It was on this occasion that he first met the woman who would become his wife. Sonia Haft Greene was a Russian Jew seven years Lovecraft’s senior, but the two seemed, at least initially, to find themselves very congenial. Lovecraft visited Sonia in her Brooklyn apartment in 1922, and the news of their marriage on March 3, 1924, was not entirely a surprise to their friends; but it may have been to Lovecraft’s two aunts, Lillian D. Clark and Annie E. Phillips Gamwell, who were notified only by letter after the ceremony had taken place. Lovecraft moved into Sonia’s apartment in Brooklyn, and initial prospects for the couple seemed good: Lovecraft had gained a foothold as a professional writer by the acceptance of several of his early stories by Weird Tales, the celebrated pulp magazine founded in 1923; Sonia had a successful hat shop on Fifth Avenue in New York.

     But troubles descended upon the couple almost immediately: the hat shop went bankrupt, Lovecraft turned down the chance to edit a companion magazine to Weird Tales (which would have necessitated his move to Chicago), and Sonia’s health gave way, forcing her to spend time in a New Jersey sanitarium. Lovecraft attempted to secure work, but few were willing to hire a thirty-four-year-old-man with no job experience. On January 1, 1925, Sonia went to Cleveland to take up a job there, and Lovecraft moved into a single apartment near the seedy Brooklyn area called Red Hook.

     Although Lovecraft had many friends in New York—Frank Belknap Long, Rheinhart Kleiner, Samuel Loveman—he became increasingly depressed by his isolation and the masses of “foreigners” in the city. His fiction turned from the nostalgic (“The Shunned House” (1924) is set in Providence) to the bleak and misanthropic (“The Horror at Red Hook” and “He” (both 1924) lay bare his feelings for New York). Finally, in early 1926, plans were made for Lovecraft to return to the Providence he missed so keenly. But where did Sonia fit into these plans? No one seemed to know, least of all Lovecraft. Although he continued to profess his affection for her, he acquiesced when his aunts barred her from coming to Providence to start a business; their nephew could not be tainted by the stigma of a tradeswoman wife. The marriage was essentially over, and a divorce in 1929 was inevitable.

     When Lovecraft returned to Providence on April 17, 1926, settling at 10 Barnes Street north of Brown University, it was not to bury himself away as he had done in the 1908–13 period; rather, the last ten years of his life were the time of his greatest flowering, both as a writer and as a human being. His life was relatively uneventful—he traveled widely to various antiquarian sites around the eastern seaboard (Quebec, New England, Philadelphia, Charleston, St. Augustine); he wrote his greatest fiction, from “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926) to At the Mountains of Madness (1931) to “The Shadow out of Time” (1934–35); and he continued his prodigiously vast correspondence—but Lovecraft had found his niche as a New England writer of weird fiction and as a general man of letters. He nurtured the careers of many young writers (August Derleth, Donald Wandrei, Robert Bloch, Fritz Leiber); he became concerned with political and economic issues, as the Great Depression led him to support Roosevelt and become a moderate socialist; and he continued absorbing knowledge on a wide array of subjects, from philosophy to literature to history to architecture.

     The last two or three years of his life, however, were filled with hardship. In 1932 his beloved aunt, Mrs. Clark, died, and he moved into quarters at 66 College Street, right behind the John Hay Library, with his other aunt Mrs. Gamwell in 1933. (This house has now been moved to 65 Prospect Street.) His later stories, increasingly lengthy and complex, became difficult to sell, and he was forced to support himself largely through the “revision” or ghost-writing of stories, poetry, and nonfictions works. In 1936 the suicide of Robert E. Howard, one of his closest correspondents, left him confused and saddened. By this time the illness that would cause his own death—cancer of the intestine—had already progressed so far that little could be done to treat it. Lovecraft attempted to carry on in increasing pain through the winter of 1936–37, but was finally compelled to enter Jane Brown Memorial Hospital on March 10, 1937, where he died five days later. He was buried on March 18 at the Phillips family plot at Swan Point Cemetery.

     It is likely that, as he saw death approaching, Lovecraft envisioned the ultimate oblivion of his work: he had never had a true book published in his lifetime (aside, perhaps, from the crudely issued The Shadow over Innsmouth [1936]), and his stories, essays, and poems were scattered in a bewildering number of amateur or pulp magazines. But the friendships that he had forged merely by correspondence held him in good stead: August Derleth and Donald Wandrei were determined to preserve Lovecraft’s stories in the dignity of a hardcover book, and formed the publishing firm of Arkham House initially to publish Lovecraft’s work; they issued The Outsider and Others in 1939. Many other volumes followed from Arkham House, and eventually Lovecraft’s work became available in paperback and was translated into a dozen languages. Today, at the centennial of his birth, his stories are available in textually corrected editions, his essays, poems, and letters are widely available, and many scholars have probed the depths and complexities of his work and thought. Much remains to be done in the study of Lovecraft, but it is safe to say that, thanks to the intrinsic merit of his own work and to the diligence of his associates and supporters, Lovecraft has gained a small but unassailable niche in the canon of American and world literature.

On June 18, 1931, a young man named Robert Barlow mailed a letter to the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft’s stories about monstrous beings from beyond the stars were appearing regularly in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, and Barlow was a fan. He wanted to know when Lovecraft had started writing, what he was working on now, and whether the Necronomicon—a tome of forbidden knowledge that appears in several Lovecraft tales—was a real book. A week later, Lovecraft wrote back, as he nearly always did. It’s estimated that he wrote more than fifty thousand letters in his relatively short lifetime (he died at the age of forty-six). This particular letter was the beginning of a curious friendship, which changed the course of Barlow’s life, and Lovecraft’s, too—though almost no one who reads Lovecraft these days knows anything about it. Who keeps track of the lives of fans?

Lovecraft was well known in the world of “weird fiction,” a term that he popularized: it was an early-twentieth-century genre that encompassed supernatural horror stories as well as some of what would now be called science fiction. He had a reputation as a recluse. He’d been married, briefly, to a Jewish Ukrainian immigrant named Sonia Greene, and he’d lived with her in New York, but by 1931 he was back in his native Providence, living with his aunt and making a meagre living by revising other writers’ work. Barlow, meanwhile, had grown up on military bases in the South, until his father, an Army colonel who suffered from paranoid delusions, settled the family in a sturdy and defensible home in central Florida, about fifteen miles southwest of the town of DeLand.

Barlow didn’t know anyone in Florida, and where his family lived there weren’t a lot of people for him to meet. There certainly weren’t many who shared his interests: collecting weird fiction, playing piano, sculpting in clay, painting, and shooting snakes and binding books with their skin. “I had no friends nor studies except in a sphere bound together by the U.S. mails,” he wrote in a memoir about his summer with Lovecraft, published in 1944. Letter by letter, Barlow drew Lovecraft into that sphere. He offered to type Lovecraft’s manuscripts. He told Lovecraft about his rabbits. He wrote stories that Lovecraft revised. Finally, in the spring of 1934, Barlow invited Lovecraft to visit him in Florida, and Lovecraft went. Barlow hadn’t mentioned his age, and he was reluctant to send along a photo of himself, because, he said, he had a “boil.” Lovecraft was surprised to discover, when he got off the bus in DeLand, that Barlow had just turned sixteen. Lovecraft was forty-three.

So there they were, the older writer, in a rumpled suit and with a face “not unlike Dante,” according to Barlow; and the young fan, slight and weasel-faced, with slicked-back black hair and glasses with thick round lenses. Barlow’s father was visiting relatives in the North, and Lovecraft ended up staying with Barlow and his mother for seven weeks. What did they do, in all that time? Barlow tells us that they gathered berries in the woods; they composed couplets on difficult rhymes (orange, Schenectady); they rowed on the lake behind Barlow’s house. Lovecraft found the Florida climate stimulating. “I feel like a new person—as spry as a youth,” he wrote to a friend in California. “I go hatless & coatless.” He liked Barlow, too. “Never before in the course of a long lifetime have I seen such a versatile child,” he wrote.

Literary critics have speculated that Lovecraft was secretly gay, but the salient feature of his sexuality really seems to be how indifferent he was to it. His ex-wife, Sonia, described him as an “adequately excellent lover,” a phrase one could take in a variety of ways; after his marriage ended, Lovecraft had no intimate relationships that we know of. In his letters, he was quick to condemn homosexuality, and he would later discourage Barlow from writing fiction on homoerotic themes. But Barlow was not the first young man he’d visited. That honor belongs to Alfred Galpin, who was twenty when Lovecraft went to stay with him, in Cleveland. While he was there, Galpin brought him around to see the poets Samuel Loveman and Hart Crane, both of whom were gay—though this may be a coincidence. Galpin was straight; Lovecraft wrote a number of teasing poems about Galpin’s infatuations with high-school girls.

Barlow, on the other hand, was actively if not openly gay as an adult; even at sixteen, he knew in which direction his desires lay. There’s a telling line in his 1944 memoir: “Life was all literary then,” the published version reads. But in the typescript, which is in the John Hay Library, at Brown, you can see that he crossed some words out: “Life, save for secret desires which I knew must be suppressed, and which centered about a charming young creature with the sensitivity of a was all literary then.”

Lovecraft returned to Florida in the summer of 1935, and stayed for more than two months. He and Barlow explored a cypress jungle near the family house, and worked together on a cabin on the far side of the lake. The next summer, Barlow went to Providence, but Lovecraft was busy with revision work and seemed to resent his presence. When the two of them took a trip to Salem and Marblehead, towns which Lovecraft had mythologized in his fiction, another of Lovecraft’s young protégés, a sixteen-year-old named Kenneth Sterling, who was about to enroll at Harvard, came along, too. If Barlow was in love with Lovecraft, he had a lot of suppressing to do.

You can feel his yearning for something in the last story he gave Lovecraft to edit, in the summer of 1936. It’s called “The Night Ocean,” and it’s about a muralist who rents a cottage on the beach to rest his nerves. He swims, he walks, he goes into town for dinner. Then, one day, he sees mysterious, not-quite-human figures swimming in the ocean. He waves at them, but he never figures out what they are or what they want, and, in the end, he can only conclude that “perhaps none of us can solve those things—they exist in defiance of all explanation.” It’s as if Barlow himself had come close to something—a consummation or an encounter with another realm of being—but left with a mystery, and an abiding sadness.

Lovecraft died of cancer in March, 1937. He named Barlow, the devoted fan who’d typed so many of his manuscripts, as his literary executor. This was intended, presumably, as an honor, but for Barlow it was a disaster. Lovecraft had a couple of professionally minded disciples, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, who wanted to collect their master’s stories in a book. They were not amused when Barlow published Lovecraft’s commonplace book in a letterpress edition of seventy-five copies. They demanded Lovecraft’s papers. They spread rumors that Barlow had pilfered books from Lovecraft’s library. The weird-fiction community was small in those days, and word got around quickly. The macabre writer and artist Clark Ashton Smith sent Barlow a note: “Please do not write me or try to communicate with me in any way,” it read. “I do not wish to see you or hear from you after your conduct in regard to the estate of a late beloved friend.”

The effect of the letter, Barlow wrote, “was of cutting out my entrails with a meat cleaver.” He had been exiled from the literary universe that had been the focus of his life. He thought about killing himself, but instead he went into anthropology, enrolling at schools in California and Mexico before ending up at Berkeley, where he studied under Alfred L. Kroeber, whose work with Ishi, the last of California’s Yahi Indians, had made him famous. In 1943, Barlow moved to Mexico and began a period of furious activity that lasted for the better part of a decade. He travelled to the Yucatán to study the Mayans, and to western Guerrero, where he studied the Tepuztecs. He taught anthropology at Mexico City College, founded two scholarly journals, and published around a hundred and fifty articles, pamphlets, and books.

Barlow had already given Lovecraft’s manuscripts to Brown University; now he tried to convince the school to accept the remnants of his weird-fiction collection, requesting, in exchange, a printing press, on which he could publish a Nahuatl newspaper, so that the descendants of the Aztecs could read in their own language. He travelled to London and Paris to consult Mexican codices. He was named chair of Mexico City College’s anthropology department. The poet Charles Olson got hold of some of Barlow’s writings in the late forties, and called them among “the only intimate and active experience of the Maya yet in print.” It was as if Barlow had finally forsaken fantasy for reality—though, to anyone who has read Lovecraft’s stories, the Aztec gods, with their scales and plumes and fangs and wild round eyes, look eerily familiar. Perhaps Barlow had found Lovecraft’s horrors in the Mesoamerican past.

But this didn’t make up for what he had lost. “When I have a period of free time and the choice of activity, I am most discontent,” Barlow wrote in a fragmentary, unpublished autobiography. “I invent a thousand sham-pleasures to keep me otherwise occupied, or I exhaust myself so that no activity can be thought of, but only blank sleep.” By the end of the forties, he was constantly exhausted, and his eyes, never good, were failing. When a disgruntled student threatened to expose him as a homosexual, Barlow had had enough. On January 1, 1951, he locked himself in his bedroom and took twenty-six Seconal tablets. He left a note on his door that read, “Do not disturb me, I wish to sleep for a long time.” It was written in Mayan.

August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, meanwhile, had published a book of Lovecraft’s stories, which was followed by another Lovecraft book, and another. By the mid-forties, Lovecraft’s reputation as a master of horror had grown to the point where Edmund Wilson felt the need to deflate it a bit in the pages of The New Yorker. “The only real horror in most of these fictions is the horror of bad taste and bad art,” Wilson wrote. But his words didn’t deter people from reading Lovecraft, who is more popular today than ever. “The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft” came out in 2014, and even the slightest and most ephemeral of his writings remain in print — to say nothing of the crawling chaos of Lovecraftian fiction, films, video games, bumper stickers, T-shirts, and tea cozies in the shape of Lovecraft’s best-known creation, the octopus-headed Cthulhu.

Barlow, on the other hand, has been almost entirely forgotten. Even “The Night Ocean,” to which Lovecraft added at most a few sentences, is attributed primarily to Lovecraft now. Barlow’s life, which encompassed the worlds of weird fiction, experimental poetry, and anthropology—in English, Spanish, and Nahuatl—is hard to tell: according to the scholar Marcos Legaria, nine people have attempted to write a Barlow biography so far, and all of them have given up. Barlow’s obscurity may also reflect a persistent anxiety, among weird-fiction fans, about Lovecraft’s reputation, which was imperilled by suspicions of homosexuality, in the fifties, and which is now imperilled by a growing awareness of Lovecraft’s racism.

Of course, Barlow didn’t invent Cthulhu. He lived in Lovecraft’s great dream, but he never became a great dreamer himself. Until he got to Mexico, he was a serial abandoner of projects, who set out to do everything but left most of it unfinished. He was also too interested in reality: where Lovecraft had sublimated his fears and desires, Barlow had sex and saw the world. Rather than imagining dreadful Others, he took note of what other people were actually like. The fact that all his activity was ultimately to his detriment does not reflect well on reality; but, on the other hand, Barlow did end up having a strange influence on the world of fiction—and not only on account of Lovecraft.

After the Second World War, Mexico City College attracted a number of students on the G.I. Bill. One of them was William S. Burroughs, who’d come to Mexico with his wife Joan Vollmer, to escape drug charges in Louisiana. In the spring of 1950, Burroughs took a class on Mayan codices with Professor Barlow, who was, apparently, a gifted teacher. (He had “a facility of expression that brought to life long-dead happenings,” a friend recalled.) Mayan imagery shows up again and again in Burroughs’s novels: in “The Soft Machine,” where the narrator flaunts his “knowledge of Maya archaeology and the secret meaning of the centipede motif”; in the form of Ah Pook the Mayan death god, in “Ah Pook Is Here”; as the Centipede God in “Naked Lunch.” Burroughs’s nightmarish vision of a world of death-haunted “control addicts” is, among other things, a transfiguration of what he knew about the Mayan theocracy—and he learned at least some of what he knew from Barlow. “Ever dig the Mayan codices?” one of the characters in “Naked Lunch” asks. “I figure it like this: the priests—about one percent of population—made with one-way telepathic broadcasts instructing the workers what to feel and when.” The telepathic priests weren’t Barlow’s idea, as far as we know. But given Barlow’s history with weird fiction, they could have been.
Burroughs didn’t credit Barlow with anything, nor was he especially moved by the news of Barlow’s death. “A queer Professor from K.C., Mo., head of the Anthropology dept. here at M.C.C. where I collect my $75 per month, knocked himself off a few days ago with overdose of goof balls. Vomit all over the bed,” he wrote, in a letter to Allen Ginsberg. “I can’t see this suicide kick,” he added. Nine months later, Burroughs got drunk and shot his wife in the head. Writers take what they need, and maybe they have to do that, in order to make all their wonders, and all their horrors. But Barlow’s story reminds us that there is just as much wonder, and horror, in the damaged world they leave behind.

Paul La Farge’s latest book is “The Night Ocean,” a novel, published by Penguin Press

The Qualities of a Sannyasin

No two sannyasins are the same. 

They each express themselves and attain realisation in a way which depends on their own personality and samskaras. As each sannyasin progresses, his quest becomes clearer and clearer before his mind. He begins to embody higher values and attitudes which reflect a spontaneously growing spiritual awareness and an expanding conception of himself, his aim, and his mission in life.

Aiming high

The sannyasin seeks perfection by doing his best in whatever he is engaged. This is the essence of sannyas life. The sannyasin who is satisfied with second best or who doesn't really try, cannot progress. He has to try to the best of his ability in every activity and under all circumstances, whether adverse or otherwise. He has to seek and aim for perfection, not in others, but in himself.

Perfecting sannyas involves two things: feeling and willpower. It is the whispering voice of inner feeling that tells if one is doing the right thing or the wrong thing, saying the right thing or the wrong thing. It tells the sannyasin when to act and when not to act, when to speak and when not to speak. When the path of right action is known, then all of his energy is thrown into doing and accomplishing what has to be done. This is willpower, which increases according to the degree that he feels, or knows that the actions are correct. Inappropriate actions sap the energy whereas appropriate actions replenish and increase willpower and energy. It is the aim of all sannyasins to become impeccable.

The mission of a sannyasin

The sannyasin is dedicated to self-realization. He seeks to make himself 'real'; to fully accept responsibility and control of his health, his mind and his destiny. For a sannyasin, it is not enough to believe in second-hand dogmas, nor to half-heartedly practice religions or rituals. He seeks direct perception of the truth in his life, without support from any external agency. He seeks to embody the highest state of consciousness, and he will not be satisfied with anything less. He chooses to live in an ashram environment where his mind will be laid bare of all its preconceptions and false beliefs; where he will confront all his inadequacies and problems directly.

He seeks the assistance and guidance of his guru, who has trod the path before him, and has direct perception of the highest reality. For a sannyasin, only the guidance of an enlightened man of knowledge is acceptable. The sannyasins mission is to serve his guru, and the guru's mission is to serve all mankind. He lives a higher life on the earthly plane, not for himself, but for the only self that really exists, the universal self which underlies all of creation and is reflected in every individual. In the guru's service, the sannyasin learns to work with absolute dedication, but without emotional involvement, accepting the limitations of others, while leading an exemplary life amongst them.

The sadhana of a sannyasin

For the sannyasin, the whole of life becomes sadhana. Every event and every incident is an object of awareness, and no special times, places or activities are considered any more beneficial spiritually than any others. For the sannyasin, if God dwells in the temple, then he surely dwells just as much anywhere else. Although he is fully familiar with yoga, the sannyasin himself does not practice a specific yoga sadhana. The practices of yoga are necessary for householders who are living amongst the stresses and strains of worldly life, but not for the sannyasin, who lives in a relaxed ashram environment, free from personal problems.

For sannyasins yoga is not merely a practice, but a dedication of life, which is all fullness in itself. Service is the most important aspect of a sannyasins life, and brings peace and pleasure. Because they have accepted and understood the mind, yoga practices are unnecessary for sannyasins, although they may study and practice yoga in order to teach others.

Because his life is dedicated to the expansion of awareness, to transcending the animal nature and expressing the greatest, noblest, purest and most illumined aspect of spiritual life, a sannyasin seeks not to miss even one moment in indolence, or one breath in carelessness. In a sense, the sannyasin is meditating all day, closely watching his mind and its reactions, even in the midst of duties and responsibilities. He lives above matter and stabilises his awareness, while having every dealing with matter. It is a mistake to try to live the spiritual life exclusively, so in the ashram environment, the spiritual life and the material life are lived together. This is the path of modern sannyas.

The attitude of a sannyasin

A sannyasin lives totally in the present, without regrets for the past or plans for the future. His only expectation is to lose all expectations. The more completely the awareness is maintained in the present, the more powerful the thoughts and actions become. The mind loses its power whenever its attention is drawn away from the task at hand and dwells on past worries or future fears and expectations. The sannyasin attempts to remain totally absorbed in the present activity, to the exclusion of all other thoughts. He is not even concerned with whether he is happy or unhappy. In this way, his mind becomes very powerful and one-pointed.

The sannyasin takes a chance on life, by renouncing all the things that most people find most meaningful. He does not depend on name, fame, money, home or family as the basis for meaning in his life. Many people hold on to their rigid life patterns, possessions and values for fear of discovering that their lives are totally meaningless. The sannyasin releases his conformity and lets go of rigid thinking and living, in an effort to find freedom. He takes a chance, not knowing whether he will lose everything or gain everything. One cannot be a sannyasin without making that jump for the sake of freedom. The essential difference between a sannyasin and a non-sannyasin is that one forsakes all in a bid for freedom, while the other clings to the bondage of false security.