The Lurker on the
Threshold of Interpretation:
Hoax Necronomicons
and
Paratextual Noise

by Dan Clore

If the Necronomicon legend continues to grow, people will end up believing it and accusing me of faking when I point out the true origin of the thing!
-- H.P. Lovecraft (cited in Harms and Gonce, 47).

Nothing is true. Everything is permitted.
-- last words of Hassan i Sabbah.


The publication of hoax editions of the Necronomicon -- a fictional work used as a prop in the weird fiction of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and other writers -- may seem a simple matter. On closer examination this may no longer appear to be the case. It is not merely a question of the self-denying hoax -- for the hoax versions are all either admitted spoofs, or indicate their nature as hoax by internal evidence -- it is not merely that a hoax must not present itself as a hoax, in order for it to actually function as a hoax. Instead, the subject opens up onto a field that Gérard Genette has termed the paratext: roughly, the manner in which one text influences the interpretation of another text. The paratext may be a peritext, which appears alongside the text -- examples include the title, author's name, preface, introduction, and so forth; or it may be an epitext, which appears in a physical location not directly connected to the text. Genette explains that "More than a boundary or a sealed border, the paratext is, rather, a threshold, or -- a word Borges used apropos of a preface -- a 'vestibule' that offers the world at large the possibility of either stepping inside or turning back" (2). Where the epitext is concerned, moreover, the paratext displays a "potential for indefinite diffusion" (346) as more and more texts become mutually relevant and interconnected. It is evidently this problematic which study of the hoax Necronomicons provides data for.

Before attempting to tackle the hoax editions of the Necronomicon themselves, it should be informative to observe how the subject is prefigured in Lovecraft's own work. Lovecraft saw the weird tale as itself necessarily similar to a hoax -- in a letter to Clark Ashton Smith dated October 17, 1930, he says: "My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax. The author must forget all about 'short story technique', & build up a stark, simple account, full of homely corroborative details, just as if he were actually trying to 'put across' a deception in real life -- a deception clever enough to make adults believe it. My own attitude in writing is always that of the hoax-weaver. One part of my mind tries to concoct something realistic & coherent enough to fool the rest of my mind & make me swallow the marvel as the late Camille Flammarion used to swallow the ghost & revenant yarns unloaded on him by fakers & neurotics. For the time being I try to forget formal literature, & simply devise a lie as carefully as a crooked witness prepares a line of testimony with cross-examining lawyers in his mind. . . . This ideal became a conscious one with me about the 'Cthulhu' period . . ." (SL III, 193) In short, the weird tale is devised as a hoax but it is not presented as one, which effectively means that it is merely devised to be like a hoax. The difference comes from the concrete speech-act that sets the text adrift in the world. A hoax that is presented as a hoax, that presents itself as a hoax, is no longer a hoax, but while an actual hoax is not presented as a hoax, neither is a work of fiction presented as a hoax -- but in the latter case this precondition for the hoax prevents it from functioning as a hoax. But then the "care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax" may create the suspicion in the reader that the tale is a fictionalized version of real events, and in effect an inverse hoax presenting reality as fiction rather than the other way around.

The possibility that such a fiction may be taken for reality is not all that remote, considering that even a seasoned "skeptic" like James Randi has included entries in his Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural which appear to take the historical existence of the Necronomicon as a mediaeval grimoire as uncontested fact (110-11, 159). He may, on the other hand, have intended these entries tongue-in-cheek, as the book does contain the occasional witticism, such as an entry on "Martinet Jardinier" which is actually a spoof based on Martin Gardner. If so, these arid attempts at humor are remarkably out of place in something apparently intended as a serious reference work. Likewise, it is interesting to note that the Cthulhu Mythos genre would later incorporate the idea that Lovecraft had disguised fact as fiction as one of its abiding clichés. An interesting example occurs in Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! trilogy, in which a character inquires of Lovecraft "In 'The Case of Charles Dexter Ward' you quote a formula from Eliphas Levi's History of Magic. But you don't quote it in full. Why not?" and Lovecraft responds that "One doesn't have to believe in Santa Claus to recognize that people will exchange presents at Christmas time. One doesn't have to believe in Yog-Sothoth, the Eater of Souls, to realize how people will act who do hold that belief. It is not my intent, in any of my writings, to provide information that will lead even one unbalanced reader to try experiments that will result in the loss of human life" (331-32). In fact, Lovecraft employed even more caution than this passage implies, as he never published The Case of Charles Dexter Ward in any form. Elsewhere in the trilogy a scholar researching Lovecraft and other weird fiction writers explicitly states our theme:

The usual hoax: fiction presented as fact. This hoax described here opposite to this: fact presented as fiction (296; italics in original).

To complete the cycle, we need only a work of fiction that describes these prior works of fiction, which describe Lovecraft as presenting fact in the guise of fiction, as themselves presenting fact in the guise of fiction -- by some who believes that this is in fact true.

This ambivalent fiction-presented-as-fact vs. fact-presented-as-fiction status is put into play in "The Haunter in the Dark". The tale is told from the viewpoint of an anonymous narrator, who devotes the majority of the story to a paraphrase of the diary of Robert Blake, a young fantaisiste, and most of the rest to paraphrases of supplementary accounts from other witnesses and newspaper stories. The narrator, however, does not accept Blake's word for the events he describes. He begins with the assertion that "Cautious investigators will hesitate to challenge the common belief that Robert Blake was killed by lightning, or by some profound nervous shock derived from an electrical discharge" and that "the entries in his diary are clearly the result of a fantastic imagination aroused by certain local superstitions and by certain old matters he had uncovered" (DH 92). But "his death may have nipped in the bud some stupendous hoax destined to have a literary reflection" (DH 93) -- note already the connection between the weird tale and the hoax. The narrator informs us that "the newspapers have given the tangible details from the sceptical angle" -- which the narrator clearly accepts as the true account of events -- "leaving for others the drawing of the picture as Robert Blake saw it -- or thought he saw it -- or pretended to see it" (DH 93). He therefore follows the latter course, despite his own rejection of the conclusion implied in it. The tale is thus constructed on ironic grounds: what the narrator presents as a hoax, the reader must assume to instead be true in the fictional world of the text, or the tale will not be an effective weird story. In short, Lovecraft has concocted a hoax (after his usual fashion) to present as fiction instead of an "actual" hoax, but then has the narrator argue that it is in fact a hoax destined for use in the construction of a work of fiction.

But "The Haunter of the Dark" also opens up the field in another direction. In the story, the protagonist Robert Blake discovers a typical library of forbidden tomes: "He had himself read many of them -- a Latin version of the abhorred Necronomicon, the infamous Cultes des Goules of Comte d'Erlette, the sinister Liber Ivonis, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten of von Junzt, and old Ludvig Prinn's hellish De Vermis Mysteriis. But there were others he had known merely be reputation or not at all -- the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Book of Dzyan, and a crumbling volume in wholly identifiable characters yet with certain symbols and diagrams shudderingly recognizable to the occult student" (DH 100). Now, most of these are the fictional inventions of members of the Lovecraft circle, but the Book of Dzyan is another matter.

If Robert Blake had desired to read the Book of Dzyan (more properly, the Stanzas of Dzyan), he needed to look no further than H.P. Blavatsky's massive two-volume opus The Secret Doctrine, which contains both a translation of these Stanzas and select translations from the traditional commentaries on them, and is itself comprised of Blavatsky's own lengthy commentaries. Blavatsky describes the book: "An Archaic Manuscript -- a collection of palm leaves made impermeable to water, fire, and air, by some specific unknown process -- is before the writer's eyes" (I 1) written in a language known as Senzar, which ultimately derives from "the inhabitants of lost Atlantis" (I xliii) -- an unlikely story that is not helped by wild tales of secret subterranean galleries deep in Central Asian regions unvisited by Westerners, containing libraries left over from lost civilizations. The term Dzyan itself seems to have been invented by Madame Blavatsky, and derives from a Sanskrit root that refers to meditation and by extension to the enlightenment that results from the practice of meditation. The same root gives the Japanese term zen.

Contemporary research has shown that Blavatsky did in fact have contact with teachers of many different religious groups -- Rosicrucian, Sufi, Druze, Hindu, and both Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist. The books she refers to and sometimes presents translations of -- the Chaldean Book of Numbers, the Book of the Golden Precepts, and the Book of Dzyan itself -- reveal genuine lore from Sufi, Mahayana Buddhist, and other traditions, though the precise source texts cannot be identified. It seems that she was simultaneously charged with giving these groups' secrets to the world and at the same with time concealing her connection with them. In some cases, this may have been for mundane political reasons: a number of the figures she was involved with in India were actively fighting against British colonial rule and presumably would not wish to draw further attention to themselves from the authorities. The cover story referring to Tibetan Mahatmas -- safely located in a country which was then closed to the West -- provided the necessary blind to put authorities off the track. (Perhaps it is a significant coincidence in this connection to note that the first appearance of the Necronomicon in Lovecraft's fiction, which occurs in "The Hound", refers to its information on "the ghastly soul-symbol of the corpse-eating cult of inaccessible Leng, in Central Asia" (D 174) -- where Leng is a fictional doublet of Tibet.)

The source for the Book of Dzyan itself has recently been identified. In an article Blavatsky said that the book "is the first volume of the Commentaries upon the seven secret folios of Kiu-te, and a Glossary of the public works of the same name" (cited in Pratt). This work, in its own turn, has created more confusion, but the matter becomes settled when it is realized that kiu-te is a rough phonetic rendering for a Tibetan title correctly transliterated as rGyud-sde. This title refers to the Kanjur and the Tanjur, a massive set of some 325 volumes, copies of which were held by at least two of Blavatsky's contacts in the region. Indeed, Blavatsky herself refers to these works in the Introduction to The Secret Doctrine (xxvii) though she does not claim them as her source for the Book of Dzyan. Nonetheless, the precise text in the Kanjur and Tanjur from which the Book of Dzyan derives has not been identified, and most likely has been withdrawn from public circulation.

An entire procession of cults and obscure religious sects has followed Blavatsky's lead, copying their doctrines from her and from one another while simultaneously denying their true sources and instead attributing their second- and third-hand revelations to further contact with the Hidden Masters of the Great White Brotherhood. This process has been called "genealogical dissociation" (Johnson 1995; 158) and has continued through groups more-or-less in the classical Theosophical mold, such as Guy Ballard's I AM or Elizabeth Clare Prophet's Church Universal and Triumphant, and also into more up-to-date models in the form of the flying saucer contactee cults that replace the Hidden Masters in their Himalayan hideaways with Space Brothers winging in their cosmic wisdom from Venus or the Pleiades. J. Gordon Melton has noted that the flying saucer is practically the only new element of the story -- many of the older tales had the element of interplanetary travel already, such as Blavatsky's Hidden Masters originating in the distant past when the Lords of Flame traveled to earth from Venus -- and that even this element is often absent from current contact accounts, leaving them almost indistinguishable from nineteenth-century accounts (7; cf. also Stupple).

But I digress.

While the construction of a weird tale like a hoax does not itself involve the construction of the tale as a hoax, there are two senses in which Lovecraft's fiction can be said to truly indulge in hoaxing. The first involves the use of the various paraphernalia of the Lovecraft Mythos -- the invented gods and forbidden tomes shared by the contributors to the Mythos. It is perhaps significant that this technique seems to have first occurred to Lovecraft as the result of an interesting example of paratextual noise: a letter writer to Weird Tales named N.J O'Neail enquired whether there wasn't some connection between Lovecraft's Cthulhu and Kathulos, who had appeared in Robert E. Howard's novel Skull-Face; he also notices the presence of Cthulhu and Yog-Sothoth in a story by Adolphe de Castro, a Lovecraft revision client (cited by Mariconda, 35). Lovecraft writes to Howard, in a letter dated August 14, 1930, that "[Frank Belknap] Long has alluded to the Necronomicon in some things of his -- in fact, I think it is rather good fun to have this artificial mythology given an air of verisimilitude by wide citation." (SL III, 166) He explains the strategy further in a letter to William Anger, dated August 14, 1934: "For the fun of building up a convincing cycle of synthetic folklore, all of our gang frequently allude to the pet daemons of the others -- thus Smith uses my Yog-Sothoth, while I use his Tsathoggua. Also, I sometimes insert a devil or two of my own in the tales I revise or ghost-write for professional clients. Thus our black pantheon acquires an extensive publicity & pseudo-authoritativeness it would not otherwise get. We never, however, try to put it across as an actual hoax; but always carefully explain to enquirers that it is 100% fiction. In order to avoid ambiguity in my references to the Necronomicon I have drawn up a brief synopsis of its 'history' . . . All this gives it a sort of air of verisimilitude." (SL V, 16) And in another letter, to Margaret Sylvester, dated January 13, 1934, he says: "Regarding the Necronomicon -- I must confess that this monstrous & abhorred volume is merely a figment of my own imagination! Inventing horrible books is quite a pastime among devotees of the weird, & ..... many of the regular W.T. contributors have such things to their credit -- or discredit. It rather amuses the different writers to use one another's synthetic demons & imaginary books in their stories -- so that Clark Ashton Smith often speaks of my Necronomicon while I refer to his Book of Eibon .. & so on. This pooling of resources tends to build up quite a pseudo-convincing background of dark mythology, legendry, & bibliography -- though of course none of us has the least wish actually to mislead readers" (SL IV, 346; ellipses as in original).

The reader will note Lovecraft's disingenuous disavowal of the intention of misleading readers, even though the strategy he outlines relies on doing precisely that. It should be noted that the strategy involves more than merely disseminating elements of the Mythos into multiple texts: in addition, many are altered in the process. In some cases this transformation reaches absurd heights, as in "The Mound", in which loathsome Cthulhu appears as "Great Tulu, a spirit of universal harmony anciently symbolised as the octopus-headed god who had brought all men down from the stars" (HM 136). This creates the impression, amongst naive readers, that author A and author B are not borrowing from each other -- or even from the same source, but are instead borrowing from sources which had in turn borrowed from earlier sources, which in turn were ultimately derived from a single ur-source and which reveal the traces of evolution over time, much as the variant versions of real myths do. In short, the transformation of the elements of the Mythos not only does not detract from the air of verisimilitude through the inconsistency, but adds to the air of verisimilitude by operating on another level. Since Lovecraft never codified his conceptions but instead continually added new ones while reconceptualizing the old (so that, for example, supernatural beings become extra-dimensional or ultra-terrestrial creatures more akin to the alien races of science fiction than to traditional supernatural monsters), this strategy provided greater room for his creativity.

It is noteworthy that one example of an earlier writer whose inventions were put to use by Lovecraft comes in Arthur Machen, for Lovecraft says, in the letter to Robert E. Howard cited above, that "Long and I often debate about the real folklore basis of Machen's nightmare witch-cult hints -- 'Aklo letters', 'Voorish domes', 'Dols', 'Green and Scarlet Ceremonies', etc., etc." (167). In "The Haunter of the Dark", for example, Blake deciphers a text "in the dark Aklo language used by certain cults of evil antiquity, and known to him in a halting way through previous researches" (DH 106). Howard's Kathulos, which apparently first began the whole business, itself appears in a laundry-list of Mythos names derived from Lovecraft, other members of the Lovecraft circle, Lovecraft revision clients, and precursor writers such as Ambrose Bierce and Robert W. Chambers, names which the narrator had "heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections", in the form "L'mur-Kathulos", which likely adds a reference to the lost continent Lemuria (DH 223).

The second sense in which Lovecraft can be said to have truly indulged in hoaxing incorporates and intensifies the first. This refers to Lovecraft's revisions, which, as mentioned in the letters cited above, frequently include references to the Mythos elements created by Lovecraft and other members of his circle. It should be noted as well that to refer to these works as "revisions" is often a bit of an exaggeration: Lovecraft frequently discarded anything his revision clients chanced to produce and simply wrote a new tale, almost purely of his own devising, to be sold as the client's work. The Lovecraft Mythos was not only disseminated through the work of many authors, but Lovecraft himself was many of those authors. The later publication of these stories under Lovecraft's own name -- which he would be unlikely to approve of, both as a matter of professional courtesy to his revision clients and out of (sometimes justified) concern over the aesthetic quality of these tales -- destroys the paratextual effect intended by the author.

All of which brings us by a rather circuitous route to actual Necronomicon hoaxes. We will not deal here with such matters as the various spoof sale ads for whatever edition of the Necronomicon, nor with the card catalogue entries that a number of university libraries (Yale, UC Berkeley, etc.) have sported at various times, nor with the entries in assorted bibliographies, etc. etc. etc. Here we will deal only with actual editions of texts that purport to present the Necronomicon itself. Unfortunately, no Pierre Menard has arisen to re-write the mad Arab's text in the way that Menard re-produced that of Cid Hamete Benengeli. Instead, we have three main editions -- the DeCamp-Scithers, the Wilson-Hay-Langford-Turner, and the Simon Necronomicons. Of these, the first two are admitted spoofs. Each of the three presents within itself the denial of its own authenticity as the work of the mad Arab, as we shall see below. These hoax Necronomicons frequently display an utter lack of verisimilitude where a little research would have provided a much more convincing story: the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner Necronomicon, for example, spins a cock-and-bull story about Lovecraft's father obtaining the Necronomicon through his contacts in Egyptian Masonry and passing the book on to his son before going insane; in fact, while Lovecraft's father was not a Mason, his maternal grandfather, Whipple Phillips, not only belonged to the Masons but had himself founded a Masonic lodge. Clearly it was during little Howard's formative years, when grandfather Whipple took on the role of father to him after driving his real father insane, that the elderly gentleman introduced him to the Book of Hell.

Lovecraft himself considered writing a hoax Necronomicon. In a letter to James Blish and William Miller dated May 13, 1936, he says, "If anyone were to try to write the Necronomicon, it would disappoint all those who have shuddered at cryptic references to it. The most one could do -- and I may try that some time -- is to 'translate' isolated chapters of the mad Arab's monstrous tome . . . A collected series of such extracts might later be offered as an 'abridged and expurgated Necronomicon' -- although I am opposed to serious hoaxes, since they really confuse and retard the sincere student of folklore. I feel quite guilty every time I hear of someone's having spent valuable time looking up the Necronomicon at public libraries" (Uncollected Letters, 37-38). Perhaps it is unfortunate that Lovecraft himself did not close the field to further hoax editions; perhaps it is fortunate that the open-endedness of his enterprise remained unsullied.

Colin Wilson, in his "The Necronomicon: The Origin of a Spoof", regarding the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner Necronomicon, fulminates against Gerald Suster for daring to accuse the producers of the volume of "commercial opportunism", and he himself informs us that the book denies its own authenticity: "In fact, anyone with the slightest knowledge of Latin will instantly recognize it for a fake -- it is subtitled 'The book of dead names' -- when the word 'necronomicon' actually means the book of dead laws" (88). In fact, anyone with the slightest knowledge of Latin will instantly recognize that the word necronomicon is not Latin but Greek, and Wilson's translation is no more accurate than the (inaccurate) translation included as the spoof's subtitle.

He does, however, hit the nail on the head regarding the DeCamp-Scithers volume when he discusses the stories produced for the Wilson-Hay-Turner-Langford spoof before he had become involved in the project (the original idea was to present stories about the Necronomicon, not a hoax text of the Necronomicon itself): "It was awful. The writers all seemed to have the idea that all they had to do was to imitate the basic Lovecraft formula. And this formula, as we all know, is deceptively straightforward. The writer explains that he is cringing in a garret in Arkham -- or Innsmouth -- committing his awful story to paper by the light of a guttering candle. Six months ago, in the library of Miskatonic University, he came across an ancient manuscript written in mediaeval German. . . . He ignored the advice of the doddery old librarian, and proceeded to practise its magic spells in the hills behind Arkham. Even the violent death of the old librarian failed to deflect him from his foolishness. And now, too late, he realises that he has unleashed the Thing on the inhabitants of Massachusetts. . . . even as he writes, he can hear an ominous creaking on the stairs, as if an oversized elephant is trying to tiptoe on its hind feet. . . . But even as the door cracks open, he continues to write: 'I can hear its hoarse breathing, and smell its loathsome graveyard stench. . . . Aaaargh! . . . ." (88; ellipses in original).

But this "basic Lovecraft formula" never appears in Lovecraft's work. It is in fact a cliché-plot that derives from the work of Lovecraft's less creative imitators -- and those who in turn have imitated the imitators rather than the original, having found in them an example of "how to do it". In short, the imitation has eclipsed the original, becoming not only a model for the method of imitation but for the material to be imitated as well. While the elements described by Wilson do exist in many Lovecraft tales, the formula abstracts them from the novel conceptions at the heart of each tale, all of which contain some unique and innovative subject. Just such a story introduces the DeCamp-Scithers Necronomicon, explaining why the publishers have left the text in its original Arabic rather than provide a translation. It seems that the first translator that L. Sprague de Camp had hired disappeared without a trace; the second was heard screaming, whereupon his locked study was found empty; the third disappeared, spatters of his blood remaining on the walls, floor, and ceiling of his room (de Camp 125-126). In short, de Camp has done nothing with "the basic Lovecraft formula" except to apply triplification to it after the manner described by Vladimir Propp in his study of Russian folktales. The Simon Necronomicon provides us with a similarly suspicious tale of a mysterious appearing/disappearing manuscript, though it mercifully refrains from splattering its translators on the walls and ceiling.

There is another way in which the internal evidence of the texts presented as the Necronomicon denies that they are the Necronomicon that Lovecraft wrote of: they embody, not the Lovecraft Mythos, but the Derleth Mythos -- for the authors themselves had fallen victim to hoaxing, conscious or otherwise.

The Simon Necronomicon describes Lovecraft's mythology as follows: "Lovecraft developed a kind of Christian Myth of the struggle between opposing forces of Light and Darkness, between God and Satan, in the Cthulhu Mythos. . . . Basically, there are two 'sets' of gods in the mythos: the Elder Gods, about whom not much is revealed, save that they are a stellar Race that occasionally comes to the rescue of man, and which corresponds to the Christian 'Light'; and the Ancient Ones, about which much is told, sometimes in great detail, who correspond to 'Darkness'. These latter are the Evil Gods who wish nothing but ill for the Race of Man, and who constantly strive to break into our world through a Gate or Door that leads from the Outside, In" (Simon xiv). In Robert Turner's commentary on the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner Necronomicon (Turner is the author of the actual text presented as an extract from the Necronomicon), he likewise accepts the Derleth Mythos of cosmic good guy Elder Gods vs evil Old Ones, although he uses the fact to argue that Lovecraft had borrowed his cosmology from the Book of Dzyan (!). But this whole scenario never appears in Lovecraft's work: it is the invention of August Derleth.

Derleth was able to insinuate his own concepts, which were frequently at great variance with those of Lovecraft, into common conceptions of Lovecraft's work in two ways. First, he was the publisher of Lovecraft's texts in book form, and provided them with introductions, giving his ideas greater influence on the reader's experience then they would otherwise have (he also spread these interpretations far and wide in magazine articles). Derleth tells us, for example, that "As Lovecraft conceived the deities or forces of his Mythos, there were, initially, the Elder Gods . . . these Elder Gods were benign deities, representing the forces of good, and existed peacefully at or near Betelgeuze in the constellation Orion, very rarely stirring forth to intervene in the unceasing struggle between the powers of evil and the races of Earth. These powers of evil were variously known as the Great Old Ones or the Ancient Ones" (Introduction to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, viii). This is all very unlike Lovecraft, in whose work the Elder Gods never appear (but perhaps this is merely a limit case showing how "rarely" they stir forth -- never), and there is no unified pantheon of Great Old Ones. Indeed, the term "Ancient Ones" only appears in one story, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", and this says of the protagonist: "He wondered at the vast conceit of those who had babbled of the malignant Ancient Ones, as if They could pause from their everlasting dreams to wreak a wrath upon mankind. As well, he thought, might a mammoth pause to visit frantic vengeance on an angleworm" (MM 433-34). Derleth's work, on the other hand, is filled with recaps of his basic cosmic good guys vs bad guys scenario. Derleth further tells us that "To supplement this remarkable creation [the Necronomicon], Lovecraft added . . . the R'lyeh Text" (x). In fact, Lovecraft never referred to the R'lyeh Text, as it was invented by August Derleth after Lovecraft's death.

In these paratexts to Lovecraft's work, Derleth provided not only summaries of these ideas, but support for them in the form of an alleged quotation from one of Lovecraft's letters. This, the infamous "black magic" quotation ("All my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again."), supports not only the expulsions and imprisonment of the Old Ones -- a key element of Derleth's good vs evil scenario, but also affirms that Lovecraft's stories are all based on a shared myth. In this case Derleth was the victim of yet another hoax, albeit both hoaxster and victim most likely believed in it in good faith. The actual author of the passage allegedly cited from a Lovecraft letter is one Harold Farnese, who gave the passage in a letter to August Derleth as a direct quotation from his correspondence with Lovecraft. Farnese, it appears, had little grasp of what Lovecraft was doing in his fiction, and simply projected his own concerns with black magic onto Lovecraft, and then presented a paraphrase from memory as a direct quotation -- which Derleth then seized upon, as it fortuitously coincided with his own ideas about the Cthulhu Mythos, however much it might contradict Lovecraft's own words (Schultz 1990).

Second, Derleth presented many of his own works as "posthumous collaborations" with Lovecraft. Often based on a single sentence from Lovecraft's commonplace book (in which he kept notes of ideas for future stories), for practical purposes these can be considered the work of Derleth alone. Derleth was relatively forthcoming about the nature of this practice in, for example, his pamphlet Some Notes on H.P. Lovecraft, in which he describes the actual Lovecraftian material on which the stories were based, noting that only three of them "contain very much Lovecraft prose" -- which itself is a bit of exaggeration, it would be more accurate to say that only three of them "contain any Lovecraft prose" (x) -- and he gives the actual prose fragments he worked with. As he says "The rest of the stories grew out of jotting left by Lovecraft, insufficient in most cases to give any sure form to plot" (x) -- which may in fact be viewed as a similar exaggeration. Nevertheless, the practice allowed Derleth to insinuate his own work in the minds of readers into the Lovecraft corpus, as the stories appeared under both of their names, implying genuine dual authorship, or even under Lovecraft's name alone. The most insidious example of this appears to be the current editions of The Lurker at the Threshold and The Watchers out of Time published by Carroll & Graf, which contain only Lovecraft's name on the front cover, spine, and title page, and on the back cover give "H.P. Lovecraft with August Derleth". (Thus the Carroll & Graf edition of The Watchers out of Time may cause some confusion amongst unwary readers, as it ends with the note that the title story was "Unfinished at the time of August Derleth's death, July 4, 1971".) The old hoaxster, who published his own work under the names of others in order to create singular paratextual effects through cross-comparison, now has another's work published under his own name, displacing the earlier paratextual effects with new ones, erasing and writing over his conceptions like a palimpsest. Taken together with the spurious "black magic" quotation, Lovecraft has been doubly erased and overwritten. The whole of this process has the effect of entirely inverting Lovecraft's open-ended, anti-systematic, ceaselessly productive practice into a celebration of him as the inventor and codifier of a closed Mythos that allows breathing room only in so far as newcomers may add additional creatures and entities to fill the slots left vacant by Lovecraft -- as for example Derleth's fire-elemental Cthugha: having arbitrarily decided that Lovecraft's creations corresponded to Aristotelian elementals, not even Derleth could cram one into the "fire" slot, and so Cthugha's birth was mandated by the necessity of closing the system.

The title of The Lurker at the Threshold opens the field up onto yet another chain of association with similar fiction/reality paradoxes. The term appears to derive from the "Dweller on the Threshold" in Bulwer-Lytton's novel Zanoni: A Rosicrucian Tale. Bulwer-Lytton belonged to a Rosicrucian group, and embodied a number of their ideas in his fictional works, not only Zanoni, but also A Strange Story and The Coming Race as well. Some of these ideas -- such as the "Dweller on the Threshold" and Vril, a sexual energy force through which magick may be performed -- were then incorporated into the theories of various later occultists -- Blavatsky among them. The Rosicrucians themselves, it should be noted as well, had their origins in a seventeenth-century hoax and only came into existence as this hoax was imitated in real life (Washington, 36-40; Borges, 70).

While the hoax Necronomicons are quite evidently not the fictional work described by Lovecraft, a look at their actual contents may provide some clue as to what they, in fact, are. The Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner Necronomicon contains a rather conventional set of rituals deriving from the common practice of ceremonial magick. As Wilson describes their goal: "the first thing to do was to find someone who really knew something about magic, and persuade him to concoct a book that could have been a perfectly genuine magical manuscript" (89), which they found in the person of Robert Turner. Turner's rituals tend to follow those actually used by ceremonial magickians rather slavishly, with some embellishment in the form of Mythos names and symbols. The Simon Necronomicon is likewise utterly conventional in its approach to magick: it mostly consists of ritual récipé texts transcribed from various Mesopotamian sources, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Assyrian, with assorted references to Lovecraftian (and Derlethian) deities tossed in at random. The inclusion of Mythos elements is not at all central to these works, since they could just as well have chosen any other myth-cycle, real or fictional, for the same use: it is yet another form of paratextual noise leading the reader onto a threshold -- a threshold to the abyss of interpretation.

We now have the clue that we needed: the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner and Simon Necronomicons belong to the grimoire genre, the spellbook compilations used by mediaeval wizards. It is a commonplace in the grimoire genre to attribute authorship to the most unlikely sources -- Moses, Solomon, Pope Honorius, Pope Leo III, Faust, or occasionally to more likely but nonetheless spurious sources -- Cornelius Agrippa, Pietro de Abano. The texts furthermore tend to contain all sorts of anachronisms and otherwise improbable material. Viewed in this light, the misattributed authorship and other problems with the hoax Necronomicons mark them as authentic entries in their chosen genre.

And so, after a somewhat lengthy journey through a labyrinth of thresholds, thresholds which do not always lead one out or in as might have been expected at first glance, but instead twist and turn as if they comprised a labyrinth constructed according to some non-Euclidean geometry, we can conclude that the hoax Necronomicons -- at least the Hay-Wilson-Langford-Turner and Simon versions -- falsely claim to be the work of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, but in so falsely attributing themselves, they signal their genuine inclusion in the grimoire genre. The misattribution is the mark of their genre, and their very falsity is the condition of their genuineness. The hoax Necronomicons are every bit as "authentic" as the Lesser Key of Solomon or the Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses.


Works Cited or Consulted

Blavatsky, H.P. The Secret Doctrine. Pasadena: Theosophical University Press, 1977. Facsimile of original edition of 1888. In two volumes.
Borges, Jorge Luis. Collected Fictions. New York: Viking, 1998. Translated by Andrew Hurley.
De Camp, L. Sprague. "Preface to the Al Azif." In The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab, ed. Robert M. Price. Oakland: Chaosium, 1996.
Derleth, August. The Lurker at the Threshold. First collected 1945. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1988. As by H.P. Lovecraft.
---. Some Notes on H.P. Lovecraft. 1959. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1982.
---, ed. 1969. Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. New York: Beagle Books, 1971. Two volumes.
---. The Watchers out of Time. First collected 1974. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1991. As by H.P. Lovecraft.
Harms, Daniel, and John Wisdom Gonce, III. The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend. Mountain View, CA: Night Shade Books, 1998.
Genette, Gérard. Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation. 1987. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Translated by Jane E. Lewin. Foreword by Richard Macksey. Literature, Culture, Theory: 20.
Hay, George, ed. The Necronomicon: The Book of Dead Names.1978. London: Skoob Books, 1992.
Joshi, S.T. H.P. Lovecraft: A Life. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1996.
K. Paul Johnson. The Masters Revealed: Madame Blavatsky and the Myth of the Great White Lodge. New York: State University of New York Press, 1994.
---. Initiates of Theosophical Masters. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Lovecraft, H.P. Dagon and Other Macabre Tales. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984. Revised edition by S.T. Joshi.
---. The Dunwich Horror and Others. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1984. Revised edition by S.T. Joshi.
---. The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1989. Revised edition by S.T. Joshi.
---. Selected Letters III. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1971.
---. Selected Letters IV. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1976.
---. Selected Letters V. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1976.
Mariconda, Steven J. "Toward a Reader-Response Approach to the Lovecraft Mythos." In Mariconda, On the Emergence of "Cthulhu" & Other Observations. West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press, 1995.
Melton, J. Gordon. "The Contactees: A Survey." In The Gods Have Landed: New Religions from Other Worlds, ed. James R. Lewis. New York: State University of New York Press, 1995.
Nethercot, Arthur. The First Five Lives of Annie Besant. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.
Price, Robert M. H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1990.
Pratt, David. "The Book of Dzyan." World Wide Web document: http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/dp5/dzyan.htm
Propp, Vladimir. Morphology of the Folktale. 1928. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968. Translated by Lawrence Scott. Revised second edition.
Randi, James. An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural: James Randi's Decidedly Skeptical Definitions of Alternate Realities. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Schultz, David. "Notes Toward a History of the Cthulhu Mythos." Crypt of Cthulhu, No. 92 (Vol. 15, No. 2).
---. "The Origin of Lovecraft's 'Black Magic' Quote." In The Horror of it All: Encrusted Gems from the "Crypt of Cthulhu", ed. Robert M. Price. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1990.
Shea, Robert, and Robert Anton Wilson. The Illuminatus! Trilogy. New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1975.
Simon. The Necronomicon. 1977. New York: Avon Books, 1980.
Stupple, David W. "Historical Links between the Occult and Flying Saucers." Journal of UFO Studies, New Series, Vol. 5.
Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky's Baboon: A History of the Mystics, Mediums, and Misfits Who Brought Spiritualism to America. New York: Schocken Books, 1993.
Wilson, Colin. "The Necronomicon: The Origin of a Spoof." In Black Forbidden Things, ed. Robert M. Price. Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House, 1992.


Have any comments, questions, or further information on the matters discussed here?
Please drop me a line: clore@columbia-center.org.


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