Over my long Christmas break, I decided to read some H. P. Lovecraft. Of course, I’d read a few Lovecraft stories here and there in anthologies, but I’d never read his work in any systematic way. I found a great complete (?) works e-text at Cthulhu Chick and started reading. It contains 63 short stories, novelettes, and novellas. As you can imagine, one can only read so many Lovecraft stories in a row before (1) the plots all start to run together or (2) one begins to question his or her own sanity. Between reading Lovecraft stories, I did what any good English professor does: Research! This led me to a host of Lovecraft precursors and contemporaries who wrote ghost, occult and supernatural stories—the writers of Victorian Gothic, horror and weird. I’m calling this series The Old Weird in order to show the readers that this will not be a blog dedicated to China Miéville and contemporary writers. In my exploration of the Old Weird, I discovered texts by William Hope Hodgson, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Lord Dunsany, Robert W. Chambers, Seabury Quinn, M. R. James, and many others which I will explore as they set forth the parameters for the occult and horror stories that thrill us today.
Mini-Series: The Occult Detective
I want to begin this series with a mini investigation that looks at a specific type of character, the occult detective. Before Scooby and the gang investigated false hauntings, before Kolchak was the Night Stalker, and before Jim Butcher wrote The Dresden Files, there were many occult detectives whose adventures appeared in British and American periodicals like Cavalier, Pearson’s, The Idler and Weird Tales. When I started researching this topic, I was amazed at the number of supernatural and occult detectives that were appearing in print in the years between 1850 and 1930. Several websites have helped me track down the names of detectives and their texts. The most helpful have been:
- Tim Prasil’s Chronological Bibliography of Early Occult Detectives
- Pulp and Adventure Heroes of the Pre-War Years by Jess Nevin
Also, Larry Latham at Lovecraft is Missing has a series on Occult Detectives, which stretches to the present. I even found a dissertation by Sage Leslie-McCarthy, which I will be reading with great care because I don’t want any of the mysteries revealed to me before I read the primary texts. Of course, I will have the same consideration for my readers. I will not reveal the mystery’s solution or whether the occult occurrence is real or staged (unless, of course, the text itself reveals this early).
I plan to proceed in more or less chronological order (based on Tim Prasil’s site and a list I compiled). I will look particularly at series and books rather than single stories. Since many of these novels and stories are hard to find, my blog will discuss the original publications and the availability of print and e-texts. As I proceed though the list, I will try to make comparisons between the detectives and their approaches to the occult and to the mystery.
So… first up will be The Notting Hill Mystery (1862) by Charles Felix (pseudonym of Charles Warren Adams) and The Dead Letter (1866) by Seeley Regester (pseudonym of Metta Victoria Fuller Victor).