Derleth, August

Tagged: Author

(1909-1971) US author and editor, born in Sauk City, Wisconsin, where he spent his life. A correspondent with and devout admirer of H P Lovecraft, he devoted much of his life to projects aimed at preserving Lovecraft's memory. The most important of these projects was of course the founding, with Donald Wandrei, of the publishing company Arkham House in Sauk City in order to publish Lovecraft's stories; Wandrei later resigned his interest, but Derleth carried on until his death, publishing a wide range of weird fiction, including some of his own otherwise very widely published work. He completed a number of unfinished Lovecraft stories and fragments: The Lurker at the Threshold (1945), The Survivor and Others (coll 1957) and The Watchers Out of Time and Others (coll 1974). In addition, he wrote two volumes of Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos pastiches, The Mask of Cthulhu (coll 1958) and The Trail of Cthulhu (coll 1962), and edited anthologies of such stories by various writers like The Shuttered Room, and Other Pieces (anth 1959) – a title not to be confused with either of the Lovecraft collections likewise entitled (one 1970 UK and one 1971 US, contents differing) – Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (anth 1969; vt 2vols as Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos #1 1971 and #2 1971). Derleth edited Lovecraft's writings for publication, including his letters (in collaboration with Wandrei) and The Dark Brotherhood, and Other Pieces (coll 1966) – a collection of Lovecraft stories, both solo and in collaboration – and also wrote H.P.L.: A Memoir (1945) and Some Notes on H.P. Lovecraft (1959 chap).

But Derleth's literary activities were by no means dominated by his interest in Lovecraft. He was a prolific and successful writer of regional novels, receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship for this work; his major achievement here was the Sac Prairie Saga, celebrating the Wisconsin of his own memories. He was also a copious author of detective fiction, starting with Murder Stalks the Wakely Family (1934; vt Death Stalks the Wakely Family 1937); he published a long series of Sherlock Holmes pastiches starring the character Solar Pons, who lives not in London's Baker Street but the nearby Praed Street, operates mainly in the 1920s, has a brilliant and corpulent elder brother called Bancroft, and at least once visits his aged predecessor who has retired to keep bees. The Pons sequence begins with "In Re: Sherlock Holmes" (coll 1945; vt Regarding Sherlock Holmes: The Adventures of Solar Pons 1974; vt The Adventures of Solar Pons 1975). These tales are almost all nonfantastic, though "The Adventure of the Grice-Paterson Curse" (November 1956 The Pursuit Detective Story Magazine) features a murderous strangling plant of vampiric tendency; the spoofish collaboration "The Adventure of the Snitch in Time" (July 1953 F&SF) with Mack Reynolds includes Time Travel; two other Reynolds collaborations also involve Pons with genre tropes. The Adventure of the Orient Express (1965 chap) Recursively has cameo roles for other authors' characters including Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Leslie Charteris's The Saint; elsewhere in the Pons sags, Sax Rohmer's Dr Fu Manchu makes more than one appearance.

This author's very first story, however – "Bat's Belfry" for Weird Tales in May 1926 – was of genre interest, and he remained for many years a prolific contributor to Weird Tales, mainly under his own name and the pseudonym Stephen Grendon, and to other magazines, including Strange Stories (where he used the name Tally Mason). His best work of this kind was assembled in Someone in the Dark (coll 1941), Something Near (coll 1945), Not Long for This World (coll 1948; with 11 stories cut, vt Tales from Not Long for This World 1961), Lonesome Places (coll 1962), Mr George and Other Odd Persons (coll 1963 as Stephen Grendon; vt When Graveyards Yawn 1965 UK as Derleth), Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People (coll 1966) with Mark Schorer, and Dwellers in Darkness (coll 1976). He wrote little sf, beyond his Tex Harrigan series about a newspaperman constantly running across zany sf Inventions and the like; it was included in Harrigan's File (coll 1975).

Derleth edited a great many Anthologies, both sf and weird. His sf anthologies include several large volumes: Strange Ports of Call (anth 1948; much cut 1958), The Other Side of the Moon (anth 1949; cut 1956; much cut 1959) and Beyond Time and Space (anth 1950; much cut 1958). His weird anthologies include Sleep No More (anth 1944; cut 1964; much cut vt Stories From Sleep No More 1967), Who Knocks? Twenty Masterpieces of the Spectral for the Connoisseur (anth 1946; much cut vt Who Knocks? 1964) and The Sleeping & the Dead (anth 1947; vt 2vols as The Sleeping and the Dead 1964 UK and The Unquiet Grave 1964). Derleth was one of the pioneering anthologists in the genre.

The history of Arkham House was chronicled in Derleth's Arkham House: The First 20 Years (1959 chap) and Thirty Years of Arkham House, 1939-1969: A History and Bibliography (1970 chap). In 1948-1949 the company published a magazine, The Arkham Sampler, edited by Derleth. Competent and literate and highly energetic, Derleth was the central figure in bringing lasting popularity to Lovecraft and to other authors such as Clark Ashton Smith. His own extremely various output continues to await comprehensive appraisal. [MJE/DRL]

see also: Publishing; Small Presses and Limited Editions.

August William Derleth

born Sauk City, Wisconsin: 24 February 1909

died Sauk City, Wisconsin: 4 July 1971

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Solar Pons

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