“Life and Death“
- Short story or prose poem; evidently published in an amateur journal (c. 1920), but text not currently available.This is one of the few authentically “lost” stories by HPL, but its existence and whereabouts remain in doubt. In his commonplace book (entry \#27) HPL records the title and plot germ of the story: “Death—its desolation & horror—bleak spaces—sea-bottom—dead cities. But Life—the greater horror! Vast unheard-of reptiles & leviathans—hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle—rank slimy vegetation—evil instincts of primal man—Life is more horrible than death.” The entry probably dates to early 1920; in contrast to other used entries, HPL has not crossed out this entry or otherwise indicated that it was used. He never mentions or alludes to the story in any extant correspondence. After HPL’s death, R.H.Barlow wrote to August Derleth that he thought he once saw “Life and Death” (Barlow to Derleth, June 14, 1944; ms., SHSW). Around this time W.Paul Cook told Derleth that he thought the story had appeared in the United Amateur,but this is not the case. George T.Wetzel, in describing the research for his bibliography of HPL, stated that he saw the story as published in an amateur journal, but he subsequently lost the reference and was unable to locate it (see “The Research of a Biblio,” in Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Memoirs, Critiques and Bibliographies ). Wetzel’s research on HPL’s amateur publications was conducted largely at the Fossil Collection of Amateur Journalism, then at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia; but the collection was subsequently vandalized, as many published works by HPL were cut out of the journals with a razor. Examination of many other amateur journalism collections by several scholars has failed to turn up the item.One wonders, then, whether HPL actually wrote and published “Life and Death.” The plot germ above could in fact refer to the prose poem “Ex Oblivione” ( United Amateur,March 1921), and the rather vague recollections of Barlow, Cook, and Wetzel may refer to it or to some other work altogether.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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