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Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Robert Bloch owes to H. P. Lovecraft

Horror and mystery writer Robert Bloch, best known as the author of Psycho, the 1959 novel on which Alfred Hitchcock based his classic film, died sixteen year ago today at age seventy-seven. Bloch outlived his mentor H. P. Lovecraft by thirty years, but the four years their lives overlapped made a crucial difference to Bloch’s life and career. In a 1983 interview with Randy and Jean-Marc Lofficier Bloch described how much as a teenager he enjoyed the magazine Weird Tales—and how frustrated he was at not being able to find stories by his favorite writer, H. P. Lovecraft, from past issues:
So, I wrote to Weird Tales and I wrote to Lovecraft in care of them to ask whether or not he knew where I could get some of these stories that I'd read about. He told me that he'd be glad to lend me any copies of any of his stories. So, we got into correspondence.

In about the fourth letter he said, “There's something about the way you write that makes me think that perhaps you'd be interested in doing the same thing. Would you like to write some stories? I'd be glad to comment on them.” So, naturally, how could I resist? I wrote several stories which were very bad, and he didn't criticize them, he praised them. Which was just the kind of encouragement I needed.

When I got out of high school at seventeen, I bought a second hand typewriter, I sat down and I began to work. Six weeks later I sold my first story to Weird Tales. Lovecraft and I remained in close contact until the day he died in 1937.

R. Lofficier: Would you say that you owe your career to him?

Bloch: I most certainly do! And I've never ceased to be grateful to him for it.
They never met and Bloch would later discover that Lovecraft had numerous protégés he nurtured in this way and called The Lovecraft Circle. An incurable insomniac and recluse Lovecraft wrote thousands of letters late at night, and his letters to Bloch are collected in H. P. Lovecraft: Letters to Robert Bloch.

One of the stories Bloch wrote while Lovecraft was alive featured Lovecraft as a character, killed by a monster. Weird Tales required Bloch to get the victim's permission before publishing the story, and Lovecraft authorized Bloch “to portray, murder, annihilate, disintegrate, transfigure, metamorphose, or otherwise manhandle the undersigned in the tale entitled THE SHAMBLER FROM THE STARS.” In November 1935 Lovecraft responded in kind with “The Haunter of the Dark,” in which young Robert Blake (living at Bloch's actual address) is killed by an alien. He dedicated the story to Bloch.

Although Bloch would go on to develop his own distinctive voice and style (what S. T. Joshi calls “a union between the horror tale and the mystery or detective story”), he frequently acknowledged Lovecraft’s influence and featured him as a character in several other stories. Bloch opens “The Shambles of Ed Gein” (1962) by invoking Lovecraft’s “The Picture in the House,” because mass murderer Ed Gein, the inspiration for Norman Bates in Psycho, lived in one of the “scary, sleepy, staring houses in the backwoods” so often described by Lovecraft. Bloch set his most extended tribute, the 1978 novel Strange Eons, in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.

Related LOA works: True Crime: An American Anthology (includes “The Shambles of Ed Gein”); American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps (includes “The Cloak” by Robert Bloch); H. P. Lovecraft: Tales


  1. You're not the only one recently thinking of Robert Bloch & H. P. Lovecraft.

    On September 18, 2010, I posted an article on my CthulhuWho1 blog entitled, "Robert Bloch Speaks of Lovecraft and More from the Grave."

    This article includes all of the Robert Bloch audio files in my collection, plus documents, and links to my Flickr account where I have posted all of the Robert Bloch photos and scans of postcards that I have too.

    If you'd like to actually hear Robert Bloch speaking of Lovecraft, give a listen to the Hour 25 interview he did in 1978.

    And please feel free to help yourself to any of the other Lovecraft related files I've posted on these sites, or others.

    aka CthulhuWho1

    Curator of:

  2. That's really a fantastic story; I love seeing that respected men and women of their fields take time to create lasting relationships with proteges. Reminds me of this site, which oscillates between humor and really inspiring: http://www.lettersofnote.com/

    -- Kate @ http://arguingwithadoughnut.blogspot.com/

  3. I love this story, two men killing each other in the most honourable way: in prose.

    I got to searching this out by listening to Drabblecast 213 – The Haunter of the Dark.

    Thanks for the post!



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