Authors: C. Hall Thompson
C. Hall Thompson
Charles Hall Thompson (1923-1991), better known for his westerns, made a brief sojourn in horror fiction with four stories:
Spawn of the Green Abyss
The Will of Claude Ashur
The Pale Criminal
(1948). All published in Weird Tales and -the first two- utilized Mythos themes to the great displeasure of August Derleth. As Robert M. Price says in his introduction to the "Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos: "...apparently because Thompson was working Derleth's side of the street (and selling a better product).
To our knowledge there was never before an attempt to bring together C. Hall Thompson's stories. So read and enjoy.
The "Pyrate Press"
on February 23rd, 2009
This is a tag team post to Steve Tompkins’ series on the Cthulhu Mythos over at The Cimmerian blog. Steve happened to mention early Mythos writer C. Hall Thompson and his apparent approval by S. T. Joshi. By coincidence, I was reading Thompson’s western novel
Under the Badge
at the same time. C. Hall Thompson is an interesting individual. His first stories appear to have been in small literary journals. He is remembered today in Queer Studies for a story about prisoner homosexuality in a Japanese P.O.W. camp in WWII. He had four stories in Weird Tales: "Spawn of the Green Abyss” (Nov. 1946), “The Will of Claude Ashur” (July 1947), “The Pale Criminal” (Sept. 1947), and “Clay” (May 1948). The first two stories are pastiches of H. P. Lovecraft. Thompson borrows the Lovecraft style and some words though the prose is smoother. He also used Lovecraftian concepts.
This proved to be too much for August Derleth. Derleth had started his fledgling Arkham House books a few years before with the mission of getting H. P. Lovecraft into hardback. He must have been thinking of staking out Lovecraft’s mythos for his own. There has been different versions told of what happened. Some say Derleth told
to stop publishing Thompson. Another version is Derleth told Thompson to stop. The truth is in between. Derleth sent a letter to Thompson’s agent, Lurton Blassingame dated May 3, 1947:
“Dear Mr. Blassingame: One of the things an agent sometimes misses is an author’s use of the literary property of some other author writing in the same genre. Some months ago we noticed the use of certain literary properties of the late H. P. Lovecraft, whose publishers we are, in a novelette by C. Hall Thompson (‘Spawn of the Green Abyss,’ Nov. 1946) in Weird Tales. Thinking that perhaps it might have been an isolated instance, Mr. Wandrei and myself decided to overlook it. Now, however, we find similar literary properties used in Mr. Thompson’s new novelette, ‘The Will of Claude Ashur,’ in the July issue of Weird Tales. Moreover, the use of these literary properties contributes nothing to the story in question, except borrowed atmosphere; the story can stand very well on its own feet without such illegal borrowing… We must therefore ask that Mr. Thompson be acquainted with our position, and that all further use of such literary properties in Mr. Thompson’s stories cease; if other stories using these liteary properties have been sold, such stories should be revised before publication. If Mr. Thompson would like to use the literary properties of Mr. Lovecraft, in his work…would have to clear through us first. We feel that Mr. Thompson is a competent writer, and his use of the Lovecraft properties is wholly unnecessary to the success of his stories, which seem to us otherwise well written and plotted.”
This letter was reprinted in
Arkham’s Masters of Horror
by Peter Ruber in his introduction to the Ramsey Campbell story. Ramsey Campbell later asked Derleth about Thompson and Derleth replied he would have given permission has Thompson simply asked.
Thompson did use words like Miskatonic but I have to say that he wrote some of the most enjoyable Mythos fiction I have read, which is more than I can say of the Derleth penned Mythos fiction I have read.
Thompson moved over into the western pulps for a while. He had at least one detective story. He even broke into Esquire with a story called “
” that has been anthologized a few times. He had four western paperbacks in the 50s and 60s. L. Sprague de Camp thanks him along with others in his book on inventions. With only four weird stories, they have never been collected together into one book. Perhaps some small press or pod outfit should collected his weird, literary, and western fiction into an eclectic collection. A shame he did not have another five or six stories in Weird Tales.
I am not writing this to save my life. When I have set down, in the sanity of plain English, the strange story of Heath House, this manuscript will be sealed in an envelope, to be opened only after my execution. Perhaps then the accounts that have filled the papers during my imprisonment and trial will be more easily understood. Today, in his effective baritone, the attorney-for-the-State told a mixed jury: “This man, Doctor James Arkwright, is the cold-blooded murderer of his wife, Cassandra, and her unborn child. You have seen the evidence, ladies and gentlemen; you have seen the murder gun. The State and the voice of the dead woman demand that this killer pay the extreme penalty.” It was a very forceful plea; I could not have asked better. You see, I want to die. That is why this will not be read until the prison medic has pronounced me dead of a broken neck. If it were read while I lived, I might never be granted the release, the nothingness of immediate death; instead, I should spend endless, remembering years in the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane.
Do not misunderstand me. No feeling of remorse prompts me to seek forgetfulness. Should all this happen again—God forbid!—I know I should do the same. I destroyed Cassandra because it was the only thing left to do. Undoubtedly that sounds callous, but when I have told the entire, horrible story, it will seem the inevitable conclusion of a sane man. For, I am sane. There were times when I doubted my senses during those ghastly months on Kalesmouth Strand, but, now, I can only say I am convinced. I know what I saw and heard, and I pray God no other mortal will ever be cursed with such a revelation. There are things beyond the veil of human understanding, strange, antediluvian monstrosities that stalk the shadows, preying on dark, lost minds, waiting at the rim of the Great Abyss to claim their own. These are the things I must escape. And, for the mind that has come to realize their existence, the only avenue of retreat lies through the quiet labyrinths of death.
Haunting, half-facetious dribblings of truth have seeped into the feature stories which various local newspapers ran on the trial. The Kenicott
mentions briefly the strange manner in which Lazarus Heath died; a precocious young reporter who visited ancient Heath House in Kalesmouth makes note of the nauseous effluvia that hung like a caul over the staircase, leading to the chamber where I shot my wife; he mentions, too, a trail of dried sea brine which streaked the floor of the entrance-hall, and the carpeting of that same stairway. Those were only thoughtless ripples on the loathsome, scummed surface of abominable truth. They did not touch upon the fluting, hypnotic music that echoed in those decadent halls; they did not dare to dream of the slobbering, gelatinous horror that seethed by night from sightless, watery depths to reclaim its own. These are the things of which only I may speak; the others who witnessed them are mercifully dead.
In the night, lying on the hard stickiness of my prison cot, staring into soundless dark, I sometimes wonder whether I would have gone to Kalesmouth last fall, had I guessed at the horror that awaited me. All and all, I think I would. For, at that time, I should have scoffed at such legends as haunted the antiquated village sprawled on a forlorn peninsula off New Jersey’s Northeastern coast. As a medical man, and a mildly successful brain surgeon, I would have set them down to antique folk-lore whispered by wintry firesides, told in the ghostly tongue of superstitious nonagenarians. Then, too, there were brief moments with Cassandra that were worth any price I had to pay; and, had I not gone to Kalesmouth, I should never have found her.
As things were, I suspected nothing. During that summer, I had been exceptionally active, and, my profession being as exacting as it is, toward the end of September I began to feel the effects. The only answer to the problem of a surgeon’s trembling fingers is a complete rest. I do not know what prompted my selection of Kalesmouth; it was not a resort. But, then, 1 did not want amusement. When I saw that advertisement of a cottage to let in the seclusion of a rocky- coasted seaboard town, it seemed ideal. From childhood I had loved the salt-freshness of the Atlantic. Today, when I think of the greenish waves smashing at the beach, clutching it with watery fingers, I can never repress a shuddering chill.
Kalesmouth is little more than a sprinkling of cottages with a single general-store and a population in the low fifties. The small white houses are scattered along a narrow finger of sand-and-rock land that juts defiantly eastward into the sea. There is water on three sides and a single highway to the mainland. The people talk little to strangers, and one senses an aura of great antiquity in the solitary sun- and sea-swept life they lead. I will not say I noticed any sign of evil in the secluded settlement, but there was an air of tremendous, brooding age and loneliness about the homes and the people alike; the land itself seemed dry and barren, a forgotten relic of earlier, more fruitful days.
But quiet and rest were what I needed after the strenuous turmoil of antiseptic-choked corridors and operating amphitheaters. Certainly, no town could offer better chance for these than did Kalesmouth, redolent as it was of a Victorian era when life moved through leisurely, hidden channels. My cottage was small but comfortable, and Eb Linder, taciturn, wind-dried proprietor of the general-store, helped me lay in a good supply of staple foods. Long, salt-aired days were spent wandering the bleached stretch of a rocky shoreline, and in the evenings I turned to my collection of books. I saw few people and talked with fewer. Once or twice, when we chanced to meet at Linder’s store, I spoke to Doctor Henry Joyce Ambler, Kalesmouth’s only general practitioner. He was a florid, white-haired individual, full of shop-talk of the sort I was trying to escape. I’m afraid I may have been rather rude to him, for in those first days, I was still over-wrought and in need of relaxation. Gradually, however, I drifted into a soft, thoughtful mood; I became more interested in my surroundings.
I cannot be certain when it was that I first noticed the house. Looking back, I should say that, somehow, I must have been vaguely aware of it from the start. The main window of my small sitting-room looked eastward to the aqua-marine expanse of the Atlantic. Situated as it was, at the approximate center of the narrow peninsula of Kalesmouth, my cottage commanded a view of the long earth-finger that pointed so boldly into the sea. Between me and the extreme point of land, a few stray cottages sprawled haphazardly, but there was no sign of habitation within a good half-mile of the land-edge on which the house stood.
The fact that it was a house, set it apart in Kalesmouth. All the others were clap-board bungalows of only one story. In the sea-misted evenings, I was wont to sit for hours by my eastward casement, staring at the vast, gray bulk of it. It was like something from another aeon, a tottering, decayed remnant of the nighted past. Massive and rambling, with countless gables and cupolas, its small-paned, murky windows winking balefully at the setting sun, set as it was on the extreme lip of the land, it seemed somehow more of the cloying sea than of solid soil. An ectoplasmic nimbus clung thickly to battered towers whose boarded embrasures argued desertion. I noticed that the sea-gulls circled the ancient monument warily; birds did not nest in the crumbling age-webbed eaves. Over the whole dream-like vision hung an atmosphere of remoteness that was vaguely tinged with fear and repulsion; it was a thing that whispered of forgotten evils, of lost and buried blasphemies. The first time I caught myself thinking thus, I laughed away the sensation and decided that my solitary sojourn was beginning to work on my imagination. But, the feeling persisted, and in the end, my curiosity won. I began to ask questions during my infrequent visits to the store.