To Arkham and the Stars
by Fritz Leiber

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

first appeared in —
The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces, 1966
by H. P. Lovecraft and Divers Hands
edited by August Derleth

included in —
The Book of Fritz Leiber
The Book of Fritz Leiber (Vol I and Vol. II)

Fritz Leiber and H. P. Lovecraft:
    Writers of the Dark

October 2010

Arkham town & Miskatonic University today, and who remains

"To Arkham and the Stars" is one of Fritz Leiber's thoughtful memorials to H. P. Lovecraft. It's a minor short-story, set in Lovecraft's darkly-haunted university town of Arkham, wherein some aspects have yielded to modern impulses, but other aspects and even some people hold on as in Lovecraft's time:

Early on the morning of September 14th last I stepped down onto the venerable brick platform of the Arkham station of the Boston and Maine Railroad. I could have flown in, arriving at the fine new Arkham Airport north of town, where I am told a suburb of quite tasteful Modern Colonial homes now covers most of Meadow Hill, but I found the older conveyance convenient and congenial.

From these first two sentences, a few hints already may emerge for the not-too-ensorcelled Lovecraft fan:

  • Arkham town still exists, despite its legacy of drawing terrible happenings like a lightning rod.
  • Astoundingly, there has been sufficient population inflow to require new home developments, presumably bought by those who have not heard, or more likely cannot believe, what transpired in Arkham in the 1920s and 1930s.
  • The narrator is comfortable traveling into Arkham; and as we will see, is known to certain of the inhabitants.
  • Although the author's treatment is modern, he will be empathetic and gentle with Arkham's unhallowed traditions.

Fritz Leiber is a greater writer with a vastly broader range than H. P. Lovecraft, but Lovecraft is a pioneer — of whom Leiber has written both appreciatively and with critical acuity. "To Arkham and the Stars" is a fictional appreciation of the Young Gentleman of Providence for his latter-day fans, and although it can be enjoyed by anyone, it will convey far more to someone who has read all or most of Lovecraft's horror-fantasies, the Cthulhu Mythos and others.

There are in-field references, such as naming writer-critics Colin Wilson and Edmund Wilson, Damon Knight and Avram Davidson — deftly handled in context that is appropriate for Lovecraft, clever, and funny. There is an apt footnote to Carl Jung. One of the Miskatonic University professors says:

"I too have my problems discouraging sensationalism. For instance, I had to disappoint M.I.T. when they asked me for a sketch of the physiology and anatomy of the Ancient Ones, to be used in the course they give in the designing of structures and machines for 'imaginary' — Gad! — extra-terrestrial beings. Engineers are a callous breed — and in any case the Ancient Ones are not merely extra-terrestrial, but extra-cosmic. I've also had to limit access to the skeleton of Brown Jenkin, though that has given rise to a rumor that it is a file-and-brown-ochre fake like the Piltdown skull."

What even steeped-in-eldritch Lovecraft fans may not recognize in this passage is that the M.I.T. course referred to is quite real. It was written up in a featured article, "Space, Time and Education" by John E. Arnold, Astounding Science Fiction, May 1953. Notably creative thinking for its time, and — despite the Miskatonic professor — still interesting.

"To Arkham and the Stars" is a little story but well-packed by a master, and fans of Lovecraft and Leiber should enjoy it.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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