100 Years of L. Sprague de Camp

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Cimmerian put up an interesting article about early H.P. Lovecraft biographer and fantasist, L. Sprague de Camp. Yesterday marked the centennial of the writer's birth. Lyon Sprague de Camp was notable for churning out tons of books and short stories with a speculative edge throughout his long life, including a biography of Lovecraft that drew a great deal of controversy. It still draws heated debate in some circles, though less so now that most Lovecraftian readers immediately turn to the scholarly opus on HPL put out by S.T. Joshi, H.P. Lovecraft: A Life. However, in the days before Joshi, de Camp's Lovecraft: A Biography was the first and only real work approaching a comprehensive text on Lovecraft's life.

As much of a breakthrough as this was, it spawned ire over de Camp's treatment of Lovecraft's racism and perpetuated several weird rumors about the Old Gent from Providence. Many of these rumors were really grand exaggerations, such as de Camp's secondhand contention that HPL carried a bottle of poison with him during his miserable exile in New York, to quickly end his life if he could summon the energy to go through with it. On other matters, de Camp was just wrong. He did a fine job of pointing out Lovecraft's racism using his personal letters and accounts from colleagues, but then argued HPL sloughed most of it off by the end of his life. As Joshi noted in his own Lovecraft biography, with a good deal more evidence and analysis than de Camp, Lovecraft did not fully let go of his racial attitudes, nor his elitist arrogance on other issues, even if it weakened.

That said, de Camp made a pioneering effort and seems to have taken a genuinely serious approach to his work. If he can be truly blamed for anything, it might best be described as excess sensationalism about Lovecraft, who was certainly an influence and literary idol for de Camp in his own creative career. This is why de Camp's Lovecraft biography is still worthy of finding itself on the shelves of Lovecraft admirers, even if it takes second place to Joshi's. As both a general outline of Lovecraft's life and a curiosity, one cannot go wrong with it. Even more can be said in favor of de Camp's other scholarly endeavors, including his biography of Robert E. Howard and studies of historical myths.

Happy 100!

-Grim Blogger

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