by DF Lewis
This short essay was first published in USA – ‘Atsatrohn’ 1993 and then in UK – ‘Midnight in Hell’ 1995.
When I corresponded with Peter (now Petal) Jeffery back in the 60’s and 70’s, a convenient acronym cropped up for the type of literature we both enjoyed: WHOFAGE (Weird, Horror, Occult, Fantasy, Avernal, Ghost, Egnis). You will have to read the mighty Tome that we conspired to write at Lancaster University in 1967 (THE EGNISOMICON) to understand Avernal and Egnis. Only two copies exist. Petal’s and mine. One a photocopy, which we consider to be the pukka one. As you may know, in the 80’s, Petal was to become the Red Brain in the now late lamented Lovecraft fanzine DAGON.
But my first introduction to whofage started even earlier when I was at Colchester Royal Grammer School – and who was in the same Sixth Form class as me? None other than Michel Parry. And it is that fact which reminds me that Anthologies were my real spur toward whofage. In Great Britain, there were a good many horror anthologies edited by Michel during the early 70’s, mostly in Mayflower, Corgi and Panther paperbacks, such as The Supernatural Solution (spook sleuths), Mayflower Book of Black Magic Stories (six volumes), Strange Ecstasies (drug fantasy), Rivals of King Kong, Rivals Of Dracula, The Hounds Of Hell (doggy horror – and aren’t all dogs horrible?), Beware the Cat &c. &c. There were also two Devil’s kisses anthologies edited by Linda Lovecraft (who was Michel Parry in disguise!), one of which was banned because the early 70’s were too early for this brand of erotic horror. So, if you have the Devil’s Kisses anthologies (as I do), they’re probably valuable. But, no, of course, the early seventies were too late to have influenced me in my most impressionable years. My first real taste of WHOFAGE (even though the acronym hadn’t been invented at that stage) was when I accidentally met Michel Parry in the Colchester WH Smiths bookshop in 1964(?) where he picked the Panther edition of HPL’s Haunter Of The Dark off the shelf and recommended it to me. He scored his nail under a few tales (the Dunwich Horror being one, I recall) as particular favorites of his. Despite still being at school, Michel had a flat of his own where he later showed me an amazing Arkham House collection. And that was strange in those days, I guess.
Whofage only really came home to me a year or so later with August Derleth’s anthologies. You must have seen these. Or perhaps you haven’t. In the late sixties, one could often find English paperback editions of these American classic anthologies in secondhand bookshops. I always recall travelling round Peter Jeffery’s home town of Southend, picking a goodly trawl of Derleths from market stalls &c. Not now, I’m afraid. Derleth, to my mind, was not a good writer, but he did assemble some pretty amazing whofage tales by motley crews under single roofs. Among the best of these are Who Knocks? and When Evil Wakes. Herein I furthered my love of HPL and people like John Metcalfe, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, J. Ramsey Campbell, C.M. Eddy Jr., Arthur Machen, and Seabury Quinn. Oh, the list is gloriously endless. These anthologies are Required Reading. Or they certainly were when whofage was sparse on the shelves. Now there’s too much of it. All those wide black spines. Ramsey Campbell (yes, the J. Ramsey Campbell mentioned above) and Stephen King are the only two worth reading to my mind. But who am I to say?
Peter Haining’s anthologies of the sixties and seventies also inspired me: there are literally scores of these, so I imagine you still may be able to obtain them secondhand. Robert Aickman’s and later, R. Chetwynd-Hayes’ Fontana Ghost Story volumes that they edited were amazingly good, too.
Robert Aickman…Aaah! Well, that’s another story. Perhaps next time.
I’ve just returned from a holiday in Sark, Channel Islands. It is an island 3.5 miles by 1 mile, ringed by back-breaking craggy bays to get down to. Its only transport horses, bikes or the odd tractor. Definitely no cars. Well, this was an ideal spot to renew ancient acquaintances. And some of these anthologies have been better friends than most people. Sitting in a cave, I listened to the waves gently whofage, whofage, whofage on the pebbles outside – the only way for a sea to gurgle or ripple or softly sough.