Frank Belknap Long
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
Frank Belknap Long (April 27, 1901 - January 3, 1994) was a prolific American writer of horror fiction, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, gothic romance, comic books, and non-fiction. Though his writing career spanned seven decades, he is best known for his horror and science fiction short stories, including early contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos. During his life, Long received the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (at the 1978 World Fantasy Convention), the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement (in 1987, from the Horror Writers Association), and the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award (1977).
He was born in Manhattan, New York City on April 27, 1901. He grew up in the Harlem area of Manhattan. His father was a prosperous dentist and his mother was May Doty. The family resided at 823 West End Avenue in Manhattan. A lifelong resident of New York City, he was educated in the New York City public school system. As a boy he was fascinated by natural history, and wrote that he dreamed of running "away from home and explore the great rain forests of the Amazon." He developed his interest in the weird by reading the Oz books, Jules Verne, and H.G. Wells as well as Ambrose Bierce and Edgar Allan Poe. Though writing was to be his life's work, he once commented that as "important as writing is, I could have been completely happy if I had a secure position in a field that has always had a tremendous emotion and an imaginative appeal for me—that of natural history."
In his late teens, he was active in the United Amateur Press Association (UAPA) in which he won a prize from The Boy's World (around 1919) and thus discovered amateur journalism. His first published tale was "Dr Whitlock's Price (United Amateur, March 1920). Long's story "The Eye Above the Mantel" (1921) in UAPA caught the eye of H. P. Lovecraft, sparking a friendship and correspondence that would endure until Lovecraft's death in 1937.
Long attended New York University from 1920 to 1921, studying journalism but later transferred to Columbia, leaving without a degree. In 1921, he suffered a severe attack of appendicitis, leading to a ruptured appendix and peritonitis. He spent a month in New York's Roosevelt Hospital, where he came close to dying. Long's brush with death propelled him into a decision that he would leave college to pursue a freelance writing career.
In 1923, at the age of 22, he sold his first short story, "The Desert Lich", to Weird Tales magazine. Throughout the next four decades, Long was to be a frequent contributor to pulp magazines, including two of the most famous: Weird Tales (under editor Farnsworth Wright) and Astounding Science Fiction (under editor John W. Campbell). Long was an active freelance writer, also publishing many non-fiction articles. His first book, the scarce volume A Man from Genoa and Other Poems, was published in 1926 by W. Paul Cook. The poems in this collection won praise from a great variety of writers, among them Arthur Machen, Clifford Gessler, Robinson Jeffers, William Ellery Leonard, John Drinkwater, John Masefield and George Sterling
His second published book was also a volume of fantastic poetry - The Goblin Tower (1928), published jointly by H.P. Lovecraft and Robert H. Barlow. "The Horror from the Hills", a story serialised in 1931 in Weird Tales and one of Long's best-known works, incorporated almost verbatim a dream H.P. Lovecraft related to him (among other correspondents) in a letter. The short novel was published many years later in separate book form by Arkham House in 1963 - The Horror from the Hills.
In the late 1930s, Long turned his hand to science fiction, writing for Astounding Science Fiction. He also contributed horror stories to Unknown, later called Unknown Worlds. Long contributed an episode (along with C.L. Moore, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft) to the round-robin story "The Challenge from Beyond" (1935). His later science fiction works include the story collection John Carstairs, Space Detective (1949), and the novels Space Station 1 (1957), Mars is My Destination (1962) and It Was the Day of the Robot (1963).
In pulps such as Thrilling Wonder Stories and Startling Stories during the 1940s, Long sometimes wrote using the pseudonym 'Leslie Northern.' What Long characterized as a "minor disability" kept him out of World War II and writing full-time during the early 1940s. Long reputedly ghost-wrote two, possibly three, of the Ellery Queen Junior novels (see Ellery Queen (house name) (mentioned in correspondence with August Derleth) but unfortunately did not identify the three titles.
He also wrote comic books in the 1940s, including horror stories for Adventures Into the Unknown (ACG), and scripts for Planet Comics, Superman, Congo Bill, DC's Golden Age Green Lantern, and the Fawcett Comics Captain Marvel. He also worked in the 1940s as a script-reader for Twentieth Century Fox Long also wrote crime and weird menace stories for Ten Gang Mystery and other magazines. During the 1940s Long lived in California.
In 1946, Arkham House published Long's first collection of supernatural fiction, The Hounds of Tindalos, which collected 21 of his best tales from the previous twenty years of magazine publication. It featured works which had appeared in such pulps as Weird Tales, Astounding Stories, Super-Science, Unknown, Thrilling Wonder Stories and others. In "The Man from Time", a time-traveller from the future has an encounter with writer F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Ever versatile as a writer, Long changed with the times. In the 1950s he was uncredited associate editor on The Saint Mystery Magazine and Fantastic Universe. He was associate editor on Satellite Science Fiction, 1959; on Short Stories, 1959–60; and on Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine until 1966.
Long several times met fellow Weird Tales writer and poet, Joseph Payne Brennan, and later provided the Foreword for Brennan's The Chronicles of Lucius Leffing (1977).
After the decline of the pulps, Long moved into writing science fiction and gothic romance novels (and even a Man from UNCLE story The Electronic Frankenstein Affair, which appeared under the pen name Robert Hart Davis in the Man from UNCLE Magazine).
Long wrote nine modern Gothic novels, starting with So Dark a Heritage in 1966 (published under his own name), eight of which were published as by 'Lyda Belknap Long' (a combination of his wife (Lyda Arco Long)'s first name and his middle name and surname. All were entirely his own work and were workmanlike products intended to support him and his wife rather than to be of high literary quality. According to Elsa J. Radcliffe, Crucible of Evil (1974) is "a very clumsy tale both in plot and writing style. Much of the suspense seems contrived and the plot tediously simplistic."
Long also published collections of his short stories (such as The Hounds of Tindalos and Night Fear) and poetry (including In Mayan Splendor), a biography of H. P. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside, and his own Autobiographical Memoir (Necronomicon Press, 1986). Illumination on his own life and work is also provided by his introduction to The Early Long (1975), a collection of his best early stories.
He married Lyda Arco,a Russian descended from a line of actors in the Yiddish theatre who ran a salon in Chelsea, NY, in 1960. They stayed together till Long's death in 1994, but had no children. Long described himself as an "agnostic." Referring to Lovecraft, Long wrote that he "always shared HPL's skepticism . . . concerning the entire range of alleged supernatural occurrences and what is commonly defined as 'the occult.'"
Long died on January 3, 1994 at the age of 92 at Saint Vincent's Catholic Medical Center in Manhattan. He was survived by his wife, Lyda. Due to his poverty, he was interred in a potter's field for indigents. Friends and colleagues, on learning of this indignity, had his remains moved and reinterred at New York City's Woodlawn Cemetery, in a family plot near that of Lovecraft's grandparents. Despite a seven-decade career as a writer, he had died impoverished after many years living in the Chelsea District of Manhattan. Long's fans contributed over $3,000 to have his name engraved upon the tombstone of his family plot. Lyda died shortly after Frank and her ashes were scattered on his grave.
Frank Belknap Long left behind a body of work that included twenty-nine novels, 150 short stories, eight collections of short stories, three poetry collections, and numerous freelance magazine articles and comic book scripts. Author Ray Bradbury summed up Long's career: "Frank Belknap Long has lived through a major part of science fiction history in the U.S., has known most of the writers personally, or has corresponded with them, and has, with his own writing, helped shape the field when most of us were still in our early teens."
Friendship with Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft was a close friend and mentor to Frank Belknap Long, with whom he came in contact in 1920 when Long was but nineteen. Lovecraft found Long a stimulating correspondent especially in regard to his aesthetic tastes, focussing on the Italian Renaissance and French literature. Lovecraft published some of Long's early work in his Conservative (e.g. Felis: A prose Poem [July 1923], about Long's pet cat) and paid tribute to Long in a flattering article, "The Work of Frank Belknap Long, Jun.," published anonymously in the United Amateur (May 1924) but clearly by Lovecraft.They first met when Lovecraft visited New York in April 1922. They saw each other with great frequency (especially during Lovecraft's Brooklyn residence in New York City from 1924 to 1926), at which time they were the chief members of the Kalem Club and wrote to each other often. Long's family apartment was always Lovecraft's residence and headquarters during his periodic trips from Providence to New York. Long writes that he and Lovecraft exchanged "more than a thousand letters, not a few running to more than eighty handwritten pages" before Lovecraft's death in 1937. Some of their correspondence has been reprinted in Arkham House's Selected Letters series, collecting the voluminous correspondence of Lovecraft and his friends. Long's Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Night Side was extensively edited by James Turner.
During the 1930s, Long and Lovecraft were both members of the Kalem Club (named for the initials of the surnames of original members—K, L, or M). Long was also part of the loosely associated "Lovecraft Circle" of fantasy writers (along with Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Clark Ashton Smith, C. M. Eddy, Jr., and Donald Wandrei) who corresponded regularly with each other and influenced and critiqued each other's works.
Long wrote a brief preface to the stillborn edition of Lovecraft's The Shunned House (1928). Lovecraft, in turn, ghostwrote for Long the preface to Mrs William B. Symmes' Old World Footprints (W. Paul Cook/The Recluse Press, 1928), a slim poetry collection by Long's aunt. Long's short novel The Horror from the Hills (Weird Tales, Jan and Feb-March 1931; published in book from 1963) incorporates verbatim a letter by Lovecraft recounting his great 'Roman dream' of Hallow'een 1927. Long teamed with Lovecraft in a revision service with Lovecraft in 1928. Long's parents frequently took Lovecraft on various motor trips between 1929 and 1930, and Lovecraft visited Long at Christmas between 1932 and 1935 inclusive. Lovecraft helped set type for Long's second poetry collection, The Goblin Tower (1935), correcting some of Long's faulty metre in the process. Lovecraft's letters to Long after 1931 have all been lost, with the letters up to that date existing primarily in transcriptions prepared by Arkham House.
The Long/Lovecraft friendship was fictionalized in Peter Cannon's 1985 novel Pulptime: Being a Singular Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Lovecraft, and the Kalem Club as if Narrated by Frank Belknap Long, Jr.. Long was a Guest of Honour at the Lovecraft Centennial Conference in Providence in 1990.
Long wrote a number of early Cthulhu Mythos stories. These included "The Hounds of Tindalos" (the first Mythos story written by anyone other than Lovecraft), The Horror from the Hills (which introduced the elephantine Great Old One Chaugnar Faugn to the Mythos), and "The Space-Eaters" (featuring a fictionalized HPL as its main character). A number of other works by Long can be considered as falling within the Cthulhu Mythos; these include "The Brain Eaters" and "The Malignant Invader", as well as such poems as "The Abominable Snowman" and "When Chaugnar Wakes." A later Mythos story, "Dark Awakening", appeared in New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. The story betrays the influence of Long's pseudonymous romantic fiction, and the final paragraph was added by the editor at Long's suggestion.
The Hounds of Tindalos are Long's most famous fictional creation. The Hounds were a pack of foul and incomprehensibly alien beasts "emerging from strange angles in dim recesses of non-Euclidean space before the dawn of time" (Long) to pursue travelers down the corridors of time. They could only enter our reality via angles, where they would mangle and exsanguinate their victims, leaving behind only a "peculiar bluish pus or ichor" (Long).
Influence on Popular Culture
The Hounds of Tindalos have been used or referenced by many later Mythos writers, including Ramsey Campbell, Lin Carter, and Brian Lumley. Long's Hounds of Tindalos have also inspired a number of metal and electronic music artists, such as Metallica (with their song All Nightmare Long from their ninth studio album Death Magnetic, Epoch of Unlight, Edith Byron's Group, Beowulf, Fireaxe/Brian Voth, and Univers Zero, all of whom have recorded tracks based upon the story.