In 1939, a couple of Weird Tales regulars and H.P. Lovecraft acolytes founded Arkham House, a publishing company initially dedicated to putting Lovecraft’s works out in hardback form. August Derleth (1909-1971) and Donald Wandrei (1908-1987) named their endeavor after the fictional village in Massachusetts in which Lovecraft had set a number of his yarns.
By 1944, while Wandrei was off defeating fascism with General George S. Patton’s Third Army as it marched across Europe towards Nazi Germany, Arkham House had been busily putting out novels and story collections by various well-known horror and fantasy authors, in addition to their Lovecraft volumes. Legendary genre writers like Evangeline Walton, J. Sheridan le Fanu and Algernon Blackwood appeared under the Arkham imprint, as well as numerous Weird Tales alumni including Derleth and Wandrei themselves.
In 1948, Derleth reckoned it was time to start up a quarterly magazine to showcase the company’s talent and preview upcoming publications. The Arkham Sampler ran for two volumes of four issues each over the next two years. Each edition was 100 pages plus cardboard covers, except for the last one which had 124 pages. The front covers were all similar, with a few of the features listed in a box under the title. The first volume had new publication notices on the back cover, with the inside front and back blank. Volume Two moved the coming attractions on the inside back cover with the company colophon on the back.
The Volume One issues were dated Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn of 1948. Lovecraft’s novella “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath”, first published in the 1943 Arkham House collection, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, was serialized in all four issues. They also included stories and poems by several prominent horror and fantasy authors, both contemporary and from days that were, at the time, gone by. These included Robert Bloch, H. Russell Wakefield, Lord Dunsany, and Victorian-era spook-mistress Charlotte Riddell. There were non-fiction pieces on Lovecraft, the Cthulhu Mythos, and horror fiction in general, along with book reviews and letters from fans. Leah Bodine Drake, a frequent contributor to Weird Tales, had poems in all four issues of Volume One and two of Volume Two, as well as the occasional book review. Clark Ashton Smith had poems in all eight editions. Each issue concluded with an editorial that discussed, among other things, company news.
The second volume was also dated for each season, this time for 1949. As in Volume One, each issue contained one long piece, although not another Lovecraft serial. The first issue’s lengthy work was a collective effort by Forrest J. Ackerman, Theodore Sturgeon, A.E. Van Vogt, and others to enumerate a basic science-fiction library. It was followed by Ray Bradbury’s first of three appearances in the magazine, and then the usual features with a Derleth poem and stories by Van Vogt and John Harris Beynon, AKA John Wyndham, slipped into the mix.
The second issue leads off with a longish Clark Ashton Smith yarn. No Bradbury this time, but Beynon, Derleth and E. Hoffman Price filled in on behalf of the fictioneers.
The third issue’s long piece is the first part of the 1741 novel Journey to the World Underground by Baroque-period Danish-Norwegian author Ludwig Holberg, credited as Lewis Holberg. Bradbury is back, along with tales by Jules Verne and the unfairly-neglected-in-these-latter-days David H. Keller. Holberg’s novel finishes in the final edition, accompanied by Bradbury and Wakefield, along with Stephen Grendon’s fourth appearance in the periodical. Grendon was in reality one of Derleth’s noms-de-plume, so he represented himself well in his own publication. The perquisites of ownership, indeed.
The Arkham Sampler was succeeded in 1967 by The Arkham Collector, which ran for ten issues before it was suspended upon Derleth’s death in 1971. I’ve only ever seen the fifth issue from the Summer of 1969, which was thirty-two pages of more or less the same mix as in the earlier incarnation. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, the page counts ranged from twenty-four to forty-eight. The entire set of The Arkham Collector was published by Arkham House in a limited edition hardback in 1971.
We have une lagniappe this time out to honor the passing of the last of the Universal Monsters. Ricou Browning, who played the Creature from the Black Lagoon in the underwater sequences in all three of the Gill Man films from 1954 to 1956, succumbed on February 27th, 2023, at the age of Ninety-Three. In his memory, next time we’ll take a loving look at everyone’s favorite fishy fellow in all his various incarnations, in “The Lives and Death of Blackie LaGoon”. Until then, oh my dear haunters of historical horrors, I bid you all be afraid…
Be very afraid.