An interesting writing prompt from the second paragraph of Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone": the final tragic night of Alexis Ladeau

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Summary: In a line merely meant to set-up *something odd*, Howard gives a particularly interesting lacuna that writers could try and fill in: what exactly happened to Alexis Ladeau?

BLOT: (20 Nov 2014 - 08:48:42 AM)

An interesting writing prompt from the second paragraph of Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone": the final tragic night of Alexis Ladeau

Even though I have reached the point where I should probably be focusing on other authors—I have at least a Haruki Murakami book to finish—I still find myself traipsing through weird lit. In this case, I've been enjoying going back to some of the seminal works of mythos-lit, the kind found in the James Turner edited Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos. It is always interesting to see what constitutes the literature of the mythos in a post-Cambell, post-Ligotti world as contrasted to a world where writers like Frank Belknap Long and Clark Ashton Smith corresponded directly with Lovecraft, himself.

You also get little prompts to inspire some thought and debate, of which I want to talk about one here. Early in "The Black Stone", Robert E. Howard's 1931 mythos tale which is the second appearance Friedrich von Junzt's Nameless Cults1, now most often translated into the German as Unaussprechlichen Kulten, you have this passage:

Von Junzt spent his entire life (1795-1840) delving into forbidden subjects; he traveled in all parts of the world, gained entrance into innumerable secret societies, and read countless little-known and esoteric books and manuscripts in the original; and in the chapters of the Black Book, which range from startling clarity of exposition to murky ambiguity, there are statements and hints to freeze the blood of a thinking man. Reading what Von Junzt dared put in print arouses uneasy speculations as to what it was that he dared not tell. What dark matters, for instance, were contained in those closely written pages that formed the unpublished manuscript on which he worked unceasingly for months before his death, and which lay torn and scattered all over the floor of the locked and bolted chamber in which Von Junzt was found dead with the marks of taloned fingers on his throat? It will never be known, for the author's closest friend, the Frenchman Alexis Ladeau, after having spent a whole night piecing the fragments together and reading what was written, burnt them to ashes and cut his own throat with a razor.

Von Junzt's journey into depravity nets us a single core manuscript, written about in Howard's stories as a literal listing of cults around the world and their beliefs, not seemingly worthy the 2d8 Sanity loss that the 7th edition The Call of Cthulhu RPG gives it (nor the up-to double digits of mythos knowledge). However, the quote above hints that there are hints, and that someone who reads close enough will see something between the lines, behind the words.2 This is then spiced up a bit by having von Junzt, at his death [via taloned fingers], working on a second, even darker, manuscript: the pages torn and scattered about his room. His good friend, Alexis Ladeau, tries to piece together the new book but after a single night slices his own throat open.

What I like about this bit is how it ties into the real life story of William S. Burroughs. After shooting his wife—in something like an unintentional homicide that was nevertheless totally his fault, as he was playing William Tell with live ammunition—he sparked into becoming a writer. Fleeing Mexico before his trial was finished, he went to South America and then came back to the States. He tried mind altering drugs. He hit on Alan Ginsberg, and was rejected. Eventually, he went to Rome and then to Tangier. There, he got really high and wrote what would become Naked Lunch, but only after Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac came to Tangier and helped him type and edit it into...well, you know, not cohesiveness, but a book.4

Combining those two, you could come up with an interesting story. Ladeau tries a couple of times to reach his friend, who has long toiled under the darkness of his writings5, and is saddened to find that his friend has died. Maybe the cops are calling it suicide, death by razor, though Ladeau knows the truth. Even with the official stance, the word gets out and copies of Nameless Cults are burned by those who have them in fear of some unspoken retaliation for ownership. Ladeau tries to maintain his friend's literary and academic name and reputation, but is failing.

Finally, Ladeau figures that he can assemble the unfinished, fragmented book. He gets it into a rough order over a night or two, and cleans up the pages after another night. He sits down to read it, and...

...eventually slits his own throat.

Just seems like you could have a lot of fun in the midst of those ellipses.

1: The initial appearance was earlier that year in "The Children of the Night" and would show up again the next year in "The Thing on the Roof". Lovecraft's fiction is the first place that it showed up with its German title, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, with stories such as 1932's "The Dreams in the Witch House". Interestingly, in the Hazel Heald coauthored "Out of the Aeons", the book is referred to by its English title, Nameless Cults.

2: It stands to be said that Howard was a practical man in his prose, and had perhaps a better grasp of pulse-pounding than spine-tingling. Later in "The Black Stone", we get a naked cult baby-smashing ritual with whipping and gyrations, only to have the horror be confirmation that yes, Virginia, giant toad-like things do live down in caves.

3: Steven Marc Harris, in his somewhat difficult to track down "Von Unaussprechlichen Kulten: A Preliminary History", gives the book the title of Unbeschreibliche Gotter or, in English, Indescribable Gods.

4: Another odd intersection is that one of Lovecraft's friends, R.H. Barlow, was the professor who taught Burroughs about Mayan culture. Barlow went on to commit suicide shortly after.

5: Again, see Harris's work for some excellent flavor on this.

Weird Lit


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