H.P. Lovecraft’s long-lost manuscript, The Cancer of Superstition, has only been talked about in hushed tones since 1926 when it disappeared following the death of Harry Houdini. Now, thanks to a private collector, the manuscript has been found, and is going on the auction block.
The Cancer of Superstition was commissioned by Harry Houdini in 1926, to have Lovecraft ghostwrite an essay on exploring superstition.
In his investigative account of superstition in ancient and modern culture, Lovecraft explores werewolves and other monsters, worship of the dead, cannibalism, and other “barbarian” practices. He concludes, frighteningly, “most of us are heathens in the innermost recesses of our hearts.”
Unfortunately, a punch to the stomach on October 31, 1926 ended Houdini’s life, and unfortunately, the project was halted by his wife, Bess Houdini. According to reports, the manuscript was shoved in a bunch of the magician’s other papers, and shuffled around from location to location until Bess’s death in 1943. In the book, The 13 Gates of the Necronomicon: A Workbook of Magic, author Donald Tyson had a breakdown of the project that was accurate until this recent find.
At the time of his death, Houdini had been corresponding with Lovecraft regarding a book on which they intended to collaborate, along with writer C.M. Eddy Jr., which was to be entitled ‘The Cancer of Superstition.’ Lovecraft prepared a detailed outline of the work, which is extant, and Barlow actually began the writing and completed three chapters, but Houdini’s widow cancelled the project – perhaps because she was herself more inclined to believe in the reality of spiritualists phenomena than her skeptical late husband.
Recently, the 31-page manuscript was uncovered by a private collector in a defunct magic shop, and the document is now going on the auction block in April. This may not be simply a case of someone stumbling upon the collection though, as rumors that Mario Carrandi had this in his possession have been floating around the Internetz for years. Still, if one knew what the manuscript was, and its importance to Houdini and Lovecraft scholars, why would someone keep it locked away?
Possibly because the longer the wait, the more it makes.
Potter & Potter Auctions of Chicago will open the bid at $13,000 on April 9th, with the expected sale price to be somewhere in the neighborhood of $30,000 (give or take $15,000). I don’t know what original manuscripts or lost manuscripts are going for these days, but with Lovecraft interest at an all time high, I expect those who claim copyright on Lovecraft’s work to pump that number up considerably. In April 2009, HP Lovecraft’s essay on astrology sold to a Lovecraft collector in Utah for $5,000.
So, is this a big deal? For Lovecraft fans, it most definitely could be. Major Spoilers contributor, Dr. Brad Will said, “Sadly, [this is]not as exciting as folks would like to make it out to be. It’s nonfiction, and still just a tiny fragment of a book that HPL never bothered to finish. Surely no new insights.”
One chapter of the manuscript was published in 1966 in “The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces”, but there are those that claim the work up for auction isn’t even Lovecraft’s, but rather by CM Eddy, who was also commissioned by Houdini to work on the book.
“It appears that not all the chapters embodied in the newly discovered manuscript were published in The Dark Brotherhood,” which contained only The Genesis of Superstition. “Assuming the manuscript contains more than this chapter, then those subsequent chapters are unpublished. But they still seem to be by Eddy, not by Lovecraft,” said Lovecraft scholar ST Joshi in an interview with The Guardian.
Could this really be the case? Possible, but considering Lovecraft and Houdini collaborated on several projects, including Imprisoned with The Pharaohs, I’m hoping the Lovecraft scholar is off the mark. When you go down the rabbit hole of Lovecraft scholarship, there are all sorts of arguments that will make your head spin – the authorship of The Cancer of Superstition is a drop in the bucket.
Is there anyone out there who will bid on this, or do you have other insight into the history of this manuscript? If so, use the comment section below!