L.C. Spinks prepared the original 1952 edition of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft’s erotic diary, The Erotonomicon. Born in Budapest in 1922, Spinks moved to Ontario as a child, and published the celebrated Lovecraft fanzine Pickman's Vault in the 1930s and 40s. He acquired the manuscript of The Erotonomicon from Lovecraft’s friend and admirer Robert H. Barlow in Mexico City, shortly before Barlow’s death in 1951.
He wrote in the introduction to The Erotonomicon that “I think, in the end, history will conclude that by publishing this book I have done H.P.L. a favor,” a prognostication which the publication of the original edition did not bear out, to say the least. The descriptions of sex acts with boys and young men which Lovecraft chronicled in The Erotonomicon did great harm to his reputation; if Lovecraft’s publishers, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, had not succeeded in denouncing the book as a forgery, Lovecraft himself would surely have been forgotten.
However, it was not a forgery. We spoke with L.C. Spinks at his home in Parry Sound, Ontario, to get the real story.
Black Hour Books: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get the manuscript of The Erotonomicon?
L.C. Spinks: Well, all right. I was down in Mexico City, selling stoves for General Electric. But of course I’d heard of Robert Barlow from my Pickman’s Vault days, and I happened to know that he was in Mexico City, so I went over to the college where he taught, to say hello.
BHB: Do you want to tell us who Barlow was?
LCS: Oh. All right. Barlow was a fan of Lovecraft’s. He and Lovecraft exchanged many letters, and finally, Barlow invited Lovecraft to visit him in Florida. Lovecraft went. He stayed for six weeks, and he went back the next summer and stayed for nearly two months. I have to say that there was some perplexity among Lovecraft’s fans, as to what exactly happened during all that time. Though of course we found out in The Erotonomicon. Anyway, Lovecraft named Barlow to be his literary executor, and Barlow, so far as anyone could tell, took all of Lovecraft’s papers and brought them out to California and left them in boxes in other people’s basements. This outraged [August] Derleth and [Donald] Wandrei [Lovecraft’s publishers —Ed.] so much that they started a whispering campaign, accusing Barlow of being a thief, and queer to boot. Well, of course he was queer, but he wasn’t a thief. He was very unhappy about the whole situation. But by then he was already becoming interested in the Aztecs, and he moved to Mexico City and got away from the whole scandal like that. In the end, he sent Lovecraft’s papers to Derleth and I believe the two of them even became friendly.
BHB: But he kept The Erotonomicon for himself.
LCS: Well, yes. It wasn’t at all the sort of thing Derleth would have wanted to print, or even to know about. But by the time I got to Mexico City, I believe that Barlow was of the mind that someone should get it. He might have known, you see, that he wasn’t going to live much longer. He had already made one suicide attempt, and he was under a great deal of nervous strain. So when I showed up, and we drank a great deal of wine, and got to talking about the old days, I think he must have felt that he could trust me with it. He knew, in short, that I would be sympathetic.
BHB: Let’s pause for a minute there. When he gave you the manuscript, did you wonder if it might be a forgery?
LCS: Not for an instant. It was unmistakably in Lovecraft’s handwriting. Barlow had some letters from Lovecraft, which he showed me at the same time that he gave me the manuscript, and it was easy to see that they had all been written by the same person. It was in an old composition book, I mean, a notebook from the right era. And then ... who could possibly have made all those things up? You would have had to know everything about Lovecraft’s life, everything about his friends, about the places in which he lived. The only person who could perhaps have done it would have been Barlow himself, but he had no motive. In fact he told me that the diary had caused him a great deal of pain, and when I read it, I understood why.
BHB: Do you think Barlow would have wanted you to publish it?
LCS:: Maybe not. Probably not. And if Barlow had lived I would never have dreamed of doing anything with the diary. But after he died ... I got to thinking, that maybe people ought to know the truth about Lovecraft after all. His fans were turning him into a kind of gloomy legend, a sorcerer, an eighteenth-century English gentleman. But he was a human being, with human passions. I thought people should know that. And (laughs) I imagined that if they knew the truth, they’d like him even better. The way people like Genêet because he was in prison—or de Sade, for that matter. The way people used to like Henry Miller because he was poor and slept around. But of course that didn’t happen.
BHB: No. And eventually you got August Derleth, claiming that the diary was a fake.
LCS: (Laughs.) He had to! His livelihood was at stake. Already, fans were getting rid of Lovecraft’s books. And there was talk of removing them from libraries! He couldn’t stop Roth from publishing The Erotonomicon—though I strongly suspect that he was the one who told the U.S. Postal Inspectors about the book—so the only way he could save Lovecraft was to discredit the diary. And he did.
BHB: Forgive me if this is a delicate question, but why didn’t you stop him?
LCS: I tried, at first. I told the whole story of how the manuscript had come into my possession. I invited handwriting experts to examine it. Everyone said it was the real thing. But then ... you know, I came out of fandom. It was my entire universe when I was a kid. Writing letters to other fans, and waiting for their answers to arrive ... I realized at a certain point that if I went on with the Erotonomicon ... If I kept fighting for it, I was going to pull my own world apart. I wasn’t afraid for myself, you understand. By then I had survived a great deal. But I wanted the young people to have their fandom. It saved me when I was young and I hated the thought that I might be depriving some young person of an equivalent salvation. So in the end I backed down, and let Derleth have his way. He made a lot of money, I think. I came back to Parry Sound, and I’ve been broke ever since. But I have the satisfaction of seeing fandom go on. (Laughs.)
BHB: How kind of you.
LCS: Do you mean that sarcastically?
BHB: Not at all. You’ve made a remarkable sacrifice. All the same, when you were talking just now, I thought you were going to say, if I went on with the Erotonomicon hoax.
LCS: No, not at all. Why would I say that? It was never a hoax. The hoax is that there was a hoax. The Erotonomicon is authentic. Otherwise, why would you be publishing it again now?