H.P. Lovecraft is known for fiction that depicts twisted, supernatural realities. However, a recently rediscovered manuscript co-written by the author expresses skepticism toward the paranormal. According to The Guardian, a forgotten Lovecraft story called The Cancer of Superstition was recently found amid a collection of items from an old magic shop. Commissioned by escape artist Harry Houdini, the 31-page work investigates—and condemns—superstition through the ages.
Potter & Potter Auctions
The work was found among the papers of Beatrice Houdini and her manager, Edward Saint. After Beatrice’s death, the documents passed from owner to owner until a private buyer recently purchased them, came across the story, and realized its importance.
Now, Potter & Potter Auctions of Chicago will sell the story in an auction of Harry Houdini memorabilia on April 9. Bids start at $13,000, although experts think it might fetch anywhere from $25,000 to $40,000.
Houdini hired Lovecraft to write The Cancer of Superstition in 1926. When the stuntman died later that year, the project was put on hold. A synopsis of the story and one of its chapters, The Genesis of Superstition, was published in the 1966 book The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces. However, scholars didn’t know whether any more of the work—which was intended to be book-length—existed until now, Fine Books & Collections writes.
According to The National, Houdini wasn’t a fan of magic or spiritualism, and regularly used his stunts to unmask charlatans and frauds. However, Houdini was a fan of Lovecraft—a surprising fact, considering that the latter never achieved fame during his lifetime and died a pauper. Houdini’s admiration was triggered by a story Lovecraft had written called Imprisoned with the Pharaohs. The tale was based off one of Houdini’s “experiences” in Egypt, and told of the time the famed illusionist supposedly met the god who inspired the ancient Sphinx statue. Lovecraft began ghostwriting works for Houdini, including a lost essay criticizing astrology, before starting on The Cancer of Superstition.
Lovecraft teamed up with the writer CM Eddy, who reportedly wrote the chapters of The Cancer of Superstition. Lovecraft made additions and revisions and wrote its synopsis. After touching on topics like werewolves and black magic, Lovecraft and Eddy concluded that superstition is an “inborn inclination” that “persists only through mental indolence of those who reject modern science.”
Since Houdini died so soon after The Cancer of Superstition’s start, scholars thought that Lovecraft and Eddy had only completed a small portion of the project. Now that it’s been rediscovered, it adds a new historical understanding of the two famous figures’ fight against scientific ignorance.
“While Lovecraft entertained readers with weird and horrific science fiction and Houdini amazed audiences with displays of superhuman escapes, both are to be found here in what they call a ‘campaign’ against superstition,” Potter & Potter president Gabe Fajuri told The Guardian. “They argue that all superstitious beliefs are relics of a common ‘prehistoric ignorance’ in humans.”
[h/t The Guardian]