Saturday, 6 July 2019


Every now and then I stumble upon a piece of information that shines interesting light upon the world of HPL and the circles through which he moved. The other day I was cataloguing books at work and I came across this:

DANZIGER de CASTRO, Adolphe, & Ambrose BIERCE, The Monk and the Hangman’s Daughter, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, 1927.

Octavo; hardcover, with gilt spine titles and decorations and a blind-stamped lower board decoration; 256pp. (+8pp. of adverts). Minor wear; slightly rolled; spine extremities mildly softened; text block edges toned; offset to the endpapers; retailer’s bookplate to the front pastedown. Very good.

A seemingly innocuous volume but it set bells ringing in my brain. The obvious thing was the presence of Bierce, who was a great influence upon Lovecraft as one of the Precursors of his oeuvre – along with Dunsany, Machen and Blackwood. However, the name “Castro” was striking a chord too. Most fans of the Mythos will know that “Old Castro” is the name of the garrulous cult member questioned intensely by Inspector Legrasse in the story “The Call of Cthulhu”, but there was something else niggling at me:

After a quick search, I recalled that Adolphe de Castro was one of the many writers who approached HPL to provide technical polish to the stories upon which they were working. These are referred to in Lovecraft’s canon as “revisions”, and sometimes the amount of polish which he provided was more of a wholesale re-writing rather than a mere editorial tweaking. Danziger had two works revised by Lovecraft – “The Last Test” and “The Electric Executioner” – during their collaboration which lasted from 1927 to 1936. If you haven’t encountered these tales, I can recommend the following as no better source:

LOVECRAFT, H.P., (Stephen JONES, ed.), The Horror in the Museum, Del Rey/Ballantyne Books/Random House Inc., New York NY, 2007.

Octavo; trade paperback; 453pp. Minor wear; text block edges toned. Very good.

Adolphe de Castro (aka. “Gustav Adolf Danziger”, “Adolph Danziger”, "Adolphe Danziger", “Adolf Danziger” and “Adolphe Danziger de Castro”) was born Abram Dancygier, near Dobrzyń nad Wisłą in Congress Poland (the old Czarist state), on November 6th, 1859 and died in Los Angeles on March 4th, 1959, just eight months short of his 100th birthday. He was a journalist, lawyer and Jewish scholar as well as an author of several novels and short stories. Between 1886 and 1894, Danziger was mentored as a writer by Ambrose Bierce while in San Francisco where he worked as a reporter and dentist. He abandoned his wife and family in 1900, fleeing to New York in order to publish a book, after which he became a lawyer and served as vice-consul to the US in Madrid. He later moved to Aberdeen in Scotland and traveled in Mexico and the US, before settling in Los Angeles in 1936.

Between the years 1927 and 1936, he corresponded with Lovecraft and undertook to have HPL revise two of his short works which were published in “Weird Tales” magazine: “A Sacrifice to Science” – originally published in 1893 - was revised as “The Last Test” and was published in Vol.12, No.5 of November 1928, while “The Automatic Executioner” – which had been published twice before in 1891 and 1893 – was revised as “The Electric Executioner” for Vol.16, No.2, August 1930. The revised tales have Lovecraft’s clear fingerprints all over them.

About Danziger, Lovecraft had this to say:

"Old Dolph is a portly, sentimental, & gesticulating person given to egotistical rambling about old times & the great men he has intimately known. … he entertained everybody with his loquacious egotism & pompous reminiscences of intimacies with the great. … [He] regaled us with tedious anecdotes of how he secured the election of Roosevelt, Taft, & Harding as Presidents. According to himself, he is apparently America’s foremost power behind the throne!"

The story “The Call of Cthulhu” was started by Lovecraft in 1926 and was published in “Weird Tales” in February 1928. The character of Old Castro is essential to the unraveling of the plot and the caricature can be seen to have been based upon HPL’s estimation of Danziger. Castro is loquacious and rambling, craving recognition for his elite associations, described as “old” – a possible precursor to Zadok Allen in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” – and, as can be seen in the above quote, Lovecraft attributes all of these qualities to Danziger. Did perhaps more than just the name get transferred into the story?

We’ve seen how many of HPL’s friends became characters in his writing – Clark Ashton Smith became the wizard “Klarkash Ton”; the “Comte d’Erlette” is a French interpretation of August Derleth’s name; and of course, Robert Bloch was immortalized as the doomed “Robert Blake”. Lovecraft himself was translated in turn by his friends into the “Rev. Ward Phillips” and also the Egyptian sorcerer, “Luveh Keraphf”. It’s not unreasonable to assume that other people in his acquaintance were the inspiration for characters in HPL’s works and that Danziger thus became the archetype for the cultist, Castro. It’s pretty clear too, that the attribution stemmed not from some kind of affectionate impulse; we know too much about Lovecraft’s personal inclinations and Danziger’s cultural roots would not have stood him in good stead.

As to the book at the start of this post, Bierce revised this story – based on an old German tale - for Danziger, insisting that he have it released with a down-beat ending, as in his initial draft. Danziger wasn’t happy with the sad ending and, at the behest of a later New York publisher, created a finale that was all roses and sunshine – much to Bierce’s disgust. Fortunately, Danziger had enough faith in Bierce’s opinion to withdraw the happy ending from publication and allow Bierce to see it printed elsewhere. Unfortunately, Bierce vanished in Mexico during this process and the work was mistakenly published under his name, rather than Danziger’s. Its reproduction in this Jonathan Cape printing, along with Bierce’s “Fantastic Fables” and a “Statement” from Danziger explaining the tribulations of past publishing attempts, sets the record straight.

As for Lovecraft, did he base the character of Old Castro on Adolphe Danziger de Castro? I guess we’ll never know, but it certainly seems likely…