Horror Fiends: Frank Belknap Long

Originally published in Shadows of Centralis Month Magazine: Issue: #12 (March 2023).

A writer whose career was to span a highly impressive seven decades, and who became known as one of weird fiction’s most prolific authors, Frank Belknap Long was born in Manhattan, New York City on April 27th, 1901. Growing up with a love of nature and the outdoors, Long’s interest in literature was another early passion of his; his early literary influences included the likes of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Ambrose Bierce, and Edgar Allan Poe.

First attending New York University, then Columbia University, Long studied journalism. Meanwhile, Long was actively involved with the United Amateur Press Association. Appearing in the United Amateur in March 1920, Long’s first published work was a piece called Dr Whitlock’s Price. Long followed Dr Whitlock’s Price with The Eye Above the Mantel. It was around this time that Long began a friendship with H.P. Lovecraft; frequently corresponding via letter, as well as spending time together, the two shared a close friendship until the death of the latter in 1937. Long contributed to what was later termed the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’. Coined by August Derleth, the Cthulhu Mythos is a mythopoeia centred around the works of H.P. Lovecraft.

Over the course of the 1920’s – 1960’s, establishing himself as a prolific contributor to such pulp magazines as Weird Tales, Astounding Stories of Super-Science, Unknown, and Satellite Science Fiction, Long wrote a plethora of fantasy, horror, and science fiction tales.

Launched in 1930 by publisher William Clayton and editor Harry Bates, later (1933) published by Street & Smith, with Frederick Orlin Tremaine serving as editor, Astounding Stories of Super-Science formed part of what has since been termed the ‘Golden Age of Science Fiction’.

In 1924, with his story The Desert Lich, Long secured his first professional sale of one of his tales; The Desert Lich was sold to Weird Tales magazine. Over the decades that followed, Long became a regular contributor to the pulp publication.

First published in the November 1924 issue of Weird Tales, labelled a “Necrophilic Tale,” Frank Belknap Long’s The Desert Lich tells the tale of a seller of brides who, trapped in a pit with a decomposing, murdered wife, pays a torturous price for providing a client with an unsatisfactory bride. Driven to desperate depths, parched and ravenous, the captive of the story is forced into contemplating the eating of the corpse, when his captor finally decides to release him from his terror.

Long’s The Hounds of Tindalos first surfaced in Weird Tales in 1929, H.P. Lovecraft later incorporated this fantastical creature into his 1931 story The Whisperer in Darkness. Published in 1946 by Arkham House, the title of The Hounds of Tindalos was used for a collection of Long’s short stories.

‘Short Stories’, August 10th, 1926. Illustration by Edgar G. Whitmack.

Later published in book form (via Arkham House in 1963), The Horror from the Hills is a story by Long which was first featured in 1931 issues of Weird Tales. Considered part of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, The Horror from the Hills includes an almost verbatim dream of Lovecraft which the writer told Long.

Centred around the character of Chalmers, an advocate for the use of mind-altering of drugs, which allow him to expand his mathematical knowledge, and enter into the fourth dimension, The Hounds of Tindalos sees Long tell the story of esoteric terrors which inhabit and traverse angles of time.

With its roots dating back to 1890, Short Stories was a pulp magazine which ran stories from such genres as adventure, science fiction, and Western. During the 1950’s, Long worked on the magazine as associate editor, a role he also covered with Satellite Science Fiction and, moving into the 1960’s, Mike Shayne Mystery Magazine. Meanwhile, outside of his literary career, in 1960, Long married his fiancé, Lyda Arco.

In 1972, Arkham House published The Rim of the Unknown; this book contained several of Long’s short stories which had been previously printed in various pulp magazines.

Published by Doubleday in 1975, The Early Long was a collection of Long’s stories. Though the body of work had been previously printed in different pulp magazines, this book included an introduction penned by the writer, along with extensive notes on the included content. That same year, Long’s biography of his friend H.P. Lovecraft, Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer of the Nightside, was released via Arkham House.

In 1977, Arkham House published In Mayan Splendour; a book of Long’s poems. The following year, in appreciation for his decades of weird tales’ writing, Long was awarded the World Fantasy Aware for Lifetime Achievement. Then, in 1987, from the Horror Writers Association, Long was awarded the Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, Long and his wife endured hardship as they lived in conditions of poverty in their Manhattan apartment. The, having been in failing health, and wheelchair-dependent, for some time, Long died of pneumonia at Saint Vincent’s Catholic Medical Center on January 3rd, 1994; Long was ninety-two years old. Due to his poverty, he was initially interred in a potter’s field; later, he was reinterred in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York City as friends and colleagues pooled resources. Fans of the writer contributed funds to have an engraved nameplate added to his new burial place. Long’s wife Lyda passed away soon after her husband, her ashes were later scatted on his grave.

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