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When the Comet is Right: Proving Lovecraft’s Astronomical Observations

Astronomy professors pointing at a projection of the night sky.

Falvey Library’s Distinctive Collections and Villanova Astronomy Faculty collaborated in order to show that H.P. Lovecraft, famed horror writer, viewed Halley’s Comet in his recently acquired one-of-a-kind astronomical journal, now available to the public online.

“This manuscript—hitherto held privately—has long been a ‘Holy Grail’ to scholars of Lovecraft eager explore connections between Lovecraft’s literary output and his ventures into amateur science and journalism. Villanova University brings a commitment to open scholarship for a global community of inquiry by sharing rare resources,  such as this manuscript, through making high resolution digital surrogates freely available,” says Michael Foight, Director of Distinctive Collections and Digital Engagement.

One class of Villanova undergraduate students received a chance to view them in person, as Foight brought Lovecraft’s astronomical journal as well as other rare documents for a special presentation. It was a unique opportunity to look over primary works by prominent figures in the field, including Galileo, and another way Falvey staff reach out to the community to enrich the academic experience.

But the students were also on hand to see history, literature, and astronomy lead to discovery.

Edward Guinan, PhD, Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics, and Frank Maloney, PhD, Associate Professor, Astronomy & Astrophysics, used software to recreate the sky the night that Lovecraft indicated he made a rare observation of Halley’s Comet.

Lovecraft journal page with Halley's Comet

A page from the digitized astronomical journal of H.P. Lovecraft showing Halley’s Comet.

It turns out that, exactly as the author indicated, Halley’s comet was visible on May 26, 1910, 9 p.m., in the exact direction indicated.

Lovecraft’s work, which is heavily influenced by astronomy and mythology, may have roots in this unearthed journal, which was used by Lovecraft from age 18 to 25.

Currently, S.T. Joshi, a leading Lovecraft biographer, is reviewing the recently digitized journal. There are also scholars around the world poring over the work for new revelations about Lovecraft’s work.

Falvey Library is helping write a new chapter in Lovecraft’s legacy*, one which still holds the imagination of authors today, from Stephen King to Brian Lumley to Jordan Peele.

 

* Note: In recent years, Lovecraft has been criticized for his personal views, including strong racism, which resulted in his appearance being removed from the statute given for lifetime achievement in the World Fantasy Awards.


headshot of Shawn Proctor

Shawn Proctor is Communication and Marketing Manager at Falvey Library. His favorite Lovecraft story is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth.”


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When the stars are right: H.P. Lovecraft’s astronomical manuscript added to Distinctive Collections

Front cover

The latest manuscript added to Villanova University’s Distinctive Collections is the rare astronomical observation notebook by the noted horror author H.P. Lovecraft from the years 1909-1915. Observing from his Providence, Rhode Island home, Lovecraft noted, and then drew, various celestial phenomena including passing comets.

The notable Lovecraft story, The Colour Out of Space, published in September 1927 in Amazing Stories features a malevolent entity from space, and perhaps influenced from a comet or meteorite Lovecraft observed and depicted in his own hand in this manuscript; a film adaption of this story, Color out of Space, staring the prolific Nicolas Cage is currently in theaters.

Lovecraft’s stories were most notably featured in his lifetime in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, along with other authors such as Robert Howard (author of the Conan stories) and Clark Ashton Smith.

The October 1949 issue of the rare publication The Lovecraft Collector featured a partial transcription of the manuscript, by the then-owner David Keller, but this merely whetted the appetite of scholars eager to fully examine the manuscript which had been in private collections and unavailable for access.

The manuscript is currently on display in the Rare Book Room of Falvey Memorial Library along with supplemental materials through October. Slated for digitization in November and full transcription by a notable Lovecraft scholar soon after, this manuscript will bring added attention to astronomy on campus by documenting a notable American amateur astronomer’s work observing the heavens, especially given the significance of Villanova University’s Department of Astrophysics & Planetary Science and their open public observatory.

Rare Book Room, Falvey Memorial Library, Villanova University


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Last Modified: October 30, 2019