The Black Druid and Other Stories by Frank Belknap Long, containing the following stories: “Death-Waters”, “The Ocean-Leech”, “The Space-Eaters”, “The Black Druid”, “The Flame Midget”, “Dark Vision”, “The Elemental”, “Fisherman’s Luck”, “Step Into My Garden”, “It Will Come To You”, and “The Peeper” (1924-1944; collected 1975): Technically, this is the second half of an Arkham House collection of stories from the first 20 years of Frank Belknap Long’s lengthy writing career (it stretched until his death in the 1980’s).
Long was a long-time correspondent with horror master H.P. Lovecraft, and that influence shows most noticeably in stories from the 1920’s until Lovecraft’s death in 1937. By the time Long was contributing to the legendary, short-lived Unknown magazine in the early 1940’s, his writing style had experienced a marked jump in quality — stories collected herein from the Unknown period include “The Elemental” and “It Will Come to You”, and they’re definitely in the Unknown mode of horror or fantasy presented in a contemporary and often serio-comic setting.
However, despite that improvement (though Long struggles throughout his career with smooth transitioning — I’ll often find myself wondering if an entire sentence, or even paragraph, has been lost in the typesetting process), it’s Long’s Lovecraft-period material that will probably make him immortal. Herein appears “The Space-Eaters”, one of those stories by a Lovecraft comrade in which a thinly veiled version of Lovecraft meets a dire end.
Lovecraft would occasionally return the favour, though not to Long (and it seems to me that the elderly writer who narrates T.E.D. Klein’s terrific early 1980’s Cthulhu Mythos story, “Black Man with a Horn”, is himself a thinly veiled homage to Long).
Many of the stories Long wrote during Lovecraft’s lifetime are heavily, almost overwhelmingly, expositional in nature. They read as if two people had been having a spirited dialogue about some arcane thought-experiment. This sort of exposition isn’t generally recommended to writers beginning or otherwise, but in Long’s best early work it comes across as a bizarre, darkly fantastic sub-genre of the novel (or story) of ideas. It’s just that the ideas only apply to the fictional universe of the story. I hope.
“The Space-Eaters” contains pages and pages of the stuff, in what almost seems like a sub-sub-genre in which Long has collided the story of ideas with the deus ex machina. Just talking about some arcane idea causes it to happen. And when that arcane idea involves extra-dimensional entities scooping out pieces of brain from living humans and then playing with the pieces, and even accidentally dropping one piece on the narrator…well, one is really in a weird, weird narrative world. And what I just described is just the first couple of pages. Recommended.