Lot 68
  • 68

Lovecraft, H. P.

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Autograph manuscript of "Under the Pyramids," signed, 34 pages (11  1/4  x 8  1/2  in.; 286 x 216 mm), on the versos of various typed business and personal letters, [Providence, R.I., February 1924].

Catalogue Note

The original manuscript of a short story ghostwritten by H. P. Lovecraft and published under Harry Houdini's name in Weird Tales.  This heavily corrected and revised manuscript is headed "Under the Pyramids, by Houdini.  Transcribed by H. P. Lovecraft."  Under this heading, Lovecraft has drawn a row of pseudo-Egyptian hieroglyphs.  Like the manuscript of "The Shunned House," this too is written on versos of various letters sent to the author. 

This short story, written just before Lovecraft's unfortunate marriage to Sonia Greene, was commissioned as an attempt to boost the sagging sales of Weird Tales.  It is a first-person narrative in which Houdini tells of being taken to see an Arab boxing match held at the top of the Great Pyramid.  Things somehow go terribly wrong and Houdini ends up being bound tightly with rope by the devious Arabs and tossed into a deep chasm in the Temple of the Sphinx.  Naturally, Houdini escapes and goes on to discover a subterranean world of horrors under the temple.  Joshi and Schultz judge the tale to be "surprisingly effective and suspenseful, with a genuinely surprising ending for those reading it for the first time …. Some of the imagery of the story probably … derives from Théophile Gautier's nonsupernatural tale of Egyptian horror, 'One of Cleopatra's Nights' …. the writing is somewhat florid, but deliberately so; and there must be a certain tart satire in the fact that Houdini—one of the strongest men of his day—faints three times in the course of his adventure" (An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 282–83).

Lovecraft completed the story before boarding the train in Providence on 2 March 1924, in order to be married the next day at St. Paul's chapel in lower Manhattan.  He lost the typescript of the story somewhere in Union Station, Providence, and he spent the morning of 3 March, retyping the story from the present manuscript.  He was only half finished when it was time for his wedding.  The next day the couple left for their honeymoon in Philadelphia, where they spent their two nights there finishing up the typing job.  (For more on this ill-fated marriage, see the chapter in Joshi's biography called "Ball and Chain".)

The story was published under the title "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs" in the first anniversary issue of Weird Tales  (May–June 1924).