In the latest in our series of interviews, we got to chat with Daniel Harms. Mr. Harms is an anthropologist and one of the leading scholarly researchers in the field of Lovecraftia. Or, at least, the only one I’ve heard of. He’s written two books that seem to get bought up so quick that you barely have a chance to get ahold of your own copy: The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana and, more recently, The Necronomicon Files.
While I’d actually interviewed him about the same time as Christian Matzke, work on The Twelve Days of Cthulhu plus the joys of working retail during the holidays seriously sapped my time. Now, after much delay, but without further ado, here’s the scoop:
Shoggoth Network: Flipped through my copy of Encyclopedia Cthuliana just to refresh
myself. Dear sweet Jesus, are you insane?
Dan Harms: No. I was young and foolish. At least I’m older now.
SN: How long did it take you to compile this amount of information?
DH: A year and a half, once I sat down and decided to begin serious work on the book. It wasn’t that difficult, really—read a bunch of stories I was going to read anyway, take notes, and write ’em up. I wrote the thing during my first year and a half of college, and I don’t recommend that route to anyone.
SN: I note in Encyclopedia Cthuliana that you dip over into the realms of Robert E. Howard with mention of Hyboria and Conan the Cimmerian. If I remember correctly, Howard and Lovecraft were correspondents. Was this the reason for including this in the Encyclopedia? Or were there more extenuating reasons that someone who hasn’t read Howard’s work, like me, wouldn’t know about?
DH: As the Mythos grows, new authors try to incorporate elements from their favorite stories of all sorts into them. While Lovecraft and Howard don’t seem to have explicitly linked Conan and the Mythos (the mention of Crom-Ya in “Shadow out of Time” being a possible exception), subsequent authors have done so, and the Hyborian Age occupies a spot in the
chronology now. The same happened with much of Lovecraft’s own stuff—much of it was incorporated in after the fact when other authors used it in their Mythos stories.
SN: Should owners of the Encyclopedia keep an eye open for any other classic pulp references?
DH: I don’t recall anything in there off-hand. I tried to be strict with myself—everything had to be in the book for a reason. If it wasn’t explicitly linked with
the Mythos by one means or another, it was cut. Even some Lovecraft didn’t get in—”The
Shunned House” being a prime example.
SN: So you, along with John Wisdom Gonce, have got a new-ish book called The Necronomicon Files, which Amazon.com declares to be out of print, and your Web site notes that you’re working on a revised version. What’s the scoop?
DH: Just got clearance for this announcement. A new revised edition of The Necronomicon Files will be issued from Red Wheel/Weiser in the spring of 2003. The contracts are signed.
The book’s wrapping up right now, and I can tell you, it’s going to make us famous or infamous. This new book deals with the Necronomicon in Lovecraft, as a literary phenomenon, as an occultist’s tool, and ends with a look at Necronomicon movies. We’ve got this huge underground phenomenon, and those who only see the edges will be surprised.
SN: So will this be a bigger print run? Will I stand a good chance finding
a copy at Borders so my girlfriend can buy it at 33% off?
DH: Absolutely. Weiser’s a major publisher, so you should be able to find us in Borders, Barnes and Noble, and whatever other major chains you can name.
As a note to your readers, our book is likely to end up in the occult or New Age section. This is for two reasons. One, my co-author is a practicing magickian, and in one of his sections, we address the question of the Necronomicon from an occult perspective—we know it’s a hoax, so is it any good for wannabe wizards? HPL fans should definitely read it. John’s done an amazing job of collating information on the modern-day Cthulhu cults (yes, Virginia) and the perceived benefits therefrom.
Second, most horror fans can’t believe anyone would believe the Necronomicon
really exists. Occultists know better. 😉
SN: Given your stance that the Necronomicon is not an “authentic book of black magic that’s centuries old”, have you caught much flak from people like William Schnoebelen, who insist that the Necronomicon is a real book filled with evil Satanic goodness?
DH: I’d like to know more about Mr. Schnoebelen—the name doesn’t ring a bell. But yes, they do take exception to what we say, and they rarely have anything worthwhile to back it up. At least they read what we say on the Web site. Would you believe that most believers, after having looked over our site, still write us and ask where they can find an original copy of the Necronomicon?
SN: Ooo, big tangent time. Bill Schnoebelen came to my attention on the Strange Aeons mailing list, when someone had posted an article he had on the Jack Chick Web site, reasserting claims he’d made in “Straight Talk on Dungeons and Dragons” about the danger of RPGs. The Strange Aeons crew brought it up because when Mr. Schnoebelen discusses the Stackpole Report, he says, “[Michael Stackpole] is also pretty ignorant about hard-core occultism, as mentioned earlier, when he mocks the Necronomicon and claims it is entirely fictional. It is not, and its use (even in part) has led to the destruction of many young minds and souls. I have personally watched it happen.”
A little bit of research has turned up that Mr. Schnoebelen is apparently an ex-gamer, ex-Mason, ex-Mormon, ex-Wiccan, ex-everything else, who goes around doing seminars and writing books in order to inform Christians about the dark secrets behind things they might
normally take for granted. Because, well: he’s done it all. Right now he’s preaching the good word about UFO conspiracies and the evils of Harry Potter. He’s got a Web site at www.withoneaccord.org.
Now that we’ve gotten totally away from talking about you…
DH: Ah, yes. That sort of chap. It’s ridiculous, really, all the talk about role-playing games. I’d at least be impressed if they stopped looking at the magic and the vampires and all those trappings, and critiqued Cthulhu for being nihilistic or D&D for reflecting consumerist society. Go for the gold, I say.
SN: Is your interest in Cthulhu purely literary? Or do you delve into other aspects of Lovecraftia, like playing Call of Cthulhu?
DH: Are you kidding? I should be planning my Cthulhu session for Friday right now. It’s Delta Green, and no, we’re not looking for new players. My taste for Mythos fiction has waned—the market’s filled with stuff right now, and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life reading it. If someone recommends a story to me, though, I try to track it down. I’m not as involved in fandom as I used to be, but I keep kicking around the edges and picking up interesting stuff.
SN: Well, you never know. Christian Matzke, who I’ve also been doing an email interview with, has never played Call of Cthulhu, despite having contributed to the Cthulhu Live books.
DH: I suppose that can happen. But I got my start when was eleven, and saw
the Call of Cthulhu rulebook when I had twenty bucks in my pocket.
SN: So on the topic of Cthulhu gaming: What’s your feelings on the d20 Call of Cthulhu? Sign of the end? Or a great idea?
DH: Having played D&D and a little Star Wars, I have to say that I like the d20 rules. The parts of D&D that I don’t like are what’s left over from the older rules, aside from the needless complexity of the combat round. Still, it’s flexible, and you can do a lot with it.
As for Cthulhu—well, we’ll have to wait and see. I know there’s a talented team that’s put a lot of time and effort into it, but the monstrosity will be getting a system designed for one style of play to fit another. Only time will tell if that works.