Robert M. Price: Colavito Probably Wrong on Lovecraft and Ancient Astronauts, Didn't Give Me Enough Credit
Biblical researcher and H. P. Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price discussed my Cult of Aliens Gods (2005) on his Lovecraft Geek podcast recently (episode 11), and while he says that my book is “worth a look” he also complains that my book fails to adequately credit him and his colleague Charles Garofalo for their 1982 Crypt of Cthulhu article “Chariots of the Old Ones” in which they pointed to the parallels between H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction and the work of Erich von Däniken. After noting that their article appears in my bibliography, Price says that in the body text “he doesn’t give us any credit. His case, though more extensive, is so similar to what Garofalo and I said. I wonder if he even got the idea from there. But it doesn’t really matter. […] [Colavito’s] book certainly is interesting, but I don’t remember the title of it.”
I have always had the utmost respect for Price and his work on Lovecraft, and I have cited him repeatedly in my own work over the years, so this was a bit of a surprise. (Disclosure: We have never met, and Price has never responded to my intermittent efforts to communicate with him about Lovecraftian issues over the last decade.)
Yes, it’s true that I do not discuss his article in the body of the book. But Price should have read more carefully. Here is the end note appearing on page 351 of Cult of Alien Gods, which answers his question:
Unbeknownst to me when I began this book, Price also authored an article that speculated about the connection between Lovecraft and the theory of ancient astronauts. See Robert M. Price and Charles Garofolo, “Chariots of the Old Ones,” … etc. etc.
I wish I could say that there was a nefarious conspiracy to deny Price credit, but there isn’t. In fact, I went out of my way to try to give him credit, and I still got dinged for it a decade later!
Being only 24 at the time when the book was published (22 when I started writing it), I was much too young (age 1) to have read Price’s 1982 article when it was first published in Crypt of Cthulhu, and I was only 11 when it was republished in Black, Forbidden Things (1992), a book of which I had never heard. In fact, I only became aware of Price’s article after I submitted the manuscript to Prometheus in 2005, and if I remember correctly I learned of it secondhand from a footnote in another book and had not actually read the article at the time. If that is not how I came across it, then it must have been when back issues of Crypt of Cthulhu began to be republished online. The online Crypt of Cthulhu archive went up in 2004, the same year when I had already and independently published “Charioteer of the Gods” in Skeptic magazine, having written the piece in August of 2003 and submitted it to Skeptic shortly thereafter. Though dated 2004, the issue was on newsstands at the end of 2003, before the Crypt of Cthulhu Archive had launched. This article also appeared in eSkeptic a few months later, and it formed the nucleus for the book proposal I sent to Prometheus Books not long after.
I wrote Cult of Alien Gods between August 2003 and March 2004. I took me all of 2004 to find a published, and Prometheus picked up the book and began the long editorial process at the end of that year. I was chagrined to discover in 2005 that someone else had had the same idea, but at that point the manuscript was already copyedited and in typesetting. Regular readers will remember that Prometheus and I did not have the best of relationships in producing Cult—the published text was my first draft, which I had planned to expand and correct with the advice of editors (as major publishers usually do and I mistakenly thought Prometheus would as well), but they instead typeset the draft and gave me no ability to make changes other than for spelling. And we all know that my spelling is terrible. The only place where I could make changes was to the end notes, and I dutifully acknowledged the new discovery, as given above.
I tried to rectify the omission in my Secret History of Ancient Astronauts, which was published online and also in Dark Lore VII, in which I give Price and Garofalo full credit for their original article:
In 1982, Charles Garofalo and Robert M. Price wrote an article for Crypt of Cthulhu noting the similarities between the Mythos and Erich von Däniken’s ancient astronaut theories. They concluded that despite the high degree of correlation between von Däniken’s evidence and claims and Lovecraft’s fictional conceits, direct influence was impossible because von Däniken denied ever having read or heard of Lovecraft.
But don’t take my word for it. Here is how the two authors put it in 1982:
As a matter of fact, the similarities we have noted between Lovecraft's work and that of UFO-speculators like Von Daniken and Sitchin force us to raise the question of who influenced whom. Von Daniken was once actually asked if Lovecraft had been the source of any of his ideas. He not only denied it, but seemed never to have heard of HPL. Well then, might the influence run in the other direction? Could Lovecraft have had a "close encounter" with extraterrestrial intelligences, which inspired his writings? Don't bet on it.
Note carefully that in 1982 Price and Garofalo claimed that the Lovecraft connection was not original to them, though Price implies otherwise now. Price continues the same line today, arguing in his podcast that von Däniken’s denial back in the 1970s proves that his idea is entirely independent of Lovecraft. Further, he says that my case is further weakened by the fact that proposing aliens as substitute gods is so obvious a suggestion that it is fully likely that many people have independently stumbled upon it.
To that last point, Price is of course correct. Several people have in fact independently developed the idea, but Erich von Däniken wasn’t one of them. I found the missing connection between von Däniken and Lovecraft through the work he borrowed so heavily from, Morning of the Magicians, whose authors were huge Lovecraft fans, cited him in their work, and took from him the idea that Theosophy and the pre-postmodern ideas of Charles Fort could be applied to Soviet paleo-UFO explorations.
The authors of Morning of the Magicians, Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier, did not hide the fact that H. P. Lovecraft inspired them to go back to his sources to look for the weird and the bizarre and the, yes, ancient astronautic material that Lovecraft drew upon:
As an example of militant action in favour of the greatest possible degree of open-mindedness, and as an initiation into the cosmic consciousness, the works of Charles Fort have been a direct source of inspiration for the greatest poet and champion of the theory of parallel universes, H. P. Lovecraft, the father of what has come to be known as Science-Fiction to which he has contributed some ten or fifteen masterpieces of their kind, a sort of Iliad and Odyssey of a forward-marching civilization. To a certain extent, we too have been inspired in our task by the spirit of Charles Fort. (p. 104, 1961 American edition)
Bergier, of course, would go on to write in a later book, Extraterrestrial Visitations in Prehistoric Times, about his belief that Lovecraft had secret access to hidden truths about aliens and ancient mysteries:
Much of [Lovecraft's work] relates so directly to the mysteries we have just described that there are still people who go to the Biblioteque Nationale or to the British Museum and ask for the Necronomicon! [...] It is not impossible that at least a part of Lovecraft's myth may be verified when the Empty Quarter is opened to exploration.
I hope Price doesn’t read my Cthulhu in World Mythology. Now I’m scared he’ll find that my explicit references to his “Critical Commentary on the Necronomicon” aren’t enough acknowledgement for his role in actually inspiring that book!
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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