August Derleth Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

August Derleth’s contributions fall into the areas of detective fiction and horror. Although he is considered a minor American author, his writings are diverse and voluminous—and include poetry, regional history, and science fiction as well as mystery and detective fiction. His major contribution to detective fiction is his series of Sherlock Homes pastiches (the Solar Pons series), which kept alive the spirit and style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work after Doyle had ceased writing new adventures. Derleth also created the Judge Peck series of murder mysteries, complete with clues for the reader to solve the crime; all the Peck works are set in the Sauk City region of Wisconsin, which Derleth knew so well. In the related genre of horror fiction, Derleth, as editor and publisher, is credited with preserving and bringing to the reading public the macabre tales of the important American writer H. P. Lovecraft.

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

A tremendously prolific writer, August Derleth produced an amazing number of novels, poems, and essays, in addition to short fiction. Included among these are mystery and horror tales, children’s books, and histories. He wrote a series of novels, nonfiction, and poetry called the Sac Prairie Saga, five books in his Wisconsin Saga, ten novels in the Judge Peck mystery series (1934-1953), biographies of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Zona Gale, and H. P. Lovecraft, and a memoir of Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, and Edgar Lee Masters. In addition, he wrote about and collected comic books, edited many anthologies of science fiction, and made several studies of homicide.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Although Derleth was certainly one of the most versatile and prolific American writers of the twentieth century, he is also relatively unknown, and little has been written about him and his work. He became a professional writer while in his teens and received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1938. Among the honors he received are the Award of Merit given by the State Historical Society (for children’s books based on Wisconsin’s history) in 1954, the Scholastic Award in 1958, the Midland Authors Award (for poetry) in 1965, the Ann Radcliffe Award in 1967, and the Best Nonfiction Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers for Return to Walden West (1970) in 1971. His greatest literary achievement may well be his Sac Prairie Saga.

In the area of short fiction, his contributions are most notable in mystery-detective fiction and horror stories. As editor and publisher, he is credited with preserving and bringing to the reading public the tales of the major horror fiction writer H. P. Lovecraft. His major contribution to mystery-detective fiction is his Solar Pons series (1945-1973), which kept alive the spirit and style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work after he had ceased writing new adventures.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Bishop, Zealia. “A Wisconsin Balzac: A Profile of August Derleth.” In The Curse of Yig. Sauk City, Wis.: Arkham House, 1953. One of the few articles of any length on the life and career of August Derleth.

Blei, Norbert. “August Derleth: Storyteller of Sac Prairie.” Chicago Tribune Magazine, August 15, 1971. A very informative and interesting article based on an interview with Derleth. Derleth’s opinions and point of view are presented in a sympathetic manner. A good quality short study on Derleth and his work.

Grant, Kenneth B. “August (William) Derleth.” In The Authors. Vol. 1 in Dictionary of Midwestern Literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2001. A brief biographical and critical overview.

Grobe Litersky, Dorothy M. Derleth: Hawk . . . and Dove. Aurora, Colo.: National Writers Press, 1997. The first major, book-length, comprehensive critical study of Derleth’s life and works.

Haining, Peter. The Classic Era of American Pulp Magazines. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2000. Looks at Derleth’s contribution to the pulps and the relationship of pulp fiction to its more respectable literary cousins.

Liebow, Ely M., ed. August Harvest. New York: Magico Magazine, 1994. Essays dealing with Derleth’s work...

(The entire section is 581 words.)