The Cancer of Superstition
The Cancer of Superstition is a manuscript by C. M. Eddy, Jr. that investigates ideas and trends of superstition throughout history. C. M. Eddy, Jr. and H. P. Lovecraft were commissioned to write a book on the subject by famed magician and escapist Harry Houdini from an outline provided by H. P. Lovecraft
The 31-page manuscript was discovered in a collection of materials procured by a private collector from a magic shop that had closed. Houdini and Lovecraft scholars knew of the book previously, but until this manuscript was found in 2016, such a complete version of the work was not known to exist. A synopsis of the book, as well as a single chapter titled The Genesis of Superstition, was published in the 1966 as part of the book The Dark Brotherhood and Other Pieces.
Early in the 1920's Harry Houdini retained H. P. Lovecraft to ghost-write for him, and one of Lovecraft's ghost-written tales appeared in Weird Tales in 1924 under the title Imprisoned with the Pharaohs. Soon after, he also enlisted the talents of C. M. Eddy, Jr. and in the course of their work together Houdini outlined sketchily a book he thought ought to be done on the origins, growth and fallacy of superstition. He suggested that Eddy might prepare the book, and furnished him with voluminous notes and ideas that he wanted incorporated in the book; he suggested also that perhaps H. P. Lovecraft could put the notes into shape so that Eddy could work from the outline Lovecraft prepared.
At the time of his death, Houdini had been corresponding with Lovecraft regarding a book on which they intended to collaborate, along with writer C.M. Eddy Jr., which was to be entitled 'The Cancer of Superstition.' Lovecraft prepared a detailed outline of the work, which is extant, and Barlow actually began the writing and completed three chapters, but Houdini's widow cancelled the project - perhaps because she was herself more inclined to believe in the reality of spiritualists phenomena than her skeptical late husband.
Tyson misidentifies Eddy as Barlow in the above quote and book.
The Cancer of Superstition states “all superstitious beliefs are relics of a common ‘prehistoric ignorance’ in humans,” which lays a foundational sense of the book's thesis and raison d'être. Both Lovecraft as a writer of horror fiction and Houdini as an illusionist relied on people's superstitions in their careers, playing on audiences' and readers' senses of the unknown for heightened entertainment, while also advocating for greater skepticism in society.
- Alison Flood, Lost HP Lovecraft work commissioned by Houdini escapes shackles of history, The Guardian 16 March 2016.
- Mathew Hart, FOUND: H.P. LOVECRAFT MANUSCRIPT COMMISSIONED BY HOUDINI, The Nerdist, 18 March 2016.
- John Cox, Houdini, Lovecraft, and The Cancer of Superstition, Wild About Harry, 12 February 2011.