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Birthday Reviews: Robert Bloch’s “The Fane of the Black Pharoah”

Thursday, April 5th, 2018 | Posted by Steven H Silver

Weird Tales December 1937-small Weird Tales December 1937-back-small

Cover by Virgil Finlay

Robert Bloch was born on April 5, 1917 and died on September 23, 1994.

His short story “That Hell-Bound Train” won the Hugo Award in 1959, and he won the Bram Stoker Award for his non-fiction book Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography, for his collection The Early Fears, and his novelette “The Scent of Vinegar.” His screenplay for the film Psycho, based on his novel, received the Edgar Allan Poe Award.

Bloch was the Guest of Honor for each of the three Toronto Worldcons, Torcon I in 1948, Torcon II in 1973, and posthumously for Torcon 3 in 2003. He also received a Special Worldcon Committee Award in 1984. Bloch was named a Grandmaster by the World Horror Con and received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the World Fantasy Convention. He has also received the Big Heart Award, the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award, and a Forry Award.

“The Fane of the Black Pharoah” was first published in Weird Tales in the December 1937 issue, edited by Farnsworth Wright. Donald Wollheim reprinted it a decade later in the Avon Fantasy Reader, No. 5, 1947 and Bloch included it in his Lovecraftian collection Mysteries of the Worm. Robert M. Price included it in two Lovecraft anthologies: Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos, from Fedogan & Bremer, and The Nyarlathotep Cycle: The God of a Thousand Forms, from Chaosium. In 1983 it was translated into French.

Although “The Fane of the Black Pharoah” is a story in the Cthulhu mythos, mentioning both Nyarlathotep and the Necronomicon, it does not suffer from the overwriting so endemic to authors who took up Lovecraft’s mantle. Bloch describes the retirement of Captain Cartaret, who developed an interest in ancient history and legends during his time in the army and is trying to learn what he can about the mysterious and lost Pharoah Nephren-Ka.

While the story lacks purple prose, it also lacks action. Most of it relates the research Cartaret has already conducted, as well as information imparted to him by a mysterious visitor who claims to be a priest of Nephren-Ka, despite the millennia which separates the pharaoh from Cartaret. Eventually however, Cartaret is guided to the hidden catacombs beneath Cairo when Nephren-Ka’s prophetic hieroglyphs are located.

The story comes to a satisfying, although not necessarily conclusive ending, one which has remained with me since I first read the story in the 1980s.

Reprint reviewed in the collection Mysteries of the Worm, by Robert Bloch, Chaosium, 1993.


Steven H Silver-largeSteven H Silver is a sixteen-time Hugo Award nominee and was the publisher of the Hugo-nominated fanzine Argentus as well as the editor and publisher of ISFiC Press for 8 years. He has also edited books for DAW and NESFA Press. He began publishing short fiction in 2008 and his most recently published story is “Doing Busines at Hodputt’s Emporium” in Galaxy’s Edge. Steven has chaired the first Midwest Construction, Windycon three times, and the SFWA Nebula Conference 5 times, as well as serving as the Event Coordinator for SFWA. He was programming chair for Chicon 2000 and Vice Chair of Chicon 7. He has been the news editor for SF Site since 2002.

9 Comments »

  1. Torcon II was the first world con I ever attended. I’d registered and been there about an hour when an announcement came over the PA: “We’ve just learned that Robert Bloch has arrived. Everybody shower in groups!”

    Comment by smitty59 - April 5, 2018 8:23 am

  2. Ha! I think Bloch would have appreciated that. :)

    Comment by John ONeill - April 5, 2018 10:14 am

  3. Gotta like that cover! And I was really hoping today was Nictzin Dyalhis’ birthday!

    Comment by Rich Horton - April 5, 2018 10:16 am

  4. Not until June 4, Rich.

    Comment by Steven H Silver - April 5, 2018 10:26 am

  5. Someday I’m going to write a series of sword & sorcery adventure tales about the adventures of the northern barbarian Vlaada Chvatil (Czech boardgame designer) and southron thief Nictzin Dyalhis.

    Comment by Joe H. - April 5, 2018 11:51 am

  6. Joe: Fritz Leiber has already done the northern barbarian/southern thief. You should change it up with a northern thief and a southern barbarian.

    Comment by Steven H Silver - April 5, 2018 11:58 am

  7. Robert Bloch wrote tons of great stuff, but not the screenplay for “Psycho”. It was written by highly regarded screenwriter Joseph Stefano.

    Comment by Michael Padgett - April 5, 2018 7:42 pm

  8. My first encounter with Bloch (although I didn’t know it at the time) was reading “Just Call Me Jack” in one of those old Alfred Hitchcock YA anthologies; it was DEEPLY disturbing.

    I also owned & read Mysteries of the Worm. Never quite got around to Psycho, though.

    Comment by Joe H. - April 5, 2018 10:00 pm

  9. Bloch – Mystery Poet

    Crumbs for a Toast to Solar Pons – by Robert Bloch

    We don’t dispute the toil
    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
    Invested in creating Sherlock Holmes;
    And Miss Marple, fat and frisky,
    Thanks to Miss Agatha Christie
    Appears in a variety of tomes.

    And a MacDonald – Ross –
    Is never at a loss
    For getting Archer into quite a bind;
    While MacDonald’s namesake-John D. –
    Created Travis McGee
    Whose problem is that he is color-blind.

    Wolfe, Poirot and Vance
    Perchance enhance romance
    Detection and deduction are their field;
    And while Philip Marlowe guzzles,
    Charlie Chan solves Chinese puzzles
    And Perry Mason’s cases aren’t appealed.

    But we salute a sleuth
    Who dignifies, in truth,
    The mantle of the master that he dons;
    All the others, irrespective,
    Must defer to our detective-
    So, gentlemen-I give you -Solar Pons!

    Comment by Bob Byrne - April 9, 2018 7:01 pm


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