Margaret Brundage for Red Nails
We return to the golden age of Weird Tales to consider the eleven stories in the July 1936 issue. This time around we’re dealing with many familiar authors, led by the triumvirate of C. L. Moore, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard, one H. P. Lovecraft short of perfection. The big three present classic tales from their popular fantasy series (Northwest Smith, Zothique, Conan). The other familiar names deliver more of a mixed bag, but for the most part come through with decent offerings.
Edmond Hamilton, a prolific pulpster for WT and countless other genre magazines contributes one of his weakest efforts in a tale concerning germs from space. The August Derleth and Manly Wade Wellman stories are both decent, if slight, and the Arthur Conan Doyle reprint, for a change, rises above the level of curiosity.
Of the eleven stories, seven are contemporary (64%), three are set in the future (27%), and one in the past (9%), though it’s a little complicated because two stories use framing devices that cut across temporal periods. Six take place in the United States (55%), one starts in the US then goes off on a round the world tour (9%), two are in fictitious realms (18%), one in France (9%), and one on the Moon (9%).
The Moore, Smith, and Howard stories are all strong entries. Howard’s was the last Conan story he wrote. It’s hard to judge which is the best, but although Howard got the cover with another great Brundage image, I would give the nod to Moore.
Clark Ashton Smith [Zothique] (1) “Necromancy in Naat” [Fictitious realm, Zothique; Far Future] Gorgeously written tale about a prince on a quest seeking his beloved who’d been kidnaped by slavers, and its strange and melancholy fulfillment. [Occultists, necromancers. RFD, as zombie. Quest. Lovers parted. Occult creature, familiar (weasel-like). Parricide. Death, by sword. Magical spell, animating the dead.]
Robert E. Howard [Conan] (1) “Red Nails.” (I/III) [Fictitious Realm. Hyborian Age, Far Past] As is usual with Howard’s longer tales, he throws the kitchen sink at us with a decadent lost city, dinosaurian survivals, a blood feud run amok, and black magic, sauteed with historical references taken from several ancient Mesoamerican cultures and basted liberally with hints of kinky sexuality and dollops of violent action. [Lost city. Blood feud. Labyrinth, Betrayal, alliances. Rape, attempted. Torture, whipping, rack. Sword fights. Occult creatures: giant snake, dragon/dinosaur. Occult artifacts, fife, wand. Occult being, witch. Immortality. Occult rite, draining life essence. Hypnosis, by occult artifact (fife). Insanity, from rage. Death, by sword and hand. Cannibalism, implied.]
Edmond Hamilton. (5) “When the World Slept.” (Starts in upstate NY, goes on worldwide trip; Future [1942 from 1936]). Idiot scientist studying two “germ cultures” that came to Earth on meteorites injects himself with one to no effect. When he gets the same result with the second, he throws it out a window in a fit of pique. Weeks later when driving into town for supplies he discovers that all the animals and people he encounters are asleep. Traveling to NYC, he picks up a girl and takes her along for company on a long and pointless trip around the world (his hobby in college was aviation), the tedium of which is sporadically relived by juvenile pranks he pulls on various sleeping citizens. Returning home he realizes that he caused the plague. He injects the girl with the first culture, she wakes up, so he throws the culture out the window and, eventually, after laying around for an entire year, everyone wakes up. Instead of slapping him silly and making her getaway, she marries him. [SF. Scientist, microbiologist. Stupid, not mad. Love at first sight. Alien germs. Suspended animation.]
Ronal Kayser. (4) “Unborn, The.” (US, Contemporary). After accidentally killing his pregnant lover, a man is haunted by increasingly mature “visions” of the baby girl who’d died in her womb. His life is destroyed by these visions and attendant accidents which nearly kill him numerous times. Driven totally insane, he jumps to his death. [Love affair gone bad. Accidental killing, knife. Insanity. Suicide, leaping off building.]
Thorp McClusky [Peters & Ethredge] (3) “ Loot of the Vampire” (II/III) [US, urban; Contemporary] Police commissioner and homicide detective track down a vampire who also dabbles in grand theft, not to mention kidnaping. Promising idea that doesn’t work because of slap-dash plotting and lack of characterization (the detective isn’t even given a first name). [Police. Occult being, vampire. RFD, as vampire. Insanity, from fear. Death by occult creature, vampire. Grand larceny, jewels and securities. Kidnaping. Mind control by hypnosis.]
C. L. Moore [Northwest Smith] (1) “ Lost Paradise.” [Frame: New York City, Far Future; Story: the Moon, Far Past] Moore weaves a prose poem SF/Fantasy tapestry about the destruction of a world that is as poignant as the passing of the Elves from Middle Earth. [Killing, self-defense, raygun. Gods, alien. World destroyed, the Moon. Earth colonized, by aliens.]
Derleth, August.(2) “Return of Sarah Purcell, The” (US, Contemporary) The ghost of a dead woman returns to kill her sister. [RFD, as ghost. Occult being, ghost. Death by occult being, ghost.]
Arthur Conan Doyle.(2) “ Ring of Thoth, The.” (Rpt. 1890) (Frame: Paris, Contemporary. Story, Egypt, Distant Past, Tuthmose reign.). Louvre attendant is an ancient Egyptian who’d discovered the secret of eternal youth and has been trying to die so he can be with the woman he loved, who is currently a mummy in the museum. He succeeds with the help of a ring containing a magic potion. [Immortality. Occult object, magic potion. Love triangle]
Renier Wyers.(2) “Kharu Knows All” (US, Chicago; Contemporary] Fake medium and con man tricks the widow of a recently deceased millionaire into giving him control of her husband’s estate. Sunken into poverty, she kills herself. The con artist is visited by the spirits of both her and her husband who frighten him into jumping to his death. Slight bit, fairly effective. [Con game, fake medium. RFD, ghost. Vengeance, righteous. Suicides, drowning, leaping off building.]
Wellman, Manly Wade. (2) “Kelpie, The” [US urban, Contemporary] Man gets a shipment of kelp for his aquarium that contains a kelpie that murders his girlfriend in a fit of jealousy. Slight but effective. [Occult being, kelpie. Death, by occult being, kelpie. Love triangle. Murder, jealousy]
Dickinson, Heinrich Ludwig William Gabriel (Bodo Wildberg ) (3) “ Snakeskin Cigar-Case, The” (Rpt. 1911). (Frame is contemporary US?. Story, Sumatra). A magic-man and a European factor are rivals for a local beauty. The European wins, but the magician informs him that the woman is a were-snake and later the overseer witnesses a python captured and skinned, its hide to making a cigar case. The woman is never seen again, the man treasures the case. Rather weird set-up that kind of fizzles. [Occult being, were-snake. Love triangle.]
Our previous Deep Reads include:
John Jos. Miller’s latest publication is “An Annotated Long Night at the Palmer House.” Next up: “A Ghost of a Smile” in Best of Dream Forge and Space and Time Magazines. April, 2021. See: www.facebook.com/john.j.miller .9883