Weird Tales Deep Read: January 1936
Another Brundage Pastel
I’m going to change the focus of the Weird Tales deep read slightly, to hopefully give a somewhat more coherent view of the magazine by focusing on a particular year, while still maintaining the month-at-a time format. First up is January 1936, followed by the ten subsequent issues published that year. (One issue was bi-monthly, and I’ve already covered the July issue, so you can just check that particular installment in the link provided below if you’re so inclined).
The January ‘36 WT is full of familiar names. Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, Paul Ernst, C. L. Moore, Robert E. Howard, and H. P. Lovecraft (with a reprint) all appear in the line up. The issue grades out to a respectable 2.44, largely avoiding poor stories but also scoring only a few outstanding ones. The two vying for best of issue were Moore’s Jirel and Howard’s Conan, the second installment of the longest Conan tale he was to write. Howard gets the nod on a toss-up.
Six of the stories (67 %) were set in contemporary times, two in the past (22%) and one was contemporary but had a back story set in the past (11%). Six took place in the United States (67%), one each in Transylvania, fictional Hyborian realms, partially in France and another dimension, and one with a back story in the Pacific Ocean. Five of the stories (56%) were part of a series.
The tide was starting to turn, but the Unique Magazine was still in its Golden Age
Seabury Quinn [Jules de Grandin] (3) “A Rival from the Grave” [US, Harrisonville, NJ; Contemporary] A man is seduced to leave his childhood betrothed for another woman who has a reputation as perhaps a witch. A “sadistic wanton,” she dominates him and, literally, drinks his blood, forcing him to do the same to her. She dies in a fall from a window either as a suicide (very unlikely for this character) or as a much needed plot device to reunite the man with his childhood sweetheart. She then haunts the couple as a “psychoplasmic” phantom, gradually gaining materiality, and steals the second wife’s jewelry, until she’s dispatched through the unlikely use of a portable X-Ray machine.
While this story has a welcome degree of eroticism rare for the time period, Quinn piles it on a little too deep for compete suspension of disbelief. [RFD, non-traditional ghost. Vampire, non-traditional. Theft, jewelry. Occult investigator. Occult being, non-traditional ghost. WWI background]
Derleth, August. (4): “Satin Mask, The.” (US, Contemporary) A man sends his fiancée an antique satin mask as a gift, but warns her not to wear it. She does, naturally, and wastes away while the mask takes on vibrant life. Her niece reads about this in the woman’s letters, and ditto, except the aunt’s husband rips it off the niece just in time and she revives. Nice example of dumb-ass plot. [Occult object, mask. Death by occult object.]
Ernst, Paul. (2) [Dr. Satan]“Horror Insured.” [NYC, US; Contemporary] Ascott Keane vs. Dr. Satan, who sets up a protection racket in which he insures against death at his own hand via “Cretan voodoo magic” in which dolls representing his victims are burned. [Master criminal. RFD, as spirits. Vengeance, righteous. Detective, dilettante. Scientist, criminal. Voodoo, Cretan.]
C. L. Moore [Jirel] (1) “The Dark Land” [France, Other Dimension; Past, far] Jirel lays dying from battle wounds when she’s transported to another dimension by a mystical being called Paz and healed. He wants her as his bride, but she’s not sold on the idea. She finds herself caught between two cosmic foes (the masculine Paz, who is literally “the Dark Land” and the feminine White Witch) who are battling for supremacy in this truly alien dimension. [Alternate dimension. Occult beings, unknown. Healing, magical. Battle of the sexes.]
Robert E. Howard [Conan] (1) “The Hour of the Dragon” (ii/v) [Nemedia, Aquilonia, Pointain, Zingara, Argos, Shem, Stygia (fictitious kingdoms). Far past, Hyborian Age (fictitious)] A cabal of plotters raise an evil sorcerer from the dead to help them gain the throne of Nemedia and then depose Conan, the recently crowned Aquilonian king. He goes on a continent spanning journey to win back his throne.
Howard does a masterful job of switching viewpoints to tell a complicated, well-paced tale with a vast array of characters and exotic locales. Though not the last Conan story, it’s a fitting capstone to an amazing career and a sad glimpse of what might have been.
[RFD, via occult object and spell. Occult practitioner, evil sorcerer; good and evil priests; witch, good. Political intrigue, assassination of king. Magic spell, plague causing, earthquake causing. Occult object, jewel power source; mirror, far-seeing; crystal ball, far-seeing; staff, death dealing. Mind control, hypnosis. Battle, armies, multiple. Castle dungeon setting. Animal attack, gray ape, man-eating; giant snake. Sword fights, multiple. Death, by sword, multiple. Telepathy with animals, wolf, eagle. Occult spell, far-seeing events in smoke. Death by torture, the rack. Death by poison, booby-trapped jewel case. Occult being, ghoul, non traditional. Death, by occult spell, multiple. Nautical setting. Press ganging. Shipboard mutiny. Pyramid setting. Combat, occult practitioners. RFD, vampire, non-traditional. RFD, mummy via occult object. Turn back time, via magic spell, attempted. Weather magic, rainstorms, attempted; fog. Human sacrifice, attempted.]
Hart, Richard H. (3) “Rendezvous” [New Orleans and environs, La,, US, Contemporary] A doctor goes to great lengths to reach a heart patient, including boarding, unbeknown to him, a ghost ferry across the Mississippi River. Rather well written, but predictable. [Scientist, medical doctor. Ghost ship, ferry boat. RFD, ghost.]
Rosenquest, J. Wesley.(-/3) “Return to Death” [Transylvania, village; Contemporary] A victim of catalepsy escapes being buried alive, but not death as his friends stake him because they think he’s a vampire. Predictable. No fantastic content. [Catalepsy. Premature burial, avoided. Death, by superstition.]
Johnson, Robert Barbour. (3) “They” [US, western; Contemporary] Mysterious beings called “they” by the locals are killing people, apparently. Very slight with no real pay-off. [Murder, crushed by rock. Altar, ancient, possible.]
H.P. Lovecraft. [CM] “Dagon” (2) [US, Contemporary. Backstory: Pacific Ocean. Past (circa 1916)] Well written and atmospheric, but ultimately slight. A civilian sailor escapes captivity by Germans in the early years of WW I and his drifting dingy gets washed up on a vast expanse of land just thrust out of the ocean by volcanic activity. He discovers a monolith covered with carvings in an unknown language and picturing cyclopean beings. Ultimately rescued, he suffers from visions and believes something is after him. [WWI background. Narrative by manuscript. Drug addiction, morphine. Nautical setting. Suicide, defenestration. Myth, Philistine, Dagon. Monolith, ancient. Occult beings, possibly.]
Our previous Deep Reads include:
Weird Tales: May 1923
Weird Tales, June, 1923
Weird Tales, March 1933
Weird Tales, July 1933
Weird Tales, August 1934
Weird Tales, October 1934
Weird Tales, November 1934
Weird Tales, July 1936
Weird Tales, January 1945
John Jos. Miller’s latest publication is: “Fatal Error” with Victor Milan in Joker Moon July, 2021 Tor Books. . Next up: Death Draws Five. Tor Books, November, 2021 www.facebook.com/john.j.miller .9883
Pav, not Paz?
Yes, good catch. Pav. Thanks for the correction.