Weird Tales Deep Read: June, 1923

Wednesday, August 5th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales June 1923

Cover by Heitman for “Murders in the Rue Morgue”

June 1923 was the magazine’s fourth issue, and it was still clearly a magazine in search of itself.

There are very few authors who had a major impact on the magazine appeared in this issue. The most notable name, of course, is Edgar Allen Poe with a reprint of one of his most famous tales (“The Murders in the Rue Morgue”) and, secondarily, Otis Adelbert Kline, with a story largely forgotten today, but which I found to be a cut above many of his others, though ultimately somewhat slight. That’s about it. Two of the best stories were by authors totally forgotten today, Paul Ellsworth Triem and Loual B. Sugarman, with only the later tale having fantastic elements. In fact, only seven of the 18 stories in this issue had fantastic elements (39%), all were set in contemporaneous times (of course, the Poe story was written in the 1840s), and most (13 or 72%) were set in the United States.

On the whole, many of the stories were no better than mediocre, but really poor efforts were largely avoided (four 4’s and one 5). Also largely avoided were the overtly racist tropes too readily present in many early WT’s, with the Birch effort going all in on the Yellow Peril theme.  Overall, this issue rated out to 3.00, which notably lags behind the classic early 1930s issues previously covered.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: Norbert Davis’ Don’t You Cry for Me’

Monday, August 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Davis_Don'tCry“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

On my Hardboiled Mount Rushmore, it’s Dashiell Hammett, Frederick Nebel, and then Norbert Davis. The fourth spot is a bit fluid, though the Jo Gar series often has Raoul Whitfield in that fourth spot. But today, we’re going to look at a Davis short story.

Davis was in law school at Stanford when he wrote his first story and sent it to Joe ‘Cap’ Shaw, the legendary editor of Black Mask. It was accepted, and by the time he graduated law school, he was successfully writing for the pulps. In fact, he was doing so well, he never sat for the bar, and spent the rest of his life as a writer, moving from the pulps to the higher-paying slicks. Sadly, took his own life at only the age of 40.

I’ve already written an essay on his Ben Shaley stories, which constituted two of the five Davis tales Shaw printed in Black Mask under his watch. After Shaw left, Davis appeared in Black Mask eight more times. I’m working on what I hope will be THE definitive essay on his Max Latin stories. I absolutely love that five-story series. They’re fantastic.

Between May 1942 and May 1943, Black Mask ran three stories featuring John Collins. Collins was a piano player who had done some investigation work on the side in Europe before World War II. “Don’t You Cry for Me” was the first of the three stories.
Picking Iron (trivia) – In May, 1942, Give the Devil His Due” ran in Dime Detective.

Of course, America was drawn into World War II on December 7, 1941.The story blurb for this one reads, “The brawny piano-player had had his run-ins with the ghoulish Gestapo in the beer halls of Europe, but when he promised Myra Martin’s mother to find the girl in the Mecca of the movie-struck, he ran foul of a plot as fantastic as any Hitler pipe-dream.” Pulp magazines used bombast long before Donald Trump did.

“John Collins was playing the Beale Street Blues and playing it soft and sad because that was the way he felt. The notes dripped through the dimness of the room like molasses and provided an appropriate accompaniment to his thoughts. He had a hangover.”

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Between the Years When the Oceans Drank (Henry Kuttner’s) Atlantis, and the Rise of COVID-19 — Elak Lives Again!

Wednesday, July 15th, 2020 | Posted by Greg Mele

Elak lives again! Just released by Pulp Hero Press, Adrian Cole continues a saga Kuttner abandoned 80 years ago.

Elak lives again! Just released by Pulp Hero Press, Adrian Cole continues a saga Kuttner abandoned 80 years ago.

Adrian Cole is hardly a stranger to fantasy fiction.

Born in Plymouth, Devonshire in 1949, Adrian first read The Lord of the Rings in the late 1960s while working in a public library in Birmingham, and was inspired by the book to write an epic entitled “The Barbarians,” which was eventually revised into The Dream Lords trilogy, published by Zebra Books in the early 1970s. He has been writing various ghost, horror, and fantasy tales, in both short-story and novel-length, ever since. His career is well-established and diverse, from psychological, alien-horror, to superheroes, fantasy trilogies to young-adult novels.

So it is particularly interesting that Adrian’s newest work is an anthology of stories about the adventurer Elak of Atlantis: Elak, King of Atlantis, which was just released earlier this month by Pulp Hero Press.

Atlantis? A vogue setting in early to mid-20th century fantasy fiction, we don’t really see novels or short stories in Atlantis anymore. Ah, but you see, Elak is himself a piece of history…

After Robert E. Howard’s unfortunate suicide in 1936, a number of authors stepped up to fill the void. Most wrote reasonable, working tales, that were largely forgettable, and they themselves were forgotten. One, however, was the masterful Henry Kuttner, who danced easily between fantasy, horror and science fiction, and had a stellar career, made the more so by his collaborations with his wife, C. L. Moore. Kuttner wrote four Elak of Atlantis stories, which appeared in Weird Tales between 1938 and 1940.  They are an abridged version of REH’s Conan stories, and follow the exploits of Elak as he passes from sword-for-hire to king. But Elak is not a “Clonan”: he’s a civilized man, a noble cast-off, who wields a rapier. Whereas Conan is destined to seize a crown, Elak is trying to avoid his destiny.  Unlike Conan, he is not a loner with “guest star” companions, and is accompanied by the perpetually drunk thief Lycon, and the druid Dalan, who is trying to get Elak to accept his destiny to rule the kingdom of Cyrena.

We first meet Elak returning from an encounter with the wife of Atlantean nobility and that strikes a note in the tales: there is a light-heartedness to them, although the world is a dark one.  If you can imagine an Errol Flynn swashbuckler with wizards and Deep Ones, you have the vibe.

Of course, that doesn’t tell us why, 80 years after Kuttner abandoned the doomed island, Cole is bringing it back up from its watery depths.

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The Ordinary is Ephemeral: Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, and the Battle Against Modernism

Wednesday, June 17th, 2020 | Posted by David C. Smith

Weird Tales of Modernity-smallWeird Tales of Modernity: The Ephemerality of the Ordinary in the Stories of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and H.P. Lovecraft
Jason Ray Carney
McFarland & Company (205 pages, $39.95 in paperback/$23.99 digital, July 26, 2019)

Jason Carney’s thesis in Weird Tales of Modernity is that, in their reaction to modernism, the artistic and literary movement that upended culture as it had been accepted in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, the Weird Tales Three — Howard, Smith, and Lovecraft — turned modernism on its head with innovations they introduced in their fiction. Make no mistake: the word thesis here is apt. Weird Tales of Modernity is a formal dissertation. Making use as it does of academic jargon, the book will not be for every reader.

Straightaway, for example, Carney introduces us to the term ekphrastic to make clear what the Weird Tales Three were expressing. Ekphrasis is the representation in language of a work of art. Any of us can do this; go ahead and write your own personal, detailed description of Cthulhu or explore how you react to Frank Frazetta’s artwork. Ekphrasis “acts as an organizing principle in poetry and fiction, making explicit the connection between art, storytelling, and life.” This definition is from Patrick Smith’s guest blog on the website Interesting Literature. Smith quotes Michael Trussler in defining ekphrasis as “a kind of ontological mixture that signals a world beyond the confines of the text.”

There we have it: ekphrasis “signals a world beyond the confines of the text.” We are now in Lovecraft’s frightening, paranoid, awakened world of the Cthulhu mythology — alive beyond the confines of the text — and Clark Ashton Smith’s Averoigne and Poseidonis, and Robert E. Howard’s brutal Valusia and Hyborian Age. As Carney says early in Weird Tales of Modernity, “When a literary artist, like [Clark Ashton] Smith, artistically describes or fictionalizes a work of art by transforming it into an unreal echo or shadow of the actual, that is ekphrasis.”

Carney devotes an early chapter to the history of Weird Tales and then two chapters each to the three authors of his study, introducing them and then exploring their artistic innovations. He begins his study with an examination of what he terms pulp ekphrasis. “In several of their enduring works,” he says,

Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith engage in a form of artistically inflected criticism termed ekphrasis. They do so by fictionalizing modernism, transforming the real artistic movement into an unreal shadow modernism, a strategic distortion of actual modernism. After many creative iterations honed over several stories — e.g., Pickman’s demented art, Malygris’s sorcery, the fell mirrors of Tuzun Thune — this shadow modernism becomes an inhuman technology that, functioning like a cognitive prosthesis in the virtual world of fiction, thereby reveals the secret truth of history: history is a cruelly accelerating process of deformation. The ordinary is ephemeral. History is an interplay of form and formlessness with formlessness terminally ascendant.

The ordinary is ephemeral. Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard were keenly aware of this truth and reacted to it in their fiction while other Weird Tales writers were moving right along in the modern world, writing their stories of scientifiction, offering narratives of ominous cults and mad scientists (with at least one nude woman per story),  or revisiting the tropes of Victorian horrors.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: October 1934

Sunday, June 14th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales October 1934-small

Cover by Margaret Brundage

This third installment of the Weird Tales deep read covers the eleven stories in the October 1934 issue, including the first Jirel of Joiry story by C. L. Moore. Her flame didn’t burn as long in the Unique Magazine as the Lovecraft-Howard-Smith trinity’s did, but it did burn as brightly. Moore had sixteen stories in Weird Tales between 1933-1939, twelve in an incredible burst of creativity in the years 1934-1936.

This issue had three stories set in the U.S. (27%) and one each in France, Hyperborea, the U. K., Hyboria, Africa, Serbia, Italy, and an unknown locale (9%). Six had a contemporary setting (55%) and five were set in the past (45%). All in all a decent issue, with the stories averaging 2.27, the score being dragged down by some of the shorter pieces, which were largely undistinguished.

Notable authors include Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, with one of his longest and most ambitious stories, the aforementioned C. L. Moore, and fairly reliable veterans Paul Ernst and H. Bedford-Jones, and Manly Wade Wellman. The Ernst and Eadie offerings could be considered science fiction, the rest fantasy.

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A (Black) Gat in the Hand: It’s a Hardboiled June on TCM

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Sheridan_Solo“You’re the second guy I’ve met within hours who seems to think a gat in the hand means a world by the tail.” – Phillip Marlowe in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep

(Gat — Prohibition Era term for a gun. Shortened version of Gatling Gun)

Coming off of Edward G. Robinson as the May Star of the Month on TCM, June is Ann Sheridan Month. The ‘Oomph Girl’ appeared in several hardboiled/noir/crime movies, so we’ll tell you some movies to look for.

Every Tuesday, there is a batch of Sheridan movies, and things kicked off June 1st, with eight flicks, including two Bogart movies: Black Legion, and The Great O’Malley. But the past is prologue.

Now, all of these films can be streamed live on Watch TCM if you get Turner Classic via your cable company. But even if you don’t, most of them can be viewed for at least one week after airing on WatchTCM. Some, like Casablanca, don’t get put up. I assume it’s to help sell mover DVDs. But most do. So, if you miss a movie, you can watch it via the app, or the website.

Having laid all of that out, let’s take a look at some of the June films, all EST:

June 2 (look for on Watch TCM)

8:00 PM – Black Legion

A 1937 ‘social cause’ movie. It’s based on the real-life Black Legion, which was a splinter group of the Ku Klux Klan. Humphrey Bogart is a factory worker with seniority who gets passed over by a smarter, harder-working foreigner. And ends up joining the hate group. It was a strong performance by Bogart, who was just being forced by Warners to crank out B-movies (this was four years before High Sierra). Sheridan is fourth-billed and is really only the third main female. The speech from the judge at the end is as heavy-handed propaganda as you’ll run across in a Bogart film. Worth a watch.

9:30 PM – Dodge City

This is a big budget western, starring the swashbuckling Errol Flynn. Michael Curtiz (Casablanca) directed, with a great musical score by Max Steiner. One of my favorite comic supporting actors, Frank McHugh, is here, as Sheridan plays female second banana to Olivia de Haviland. This movie features a heck of a bar room brawl, and the cast is solid. There was an unrelated follow-up with Flynn, Virginia City. Which included Bogart as a Mexican raider with a cheesy mustache.

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Weird Tales Deep Read: March, 1933

Friday, May 22nd, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

Weird Tales March 1933-small

Weird Tales, March 1933. Cover by Margaret Brundage

This installment of the deep read of the Unique Magazine examines the nine stories in the March, 1933 issue of Weird Tales. We see some familiar names from the previous column: Seabury Quinn, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, and Harold Ward, as well as a couple who might be familiar to fans of pulp fiction, Otis Aldebert Kline and Paul Ernst. Kline is probably best known for his imitation Edgar Rice Burroughs planetary adventure novels. He was also Robert E. Howard’s literary agent for awhile, which will no doubt come up for discussion at the appropriate time. Paul Ernst was a rather prolific pulpster, possibly remembered mostly today for writing the Avenger hero pulps, but he was also a frequent contributor to Weird Tales.

Some stats for this issue before we get to the individual stories, then a few comments on some of this issue’s offerings. Locations: US (4/9; 44%), fictional realms (2/9: 22%), Venus, UK, France, Tibet (all 1/9: 11%). Contemporary setting: 6/9; 67%). Past: (2/9; 22%), Future: (1/9; 11%). Four of these stories (44%) are part of a series: Quinn, Howard, Kline, and Smith.

Seabury Quinn [Jules de Grandin] (2) “Thing in the Fog, The” [US, PA, Harrisonville, fictional town; Contemporary] Occultist de Grandin and Dr. Trowbridge literally run into a man on the street being attacked by a werewolf. He’s only injured but his companion is killed by the creature. They soon learn that his future wife was once the werewolf’s fiancee and that he’d initiated into his clan. After the wedding, the bride is again transformed into a wolf by a potion given her anonymously by her werewolf ex, but she attacks him while both are in their canid forms, giving de Grandin the opportunity to deliver a fatal shot. De Grandin then releases her from her curse by using an incantation in the form of a prayer. [Medical doctor. Occultist. Occult being, werewolf. Death by occult being, werewolf. Love triangle. Magic potion. Werewolf transformation by magic potion. Magic incantation, prayer]

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Weird Tales Deep Read: July 1933

Sunday, April 26th, 2020 | Posted by John Miller

weird_tales-July-1933-small

Somewhat fanciful Brundage cover for “Hand of Glory”

This is the first in a series of posts I’ve wanted to do for awhile now, a detailed look at a single issue of Weird Tales magazine where I do a short analysis of each story, the famous, the infamous, and the forgotten. Just to make things a little confusing, I rate these stories, unlike movies, on a 1-5 scale, with the lower the number, the better the story. You can look at these ratings as A-B-C-D-F, or Excellent – Good – Mediocre – Below Average – Poor.

I wanted to start with a memorable issue, so I chose the July 1933 entry, one of the best I’ve read so far. I’ll start with a short overview and then get into the specifics of each story.

This issue is at the beginning of the Unique Magazine’s (as it sometimes called itself) Golden Age (roughly the early to late 1930’s) with a total of four of the nine stories penned by what I like to think of as the Holy Trinity of Weird Tales writers, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The ubiquitous Seabury Quinn is also present with one of his ninety-three Jules de Grandin stories, along with tales by early giants of science fiction Edmond Hamilton and Jack Williamson. Sheridan Le Fanu contributes a classic reprint. The final story is by Harold Ward, a fairly prolific pulp writer noted for complicated plots often bordering on the incoherent.

The Howard story is one of his slightest, but moderately effective. The Smith, set in what is probably the first shared-world universe in science fiction — the Cthulhu Mythos — is also rather slight, but vastly more imaginative. The Lovecraft story under his byline is one of his classic Cthulhu Mythos tales. His second story in this issue appears under the name of Hazel Heald, which requires a bit of explanation.

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Lovecraft in China: The Flock of Ba-Hui by Oobmab

Saturday, April 4th, 2020 | Posted by David Neil Lee

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories-small The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories-back-small

Cover by Roger Betka

The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories
Oobmab (translated by Arthur Meursault and Akira)
Camphor Press (254 pages, $24.99 hardcover/$14.99 paperback/$6.99 digital, February 2020)

Beyond the protective barrier of Europe’s vast libraries, Latinate languages, aristocratic bloodlines, and imperial armies, there lurks a malign chaos of ancient knowledge and alien science. To our Western eyes, this chaos is a universe of black magic and monsters but there is, alas, much more to it than that, when one considers the full span of inhuman evil that extends from ancient creatures long outcast, brooding and breeding sinister vengeance in the Earth’s depths, to the latest incursions by loathsome entities whose blasphemous technologies have carried them to this green and innocent planet from the mist-shrouded globes circling the farthest stars.

This is essentially Lovecraft country: a universe that has become known as the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Ever-fearful of dark forces from the outside, in daily life the American author H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was an enthusiastic exponent of modernity – the expansion of northern European cultures throughout the world to the disadvantage, even appropriation, even erasure, of indigenous and non-European cultures. As America itself blossomed into an imperial power, Lovecraft’s United Empire loyalism (which to be fair, was greatly mitigated in his later years) envisioned a USA that “must ever remain an integral and important part [as he wrote at age 24] of the great universal empire of British thought and literature.”

Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Lovecraft treasured his native New England not only for its green fields, stone churches, and stately mansions, but for the ways these things embodied the culture of an even-more-native England, a just and civilized seat of a white, English-speaking empire, an island across the sea that he felt linked to in spirit, although he never saw it in person.

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John Bullard on Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River”

Sunday, March 29th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

Beyond the Black River-smallKeith West dropped me a note this week to alert me to the publication of an intriguing 3-part article on his blog Adventures Fantastic.

“Beyond the Black River”: Is it Really “Beyond the Brazos River”? was written by Robert E. Howard scholar John Bullard, who’s been editing Howard’s correspondence for the next edition of his collected letters. The article examines Howard’s influences when writing the classic Conan tale “Beyond the Black River,” and particularly how he drew from a famous incident in Texas history to create the ending.

I’m not a Howard scholar myself, and generally leave these debates on Howard’s sources to the experts, but Bullard’s piece weaves together fascinating tidbits from letters to H.P. Lovecraft, Carl Jacobi, and others, plus an interview with Novalyne Price Ellis, to make a compelling case for his theory. Just as interesting to me was the intimate glimpse into Howard’s creative process, and his close friendships with his fellow pulp writers. Here’s a sample:

Robert E. Howard’s Conan story, “Beyond the Black River” is considered to be one of his best stories by his fans. It tells of an attack by Howard’s favorite historical peoples, the Picts, against the encroaching colonization of the Aquilonians on the Picts’ deeply forested land between the Thunder River to the East, and the Black River to the west in his fictional Hyborian world setting…

Howard’s recounting of Texas history and characters enthralled his pen pals, and in several of the surviving letters, they encouraged him to write about this history in his fiction…. Yet, prior to the second half of 1934, Howard was unsure of how to incorporate his knowledge of the settling of the Texas frontier into his stories….

Yet sometime after writing the letter to Jacobi, Howard seems to have had a breakthrough in how to incorporate his knowledge of Texas history into his stories and began writing what is generally considered to be one of his finest stories sometime during the Summer or possibly early Fall of 1934… In a December 1934 letter to Lovecraft, Howard wrote:

“My latest sales to Weird Tales have been a two-part Conan serial: “Beyond the Black River” — a frontier story; …in the Conan story I’ve attempted a new style and setting entirely — abandoned the exotic settings of lost cities, decaying civilizations, golden domes, marble palaces, silk-clad dancing girls, etc., and thrown my story against a background of forests and rivers, log cabins, frontier outposts, buckskin-clad settlers, and painted tribesmen. Some day I’m going to try my hand at a longer yarn of the same style, a serial of four or five parts.”(Lovecraft, Dec. 1934)

We’ve discussed “Beyond the Black River,” and its importance to the modern fantasy canon, previously at Black Gate. Recent coverage includes:

Hither Came Conan: Keith West on “Beyond the Black River”
Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Beyond the Black River”

Read John Bullard’s complete 3-part article at Adventures Fantastic, starting here.


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