Sun 29 Nov 2015
WEIRD TALES, September 1935. The cover of this issue includes one of artist Margaret Brundage’s beautiful nudes for which she was well-known, and still is, for that matter. It illustrates the first story, “The Blue Woman,” by John Scott Douglas, which puzzled me right then and there, since the woman on the cover is not blue, but a beautiful and entirely natural shade of pink.
I’m sure it helped sell a lot of copies of this issue, though. The story itself is not very good, though, and one wonders why Farnsworth Wright, the editor of Weird Tales at the time, chose it to be the lead story. There is a pseudo-scientific reason why the woman is blue, and the observant reader will put two and two together within the first page or so of the story, as soon as it learned that the wife of wood-carver Ludwig Meusel was released from her job at a watch factory with a large payment of cash and a diagnosis of a fatal illness.
A lanky red-headed private eye named Ken Keith is brought into the case of murder that develops, which he solves with not too much effort. I do not know whether Keith appeared in the two earlier stories by Douglas that appeared in Weird Tales, but if not, perhaps he showed up in one of other roughly 350 stories Douglas also wrote for the aviation, adventure, detective and sports pulp magazines over the course of his writing career. Well, probably not the sports pulps.
The second story in this issue, “The Carnival of Death,” by Arlton Eadie, doesn’t so indicate it, until the end, when surprise! I discovered that it’s the first of four parts. I really hate it when that happens. It’s about mummies, ancient Egypt and a present day curse, and I’d love to able to finish it, but alas, my collection of Weird Tales isn’t extensive enough to do so.
The novel was published in its entirety by a British publisher but is impossibly difficult to find. Ramble House has published a restored edition of The Trail of the Cloven Hoof, another of Eadie’s novels serialized in Weird Tales the year before (1934), but so far, although promised, they don’t don’t seem to have found a copy of this one to use.
“The Man Who Chained the Lightning,” by Paul Ernst, is the second of eight adventures of Doctor Satan to appear in Weird Tales, and the story is more one of horror and the grotesque than weird, per se. Doctor Satan was one of the earliest and perhaps the longest-running of the pulp super-villains. His genius could have been put good use for the world, but instead he dressed in a red rubber suit and a cap with horns and used his fabulous inventions for the commonest of crimes.
In this story he uses electricity both to kill and to re-animate corpses to steal funds from the bank accounts of the city’s wealthiest men. Opposing him in this case is equally brilliant Ascott Keane and his more-than-secretary Beatrice Dale. Dr. Satan is foiled this time, but the image of his naked captives cooped up in cages too small for them will stay with me for a long time.
Before moving on, it should be noted that all eight of Dr. Satan stories have been collected any published in a single volume by Altus Press (2013).
I have always associated the name of Clark Ashton Smith with fantasy fiction, infused with the essence of poetry and the ebullience and brilliance of descriptive writing. The story “Vulthoom” is science fiction, however, but with no diminishment in the use of words to produce an almost overpowering sense of wonder.
Two men who find themselves in impoverished circumstances on Mars are invited to work for an immortal being, Vulthoom, having arrived from another planet millions of years ago and now living miles beneath the surface of the red planet, to help pave the way for him to conquer Earth. They resist, but trying to escape and after making their way through miles of underground tunnels and caves, they….
If the opportunity ever comes your way, read this one. As well as later in other collections, it first appeared in Genius Loci and Other Tales (Arkham House, 1948).
Next is the conclusion of “Satan in Exile,” by Arthur William Bernal, a novel serialized in four parts. I did not read it, but the synopsis suggests that it is a science fiction story about Prince Satan, a pirate or bandit of the interplanetary spaceways, with a nod toward Robin Hood. It has never been reprinted in complete form, nor do I can I suggest whether or not someone should.
“The Shambler from the Stars,” which follows, is a short story by Robert Bloch, and a rather famous one which is dedicated to a certain H. P. Lovecraft. Translating a ancient book from the Latin, while visiting an eccentric expert in the occult living in Providence, Rhode Island, the narrator manages to summon a strange vampire-like being from space. Here’s an excerpt:
Two short short stories follow next. The first, “One Chance,” by Ethel Helene Coen, takes place in a plague-invested 18th century New Orleans and has a very effective O.Henry type twist. The second, “The Toad Goad,” by Kirk Mashburn, is a rather ordinary tale about an Aztec artifact collector in Mexico who removes a sacred object he shouldn’t.
“The Monster God of Mamurth,” by Edmond Hamilton, is a reprint from the August 1926 issue of Weird Tales (shown to the right). In this an archaeologist seeking ruins of ancient Carthage comes across city in ruins inside an invisible wall and guarded (for so he discovers once inside) by giant invisible spider-like creature. Variations on a theme, but an effectively creepy one when in the right hands, as it is here. (Remarkably, as I have later discovered, it is the first of Hamilton’s many works of science fiction or fantasy to be published.)
“Return of Orrin Mannering,” by Kenneth Wood, and the last story in this issue, is a ghost story less than two pages long about how a desperate killer fugitive is brought back to justice. A filler, but smooth enough going down.
By this time, after all of capsule summaries and associated commentary, you will have realized that for the relatively steep price of 25 cents in 1935, readers really got a lot for their money. Not all the stories were gems, but how much ordinary, mundane non-genre short fiction from the the same year is still as readable today?