SELECTED BY JONATHAN LEWIS:


REX DOLPHIN “Off the Map.” First published in Weird Tales, July 1954. Reprinted in 100 Wild Little Weird Tales, edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, & Martin H. Greenberg (Barnes & Noble, 1994).

   Rex Dolphin (1915-1990) was the pen name of one Reginald Charles Dolphin, a British accountant who also wrote under the pseudonyms Peter Saxon and Desmond Reid. His sole contribution to Weird Tales, a story entitled “Off the Map” appeared in the pulp magazine’s July 1954 issue.

   The product of a vivid imagination and a mind steeped in fantasy literature, “Off the Map” is a minor, albeit imperfect, gem of a tale. The story is based on a premise that readers of historical fantasy and weird fiction have surely encountered in myriad forms over the years: what if there’s a city that’s marked on an older map, but that doesn’t appear on any contemporary ones:

   “See this? Yes, it’s an old map — seventeenth century to be exact — and I found it in a musty old shop in part of the country I’d better not mention. No, this has nothing to do with buried treasure, though to be truthful it does concern some golden guineas; guineas that no one will touch. Give you the chance? Maybe, but there’s something you should know first…”

   The town in question is Wychburne, an English city that no longer appears in modern cartography. In “Off the Map,” the story’s unnamed protagonist-narrator sets out to discover what happened to this village. Does it still exist? And if so, what happens there?

   The story unfolds in a rather predictable manner, with one local who learns of the narrator’s quest showing his absolute displeasure with the notion. As it turns out, the village — or some phantasmagoric facsimile of it, does still exist. But the small burg’s historical trajectory has been scarred by the experience of a great plague, making this town off the map a burial ground for the ages.

   It must be said that, while “Off the Map” has a more interesting premise than a conclusion, the work does demonstrate that the writer was certainly well versed in both the style and substance of early twentieth-century high fantasy literature.