Thursday, July 20, 2006

The Weirdest Of Them All...


I hadn't heard of H. P. Lovecraft or Weird Tales before picking up these books off the stands in the 1960s. I just thought they had great covers, and I've always been interested in anthologies.

Weird Tales was a magazine which had a lifespan of just over 30 years, from 1923 to 1954. Farnsworth Wright was editor for about half its run, during the latter part of the 1920s until a few months before he died in 1940. It was during his tenure as editor that the issues that are so desirable to collectors today were published. As an editor, Farnsworth Wright was described as quirky, and one writer described him as claiming his editorial policy was to have no editorial policy, which could explain why the quality of each issue could vary from story to story. He was also known for rejecting stories and then asking for them to be resubmitted, not a tactic designed to endear any editor to any writer.

The first book of Lovecraft stories I ever read is The Dunwich Horror And Others, from 1963, which reprints some of Lovecraft's better stories, including the title story, "Rats In The Walls," and "Pickman's Model," which I think are genuinely creepy stories despite the florid, outdated writing style (outdated even when he wrote them). I think the cover leaves something to the imagination. Why the tortured look on the character's half-hidden face, what are those disembodied arms in the air? It makes for some disturbing interpretations.

Weird Tales (the Pyramid Books compilation) has a publication date of May, 1964, so I picked this book up when I was a junior in high school. It contains "Pigeons From Hell," by Robert E. Howard, which scared me, and me a hotshot 17-year-old! I described the story to my friends and they said, "Oh yeah…that was on Thriller." (An anthology television series hosted by Boris Karloff.) To this day I haven't seen that episode and wonder how I missed it in the first place.A follow-up volume, Worlds Of Weird, is listed as being published in January, 1965. There are some genuinely fine stories in this volume, including "Valley Of The Worm" by Robert Howard (by then I was very familiar with Howard's work, having searched out some of his Conan the Barbarian stories), "He That Hath Wings" by the perennial favorite Edmond Hamilton, and "Roads," by Seabury Quinn, which is a straight-faced Weird Tales-style biography of Santa Claus!

These books caught my eye with their great covers by a true master, Virgil Finlay. I was familiar with Finlay from seeing pulps magazine illustrations he had done, specifically from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, a fine anthology magazine in its own right, which mainly reprinted classic material. The volume, The Spell of Seven, (unfortunately, my copy is damaged) with a publication date of June, 1965, was edited by L. Sprague De Camp, but reprinted only two stories from Weird Tales, "The Dark Eidolon" by Clark Ashton Smith, and "Shadows In Zamboula" by Howard. De Camp went on to make an industry out of Robert E. Howard's stories, including the Conan books which he edited and some he even co-wrote.These books opened the door to a world of wonder to me, and have led to a lifelong fascination with Weird Tales, a magazine I believe will only grow in reputation even as the existing copies become brittle and crumble to dust.

I think 100 years from now people will still read H. P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard and others of the famous stable of Weird Tales writers of the 1930s. It was one of the most specialized pulp magazines of all time, and was never a big selling magazine, often on the verge of bankruptcy, which just adds to its mystique.

Ciao for now, El Postino

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