Weird Tales v35n01, January 1940

WT19400102x600

Fiction:
Spotted Satan • novelette by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price ♥
Mortmain • novelette by Seabury Quinn ♥
A Million Years in the Future (Part 1 of 4) • serial by Thomas P. Kelley ♥
Twister • short story by Mary Elizabeth Counselman ♥
Portrait of a Bride • short story by Earl Peirce, Jr.
Forbidden Cupboard • short story by Frances Garfield ♥
The Unveiling • short story by Alfred I. Tooke ♥♥
Lips of the Dead • reprint short story by W. J. Stamper ♥

Non-fiction:
Cover • Virgil Finlay
Internal artwork • Virgil Finlay, Harry Ferman, Hannes Bok, Andrew Brosnatch
Realization • poem by Harry Warner, Jr.
Up from Earth’s Center • poem extract by Omar Khayyam
The Eyrie • letters
Coming Next Month

This issue of Weird Tales came out at a time of big changes for the magazine: there was a move from monthly to bimonthly publication with this number; it was also the penultimate issue to be edited by Farnsworth Wright, editor since the November 1924 issue—more on him next time around.

The cover is provided by Virgil Finlay and is not one of his stronger works. I was also lukewarm about the couple of internal illustrations he also provides. Most of the artwork is competently provided by Harry Ferman, but the best is by Hannes Bok.1

As to the fiction, it is a fairly disappointing selection despite a few familiar names (one of the reasons I started on this issue apart from the fact that I fancied a change). So with that in mind I’ll try and keep this brief. The fiction leads off with Spotted Satan by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price. This gets off to a fairly promising start with its story about Steele, an American commissioned to hunt a leopard in Burma. It is well enough written and has some good local colour:

Steele kicked the dying fire, shivered in the penetrating chill, and told himself that he had listened to too many whispers concerning Thagya Min, King of Tawadeintha—the land of demons, nats who haunted every stream, every grove and forest, lurking by night to slip up on unwary Burmese. From afar he heard the excruciating creak-creak of a cart-wheel. The ungreased axle did not betoken laziness on the part of the driver; it was a studied effort to frighten away night-roving nats that contribute to terror of darkness.
He began to sense that the
pwé itself was more than festivity: it was to discourage with light and noise and a concentration of humans the nats who must have followed Steele to the village.
The demon subjects of Thagya Min would have a hearty interest in anyone setting out to kill the ghost leopard of Kokogon.
p.11

Unfortunately, it is obvious about a third of the way through that a were-leopard is responsible for the killings in the logging camp. It is also obvious who the were-leopard is, yet the story thrashes on for another 16pp. or so.

Mortmain, the novelette by Seabury Quinn, has similar problems. The writing and characterisation are fine but the story idea is old hat—partial and full vampires—and structurally it is awful.
An undertaker, Steadman, has a customer, Ranleigh, come to buy a casket from him but he specifies it must be delivered by sunset tomorrow! Cue a drive to mansion and a lot of backstory about Ranleigh’s strange Russian wife who the undertaker buried previously, as he did her mother. When Steadman arrives at Ranleigh’s house with the casket he sees the wife again, apparently alive. Cue more backstory, this time from Ranleigh, about what has happened to his wife (spoiler):

In China and Mongolia the ch’ing shih may be an animated corpse, like Dracula, or an evil spirit which is sometimes disembodied, sometimes as substantial as a natural person. Generally they’re the souls or corpses of black sorcerers, or their victims. For instance, a ch’ing shih may be a person who has met his death by sorcery and had a spell put on him by the magician, so that while he seems dead he revives occasionally, issues from his tomb, and nourishes himself on the blood he sucks from the living. Sometimes he doesn’t seem to die at all, but leads a normal life, eating and drinking like everyone else; only he has to have a dose of human blood occasionally.
Failing this he starves. In this form the
ch’ing shih is relatively harmless, but if he dies what seems to be a natural death, or if he’s killed, he comes back as a fullfledged vampire, savage as a tiger and wicked as a snake. Also, in this second state, he’s capable of shape-shifting, and can take whatever form he pleases, though generally he assumes the shape of a tiger or jackal, or sometimes just a domestic cat. p.42

Ranleigh makes Steadman promise to dispose of his wife’s body and his own by burning after he is no longer able to attend to her. The mother (don’t ask) then appears to the undertaker in a vision saying Ranleigh has died, so off Steadman goes to torch the house.

A Million Years in the Future is the first part of a four part serial by Thomas P. Kelley.2 Presumably this was scheduled before the publishing frequency changed, and it is the last serial the magazine published.
This is a sword and spaceship epic about a far future Earth that has lost its oceans and whose population has been severely reduced by repeated raids by the Black Raiders, so-called because they are black men. The first few pages pretty much summarises what is going to happen, a narrative technique I’ve never really understood: why would you put a huge plot-spoiler at the start of the story?
Whatever. Jan is one of the local princes and the story starts with him and his men chasing ‘kang’ rustlers (kangs are a super-horse analogue introduced by the raiders). This sub-plot occupies a couple of chapters until the Black Raiders turn up, at which point Jan attempts to sneak aboard one of the spaceships that have landed. He listens to two guards speaking:

“What else could you expect of these primitive Earth folk?” asked the other; “an uncouth, fast-dwindling race of barbarians, fighting constantly among themselves, who have not even a written language of their own. And yet I suppose we are as much to blame as any of the other worlds who invaded it in the past,” he went on, “for our history shows that Earth once boasted a mighty civilization, and was well able to hold its own with any planet in warfare.”
“Yes, yes,” admitted the other impatiently. “I know all that, but it was ages ago. Surely they would have made some progress since then, had they not sunk to the mental level of the beasts they ride. No; I have no patience with them, nor are they numerous enough to give us an interesting fight. The sooner we release the Vapors of Vengeance and kill the lot of them, the better.”
“Till then let us hope no wandering tribe comes this way,” added his companion. “The fleet may not return for several hours, and there are only the four of us to guard the ship. In the meantime, perhaps it would be just as well if—”
p.62

Subsequently he kills the guards, gets aboard the ship, is himself captured and then transported to a moon where he is used as slave labour. Towards the end of this part he escapes and makes it to a spaceship….
As you have probably gathered, this is pretty dreadful, and I haven’t even touched on the casual racism. That said, it is quite readable, and at times is actually OK in a guilty pleasure kind of way. This part is from when he arrives on the Moon of Lost Souls:

With the guards clutching me on either side I was hustled out onto the hot, dusty plains, where a million prisoners from a thousand planets lived and died and labored, humans of every conceivable shape and color who were to be my associates in the following days; sturdy, thick-set little men of a standard thirty inches, who were the dwarfs of Panthra; frail and timid twenty-foot giants from an unnamed world of mist; the dogmen of Zaxona, whose speech consisted of various gestures, barks and whines; the beast-men of Yat; the skull people of Canaxis; weird and serpent-like men from a distant star who hissed and wiggled their rapid ways up and down the fields; all those and a thousand others, some so grotesque that even a description would be revolting. p.72

I’m not sure I’ll manage to read this straight through but I’ll continue dipping into it and see how I get on.

Following the novelettes and the serial are five short stories including one reprint. Twister by Mary Elizabeth Counselman is about a newlywed couple arrive at a strange unlit town and are refused a room. They fill up with gas and continue on as they have been warned that a twister is headed for the town. Five miles later they run out of fuel and a sheriff’s deputy finds them threatens to arrest them as he thinks they are drunk. There is no town where the couple say they have been or warnings of a twister. Next day (spoiler) they return with the deputy and find the ruin of a town destroyed by a twister seventeen years previously.
Portrait of a Bride by Earl Peirce, Jr. has a man called John Kenyon visiting Richman, a dying friend, and his new wife Elizabeth. After Stephan the servant picks him up from the bus station he informs the Kenyon that the new wife he has been told about does not really exist but is a delusion that Richman suffers from. Stephan and Richman’s Doctor, Bronson, have been playing along with him given his poor health.
There then follows several pages of completely unconvincing shenanigans involving the Stephan the servant, Kenyon and latterly Bronson the doctor. There is also a painting of his wife that Richman is in the process of painting that gets wheeled on part of the way through the story and again at the end.
Forbidden Cupboard by Frances Garfield,3 is a quite well told but ultimately daft story about a young woman arriving at a house where she plans to rent a room. Unusually it is a priest renting the room, and there is some backstory about a previous inhabitant. She notices a closet door that is blocked by furniture and the priest tells her it is to be plastered up and that she is not to open it. Needless to say, after the priest has left….
The Unveiling by Alfred I. Tooke is probably the best story in the issue. It is about a group of people going to see a new painting by a man who survived the Russian revolution but has been traumatised by the experience. Hence his paintings are violent, primal works with titles like Beezlebub, Greed, Hate, War, and the newest one, Death….
Lips of the Dead by W. J. Stamper is the reprint story (Weird Tales, June 1925). A Haitian president and general hold Papillon and other senators hostage as the mobs riot outside. Papillon refuses to cooperate and so is decapitated and his head tossed to the mob. The president and general flee. Later, the mob finds them in the French legation and breaks in to seize them. The general is killed; the president is dragged through the streets, crucified and then decapitated.
The only fantasy content is that the severed heads of Papillon and the president make brief comments after their decapitation. Quite well described and visceral but this is ultimately the pulp story equivalent of a snuff movie, and I wonder if it is typical of early stories in the magazine.

There are also a couple of poems and a half page notice stating the start of a new column, It Happened to Me, for which supernatural accounts are solicited from readers.
This month’s The Eyrie has letters from Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith and Edmond Hamilton among others: Bloch defends his story The Dark Isle and his use of druidry therein. There is praise for H. Warner Munn’s King of the World’s Edge, Henry Kuttner’s Towers of Death, Seabury Quinn’s Uncanonized and a reprint of one of Robert E. Howard’s Brak Mak Morn stories. Only four of the correspondents are women but they contribute about a third or so of the wordage.
Finally, Donald Jafelice from Toronto says ‘I have not written before, due to my lack of expression-power.’ I know how you feel Mr Jafelice, but I don’t let it stop me….

A disappointing issue.

  1. The title page by Hannes Bok for the serial:WT19400102art1
  2. Kelley was the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Canadian Pulps’. There is more information about this colourful writer at Tellers of Weird Tales.
  3. According to ISFDB, a revised version of Frances Garfield’s story was published as Don’t Open That Door (Fantasy Tales, Winter 1979). She published four stories in 1939-40 and half a dozen more after that revised version appeared almost forty years later. Her husband was Manly Wade Wellman.
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