The Vampire Master (Part 1 of 4) • serial by Edmond Hamilton [as by Hugh Davidson ] ♥♥
The Mansion of Unholy Magic • novelette by Seabury Quinn ♥♥♥
The Pool of the Black One • novelette by Robert E. Howard ♥♥♥
The House of the Worm • novelette by Mearle Prout ♥♥
The Plutonian Terror • short story by Jack Williamson
The Seed from the Sepulcher • short story by Clark Ashton Smith ♥♥
The Black, Dead Thing • short story by Frank Belknap Long ♥
The Cat-Woman • short story by Mary Elizabeth Counselman ♥♥
The Festival • reprint short story by H. P. Lovecraft ♥♥
The Vampire Master • M. Brundage
Interior artwork by Jayem Wilcox, Hugo Rankin
The Ultimate Word • poem by Marion Doyle
The Eyrie • letter column by the Editor and readers
Coming Next Month • essay by uncredited
This issue of Weird Tales sports the famous bat-girl cover by Margaret Brundage, who was renowned for her risqué covers for this magazine. This strange, one might say fetishistic, cover reportedly makes this one of the hardest issues for collectors to obtain (a recent near-fine copy sold for $4500 at Heritage Auctions).1 It is quite a peculiar piece: the eyes, fingers and breasts are all larger than real life, the unusual pose, the bat-mask, etc. It isn’t my favourite Brundage2 but it is very striking, and I bet this issue sold by the bucket load.
Further to my comments about the price this issue can sell for it is probably fairly obvious that I am reading this from a scanned copy. However, there are a number of facsimile editions available of the early issues so this needn’t be your only option.3
As it happens this is the first issue of the old Weird Tales I have ever read although I have a few issues upstairs. The standard pulp size (about 10 inches by 7 inches) means there is a plenty of reading even in a 132 pp. issue, and that fiction starts off with Edmond Hamilton’s four-part serial The Vampire Master. I should say that Weird Tales of this era has a nasty habit of not labelling these as such and you won’t find out it is a serial until the last line:
Don’t miss next month’s thrilling instalment, about bodies that walked and carried their coffins with them. p.243
And no mention of how many parts are in the serial either.
As to the story itself (I didn’t have the other parts to hand so only read this instalment) this is a bog-standard vampire pot-boiler. Dr Dale and his assistant Harley Owen travel to the affected village with the messenger sent to summon them, Dr Henderson, and matters proceed. Absolutely nothing novel—or unpredictable—in this first part but an OK read for all that. There is some padding though: a page or so of the vampire expert Dr Dale explaining what vampires are to his visitor: I’m pretty sure everyone would have known this even in 1933.
Next up is a Jules de Grandin novelette by Seabury Quinn. I’ve heard of the Jules de Grandin stories but have never read any. The Mansion of Unholy Magic starts at a railway station where de Grandin and his sidekick Trowbridge engage a woman driver to take them to their cabin. As they travel there she drives very quickly and this is explained when they are pursued by a fast running figure who disappears when fired at.
She stays overnight in the cabin with the two men as it is too late to return and gives the backstory of a local Colonel who has resurrected three Egyptian mummies who have been killing locals.
After a perilous night in the cabin they set off the next day to check on her father and then deal with the mummies.
It’s rather straightforward plot but is told in a fairly light vein which makes it quite entertaining actually. It also helps that there are one or two good lines in this as well:
A man’s gray felt hat which had seen better days, though not recently… p.424
(he) favoured the solicitor with a look denoting compound interest p.425
Corny maybe, but I look forward to reading more of the de Grandin tales.
One of the major successes in Weird Tales were Robert E. Howard’s popular tales of Conan the Barbarian. The Pool of the Black One has him climbing aboard a ship called ‘The Wastrel’ after sailing and swimming out from the Baracha Islands. After an interrogation by Zaporavo, the captain, he is taken on as a sailor but is only accepted by the crew after fighting one of them and breaking the other’s neck.
Some time later on they make landfall at an island where the main action takes place. There is narcotic fruit, a fight with the captain, and inhumanly large black natives who capture members of the crew and take them to their grisly inland temple. There is also some love interest in the form of Sancha, the captain’s concubine.
I found this rather straightforward. It is also a bit unpalatable at times (Conan wants command of the ship and so the captain is murdered in the fight they have) and there are passages like these:
She, who had been the spoiled and petted daughter of the Duke of Kordava, learned what it was to be a buccaneer’s plaything; and because she was supple enough to bend without breaking, she lived where other women had died, and because she was young and vibrant with life, she came to find pleasure in the existence.4 p.451
The superb symmetry of body and limbs was more impressive at close range. Under the ebon skin long, rounded muscles rippled, and Conan did not doubt that the monster could rend an ordinary man limb from limb. The nails of the fingers provided further weapons, for they were grown like the talons of a wild beast. The face was a carven ebony mask. The eyes were tawny, a vibrant gold that glowed and glittered. But the face was inhuman; each line, each feature was stamped with evil—evil transcending the mere evil of humanity. The thing was not a human—it could not be; it was a growth of Life from the pits of blasphemous creation—a perversion of evolutionary development. p.458
However, if you can put aside your squeamishness. as well as the misogyny and racism, it does have a certain narrative verve, and I think I see why Howard was so popular with some.
Mearle Prout’s The House of the Worm is a weird fantasy about two men who end up hunting in a wood where everything seems to have died, including the trees, and where a putrefying atmosphere pervades everything.
One of the men wakes up in the middle of the evening to a vision of his partner decaying and riddled with worms. They discover lighted torches keep the evil at bay and retreat the next day. Subsequently, the sphere of influence of this malign force spreads outward and many are killed before they return to the wood to destroy it.
It is rather unnecessarily bookended with material about the power of thought controlling reality.
Jack Williamson’s The Plutonian Terror is the issue’s SF story (a contentious issue that comes up in the letter column) and is a dreadful piece. Two male space explorers are returning to Earth, one of whom is heavily bandaged all over due to:
Incurable burns, resulting from injudicious experimenting with “hard” or high frequency X-rays, had eaten his face away, destroyed his voice. Life meant nothing to him. p.484
En-route they observe a huge cuboid spaceship that crosses their path. Once on Earth they find the population vanished and soon deduce that the cuboid spaceship has taken them to Pluto. They pursue the ship to its destination and have a showdown with (drum-roll) a ‘red vampire brain’, the end result of Pluto’s decadent civilisation. They subsequently discover that all Earth’s population has died.
The final twist is that one of the two explorers is actually a woman—the real male character had not realised that there was a woman he desired hiding behind the bandages ‘he’ wore to cover his supposed dreadful X-Ray burns.
Actually, for the first half this is actually OK, if terribly dated—some of the deserted Earth description is fine:
Earth swam before them, a swelling green-blue sphere, swathed indistinctly in the misty radiance of its atmosphere. Soft and warm and bright it shone, against the startling, frozen, eternal blackness of the star-set universal void. p.481
This story proves, in comparison to the other material in this issue, how badly SF can date compared with fantasy or horror.
The Seed from the Sepulcher by regular contributor Clark Ashton Smith is another average fantasy about two orchid hunters in the jungle and how one of them is infected by a plant. A good deal of the final third is taken up with a description of this process.
The Black, Dead Thing by Frank Belknap Long opens with a passenger on a cruise having a supernatural vision on the deck of the ship. After summoning the steward he discovers that a strange monkey-like beast was seen on the second night of the last cruise and, subsequently, a doctor-passenger was ‘mangled, clawed to death’. Our passenger has a subsequent encounter with the beast in his cabin. Unfortunately, all this description and atmosphere, like a lot of horror stories, does not really amount to anything.
The Cat-Woman by Mary Elizabeth Counselman is a straightforward tale about a man in a boarding house whose female neighbour opposite is a were-cat. Pretty much by the numbers up until the ending which is rather unpleasant, or (spoiler) very unpleasant if you have a cat currently living with you.5
The final piece of fiction, The Festival, is an atmospheric Lovecraft Cthulhu reprint from the sixteenth issue of Weird Tales (January 1925) that tells of a man who visits Kingsport for a strange Yuletide ritual and who ends up in a subterranean chamber under the church where weird creatures lurk by an underground river. The last paragraph, quoted from the Necrominion, doesn’t conclude matters.
Most of the illustrations in this issue are by Jayem Wilcox and are quite uninspiring, crude stuff. There is also some verse by Marion Doyle of an equivalent standard.
There is an Interesting letter column, The Eyrie, which has a different format to most magazines in that it quotes only parts of letters rather than the whole and groups them according to subject. Comments in this issue concern Jack Williamson’s six-part serial Golden Blood and Margaret Brundage’s covers (at that time she was referred to as M. Brundage, so the fact that it was a female artist was unknown). Her nude covers raise complaints from Lionel Dilbeck, of Wichita, Kansas:
But whatever you do, do not continue to disgrace the magazine with naked women as you did in the June and July issues… And I really hate to tear the covers off the magazine, as that also spoils the looks of them. p.516
He must have been driven to apoplexy by this month’s cover, but for slightly different reasons. Robert E. Howard’s work is mentioned in a letter from Sylvia Bennett of Detroit :
I am becoming weary of his continuous butchery and slaughter. After I finish reading one of his gory stories I feel as if I am soaked with blood. p.518
The subject of ‘scientific stories’ is also touched on.
In conclusion, there are a couple of stories of interest in this issue, the de Grandin and Conan tales, but much of the rest is forgettable. I will be interested to see if this is typical of other issues of the era. If it is I can’t really see myself reading that many more: even setting your expectations accordingly for material of this age it would be too much of a slog.
- This one. Copies in poorer condition will only cost you several hundred dollars…
- My favourite Brundage covers would probably be:
The Chosen of Vishnu, Weird Tales August 1933
The Red Knife of Hassan, Weird Tales January 1934
Wizard’s Isle, Weird Tales June 1934
The Black God’s Kiss, Weird Tales October 1934
Black Bagheela, Weird Tales January 1935
Dr Satan, Weird Tales August 1935
Shadows in Zamboula, Weird Tales November 1935
Living Budhess, Weird Tales November 1937
Incense of Abomination, Weird Tales March 1938
Suicide Chapel, Weird Tales June 1938 (and there was me thinking I would get away without any bondage ones…)
- Girasol Press do facsimile copies at $35 or so. Pricey, and it’ll cost quite a bit more to get them sent over the Pond to the UK: I wish they would sell digital copies. While I am talking about facsimile copies, I might as well mention that Wildside Press do a similar thing forWeird Tales short lived companion magazine Oriental Tales. These go on Amazon for seven or eight quid, and I’ve picked up a couple cheaper than that.
- For those that actually like this kind of thing you should check out John Norman’s Gor novels…
- I was going to write ‘own a cat’: how foolish.