Monday, January 26, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part Two

"Sticks," a short story by Karl Edward Wagner, was first printed in Whispers #3, dated March 1974. "Sticks" won for its author the British Fantasy Award for Best Short Story in 1975 and was nominated for the World Fantasy Award Best Short Fiction that same year. Since its original publication, Wagner's story has been reprinted more than three dozen times and has been adapted to radio. There can be little doubt that "Sticks" was also the inspiration for The Blair Witch Project, a very popular, much loved, and much hated film from 1999. Wagner himself was inspired by an experience in the life of Lee Brown Coye and wrote his story in tribute to the artist. Thereby hangs a long tale.

The lineage of "Sticks" and The Blair Witch Project can be traced to 1938 and a trout-fishing trip Lee Brown Coye made to the Otselic River valley in his native New York State. By then he was a dozen years into his career as a commercial artist, fine artist, and illustrator. He and his wife, Ruth, lived in Syracuse, a mid-sized city and the seat of Onondaga County. Madison County borders Onondaga County to the east. South of that is Chenango County, where Coye's grandfather had a farm and where Coye himself often went fishing. In the previous year, Coye had illustrated a promotional booklet called Bait, issued by Flack Advertising of Syracuse. As soon as the winter of 1937-1938 ended, Coye was out casting his line into the waters of his native region.

Mann Brook is a short stream that arises from the area east of Crumb Hill in southwestern Madison County. From there it flows to the southeast for about three miles before meeting the Otselic River at South Otselic in Chenango County. In the spring of 1938, Lee Brown Coye was fishing along Mann Brook when he had an extraordinary experience. Following an old railroad grade into a thicket of conifers and scrubby apple trees, he came upon patterns of flat stones laid out on the ground like a maze. Undeterred by the strangeness of his discovery, Coye continued into the scrub only to find something stranger still: an array of lattices or bundles of sticks, branches, and boards, nailed and wired together, and scattered across the landscape. Soon Coye found himself in the yard of an old, decrepit farmhouse. "The lawn and trees and even the house were covered with these structures," he wrote. "I went inside and on the walls in some of the rooms were drawings, in what appeared to be charcoal, of these weird, abstract concoctions. . . . Some of them covered a whole wall; huge, fantastic murals." From there, Coye descended into the dark cellar of the house and was examining some ruddy stains in the grooves of a large stone slab he found there when, out of the darkness, the hand of an unseen assailant grabbed him. From his belt, Coye took a small, iron frying pan and "walloped" whoever--or whatever--held him. He fled from the house and didn't return to the site until a quarter century had passed. (1)

In that quarter century, Lee Brown Coye made a name for himself in the small circles of fantasy and the macabre for his own strange and fantastic art, a showcase for which was the magazine Weird Tales. From 1945 to 1951, Coye created ten cover illustrations for the magazine, then under the associate editorship of his friend, Lamont Buchanan. He also drew scores of interior illustrations, including a regular series called "Weirdisms," which ran from July 1947 to July 1951. Coye's illustrations for Weird Tales and for a series of hardbound anthologies of the 1940s would one day lead him to Karl Edward Wagner and to the protagonist's role in "Sticks." That was still decades away.

To be continued . . .

(1) Quoted in Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 7.

Weird Tales, July 1945, Lee Brown Coye's first cover for the magazine. This is a color version of Coye's interior illustration for "Count Magnus" by M.R. James from the hardbound anthology Sleep No More (1944). Curiously, the story itself does not appear in the magazine. In fact, Weird Tales did not publish or reprint any stories by M.R. James (1862-1936), despite his prolificacy as a writer of ghost stories. I would like to have posted an image of the original illustration here, but I am unable to find one on the Internet.

Weird Tales, November 1945, a somewhat conventional illustration by Coye.

Weird Tales, March 1946. Not just omens, but ominous omens. Not just evil, but double-evil. Despite the silly blurb, I find this cover to be very powerful, perhaps Coye's best for Weird Tales, and like a vision from a dream. It seems to me that Lee Brown Coye was a true artist, a man who lived in his imagination, or whose imagination spilled out into the real world. His cover for this issue of Weird Tales, though surreal, has a strange reality to it, as if it were painted from life, or perhaps life-in-a-dream. I suppose that was the aim of the surrealists, although I'm not sure Coye would have associated himself with surrealism or called himself a surrealist. 

Weird Tales, July 1947. Too often, vampires are glamorized or sexualized in popular culture. Coye's portrayal is closer to what must be the truth about vampires: that they are revolting creatures of decay and that their moral depravity must be expressed in their bodily ugliness.

Weird Tales, March 1948, the twenty-fifth anniversary issue of a magazine that barely made it past infancy. This must have been a plumb assignment for a Weird Tales artist. It is perhaps significant that Coye got the nod from art editor Lamont Buchanan.  

Weird Tales, September 1948. Note the decaying house in the background, the second of three in Coye's covers for Weird Tales. Luis Ortiz, Coye's biographer writes: "He was already [in 1938, at the time of his fishing trip along Mann Brook] preoccupied with the decaying stillness of buildings . . . ." (p. 48). Coye himself admitted, "I guess that's the morbid side of my personality. I see a lot of pathos in a building . . . . I can't paint happy pictures . . . Bright landscapes just aren't [me]." (Quoted on page 48). 

Weird Tales, January 1949. The cover story is "Four from Jehlam" by Allison V. Harding, a pseudonym attributed to Jean Milligan, the wife of Weird Tales associate editor and art editor Lamont Buchanan. Mr. Buchanan was also the man who recruited Lee Brown Coye to his magazine.

Weird Tales, March 1950. The second of two cover stories by Manly Wade Wellman illustrated by Lee Brown Coye. Wellman's name will pop up later in this long tale.

Weird Tales, May 1951. The cover story, "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch, is supposed to have been another inspiration for The Blair Witch Project. I'll read it and let you know what I think.

Weird Tales, September 1951, Lee Brown Coye's last cover for "The Unique Magazine." Note his full name in the signature.

Text and captions copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981)-Part One

Fine Artist, Illustrator, Commercial Artist, Muralist, Sculptor, Photographer, Silversmith, Jewelry Maker, Modelmaker, Writer, Teacher
Born July 24, 1907, Syracuse, New York
Died September 5, 1981

The other day I wrote about Lee Brown Coye and witches together. Now, I'll write about them separately. First the artist.

Lee Brown Coye was born on July 24, 1907, in Syracuse, New York, but as a child moved with his family to the nearby small town of Tully. Fittingly, for a later artist of fantasy and the macabre, Coye grew up in a house built in the Gothic style with a tall Gothic window under its front eaves. Like many artists of his generation, Coye copied pictures out of the comics as a boy. The Gumps and Toonerville Folks were two favorites.

Coye graduated from Groton High School in Groton, New York, in 1926. His first job out of school was as a draftsman at the typewriter company where his father worked. Drawing pictures of typewriters was not for the young artist, however, and in 1928, Lee Brown Coye, with his new wife, the former Ruth Carmody, settled in Syracuse and began attending art classes at Syracuse University. His teacher there was George Hess. In 1929, Lee and Ruth Coye moved to Leonia, New Jersey, the location of a famed artist's colony that included Harvey Dunn and Dean Cornwell, two heirs to the Howard Pyle school of American illustration. There Coye took lessons from Howard McCormick (1875-1943), an accomplished illustrator and wood engraver. In attempting to get his work into the public eye, Coye rode a ferry every week or so from Fort Lee Landing to Manhattan where he made the rounds of art director's offices and art galleries, usually without success.

When the stock market crashed in 1929, Lee and Ruth Coye, their savings nearly gone, retreated to Groton. By 1931, they were living in Syracuse, where Coye landed a job as a commercial artist at an advertising agency. The following year he opened his own studio, Coye & Kaplan, with a friend, Leo Kaplan. The two produced Coye's first extended work of illustration, a limited-edition book called The Seventh Ogre (1932). And very limited it was: only 350 copies were printed. In 1934, Coye began work on a series of murals for Cazenovia Central School under the auspices of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), an alphabet-soup agency of the Federal government. "I was a big shot," Coye claimed. His pay was $37.50 a week.

The murals for Cazenovia occupied Coye for most of what was left of the 1930s. At the same time he worked at various commercial art jobs and illustrated a number of publications, including dust jackets or interior illustrations for The Vicar of Azay-Le-Rideau by Honore Balzac (1937), The Land Is Large by Emerson Waldman (1938), Scylla the Beautiful by Albert and Helen Fowler (1939), and Beat! Beat! Drums! A Poem of the Civil War by Walt Whitman (1939).

In the spring of 1938, Lee Brown Coye was on a trout fishing trip near the town of DeRuyter, New York, when he had a strange experience that would one day help define his work. Deep in the woods and following an abandoned railroad grade, Coye came upon a thicket of pine trees and scrub. Once in the thicket, he began noticing "a strange pattern of stones lying on the ground," a maze-like pattern through which he passed to find something stranger still. Nailed and wired together in a kind strange patterns were collections of sticks and boards "in fantastic array," stuck in piles of stone or in stone walls. Further on, Coye came to an abandoned and decrepit farmhouse and still more stick structures in the yard and trees around the house and even on its walls.
I went inside [he recounted] and on the walls in some rooms were drawings, in what appeared to be charcoal, of these weird, abstract concoctions . . . . Some of them covered a whole wall; huge fantastic murals. (1)
Still he continued, descending a set of stone steps into the cellar of the house. Suddenly, from the darkness, a hand grabbed him. Using the only weapon he had--a small frying pan hanging from his belt--he struck at whatever held him and fled from the cellar and the house.

Whether Coye's tale is true or not, he began using the stick-lattice motif in his work to such an extent that it became a kind of signature. His tale survives not only in his art but also in fictionalized form in a short story by Karl Edward Wagner. Appropriately enough, it is entitled "Sticks."

To be continued . . .

(1) Quoted in Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), p. 7.

Other Dimensions by Clark Ashton Smith, published in 1970 by Arkham House with a stick-motif cover by Lee Brown Coye.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 12, 2015

The Monster of Our Times Afoot in the City of Lights

I have been reading The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset. It's a somewhat difficult book, not because of its ideas--the author mostly stays away from dense philosophical musings--but because of its style. Ortega y Gasset (or maybe his translator) wrote in a somewhat thick, cumbersome, even archaic, way. Despite its Latin origins, there is little flourish here. In any case, this is a valuable book, especially for those interested in freedom and tyranny. Eric Hoffer must have read it keenly in formulating his own work, The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements (1951).

Since writing about the monster of our times, I have been on the lookout for any comparisons in writing between the mass-man (what Eric Hoffer called "the true believer") or that creation of the mass-man, the Moloch State, and the monsters of the past or of science. After reading more than a hundred pages of The Revolt of the Masses, I finally came upon this:
The mass says to itself, "L'État, c'est moi," (1) which is a complete mistake . . . . But the mass-man does in fact believe that he is the State, and he will tend more and more to set its machinery working on whatsoever pretext, to crush beneath it any creative minority which disturbs it . . . .  
          The result of this tendency will be fatal. Spontaneous social action will be broken up over and over again by State intervention; no new seed will be able to fructify. Society will have to live for the State, man for the governmental machine. And as, after all, it is only a machine whose existence and maintenance depend on the vital supports around it, the State, after sucking out the very marrow of society, will be left bloodless, a skeleton, dead with that rusty death of machinery, more gruesome than the death of a living organism. (2)
In other words, the State, first a lethal machine, then a vampire, will come to its end as one of the walking dead. The Revolt of the Masses was published in 1932, after Communists had seized power in Russia and Fascists in Italy, but before Hitler rose to be Führer of the German people. Statism was then powerful and on the rise. Nonetheless, Ortega y Gasset seems to have predicted the end of the Soviet Union in his description of a "bloodless" State, "dead with the rusty death of machinery." We can all be forgiven our lack of sympathy.

Ortega y Gasset traced the development of his mass-man to the nineteenth century, as I did in my many postings from last year. (It's nice when your theorizing is confirmed by an accomplished author and thinker.) Last week, France, and by extension, all of Western civilization, was attacked by that mass-man, in this case a group of Islamists. (3) The adjective so often used to describe this particular brand of mass-man is "medieval." That word trips readily from the lips for different reasons, I think. One is that it seems to be true. Islam is after all literally medieval, having come from the seventh century. Another is that, by labeling Islam as medieval, people of a certain political persuasion can attempt to link it to those who oppose them. As further evidence of that, I'll point out that radical Islam is also frequently described as "conservative" or "fundamentalist." I would contend that Islamism is not in fact medieval but is entirely modern, for it is a mass movement carried forward by the true believer. Like Communism, Fascism, and Nazism, Islamism, as a form of statism and totalitarianism, is an outgrowth of the nineteenth century that came into full fruition only in the very bloody twentieth. Like Communists, Fascists, and Nazis, Islamists devote themselves to a holy cause for which they are willing to give up everything, including and especially their lives. As such, they are not men of the past--not "medieval" or "conservative"--but men of the glorious future. (4) Witness their use of up-to-date technology, including the Internet, social media, cell phones, and current military weapons and techniques. Further, the caliphate, like the Communist worker's paradise and the Nazi thousand-year reich, is a statist and totalitarian utopia, in other words, a work of the future. But like all utopias, it's a pipe dream. Unfortunately, those who know that human beings are and by rights free are again and again made to pay for that dream with their rights, their freedoms, their property, and their lives. (5)

(1) A more recent statement of that belief: "Government is the only thing we all belong to," from the Democratic national convention of 2012. Ortega y Gasset called the United States a paradise of the mass-man. But here I think we can make a distinction between his mass-man and Hoffer's true believer. The true believer is a man of action. He is also very often a man of great physical courage, despite the loathsome beliefs that animate him. The idea that "Government is the only thing we all belong to," symbolized by a hot-chocolate-sipping pajama boy, is, on the other hand, a creed of inaction, passivity, cowardice, and failure. More to the point, it's just plain stupid.
(2) From The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset (Norton, 1957), pp. 120-121.
(3) There may be millions of people today saying, "Je suis Charlie," but only a dozen lost their lives standing for their freedom and ours. The rest of us can't really exalt ourselves too much, and we should be humble in any of our pronouncements. It's easy for the living to claim courage, especially when they're standing in a crowd of millions. The cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo stood alone.
(4) In terms of genre fiction, they are not the subjects of fantasy, horror, or weird fiction, all of which are of the past, but of science fiction, the genre of the future. Here's a strong bit of evidence: Coincident to the attacks last week, Charlie Hebdo featured Michel Houellebecq, author of the new novel Soumission, on its cover. Set in 2022, Soumission is--as I understand it--not so much a dystopian novel as a satiric one about an Islamic takeover in France. Nonetheless, every dystopia must have a beginning. It's worth noting that in the book, the Islamists join forces with their socialist peers in parliament to form a government. Despite their differences, the Islamist and the socialist--both men of the future and both utopian and statist in their vision--would seem natural allies. That seems to be the case in our world today, not only in Europe but also here in the United States. Eric Hoffer noted a natural affinity among true believers, regardless of whether they call themselves Communists or Nazis. The difference here is that Islamists are men of action, fired by their belief in a holy cause. Contemporary socialists, on the other hand, are, at best, men of words only, having grown fat and complacent after so many years on the thrones of government and academia. There is little fire in them, least of all any holy fire. Socialists might think they can control Islamists. The man of words always believes there will be a special place for him when the revolution comes. More likely they would go down like White Russians or Mensheviks, for the belief with fire in it will always win out over the one without.
(5) When I was young and watched Jonny Quest or James Bond, I wondered where Dr. Zin or Goldfinger or Blofeld found his henchmen, those hoards of anonymous men (often masked) who so willingly die for his cause. The answer became obvious as I grew older, for I realized that a man might kill or risk his life for money, power, or prestige, but he won't die for a cause unless he believes in it. In the real world, Auric Goldfinger would be out of luck, for he would not find men who would give up their lives for his cause, for his cause is his alone. If he wants men to give up their lives for a cause, it has to be a cause to which they can all subscribe, in other words, a holy cause, a mass movement.

Revised Jan. 15, 2015
Copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Lee Brown Coye and The Blair Witch Project

A few days ago I watched The Blair Witch Project for the first time. You might say I'm a little behind the times. After all, the movie was released in 1999. (Tempus fugit.) I remember the controversy surrounding it, and I remember something of the opinions for and against it. At this distance, I can say that I found it effectively creepy, though a little unfocused: the filming begins with recounted stories of at least three ghastly or supernatural events (four if you count the fisherman's own tale of having seen a ghostly mist arising from the water). The title itself seems to be a misdirection, for as it turns out, the ghost of a serial killer rather than the witch herself seems to be behind the disappearance of the three film students. Some viewers think that the serial killer was possessed by the Blair Witch, but there doesn't seem to be any indication of that in the movie. And as we all know, the story has to tell the whole story by itself.

The Blair Witch Project hinges on the stupidity of its characters through a device called "the idiot plot." (I have written about idiot plots before.) The two men, Josh and Mike, are stupid for following the leader, Heather. She is stupid because she doesn't realize how stupid she is. We have all known people who are insufferably confident in themselves (to the point of arrogance) and who drag people along with them, often to their doom. Imagine spending a week in the woods with a control freak: it could only have ended in murder. Anyway, I guess you could say The Blair Witch Project serves as confirmation of the Peter Principle, a principle that goes back through Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull to José Ortega y Gasset and states that people rise to their level of incompetence. More on Ortega y Gasset tomorrow.

The Blair Witch Project should come with a warning: "Should not be viewed by foresters, especially not alone in a dark house at night." I work as a forester. I'm especially interested in movies that take place in the woods. (The Village falls into that category. I believe spicebush was the shrub with the red berries.) One of the things I noticed about The Blair Witch Project is that the woods in the movie look pretty thin and scrubby. Those aren't deep woods at all. I would say they are actually old-field woods, that is, woods that have grown up on the site of old farm fields, and consequently not far from human habitation. The location of the house in the woods seems to support that idea. I have come upon houses in the woods, though never one as large or as intact. I always explore them, wandering from room to room among the detritus and decay of former lives. I can say that every old, abandoned house is haunted, not with actual ghosts, but with the presence of the people who went before us and who lived their lives within these walls.

The Blair Witch house is gone now. The State of Maryland, presumably people who work in natural resources, demolished it sometime after the filming. I have seen this kind of thing in natural resources people before. They will surely do it again. They would say that it's not in their mission to manage historical resources, or that the house was in a state of decay, or that it would have been too expensive to maintain or restore it, or that it would have been an attractive hazard, thus a liability. They may have their justifications. That doesn't excuse their lack of imagination. Of course maintaining a building in a state of decay is a contradiction in terms, but we should all remember that during the Gothic revival of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, people actually constructed new "ruins." Ruins and other old, decaying, remote, and abandoned places are after all the proper setting for the Gothic in our lives.

As I have written, fantasy, especially weird fiction, seems to be about decay and about the past. It's interesting that the makers of The Blair Witch Project would take three contemporary people with modern equipment and place them in a premodern situation. How rapidly they revert. The cameras work, but the map is lost. And even though they have a compass, they wander in circles, as people who are lost tend to do. (I don't see any supernatural reason why they would have ended up at their starting point after having walked all day. That's what people often do when they are disoriented.) In the end, technology fails them. Being people of today, they are oriented towards the future. Instead, they are driven into the past, and there meet their end.

The Blair Witch Project has its antecedents. It calls to mind those creepy documentaries from the 1970s about ancient astronauts, flying saucers, and Bigfoot. I'm also reminded of In Search Of . . . (1977-1982) and Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). The reason I'm writing about it here is that the sticks in The Blair Witch Project remind me of the work of Weird Tales artist Lee Brown Coye and an incident in his life. His biography, Arts Unknown: The Life and Art of Lee Brown Coye by Luis Ortiz (2005), opens with an account of the artist's trip into the backwoods of central New York State in 1938. There, in a remote and abandoned place, he found stones arranged on the ground, bundles of sticks and boards nailed and wired together here and there, and an old house in which, fantastically, he was grabbed by a hand out of the dark. Once I became acquainted with Coye's work, I noticed the similarity between his bundles of sticks and those in The Blair Witch Project (even though I had never seen the movie). I wasn't the first to do so. Mr. Ortiz made note of it in his biography. So did Al Harron on the blog The Cimmerian. (You can read his entry of Oct. 13, 2009, here.) Both go back to a short story called "Sticks," written by Karl Edward Wagner and published in March 1974. "Sticks" is a fictionalized version of Lee Brown Coye's original encounter with the unknown in the cellar of an old house near DeRuyter, New York. Consciously or not, the makers of The Blair Witch Project were inspired by "Sticks" and Coye. Nic Pizzolatto, who scripted the TV show True Detective, acknowledged the influence of both in an interview posted on the blog The Arkham Digest, dated January 21, 2014, here. (Last year I wrote about True Detective and Robert W. Chambers in this space.) If Coye's story is true, then it only supports my proposition that real life is very often weirder than fiction. Anyway, like the characters in The Blair Witch Project, we are armed with the techniques and the technology with which we believe we will conquer the future. Instead, like them, we are ceaselessly borne into the primitive past.

Lee Brown Coye's cover for Whispers #3 (Mar. 1974), in which Karl Edward Wagner's story "Sticks" first appeared. 

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Weird Tales Books

Ten Tales Calculated To Give You Shudders, edited by Ross R. Olney (1972)

If you grew up any time from the 1940s to the 1970s, you probably remember reading Whitman Books. They were inexpensive hardbound books for children issued by Western Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. The paper is not very much different from that used in pulp magazines. Even Whitman Books from the 1970s have tanned or yellowed with age. Many from the 1940s are brittle and on the verge of falling into pieces. The typical Whitman Book is one of a series starring characters from the comics, movies, or television. Fans of Weird Tales will like Ten Tales Calculated To Give You Shudders, from 1972. The cover art is by Gordon Johnson (1924-1989). Inside are ten stories selected by Ross R. Olney, with his introduction. Four are from Weird Tales.

Ten Tales Calculated To Give You Shudders, edited by Ross R. Olney
A Whitman Book
(Western Publishing Company, 1972, 212 pp.)

"A Forewarning" by Ross R. Olney
"Sweets to the Sweet" by Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, Mar. 1947)
"The Waxwork" by A.M. Burrage (Someone in the Room, 1931)
"Used Car" by H.R. Wakefield (Ghost Stories, 1932)
"The Inexperienced Ghost" by H.G. Wells (Twelve Stories and a Dream, 1903)
"The Whistling Room" by William Hope Hodgson (Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder, 1903)
"The Last Drive" by Carl Jacobi (Weird Tales, June 1933)
"The Monkey's Paw" by W.W. Jacobs (The Lady of the Barge, 1902)
"Second Night Out" by Frank Belknap Long (Weird Tales, Oct. 1933, as "The Black, Dead Thing")
"The Hills Beyond Furcy" by Robert G. Anderson (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, Mar. 1966)
"Floral Tribute" by Robert Bloch (Weird Tales, July 1949)

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 19, 2014

A.J. Mordtmann (1839-1912)

August Justus Mordtmann
Aka Dr. Eisenhart, R.A. Guthmann, N.N. Guthmann, R. von A. Duroy-Warnatz (1)
Civil Servant, Journalist, Editor, Author, Classical Scholar
Born February 27, 1839, Hamburg, Germany
Died April 30, 1912, Darmstadt, Germany

August Justus Mordtmann was a German author, editor, and journalist born in Hamburg on February 27, 1839. He was the son of Andreas David Mordtmann (1811-1879), a teacher, diplomat, and Orientalist, and the brother of Andreas David Mordtmann II (1837-?), an author and historian, and Johann Heinrich Mordtmann (1852-1932), who, like his father, was a diplomat and Orientalist.

August J. Mordtmann received his education in Anklam and at the famed Johanneum school in Hamburg. (2) He then went to work in the customs and tax office (Zoll- und Akziſe-Deputation), then in the post office, all in his native city. Mordtmann served during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 and did not begin his career as a writer and editor until 1881.

Mordtmann was a friend of the German teacher, writer, and journalist Ernst Otto Hopp (1841-1910). Hopp edited Deutschen (Schorerschen) Familienblatt (translated as Family Blade or Family Paper) beginning in 1881 and founded the weekly Echo in 1882. Mordtmann was an editor with the Familienblatt in 1882-1883 and worked on Echo with Hopp. Mordtmann also edited Görlitzer Nachrichten (Görlitzer News) from 1883 to 1888 and was editor-in-chief of Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten (Münchner Latest News), in Munich, until 1902.

August Justus Mordtmann is little known today, but he was a prolific author. His works include the following: Aus zwei Welten (From Two Worlds, 1882), Das Goldene Vliess (The Golden Fleece, 1883), Märchenprinzessin (Fairy Princess, 1890), Der Untergang der Hibernia (The Sinking of the Hibernia, 1891), Kronjuwelen (Crown Jewels, 1892), Belladonna (1893), Max Ingram (1894), Der Vagabund (The VagabondThe Rover, or The Tramp, 1895), Sneewittchen (Snow White1896), Schlangenring (Snake Ring, 1898), Familienschmuck (Family Jewels, 1899), Die Insel Zipangu (The Island Cipangu, 1899, illustrated by Hugo L. Braune), Albumblatt (Album Leaf, Sheet, or Page, 1900), Die Abrechnung mit England (The Settlement with England, 1900), Sonnige Tage (Sunny Day, 1901), Perlen der Adhermiducht (Pearls of Adhermiducht, 1902 and 1905), Leukothea (1903), Konigin von Golkonda (Queen of Golconda, 1906), Jasillü-Tasch, Zacharula: Zwei Geschichten vom "Golden Horn" (Jasillü-Tasch, Zacharula: Two Tales from "Golden Horn", 1908), Pfingsten (Pentecost, 1909), Violanta (1911), Aus tiefer Not (From Great Distress, 1922), Eine halbe Stunde (Half an Hour), and Pater Unselm (3). Mordtmann also wrote the libretto for the operetta Der Fürst von Sevilla (The Prince of Seville, 1889) and may also have written works of history or geography.

Mordtmann wrote one story in Weird Tales. It is called "The Ship That Committed Suicide," and it appeared in the issue for March 1936. I am fairly certain that the translator was Roy Temple House, who had written a brief review of a German-language collection of ghost stories some years before and who was a regular translator of European stories for Weird Tales. The collection of German ghost stories about which he wrote is called Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (The Sinking of the Carnatic: Ghost Stories), and it was published in 1927 by Deutsche-Dichter-Gedächtnis-Stiftung of Hamburg. The title story, "Der Untergang der Carnatic," is the work of A.J. Mordtmann and was almost certainly the basis for Roy Temple House's translation for Weird Tales. In his review, published in Books Abroad in January 1929, House called Mordtmann's tale the most realistic of all to appear in the collection. "There are also shudderers by the Grimms, Wilhelm Hauff, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Paul Heyse, and Heinrich Zschokke," wrote House. The illustrations were by A. Paul Weber, and I believe Benno Diederich also contributed to the collection, perhaps as editor or the author of an introduction.

The story "Der Untergang der Carnatic" is an episode in a longer work by A.J. Mordtmann,  Die Perlen der Adhermiducht, which was originally published in the magazine Deutschen Romanbibliothek (German Novel Library) in 1902, then published in hardback in 1905. I will quote from Axel Weiss:
Die Perlen der Adhermiducht is an epistolary novel consisting mainly of letters one Lydia Thompson receives from several admirers. A central part of the story is the adventurous hunt for the pearl necklace of the Adhermiducht. (In the book "Adhermiducht" is the name of a princess of the Sassanids). In the end it is revealed that most of these adventures are simply made up to impress the lady--so is the tale of the sinking of the Carnatic.
In his study of ghost stories, Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur (On Ghost Stories, Their Art and Their Literature, Leipzig: Schmidt & Spring, 1903), Dr. Benno Diederich described Deutschen Romanbibliothek as having an inclination for telling stories with a spooky atmosphere, and German adventure stories as being less grotesque than their English counterparts. Dr. Diederich gave "Der Untergang der Carnatic" as an example. The title by the way translates as "The Sinking of the Carnatic." Axel Weiss describes it as "a ghostship-story taking place in the Antarctic region." The SS Carnatic was a real ship that foundered in the mouth of the Gulf of Suez in 1869. In addition to Mordtmann's story, the ship is mentioned in Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne (1872).

August Justus Mordtmann died on April 30, 1912, at age seventy-three. I have found out about him only recently after hearing from Axel Weiss, the editor and layout designer for the German magazine Cthulhu Libria and the co-host of a podcast called Arkham Insiders. (Click on the titles for links.) Mr. Weiss wrote to me regarding A.J. Mordtmann because he would like to read the English translation of "The Ship That Committed Suicide" from Weird Tales. I don't have a collection of Weird Tales myself, so I ask:
Can anyone provide Axel Weiss with a copy or scan of "The Ship That Committed Suicide" by A.J. Mordtmann, from Weird Tales, March 1936?
If so, please contact me and I will put you in touch with him, or I will forward your reply to him.

Now, on to two issues that have come up in this article.

First, "Der Untergang der Carnatic" is an episode from Die Perlen der Adhermiducht, a story originally published in the magazine Deutschen Romanbibliothek in 1902. According to Dr. Benno Diederich, Deutschen Romanbibliothek had an inclination for telling stories with a spooky atmosphere. I don't know what kind of magazine it was. I have found only five references to that title on the Internet, and all are in German--and in Fraktur script! Der Orchideengarten: Phantastische Blätter (The Orchid Garden: Fantastic Leaves, 1919), a German title, is supposed to have been the first magazine in the world devoted to literature of the fantastic. Could Deutschen Romanbibliothek have been a forerunner? Or was Deutschen Romanbibliothek itself the first magazine of that type? Axel Weiss provides an answer:
Deutsche Romanbibliothek was a weekly magazine comparable to Charles Dickens’ All the Year Round (1859-1895). Die Perlen der Adhermiducht was printed throughout the thirtieth volume (1902). The magazine was not exactly specialized in uncanny tales but hosted a broad range of romantic, adventurous, and humorous novels and poems. Most of its authors are now forgotten (so is the magazine itself); among those who won a little bit of fame was Eva von Baudissin (1869-1943).
So if Der Orchideengarten: Phantastische Blätter is comparable to Weird Tales, perhaps Deutsche Romanbibliothek was like The Black Cat or The Argosy, which printed a variety of genres, including adventure and fantasy.

Second, "Der Untergang der Carnatic" was reprinted in the book Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927). The other authors in that book are the Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Friedrich Gerstäcker, Paul Heyse, and Heinrich Zschokke. A. Paul Weber was the illustrator. Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, had previously used the book Modern Ghosts (1890) as a source of stories from the Old World. It's nice to think that he could have used Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten for yet more stories, translated of course by Roy Temple House. Instead, Weird Tales reprinted Mordtmann's tale and just one story by Wilhelm Hauff, "The Severed Hand," from October 1925. ("The Severed Hand" is not from Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten--see the list of contents below.) So who were those other authors, the illustrator, A. Paul Weber, and the contributor, Dr. Benno Diederich? First a list of their stories, then a few facts about each.

Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927)
Illustrated by A. Paul Weber
"Märchen von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen" ("The Story of a Youth Who Went Forth to Learn about Fear") by Brüder Grimm
"Die Höhle von Steenfoll" ("The Cave of Steenfoll") by Wilhelm Hauff
"Das rote Haus" ("The Red House") by Friedrich Gerstäcker
"Germelshausen" by Friedrich Gerstäcker
"Die schöne Abigail" ("The Beautiful Abigail") by Paul Heyse
"Der Untergang der Carnatic" ("The Sinking of the Carnatic") by A.J. Mordtmann
"Die Nacht in Brezwewmeisl" ("Night in Brezwewmeisl") by Heinrich Zschokke

The Brothers Grimm--Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) and Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859), together the Brothers Grimm, are among the most famous storytellers of all time. You can read more about them on your own.
Wilhelm Hauff (1802-1827)--You can read more about Wilhelm Hauff in my posting "Weird Tales from Germany and Austria," here.
Friedrich Gerstäcker (1816-1872)--A traveler, adventurer, travel writer, novelist, and oddly enough honorary citizen of Arkansas, Friedrich Gerstäcker wrote the story "Germelshausen," upon which the Broadway musical Brigadoon (1947) may or may not have been based.  
Paul Heyse (1830-1914)--Paul Heyse wrote novels, short stories, poems, and plays and for his work was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1910.
August Justus Mordtmann (1839-1912)--His biography here.
Heinrich Zschokke (1771-1848)--Heinrich Zschokke was a novelist, playwright, historian, journalist, teacher, and civil servant. He spent most of his life in Switzerland.
A. Paul Weber (1893-1980)--Commercial artist, illustrator, lithographer, and painter Andreas Paul Weber was an artist whose work can be called weird without hesitation, put it also has a political dimension. There is information on him all over the Internet, including on the website of the A. Paul Weber Museum, here.
Dr. Benno Diederich (1870-1947)--Benno Diederich was a teacher, scholar, philologist, author, and biographer. Among his works is the aforementioned Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur (1903) and a biography of Alphonse Daudet. Diederich's daughter was the painter, illustrator, writer, and stage designer Ursula Schuh (1908-1993). I will quote Axel Weiss once again:
Benno Diederich is indeed the man who saved Mordtmann's ghost ship tale from ruin. [H]e featured it in Von Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur in 1903 and once again in Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (1927). But there is one more title to mention where it has been collected: Das Buch der seltsamen Geschichten (The Book of Strange Tales), an anthology published by Norbert Falk in 1914. Since 1945 "Der Untergang der Carnatic" has been reprinted seven times in Germany; finally it appeared as a recording on the audiobook CD Das Geisterschiff (The Ghost Ship) in 2004.
Of all the authors listed here, only August Justus Mordtmann is unrepresented on the Internet by an original work of biography. I hope I have done my part in correcting that oversight. I would like to acknowledge the great contribution of Axel Weiss and to thank him for giving me a start on August Justus Mordtmann.

This is probably my last entry on Tellers of Weird Tales for 2014. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

A.J. Mordtmann's Story in Weird Tales
"The Ship That Committed Suicide" (Mar. 1936)

Further Reading
Gespenstergeschichten, ihrer Technik und ihrer Literatur by Dr. Benno Diederich (Leipzig: Schmidt & Spring, 1903), p. 176+.
Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz Gelehrte, Künstler und Schriftsteller in Wort und Bild (Leipzig, 1908), p. 321.
Lexikon der deutschen Dichter und Prosaisten vom Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart, Volumes 5 and 6 (?), by Franz Brümmer (Leipzig, 1913), p. 27.
Deutsche Biographische Enzyklopädie, [Volume] 7: Menghin-Potel, by Walter de Gruyter (Munchen: K.G. Saur, 2007), p. 189.

(1) Mordtmann apparently also wrote under a pseudonym which is some variation of the name for a traditional Turkish storyteller, Hodscha Nasreddin.
(2) The character Otto Lidenbrock from Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (1864) is a professor at the Johanneum, the first of two references to Verne's work you will find in this article.
(3) I have transcribed this list from sources printed in German Fraktur script. I'm not sure that I have translated them or certain other words or phrases correctly from Fraktur to a modern typeface. My task is complicated by the fact that I know only a few words in German and nothing at all about German grammar. The list is from Deutschlands, Österreich-Ungarns und der Schweiz Gelehrte, Künstler und Schriftsteller in Wort und Bild (Leipzig, 1908), found on the Internet by clicking here, and from Lexikon der deutschen Dichter und Prosaisten vom Beginn des 19. Jahrhunderts bis zur Gegenwart by Franz Brümmer (Leipzig, 1913), found by clicking here. I invite corrections, comments, and additions.

Die Perlen der Adhermiducht by A.J. Mordtmann, serialized in Deutsche Romanbibliothek in 1902. The script is Fraktur, not easy for our American eyes. Translating it takes two translations: from Fraktur to a modern typeface, then from German into English. In my original article (from Dec. 19), I made a few mistakes. Axel Weiss has offered corrections, and I have included them in my revision of today, December 20.
Das Buch der seltsamen Geschichten (The Book of Strange Tales, Berlin: Ullstein and Company, 1914), in which "Der Untergang der Carnatic" appeared. The editor was Norbert Falk.
Mordtmann's story appeared once again as the title story in Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten (Hamburg, 1927).
Die Insel Zipangu (The Island Cipangu, 1899) by A.J. Mordtmann, illustrated by Hugo L. Braune.
Aus tiefer Not (From Great Distress, 1922) by A.J. Mordtmann, published posthumously. Axel Weiss provided this image, as well as the first and second images shown above.

A postage stamp showing the work of A. Paul Weber, illustrator of Der Untergang der Carnatic: Spukgeschichten.

Revised December 20, 2014. Revised again December 21, 2014.
Thanks to Axel Weiss.
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley
Axel Weiss' comments are copyright 2014 Axel Weiss.

Reading the Pulps

Here's an advertisement from Country Gentleman, February 1948. The cartoonist was Hank Ketcham (1920-2001), later of Dennis the Menace fame (or infamy, depending on what you think of Dennis the Menace). Reading is definitely good for you, and there's nothing wrong with reading horror tales. Reading horror tales at 3 o'clock in the morning might not be good for you however, especially if you have to get up at six.
Caption copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley