Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Who Was Hasan Vokine?

One of the unsolved mysteries of Weird Tales is the identity of a contributor named Hasan Vokine. Hasan Vokine is supposed to have written three stories for the magazine, two under his own name and one with an author supposedly named Henri Decrouet (or perhaps more properly de Crouet). In all likelihood there were no such people. The names--especially Hasan Vokine--appear to be fake. I have made the supposition that they were pseudonyms for one or more of the staff of Weird Tales or a close friend or associate. Hasan Vokine has an Eastern ring to it. So who among the Weird Tales circle had a special interest in the Orient? If you read Book of the Dead by E. Hoffmann Price (2001), the answer becomes obvious.

In 1927 or so, eighteen-year-old Robert Spencer Carr arrived in Chicago and soon fell in with a group of writers who styled themselves The Varnished Vultures. "There were no dues, no by-laws, no constitution," wrote E. Hoffmann Price. Carr's addition was "No God, no Law, no Order." Price continued: "We were gourmets, and mighty drinkers before the Lord, except for [Farnsworth] Wright, who was on a diet, and, abstemious by nature." (p. 175) Each member of the group had his own gastronomic specialty. Price's was "a capon stuffed with wild rice, pistachios, and Greek currants." A basting of sherry gave the bird a "high lustre--hence varnished"--and hence the name The Varnished Vultures. (p. 176) Each man also had a nickname. Farnsworth Wright was called Pious Plato. Hugh Rankin, the illustrator, was Sidi. Robert Spencer Carr earned the moniker Spiderbite for his third story in Weird Tales. Price himself was Malik Tawus. Also in the group were Otis Adelbert Kline and Bill Sprenger, the business manager of "The Unique Magazine." Meetings were in E. Hoffmann Price's apartment, done up in Eastern decor.

E. Hoffmann Price first met Otis Adelbert Kline in mid-summer 1926 in the Chicago offices of Weird Tales. Price, along with Farnsworth Wright and Bill Sprenger, had dinner that evening at Kline's home.
We followed Otis to the second floor [wrote Price] where, overlooking Castello Avenue, was the first writer's workshop I'd ever seen.
Book shelves lined two walls, floor to ceiling. Titles caught and held my eye: Burton's Pilgrimmage to Mekka and Madina [sic], Burton's translation of Thousand Nights and One Night. . . . Then something familiar: Thatcher's Arabic Grammar . . . . (p. 28)
A lifelong discussion--in person and by mail--began that evening between Price and Kline. The subjects: "Moslem customs--Islamic culture--the Arabic language--the art and science of the sword." (p. 29) In their shared fascination with the Orient (in the old sense of the word, meaning everything from Morocco to Japan), the two men collaborated on three stories for Weird Tales, first of which was "Thirsty Blades" (Feb. 1930), and one for Oriental Stories, "The Dragoman's Quest" (Winter 1932). They also frequented a Chicago restaurant that Price described as:
the social center of the city's colony of Syrians, Egyptians, Indians, and Arabs from el Yemen. There were Turks, Persians, and some from el Moghreb el Aksa, "the uttermost West". . . . Otis greeted each acquaintance in Arabic, and exchanged amenities in that language. (p. 34)
Price noted, however, that Kline did not know Arabic well enough to converse with the other patrons in their native tongue.

I don't know Arabic either. I'll rely on the Internet for my information, faulty or not. Hasan is an Arabic name. It means handsome. According to Google Translate, vokine is the Arabic word for be or exist. Simply translated, Hasan Vokine might mean be handsome. I can't say. Like I said, I don't know Arabic. If you add an s, Hasan becomes Hassan, meaning beautifier or improver. Hassan's was also the name of the restaurant where Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffmann Price drank coffee and "smoked a narghileh loaded with 'Ajami tobacco" (p. 34) with their friends and acquaintances from the then-mysterious East.

So is that proof that Kline or Price or both were Hasan Vokine? Obviously not. But I think the case is strong and the explanation satisfactory.

Oriental Stories, Winter 1932, with a cover story, "The Dragoman's Quest," by Otis Adelbert Kline and E. Hoffman Price. The cover artist was J. Allen St. John. The authors liked swords so St. John painted swords.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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