Thursday, December 4, 2014

Skulls and Skeletons on the Cover of Weird Tales

You can make a case that the literature of fear is based on a fear of death.* The ghosts and monsters of literature are usually one of two kinds: 1) the undead, or 2) the predator, which threatens death. The undead are represented by ghosts, vampires, zombies, and even Frankenstein's monster, all of whom have returned from the grave. The simplest way of showing the undead is to show the human skull or skeleton--an effective way of invoking fear and dread. I have counted sixteen covers of Weird Tales with skulls and skeletons. In some, the skull is a motif. In others, it or the skeleton is a kind of monster. 

*In his essay "Supernatural Horror in Literature," H.P. Lovecraft famously wrote that "the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." I won't quibble: fear of death and fear of the unknown may be the same thing.

Weird Tales, November 1929. Cover story: "The Gray Killer" by Everil Worrell. Cover art by C.C. Senf.

Weird Tales, August 1932. Cover story: "Bride of the Peacock" by E. Hoffman Price. Cover art by T. Wyatt Nelson. The monster here is not quite a skeleton, but he's skeletal enough to qualify for this category.

Weird Tales, February 1937. Cover story: "The Globe of Memories" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. The male figure is almost certainly a self-portrait. The woman doesn't seem to be very afraid at all.

Weird Tales, March 1938. Cover story: "Incense of Abomination" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by Margaret Brundage. The skull reminds me of a smoking monkey on the Fourth of July.

Weird Tales, October 1939. Cover story: None (?). Cover art by Harold S. De Lay. According to Jaffery and Cook's index, there isn't a cover story for this issue of Weird Tales. Can anyone say different? (There are more question marks below.)

Weird Tales, November 1941. Cover story: "The Book of the Dead" by Frank Gruber. Cover art by Hannes Bok. There may not have been a Weird Tales cover that captured the spirit of its age more than this one.

Weird Tales, September 1942, Canadian edition. Cover story: Unknown. Cover art by Unknown.

Weird Tales, July 1944. Cover story: "Death's Bookkeeper" by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne. The title echoes that of Frank Gruber's story from three years before. Bok's image is clearly more powerful and compelling.

Weird Tales, January 1945, Canadian edition. Cover story: "The Shadow Folk" (?) by Edmond Hamilton. Cover art by Unknown.

Weird Tales, November 1945. Cover story: "The Cranberry Goblet" by Harold Lawler. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales, January 1946. Cover story: "Kurban" (?) by Seabury Quinn. Cover art by A.R. Tilburne.

Weird Tales, March 1948. Cover story: None. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales, September 1949. Cover story: "One Foot and the Grave" (?) by Theodore Sturgeon. Cover art by Michael Labonski. Cubism and surrealism come to Weird Tales.

Weird Tales, September 1951. Cover story: "Gimlet Eye Gunn" by H. Bedford-Jones. Cover art by Lee Brown Coye.

Weird Tales, November 1952. Cover story: None (?). Cover art by Anthony di Giannurio.

Weird Tales, March 1954. Cover story: None (?). Cover art by Evan Singer, his one and only cover for the magazine.

Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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