Monday, December 14, 2015

Final Notes from PulpFest

On Saturday evening, August 15, 2015, a panel of enthusiasts and scholars got together at PulpFest in Columbus, Ohio, to talk about the editors of Weird Tales. The panelists were Garyn Roberts, Morgan Holmes, Don Herron, Will Murray, and moderator Tom Krabacher. Their talk is called "Weird Editing at 'The Unique Magazine'." You can hear it on the website The Pulp.Net, here.

On the day of the talk, someone warned me that it could become contentious. I have wondered about the politics behind pulp magazine research and about Weird Tales in particular. I am not an insider in the world of pulps and really have no experience with the political side of things. I asked what the contentiousness might be about but came away without anything concrete. As it turned out, the talk was mostly friendly and only a little contentious. Evidently things were worked out before it began. I have a feeling, though, that the politics of Weird Tales involves mostly H.P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard--and probably August Derleth, too. Lovecraft and Howard may at times have been handled a little roughly by the magazine. For fans, that kind of handling may very well amount to an unforgivable crime.

I made only a few notes during the talk. Here they are, fleshed out:
  • Regarding the origins of Weird Tales, Will Murray mentioned a letter written by Henry S. Whitehead and published in The Writer magazine in 1921 or 1922. In his letter, Whitehead complained about the lack of outlets for stories of ghosts and fairies. That caught my interest, so I looked it up. The letter is called "Editorial Prejudice Against the Occult." It was published in The Writer in October 1922, Volume 34, Number 10, pp. 146-147. You can read the text in Google Books and on the blog Tentaclii::H.P. Lovecraft Blog, August 13, 2014, here. Whitehead got his wish just five months later with the debut of Weird Tales. He went on to have twenty-six stories published in "The Unique Magazine."
  • One of the panelists--I think it was Don Herron--brought up Lovecraft's ghostwriting for Harry Houdini. I made a note at that point: "Houdini helped Lovecraft escape from his marriage." My chain of thought in writing that is lost, but Lovecraft returned from New York City to Providence in April 1926. Houdini died six months later, on October 31, 1926. Lovecraft had previously ghostwritten "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," published in the triple-issue Weird Tales of May/June/July 1924. Lovecraft lost his draft of the story on his way to marrying Sonia Greene. He spent his honeymoon retyping the story. By the time two years had passed, Lovecraft was back in the city of his birth and his marriage was for all intents and purposes over.
  • J.C. Henneberger famously offered the editorship of Weird Tales to H.P. Lovecraft in 1924. Lovecraft famously declined. In a way, though, Lovecraft was an editor in the way that an editor works with a circle of authors, developing them, mentoring them, encouraging them, suggesting revisions, rewriting stories, etc.
  • H.P. Lovecraft was rejected by Weird Tales on several occasions, as Morgan Holmes pointed out in the talk, but he ultimately rejected himself by not acting professionally, retyping his manuscripts, seizing opportunities, or persisting in his pursuit of being a writer; also by excusing himself from work as an old-fashioned gentleman or dilettante, by talking down his work, by giving up easily, in short, by his evident passivity and low self-esteem.
  • The talk at PulpFest was about fifty minutes long. Edwin Baird got a couple of minutes. Dorothy McIlwraith, who edited the magazine for fourteen years, got about the same. Dorothy is often passed over, but one of the panelists made a good point, that she may not have published stories as good as those published under Farnsworth Wright, but she also didn't publish stories that were as bad. Otherwise, talk of Wright dominated "Weird Editing at 'The Unique Magazine'." Opinion of him was mixed as it seems to be in general among readers of the pulps.
So that ends my series on Notes from PulpFest. Now on to other things.

The cover of Pinkie at Camp Cherokee, a children's novel by Henry S. Whitehead from 1931.

Text copyright 2015 Terence E. Hanley

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