Friday, October 28, 2016

Medusa on the Cover of Weird Tales

Before there was weird fiction, there were myths. You might call them the weird fiction of the ancient world, and in that, you might say that all of literature began with what we now call fantasy or genre fiction. So before the Christian era, its monstrous undead, and its various forces of evil, there were mythological monsters, including Medusa, a creature so frightening and horrifying that to look upon her face was to be turned to stone. Weird Tales treated Medusa on three covers from three different places and two different eras. Fifty years separated the first from the last.

Weird Tales, May 1923. Cover story: "The Moon Terror" by A.G. Birch. Cover art by William F. Heitman. This was the third issue of Weird Tales and had the first of Heitman's two cover drawings. This is by far the better of the two. 

Weird Tales Canada, March 1943. Cover story and cover artist unknown. Pretty and deadly.

Weird Tales, Summer 1973. Cover story: None. Cover art by Virgil Finlay. Somewhere I read--I can't find the source now--that this image was not created for Weird Tales. It arrived on the cover of the magazine by way of a visit by Sam Moskowitz to the artist's home. Moskowitz took a picture of it (note the reflection on the painted surface) and reformatted it (note the purple band across the top) for the first of his four fiftieth-anniversary issues of 1973-1974.

Text and captions copyright 2016 Terence E. Hanley

4 comments:

  1. I'm sure you won't be surprised to learn that, for all my life, I've been fascinated with Greek and Roman mythology -- a belief system filled with egotistical, vengeful, downright sadistic deities that took endless delight in torturing and abusing each other and, especially it seems, mere mortals in horrendous ways. The Greeks imagined gods with all of Mankind's worst failings...magnified a thousand-fold.

    Regarding these Medusa covers; let's have a bit of fun with semantics.
    Medusa was one of three sisters, the Gorgons; each of which had snakes for hair and the ability to turn to stone any who gazed into their eyes (or eye, depending on which version of their myth you prefer.) So my question is this; is this really Medusa or one of the other Gorgons depicted on these three covers?
    Medusa was slain by Perseus, who cut her head off and used it to turn Atlas to stone, thus ending the giant's eternal torment. So I would say that that is definitely Medusa and her killer seen on the cover of the Canadian edition of March 1943.
    As far as the other two covers go; since they each show a Gorgon in a more modern setting, it seems likely that these are pictures of one of Medusa's sisters rather than the long-dead Medusa herself.

    I seem to recall reading that bit of trivia about the Finlay cover, too. But like you, I can't remember the source either.

    Best...

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    1. Mike,

      I knew of the distinction between Medusa and the Gorgons, but I didn't look into it deeply enough. Plus I decided to keep it simple. Maybe this entry should be called "Gorgons on the Cover of Weird Tales," but that title might not be as clear as the one I used. Anyway, the saying is, if you're explaining, you're losing, and here I am explaining . . .

      I also thought about making an obvious reference to one of our current presidential candidates as a Gorgon, but I decided not to.

      Thanks for writing and for the clarification on mythological names.

      TH

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  2. In this current hostile political environment, you show yourself, as always, to be a man of admirable restraint...

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    1. Mike,

      Maybe so, but I mentioned it in my comment anyway.

      I've written a lot of political stuff here in the past, but the country is too full of it (in more ways than one) right now, so I figured I would write about other things until after election day.

      TH

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