Saturday, September 23, 2023

"The Eyrie," September 1923

Letter writers in Weird Tales, September 1923:

  • Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934), writing from Zuni, New Mexico, where she was on expedition with her future husband Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956). She was a singer, dancer, and educator and had keen interests in American Indians and their culture.
  • Franklin A. Over, writing as F.A. Ells-Over (1902-1972) of San Diego, California. (Ells was his mother's maiden name.) It looks as though Ells-Over submitted a story with his letter, but I don't know where that story went. Ells-Over was a photographer, writer, and orchid enthusiast.
  • Curtis F. Day (1898-1968) of Somerville, Massachusetts, who had a peculiar interest in people who had been buried alive. He mentioned Edgar Allan Poe in his letter of course. Day was a writer and bookseller.
  • Catherine H(artley) Griggs (1893-1941) of Waterbury, Connecticut. She was a member of the Society for Psychic Research. She had an article in the journal of the society in the issue of November 1918 in which she described a sighting of a ghost by her mother and aunt while they were in Vienna.
  • Paul Ellsworth Triem (1882-1976), whose letter was presumably to accompany the submission of his story "The Evening Wolves," serialized in the issues of June and July/August 1923.
  • H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937). This was Lovecraft's first appearance in Weird Tales. He would next have a story, "Dagon," and a letter in the issue of October 1923. I'll have more next on the first of Lovecraft.
  • Just Another Weird One.
  • Charles White of Quebec City, Quebec, who may have been the same Charles White who had an entry in "The Cauldron" in the issue of July/August 1923.
  • Maxine Worthington of Lincoln, Nebraska.
  • Paul Bratton of Sacramento, California.
  • Richard R.  "Dick" Tooker (1902-1988) of Minneapolis, Minnesota. In all, Tooker had six letters and one story in Weird Tales from 1923 to 1943, an admirable career as a reader of and contributor to "The Unique Magazine."
  • Mrs. E.L. Depew of San Francisco, California.
  • John James Arthur, Jr. of Oak Grove Farm, Coleman, Texas. I found a John James Arthur, Jr., with dates of 1903-1978, buried at Ballinger, Texas.
  • William Moesel of New York City, possibly William H. Moesel (1903-1991), a draftsman and structural engineer.
  • V. Van Blascom Parke of Arlington Heights, Massachusetts, in actuality Lavinia "Venie" Van Blarcom Parke aka Mrs. H.B. Parke (1850-1937), a writer, poet, and author of Dorothy and the Christ-Child (1896), illustrated by Will Phillip Hooper, as well as stories in St. Nicholas and other magazines. She claimed to have lived in a haunted house and even to have embraced a ghost!
  • C.D. Bradley of Oakland, California.
  • R(obert) Linwood Lancaster (Jr.) (1904-1978) of Raleigh, North Carolina, who predicted "a very bright future" for Weird Tales magazine. Now here we are a hundred years later observing its anniversary.
  • H. Cusick of New York City.
  • V.H. Bethell of San Francisco, California.

Jessie Burns Parke (1889-1964) was the daughter of Lavinia Van Blarcom Parke, letter-writer to Weird Tales. The mother was an author and poet, the daughter an artist and illustrator. Here is one of her drawings, of Halloween harlequins, close to the season for such things. Jessie Burns Parke also drew the pictures for a deck of Tarot cards that she co-created with occultist Paul Foster Case (1884-1954). His October birthday is coming up, too.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Weird Tales, September 1923

Weird Tales for September 1923 contains 96 pages in its interior, sixteen stories in all, plus one credited essays and six uncredited nonfiction fillers, plus "The Eyrie" and "The Cauldron." (The fillers are few enough in number that I will list them below.) The cover art was by R.M. Mally again, while the interior illustrations were all by William F. Heitman. There was a new main title logo in that September issue. I think it interesting and very well done. The main title looks somewhat old-fashioned, like the Spencerian script of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The subtitle, "The Unique Magazine," is in what I would call an Art Deco style, a decidedly twentieth-century style made for the machine age. The juxtaposition of old and new seems just right for Weird Tales.

The stories and essays in Weird Tales, Volume II, Number 2:

  • "The People of the Comet," part one of a two-part serial by Austin Hall (1880-1933). Was this the first interplanetary adventure in Weird Tales? I think so.
  • "The Case of Dr. Johnstone" by Burton Peter Thom (1874-1933).
  • "The Dead-Naming of Lukapehu" by P. D. Gog, pen name of Charles Edward Lauterbach (1884-1962). Gog's story is set in Hawaii. Dead-naming had a different meaning then than it does now.
  • "Black Magic" (1860) essay by Eliphas Levi aka Alphonse Louis Constant (1810-1875); translated from Historie de la Magie by C.P. Oliver. Oliver also had a story in Detective Tales, "The Body in the Cask" in September 1923, and a column, "Enigmas of Crime," in the same magazine in October 1923 and February 1924.

  • "After Reading 'The Devil's Cabin'," a letter by Rupert Hughes (1872-1956) to Vance Hoyt. Evidently, Hughes had read Hoyt's story in manuscript form. That makes me wonder, was he a literary agent? A reader of manuscripts for Weird Tales? We should look into this more. And I guess he should be added to the list of authors in Weird Tales.
  • "Sisters Prefer Death to Charity" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "Female Buddha Slain" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "The Gorilla" by Horatio Vernon Ellis (dates uncertain). Another gorilla story.
  • "The Autobiography of a Blue Ghost" by Don Mark Lemon (1877-1961).
  • "Rare Animals Discovered on Dipsomania Isle" essay (non-fiction filler) by uncredited.
  • "The Money Lender," a "Five-Minute Yarn" by Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
  • "The Bloodstained Parasol" by James Ravenscroft, presumably James Ravenscroft of Florida (1873-?).

Weird Tales, September 1923, with cover art credited to R.M. Mally. 

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, September 17, 2023

First Verse

Although he did not receive credit in the table of contents, Clark Ashton Smith had, in the issue of July/August 1923, the first verse in Weird Tales. The first of his two poems in that issue is entitled "The Red Moon." You will find it on page 48.

The Red Moon
by Clark Ashton Smith

The hills, a-throng with swarthy pine,
Press up the pale and hollow sky,
And the squat cypresses on high
Reach from the lit horizon-line.

They reach, they reach, with gnarled hands--
Malignant hags, obscene and dark--
While the red moon, a demons'-ark,
Is borne along the mystic lands.

The second, a sonnet, appearing on page 68, is entitled "The Garden of Evil":

The Garden of Evil
by Clark Ashton Smith

Thy soul is like a secret garden-close.
Where the cleft roots of mandragores enwreathe;
Where lilies and where fumitories breathe,
And ivy winds its flower with the rose;

The lolling weeds of Lethe, green or wan,
Exhale their fatal languors on the light;
From out infernal grails of aconite.
Poisons and dews are proffered to the dawn.

There, when the moon's phantasmal fingers grope
To find the marbles of a hidden tomb.
In cypress-covert sings the nightingale;

And all the silver-bellied serpents pale
Their ruby eyes among the blossoms ope,
To lift and listen in the ghostly gloom.

There were three poems in the January 1924 issue of Weird Tales, "Hops" by Preston Langley Hickey, "Solution" by Clark Ashton Smith, and "The Cataleptic" by Charles Layng. Mary Sharon had the first poem by a women. Hers was called "The Ghost," and it appeared in the February 1924 issue:

The Ghost
by Mary Sharon

There is a ghost that walks for me,
     A Presence that I dread;
The Spirit of the Youth I was
     Before my dreams were dead.

I sit before my study fire,
     While shadows writhe along the wall,
And Spirit hands rap on the door,
     And ghostly feet glide down the hall.

Outside my window, lifeless trees
     Lift fleshless fingers to the sky;
The night wind whistles eerily,
     Its moaning echoes will not die.

This ghost of mine will not be laid,
    Time cannot set me free; 
It is the wraith of dear dead days,
    That comes to torture me.

Note the similarity in imagery between Smith's poem "The Red Moon":

They [the cypresses] reach, they reach, with gnarled hands--

And Mary Sharon's lines:

Outside my window, lifeless trees
     Lift fleshless fingers to the sky;

Should we take that as a swipe? An inspiration of one author to another? Or two minds arriving independently at the same image?

There were six poems in the issue of March 1924 but only one in the issue of April. That one, called "Nemesis," was by H.P. Lovecraft.

I will soon have more on the first of Lovecraft in Weird Tales, including lines of verse he inserted in his letters to "The Eyrie."

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934)

Née Ethel L. Preble
Singer, Dancer, Music Teacher, Camp Counselor, Playground Director, Author, Public Speaker & Performer
Born August 17, 1880, Berkeley, California
Died April 27, 1934, South Pasadena Sanatorium, South Pasadena, California

Zahrah Ethel Preble was born on August 17, 1880, in Berkeley, California, to Charles Sumner Preble (1855-1939), a civil engineer and former surveyor-general of Nevada, and Ella Melana (Thompson) Preble (1851-1929) of Ohio. Zahrah appears to have been an assumed name. In the U.S. census of 1900, a twenty-year-old Zahrah was enumerated as Ethel L. Preble. Ethel L. Preble graduated from the University of California at Berkeley. A mezzo-soprano singer, she studied under Lydia Sturtevant (1876-1938). 

Zahrah E. Preble taught music in the public schools of Escondido, California. She was also a camp counselor with the Camp Fire Girls in California. From January to November 1921 or after, she was a playground director with the Bureau of Clubs and Playgrounds in the Panama Canal Zone. Zahrah interpreted the song and dance of American Indians, including the Zuni tribe of the American Southwest, for children and adults. Her lifelong interests seem to have been music, dance, childhood education, and American Indian culture. She was a member of the Casa de Adobe committee and Los Fiesteros de la Calle Olvera in Pasadena or South Pasadena, California.

Zahrah wrote her first letter to Weird Tales from New York City. It was published in the issue of July/August 1923. By the time her second letter was published in September 1923, she was on expedition with her future husband in the American Southwest. Here is the complete text of her letters as they were published, with introductory comments by the editor, Edwin Baird:

Letter to "The Eyrie," July/August 1923, page 91:

We recently had something to say on this page about the amazing similarity of stories written by dissimilar people, and Miss Zahrah E. Preble, 12 West Seventy-seventh Street, New York read those remarks and sent us a neat solution of the mystery:

"Dear Mr. Baird: I was particularly interested in what you had to say about the sameness of the manuscripts you have to read.

     "Perhaps this will offer at least a partial explanation. All the stories are attempting to portray a mysterious or weird happening. Did you ever think about the tone of voice people invariably use when they begin to tell you about such things? It immediately takes on a quality which indicates the abnormal theme they are going to give you. That tone of voice unconsciously colors the very words which are used, whether written or spoken, and so we find diverse stories told to achieve the same effect will he told in the same tone quality.

   "Another reason is that the human brain will respond to repetition of ideas just so many times before becoming half-hypnotized. After singing through a dozen songs, no matter how different they may be, I find that my sense of hearing is so drugged by sound that the freshness of perception is worn off, and so the songs all appear alike. Also, when typing for several hours in succession, the sound of the machine drugs my senses, and I find it hard to follow the sense of the words I am copying., although I try to keep alert, so as to make alterations as I copy.

   "This may help you to solve the problem. Anyway, I have enjoyed WEIRD TALES, and as I have taken them in small doses, with sufficient intervals between, they strike fresh each time, so are more enjoyable."

I understand what Zahrah Preble was trying to say, and she makes some good points. Nonetheless, I think that a lack of imagination is the best explanation for the sameness of stories, themes, language, and concepts in the early Weird Tales.

Letter to "The Eyrie," September 1923, page 79:

Among these letters that we mention is one from Zahrah B. Preble of New York City, who recently joined the Hendricks-Hodge [sic] Archeological Expedition that journeyed to New Mexico for the purpose of digging into the prehistoric customs of an ancient people. Miss Preble is now with the expedition at Zuni, New Mexico, and from there she writes us thus:

     "My dear Mr. Baird: I am convinced that the Zunis are adepts at rain making. The sky had been cloudless until the old priests started to the Sacred Lake, 60 miles away. Then faint wisps began to form into clouds. But no rain fell until day before yesterday, when the rain priests from Zuni came out to the sacred spring in Ojo Caliente, and met the returning pilgrims from the Sacred Lake. Here we were allowed to witness a most wonderfully impressive and reverent ceremony. I think we are perhaps the only white people, with the exception of Frank Hamilton Cushing and Mrs. Matilda Stevenson, who have ever been allowed to see this part of the ceremony. But our camp was given not only that privilege, but the one of taking motion pictures of it, so that the Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, would have the record. Before we left the mountain ride the rain was falling in torrents. [Boldface type added.]

     "Yesterday the ceremony was augmented by the more spectacular and better-known 'Rain Dance,' in Zuni. It is a beautiful and solemn performance. Rain fell last night in copious quantities. Today it is raining as I write this, and the music of the waters is drumming on my tent fly. I say that the Zunis are great rain makers, and that Faith is the keynote of their ability!

     "So far, I have been too busy absorbing new sights and sounds to do much writing, but, if the wind does not blow too hard each day, I hope to accomplish something before long.

     "There is an interesting historical tale of the murder of Father Latrado, right in front of the old Spanish Mission church, in 1670, which is one of the most picturesque parts of the Hawikuh ruins. Perhaps I can reconstruct that scene sufficiently weirdly to make a good yarn for you. I will keep it in mind."

The implication here is that Zahrah had written to Baird before and would continue to write to him, also that this letter at least, as published, was only an excerpt from a longer letter left unpublished. If correspondence like this was in the papers that Leo Margulies kept in his garage and that he ended up destroying because they became infested with insects, then we have just one more reason to withhold from him our forgiveness. What a terribly irresponsible thing to have done.

By the way, the expedition was actually called the Hendrick-Hodge expedition, but I haven't been able to find out who was Hendrick. Hodge was Frederick Webb Hodge, Zahrah's future husband. Frank Hamilton Cushing (1857-1900) was an American anthropologist and ethnologist who lived among the Zuni people. Matilda Coxe (Evans) Stevenson (1849-1915) was an American ethnologist, geologist, and explorer who also lived among and studied the Zunis.

* * *

Tall and aristocratic in her appearance, Zahrah had blue eyes and brown hair. She was one of four girls. Her sister Amy Elizabeth Preble married Waldo Edgar Dodge on January 11, 1913. Zahrah married a man with a rhyming surname, archaeologist, ethnologist, and author Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956), on September 2, 1927, in Bexar County, Texas. At his wife's death in 1934, he was director of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles. Mark R. Harrington (1882-1971)Bruce Bryan (1906-2004), and Johns Harrington (1918-1992), who also wrote for Weird Tales, were also at the Southwest Museum. Johns Harrington's middle name was Heye, presumably for George Gustav Heye (1874-1957), who, despite his very teutonic name, was a native-born American, as well as an archaeologist, collector, and founder of the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. At one time, he had the largest private collection of American Indian artifacts in the world. There is an extant photograph of him and his wife with Hodge and a number of Zuni men.

Zahrah Preble wrote a children's book called Tomar of Siba: The Story of a Gabrielino Indian Boy of Southern California (1933). It was illustrated by her sister, Donna Louise Preble (1882-1979). She had planned to write more, but death intervened. Zahrah's husband handed her notes over to Donna, telling her that she was the one to finish her sister's work. The result was Yamino-Kwiti, Boy Runner of Siba by Donna Preble (1940), which I believe was reprinted as Yamino-Kwiti: A Story of Indian Life in the Los Angeles Area.

Zahrah E. Preble wrote magazine and newspaper articles, including the following:

  • "Jottings from the Pacific Coast" in The Oil Miller (Jan. 1921)
  • "Burbanking Your Child" in The Juvenile (June 1923)
  • "Child Culture's Oldest Cradle" in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (June 24, 1923)
  • "Simple Camp Cookery" in American Cookery (1923) 
  • "Catching Motion on the Wing" in Complete Novel Magazine (Nov. 1925)
  • "Eight Lives for a Horse" in Fawcett’s Triple-X Magazine #21 (Feb. 1926)
  • "The Art of Indian Women" in The Forecast (June 1929)
  • Articles on Indian life and culture for Compton's Cyclopedia

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Thanks to the FictionMags Index for the two pulp magazine credits.

Zahrah Ethel Preble Dodge died on April 27, 1934, at South Pasadena Sanatorium, South Pasadena, California. She was just fifty-three years old.

Zahrah E. Preble's Letters in "The Eyrie"
July/August 1923
September 1923

Further Reading
"Zahrah Hodge, Museum Head's Wife, Mourned" in the Pasadena (California) Post, April 28, 1934, page 4.

Zahrah E. Preble (1880-1934), in a passport photograph from 1921.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 11, 2023

"The Eyrie," July/August 1923

Letter writers in the July/August 1923 issue of Weird Tales magazine:

  • Ernest Hollenbeck (1846-1935) of Davison, Michigan, who told about writing a story called "A Cruel Mystery" on his seventy-seventh birthday, finishing it in the anniversary of the hour of his birth. He submitted it to the editor of Weird Tales, Edwin Baird, but it was never published and is now presumably lost forever.
  • Eleanor Gause (1911-1980), then age eleven, having been born on October 15, 1911. "Imagine an eleven-year-old girl reading stories like yours!" she wrote.
  • Richard Jenkins (1908-1982), age fourteen, of North Catasauqua, Pennsylvania.
  • Jack Bohn, presumably John A. Bohn (1911-1986), age eleven, a student at Alexander Hamilton High School, Oakland, California. John A. Bohn was later an accomplished attorney.
  • A.L. Mattison of Dallas, Texas, who wrote a very long letter, possibly the longest to date printed in "The Eyrie," ironically about the excessive length and verbosity of stories in popular fiction.
  • Abe Yochelson, possibly Abraham, later Albert, Yochelson (1907-1966), who gave his age as seventeen, of Chicago, Illinois, and who also read Hugo Gernsback's magazine Science and Invention "for its stories of the end of the world."
  • Mrs. Walter Jackowiec, presumably Valdivia (Szymczyk) Jackowiec (1902-1969), also of Chicago, who got so scared by reading Weird Tales that in the night she cuddled up to her husband in their bed. Good husband.
  • Henry W. Whitehill (1879-1960) of Oakland, California, who later had a story called "The Case of the Russian Stevedore" in Weird Tales, December 1924.
  • Weird Tales Fan, Jr., of Houghton, Michigan.
  • Charles Pracht (1867?-1934?) of Springfield, Missouri.
  • W. C. Young of Wilmington, Delaware.
  • John Richards of Niagara Falls, New York.
  • H. M. of New York, New York, who remarked upon the similarity of "The Devil Plant" by Lyle Wilson Holden (H.M. called it "The Devil Tree") in the issue of May 1923 to "The Cask of Amontillado" by Edgar Allan Poe. (An excellent observation.) H.M. also pointed out that "that tree appeared long ago in a Strand Magazine story." I wish we knew which one.
  • One of the Bunch, who wrote from a place unknown.
  • Agnes E. Burchard of Los Angeles, California, who asked that Weird Tales reprint "The Upper Berth" by F. Marion Crawford. (She couldn't remember his name.) I assume this was Agnes Elizabeth Burchard (1892-?), a teacher born in Great Neck, Long Island, and educated at Bryn Mawr College.
  • Mrs. Frances Miller of Cleveland, Ohio.
  • Miss Zahrah E. Preble of New York, New York. Zahrah Ethel Preble Hodge (1880-1934) was a singer and dancer specializing in the cultures of American Indians, including the Zuni tribe of the American Southwest. She was the wife of archaeologist, ethnologist, and author Frederick Webb Hodge (1864-1956). Zahrah E. Preble also had a letter in "The Eyrie" in September 1923. I will have more on her in the next entry.

As you can see, Weird Tales appealed to women and children. Maybe the stereotype of the young male fan came later, especially in regards to science fiction and comic books.

An illustration by Roy Crane for "Child Culture's Oldest Cradle" by Zahrah E. Preble  in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, June 24, 1923, whole page number 95. Roy Crane (1901-1977) was then a young cartoonist, Texas-born but living in New York City. Less than a year after this illustration was published, his comic strip Wash Tubbs began in syndication. Crane added Captain Easy to the cast of his strip in 1929. Easy is the character we remember from one of the great adventure strips and from one of our greatest cartoonists. Crane later created the newspaper comic strip Buz Sawyer.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Weird Tales, July/August 1923

The issue of Weird Tales magazine for July/August 1923 was the first to cover two months rather than one and the first to have fewer than 100 pages. It was also the first issue in volume two of the magazine. The cover by R.M. Mally illustrates "Sunfire" by Francis Stevens, aka Gertrude Barrows Bennett. It was his second of nine covers for Weird Tales, and it was her first and last story for "The Unique Magazine." In fact, it was the last published story of her writing career: one hundred years ago this late summer season, Gertrude Barrows Bennett fell silent.

There are sixteen stories, one credited essay, and two poems in the July/August issue. The poems were by Clark Ashton Smith and were the first of their form in Weird Tales. All of the interior illustrations were by William F. Heitman (1878-1945). There are sixteen uncredited nonfiction fillers with titles in this issue as well, plus at least three without titles. And there are two features, "The Cauldron," conducted by Preston Langley Hickey, and "The Eyrie," the regular letters column. As in the previous two issues, there are three columns of type. The interior of the magazine contains 96 pages.

The stories, essay, and poems and their authors:

  • "The Room of the Black Velvet Drapes" by B. W. Sliney.
  • "Doctor X," called "A Five-Minute Tale," by Culpeper Chunn (1889-1927). I wonder what the first story was in which someone or something was referred to as X. Could it have been "Doctor X"?
  • "The Two Men Who Murdered Each Other" by Valma Clark (1894-1953). The title of this story is of course a variation on "The Man Who . . .".
  • "The Strange Case of Jacob Arum" by John Harris Burland (1870-1926). I believe Heitman's illustration for Burland's story is the first in Weird Tales to show a black man.
  • "Black Cunjer" by Isabel Walker.
  • "The Red Moon," poem by Clark Ashton Smith (1893-1961).
  • "Voodooism" essay by Will W. Nelson.
  • "Senorita Serpente" by Earl Wayland Bowman (1875-1952).
  • "The Room in the Tower" by D. L. Radway.
  • "Riders in the Dark" by Vincent Starrett (1886-1974).
  • "Mandrake" by Adam Hull Shirk (1881-1931).
  • "The Garden of Evil," poem by Clark Ashton Smith.
I have written before about nine of these authors, seven at length and two with much shorter entries. Click on their names for links.

Next: "The Eyrie" for July/August 1923.

Weird Tales, August/September 1923 with cover art by R.M. Mally illustrating "Sunfire" by Francis Stevens. I have read "Sunfire," and I can't figure out which scene in the story is illustrated in Mally's drawing. I would call this one of the poorest covers in Weird Tales, a magazine with more than its share of poor covers.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, September 4, 2023

Dr. Dorp by Otis Adelbert Kline

As far as I can tell, Dr. Dorp was the first series character to appear in Weird Tales magazine. Created by Otis Adelbert KlineDr. Dorp was in three stories all together, two in Weird Tales and one in Amazing Stories. Those three stories are:

  • "The Phantom Wolfhound" in Weird Tales, June 1923
  • "The Malignant Entity" in Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924 (Kline was editor of that issue.)
  • "The Radio Ghost" in Amazing Stories, September 1927

"The Malignant Entity" was reprinted four times, in Amazing Stories, June 1926; Amazing Stories Quarterly, Fall 1934; Strange Offspring (American Fiction #10), edited by Benson Herbert and published in 1946 by Utopian Publications Ltd.; and Amazing Stories, February 1966. Although it's a little derivative, "The Malignant Entity" is the best in the series, I think. If any one of them was going to be reprinted, this one was it.

Dr. Dorp is an occult detective. His identifying characteristic is his gray van dyke beard. He might have a personality. If he does, it doesn't show very well in the stories, which include a lot of exposition. Kline's investigator was probably based on a combination of Sherlock Holmes and William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder.

* * *

"The Phantom Wolfhound" was in the issue of June 1923. It opens like "The Weaving Shadows" by W.H. Holmes, which was in Weird Tales in March 1923, with the investigator in his home being visited by a detective and the detective's client. The detective is named Hoyne, whereas Holmes' detective is named Rhyne. So Hoyne in Kline and Rhyne in Holmes. The client is named Ritzky. He is an older man who shares his household with his twelve-year-old orphaned niece. In other words, this is something of an Uncle story. And in other words, the girl is of the right age to bring on some poltergeist activity. (There is a girl in "The Weaving Shadows," too.) Dr. Dorp and Detective Hoyne witness ectoplasm, called "psychoplasm," issuing from her mouth as she sleeps. Dorp takes a sample of the stuff, which is an actual material substance, just as in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," Kline's serial from the March and April issues of "The Unique Magazine."

Dr. Dorp is called a "psychologist" in this story. He is the author of a book called Investigations of Materialization Phenomena. Like Carnacki, he uses mechanical equipment to detect ghosts. Again, as in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," ghosts or spirits are treated as material phenomena. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is referred to in the story, as is Baron Von Schrenk, also known as Albert Freiherr von Schrenck-Notzing (1862-1929), a real-life investigator and author of Phenomena of Materialization: A Contribution to the Investigation of Mediumistic Teleplastics (1923). Dr. Dorp's title is similar to Baron Von Schrenk's. Both "The Phantom Wolfhound" and Von Schrenk's book were published in 1923.

Professor James Braddock, the uncle in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," is Dr. Dorp's friend and colleague, although he doesn't make an appearance in the story. Like that earlier story, "The Phantom Wolfhound" is set in Chicago. ("The Thing of  Thousand Shapes" is also set near Peoria, Illinois.) There are detailed descriptions of a complex physical environment within the Ritzky home. That's okay, I guess, in a detective story, but descriptions of complex environments don't really make for good prose or good storytelling. James Agee was able to pull it off in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, but then that was a documentary work.

"The Phantom Wolfhound" is, like I said, an Uncle story. As it turns out, the uncle was slowly poisoning his niece so that he could get her fortune. She kills him off with her psychoplasmic hound, which Uncle had shot in life. The hound comes back in death and the niece thereby exacts her revenge and defends herself against impending murder at Uncle's hands. The story ends in all italics.

Dr. Dorp is not like Sherlock Holmes in that he doesn't have a discernible personality. Hoyne acts as his Watson, and the dead Russian wolfhound as something like the Hound of the Baskervilles.

* * *

"The Malignant Entity" was in the triple-sized anniversary issue of May/June/July 1924, edited by Otis Adelbert Kline. It's definitely the better of the two stories. And like the first Dr. Dorp story, it's connected to an earlier story, for "The Malignant Entity" is essentially "Ooze" in the city. (As you know by now, "Ooze," by Anthony M. Rud, was the cover story of the first issue of Weird Tales, March 1923.)

Mr. Evans, a writer, is the narrator of the story. ("The Phantom Wolfhound" is told in the third person.) Chief McGraw is a detective, and there are two Irish police officers, Rooney and Burke. Other characters include a fingerprint expert named Hirsch and the coroner, named Haynes. Haynes was in Kline's earlier story "The Corpse on the Third Slab" (Weird Tales, Aug./Sept. 1923). There is also mention of a dead man named Immune Benny, who "is alleged to have committed numerous crimes, among which were several revolting murders, without ever having been convicted." We don't know it yet, but Benny appears to have been a psychopath. His face shows up at the end of "The Malignant Entity," and the story itself ends, once again, in all italics.

There is another dead man. He was Professor Albert Townsend, who, although he was a professor and although he was named Albert, was not the same man as Professor Albert Randall in "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes." And his daughter, named Dorothy, is not the same daughter as in Kline's previous story. Her name is Ruth. Both Dorothy's mother and Ruth's mother are missing in action. Note to all women: never marry a scientist or pseudoscientist engaged in research on the fringes. Yes, you will have a beautiful daughter, but then you will die.

Dr. Dorp says of Professor Albert Townsend: "Who hasn’t heard of him and his queer theories about creating life from inert matter?" After a while, Dorp adds, "He has been working day and night in his effort to prove his theory that a living organism can be created from inorganic matter." Townsend's subject was protoplasm, the stuff that was supposed to have been in the primordial ooze from which all life spontaneously arose. In other words, Townsend was pursuing a pseudoscientific idea held by supposed scientists and science-minded people from the 1800s even unto today. Look where it got him.

In "Ooze," the giant amoeba lives in a pond on the grounds of a backwoods Alabama estate. In "The Malignant Entity," it's in a vat of "heavy albuminous or gelatinous solution" in Townsend's laboratory. In a long and interesting passage, Dr. Dorp postulates:

     "What is life? Broadly defined as we recognize it on this earth, it is a temporary union of mind and matter. There may be, and probably is another kind of life which is simply mind without matter, but we of the material world know it not. To us, mind without matter or matter without mind are equally dead. The moneron [sic] has a mind--a soul--a something that makes it a living individual. Call it what you will. The professor's cell of man-made protoplasm has not. Can you conceive of any possible way in which he could, having reached this stage, create an individual mind or soul, an essence of life that, once united with his cell of protoplasm would form an entity?"

     "It seems impossible," I admitted.

     "So it seems," he replied, "yet it is only on such an hypothesis that I can account for the mysterious deaths of the professor and Officer Rooney."

     "But I don't see how a moneron [sic] or a creature remotely resembling one could kill and completely devour a man in less than two hours," I objected.

     "Nor I," agreed the doctor. "In fact I am of the opinion that, if the professor did succeed in creating life, the result was unlike any creature large or small, now inhabiting the earth--a hideous monster, perhaps, with undreamed of powers and possibilities--an alien organism among billions of other organisms, hating them all because it has nothing in common with them--a malignant entity governed solely by the primitive desire for food and growth with only hatred of and envy for the more fortunate natural creatures around it."

I have speculated before that the psychopathic killer is a blank, that is, a man without a soul. In Dr. Dorp's theorizing, maybe that killer is matter without mind, i.e., without spirit or a soul. The psychopath kills, and so does the giant amoeba or murderous cell in "The Malignant Entity." Being without a soul, it envies and hates those beings that have souls, or an animating spirit. (Remember that anima means "soul" or "spirit.") One of my ideas is that the psychopathic killer wants to know what makes us go, and so he cuts us apart in order to get at what he can only believe is the mechanism beneath the skin. Knowing that he lacks something but not knowing what it is, he is murderously envious and full of hatred for the rest of humanity.

There is a memorable sequence in "The Malignant Entity" in which Dorp and his associates chase the nucleus of the cell around the laboratory like in the old sing-along activity of following the bouncing ball. The nucleus escapes but remains within the building. Described as "plasmic jelly," it consumes a mouse in the basement, and that's where it is finally caught. The nucleus is also described as putting out pseudopods, and at one point it is said to look like a cuttlefish, which is of course a tentacled creature. Now we're back to earlier themes in this series on one hundred years of Weird Tales. In his diary, discovered in a hidden safe, Townsend wrote that his giant amoeba was made of "syntheplasm." Townsend finally brought it to life on September 23 of an unknown year. Maybe that was one hundred and one years ago this month.

In "The Malignant Entity," Otis Adelbert Kline continued in his habit of mixing real people and fictional characters in his stories. In this case, the real-life psychic investigator was Sir Oliver Lodge (1851-1940). That leads to a broader point, namely, that Kline seemed to have been building a universe of interconnected characters, themes, and concepts, drawing from his own stories but also seemingly inspired by other authors published in Weird Tales. He even has his own grimoires in books written by real-life investigators. If this had been Lovecraft, we might call it a mythos.

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Published in Amazing Stories in September 1927, "The Radio Ghost" takes place in the Chicago area, just like its predecessors. Once again, Evans is narrator. There's another niece, Greta Van Loan, and her uncle, the late Gordon Van Loan, who like other uncles in Kline's stories is an investigator of psychic phenomena. Her cousin is Ernest Hegel, who turns out in the end to be a Scooby-Doo-type villain. There is mention of the Society for Psychical Research, also of real-life psychic and medium Eusapia Palladino (1854-1918). (She was real-life. Being a psychic and a medium is of course not real-life.) Fictional characters are Easton, a civil engineer; Brandon, an electrical engineer; and detectives Hogan and Rafferty. Hogan has an Irish accent. Among the words in his vocabulary is shenanigans.

Radio figures pretty prominently in "The Radio Ghost." The title tells you as much. Remember that the last of these Dr. Dorp stories was in a magazine published by radio and television pioneer Hugo Gernsback. Gernsback's book Radio for All, published in 1922, is mentioned in "The Radio Ghost." I would call that an early example of product placement in a work of fiction. In fact, I detect in the whole story a strong odor of commercial promotion of Gernsback, his products, and his ideas. There are detailed descriptions of technology in "The Radio Ghost," as was so common in early science fiction. It's no wonder Gernsback published this story, although you might consider that "The Radio Ghost" is not even really a story but a how-to and a speculation on radio and the uses of radio, then and into the future.

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Otis Adelbert Kline was an interesting case. He wasn't the best or most imaginative author. He was entirely too caught up in the nineteenth-century hoax/fraud of Spiritualism, mediumship, and ectoplasm. And yet he was capable of formulating interesting ideas as a basis for his stories. The passage quoted above about mind and matter suggests an insight into a human problem, that is, of the man who hates his fellow creatures because he cannot understand them, coming as he does from the outside, and lacking as he does a soul or spirit, or what makes a man a human being after all. Sometimes you feel like giving up on a writer after you have read a little of what he wrote. I'm not ready to do that yet with Otis Adelbert Kline. However, if a body of fiction is a coat, a writer should avoid hanging his on the hook of a shabby and pathetic belief system such as Spiritualism, Theosophy, Marxism, or Scientology. It will only end up on the floor, dusty and rumpled, trod upon and ruined.

William F. Heitman's illustration for "The Malignant Entity" by Otis Adelbert Kline in Weird Tales, May/June/July 1924. The character in the middle is Kline's occult detective, Doctor Dorp. That's poor Professor Townsend on the floor.

And an illustration by Frank R. Paul for Hugo Gernsback's Radio for All, published in 1922. The view is of an office worker fifty years into the future. Many of the things in this fanciful illustration have actually come about, though not necessarily by 1972 and not only by way of radio technology.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley