Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Weird Tales-The Gorilla Connection

In 1924, a young girl of Chicago discovered science fiction in the pages of Weird Tales magazine. She had already seen a real-life fantasy land. Her mother had written about it:

     We were in a fairy forest, trees gray with lichen and green with cushioning moss, trees dripping with ferns and garlanded with vines. When the sun shone through that forest the moss gleamed with golden richness. There were trees with sharp, down-pointed leaves, a russet glow at the leaf stalk that hung like a jeweled filagree against the tropic blue of the sky. There were clouds of pink, orchid seeming flowers, that were not parasites, like orchids, but grew in silver green bushes, and everywhere were snowy reaches of wild carrot and wild parsley, and the familiar pungency of crushed catnip.

    There are no words to describe that forest. Pictures can give but faint clews. It was a magic spot. Arthur Rackham has dreamed of some of its moods, some of its wizard trees with long, curved arms, its crooked, outspread groves, like magicians in flight; but its color, its delicacy, the infinite fragility of its moods, the seduction of every line, the subtle revelation of its lights, are beyond dreams.

Joseph Faus and James Bennett Wooding wrote the first gorilla story, "The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni," in Weird Tales. It was published in March 1923, in the year before that little girl of Chicago first came upon the magazine. I speculated last time that gorillas made their way into popular fiction by way of the Tarzan stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first of which was published in 1912. I wondered, though: could gorillas have been in the news in 1922, in the run-up to the issuing of "The Unique Magazine"? I did a search, and the answer is yes, they were. I can't say that gorillas in the news were an inspiration for Faus and Wooding. But I found something more definitive and much more interesting.

The mother of that young reader of Weird Tales was American author, traveler, and later war correspondent Mary Hastings Bradley (1882-1976). In 1921-1922, Mary traveled in Africa with her husband, Herbert Edwin Bradley (1871-1961), a big game hunter in Africa and a real estate developer in Chicago, and her uncle, the taxidermist, explorer, naturalist, and conservationist Carl E. Akeley (1864-1926). The purpose of their trip was to learn about gorillas in their natural habitat in the Virunga Mountains of East Africa and the Belgian Congo. In her travels, Mary Hastings Bradley returned dispatches for syndication in newspapers in the United States. In 1922, her book On the Gorilla Trail was published.

Mary and Herbert Bradley took their six-year-old daughter with them on their 1,000-mile trip through Africa. There are pictures of her in old newspapers, sometimes dressed as a little explorer, posing with the the chief of the Kikuyu, standing next to the Congo River, seated on a reel of cable on board ship on the return of the party to the United States. There are several pictures of her in On the Gorilla Trail as well. Her name was Alice Hastings Bradley. Born on August 24, 1915, she was, like her mother, an author. She wasn't known by her unmarried name, though, nor even by her married name, Alice Bradley Sheldon, sometimes just plain Alice Sheldon. Instead the world knew her--and knows her still--as the science fiction author James Tiptree, Jr.

A snippet of a newspaper feature article, "Studying Man's Big Brother in His Jungle Home," syndicated in American newspapers in early 1922. This version is from the San Francisco Examiner, January 29, 1922, whole page number 86. Shown here are Mary Hastings Bradley, her daughter Alice Hastings Bradley, and her uncle, Carl E. Akeley. There are more pictures in this article. I have left them out, for they show gorillas that had been shot in the course of the expedition. During this expedition, Akeley is supposed to have come over to the idea that gorillas should be protected rather than hunted. He helped to persuade King Albert I of Belgium to establish the first national park in Africa for just that purpose. It is still in existence as Virunga National Park.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni-The First Gorilla Story

Joseph Faus & James Bennett Wooding's Story:

"The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" is a short story in three chapters and told in the first person. It takes place in Belleville, a small town in a mountainous valley "something like a day's run from New York." The setup is that a mysterious Dr. Calgroni has come to town, from Vienna, and has rented the old Thornsdale place. The narrator knows Calgroni to be a surgeon. He also knows that Calgroni has made extraordinary claims regarding the transplantation of organs from primates into men. Dr. Calgroni brings in some medical equipment and an assistant. He also acquires a gorilla from a traveling circus. All indications are that he is about to perform an extraordinary experiment.

Faus and Wooding's story is the first collaborative story in Weird Tales. It's also the first gorilla story. And it's the first brain-transplant story. The setup is good, more skilled and intriguing than the setup of several other stories in that first issue. It and the story as a whole anticipate weird tales to come. The narrator isn't identified until the end, and then in an interesting twist. I like how he, in a seemingly detached way, keeps an eye on Dr. Calgroni and his activities. (He reminds me of the silent girl in the black beret in Stop That Ball! by Mike McClintock, illustrated by Fritz Siebel [1959].) You begin to think of him as just an observer, except for some reason he knows who Calgroni is and what his "unprecedented theory" is, too, for he has read about both in a "strange article" in The Surgical Monthly. As with several of the other stories I have covered so far and will cover in the last few parts of this series, there is a break in the narrative. The break in these stories is in the form of a journal entry, newspaper article, or other source transcribed into the text of the narrative. In this case, the story closes with a transcription of a note from Dr. Calgroni to the narrator in which the truth of what has happened is revealed. It looks like the inclusion in a story of documentary evidence will become a pattern in weird fiction.

"The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" is a Frankenstein kind of story (or an "Ooze" kind of story), a story of a mad or hubristic scientist and of science run amuck. Call it another tale of a lab leak (as long as you don't mind being labeled a racist and a conspiracy theorist). As in "The Unknown Beast" by Howard Ellis Davis, there is also a physically powerful but mentally disabled man who wreaks havoc. As for the title, there can be no doubt that it was inspired by that of the 1920 German film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Gorilla stories and gorilla covers became a staple of comic books during the 1950s and '60s. Here's an example, Tales to Astonish #28, from February 1962, with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. I wonder when the gorilla theme began. Was it with the coming of Tarzan?

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, May 28, 2023

James Bennett Wooding (1897-1954)-The First Collaboration

Author, Publisher, Real Estate Agent
Born December 27, 1897, Springfield, Illinois
Died August 22, 1954, San Antonio, Texas

James Bennett Wooding was born on December 27, 1897, in Springfield, Illinois, to Daniel James Wooding, a London-born publisher and real estate developer, and Augusta C. (Bennett) Wooding, whose father was also involved in real estate. Wooding attended Peacock Military College in San Antonio, Texas, at around the time of the First World War. In 1925, he married Marion Courtenay BeckLike his father, Wooding was a magazine publisher. After his father died in 1930, Wooding seems to have put publishing behind him and became a real estate agent. He was employed in that field until his own death, which came on August 22, 1954, in San Antonio.

Daniel James Wooding (1860-1930) was in the newspaper business before going into the magazine publishing business. At the age of thirteen, he went to work for the Burlington Hawkeye in Burlington, Iowa, under Frank Hatton and the humorist and later Baptist minister Robert Jones Burdette (1844-1914). After ten years with the Hawkeye, Daniel J. Wooding launched his own journals, including The Justice and The Western Herald in Burlington, then The State TopicsInterstate Index, and State Manual in Springfield, Illinois. He continued in his publishing career after moving to Texas, evidently in the 1910s. There he headed Texas Pioneer, a magazine published out of San Antonio, circa 1928-1929. That would have been a short-lived venture, as Wooding died in 1930.

I've gone into all of that because I'm trying to figure out how James Bennett Wooding came to collaborate with Joseph Faus. They wrote at least three stories together:

  • "The Object in the Handkerchief" in The Black Mask (Sept. 1921)
  • "The Thief of Old Roads" in Action Stories (Feb. 1922)
  • "The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" in Weird Tales (Mar. 1923)

The two men lived states apart. In the early 1920s, Faus was in Florida, Wooding apparently in Texas. If Daniel Wooding had published a story magazine of some kind, that might have provided a link. Apparently he didn't. Maybe they met by mail, perhaps through a writer's magazine. In his letter to "The Eyrie" in November 1923, Faus mentioned The Writer's Monthly. I have never seen an issue of that magazine. I wonder if it or a similar title could have had a department through which writers in different parts of the country could reach each other. However it happened, their lone story for Weird Tales was a result.

In addition to his stories with Joseph Faus, Wooding wrote stories on his own. These appeared from 1918 to 1936 in Experience, Hollywood Nights, Scandals, Snappy, Street & Smith's Love Story Magazine, Zippy10 Story Book, and other titles. Coincidentally or not, both Wooding and Faus had their first stories (listed in The FictionMags Index that is) in the December 1918 issue of 10 Story Magazine, subtitled "America's Most Daring Sex Story Magazine." Maybe they contacted each other through that illustrious journal.

James Bennett Wooding's Story in Weird Tales
"The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" (1923) with Joseph Faus

Further Reading

"Wooding, Daniel James" in Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois and History of Sangamon County, Volume 2, Part 2, by Newton Bateman and Paul Selby (Windmill Pub., 1912), pages 1735-1736.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, May 26, 2023

Joseph Faus (1898-1966)-The First Collaboration

Bank Clerk, Worker, Newspaper Reporter & Columnist, Author, Editor, Local Historian, Youth Group Counselor
Born August 30, 1898, Fairbury, Nebraska
Died April 12, 1966, presumably in Miami, Florida

Joseph Faus was a dedicated writer with a very long career and hundreds of stories, newspaper columns, and articles to his credit. He was born on August 30, 1898, in Fairbury, Nebraska, to Oliver Hazard Perry Faus, a Methodist minister, and Annie Faus. Before he was even two years old, Joseph Faus was living in Florida, in Macclenny, with his parents of course. I believe he spent the rest of his life in the Sunshine State, in Lemon City and Miami.

Faus' writing career began when he was a teenager. "When I was sixteen years old," he explained, "I was living in the Lemon City section of Miami, and one Saturday night at the movies on 12th St., I fell in love with Mary Pickford and as a result wrote my first fiction story, a heartrending romance that a Detroit gossip sheet bought for $15." Faus graduated from Miami High School. Shortly after his twentieth birthday, he had his first story in a pulp magazine, "Sanctuary!" in 10 Story Book for December 1918. He also sold stories to Breezy Stories, Cabaret Stories, Complete Novel Magazine, Everybody's, Ghost StoriesThe Parisienne Monthly Magazine, Sweetheart Stories, several crime and detective titles, and other magazines, too, including one with a singular title, Flapper's Experience. He was an editor of a literary magazine called White Shadows. His short stories were syndicated in American newspapers from the mid 1920s to the early 1940s.

Joseph Faus collaborated with other writers, including John Irving Pearce, Jr. ("The Belled Boomerang" in The Black Mask, May 1920), and J.C. Penney. With James Bennett Wooding, he wrote:

  • "The Object in the Handkerchief" in The Black Mask (Sept. 1921)
  • "The Thief of Old Roads" in Action Stories (Feb. 1922)
  • "The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" in Weird Tales (Mar. 1923)

His last story in The FictionMags Index is "Death Drank a Toast" in Killers Mystery Story Magazine, March 1957. Faus had two of his letters printed in Weird Tales.

Faus worked as a reporter for the Miami Evening RecordHe had short stories published in 183 straight issues of Miami News Photomagazine and The Miami Sunday News Magazine that succeeded it. His weekly column "The Rocks of God," about churches and synagogues in Miami, ran for 240 entries in the Miami News from 1949 to 1954. He was active in his own church as an usher, youth counselor, and secretary of the board for nine years. Faus also helped to develop the Lemon City Library in the 1950s. His name is mentioned on a historical marker outside the library.

Joseph Faus died on April 12, 1966, presumably in Miami, the city in which he had made his home for the previous half century.

Joseph Faus' Stories & Letters in Weird Tales

  • "The Extraordinary Experiment of Dr. Calgroni" (Mar. 1923) with James Bennett Wooding
  • Letter to "The Eyrie" (Nov. 1923)
  • Letter to "The Eyrie" (Jan. 1924)
Further Reading
If you have access to old newspapers, you can read about Joseph Faus in several articles. You can also read his short stories, possibly dozens of them. I'm not sure that there was any writer for Weird Tales who had more fiction published in American newspapers than he.


Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

William Sanford (1878-1929)-A Tale of Madness & Murder

Newspaper Reporter, Author, Poet, Humorist, Farmer
Born December 1878, Portsmouth, Rhode Island
Died March 27, 1929, Imperial Valley, California, presumably in El Centro

William Sanford was born on December 26, 1878, in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, to an old New England family. His father was William H. Sanford, a farmer. His mother was Mary Frances (Cobleigh) Sanford, who attended Townsend Female Seminary in Townsend, Massachusetts. William H. Sanford was descended from Peleg Sanford (1751-1789), who served during the Revolutionary War as a private in Captain Isaac Cook's company, Colonel Nathaniel Church's regiment of the Rhode Island militia. A previous Peleg Sanford (1639-1701) was governor of the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations from 1680 to 1683. His father was John Sanford (ca. 1605-1653), also prominent in Rhode Island history. John Sanford's mother-in-law was religious reformer Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643), who, with her followers, established Portsmouth. This was only a small part of William Sanford's very large family.

The William H. and Mary F. Sanford family lived in Portsmouth and were counted there in the U.S. censuses of 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920. Their house on Childs Street was called "Morningside," presumably because it was on the east side of Aquidneck Island. There isn't any occupation listed for William Sanford in the 1900 census, but in 1910 he was a newspaper reporter, and in 1920 a writer for magazines. Sanford worked as a reporter for the Fall River (Massachusetts) Evening Herald from about 1906 to about 1911. He began selling humorous items and poems to Life, Judge, Puck, and other magazines and newspapers at about that time. An article from 1915 numbered his credits at more than 2,250 pieces, paragraphs, and short stories. The FictionMags Index lists about 150 of his poems, short stories, and other works for Breezy Stories, Droll Stories, Live Stories, The Parisienne Monthly Magazine, The Smart Set, Snappy Stories, Saucy Stories, Woman's Home Companion, and other titles from 1912 to 1928, with one more credit from 1933. Sanford had five stories in Weird Tales in 1923-1925, including his brief tale of madness and murder, "The Scarlet Night," from March 1923. He also had a story called "The Wife Stealer" in The Black Mask in January 1923.

Sanford began wintering in Florida in the 1920s, in Miami and West Palm Beach. He also visited with his brother in Washington, D.C. The end of the 1920s found him on the opposite end of the country, in the Imperial Valley of far southern California. That's where he checked into a hotel room under the assumed name of J.H. Parker, and that's where he killed himself on Wednesday, March 27, 1929. The proprietor of the hotel found his body. Sanford had used a razor blade to slash his wrists and his neck and had bled to death several hours earlier. Sanford was known for his humorous pieces. "The Scarlet Night," his first story for Weird Tales, would seem out of place for him, for it is terribly violent and bloody. But in the story, the murderer uses a razor to slash the throat of one of his victims.

Like Dave Scannon in "The Basket," Sanford died in a hotel room far from home. And like the unnamed protagonist in "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die," he set out to kill himself after having hidden his identity and checking into a place of lodging. Life sometimes follows art. Maybe sometimes death does, too.

William Sanford's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Scarlet Night" (Mar. 1923)
"Hootch" (May 1923)
"Grisley's Reception" (Apr. 1925)
"The Midnight Visitor" (Sept. 1925)
"Midnight Realism" (Nov. 1925)

Further Reading

"Mr. Sanford's Humor" in the Evening Herald (Fall River, Mass.), December 16, 1915, page 8.
"Identity of Suicide Is Established" in the Imperial Valley Press, April 1, 1929, page 1.

William Sanford's Story:

"The Scarlet Night" is a short short story told in the first person by a man imprisoned for murder. He gives his account of what he has done and what has befallen him. Again there is marital infidelity. Again there is murder. Again we have a prison story. One difference between this and other stories of its kind in the first issue of Weird Tales is that there is a Poesque element in the middle of it, though it is very brief. It's also frightening and gets to the mental state of the narrator. Call this episode one in which there is an altered state of consciousness. Another things that's different about this story is that there is some pretty gruesome violence. That was probably under the influence of Poe as well. Poe's stories "The Premature Burial" and "The Murders on the Rue Morgue" appear to have been Sanford's sources or inspiration. Then again, maybe the episodes in "The Scarlet Night" grew out of his own mind and his own mental state at the time.

I believe Sanford's story includes the first direct reference to Prohibition in Weird Tales. The first-person narrator is a heavy drinker.* There is real fury and violence bottled up inside him, and it explodes when his wife asks him for a divorce so that she can marry a Dr. Langley. He essentially blacks out, or has a hallucination or a psychotic episode. You get a sense in reading Sanford's description of the violence that this was not just a case of the writer's imagination at work. It seems too vivid and too intimate in its understanding for that. And then you read the lone surviving account of the author's suicide and you begin to see.


*Sanford's second story for Weird Tales is called "Hootch." It appeared in the May 1923 issue, but is so short that it didn't even make the table of contents. (Look on page 91.) It's more or less a fictional filler and may be the shortest of all stories published in the initial run of the magazine, 1923 to 1954. This story, too, is about murder, but it's all just a dream, brought about by the narrator's imbibing the hootch of the title.

An illustration of Anne Hutchinson by Howard Pyle, 1901.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, May 20, 2023

? ? ?-The First Anonymous Story

There are two kinds of anonymous works. First are works written by some unknown person or persons, often in the distant past, but sometimes today, too, things written for example on subway walls and tenement halls. "The Twa Corbies," a traditional ballad reprinted in Weird Tales in February 1926, is an example of an anonymous work from the distant past.

The second kind of anonymous work is one whose author wishes to remain unknown. Somebody somewhere knows who wrote it, but the reader doesn't. "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die," from Weird Tales, March 1923, is a short story of the second kind. The author used triple question marks--? ? ?--as his or her byline, but only so the reader would not know his or her identity. Edwin Baird, editor of Weird Tales, probably knew who the author was. They probably sat together in his office and hashed out the idea, for "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" is more than just a simple anonymous work, as we'll see. There is actually a kind of meta-anonymity in the story and its authorship.

It seems likely to me that "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" was written by someone who had another story in that first issue of Weird Tales. The idea was to avoid having more than one story by a given author in any one issue of a magazine. That was a common practice in the pulp magazine business. It's one of the reasons that there were so many pseudonyms used. Readers liked their favorite authors, but they also liked variety. Maybe more bylines made for better sales.

"The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" is set in Chicago. Its author was probably also a Chicagoan. In reading the story, I came upon a word I had never encountered before, "scarehead." According to Merriam-Webster, it means "a big, sensational, or alarming newspaper headline." There's no guarantee here, but maybe the author worked in or was familiar with the newspaper business, or more generally the writing business.

"The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" is in five episodes. In the first, an unnamed young man, living in "a miserable, two-dollar-a-week bedroom in a Chicago lodging-house," prepares to kill himself. He will use gas to do it, but before completing the deed, he sits down to write a suicide note. Why is he doing this thing? As the French say, cherchez la femme. Beyond that, he has always wanted to know what is on the other side. He more or less identifies as a dead person. In pursuit of that knowledge, he has read every book about Theosophy and related subjects, attended meetings of psychic societies, and studied psychology. (His mother would have told him, "Go to church.") Still, he is unsatisfied.

The woman is named Lily May. She is named. He is not. Lilies symbolize lots of things--femininity, fertility, love, purity, devotion. They also symbolize rejuvenation and a restoration of innocence. Lilies are commonly used as funeral flowers. Lily May proves to be the young man's flower after his near-death experience. As for May: we are currently in the month of May. Look out your window. That's all the explanation you'll need as to why she's called May.

The second episode is brief. It describes the young man's near-death experience in which there is "a dazzling golden light" and a vision of a girl on a throne, "clothed in a virginal robe." The young man is then swept away in episodes three and four into a strange, out-of-body odyssey through eons and worlds. There are phantasmagoric visions and encounters with monsters. Finally he comes to a place in which monstrous, ravenous, venomous serpents do battle with each other. One triumphs over the others--and then turns its attentions to him . . .

He awakes. He is in a hospital. His nurse soothes him. He babbles to her. You can guess who she is. The last episode concludes with a brief newspaper item about him, about how he was found and saved from death, and about how he arrived in the care of his nurse, "who seems to know the young man" but declines to identify him. He remains anonymous.

"The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" is by an anonymous author, but it's not as simple as that. Within the story itself, there is also anonymity. "I've destroyed every clue to my identity," writes the young man in his suicide note. That comes near the beginning. At the end, the nurse maintains his anonymity. The brief newspaper item that closes the story--also by an anonymous author--reads:

An unidentified youth attempted to take his life in a North Side rooming-house last night by inhaling gas. The landlady smelled the odor of gas and called the police. Miss Lily May Kettering, a nurse at the National Emergency Hospital, who seems to know the young man, although refusing to divulge his identity, reports that he is on the road to recovery.

All of that makes me think that "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" is kind of a gimmick. The author's name was probably elsewhere in the first issue of Weird Tales, but there's reason to believe that he wrote this story anonymously because the whole thing is about anonymity. If you're trying to avoid having a single byline occur more than once in your magazine, this is a clever way to do it.

So we have an author who was probably known to the editor, probably from Chicago, and probably in the writing business. He wrote anonymously. He also included in his story an anonymously written newspaper item. In his altered state of consciousness, the young man has strange visions and makes a strange journey through time and space. He approaches death but is saved from it by an intervention. (The last word the young man speaks in his vision is "God.") And in the end, he gets the girl. In other words, there is a happy, sentimental, Hollywood-movie-type ending. So where have we seen all of these things before, not only to do with the story but also with its author? The obvious answer is Otis Adelbert Kline and his previous story, "The Thing of a Thousand Shapes," also in his anonymous authorship of news-based items in Detective Tales.

So was ? ? ? Otis Adelbert Kline. The answer is: ? ? ?

* * *

Firsts in "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die":

  • The first anonymously written story in Weird Tales.
  • The first occurrence of the word Cimmerian in Weird Tales. (It's used as an adjective, not as a noun.)
  • The first story with a title as a variation of "The Man Who . . ."

I noticed a long time ago that there are lots of stories with titles beginning with "The Man Who . . " I didn't know that there were so many, though. In consulting T.G.L. Cockcroft's Index to the Weird Fiction Magazines (1962),  I find that there are thirty-five "The Man Who . . ." stories. If I count right, thirty-one of those are in Weird Tales. There is also of course "The Young Man Who Wanted to Die" by ? ? ? (Mar. 1923), as well as "The Two Men Who Murdered Each Other" by Valma Clark (July-Aug. 1923). That makes at least thirty-three stories in Weird Tales of "The Man Who . . ." type.

That construction goes back a long way. The earliest example I know of is in "The Man Who Would Be King" by Rudyard Kipling, which was published in 1888. And maybe that's all it took. H.G. Wells, an admirer of Kipling's story, had his own story called "The Man Who Could Work Miracles" published in The Illustrated London News in 1898. There were and are many, many more, and I'm sure there are more to come.

The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis in the Lancer edition, 1970, originally published in 1963. Cover art by Howard Winters.

Original text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

R.T.M. Scott (1882-1966)-The First Tale of the Prehistoric Past

Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, Sr.
Aka Maj. R.T.M. Scott

Author, Poet, Military Officer, Lecturer
Born August 14, 1882, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada
Died February 5, 1966, New York, New York

Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, better known as R.T.M. Scott, was born on August 14, 1882, in Woodstock, Ontario, to Alfred Maitland Scott and Elizabeth Bolby Willson Scott. He matriculated at the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, in 1901 and served as an engineer in India, Ceylon, and Malaysia. During the Great War, he was with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front and attained the rank of major.

Scott began his writing career after the war. His first story listed in The FictionMags Index is "Such Bluff as Dreams Are Made Of," in Adventure, April 1, 1920. The leading character in that and more than two dozen more stories is Aurelius "Secret Service" Smith. One unusual aspect of this series is that its various entries were published in many different magazines, including Action Stories, Adventure, The American Magazine, The Black Mask, Collier's, Detective Book Magazine, The Illustrated Detective Magazine, Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories, and others. There was one "Secret Service" Smith story in Detective Tales, in the issue of April/May 1923. Smith also appeared in hardback. Scott also wrote the first two stories in The Spider series, published in the pulp magazine The Spider in October and November 1933.

R.T.M. Scott arrived in the United States on July 28, 1919, five years to the day after the war had begun. He lived in New York City, also in Pasadena, after the war. In 1919-1921, he lectured in those two places on Theosophy and reincarnation. We can speculate that he encountered Theosophy in either India or Ceylon. Southern California was a hotbed, too, for Theosophy and other pseudo-religious, cult-like, and gnostic beliefs. In the 1930s, Scott wrote articles for Mystic Magazine and True Mystic Science with such titles as "In Search of My Own Ghost" and "Astounding True Seances." Scott claimed that his 1931 book The Mad Monk was written under the influence of Rasputin, with whom Scott had established contact through spiritualistic means. The book was dramatized in an episode of the Strange As It Seems radio program in March 1940. (Strange As It Seems was based on the syndicated cartoon panel of the same name, created by John Hix.) In other media, Scott wrote "special material" for the movie You'll Find Out (1940), starring Kay Kyser, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. The film is a comedy about Spiritualism. Maybe Scott acted as a kind of technical advisor.

Scott's son, also named Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott but nicknamed Robert, followed in his father's footsteps by authoring articles and short stories for Western, detective, and weird menace magazines, from 1930 to 1938. He was also an associate editor at Popular Publications in New York City. Born in Columbo, Ceylon in 1909, Robert Scott served in the Canadian Army during World War II and was killed in an accident after the war, in August 1945. His widow, Susan Ashley Scott, followed him to the grave in 1948. R.T.M. Scott's mother died in the in-between time, in January 1946. It all seems like too much for the survivors to take.

Scott resumed his writing career after the war, but his success was pretty limited. He published several hardbound novels during his career, the last of which seem to have been The Agony Column Murders, from 1946, and The Nameless Ones, from 1947. Both are "Secret Service" Smith stories. R.T.M. Scott died on February 5, 1966, in New York City. He was eighty-three years old.

R.T.M. Scott's Stories in Weird Tales and Detective Tales

Weird Tales

  • "Nimba, the Cave Girl" (Mar. 1923)

Detective Tales

  • "The Emerald Coffin" (Apr./May 1923)
Further Reading
"Scott, R T M" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, at the following URL:

R.T.M. Scott's Story:

"Nimba, the Cave Girl" is short story of just three pages and is the first in Weird Tales set in prehistoric times. The place is "a beautiful lake lying between steep-sloping, wood-covered hills," south of what we call James Bay, in Scott's native country of Canada. That's an odd and seemingly irrelevant detail for a story of the distant past. Scott seems to have been attempting to make a concrete connection between the past and the present. I guess that's not surprising considering his interests in Theosophy, reincarnation, and spiritualism. He was pretty specific in his description of the setting for "Nimba, the Cave Girl." I wonder if he knew of exactly such a place in his native province.

Scott's story is violent and gory. You don't want to be the man who wrongs Nimba. I'm sure of that. What she does to Oomba gives new meaning to the word pulp fiction. But if she likes you, you'll be in like Flynn, even if you knock her down and eat all of her food. There are people writing on the Internet about how distasteful it all is, meaning the relationship between Nimba and her newfound man. Let's remember we're talking about cave people here. They don't act like we do. They might even be happy because they don't act like we do.

None of this is to say that "Nimba, the Cave Girl" is without its flaws or even that it's a very good story. Like I said, the setup is odd. Knowing that Scott was into Theosophy and spiritualism makes me wonder whether he considered his story to be simply fiction, or whether he thought of it as a work that exists for the rest of us in that misty territory between fiction and nonfiction or pseudo-nonfiction. Could he have believed that he was channeling Nimba?

There is also in "Nimba, the Cave Girl" a weird fetishism. Not weird as in weird tales but weird as in kinda pervy. Here's the main evidence of that:

    She stood long, viewing the new magnificence of the eastern horizon, her coppery-tanned skin glistening in the sun and her firm young breasts rising and falling as if they, too, saw and wondered in dreamy contemplation. Lithe were her legs and arms, and slender her waist, with hips full big but boy-like in their taper. Her hair was bound with little tendrils into a cue that reached below her waist and then was doubled to keep it off the ground. Sun-burned, its hue was a golden glory. A deep scar marked her face, but this only added to its barbaric beauty.

So her firm, young breasts could almost see and wonder in dreamy contemplation. Okay. Got it.

* * *

I don't know where Scott got the inspiration for his story, but it was preceded by two works written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, "The Cave Girl," which was serialized in The All-Story in 1913, and "The Cave Man," also in All-Story and serialized in 1917. These two stories were collected in a hardbound book called The Cave Girl in 1925. I'm not sure that Scott could have avoided the Burroughs effect once he sat down to write. There was a lot of that in the pulp fiction of the 1910s and for many decades after that.

* * *

There has already been a caveman in the first issue of Weird Tales. He was frozen in a block of ice and revived in "The Ghoul and the Corpse" by G.A. Wells. In "The Ghoul and the Corpse," it is the caveman who travels through time, from his to ours. And it is he who is frightened and horrified by what he finds. In "Nimba, the Cave Girl," there is the opposite situation. We, the readers, are the time travelers. We go from our time to hers, and this time it is we who are horrified, perhaps less by the violence and gore (readers and viewers today love their violence and gore) than by the sexual deal-making between woman and man.

* * *

"Nimba, the Cave Girl" is unique in the first issue of Weird Tales, at least among the eighteen stories I have considered so far. Sixteen of those eighteen are set in the 1800s or 1900s. "The Sequel" by Walter Scott Story, is an exception. I think we can call it a work of historical fiction, taking place as it does, in Italy, in the 1700s or before. However, "The Sequel" is not really an original work. Call it an outlier. Maybe we can pretty well discard it. If we discard it, then only "Nimba, the Cave Girl" remains as a work of historical fiction, except that it's not really historical. It's actually prehistorical. As such, it's the first story in Weird Tales to take place in a fantastical setting. In terms of the cosmos in which we find ourselves (or in which we have lost ourselves), only R.T.M. Scott's tale tells of real, physical things separated from us by great gulfs of time or space.

Except for "The Sequel," all of the other stories so far are set in the United States, Canada, or Alaska, or they are set in Europe during World War I, mostly with Americans as their main characters. (The unnamed German soldier in "The Grave" is an exception.) Even "Nimba, the Cave Girl" is set in what is now Canada. Again, discarding "The Sequel," sixteen of seventeen stories take place in our everyday world. ("The Ghoul And the Corpse" and "The Mystery of Black Jean" by Julian Kilman are admittedly set on its frontiers, especially "The Ghoul and the Corpse.") Not counting stories set outside of the United States, most take place either in the rural South or in or near big cities, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In short, there's very little variety in their setting.

There's also not much variety in the characters depicted or their situations. Most of the characters are not very well developed or very memorable or even very lifelike. They are also mostly normal, everyday, middle-class or working-class Americans. Even the detectives are middle class. For an example of that, read Hamilton Craigie's introductory description of his detective, named Quarrier, in "The Chain." Anyway, there's a kind of sameness to all of it. Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, remarked on that sameness in "The Eyrie," two months after the debut issue:

     These manuscripts come from all parts of the civilized world, and they come from all sorts of people--lawyers, truck drivers, doctors, farmers' wives, university professors, carpenters, high school girls, convicts, society women, drug fiends, ministers, policemen, novelists, hotel clerks and professional tramps--and one, therefore, would naturally expect their stories to possess a corresponding diversity. But not so. With rare exceptions, all these stories, written by all these different kinds of people, are almost exactly alike.
     Not only do they contain the same general plots and themes--one might understand that--but practically all are written in the same style; all have the same grammatical blunders, the same misspelled words, the same errors in punctuation, the same eccentric quirks of phraseology. After plowing through fifty or so of these stories (and we often read that many in an evening), a man acquires the dazed impression that all are written by the same person. It’s baffling! Why do the minds of these various types of people, living in different parts of the world and moving in dissimilar walks of life, slide comfortably into the same well-worn groove whenever they put their thoughts on paper? We give it up.

So it looks like the authors who contributed to those first few issues of Weird Tales worked almost exclusively with what they had close at hand. They didn't seem ready to make great leaps of the imagination, leaps into greater realms of either time or space. R.T.M. Scott made the leap, though, even if his jumping-off point was his belief in Theosophical, psychic, or occult phenomena, or, more accurately, pseudo-phenomena. Remember this passage from H.P. Lovecraft's preamble to "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926; 1928):

    Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents.

So maybe R.T.M. Scott opened a door in Weird Tales. If he did, then others would soon enough walk through it, including Lovecraft.

Lacking an image for R.T.M Scott and his "Nimba, the Cave Girl," I offer this one instead, for Edgar Rice Burroughs' story "The Cave Girl" in The All-Story, July 1913, with cover art by Clinton Pettee.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley