Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Weird Tales Website Is Back!

The website for the new Weird Tales magazine has returned. I don't know when it went up, but it's there for all to see. There are several pages to look at. Readers of this blog might be interested in the "Contact" page which invites inquiries from people who have "[q]uestions about old submissions" and "[p]roblems with something you bought from us." The new editor might not be responsible for the things that went on before he arrived, but I think somebody should have to account for them. At long last, somebody seems to be taking responsibility. Here's your chance to give Weird Tales an earful. 

Here is the URL for the new Weird Tales website. A link is embedded in it, so just click to go there.

The website also has a blog portion. On the day that I write (July 30, 2020), there are two entries. The second is an interview with Jonathan Maberry, the new editorial director. (I think that means editor.) Near the start of the interview, he reveals that there will be a new issue--Number 364--out in October. That will make two new issues under his editorship. I wish him well and hope to see more issues of a magazine that isn't supposed to die.

One of the authors Mr. Maberry has lined up for October is Lee Murray. In this blog, I cover the writers and artists who contributed to Weird Tales from its beginnings in 1923 up to and including the Bellerophon issues of 1984-1985. As far as I know, no author from New Zealand was published in Weird Tales between 1923 and 1985. I believe Lee Murray will be the first. Congratulations, Lee!

Here is the URL of Lee Murray's website with an embedded link:

Here are some other URLs with links:

Happy reading!

Copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 10, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Seven

Peirces in a Line

It's strange to think that the first English colonists arrived in America just four years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and before Shakespeare wrote his late plays, including The Tempest (1610-1611). At our founding, we were an Elizabethan or Jacobean culture. Now it seems we're closer to being Jacobin.

The Peirce family in America dates from that time. The first American Peirce in the line of Earl Peirce, Jr., was Capt. Michael Peirce, Peirse, or Pearce (ca. 1615-1676). (People were a lot more casual about spelling in those days.) Michael Peirce was born in about 1615 either in Bristol or St. George, Dorset, England. He came to what is now the United States in 1645 or 1646, settling first in Hingham, then, in 1646 or 1647, in Scituate, both in Plymouth Colony. Peirce served as an ensign in a company of colonial militia under Capt. Myles Standish. He himself was promoted to captain in 1669.

Before I go very much further in relating the story of Capt. Peirce, I should let you know that there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and misinformation about him, his family, his life, and his death. I'll try with the best information I have. Here it goes.

Capt. Michael Peirce had left England during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and (I hope) enjoyed a quarter-century of peace before conflict came again in the form of King Philip's War (1675-1678). Hostilities began on June 20, 1675, but I don't have anything on Peirce's involvement until mention of his participation in the battle at Narragansett in December 1675. I take that to mean the battle that is now called the Great Swamp Fight, December 19, 1675, near what is now South Kingston, Rhode Island.

In early 1676, Capt. Peirce led a small force of colonial militia and Wampanoag Indians into Rhode Island Colony in pursuit of what turned out to be a much larger force of Narragansett Indians and their allies. Peirce and some or all of his men were ambushed in what is now Central Falls, Rhode Island. Peirce (the story goes) and nine others were taken away as prisoners. One escaped, while the other nine, including Peirce, were either executed or tortured to death in what is now Cumberland, Rhode Island. The bodies of the nine were found by other militiamen and were buried at a site they marked with the construction of a cairn. The site, believed to be the oldest veteran's memorial in the United States, is called Nine Men's Misery and is located on the grounds of a monastery in Cumberland. The inscription on a plaque affixed to the cairn is ambiguous: it can be read either that the men were killed on March 26, 1676, or that their bodies were buried on that date. And I can't say for sure that Capt. Michael Peirce was one of them. Incidentally, for fans of weird tales, one of the dead is reputed to have been a giant with two rows of teeth. Somebody tried to dig him up more than a century after his death.

Capt. Peirce's heir was his son Capt. Benjamin Peirce (1646?-1730), eventual holder of 1,000 or more acres and owner of a sawmill. He or his father may have been the founders of the Peirce timber and lumber industry that carried through generations of their family, eventually to give birth to Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr., a professional forester and the father of Earl Peirce, Jr.

Records for the next two generations of the Peirce family seem a little shaky, but Capt. Benjamin Peirce seems to have been followed by two more Benjamins, Benjamin Peirce, Sr., (1683-1772) and Benjamin Peirce, Jr. (1721-1768). Then things become a little more firm again with Capt. Hayward Peirce (1753-1826). In 1776, a century after his great-great-grandfather's ill-fated expedition, the young Capt. Peirce, acting under Col. Jeremiah Hill, led a company of Massachusetts men into Rhode Island. I don't know where they were going or to what purpose, except to shoot at some Redcoats. I wonder if Capt. Peirce covered the same ground as the first Capt. Peirce one hundred years before him. Capt. Peirce also commanded a company in Col. Theophilus Cotton's regiment in 1777. Unlike his ancestor, Capt. Hayward Peirce survived the war and died in the same year as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Capt. Peirce's son, Waldo Peirce (1778-1841) seems to have been the one, possibly with one or more brothers, who moved the family's base of operations from Scituate to Maine. He married Catherine Treat (1782 or 1783-1863), who I'm pretty sure was in the line of Col. Robert Treat (1624-1710), who also took part in the Great Swamp Fight and later served as governor of Connecticut Colony. Waldo Peirce built a timber and lumber business at Frankfort, in Waldo County, Maine. "He was regarded as one of the most sagacious and able business men [sic] of eastern Maine," wrote the Treat family historian, "and acquired a large fortune of $80,000." (p. 346) From him and his wife it was on to George Albert Peirce (1812-1873), George Peirce (1851-1922), Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr. (1886-1978), and finally (for our purposes) Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983).

There were prominent people in those many generations of Peirces. For example, George Albert Peirce's daughter Katherine Peirce Scripps (1854-1933) was married to William Armiger Scripps (1838-1914) of the Scripps empire of journalism, publishing, and newspaper syndication. For another, the grandson of Waldo Peirce, Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Sr. (1846 or 1847-1936) and his wife Anna Cora Hayford Peirce (1856-1928) had four children, including: author Ada Stetson Peirce McCormick (1888-1974); archaeologist and art historian Hayford P. Peirce, Sr. (1883-1946); and painter and bon vivant Waldo Peirce (1884-1970), who hobnobbed with everybody from John Reed to Ernest Hemingway. A fourth child, athlete and scholar Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Jr., died as a young adult.

I promised you a long time ago that I would get to Earl Peirce's third cousin, who is also a writer of genre fiction. Finally, here we are. In 1937, while in his mid fifties, Hayford Peirce, Sr., married Pauline Francis "Polly" Brown (1911-1994). Five years later, she gave birth to a son. His name is Hayford Peirce, Jr., and since 1974, he has worked as an author of genre fiction, including science fiction, mysteries, and detective fiction. (He has also written his own Wikipedia page.) If all of my figuring is correct, then Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr., and Hayford Peirce, Jr., are third cousins. I kind of doubt they ever met (who has ever met his third cousin?), but it's interesting that after three hundred years in America, the Peirce line would arrive, finally and I imagine independently of each other, at two tellers of tales.

Earl Peirce's seventh and last story in Weird Tales was "Portrait of a Bride," from January 1940. Like his previous entry, this one, a tale of a ghostly, imaginary bride, is competent but pretty slight. There seems to have been something lacking in Peirce's later stories compared to his earlier ones. I suspect it has to do with the fact that the feverish imagination of youth is too often lost in adulthood.

I have read and written about these stories mostly because I have been looking for connections to H.P. Lovecraft and his so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I need not have read any further than the first, "Doom of the House of Duryea," from October 1936. Even then, the connection isn't really to Lovecraft so much as it is to Robert Bloch, who created Ludvig Prinn (mentioned in Peirce's story), fictional author of the grimoire Mysteries of the Worm (or De Vermis Mysteriis, as Lovecraft dubbed it). Peirce and Bloch knew each other in Milwaukee in the mid 1930s. As far as I can tell, there aren't any other connections between the two within their respective stories except for a possible--and very tenuous--connection between Peirce's second story, "The Last Archer" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1937), and Bloch's Egyptian Cycle of stories from about the same period.

If there is a theme running through Peirce's stories, it is one of family curses and familial degeneration. That seems to be a pretty common one in weird fiction, maybe because it is so common in real life. It's an especially common theme in stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Young people may feel that they're cursed by being in the family that they are. Those feelings probably fade for most people. I don't get a sense that Peirce's family was running down. They're actually a pretty remarkable bunch. But then you never know what goes on in the private lives of other people.

After January 1940, Earl Peirce's name disappeared from Weird Tales. He was then only halfway through his career in the pulps. Most of the rest of his output was for mystery, crime, and detective titles. I'm pretty sure that Peirce has living descendants. I wonder if they would ever assent to having his stories reprinted, maybe in two volumes, one for his weird tales, the other for his detective stories. He was a competent writer, though not a great one, and he had flashes of real imagination, especially when he was young. I imagine that pulp fans today would want to read what he wrote.

And so ends this series.

Text and caption copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, August 7, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr.-Aside No. 4

Peirces in New England & A Pierce in Lovecraft

Earl Peirce's family is an ancient one in America. The first among them was born only a dozen short years after Queen Elizabeth I had died and while William Shakespeare still walked the earth. Arriving in what is now Massachusetts before the middle of the seventeenth century, the first American Peirce in Earl Peirce's line served in Capt. Myles Standish's Plymouth Colony militia. Promoted to captain himself, he served during King Philip's War only to fall victim to it. What is believed to be the oldest veteran's memorial in the United States marks the place where Capt. Peirce (as the story goes) and eight of his compatriots perished. The site, known as Nine Men's Misery, is located in Rhode Island, not far north of Providence and well within Lovecraft country.

The Peirce name is old, too. There were Anglo-Saxon Peirces and Norman French Peirces in England during the Middle Ages. The name itself refers to the apostle Peter and has many variants, including Pierce, Peirse, and Pearse. College English students will remember Piers Plowman, Piers being another variant. Here I'm using the spelling that Earl Peirce, Jr., and his family used and one that is still used by Peirces throughout New England. The name is or was pronounced Purse (possibly also as Parse). Robert Frost let us know that in his poem "New Hampshire" (a state that he personified as she):
She had one President. (Pronounce him Purse,
And make the most of it for better or worse.
He's your one chance to score against the state.)
"New Hampshire" was published in book form in 1923, the same year that Weird Tales began. 

Like the Peirces, the family of H.P. Lovecraft was ancient in America, but only on his mother's side. There were Phillips and Whipples in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in the seventeenth century. The Lovecrafts were comparative latecomers, arriving in the United States only in the Early National Period, in the same century in which H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born.

Lovecraft was of course a lover of all things New England. He would have been well acquainted with the Peirce/Pierce name, and he included it in one of his most well-known and popular stories, "The Colour Out of Space" (Amazing Stories, Mar. 1927). Lovecraft is supposed to have counted it his favorite among his own stories.

"The Colour Out of Space" is a strange and unsettling story of an inexplicable alien presence that fell to earth in the country west of fictional Arkham, Massachusetts. The time was in the past--"the strange days" as the locals call it. The place, now known as "the blasted heath," was on the farm of the late Nahum Gardner. The story of those "strange days" is recounted to the unnamed narrator by an old man who was a neighbor of Nahum Gardner. His name is Ammi Pierce. Now that I think about it, he reminds me of the Once-ler from The Lorax.

Again, the story of "The Colour Out of Space" is told in the present, i.e., in the late 1920s, but "the strange days" were in the past. They began in June 1882 when a meteorite fell on the Gardner farm. Only at harvest time did Nahum Gardner realize that his entire crop had been contaminated, "that the meteorite had poisoned the soil." That was only the beginning of his and his family's travails, told in increasingly horrifying detail by Ammi Pierce, who remembers it all as if it were yesterday, as well he might.

I have written about "The Colour Out of Space" before. Click here to read my posting of October 19, 2015.

Lovecraft was an amateur astronomer and a science-minded materialist. He made it a point to include real occurrences in his stories, I suppose to build a sense of verisimilitude. In 1882, there was a very bright comet in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere. Called the Great Comet of 1882, it was first observed in September, not in June. Perhaps the meteorite of June 1882 was a harbinger of the later comet, an offshoot that brought disease and death to earth, as comets do. I don't plan these things, but I wrote about all of this not very long ago. Click here for more reading on comets, disease, and death.

Now, finally, to the last part of the Earl Peirce, Jr., story.

Virgil Finlay's illustration for "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft, from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1941.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Six

Peirce After 1940

Following is a list of published stories and letters by Earl Peirce, Jr., taken from The FictionMags Index. I have broken the list down by decade. Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales--seven stories and four letters--are indicated by boldface type.

  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (Nov. 1935)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (June 1936)
  • "Doom of the House of Duryea" in Weird Tales (Oct. 1936)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (Nov. 1936)
  • "The Last Archer" in Weird Tales (Mar. 1937)
  • "The Death Mask" in Weird Tales (Apr. 1937)
  • "My Grave Awaits Me" in Dime Mystery Magazine (July 1937)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (July 1937)
  • "The Homicidal Diary" in Weird Tales (Oct. 1937)
  • "The Cat" in Fantasmagoria (Winter 1937)
  • "The White Rat," with Bruce Bryan, in Weird Tales (Sept. 1938)
  • "Satan Fills the Morgue" in Strange Detective Mysteries (Nov./Dec. 1938)
  • "Mum’s the Word for Murder" in Dime Detective Magazine (Feb. 1939)
  • "The Stroke of Twelve" in Weird Tales (June/July 1939)
  • "A Killer and His Brother" in Detective Tales (Aug. 1939)

  • "Portrait of a Bride" in Weird Tales (Jan. 1940)
  • "Legacy of the Dead" in Terror Tales (July 1940)
  • "Tailor-Made Shroud" in Detective Tales (Dec. 1940)
  • "The Shadow of Nirvana" in Strange Stories (Feb. 1941)
  • "Bluecoat’s Birthright" in Detective Tales (May 1941)
  • "Greetings from the Grave" in Detective Tales (Mar. 1943)
  • "Murdertime Gal" in Detective Tales (Dec. 1946) [Randolph Barron--presumably Peirce's detective character]
  • "Crazy to Kill" in Detective Tales (Jan. 1947) [Randolph Barron]
  • "Escape" in Detective Tales (Oct. 1949)

I see two patterns in this list. First, Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales came to an end in January 1940. Second, Peirce began shifting away from weird fiction and towards detective fiction in the late 1930s. By mid 1941, the shift was complete: his last five published stories were for Detective Tales, and in 1949, after just thirteen years, his career as a pulp writer and published author seems to have ended.

In regards to the first pattern, I think it's useful to know that Weird Tales also went through a transition at about the same time. In 1938, Short Stories, Inc., purchased the property and moved its offices to New York City. Although Farnsworth Wright remained as editor, he was eased out in early 1940. The March issue was the last credited to him as editor. (By the end of the year he was in his grave.) Dorothy McIlwraith took over in May 1940. I don't know that she cleaned house exactly, but that began a new era in Weird Tales. An analysis of contributors before and after May 1940 might prove worthwhile in cases like this. The point is that Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales ended with the end of Wright's tenure as editor.

The second pattern shows another parallel with the writing career of Robert Bloch. In an interview with Darrell Schweitzer, conducted in 1982, Bloch talked about the changes he made in his writing in the late 1930s and early 1940s:
I found that there was a greater market for humor in the science fiction field at that time than there was in the fantasy field, and I liked to write humor, so I just went on from there. I would say that it may very well have helped to broaden my writing, but I had already begun to change my style. I had departed from the Lovecraft thing in 1939 or 1940. It wasn't just in science fiction, because my fantasy was also changing style. I had been experimenting with writing style. I got into mystery and suspense because I admire the work of people like Raymond Chandler. (1)
So it looks like Peirce made the same kind of switch as Bloch, and at about the same time. But if there was any direct connection between the actions of these two men, it has probably been lost in time. By the way, Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) had his first detective story in Black Mask in 1933. In 1939-1940, his first two novels, both starring Philip Marlowe, were published. These were The Big Sleep (1939) and Farewell, My Lovely (1940), which were not as well liked by critics as they were by readers and writers, including John Steinbeck and S.J. Perelman. (2) Despite what the critics might have thought, mystery, detective, and crime stories were wildly popular at the time. According to Chandler's biographer, Tom Hiney, "one in every four books lent by American libraries in the 1940s was a mystery story." (3) Maybe Peirce, Bloch, and writers were leading while at the same time following a trend.

* * *

There were also big changes in the life of Earl Peirce during the early 1940s. On May 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. On December 26, 1941, with the United States at war with Japan and Germany, he married nineteen-year-old Gloria Hallett Grimm (1922-1999). He was then just twenty-four. Peirce and his three brothers served in the U.S. Navy or Naval Reserve during the war. His older brother Beach was killed in action in the Pacific in June 1942, at about the time as or shortly after the Battle of Midway. That left Earl Peirce as the oldest of the Peirce boys. He served four and a half years all together, including as a pharmacist's mate on board the hospital ship USS Benevolence. Peirce separated from the navy on October 13, 1945.

By then or shortly thereafter, young Peirces had begun arriving. There were about eight all together from one or two marriages. I won't name them. I hope some are still living. It's nice to think, too, that Peirce had some unpublished stories among his papers and that they are still in existence. In any case, Robert Bloch remembered:
In late '41 I visited him there with my friend Harold Gauer: he had married and was (I seem to recall) working for the Navy Department. That was the last I saw or heard of him for at least twenty-five years [i.e., until the mid 1960s]. Then he showed up here, with a different wife, and spent a day with me. He had changed so much that I'd never have recognized him, and there wasn't a trace of the rather intense and imaginative fantasy devotee who had once dreamed of starting an organization to rule the world--the "Si-Fan," modeled on Sax Rohmer's secret society in the Fu Manchu series. (4)
If that was in the mid 1960s, then Earl Peirce was only then approaching fifty--still young, but on the other hand, times change. In 1965, he was in Silver Spring, Maryland, where other members of his family lived. (His father died there in 1978.) Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr., died on June 6, 1983, in Newton, New Jersey. He was just sixty-six years old.

* * *

I sense one more possibility or pattern in the writing careers of Peirce, Bloch, and others like them of the 1930s and '40s. This is my own hypostulatin', as a friend of mine puts it. See what you think of it. It begins with Scooby-Doo.

The Scooby-Doo-style plot begins with happenings that are interpreted as being supernatural. There is creaking and clanking, moaning and other frights. Everybody panics, but once all of the running around is done, the mysterious happenings are revealed to have a merely mundane explanation. I haven't read the early gothic romances, but I think they follow the same kind of plot line, that what at first appears to be supernatural is in actuality not. Only later did the gothic romance expand to include stories of the supernatural, or as in the case of Frankenstein, the super-scientific.

The line leading from the gothic romance to weird fiction isn't exactly straight or unbroken. I think it's fair to say, though, that one comes more or less from the other. The twentieth century writer of weird fiction was confronted with a problem, though. I have written about it before. The problem is this: how do you write a story about supernatural happenings in an age in which science and reason are supreme? That problem was compounded as the century progressed and especially as World War II approached and then raged. What is writer of essentially romantic or gothic sensibilities to do when this is the way the world has turned?

Here's my hypostulatin': One solution was to transform the gothic romance into the hard-boiled detective story of the 1930s and '40s. Instead of setting his or her story in the dark, forbidding, and (physically) isolated rural place, such as a castle or an abbey, the writer moves it to the equally dark, forbidding, and (psychologically) isolated city. The hard-boiled detective remains as the story's romantic hero, exemplified by Chandler's latter-day knight-errant, Philip Marlowe. Unlike the supernatural gothic romance, the detective story plays it straight, but the supernatural element remains in a way, in the form of a stalking evil or depravity afoot in the city. Often in this new brand of romance, the gothic or medieval monster is transformed into the scientific monster of twentieth century, either the psychopath or sociopath, as in I Wake Up Screaming (1941) or He Walked by Night (1948), or the representative of the fanatic totalitarian mass movement, as in Pickup on South Street (1953). There might even be a super-scientific element as in Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which might better be described as science fiction (in the end of apocalyptic intensity) than a detective story. In all of this, we should remember that film noir (a label coined in French theorizing), which is essentially the hard-boiled detective story converted to film, grew out of and was influenced by German Expressionism and the horror movies of the 1920s through the 1940s: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolfman (1941), or I Walked with a Zombie (1943) as proto- or peri-film noir. The whole thing seems to have come full circle in the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), in which the detective, in this case a reporter, investigates supernatural happenings in the city at night, things that the police would rather just have ended in Scooby-Doo fashion. That's how they explain them, too. (5)

The upshot is that it might only have been a natural development for writers like Peirce and Bloch to have turned to detective stories once America had: a) become pretty thoroughly urbanized and industrialized, at least in popular culture; b) Science or at least quasi-science had slain God and religion; and c) perhaps most importantly, World War II came along and wiped out the romantic fantasies of previous ages.

To be continued . . .

(1) "Robert Bloch Interviewed by Darrell Schweitzer" in Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (Centipede Press, 2009), pages 236-237.
(2) Raymond Chandler: A Biography by Tom Hiney (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997), page 114.
(3) Ditto, page 119.
(4) Interview with Graeme Flanagan, presumably in Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography by Graeme Flanagan (Canberra City, Australia: Author, July 1979).
(5) Although H.P. Lovecraft claimed not to be able to write a detective story, what else is "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) but a tale of detection (and a good one at that)?

"The Stroke of Twelve," in Weird Tales, June 1939, was Earl Peirce's sixth story for the magazine. It looks to be his shortest to date. It's a modest story, one of those "he got what he deserved" kind of tales. I see it as a step down from his previous entries. By the time he wrote it, Peirce had definitely been afflicted by adverbitis. Here's a sample: "His eyes stared incredulously, fearfully stupidly." That's three -ly words in one short sentence, which can sometimes be three too many in a story, let alone in a sentence. Worse still is another of Peirce's supposed adverbs, "stone-facedly." (Supposed because it's not even a word.) And that bit of his eyes staring. Eyes don't stare. People stare. It's like saying, "His hand picked up a cup of coffee" or "His legs walked across the room." His hand didn't do it. His legs didn't do it. He did it. These are the kinds of things that keep pulp fiction, or genre fiction in general, from being taken seriously. It's why pulp writers and readers continue to be seen as essentially sub-literate.

A gallery of covers with Earl Peirce's byline, from top to bottom: Strange Stories (Feb. 1941), Detective Tales (Mar. 1943), Detective Tales (Dec. 1946), and Detective Tales (Jan. 1947). At least one of those looks like an Earl Peirce cover story; he seems to have been getting some traction in these detective magazines as the 1940s went on. Then it all came to an end in 1949. Was Peirce too busy with babies, children, and work by then? I just don't know.

Thanks to The FictionMags Index and to Randal A. Everts.
Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Five

In Washington, D.C.

By July 1937, when he wrote to Weird Tales about the death and legacy of H.P. Lovecraft, Earl Peirce, Jr., was living in Washington, D.C., with his family. His father had been appointed to a position there with the U.S. Forest Service. Earl Peirce, Sr., would spend the rest of his forestry career in the nation's capital, retiring in 1951 after more than forty years on the job.

"The Death Mask" may have been the last story that Earl Peirce, Jr., sent to Weird Tales from his Milwaukee home. It was published in the issue of April 1937. "The Homicidal Diary" followed in October 1937. Nearly a whole year went by before Peirce had his next story in "The Unique Magazine." Written with Bruce Bryan, "The White Rat" was published in September 1938.

Born in Washington, D.C., Leslie Bruce Bryan (1906-2004) was an archaeologist and anthropologist known for his work in the American Southwest and on the Channel Islands. He worked at the County Museum of Natural History, Science, and Art (now the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History) and the Southwest Museum of Los Angeles, not only as a man in the field but also as a curator and a staff writer for The Masterkey, the magazine of the Southwest Museum. Between 1932 and 1939, he wrote or co-wrote five stories published in Weird Tales and its sister title, Oriental Stories. During the same period, he had twelve letters printed in weird fiction magazines.

Bryan's first collaborator in weird fiction was Dudley S. Corlett (ca. 1880-1946), with whom he wrote "The Dancer of Quena," published in Oriental Stories in Spring 1932. Born in England, Corlett lived in southern California for many years. Like Bryan, he worked in scientific or semi-scientific fields, in his case, botany and tropical agriculture.

Bruce Bryan returned to his native city during the early or mid 1930s. He married his second wife, Mary Katherine Fahrenwald, in Washington, D.C., in November 1936. In 1940, he registered for the draft while living there, and like Earl Peirce, Jr., he called himself a writer. During the previous decade, Bryan had had stories not only in weird fiction magazines but also in Argosy, as well as in Western, crime, mystery, and detective titles. Bryan returned to California in the 1940s.

While living in Washington, D.C., Bryan became a member of a Weird Tales fan club. Fan and letter writer Julius Hopkins led the group. Other members included Everill Worrell (1893-1969) and Seabury Quinn (1889-1969). Earl Peirce, Jr., joined, too. Unfortunately, I don't have any details on him except that he was a member and that he co-wrote a story with Bruce Bryan.

After collaborating with Bryan, Earl Peirce had just two more stories in Weird Tales"The Stroke of Twelve" (June/July 1939) and "Portrait of a Bride" (Jan. 1940). He followed up with "Legacy of the Dead" in Terror Tales (July 1940) and "The Shadow of Nirvana" in Strange Stories (Feb. 1941). Although Peirce had other stories in the pulp magazines of the 1940s, these were his last in the weird fiction titles.

On April 16, 1940, Earl Peirce, Jr., was counted in the U.S. census in Washington, D.C. He was with his family at 3738 Huntington Street, N.W. If the house at that address now is the same as in 1940, then it was a pretty fine one. Later that year, on October 16, 1940, Peirce filled out his draft card, giving his employer as the General Federation of Women's Clubs. On May 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. (His younger brother Dudley Beach Peirce enlisted the same day.) On December 26, 1941, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Earl Peirce, Jr., married Gloria Hallett Grimm (1922-1999), also in Washington, D.C. The world had suddenly become a very serious place.

I don't think it was mere coincidence that Peirce's writing for the pulps went on pause in 1941. Military service, marriage, and world war have ways of interrupting a person's plans. He had just one story published during the war and only three more after that. His last came in October 1949, just thirteen years after his first.

To be continued . . .

Earl Peirce's fifth story in Weird Tales was "The White Rat," cowritten with Bruce Bryan and published in the September 1938 issue. "The White Rat" is set in Norway. It begins as a club story, but the middle and end take place in a remote northern location. Despite the weird-fiction or gothic-romance elements of separation and isolation, "The White Rat" actually approaches science fiction. I guess we can call it a weird science story.

If there is weird science, there should probably be a weird--or mad--scientist, and there is in this story. There is also a tale told of a medical doctor with psychopathic or sociopathic proclivities. We have seen characters like that before. They're also with us in the real world.

"The White Rat" has similarities to Frankenstein. It's sort of a Frankenstein's monster of a story, too. There are elements not only of Mary Shelley's seminal gothic romance/proto-science fiction novel but also of stories by H.P. Lovecraft, including "The White Ape" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1924), "The Whisperer in Darkness" (Weird Tales, Aug. 1931), "The Dunwich Horror" (Weird Tales, Apr. 1929), and "Cool Air" (Tales of Magic and Mystery, Mar. 1928). The story was written before Watson and Crick found out about DNA, so maybe we can forgive some of its fumbling about genetics. There are, however, suggestions of Lamarckian evolution or Lysenkoism in its pages. I'm pretty sure that both would have been discredited by the time Peirce and Bryan wrote their story. Finally, the weird fiction or science fiction trope of the body frozen in a block of ice and waiting to be revivified is central to the plot. In that, "The White Rat" anticipated Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943), The Thing from Another World (1951), and the Minnesota Iceman hoax of the 1960s. There is also something of The Fly (1958) in it, another film from the future.

The illustration above is the work of Virgil Finlay. It appears as a heading to the story. In combination with the first few pages of the story, it gives away part of the plot and part of the surprise. Before long, we've got it all figured out pretty well. Only the details are missing until the end. The issue in which "The White Rat" appeared was an all-star issue with stories and poems by Seabury Quinn, Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, H.P. Lovecraft, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, Manly Wade Wellman, and Paul Ernst. That was pretty good company for young Earl Peirce, Jr.

Thanks to Randal A. Everts for information on Julius Hopkins' fan club.
Text and captions copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Four

Peirce & Bloch

Last week I wrote about how Robert Bloch came to know Weird Tales and H.P. Lovecraft. This time it's Earl Peirce's turn.

We know a whole lot less about Earl Peirce, Jr., than we do about Bloch or Lovecraft. That's one of the reasons I misidentified him so badly at the outset. The evidence was there all along. However, it was locked away in objects formerly known as books. These were and are unseen by the very nearly blind eyes of the Internet.

The first quote below is from an interview that Bloch did with Graeme Flanagan. I presume this to be from a booklet entitled Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography by Graeme Flanagan (Canberra City, Australia: Author, July 1979). The second is from the book Once Around the Bloch: An Unauthorized Autobiography by who else but Robert Bloch (Tor, 1993). I don't have either of these books and I'm not the one who came up with the quotes. They're actually on a message board on the website, put there by J.M. Rajala, who co-edited Lovecraftian Voyages by Kenneth W. Faig, Jr. (Hippocampus Press, 2007). Here is the URL and link to Mr. or Ms. Rajala's posting:

Here is the first quote, from Mr. Flanagan's interview with Bloch:
I knew Earl Peirce Jr. in Milwaukee as a fan in 1935-37. He was a bright personable young man, about my age, whose father was in the U.S. Forestry Department [sic]. He contacted me, expressing an interest in writing, and I encouraged it--introducing him to my circle of friend and (via mail) to various writers I knew. He wrote and sold several stories--"Doom of the House of Duryea," a vampire yarn, was his best--then moved to Washington with his family. In late '41 I visited him there with my friend Harold Gauer: he had married and was (I seem to recall) working for the Navy Department. That was the last I saw or heard of him for at least twenty-five years. Then he showed up here, with a different wife, and spent a day with me. He had changed so much that I'd never have recognized him, and there wasn't a trace of the rather intense and imaginative fantasy devotee who had once dreamed of starting an organization to rule the world--the "Si-Fan," modeled on Sax Rohmer's secret society in the Fu Manchu series.
So at last we have something firsthand and personal about Peirce. We know or can be pretty sure that he lived in Laramie, Wyoming, from his birth in 1917 until 1921. From then until 1933 he was with his family in Syracuse, New York. That means that he turned twelve--the Golden Age of Science Fiction--in Syracuse in 1929, the same year in which the term science fiction was first used in print. It was around that time, too, that science fiction and fantasy pulp magazines began to proliferate:
  • Amazing Stories, 1926
  • Amazing Stories Annual, 1927
  • Tales of Magic and Mystery, 1927
  • Ghost Stories, 1928
  • Amazing Stories Quarterly, 1928
  • Air Wonder Stories, 1929
  • Science Wonder Stories, 1929
  • Wonder Stories Quarterly, 1929
  • Astounding Stories (later Astounding Science-Fiction), 1930
  • Scientific Detective Monthly, 1930
  • Wonder Stories, 1930
We don't have a discovery story for Peirce like that of Bloch, who found Weird Tales at a Chicago train station in 1927. But as Rage Against the Machine sang, what better place than here? What better time than now? It seems pretty likely to me that Peirce discovered science fiction and fantasy in the mid to late 1920s and certainly no later than the early to mid 1930s. (1)

Peirce arrived in Wisconsin in 1933, first in the north woods, then in late 1933 or early 1934 in Milwaukee. If Bloch's memory was still good forty years after the fact, then Peirce would have been in Milwaukee for a couple of years before he and Bloch met in 1935. Like I said, it seems pretty likely that Peirce was already a fan by then. As Bloch recalled, he was a "rather intense and imaginative fantasy devotee." It sounds like that's how Bloch found him and not how he made him.

The second quote posted by J.M. Rajala is from Bloch's autobiography:
[U]pon becoming a professional writer I began to receive communications from readers with aspirations of their own. One such was Milwaukee resident Earl Peirce, Jr.; I encouraged his successful submission of stories to Weird Tales." (p. 204) 
So maybe Peirce saw Bloch's name and address in an issue of Weird Tales and that's how the two met. Anyway, Peirce had his first letter in "The Eyrie" in November 1935, then two more the following year, in June and November 1936. His first story, "Doom of the House of Duryea," was published in between, in October 1936.

Peirce & Lovecraft

According to J.M Rajala, "H. P. Lovecraft had remarked in a letter in June 1935 that 'Young Peirce seems to be a very interesting character, & I surely wouldn't mind hearing from him some day'." Lovecraft soon got his wish. I don't know the dates of Peirce's missives to Lovecraft, but there were two that went in the opposite direction. Both were published in Lovecraft's Selected Letters, volumes in which Lovecraft's letters are numbered and dated. In this case, they are Number 900 from November 28, 1936, and Number 925 from February 17, 1937. The second came just two months before Lovecraft's death and is one of the last of Lovecraft's letters reprinted in Selected Letters.

So, during two years in the life of Earl Peirce, Jr., from 1935 to 1937, he met Robert Bloch, wrote four letters printed in Weird Tales (the fourth is transcribed below), wrote two letters to H.P. Lovecraft and received two in return, and had four stories published in Weird Tales. At ages eighteen to twenty, he must have been thrilled beyond belief--he must have felt that he really would rule the world.

But then things began to change. The shadow of Lovecraft's death passed over Weird Tales and his circle. World war approached. And perhaps most importantly, Earl Peirce, Jr., began to grow up.

Two years came and went, and the Peirce family moved again, this time to Washington, D.C., where Peirce's father was appointed chief of the Division of Co-operative Forest Protection within the U.S. Forest Service. (2) We don't know when that move happened, but Peirce's last letter in Weird Tales (July 1937), in which he noted the death of H.P. Lovecraft in March 1937, was dispatched from the nation's capital:
The news of Lovecraft's passing, although not the shock of surprize, [sic] is nevertheless the shock of an irreparable loss, not alone to WT, but to his admirers and acquaintances the world over. I shall always regret that I never had the good fortune of meeting him personally, but I am truly grateful for the impulse which prompted me to write to him a few months ago, and that I have two letters in his own hand. What most impressed me were his sincerity and genuineness, which qualities were not alone in making him unique among modern writers. You have my sympathy, for this must be a hard time, but I imagine it is a feeling of pride for you to know that so many of his stories originally appeared in WEIRD TALES. Unlike many other men of genius, Lovecraft was fortunate enough to be living at a time when his work was recognized as outstanding. With the passing of time this recognition will become more universal and his work will take its proper place in the world's great literature. (p. 124) (3)
Lovecraft's work hasn't quite assumed a place "in the world's great literature," as Peirce prophesied, but Lovecraft and his stories are now known all over. His young admirer may have been filled with a fannish kind of enthusiasm, but at age twenty, Peirce briefly saw the future when he wrote, With the passing of time this recognition will become more universal . . .

To be continued . . .

(1) In 1924, at about age seven, Peirce's name was mentioned in the Roll of Honor in St. Nicholas magazine for a drawing he had submitted. That may have been the first time his name was in print, and though his drawing wasn't shown, he could only have been thrilled at what he had accomplished. 
(2) In 1938, Earl S. Peirce, Sr., was assigned to the timber salvage project in New England after the hurricane of 1938. Given his penchant for incorporating real events in his stories, Lovecraft might have written about the hurricane had he lived.
(3) Peirce wrote that Lovecraft's death was "not the shock of surprize" (sic). Did he know something that most of the rest of Lovecraft's circle didn't know? I guess we need that last letter from Lovecraft to Peirce, dated February 17, 1937.

Earl Peirce's fourth published story, "The Homicidal Diary," was in Weird Tales in October 1937, right after "The Shunned House" by H.P. Lovecraft. The illustration for Peirce's story was by Virgil Finlay. It's pretty lurid. In the early 1950s, comic books would be condemned for publishing images like this one.

"The Homicidal Diary" is the also the fourth of Earl Peirce's stories I have read. It might be my favorite among them, despite the subject matter. As in his previous story, "The Death Mask" (Apr. 1937), there is a proposed scientific or pseudoscientific explanation for the events described in the story. However, when this one wraps up, we can't be sure that the explanation is a good one.

There is talk of hypnotism in "The Homicidal Diary." There is also a subtext of what we recognize now as psychopathy or sociopathy. The eponymous diary was written by a fictional serial killer, Emil Drukker of Cologne, Germany, who has been executed for his crimes. I imagine that Peirce was inspired (if that's the word for it) by news stories of real-life German serial killers such as Johann Mayer or Peter Kürten, the so-called Vampire of Düsseldorf. The twist is that the diary seems to have a life and influence of its own. An out-of-place touch in the story is in the mention of Drukker Castle. It may have been 1937, and the story may have some grounding in science or pseudoscience, but the old gothic castle still stands.

I won't give things away, but reading this story made me think of "Yours Truly--Jack the Ripper" by Robert Bloch. That story wasn't in Weird Tales until July 1943. That makes me wonder, in the literary association of Bloch and Peirce, just who influenced whom? Had Bloch already started to move towards telling tales of psychos and killers by the late 1930s when Peirce's story appeared? Again, my lack of knowledge of Bloch's career is showing. 

One more thing: there is a scene in "The Homicidal Diary" that makes me think of "The Tell-Tale Heart" by that first (or second, if Thomas De Quincey was the first) chronicler of the torments of the Abbie Normal brain, Edgar Allan Poe. I wonder if Earl Peirce ever realized that his first and last initials were the same as Poe's, or if he ever in his childhood combined Poe's and Ambrose Bierce's surnames to arrive at an approximation of his own.

Peirce's story wasn't in Startling Mystery Stories in the issue Fall 1967, but Virgil Finlay's illustration was. For some reason, though, the designer or engraver flipped it. I don't know what story it illustrates in that issue.

Acknowledgment is made to J.M. Rajala for quotes and other information.
Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Three

In Milwaukee

I'm a forester and I like reading and learning about other foresters, but that's not exactly why I have gone into such detail on the forestry career of Earl S. Peirce, Sr. (1886-1978). I have done it because knowing about his travels tells us something about his son's own career as a writer. In 1933, the Peirce family moved from Syracuse, New York, to Wisconsin, where Mr. Peirce resumed his career with the U.S. Forest Service by working on the Chequamegon National Forest. (It's pronounced SHWA-meg-on. We went there during our forestry summer camp.) In late 1933 or early 1934, Peirce was transferred to Milwaukee and appointed chief of operations in the Lake States region. His second-oldest son, Earl Peirce, Jr., was then fifteen years old.

Born in Chicago, Robert Bloch (1917-1994) was already in Milwaukee by 1933-1934. He had moved there with his family in 1928 or 1929. Bloch attended Washington High School, then Lincoln High School in his adopted hometown. At Lincoln High School, Bloch met Harold Gauer (1914-2009), who would prove a great and lifelong friend to him. I don't have a biography of Bloch, and so I'm lacking in the details of his early career. According to a frequently half-right/half-wrong source on the Internet, Gauer was the editor of the high school literary magazine that printed Bloch's first story, "The Thing." The source calls the literary magazine The Quill, but a quick search on the Internet shows that The Quill was instead the title of the Lincoln High School yearbook. Something isn't right there. In any case, Bloch, who was ahead in his schooling, and Gauer, who must have been behind, both graduated from Lincoln High School in 1934.

Earl Peirce, Jr., was born on February 28, 1917, Bloch on April 5. Just five weeks and a day separated them. If Peirce went to Lincoln High School, he may have been in the same class as Bloch and Gauer. Then again, unless he was also ahead in his schooling, Peirce would have graduated in 1935 when he was eighteen years old. Then again, too, he may have gone to a different school.

In January 1935, Bloch became a published author in a national magazine. His story was "The Feast in the Abbey," and it appeared in Weird Tales when its author was still seventeen. By the end of the year, Bloch had about half a dozen professionally published stories under his belt. These included "The Secret in the Tomb," in which Mysteries of the Worm by Ludvig Prinn first appeared (Weird Tales, May 1935), and "The Shambler from the Stars," in which Bloch killed off a fictionalized version of H.P. Lovecraft (Weird Tales, Sept. 1935). Bloch had graciously asked Lovecraft's permission to do him in. Lovecraft had enthusiastically assented. He later returned the favor in his last known work of fiction, "The Haunter of the Dark," published in Weird Tales in December 1936.

Bloch was unusually precocious. In his schooling, he was ahead of his own cohort. That precociousness carried over into his writing career, too. Earl Peirce, Jr., who was also a precocious writer, lagged behind him by more than a year. Peirce's first published story, "Doom of the House of Duryea," didn't make an appearance until October 1936. This was of course in Weird Tales.

There was a writer's club operating in Milwaukee at the time. Called the Milwaukee Fictioneers, it was established in January 1931 and met regularly at the houses of its members. The originators of the club and some of its early members included Al P. Nelson, Bernard Wirth, Lawrence Keating, Leo Schmidt, David Costello, Jim Lounsbury, and Donald McDonald. Later, the Milwaukee Fictioneers became more closely associated with science fiction and fantasy. Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977) was a member. So were Ralph Milne Farley (1887-1963), Stanley G. Weinbaum (1902-1935), Frederic Brown (1906-1972), Raymond Z. Gallun (1911-1994), Donn P. Brazier (1917-2002), and Arthur R. Tofte (1902-1980). Robert Bloch joined on a date unknown to me and perhaps everybody else. He soon recruited Harold Gauer into the ranks. After Weinbaum died in late 1935, the Fictioneers published a memorial volume called Dawn of Flame (1936). Palmer and Keating wrote introductions. Palmer's version was limited to just six printed copies. Dawn of Flame was the only book issued by the club.

Unfortunately, there isn't any mention of Earl Peirce, Jr., in any source that I have found on the Milwaukee Fictioneers. Unfortunately, the group didn't keep minutes of their meetings. If Peirce ever attended a meeting or was ever a member, his association with the club is now lost. But then a lot of the details of his life are now lost.

To be continued . . .

Earl Peirce's third published story was "The Death Mask" in Weird Tales, April 1937. It's a fairly conventional story of weird fiction. I don't detect any elements of Cthulhu Mythos or Bloch's De Vermis Mysteriis mini-mythos in its pages. The illustration, by Harold S. De Lay (1876-1950), is competent enough, but it depicts the weak or insipid man so common in the sentimentalized or even feminized popular culture of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in America. A younger artist might have drawn it a little differently: less dime novel and more pulp magazine. "The Death Mask" is well-written and reads almost like a treatment for a proposed screenplay. The influence of cinema upon young writers of the 1930s would appear evident. The illustration, by an artist born in the late nineteenth century, and the story, by an author of the early twentieth, don't quite match.

Like I said, "The Death Mask" is fairly conventional. One of the conventions is the physical and psychological isolation needed in order for the weird or gothic plot to function. The main action in Peirce's earlier "Doom of the House of Duryea" takes place in a remote cabin in the woods. In "The Last Archer," the narrator is left alone with his strange employer on a very small island upon which there is the standard gothic castle. The lonely castle returns in "The Death Mask." This one lies suitably in ruins outside a small village in Spain. The secret it holds is, at first as you read it, strange and creepy. Suspense builds. Then the explanation comes, and there is a kind of deflation of expectations, for the explanation is merely mundane, I guess in keeping with the tradition of the original gothic romance. It's worth noting that the female lead is no shrinking violet: she is the one who solves the mystery, saves her man, and gives him the ultimatum which lies on the lips of every woman, especially the American woman of the twentieth century: if you go on doing what you're doing, you will do it alone, for I am leaving. I think "The Death Mask" is worth your time.

The twentieth-century American had a problem when he or she wrote weird or gothic fiction: how does the writer bring the gothic or medieval past into the machine age, the space age, the age of mass communications, in which there are no longer any frontiers and no remaining unconnected or unexplored places (at least of the geographic kind)? In the early part of the century, the answer was to strand your characters in remote places where ancient and medieval things might still hold sway. (It helps if those places are Catholic, for in Catholicism especially among the world's religions, supernaturalism, superstition, and mysticism survived.) Fritz Leiber, Jr., treated that very problem in his stories of the mid-twentieth century by dreaming up urban horrors and weirdities. But what now?

I think it's still possible to write weird fiction, despite our thoroughly scientified culture and despite the advent of smartphones and GPS. And if high fantasy is not to your liking, and science fiction fails to meet its mark, then maybe all there is left is weird fiction. Weird fiction offers something else, though: it offers things spiritual, magical, mystical, supernatural, nonmaterial, and primitive to us who live in a time in which those things have been extinguished--or so we think. Civilization has its discontents. I think we long for these other things, or at least for a past in which they were still possible. The longing might be naïve or rosy, but it's there nonetheless.

In any case, Earl Peirce, Jr., seems to have been moving past Cthulhoid and Vermoid horrors as his writing career went along. By the time "The Death Mask" was published, he may have been living in Washington, D.C., with his family. If not, it may have been his last story published while they were still in Milwaukee.

Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley