Thursday, May 19, 2011

Why Tellers of Weird Tales?

Like an undead creature or a soul searching through the ages for contentment, Weird Tales has had many lives and incarnations. At the end of its first year in print, the magazine--perennially in peril of disappearing from the newsstand--came out with a giant-sized triple issue (May/June/July 1924) of 192 pages. Within those pages was an essay attributed to Otis Adelbert Kline and entitled "Why Weird Tales?" In it, the author made the case for continuing the magazine, not just as a venture or diversion but as an obligation, even a necessity. He believed that Weird Tales would prove "instrumental in discovering or uncovering some American writer who will leave to posterity what Poe and Hawthorne have bequeathed to the present generation." Near the end of his essay, the anonymous author of "Why Weird Tales?" quoted Doctor Frank Crane (1861-1928), a popular speaker and columnist of the day. "What I write is my tombstone," Crane stated, a sentiment leading to the closing paragraph and the upshot of the essay:
So Weird Tales has endeavored from its inception and will endeavor in the future to find and publish those stories that will make their writers immortal. It will play its humble but necessary part in perpetuating those personalities that are worthy to be crowned as immortals.
Although they have not yet reached immortality, many of the authors in Weird Tales are known even today, having escaped from the pulp jungle and into the domain of literature. The list of authors who were first published in Weird Tales or who gained their fame in the magazine's pages is long and impressive: H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C.L. Moore--even so unlikely a figure as Tennessee Williams.

But what about the other writers, all those scores of names unknown to us today and perhaps obscure even in their own time? In this age when the amount of information available to the everyday reader is proliferating on the Internet, it's difficult, sometimes impossible, to find anything about the lesser-known men and women who contributed to "The Unique Magazine." Even when you do find some nugget of information, it isn't enough to take to the bank. Sometimes the information is there, but it's often scattered across the face of the Internet. So why not a central location for biography and bibliography of Weird Tales artists and writers?

When I started on my research into Weird Tales, I of course encountered all the familiar names again and again. But there were so many unknown to me. Who were these people, so many of whom had such colorful names? What else did they write? Where and how did they live? The stereotype of the writer is varied: the man living on the fringes of society, writing away in his garret (like Hawthorne), the wasted alcoholic (like Poe), the rapid-fire wordsmith, the bluestocking, the dabbler, the hack, and so on. Rather than fall back on those stereotypes, I decided to look into the lives of the writers and artists whose work appeared in Weird Tales. Lovecraft and Howard have had whole libraries written about them. (They have in fact borne out the essayist's prediction for Weird Tales.) This blog is for the others. I can't guarantee them immortality, but I can at least revive something of their lives and work in the same way that editors and publishers have revived Weird Tales, "The Unique Magazine," time after time.

Copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley

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