Thursday, December 29, 2011

Weird Tales from France

Weird Tales printed stories from all over the world, often relying heavily on the work of writers long dead. French literature from the nineteenth century was well represented in the magazine's pages. The realists Victor Hugo, Stendhal, and Émile Zola were noticeably absent, but many recognizable names from the previous century appeared in Weird Tales. The lives of these French authors were, in almost every case, marked by financial and romantic difficulties, as well as bouts with melancholy, insanity, alcoholism, drug use, and venereal disease. Most died young, all but Gaston Leroux before Weird Tales began publication in 1923.

Honoré de Balzac
Born May 20, 1799, Tours, France
Died August 18, 1850, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"A Passion in the Desert" (Dec. 1936)

Honoré de Balzac lived barely more than half a century, yet he is considered a giant among French authors. His magnum opus is La Comédie humaine, an immense collection of literary works left unfinished at his death. Though considered a pioneer of realistic literature, Balzac also wrote fantasy, including La Peau de chagrin (The Magic Skin or The Wild Ass's Skin, 1831) and Melmoth réconcilié (Melmoth Reconciled, 1835), a sequel to Charles Robert Maturin's gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer (1820).

Balzac began his writing career by knocking out potboilers for the popular press. A century later, the pulps would carry on in that vein. Weird Tales printed his story "A Passion in the Desert" in its December 1936 issue. Ernest Dowson (1867-1900) made one translation of the story (see More Weird Tales from the Victorian Age). It was also committed to film in 1997.

Alexandre Dumas, père
Born July 24, 1802, Villers-Cotterêts, Aisne, France
Died December 5, 1870, Puys (near Dieppe), Seine-Maritime, France

For Weird Tales
"The Wolf -Leader" (eight-part serial, Aug. 1931-Mar. 1932)

Alexandre Dumas, descended from an aristocrat and a Haitian slave, lived a full life in his sixty-eight years on earth. A novelist, playwright, journalist, businessman, revolutionary, and bon vivant, he wrote some of the best known and best loved adventure novels of the nineteenth century, including The Three Musketeers (1844), The Corsican Brothers (1844), and The Count of Monte Cristo (1845-1846). Weird Tales printed his 1857 novel Le Meneur de loups (translated by Alfred Allinson [1852-1929]) as "The Wolf Leader" in an eight-part serial beginning in August 1931.

Théophile Gautier
Born August 30, 1811, Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées
Died October 23, 1872, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"The Mummy's Foot" (Apr. 1926)
"Clarimonde" (Feb. 1928)

Painter, poet, playwright, novelist, journalist, and critic Théophile Gautier covered a lot of ground in his literary career. His weird and fantastic works included the poems Albertus (1832) and La Comédie de la Mort (1838), the play Pierrot Posthume (1847), and the short story "La Morte Amoureuse" (1836), a vampire tale translated by Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904) and printed in Weird Tales as "Clarimonde" in the issue of February 1928.

Charles P. Baudelaire
Born April 9, 1821, Paris, France
Died August 31, 1867, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"Spleen" (poem, Feb. 1926)
"Horreur Sympathique" (poem, May 1926)
"Epigraphe Pour Un Livre Condamne" (poem, Mar. 1928)
"Three Poems in Prose": "L'Irreparable," "Les Sept Viellards," "Une Charogne" (prose, translated by Clark Ashton Smith, Aug. 1928)
"The Revenant" (poem, May 1929)
"Song of Autumn" (poem, Oct. 1935)
"The Sick Man" (poem, Apr. 1936)
"Hymn to Beauty" (poem, June 1937)
"The Owls" (poem, Nov. 1941)

Charles Baudelaire had much in common with Edgar Allan Poe, whose work he translated beginning at about the time Poe died in 1849. Like Poe, Baudelaire struggled with poverty, melancholy, and dissolution, dying tragically young and invalid at age forty-six. Despite his brief career, Baudelaire is considered among the greatest French poets of the nineteenth century and influenced many other versifiers, including Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Proust, and T.S. Eliot.

Gustave Flaubert
Born December 12, 1821, Rouen, France
Died May 8, 1880, Rouen, France

For Weird Tales
"The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitable" (Apr. 1928)

An early realist and a champion of style, Gustave Flaubert wrote a key novel of the nineteenth century, Madame Bovary, published in 1857. Sweating over his work, Flaubert wrote little compared to many of his contemporaries. It's curious that the editor of Weird Tales would have found something in Flaubert's oeuvre to print, yet "The Legend of St. Julian the Hospitable" appeared in the April 1928 issue of "The Unique Magazine." The story is more properly called "The Legend of Saint Julian the Hospitalier," in French, "La légende de Saint-Julien l'hospitalier." It comes from Trois Contes (Three Tales), originally published in 1877.

Alphonse Daudet
Born May 13, 1840, Nîmes, France
Died December 16, 1897, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"The Three Low Masses" (July 1925)

Alphonse Daudet wrote his first novel at fourteen and published his first (and only) book of verse at eighteen. In his short life, he authored plays, novels, short stories, journalistic pieces, and poems. Daudet also married a writer, Julia Allard, and fathered a writer, Léon Daudet (1867-1942). Like many of his fellow French literary figures, he contracted syphilis. He died from its effects while eating dinner. One of the physicians who attempted to revive him was Gilles de la Tourette, for whom Tourette's syndrome is named. Daudet wrote one story reprinted in Weird Tales, "The Three Low Masses."

Paul Verlaine
Born March 30, 1844, Metz, France
Died January 8, 1896, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"Moonlight" (poem, translated by Timeus Gaylord, pseudonym of Clark Ashton Smith, July 1942)

Like Baudelaire before him, Paul Verlaine lived a short life of emotional and personal turmoil and liberal use of drugs and alcohol. Like Rimbaud and Mallarmé, he was included among fin de siècle decadent poets and literateurs. And like Charles Schulz and William Burroughs, Verlaine shot a fellow human being, in his case, poet Arthur Rimbaud, while in a drunken rage. Weird Tales printed his "Moonlight" in its July 1942 issue.  

Guy de Maupassant
Né Henri-René-Albert-Guy de Maupassant
Born August 5, 1850, near Dieppe, Seine-Inférieure, France
Died July 6, 1893, Passy, Paris, France

For Weird Tales
"The Horla" (Aug. 1926)
"A Ghost" (Feb. 1930)
"On the River" (Feb./Mar. 1931)

Whereas Paul Verlaine shot at other poets, Guy de Maupassant saved them. The beneficiary of Maupassant's good deed was the British poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), who was in the process of drowning off the coast of Normandy when the young Frenchman came to his rescue. By outward appearances, Maupassant's life would seem to have been a happy and prosperous one. He enjoyed a happy childhood, and he was well educated, well connected, and successful in business and literature. But then, in 1892, fired by syphilis, he attempted suicide. Confined to an asylum, he died a year and a half later at age forty-two. His epitaph: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing."

Despite his insanity and ultimate self-destruction, Maupassant proved himself a master of the short story. Working in both realistic and fantastic modes, Maupassant authored more than 300 short stories. According to a Finnish website listing his works, thirty-nine of those stories are in the genre of fantasy and horror, including "The Horla" (1887). "The Horla" has been adapted several times (loosely or not) to other media, including the 1963 movie Diary of a Madman starring Vincent Price. Weird Tales printed the story in its August 1926 issue. Two others followed in 1930-1931. Interestingly, Maupassant's last story was entitled "Qui Sait?"--"Who Knows?" (1890).

Gaston Leroux
Born May 6, 1868, Paris, France
Died April 15, 1927, Nice, France

For Weird Tales
"The Inn of Terror" (Aug. 1929)
"The Woman with the Velvet Collar" (Oct. 1929)
"The Mystery of the Four Husbands" (Dec. 1929)
"In Letters of Fire" (Mar. 1930)
"The Crime on Christmas Night" (Dec. 1930)
"The Haunted Chair" (three-part serial, Dec. 1931-Feb. 1932)

Of the French authors I have listed here, only Gaston Leroux lived into the Weird Tales era. Unfortunately, he didn't live long enough to see his work in print in "The Unique Magazine." Nonetheless, Weird Tales published six of his stories, making him the most prolific of French-language short story writers from this group.

In 1907, Leroux abandoned his career as a journalist and turned to writing fiction, averaging more than one novel per year until his death in 1927. The most well known of these is The Phantom of the Opera (1911), adapted to the silver screen many times, though it's hard to beat Lon Chaney's take on the title character from the 1925 silent version. Leroux also wrote mystery novels starring the amateur detective Joseph Rouletabille. And, in a shrewd and forward-looking move, he and writer Arthur Bernède (1871-1937) formed what we would now call a multimedia company with the aim of simultaneously publishing novels and producing film versions of those novels.

The cover of Alexandre Dumas' novel The Wolf Leader, edited by L. Sprague de Camp from a translation by Alfred Allinson and illustrated by the enigmatic Mahlon Blaine (1894-1969).
The frontispiece and title page of the same book. As far as I know, Blaine did not provide illustrations for Weird Tales, but he would have fit right in with the magazine. I should note that Weird Tales contributor Anice Page Cooper interviewed Blaine in the late 1920s and--according to the website of James Vadeboncoeur, Jr.--fell for his fabricated autobiography.
Théophile Gautier's story "The Mummy's Foot" appeared in Vic Ghidalia's 1971 collection The Mummy Walks Among Us.
Here is an illustration by British author, cartoonist, and illustrator Beresford Egan (1905-1984) for Charles Baudelaire's Fleurs Du Mal (1929). The drawing owes a little to the work of Aubrey Beardsley or even Harry Clarke. I have included this particular illustration here because of the man with a mask. You'll see another by scrolling down to Gaston Leroux.
A movie poster for Diary of a Madman (1963), based on "The Horla" by Guy de Maupassant. There's a fine period illustration for the story floating around on the Internet, but none of the versions I found is a good quality image of the entire illustration. This is the state of the vaunted Internet.
The cover of a French-language edition of Gaston Leroux's Phantom of the Opera. The cover artist is unknown.
Here is a more sensational Spanish-language version drawn by an unknown artist.

"Portrait of Madame Alphonse Daudet" by Renoir. 
Daudet examines the human heart for St. Valentine's Day, from Les Hommes d'Aujourd'hui, February 15, 1879.
Daudet made it into the pulps with Weird Tales, why not paperback romances as well? Here's an Avon paperback version of Sappho from 1956. The artwork is unsigned.
Weird Tales from October 1929. The cover story is "The Woman with  the Velvet Collar" by Gaston Leroux. The cover artist was Hugh Rankin.

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More on Theda Kenyon

Poet, novelist, and teacher Theda Kenyon (1894-1997) is most well known perhaps for her book Witches Still Live, "an anthropological study" published in 1929. The dust jacket of her 1942 novel Pendulum offers a little more on her early career. I'll quote it in its entirety here:

     After graduating from the Packer Collegiate Institute [located in Brooklyn Heights, New York], Theda Kenyon took special courses at Columbia University with Blanche Colton Williams. Then she had five years as Instructor in Appreciation of Poetry at Hunter College [also in New York City], and later, was instructor for two seasons in the Blowing Rock School of English, an affiliate of Duke University.
     Miss Kenyon is the author of short stories, published in magazines both here and in England; JEANNE, a novel; WITCHES STILL LIVE, an Anthropological Study; CERTAIN LADIES, poems about women; and SCARLET ANNE, a book length novel in poetry.

The dust jacket of Theda Kenyon's novel Pendulum. The art is by an illustrator named Bolton.
And from the back of the dust jacket, a photograph of the author.

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Weird Tales at Christmas

Every year at Christmastime, a supernatural being takes to the sky in a vehicle drawn by magically endowed beasts. With him he carries a large, bottomless sack, a cornucopia of cloth filled with gifts and treats, a kind of TARDIS provisioned for a 'round-the-world trip. In one night, he visits all the children of the world, sliding down chimneys too narrow to accept his bulk, or phasing through walls and doors to enter their homes. They never hear him or see him. The only evidence of his visit is the array of gifts he leaves under the Christmas tree, the candy he stuffs into their stockings, and the bite marks he leaves on the cookies they have offered him. The story of Santa Claus isn't exactly a weird tale, but it would easily have fallen into the purview of the like-titled magazine of the twentieth century.

Of course the story of Santa Claus wasn't the first Christmas story. That story, too, has its supernatural elements, beginning with a visitation from an angel, then a virgin birth under a newly-bright star, and a prominent role played by three magi. There are horrifying and violent events, too, but the original Christmas story is one of hope and joy, repeated every year for two millennia.

Weird Tales, published between 1923 and 1954, seems to have been lacking in Christmas-related content. That can be explained in part by the fact that after the magazine went bimonthly in January 1940, there was no December issue. It can also be explained--at least on the surface--by the fact that Weird Tales printed weird fiction, heroic fantasy, and related genres. But as I have tried to point out, the story of Santa Claus and the baby Jesus have their fantastic elements, too. Many of the most well known Christmas stories--A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street--are also fantasies. It would have been natural for Weird Tales to print stories like them.

Weird Tales may not have printed much fiction or poetry related to Christmas, but that gap was more than filled by a story that combined the tales of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. For good measure, it also included elements of fantasy, sword and sorcery, and even science fiction. That story is "Roads" by Seabury Quinn.

Seabury Quinn (1889-1969) was most well known to readers of Weird Tales for his stories of the supernatural investigator Jules de Grandin. But in January 1938, with world war rapidly approaching, Weird Tales printed Quinn's uncharacteristic "Roads." Set in historic times, "Roads" is the story of a wandering, sword-wielding Norseman who witnesses and participates in world-changing events. I won't say anything more about the story except to urge those who haven't read it to do so. Perhaps a little outré and not well known outside circles of fantasy fiction, "Roads" might otherwise approach the status of a Christmas classic. As it is, "Roads" proved the most popular story among Weird Tales readers for the issue in which it appeared and the year it was published, and the fourth most popular story printed between 1924 and 1939, the years for which records were kept. Only "The Woman of the Wood" by A. Merritt, "Shambleau" by C.L. Moore, and "The Outsider" by H.P. Lovecraft were more popular.

Ten years after "Roads" was first published and after the tides of war had receded, Seabury Quinn's story was printed in hardback for the first time in an edition of just 2,137 copies. The publisher was August Derleth's Arkham House, a firm specializing in weird fiction. Roads was Quinn's first hardbound book and the first illustrated volume issued by Arkham House. The illustrator was the indispensable Virgil Finlay.

"Roads" had been reprinted before. At Christmastime in 1938, printer and fantasy fan Conrad H. Ruppert issued 200 copies of what he called "the most beautiful Christmas story ever written." Editor Sam Moskowitz, in his introduction to a reprinting in the paperback Worlds of Weird (1965), described "Roads" as "a saga that may well prove to be the greatest adult Christmas story written by an American." In 2005, Red Jacket Press issued a facsimile edition of the book from 1948.

Real life is often weirder than fiction and in ways that sometimes beggars belief. In closing my essay on Seabury Quinn, I should point out that he was born during the holiday season, on January 1, 1889. "Roads" then was published in the same month (or at least in a magazine with a cover date of the same month) in which its author turned forty-nine--a nice achievement for a man in the last year of his fifth decade on earth. In any case, Quinn's birthdate might be unremarkable by itself. But strangely, Seabury Grandin Quinn died on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1969, even as Santa Claus began his magical trip around the world.

* * *

For pagans, materialists, Lovecraftians, and others, here is a bit of Yule verse by the poet of Providence:

Yule Horror
by H. P. Lovecraft

There is snow on the ground,
And the valleys are cold,
And a midnight profound
Blackly squats o'er the wold;
But a light on the hilltops half-seen hints of feastings un-hallowed and old.
There is death in the clouds,
There is fear in the night,
For the dead in their shrouds
Hail the sin's turning flight.
And chant wild in the woods as they dance round a Yule-altar fungous and white.
To no gale of Earth's kind
Sways the forest of oak,
Where the sick boughs entwined
By mad mistletoes choke,
For these pow'rs are the pow'rs of the dark, from the graves of the lost Druid-folk.

From Weird Tales, December 1926.

Seabury Quinn's "Roads" appeared in the January 1938 issue of Weird Tales, but it was not the cover story. That honor was reserved for "The Witch's Mark" by Dorothy Quick. Fans of cover artist Margaret Brundage can easily see why.
Ten years later, Arkham House issued "Roads" in hardback with cover and interior illustrations by Virgil Finlay.
Here is one of those illustrations, originally printed in 1938.
If you're going to tell the story of Santa Claus, you of course need a polar setting . . .
a sleigh . . .
and at least one flying deer. And what about Santa? I'm afraid he never appeared on the cover of Weird Tales.

Covers (top to bottom):
Jan. 1927, art by C. Barker Petrie illustrating "Drome," a serial by John Martin Leahy and set in Antarctica.
July 1925, art by Andrew Brosnatch illustrating "The Werewolf of Ponkert" by H. Warner Munn.
July 1934, art by Margaret Brundage illustrating "The Trail of the Cloven Hoof" by Arlton Eadie.

Merry Christmas from Tellers of Weird Tales!

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Howard Rockey (1886-1934)

Reporter, Publicity and Advertising Agent, Short Story Writer, Novelist
Born June 3, 1886, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died May 27, 1934, New York, New York

The story of Howard Rockey is an interesting one, beginning with his middle name. He is known to have used the pseudonymous middle name "Philips" (and the nom de plume Ronald Bryce). If that were his real middle name, it would have meant that H.P. Lovecraft was not the only Howard Phillips (or Philips) to write for Weird Tales. Most of the time, the author just went by the name Howard Rockey. But when the nation went to war in 1917, Rockey was forced to reveal his real middle name on his World War I draft card. "Rockey" is a suitably manly appellation--a rough-and-tumble name. The United States government alone may have known that Rockey's real middle name was Primrose. That must have been a closely guarded secret for a young boy growing up in Philadelphia.

Howard Primrose Rockey was born on June 3, 1886, in the City of Brotherly Love. Even as a child he was drawn to writing and journalism. At thirteen, he was president of his local chapter of the St. Nicholas League, affiliated with the children's magazine St. Nicholas. He and his friends called their chapter the "William Penn," and they held their meetings at 1320 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia.

Rockey attended Drexel Institute and Temple University. From 1903 to 1907, he was a reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer. He also held positions with System Magazine and Southern Lumberman. During the 1913-1914 season, he served as press representative of the New York Philharmonic. One of his best career moves at this time was to meet and marry a young singer and artist from his hometown. More on her in a moment. In the meantime, Rockey's career was interrupted by service with the U.S. Army during the Great War. The infantry men under him must have gained some comfort knowing they were led by a man called Lieutenant Rockey. I suppose the middle name remained a secret.

Returning to civilian life, Howard Rockey spent seven years as an advertising agent in Philadelphia. From 1927 to 1930, he was employed as director of publicity for Lord and Thomas, one of the oldest and most prominent of advertising agencies. (He had worked with another firm, L.S. Goldsmith Agency, before the war.) By then, Rockey had been writing fiction for many years. A cynic might call it--in comparison to advertising--simply another kind of fiction.

Jack-of-all-trades, Howard Rockey wrote stage shows, short stories, serials, novels, and non-fiction. The earliest of his credits I have found are from 1910. Between that date and his death, Rockey sold stories to The Argosy, Black MaskThe Green Book MagazineMunsey's, The Smart Set, Telling Tales, Top-Notch, Young's Magazine, and other titles, including three magazines with similar names, Breezy Stories, Droll Stories, and Snappy Stories. He also wrote for Weird Tales, though just one tale, "The Fine Art of Suicide" from March 1924. His work was also adapted to movies: Li Ting Lang (1920) with Sessue Hayakawa, This Woman (1924) with Louise Fazenda and Clara Bow in supporting roles, and The Chorus Kid (1928). Between 1924 and 1934, Rockey produced novels at a rate of about one per year. The last was a valediction in more ways than one. More on that in a moment, too.

One day, or perhaps more romantically, one evening in the fall of 1909, Howard Rockey met Ethel Mager, a twenty-five-year-old Philadelphian who was to sing a part in an amateur theatrical production he had written. A graduate of the Philadelphia School of Design for Women and an art teacher at William Penn High School, Ethel was almost exactly a year older than her suitor. They were married in May 1911 and moved to New York City. In the fall of that year, Ethel M. Rockey went to work with her husband, making advertising layouts and drawings. A true helpmate, Ethel also helped Rockey with fashions for his fictional females, even going so far as to draw pictures of them for his reference. "[A]n inch over 5 feet, petite and piquant," wrote one journalist, "she might be a Rockey character rather than a Rockey reality. Tout ensemble, a delightful person."

Everything seems to have gone pretty swimmingly for the Rockey family, even after the Stock Market Crash in 1929. Nineteen thirty found them in a home on Central Park West. Howard Rockey had at least five of his books published in those difficult early years of the Great Depression, and his short fiction continued to show up in popular magazines. Then, a week before Rockey's forty-eighth birthday, an elevator operator at an apartment building on West 101st Street noticed an electric light shining through the transom of the Rockey apartment. There was no response to his knock at the door. The police soon found out why. Lying close to the window, his hand clutching a copy of his latest novel (Love, Honor and Deceive! published in April), lay Howard Primrose Rockey, dead of a heart attack. Ethel Mager Rockey and their daughter Elizabeth survived him, Ethel finally to pass away in January 1977 at age ninety-two.

Howard Rockey's Story in Weird Tales
"The Fine Art of Suicide" (Mar. 1924)

Further Reading
There is an invaluable article on Howard and Ethel Rockey--complete with photographs and drawings--located on the Internet. Unfortunately I can't print it, copy it, or save it. Instead, I'll have to refer you to it: "Temper Your Temperament" by Lois Lorraine, The Deseret News, Feb. 25, 1933.

Argosy All-Story Weekly, March 4, 1922, with a cover story, "Dear Daredevil," By Howard Rockey. The advertising man in Rockey could easily have written the cover blurb: "Escapades of a Fearless Flapper"--now that will sell some magazines! I believe the cover artist was the Impressionist Frank H. Desch (1873-1934), a Philadelphia native who died in the same year as Howard Rockey. Rockey specialized in romance and other stories about young women, aided by his wife, artist and designer Ethel Mager Rockey. I'll list Howard Rockey's books in a future posting.
Howard and Ethel Mager Rockey, a photograph taken in Atlantic City, probably before World War I. Courtesy of Randal A. Everts.

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Barry Scobee (1885-1977)

Journalist, Editor, Author, Printer, Publisher, Local Historian
Born May 2, 1885, Pollock, Missouri
Died March 18, 1977, Kerrville, Texas

Barry Scobee is probably the only pulp fiction writer to have a mountain named in his honor. The mountain, called Barry Scobee Mountain, is located about a mile north of Fort Davis in Jeff Davis County, Texas. At 5,420 feet, it forms part of the Davis Mountains, the highest mountain range located entirely within the Lone Star State. If you're looking for a concise biography of Barry Scobee, you need look no farther than the roadside historical marker honoring him. It's located on Texas State Highway 17 about a mile north of Fort Davis. The marker reads:

Camp grounds and lookout post (1850s-1880s) for military, mail coaches, freighters, travelers, emigrants. Site of area's last Indian raid, 1881. Part of John G. Prude Ranch. 

Named by Gov. John Connally Dec. 21, 1964, to honor Barry Scobee whose efforts were largely responsible for the preservation of old Fort Davis.

He was born, 1885, in Missouri. Served in U.S. Army in Philippines and later on merchant ship in World War II. Was editor, reporter, printer, publisher. Came to Fort Davis in 1917 and became an authority and writer on Trans-Pecos history.

In case you're counting, the forty-seventh anniversary of the naming of the mountain is next week.

Albert Barry Scobee was born on May 2, 1885, in Pollock, Missouri, a small town one county away from Iowa. Scobee left his hometown at an unknown date. In doing so, he left relatives behind, for there is still a Scobee Cemetery located just west of town. Military service may have been the thing that set him on his way. As his historical marker indicates, Scobee served in the U.S. Army in the Philippines. Too young to serve in the Spanish-American War (1898), he may have served during the Philippine Insurrection or during the ensuing hostilities (1899-1913). In any case, Scobee arrived in Fort Davis in 1917. He would spend the next six decades in Texas, working as a newspaper reporter, editor, publisher, and printer.

Early in his career, Scobee served on the staff of the San Antonio Light, perhaps as a local correspondent. He also wrote scores of short stories for Adventure, Action Stories, Boys' Life, The Masked Rider Western MagazineShort Stories, Thrilling Western, and other titles. His lone work for Weird Tales was the story "The Idol-Chaser" from August 1929. Called "The Bard of the Big Bend," Scobee also wrote about local history. His book Old Fort Davis was published in hardback in 1947. Some of his work saw print in the Sul Ross Quarterly. Scobee was of course instrumental in preserving old Fort Davis and lived long enough to see a mountain named after him for his efforts.

During World War II, Scobee served on a merchant ship, despite being in his fifties. After retiring, Scobee became part of the law west of the Pecos, serving as justice of the peace and county coroner. Dallas Time Herald journalist and novelist Bryan Woolley described him as the happiest man he had ever known. "He didn't have much money, Woolley says, but he told Woolley 'I never saw a coffin with saddlebags'." (Quoted in "The Rambling Boy" by Lonn TaylorMarfa Big Bend Sentinel, Feb. 17, 2011.) Barry Scobee died at a hospital in Kerrville, Texas on March 18, 1977, at age ninety-one.

Barry Scobee's Story in Weird Tales
"The Idol-Chaser" (Aug. 1929)

Further Reading
You can read about Barry Scobee's efforts to preserve Fort Davis history in the online book A Special Place, A Sacred Trust: Preserving the Fort Davis Story, Administrative History Fort Davis National Historic Site by Michael Welsh (1996). You can also read about Scobee's pulp fiction in a fanzine called Purple Prose, issue number 10.

A historical marker honoring the writer Barry Scobee, located at Barry Scobee Mountain north of Fort Davis, Texas.
National Park Service employee Michael Becker and the author Barry Scobee look over a map at Fort Davis, 1963. Photo by NPS.
Barry Scobee wrote scores of short stories, mostly westerns. Here's a cover for Thrilling Ranch Stories (May 1947) with Scobee's byline on the cover. The artist was Sam Cherry.

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, December 16, 2011

H.P. Lovecraft in "The Call of Cthulhu"

"A character is never the author who created him. It is quite likely, however, that an author may be all his characters simultaneously."
--Albert Camus

Howard Phillips Lovecraft never finished high school and never attended college. He seldom held a job outside his own home, and although he was married and lived in New York City, he retreated from the city and his wife, back into the arms of his native Providence and the very small circle of his family. Although he traveled widely and enjoyed friendships with men and women all over the United States, Lovecraft more or less shrank from the world. He was often the sole character in his own life's story.

As he matured, Lovecraft came to know himself better, as we all do. He also began to turn more outward and to develop a sense of irony, learning in the process to see himself a little more honestly and perhaps a little too critically. "The Outsider" (1921) is an early and very revealing story, but like much of Lovecraft's early work, it shows a writer who seems to have been sunk deep within himself, his only subject being himself.

I don't think it would be correct to say that the narrator of "The Outsider" was Lovecraft. The first half of Camus' epigram could be brought to bear here. A story like "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926), with its wider range of "characters" (or more accurately perhaps, character-like devices), may support the proposition made in the second half.

I heard someone say once that all the people in a dream are actually the dreamer in disguise. That may or may not be true. In "The Call of the Cthulhu" though, most of the characters possess some aspect of their author and creator. The investigators--George Gammell Angell, William Channing Webb, Francis Wayland Thurston--are scholarly New Englanders, solidly Anglo-Saxon right down to their triple names. They are rationalists, scientists (or at least science-minded), and not given to wild thoughts or leaps into the irrational. The artist and aesthete Henry Anthony Wilcox, though he shares their background, is on the other hand sensitive--"neurotic and excited" as the narrator describes him. I have already drawn parallels between him and the author Lovecraft. Click here for my posting of October 5, 2011, "Biography and 'The Call of Cthulhu'."

There are of course non-Anglo-Saxons in the story. John Raymond Legrasse falls into the category of the rational investigator, like Lovecraft himself, while the Norwegian sailor Gustaf Johansen is acceptably Nordic. It's to his credit also that he lives in an old part of his native city. Lovecraft was, after all, an antiquarian as were so many of his protagonists. Moreover, Johansen plays the part of Lovecraft in that, having escaped from an island of horrors (R'lyeh/Long Island), he puts pen to paper in an attempt to record his experiences if not to inform the world of what he has seen. Even Castro steps into the role of narrator, telling the story of the Old Ones and their age-old migration to earth. Finally, there is Cthulhu itself, a creature utterly alien to earth and isolated from its inhabitants. Lovecraft must have shared some feeling of alienation and isolation with his grotesque creation.

Good writers don't consciously set out to create symbols in their work. (1) Symbols arise from the author's effort to put a vibrant and meaningful narrative on paper. I'm sure that H.P. Lovecraft didn't create his characters to represent little pie-pieces of himself. I'm equally sure that his work was an expression of himself. Taken together, the products of his imagination tell us a great deal about the man who imagined them.

(1) I read a quote once by--I believe--Katherine Anne Porter regarding symbolism in the work of an author. I wish I could find the quote again. If anyone knows of it, please send word my way.

H.P. Lovecraft's own drawing of Cthulhu, from a letter to his future literary executor, R.H. Barlow.

Postscript (Jan. 5, 2014): A quote from Edgar Allan Poe: "The supposition that the book of an author is a thing apart from the author's Self is, I think, ill-founded." Quoted in Edgar Allan Poe by Roger Asselineau (1970), p. 22.

Text and captions copyright 2011, 2023 Terence E. Hanley