Saturday, March 17, 2012

N.J. O'Neail (1898-?)

Born January 19, 1898, Brant, Ontario, Canada
Died ?

Today, March 17, 2012, is St. Patrick's Day. On the occasion, I would like to write about an Irish Catholic author born in Canada. His byline for three stories and ten letters in Weird Tales was N.J. O'Neail. Weird Tales researcher Randal A. Everts has identified him as Norbert James O'Neail, who was born on January 19, 1898, in Brant, Ontario. His parents, James Frederick O'Neail and Catherine Ryan O'Neail, were also born in Ontario and both were of Irish descent.

N.J. O'Neail's three stories for Weird Tales were published in a three-year period, 1929 to 1932. His letters continued to appear in the magazine throughout the 1930s. One in particular has received special attention. In a letter published in "The Eyrie" in March 1930, O'Neail asked whether Kathulos, the title character in Robert E. Howard's recent "Skull-Face" (serial, Oct.-Nov.-Dec. 1929), is somehow related to H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu. (1) That letter has gotten some attention from researchers, including S.T. Joshi, et al., in An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. That would imply that O'Neail was the first to notice the connection (if any, and perhaps established only after "Skull-Face" was published). In any case, Howard queried Lovecraft about the names Lovecraft used in his loose but evolving mythos. According to Joshi, Lovecraft admitted that "he dropped references to his myth-cycle in his ghostwritten tales purely for fun." Howard began following suit, as did Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, August Derleth, and others as the years went by. The upshot of all this is that a letter from Norbert J. O'Neail seems to have played a part in the formation of the Cthulhu Mythos.

O'Neail's last letter in Weird Tales appeared in March 1938. Howard and Lovecraft had by then gone to their graves, although both were represented in that March issue, seventy-four years ago this month. (2) I don't know what O'Neail did for a living or where or when he died. The only other biographical information I have on him is his marriage to Frances Gertrude Burd on April 5, 1924, in York, Ontario. I don't know if he ever made it back to the Emerald Isle, but I hope he enjoyed many a St. Patrick's Day. And I hope that the resident of another island (an island covered in green slime, not grass), a creature that is green rather than wears green, goes on sleeping for many, many strange eons to come.

(1) O'Neail's first story for Weird Tales, "The Gallows Tree," shared a spot in the magazine with the last part of Howard's serial.
(2) Howard's work was a poem, "The Poets." Lovecraft's contribution: "Beyond the Wall of Sleep." Incidentally, this year marks the eighty-second anniversary of the appearance of O'Neail's seminal letter of March 1930.

N.J. O'Neail's Stories in Weird Tales
"The Gallows Tree" (Dec. 1929)
"The Flame Fiend" (Sept. 1930)
"Devouring Shadows" (Feb. 1932)

N.J. O'Neail's Letters in Weird Tales and Oriental Stories
Aug. 1928 
Sept. 1929 
Jan. 1930 
Mar. 1930 
Apr. 1930 
Feb. 1931 
Letter to Oriental Stories Feb. 1931 (All others are to Weird Tales)
July 1932
Aug. 1933
Aug. 1937
Mar. 1938

I'm not sure that Weird Tales ever had a cover with an Irish theme, but Saint Patrick would have approved of the man fighting a giant serpent--green, too--on the cover of the August 1934 issue. The cover story is Robert E. Howard's "Devil in Iron," the cover art by Margaret Brundage. Note the story is set on "an amazing island city of green stone."
Margaret Brundage also created this cover of a woman in green for the November 1933 issue of "The Unique Magazine."
Those aren't shamrocks growing over the figure of the supine woman, but green is the dominant color in this cover by Virgil Finlay from April 1938. The cover story is "The Garden of Adompha" by Clark Ashton Smith.

Text and captions copyright 2012 Terence E. Hanley

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