Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Rivals of Weird Tales-Tales of Magic and Mystery

I have called this series "Rivals of Weird Tales" after an anthology of the same name, edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg, and published in 1990. The stories in that book are from:
  • Tales of Magic and Mystery
  • Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror
  • Horror Stories
  • Strange Stories
  • Unknown and Unknown Worlds
  • Fantastic Adventures
  • Stirring Science Stories
  • The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Beyond Fantasy Fiction
I'm not sure that rivals is the right word. It suggests that either these magazines or their readers saw them as rivals of Weird Tales. I don't know that either one of those things was true. Weird Tales may have had a reputation for literary quality, but it was no moneymaker. If there was any rivalry, it would have been for prestige's sake. In any case, Weird Tales kept going over thirty-one long years. Rivals or not, other magazines of weird fiction and fantasy came and went. Tales of Magic and Mystery was one of the first to do both.

Tales of Magic and Mystery is remembered today mostly for having published H.P. Lovecraft's short story "Cool Air." Farnsworth Wright, editor of Weird Tales, originally rejected "Cool Air." That's how it ended up in the March 1928 issue of Tales of Magic and Mystery. Wright must have had second thoughts, for he reprinted "Cool Air" in Weird Tales in September 1939. Lovecraft was gone by then, but readers still hungered for his fiction. "Cool Air" could almost have been considered a new Lovecraft story.

It's worth noting that "The Call of Cthulhu" was published in Weird Tales in February 1928. "Cool Air" appeared a month later. The two stories were probably on the newsstand at the same time. "The Call of Cthulhu" is the more innovative of the two, not only in its themes but also in its structure. "Cool Air" is more of an old-fashioned tale and bears a resemblance to "The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar" by Edgar Allan Poe. (It also reminds me of an episode of Tales from the Darkside called "A Case of the Stubborns" from 1984. The star of the episode was Eddie Bracken, a true national treasure, gone now these many years.) "Cool Air" was adapted to television in 1971 in Rod Serling's Night Gallery. The part of the narrator is played by a creature seldom encountered in the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft: not just a woman, but a beautiful woman.

Tales of Magic and Mystery was a mix of fiction and non-fiction. The emphasis was on magic, as in stage magic. It's hard to read that last cover (see below), but it looks like the only byline to appear on any of the covers was that of the renowned stage magician Howard Thurston (1869-1936). Walter B. Gibson, also a professional magician, edited and wrote for the magazine as well. (Gibson was also known as Maxwell Grant, chronicler of The Shadow.) A good deal of the content of Tales of Magic and Mystery, including the artwork, appears to have been anonymous. The five covers are drawings rather than paintings. Only the first appears to be signed, and I can't even be sure of that. If you look at the bottom of the purple specter, you might see some unreadable letters.

Tales of Magic and Mystery came and went in less than six month's time and Weird Tales was once more without rivals.

Tales of Magic and Mystery
Dec. 1927 to Apr. 1928
5 Issues (Unknown number of volumes)
Published by: Personal Arts Company, Camden, New Jersey
Edited by: Walter B. Gibson
Format: Pulp size?

The covers of Tales and Magic and Mystery in chronological order, from December 1927 to April 1928.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Interesting that - the second you mentioned the title - I remembered 'a case of the stubborns'. That was a great episode. I'm guessing the actor you mentioned played grandpa? I also thought it was very clever how the story managed to be gross without being specific: you see what's lying on the plate and grandpa shuffle off but you never actually get to see grandpa's face....

    Not only does this rely on the principle that you don't need to be gross (let the power of suggestion do your work for you) but it must have made life a lot easier for the special effects department, especially in those pre-computer digitisation days!

  2. Hi, Aonghus,

    Yes, Eddie Bracken was the grandfather. He was also in Hail the Conquering Hero, a great Preston Sturges film from 1944. Although I remember a couple of episodes of Tales from the Darkside, none has stuck with me like that one.

    I agree with you. The imagination is much more powerful than the senses. The Cat People and the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers are examples of movies in which your own imagination does much of the work in putting a scare into you. I have a theory that black and white movies are more powerful than color because they rely more on imagination and that radio may be even more powerful for the same reason. My mom talked about hearing an episode of I Love a Mystery on the radio in which rats are climbing up the walls of a castle or a house to reach Jack, Doc, and Reggie, how she dreaded that sound then, and how she could still hear it years later.


  3. I've always found black-and-white films a lot scarier than colour. 'The Innocents' was shot in black-and-white at a time when it would have been just as easy (if not easier) to shoot it in colour, and was a better film for that very reason. Like you say, black-and-white movies leave more to the imagination - but I wonder if it also has something to do with the association of black-and-white with night-time?

    Re Radio: my parents often tell me the same thing. Certainly there's nothing to beat a good ghost story being read out loud on radio.

  4. Aonghus,

    That's a good point about black and white as being associated with nighttime (or low light). I have never thought about that before. It could be also that we have associated black and white with times past because of black-and-white movies. Maybe we believe at some level that ghosts and monsters were possible then but not so much now. We tend to see our own times as mundane--that the life has gone out of things--whereas the past was somehow better--more exciting, more mysterious, etc. I guess that's called nostalgia.