Sunday, November 3, 2013

Four Authors from the British Isles

I would like to write about four authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, all from the British Isles. Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood were seminal figures in fantasy and weird fiction. H.G. Wells played that role in the world of science fiction. E. Phillips Oppenheim is less well know today, but he, too, was a pioneering genre writer specializing in thrillers and stories of spies and suspense. All four authors were born in the same decade. All died within five years of each other. In fact, two--Wells and Oppenheim--were born in and died in the same year as each other. All four lived into the Weird Tales era, but only two by my count contributed directly to the magazine, Oppenheim and Blackwood. (1) You can read all about these four men on the Internet and the old-fashioned way, in books and magazines. I'll try to keep things brief here.

Arthur Machen
Né Arthur Llewellyn Jones
Author, Editor, Translator, Occultist, Actor, Journalist
Born March 3, 1863, Caerleon on Usk, Monmouthshire (Gwent), Wales
Died December 15, 1947, Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire, England

For Weird Tales
"The Bowmen" (originally in The Angels of Mons: The Bowmen and Other Legends of the War [1915], reprinted in Weird Tales, July 1928)
"The Lost Club" (originally in The Whirlwind [Dec. 20, 1890], reprinted in Weird Tales, Oct. 1935)

Arthur Llewellyn Jones was born in Wales from a long line of clergymen. Despite that, he was a mystic and an occultist, and he wrote a novella called The Great God Pan, which involves a brand of paganism. H.P. Lovecraft was a great admirer of Arthur Machen. His own story "The Dunwich Horror" follows The Great God Pan closely. Stephen King called Machen's tale "one of the best horror stories ever written. Maybe the best in the English language."

H.G. Wells
Herbert George Wells
Teacher, Writer, Artist
Born September 21, 1866, Bromley, Kent, England
Died August 13, 1946, London, England

For Weird Tales
"The Stolen Body" (originally in The Strand Magazine [Nov. 1898], reprinted in Weird Tales, Nov. 1925)
"The Valley of Spiders" (originally in Twelve Stories and a Dream [1903], reprinted in Weird Tales, Dec. 1925)
"A Dream of Armageddon" (originally in Twelve Stories and a Dream [1903], reprinted in Weird TalesMar. 1926)

In his book The Crystal Man: Stories by Edward Page Mitchell (1973), editor Sam Moskowitz called Edward Page Mitchell the "Lost Giant of American Science Fiction." And though it's true that Mitchell was the first or one of the first authors to treat certain science fiction topics, his stories were forgotten. H.G. Wells on the other hand, was, once read, not forgotten. He wrote early on of advanced human evolution, silicon-based life, time travel, extraterrestrial invasion, suspended animation, space travel, and other science fiction topics that have since become almost clichéd. Wells also wrote Utopian and dystopian novels and tales of tanks and aerial bombardment before their were such things, plus romances, political novels, history, autobiography, essays in the field of futurism, and books about miniaturized war games of all things. He had three stories placed in Weird Tales, all reprints from many years before.

E. Phillips Oppenheim
Merchant, Government Worker, Author, Illustrator
Born October 22, 1866, London, England
Died February 3, 1946, Saint Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands

For Weird Tales
"The Tower Ghost" (Sept. 1926)

Edward Phillips Oppenheim, "Prince of Storytellers," was born a month and a day after H.G. Wells and died half a year before him. Between 1895 and 1941, he wrote and published at least one novel per year--an incredible feat of authorship. He also wrote three dozen collections of short stories, and his work was the basis of at least thirty films. A pioneering author in the genre of the thriller and suspense, Oppenheim worked for the British Ministry of Information during World War I. The intrigue returned at the outset of World War II when Oppenheim and his wife were trapped at their home in southern France when that nation fell to the Nazis. They made their way back to England via Spain and Portugal, only to lose their home on the island of Guernsey when that, too, was occupied. Oppenheim regained his island home, only to pass away less than a year after the war had ended. Incidentally, Oppenheim may have been the only author to contribute to Weird Tales who also had his picture on the cover of Time magazine (September 12, 1927).

Algernon Blackwood
Dairy Farmer, Hotelier, Journalist, Bartender, Model, Businessman, Violin Teacher, Author, Radio Broadcaster, Playwright, Essayist, Children's Book Author, Outdoorsman, Occultist
Born March 14, 1869, Shooter's Hill, Kent, England
Died December 10, 1951, Bishopsteighton, Kent, England

For Weird Tales
"The Magic Mirror" (Sept. 1938)
"Roman Remains" (Mar. 1948)

Of the four authors I have listed here, Algernon Blackwood was the youngest, but only by two and a half years. Nearly a decade separated his two stories for Weird Tales. Those two were the smallest portion of his scores of tales published from the 1890s until his death in 1951. "The Wendigo" (1910) is one of Blackwood's most famous stories--and justifiably so. No one who reads it will ever forget the cry, "Oh! My feet of fire! My burning feet of fire!" The story has been filmed three times. If I interpret the Internet Movie Database correctly, Blackwood was a character in the British television series Tales of Mystery (1961-1963).

(1) Their stories may have been published before. If they were, I don't know the source.

Tales of Horror and the Supernatural by Arthur Machen (Pinnacle Books, 1983, artist unknown).
"The Time Machine" in Classics Illustrated, a comic book adaptation. The time machine looks like a toy gyroscope.
The Interloper by E. Phillips Oppenheim. I can't read the artist's signature.
The Lion and the Lamb in a paperback edition. The woman looks a little like Barbara Stanwyck,  the man a little like Sheldon Leonard.
The inimitable Matt Fox drew this illustration for Algernon Blackwood's story "The Wendigo" in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, June 1944. Note the man's "burning feet of fire."
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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