Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Rod Serling and Weird Tales

Yesterday I wrote about Charles Beaumont. That leads me today to Rod Serling (1924-1975) and The Twilight Zone.

Not long ago I read a story reprinted from Weird Tales--I wish I could remember the title--and when I reached the end, I thought, "This is like an episode of The Twilight Zone." Then it occurred to me that a story from Weird Tales isn't like an episode of The Twilight Zone. If anything, the reverse is true, for Weird Tales came first. That leads to this question: Was Rod Serling a reader of Weird Tales in his youth? It took me awhile to find the answer.

I started with a biography, Rod Serling: The Dreams and Nightmares of Life in the Twilight Zone by Joel Engel (1989). The book lacks an index, so I had two choices: read it or page through it. I paged through it and finally came to this:
So what attracted Rod Serling, the writer, to the world of the fantastic? Bob Serling says that his brother told him "The Twilight Zone" sprang from his frequent insomniac nights, when his active imagination--fed by his lifelong love of horror films, his war experiences, and the stories of such writers as Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury, and H.P. Lovecraft--contrived fantastical plots that seemed plausible in the predawn. Carol Serling says that her husband "wanted to believe" in the unseen, but had no direct experiences himself. (p. 103)
Although Robert Heinlein contributed to Weird Tales, he was more closely associated with Astounding Science-Fiction. Ray Bradbury had twenty-five stories printed in Weird Tales beginning with the November 1942 issue. It's likely that if he read Ray Bradbury, Serling also read Weird Tales. However, in pretty rapid order, Rod Serling turned eighteen (on December 25, 1942), graduated from high school (in late January 1943), was inducted into the army (the next day), and boarded a bus for Fort Niagara (on February 3). In other words, he got exactly one chance to read a story by Ray Bradbury in Weird Tales before reaching draft age. But Bob Serling mentioned H.P. Lovecraft, too, and though Lovecraft's works were reprinted here and there after his death in 1937, his name is inextricably linked with the magazine Weird Tales.

Still no proof.

Next I found The Twilight Zone Companion by Marc Scott Zicree (1982). The index in that book is scanty. That meant more page-by-page searching--but not much. Here's Bob Serling again on page 3:
We were fairly close as kids . . . . The two of us used to read Amazing Stories, Astounding Stories, Weird Tales--all of the pulps.
With that, we can put Rod Serling with Ward Cleaver on the list of famous readers of Weird Tales.

All that brings up another question. Was The Twilight Zone in the genre of weird fiction? I can't say. I have never read a good definition of the term weird fiction. But there are episodes of The Twilight Zone that are very much like stories from Weird Tales. Rod Serling read Weird Tales as a boy. In his insomnia, he "contrived fantastical plots." Although Weird Tales met its end in 1954, it would still have been fresh in the memory when The Twilight Zone made its debut in 1959. Maybe one way of thinking of Rod Serling's brainchild is simply as a continuation in the spirit of Weird Tales.

Note: You can read more about Rod Serling and Weird Tales in my article of September 16, 2011, "Weird Tales on Film: Rod Serling's Night Gallery," here.

Rod Serling (1924-1975), not from The Twilight Zone (1959-1964) but from Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1970-1973).
Text and captions copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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