Thursday, January 31, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part Two

According to Robert Weinberg and his co-editors (or Mr. Weinberg alone), C. Hall Thompson's stories in Weird Tales were among the first Cthulhu stories "written by an author who was not personally invited to join the fun by Lovecraft." According to editor Charles M. Collins, Thompson was "catapulted to fame" after his work appeared in Weird Tales,  with "Spawn of the Green Abyss" receiving "tremendous acclamation" and "hailed as out Lovecrafting the old master himself." All of that appears to have been too much for August Derleth, who pressured Weird Tales to quit publishing Thompson's Lovecraftian stories. This in effect seems to have silenced the younger author, who spent the remainder of his career writing Westerns and crime/detective stories. Thompson may have his revenge, though. His four stories have been reprinted again and again, and if he was indeed the author behind the Arthur Pendragon stories, then he has also been hailed as the creator of two of the best Cthulhu stories of the post-Lovecraft era. These, too, have been reprinted, most recently in Acolytes of Cthulhu (2014). Derleth's byline is missing from that book by the way.

But was Thompson Pendragon? No one knows and no one may ever know. A user named Druidic on the website Thomas Ligotti Online seems to think so, though, and the more I look into the controversy, the more I think things fit. Still, the evidence is circumstantial only. I haven't found anything conclusive.

In going about all of this, I first looked at C. Hall Thompson's stories in Weird Tales. Here is what I found . . .

Thompson's four stories were:
  • "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Cover story, Nov. 1946)
  • "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947)
  • "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947)
  • "Clay" (May 1948)
Of these, only "The Will of Claude Ashur" touches directly on what is now called the Cthulhu Mythos. (That's Derleth's term. I'm not sure that we should use it, but it's too late to do anything about it now.) The others are Lovecraftian to one degree or another, but they could easily take place in a non-Cthulhian universe.

Three of the four are set in the northeastern United States. Only "The Pale Criminal" takes place beyond American shores, in Germany. Of the three stories set here in this country (I write from the cold, snowy Midwest), two are based in New Jersey with side trips to other places. One, "Clay," takes place in Lovecraft's beloved New England. If you're writing while under the influence of Lovecraft, I can see setting your stories in New England. That was his country. But to set your stories in New Jersey seems a little odd to me--unless New Jersey forms a part of your own region, one that you might wish to mythologize in the same way that Lovecraft mythologized New England. Well, C. Hall Thompson was born in Philadelphia and lived in Pennsylvania--like New Jersey, a Mid-Atlantic state--for all or most of his life. (1, 2) In contrast, Arthur Porges, another candidate for the Pendragon title, was from the Chicago area and lived, I think, in California for a good many years.

All four of Thompson's stories have Lovecraftian elements, but they also have conventional gothic elements. There are locked rooms, locked chests, secret books, and hidden manuscripts. There are also ancient curses, forbidden rites and lore, twin or switched identities, cases of possession and malign influence cast by supernatural forces, all of which culminate in ghastly deaths or unfortunate fates visited upon the main characters. As in so many gothic stories--maybe all gothic stories--much of the action in Thompson's work takes place in lonely and forbidding houses. In "Spawn of the Green Abyss," it's called Heath House, located close to a town "sprawled on a forlorn peninsula off New Jersey's northeastern coast." (3) In "The Will of Claude Ashur," the house is Inneswich Priory, not a priory at all but a private home, also located in New Jersey. In "The Pale Criminal," the house is a castle called Zengerstein, which looms on the edge of the Black Forest. (4) Finally, the action in "Clay" takes place at Wickford House, an asylum for the insane located somewhere in northern New England. There is in fact a lot of insanity or presumed insanity in Thompson's weird fiction, but--younger by more than a generation than H.P. Lovecraft--Thompson had a different angle on mental illness, one that would have been in vogue in postwar America.

To be continued . . .

(1) On the other hand, if you're from Pennsylvania and want to mythologize a place, why wouldn't you choose your own place to mythologize?
(2) I wouldn't rule out that Thompson served in the military during or right after World War II. His first known published story was "The Shanghaied Ruby" in the Winter 1945-1946 issue of Fight Stories. That would have been just right for a man separating or soon to separate from the military.
(3) That sounds like Sandy Hook to me, but I'm no Easterner. There are beaches at Sandy Hook, and I wonder if it was a tourist spot for Philadelphians in Thompson's day. There are also military installations at Sandy Hook. Could Thompson have been stationed there?
(4) Or could Thompson, if he was in the military, have been stationed in postwar Germany? Maybe not, as "The Pale Criminal" seems an imitation of a story by Poe and not based on anything from real life.

Copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Thompson-Pendragon Controversy-Part One

The story so far:

Charles John Thompson (1923-1991), who published under the pen name C. Hall Thompson, contributed four stories to Weird Tales in 1946-1948. Despite his small output in the field of weird fiction, Thompson wasn't an unknown writer nor a flash in the pan, for he authored dozens more stories, mostly Westerns, and a few novels, also Westerns, over the course of his twenty-plus years as a professional writer. Born in the same month in which the first issue of Weird Tales came out, Thompson was only forty-six years old in 1969, the year in which his last known work of fiction was published. (It was one-half of an Ace Double Western.) Oddly enough, that was the same age at which H.P. Lovecraft stopped writing . . . except that Lovecraft stopped writing on account of a premature case of death. Thompson may have kept on writing--he had to have done something during the last twenty-two years of his life--but for now at least, this is all we have.

Thompson's four stories for Weird Tales are Lovecraftian in one way or another. The story is that they were too Lovecraftian for August Derleth's tastes. An extremely prolific author, the publisher of Arkham House books, and the self-appointed defender of the Lovecraftian faith, Derleth is supposed to have threatened Thompson with legal action if he did not desist from writing in the manner of his master. Thompson's last story for Weird Tales, entitled simply "Clay," appeared in the May 1948 issue of the magazine and he was heard from no more in those pages.

At least one reader who has posted on the Internet has suggested that Thompson was the man behind two stories, published under the pseudonym Arthur Pendragon, in Fantastic Stories of Imagination in 1964-1965. The stories, "The Dunstable Horror" (Apr. 1964) and "The Crib of Hell" (May 1965), are pastiches of Lovecraft. They are considered good pastiches, but they are nonetheless pastiches. Darrell Schweitzer, who knows a thing or two about Weird Tales, has suggested science fiction and fantasy author Arthur Porges as the man behind the Pendragon mask. There is circumstantial evidence in favor of both suggestions but nothing definite. We may never know Pendragon's real identity.

I have looked into the Thompson-Pendragon controversy a little more and have read Thompson's four weird tales. One thing I wanted to find out about is the story that August Derleth threatened C. Hall Thompson if he did not quit with the Yog-Sothothery. This story has been repeated on the Internet without citation and attribution, as all things are in this medium. Well, I just happened to find a telling of that story in print. From the introduction to "The Will of Claude Ashur" in Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors, edited by Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, Robert Weinberg, and Martin H. Greenburg (1988):
C. Hall Thompson's 1947 story, "The Will of Claude Ashur"--with its appropriation of Lovecraftian names and more than casual nod to the plot of "The Thing on the Doorstep"--stands as one of the first stories of this kind [i.e., one of "H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu stories"] written by an author who was not personally invited to join the fun by Lovecraft. Thompson wrote three other stories for the magazine in the same vein until Lovecraft's publishers asked him to stop. (p. 488)
That quote led me to Mr. Weinberg's earlier history of the magazine, The Weird Tales Story (1977) and this quote:
November 1946 brought forth the "Spawn of the Green Abyss" [sic] by C. Thompson Hall. A direct pastiche of Lovecraft in both style and content, the story was similar to "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." However, "Spawn" was well written and entertainingly told. Thompson did several other Lovecraft pastiches until Derleth made Weird Tales stop from publishing them. Derleth maintained a stranglehold on all Lovecraftian ideas, though it was doubtful that he had any legal right to do so. (p. 46)
The way I understand it, Derleth had no legal right to do so. At this late date, I think we can say that he was more or less a jerk about it. Anyway, Robert Weinberg owned the Weird Tales property when he wrote those words. I think we have to assume that he knew whereof he spoke. I think we should also point out that Derleth was competing with Thompson for space in Weird Tales during the late 1940s, not only under his own name but also under his pseudonym Stephen Grendon. We might call his position biased. After all, one more Thompson tale in the magazine could have meant one less Derleth tale. Like I said, jerk.

In 1963, Avon Books issued a collection of weird tales called Fright, later Harvest of Fear. In his introduction, the editor, Charles M. Collins, wrote:
C. Hall Thompson catapulted to fame when his "The Will of Claude Ashur" and "Spawn of the Green Abyss" were published in Weird Tales magazine. The latter, received with tremendous acclamation, was hailed as out Lovecrafting the old master himself. His "Clay," in the Lovecraft tradition, is a minor masterpiece which should generate much enthusiasm among his many admirers. (1975 edition, p. 12)
So if Derleth was really that peeved with Thompson, maybe it was out of jealousy. In any case, those are pretty encouraging words from Collins the editor. If you were C. Hall Thompson, you might have thought pretty well of yourself and that maybe you should take advantage of the situation while you could. Now consider the timing: Fright was published in 1963. Just four months into the following year, Fantastic issued a never-before published Lovecraft pastiche, "The Dunstable Horror" by Arthur Pendragon. Was it an old story dusted off for publication in 1964? Or was a new story, composed and submitted to Cele Goldsmith in short order following the publication of Fright? Whatever might have happened, if Pendragon was Thompson, the timing seems right. Now let's see how Pendragon's stories might match up with Thompson's.

To be continued . . .

Original text copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 25, 2019

Who Was Arthur Pendragon?

The other day I wrote about C. Hall Thompson, who contributed Lovecraftian pastiches to Weird Tales in the 1940s. I also wrote that there is at least one person who speculates that Thompson was the man behind two stories by a pseudonymous author dubbed Arthur Pendragon, published in Fantastic Stories of Imagination in 1964-1965. I say pseudonymous, but I don't think anyone can say for sure that Pendragon wasn't his real name. It just seems really unlikely that it was. His (or her) two stories in Fantastic were "The Dunstable Horror" from April 1964 and "The Crib of Hell" from May 1965. The story goes that in the 1940s August Derleth threatened C. Hall Thompson with legal action if Thompson didn't stop writing Lovecraftian tales. I don't know the source of the claim of Derleth's threatened action against Thompson, but it doesn't sound out of character for him.

The suggestion that Thompson was Pendragon comes from the website Thomas Ligotti Online. It is made by a user named Druidic (I think). You can read the entire short thread by clicking here. Druidic's evidence isn't strong, but sometimes a gut feeling can get you somewhere. Another user--I guess he's called Ancient History--points out that both of Pendragon's stories were reprinted in Acolytes of Cthulhu, from 2001. "In the introduction," writes Ancient History, "editor Robert M. Price says that Darrell Schweitzer suggests this is a pseudonym for Arthur Porges." Here is the evidence for that claim, straight from the source, Robert M. Price's introduction to the book:
As the learned Darrell Schweitzer points out, Pendragon's secret identity was most likely Arthur Porges, who wrote for the magazine under his own (noticeably similar) name during the same period. Sounds good to me.
In other words, there isn't any good evidence one way or another. There is of course circumstantial evidence that C. Hall Thompson was our man. After having written pulp stories--mostly Westerns but also a few weird tales and crime/detective stories--in the 1940s and '50s, Thompson may have gone looking for other markets in the early 1960s. Could he have dusted off a couple of old Lovecraftian pastiches and submitted them to Cele Goldsmith, editor of Fantastic, either under a pseudonym or insisting on a pseudonym so as to avoid any trouble with Derleth? Maybe so. Ms. Goldsmith and Derleth would seem to have been connected in one way or another. Whether distantly or closely, I can't say, but maybe she would have understood the problem--and looked right past it because of her endless need for new material. Or maybe Derleth's ire against other Lovecraftian authors of the late 1940s had died down by the early 1960s. The circle of Lovecraftian authors, editors, artists, and fans could not have been very big in any case. Artist Lee Brown Coye was working for both Cele Goldsmith and August Derleth during the early 1960s. He in fact illustrated "The Dunstable Horror." Maybe that's connection enough. Nevertheless, Cele Goldsmith bought and published two Lovecraftian stories from a now unknown author, despite any objection Derleth might have had.

There is also circumstantial evidence that Arthur Porges was Arthur Pendragon. The first name and both initials match, and it was a pretty common practice for writers of science fiction and fantasy to write under more than one byline, especially for different kinds of stories. One possible weakness in this argument is this question: Did Porges write other Lovecraftian pastiches? Is he known to have been a fan or reader of Lovecraft's work? If he wasn't, then it's harder to believe that he wrote what some consider to be among the better Lovecraftian tales from after Lovecraft's death. Witness the inclusion of both of Pendragon's stories in Acolytes of Cthulhu and Mr. Price's comment in his introduction that Pendragon's "reputation is narrower than it ought to be." None of that is a problem, of course, when it comes to C. Hall Thompson. He had written Lovecraftian stories before and there isn't any reason to think that he couldn't have done it again in the 1960s, alternatively, that he had been sitting on those stories since the 1940s and got them into print when the opportunity presented itself.

So who was Arthur Porges? Well, he was the son of James and Clara (Kurzin) Porges, two Jewish-Russian immigrants who came to the United States as young children in the period 1888-1890, spoke Yiddish as their mother tongue, and lived in the Chicago area for most of their lives. James Porges was born Israel Podgursky but changed his surname to match that of a relative in Chicago. Arthur was the second youngest of James and Clara Porges' four sons. His older brother Irwin Porges (1909-1998), a college professor and musician, wrote Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975). (Burroughs was also a Chicagoan.) The youngest of the Porges boys, Walter Porges (1918-1979), was a teacher of history in Connecticut and at Pierce College in Los Angeles. It seems as though at least three out of the four ended up in California.

Arthur Porges was born in 1915, served in the U.S. Army during World War II, and taught college-level mathematics. According to the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, his first published story was "The Rats," which appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 1951. He published dozens more stories until his death in 2006 at age ninety. In looking over their titles, I don't see any that jumps out as a possible Lovecraftian tale, but you never know. I'm not sure that it matters anyway, for the question of who Arthur Pendragon really was will remain until someone finds a telltale typescript or letter or some other piece of evidence among the papers of a deceased author or editor.

By the way, Arthur Porges was born on August 20, 1915, H.P. Lovecraft's twenty-fifth birthday.

Arthur Porges had the cover story, "The Shadowsmith," in the September 1960 issue of Fantastic Science Fiction Stories. The cover artist was John Duillo (1928-2003), later the other Conan artist for Lancer Books

Arthur Porges' older brother, Irwin Porges, was also a writer and the author of the book Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975). He and Arthur also collaborated on a story called "A Touch of Sun" for Fantastic, published in the issue of April 1959. The cover artist here is unknown.

Both Irwin and Arthur Porges were of an age to have grown up reading Burroughs' stories. Irwin Porges reached the Golden Age of Science Fiction (which is twelve) in 1921, Arthur in 1927. Burroughs must have captured their imaginations. But what about H.P. Lovecraft? Would they have had the same reaction to his work, assuming they read it? It's impossible to say. But maybe generations matter when it comes to these things. C. Hall Thompson was younger than the Porges brothers by a decade or more. Born in 1923, he would have lived his formative years in a time when Weird Tales and H.P. Lovecraft (as well as Amazing Stories and other science fiction pulps) were at their peak. Could Lovecraft have been his Burroughs? Again, it's impossible to say.

Both C. Hall Thompson and Arthur Porges have been proposed as the true identity of the (presumably) pseudonymous author Arthur Pendragon. Pendragon has two genre-fiction credits. First came "The Dunstable Horror" in Fantastic Stories of Imagination, in April 1964. The illustrations were by Lee Brown Coye, his last work for the magazine. For the next several years, Coye did illustrations for August Derleth's Arkham House. Like Derleth's 1945 pastiche The Lurker at the Treshold, "The Dunstable Horror" is set in rural New England. Also like Derleth's novel, there is an element of the plot that involves an American Indian of unusual power. If C. Hall Thompson was Arthur Pendragon, and if he wrote "The Dunstable Horror" in the 1940s, he or his editor may have felt that his story was uncomfortably close to The Lurker at the Threshold. (Lovecraft's village of Dunwich makes its appearance in Derleth's book, too.) Maybe he didn't want to risk a lawsuit. On the other hand, maybe Thompson--if he was Pendragon and if Derleth had made legal threats against him in the 1940s--couldn't pass up the chance to stick his finger in Derleth's eye after so many years and so submitted his tale to Fantastic. But that's all a lot of speculation. The mystery remains.

Original text copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 21, 2019

C. Hall Thompson (1923-1991)

NĂ© Charles John Thompson
Born March 17, 1923, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died February 11, 1991, presumably in Pennsylvania

C. Hall Thompson's name came up the other day while I was writing about Viking stories. He didn't write any Viking stories that I know of, but he did write a few Northerns--the Alaskan and Canadian type, not the Viking type--and several Westerns. He also wrote four stories for Weird Tales. While looking into his life and career, I came across an interesting bit of speculation put forth on the Internet. I'll get to that in a minute.

C. Hall Thompson and Weird Tales made their debut in the same month, March 1923. He was born on St. Patrick's Day and was christened almost three months later, on June 10, 1923, at Tabor Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. His baptismal name was Charles John Thompson. The Charles part came from his father. Before he was even out of high school, Thompson, a budding author, had adopted a pseudonym: from at least 1942 until the closing out of his career, he called himself C. Hall Thompson. The Hall part came from his mother, Helen Hall Thompson.

Thompson graduated from South Philadelphia High School for Boys in June 1942. He would have been a year older than his classmates, but I don't have an explanation for his delayed graduation. Even then he was a writer, for Thompson penned the review of his graduating class, calling it "Southern for Service." He may have been the Charles J. Thompson who, as a student at Vare Junior High School in Philadelphia, won second prize (junior group) and the grand sum of $3 for his entry in the National Peace Poster Contest in March 1938. Despite his efforts, war came to Europe a year and a half later. Although Thompson was of an age to serve when America went to war, I don't know that he did. However, he filled out a draft card in 1942 while residing in Philadelphia.

Thompson appears to have lived in Philadelphia and nearby places in Pennsylvania for all or most of his life, but I know almost nothing about him, and neither does anybody else as far as I can tell. Like I said, he had four stories in Weird Tales:
  • "Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Nov. 1946)
  • "The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947)
  • "The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947)
  • "Clay" (May 1948)
All have been reprinted again and again and a couple have even been translated and published in European editions.

Thompson's popularity as a teller of weird tales can be attributed in part to his authorship of some of the first Cthulhu Mythos stories told after the death of H.P. Lovecraft--told, that is, by someone other than members of Lovecraft's circle. (Lovecraft died two days before Thompson's fourteenth birthday.) There is a story on the Internet that August Derleth threatened Thompson with legal action if he did not cease writing tales set in a Lovecraftian universe. That story arrives without citation or attribution, but it would seem to go along with Derleth's reputation. (The more I read about him in regards to Lovecraft, the less I like him: Derleth seems to have been a man who loved something so much that he thought it was his.) Chased away from Weird Tales or not, Thompson sold nearly four dozen stories to Adventure, Argosy, Dime Western Stories, Frontier StoriesNorth-West Romances, 10 Story Western Magazine, and other titles, mostly Westerns, over the next six years. He also broke into the slicks with stories in Collier's and Esquire.

Thompson's magazine stories were published between 1945 and 1954 when their author was in his twenties and early thirties. Then, in the same year that Weird Tales came to an end, Thompson's magazine credits seem to have dried up. Pulps in general were dying off by the early 1950s, but Westerns were still strong, in paperback, at the movie theater, and on TV. Thompson had a few Westerns published in the 1950s: A Gun for Billy Reo in 1955, Under the Badge in 1957, and Montana! in 1959. Ace Double Editions issued Thompson's Western novel The Killing of Hallie James in 1969. Thompson is also supposed to have written stories for Sunday newspaper sections.

There is speculation online that C. Hall Thompson was the pseudonymous author of "The Dunstable Horror" (Apr. 1964) and "The Crib of Hell" (May 1965), both in Fantastic Stories of Imagination. (That thread appears on the website Thomas Ligotti Online, here.) Not very long ago (in geologic terms) I was working on some research to do with Lee Brown Coye. As it turns out, Coye illustrated "The Dunstable Horror," a serviceable pastiche of Lovecraft (and far superior to Derleth's own novel The Lurker at the Threshold, from 1945). This was Coye's final work for Fantastic. By 1964 he had already begun working for Derleth and Derleth's Arkham House. Coye had previously illustrated "The Will of Claude Ashur" and "Clay" by Thompson in Weird Tales. If Pendragon was indeed a pseudonym of C. Hall Thompson, then Coye would already have been familiar with his work.

In the summer of 1951, Thompson married Italian-born Isabella Elda Pirritano (1924-2009), a recent graduate of Temple University who had studied secondary education. She was also a choral singer. I don't know anything about their lives nor their long years together after 1969. Charles J. Thompson died on February 11, 1991, and was buried at Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania. His wife survived him by nearly two decades and was laid to rest beside him in 2009.

C. Hall Thompson's Stories in Weird Tales
"Spawn of the Green Abyss" (Nov. 1946)
"The Will of Claude Ashur" (July 1947)
"The Pale Criminal" (Sept. 1947)
"Clay" (May 1948)

Further Reading
None except to read Thompson's stories.

C. Hall Thompson's first story for Weird Tales, "Spawn of the Green Abyss," from November 1946, was also his first and only cover story. The cover artist was the unfindable Boris Dolgov. His technique was unusual for a pulp cover, as it appears to be a pencil drawing tinted with watercolors.

Lee Brown Coye illustrated Thompson's next story for "The Unique Magazine," "The Will of Claude Ashur," from July 1947. This was also the first issue in which Coye's "Weirdisms" feature began in Weird Tales and the first in which the Damp Man, created by Allison V. Harding, appeared. Despite the eventual popularity of the Damp Man stories, Thompson had the lead story in that July 1947 issue.

I don't know whether "The Crib of Hell" by Arthur Pendragon was the cover story in the May 1965 issue of Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, but I wanted to show the cover because I have detected a swipe, unfortunately made by an otherwise great and very admirable artist, Gray Morrow. You can see for yourself how oddly divided this image is. The part on the right is likely original. The part on the left, executed in an entirely different technique, is obviously a swipe. See the two images below. There is at least one person, by the way, who has speculated that Thompson and Pendragon were the same person. More on that in the next posting.

At the left is Jack Thurston's cover for Satan's Disciples by Robert Goldston (1962), and at the right is another artist's swipe done for the summer 1974 issue of Weird Tales. Who knows where the late Mr. Thurston's artwork will show up next? Update (Jan. 22, 2019): I have been thinking about this image, and it occurs to me that all of the artists who created versions of it may have been guilty of swiping it from an original source, Jack Thurston included. But what would the original source have been?

Text and captions copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, January 18, 2019

Viking Adventure

Vikings have captured our imaginations in a way that no other people in history have done. Maybe we have ancestral memories of their falling upon us without warning, taking what they wanted and burning the rest. If you had lived during their heyday, Vikings could never have been far from your thoughts. They would always have been there, creeping along the edges of your imagination and your fears, and it would have been equally so for your grandparents before you and your grandchildren after you. There may have been Huns and Goths, Mongols and Turks, Persians and Saracens, stalking along the borderlands of European civilization, but none can compare now in our imaginations to the Vikings.

In thinking about the Viking-fantasy story, it occurs to me now that there are three types. First is the type in which Vikings are the encountered. We see them from the outside, from the perspective of perhaps a more civilized observer. I haven't yet read "A Yank at Valhalla" by Edmond Hamilton (Startling Stories, Jan. 1941), but I suspect that this is an example of the first type. Next is the type in which Vikings are the encounterers. (Blogger doesn't like that word.) In this type, we see things from the perspective of the Vikings themselves, very often in their encounters--historically accurate or not--with American Indians. I have a book, Prince Valiant in the New World by Harold Foster (Nostalgia Press, 1976), that tells such a tale. (Beowulf, in which Grendel and his mother are the encountered, is also of this type, I think.) The third type is the story of the Vikings as a people, their ways of life among themselves and in their own world and culture. If fantasy and science fiction are ultimately stories of encounter, then it's hard, it seems to me, for this third type to fall within those genres, unless the monsters, gods, witches, and undead encountered are a part of Norse mythology and folklore itself and not something from the outside.

My friend Hlafbrot has pointed out that Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard (1891) has a place on the list of Viking literature. I have never read this book, but it's listed in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database, indicating that it's a genre work and not one of conventional or mainstream literature. In fact, if Eric Brighteyes was the first or one of the first modern Viking stories, then maybe it was also the beginning of the Viking-fantasy in our popular culture. Pulp magazines arrived on the scene just five years after Eric Brighteyes was published. I can't say when the first Viking story appeared in a pulp magazine. I also can't say what the first Viking story in Weird Tales might have been. Writers and readers of "The Unique Magazine" seem to have been far more interested in tales of the Orient and the tropics. (1) Robert E. Howard is supposed to have written a lot of Viking stories or quasi-Viking stories. The one that comes to mind, "The Frost Giant's Daughter," never made it into Weird Tales.

After writing about Vikings the other day, I cast about for a book to read and came quickly enough to a novel by one of my favorite authors for children. It's called Viking Adventure, and it's by Clyde Robert Bulla (1914-2007). Like so many Viking stories, this one is about an encounter with American Indians before Columbus. And like so many of the late Mr. Bulla's books, it is told in what I hear as a melancholy voice. Although his books are for children, Clyde Robert Bulla knew what it is to be a child, to suffer pain and loss, loneliness and yearning, to feel small and out of place, to feel like running and hiding, to dream and to have one's dreams thwarted or unfulfilled. If a good book is one that resounds within you even after you have finished reading it, then Viking Adventure is a good book, better, I would hazard, than myriads of supposedly serious and ambitious novels written for adults.

(1) If Viking stories are Northerns, stories of the tropics are Southerns, and those of the Orient are Easterns, then there was far more emphasis on Southerns and Easterns in the pulps than there was on Northerns. Or if people wrote and read stories of the Far North, they were about the North Woods, about the taiga and the tundra, Alaska, the Yukon, and the Arctic, all set in the present of the pulp-fiction era or in the recent past. There was even a pulp magazine called North-West Stories.

Prince Valiant in the New World (1976) is Prince Valiant Book 6, part of a series of storybooks adapted from the comic strip by Hal Foster and published by Nostalgia Press of New York City. Here is the encounter depicted again and again in popular culture: the Viking meets the American Indian in a time before Columbus.

Eric Brighteyes by H. Rider Haggard, originally published in 1891, was reprinted again and again during the twentieth century. Here is the cover of the Zebra paperback edition of 1978. The identity of the cover artist is unknown. The furious action (and the depiction of the hero's anatomy) may be under the influence of Frank Frazetta, but the technique is purely 1970s, like that of Michael William Kaluta, Berni Wrightson, or Jeffrey Jones. Update: I hear from bthom1 that the cover artist is Esteban Maroto. Thanks bthom1.

Zebra reprinted Eric Brighteyes in 1982 with different cover art, but the artist is again unknown.

In 1979, Zebra Books issued a sequel, Eric Brighteyes: A Witch's Welcome, penned by Sigfriour Skaldaspillir, better known as Mildred Downey Broxon. The cover artist was Ken Barr, but the mountain in the background wasn't his . . .

For he swiped it from Frank Frazetta's cover for Conan of Cimmeria, in which the quasi-Viking story "The Frost Giant's Daughter" appeared. Though offered to Weird Tales, "The Frost Giant's Daughter" was refused by its editor, Farnsworth Wright, and went instead to the March 1934 issue of The Fantasy Fan. Frazetta's illustration of the story is justly famous.

In 1963, Thomas Y. Crowell Company of New York published Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla. Here's the cover of the Weekly Reader Children's Book Club version, with illustrations by Douglas Gorsline. Viking Adventure is the story of a boy named Sigurd who goes on an adventure far from home, to Wineland, our America, inhabited only by what we now call Indians. It is a moving story of growth and loss, and I recommend it.

There were Westerns in the pulps, but there were also Northerns, if you want to call them that, but Northerns are not about Vikings. Instead, they're about what Bob and Doug McKenzie call the Great White North. In the pulp magazine North-West Stories (later North-West Romances), these two genres lived side by side. Here is an example of the cover, from the Winter issue of 1950, showing a sort-of Betty Hutton lookalike with her parka conveniently undone and her sweater conveniently tight. This was the 1950s after all, the era of the sweater girl. Anyway, if this were a Weird Tales cover, it would fall into the category of "Woman and Wolf" (click here). The title story in fact is called "The Wolf-Woman of Chandindu," by C. Hall Thompson, who also, as chance would have it, contributed to Weird Tales. More evidence that all things form circles.

Text and captions copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, January 14, 2019

Tales of Viking Fantasy

A month ago I wrote about Vikings and other medieval subjects on the cover of Weird Tales, and out of that I received a couple of comments from readers about Viking fantasy stories. That got me thinking that there may be a missed sub-sub-genre of fantasy and science fiction dealing with those men and women of the north, with their winged and horned helmets, long, braided hair, conical breastplates, and raiments of hide and fur. So here is a first shot at stories of Vikings and Norsemen, with some also of Saxons, Geats, Goths, and other early northern Europeans thrown into the mix. These are stories with fantastic, supernatural, weird, or science-fictional elements. That leaves out a lot of good Viking stories to be sure, but you've got to draw a line somewhere. I welcome additions to this list. If you send them, I will add them.
  • Beowulf by an unknown author (date of composition unknown)--Beowulf is the granddaddy of Northern fantasy in English, and although it's really the story of Geatish men, I think I have to include it here. To leave it out would be a bumbling kind of oversight. Beowulf has been an inspiration to myriads of writers, including, in the twentieth century, J.R.R. Tolkien and Michael Uslan, better known as the executive producer of the Batman movies.
  • Unidentified stories by Ralph Milne Farley (Argosy, 1930s)--A commenter on my earlier article mentioned these stories, but I don't know any titles.
  • The Lost Vikings by Jack Bechdolt (1931)--A lost lands/lost race novel set in Alaska.
  • Prince Valiant by Hal Foster (1937)--A Sunday comic strip in which the title character, a Norseman, goes on adventures, some fantastical or supernatural, all over the globe, as the subtitle reads, "In the Days of King Arthur." Adapted to film in 1954.
  • "King of the World's Edge" by H. Warner Munn (Weird Tales, Sept.-Dec. 1939)--A four-part serial by a correspondent and friend of H.P. Lovecraft, "King of the World's Edge" is a story of Romans and Saxons in pre-Columbian America, authored by an enthusiast of history and archaeology, including the idea that Vikings came to America during the Middle Ages and left behind evidence of their visit.
  • "A Yank at Valhalla" by Edmond Hamilton (Startling Stories, Jan. 1941)--Reprinted as The Monsters of Juntenheim (1950).
  • "Flight into Destiny" by Verne Chute (Weird Tales, Mar. 1943)
  • The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron (1961)--Reprinted as Island at the Top of the World (1974) and adapted to film as The Island at the Top of the World (1974).
  • Journey into Mystery (Aug. 1962)--Marvel Comics' version of Thor as a superhero (and future member of the Avengers) first appeared in Journey into Mystery in August 1962. Since then, he has been in countless comic books and now a series of movies made by Marvel Studios.
  • Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan Relating His Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 by Michael Crichton (1976)--Reprinted as The 13th Warrior in 1999 and adapted to film that year under the same title.
  • The Norseman (1978)--A movie starring Lee Majors, Cornel Wilde, and Mel Ferrer.

DC's version of Beowulf starred in his own title in the 1970s. The stories were written by Michael Uslan and drawn by Ricardo Villamonte. Here is the cover of the first issue, from May 1975.

Prince Valiant of comic strip fame is a Norseman. Here he is on the cover of Dell Four Color #900, from 1958. The interiors were drawn by Bob Fuji, but I'm not sure that he was the cover artist here.

Startling Stories, January 1941, with a cover story, "A Yank at Valhalla," by Edmond Hamilton and cover art by Earle Bergey.

"A Yank at Valhalla" was reprinted in 1950 as The Monsters of Juntonheim in a British edition. The identity of the cover artist is unknown.

Weird Tales, March 1943. The cover story is "Flight into Destiny" by Verne Chute. The cover art is by Edgar Franklin Wittmack.

In 1974, Walt Disney Pictures released an adaptation of The Lost Ones by Ian Cameron. Here is the movie tie-in edition of Cameron's book, retitled to match the movie.

Vikings in America were and still are a popular theme in popular culture. (Prince Valiant came to America, too.) In 1978, American International Pictures released The Norseman, with Lee Majors in the lead role as a Viking in the New World. I think The Norseman made a clunking sound, but I remember that my younger brother saw it at the movie theater with his friends. Note the similarity of the movie poster to one of Frank Frazetta's Conan covers for Lancer. If you have never seen Hal Foster's original Prince Valiant, you know that Frazetta took a great deal from Foster. Who can blame him? And so this Frazetta-like poster closes a circle.

Text and captions copyright 2019, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Friends of Thanos

While I was away over the holidays, we watched Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix. We had seen it at the movie theater months before, but we wanted to see it again as the release of the sequel approaches. (Avengers: Endgame will be out in April.) Even though we knew what was coming, it was still shocking and sad to witness half of the team crumble into dust and blow away. (Bill and Ted were right after all: All we are is dust in the wind.) I can't wait to see Thanos get his comeuppance in the next movie. We all have our theories about how that will happen, but I think we'll all be proved wrong. (I think Ant-Man will play a strong role, but we'll see.)

A day or two after we watched the movie, my nephew told me that there was some kind of controversy involving Thanos and the description of Avengers: Infinity War on Netflix. I resolved to find out more once things calmed down after the holiday. I have read about the controversy now, but I still don't really understand what the big deal is. It leads back to something that I wrote about months ago, though, in an article called "Summer Movie Miscellany" (here). In that article I made a kind of prediction. As it turns out, I was right, but then it doesn't take a genius to be right about these things.

The recent controversy has to do with this description of Avengers: Infinity War posted on Netflix:
Superheroes amass to stop intergalactic sociopath Thanos from acquiring a full set of Infinity Stones and wiping out half of all life in the universe.
That's not exactly informative. The uninitiated might ask, What the heck is an Infinity Stone? But if you have to ask, you probably shouldn't watch Avengers: Infinity War until you have seen a couple of dozen other Marvel movies first. Anyway, a bunch of people who don't have anything else to do objected to the characterization of Thanos as a sociopath. The objections seem to fall into two categories. First is that the use of the word sociopath is incorrect or inaccurate. Second and more troubling is that Thanos is not a sociopath because what he's trying to do--kill off half of the life in the universe--is actually a good thing. I'll take these objections one at a time.

The first objection is easy enough to deal with. First, the term sociopath is informal and imprecise. It isn't a diagnosis. People use it more or less how they please. It doesn't mean very much to say that Thanos or anybody else is a sociopath. Second, Thanos is not a real person. He exists only as drawings on paper or as a bunch of electrons. How can you get worked up over something so inconsequential as that? As William Shatner (or the evil Captain Kirk from Episode 37) might say: "Get a life! For cryin' out loud, it's just a movie." How can anyone possibly have enough time or interest to start some kind of wacky campaign to get a television blurb changed? I mean, how old are you people? What have you done with yourselves? Move out of your parents' basement and grow the hell up!

The second objection, that Thanos is actually a good guy and is trying to do something good and necessary in the universe, is far more serious and scary. But then we live in a world full of serious and scary things, one of which is the nihilistic, anti-human thinking of countless millions of people--people who hate themselves and because of it hate everyone else, past, present, and future, God included. They are the kind of people who made the twentieth a century of horrors and promise to make the twenty-first a proper sequel of greater, though more subtle, horrifying things.

As I wrote before, if you believe that humanity should be reduced or diminished, you are, like Thanos, a monster and a villain. Get that into your head: You are a monster. There is no get out of jail free card for you if you believe, like him, that the process should be equally and randomly applied. You are a monster. And I hope--we all should hope--that you never have even the remotest access to power (1, 2)

(1) Although in a democracy, even monsters have power. In fact, democracies are just as likely as any form of government (or even more likely) to give rise to monsters, as a democracy inevitably results in a rapid race to the bottom, and monstrousness resides in every one of us at the basest of levels.
(2) By the way, has anyone noticed the similarities in motivation between Thanos and Kodos the Executioner from the Star Trek episode "The Conscience of the King"? The difference is, I guess, that there is nothing to prick the conscience of Thanos.

Copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Read Weird Tales

After receiving a request from a reader, I have added a page to this blog called "Read Weird Tales." Click on the item on the right or here for a link. This new page includes links to websites on which you can read whole issues of Weird Tales in digital facsimile format. If anyone knows of similar websites, even if they include only one issue, please let me know, and I may add it to the list.

Thanks for reading.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

The Shadow Over Aquaman

I'm back again after the holidays and eighteen sleep-deprived days at home. Two days into the new year we saw Aquaman at a mostly deserted movie theater. That's what happens in the middle of a holiday week in small-town Indiana. We stayed for the last of the credits and when we walked out of the theater into the darkened hallways of the multiplex we saw only the manager, who was sweeping up.

Like I said, I was sleep-deprived. I have to admit that I almost dozed off three times during Aquaman. But even if I hadn't already been sleepy, I might have felt the same way, for Aquaman is too long and, for at least an hour, too slow-moving to hold a person's interest very well. The players are Jason Momoa as Aquabro, Willem Dafoe as Mr. Miyagi, and Nicole Kidman as the Aquamom. They are supported by Dolph Lundgren as a guy whose pink hair flows and swirls like he's in a VO5 commercial and Randall Park as Conspiracy Brother, among others. Every one of them also takes a turn playing the role of Basil Exposition, and every five or ten minutes during the movie someone stops the proceedings to tell you a little story about something you don't really care about or understand. I actually groaned at one point because of it. This is no way to tell a story. In fact, one of the first things you learn in storytelling is to show it, not tell it. Even my thirteen-year-old nephew said that the movie is "cringy" in places. It's not a good sign when a kid calls your superhero movie "cringy," but that's a good word to describe the dialogue in Aquaman, which includes a little gem in which someone or other says that he plans to become "the Ocean Master." If he were in Machu Picchu or San Francisco or some similar place, I suppose he would want to become the Stair Master.

Near the beginning of Aquaman there is a little still life shown in the interior of the lighthouse keeper's home. One of the elements in this tableau is a paperback version of The Dunwich Horror by H.P. Lovecraft. I'm not the first to comment on the Lovecraftian elements in Aquaman. Others have already gone there, including more than a few who just have to tell you again that Lovecraft was a horrible racist. And did we mention that Lovecraft was a horrible racist? There can be no doubt that H.P. Lovecraft wrote again and again about race and the mixing of races, as well as about the degeneration, decay, and dissolution of individual human beings and their familial or tribal lines. There is just that in "The Dunwich Horror," a tale of a kind of demigod named Wilbur Whateley, first published in Weird Tales in April 1929. The same theme appears again in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," published posthumously in the same magazine in April 1942. It seems to me, though, that Lovecraft could have been writing about himself when he told tales about mixing and degeneration or decay, for his father was a common traveling salesman and eventual syphilitic while his mother was the daughter of a prominent and well-established New England family. (Even she ended up in the bughouse.) I sense that the author himself felt the creeping of tainted blood in his semi-blue veins as he lived out his life in a decaying home among decaying fortunes. In any case, Aquaman is also a tale of the mixing of races. The results here are positive, though, in that the title character is not degenerate but emergent. However, there is a degenerate race of men in Aquaman, and I couldn't help but see them as the Deep Ones from "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Finally there is a deep-sea leviathan like Cthulhu, befriended by Aquabro and voiced by Julie Andrews of all people. Mary Poppins returns indeed.

I haven't yet seen a DC movie as good as the least good of the Marvel Studios movies, but then I haven't seen them all yet, from either studio. I can say, though, that the DC movies lack a kind of warmth and humanity that prevails more or less in the Marvel movies. They're also slow, talky, and lacking in humor. (1) I'm not sure why that is. Marvel doesn't have a lock on good screenwriters and directors. DC ought to be able to come up with something comparable. But they don't. As I have said before, DC ought to hire Marvel Studios to make their movies for them. Anyway, we saw previews for M. Night Shyamalan's new movie Glass on Wednesday night last week. If you have to see a new superhero movie this month, see that one instead of Aquaman. You can also look forward to Captain Marvel in March and Avengers: Endgame in April. Both are from Marvel Studios. Sorry, DC.

(1) The DC movies also miss out on the essence of the original comic book characters. For example, in Superman Returns, from 2006, Superman becomes Superstalker, a brooding creep who spies on Lois Lane as only a super-powered guy from Krypton can. In that and other Superman movies, the original and essential love triangle of Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman is banished to the Phantom Zone and Superman is made to be in love with Lois Lane. That's not how it works, people, and if you knew better, maybe moviegoers would like your product. Beyond that--and speaking of racism and racial stereotypes--the makers of DC movies are guilty of what I think is a pretty egregious perpetuation of a stereotype of Jewish men as cowards, weaklings, and nebbishes in the character of the Flash, from Justice League (2017). If they had had a black Flash like Stepin Fetchit or an Asian Flash like Long Duk Dong, viewers and critics would have howled, and rightly so. But this is the twenty-first century and one of the few permissible stereotypes left is one or more of the Jewish people. I guess that's to be expected when one of our major political parties is so outwardly and unabashedly antisemitic. And it ain't the Republicans.

H.P. Lovecraft had only one cover story in Weird Tales but in order to get it he had to go to Canada and then only after he had died. The story was "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" and it appeared in the May 1942 issue of the Canadian edition of the magazine. The artist was cartoonist and illustrator Edmond Good.

Text and caption copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley