Sunday, August 16, 2020

Flying Saucers from Before the Great War

Six months ago, before the world fell apart, I wrote about the evolution of the flying saucer from nineteenth-century airship to twentieth-century flying disk. Now I write again.

It seems to me that the conceit of the nineteenth century was both progressive and romantic. The conceit was that Science, this new and exciting force, could be and would be used to solve previously intractable human problems. Airships were a symbol of this kind of thinking, the belief being that airships, because of their great power, would render war impossible to wage. There would be other benefits, too, but an end to war would have to come first if the world was to be made a better place. Salvation was literally in the air; it would be dispensed from the heavens. Here at last was progress, wrought not only by science but also by a faith in science and its power to remake (or at least tame) human nature. (1) This was the dream and the vision. And I suppose it's one of the reasons that early science fiction stories could be called scientific romances with some degree of accuracy and without fear of self-contradiction.

The events of the twentieth century taught us a different lesson, at least for those willing to listen. There are many who haven't listened. Sometimes it seems that most haven't listened, for there are still too many among us who believe in progress, the malleability of human nature, and the perfectibility of human society, thereby of individual human beings. They continue to have an overweening faith, pride, and confidence in Science and Reason. Their faith, as opposed to a faith in anything outside of science, helps to explain why the airship became the flying saucer. With all non-material and supernatural things swept aside during the nineteenth century, we as human beings were free to seize power from above and apply it to our own earthly problems. If the world was going to be made a better place, we would be the ones to do it.

Except that we didn't. Instead we used airships, and after them airplanes, rockets, missiles, and guided bombs, as weapons of war. From the heavens we rained down upon each other horrifying death, making of this Earth a perfect hell. The German State of the twentieth century is an object lesson in the progressive/romantic conceits of the one that preceded it. As Germany proved, the airship would not be used to end war. Instead airships were used to wage it. During the Great War, Germany became the first country to use a rigid airship--the infamous Zeppelin--to bombard another. It was also the first to use in war guided missiles in the form of the V-1 Buzzbomb, guided ballistic missiles in the V-2 rocket, jet-powered aircraft in the Me-262, and guided bombs in the Fritz X. Given a few more months, Nazi Germany might also have been the first to use a flying wing-type aircraft against its enemies. (2) And never mind the atomic bomb.

All of these were hard, scientific/technological developments. You could argue that, as such, they were based in a progressive faith in Science and Reason. But Germany, especially Nazi Germany, was also given to romantic, irrational, and pseudoscientific thinking. That simultaneous embrace of science and pseudoscience, of reason and irrationality, of hard materialism and soft romanticism, is itself irrational and one of the reasons that Nazi Germany remains, to me at least, an almost inexplicable phenomenon. But where had we seen this mix of science and romance before? Where had there previously been a representation of pseudoscience as science? Where else but in the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century pseudo-scientific story or scientific romance, a genre that evolved during the interwar period into what we now call science fiction. In realizing that, we might imagine Nazi Germany as the ultimate, real-world scientific romance, perhaps starring Adolf Hitler as an extreme perversion of the Captain Nemo-type Byronic and Romantic hero. (3, 4) And if all of that is true, then the scientific romance and the reign of the airships can be seen to have finally failed with the end of World War II. (5, 6) It's probably no coincidence that flying saucers came along just two years later to take their place.

* * *

Problems remained, though. Now, instead of originating on Earth and among human beings, airborne power came from places unknown and was held by equally unknown and unknowable beings. They are by definition alien and inexplicable. With flying saucers, questions follow upon unanswerable questions. Perhaps none is more important than this:

What do they want?

Or, put another way:

What is their function?

When I wrote in February, I speculated on the physical appearance of the twentieth-century flying saucer as a kind of natural evolution from the nineteenth-century airship. But I also touched on the function of the airship. Here is a quote, the same quote that I used before, from The Century Magazine, 1878:
As entirely new profession--that of airmanship--will be thoroughly organized, employing a countless army of airmen. . . . Boundaries will be obliterated. . . . Troops, aerial squadrons, death-dealing armaments will be maintained only for police surveillance over barbarous races, and for instantly enforcing the judicial decrees of the world's international court of appeal. (Quoted in Predictions by John Durant [1956], p. 28)
That function was affirmed in one of the great flying saucer movies of the twentieth century, The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). It is also in Things to Come (1936). Now I have found another such quote from before the Great War, but only just before:
The world is tending toward universal peace--the abolition of war. And one of the greatest heralds of peace is the airship. It will make war too horrible to exist further.
The quote is from a book called Wonder Stories (p. 61), written by Francis Trevelyan Miller (1877–1959) and published in 1913. My copy is inscribed:

Charles Gray
Dec. 28th 1914

seven months to the day before the Great War began! It's astonishing to think that even at that late date, progressive-minded people had such great faith in human nature and human perfectibility. And such naïveté, too, for as we have seen since Wonder Stories was published, we haven't yet found "anything too horrible to exist." We haven't yet stayed our hands from doing the most depraved and horrifying of things. In actuality, war is proving to be one of the lesser of the horrifying things that we do. At least war is direct. More killing is done behind closed doors these days than on the battlefield. More depravity exists among the élite than among the common man, including the common foot soldier. Airships didn't do anything to change any of that. In fact that old romantic faith in science, reason, technology, and progress that drove the development of airships has only helped speed things along towards evermore horror and ever greater--or at least evermore practicable and efficient--depravity. Airships into airplanes, the promise of Things to Come, didn't halt their march. Nor did airships into flying saucers, which was the message of The Day the Earth Stood Still, as well as the contactee narratives of the 1950s and the abductee narratives after that. (7, 8) Flying saucers continue to keep their distance and we continue to kill each other. Under the sway of Scientism and materialism, we threaten to do far worse things. Imagine a coming age in which human beings are genetically engineered to be no longer human . . .

* * *

Another function of the flying saucer is to observe, to watch, to study, to see. One of the now iconic (or clichéd) images of the flying saucer is of the cone-shaped beam of light--or death ray--cast upon the Earth and its inhabitants. Here it is on a poster for another of the great flying saucer movies, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956):

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers was based on Flying Saucers from Outer Space by Maj. Donald Keyhoe (1953). Keyhoe, as it so happens, was a teller of weird tales. Click here to read his story.

Here is a similar image from Weird Tales, November 1944, without the flying saucer, although a flying saucer might be implied as the source of the descending green aliens. (9) The cover artist was Matt Fox:

Fox's cover makes me think of the little green aliens in Toy Story. I have been chosen . . . (10) Here is still another, depicting a supposedly real-life event, the abduction of Travis Walton:

This imagery has obvious religious overtones and obvious origins in religious belief and religious art. That's really a topic for another day, or maybe a week, or a month. For now, I'll show just one image and that should be enough to close this case:

The Baptism of Christ by the Dutch artist Aert de Gelder (1645-1727), executed ca. 1710. The image is the same, its elements are the same, the phenomenon is the same, the feeling and the yearning are the same. These are essentially the same picture. There is even a flying saucer in each. (Actually there is a messenger from on high in each, it's just that one is supernatural and the other is material. Both, however, are spiritual.) The difference between these two images is that they are separated by nearly three centuries, moreover by a vast and unbridgeable gap between belief in God and the completely disastrous loss of that belief, not within Travis Walton himself but within our whole culture, which believes in nothing in the form of Scientism and materialism.

Anyway, my point here is to show that the flying saucer, which is an invention of science fiction, is descended from the romantic/progressive airship of the nineteenth century (which has, as the image above shows, its own line of descent from prescientific, pre-materialistic times). So are there similar images of airships? Well . . . 

. . . how about this one from the San Francisco Call, November 23, 1896, during the first UFO flap in America? The Mystery Airships of 1896-1897 are supposed to have been real, even if there weren't any such aircraft known to exist at the time . . .

Just seventeen years later, though, when Wonder Stories was published, there were in fact rigid airships, exemplified by the German Zeppelin, which first took to the air in 1900. The author of Wonder Stories, Francis Trevelyan Miller, even mentions the Zeppelin in his book. Above is its frontispiece. The function of the airship in this picture isn't obvious at first glance. But from reading Miller's chapter on airships, I gather that the men in the airship above are observing enemy troop movements. The idea, then, is that airships will make traditional warfare obsolete because nothing can escape observation from above. It is this image that grabbed my attention when I first saw Wonder Stories because it recalls the iconography of the flying saucer and its casting of a cone of light upon earthbound people below. It also goes along with the idea that airpower--specifically the airship and later the flying saucer--will render warfare obsolete and impossible to wage. That is the message of Things to Come, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and no doubt other science fiction of the twentieth century.

I have said before that flying saucers come not from outer space but from science fiction. But then science fiction has its own origins in nineteenth-century romanticism, progressivism, and, I think, materialism and Scientism. Put another way, flying saucers flew out of the 1800s on the wings of imagination. Whether it was a naïve or even childish imagination is another one of those topics for another day of writing and reading.

Each has its own little story to tell.

(1) It's no coincidence that four of the great scientific, pseudoscientific, or pseudo-historical developments of the nineteenth century--Darwinism, Marxism, Mendelian genetics, and Freudianism--were attempts (or used as attempts) to drill down into the heart of human nature. Only one of these--genetics--is actually a science and only one of the originators--Gregor Mendel--was actually a scientist. Consequently, he was the most hardheaded among them. It so happens that he was also a man of faith.
So: a man of faith (Mendel)-->an actual science-->rejected by a twentieth-century regime--the U.S.S.R.--in which reason was supposed to have been supreme, to be replaced by a pseudoscience, in this case Lysenkoism; or, conversely, pursued and used as a kind of pseudoscience by progressives and Nazis (they're hard to tell apart sometimes) in the form of eugenics, abortion, forced sterilization, and bizarre experimentation on human beings and human society, either real and murderous or aspirational and murderous.
Meanwhile: skeptics, doubters, and outright atheists (Darwin, Marx, Freud, and their acolytes)-->pseudoscience, pseudo-history, or weak or soft science-->embraced by the murderous regimes of the twentieth century, or at the very least embraced by aspiring tyrants and murderers, for example, the New Left, the critical theorist, and the politically correct offspring of the teratogenic mating of Marxism and Freudianism. For another, the Fascist/Antifa people currently overrunning some of our cities and threatening and hoping to overrun our whole civilization.
What a strange and curious world we live in.
(2) Like the airship of the previous century, the flying wing-type aircraft of the twentieth is a symbol of scientific and technological progress. You know that if you've seen Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), which has as one of its set pieces a fistfight around a Nazi flying wing. In our popular culture, Nazi technology = advanced technology. In recent years, there have even been conspiracy theorists who believe that Nazi scientists were the first to develop flying saucers. For some reason, these flying saucers look like the fakes that George Adamski built out of a chicken brooder or a desk lamp. Some technology. We shouldn't forget, either, that one of at least two early descriptions of the first flying saucers (June 24, 1947), was of a scimitar-shaped, flying wing-type aircraft. If Kenneth Arnold hadn't described them as skipping like saucers, the whole history and iconography of the phenomenon would have been far different, and maybe there wouldn't have been a flying saucer era at all.
(3) Captain Nemo was reincarnated in Maximilian Schell's character, Dr. Hans Reinhardt, in The Black Hole (1981). There is of course a lot of German and maybe a little bit of German romantic in his character. His ship, the USS Cygnus, looks like it came straight out of the nineteenth century, not as an airship so much as a great, flying Crystal Palace, a nineteenth-century progressive/romantic wonder that burned to the ground in the same year that Things to Come was released. "This is the end of an age," remarked Winston Churchill. And how.
(4) The phrase "Nazi science fiction" would, like "scientific romance," seem self-contradictory and any discussion of it might risk foundering on the rock of German-romantic or Nazi irrationality. Here's the best quote I can find on short notice:
The science fiction novel, with its technical emphasis, at first seems to be the most difficult genre to integrate into the National Socialist literary canon. Science fiction, however, fit perfectly into the Nazi project of returning to a preindustrial world where science is really a craftsmanlike technology that has its source in the ancient currents of magic and racial myth but not in rationality. In real life this was the final goal toward which the Führer led the German people in a total war. In literature the irrational that is capable of subsuming technology in a rudimentary sense had been prepared as early as Heimatkunst [the "Homeland Art" movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s]. It would be more precise to refer to Nazi science-fiction novels as magical-technological novels. These novels--because the real-life dismissal of science was at the core of National Socialist ideology and its self-destructiveness--constitute the one literary genre in which Nazi ideology showed its true face most clearly. [Emphasis added.]
See what I mean by near-foundering? But at least we have a workable term, "magical-technological novel," which approximates, I think, "scientific romance." From German Literature of the Twentieth Century: From Aestheticism to Postmodernism by Ingo Roland Stoehr (2001), p. 192.
(5) Perhaps the crash of the progressive/romantic airship was prefigured in the flaming disaster of the Hindenburg, which came to grief on May 6, 1937, at Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New JerseySpeaking of flames, the UFOs of World War II were called "foo fighters," from the Smokey Stover comic strip and its popular saying, "Where there's foo there's fire." For those who don't know it, Smokey Stover is a fireman. Supposedly a nonsense word, foo is almost certainly from the French, feu, meaning fire. (I think that's called a tautology: "Where there's fire, there's fire.")
(6) Ten days before the Hindenburg went up in flames, Nazi and Fascist air forces bombed the Basque town of Guernica, a terrifying event memorialized by Pablo Picasso in his epic painting Guernica. Though not the first aerial bombardment of a town or city, it was one of the first to gain international attention and international opprobrium. Again, the lesson of the twentieth century is that airpower will not end war but only extend it into another element.
(7) The Day the Earth Stood Still can be seen as an abductee/contactee story, screened at about the same time that supposedly real-life narratives of the same kind began making the rounds of flying saucer fan gatherings. The message was the same, too: our space brothers--which tended to be of the Aryan or Nordic type--wanted to bring us peace and brotherly love. First, an end to war, then, brotherly love, hopefully a little sisterly love, too, with those tall, blonde Nordic aliens.
(8) It occurs to me that The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) have similarities except that in the first, the single mother is the abductee, while in the second it is her son who is taken aboard the alien spacecraft. In both, the military is a sort of enemy or at least an obstacle to the fulfillment or salvation-through-knowledge sought by the main characters. The opposite is true in The Thing from Another World, also from 1951 and also a great flying saucer movie. In that movie, the scientist is the sort-of villain, and the military men the obvious heroes. He wants to understand. They mean to defend. The journalist, who might be the intermediate figure between men of action and men of ideas, reconciles the two at the end, a nice touch made by the screenwriters.
(9) At first glance, Matt Fox's cover seems simple enough. But isn't it actually an inversion of traditional Christian imagery? There is the cone of light or beams of light issuing from Heaven. Smaller, lesser angels descend in the background, while two heralds flank the larger and obviously superior angel or archangel in the center. He has come to Earth on a mission, but what is it? What does he want? Here is a similar image, again from an age of faith:

The Annunciation to the Shepherds by Abraham Hondius (ca. 1631-1691), a painting from 1663. It looks like the heralds are missing from this painting, but we have all seen them in other paintings of the same type.

The spiraling cherubs above lead back to another Weird Tales cover:

Weird Tales, September 1941, cover art by Margaret Brundage. In this case, the spiraling figures are being taken up instead of being sent down. And instead of joy, they express fear and apprehension, at least until the taking up and spiraling begins.

The spiral motif makes me think of the Tower of Babel and its spiraling, ascending walkway. In biblical times we built for ourselves a Tower of Babel so that we might ascend to the heavens and thereby gain godlike power. (The title of C.S. Lewis' That Hideous Strength [1945] refers to the Tower of Babel.) Instead we were scattered. But with the airship first and later with airplanes, we could make our ascent without a tower--we were cut loose from foundations of slime. Again, it seems to me that the purpose of the airship is to exercise godlike power--to make the world a better place without God's help, this in an age that discarded belief in God and substituted for it a progressive/romantic belief in human beings and the power of the human mind. Now, using Gregor Mendel's insights, we are attempting to drill down into the heart of the cell and to manipulate another spiral, the double helix that resides within each. Again, we seek godlike power, in this case to remake the Creation because we believe it to be flawed. In our own very fine thoughts and minds, we believe we can make the world a better place, alone, without God's help. We're trying once again to build a Tower of Babel. That didn't work before. It's unlikely to work again.

The cover story, by the way, was "Beyond the Threshold" by August Derleth, a notably Catholic author.
(10) That statement--I have been chosen--essentially summarizes the abductee/contactee narrative: I have been chosen--I, who am so small and insignificant in my own life goes the subtext--I have been chosen. I stand out. I am specialI alone have been selected to receive the only truth from the heavens and to disseminate it among a benighted and earthbound humanity. I have hereby gained importance and significance. I can hereby feel and am right to feel self-esteemI.

If there had been social media in the 1950s, we would have had selfies taken with aliens, and the abductees/contactees would have posted them on the Internet in their desperate search for the esteem of their peers. Millions of likes and thumbs-up would have awaited. The significance of the aliens themselves would have been pretty negligible, as the flying saucer phenomenon is ultimately not about flying saucers or aliens from space but about human beings and the spiritual emptiness we feel in this overly scientific and materialistic age. We seek transcendence and will find it or make it any way we can.

Well, that's a long article, with lots of ideas and notes. I wanted to give you plenty to read, though, as I'm going to be gone again for a while. I'll let you know when I come back.

Original text and captions copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Thursday, August 13, 2020

The Weird Tales Website Is Back!

The website for the new Weird Tales magazine has returned. I don't know when it went up, but it's there for all to see. There are several pages to look at. Readers of this blog might be interested in the "Contact" page which invites inquiries from people who have "[q]uestions about old submissions" and "[p]roblems with something you bought from us." The new editor might not be responsible for the things that went on before he arrived, but I think somebody should have to account for them. At long last, somebody seems to be taking responsibility. Here's your chance to give Weird Tales an earful. 

Here is the URL for the new Weird Tales website. A link is embedded in it, so just click to go there.

The website also has a blog portion. On the day that I write (July 30, 2020), there are two entries. The second is an interview with Jonathan Maberry, the new editorial director. (I think that means editor.) Near the start of the interview, he reveals that there will be a new issue--Number 364--out in October. That will make two new issues under his editorship. I wish him well and hope to see more issues of a magazine that isn't supposed to die.

One of the authors Mr. Maberry has lined up for October is Lee Murray. In this blog, I cover the writers and artists who contributed to Weird Tales from its beginnings in 1923 up to and including the Bellerophon issues of 1984-1985. As far as I know, no author from New Zealand was published in Weird Tales between 1923 and 1985. I believe Lee Murray will be the first. Congratulations, Lee!

Here is the URL of Lee Murray's website with an embedded link:

Here are some other URLs with links:

Happy reading!

Copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Monday, August 10, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Seven

Peirces in a Line

It's strange to think that the first English colonists arrived in America just four years after the death of Queen Elizabeth I and before Shakespeare wrote his late plays, including The Tempest (1610-1611). At our founding, we were an Elizabethan or Jacobean culture. Now it seems we're closer to being Jacobin.

The Peirce family in America dates from that time. The first American Peirce in the line of Earl Peirce, Jr., was Capt. Michael Peirce, Peirse, or Pearce (ca. 1615-1676). (People were a lot more casual about spelling in those days.) Michael Peirce was born in about 1615 either in Bristol or St. George, Dorset, England. He came to what is now the United States in 1645 or 1646, settling first in Hingham, then, in 1646 or 1647, in Scituate, both in Plymouth Colony. Peirce served as an ensign in a company of colonial militia under Capt. Myles Standish. He himself was promoted to captain in 1669.

Before I go very much further in relating the story of Capt. Peirce, I should let you know that there is a lot of uncertainty, confusion, and misinformation about him, his family, his life, and his death. I'll try with the best information I have. Here it goes.

Capt. Michael Peirce had left England during the English Civil War (1642-1651) and (I hope) enjoyed a quarter-century of peace before conflict came again in the form of King Philip's War (1675-1678). Hostilities began on June 20, 1675, but I don't have anything on Peirce's involvement until mention of his participation in the battle at Narragansett in December 1675. I take that to mean the battle that is now called the Great Swamp Fight, December 19, 1675, near what is now South Kingston, Rhode Island.

In early 1676, Capt. Peirce led a small force of colonial militia and Wampanoag Indians into Rhode Island Colony in pursuit of what turned out to be a much larger force of Narragansett Indians and their allies. Peirce and some or all of his men were ambushed in what is now Central Falls, Rhode Island. Peirce (the story goes) and nine others were taken away as prisoners. One escaped, while the other nine, including Peirce, were either executed or tortured to death in what is now Cumberland, Rhode Island. The bodies of the nine were found by other militiamen and were buried at a site they marked with the construction of a cairn. The site, believed to be the oldest veteran's memorial in the United States, is called Nine Men's Misery and is located on the grounds of a monastery in Cumberland. The inscription on a plaque affixed to the cairn is ambiguous: it can be read either that the men were killed on March 26, 1676, or that their bodies were buried on that date. And I can't say for sure that Capt. Michael Peirce was one of them. Incidentally, for fans of weird tales, one of the dead is reputed to have been a giant with two rows of teeth. Somebody tried to dig him up more than a century after his death.

Capt. Peirce's heir was his son Capt. Benjamin Peirce (1646?-1730), eventual holder of 1,000 or more acres and owner of a sawmill. He or his father may have been the founders of the Peirce timber and lumber industry that carried through generations of their family, eventually to give birth to Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr., a professional forester and the father of Earl Peirce, Jr.

Records for the next two generations of the Peirce family seem a little shaky, but Capt. Benjamin Peirce seems to have been followed by two more Benjamins, Benjamin Peirce, Sr., (1683-1772) and Benjamin Peirce, Jr. (1721-1768). Then things become a little more firm again with Capt. Hayward Peirce (1753-1826). In 1776, a century after his great-great-grandfather's ill-fated expedition, the young Capt. Peirce, acting under Col. Jeremiah Hill, led a company of Massachusetts men into Rhode Island. I don't know where they were going or to what purpose, except to shoot at some Redcoats. I wonder if Capt. Peirce covered the same ground as the first Capt. Peirce one hundred years before him. Capt. Peirce also commanded a company in Col. Theophilus Cotton's regiment in 1777. Unlike his ancestor, Capt. Hayward Peirce survived the war and died in the same year as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Capt. Peirce's son, Waldo Peirce (1778-1841) seems to have been the one, possibly with one or more brothers, who moved the family's base of operations from Scituate to Maine. He married Catherine Treat (1782 or 1783-1863), who I'm pretty sure was in the line of Col. Robert Treat (1624-1710), who also took part in the Great Swamp Fight and later served as governor of Connecticut Colony. Waldo Peirce built a timber and lumber business at Frankfort, in Waldo County, Maine. "He was regarded as one of the most sagacious and able business men [sic] of eastern Maine," wrote the Treat family historian, "and acquired a large fortune of $80,000." (p. 346) From him and his wife it was on to George Albert Peirce (1812-1873), George Peirce (1851-1922), Earl Stanley Peirce, Sr. (1886-1978), and finally (for our purposes) Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983).

There were prominent people in those many generations of Peirces. For example, George Albert Peirce's daughter Katherine Peirce Scripps (1854-1933) was married to William Armiger Scripps (1838-1914) of the Scripps empire of journalism, publishing, and newspaper syndication. For another, the grandson of Waldo Peirce, Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Sr. (1846 or 1847-1936) and his wife Anna Cora Hayford Peirce (1856-1928) had four children, including: author Ada Stetson Peirce McCormick (1888-1974); archaeologist and art historian Hayford P. Peirce, Sr. (1883-1946); and painter and bon vivant Waldo Peirce (1884-1970), who hobnobbed with everybody from John Reed to Ernest Hemingway. A fourth child, athlete and scholar Mellen Chamberlain Peirce, Jr., died as a young adult.

I promised you a long time ago that I would get to Earl Peirce's third cousin, who is also a writer of genre fiction. Finally, here we are. In 1937, while in his mid fifties, Hayford Peirce, Sr., married Pauline Francis "Polly" Brown (1911-1994). Five years later, she gave birth to a son. His name is Hayford Peirce, Jr., and since 1974, he has worked as an author of genre fiction, including science fiction, mysteries, and detective fiction. (He has also written his own Wikipedia page.) If all of my figuring is correct, then Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr., and Hayford Peirce, Jr., are third cousins. I kind of doubt they ever met (who has ever met his third cousin?), but it's interesting that after three hundred years in America, the Peirce line would arrive, finally and I imagine independently of each other, at two tellers of tales.

Earl Peirce's seventh and last story in Weird Tales was "Portrait of a Bride," from January 1940. Like his previous entry, this one, a tale of a ghostly, imaginary bride, is competent but pretty slight. There seems to have been something lacking in Peirce's later stories compared to his earlier ones. I suspect it has to do with the fact that the feverish imagination of youth is too often lost in adulthood.

I have read and written about these stories mostly because I have been looking for connections to H.P. Lovecraft and his so-called Cthulhu Mythos. I need not have read any further than the first, "Doom of the House of Duryea," from October 1936. Even then, the connection isn't really to Lovecraft so much as it is to Robert Bloch, who created Ludvig Prinn (mentioned in Peirce's story), fictional author of the grimoire Mysteries of the Worm (or De Vermis Mysteriis, as Lovecraft dubbed it). Peirce and Bloch knew each other in Milwaukee in the mid 1930s. As far as I can tell, there aren't any other connections between the two within their respective stories except for a possible--and very tenuous--connection between Peirce's second story, "The Last Archer" (Weird Tales, Mar. 1937), and Bloch's Egyptian Cycle of stories from about the same period.

If there is a theme running through Peirce's stories, it is one of family curses and familial degeneration. That seems to be a pretty common one in weird fiction, maybe because it is so common in real life. It's an especially common theme in stories by H.P. Lovecraft. Young people may feel that they're cursed by being in the family that they are. Those feelings probably fade for most people. I don't get a sense that Peirce's family was running down. They're actually a pretty remarkable bunch. But then you never know what goes on in the private lives of other people.

After January 1940, Earl Peirce's name disappeared from Weird Tales. He was then only halfway through his career in the pulps. Most of the rest of his output was for mystery, crime, and detective titles. I'm pretty sure that Peirce has living descendants. I wonder if they would ever assent to having his stories reprinted, maybe in two volumes, one for his weird tales, the other for his detective stories. He was a competent writer, though not a great one, and he had flashes of real imagination, especially when he was young. I imagine that pulp fans today would want to read what he wrote.

And so ends this series.

Text and caption copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Friday, August 7, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr.-Aside No. 4

Peirces in New England & A Pierce in Lovecraft

Earl Peirce's family is an ancient one in America. The first among them was born only a dozen short years after Queen Elizabeth I had died and while William Shakespeare still walked the earth. Arriving in what is now Massachusetts before the middle of the seventeenth century, the first American Peirce in Earl Peirce's line served in Capt. Myles Standish's Plymouth Colony militia. Promoted to captain himself, he served during King Philip's War only to fall victim to it. What is believed to be the oldest veteran's memorial in the United States marks the place where Capt. Peirce (as the story goes) and eight of his compatriots perished. The site, known as Nine Men's Misery, is located in Rhode Island, not far north of Providence and well within Lovecraft country.

The Peirce name is old, too. There were Anglo-Saxon Peirces and Norman French Peirces in England during the Middle Ages. The name itself refers to the apostle Peter and has many variants, including Pierce, Peirse, and Pearse. College English students will remember Piers Plowman, Piers being another variant. Here I'm using the spelling that Earl Peirce, Jr., and his family used and one that is still used by Peirces throughout New England. The name is or was pronounced Purse (possibly also as Parse). Robert Frost let us know that in his poem "New Hampshire" (a state that he personified as she):
She had one President. (Pronounce him Purse,
And make the most of it for better or worse.
He's your one chance to score against the state.)
"New Hampshire" was published in book form in 1923, the same year that Weird Tales began. 

Like the Peirces, the family of H.P. Lovecraft was ancient in America, but only on his mother's side. There were Phillips and Whipples in Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in the seventeenth century. The Lovecrafts were comparative latecomers, arriving in the United States only in the Early National Period, in the same century in which H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) was born.

Lovecraft was of course a lover of all things New England. He would have been well acquainted with the Peirce/Pierce name, and he included it in one of his most well-known and popular stories, "The Colour Out of Space" (Amazing Stories, Mar. 1927). Lovecraft is supposed to have counted it his favorite among his own stories.

"The Colour Out of Space" is a strange and unsettling story of an inexplicable alien presence that fell to earth in the country west of fictional Arkham, Massachusetts. The time was in the past--"the strange days" as the locals call it. The place, now known as "the blasted heath," was on the farm of the late Nahum Gardner. The story of those "strange days" is recounted to the unnamed narrator by an old man who was a neighbor of Nahum Gardner. His name is Ammi Pierce. Now that I think about it, he reminds me of the Once-ler from The Lorax.

Again, the story of "The Colour Out of Space" is told in the present, i.e., in the late 1920s, but "the strange days" were in the past. They began in June 1882 when a meteorite fell on the Gardner farm. Only at harvest time did Nahum Gardner realize that his entire crop had been contaminated, "that the meteorite had poisoned the soil." That was only the beginning of his and his family's travails, told in increasingly horrifying detail by Ammi Pierce, who remembers it all as if it were yesterday, as well he might.

I have written about "The Colour Out of Space" before. Click here to read my posting of October 19, 2015.

Lovecraft was an amateur astronomer and a science-minded materialist. He made it a point to include real occurrences in his stories, I suppose to build a sense of verisimilitude. In 1882, there was a very bright comet in the skies of the Southern Hemisphere. Called the Great Comet of 1882, it was first observed in September, not in June. Perhaps the meteorite of June 1882 was a harbinger of the later comet, an offshoot that brought disease and death to earth, as comets do. I don't plan these things, but I wrote about all of this not very long ago. Click here for more reading on comets, disease, and death.

Now, finally, to the last part of the Earl Peirce, Jr., story.

Virgil Finlay's illustration for "The Colour Out of Space" by H.P. Lovecraft, from Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1941.

Original text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Earl Peirce, Jr. (1917-1983)-Part Six

Peirce After 1940

Following is a list of published stories and letters by Earl Peirce, Jr., taken from The FictionMags Index. I have broken the list down by decade. Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales--seven stories and four letters--are indicated by boldface type.

  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (Nov. 1935)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (June 1936)
  • "Doom of the House of Duryea" in Weird Tales (Oct. 1936)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (Nov. 1936)
  • "The Last Archer" in Weird Tales (Mar. 1937)
  • "The Death Mask" in Weird Tales (Apr. 1937)
  • "My Grave Awaits Me" in Dime Mystery Magazine (July 1937)
  • Letter in "The Eyrie," Weird Tales (July 1937)
  • "The Homicidal Diary" in Weird Tales (Oct. 1937)
  • "The Cat" in Fantasmagoria (Winter 1937)
  • "The White Rat," with Bruce Bryan, in Weird Tales (Sept. 1938)
  • "Satan Fills the Morgue" in Strange Detective Mysteries (Nov./Dec. 1938)
  • "Mum’s the Word for Murder" in Dime Detective Magazine (Feb. 1939)
  • "The Stroke of Twelve" in Weird Tales (June/July 1939)
  • "A Killer and His Brother" in Detective Tales (Aug. 1939)

  • "Portrait of a Bride" in Weird Tales (Jan. 1940)
  • "Legacy of the Dead" in Terror Tales (July 1940)
  • "Tailor-Made Shroud" in Detective Tales (Dec. 1940)
  • "The Shadow of Nirvana" in Strange Stories (Feb. 1941)
  • "Bluecoat’s Birthright" in Detective Tales (May 1941)
  • "Greetings from the Grave" in Detective Tales (Mar. 1943)
  • "Murdertime Gal" in Detective Tales (Dec. 1946) [Randolph Barron--presumably Peirce's detective character]
  • "Crazy to Kill" in Detective Tales (Jan. 1947) [Randolph Barron]
  • "Escape" in Detective Tales (Oct. 1949)

I see two patterns in this list. First, Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales came to an end in January 1940. Second, Peirce began shifting away from weird fiction and towards detective fiction in the late 1930s. By mid 1941, the shift was complete: his last five published stories were for Detective Tales, and in 1949, after just thirteen years, his career as a pulp writer and published author seems to have ended.

In regards to the first pattern, I think it's useful to know that Weird Tales also went through a transition at about the same time. In 1938, Short Stories, Inc., purchased the property and moved its offices to New York City. Although Farnsworth Wright remained as editor, he was eased out in early 1940. The March issue was the last credited to him as editor. (By the end of the year he was in his grave.) Dorothy McIlwraith took over in May 1940. I don't know that she cleaned house exactly, but that began a new era in Weird Tales. An analysis of contributors before and after May 1940 might prove worthwhile in cases like this. The point is that Peirce's contributions to Weird Tales ended with the end of Wright's tenure as editor.

The second pattern shows another parallel with the writing career of Robert Bloch. In an interview with Darrell Schweitzer, conducted in 1982, Bloch talked about the changes he made in his writing in the late 1930s and early 1940s:
I found that there was a greater market for humor in the science fiction field at that time than there was in the fantasy field, and I liked to write humor, so I just went on from there. I would say that it may very well have helped to broaden my writing, but I had already begun to change my style. I had departed from the Lovecraft thing in 1939 or 1940. It wasn't just in science fiction, because my fantasy was also changing style. I had been experimenting with writing style. I got into mystery and suspense because I admire the work of people like Raymond Chandler. (1)
So it looks like Peirce made the same kind of switch as Bloch, and at about the same time. But if there was any direct connection between the actions of these two men, it has probably been lost in time. By the way, Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) had his first detective story in Black Mask in 1933. In 1939-1940, his first two novels, both starring Philip Marlowe, were published. These were The Big Sleep (1939) and Farewell, My Lovely (1940), which were not as well liked by critics as they were by readers and writers, including John Steinbeck and S.J. Perelman. (2) Despite what the critics might have thought, mystery, detective, and crime stories were wildly popular at the time. According to Chandler's biographer, Tom Hiney, "one in every four books lent by American libraries in the 1940s was a mystery story." (3) Maybe Peirce, Bloch, and writers were leading while at the same time following a trend.

* * *

There were also big changes in the life of Earl Peirce during the early 1940s. On May 7, 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. On December 26, 1941, with the United States at war with Japan and Germany, he married nineteen-year-old Gloria Hallett Grimm (1922-1999). He was then just twenty-four. Peirce and his three brothers served in the U.S. Navy or Naval Reserve during the war. His older brother Beach was killed in action in the Pacific in June 1942, at about the time as or shortly after the Battle of Midway. That left Earl Peirce as the oldest of the Peirce boys. He served four and a half years all together, including as a pharmacist's mate on board the hospital ship USS Benevolence. Peirce separated from the navy on October 13, 1945.

By then or shortly thereafter, young Peirces had begun arriving. There were about eight all together from one or two marriages. I won't name them. I hope some are still living. It's nice to think, too, that Peirce had some unpublished stories among his papers and that they are still in existence. In any case, Robert Bloch remembered:
In late '41 I visited him there with my friend Harold Gauer: he had married and was (I seem to recall) working for the Navy Department. That was the last I saw or heard of him for at least twenty-five years [i.e., until the mid 1960s]. Then he showed up here, with a different wife, and spent a day with me. He had changed so much that I'd never have recognized him, and there wasn't a trace of the rather intense and imaginative fantasy devotee who had once dreamed of starting an organization to rule the world--the "Si-Fan," modeled on Sax Rohmer's secret society in the Fu Manchu series. (4)
If that was in the mid 1960s, then Earl Peirce was only then approaching fifty--still young, but on the other hand, times change. In 1965, he was in Silver Spring, Maryland, where other members of his family lived. (His father died there in 1978.) Earl Stanley Peirce, Jr., died on June 6, 1983, in Newton, New Jersey. He was just sixty-six years old.

* * *

I sense one more possibility or pattern in the writing careers of Peirce, Bloch, and others like them of the 1930s and '40s. This is my own hypostulatin', as a friend of mine puts it. See what you think of it. It begins with Scooby-Doo.

The Scooby-Doo-style plot begins with happenings that are interpreted as being supernatural. There is creaking and clanking, moaning and other frights. Everybody panics, but once all of the running around is done, the mysterious happenings are revealed to have a merely mundane explanation. I haven't read the early gothic romances, but I think they follow the same kind of plot line, that what at first appears to be supernatural is in actuality not. Only later did the gothic romance expand to include stories of the supernatural, or as in the case of Frankenstein, the super-scientific.

The line leading from the gothic romance to weird fiction isn't exactly straight or unbroken. I think it's fair to say, though, that one comes more or less from the other. The twentieth century writer of weird fiction was confronted with a problem, though. I have written about it before. The problem is this: how do you write a story about supernatural happenings in an age in which science and reason are supreme? That problem was compounded as the century progressed and especially as World War II approached and then raged. What is writer of essentially romantic or gothic sensibilities to do when this is the way the world has turned?

Here's my hypostulatin': One solution was to transform the gothic romance into the hard-boiled detective story of the 1930s and '40s. Instead of setting his or her story in the dark, forbidding, and (physically) isolated rural place, such as a castle or an abbey, the writer moves it to the equally dark, forbidding, and (psychologically) isolated city. The hard-boiled detective remains as the story's romantic hero, exemplified by Chandler's latter-day knight-errant, Philip Marlowe. Unlike the supernatural gothic romance, the detective story plays it straight, but the supernatural element remains in a way, in the form of a stalking evil or depravity afoot in the city. Often in this new brand of romance, the gothic or medieval monster is transformed into the scientific monster of twentieth century, either the psychopath or sociopath, as in I Wake Up Screaming (1941) or He Walked by Night (1948), or the representative of the fanatic totalitarian mass movement, as in Pickup on South Street (1953). There might even be a super-scientific element as in Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which might better be described as science fiction (in the end of apocalyptic intensity) than a detective story. In all of this, we should remember that film noir (a label coined in French theorizing), which is essentially the hard-boiled detective story converted to film, grew out of and was influenced by German Expressionism and the horror movies of the 1920s through the 1940s: The Phantom of the Opera (1925), Frankenstein (1931), The Wolfman (1941), or I Walked with a Zombie (1943) as proto- or peri-film noir. The whole thing seems to have come full circle in the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), in which the detective, in this case a reporter, investigates supernatural happenings in the city at night, things that the police would rather just have ended in Scooby-Doo fashion. That's how they explain them, too. (5)

The upshot is that it might only have been a natural development for writers like Peirce and Bloch to have turned to detective stories once America had: a) become pretty thoroughly urbanized and industrialized, at least in popular culture; b) Science or at least quasi-science had slain God and religion; and c) perhaps most importantly, World War II came along and wiped out the romantic fantasies of previous ages.

To be continued . . .

(1) "Robert Bloch Interviewed by Darrell Schweitzer" in Conversations with the Weird Tales Circle (Centipede Press, 2009), pages 236-237.
(2) Raymond Chandler: A Biography by Tom Hiney (Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997), page 114.
(3) Ditto, page 119.
(4) Interview with Graeme Flanagan, presumably in Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography by Graeme Flanagan (Canberra City, Australia: Author, July 1979).
(5) Although H.P. Lovecraft claimed not to be able to write a detective story, what else is "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) but a tale of detection (and a good one at that)?

"The Stroke of Twelve," in Weird Tales, June 1939, was Earl Peirce's sixth story for the magazine. It looks to be his shortest to date. It's a modest story, one of those "he got what he deserved" kind of tales. I see it as a step down from his previous entries. By the time he wrote it, Peirce had definitely been afflicted by adverbitis. Here's a sample: "His eyes stared incredulously, fearfully stupidly." That's three -ly words in one short sentence, which can sometimes be three too many in a story, let alone in a sentence. Worse still is another of Peirce's supposed adverbs, "stone-facedly." (Supposed because it's not even a word.) And that bit of his eyes staring. Eyes don't stare. People stare. It's like saying, "His hand picked up a cup of coffee" or "His legs walked across the room." His hand didn't do it. His legs didn't do it. He did it. These are the kinds of things that keep pulp fiction, or genre fiction in general, from being taken seriously. It's why pulp writers and readers continue to be seen as essentially sub-literate.

A gallery of covers with Earl Peirce's byline, from top to bottom: Strange Stories (Feb. 1941), Detective Tales (Mar. 1943), Detective Tales (Dec. 1946), and Detective Tales (Jan. 1947). At least one of those looks like an Earl Peirce cover story; he seems to have been getting some traction in these detective magazines as the 1940s went on. Then it all came to an end in 1949. Was Peirce too busy with babies, children, and work by then? I just don't know.

Thanks to The FictionMags Index and to Randal A. Everts.
Text copyright 2020 Terence E. Hanley