Wednesday, May 17, 2023

R.T.M. Scott (1882-1966)-The First Tale of the Prehistoric Past

Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, Sr.
Aka Maj. R.T.M. Scott

Author, Poet, Military Officer, Lecturer
Born August 14, 1882, Woodstock, Ontario, Canada
Died February 5, 1966, New York, New York

Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott, better known as R.T.M. Scott, was born on August 14, 1882, in Woodstock, Ontario, to Alfred Maitland Scott and Elizabeth Bolby Willson Scott. He matriculated at the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, in 1901 and served as an engineer in India, Ceylon, and Malaysia. During the Great War, he was with the Canadian Expeditionary Force on the Western Front and attained the rank of major.

Scott began his writing career after the war. His first story listed in The FictionMags Index is "Such Bluff as Dreams Are Made Of," in Adventure, April 1, 1920. The leading character in that and more than two dozen more stories is Aurelius "Secret Service" Smith. One unusual aspect of this series is that its various entries were published in many different magazines, including Action Stories, Adventure, The American Magazine, The Black Mask, Collier's, Detective Book Magazine, The Illustrated Detective Magazine, Real Detective Tales and Mystery Stories, and others. There was one "Secret Service" Smith story in Detective Tales, in the issue of April/May 1923. Smith also appeared in hardback. Scott also wrote the first two stories in The Spider series, published in the pulp magazine The Spider in October and November 1933.

R.T.M. Scott arrived in the United States on July 28, 1919, five years to the day after the war had begun. He lived in New York City, also in Pasadena, after the war. In 1919-1921, he lectured in those two places on Theosophy and reincarnation. We can speculate that he encountered Theosophy in either India or Ceylon. Southern California was a hotbed, too, for Theosophy and other pseudo-religious, cult-like, and gnostic beliefs. In the 1930s, Scott wrote articles for Mystic Magazine and True Mystic Science with such titles as "In Search of My Own Ghost" and "Astounding True Seances." Scott claimed that his 1931 book The Mad Monk was written under the influence of Rasputin, with whom Scott had established contact through spiritualistic means. The book was dramatized in an episode of the Strange As It Seems radio program in March 1940. (Strange As It Seems was based on the syndicated cartoon panel of the same name, created by John Hix.) In other media, Scott wrote "special material" for the movie You'll Find Out (1940), starring Kay Kyser, Peter Lorre, Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi. The film is a comedy about Spiritualism. Maybe Scott acted as a kind of technical advisor.

Scott's son, also named Reginald Thomas Maitland Scott but nicknamed Robert, followed in his father's footsteps by authoring articles and short stories for Western, detective, and weird menace magazines, from 1930 to 1938. He was also an associate editor at Popular Publications in New York City. Born in Columbo, Ceylon in 1909, Robert Scott served in the Canadian Army during World War II and was killed in an accident after the war, in August 1945. His widow, Susan Ashley Scott, followed him to the grave in 1948. R.T.M. Scott's mother died in the in-between time, in January 1946. It all seems like too much for the survivors to take.

Scott resumed his writing career after the war, but his success was pretty limited. He published several hardbound novels during his career, the last of which seem to have been The Agony Column Murders, from 1946, and The Nameless Ones, from 1947. Both are "Secret Service" Smith stories. R.T.M. Scott died on February 5, 1966, in New York City. He was eighty-three years old.

R.T.M. Scott's Stories in Weird Tales and Detective Tales

Weird Tales

  • "Nimba, the Cave Girl" (Mar. 1923)

Detective Tales

  • "The Emerald Coffin" (Apr./May 1923)
Further Reading
"Scott, R T M" in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, at the following URL:

R.T.M. Scott's Story:

"Nimba, the Cave Girl" is short story of just three pages and is the first in Weird Tales set in prehistoric times. The place is "a beautiful lake lying between steep-sloping, wood-covered hills," south of what we call James Bay, in Scott's native country of Canada. That's an odd and seemingly irrelevant detail for a story of the distant past. Scott seems to have been attempting to make a concrete connection between the past and the present. I guess that's not surprising considering his interests in Theosophy, reincarnation, and spiritualism. He was pretty specific in his description of the setting for "Nimba, the Cave Girl." I wonder if he knew of exactly such a place in his native province.

Scott's story is violent and gory. You don't want to be the man who wrongs Nimba. I'm sure of that. What she does to Oomba gives new meaning to the word pulp fiction. But if she likes you, you'll be in like Flynn, even if you knock her down and eat all of her food. There are people writing on the Internet about how distasteful it all is, meaning the relationship between Nimba and her newfound man. Let's remember we're talking about cave people here. They don't act like we do. They might even be happy because they don't act like we do.

None of this is to say that "Nimba, the Cave Girl" is without its flaws or even that it's a very good story. Like I said, the setup is odd. Knowing that Scott was into Theosophy and spiritualism makes me wonder whether he considered his story to be simply fiction, or whether he thought of it as a work that exists for the rest of us in that misty territory between fiction and nonfiction or pseudo-nonfiction. Could he have believed that he was channeling Nimba?

There is also in "Nimba, the Cave Girl" a weird fetishism. Not weird as in weird tales but weird as in kinda pervy. Here's the main evidence of that:

    She stood long, viewing the new magnificence of the eastern horizon, her coppery-tanned skin glistening in the sun and her firm young breasts rising and falling as if they, too, saw and wondered in dreamy contemplation. Lithe were her legs and arms, and slender her waist, with hips full big but boy-like in their taper. Her hair was bound with little tendrils into a cue that reached below her waist and then was doubled to keep it off the ground. Sun-burned, its hue was a golden glory. A deep scar marked her face, but this only added to its barbaric beauty.

So her firm, young breasts could almost see and wonder in dreamy contemplation. Okay. Got it.

* * *

I don't know where Scott got the inspiration for his story, but it was preceded by two works written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, "The Cave Girl," which was serialized in The All-Story in 1913, and "The Cave Man," also in All-Story and serialized in 1917. These two stories were collected in a hardbound book called The Cave Girl in 1925. I'm not sure that Scott could have avoided the Burroughs effect once he sat down to write. There was a lot of that in the pulp fiction of the 1910s and for many decades after that.

* * *

There has already been a caveman in the first issue of Weird Tales. He was frozen in a block of ice and revived in "The Ghoul and the Corpse" by G.A. Wells. In "The Ghoul and the Corpse," it is the caveman who travels through time, from his to ours. And it is he who is frightened and horrified by what he finds. In "Nimba, the Cave Girl," there is the opposite situation. We, the readers, are the time travelers. We go from our time to hers, and this time it is we who are horrified, perhaps less by the violence and gore (readers and viewers today love their violence and gore) than by the sexual deal-making between woman and man.

* * *

"Nimba, the Cave Girl" is unique in the first issue of Weird Tales, at least among the eighteen stories I have considered so far. Sixteen of those eighteen are set in the 1800s or 1900s. "The Sequel" by Walter Scott Story, is an exception. I think we can call it a work of historical fiction, taking place as it does, in Italy, in the 1700s or before. However, "The Sequel" is not really an original work. Call it an outlier. Maybe we can pretty well discard it. If we discard it, then only "Nimba, the Cave Girl" remains as a work of historical fiction, except that it's not really historical. It's actually prehistorical. As such, it's the first story in Weird Tales to take place in a fantastical setting. In terms of the cosmos in which we find ourselves (or in which we have lost ourselves), only R.T.M. Scott's tale tells of real, physical things separated from us by great gulfs of time or space.

Except for "The Sequel," all of the other stories so far are set in the United States, Canada, or Alaska, or they are set in Europe during World War I, mostly with Americans as their main characters. (The unnamed German soldier in "The Grave" is an exception.) Even "Nimba, the Cave Girl" is set in what is now Canada. Again, discarding "The Sequel," sixteen of seventeen stories take place in our everyday world. ("The Ghoul And the Corpse" and "The Mystery of Black Jean" by Julian Kilman are admittedly set on its frontiers, especially "The Ghoul and the Corpse.") Not counting stories set outside of the United States, most take place either in the rural South or in or near big cities, including New York, Chicago, and San Francisco. In short, there's very little variety in their setting.

There's also not much variety in the characters depicted or their situations. Most of the characters are not very well developed or very memorable or even very lifelike. They are also mostly normal, everyday, middle-class or working-class Americans. Even the detectives are middle class. For an example of that, read Hamilton Craigie's introductory description of his detective, named Quarrier, in "The Chain." Anyway, there's a kind of sameness to all of it. Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales, remarked on that sameness in "The Eyrie," two months after the debut issue:

     These manuscripts come from all parts of the civilized world, and they come from all sorts of people--lawyers, truck drivers, doctors, farmers' wives, university professors, carpenters, high school girls, convicts, society women, drug fiends, ministers, policemen, novelists, hotel clerks and professional tramps--and one, therefore, would naturally expect their stories to possess a corresponding diversity. But not so. With rare exceptions, all these stories, written by all these different kinds of people, are almost exactly alike.
     Not only do they contain the same general plots and themes--one might understand that--but practically all are written in the same style; all have the same grammatical blunders, the same misspelled words, the same errors in punctuation, the same eccentric quirks of phraseology. After plowing through fifty or so of these stories (and we often read that many in an evening), a man acquires the dazed impression that all are written by the same person. It’s baffling! Why do the minds of these various types of people, living in different parts of the world and moving in dissimilar walks of life, slide comfortably into the same well-worn groove whenever they put their thoughts on paper? We give it up.

So it looks like the authors who contributed to those first few issues of Weird Tales worked almost exclusively with what they had close at hand. They didn't seem ready to make great leaps of the imagination, leaps into greater realms of either time or space. R.T.M. Scott made the leap, though, even if his jumping-off point was his belief in Theosophical, psychic, or occult phenomena, or, more accurately, pseudo-phenomena. Remember this passage from H.P. Lovecraft's preamble to "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926; 1928):

    Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents.

So maybe R.T.M. Scott opened a door in Weird Tales. If he did, then others would soon enough walk through it, including Lovecraft.

Lacking an image for R.T.M Scott and his "Nimba, the Cave Girl," I offer this one instead, for Edgar Rice Burroughs' story "The Cave Girl" in The All-Story, July 1913, with cover art by Clinton Pettee.

Text copyright 2023 Terence E. Hanley

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