Saturday, October 03, 2009

Ghoulies and Ghosties

Ghoulies and Ghosties, Long-Leggedy Beasties and Things That Go Bump in the Night. Humans have always liked a good scare (why I don't know) and the pulps were happy to oblige.

Weird Tales is probably the best remembered publisher of the spooky stories during the pulp era, giving readers tales by H. P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, and many more. Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian first appeared here alongside stories by Clark Ashton Smith and Seabury Quinn. Editors during the pulp era were Edwin Baird, Farnsworth Wright and Dorothy McIlwraith (such an appropriate name). Illustrators included Margaret Brundage, Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok and Lee Brown Coye.

While Weird Tales was not the only magazine to offer such delightful chills it is probably the most fondly remembered. Robert Bloch and Ray Bradbury started their careers here, for example. H. P. Lovecraft gained some popular acclaim in these pages along with Manly Wade Wellman and Fritz Leiber. Many regular contributors went on to gain some fame in literature while others were, for the most part, forgotten.

Many collections are available featuring stories that first saw print in Weird Tales, along with books and articles giving the magazine's history.

I have only a handful of issues of WT in my collection, but all are very readable with a good mix of stories, although I don't understand why they made a point of including Science Fiction stories when so many other titles offered them. Some readers complained in the letters page about the SF. But I digress.

I first encountered H. P. Lovecraft by stumbling over the Gold Key comic adaptation of the movie Die Monster Die. I discovered it was based on a story by one H. P. Lovecraft and tracked down a paperback collection featuring The Colour Out Of Space and a few other Lovecraft stories. I had also discovered Robert Bloch about this time and eventually found my way to Weird Tales.

Another pulp offering stories of the weird was Famous Fantastic Mysteries which reprinted stories mainly from the Munsey magazines and which managed to remain quite affordable, especially when compared to the early WT. Here I encountered the fiction of A. Merritt, some of which provided some spooky moments, and as a bonus featured illustrations by Finlay and Lawrence.
So, why do we enjoy being scared? I would imagine psychologists would trace it back to caveman days when early man told stories around the cooking fire. Stories of supernatural horror have been found from ancient Egypt (think living mummies), Greece and Rome. Stories of the Minotaur or search for the Golden Fleece can provide sufficient chills. The Nineteenth Century saw increased popularity of the genre thanks to Mary Shelly, E. A. Poe, John Polidori and Bram Stoker, among others. Charles Dickens could come up with a good ghost yarn and Arthur Conan Doyle enjoyed them, too. The Twentieth Century gave us the Horror films, allowing Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi to spook the audiences. Mainstream literature also provided quite a few chill-worthy titles. But some of the best work appeared in the pages of Weird Tales. To me the short story is the best format for the Horror tale. A novel can run on too long and lose grip on the reader, but the short can end leaving the reader wanting more. Of course Stephen King may be the exception to the rule, but I prefer his shorter works.
October brings us Halloween which has become one of the most popular holidays in the year. Large, temporary stores devoted to Halloween merchandise pop up everywhere. Most towns have at least one "Haunted House" attraction that pulls in good money each October. So in keeping with the spirits of the season grab a copy of WT or a similar publication, and get in the proper frame of mind. After all, they are lurking on your shelf just waiting for the opportunity to leap out and say "Boo!!". Now back to that spooky Bloch story I was starting to read.

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