WEIRD TALES – September, 1947

Editor: D. McIlrwaith
Associate Editor: Lamont Buchanan
Cover by Boris Dolgov
Published by Weird Tales
Dated: September, 1947

I have an ereader. It has many wonderful and convenient uses. I play games on it, I watch video on it, I browse the web on it.

The cover to my copy of September 1947's Weird Tales. Copyright 1947 by Weird Tales.

The cover to my copy of September 1947’s Weird Tales. Copyright 1947 by Weird Tales.

Oh, and I do actually read on it. I’m not someone who feels reading books on an ereader is heresy or anything. But just as I prefer extended gaming sessions on a console, big movies on a surround-sound television, and the full web on my laptop, there are still times where I feel reading a book from a book is the better experience. Why is that? Well, ereaders/tablets have this wonderful ability to connect to the internet or other handy programs. You are never really alone when reading digitally. Find a word you don’t know, a reference that’s beyond you, or just get to an especially scary moment? You have an electronic safety net to pull you out of the experience and put everything right.

You can’t do that with a book. With an old-fashioned book you have pages, the author’s words, your imagination, and nothing else. Without the internet a tap away you are, essentially, trapped with the story. Some my find that inconvenient.

I consider that setting the mood.

Of course, the right mood has to be paired with the right reading material, and I found the September, 1947 issue of Weird Tales to be a wonderful bit of fun to read curled up in a corner chair. It’s creepy and funny, with both dread and humor. Not every bit of fiction received the same amount of enjoyment and appreciation from me, so let’s take a look at what’s inside this gorgeous cover, shall we?

Beware, spoilers ahead!

Moving in page order, the first short story is Quest of the Gazolba, which inspired the issue’s cover. Written by Clark Ashton Smith, Mr. Smith is an author who I had never heard of until I’d begun collecting these old pulp publications. This is the second of his stories I have read, and I’ve learned that I should be eagerly searching out his name.

Quest of the Gazolba starts out fairly generically and by-the-book. We get a bunch of old fantasy sounding names, amongst them Euvoran, Son of Karpooma and King of Ustaim. As king it is Euvoran’s brow upon which rests a magnificent crown made of the rarest of treasures, the most impressive of which is the stuffed body of a near-extinct gazolba-bird. The crown is the pride of the land, a key symbol of Euvoran’s power and right to rule, so when a necromancer brings the bird to life and it flies away with the crown much hullabaloo is to be had. Euvoarn eventually gathers his navy and army and sets out to chase down the bird, kill it, and thus restore his reputation and cement his right-to-rule.

As Euvoran’s quest begins we again have some of the standard fantasy tropes; a prophecy, the sailing king and his luxuries, a wizard, and amazing lands to be explored. But most of it is turned slightly on its head by Mr. Smith. The story really starts to show its wonderful strangeness when Euvoran lands on an island ruled by birds. While escaping from his captors he encounters dozens of previous human explorers taxidermied and displayed in a great hall. The whole sequence is wonderful to read.

Equally entertaining is Euvoran’s disastrous arrival at his ultimate destination, the island the resurrected gazolba-bird has been tracked to. While he is successfully in finally killing himself a gazolba-bird, Euvoran learns too late that the creature is plentiful on the island in the order of hundreds, considered a common and mildly satisfying meal. With the destruction of his fleet the king, with his prize, is also now trapped on this island with a lone man who does not recognize his authority. By the time I’d come to the end of Quest of the Gazolba I was completely caught up in and enjoying Mr. Smith’s original and amusing take on the king’s epic quest.

The next tale in this issue is the novelette Mrs. Pellington Assists by Seabury Quinn. Written from the perspective of noirish District Attorney Edam, it tells the story of a man arrested for attacking his wife – or did he? The wife believes her husband is innocent, his actions the result of being ensorcelled by a fortune-teller. With the help of the psychically-sensitive Mrs. Pellington the D.A. begins to believe, and the future of the accused man is determined by a battle between the spirits of the accused’s mother and the scheming fortune-teller.

I’m not sure what you think of that description, but Mrs. Pellington Assists is actually an entertaining read – even if it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense – because District Attorney Edam is as much over his head in all of this as we are. Plus, the battle of Good VS Evil is determined by an ectoplasmic cat fight, so there’s that.

Next up is The Damp Man Returns by Allison V. Harding, another novelette. And I have to compliment Ms. Harding because this is the only story that made me want to stop reading because I didn’t want to know what was going to happen next! The tale of a young reporter who attempts to keep his sweetheart safe from the unstoppable Damp Man – the grotesque son of a multimillionaire – seems fairly dry for the first half of the story. Then the Damp Man buys the reporter’s newspaper to get to him, beginning a frantic – if not at times impossible – chase through the city. Although parts of the plot are a little weak, and the villain is stopped by a deus ex machina, I was still on the edge of my seat for it all. The final moments of the story had me very much on edge.

Sadly, The House of Cards by Malcolm M. Ferguson had to come after Ms. Harding’s trilling piece. Not that placement after any other work in Weird Tales would have changed how difficult it is to actually read the story. Framed as a second-hand exploration of a deceased woman’s diary about those who had rented rooms at her house, the story is hard to follow since conversations inside of quotes inside of text that is being read and commented on by the contemporary characters all overlap on each other.

Seriously, that last sentence is easier to follow than some of what is written in Mr. Ferguson’s work.

I just didn’t find the premise – that the spirits of the house and a deck of tarot cards are causing the room renters pain and/or death – worth the effort of getting through all the quotations within quotations. Every person who is negatively effected did some really terrible thing, so instead of the tale feeling scary – as it would if the bad-mojo items were doling out horrible fates indiscriminately – it comes off as karma is finally finding its way. Unless I happen to have murdered an old woman by pushing her down a well, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be freaked out about here – and the end of the short story does imply that the reader should be concerned for their own well-being when they finish reading and go to bed.

But, again, I’ve not tied my spouse to the bed and burned down my cottage, so…not really expecting the spirits of the house and tarot cards to find me of much interest.

Following this is Eena by Manly Banister.

Let me first pause and say; Manly Banister? Best. Name. Ever.

Mr. Banister’s short story is quite impressive. It follows a female werewolf (or perhaps better described as werehuman?) and the man who raised her when she was just – and only – a wolf pup. I won’t say this is exactly star-crossed lovers material, but my attention was rapt to the page as the titular Eena’s tale came to its inevitable conclusion. A really great read, and the one whose tragic end will probably stick with me the longest.

Following up from Eena is The Occupant of the Crypt by August Derleth and Mark Schorer. This was another one which kept my attention, managing to balance well a creepy vibe with the true horror that comes from actual concern for likable characters put in danger. Arguably a tale about a long-imprisoned vampire finally released from its ancient crypt, this is no sparkly poster boy – this is a creature whose continence is made more terrifying in the imagination thanks to the few details provided about it.

I was also pleased to see that the tale’s lone female character, one Amber Joyce, was shown to think quickly and fend for herself when suddenly attacked by the crypt’s occupant. It’s a story that hits the ground running and should certainly be enjoyed, although I did wonder why the story’s protagonists were able to easily end the creature by means their predecessors had and didn’t use.

The Pale Criminal by C. Hall Thompson brings a screeching halt to the quick pace established by Mr. Derleth and Mr. Schorer’s work. It is far too verbose for the tale it is telling, bogging down what could have been a very creepy story in excessive detail and bloated exposition. Although there were a few turns of phrase which elicited a chuckle from me, I was not even midway through the text when I started wondering how much longer everything would take to resolve.

One of the very best stories was saved for last, The Girdle of Venus by Harold Lawlor. When a strange man sells newlywed Baby the legendary girdle of the Goddess Venus, Baby thinks nothing of the low price (especially since she thinks it is the girdle of Venice). She also dismisses the man’s open admission that his goal is mischief. Baby’s husband holds no true love for her – until she places the girdle around her waist. The story follows their evening out as every man finds Baby completely irresistible. It’s a truly funny tale that was a blast to read from beginning to end. While the gender roles started out feeling very dated, Baby’s true intelligence and character are made very clear by the end of the story. The Girdle of Venus by itself is reason enough alone to recommend this issue of Weird Tales.

The remaining works in Weird Tales are two poems and a sort of “informational” section called Weirdisms.

The poems are The Others Said by Katherine Simons and The Stranger by Leah Bodine Drake. Both use rhyming schemes, and I found neither especially great or particularly terrible. If I had to pick one to read I’d recommend The Others Said, as it is the slightly creepier of the two.

Weirdisms presents some random legends of vampires collected by E. Crosby Michel with drawings Lee Brown Coye. I didn’t find it terribly interesting, outside of the 21st century knowledge that some of the evidence stated for vampires was in fact incidents where someone was buried alive by accident and had struggled to escape before dying from the lack of oxygen. Morose, but not supernaturally creepy.

The last items worth commenting on are the editorial sections and ads. The only ad that garnered any of my attention was the one promising a method to quit smoking – particularly interesting since it promised that you could use the process on someone without them knowing. The editorial section also apologized for the raise in price to 20 cents an issue.

But what really showed me how things have changed since 1947 is the last part of the issue…the part that prints the names and addresses of all the new “members” of Weird Tales. That’s right, I have in my hand the actual addresses for what must be at least 50 new subscribers to the magazine. Can you imagine if something like GQ did that today for new subscribers? We freak out when Facebook changes a privacy setting. But back then this information, seeing so many people who had the same interests as you, formed a sense of warm community.

And yes, I went through each name and no, I didn’t find any whom I recognized.

To sum this all up, if you’re like me and you enjoy an old school read that runs the gamut from shivers to giggles – and you happen to run across the September, 1947 issue of Weird Tales – I have to recommend picking it up. The hits outweigh the misses, and there are plenty of tales I really enjoyed reading both for the laughs and the legit scares.

Especially when, thanks to good ol’ pulpy paper, I had no escape from them.


Scott T. Hicken is the Web Manager and Editor of EXIERN, and the creator of CHIBIERN. He welcomes your comments and feedback!