Weird Tales, across incarnations, has been arguably the most important outlet for dark fantasy and horror in the American market for the past century now. Yes, it’s been that long. The first issue of Weird Tales is marked March 1923 and would have appeared on newsstands in February (I’m not splitting hairs), and while it wasn’t immediately impressive it would become the quintessential pulp horror magazine within a decade. Given the nature of my site and how important Weird Tales is, I thought it appropriate (not to mention a break away from tackling serials) to do a month-long tribute by reviewing entirely short stories from this magazine’s pages—but make no mistake, this is not an attempt to cover its incredibly wide-spanning history. What I’m doing rather is to cover the most famous period of Weird Tales: from the mid-1920s to the end of the 1930s.
In a way this is not so much a tribute to Weird Tales as to the man who, more than anyone, made it the legend it now is: Farnsworth Wright. Wright hopped on as editor with the November 1924 issue and stayed until failing health forced him to step down after the March 1940 issue; he died only a few months later. But in the decade and a half that Wright was editor there was a profound change in the magazine’s contents, as it went from focusing on unassuming ghost stories to encompassing a wider range of “weird” fiction, including but not limited to sword and sorcery, operatic science fiction, and of course, cosmic horror. Ghost stories remained a firm part of the magazine’s identity, but under Wright we saw several big forerunners to modern horror and fantasy, including H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, and indeed Weird Tales was the birthplace of both Conan the Barbarian and the Cthulhu Mythos.
Weird Tales was not that friendly to novellas unless they were serialized, and anyway I figured it’d be more accurate a representation to review all short stories this month, which also allows for a more diverse set of authors. We’ve got some famous ones here, but also some deep cuts that I’m very much interested in exploring.
Anyway, here are the short stories:
- “The Stolen Body” by H. G. Wells. From the November 1925 issue. This is the first true reprint I’ll be reviewing for Remembrance. “The Stolen Body” was first published in the November 1898 issue of The Strand Magazine, but we’re reading it as it appeared in Weird Tales, and apparently Wright (or somebody) deemed it major enough to make it the cover story despite its reprint status. Wells is someone who needs no introduction, and this is a story from his peak era.
- “The Canal” by Everil Worrell. From the December 1927 issue. Not much is known about this author, but her vampire story “The Canal” has been reprinted several times over the years, including as a “classic” reprint in Weird Tales itself. Lovecraft was apparently a big admirer of this one, and he also didn’t seem immediately aware that Worrell was a woman. There’s a later revised version with a different ending, but we’re reading its first magazine appearance.
- “The Star-Stealers” by Edmond Hamilton. From the February 1929 issue. Hamilton had made his debut in Weird Tales, and he soon proved to be the most prolific contributor of “weird-scientific stories,” or ya know, just science fiction. “The Star-Stealers” is the second entry in the episodic Interstellar Patrol series, which while not often read now was an early exmaple of space opera, which Hamilton helped codify alongside E. E. Smith and Jack Williamson.
- “The Black Stone” by Robert E. Howard. From the November 1931 issue. This has to be the fastest I’ve returned to an author for my site, since only last month I finished covering Howard’s Conan serial The People of the Black Circle. “The Black Stone,” however, is not sword and sorcery but cosmic horror, and it’s supposed to be one of the best old-school Lovecraftian narratives, on top of being one of the first examples of someone taking cues from Lovecraft’s work.
- “The Dreams in the Witch-House” by H. P. Lovecraft. From the July 1933 issue. Speaking of which, it’d be impossible to do a Weird Tales tribute without covering its most famous contributor, although Lovecraft was certainly not that at the time. Wright and Lovecraft did not get along, with Wright rejecting At the Mountains of Madness and “The Shadow Out of Time.” Still, this is one of his more famous short stories, and it even got adapted for TV recently.
- “The Black God’s Kiss” by C. L. Moore. From the October 1934 issue. The only reread of the bunch, and that’s because I honestly did not give this one the attention I should have when I encountered it a couple years ago. Moore is now more known for collaborating with her husband Henry Kuttner, but she started as one of the more popular authors in Weird Tales. “The Black God’s Kiss” is the first in the Jirel of Jory series, featuring the titular sword-and-sorcery heroine.
- “Vulthoom” by Clark Ashton Smith. From the September 1935 issue. The literary sorcerer returns! Smith was, for a brief time, one of the most prolific contributors to Weird Tales, although he mostly retired from writing fiction by the time Wright left. “Vulthoom” is a “late” Smith story, and you can tell because it was one of only a few he put out in 1935. It’s also a comparitibely rare example of Smith doing SF, with the setting being not Earth but a haunted Mars.
- “Strange Orchids” by Dorothy Quick. From the March 1937 issue. As with Worrell we don’t know much about Quick, and unlike “The Canal” this has not been reprinted so often. I do remember first seeing Quick’s name in Unknown, the magazine that for a brief time usurped Weird Tales, but she appeared more in the latter; she basically stopped writing fiction once the first incarnation of Weird Tales shut down. Probably the most obscure pick of the bunch.
- “Roads” by Seabury Quinn. From the January 1938 issue. Quinn was the most popular author to appear in Weird Tales during the Wright era, and yet his reputation dwindled enough since his death that he later “won” the Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award. The posthumous obscurity could be because a lot of what Quinn wrote was hackwork, but “Roads” is distinct for apparently being one of those pieces that Quinn wrote out of passion, being an earnestly told Christmas story.
I know Halloween was only like five months ago, but truth be told it’s always Halloween in my heart. If I could get away with just reading and reviewing spooky fiction I probably would; nothing warms my bones like a good horror yarn. The greatest hits from Weird Tales are still cited after nearly a century, but I suspect there are also deeper cuts (especially by female authors, as there would’ve been several) that are worth our attention. We have a healthy variety of authors and a good deal of diversity as to this magazine’s contents, ranging from the supernatural to the weird-scientific.
But enough buildup…
It’s time to venture into the eerie, the uncanny, and the WEIRD!