Saturday, October 29, 2016

Observations on Weird Tales


I have been listing to recordings of various panels from Pulpfest, a convention for pulp enthusiasts and collectors.  While the convention focuses more on the hero pulps like Doc Savage and the Shadow, a groups of panels focused specifically on the horror, fantasy, and science fiction pulps that birthed the modern genres, Appendix N, and gaming of all stripes.  The king of these pulps was Weird Tales.

Writers who got their start in this magazine include H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, Tennessee Williams, Edmund "World Wrecker" Hamilton, Ray Bradbury, Manly Wade Wellman, Fritz Leiber, Henry Kuttner. C. L. Moore, Theodore Sturgeon, Margaret St. Clair, and August Derlith. Weird Tales published or had the right of first refusal to a majority of Appendix N authors and works, with most of the exceptions writing before or after the magazine's run. It represents the foundational pulp magazine against which the other horror, fantasy, and science fiction pulps reacted. Initially, these magazines would pick up stories rejected by the whims of Farnsworth Wright. Later, in Joseph Campbell and the Futurian editors, they would reject Weird Tales' pulp sensibilities for the frontiers of hard SF and social SF. Over time, it is those styles of pulp fiction, championed by NYC publishers and fan clubs like the Futurians and the Hydra Club, which claimed to be the mainstream of science fiction and the Golden Age. However, the shadow cast upon genre fiction by Weird Tales reaches to the present day:
"To this day, all horror writers take something out of somebody in Weird Tales. Whether it be Clive Barker or Steven King, who is very vocal about his admiration for it. Any of them you can name - Dean Koontz - they all received their education from Weird Tales. Think of Weird Tales as the doctoral thesis you have to read to enter the college." - Frank Schildiner 
I also noticed that Weird Tales and many of its authors were centered around Chicago instead of New York City. It is curious that these Chicago authors, without links to NYC fandom circles, were the ones who have slid into obscurity, just like pulpier Campbellian writers outside that clique have as well.

Finally, meet the character that was too pulp even for Weird Tales: Doctor Satan. A villain in the vein of Fu Manchu or Fantomas, he reled on a mixture of science and the occult to aid his crimes. Unfortunately, it was the readership, not the editors, who forced Weird Tales to cancel his stories, as they did not want to read hero pulp stories in Weird Tales. This might be one of the first anti-pulp revolts in the history of science fiction and fantasy. With a readership one-sixth of hero pulps like Doc Savage or The Shadow, Weird Tales was eager to please its audience, which was writing to the magazine and pledging to cancel their subscriptions. This revolt certainly precedes Campbell's revolution by a couple years. A suspicious soul might even wonder if New York fandom voices were loud in that tumult, just like they were in later anti-pulp movements.

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