Monday, October 11, 2010

Weird Tales: So What's It All About?

by Peter Enfantino

There’s been a lot of talk lately over on our sister blog, A Thriller a day, about the importance of Weird Tales in regards to the Boris Karloff series Thriller. That’s just a small portion of the importance “the unique magazine” had on the genre during its’ initial reign from 1923 through 1954. But how to experience the charm, magic and horror that this pulp emitted while not going broke purchasing rotting chunks of dust? There is a way and I shall tell you. There have been hundreds of collections that reprinted one or two WT stories, but we’ll concentrate on those multiple author collections that are built predominately (or altogether) from Weird Tales. The easiest way to find these books is to search for them on eBay or There are several sharks in the water who will charge what they want to charge, not what the book is worth (perfect example, the Marvin Kaye collection below can be found on abe for $3.64 up to $99.99), so be careful.

Weird Tales (Pyramid pb, 1964) edited by Leo Margulies, with a nice Virgil Finlay cover. Margulies was a very good collector in several different genres. This was one of my first exposures to Weird Tales so it has quite a bit of sentimental favor going for it. Having said that, it’s still a solid collection of not-anthologized-to-death tales.

What’s it got? 8 stories. Standouts include “The Man Who Returned” by Edmond Hamilton, “The Drifting Snow” by August Derleth (winter vampires!), “Pigeons From Hell” by Robert E. Howard, and my personal favorite, Fritz Leiber’s “Spider Mansion,” tailor made for the gothic eccentricities of Thriller, and yet, sadly, not dramatized. Reprinted by Jove in 1979 with the famous “batgirl” cover by Margaret Brundage.

Worlds of Weird (Pyramid pb, 1965) edited by Leo Margulies, with another Finlay cover. A quickie sequel (issued just seven months later), but still stuffed with quality fiction.

What’s it got? “Roads” by Seabury Quinn (I recall reading somewhere that this was voted one of the most popular stories to appear in WT), “Mother of Toads” by Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard’s “Valley of the Worm.” This was reissued by Jove in 1978 with the same “batgirl” Brudage cover. Only difference was that this cover was in a green shade whereas the above book was issued in a red shade.

There were also two earlier paperbacks in Leo Margulies WT reprint series, neither of which had Weird Tales in its title. Regardless, they were made up of WT stories. The first was The Unexpected (Pyramid, 1961).

What’s it got? “The Valley was Still” by Manly Wade Wellman, “The Strange Island of Doctor Nork” by Robert Bloch and Margaret St. Clair’s “Mrs. Hawk” (filmed for Thriller) and 8 more.

The second was The Ghoul Keepers (Pyramid, 1961) with 9 more stories.

What’s it got? “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” by Robert Bloch (infamously filmed for Alfred Hitchcock), “Spawn of Dagon” by Henry Kuttner, and Ray Bradbury’s “The Lake.”

Weird Tales (Neville Spearman HC, 1976) edited by Peter Haining. 23 stories, most from the 1930s and 40s, with a cover by Harold S. DeLay (from the October 1939 issue). This was reprinted in paperback by Sphere (London) and in America in 1990 by Carroll & Graf (with a variant cover).

What’s it got? “Ooze” by Margaret St. Clair, “The Beasts of Barsac” by Bloch, and "The Shuttered House" by Derleth. This was a unique book in that Haining designed it as a facsimile of an actual issue of WT (though no single issue of WT contained 23 stories) including The Eyrie (letters page) and house ads.

Weird Legacies (Star pb, 1977) edited by Mike Ashley. A British paperback with a foreword by Robert Bloch.

What’s it got? 9 stories including the essential “He That Hath Wings” by Edmond Hamilton, and several collaborations (among them Lovecraft/Derleth and Bloch/Kuttner).

Weird Tales (Nelson, Doubleday hardcover, 1988) edited by Marvin Kaye with a sharp Richard Kriegler jacket painting. Reprinted in 1996 by Barnes and Noble.

What’s it got? 44 stories, the majority of which appeared in the first run of WT, including August Derleth’s “Mr. George,” and stories by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, H.G. Wells, Seabury Quinn, Fredric Brown, H. P. Lovecraft, and Richard Matheson.

Weird Tales - 32 Unearthed Terrors (Bonanza HC, 1988) edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemianowicz, and Martin H. Greenberg (WDG), with a reprinting of the WT cover by Hannes Bok. This was the book that started the pulp reprint craze of the late 80s, early 90s. The WDG team edited several outstanding volumes of pulp stories from different genres. I believe this was their most popular.

What’s It Got? Nothing but Weird. The infamous “The Loved Dead’ by C.M. Eddy, Seabury Quinn’s Jules de Grandin in “Satan’s Stepson,” and “Come and Go Mad” by Fredric Brown. All the major (and many minor) WT authors are well represented.

Weird Vampire Tales (Gramercy HC, 1992) edited by WDG, with a reprinting of the WT cover.

What’s it got? 30 vampire stories, 17 gathered from WT, including “Howard’s “The Horror from the Mound,” and Carl Jacobi’s classic “Revelations in Black.” In addition, you get stories from Astounding, Strange Tales, Terror Tales, Horror Stories, and several other pulp zines.

100 Wild Little Weird Tales (Barnes & Noble HC, 1994) edited by WDG.

What’s it got? Just what the title tells you, 100 short short stories from WT’s first run. The fact that these are very short stories (most around 3 pages) means you’re going to get a lot of material new to reprinting. “Hypnos” by Lovecraft, “The Extra Passenger” by Derleth (filmed for Thriller), “Dark Rosaleen” by Seabury Quinn, etc.

The Best of Weird Tales: 1923 (Wildside Press tpb, 1997) edited by Marvin Kaye and John Gregory Betancourt, with a Stephen Fabian cover. This was supposed to be the first in a series but I don’t believe a second volume was ever published. Shame. This could have become the definitive collection of WT.

What’s it got? 13 stories collected from the magazine’s first year, including H.P. Lovecraft’s “Dagon.”

Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror (Barnes and Noble HC, 1997) 28 stories from the various incarnations of the magazine, 16 from the initial run, with a cover by Bob Eggleton (not taken from a Weird Tales cover but rather from a novel by Ray Garton!).

What’s it got? The weakest of all the WT collections, this one doesn’t offer much you can’t get elsewhere. There’s a little seen Derleth called “Pacific 421” and the oft-anthologized “Lucy Comes to Stay” by Bloch but, for my money, there’s too much of the new stuff here. To be fair, it is subtitled “Seven Decades of Terror” not “Four…”

In addition to 100 Wild Little Weird Tales, Weinberg, Dziemanowicz, and Greenberg edited a series of 13 more books (from 1993-1999), published by Barnes & Noble in hardback collecting 100 short short stories per volume. Many of these stories first saw a newsstand as a Weird Tale (Of course, none of these compares to the monster WDG known as Horrors! 365 Scary Stories). I think these are your best bet for good short horror fiction but I’m not going to take up column space listing them. Perhaps another column in the near future? I think so.


Todd Mason said...

Please don't blame Margaret St. Clair for Anthony Rud's "Ooze"...the St. Clair story in the Haining, "The Little Red Owl," was published in the same year, 1951 (in WT), as "The Man Who Sold Rope to the Gnoles" (in F&SF)...a good year for St. Clair.

Todd Mason said...

I have never quite understood the appeal of the image at the top of the column...I wouldn't mind seeing the model, mind you, but the image always has struck me as offputtingly goofy.

Peter Enfantino said...

>>Please don't blame Margaret St. Clair for Anthony Rud's "Ooze"

Thanks for the correction. Miniscule type will be the death of me yet!

Walker Martin said...

I'm one of the collectors that went broke compiling a complete set of WEIRD TALES. I completed it in the early 1970's and then sold it a few years ago when I decided to take early retirement. I immediately regretted my action and set about rebuilding a set. An old friend sold me his bound copies from 1925 to 1954 and I'm happy with that since I consider the earlier issues to be almost unreadable. A great pulp.

Peter Enfantino said...

I had a complete set back to the May 1936 issue and sold the run for a lot of money about 15 years ago when I decided I'd never be able to read them in my lifetime and soon they'd be nothing but worthless dust anyway! But I've bought a few back since then. I'm partial to that last batch of digest-sized issues and I still have the Yours Truly Jack the Ripper signed to me by Bloch. Those digest are going to be discussed in an upcoming column.