Manly Wade Wellman was born, this day, May 21, in 1903 in Portuguese West Africa. He was one of the greatest writers of horror and dark fantasy of the 20th Century, although he’s not as well known today as he should be. His best known literary creation was John the Balladeer, and wandering minstrel of the Appalachian mountains. Wellman began writing in the 1920s, and sold a number of stories to Weird Tales. He was still writing in the 1970s and 1980s, and a number of his short stories were published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
In honor of his birthday, I’m going to look at two short stories. Both were published in the pulps in the late 1930s. I read both of them in Sin’s Doorway and Other Ominous Entrances, published by Night Shade Books in 2003. It’s volume 4 of the 5 volume The Selected Stories of Manly Wade Wellman. Continue reading
“When the Bough Breaks”
as by Lewis Padgett
originally published in Astounding Science Fiction November 1944
Henry Kuttner was born on April 7, 1915. Anyone who has read much of this blog knows that Kuttner is probably my favorite author, at least on days ending in “y”. After his marriage to C. L. Moore, everything he and Moore wrote was a collaboration to one degree or another.
Both authors were masters of fantasy, science fiction, and and everything in between, including horror. Much of their best work was published in Astounding in the mid-1940s. Almost all of these stories have been collected in at least one of Kuttner’s collections, either in his lifetime or in the years since. There are a few that haven’t, which I’ll address at another time. Continue reading
Robert Bloch was born on April 5, 1917 in Chicago. Today marks the centennial of his birth. He died of cancer in 1994.
Bloch wrote in multiple genres, including horror, fantasy, science fiction, and mystery, often more than one in a single story. Bloch sold much of his early work to Weird Tales and contributed to the Mythos. He also worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood. His best known novel, Psycho, was adapted by Alfred Hitchcock into the classic film of the same name.
Sadly, this one novel has at time overshadowed his short fiction. To my mind, that was the area in which he excelled. Bloch was one of the best, often mixing humor with horror, and he should be remembered. Sadly, like many authors who have passed on, he is in danger of being forgotten by the younger generations. In spite of that, he still casts a long shadow over the field of fantastic fiction today.
I intend to honor his memory by reading something of his.
I’m a day late on this one, but Edward Hamilton Waldo, AKA Theodore Sturgeon, was born on February 26, 1918 on Staten Island, New York.
Sturgeon was best known as a short story writer, although he wrote some well received novels, such as More Than Human, The Dreaming Jewels, and the under-appreciated Some of Your Blood.
He got his start writing for Unknown and Astounding in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Much of his best work was done in that time period.
Outside of science fiction and fantasy he’s probably best known for what has come to be called Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap.
I really like Sturgeon’s short fiction, especially his early work. There’s a level of craftsmanship and fun that some of his later works, such as “If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?” lack. Skip that story and go to “It” or “Mewhu’s Jet” or “Yesterday Was Monday.
His first collection was entitled Without Sorcery, which was something of a misnomer since much of it was fantasy. It was reprinted by Ballantine under the title Not Without Sorcery and is an excellent introduction to his work.
There was an attempt in the late 90s and 00s to collect all of Sturgeon’s short fiction between hardcovers. I think I’m missing the last of that set. But if you get a chance, read some of his work. It’s worth seeking out.
Frank Frazetta, one of the greatest fantasy artists to ever stride this land, was born on this date (February 9) in 1928. I’m not even going to try to put the impact his art has had on my life into words, much less that of the fantasy field. Here are a couple of my favorite works of Frazetta’s.
The image on the left is the promotional poster for a Frazetta exhibit I saw in Austin last spring. That trip has really been on my mind today, maybe because the weather has been so unseasonably warm. The image was used on the cover of one of Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane books. You can read about my trip in this post.
Probably my favorite of the Frazetta Conan covers is the one shown on the right. It’s for Conan the Usurper. I saw this one at the Frazetta exhibit, and let me tell you, none of the reproductions do the images justice. It was awesome to stand in front of some of those paintings and see close up the detail and the brushwork. The painting were larger than what you see on a book cover, of course, and the detail really stood out.
I think the thing that has always captured my imagination about this picture is the snake. I hate snakes. There’s just something evil about them. I’m not sure why, but they’ve always given me the willies.
Frazetta is gone now, but his work lives on. While it might be easy to think that with his popularity, there will always be copies available to enjoy, that’s a dangerous way to think. Today hot property is too often tomorrow’s has-been, or worse completely forgotten. So take a moment over the next few days to admire a Frazetta painting, especially if it’s one you’ve not seen before or not seen in a while.
Update: Here are tributes by David J. West and Woelf Dietrich. They’re both worth checking out.
Born on January 24, 1911, C. L. Moore is one of the favorite writers around these here parts. As I stated a couple of days ago on Robert E. Howard’s birthday, I’m going to be focusing on a work by writers I’ve done multiple birthday posts on rather than trying to come up with something original in a tribute essay. Today’s story is “Jirel Meets Magic”.
Originally published in the July 1935 issue of Weird Tales, “Jirel Meets Magic” is the third story of the Lady of Joiry. It opens with Jirel leading a charge over the drawbridge of a castle, breaking the ranks of the defenders trying to stand against her, and calling for her soldiers to bring her a wizard named Giraud.
Why is Jirel attacking the castle? Who is Giraud? What is Jirel’s reason for wanting to kill him? Who cares? Moore’s writing pulls the reader in, sweeping him along at a breakneck pace. These questions will be answered, but for now all that matters is the heady rush of battle.
Well, sort of. Merritt’s birthday was actually yesterday, but classes started the day before yesterday. I was kinda busy.
Abraham Merritt was born on January 20, in Beverly, New Jersey. He died in 1943. Merritt was arguably the most highly regarded fantasy author of his day, with a fantasy magazine named for him after his death. He was an assistant editor and later editor of The American Weekly, a position which apparently left him little time to pursue his own writing. Even so, his work cast a long shadow over the field and his influence is still felt today, although most readers are probably unaware of that influence. Continue reading
J. R. R. Tolkien was born on this date, January 3, in the long-ago year of 1892.
The Lord of the Rings has cast such a long shadow over his life that it’s easy to forget that Tolkien was a university professor. I wonder what it would have been like to take one of his classes.
Of course, there’s a good reason that TLotR has cast such a long shadow over Tolkien’s life. The thing is a masterpiece. It’s been well over a dozen years since I last read TLotR. I may try to fit it in sometime later this year if things let up a bit.
Fritz Leiber was born 106 years ago, on December 24, 1910, in Chicago. He was one of the greatest writers of the fantastic the world has ever seen, being a major writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.
It’s hard to know where to start when discussing Leiber. Probably of greatest interest to readers of this blog would be his sword and sorcery series about the adventures of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. I’ve always enjoyed his horror stories, especially the ones he wrote in the 1940s. These days an urban setting for horror is nothing unusual. Back then it was still fairly new. Leiber set the bar for that type of horror story, and he set it high. He also wrote a great deal of science fiction, much of it involving time travel or cats.
I’ve not read many of Leiber’s novels, something I intend to correct over the next year. There’s been renewed interest in Leiber’s short fiction lately. Centipede Press earlier this year released Masters of Science Fiction: Fritz Leiber (one of two inaugural volumes in that series) as well as the two volume slip-cased Masters of the Weird Tale: Fritz Leiber.
Both of the above titles are sold out by the publishers, but fear not if you missed or weren’t able to afford them. (They weren’t cheap.) About a dozen or so years ago, give or take, Darkside Press/Midnight House published four collections of Leiber’s short work. And while those books are also sold out from the publisher (who is no longer in business, and weren’t cheap either), they’ve been reprinted in inexpensive electronic editions: Smoke Ghost; Day Dark, Night Bright; Horrible Imaginings; and The Black Gondolier. They are also available in trade paperback. They make great Christmas gifts for yourself.
Joseph Payne Brennan was born 98 years ago on this date, December 20, 1918. Brennan was a consistent writer of horror, dark fantasy, and weird fiction. He passed away in 1990. Primarily a short story writer and poet, Brennan’s work has fallen out of print. While it’s not impossible to find copies of his work, much of it is moderately expensive. It might be easier and/or cheaper to get copies of anthologies in which his work appeared.
I reviewed one of Brennan’s collections, the paperback Shapes of Midnight a few years ago. I was amazed when I looked up how much it cost on the secondary market at the time. It doesn’t appear to have gotten any more affordable.
Brennan’s work is worth seeking out. It tends to be of the more quiet style of horror rather than the grisly and gore drenched variety.