Happy Brithday, Farnsworth Wright

Weird Tales editorial office, l. to r., unknown, Farnsworth Wright, Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch

By the time of his death in 1940, Farnsworth Wright had become one of the most influential editors the field of the fantastic would ever see. Wright was born in 1888 on July, 29.  I would argue his influence on science fiction, fantasy, and horror has been greater than any other editor, including John W. Campbell, Dorothy McIlwraith, Fred Pohl, Ray Palmer, or Hugo Gernsback.

Yes, I realize that last sentence could be controversial, especially the inclusion of Campbell and Gernsback.  So be it.  Farnsworth Wright edited Weird Tales during what is considered to be the magazine’s golden age.  The authors he published have had a greater impact on the literature of the fantastic than those of any other editor at any time in history.

Consider the following:  Wright bought the first stories of Robert E. Howard and C. L. Moore.  He published more horror and fantasy stories than I’ve got space to list by such writers as H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Henry S. Whitehead, Jack Williamson, Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, Seabury Quinn, Frank Belknap Long, and E. Hoffman Price, just to name a few.  Many of the stories he published are considered classics.

Consider that new editions of many of these authors have been published in the last few years.  Howard and Lovecraft are still influencing the field today.  Case in point, the recent controversy over the bust of H. P. Lovecraft as the World Fantasy Award.  That’s influence.

None of these things would likely have happened without Farnsworth Wright publishing their work.  There simply weren’t any other markets for that type of fiction.  Yes, many of those writers went on to write for other magazines and editors, notably Kuttner, Moore, Willamson, and Long for Campbell at Astounding and/or Unknown, just to name a few.  But that was because Campbell paid better.  All professional writers know you try to hit the top paying markets first.

But without Wright their careers would have been vastly different, and so would the field today.

So raise your glass to the memory of Farnsworth Wright, and if you have a moment, read something by one of the authors he published.

5 thoughts on “Happy Brithday, Farnsworth Wright

  1. Jim Cornelius

    Nice tribute. Easy to forget that we wouldn’t have the work we have without him. And, contrary to some opinion, he was in many ways a beneficial influence on REH’s writing.

    Reply
    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks. And I agree with you about Wright’s influence on Howard’s writing. He gave Bob feedback and encouragement when he was starting out. Bob had an agreement with Dr. Howard that if he wasn’t supporting himself as a writer after a year, he would get a job. If not for Wright, Dr Howard might have been the winner in that conflict.

      Reply
  2. Andrew

    Wright also turned down many of Lovecraft’s best stories, including “The Call of Cthulhu” initially, and never gave Lovecraft a cover. Wright owed Robert E. Howard $800 (many thousands in today’s dollars) for years, which never got paid, and which contributed to Howard’s suicide. So, a mixed legacy.

    Reply
    1. Keith West Post author

      While what you say is true (although as you point out, Wright reversed himself on “The Call of Cthulhu”), he did publish many of the great authors of the 1930s. I still maintain his influence over time has been greater than any other editor. I also recognize Wright wasn’t perfect. No one is, and no one’s legacy is without flaw. And while Howard’s financial situation did contribute to his suicide, it wasn’t the primary cause, so I’m not sure it’s fair to lay partial responsibility for Howard’s death at Wright’s feet. Weird Tales did have financial troubles during the Depression, with the magazine’s cash being frozen due to a bank failure in 1930, forcing the magazine to a bimonthly schedule for a while. So unless someone can document that the editor (Wright) had final say over when checks were cut rather than the publisher (J. C. Henneburger), I’m prepared to give Wright a pass on the finances. And I suspect Lovecraft may not have gotten a cover because he didn’t include naked women in his stories the way Howard, Quinn, and other authors did.

      If we look at the number of authors who started their careers or published mose of their early work in Weird Tales compared to other pulps, more of the Weird Tales authors as a group are remembered today and/or are still in print. That’s a pretty strong influence.

      Reply
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