In Observance of Henry S. Whitehead’s Birthday

Weird_Tales_March_1929Henry S. Whitehead was born today, March 5, in 1882.  He wrote a number of stories for Weird Tales during its early years before his untimely death in 1932.  Much of his fiction focused on the Caribbean, where he was stationed for a number of years as a minister of the Episcopal Church.  H. P. Lovecraft visited Whitehead for several weeks in 1931.  He had a great respect for Whitehead as a person and as a writer.

To mark the occasion, I read “The People of Pan”, which was first published in the March 1929 issue of Weird Tales.  The story is available in Voodoo Tales  The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead

In this story, Grosvenor is working for a lumber company investigates a an unexplored island where there is a considerable forest of uncut mahogany.   He quickly discovers two unusual things.  First there’s a freshwater stream which goes from flowing to dry on a 24 hour cycle.  Second, there are no insects, birds, or other animals on the island.

After surveying the forest for his employers, he explores the interior, where he discovers the source of the stream is a deep lake.  The lake is in a cylindrical well.  Along one wall are a series of metal rungs.  Grosvenor climbs down the ladder to where it ends on a metal platform.  Entering the door he finds there, Grosvenor enters an underground world where the people are descended from Atlantis and a sister continent.  Force to flee from the Native Americans who drove them out of the Yucatan, they discovered the lake and the caverns.  Lit by natural gas, they grow everything they need there and worship Pan.  The people speak classical Greek.  They have no idea who built the lake or the caverns.

whitehead-photoThe place is overflowing with gold, which the people who live there consider to be worthless because of its softness.

Grosvenor befriends them, tells them of his plans for harvesting the mahogany, and makes plans to come back for an extended stay once the timber has been cleared.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

“The People of Pan” is an interesting lost world story.  I found the gimmick of the unvisited island in the middle of the shipping lanes to be a bit of a stretch, and one of the characters even commented on that.  However, given the explanation of why the island had no animals, I can see how it might not have any people on its surface.

It’s definitely written in the style of an earlier age.  There’s no sex or violence.  But it’s still an interesting read.

6 thoughts on “In Observance of Henry S. Whitehead’s Birthday

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’ve got the electronic version of that volume. I’ve not read much of Whitehead’s work, but I’ve liked every story I’ve read. I’ll definitely be reading more.

  1. Jim Cornelius

    I’ve never read much of WT’s output other than Howard. When you think about how many now-forgotten bylines crossed its pages, it makes Howard’s endurance seem all the more remarkable.

    1. Keith West Post author

      You raise a good point. I think Howard was one of the greatest writers of the previous century, and it’s good that he’s starting to get some recognition beyond “the guy who created Conan”.

    2. Carrington Dixon

      Of the writers associated primarily with WT, only Lovecraft comes close to Howard’s endurance. Clark Ashton Smith is now remembered only by the cognoscenti. Seabury Quinn had a series of paperbacks several decades ago and not much since.

      Of course, there are authors who appeared in WT on occasion but are not remembered a primarily WT authors: Edmond Hamilton, the Kuttners, Theodore Sturgeon, Tennessee Williams, …

      1. Keith West Post author

        Don’t forget Ray Bradbury. While he’s best remembered for The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes these days, his early stories in Dark Carnival/The October Country were mostly published in Weird Tales.


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