I've been flipping through C. L. Moore's correspondence with H. P. Lovecraft and so feel like reading the fifth Northwest Smith story. (I blogged about the first four of Moore's Smith stories back in March of 2020.) "Julhi" made its debut in the March 1935 Weird Tales, accompanied by a new Conan story, "The Jewels of Gwalhur" (AKA "The Servants of Bit-Yakin") and a reprint of an 1891 Bram Stoker story, "The Judge's House." Let's take a gander at all three. I'm reading the Moore tale in my copy of Gollancz's Black Gods and Scarlet Dreams, number 31 of their Fantasy Masterworks series, Howard's Conan piece in my copy of Ballantine's The Conquering Sword of Conan and I guess I'll just read the Weird Tales version of Stoker's tale at the internet archive.
After a night of drinking on Venus, Northwest Smith wakes up in total darkness, his weapons missing. Someone must have drugged him and dragged him into this pitch black labyrinth! In the dark he meets a young Venusian woman, and from her he gradually learns the complex back story to this tale.
The woman, beautiful Apri (Moore, when the two make their way out of the darkness, describes her and her attire in some detail, having already described Smith's scarred and tanned body in a sort of prologue paragraph), has psychic powers she barely understands. Like in a Warhammer 40,000 scenario, a monstrous alien from some other dimension was able to enter our universe via contact with this undisciplined psyker. This alien invader, Julhi, holds court in the ruins of this ruined city, a place that was built centuries ago by a king who, it is said, worshipped unspeakable entities. Julhi's human slaves kidnap people to feed to the monsters who now haunt the ruined city--Julhi's companions from that other dimension--and Smith was to be just such a snack for these extradimensional vampires, as was Apri, who had aroused Julhi's wrath.
Julhi, however, has relented and uses her psychic powers to guide Apri and Smith out of the dark maze of ruins to her dreamlike palace, which apparently she constructed with the power of her mind. When Julhi appears to Smith she is reclining on a couch, and Smith finds she has an upper body much like a human's, though she has only one eye in the center of her forehead that never blinks, a mouth that never closes, and feathers instead of hair on her head. As for her lower body, that is indescribably alien, lithe and graceful and fluid, something like a snake, but hypnotically beautiful.
These Northwest Smith stories tend to be a little repetitive, and Julhi explains in greater detail stuff we more or less already know, like how she got to our dimension, what she is doing here, the history of this ruined city, etc. Northwest Smith stories also often revolve around some feminine alien who is like a creature from Greek mythology and who tries to seduce Smith and suck his blood or life force, an erotic act that causes Smith pleasure even as it threatens his life. Some may find it odd that Moore, a woman herself, would repeatedly portray women as disgusting alien blood suckers who seduce men so they can selfishly drain men's life force, but there is no looking past it, and this is of course how some men see at least some women, so no doubt it can strike a chord with some male readers.
Moore spends page after page in "Julhi" describing the seduction and ecstasy process; for long surreal paragraphs Smith feels like he is floating bodiless among the stars. He sees the version of this island city in Julhi's dimension, where it is not ruins but a bustling community, and realizes Julhi and her comrades are evil degenerates among their people--her race does not consist entirely of evil vampires. This sort of jogs Smith into resistance. It is Apri's mental abilities that keep Julhi and her companions in our universe, and to send the vampires back to their native dimension Smith strangles Apri to death--Apri, guilt ridden over having brought Julhi to Venus where she murders and abuses people, and nearly insane from Julhi's meddling with her brain, welcomes death.
(You'll recall that in "Black Thirst" a woman also wanted to die and Smith killed her, and that in "Scarlet Dream" a woman sacrificed herself so that Smith might escape an alien dimension. Moore in these Northwest Smith stories addresses the same themes again and again.)
"Julhi," too long and too wordy (Moore uses the word "volplane" twice) and hitting yet again the same notes we have already seen in Northwest Smith stories, is merely acceptable. I like the monster Julhi, and I like that to resolve the plot Smith has to strangle some poor girl, but the long surreal section is just too tedious. I said the same thing about H. P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price's "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" in my last blog post, and ages ago I said it about Clark Ashton Smith's "The Monster of the Prophecy": these "I am a bodiless mind floating through space" psychedelia sequences are mind-numbingly boring and add nothing to the plot and very little to the atmosphere of the stories in which they appear.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about "Julhi," and the most awesome, is that Moore illustrated the story herself for its debut publication in Weird Tales. Making us ponder even more deeply what kind of nonconsent/rough sex fetishes Moore might have had, Moore's drawing depicts a shirtless Northwest Smith strangling a naked Apri in a kind of symmetrical Art Nouveau composition. Moore's strong simple lines, bold composition, and fearless recreation of an act of eroticized violence make this illustration more memorable than many of the crummy illos we find in the pages of Weird Tales (we all love Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok, but many of the other artists who illustrated Weird Tales are totally pedestrian)--I may be unable to hail Moore for this overly long story, but I can give her drawing a hearty thumbs up! Weird Tales readers voted "Julhi" the best story in the issue, and maybe it was because of this drawing! (I certainly hope it wasn't because of the surreal sequence!)
(In a 1976 interview for the fanzine Chacal you can read at the internet archive, Moore, among other things, says she went to art school. Among the other things: she loves Robert Heinlein's work, she thinks Robert Bloch is a wonderful guy, she never experienced any sexism working in the SF field or while writing for television, and never had any interest in science or pretense that she was writing science fiction and not fantasy. She talks a lot about her and husband and collaborator Henry Kuttner's writing careers, and discusses being a writer primarily as a business venture or a profession--she and "Hank" wrote quickly so they could pay the bills, doing little polishing or revising. I found this noteworthy and perhaps ironic as, in his letters to Moore, H. P. Lovecraft stresses with some passion that he hopes she will devote her talent to producing great literature and not squander her abilities the way Edmond Hamilton had, churning out hackwork at a rapid pace in the interest of making money.)
(Fans of the weird and sword and sorcery should definitely check out the two issues of Chacal, which feature art by Frank Frazetta, Stephen Fabian, Richard Corben, Phillipe Druillet, and an interview of Manly Wade Wellman.)
"Julhi" has not been anthologized, but has appeared in the many collections of Northwest Smith stories that have been published over the years.
The Howard story is a winner in my book, and the Moore and Stoker stories are certainly worth reading. A pleasant leg in the long journey that is my quest to read at least one story from every issue of Weird Tales published in the 1930s. Stay tuned for more dispatches from this expedition into the precincts of the horrible and uncanny!