Sunday, April 21, 2024

Weird Tales, Jan 1939: Robert Bloch, Edmond Hamilton and Manly Wade Wellman

One of our long term projects here at MPorcius Fiction Log is reading at least one story from each 1930s issue of Weird Tales, and as we speak we are actually in the final phases of this operation!  Having ticked off the list every issue from January 1930 to December 1938, only 1939 remains to be picked over!  Below find links to lists of stories read for each completed year that in turn provide links to my blog posts about each of the individual stories.

 1930   1931  1932  1933   1934   1935   1936   1937  1938

Today the January 1939 issue of the unique magazine comes under our gaze.  We've actually already read an original story from it, "Medusa's Coil" by H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, as well as the reprint it contains, Clark Ashton Smith's 1931 "A Rendezvous in Averoigne."  But there are still three stories in this issue of interest to us, tales by people we like that we haven't read yet, so let's devote today to adding them to the list of Weird Tales stories we have experienced.

"Waxworks" by Robert Bloch

This story is graced by an illustration by Virgil Finlay of a subject essayed by artists throughout the centuries, Salome with the head of John the Baptist on a platter, and yet another artistic interpretation of this subject lies at the center of Bloch's story.

Paris, France.  A young man from the provinces, the son of a butcher, lives in a garret.  His parents think he is at university, but he never attends classes, he's just a self-absorbed, self-pitying slacker who thinks himself a poet.  One foggy night he discovers a small out of the way wax museum full of wax sculptures of murderers and other criminals.  One statue represents Salome with the head of her famous victim on a platter, and the romantic young man finds himself fascinated by this sculpture--in fact, he falls in love with it!  He comes back again and again to the little museum to stare for hours at red-headed Salome, unable to help himself, even though he senses an evil emanation from the figure.  Like a woman who teases and toys, he both loves and hates the wax Salome. 

The sculptor of the bewitching figure, an ugly little man, introduces himself to the poet and relates the weird story of how he came to model his Salome after his beautiful young wife after she was convicted of murder and executed by guillotine!  An old man, a colonel and friend of the family, comes to Paris looking for the poet, whose family has realized he is not doing anything productive in the big city and want him to come home.  The colonel also feels the alluring power of the Salome statue, and conducts a little investigation into its sculptor, a man who left the medical profession under mysterious circumstances and who perhaps wasn't telling the whole truth when he talked to the poet--the colonel thinks the sculptor is responsible for a string of diabolical crimes!

Who will live and who will die when the colonel tries to enlist the poet in an effort to liberate them from the power of the wax Salome and end the career of the ugly little doctor turned artist?  

This is a pretty good story from Bloch, whose work is hit or miss; one thing it has going for it is the fact that, after a few sarcastic jibes about the poet's pretensions to being a sensitive artist, Bloch takes the material seriously, so the text is blessedly free from the lame jokes and overwrought social commentary that mars much of Bloch's output.  And of course I am a sucker for stories about guys being beguiled by women and making stupid decisions because they are in love or just horny.  Thumbs up for "Waxworks."

"Waxworks" has reappeared in Bloch collections as well as anthologies in English, German and Italian. 

"Bride of the Lightning" by Edmond Hamilton

Here we have an Edmond Hamilton story which, if isfdb is to be believed, has never been reprinted.

Sheila Crail is a slim black-haired beauty who lives with her uncle in rural Wisconsin.  All her young life she has loved thunder and lightning, and when there is a storm she runs up Lightning Hill to dance amid the bolts that habitually strike it.  She has even come to believe that a creature of electricity that she calls The Lord of Lightning comes to dance with her during these storms.  This Lord is a jealous one, and two young men who courted Sheila have both died from lightning strikes!  Her uncle says this is just a coincidence, but the farmhand who manages the farm has himself seen the Lord of Lightning dancing with Sheila and believes.

The main character of our story is a young banker who comes to stay with Sheila's uncle to assisting with sorting out the finances of the estate.  The banker can't help but fall in love with Sheila, even though he has been told about the Lord of Lightning and the fate of Sheila's prior suitors, even though he himself saw Sheila dancing with the Lord of Lightning--he is sure that was just some odd ball-lightning phenomena or something.

Sheila finds herself falling for the banker, and there is talk of marrying.  But then a storm comes along, and Sheila is certain the Lord of Lightning is going to kill the banker and that the only thing she can do to save him is to give herself to the Lord and thus dampen those seven gigajoules of jealousy!

This is a decent weird story with a tragic ending.  Sheila, blasted by lightning and turned into an electrical being herself, is considered dead by the authorities, though no trace of her body is ever found.  And now the banker goes outside every time there is an electrical storm, stands amid the falling lightning bolts, talking to them!    

"These Doth the Lord Hate" by Manly Wade Wellman (as by Gans T. Field) 

This brief piece was reprinted in a 1951 issue of Weird Tales, as well as in a 1987 issue of the magazine The Horror Show, in addition to the expected Wellman collections.  In both its Weird Tales appearances it is printed under a pen name, Gans T. Field, a pseudonym used by Wellman on a number of occasions.  

"These Doth the Lord Hate" is an odd literary experiment.  Wellman takes a short section from a real book about witchcraft and demons, the 1608 Compendium Maleficarum, an anecdote about a French peasant who accused his wife and daughter of sorcery and handed them over to the authorities, and adds to it a wealth of cinematic and psychological detail.  Wellman quotes an English translation of the original Latin text in brief italicized snippets, and between these quotes we find Wellman's own relatively lengthy extrapolations and speculations. 

"These Doth the Lord Hate" works, being sort of interesting and successfully conjuring up images and emotions.  Thumbs up, then.


And so we put behind us another milestone in our sacred journey through the 1930s run of Farnsworth Wright's magazine of the bizarre and unusual by reading these three pretty entertaining stories.  Hopefully the road will be this smooth throughout the rest of 1939.  

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