Sandy's Reviews > The Best of Weird Tales 1923

The Best of Weird Tales 1923 by John Gregory Betancourt
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Aug 18, 2011

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Read in January, 2011

Marvin Kaye and John Gregory Betancourt's "The Best of Weird Tales: 1923" has a wholly different thrust as compared to previous anthologies that collected stories from "The Unique Magazine." Whereas "Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors" had cherry-picked one story from each year of the celebrated magazine's 32-year run (1923-1954); Kaye's previous "Weird Tales" collection of 1988 had included not just stories from the publication's classic years, but from the five reincarnations dating from 1973-1987; and Peter Haining's "Weird Tales" collection had presented facsimile reproductions of the actual magazine pages, the book in question here simply dishes out a baker's dozen stories that initially appeared in the eight issues of "Weird Tales"'s inaugural year. Most of these stories are true rarities, written by authors who are hardly household names today, even to fans of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and macabre literature.

The collection kicks off with Orville R. Emerson's "The Grave," a ghastly little tale from the trenches of WW1 that culminates quite ironically. "The Basket," by Herbert J. Mangham, is an odd little slice of life, depicting the quiet existence and passing of a man who scarcely causes a ripple on the world's consciousness. "Beyond the Door," by J. Paul Suter, tells of an emotionally stunted scientist who is haunted by visions of a strange well in his basement, leading to a conclusion that is at once both surprising and apropos. One of many (what Kaye refers to as) "malevolent vegetable stories" to appear in "Weird Tales" over the decades, "The Devil Plant," written by Lyle Wilson Holden, is a purple-prose tale of vengeance that takes place in the Australian outback, marred only by a weak description of that "devil tree." In Julian Kilman's "The Well," we are given still another man who is haunted by visions of a sinister cistern. This outdoor slice of rural nastiness culminates with a satisfyingly horrific denouement. One of the best (and longest) tales in the collection, "The Two Men Who Murdered Each Other," by Valma Clark, tells of the rivalry between two archaeologists, incorporating shipwreck, murder, hallucination and decades-long guilt into a most impressive piece of storytelling. P.D. Gog's "The Dead-Naming of Lukapehu" is a short-short; a tale of a Hawaiian witch doctor that has no real impact, perhaps due to its brevity, but, as Kaye tells us in his introduction, "might well be a true story." "The Bloodstained Parasol," by James L. Ravenscroft, is a tale concerning madness, romance and vivisection (!), concluding with a fittingly macabre moral. In "The Man Who Owned the World," Frank Owen presents us with another case of madness: a homeless person in Greenwich Village who believes he is the master and owner of everything he surveys, leading to another ironic and memorable conclusion. Farnsworth Wright, who would go on to edit 177 issues of "Weird Tales" from 1924-1939, is represented in this volume with the humorous story "An Adventure in the Fourth Dimension," a tale whose silliness is mitigated by it final two paragraphs. H.P. Lovecraft, one of "Weird Tales"'s more renowned alumni, is shown to good effect by his first story in the magazine (found in the October issue), "Dagon." This early tale from the man who would go on to become one of the most important horror writers of the 20th century depicts a subterranean land that is volanoed up to the surface of the sea, and the terrifying experiences that a lost sailor has while exploring it. "Dagon" is easily the best-written of all the 13 tales in this volume. Finally, we have John D. Swain's "Lucifer," the story of a Satanic miracle cure in a 19th century London hospital that ends on a deliciously morbid note.

As you can see, a highly eclectic collection, and if most of the authors here are comparative "nobodies," well, I suppose that is part of the volume's charm: It introduces us to a large assortment of talented writers who have long been ignored. This volume, on the down side, can hardly be called a generous collection, at a mere 129 pages, and contains an inordinate number of typographical errors. (Was this book even proofread before publication?!?!) Still, it affords us the wonderful opportunity to peek into "The Unique Magazine" in its earliest, nascent months, as as such must be deemed essential reading for all fans of pulp literature. I do recommend it.
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