A Weird Tale

It turns out that, due to the disarray of the Robert E. Howard estate, much of his work is in the public domain. Wikisource has buckets of it online at the URL below. (Thanks to Gneech for the link.)

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Author:Robert_E._Howard

Most amusing and disturbing to me were a couple pieces of non-fiction. One was an essay about cats (“The Beast from the Abyss”) which seemed to be anti-cat (but given REH’s dark proclivities it can be hard to tell which side he’s on). I think he’s wrong about cats–for one thing they devour annoying pests and for another they provide endless hours of cheap entertainment. But it’s always interesting to see a gifted writer plunge screaming over the top into the No-Man’s Land of rhetorical conflict.

The other was a letter he wrote to Farnsworth Wright. A slice of this below:

“[I]t has been six months since ‘The People of the Black Circle’ (the story for which the check is now due me) appeared in Weird Tales. Weird Tales owes me over eight hundred dollars for stories already published and supposed to be paid for on publication–enough to pay all my debts and get me back on my feet again if I could receive it all at once. Perhaps this is impossible. I have no wish to be unreasonable; I know times are hard for everybody. But I don’t believe I am being unreasonable in asking you to pay me a check each month until the accounts are squared.”

Yow. I thought I had no illusions about the circumstances under which the great works of pulp fiction were produced, but I had no idea things ever got this bad. At the very least, nowadays predators and editors are distinct species (though one still tries to masquerade as the other). It looks like “The Unique Magazine”, in those bad old days, stayed afloat on a river of interest-free loans from its writers. $800 was a significant amount of money: better than $11K in today’s inflated currency (according to Morgan Friedman’s Inflation Calculator). Hard to believe financial frustration wasn’t one of the factors that led REH to blow his brains out a year later.

The moral of the story: mail Farnsworth Wright a cat. (This advice comes sixty or seventy years too late to do anyone any good, but that just makes it timeless.)

About JE

James Enge is the author of the World-Fantasy-Award-nominated novel Blood of Ambrose (Pyr, April 2009). His latest book is The Wide World's End. His short fiction has appeared in Swords and Dark Magic (Harper Collins, 2010), Black Gate, the Stabby-Award-winning anthology Blackguards and elsewhere.
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2 Responses to A Weird Tale

  1. Thank you for telling me about the public domain!

    Cats are awesome; some are simply more awesome than others.

    • JE says:

      Murphy’s Law of Book Buying

      I’m not exaggerating when I say that, on the same day I saw the link that Gneech provided to Wikisource, Amazon delivered the Wandering Star/Del Rey collections of the Conan stories I had ordered. On balance, I’m glad to have the hard copies, but I’m starting to feel (between the public domain e-texts, the old Lancer/Ace Conan books and the newly restored texts) that REH may be a little over-represented in my library.

      I take cats on a cat-by-cat basis, but I have to admit I’m pretty fond of our current set of co-tenants. If only they would wash the dishes once in a while!

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