Weird Tales and the Allan Felix Syndrome

Apparently last fall Weird Tales was asking for suggestions about the greatest “weird storytellers” of the last 85 years as a kind of anniversary promotion. They posted their list this past week (I saw it first at davidcapeguy‘s LJ) and it makes for strange reading. The five writers I personally consider to be the greatest fantasists of the 20th Century (Tolkien, Le Guin, Vance, Zelazny and Leiber) are conspicuous by their absence. The somewhat affected way “weird” is used nowadays might exclude some of these writers, but certainly not Leiber. The author of “Catch That Zeppelin!”, “Gonna Roll the Bones”, “Smoke Ghost”, “Ill Met in Lankhmar”, Conjure Wife, “The Secret Songs”, “Mysterious Doings at the Metropolitan Museum” and countless others is certainly weird enough to stand out in any company. It’s odd that Sturgeon isn’t listed either.

But that’s just the kind of grumbling you hear when any “best of” list is posted. (“What about Binky ‘Bosco’ Sorenson? He wrote a story in 1937 that blew my tiny little mind. Can’t rightly remember what it was called, but still. ‘S a goldurned outrage!”) No, the real problem here is not who they excluded but who they included: lots of music-makers (Björk, Nick Cave, Roger Waters, Tom Waits etc.), film-makers (David Cronenberg, the Coen brothers etc.), cartoonists (Charles Addams, Gary Larson etc.), luminaries of the American musical theater (yes, Sondheim is a “weird writer” it seems). The list gave me a sinking feeling as I read it–a sort of sad yet contemptuous feeling.

Why? I wondered. Okay: shoot me; I have no particular opinion about Björk and Nick Cave. But the others I’ve named (and others I could have named who seem equally out of place on the list) are creators whose work I respect and enjoy very much. Why should seeing their names on this list make me think less of the list and the magazine associated with it?

I finally pinned down the feeling. Maybe you remember the scene in Play It Again Sam where Woody Allen’s character, Allan Felix, prepares for a blind date by running around his apartment, scattering objects he thinks will enhance his cool: magazines, books, a track medal even. (“A few carefully-placed objects create the proper impression.”) Then there’s the music:

ALLAN: I’ve got a big decision to make. Do I go with Oscar Peterson or the Bartok String Quartet No. 5?

LINDA: Play the Oscar Peterson and leave the Bartok out so everybody can see it.

ALLAN: That’s a good idea.

It isn’t, of course: the date that follows is one of the major disasters committed to film, like Interiors, only funny-on-purpose.

Allan Felix’s method for impressing his date appears to be the same principle that organizes this list: “a few carefully-placed objects create the proper impression.” It’s a poser’s list, a vain attempt to bask in a little borrowed cool.

So, in honor of this weirdly unweird list of weird storytellers-some-of-whom-aren’t-particularly-known-for-storytelling, here’s Blossom Dearie singing “I’m Hip” to the fresh (if somewhat pixelated) moves of Kakashi, Naruto and co.


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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4 Responses to Weird Tales and the Allan Felix Syndrome

  1. peadarog says:

    I see what you’re saying re: the Woody Allen syndrome. It made me wonder how many stories get published in magazines on the same basis. Maybe none.

    • JE says:

      I can’t say I’m really tuned in to the new editor’s tastes yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this indicates a turn away from strictly genre stories toward the slipstream/interstitial type. It won’t draw in readers like me, but candidly the previous incarnation of WT didn’t either: it must be three or four years since I’ve held a copy in my hands, and then I couldn’t bring myself to buy the thing. (It was skeletally thin, murkily printed and none of the stories exactly bit me on the eyeball.)

  2. Hi James — nice to see folks taking the time and mental energy to ponder this!

    >>it makes for strange reading.

    And the magazine is called Weird Tales. See? Success!

    >>a turn away from strictly genre stories

    When Weird Tales was founded, there was no genre. The magazine defined the genre by pulling together disparate but related cultural threads. Since successful magazines are always creatures of their times, we’re just crazy enough to wonder if we can do it again.

    • JE says:

      “When Weird Tales was founded, there was no genre.”

      Well–I’m not sure what you mean. Certainly most of the kinds of stories that the original WT published had been seen before. New genres or sub-genres were certainly born in WT though (including my personal favorite, sword-and-sorcery).

      I’m not being dismissive when I wish you guys luck: as a reader, I’d like to see the magazine do well and everything I’ve heard about recent issues sounds appealing.

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