Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Monday, July 2, 2018
As this was Clarke's debut, he gets a more in-depth introduction in the Camp-Fire section, where he's identified as a recent member of the Adventure staff. He also initials a profile of Gordon MacCreagh that appears this issue. He published a grand total of nine stories (and two poems) in the magazine between 1927 and 1933, plus another for the 1935 one-shot inventory-burner The Big Magazine and a reappearance in 1944. I don't know in how many of these Hovsep and Belshar appear, but stories like "Bayou Man" and "The Shooting of Johnny Corbeau" look like unlikely candidate. "Authority" from the June 15, 1932 issue (in my collection) is another Bayou story, but Clarke's second story, "Up to Heaven," sounds more promising, while "Fisherman," from 1931, could be another Bayou story or something about Jesus or his disciples. However more stories in this series there actually are, I look forward to reading them some day.
Sunday, July 1, 2018
"In all our vast country conditions are as unfortunate as in yours, and in some cases even worse. We are in the hands of the politicos. And why? Senor, the answer is very simple. Because they are men who make politics their profession; while we, the great rest of the people, talk sometimes about politics a little and once a year or so some of us go out and vote. We are the amateurs; and it is an indisputable rule in every human endeavor that professionals inevitably and always have the advantage over amateurs."
Going deeper, the problem seems to be democracy. The aristocrat boasts of not voting, because "what are our few votes against the unthinking thousands?... Those of discernment, capable of judgment, are always outnumbered by the mass. And it is upon the dull-witted emotions of the many that the professionals ply their art." The remedy he proposes, for all intents and purposes, is terrorism, albeit in the romanticized form of costumed brigandry. "My contribution toward reform will be to catch as many of these exploiters as I may, as opportunity occurs or as I can make it, and I shall show them the error of their ways by the imposition of fine or castigation, as they case may best deserve."
The reporter's natural skepticism is overriden by the force of the man's personalities, but once we get to the main action of the story some time later, MacCreagh introduces an element of moral suspense; he "El Rey" of the Society of Condors been corrupted by his bitterness against the political class. The reporter encounters him again as he is holding one of the politicos hostage. Are the Condors no better, say, than the Ku Klux Klan, which the story invokes without naming it outright. El Rey seems to have taken some inspiration from the American organization:
"In your own country the similar plan of a secret society with an avowed intention of reform flourishes today, even though it attacks whole races and creeds. It throve amazingly until the ignorant and the self-seeking swarmed in and it became itself an organization of political ambition too enormously unwieldy to withstand the many enemies it had made."
You wonder whether MacCreagh is imagining a Latin America's distanced view of the Klan, or whether El Rey mouths the authors own opinion of the cross-burners. Bear in mind that back in 1923 Black Mask published a special Klan issue containing stories both pro and contra, so there was nothing in MacCreagh's day like the consensus we presume (or hope) to exist today. But if you look close enough there's a consistent theme denouncing self-interested politicians, though it's difficult to look at something that seems to say that the Klan was okay, maybe, before it went wrong somewhere. In El Rey's part of the world, the solution to the problem of the politician seems to be the disinterested benevolence of which only the aristocrat may be capable. El Rey's camp, one notices, is well furnished with servants, but what disturbs the American reporter is that the young idealist is willing to torture people to get money out of them. The reporter is invited to sit alongside the prisoner and pretend to be another captive. He's told that one of the prisoner's retinue has had his ear cut off, and is shown the thing still lying on the floor. Now the reporter's only thought is to rescue the prisoner and return him to civilization. Because this is a pulp story, he manages to do this -- but then we learn that El Rey allowed him to do it. The bandit leader couldn't just let his prisoner go because it might make him look soft, but now his reputation remains intact, and he has given his American friend a terrific story to report, though he presumably won't report how El Rey used an ear from an anatomical model to scare his captive. Does this amount to a vindication of El Rey's tactics and his worldview? Perhaps, but whether you agree with MacCreagh's implied conclusions or not, give him credit for an adventure story that's intellectually provocative as well.
Sunday, June 24, 2018
If there's anything unusual about Bryce Walton's "The Silver Kraal," it's that the story is told from a female viewpoint. If not quite a complete heroine, Florence Sullivan has the look of a Fiction House superwoman: a "tall, lithe white woman ... The native policeman who walked stiffly beside her was barely taller than she, and he was tall." Her main purpose is to inspire a broken-down white explorer to clean up, regain his sanity and avenger her father, the victim of one of those crocodile cults. It turns out, of course, that a wicked white man has usurped the otherwise-harmless cult for his own nefarious purposes. In Emmett McDowell's "Bwana Two-Sleep," another strong female goes to Africa to investigate whether her father's mine is played out and should be sold, and another strong man helps her thwart the Russian who hopes to take the rich lode for a song or, failing that, feed the heroine to the crocodiles. In Alexander Wallace's "Killer's Spoor" a white woman, daughter of another martyred explorer, has become "Matyenda," the mother-goddess-good luck charm of the Mpongwe tribe, but of course she must be rescued from this exalted state by the generic hero.
The least generic of this issue's heroes is Dan Cushman's recurring character, "Armless" O'Neil. Cushman is best known for his westerns, and pretty much boasted of writing African stories without any basis in expertise, but he's also easily the best writer in this particular issue and O'Neil's hard-boiled exuberance in "Five Suns to Angola!", in which the hook-handed hero goes reluctantly to great pains to transport a payload of potential medicinal value, overwhelms any objections to his portrayal of the dark continent, which is probably no less fact-based than anyone else's here. In any event Fiction House's jungle is as much a fantasy world as pulpdom's innumerable Chinatowns any other locales where readers could dream of getting away with the impossible or the impermissible by the standards of ordinary life.
Monday, June 18, 2018
The adventures of Ki-Gor, White Lord of the Jungle, are some of the pulpiest stuff, in one sense of the word, of the 1940s. One of many imitation Tarzans, Ki-Gor was the star of Fiction House's quarterly Jungle Stories, published from 1938 to 1954. Authorship was credited to John Peter Drummond, a house name covering a number of authors. I don't know who actually authored "Warrior-Queen of Attila's Lost Legion" (Summer 1947), but the writer doesn't quite have the formula down. He makes a throwaway reference to the typical banter between Ki-Gor's two black sidekicks, the American boxer turned Masai chieftain Tembu George and pygmy chief N'Geeso -- themselves imitations of the two sidekicks of Gordon MacCreagh's Kingi Bwana -- but can't be bothered to actually write out their usual ball-busting. I can't say that I missed it, but I noticed it wasn't there. For that matter, there's no mention of George's American origins, and the first-time reader might assume that he's as much an African native as N'Geeso, though as a black man turned jungle lord of a sort he's one of the most potentially fascinating characters in pulpdom. Ki-Gor himself is a cookie-cutter clone, articulate like the literary Tarzan rather than primitive like the Tarzan of contemporary movies. He's often upstaged on the magazine covers by his mate Helene, though that's less a reflection on Ki-Gor than standard Fiction House cover policy favoring cheesecake.
In any event, "Warrior Queen" pits the gang against yet another decadent lost civilization. Tarma, queen of the Maldeans, claims descent from "At-La," provoking speculation of Hunnish lineage, though I'm not sure that would be consistent with her lily-white status. She's the last pure-blood Maldean, the rest having interbred with natives, and she's looking for a white lord of the jungle to help her continue the royal line. The fact that Ki-Gor has a mate is immaterial, and the fact that Helene stabbed a particular ugly Maldean ape will only make it easier to put her out of the way. The gray ape, whom American explorer Williams wants to keep alive for the sake of science, is in fact an "earth god," a presumably sentient being with a language Tarma has mastered. Earth gods are, as you might expect, sacred, so both Helene and Williams, who dared capture one, are guilty of sacrilege and due to be sacrificed. The main action of the story is the capture of the two whites and the pursuit of the Maldeans -- just for the heck of it, their military commander is a hunchback -- by Ki-Gor and friends. I like pulp stories that pile wild new details on top of old ones, so we're well into the story by the time we find out that Tarma has control over dinosaurs thanks to a special reed whistle. The action takes us to the edge of spicy content, as Helene is subject to a whipping, though the villain gets only one stroke in before a berserk Ki-Gor intervenes. As I find to be typical of Jungle Stories, the narrative moves along quite nicely, the black characters are resourceful but deferential to the infallible white lord, and Ki-Gor himself is the least interesting element in the story. Luckily, his adventures are often fun in spite of him.
Wednesday, June 6, 2018
'I think it would clear the situation if the witness would explain what he means by drawing a blank.'
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
Monday, June 4, 2018
Saturday, June 2, 2018
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Chullunder Ghose is one of Talbot Mundy's series characters, a babu (i.e. an English-speaking Indian bureaucrat or professional) who worked for the Crime Investigation Department. The babu is often a figure of contemptuous fun in pulp fiction (see L. G. Blochman's Guru Dutt) but Mundy's is a more sophisticated figure, capable of real wit and possessed of a degree of worldly-wise cynicism missing in similar characters who exist only so authors can write funny sounding sentences. As Ghose says to his sometime colleague Larry O'Hara, "Philosophy and logic absolutely prove to me that governments are aggregations of amazing liars bent on graft and nothing else whatever. Nevertheless, I am rising with you on a silly-damn-dangerous expedition, drawing small pay and smaller expenses from the secret service of a government in whose stability I disbelieve, whose methods seem to me ridiculous, whose spirit is one of ingratitude, and for whose future I care nothing." Such eloquence is juxtaposed with presumably put-on pidgin talk and a veritable word jazz of multicultural references. Here's how he answers the simple question, "What's your plan?"
"Non est. Haven't one. Do you mistake me for a fathead general in Flanders studying a map to find out what the enemy is thinking? No, O'Hara sahib. This babu is opportunist ad lib. Am exponent of the theory that cats jump otherwise than expected, Am ju-jitsuist of circumstance. If circumstances pull, I push them. If they push, I pull them. We are being sent to do a cheap job that the politzei have failed at. Let us not act like policemen."
He's half Charlie Chan, half Groucho Marx, and that's not the half of it. For the purposes of the story quoted above, Ghose is also a superstitious fraidy-cat. I don't know if "Case 13" (Adventure, January 1, 1932) is numerically accurate as far as Ghose's publication history is concerned, but it suffices that the hunt for bandit chieftain Lalla Lingo is Ghose's thirteenth and theoretically unlucky investigation for the C.I.D., and he can't let the frightful idea of it drop. He and O'Hara must track down the bandit, who has kidnapped a moneylender at the instigation of three prominent debtors. Ghose worms his way into Lalla Lingo's camp by stripping his clothes and going naked as a holy man, while O'Hara gets to wear a dhoti "as a tribute to your inhibitions." It's really an amusing enough story without the whole superstition angle, which seems shoehorned in as if Mundy felt a need to undermine his character's intellectual effectiveness, the better for O'Hara to play the action hero. Or he may have felt that it made Ghose a more complexly comical figure. It may be that Mundy didn't fully have a grip on his creation yet. If I get a chance to read Ghose's later appearances I should be able to say whether the babu of "Case 13" is the finished product or only a work in progress.
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Thursday, May 10, 2018
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
When is a Foreign Legion story not a Foreign Legion story? Perhaps when the subject isn't the French Foreign Legion but it's Spanish counterpart. The Spanish organization is the subject of Robert Carse's "Legion" (Adventure, December 1936), set in North Africa in the early days of the Spanish Civil War. Carse has something of a reputation as a leftist, so he might be expected to take the Republican side, but for this story, at least, he takes a neutral position. In short, an officer thought long lost escapes from Moorish captivity and promptly falls under suspicion as a relic of the old regime. The new commander is a Republican loyalist, but he and his predecessor eventually realize that their shared first loyalty is to the Legion. Their second shared loyalty is to Spain's colonial empire. Leftists the Republicans may have been, but that doesn't translate to anti-imperialism, at least in this story. Under Republican rule, the Legion's job remains to maintain Spanish rule in the region, while the old officer's main purpose is to avenge the insult to national pride he endured as a captive and virtual slave. The King of Spain may have oppressed his own people, the old man concedes, "But before any King of Spain did that, we drove the Moors from there, swept them out and into the sea. I do not know, but I think that in the years the Moors held me as a slave the memory of those things kept me alive." The old hero dies an epic, almost Arthurian death, impaled on a bayonet but driving himself forward to get his old enemy the Moor in a literal death grip. So passes the old regime in honorable style, one might believe, though in fact it would be reborn in less honorable form, but leaving that aside, "Legion" is a typically solid action story from Carse that gains added interest from its historical context.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Arthur O. Friel's "The Hawk of Zaguamon" (Adventure, December 1936) reminded me of a later story of Friel's that I read earlier, in which his series hero Dugan, an American adventurer in South America, tentatively befriends a young aristocrat turned rebel. As usual, the setting in "Zaguamon" is Venezuela, specifically during the regime of President Juan Vicente Gomez, who died a year before Friel's story was published. The American hero this time, Rod Steele, is the sidekick/adviser of Ricardo Torre, the U.S.-educated hawk of the title ("El Halcon") and a rebel against one of Gomez's abusive and potentially rebellious governors. The Hawk's small army intervenes in a skirmish between the governor's forces and another rebel force whose leader ends up mortally wounded. The dying man entrusts his heir, a slender youth, to the American's stewardship, while his army readily joins forces with Torre's. This proves a decisive encounter in more ways than one. Torre and Steele discover that Governor Boves, their true enemy, has been importing Germany military advisers for some can't-be-good purpose. His now-augmented force inspires Torre to provoke Boves into a decisive battle. The two factions get along well enough, except that the Guerra forces are very protective toward Ricardo, their beardless new leader.Ricardo's father hadn't wanted them to join with any other rebel force because "He thought I was too young to be among such men as most rebels are." This makes sense to Steele, since "the average gang of self-styled rebels in these wilds comprised human beasts of prey, vicious in every word and deed." But there's more to it than that, as Steele finds out after young Guerra has to kill a soldier who's less protective than possessive, telling the young commander, "No man -- have you!"
Steele's amazed eyes, lifting sooner than the furious gaze of the slayer, stared anew. The loose army-shirt was torn wide open; and, scratched by clawing nails now dead, out swelled firm young breasts never those of a boy. The gray eyes flashed up, met the wide brown ones. Quick hands yanked the shirt together. Burning red arose to the dark hair, gradually receded. Then, with a sigh, Carlota Guerra holstered her pistol and stood mute, head still high but gaze avoiding Steele's astonished regard.
I must confess that the twist took me by surprise, though in hindsight I should have been tipped off by "Carlos" deciding to wear an oversized uniform confiscated from one of the dead Germans. Certain things become inevitable from here, of course. Carlota convinces Stelle to let her continue her imposture, reminding him, "Have there not been fighting women before now?...Have I not fought for years like a man? Do not be stupid!" Friel makes a point, however, of having Carlota thrown from a horse and taken out of the action for the final battle against Boves, so she can live to become, at age seventeen, our American hero's bride. In Steele's defense, he offers to send her to a "high-class girls' school up North" first, but she's not having that. "I know men!" she protests, "Men that are men, not schoolboys! And damn, hell, if you not want me --" No, damn, hell, he does want her, and "right over yonder in Trinidad are English clergymen waiting for us." Such is romance south of the border, and it doesn't really feel out of place in this entertaining mini-epic of pulp South America.
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Monday, April 2, 2018
Trump was an ugly dog. Everyone thought so, except Lige.
Trump was about to be shot the day they met some years ago. The shepherd had seen Trump smelling a coyote-killed lamb. He believed Trump guilty.
Trump must have realized he'd been pulled out of a bad spot.
The citizens wouldn't care what became of Trump. He'd probably haunt back doors, scavenging food, until someone shot him or poisoned him and felt righteous doing it.
There was one way to do it. Kill Trump and then let Newt Slayne send a telegram to the law man up north.
Maybe if he could understand, Trump would rather have this happen than to have Syd caught.
"Me and Trump don't think Syd's guilty."
Trump came back when called but then struck out in that wrong direction again.
"I'll bet Trump's hungry, too. He's done a day's work."
[Or, if you really want to editorialize...]
"Don't try," said Lige, "From here on we both follow Trump."
This is all very sophomoric in what I hope is nonpartisan fashion, but I couldn't help myself. If anyone takes offense, I swear that if I find a jungle story featuring any sort of savage named Obama, I'll do the same thing.
Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Well, that's the way Dugan's built. Sort of temperamental. Take him right, and he'll give you his shirt. Get him wrong, and that's different. And the Irish, if you don't happen to know it, have better reasons to get proud than anything that ever came out of Spain. A little matter of blood. There haven't been so many Africans in Ireland.
The sentiment is deplorable in an objective way and yet almost admirable, on Friel's part, for a frankness in viewpoint that too often goes missing today. In any event, the story doesn't treat Lorenzo like an inferior; it only insists that on almost all points someone from down there is going to be outclassed by an American, and an Irish-American especially. That goes double for Pompeyo, the de facto head of the goon squad that's attached itself to Lorenzo, hoping to snatch the treasure for themselves. He's "A cheap plug-ugly who'd tried to be a prize fighter in Havana, probably, but hadn't made good. But, down here, good enough to beat up all comers, till an Irish-American came along. The story itself is a punchy, hard-boiled entertaining affair, and if anything the casual bigotry enhances the overall tone. In the end, by the way, Lorenzo offers Dugan a whole bag of gold, but our hero deems himself satisfied with a single coin and some food, accepting what the young man originally offered him. Money doesn't mean much if you're more interested in moving on than in settling down, and Dugan has more adventures waiting for him.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
On a more serious if not mawkish note, O. B. Meyers' "Aces and Death" gives us a conscientious German, one more honorable than his commanders. This story invites us to see the American and German protagonists as near-exact counterparts, down to their similarly alliterative names, David Decker and Dagmar (isn't that a woman's name?) Denkert. The latter is forced down while on a bombing run against an Allied hospital housing a large number of German P.O.Ws. Denkert is shocked to learn that, contrary to German propaganda claiming that the Allies paint red crosses on ammo dumps, his target really was a hospital. He's naive enough to convince Decker to let him fly back to the German side so he can convince his superiors to stop bombing red crosses. When Denkert is predictably rebuffed and prevented from fulfilling his promise to return to the Allied side, Decker decides that he's just another treacherous Hun and is hot to shoot down his distinctive plane with a Z on the wing. Even after Denkert helps him escape after he's brought down behind enemy lines, Decker freaks out when the Z-plane appears to pursue him. The final twist comes after the American shoots that plane down, when a German plane drops off a message -- an omnipresent plot device in these stories -- explaining that Denkert's asshole commandant had used his plane to chase the American. As opposed to the more humorous stories with sportsman Germans, this one closes on a relatively grim note as Denkert reminds Decker that they'll be enemies once more should they meet again before the war ends. I still can't say I'm much impressed with Dare-Devil Aces, but I have to give credit where it's due for greater variety of content than I first assumed.
Monday, March 19, 2018
Saturday, March 17, 2018
Created in 1917 for Adventure by Gordon Young, Don Everhard is recognized by some as fiction's first hard-boiled detective. That recognition is based on substance rather than style. Everhard, aka Donald Richmond, an oil-rich gambler and sometimes troubleshooter, has a grim, somewhat cynical attitude, but Young as a writer, especially early on, lacks the terse, staccato manner of the more generally recognized hard-boiled pioneers writing for Black Mask. Over time, their influence sunk in, so that by 1936 Young could talk the talk as well as walk the walk. The title "Everhard" (Adventure, May 1936) suggests that his novelette was meant as a kind of "reboot" for the character, and not necessarily the first since he, or his editor, had already given a 1933 novelette the same name. There had only been one Everhard story in between, the 1936 "Everhard" being the first in more than two years. He'd been mostly writing sea stories and westerns in the interval and presumably refining his style. The 1936 story re-establishes the hero's household: his sister Helen; his servant Kang Ko, a disciplinarian of long standing; and his chauffeur Mike, a professional wrestler who himself can talk the talk, cutting a mean promo to distract people while his boss does some sneaking, as well as walk the walk by breaking a crook's neck. Everhard himself is drawn to the aid of casino operators threatened by the unexpected release from prison of "Killer" Lynn, who has vowed vengeance on both the casino owner and Everhard himself. It develops that the threat to the casino is meant to draw Everhard out so Lynn and his mysterious employer Rinsko can eliminate him. It then develops, in an entertaining extra complication, that Everhard is being used as bait to draw out Lynn and Rinsko by a G-Man and his fanatical girlfriend, who fools Everhard so completely that he suspects her of setting him up for the gangsters to kill. That element of fallibility, the extent to which his own wrath at the gangsters leads him to blunder severely, makes Everhard a much more interesting and (dare I say?) likeable character than he was in previous stories I tried to read. In short, the 1936 "Everhard" read like a very promising restart for the franchise, but Young apparently was running out of ideas for his detective. Don Everhard only made two more appearances, in the November 1937 Adventure and in his only foray outside his home pulp, in a 1939 issue of Short Stories. His heart may not have been in the genre anymore; he may have preferred writing, and fans may have preferred reading the exploits of his cowboy hero Red Clark, which continued for much of the 1940s, until Young's death in 1948. If anyone has read anymore Everhards worth recommending, I'll be glad to hear about them.
Friday, March 9, 2018
This isn't the sort of adventure thriller that Perry would write later in his Bellow Bill Williams series for Argosy. Instead, it's a character study of the shifting moods of mate and captain amid gradually increasing suspense as Perry delays the inevitable hand-to-hand showdown between Cole and Sutson. When that finally comes, Perry makes the blowoff surprising brief but unsurprisingly brutal. It works somehow; Cole breaking Sutson's arm is more abruptly decisive than the pages of knock-down and drag-out another writer might attempt. Despite the title, Perry has little to say about Africa or Africans, apart from noting, despite his characters' free use of the n-word, that native krooboys are more dependable workers than white trash like Sutson. In "Congo Sun" and "Red," pulp fiction seems to be preparing readers not only to pass the expected tests of courage and responsibility, but to take authority over others and prove that not everyone is as good as they are. Another way of putting it is that pulp, at least as published by Adventure editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman, favors meritocracy over egalitarianism, or prefers a meritocratic egalitarianism that rewards talent and character regardless of class (see "Red") over an egalitarianism that stubbornly rejects all meritocratic distinctions. To look at it yet another way, modern critics may focus on how pulp affirms racial hierarchies, but pulp stories often require stiff-necked whites to bow before heroic characters as well, sometimes after struggles nearly as difficult as any empire's civilizing mission.
Tuesday, March 6, 2018
Call it cynicism or realism, but Nason is unafraid to show the American soldier in his ignorance, his selfishness, his sometimes cowardice and his often courageous resourcefulness. In this installment, Eadie, his sidekick Jake (responsible for our headline quote when confronted with a cartridge of Fumee Jaune) and an aggressive captain encounter "a half dozen gallant defenders of democracy who had huddled into a shell-hole and, having allowed the [German] advance to pass them, now began to timidly make their way out with every intention of breaking for the rear and safety." These draftees "don't see what good we can do by staying here and getting killed" after losing their officers, but the captain tells them, "You can stop a bullet from killing a better man!...This isn't the Russian army. You're a bunch of yellow ----." One of the draftees offers a characteristic response: "I'm not afraid of getting killed, but I am not going to be butchered. I'm no sheep; I'm an American citizen," and gets knocked "into a whimpering heap" for his trouble before the captain is killed by a falling shell.
"Where'd it getcha?" asked Jake earnestly.
"Never mind," said Eadie, "he's dead. I know by the way he feels."
Two or three infantrymen came cautiously over and watched Eadie fold the captain's hands and put his helmet over his face.
"What did he want to stand up like that for?" muttered one of them, "Can you tie that?"
"He wanted to show us he was braver'n us," replied another. "I tell yuh this place is a poor one to be brave in."
The man who had been knocked down by the captain now came over to the group.
"What outfit do you men belong to?" he asked.
"We're artillerymen," said Eadie, "from the Third Division."
"Oh!" cried the other. "The ---- regular Army! They shove us in here to crack the hardest nut in the whole sector just because we're men that can earn our living on the outside. These are the guys that want to shove us up against some more machine guns"
Jake was about to reply, but Eadie waved his hand to him to be silent.
"We don't give a ---- whether you go or stay," said the sergeant, "There's a barrage of military police in back of you that a rat couldn't get through. And if they get their hooks on you you'll wish you'd been killed up here. This isn't my first scrap. I know what I'm talking about. I wasn't shoved into the Army with a bayonet, nor shoved on to the front lines with another one. If you were any kind of man I'd lick you for what you said about the regulars, but as it is I'll give you a good kick if you open your mouth again. If it hadn't been for us you'd be wading around the Atlantic Ocean now to save yourself from being a Boche prisoner."
"Huh!" grunted the other sarcastically.
After the draftees head for the rear, Eadie observes, "There's a hero for you. He'll go home and be president of the Society of Veterans of the American Excavationary Forces yet. He's just the kind of a bird to shine in public life." But Jake answers, "I don't know but what he's right. We won't do no good to get killed. This outfit has run itself down like a kettled steer." And they still have stubborn, stupid or insane officers yet to encounter in this installment. I can't help wondering how the passage above went over with editor Hoffman, an early promoter of veterans' organizations like the American Legion, but the fact that counts is that he gave Nason his start in fiction and made Adventure his home base -- he also appeared regularly in The Saturday Evening Post -- as long as he published in pulp. I find these conflicts within the conflict fascinating, along with Nason's inventively episodic approach to the war in general. His stuff is a highlight of any issue it appears in.
Sunday, March 4, 2018
When the Thrilling Group acquired Ranch Romances in 1950, it had been publishing an imitation title of its own, Thrilling Ranch Stories, since late 1933. Thrilling Ranch wasn't the phenomenon Ranch Romances was; while the latter continued to be published twice a month as late as 1958, the best Thrilling Ranch could manage was a monthly schedule from mid-1934 through early 1938. Most of the time it came out bimonthly, and after Ranch Romances made it superfluous it finished its run as a quarterly from the summer of 1950 through the fall of 1953. Needless to say, many of the same writers appeared in both titles, including rising star Lewis B. Patten, whose "Rustler's Run" was the lead novelette in the Spring 1953 Thrilling Ranch Stories. Judging by his story alone, Thrilling Ranch had much the same content as Ranch Romances, tougher tales than the "Romance" (or "Ranch") label might suggest but with more consideration of human emotion. If anything, "Rustler's Run" tips more heavily toward romance than a lot of the Ranch Romances stuff I've seen. The genre plot about rustlers and their hidden passage in the hills doesn't seem to interest Patten as much as the sad lives of his two protagonist families and their redemption through merger. Burt Norden is a young rancher whose father's murder has broken his mother's spirit. Stella Norden has become a drunk desperately seeking companionship from any man who ambles along, bringing a shame on her family that she feels acutely whenever she sobers up. Burt resents his circumstances but can't bring himself to hate or break ties with his mother, even though her downward spiral handicaps his own social life. He hopes to court Lucy Cross, daughter of a neighbor rancher who has his own cross to bear in the form of a slowly dying wife. Burt has a rival in the form of "blocky and savage" Mitch Riorson, a thug from a family of thugs who conveniently turn out to be the mystery rustlers. Patten intercuts from Burt's fights with the Riorsons to the final days of Mrs. Cross, who in her moribund saintliness urges husband John to hook up -- she phrases it more delicately, of course, -- with her old friend Stella Norden so he won't be lonely and Lucy will still have a mother. The fist and gunfights are rote stuff but Patten puts more effort into the deathbed scenes and the tense mornings in the Norden home, maybe because that's what Thrilling Ranch readers expected and possibly because those moments of bereavement and regret, cliche though they also may be, came closer to home for him. The story effectively ends once it becomes clear that Stella, now cleaned up for good, will marry John Cross. That makes it okay for John to take time on the day of his wife's funeral to rescue Burt from pursuing rustlers, and it allows Patten to end the story quite abruptly, mentioning the offstage capture of the Riorsons and Mitch's hanging in a final paragraph. Of course, that might have been editor Fanny Ellsworth's axe falling rather than Patten's own decision, but it still shows where readers' priorities were presumed to be.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Along with the serials by W. C. Tuttle and William McLeod Raine, there's T. R. Ellis's "Fences," about a rodeo rider turned auto racer, and two non-fiction pieces, including a good one from Carl Elmo Freeman that's part of a series on firearms history. The Camp-Fire letters column is a mere four pages, though that's still more than you'd see anywhere but in a science-fiction mag. Overall, Adventure in this period can't help looking and reading like a shadow of its former self. It'd put some more meat on its bones in 1933, going up to 128 pages, but it sacrificed frequency to do it, going from semi-monthly to monthly. The page count would fluctuate thereafter from a World War II peak of 160 pages a month to 112 pages every two months toward the end of its life as a pulp magazine. In short, better days were still to come for what had arguably been the greatest of pulps.
Monday, February 26, 2018
The world's in a bad state, no doubt. It always has been, and while you get men like your friend, Coley, it always will be. Even though you eradicate the abuses we all know of, abuses many of us are trying to eradicate in different ways from the ways you recommend,you'll always have human nature to contend with. Your friends in Russia [i.e. the Bolsheviks] have proved that you can't change things wholesale, only, I suppose, Mr. Wilson,you wouldn't regard it in that way, quite, would you?...The world's a hard old place but there's good to be found in it, if you know where to look.
By the end, having taken the millionaire ship-owner's offer of a berth as a bosun, Red has changed for good, in either sense of the word, by giving up egalitarian idea that no one's better than anyone else. He learned during his night from hell that he was better than plenty of people. "Life was tough, more tough than it need have been," Red reflects, "if men and women would only think less of themselves now and again and more about other people." Ambition does not mean robbing or thrashing everyone around you, as so many he'd met had tried to do, but it does mean asserting yourself when you actually know better than someone else. Facing one of his old antagonists aboard his new ship, he tells the man, "You're not as good as any one else aboard this ship and you needn't think it. You're not as good as me to begin with....You may be as Red as you like ashore, but aboard this ship you'll remember you're one of the hands and you'll do as you're told." There's no denying that "Red" is a conservative work of fiction that stacks the deck by populating Red's path with so many scumbags, but at the same time it struck me as a more nuanced portrait of a left-winger, however misguided Townend takes him to be, than one might have expected from pulp fiction of this period.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
Last weekend while clearing some of my DVR queue I watched the 1956 George Marshall film Pillars of the Sky, a western vehicle for Jeff Chandler. When Sam Rolfe got a writing credit for adapting Will Henry's story "Frontier Fury," I said to myself, "I have that one!" In fact, I have it in its original form as an 82-page "complete novel" in the September 1952 issue of Zane Grey's Western Magazine. Published by Dell for approximately seven years (Nov/Dec 1946 to January 1954, mostly monthly), Zane Grey's was the most successful attempt at a western magazine in the digest format that would supplant the traditional pulp magazine. Originally highlighting abridged reprints of Grey's novels, the magazine increasingly highlighted original works by current writers from late 1950 forward. Henry W. Allen, formerly a story man for cartoon auteur Tex Avery, published most of his magazine fiction there under the pseudonyms "Will Henry" and "Clay Fisher." Editor Don Ward noted that "Frontier Fury" would soon appear in expanded form as a novel. It did so as To Follow the Flag, which makes it curious that Pillars of the Sky cites "Frontier Fury" as its source. Maybe Universal could pay Henry less, if anything, that way. I couldn't help wondering how the novel differed from the magazine piece, since the film bears only a minimal resemblance to the original.
"Frontier Fury" is based on an 1858 battle in the Pacific Northwest in which the U.S. Calvary took a beating, and it's mostly a battle narrative focusing on Sgt. Emmett Bell (aka "Ametsun") and his Nez Perce scouts. They manage to help the commanding colonel avoid a complete massacre, and it's clear from the close that the war with the Palouse, their chief Kamiak and his allies will continue. Meanwhile, Emmett gets the girl who had once been engaged to another officer who gets killed during he battle. Improbably for 1956, one of the changes made for Pillars of the Sky is that Emmet does not get the girl, there played by the late Dorothy Malone. Instead, Cally realizes that the other officer, who survives the film, cares more about her than Emmet does. Emmet apparently has a higher calling. Pillars portrays the 1858 war as virtually a war of religion. As in "Frontier Fury," most of the Indians are Christianized, use Christian names and speak fluent English, the exception being our villain Kamiakin (Michael Ansara), who signifies his disdain for the white man's religion by keeping his original name. Pillars makes a major character out of Protestant missionary (Ward Bond) who is only mentioned but never seen in "Frontier Fury." In the film's climax, Kamiakin kills the missionary in cold blood, only to be killed by the Christian Indians, thus presumably ending the war. In the end, it looks like Emmet will take the missionary's place, leading the Indians in prayer in the ruins of the mission. Where the hell did that come from? Not from To Follow the Flag, I suspect.
If anything, the title of the novel suggests that its focus is even more strongly on the Nez Perce scouts than in "Frontier Fury." For Timothy, the chief scout, following the flag is a point of honor. His character reminded me a lot of the Apache scout in Ulzana's Raid whose loyalty to the cavalry is unswerving because he "signed the paper committing him to its service. It goes deeper than that for Timothy, though he finds himself constantly distrusted by the cavalry officers. He's been obsessed with the American colors since his childhood. As he explains to Emmett, comparing his loyalty and idealism to the other scouts:
When they look on that gay banner of the Pony Soldiers they don't see what I do.They have no eyes for that bright cloth on its roundtopped lance-haft. They can't feel the blood and the snow of its stripes. They can't touch the deep blue of its sky nor reach the bright glitter of its stars. Well, wuska, let that be the end of it. If they can't see the flag, how can they follow it?
But I can see it. I have always seen it. From the day the old chief, Menitoose, my father who walked with Lewis and Clark, drew its design and color upon my first boyhood shield, I have seen it. The old man bade me take the emblem and walk behind it with his image in my eyes for all the days of my life. I have done that bidding. Where that flag goes, Tamason [his real name] will follow it.
By comparison, Emmett is something of a cynic, though more trusting of Timothy as a matter of personality and experience than his superiors are. While he's convinced of Timothy's integrity, he also suspects that the Nez Perce are acting on tribal self-interest first and foremost, concerned mainly with weakening their native enemies with American help. He's also "an Indian veneer-peeler of five years' good standing" who doubts how deeply Christianity has changed the natives. He makes a running joke of Timothy's devotion to Choosuklee, aka Jesus Christ, which good-natured Timothy takes in stride. All this makes Emmett's arc in Pillars of the Sky more strange, but one thing the film admirably preserves from "Frontier Fury" is Henry's overall eschewal of the stilted dialogue that passes for Indians speaking English fluently in many westerns. The flowery excerpt above notwithstanding, Timothy and the other scouts, Jason and Lucas, speak more casually than western readers and viewers may have been used to, and often with an actual sense of humor. Alas, Henry abruptly throws away any good will he might earn from the "politically correct" modern reader by giving Cally a black servant who speaks minstrel dialect and is described with both the n-word and the d-word by our hero! Emmet is grimly amused by the role reversal when an Indian captures the women and takes the black woman as a wife, making Cally his new wife's servant, but modern readers may not laugh with him. Wisely, the servant doesn't appear in Pillars.
In "Frontier Fury" it's Timothy, not Emmett, who gets the last word. His double ordeal, scrambling to survive and making heroic efforts despite the distrust of most officers, has embittered him in a way he won't express to his friend Ametsun. But he makes his feelings clear to his own sidekicks on the final page of the story.
It's a fool's flag, my brothers, and those who follow it with them [the white soldiers] are fools.The red you see upon it is Indian blood. The blue is the empty sky they trade for our lands. Those white stars are their promises, high as the heavens, bright as moonlight, cold and empty as the belly of a dead fish.
Lucas and Jason, never idealists and never disillusioned, see things more practically. "My belly, too, is cold and empty as a dead fish's," one says, "And the food is there. Where the flag is." Once the motion is seconded, Timothy wistfully acquiesces with the words above this post. Overwritten as it sometimes is, and in spite of its uglier moments, "Frontier Fury" is a better western story that Pillars of the Sky, okay on its own terms, is a western movie.