Monday, July 2, 2018

'We've drunk up more than one good man's bet because we were there an' he wasn't.'

Back last September, I enjoyed a James Mitchell Clarke story in Adventure that told the story of the siege of Jericho from the point of view of two immortal drunkards. I wondered whether the 1932 story was part of a series, and as it turns out, Clarke's pulp debut, "Punishment" (Adventure, April 1,1927) introduces Belshar and Hovsep sharing a drink with a Baltimore ship chandler and telling their version of the story of Jonah. As in the later story, Hovsep tells the tale in the vernacular of 1927, more or less, giving Biblical events a common touch. They remember Jonah as "the skinny Jew we took aboard at Joppa that time," seemingly unaware of the man's scriptural fame. "We none of us liked the look of him," Hovsep recalls, "Everybody in those days knew that Jews were apt to go crazy and live alone in the deserts, eating roots and wild honey. But this blighter looked half there, even if we weren't on to what he was." They probably wouldn't have called Jonah a "Jew" in his own day, but I suppose we can grant them some retroactive license. There's not really much story to tell here: inevitably a storm strikes, and inevitably Jonah volunteers to be thrown into the sea to appease his god. Our heroes have the job of throwing him in. "We hate like ---- to do this, mister," they tell him in Arthur Sullivant Hoffman's approved version, but as Hovsep recalls, "I'm a son-of-a-gun if the storm didn't go down within a half an hour." I like that the whale or great fish never comes into their story. All they see is a flash of lightning and "there was nothing where he had been but a big smother of foam among the waves."

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.

2 comments:

  1. A quick glance through my collection shows these are the stories in the series:

    Punishment (ss) Adventure Apr 1 1927
    Up to Heaven (ss) Adventure Feb 15 1928
    Walls (ss) Adventure Apr 15 1932
    The Judas Touch (ss) Adventure Apr 1944

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