Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Weird Tales

US pulp Magazine, large-format May 1923-May/July 1924; digest September 1953-September 1954, 279 issues, March 1923-September 1954, monthly March 1923-December 1939 except occasional combined issues, including May/June/July 1924, then gap until November 1924; then again monthly except combined issues February/March 1931, April/May 1931, June/July 1931, August/September 1936 and June/July 1939; bimonthly from January 1940; published by Rural Publications, Chicago, March 1923-May/July 1924, Popular Fiction Publishing Co., Chicago, November 1924-October 1938, Short Stories Inc., New York, November 1938-September 1954; ed Edwin Baird (1886-1957) March 1923-April 1924, Otis Adelbert Kline (1891-1946) May/July 1924, Farnsworth Wright November 1924-December 1939, Dorothy McIlwraith (1891-1976) January 1940-September 1954.

WT is the legendary Pulp fantasy magazine, second only to Unknown in significance and influence. The magazine's start was inauspicious: its editor, Baird, had been employed to compile the companion Detective Tales and had no interest in Horror; he thus filled WT with unimaginative traditional Ghost Stories, macabre villainy, etc. Admittedly WT discovered during this period some writers who would be among its most popular and influential – e.g., H P Lovecraft, Frank Owen, Seabury Quinn and Clark Ashton Smith (at that stage only for his poetry) – but the magazine remained generally uninspiring, and was unprofitable. However, its publisher, Jacob C Henneberger (1890-1969), remained convinced of its importance, and after the bumper May/July 1924 issue, which contained the controversial necrophiliac story "The Loved Dead" by C M Eddy (1896-1967) (revised by Lovecraft) and was thus reputedly withdrawn from sale, he sold the more lucrative Detective Tales in order to concentrate on WT.

The new editor, Farnsworth Wright, although erratic and idiosyncratic in his selections, nevertheless led the magazine into its Golden Age, the 1930s. WT used the subtitle The Unique Magazine, which remained singularly appropriate, as Wright was always prepared to publish unusual and offbeat stories which would rarely have appeared elsewhere – at least, not until WT's popularity inspired such rivals as Strange Tales and then Strange Stories.

The most influential contributor at this time was undoubtedly Lovecraft. Although Wright did not himself always like Lovecraft's fiction, its cumulative power had a striking effect on readers and writers alike, particularly after the appearance of "The Call of Cthulhu" (February 1928), which began the Cthulhu Mythos. Other writers, mostly friends of Lovecraft's and regular contributors in their own right, began to add to the sequence, prominent among them being Frank Belknap Long, August W Derleth, E Hoffmann Price and Donald Wandrei, and by the mid-1930s Lovecraft could also number among his adherents Robert Bloch and Henry Kuttner; his circle included also Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E Howard, although neither were Lovecraftian writers. In 1928 Smith began a prolific sequence of baroque and exotic High-Fantasy tales, many set in either the distant past or the Far Future, where Magic and Necromancy took the place of science. Howard likewise looked to primeval days, though more to explore native strength pitted against evil wizardry. His sequence of stories, which culminated in the adventures of Conan, were among the first of the Sword-and-Sorcery subgenre.

Outside the Lovecraft Circle, other writers carved their own niches. Seabury Quinn, WT's most prolific contributor (and for a period its most popular), produced an extremely long series of Occult-Detective stories featuring Jules de Grandin; Edmond Hamilton (1904-1977) was a regular supplier of sf, though by the 1930s he was using WT as a medium in which to explore more fanciful ideas; Frank Owen produced many romantic pseudo-Oriental Fantasies; and C L Moore contributed her semi-erotic fantasy adventures of Jirel of Joiry and Northwest Smith. Other regulars included Paul Ernst (1899-1985), David H Keller, the one-plot writer Bassett Morgan (real name Grace Jones; 1885-1974) – whose stories usually featured people's brains transplanted into animals – Greye La Spina (1880-1969), H Warner Munn, Henry S Whitehead, Hugh B Cave, Nictzin Dyalhis – whose tales of witchcraft and sorcery typify the individualism of the magazine and its contributors – and the UK writers Arlton Eadie (real name Leopold Eady; 1886-1935) and G G Pendarves (real name Gladys Trenery; 1885-1938).

WT's heyday was represented not only by its writers. The work of its artists had an immense effect on the magazine's character, particularly the bold and often erotic covers by Margaret Brundage (1900-1976), which caused the magazine to be banned in some countries, and the colourful action-orientated covers by J Allen St John (1872-1957), who also designed what became the magazine's most lasting logo. Although C C Senf (1879-1948) and Hugh Rankin (1879-1957) were also regular cover and interior illustrators, they have not had the lasting impact of Brundage or of WT's leading artists of the late 1930s and the 1940s: Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, Boris Dolgov, Matt Fox (1906-1988) and Lee Brown Coye (1907-1981).

By the late 1930s the magazine's character had begun to change. Howard and Lovecraft had died, Smith had almost stopped writing, Quinn's Jules de Grandin was becoming stale, and Wright, who suffered from Parkinson's disease, eventually became too ill to edit. The magazine was sold to a new publisher (Short Stories, Inc.) and the editorial offices moved to New York where, once Wright retired, Dorothy McIlwraith – editor of the existing Short Stories – took over. The McIlwraith issues are usually regarded as inferior to Wright's; in fact, though seldom attaining Wright's highpoints, they also omitted the lows. The magazine's mood changed, presenting more modern, psychological fiction, and excluding S&S. Bloch, Derleth, Hamilton and Quinn remained regular contributors, and were now joined by Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Mary Elizabeth Counselman, Gardner F Fox, Carl Jacobi (1908-1997), Harold Lawlor (1910-?1993), Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon and Manly Wade Wellman, whose John Thunstone series brought a more realistic native background to the occult-detective theme. Among the last major new contributors to the magazine were Joseph Payne Brennan and Richard Matheson.

Later Incarnations

Although WT failed to survive the general pulp-magazine decline of the mid-1950s – a switch to digest format was to no avail – the memory lingered, and WT acquired quasi-mythical status. Occasional Small-Press magazines were launched in an attempt to continue the tradition – among them Joseph Payne Brennan's Macabre, Paul Ganley's Weirdbook, Stuart Schiff's Whispers and Stephen Jones's and David A Sutton's Fantasy Tales. The rights to the title had been acquired by Leo Margulies (1900-1975), who frequently planned to revive the magazine. In the interim he assembled (with the help of Sam Moskowitz [1920-1997]) four anthologies selected entirely from the magazine: The Unexpected (anth 1961), The Ghoul Keepers (anth 1961), Weird Tales (anth 1964) and Worlds of Weird (anth 1965). He eventually reissued WT, via Renown Publications, in mock-pulp format in 1973, under the editorship of Moskowitz. It had four quarterly issues (Summer 1973-Summer 1974), relying heavily on reprints from earlier issues and from turn-of-the-century magazines; it was most noted for Moskowitz's serialized study of the works of William Hope Hodgson.

When Margulies died in 1975 the rights were acquired by Robert Weinberg, who published his own tributes to the magazine. He licensed the title to Lin Carter, who sold the idea of a WT series to Zebra Books, New York. The new WT was issued in paperback format, ostensibly as an Anthology series (4 issues Spring 1981-Summer 1983). Carter sought to revive the magic of the Wright years by reprinting lesser-known material, acquiring new stories from old-time contributors, and resurrecting previously unpublished material by former contributors. Although lovingly edited, this incarnation was fatally marred by Carter's failure to see that the best material available was that by new writers.

After the contract with Carter was terminated, Weinberg licensed the title to a California publisher, Bellerophon Network, owned by Brian Forbes. Amid much rumour and speculation about the editorship, two minor and poorly distributed issues, ed Gil Lamont, appeared (Fall 1984, Winter 1985). Underfinanced, the magazine once more drew on reprints and lesser material from the archives of Forrest J Ackerman (1916-    ) – who had also been mooted as editor. Like Carter before him, Lamont was unable to capture the true essence of the magazine.

The most recent incarnation was instigated in 1987 by George H Scithers (1929-2010) through his Terminus Publishing Co., Philadelphia. Assisted by Darrell Schweitzer and John Betancourt – the latter for only the first two years – Scithers produced a magazine considerably more faithful to the original. Initially published in mock-pulp format, the first issue (#290 Spring 1988) was remarkably evocative of the Wright WT, with artist George Barr (1937-    ) successfully pastiching the illustrations of St John, Finlay, Rankin and Bok. The magazine maintained a quarterly schedule for some years. Almost every issue carried an author and an artist feature: #290 (Spring 1988) Gene Wolfe/George Barr; #291 (Summer 1988) Tanith Lee/Stephen Fabian (1930-    ); #292 (Fall 1988) Keith Taylor/Carl Lundgren (1947-    ); #293 (Winter 1989) Avram Davidson/Hank Jankus (1929-1988); #294 (Fall 1989) Karl Edward Wagner/J K Potter (1956-    ); #295 (Winter 1989/90) Brian Lumley/Vincent Di Fate; #296 (Spring 1990) David J Schow (1955-    )/Janet Aulisio (1952-    ); #297 (Summer 1990) Nancy Springer/Kelly Freas; #298 (Fall 1990) Chet Williamson/no featured artist; #299 (Winter 1990/91) Jonathan Carroll/Thomas Kidd (1955-    ); #300 (Spring 1991) Robert Bloch/Gahan Wilson; #301 Ramsey Campbell/Bob Walters (1949-    ); #302 (Fall 1991) William F Nolan/Bob Eggleton (1960-    ); #303 (Winter 1991/92) Thomas Ligotti/no featured artist; #304 (Spring 1992) John Brunner/Jill Bauman (1942-    ).

The editors did not fall into the trap of their three predecessors – i.e., trying to recapture the magazine's past through using writers of the past. Instead they encouraged new writers to explore the diversity of Weird Fiction in all its forms, as originally managed by Wright. Scithers and Schweitzer received a Special World Fantasy Award in 1992 for their achievement. However, the cost of production and distribution forced the magazine to change to a larger format in 1992, and this deprived it of some of the WT "aura". The author/artist issues continued, but the magazine was now less regular: #305 (Winter 1992/93) F Paul Wilson/Bob Eggleton; #306 (Spring 1993) Nina Kiriki Hoffman/Nicholas Jainschigg (1961-    ); #307 (Summer 1993) Ian Watson/no featured artist; #308 (Spring 1994), Tanith Lee/Phil Parks.

After #308 the licence to use the title was terminated. The publishers continued the magazine under a new title, Worlds of Fantasy and Horror: the numbering began afresh with #1 (Summer 1994), but the format and style were the same. Although the spirit of WT remained, the loss of the title took with it some of the soul. After four years the licence was reconfirmed and WT was relaunched with issue #313 (Spring 1998).

The influence of the original magazine remains palpable, not only through the continuing legacy of authors like Lovecraft, Howard, Bloch and Bradbury but in the desire of writers and publishers to recapture its aura and essence. Somewhere in the imagination reservoir of all US (and many non-US) Genre-Fantasy and Horror writers is part of the spirit of WT.

Reprint Editions and Anthologies

WT has seen many variant reprint editions and has been a rich source for anthologists. It began early in the UK in 1925 with the first of the Not at Night series ed Christine Campbell Thomson. Her first three volumes drew almost wholly from WT, to the extent that the series was regarded as a UK edition; later titles used more original material, but in some cases these were merely stories being published in the UK in advance of their WT appearance. During 1942 Gerald G Swan (> Magazines) released three unnumbered and cut editions of the September 1940, November 1940 and January 1941 issues. After WWII Thorpe & Porter issued a more regular and more complete UK edition, starting with the July 1949 edition (UK release November 1949) and then running complete reprints of the November 1949 to May 1954 US editions (though omitting July 1953 and swapping the order of the March 1953 and May 1953 issues).

A separate Canadian printing began in 1935 (in order to control the covers), but a completely separate Canadian edition began from the January 42 US edition (dated May 1942 for Canada). These versions had new covers by Canadian artists and, from the September 1942 Canadian issue, began to include some stories in advance of their US publication and to change some author by-lines – creating new pseudonyms (e.g., H P Lovecraft became J H Brownlow). The Canadian series ran May 1942-November 1951 (58 issues), the equivalent of the US January 1942-November 1951 issues, but omitting the US November 1944 and January 1948. From March 1948 the Canadian edition was identical and concurrent with the US one.

The first US Anthology to draw wholly from WT was The Moon Terror (anth 1927) ed anon Farnsworth Wright as a subscription bonus; the selection was weak and the anthology took years to sell out. More serious attention came with a US selection from the UK Not at Night series, Not at Night! (anth 1928) ed Herbert Asbury (1891-1963), followed by Beware After Dark (anth 1929) ed T Everett Harré (1884-1948) and, most significantly, Creeps by Night (anth 1931) ed Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) and The Other Worlds (anth 1941) ed Philip D Stong (1899-1957). All these titles, drawing heavily though not exclusively from WT, gave the WT authors a wider profile. Anthologies selecting solely from WT include, in addition to the Margulies ones already cited: Far Below and Other Horrors (anth 1974) ed Robert Weinberg; the 9-vol Lost Fantasies series: #1 The Bride of Osiris (coll 1975) by Otis Adelbert Kline, #2 Loot of the Vampire (coll 1975) by Thorp McClusky, #3 The Gargoyle (coll 1975) by Greye La Spina, Lost Fantasies #4 (anth 1976), #5 (anth 1977), #6 (anth 1977), #7 Dreadful Sleep (1938; 1977) by Jack Williamson, #8 The Lake of Life (anth 1978) and #9 The Sin Eaters (anth 1979), all ed Weinberg – Weird Tales (anth 1976; cut 2 vols vt Weird Tales 1978 and More Weird Tales 1978) ed Peter Haining, which in the hardcover edition is in facsimile from the original magazine; Weird Legacies (anth 1977) ed Mike Ashley; Weird Tales: The Magazine that Never Dies (anth 1988) ed Marvin Kaye; Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors (anth 1988) ed Stefan R Dziemianowicz, Weinberg and Martin H Greenberg; The Eighth Green Man and Other Strange Folk (anth 1989) ed Weinberg; 100 Wild Little Weird Tales (anth 1994) ed Weinberg, Dziemianowicz and Greenberg. Despite its title, Best of Weird Tales (anth 1995) ed John Betancourt selects solely from the Terminus years. [MA]

further reading: WT50 (anth 1974; exp vt The Weird Tales Story 1977) ed Weinberg, a tribute; The Collector's Guide to Weird Tales (1985) by Fred Cook and Sheldon R Jaffery.

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This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.