Friday, July 01, 2016

Literary Slumming: August Derleth and Mark R Schorer [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

Mark Schorer
It is easy for readers like myself to forget that Weird Tales writers and other pulpsters had literary ambitions. Dwelling in my fan-boy bubble, I (and many others as well) think that our favorite writers would be proud of their Weird Tales heritage. As remarks by Fritz Leiber in interviews clearly show, this was not the case. Weird Tales has a patina of nostalgia upon it these days. Back in the day, it was small potatoes, obscure, beneath notice.

To really drive this home we need look no further than two collaborators who sold twenty-one stories to Weird Tales and a few more to its better-paying rival, Strange Stories. These men were Mark R Schorer (1908-1977) and August Derleth (1909-1971). Both these men could have been simple footnote writers in "The Unique Magazine's" twenty-year run, but they were more. Much more.

First off, they were boyhood friends, growing up in Sauk City, Wisconsin. As time went on, Mark Schorer would become Chairman of the University of California; Berkeley, author of Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (1961). His work would appear in The New Yorker, Harpers, The Atlantic Monthly, and Esquire. Three Guggenheim Fellowships, a Fulbright professorship at the University of Pisa, a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences at Stanford, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was played by Treat Williams in the movie Howl (2010). Is it any wonder his obituary did not mention Weird Tales?

August Derleth
August Derleth began his career as a regional author. He won a place on the O'Brien Roll for "Five Alone" in Place of Hawks (1935). In 1938, Derleth became a Guggenheim Fellow for his early work on his Sac Prairie Saga, sponsored by Sinclair Lewis and Edgar Lee Masters. Instead of taking the path into academia that Schorer did, Derleth created Arkham Press in 1939 with Donald Wandrei, and saved HP Lovecraft from pulp obscurity. This decision, as well as taking up the pen of Arthur Conan Doyle (unauthorized, of course) and creating the detective Solar Pons, sent him down another path entirely. He would carry a fairly large reputation amongst horror fans (many who love and many who hate him). This literary backwater required him to write volumes of horror fiction to survive (over a hundred tales in Weird Tales alone!)

ST Joshi, in The Modern Weird Tale (2001), sees Derleth's influence and that of the small press as a ghettoizing influence on horror. The lack of response from mainstream critics forced Derleth to seek only those who understood his particular love of the weird. To promote Lovecraft's work, Derleth was required to occasionally produce new material. Joshi calls Derleth's "posthumous collaborations" with Lovecraft "perhaps the most disreputable phase of Derleth's activities" in HP Lovecraft: A Life (1996). Love him or hate him, he remained a working writer and editor to the end of his days.

It is hard to imagine these two collaborating on stories. They shared a cabin in early 1926 in rural Wisconsin and banged out their stories, the first appearing in Weird Tales in July 1926. The publication record seems to suggest this continued until September 1928. After this, year-long gaps begin, suggesting Schorer was busy doing other things. During these gaps, Derleth continued to publish on his own. Most of Derleth's solo stories read like retreads of English ghost stories, often set in England, and deserve the obscurity they received. At what point Schorer walked away is not hard to say as their last collaboration is "The Evil Ones" (Strange Tales, October 1940). This is around the time that Arkham House was created and Derleth would become that guy who wrote posthumous collaborations with the dead HP Lovecraft. (There was one more, "The Occupant of the Crypt" (Weird Tales, September 1947) but it was likely a leftover, rather than a new story.)

Derleth has many modes in which he wrote. His horror tales written under his own name are not exactly the same as those he wrote as Stephen Grendon. His Mythos fiction was written in mock-Lovecraftian prose. His Solar Pons reads like mock-Doyle while his science fiction has a different style too. Is there a Derleth-Schorer style? We have no idea what part each writer did with these tales. Was Schorer an ideas man? Or is the prose 50-50? Looking at a few of the more often reprinted stories: "The Lair of the Star-Spawn," a Cthulhu Mythos tale, "The House in the Magnolias." a zombie tale, "Colonel Markesan" (chosen by Derleth to be the headliner for their collaboration collection, Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People, published by Arkham House in 1966), and "The Woman at Loon Point," a werewolf story, I can not detect much of a difference from the prose in Derleth's solo stuff, though many of their stories are written as letters or journal entries, a device widely used in Derleth's Mythos stories.

The August Derleth-Mark R. Schorer stories include:

"The Elixir of Life" (Weird Tales, July 1926) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Marmoset" (Weird Tales, September 1926) with Mark R. Schorer

“The River” (Weird Tales, February 1927) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Black Castle" (Weird Tales, May 1927) with Mark R. Schorer
“The Turret Room” (Weird Tales, September 1927) with Mark R. Schorer

"Riders in the Sky" (Weird Tales, May 1928) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Owl on the Moor" (Weird Tales, September 1928) with Mark R. Schorer

"The Pacer" (Weird Tales, March 1930) with Mark R. Schorer

"Laughter in the Night" (Weird Tales, March 1932) with Mark R. Schorer
"In the Left Wing" (Weird Tales, June 1932) with Mark R. Schorer
"The House in the Magnolias" (Strange Tales, June 1932)
"The Lair of the Star-Spawn" (Weird Tales, August 1932) with Mark R. Schorer
"Red Hands" (Weird Tales, October 1932) with Mark R. Schorer

"The Woman at Loon Point"
"The Carven Image" (Weird Tales, May 1933) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Return of Andrew Bentley" (Weird Tales, September 1933) with Mark R. Schorer

"Colonel Markesan" (Weird Tales, June 1934) with Mark R. Schorer
"A Matter of Faith" (Weird Tales, December 1934) with Mark R. Schorer

"They Shall Rise" (Weird Tales, April 1936) with Mark R. Schorer
"Death Holds the Post" (Weird Tales, August-September 1936) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Woman at Loon Point" (Weird Tales, December 1936) with Mark R. Schorer

"Eyes of the Serpent" (Strange Stories, February 1939) with Mark R. Schorer
"The Vengeance of Ai" (Strange Stories, April 1939) with Mark R. Schorer
"Spawn of the Maelstrom" (Weird Tales, September 1939) with Mark R. Schorer

"The Evil Ones" (Strange Tales, October 1940)
"The Horror From the Depths" (1940, published in Colonel Markesan and Less Pleasant People, 1966).
"The Occupant of the Crypt" (Weird Tales, September1947)

Four unsold collaborations appeared after Derleth's death in 1971. These were "The Figure with the Scythe" (Weird Tales, Winter 1973), "The Countries in the Seas" (1999), "A Visitor from Outside" (2000),  and "A Bottle For Corezzi" (That Is Not Dead, 2009).

Derleth and Schorer certainly weren't unusual in appearing in a pulp magazine. Such literary giants as F Scott Fitzgerald, O Henry, Upton Sinclair, Tennessee Williams, Conrad Richter, and CS Forester all started with popular fiction. The difference is they all moved from the poorer paying pulps to the higher paying slicks, then onto the vaunted glory of hard cover book sales. These two friends allow us to see each path taken; Derleth perhaps on the "the road less traveled." From my perch here in the fan-boy bubble, August Derleth is a name charged with history and excitement (read: fame!), while the author of such scholarly works as Sinclair Lewis: An American Life interests me very little. Granted this is a matter of taste (or lack thereof), but it is a sobering reality from the world of science fiction and fantasy that our heroes were often penny-poor, paying a high price to write what they wanted. Fan-boy fame versus academic laurels. Had Derleth ever thought, "I made the wrong choice!"?

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.
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