Edmund Snell: Father of the

Fantastic Thriller?

 

If youíre reading this introduction then itís likely you are not a stranger to either Ramble House or my work. Iíve spent the better part of my adult life researching and reviving interest in authors who are mostly forgotten today. A while back I was asked who I would cite as the author that I would point to as being the best example of what weíre trying to do here at Dancing Tuatara Press. Would it be the supreme author of weird menace fiction, Wyatt Blassingame? Well, Blassingame would certainly be near the top of the list. Would it be the master of the supernatural thriller, Mark Hansom? No, a half dozen books doesnít really make for a flagship author. Pulpmaster Hugh B. Cave? His contemporary John H. Knox? Cave is well published elsewhere and Knox, like many of his contemporaries has only a small output, enough for a set of five volumes.

The answer I came up with was Edmund Snell. I really canít think of any author who produced more of the type of fiction that we specialize in that is so little-remembered today. We tend to think of Walter S. Masterman as being a prolific master of the fantastic thriller and rationalized supernatural yarn, but Snell has him beat by well over a million words. Itís hard to say today just how influential Edmund Snell was, but one thing is certain, starting with the present book in 1924, no one produced more work in the realm of the fantastic thriller between 1924-1944 than did Edmund Snell.

Best known today for his novels such as The White Owl, The Yu-chi Stone, The Sound Machine, and The Back of Beyond; many readers would be surprised to learn that Snellís output as an author of short stories and novellas far exceeded the wordage of his published novels. During the 1920s it was next to impossible to pick up a British fiction magazine and not find an Edmund Snell story therein. When the story papers came along with the format of The Thriller calling for a full-length novella every issue, Snell was really at home, producing an astonishing amount of work of mystery/adventure fiction ranging from the supernatural to tales of American gangsters to weird tales set in exotic locales such as Borneo and Singapore. The Crimson Butterfly, originally published in 1924 marks his first foray into blending the fantastic with the detective story. Records are unclear as to whether this or Corriganís Way was his first published book; but he established his mastery of both the classic adventure story and the fantastic thriller in the same year.

In Snellís time there were no market categories such as sf/fantasy/detective, such fare was labeled ďthrillerĒ and could be anything from a straightforward crime novel (something Snell also excelled at), to a full-blown science fiction tale to a Gothic horror story or a rationalized supernatural tale wherein seemingly otherworldly actions are finally proven to have a human cause. Certainly the blend goes back as far as Poe, but Snell, perhaps more than any other author made the genre his own. While Sax Rohmer had his Devil-Doctor stalking the streets of Limehouse, Edmund Snell gave us the fiendish Chanda Lung, the fiendish Indian-Chinese super criminal whose adventures span two decades and a trilogy that began with The Yellow Seven. With Edmund Snell you never knew exactly what you were going to get . . . You might find supernatural horror such as The White Owl, straight-forward gangster action, bizarre science fiction such as Kontrol or The Sound Machine or murder and mayhem in exotic locales (something that the well-traveled author was superbly equipped to write about).

However, it was in the area of the ďAsian MenaceĒ and master criminals that Snell really excelled, whether dealing with warring tongs or aboriginal magic, Snellís tales of the Far East and master criminals stalking modern London are of a level far surpassing the quality of most of his contemporaries. As to why Edmund Snell seems to have been so universally ignored when it comes to reprints, it seems that the lack of heirs interested in preserving his work was the main culprit, certainly lack of quality was not a factor as the list of superior novels is a long one and I have already prepared four collections of previously unreprinted novelettes with more to come.

That said, I have to thank our Grand Poobah, Fender Tucker for leading the charge in the Edmund Snell revival well before I came on board with the publication of Dope & Swastikas and The Sign of the Scorpion. Going forward weíll be handling Edmund Snell much the same way that weíre dealing with Walter S. Masterman: we plan on reissuing a number of his books and issuing several new collections. The material that ventures into the weird, sfnal, or Asian Menace arenas will be issued from DTP with new introductions. The material that is more straightforward crime/mystery will come out under the Ramble House imprint. As it stands, there are at least seven novels and a half-dozen collections that seem perfect for DTP and about the same number of volumes that would be more appropriate issued by Ramble House. In any event, prepare for a major revival of Edmund Snell.

Sadly, until Mike Ashley completes his index of the British magazines, thereís really no definitive bibliography to speak of. The Thriller has been pretty well indexed as has Detective Fiction Weekly, but there are literally dozens of fiction magazines (mostly British) that we know (or suspect) that Snell contributed to that havenít been indexed at all and are fairly rare today. Considering how prolific the author was, itís very likely that there exists as much quality material that I donít know about, as there is of material that we do know of . . . Sadly, one volume that is very high on my list is the collection Yellowjacket: The Return of Chanda-Lung. The Chanda-Lung stories feature the title character, one of the most memorable super-villains of the pulp era. Rather than merely another clone of Fu-Manchu, lurking in the background while assorted henchmen carry out his plans, Chanda-Lung is more closely akin to A.E. Appleís terrifying Mr. Chang (who also stalked through the pages of Detective Fiction Weekly. We anticipate being able to gather all the material necessary to release the Pennington trilogy sometime next year. Of course, this is just one of several projects with three or four collections already in hand and going through the editorial process. If youíre an Edmund Snell fan already, than rest assured, thereís a lot more to come; if youíre just discovering this fantastic author for the first time, do check out the other titles available here at Ramble House and stay tuned for many, many more volumes.

 

John Pelan

Winter Solstice  2013

Gallup, NM