Seven Decades of Terror



This collection may come as a surprise, after all, when a man has won every life achievement award that the field has to offer and put together a career spanning seven decades, it’s unthinkable that there would be enough of his work as yet uncollected for a substantial collection to be assembled . . . Unthinkable? Well, at least a surprise to me as I began work on a monumental project, The Best of Hugh Cave, for our friends at Centipede Press. That volume will be released as part of their acclaimed “Masters of the Weird Tales” series, giving Hugh B. Cave’s works a place on the shelf with other indispensable collections, such as those by Poe, Lovecraft, Burks, Machen, Blackwood, and others  . . . As I began work on the collection my biggest concern was that so much of Hugh’s work had already been collected by Carcosa/Wildside, Ash-Tree Press, and Fedogan & Bremer. Surely the bulk of his weird/horror fiction had already been collected and my responsibility would be limited to pulling selections from the volumes already extant . . .  Easier work, but surely not as rewarding to me or as exciting to our readers as a collection assembled whole from the original sources would be . . . As it turns out, my concerns were unfounded, it’s truly amazing at just how much material from Hugh’s most prolific years (the 1930s) remained uncollected. This, despite the three massive collections of his horror fiction, Murgunstruum, Death Stalks the Night, and The Door Below. Lest anyone think I’m bashing the editors of these volumes, this is absolutely not the case; all three books are what I would consider essential collections for any serious library of weird fiction and all three met their stated goals admirably, as did two smaller collections, (The Lady in Black and The Corpse Maker, both of which are also well worth seeking out); the fact is that Cave authored so much quality material in the horror genre that even three massive collections were not enough to contain all of his top-drawer material, let alone all of his weird and horror fiction.

As it turns out, the volume for Centipede Press will wind up containing somewhere on the order of 200,000 words of material gathered from previous collections and anthologies and something like 150,000 words of material that has previously seen publication only in the original magazines or pulps. The “Best of” volume that I’m preparing for Centipede Press’s “Masters of the Weird Tale” will cover the full length of Hugh Cave’s literary career and include over 100,000 words of previously uncollected material. Well, enough on the other book . . . It’s the present collection that we need be concerned with now. The scope of this volume is by necessity somewhat more modest, but should still provide quite a thrill for Cave aficionados, as none of the nearly 100,000 words of material has been collected in book form! For that matter, only two stories (“Spawn of Inferno” and “The Infernal Shadow”) have previously been reprinted and that was over forty years in Robert A. W. Lowndes late, lamented Startling Mystery Stories and The Magazine of Horror. The timeline of the work in the present volume is also much more modest, we’re selecting from a period of time beginning in October of 1932 and ending with June of 1936. Ten stories from a period of less than four years and it barely scratches the surface as far as quality material from this time period is concerned.

Cave’s foray into weird fiction began in Ghost Stories in 1931, quickly moving over to Weird Tales in 1932 and it appeared that he was well on his way to being a regular contributor with nearly a dozen stories appearing over the next two years as well as a couple of appearances in the competition’s Strange Tales. With productivity like that, it seemed that Cave would soon outpace Seabury Quinn as the leading contributor to “the unique magazine” . . . Then a funny thing happened in 1933 . . . Popular Publications re-launched Dime Mystery Magazine as the flagship of a new type of horror story, the weird menace yarn. The idea was simple, combine the graphic violence of the Grand Guignol theatre with a seemingly supernatural menace that by the end of the story would be revealed to have a rational explanation.

All pulp fans know that the lead story in the historic October 1933 was Norvell Page’s “Dance of the Skeletons”, but not as many recall that not only was Hugh B. Cave on hand with a fine novelette, “The Graveless Dead”, but that Cave was back for the next two issues; in November with the lead novella “The Corpse Maker” and in December with another fine novelette, “They Feed at Midnight”. Cave had found a market that played to his strengths in plotting mysteries and allowed the latitude for full-blown horror that would have been too extreme for most of the mystery magazines.

When Popular Publications launched Terror Tales as a companion publication in 1934 Cave was present in both of the first two issues and no doubt found the prompt payments and lack of editorial quibbling a refreshing change from dealing with Farnsworth Wright at Weird Tales. While there were two Cave stories published in Weird Tales in 1934, it’s very likely that these had been submitted and accepted well before the advent of the new markets. Certainly, after 1934 Cave didn’t really bother with Weird Tales again, the one lone story that appeared in 1939 (“The Death Watch”) may well have been a reject from a better-paying market that was re-tooled for Weird Tales. For the most part, Cave was able to focus his energies on the three weird menace titles from Popular Publications (Dime Mystery Magazine, Terror Tales and Horror Stories) and the competitors such as Thrilling Mystery and the “Spicy” pulps. By the time WWII came about, bringing with it the death of the weird menace genre, Cave had moved on to other interests and revisited the horror gene only sporadically until the horror boom of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Readers who recall the boom period of the 1980s, when dozens of paperbacks with shiny black covers lined the shelves of bookstores may question my use of the term “boom” in regard to this earlier period. The fact is that after an entire decade that saw very few books published in the genre and with the exception of the occasional story in one of the mystery digests or in the pages of Cele Gold’s Fantastic no real market for short stories, the late sixties and early seventies were indeed a “boom” period, with the Lowndes reprint magazines, the revived Weird Tales and most importantly, the advent of the semi-pro zines such as Whispers, Weirdbook, Nyctalops, and others, there was actually a viable market for stories in the Weird Tales tradition, and for several of the old guard from the pulp era, such as Manly Wade Wellman, Frank Belknap Long, still around, it was a glorious time for horror readers after the dark days of the previous decade.

Of the publications named, all had disadvantages of one sort or another, generally revolving around financing. Whispers was by far the best of the lot, funded by publisher Stuart Schiff and brilliantly edited by Schiff and David Drake. The reprint magazines helmed by Doc Lowndes were operated on a shoe-string budget featuring 99% reprint material from the pulps mixed in with the occasional new story by authors such as Stefan Aletti, Anna Hunger, and Stephen King. Lowndes included three of Cave’s stories and likely would have used more, had the magazines continued.

Stuart Schiff’s Whispers suffered from an erratic schedule, but the quality of the content was so high that I still recall the thrill that the delivery of each new issue caused. The arrival of a new issue of Weird Tales was cause for a retreat to my room, where I would remain shut off from the outside world until every single word of the magazine had been read. It seemed that the goal of Whispers was to be what The Arkham Collector should have been; with a delightful mix of fiction and non-fiction and new authors such as Ramsey Campbell and David Campton rubbing shoulders with the greats of the pulp era such as Manly Wade Wellman and Hugh B. Cave.

The success of Whispers lead to a series on anthologies under the able editorship of Stuart Schiff and the launch of the highly-regarded publishing house, Carcosa Press, under the editorship of author Karl Edward Wagner. Wagner was never a man to do anything by half-measures, the volumes published under his imprint were not just large books, they were massive tomes of a size not to be seen again until the advent of Centipede Press and their “Masters of the Weird Tale” series. Any anthologist will tell you that it’s much easier to work with a living author when assembling a collection than it is to have to correspond with a dozen or more copyright holders, many of whom may not even be aware of all their holdings. Wagner chose wisely and well, Manly Wade Wellman who lived close by and was still active in the genre was an obvious choice to lead off the line, E. Hoffman Price and Hugh B. Cave, both of whom had recently returned to the field of fantastic fiction were logical choices for the second and third books.

This attention galvanized all three men to compose new works in the genre, and while he would never again be a million words a year man, Hugh B. Cave was back as a regular horror writer at all levels, fanzines, magazines, anthologies, books . . . you name it, and Cave was there. His second career as a horror author resulted in some truly excellent tales. From his earliest writings he’d been a master of evocative description and atmosphere. Now, after an additional thirty years of honing his craft, he was also a master of sharply delineated characterization and deft plotting. The “Cave revival” continued right up until his death, with a new story published in the revived Strange Tales just months before his passing.

The “Cave revival” also saw several volumes collecting his early work being published, ranging from slender collections of adventure stories to wieldy tomes such as Fedogan & Bremer’s Bottled in Blonde and The Door Below. This present book continues in the tradition established by my colleagues and it is hoped that this very targeted approach, covering as it does a mere four years in a seventy year career will serve to showcase a master at the very top of his form in a genre that remained dear to him throughout his lifetime. Cave remains unique among his contemporaries in the weird menace genre by light of having fond memories of the stories he wrote and the magazines in which they appeared. Interviews with other authors such as Blassingame, Burks and Ernst all share the commonality of disparaging their own work as hastily composed formula fiction. Hugh Cave never said anything to indicate that he held his early work in contempt. In fact, from several conversations it seems that he enjoyed having written them and was only too happy to write more (as his presence in Robert Price’s Shudder Stories demonstrates). Perhaps that’s the secret as to why Cave’s stories hold up so well over six decades after their initial publication . . . the author enjoyed writing them and it shows! After all, I’ve enjoyed assembling this book (and I hope it shows), and now you can enjoy reading it!




John Pelan

Halloween 2011

Midnight House

Gallup, New Mexico