THE WHISTLING ANCESTORS
by Richard E. Goddard
Introduction by John Pelan
Greetings! This is one of those rare occasions where the editor can speak directly to the reader knowing that the book said reader holds in his/her hand has at least a 90% chance of having been special-ordered.
Chances are that you are either a fan of Ramble House and based on the books you’ve bought previously, you already know that you’re in for a wild ride. Fender Tucker and Gavin O’Keefe have been performing a valuable literary service for a number of years now, bringing back into print some of the most bizarre pulp crime fiction novels including the complete works of Harry Stephen Keeler! To say that Fender and I think along the same lines is probably an understatement; with my own publishing house I’ve spent the last two decades publishing books that I figured might not exist in accessible editions unless I did them.
My outlook has always been that if I like something well enough to risk a big bag of money producing a new edition, there might be at least 499 other people that will want the book too. So far this has worked out fairly well. Fender and Gavin have done me one better by coming up with an even more affordable route wherein the reader can opt for either a trade paperback or a hardcover. Both states look very nice and while I do lament the demise of the Ramble House homemade paperbacks, the new method can ultimately reach thousands more people.
I was intrigued enough by this to suggest a line of books to Fender. At Midnight House we sort our potential projects into four groups: (1) The no-brainers—collections by the heavyweights like Clark Ashton Smith, Fritz Leiber, and so on fall into this group. (2) The “I like it and so should you” books. These are titles by authors that likely few modern readers are familiar with but are marketable under the premise that if you like most of the books we do, there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll like these too. (3) The Crap file. I don’t like it, you probably won’t either, and I have no idea who sent this to me or why. (We don’t publish these titles and neither should anyone else). And then lastly we have (4) the “Risky Business Books”.
The Risky Business Books are best defined as books that I think are cool, but are those titles that I doubt I could sell anywhere near 500 copies. Maybe the book is too overtly non-supernatural (for the most part, our readers expect supernatural horror). Maybe the book has gotten a really bad rap over the years and it just wouldn’t be worth the risk. Or, maybe it’s something just so weird and off-trail that it just doesn’t fit with either of our imprints and therefore doesn’t pass the acid test of having a reader say “I didn’t like it as well as some of your other titles, but I see why you published it and I guess I’m glad I had a chance to read it . . .”
Now, thanks to Fender, I have a chance to get some of the Risky Business Books out there where people can judge for themselves. The only commonality in this series is that the originals are difficult to come by, I think they’re worthwhile titles, and lastly; they’re downright bizarre.
When we decided to go ahead with this project, it was a fairly easy decision as to which book to start with, we led off with Sean M’Guire’s Beast or Man?, a sort of Tarzan in reverse replete with club-wielding gorillas, insane missionaries and the sort of relationships that wouldn’t even be discussed in Penthouse Forum . . . (Let’s face it, if a character is half-man/half ape, in an era well before the advent of artificial insemination it means someone has been up to so some monkey business if you’ll forgive the pun).
Anyway, while M’Guire’s novel is certainly not without some controversial subject matter, Mr. Goddard doesn’t just cross the line of good taste, he rubs it out entirely and plants a garden of poisonous flowers where the line could previously have been seen.
Richard E. Goddard was a British sales guru in the 1930s with the primer General Cargo: An Introduction to Salesmanship to his credit. The book is every bit as dry and repetitive as most such titles are, and there’s little to indicate the sort of deranged imagination that would produce a novel like The Whistling Ancestors.
The Whistling Ancestors is one of those titles that scholars in the genre either like or loathe a great deal. One can picture Everett Bleiler wrinkling his nose in disgust as he typed up the one-paragraph entry that he felt the title merited for his Supernatural Index. One can also picture specialist booksellers beaming with pleasure as they type up an entry for the book in their catalogue and wrestle with whether to price it at $400 or $500. You see, another element of the mystique surrounding this book is the genuine rarity of the title. These would pretty much be the elements that cause a book (or an author) to become collectible; strong feelings about the book either positive or negative and scarcity. The two best ways to drive the price of a book up are either glowingly positive or bile-filled negative reviews and then have circumstances where readers can’t judge for themselves because they can’t find the damn thing. These characteristics are certainly present in regard to this volume (until now).
Let’s take a look at the novel itself and see why it ignites such debates over seventy years after its publication . . . The plot pits a poor sidewalk artist against a fiendish mastermind who is not only intent on world domination, but determined to kill all white people and for reasons that are never made entirely clear, wants to create nymphs, satyrs, and other Greek and Roman demigods through the miracle of vivisection! These characteristics alone would qualify Caspar Pettifranc to take his rightful place alongside John Sunlight, Wu Fang, Doctor Death and the other great villains of the American pulps, but Goddard doesn’t stop here. The author also makes Pettifranc a master of voodoo who thus can ring in zombies and the pantheon of loas. For reasons that the author allows to remain obscure, the loas are given to making odd whistling noises, hence the title of the book.
I can’t say much more about the plot without giving far too much away, but suffice it say, there’s a lot of action that leads up to the denouement. As with any Ramble House book, you know you’re in for a wild ride!
 The hand-crafted Ramble House A6-sized paperbacks with jackets are not dead. They’ve gotten older, like the man who prints and binds them. They can still be cajoled out of him.
Midnight House — 2009