Current Read: The Weird Tale, a Study, by Scholar and Writer, S. T. Joshi

WeirdTale

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Preface
Introduction
ARTHUR MACHEN: The Mystery of the Universe
LORD DUNSANY: The Career of a Fantaisiste
ALGERNON BLACKWOOD: The Expansion of Consciousness
M. R. JAMES: The Limitations of the Ghost Story
AMBROSE BIERCE: Horror as Satire
H. P. LOVECRAFT: The Decline of the West
EPILOGUE: Criticorum in Usum
CRITICAL APPENDIX
BIBLIOGRAPHY


Preface

This work did not begin as a theoretical study; indeed, it appears that I have gradually evolved toward a consciously anti-theoretical position. I initially wished merely to write interpretative essays on some writers of weird fiction whom I happened to like. The essays on Machen and Dunsany were originally written for some critical anthologies assembled by Darrell Schweitzer; but I very quickly realised that I might wish to follow H. P. Lovecraft’s lead and discuss the other two “Modern Masters”(M. R. James and Algernon Blackwood) covered in his seminal essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”I then decided to add an essay on Bierce and one on Lovecraft himself. These six authors represent different facets of what Lovecraft called the weird tale, and are generally regarded as among the leading practitioners in their field. I shall suggest that there is reason to question James’s rank in this august company.

Lovecraft is one of the most intelligent commentators on the weird tale, and it is unfortunate that his most perceptive remarks on his fellow weird writers are to be found in little-known essays and in his correspondence. I have constantly drawn upon both Lovecraft’s theoretical and practical criticism, although not always in agreement. All citations from “Supernatural Horror in Literature”are taken from my corrected edition (Dagon and Other Macabre Tales [1986], pp. 365–436) and abbreviated SHiL in the text.

I take some pride in my bibliographical matter, since much of it derives from original research. My primary bibliographies aim to be reasonably complete for separate publications during the author’s lifetime. (I have not attempted to list any of M. R. James’s voluminous scholarly and technical works.) My secondary bibliographies are perhaps a little fuller than necessary, but I wanted to indicate the significant amount of attention several of these authors received during their lifetimes. Since these authors are on the whole so little known, I have prefaced my essays with brief biographies.

If I seem less than charitable to some previous commentators, it is frankly because I feel that much scholarship in this field has been totally misconceived; by the book’s conclusion I hope to suggest some ways in which work might now proceed. The fact is, of course, that most of the writers discussed here have received very negligible criticism. But lest I be accused of completely ignoring my predecessors, I have added a Critical Appendix in which I discuss some of the better contributions to the study of each author. I have numbered each item in the secondary bibliographies, and refer to items by number in the Critical Appendix. I have not felt obligated to comment on every item I list.

One last personal note: I have written this book principally because I enjoy most of these writers and wish others to enjoy them. Naive as this sounds, I cannot imagine any other reason why anyone would want to write criticism. Because I am not an academician, I am not compelled to write criticism to maintain my position; perhaps this makes a difference. Still, the bulk of recent critical work (not merely in this field but in most others) seems so cheerless, mechanical, and obfuscatory that the reader is likely to be repelled rather than attracted to the subjects of study. I hope my work does not have an analogous effect.

I have received valuable comments on parts of this book from Mike Ashley, Donald R. Burleson, Jason C. Eckhardt, T. E. D. Klein, Steven J. Mariconda, Susan Michaud, and Devendra P. Varma, and am grateful to them and to my other friends and colleagues for their advice and encouragement. I have also benefited from the proofreading and copyediting skills of Richard Fumosa.

S. T. J.


Introduction

The Weird Tale and Its History

In 1927 H. P. Lovecraft published his great treatise “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”[ 1] In the final chapter he devoted space to four “Modern Masters”—Arthur Machen (1863–1947), Algernon Blackwood (1869–1951), Lord Dunsany (1878–1957), and M.R. James (1862–1936). This study, remarkably ahead of its time, also made some momentous pronouncements on the theory of the “weird tale”—a phrase used consistently by Lovecraft as an umbrella term for the field as a whole. Lovecraft’s relatively brief study did not, of course, pretend to deal at all comprehensively with any of the authors it dicusses; and I feel it is worthwhile to devote additional space to these still largely unrecognised figures (with the addition of Ambrose Bierce—whose inclusion shall be justified shortly—and Lovecraft himself), and to see whether some general conclusions on the nature and scope of the weird tale can be drawn.

I begin my own study with a rather odd assertion: the weird tale, in the period covered by this volume (generally 1880–1940), did not (and perhaps does not now) exist as a genre but as the consequence of a world view. Of the six writers covered here, only Lovecraft appears to have been conscious of working in a weird tradition; the others—even Blackwood and Dunsany, nearly the whole of whose fictional work is weird—regarded themselves (and were regarded by contemporary reviewers) as not intrinsically different from their fellow novelists and short-story writers. I hope to suggest reasons for this in the course of my work. If the weird tale exists now as a genre, it may only be because critics and publishers have deemed it so by fiat.

I am not, as a result, prepared to define the weird tale, and venture to assert that any definition of it may be impossible. Recent work in this field has caused an irremediable confusion of terms such as horror, terror, the supernatural, fantasy, the fantastic, ghost story, Gothic fiction, and others. It does not appear that any single critic’s usage even approximates that of any other, and no definition of the weird tale embraces all types of works that can plausibly be assumed to enter into the scope of the term. This difficulty is a direct result of the conception of the weird tale as some well-defined genre to which some works “belong”and others do not.

I use the term “weird tale”more or less as Lovecraft did. Lovecraft may be still the most acute theoretician of the weird tale, although it is unfortunate that many of his important utterances are buried in obscure essays and letters. There are several conceptual problems with Lovecraft’s own definition of the weird tale, and I shall examine these presently; but I am still convinced that the term he coined is the most felicitous and wide-ranging. I find the term “ghost story”particularly irksome, although it has gained wide usage. To me “ghost story”can mean nothing but a story with a ghost in it; but others have thought differently. Peter Penzoldt, in his stimulating Supernatural in Fiction (1952), makes this astonishing claim: “For reasons of simplicity we will use the term ‘ghost story’also for tales of the supernatural that do not deal with a ghost or revenant. This can be justified on the grounds that a majority of weird tales arc in fact ghost stories.”[2] This is simply false; of the writers covered here, Lovecraft and Machen wrote no ghost stories, Dunsany perhaps three or four (some of them jocular), Blackwood and Bierce relatively few. Only M. R. James wrote nothing but ghost stories (in the narrow sense of the term). Jack Sullivan, perhaps the most acute recent commentator, makes a similar assertion: “In using ‘ghost story’as a catch-all term, I am also compromising. All of these stories [covered in his work] are apparitional. In one sense or another, and ‘ghost story’is as good a term as any.”[3] It is as if Sullivan cannot be bothered to find a better term. Julia Briggs flatly asserts a wider connotation for “ghost story”without justifying it: “It may already be apparent that the term ‘ghost story’is being employed with something of the latitude that characterizes its general usage, since it can denote not only stories about ghosts, but about possession and demonic bargains, spirits other than those of the dead, including ghouls, vampires, werewolves, the ‘swarths’of living men and the ‘ghost-soul’or Doppelgänger.”[4] I similarly find the term “Gothic fiction”very clumsy for anything written subsequent to Poe. Lovecraft makes clear in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”the vital shift in weird writing effected by Poe—principally in making the short story rather than the novel the vehicle for the weird and in his insistence on psychological realism—so that I am puzzled by David Punter’s tortuous effort to account for all usages of the term “Gothic”from the late eighteenth century to the present day.[5] The term is bandied about so casually and haphazardly in both critical and publishing circles that it becomes very awkward to use it for anything but the Gothic novels of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. And I hope to show in this study how mistaken Punter is in his assertion that “many of the best-known masters of recent supernatural fiction—Algernon Blackwood. M. R. James, H. P. Lovecraft—derive their techniques of suspense and their sense of the archaic directly from the original Gothic fiction, and many of their crucial symbols of the supernatural were previously the property of these older writers.”[ 6]

Terminology aside, there is a further problem with the weird tale—the critical disrepute into which it has fallen in the course of this century. There are, certainly, few nowadays who fail to acknowledge the greatness of Poe (Harold Bloom is perhaps a dinosaur in this regard); but of the six authors covered here, only Bierce has even a tentative foothold in critical discourse. A recent review of The Columbia Literary History of the United States singled out the omission of Bierce from the volume, but not Lovecraft;[ 7] and of the four English writers, Machen, Dunsany, and James are mere footnotes in English literature, and Blackwood not even that. Critical analysis of these figures has accordingly been left in the surprisingly able hands of non-academicians patiently and diligently working away in obscurity.

It might almost be said that the weird tale became a definite genre only when it went “underground,”an event that appears to have caused the contemptuous dismissal of all weird work on the part of academic critics. When this event occurred, it is difficult to say; but it seems to have occurred earlier in the United States than in England. At the turn of the century many “mainstream”writers, from William Dean Howells (Questionable Shapes, 1903) to Mary E. Wilkins-Freeman (The Wind in the Rose-Bush, 1903), felt no compunction in issuing collections of weird tales in the course of their careers. Robert W. Chambers (1865–1933) published several volumes of weird fiction in the 1890s before going on to write an interminable series of sentimental romances; historical novelist F. Marion Crawford’s weird tales were gathered posthumously (Wandering Ghosts, 1911), although some of his novels are also laced with the weird. The advent of the pulp magazines did not immediately banish the weird tale to a literary ghetto; Munsey’s published horror stories but also fiction of many other types. The establishment of Weird Tales (1923–54) could be said to have effectively marked a dubious watershed: from this point on, the weird disappears almost entirely from traditional “slick”or general-interest magazines. Much of the content of Weird Tales was inconceivably wretched, although somewhat better than some of its still worse rivals, like Ghost Stories. By the middle thirties the “fantasy fandom”movement had commenced, usually conducted by very young enthusiasts (R. H. Barlow began corresponding with the ageing Lovecraft when he was thirteen). Such magazines as Charles W. Hornig’s Fantasy Fan, Julius Schwartz’s Fantasy Magazine, Donald A. Wollheim’s Phantagraph, and—a little later—Francis T. Laney’s Acolyte canonised some of the pulp writers and led directly to Edmund Wilson’s grand condemnation of the “Lovecraft cult”as “on even a more infantile level than the Baker Street Irregulars and the cult of Sherlock Holmes.”[ 8] He was—at this point in time—probably right.

When August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House in 1939, initially to publish the work of Lovecraft, I do not think they realised what a momentous—and, quite possibly, deleterious—effect this act would have on the publication and recognition of weird fiction. In the twenties and thirties mainstream publishers were still willing to issue weird work—Francis Brett Young’s Cold Harbour (Knopf, 1925), Herbert S. Gorman’s The Place Called Dagon (George H. Doran, 1927), H. B. Drake’s The Shadowy Thing (Vanguard, 1928), and R. E. Spencer’s The Lady Who Came to Stay (Knopf, 1931). Lovecraft himself was solicited several times—by Knopf, Putnam’s, Vanguard, and Loring & Mussey—for a weird novel or a collection of tales, although these efforts came to nothing. Derleth tried—a little half-heartedly, I think—to convince his publisher, Charles Scribner’s Sons, to issue a memorial omnibus of Lovecraft, and when turned down he forthwith published the book—The Outsider and Others (1939)—himself. The whole history and criticism of the weird tale might have been different if Derleth had convinced a mainstream publisher to issue Lovecraft. In any event, it is highly significant that Derleth felt compelled to sign up some “big names”—mostly from England—to lend prestige to his fledgling press; as a result, some early Arkham House publications included the work of Blackwood (The Doll and One Other, 1946), Dunsany (The Fourth Book of Jorkens, 1948), and Lady Cynthia Asquith (This Mortal Coil, 1947).[ 9] And yet, it is a sad fact that the vast majority of authors published by Arkham House would never have secured book publication elsewhere—such middling pulpsmiths as Henry S. Whitehead, Seabury Quinn, and Donald Wandrei, and even perhaps Clark Ashton Smith and Robert E. Howard. To date none of these authors has been published by any but specialty houses. It is also unlikely that anyone would have wanted to publish—then and now—any of Lovecraft’s letters (let alone five volumes of them), even though they are, quite frankly, some of the most remarkable literary documents of the century. The problem with Arkham House (and other such hardcover houses as Gnome Press, Carcosa House, and more recently Scream/ Press) is that its publications were consciously intended for an extraordinarily small audience—almost a cult following. The small print runs were so rapidly exhausted that they became collectors’items, and Derleth made very little effort to bring any of his publications to the attention of mainstream critics or book reviewers.

In England the split was achieved later. Machen, Dunsany, and Blackwood were never published by any but major houses. The pulp magazine phenomenon in weird fiction never developed in England—British versions of Weird Tales and other pulps were infrequent and little regarded, and people like Blackwood and Dunsany did not publish in these magazines but rather in periodicals like Time and Tide, Westminster Review, and the like. (Dunsany was also a rare phenomenon in publishing his weird work extensively in American magazines like Smart Set, Atlantic Monthly, Saturday Evening Post, and the like through the 1940s, but this was probably a result of his anomalous fame in America.) The fantasy fandom movement also took root later and to a lesser degree: Walter Gillings’s Fantasy Review ran in the 1940s, but it had few competitors. There was no British equivalent of Arkham House (a remark to that effect by Blackwood was long displayed on Arkham House catalogues), and there seems really to be a dearth of significant British weird work between Dunsany, Tolkien, and Mervyn Peake and the emergence in the last two decades of such writers as Robert Aickman and Ramsey Campbell; but by this time the weird tale had already become principally a marketing phenomenon. The example of Campbell—perhaps the leading living weird writer—is instructive and possibly prophetic. Campbell’s first several books were issued by Arkham House, and Campbell still regards Derleth as his mentor;[ 10] but his novels of the 1970s and his later horror collections have appeared in hardcover from Macmillan, the same publisher that issued much of Blackwood’s work half a century before. Does this sort of thing presage the final emergence of the weird tale from critical contempt? I fervently hope so.

Types of Weird Tales

The true weird tale has something more than secret murder, bloody bones, or a sheeted form clanking chains according to rule. A certain atmosphere of breathless and unexplainable dread of outer, unknown forces must be present; and there must be a hint, expressed with a seriousness and portentousness becoming its subject, of that most terrible conception of the human brain—a malign and particular suspension or defeat of those fixed laws of Nature which are our only safeguard against the assaults of chaos and the daemons of unplumbed space. (SHiL 386)

This is perhaps as satisfactory a definition of the weird tale as any; it comes from “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”In a letter of 1931 Lovecraft makes another suggestive remark: “the crux of a weird tale is something which could not possibly happen.”[ 11] I believe, however, there is a fundamental confusion or misconception on Lovecraft’s part in the enunciation of these statements: Lovecraft cannot seem to make up his mind whether the weird tale is strictly equivalent to the tale of supernatural horror or is something wider. The very title “Supernatural Horror in Literature,”in which Lovecraft uses the term “weird tale” repeatedly, suggests a narrow reading; but how then can he justify the inclusion in his study of Bierce and Dunsany, of whom the former wrote a significant body of non-supernatural horror and the latter wrote imaginary-world fantasies? Lovecraft, indeed, seems to exclude non-supernatural horror entirely when he says that true weird literature “must not be confounded with a type externally similar but psychologically widely different; the literature of mere physical fear and the mundanely gruesome.”I think there is some justification in this, but I hope to show that such an exclusion becomes very cumbersome and even paradoxical.

As I see it, the weird tale must include the following broad divisions: fantasy, supernatural horror, non-supernatural horror, and quasi science fiction. All these categories should be regarded as loose and non-exclusive, and there are some other subtypes that are probably amalgams or offshoots of those just mentioned.

Supernatural horror is perhaps the most copious subset of the weird tale, and in this volume the bulk of the work of Machen and Blackwood, a significant amount of Bierce, and much of the early Lovecraft will fall into it. Supernatural horror can exist only where the ordinary world of our daily lives is presupposed as the norm; “natural law”can, in Lovecraft’s phrase, be “violated”only when it is assumed to function in the real world. This is what the French call le fantastique, as Maurice Lévy remarks succinctly: “It is well known that the truly fantastic exists only where the impossible can make an irruption, through time and space, into an objectively familiar locale.”[ 12]

The ghost story (in the proper narrow sense) is conceptually only a subset of the supernatural horror story, but it has had a virtually independent history. I also hope to show that it is really a very rigid and inflexible form; if this is so, it is no surprise that M. R. James—with his flippant attitude toward weird writing—simultaneously perfected and exhausted it. He had no inclination to make significant changes in the traditional ghost story, and those who did (principally Walter de la Mare and Oliver Onions) on the whole transformed it into the psychological ghost story, philosophically a very different form.

Quasi science fiction is a development of supernatural horror in that the real world is again presupposed as the norm, but the “impossible”intrusions are rationalised in some way. It is a more advanced form because it implies that the “supernatural”is not ontological but epistemological: it is only our ignorance of certain “natural laws”that creates the illusion of supernaturalism. A few stories by Bierce and most of the later Lovecraft fall into this category; indeed, Matthew H. Onderdonk coined the felicitous term “supernormal”to describe this phenomenon in Lovecraft.[ 13] I cannot think of anyone but Lovecraft who exhaustively worked in this subclass; perhaps he did it so well as to deter others from competing with him.

Lovecraft felt that the inclusion of non-supernatural horror posed certain conceptual problems, but its exclusion poses still greater ones. Much of Bierce would have to be excluded; moreover, we have to regard the tale of psychological horror (of which the psychological ghost story is one component) as a subset of non-supernatural horror. Penzoldt made the extraordinarily ingenious suggestion that “the psychological ghost stories [i.e., weird tales] based chiefly on the findings of modern psychiatry and psychoanalysis are really part of science fiction.”[14] He did not explain this remark, but what I presume he means is that any tales founded upon science (and psychology is a science) must belong to science fiction. I question this conception (if it is Penzoldt’s) because science fiction cannot really be thought to be based on science as such but only the science of the future. This is why I call much of Lovecraft quasi science fiction: the implication in his stories is that we may some day be able to account for “supernormal”phenomena, but cannot do so now; and these tales are not actual science fiction because of their manifest intent to incite horror. If anything intended to inspire horror is to be classed as a subset of the weird tale (and I cannot see how else we are to regard it), then both quasi science fiction (horror) and psychological horror must be subsets of the weird tale. Psychological horror seems to have two distinct branches—what might be called the pseudo-supernatural (where supernatural phenomena are suggested but explained away as the product of an abnormal consciousness) and the conte cruel , which is what Lovecraft was explicitly wishing to exclude. The borderline between the conte cruel and the mystery or even detective story can occasionally be very thin—such works as Robert Bloch’s Psycho (1959), Ramsey Campbell’s The Face That Must Die (1979/ 1983), and Iain Banks’s The Wasp Factory (1984) seem authentically in the weird tradition, but such a work as Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on the Train (1950) must be regarded as a suspense or mystery story. The only distinction, as I see it, is authorial intent (something we are now once more allowed to talk about): whereas Banks, for example, is interested in the systematic presentation of repulsive or disgusting images (which he does with great artistry and psychological acuity), Highsmith is more concerned with the psychology of guilt. It is certainly odd that many pure detective writers—notably Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Margery Allingham, and Dorothy L. Sayers [15]—wrote actual supernatural stories; but never—except in Carr’s stunning tour de force, The Burning Court (1937), the exception that proves the rule—did they mingle detection and supernaturalism. Still, more work could be done on the relationship between these two types of literature. No one—except Eric S. Rabkin in The Fantastic in Literature (1976), if I understand him correctly—would wish to classify the detective or science fiction tale as part of the weird tale, but the distinctions are sometimes nebulous.

Fantasy is the most difficult to define because it presents the most bewildering variety of forms and also seems to lack certain metaphysical ramifications present in nearly all other types of weird fiction. In an imaginary-world fantasy—like Dunsany’s Gods of Pegāna or Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings—there can be no such thing as supernatural horror because the real world and its laws are not assumed to exist. Works of this sort certainly present events “which could not possibly happen,”but what moments of terror are in them cannot be of an ontological variety. When, in Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, Randolph Carter is swept away by a night-gaunt, he and the reader feel a certain sort of fear, but since night-gaunts are a “natural”component of this imagined realm, the effect is roughly analogous to someone being kidnapped in the real world. There may, however, be a sort of pseudo-ontological horror reflected in the responses of characters: when, in Dunsany’s The Gods of the Mountain, someone says, “Rock should not walk in the evening,”we can assume that at least in one particular this imaginary realm obeys natural laws similar to our own. But Dunsany very quickly abandoned imaginary-world settings, and his subsequent works pose greater theoretical problems. Take a work like The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders (1950): here the consciousness of a retired colonel is transported by an Indian member of his club into the bodies of a bewildering succession of animals. We are not to imagine that these successive incarnations are the products of some sort of hypnosis or other mental aberration—the colonel’s accounts of dwelling in the body of a dog, cat, squirrel, fox, and the like ring too true for that. Now contrast this tale with Lovecraft’s “The Shadow out of Time”(1934–35), in which a modern man’s consciousness is displaced into the body of an alien being living millions of years in the past while the alien consciousness occupies the man’s body. In these two works nearly the same phenomenon is at work. What is the difference? It can only be that Lovecraft wishes us to feel horror at this displacement of consciousness whereas Dunsany does not. Lovecraft’s work is quasi science fiction (horror), Dunsany’s is fantasy, although not of the imaginary-world sort. To put it crudely, fantasy never truly inspires the sentiment of ontological horror. There is certainly a “violation of natural law”going on in Dunsany’s novel (since the majority of us assume that metempsychosis of this sort is impossible), but Dunsany does not wish us to feel terror at the occurrence.

It is worth considering briefly some combinations or elaborations of the above patterns. Heroic fantasy (principally Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, although they have countless imitators) seems a combination of the supernatural horror tale with the adventure story and perhaps also the historical novel. Howard’s Conan typically battles supernatural entities in the dim recesses of history. Howard’s evolution of this form is strictly dependent upon his philosophical concerns—his championing of barbarism over civilisation and his belief in the moral virtues of struggle and conflict. Leiber’s work is subtler and richer, and his style is nowhere near as egregiously slovenly as Howard’s; he is worth studying. The ambiguous horror tale, where doubt is maintained to the end whether events are supernatural or not, seems to me another hybrid form. Although it has some notable examples—Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw is generally believed to be among them—I do not find it broadly typical of the field as a whole. Scarcely any tale written by any author in this volume is of this type; Bierce’s work seems to supply some examples, but a close reading will show that in almost every case he provides sufficient clues to point to a supernatural or non-supernatural resolution. Indeed, I maintain that such a distinction is critical to Bierce. (Parenthetically I may as well dispense with Penzoldt’s bizarre category of the “pure tale of horror,”which he sees as merely a shameless display of gruesome physical horror. I do not deny that there are some lower forms of popular literature and film that engage in this sort of thing, but it is grotesque to see it in the work of Machen, Lovecraft, and even F. Marion Crawford, as Penzoldt does. Penzoldt’s categorisation is really a result of his anomalous squeamishness in the face of explicit horror.) All this finally brings me back to my initial remark. In spite of the schematisations just made, it should not be assumed that I have now come to regard the weird tale as a genre with various subgenres. My final point is this: weird writers utilise the schemas I have outlined (or various permutations of them) precisely in accordance with their philosophical predispositions. My analysis will show, for example, why Lovecraft wishes us to feel horror at the events of “The Shadow out of Time”and Dunsany does not in The Strange Journeys of Colonel Polders. All the authors I study here (with the exception of James) evolved distinctive world views, and it was those world views that led them to write the sort of literature they did. I am convinced that we can understand these writers’work—the whole of their work, not merely their purportedly “weird”writing—only by examining their metaphysical, ethical, and aesthetic theories and then by seeing how their fiction reflects or expresses these theories. In every case we shall see that each writer’s entire output is a philosophical unity, changing as the author’s conception of the world changes. Much of this philosophical investigation is a matter of philology—a study of the facts of biography, of nonfictional writings, letters, and the like—but seems a necessary preliminary to the task.

All this may be platitudinous—surely every writer’s work is a philosophical unity in some fashion or other—but I believe there is more to it than that. The weird tale offers unique opportunities for philosophical speculation—it could be said that the weird tale is an inherently philosophical mode in that it frequently compels us to address directly such fundamental issues as the nature of the universe and our place in it. Actually, this may be putting the cart before the horse: certain authors develop certain types of world views that compel them to write fiction that causes readers to question, revise, or refashion their views of the universe; the result is what we (in retrospect) call weird fiction. The differing philosophical orientations of the six authors covered here led them to write differing types of weird fiction. Each author is, in effect, trying to convince us of the truth of his vision of the world. The fictional works these authors have produced may not all fit neatly into the class of the “weird tale,”but to ignore some works on that ground would seriously hinder our overall understanding of the shape, direction, and purpose of their thought.

It is possible that my work may be only preliminary to an investigation of what the weird tale actually is: all I have done here is to choose six writers generally held to have written weird fiction and to seek to ascertain, quite simply, what they were philosophically trying to do. The implications for genre are left to later study.

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