A Review of Weird Tales
Front cover of Weird Tales: 32 Unearthed Terrors
When I was little, we had a copy of Weird Tales sitting on the bookshelf in the living room, second shelf from the bottom, about eye level for me. It was a 1988 volume of 32 stories from the Weird Tales magazine from the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and it sported an illustration of a skeleton sitting at a writing desk, with a silhouetted timeline of wars being fought behind him. I thought it was the scariest looking thing in the whole world. When I learned to read, it was one of the first things I picked up.
There are a lot of things that have contributed to style as a writer and an artist, but even amid a lifetime of other influences, the profound impact this book had on me is undeniable. It’s the kind of book I could read late at night by myself, under the covers with a flashlight while it was storming outside, and when I peeked out from under the covers I might see the branches of old oak trees outside my window, dancing in the night wind, illuminated by a dying green street light, and they would look reasonably terrifying. It was the kind of book that turned old trees into monsters and Minnie Mouse curtains into shadowy specters.
I still pick the book up and read it every now and then. Some of the stories never get old. One of my old favorites is The Shadow Kingdom, by Robert E. Howard, a story about Kull, the dark, withdrawn, pensive king, and an invasion of shadowy serpent monsters from ancient times that murder decent people and take on their forms to commit their subtle evils.
Illustration for The Shadow Kingdom, Weird Tales:32 Unearthed Terrors, page 75
As he sat upon his throne in the Hall of Society and gazed upon the couriers, the ladies, the lords, the statesmen, he seemed to see their faces as things of illusion, things, unreal, existent only as shadows and mockeries of substance. Always he had seen their faces as masks, but before he had looked on them with contemptuous tolerance, thinking to see beneath the masks shallow, puny souls, avaricious, lustful, deceitful; now there was a grim undertone, a sinister meaning, a vague horror that lurked beneath the smooth masks. While he exchanged courtesies with some nobleman or councilor he seemed to see the smiling face fade like smoke and the frightful jaws of a serpent gaping there. How many of those he looked upon were horrid, inhuman monsters, plotting his death, beneath the smooth mesmeric illusion of a human face?
From The Shadow Kingdom, by Robert E. Howard
This story gave me an early love for this writer that has led me to read practically everything he ever wrote (which is a lot), and this is possibly my favorite of Howard’s stories. It relates to the very human fear that other people may not be what they seem to us, and reminds us of the relative impossibility of judging another person’s intentions or true feelings. It touches a deep fear in all of us, that our reality may only be a flawed perception.
This book introduced me to a lot of great science fiction, horror and fantasy writers, like C.L. Moore, Ray Bradbury, H.P. Lovecraft, Theodore Sturgeon and Frank Belknap Long. It introduced me to ghosts, evil wizards and people from other worlds, and it taught me important life lessons, like always bring a flashlight into dark places, because evil subhuman cannibalistic albinos could very well be waiting there to eat you alive, and you can thwart them with the light (Far Below, by Robert Barbour Johnson), and you should always be true to yourself, because if you don’t evil spirits from another dimension might condemn you to death for murdering the person you should have been (The Peeper, by Frank Belknap Long). It’s a strange world. You never know.
But he had written stories like dew-drenched spider webs, prismatic and strange and with a little gruesome wrench at the end which made people happy deep down inside. Very sensitive and imaginative people, of course, because only such people deserve to be made happy in precisely that way.
From The Peeper, by Frank Belknap Long
All original content copyright S.D. de la Rosa, 2012.