The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap Long
In my recent review of C. L. Moore’s Northwest Smith, I mentioned in passing that the author was a member of what has come to be known as the “Lovecraft Circle” — a group of authors who not only regularly corresponded with the “Sage of Providence,” but who were encouraged by Lovecraft himself to write to one another and critique their fellows’ work. Other writers in this loose-knit fraternity included Henry Kuttner (Moore’s future husband and collaborator), Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, and August Derleth (who, a little later, would found the Arkham House publishing company to preserve Lovecraft’s legacy). Most of these authors never got to meet the reclusive H. P. in person, but there was another member of that Circle, Harlem, NYC-born Frank Belknap Long, who not only knew Lovecraft, but was indeed a close personal friend of his, and with whom the Providence-based legend would stay whenever he chanced to visit New York.
The author of an eventual 150 short stories or so, almost 30 novels, and three poetry collections, plus countless magazine articles and scripts for various comics, with an especial emphasis on science fiction, fantasy and horror (not to mention his biography Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside, released in 1975 by Arkham House), Long is a writer whom I have, uh, long wanted to get to know … especially via his most famous short story collection, The Hounds of Tindalos.
The Hounds of Tindalos, unfortunately, is not an easy book to find today … at least, at an affordable price. It was originally released as an Arkham House hardcover in 1946, and contained 21 tales in all. Currently, that volume, which initially sold for $3, is going for $500 on eBay and $400 on Amazon! The book has been reprinted several times over the years, but only the first reprint, by Museum Press in 1950, retained all 21 tales. Subsequent reissues have contained anywhere from nine to 11 of the original 21 stories, for a decidedly cut-rate, halfway experience, at best. Fortunately for this reader, I managed to pick up the 1975 Panther (a British imprint) reissue for a mere $5 from a kindly seller on Facebook’s Vintage Paperback and Pulp Forum page; a beautiful paperback entitled The Hounds of Tindalos.
But what I did not know when I bought it was that this volume only includes 10 of those original 21 tales. Panther, apparently, split the original volume into two books; the companion paperback, The Black Druid, contains those other 11 stories. Halfway through The Hounds of Tindalos, however, I found myself so in love with both Long’s imaginative story lines and beautifully literate style that I decided to splurge $25 on that other volume … more money than I’d ordinarily spend for any old paperback, to be sure. But, hey … I’ve rationalized the two purchases by telling myself that for a combined price of $30, I now have the complete Hounds of Tindalos for less than 1/10 the price of what I’d have to shell out for that original Arkham House hardcover.
I will, hopefully, report on The Black Druid reprint at a later date, and will concentrate for now on those initial 10 stories here. A combination of sci-fi, fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, the tales in The Hounds of Tindalos all initially appeared in various pulp magazines from the period 1929 – ’45, and demonstrate Long as being a master in all three of those literary genres. Simply put, this is one helluva collection … or rather, half of a collection.
As to the stories themselves, “The Hounds of Tindalos” (from the 3/29 Weird Tales; Long’s very first story, “The Desert Lich,” by the way, had been placed in Weird Tales magazine back in 1924) kicks things off very nicely. Here, a scientist uses both mathematics and a drug of Lao Tze’s devising to see backwards in Time, only to be horrified by the titular evil entities that he discovers in “angular time.” Those so-called Hounds of Tindalos, incidentally — whose victims are left covered with “a peculiar bluish pus or ichor,” and minus their heads! — are said to be the first addition to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos written by anyone but H. P. himself, and have since appeared in works by William S. Burroughs, Brian Lumley, Roger Zelazny, and Lovecraft himself (in his 1931 story “The Whisperer in Darkness”) … not to mention the Metallica song “All Nightmare Long.” A bravura start to this collection of wonders.
In “A Visitor from Egypt” (9/30 Weird Tales), England’s foremost Egyptologist comes to a New England museum to see its recently discovered Luxor artifacts, culminating in a quite horrific visitation by the ancient god Osiris himself. Both grisly and suspenseful, and wonderfully overwritten in Lovecraft’s best manner, it is a tale that back then could only have appeared in “The Unique Magazine.”
Switching gears a bit, this collection next offers up a bit of hard fantasy, “The Refugees” (2/42 Unknown Worlds), in which a young man discovers that his Irish fiancée’s abode has become absolutely infested with mischievous elves from the old sod. Poor Roger Prindle is subjected to all manner of abuse by these inch-high troublemakers before a rapprochement of sorts can be reached, in this effortlessly charming tale.
“The Dark Beasts” (7 – 8/34 Marvel Tales) tells of a family curse that takes the form of bear/snake creatures needing to rest in the newly dug graves of that particular family’s recently deceased men … or something like that. A bit obscure and decidedly mysterious, it is the only story here that did not quite work for me, beautifully written as it is.
“Census Taker” (4/42 Unknown Worlds) is another exceedingly strange outing. Here, a man is visited by that very odd titular official and is suddenly precipitated into a world of increasingly bizarre events, as reality itself seems to disintegrate around him. Fans of Philip K. Dick, and especially such novels as Ubik and A Maze of Death, might particularly enjoy this one.
“A Stitch in Time” (3/40 Super-Science) describes the plight of an eminent herpetologist who is somehow caught in a “crinkling of the space-time continuum” and rapidly begins to regress in age, eventually becoming an infant again! His daughter and future son-in-law surely do have their hands full trying to restore things to normal in this increasingly mind-blowing tale.
In “Golden Child” (Winter ’45 Thrilling Wonder Stories), a young girl and an itinerant hobo are sucked into her physicist father’s “space-warp field” device and are instantly transported to Mars, where the giraffe-like inhabitants are just a little too interested in their pet hobby of sculpting! This charming story mixes sci-fi and whimsical fantasy into one very pleasing confection, indeed.
A tale of hard sci-fi, and the longest story in this collection, “Bridgehead” (8/44 Astounding Science-Fiction) gives us a pair of newlyweds who accidentally discover the weapon that a race of the far future has been using to blast temporal “bridgeheads” throughout all of history, preparatory to a general invasion. Mishandling the device, the two are sent on a journey bouncing around the farthest reaches of the prehistoric past, encountering a sabretooth, an allosaurus, and “dawn men” en route. A doubly surprising windup culminates this tale, one that was obviously a perfect fit for John W. Campbell’s most famous publication.
“Grab Bags Are Dangerous” (6/42 Unknown Worlds) finds Long dishing out another tale of grisly horror. Here, a young playwright is coerced by his fiancée to play the part of Friar Tuck at her younger sister’s birthday party. He purchases a burlap sack for a nickel in which to put party gifts, never suspecting that the bag is from the Mideast, and unfortunately contains … a quite hideous ghoul! Simply written (unlike most of Long’s other meticulously described, overwritten pieces) yet increasingly tense, this really is one nasty little wringer.
The collection wraps up with its 10th tale, “Second Night Out” (from the 10/33 issue of Weird Tales). In this one, an American male taking a Caribbean cruise learns that there is something far worse than the seasickness that ails him, when an evil-smelling, monkey-faced visitant makes itself known to him two days out … the same spectral image, he later learns, that had homicidally appeared on the second day of the ship’s previous voyage. A decidedly bloody and unpleasant shocker, this tale puts a period to the first half of this two-volume Panther release of The Hounds of Tindalos. I am now hugely looking forward to getting into that second volume, The Black Druid, which was also released in 1975. If it is indeed as good as this first volume (and I have no reason to believe that it shouldn’t be), I am in store for yet another veritable packet of wonders,,,