The Loved Dead and Other Tales by C.M. Eddy, Jr.
Sometimes, it seems, a little notoriety can be a good thing. Take, for example, the case of the legendary pulp magazine Weird Tales. Though famously cash strapped for most of its 32-year run, during its earliest days, in 1923, things looked especially bleak for the nascent publication. On the very brink of bankruptcy, editor Edwin Baird decided to purchase, against his better judgment, a story by a Providence, Rhode Island-born writer named C.M. Eddy, Jr.
Eddy had already had a few of his weird tales released in the pages of Weird Tales, but this latest one was a real envelope pusher, dealing as it did with the highly distasteful and borderline taboo subject of necrophilia. But Baird did indeed print the story, the now-classic tale “The Loved Dead,” with the result that the Richmond, Indiana PTA tried to shut the magazine down completely! The eventual brouhaha led to a surge in sales, warding off the magazine’s imminent financial collapse and allowing it to continue. I had previously encountered “the story that saved Weird Tales” in one of the many anthologies dedicated to the magazine, had hugely enjoyed it, and was curious to read more by Mr. Eddy … especially inasmuch as not only was the author a member of the so-called Lovecraft Circle, but was indeed a close personal friend of Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself, as well as of Harry Houdini. (Eddy’s wife, Muriel, would go on to write several memoirs about “the Sage of Providence”).
Fortunately, two collections of Eddy’s work can be had easily enough today from the fine folks at Fenham Publishing. Just as August Derleth had started Arkham House to preserve the works of Lovecraft in 1939, Eddy’s grandson, Jim Dyer, started Fenham in Narragansett, R. I., in 2000, to preserve and present the works of his grandparents. On a whim, I sprang for the volume entitled The Loved Dead and Other Tales, and what an interesting and varied collection it has turned out to be! Ranging over the fields of horror, fantasy, sci-fi and even detective thriller, and with more than half of its 13 stories drawn from the pages of Weird Tales magazine, the volume shows off its author as a more-than-competent journeyman in all four genres. And if this particular volume unfortunately contains more typographical errors than any one book should reasonably be expected to contain, it yet remains a wonderful investment for all fans of pulp fiction.
As might be expected, the volume kicks off with its most famous story, “The Loved Dead” (from the May/June/July1924 issue). Here, our narrator, in deliciously morbid language, tells of his sorry childhood in, uh, Fenham, his growing realization that he is attracted to the dead, his apprenticeship in a funeral parlor, his relishing the scenes of slaughter from his WW1 trenches, and, upon his return home, his escalating awareness that he is now compelled to kill, so as to be close to the life-giving aura of the dead that he craves. Our nameless narrator, as sick a puppy as has ever been depicted in the pages of early 20th century horror, yet has a way with words, as here, when he describes his wartime experience:
…four years of blood-red charnel Hell … sickening slime of rain-rotten trenches … deafening bursting of hysterical shells … monotonous droning of sardonic bullets … smoking frenzies of Phlegethon’s fountains … stifling fumes of murderous gases … grotesque remnants of smashed and shredded bodies … four years of transcendent satisfaction…
Is it any wonder that the Richmond PTA was so appalled?
Next up, Eddy gives us a story from the mists of prehistory, in “With Weapons of Stone” (from the 12/24 Weird Tales). Here, two troglodyte men, to win the hand of the beautiful Zo-Na, compete to be the one who can slay the vicious sabertooth. Ra-nor plays fair, whereas the shifty Gra – son of the tribal chieftain Gra – is a contemptible weasel. How it all works out I leave to you to discover, as this simply written but engrossing story hurtles to its conclusion.
“Red Cap of the Mara” shifts gears a bit, presenting us with a pleasing modern-day fantasy. Here, a young man, frustrated in love and fed up with women, seems to find the gal of his dreams one summer evening. This story conflates the werewolf legend, swan maidens, 1920s flappers, jazz halls, romance, infidelity and theft into one fascinating stew, indeed.
In “An Arbiter of Destiny,” two men, both doctors, meet in a railroad car. One of them, Congdon, claims that hypnosis is utter rot, while the other, Prof. Sonpyh, avers that he can easily put the first man under. As it turns out, Congdon is indeed put into a hypnotic trance, awakening to an increasingly nightmarish world, with himself in prison and accused of a crime that he does not remember committing. An interesting double twist of sorts culminates this short but gripping tale.
“The Cur” is a decidedly nasty entry in this anthology, almost as shocking (for this reader, anyway) as “The Loved Dead.” Here, an aspiring author takes the old adage about writing from experience a little too closely to heart. As his current story is about a man tormenting and torturing his unfaithful wife, our nutzy author, Gerald, ties up his own wife, Rose, locks her in the attic, and subjects her to all manner of abuse … all in an effort to improve his own writing skills, you understand. A blazing mishap leads to an unexpectedly downbeat conclusion in this truly unpleasant little tale.
A pleasing mix of fantasy and sci-fi, “The Better Choice” (3/25 Weird Tales) presents us with John Castle, a scientist who has come up with a method of reviving the dead! He commits suicide in the hopes that his friend will be able to bring him back, and once dead, is escorted to the ethereal regions by a supernal guide. Castle is ultimately allowed a chance for a kind of cosmic do-over, but as the scientist learns in this highly pleasing story, some things really are best left alone…
The most overt example of sci-fi in this collection, “Ashes” (3/24 Weird Tales) gives us a mad-scientist sort who invents a method of transforming any substance, with the exception of glass, instantaneously into ash! All is well and good, until his two love-struck assistants realize that the loony inventor wishes to now experiment on some human subjects! Great fun, this one, including the line “Many a weird tale I had listened to over that self-same table”!
In “Eterna,” a homeless man explains the chain of events that have led him to his current miserable lot. A former painter, he had become involved with a singularly beautiful woman; a true woman of mystery, who had previously caused the destruction of many men. But this female, named Eterna, is no average gold digger, as the reader discovers in this most spellbinding fantasy.
“Arhl-a of the Caves” (from the 1/25 Weird Tales) returns us to the mists of prehistory. Here, the cowardly and randy troglodyte Zurd kidnaps the titular heroine and brings her to his hidden cave. Thus, it is up to Arhl-a’s lover, Wagh the Mighty, to follow the spoor of the two and bring his cavegal back. As was “With Weapons of Stone,” this story is simply written but moves along briskly, supplying the reader with some pleasing action bursts, including a dukeout with a monstrous ape. Great fun!
A haunted house story of no small impact, “The Ghost-Eater” (4/24 Weird Tales) combines an eerie abode in the deep woods of Maine (decades before Stephen King ever came on the scene), a young and callow forest hiker, a mysterious and “strikingly handsome” host, an incorporeal visitor, legends of the werewolf (once again), and local folklore into one spooky brew.
And this horror tale is followed by one that is this anthology’s most indebted to the work of H. P. Lovecraft himself, “Deaf, Dumb and Blind” (4/25 Weird Tales). In this one, the titular deaf, dumb and blind author-poet leaves a typewritten manuscript that gives clues to the horrible occurrences leading up to his demise. Richard Blake had been living for some time in the abode once occupied by Simeon Tanner, who had been burned by the local townfolk as recently as 1819, for practicing witchcraft. And now, as the poor handicapped man’s final words make abundantly clear, something evil is stirring in the house yet again, plainly visible to the blind man as “impious revelations of soul-sickening Saturnalia…” Great fun, again … for the reader, at least.
This collection takes an abrupt shift with its next story, “Souls & Heels,” an out-and-out murder mystery, in which the wealthy host of a ritzy party is poisoned in his study while his guests happily cavort downstairs. Fortunately, one of those guests just happens to be Jasper Elliott, a famed criminologist and detective. But Elliott, due to his studies abroad, is also able to leave his body, perform feats of astral projection, and converse with the dead … truly, a character whom Eddy could very well have developed into the star of his own series!
At 80+ pages, this anthology’s final story, “Sign of the Dragon,” is more of a novella than anything else. An exciting crime mystery with thriller elements, this tale conflates twin Chinese dragon rings, a decades-old pact, a mysterious damsel or two, car chases, gunplay, blackmail, foreign spies, protonoir tough talk, enigmatic documents and a few surprises into one fast-moving affair. This was Eddy’s very first magazine sale (for the 9/19 issue of Mystery Magazine), and a bravura early effort, to be sure.
So there you have it … a baker’s dozen of well-executed pulp wonders, in a variety of genres. I was pleased enough with this Eddy collection from Fenham that I am now tempted to seek out that other volume that I mentioned earlier, called Exit Into Eternity: Tales of the Bizarre and Supernatural. Stay tuned…
Ah, notoriety… is there nothing whose market share you won’t boost?
In “An Arbiter of Destiny,” if only Congdon had written down Dr. Sonpyh’s name and looked closely at it, much unpleasantness could have been averted.
Yes…too bad Congdon didn’t hold Prof. Sonpyh’s business card up to a mirror, right?
Or even the train window!