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If you were to ask a group of fans of the famed pulp magazine Weird Tales who was the most popular author ever to write for that magazine, you would probably get as many different answers as there were people in that gathering. H.P. Lovecraft's name would be one of those mentioned, I'm sure. Lovecraft has emerged in the last few years as one of the true geniuses of the weird fiction field and perhaps the greatest master of horror in the Twentieth Century. HPL's work strikes a responsive chord in modern man's increasing inability to keep up or comprehend a vast and unexplainable cosmos. While the monsters and evils in the work of Lovecraft might be visible, the true underlying horror of his stories is the inevitable crush of a universe that dwarfs the powers and understands of mankind to mere specks of sand. As long as mechanized civilization advances, the work of H.P. Lovecraft will be read and reread.
The same is true for the work of Robert E. Howard, another author who would also be nominated for the title, "Mr. Weird Tales." In Howard's work, we have the same underlying theme of civilization becoming more and more threatening as it becomes more complex. However, instead of the underlying despair and hopelessness that echoes in the work of HPL, we have a faith of naturalism that runs through-out all of Howard's work. It is civilization itself that Howard is against, the force that saps the elemental strength of mankind. Howard's heroes defeat this menace by the most direct and forceful method possible. They hack it to pieces. Howard reveres the barbarian -- the savage who violently attacks and destroys that which stands as a menace to him. Lovecraft's characters passively shiver and moan as the terrible secrets of the universe make them turn to jelly -- Howard's heroes fight with the last breath in their bodies when faced with like alternatives. Where HPL's work reflects the primeval fears of mankind, Howard's presents the eternal struggle for existence, no matter the price. Conan, Kull and Kane are the three supports for Howard's claim to being Weird Tales' most popular author.
The creator of Jules de Grandin, Seabury Quinn, would probably have a supporter. The de Grandin adventures ran for 93 tales in "The Unique Magazine," longer than any other series of occult detective stories ever, and the entire series was immensely popular. Quinn's active career spanned nearly the entire life of Weird Tales' history and he was featured on more covers with illustrations for his stories than any other writer. While his work never achieved great fame in recent revivals like that of Howard and HPL, there is no doubt that he was one of WT's most popular authors.
There would also be supporters of Clark Ashton Smith's name -- for Smith's strange and exotic tales were quite popular and have a certain flavor to them that no other author has ever quite matched. Henry Whitehead was one of the truly great weird fiction authors who wrote for Weird Tales. Whitehead was a good writer and his craft shows in his work. His stories of the West Indies were further enhanced by his first-hand knowledge of the location and its customs. His stories were unusual and have a certain devilish humor to them that one often finds from a writer who is also a man of the cloth.
There are still others -- Edmond Hamilton, with his space adventures and his tales of fantastic action on Earth -- Ray Bradbury, whose earliest fantasy and horror stories appeared in Weird Tales -- C.L. Moore, whose tales of Northwest of Earth are probably the best combination of fantasy and science fiction ever written -- and many, many others. However, there is one name which rarely comes up in such a discussion, and I think it is time to right a wrong. When the question arises as to "Mr. Weird Tales," I think that I would vote for Robert Bloch.
This is not to say that Bob Bloch should be thought of "only" as a Weird Tales author. How can you ignore classics like Psycho and American Gothic when discussing the modern American horror novel. And, there is a whole string of fine crime stories written in the 1960s and 1970s, with stories still being written whenever the mood hits the master. There are some truly fine movie scripts and movie adaptations, as well as probably the best horror stories I have ever seen done on film for the Thriller TV series of years ago. And, in another world altogether, there are the unforgettable (to say the least!) Lefty Feep stories, with more bad puns than anyone ever thought possible. No, Robert Bloch is by no means an author who has rested on his laurels from Weird Tales. Yet, at the same time, I do feel he deserves much more recognition for his work for "The Unique Magazine" than he has ever received.
Bloch's stories do not fit into the Sturm und Drang of Lovecraft or Robert E. Howard. He did write a number of entertaining HPL style tales but they did not have the brooding pessism that characterized the best of Lovecraft. Bloch's stories were not dark enough. They were good pastiches -- but they read like pastiche and are fun in that manner. No one is fooled into thinking that this is the work of H.P. Lovecraft. This is Robert Bloch, writing a Robert Bloch story in the style of HPL. Compare Bloch's work in this vein with that of August Derleth. Read "The Faceless God" and then read "Shadow Out of Space." Bloch's tale is fun -- you know somewhat what to expect, though by no means can you guess the twists and turns of the plot or the climax. But the formula is there and is followed faithfully -- but not slavishly. It is entertaining -- good fun for the Lovecraft addict. About the Derleth tale -- read it afterward. If you can't see the difference, you probably can't tell the difference between wine and beer either.
Fun, I think, is the word that needs to be emphasized. Bloch wrote for Weird Tales from 1935 on, and was always loyal to that magazine, even during the last years when it was barely making it. There is always a sense of anticipation when reading a Bloch story -- you never know what is going to happen. The horrors are always unique, chilling, and yet, in an odd sort of way, fun. What is even more important is that Bloch's work is easily visualized -- there is little of the awe inspiring monsters-too-horrible-to-be-described that are often encountered in Lovecraft, or the Howard battles-to-end-all-battles with 43,000 other barbarians. Bloch's horrors are small, personal horrors involving a few people faced with mounting terror. They are everyday terrors -- the abnormal mingling with the normal. For that reason, they seem to adapt well to the screen. If there has ever been a more chilling or frightening horror segment put on film than "Frozen Fear" from Weird Tales as adapted for the movie Asylum, I have yet to see it. And, as mentioned before, there were those truly perfect adaptations for Thriller of such classics as "Waxworks," "The Weird Tailor" and "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper."
Speaking of Jack the Ripper, it was Bob Bloch who gave that old fiend "new life" so to speak, with his Weird Tales story "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper." Of all Bloch stories, I have to admit a certain fondness for that one above all others. But that is the opinion of someone who knows that while there are many, many greats who wrote for Weird Tales, there is only one "Mr. Weird Tales" and that author is Robert Bloch. Give it some thought. You might just find yourself agreeing with me.
The author of 16 books and the editor of over 120 anthologies, Robert Weinberg is also well known as as a respected collector and dealer of art and books. He was also the publisher of Weird Tales in one of its later incarnations. Information on Mr. Weinberg's current activities can be found here. This essay originally appeared in Graeme Flanagan's Robert Bloch: A Bio-Bibliography (Canberra City, 1979). It is reprinted here with the permission of Robert Weinberg. .