Monday, December 26, 2011

Centipede Press's Frank Belknap Long

I don't know about you, but when I think of a Grimoire, a spell book, I think of a massive tome, almost too heavy to lift with one hand, filled with weird creatures and strange illustrations, perhaps with a jet black cover and a ribbon for keeping one's place. Centipede Press's Frank Belknap Long collection, part of their Masters of the Weird Tale series puts me in mind of just such a book. I received a copy of this 1022 page behemoth of a book as a Christmas gift from my pal Cliff and it is truly a wonderful and creepy volume.
If you're unfamiliar with Frank Belknap Long, you're not alone. Though he is one of the original writers for the pulp magazine Weird Tales, appearing side by side in the magazine with H.P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith, and though he is one of the "Lovecraft Circle" and generally considered the first writer to use the Cthulhu Mythos in a story after Lovecraft (The Hounds of Tindalos) Long has not found the popularity that the 'three musketeers' of Weird Tales have and his work hasn't been collected and reprinted to the same level as HPL, REH, and CAS.
The Centipede Press book goes a long way toward correcting this. This is the largest single collection of Long's work, featuring over 65 stories. The book focuses on Long's weird and horror stories and contains little of his science fiction output, as the title would suggest. Not only are Long's best know stories here, (The Space Eaters, The Horror From the Hills, etc,) but there are stories included that haven't been reprinted since their original publication in the Pulp magazines over 50 years ago. There simply hasn't been a collection like this of Frank Belknap Long's work.
In his excellent introduction to the collection, editor John Pelan points out that the popular conception of Long as a prolific producer of Lovecraft pastiches is way off the mark. Only a very few of Long's stories actually fit into the Cthulhu Mythos and some only marginally. Though Lovecraft did act as a mentor to Long early in long's career, Long wasn't a Lovecraft imitator by any stretch. In fact, as I've read through the first several stories in the collection, I've been very impressed with Long's ability to conjure original and disturbing horrors that are entirely his own. Tales like Second Night Out and Death Waters stay with you long after you've set the book aside. Frank Belknap Long dreamed some dark dreams, and that's for sure.
Now a few words about the book itself. Centipede press makes some darn nice books. Well bound, well made, with heavy paper and sharp printing. This book is lavishly illustrated with new drawings and paintings by Allen Kozowski, Randy Broeker, and others, as well as with classic artwork by Hannes Bok, Lee Brown Coye and the great Virgil Finlay. This is a quality production from the word go. It comes in a slipcase and is one of a signed limited edition of only 200. In other words, this was a really really nice gift. Thanks Cliff!


cliff said...

You're most welcome!

Taranaich said...

The only Long I've read is "Tindalos" and his portion of "The Challenge from Beyond." Frankly, I think he ruined the story: up until then it was a great tale of mystery and terror, and he ended it on a preposterously happy and peaceful note. Boo! "Tindalos" was more interesting due to the very weird nature of the creatures themselves. Might have to try "Second Night Out" and "Death Waters," at least.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Yeah, give some of his other stories a try, Al. Long's not in he same class as HPL (who is?) but he had some original and creepy ideas and he was very good at establishing mood.

Keith said...

I read a couple of Long collections about ten years ago and found them both to be very inconsistent in quality, with some stories being quite good and others almost unreadable. For that reason, I reluctantly decided to pass on this volume because of the price. I'd be interested to know what you think once you've finished the book, because I would like to have a copy. I just need a reason to justify the expense. Please feel free to drop me a line if you will and let me know if the quality is consistent all the way through.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Will do, Keith. Unfortunately, having read a good selection of the stories, I can already echo your opinion to some degree. When Long is on he's very very good, and when he's not, it's not pretty. However, there are so many stories here, we'll see if the good outweighs the bad. I'll keep you posted.