Monday, January 23, 2012

Backtracking

While rearranging some books last night it occurred to me how much weird and horror fiction I've accumulated in the past five years. I mean, I've read Lovecraft since I was a teenager, and obviously Robert E. Howard, and I was familiar with other S&S writers like C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner, but most of my interest in other Weird Tales writers and writers of similar stuff has come about in the last decade, and much of that can be attributed to the influence of the late Karl Edward Wagner.
I had been aware of course, that Robert E. Howard had created what we know as sword & sorcery by introducing supernatural elements into Harold Lamb style historical adventure stories. But I don't think that idea really gelled for me until I read a comment from Wagner that his Kane stories were really horror stories with just enough action in them to qualify as heroic fantasy. (Wagner didn't care for the term sword & sorcery.)
This comment sent me in search of Wagner's horror fiction, which led to the discovery of other horror/weird writers such as Ramsey Campbell, Joseph Payne Brennan, and most importantly, Manly Wade Wellman.
A lot of this was serendipity. About the same time I discovered Wagner (though Michael Moorcock, oddly enough.) I was also collecting the Swords Against Darkness paperbacks. These contained sword & sorcery tales by Ramsey Campbell (Ryre) and Manly Wade Wellman (Kardios). So a lot of things seemed to be converging at once. I was seeing the fantasy work of various writers who were better known for their horror writing at the same time that I was discovering their horror and weird fiction.
Even Clark Ashton Smith, with whom I was familiar but not that well read in, suddenly leaped into focus with the new Nightshade collections of his stories, giving me the chance to immerse myself in his amazing fiction. And one thing led to another and now I have this ever growing collection of horror/weird fiction. So if Karl Edward Wagner seems to pop up in a lot of my posts, there's a reason. He's at the hub of my interest in weird tales.
Also, I think I've zeroed in on Wagner and Manly Wade Wellman because of their regional fiction. I was born and raised in the northern part of Georgia, and both men's tales of Southern horrors and fantasy resonate with me. A lot of that is showing up in my more recent writing.
Anyway, I suppose it is the nature of readers to seek out the influences of favorite writers, backtracking to the wellsprings of well loved stories. And in this, Karl Edward Wagner was and is an excellent guide. In his introductions to the Year's Best Horror Stories, his Forwards and notes in the Echoes of Valor series, his introductions and annotations to the Conan stories, and in countless essays, articles, and comments in various books and magazines, Wagner continues to offer sage advice on a genre he loved.

4 comments:

Keith said...

You're absolutely right, Charles. Wagner was (and still is) one of the best guides to the weird fiction landscape. I discovered his Year's Best Horror series while I was in high school. I need to go back and reread them, for the introductions as well as the stories. When the Echoes of Valor series came out, I snapped them up immediately. I wish there had been more volumes because at the time, those books were one of the few places I could find stories by some of the Weird Tales authors. In my opinion they've never been matched as an introduction to the weird story.

Do you have the Nightshade Many Wade Wellman collections? I think they're out of print now; they were published around the time Nightshade put out the collected Kane. There were five volumes, the fifth being the Silver John stories.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Keith, I have two of the five. They are indeed out of print, and volumes one & two are surprisingly expensive. Fortunately, I have all of the stories for the three volumes I don't own in other books, though I'm sure I'll eventually get the others in the set.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I, too, have been collecting crazy over the past ten years now, or a little more. I found Howard very late - not in my teen years like so many others.

It's just like following the music trail when I was younger. The Rolling Stones covered Muddy Waters. Check out Muddy Waters. Waters was influenced/covered Bill Broonzy and Robert Johnson. Follow them back deeper and deeper and contemporaries at the various depths.

Thus, find Howard collections - intro by David Drake, find Drake, associated with Wagner. Find intros by Wagner, find older authors, etc.

And, serendipitously, some great anthologies and collections are arriving even as I am looking up older ones.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

That's exactly it, Paul. I remember when my brother, a formidable Blues guitarist, was making much the same discoveries as you mention, backtracking from Led Zeppelin to Chuck Berry to Robert Johnson. It's very much like that with authors and books.