Getting Weirder

Literally shown: the image of a battle between a future beast and a future humanoid from the story “a million years in the future.”

Figuratively shown: the battle between my ongoing desire to consume stories and the desire to cut into them to see how they work and what they do.

As previously mentioned, today was another day spent on Weird Tales; and I haven’t started working towards any kind of synthesis. It will be a while until I can knit together all the threads “oooo,” “oh no!” and “dear god, why?” into any kind of cohesive argument. Still, this trip (made possible by Michigan State University’s Summer Research Enhancement Grant) has been tremendously enriching (aka I’ve muttered “ooooo” a lot in front of librarians). Today’s fan commentary included a couple gems I’m excited to share on women writers of horror and the affect of weirdness. I will then end on a tale of many layers that’s too weird to fully summarize yet.

Image shows a clip from the July 1933 "Eyrie." The writer of the letter, Mrs. J.T. McCrorey emphasizes that the magazine has been needing "a woman writer's delicate touch"
Image shows a clip from the July 1933 “Eyrie.” The writer of the letter, Mrs. J.T. McCrorey emphasizes that the magazine has been needing “a woman writer’s delicate touch”

In the commentary of Weird Tales, I’ve noticed that there have been more (though I haven’t done a statistical analysis– this is just a practice of parsing and noticing) comments from women who read the magazine. The one above (from 1933) shows an interest already in seeing more women authors. And as the magazine continues, when they begin to share “skeletons in the closet” from fans, I’ve noticed a fair few written by women–or which use women’s names as pen names.

Image shows a reader's response to criticism of showing decay in the March 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Important part states "Weirdness is a quality--a quality inspiring definite emotion, and having certain definite forms of reaction-patterns. One of these emotions or reaction-forms is fear, the fundamental emotion. Now nothing occasions more fear than the un-known. Death comes under this heading--it is an embodiment, the essence, the symbol of the unknown--a mysterious, awesome, fearful state to mortals. Therefore death as such is weird, because it inspires fear, and the processes of decay that come with death take on that same weirdness due to associative powers... If decay and chaos are not weird, then no unnatural transposition of commonplace phenomena can be considered so, for they are simply distortions of matter-of-fact embodiments.
Image shows a reader’s response to criticism of showing decay in the March 1934 issue of Weird Tales. Important part states “Weirdness is a quality–a quality inspiring definite emotion, and having certain definite forms of reaction-patterns. One of these emotions or reaction-forms is fear, the fundamental emotion. Now nothing occasions more fear than the unknown. Death comes under this heading–it is an embodiment, the essence, the symbol of the unknown–a mysterious, awesome, fearful state to mortals. Therefore death as such is weird, because it inspires fear, and the processes of decay that come with death take on that same weirdness due to associative powers… If decay and chaos are not weird, then no unnatural transposition of commonplace phenomena can be considered so, for they are simply distortions of matter-of-fact embodiments.

What I particularly enjoyed and am thinking through in the above commentary is what makes “the weird.” This fan-consumer of Weird Tales makes a strong case for an affect-based engagement with the literature as something that activates mental and emotional responses to the unknown. While the response explicitly discusses the fear that comes with the unknown, it doesn’t directly address the other element of engagements with the weird: pleasure. The combination of fear and pleasure is what Weird Tales is ostensibly about. That non-normative bodies are conduits of potential and central figures of a potential beyond straddles tropes and narrative prosthesis and …perhaps more? There’s something here that seems more than only metaphor and only stereotype (except their reprint of the 1919 story “The Cripple,” which was trash, disability shaming, and a capitalist manifesto against the welfare of laborers).

Cover art for the short story "Deaf, Dumb, and Blind." Image shows a man sitting at a typewriter, staring ahead while ghostly figures encircle him.
Cover art for the short story “Deaf, Dumb, and Blind.” Image shows a man sitting at a typewriter, staring ahead while ghostly figures encircle him.

Which brings me to “Deaf, Dumb, and Blind” a story by C.M. Eddy Jr. (which, according to isfdb [the internet speculative fiction database], was co-authored by H.P. Lovecraft). This story, ostensibly, tells the story of a wealthy war veteran who is paralyzed, deaf, dumb, and blind. He continues to work as a writer and has an impressive collection of books in braille. The action of the story can only take place because, unlike his servant who can see the doom befalling the house they share, he cannot. On one level, it plays out some trope elements- the author feeling woe for being trapped and helpless, the disabled character being killed off, and the main disabled character acting as a conduit to the unknown (fully two-thirds of the story are the manuscript he types). That being said, the story also offers some commentary on care work; the main character discusses the ways in which his life is the result of working with others (albeit a paid relationship, etc.). He also has disability pride; the story specifically states he would not use functioning legs to run away if he had them, and he is thankful for his blindness as it results in experiencing this supernatural moment. It’s a complicated interaction with a non-normative bodymind, especially for 1925.

That’s all for today’s scattered musings and findings. I will wrap up my reports from the archive tomorrow, but stay tuned after this flurry of research updates for news on the HIVES research workshop this upcoming academic school year!

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