Robert E. Howard and Strange Tales

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Writing to Clyde Smith on May 9, 1931, Howard mentions two new pulps, Strange Tales and Soldiers of Fortune, and states he will be submitting stories to both of them and suggests Smith write something for Soldiers of Fortune, a historical story magazine:

I see where the Claytons are bringing out a new magazine dealing with weird subjects and another dealing with historical tales of romance and adventure— two cents a word on acceptance and up. If I can’t make both of them I ought to be ham-strung. You ought to re-read Dumas and crash the historical one — the ad says the tales should generally feature the Anglo-Saxon but that the gallant Frenchman and dashing Spaniard will have their place. I see where I dress Solomon Kane up in a nom de plume and let him thrust, parry and riposte for eighteen chapters.

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In 1931, Howard was beginning to branch out into a number of new markets, so it only made sense that he wanted to crash these two new magazines, particularly Strange Tales, a pulp that that featured stories in the vein of those appearing in Weird Tales. From 1929 to 1932, Howard’s primary markets were Weird Tales, Oriental Stories, a companion magazine to Weird Tales which began publication in 1931, and Fight Stories. Howard yarns also appeared in Action Stories, Argosy All-Story Weekly, Ghost Stories and Sport Story Magazine. With this expansion to other markets, Howard’s income from his writings continued to increase. However, in the same year, two of Howard’s major markets were suspended or canceled. Fight Stories, which had published thirteen stories since 1928, suspended publication, and it was apparent that Oriental Stories would also soon cease publication. Unfortunately, Clayton suffered the same fate and did not survive long in the depths of the Great Depression, with Strange Tales and its entire line of magazines folding in early 1933.

However, Howard did manage to have three stories accepted for publication during the short life span of Strange Tales, though only two were published before the magazine ceased publication. A story he submitted in the fall of 1931 was returned by the editor for a re-write. Howard made the changes and re-submitted the yarn, which was accepted the second time as he recounts in this P.S. to a letter written to H.P. Lovecraft, ca. January 1932:

P.S. I almost forgot to tell you that I finally made Clayton’s Strange Tales with a yarn called, “The People of the Dark” a tale of reincarnation, pre-Roman Britain, Mongoloid aborigines, yellow-haired Britons, Irish pirates, and anything else I could lug in; I hope you’ve also made this market, and certainly, no weird magazine is complete without your magnificent tales.

But the Old Gent did not send them any stories. Despite never submitting a story to Strange Tales, Lovecraft did actually appear in the magazine’s March 1932 issue, albeit uncredited. Lovecraft was a friend and correspondent of fellow Weird Tales author Henry S. Whitehead and even visited him in his home state of Florida. While there the two collaborated on a story called “The Trap.” Lovecraft refused to take any writing credit for the story when Whitehead sold it Strange Tales, and it appeared solely under Whitehead’s name.

In March of 1932, Howard also recommended the magazine to fellow Weird Tales writer Wilfred Blanch Talman:

By the way, have you ever tried Clayton’s new Strange Tales magazine? It’s published every other month, and they pay well. I sold them a yarn dealing with the mythical Mongoloids of prehistoric Britain, and another using the battle of Clontarf for a background, though they rejected quite a few mss. before I ever landed anything.

Here Howard is referencing “The People of the Dark,” which appeared in the June 1932 issue (number 5) and “The Cairn on the Headland” from issue number 7, dated January 1933. But the magazine was in trouble and went from a bi-monthly to quarterly schedule in the summer of 1932, as Howard mentions in a letter dated May 24, 1932 to H.P. Lovecraft:

Sorry to hear Swanson has had to give up his Galaxy. As you say, the game was given a sock below the belt when Claytons changed the appearances of their Strange Tales and Astounding Stories. The change in Strange Tales hit me viciously in the pocket-book, because I’d apparently just got started good with them. Another of my regular markets — Fight Stories — was taken out of circulation entirely recently.

The end came to Strange Tales in October of 1932 when editor Harry Bates returned “The Valley of the Lost,” a yarn that was to be published in the next issue prior to the magazine’s demise. Howard opines the loss of yet another market to H.P. Lovecraft in a November 2, 1932 letter:

Yes, a bulletin from the AFG [American Fiction Guild] announced the crumpling of Strange Tales, and on its heels came back a yarn the magazine had bought but hadn’t paid for. I wasn’t surprized. Strange Tales was too narrow in policy to have lasted long, though in good times the magazine would have stood up longer than it did.

Here is the letter from editor Harry Bates returning the manuscript for “The Valley of the Lost.”

With his markets collapsing right and left due to the Great Depression, Howard turned to publishers in the United Kingdom. In June of 1933, Howard was putting together a collection of his weird stories to submit to Denis Archer Publisher, a London publishing house. He wanted to include the two stories published in Strange Tales and wrote to Clayton Magazines on June 13, 1933 to clarify if he held the overseas rights to his stories.

A few weeks ago I wrote you asking a release of the British Empire rights on my stories, “People of the Dark” and “The Cairn on the Headland,” published in Strange Tales. I have had no reply from you.

I note that in the Author & Journalist for November, 1932, your company is quoted as buying “all North American serial rights, but do not purchase and have no control over motion picture, radio, book, or dramatic rights.”

According to this, I have the right to offer the stories mentioned to the British publishing house which has asked to look at them, with the view of bringing them out in book form. But I would like to have some sort of writing from your company, showing that I own the foreign rights.

Or, in case some special conditions prevailed in the case of Strange Tales, by which you purchased book and foreign rights, I would appreciate a release on them. I see no reason why I should not be given such release, since the magazine has been out of circulation for some months now. I realize that things are not breaking well for your company, and I sympathize with you. But things aren’t breaking so good for me, either, and this may be a chance for me to make a little money through British publication. Please answer this letter, one way or another. I enclose an addressed and stamped envelope for your convenience.

But Howard did not waste any time waiting on a reply and submitted a manuscript containing eight stories, including the unpublished “The Valley of the Lost,” to Denis Archer Publisher just two days later on June 15, 1933. In January of 1934, Howard heard bad news from the publisher – they were passing on the collection of weird stories. But said they would be interested in a novel of 70,000 – 75,000 words. So this rejection letter gave birth to Howard’s Conan novel The Hour of the Dragon.

Several of the Clayton titles, including Astounding Stories, actually lived on after Clayton went belly-up. The titles were bought by Street & Smith and resumed publication in October of 1933. In the fall of 1933, Howard tried submitting “The Valley of the Lost” to Astounding, but received a rejection letter from the Associate Editor, dated November 16, 1933, stating the reason for the return of “Valley” was Astounding’s policy that “forbids us now to accept any stories of the weird type.” The editor suggested Howard try his hand at writing something more suitable for the pseudo-scientific genre. The story remained unpublished until 1975 when it was published in a chapbook by Charles Miller.

Wildside Press brought the Strange Tales title back in 2003, picking up with issue number 8, edited by Robert Price. Issues 9 and 10 appeared in 2005 and 2007, respectively, before the magazine folded a second time. A complete bibliography of the magazine, which includes the Wildside reboot, can be found here.

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