Friday, April 1, 2011

New When Falls the Coliseum post: Ervin Phillip Ashton: The strange facts in the case of the eerie life

Over at When Falls the Coliseum, I have a new post about the early 20th century pulp horror and fantasy author Ervin Phillip Ashton, which features and overview of his life and (obscure) works. A small sample:
EPA struggled to sell even to the pulp horror magazines of the early 20th century, many of which had strikingly low editorial standards. His stories and occasional poetry generally landed in the back of second- and third-tier horror and mystery titles like Strange Times, The Eerie Nightmares, Eerie Worlds, FantastiFiction, and Fantastic Oddities. In a sad twist of fate worthy of a character in one of EPA’s stories, the one time he managed to get a cover story in one of the pulps (Fantastic Oddities issue number three, cover dated June-July 1919), the editor not only changed the title of the story without his knowledge (from “The Strange Facts in the Case of the Eerie Incident” to “Foul Zanies of Havendirge!”), but also misspelled EPA’s name on the cover.

“Zanies” is a classic of sorts; at least insofar as an EPA story can be said to be a “classic.” It opens with a pitiful man, starving, feverish, and beaten, rushing through a wintry forest with no memory of who he is or how he got there. He’s taken in by “zanies,” mentally and physically deformed people who, having never left their family estate, are the end result of generations of incest. The family decides to torture the man, but he turns out to be an Elder of Underwhere, a dark creature of indescribable power from another dimension, the mere sight of whom is enough to induce depraved insanity.

This story features a number of elements that recur in EPA’s stories. It is set, as the editor’s title suggests, in the fictional town of Havendirge, Georgia, where EPA set most of his contemporary horror stories. It features reference to the Elders of Underwhere, ancient beings who split their time between our dimension (called “Overwhere”) and their own “Underwhere.” It features a dark, forbidding house that is not a place of comfort and safety, but of pain and misery. And it features a family cursed by events from the past.

You can read the whole thing by clicking this sentence.

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