On December 18 we started in on…
…as part of my ongoing series of posts looking back at a classic issue of Weird Tales, which is available for all of us—and that means you!—to read online. This week, onward from the beginning of Chapter 2…
He awoke to find himself lying on a rude bunk against the side of a stone hut, and through the open door the sun streamed in, warm and cheering.
When was the last time you heard something—not someone, but an object—described as “rude”? And there’s a “rude table” a bit later on, a “rude surgery”… See how language and usage shift over time? Just thought that was interesting.
But of more interest is the transition this chapter break provides. Our hero falls into a chasm, struggles to remain conscious, is vaguely aware of people helping him, then he falls unconscious—chapter break—and he wakes up some time later in a completely different location. This clearly wasn’t a chapter break placed in at some pre-determined word count mark, but at the dramatically appropriate moment, a point at which there is a pause in the POV character’s experience of the story. That’s a great lesson in terms of where to place those chapter breaks, based on the story, not the word count.
I will hold to my advice regarding words like “instantly,” and say that that word could have been and should have been cut from this opening paragraph, especially since it then opens the very next paragraph.
But more than that, are we detecting some “favorite words” from Ms. Chaney? Rude, instantly…? We all have them (mine tend to be just and actually) and only an editor can spot them for us. Let’s keep an eye out for those, shall we?
A fun twist with the gold cup—this pulls Martin from waking up injured and confused, and back to his own story: his quest for the riches of the Peruvian Andes.
Instantly from the door of the hut came the word instantly again. Now you’re not going to be able to not see it. You’re welcome.
Am I just the suspicious sort or is this story starting to make you think of Stephen King’s Misery as well?
It’s interesting to note, maybe as part of a bigger discussion of sexism in early 20th century pulp fiction, that a woman wrote the description:
From time to time he stole glances at the slender figure of the girl beside him. She had the lissome grace of the wild creatures of the woods; she sat limply as if every muscle were utterly relaxed; and yet he knew that at the slightest sound she would be instantly alert and poised for action. She was dressed in a soft, clinging garment of cream-colored woolen material…
And then Martin notices all the gold she’s wearing, shifting her, at least a little, from an object of attraction to another reminder of his greed-based mission. In any case, Lenore E. Chaney seems well acquainted with the concept of the “male gaze” as well as certain package of pulp fiction expectations about clinging garments and overall firmness, but at the same time she conveys that this is not—or at the very least may not be—a woman you want to mess with. (And I added the emphasis to point out another instance of instantly.)
Then the description starts to take on a creepy vibe when Martin tries to place her racial origins…
But what had given this daughter of the Peruvian wilds the form and features of the best product of the Aryan race?
This gave me pause. Now my Nazi radar is activated, especially since this story was published about five years or so after the Nazi Party was established in Germany. Please don’t turn out to be a Nazi, Lenore E. Chaney… please don’t turn out to be a Nazi!
Back to the story, then, and the priest comes in and apologizes for their “rude surgery.” As an editor I have to admit I get a certain satisfaction pointing out “favorite words” like this and watching authors freak out at how often they see them once they’ve been pointed out a couple times. I’m actually just here to help.
Anyone else getting a little drowsy at Martin’s recap of the story thus far to the priest? If he isn’t going to make something up, and more or less tells it like it was, we could have saved some words here with something like…
Martin told the old priest how he’d ended up in the ravine, but the moment the last words were out of his mouth Martin realized that they had been a mistake.
Note that most of that is the existing text of the story from the top of the second column of page 55. But then Lenore E. Chaney, like the rest of the Weird Tales authors, was being paid by the word, so… Still, the budget conscious editor in me would want to cut that recap for a more selfish reason.
Speaking of words we don’t use the same way anymore…
“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Martin ejaculated, and then bit his lips in annoyance.
What’s interesting to me in this part of the story is that Martin feels like the villain to me, not the hero of the piece. Here he’s enjoying the hospitality and care of indigenous people and all he can think of is all the gold and emeralds they have—he keeps going back to greed, a lust for treasure, and seems to put very little if any thought into, well… anything else. How about a little gratitude? His curiosity about who these people are seems entirely limited to their stuff and his desire to get some of it. This takes an even creepier turn right at the end of Chapter 2 when it’s made clear that Martin is thinking about manipulating the “Indian maiden” who saved his life in an effort to get his hands on the priest’s emerald, and other treasures.
I’m now much more curious to see how this turns out since it could be that the “White Man’s Madness” the title refers to is just that: greed. Now as I’m reading, I’m waiting for one turn or another, either the completion of the turn from hero to villain for Martin or a turn from greedy villain to hero for a reformed Martin. And this is great news—I’m into the story now! I’m thinking about it, building up questions and expectations about it, and that’s a credit to Lenore E. Chaney’s storytelling and characterization.
The only thing that worries me is that Martin will stay greedy and “win” by overcoming the native people and “victoriously” making off with their treasures. But I’m willing to give the author the benefit of the doubt and keep reading!
A dramatic pause point, then, and we’ll move on to Chapter 3 next time!