Let’s finish up “Fog” by C. Franklin Miller from the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales we started a couple weeks ago, still examining the story through the lens of Lester Dent’s Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot.

By now we’ve come to the all-important…


Let’s say the last fourth of the story starts at the scene break at the bottom of the left column of page 121 with “That settled all doubts,” and see how C. Franklin Miller stacks up against Lester Dent’s advice to…

Shovel the difficulties more thickly upon the hero.

This sounds like a difficulty to me:

Our retreat was cut off and the realization unnerved me. If only I could see! Trailed by some inconceivable monster and unable to fight back was too much for the human brain.

They’re still being chased by some unknown thing in a pitch-dark cave. But do the difficulties get thicker?

Get the hero almost buried in his troubles. (Figuratively, the villain has him prisoner and has him framed for a murder rap; the girl is presumably dead, everything is lost, and the different murder method is about to dispose of the suffering protagonist.)

This counts:

“We made a frantic effort to evade its spread. It was useless. Its power of expansion and contraction seemed tremendous. With an unearthly hiss it swirled about us and held us, struggling madly, in its icy embrace.

This is a good example of how when Lester Dent—or anyone who has ever written this sort of formula—says something specific like “buried,” you are not only free to, but are hereby encouraged (by me, at least) to expand the definition of “buried” as far out as you can. Being captured by some kind of enveloping monster counts as “buried,” for sure.

The hero extricates himself using his own skill, training or brawn.

I’m nervous about this, going into the fourth section, since they find their way out of the cave by sheer luck, running madly away from the thing and not using any particular “skill, training, or brawn.” At least not yet.

Uh, oh:

Almost blinded and scarcely able to breathe, I hacked away with my knife, trying to dig a way through the pasty mass. I was like one fighting in delirium. For one agonizing moment I was conscious of a dull roar in my ears and then—

“I must have fainted. With the coming of light I was lying face downward on the ground halfway up the slope. My arms were wrapped tightly around the trunk of a tree. A fine rain was falling.

He passes out, wakes up, and the monster is just gone. No skill. No training. No brawn. No particular effort on the part of the hero—or was he more effective with his knife than we were led to believe? Did he extricate himself by using blind panic and his only available tool—and his brawn, I guess?

Good enough?

The mysteries remaining—one big one held over to this point will help grip interest—are cleared up in the course of the final conflict as hero takes the situation in hand.

So, as of Moisell waking up and the monster gone, there are two mysteries remaining:

What was this thing? and…

What was he afraid of on the ship—is it the same monster?

Final twist, a big surprise. (This can be the villain turning out to be the unexpected person, having the “Treasure” be a dud, etc.)

The final twist is interesting but for my money a bit too obscure.

Was it really all in Moisell’s fevered imagination? Was Bonner really killed by ordinary quicksand? Was Moisell just lucky enough to crawl out of it before it pulled him under? Is this “putty” in the box some ordinary… putty? Or is it physical proof of the monster that Hunter can’t recognize?

I’m not opposed in any case to stories that end with questions hanging. Not only do I not need but I tend to strongly dislike any sort of “now we’ll explain what happened” ending. But I’m getting an inexplicable feeling that C. Franklin Miller meant for this mystery to have been solved, that Hunter’s conclusion that his friend is crazy is warranted, is the ending of the story, and the solution to the “mysteries” still outstanding.

The snapper, the punch line to end it.

The snapper: “On the bottom lay a lump of putty!” as I said above, doesn’t really solve it for me, but it’s still exactly the sort of thing Lester Dent is calling for. Some final statement, some last idea that leaves us with what he called, “that warm feeling.”

But ultimately, in the case of “Fog,” the final question from Lester Dent: “Did God kill the villain? Or the hero?” remains unanswered.

If the villain is the monster it’s unclear if Moisell actually killed it. Even if there wasn’t really a monster and Moisell imagined it doesn’t matter. The “villain,” as Dent calls it, doesn’t have to be real in any case—again pull out from the obvious to expand the definition of “villain” as far as you want to.

Was this a deus ex machina (machine of God) ending? One where some outside force swoops in to pull the hero’s fat out of the fryer—maybe the Cardinal Sin of contemporary fiction? Or could we call this an insanire ex machina (machine of madness) ending. Is that better or worse?

I honestly don’t know!



—Philip Athans


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About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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1 Response to FOG: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 20

  1. Pingback: PIXAR’S 22 RULES OF STORYTELLING | Fantasy Author's Handbook

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