THE SPECTER PRIESTESS OF WRIGHTSTONE: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 23

I continue to be amazed by the sheer volume of content contained in the January 1925 issue of Weird Tales, which has been keeping us busy for closing in on two dozen posts. Back in those days, fourteen years before Simon & Schuster introduced Pocket Books, not a lot of average everyday citizens could afford to buy books—at least, not a lot of books. But with a cover price of 25¢ (what is the equivalent of $3.67 in 2019) you get all this—enough to keep you busy until next month, or until another magazine comes out next week. When Pocket Books started publishing mass market paperbacks, their cover price was also 25¢, so Weird Tales, at least, was still a better value… at least in terms of quantity, if not always quality of fiction.

Though TV gets the lion’s share of the blame for the end of the pulp magazine era, the paperback book shares some of the responsibility (along with comic books), bringing literature to the Depression- and war-weary masses in a way that continues today. But even then, think about current mass market paperback prices. I looked up “mass market paperback best sellers” on Amazon, and found that cover prices for that trim size really haven’t gone up at all in the last ten years or so. The cover price for One Day at a Time by Danielle Steel is $8.99 (Amazon discounts it to $5.99, but that’s a weird tale for another time)—more costly in real dollars than 1925’s 25¢ pulp magazine with more or less the same number of words of, let’s go ahead and call it “low brow” entertainment fiction.

So, yeah, Weird Tales, 1925—a lot of bang for your quarter of a buck!

That aside, then, we’ve come to “The Specter Priestess of Wrightstone” by Herman F. Wright.

Here’s another author who seems to have no history. When I Googled him, the first hit was one of my own posts, starting this series looking at just the first and last sentences. The only work listed for him at ISFDB is this one. Short of launching a full investigation, it seems there’s nothing out there about Herman F. Wright. Though it is possible that Mr. Wright wrote a story, sent it in, it was accepted and published, then he died or decided not to write anymore (or…?), I have a feeling this was a pen name used once by some other author—and the author’s true identity has escaped the Internet.

This got me thinking… How cool would it be to write only under pen names, and with a different pen name every time? I’ve written as T.H. Lain and G.W. Tirpa before… how many more authors could I be?

In any case, it was extremely common for pulp authors to have different names for different genres or different magazines, or they’d come up with a different name to hide the fact that the same author wrote two (or more!) stories in the same issue of a single magazine.

Who was Herman F. Wright really?

Maybe it’s none of our business.

Hell, maybe this is Charles Dickens, recasting Scrooge as a butler!

Of course, Dickens died fifty-five years before this story was published, but maybe… it was his ghost!

The Ghost of Short Stories Future?

Probably not, but hey, pulp fiction inspires me to flights of weird fancy.

Here’s another theory: This is actually Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Maybe?

There’s the mention of a Sir Ernest Greystoke at the end…

Please actually follow the links to this story  and experience the curse of a druid priestess and the general weirdness of this tale for yourself. In style it definitely owes more to the traditional English ghost story in the tradition of M.R. James than it does the action-packed pulp tradition that was still in development in the mid-20s. This English gentleman has some problems with specters in his English estate, and in all ways, including the outright reference to Dickens, this is an English ghost story.

Herman F. Wright had a way with words, too. I love this bit:

The fiend has haunted the castle for generations, and an old legend tells that the specter can never be laid until two of the heads of the ruling family of Wrightstone have sacrificed their throbbing hearts to her gleaming scalpel.

Spooky!

And I want this printed on a t-shirt:

I am old, and age brings queer prognostications.

This is what I love about the written word in general. Essentially by accident of random happenstance, I’ve read your one and only published story, Herman F. Wright, on a device you could not have imagined in your time. I’ve heard you, and you’ve entertained and inspired me, ninety-four years into a future weirder than any of the tales in this magazine.

If you end up only ever writing one thing that’s published, the possibility exists that, in 2113, someone will find it, read it, love it, and do whatever version of “blogging” (which, I know, is already getting antiquated) might exist in that impossible to fathom future.

 

—Philip Athans

 

P.S. You gotta love the ad at the end of the story for a book by Houdini, no less, debunking spirit mediums. And look—it’s twice the price!

 

Starting Thursday October 17

Sign up now and let’s get “weird” together!

 

 

 

 

 

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, (https://fantasyhandbook.wordpress.com/) is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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3 Responses to THE SPECTER PRIESTESS OF WRIGHTSTONE: EXPLORING WEIRD TALES Vol. 5, No. 1—PART 23

  1. jasperak says:

    Maybe it was Farnsworth.

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