Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, January 4, 2021


 Openers:  A dank fog rolled over New York's Chinatown from the rivers and the sound.  Now and again we heard the dismal wailing of foghorns -- the very soul, it seemed of Chinatown itself.  Chinese music came through, too. from many hidden places, and it was, to me, a cry from the heart of China.

I waited, there in the sitting room of Liu Ti, for him to tell me why he had asked me to come.  I'd have come to him around he world, and he knew it.  For forty years my father had been his friend, and his father's friend, in China.  Liu Ti and my father had been blood brothers, had mingled their blood from cuts in their strong right forearms.

I, too, knew China.  I had spent all my boyhood and most of my young manhood there. and had learned to love it.

"It is a dangerous thing I'm asking you to do, Gordon Bais," said Liu Ti.

I didn't answer.  I looked at his niece, gorgeous Liu Mei, and knew it had to do with her.  Did she know my secret, this Liu Mei?  Did Kwan To know it?  Kwan to, the dusky, stalwart young Chinese who stood beside her?  I doubted it.  I had never told it to a soul, though Liu Mei must have read it in my eyes.  We had been children together, had almost grown up together.  Her father had married on of Liu Ti's sisters, and her father had been an American.  In the eyes of her world and mine, she was an Eurasian, neither Chinese nor "foreign."  I looked at her and thought of how cruel people could be to one another.

"In the veins of my niece," said Liu Ti, almost in a whisper, "runs the proud blood of kings."

She was the most gorgeous woman I had ever seen.  Her hair and eyes were black and she had the delicate beauty which must have been that of Kwan Yi, Goddess of Mercy, when she had been a mortal, walking the earth.

"I am ready to do anything, old friend," I said to Liu Ti.

"I know.  There has always been a bond between us, and between thee and Liu Mei.  You [played together as children.  Now, Gordon Bais, take her away and cherish her!"

-- "A Bride for Death" by Arthur J, Burks (from Terror Tales, April 1936)

And so starts another thrilling adventure from one of the "shudder pulps."  This one combines xenophobia, mystery, an evil, sadistic  -- and possibly supernatural -- nemesis, a scantily clad woman, torture and brutality, romance, and bravery in the face of impossible odds.  The shudder pulps, or "weird menace" magazines grew from the traditional detective and mystery magazines in the early 1930s and was probably influenced by Grand Guignol theater.  As the shudder pulps grew in number and popularity, so did the backlash.  The American Mercury said that they "contain enough illustrated sex perversion to give Kraft-Ebing the unholy jitters."  And it was true that sometimes they went pretty far -- one story by Hugh B. Cave (I believe) had a sadistic villain remove a girl's panties with a blowtorch.  One gets the feeling that the shudder pulp readers were much different from the pimple-faced teenager boys who read the science fiction pulps.   As the opposition to these magazines grew, publishers quietly folded up their weird menace tents in the early 1940s and continued on with other -- safer -- magazines.

As I mentioned, xenophobia played its part in the shudder pulps, as it did with most pulps of the era.  Orientals (the dreaded "Yellow Menace"), blacks, American Indians, Jews...people of all colors and stripes not Caucasian, all were made foils, either through demeaning stereotypes or through being pure evil.  Women also did not fare well.  They were weaker and often got what they deserved just by being on the scene.  The exception to that, of course, was the brave young heroine who was allowed most often to survive because of the hero's bravery, not her own.  The majority of women, however, were the pulp's version of Star Trek Red Shirts, easily disposable because they were unimportant.

Portions of the shudder pulp formula oozed over to the various superhero and crimefighting pulps.  There, evil has usually gone big-scale and the death toll could rise to the hundreds, even thousands.  And the deaths often came through horrifying means.  As the paperback book boom began, traces of the shudder pulps began to appear in the men's adventure series, original novels often featuring a single lone vigilante hero out for vengeance against an evil organization.  The trend continues with many of the mega-selling thrillers of today.

For the most part, though, the shudder pulps were fun, taking the reader on a wild, impossible thrill ride to escape the world for a few hours.  For me, yes, they had their bad points but I can ignore those, knowing the time and place the stories were written and I am mature enough (methinks) not to be influenced by them.

The author of this story, Arthur J. Burks (1898-1974), was a pretty interesting fellow.  As a marine he served as an aide to General Smedley Butler and co-wrote (probably wrote) some material with him, including at lest one book.  After being stationed in the Caribbean and hearing tales of voodoo from Haitian prisoners, he became interested in the subject and began publishing stories about voodoo in Weird Tales.  He was a ;prolific writer, and by 1936, estimated that he had sold some 1400 stories, mainly in the aviation, detective, sports, science fiction, adventure, and weird menace fields.  He reenlisted in the marines in World War II, coming out as a lieutenant colonel.  In later years, he wrote and lectured on metaphysics and the paranormal, as well as turning out a number of nonfiction books on various subjects.  Burk continued writing until his death.  Sadly, most of his best-known stories are clunkers, but some of his lesser-known tails have a verve about them'

The B'day Gang:  As mentioned in the previous post, today is my brother's birthday.  It may interest him and few others to know whom he shares this day with.  There's Isaac Newton, a pretty smart guy.  And there's ornithologist James Bond (who lent his name to 007), football coach Don Shula, the voice of Pooh Sterling Holloway, fairy tale teller Jacob Grimm, diminutive General Tom Thumb, American politician with a smoothing voice Everett Dirkson, pretty hot actress Dyan Cannon, noted historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, actor Matt "Max Headroom" Frewer, and fourth imam in Shi'i Islan Ali ibn Husayn Zayn al-Abidin.  Of course, none of this will go to my brother's head.

What's the Word?:  So Republicans in the Senate, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, are leading a push to void Joe Biden's election by refusing to accept the results of the Electoral College.  I have been racking my brains trying to think of a word that would best describe these jamooks.  Meretricious comes to mind, as does self-serving, duplicitous, dishonest, mendacious, gutless, bigoted, hypocritical, amoral, two-faced, perfidious, sycophantic, and lickspittle.  Perhaps ever treacherous or treasonous.  Trump and Josh Hawley both said that ignoring the 7.5 million who voted for Trump would be disenfranchising them.  They ignore the fact that 8.3 million voted for Joe Biden.  Perhaps the firs order of business for the new administration would be to mandate remedial math.  And representative Louis Gohmert (R-Crazytown) has been urging "revolution" and suggesting street violence after the courts refused to hear his suit to overturn the election.  Maybe I'll just be polite and settle on the word stupid.

Caveat:  Lest you think that I am rapidly anti-Republican, let me add that Democrats play in the same pool of self-serving and duplicity.  The difference is that the Republican Party, certainly since George W. Bush, has become more and more egregiously evil.  My own political stance is that I am a Libertarian in that I firmly believe each person has the God-given right to screw up their own life, given an equal playing field.  And I am a Conservative in that I believe the original definition of that word:  conserve what works and change what doesn't.  And I am a wild-eyed Liberal/Progressive while holding to the teachings of Christ that we have an obligation to the poor, the sick, the disenfranchised.


1 comment:

  1. And even Daisy Bacon's very eclectic DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE would run some modified "shudder" by shudder vet John Knox and perhaps others, after the Popular and most other shudder titles were either folded or took other tacks.