Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Thursday, March 2, 2023


The Brain in the Jar and Others, Collected Stories and Poems:  One by Richard F. Searight, edited by Franklyn Searight  (1992)

Richard F. Searight was 21 when he wrote his first story, "The Brain in the Jar," a collaboration with his college friend Norman E. Hammerstrom.  The pair were impressed when the first issue of Weird Tales hit the stands in March 1923, and talked of writing stories for it.  It was Norman who came up with the idea for "The Brain in the Jar." and Richard who did the actual writing.  The story was pubished in the November 1924 issue of the magazine and won first place in the readers' poll for that issue.  It was later reprinted in the June 1936 issue of Weird Tales.  As far as I can tell, it was the only story credited to Hammerstrom, who developed mental problems and was confined to an institution by 1934.

Seabright continued to write stories on and off, but had very little success.  According to his son, this may have been in part to his lackadaisical (my word, not the son's) approach to publishing -- Searight would submit a story to a magazine (often one that was inappropriate for the story's content), and when it was rejected, would just put the story away and not resubmit to.  One story -- "The Formula" -- was accepted by a magazine titled The Witchs Tales, and was scheduled to be printed in the magazine's third issue; the magazine only lasted two issues and the story was never published.  Short story "The Cosmic Horror" made it into the August 1933 issue of Wonder Stories.  One of Searight's poems was published in Wonder Tales (January 1934), another in the amateur publication The Fantasy Fan (February 1934), two in Weird Tales (April 1935 and November 1936), and yet another in a poetry anthology published the following year.  Seabright also had a letter published in Weird Tales in 1934.  Not a major career.

Searight died in 1975. leaving a number of fragments and unpublished stories and poems that would not begin to see light until 1994, and, then after a drought of thirteen years, from 2007 to 2014 -- all published by amateur small presses.  Many of the fragments were completed by his son, Franklyn Searight, who died in 2020.  Franklyn compiled two volumes of Searight's Collected Stories and Poems, and a third had been planned but never appeared.  Both volumes appeared from small press specialty publisher Necronomicon Press as stapled pamphlets.

Searight's major claim to fame was as a later (albeit minor) correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft.  Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright had suggested that Searight contact Lovecraft for suggestions and possible revisionary help with his stories.  Searight followed up on the suggestion and soon began a correpondence with the reclusive writer in 1933.  Lovecraft remembered "The Brain in the Jar":  it "impressed me favourably."  Although Lovecraft offered advice, he never revised any of Searight's stories.  Their correspondence, covered in Hippocampus Press's edition of Lovecraft's Letters to E. Hoffman Price and Richard F. Searight, is noted mainly for detailing Lovecraft's approach to fiction.  One interesting (and minor) contribution made by Searight to Lovecraft's overall "Cthulu Cycle" was the creation of the "Eltdown Shards," ancient mystical writings that Lovecraft altered and used in his story "The Challenge from Beyond."

Despite his son's insistence that Richard Searight had the potential to be a great writer, the evidence just isn't there, and "The Brain in the Jar" and other works remain curiosities of interest to Lovecraft completists and few others. 

The Brain in the Jar contains five stories and twelve poems in its fifty pages:

  • "The Brain in the Jar" (with Norman Elwood Hammerstrom, Weird Tales, November 1924.  Just before the Armistice was signed in World War I, resistance fighter Jean Perrin is captured by German loyalists who continue to imprison him after the Armistice.  He is turned over to mad doctor Jaeger, whose chemical innovations helped create some of the more terrible gasses used by Germany in the war, and who is now rumored to be conducting experiments to preserve human tissue in "special liquids."  Jaeger removes Perrin's brain and eyes, keeping them in one of his special jars.  Perrin has retained his consciousness but is ableto hide the fact from Jaeger.  Perrin learns to increase his psychic powerrs of telepathy amd teleportation until he is finally able to get his revenge.
  • "The Formula," previously unpublished, but written sometime before the summer of 1932.  Morton's uncle has died and has left his entire estate (consisting of a large, run-down house with an extensive scientific laboratory, and an unknown chemical formula) to him.  Uncle John had made a number of great scientific achievements in his lifetime, but little money.  The mysterious formula may relate to Uncle John's theory that atomic energy could be released by exposing atoms to a low charge of electricity "combined with the action of a certain mixture of gases."  Uncle John had hoped to revolutionize industry with his formula.  The formula works, but is the world ready for the power it could conceivably release?
  • "The Cavern of the Dragon"  A heroic fantasy set in ancient Iceland, featuring a character called Arnor the Priest.  Searight had planned to write a series of stories about the character.  It evidently took him close to two years to write the first.  Uncharacteristically, he had submitted the tale to three magazines (rather than his typical one), and received rejections from all before abandoning the story.
  • "Rays of Madness" was one of two stories that Searight had first sent to Lovecraft for criticism.  Lovecraft felt it was well-written but too technical.
  • "In the Dwelling of Madness".  Franklyn Searight notes:  "It is, in my opinion, extremely well-written though perhaps a little dated, and to my knowledge was submnitted only to and rejected by Weird Tales, probably in the late 1930s...It is not surprising that Weird Tales rejected it, as the story was not weird and was thus unsuited to The Unique Magazine...I don't think other editors were ever given the opportunity to appraise it."
Then follows twelve brief poems:
  • "Impressions of the Planet -- Venus" (published in Wonder Stories, January 1934)
  • "The Wizard's Death" (published in Weird Tales, November 1936, possibly after Searight incorporated suggestions from editor Fransworth Wright)
  • "Monos and Una" (previously unpublished)
  • "The Song of the Sword's Forging" (previously unpublished, possibly written for an Arnor the Priest tale)
  • "To H.P.L.:  Christmas, 1933" (previously unpublished)
  • "To Vito on His Sixth Brithday" (previously unpublished; Vito was a dog)
  • "The Dream-House"(prvciously unpublished)
  • "The Road" (published in the poetry anthology In the Realm of Poesy, edited by Charles Leon Tumasel, 1937)
  • "Cui Bono" (juvenalia, written when Searight was about sixteen; previously unpubished)
  • "The Lake" (juvenalia, written when Searight was fourteen; previously unpublished)
  • "Nightmare of a Crossword Puzzle Fan" (previously unpublished, although I did quote it in a recent blog post; I thought it was cute)
  • "Twilight" (juvenalia, written when Searight was fourteen; previously unpublished)

As I said above, this one is mainly for Lovecraft completists.  However. if you happen to run across a copy of this pamphlet and have a spare hour or so, it may prove interesting.

Or not.

1 comment:

  1. When I read pulp and digest SF magazines in the 1960s, brains in a bottle seemed to be a Thing!