Friday, October 24, 2014

The Curse of Everard Maundy

Seabury Quinn (1889–1969)
From American Fantastic Tales: Terror and the Uncanny from Poe to the Pulps

When pulp fiction aficionados reminisce about the “golden years” of Weird Tales and similar fantasy and horror magazines, they usually highlight the works of Robert Bloch, Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith from the 1920s and ’30s and Ray Bradbury, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, and other celebrated names from the 1940s and early ’50s. But—far and away—the most popular and prolific author during the magazine’s original three-decade run was the now-forgotten Seabury Grandin Quinn.

After serving in the army during World War I, Quinn moved to New York, where he specialized in mortuary law (he published a
Syllabus of Mortuary Jurisprudence in 1933) and edited Casket and Sunnyside and other periodicals for funeral directors. Quinn’s experiences from his day job pervade all his fictional writings and, under the pen name Jerome Burke, he wrote nearly 150 biographical stories for Dodge, a still-thriving magazine for embalmers. He had already published several pieces in various pulp magazines when “The Horror on the Links” appeared in the October 1925 issue of Weird Tales and introduced French detective Jules de Grandin and his sidekick Dr. Trowbridge. Readers couldn’t get enough; between 1925 and 1951, more than half of the magazine’s issues carried Quinn’s stories, including ninety-three episodes featuring his pair of paranormal investigators. An entry in the Encyclopedia of Pulp Fiction Writers summarizes the series:
Readers loved Quinn’s fast, colorful, easily digested fiction, and the magazine was always eager to promote the newest case from the “hellfire files” of Jules de Grandin, occult detective, a Frenchman with grammatical peccadillos in English, his adopted language, needlelike mustaches, and a rational and fearless approach to the worst that “supernature” could fling against him, from ghosts and zombies to mummies and werewolves. . . . The erudite, fearless Frenchman remains in America and moves in as permanent guest of the admiring Dr. Trowbridge, beginning the series’ long-running relationship which echoes Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and his aide-de-camp Hastings (itself derivative of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes–Watson relationship).
Nearly all the Jules de Grandin adventures take place in Harrisonville, New Jersey, which in reality boasted, at the time, a population of about 250—considerably fewer than the total number of residents who appear and often horrifically die in Quinn’s collected stories. In a review of the complete Jules de Grandin tales (1,400 pages in all!), Georges T. Dodds notes, “The vast majority of the supernatural and occult elements in Quinn’s stories are ultimately resolved to be the work of people, sick and twisted people perhaps, but not trans-dimensional beings or spell-casting wizards.” But not always. Occasionally de Grandin and Trowbridge would confront the unfathomable forces of otherworldly demons and ritualistic voodoo, as in “The Curse of Everard Maundy,” one of the earliest Weird Tales entries, which was selected by Peter Straub for inclusion in The Library of America’s American Fantastic Tales.

Notes: Detective de Grandin scatters exclamations in French throughout his dialogue; a number of these take the form mort d’un ——! (death of a cat, pig, toad, etc.) or nom d’un ——! (name of a duck, cabbage, cauliflower, etc.), meant comically to evoke the untranslatable nom d’un chien (name of a dog). Similar English expressions would include son of a gun or for goodness’ sake. On page 538, Trowbridge is reading The Wanderer’s Necklace (1914), a short adventure novel by Sir Henry Rider Haggard. “But that is another story” (p. 552) became a catchphrase in the 1890s due to Rudyard Kipling’s frequent use of it in his early fiction. The lines of poetry reprinted on page 563 are from Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Eden’s Bower” (1868)—not Eden Bowers.
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Mort d’un chat! I do not like this!” Jules de Grandin slammed the evening paper down upon the table and glared ferociously at me through the library lamplight. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!