Rediscovered: 100 Years Ago

Recently noted book and pulp collector Kevin Cook mentioned one of the features he does for his zine in the amateur press association devoted to pulps:

I probably told you about it before, but every PEAPS mailing I do a little bit with a pulp quote included that I title simply “100 Years Ago.”

Right now in early 1921 I find myself in a bit of a lull for material.

The Munsey scientific romance movement died in July 1920 when All-Story and Argosy combined.

Weird Tales and Black Mask still awaited birth, so the available market consisted of Argosy All-Story Weekly, Adventure, Blue Book and People’s.

The best magazine in 1921, and I am positive that a young Bob Howard would agree with me here, was Adventure. The end of 1920 included Harold Lamb’s finest Khlit story, “The Curved Sword” — foreshadowing Dashiell Hammett’s The Glass Key as an overpowering army is defeated “not by the strength of warriors. . . but by the fellowship of two men” — those two men being Khlit the Cossack and the Moslem swordsman Abdul Dost. Arthur O. Friel really hit his stride in 1921. Rafael Sabatini’s earliest Captain Blood stories were reprinted from the Premiere Magazine in the UK. Henry S. Whitehead’s first weird fiction saw print. There was a lot to recommend in Adventure in 1921.

An interesting additional bit with Lamb concerns a couple of those continuity “errors” we have been discussing that authors make.

At the end of “The Curved Sword” Khlit is “holding a broken sword clasped in his hand” — that being the sword of Genghis Khan. This immediate classic was supposed to be the last Khlit story.

Five years later when Lamb changed his mind and brought Khlit back in “White Falcon” he once again carries the sword of Genghis Khan.

Worse, in Adventure’s letter column Lamb stated that “The Curved Sword” takes place in “the early seventeenth century.” Fine as it stands. We leave Khlit unmarried and childless at the end of “The Curved Sword.” However, by 1611 in “White Falcon” he has an adult grandson.

Neat trick if you can do it! 

Again, the story was what was important, and if “The Curved Sword” is — as I believe — the best Khlit story, then “White Falcon” runs a close second, errors notwithstanding.

(Also in the dating of “White Falcon,” Lamb committed one of his rare historical errors, getting the date of death of Boris Godunov wrong. Lamb has his Cossacks meet Godunov in 1611. Unfortunately, Godunov died in 1605. Author Rule #1: Don’t let historical facts interfere with a great story!)

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