Rediscovered: A Charles Saunders Publication History Moment

Very casually, I’ve begun to poke around looking for content for a LitCrit MegaPack or two, starting by going through Word doc files to see what I have available. Many of my essays pre-date Word doc’ing (and will require the most work to recreate). And of course I will not be doubling up on any content now assembled in The Dark Barbarian That Towers Over All. In a sense, that was Volume One of my Collected Essays & Reviews, and I figure I’ve got another 600 pager or two in my files. I don’t need to repeat or pad.

As part of the process, I’ve been dipping into stuff, partly to make sure things are complete. I just found Word docs of several of my letters published in The Lion’s Den, the lettercol of The Cimmerian. Fun, but maybe too localized to use in a book — though I guess running the lot of them might make a substantial eBook eXtra. . . .

And so, as I was reliving mighty debates with the likes of Darrell Schweitzer and Rusty Burke, I came across the sequence below, which struck me as an important footnote to the recent mentions of Charles Saunders and Sword-and-Sorcery.

From The Cimmerian V4n1 February 2007, here’s the relevant part of a really long letter-of-comment:

The Lion’s Den for October had some arresting comments in it, but good old Darrell stating that “I don’t think The Cimmerian needs to be a discussion forum for the contemporary Weird Tales” stands without close second as the absolute showstopper.  Say what? Darrell has been beating us over the head with WT this and WT that for a couple of years, and now that some considered criticisms of his editorial skills have been voiced, it is time to drop the topic? We’re just supposed to listen like nice little mice as Darrell rattles on, and on, AND ON???

In The Den for V1n5, December 2004, Darrell gave us this modest overture: “As for the state of Sword-and-Sorcery, the irony is that as editor of Weird Tales, I am arguably the leading Sword-and-Sorcery editor today. If there’s any competition, it hasn’t made itself apparent.” And from there on it has been a constant litany of How They Do Things Over at WT, with his letter this time wrapping up with “What George Scithers has to say to REH fans is that if anyone writes Sword-and-Sorcery as well as REH and submits it, we will happily buy it. But this is not happening.” Okay, set an impossible standard — writing S&S as well as Two-Gun Bob — and then sit back and reject any and all S&S that rolls in. They actually had several years there while both Fritz Leiber and Karl Edward Wagner were alive to grab some authentic S&S off them, not to mention Gemmell and other more modern figures, but did nothing pro active about it — if someone as good as REH doesn’t send anything in, hey, what can you do, right?

But as I have said in the past, we don’t have to judge editors such as Farnsworth Wright or his seconds just on the basis of what they do use in print or what they might have used if someone had sent it to them, we can make our critical calls based on stories they actually reject — as when Wright declined to use “The Shadow over Innsmouth” or “At the Mountains of Madness.”

Back in the early days of the new WT none other than Darrell himself (or so he once told me) accepted a tale of Imaro by Charles Saunders, but that acceptance was trumped by Scithers, who bounced the story back out the door. Guess Saunders just isn’t as good at S&S as REH, but then it had been many a moon at that point in time since Howard had written a new S&S adventure. So, with his other markets such as Fantasy Crossroads drying up or gone, and WT (the only real market for S&S for many years, according to Darrell) denied to him, Saunders left the field for almost two decades. Who knows what Saunders might have done in that length of time (or might still do now that Nightshade Books is stepping in to revive his career)? You know, I bet he could have been writing a solid line of S&S stories for WT and expanded tremendously his extant body of work. But thanks to the “great” editor George Scithers, that didn’t happen.

It’s particularly interesting to go online and check the current roster of mags being published by Wildside Press, and to see their Darrell/Scithers version of WT sticking with that snotty attitude about S&S while the sister magazine Strange Tales, edited by Bob Price, this time features a brand new Elak of Atlantis yarn by Adrian Cole, riffing off Henry Kuttner. Indeed, S&S just isn’t good enough for the guys at WT, but fortunately not everyone shares their rarefied editorial aesthetic, even at their own publishing house.

As a last second postscript to my letter I got to add some Breaking News:

But what the hell!!! Just as I’m about to pop this letter into the electronic post, I see the news that the publishers of the new Weird Tales have canned Darrell and Scithers! — as when Farny was canned many moons ago, probably a bit late to do the mag any good. Yes, yes, I know they are saying that Scithers is Editor Emeritus (selecting stories to be used only on the mag’s website) and that Darrell will be able to write non-fiction for them, but that is Out the Door! You know, in terms of all the discussion as above, it looks as if I win. Still, it’ll be interesting to see how Darrell spins this development in future Dens.

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