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16 February 2009 @ 06:58 am
Norvell Page does Sword and Sorcery  

If you've read any of Norvell Page's Spider series, you recall he took what was meant to be a simple imitation of the Shadow and immediately swerved left to careen through Crazy Town with it. Those stories are so over the top that I used to put them down sometimes for a "What the hell" moment. Many of the stories are covered over at DR HERMES REVIEWS
http://community-2.webtv.net/drhermes/DRHERMESREVIEWSHome/ and it's difficult to overstate how whacky and exciting they are. On the other hand, don't expect a neat tidy resolution at the end. This isn't Ellery Queen, where every detail fits together perfectly. Page apparently made it up as he went, starting plot threads he completely forgot and taking off in different directions halfway through. You'd have to read the stories to fully understand what I mean, but reading a Norvell Page Spider story is like being in a car hurtling down a mountainside in the wintertime, the brakes out and the driver unconscious and some sort of large animal growling in the seat behind you. That's THE SPIDER.

Where was I? Oh yes, Page also wrote two novels for UNKNOWN, my all-time favorite pulp. UNKnown had a skewed sense of humor that set it apart from other horror pulps and a lot of fine material appeared there. Unfortunately, Norvell Page was past his best writing at the time and I couldn't really urge everyone to rush out and track down copies of FLAME WINDS or SONS OF THE BEAR GOD as if their lives depended on it. Here are reviews of the two books
http://community.webtv.net/drhermes/presterjohn/index.html I'm posting here a scan of the issue of UNKNOWN that featured FLAME WINDS. As so often was the case back then, the cover artist picked a minor, relatively unimportant detail from the story to illustrate.

egm3 on February 16th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC)
I'm going to go off-topic here but your comment about "making it up as he went along" brought to mind how TV today is rife with this sort of thing. This weekend, brain tired and not interested in reading, I sought some mindless escape on NBC and caught an episode of Law and Order: SVU. Wow! Not only did they appear to be making it up as they went along, it was like they were ad-libbing from bullet points. The "real" villain was plucked out of nowhere and had perhaps 10 seconds of screen time --- just enough for them to break in and arrest him. After which, they apparently still had 10 minutes to kill so they tacked on a meaningless coda which went against all of the characterization they'd already set up. Really, if you're interested in a truly terrible, yet somehow critically acclaimed show, SVU is it. Clues? Don't bother me with clues. Evidence? Not important. The lead hero, Meloni, is a psycho, self-righteous bully with a badge, while the woman, Hargitay, makes decisions based upon gut feelings. Jeez!

Okay...deep breath...

Well, sorry to rant. It's just that you hear so much about how yesterday's literature and television was escapist junk while today's stuff is meaningful and hard-hitting and it makes you want to barf. At least Norvell Page had a time when he was good. Shows like those on NBC were never good to begin with.

Anyhow, thanks for your indulgence. I feel much better now.

dr_hermes on February 17th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
Feel free to rant whenever the mood hits you. Nothing is really off-topic here. I could start a series of posts on stained glass or strip joints, whatever strikes my interest at the moment.

I find it unrewarding to watch most TV shows now because of any number of things. The little dancing figures across the bottom of the screen, promoting a show that will not even be on that night, strike me as a real disrepect to the program being aired. (They also make me feel like I've having some sort of acid flashback to the 1970s, did someone at the take-out grind up peyote buttons in my mu shu pork?)

That's not even getting into the quality of the writing or acting, the excessive number of commercials, the shaky choppy camera work that hides bad staging and more. So most of the time, my TV is on to the Weather Channel (Sharon Resultan pointing out tornadoes somewhere) or Discovery Channel. But the sound is almost never on; my TV screen has become like a moving painting sitting there as a decoration.
doc_mystery on February 17th, 2009 01:22 am (UTC)
Have you ever read "But Without Horns", an SF novella that Page wrote for the June 1940 issue of Unknown?

I found it unique as it was a uberhuman story (like Slan, also published in 1940), but from the point of view of a normal human agent trying to track down the hidden (and perverted) superhuman. Page did a great job in this story playing up the sensationalism and the paranoia (I was reminded a little of Heinlein's The Puppet Masters (1951), and Page's story includes several cruel and surprising twists in its plot that you may enjoy reading.

dr_hermes on February 17th, 2009 01:26 am (UTC)
No, I'm afraid not, But I have heard about it a few times and it sounds very intriguing. It's way overdue for me to order some out-of-print books and a few minutes Google would tell me what anthologies "But Without Horns" appeared in.

When as a kid I started reading a lot of science fiction and fantasy, I always checked where the story first appeared and so many of the best, twisted and droll stories would be listed as "first published in UNKNOWN." That magazines seems to have had a remarkably high quality level.
doc_mystery on February 17th, 2009 02:29 am (UTC)
I found it reprinted inside of Rivals of Weird Tales" edited by Robert Weinberg, Stefan R. Dziemaianowicz & Martin H. Greenberg (Bonanza Books, 1990).

Doing a quickie search, I noticed you you can purchase both new and used copies on Amazon.


It's really a good collection. I bought my copy off a remaindered book table at the World's Biggest Bookstore in Toronto not long after it was first published.


dr_hermes on February 17th, 2009 02:40 am (UTC)
Thanks. It tells you something that I recognize the names of editors...! And know whether or not I've liked their choices in anthologies.
stevegreen on February 17th, 2009 05:38 am (UTC)
Quite a few of those tales also turned up in the series of digest magazines Robert A W "Doc" Lowndes edited for Health Knowledge Inc circa 1969-71: Magazine of Horror, Startling Mystery Stories, Famous Science Fiction, etc. I was lucky enough to find a stack of them in a newsagents in the early 1970s, having presumably come over as ship's ballast. Among the occasional new stories he used was a very early sale by some guy name of Stephen King.
stevegreen on February 17th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
Ah, no relation then to the British comics character, recently resurrected in Jack Staff:

dr_hermes on February 17th, 2009 03:32 am (UTC)
The Spider? No, I don't think so. Animal names have been used for hundreds of different characters since the days of the penny dreadfuls. There have been so many heroes and villains calling themselves Wolf, Cobra, Tiger, Tarantula, Scorpion, Panther, Hawk, Shark, you name it... usually with a color prefix or other adjective. Like The Black Bat and the Golden Vulture, the White Wolf and the Blue Beetle.

Thanks for the little bit of art, though. Is he wearing a harness with a reel gadget for swinging on wires or something? The pointed ears are always a nice sinister touch.
stevegreen on February 17th, 2009 05:24 am (UTC)
The Spider used a wide variety of gadgets in his criminal activities, including pulleys, harnesses, flying machines, gas guns... He's one of the British comics legends incorporated in the graphic novel Albion. There's an entry on Wikipedia.

In a rare example of a major comics company playing the nice guy, IPC is allowing Paul Grist to continue using The Spider as a recurring character in Jack Staff, just so long as he's no longer referred to by that title. It's mentioned in the early issues, but IPC haven't demanded any changes in the trade paperbacks.

Here's Grist's take on the guy, who's now in semi-retirement:

full_metal_ox on February 18th, 2009 06:26 am (UTC)
The cover artist (one W. Scott, according to http://www.collectionbuddy.com/ ) may have chosen a minor scene, but it's an attention-grabber that arouses *my* curiosity as to what exactly is going on with those thuggish minority mooks (who look as though they combine the least flattering parts of stereotypical pulpish Asian and African ancestry.) Have they just been mesmerized into killing each other in perfectly aligned formation? Is this a mass suicide a' la Jonestown?
dr_hermes on February 18th, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
This was an ongoing policy that seemed to work well for Street & Smith. DOC SAVAGE, for example, often featured a cover scene that was rather static and undramatic, especially when you considered the mayhem going on inside the story) but it usually stirred your curiosity a bit.

Looking at that cover again, I wonder if those swords are supposed to be double-edged? If they are the single-edged slashing weapons they appear to be, some of the guardians are holding them the wrong way. Then again, I've seen some pulp covers where an archer has the arrow resting on the wrong side of the bow..
full_metal_ox on February 19th, 2009 08:56 am (UTC)
That kind of approach to cover art was the perfect pictorial match for Lester Dent's mastery of the jarring, attention-grabbing opening paragraph; any number of DOC SAVAGE quotes could serve as examples, but one that comes to mind describes Doc exercising in minus-sixty-degree weather, "the sweat gathering between his skins." Once again, I'm compelled to continue reading, simply to find out what the expletive deleted is going on.
dr_hermes on February 20th, 2009 04:10 am (UTC)
Someone also suggested that the quiet, thoughtful Doc Savage covers were a sort of camoflauge helping young readers sneak the lurid exciting stories past watchful mothers. Kind of the opposite approach of what THE SPIDER did.