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THE TRAIL OF ARLETON EADIE
by John Pelan
Most consider the early 1930s to be the “golden age” of Weird Tales, and with good reason . . . Lovecraft, Smith, and Howard were at the height of their literary prowess and other mainstays of the magazine such as C.L. Moore, Seabury Quinn, August Derleth, and Paul Ernst (to name but a few) were doing some of their best work. Despite this, the 1930s were also a difficult time for the magazine as this decade saw the loss of several key contributors beginning with Henry S. Whitehead’s passing in 1932 and followed by the deaths of Lovecraft, Howard, Pendarves, and Arlton Eadie later in the decade . . . Wait, who was that last name?
Arlton Eadie is mostly forgotten today, but he holds a unique place in the annals of weird fiction. Weird Tales throughout its lengthy run remained very much a US-centric publication, with few authors from across the pond appearing regularly. Sure, there were scattered appearances by the ghost story greats like Benson and Wakefield, and even a couple of pieces by the Belgian master of the weird tale, Jean Ray (under his John Flanders byline); but for the main, there wasn’t really much of a UK presence, with the exception of G.G. Pendarves and Arlton Eadie.
Both Eadie and Pendarves appeared regularly in Weird Tales as well as the UK equivalent, Hutchinson’s Mystery Magazine. Tragically, both authors were among the number of major contributors who passed away during the 1930s. Ms. Pendarves was rather elderly and had begun writing quite late in life; Eadie was only fifty-one and in just over a decade was well on his way to establishing himself as a major voice in weird and mystery fiction on both sides of the Atlantic.
Not a great deal is known of Eadie’s personal life; he was a lifelong resident of Lancing, and began selling fiction professionally in 1927 at the age of 41 and in the next ten years produced some dozen novels and nearly two-dozen shorter works, all of considerable merit. Unlike most authors who suffer through a painful apprenticeship, Eadie started at a high level of craftsmanship and grew from there. While he was known in the US solely as an author of weird fiction, the fact of the matter is that Eadie was comfortable in a number of genres including straightforward mysteries, romantic adventure, and even dabbling in science fiction.
What has always struck me as odd was that all of Eadie’s fiction that I read was never less than good and often excellent with the exception of his longest work . . . The novel that I refer to I first encountered as a teenager when I purchased the 1934-1936 run of Weird Tales from a First Fandom member who happened to be a neighbor. I had previously obtained a few issues from 1932 and 1933 from the same source and having read “The Siren of the Snakes”, “The Devil’s Tower”, and “The Nameless Mummy” I had formed a very favorable opinion of this Arlton Eadie fellow and the fact that there was a whole novel by Eadie contained in this run was almost as important to me as the presence of a number of Smith, Moore, and Howard stories.
Sadly, my enthusiasm was quashed after reading the novel. Even allowing for it being broken up for serialization the story seemed clumsy, the tight pacing that was present in the other stories was absent, so too was the careful plotting and story development. The chapters seemed to lurch drunkenly into each other as though written on the fly. In short, what should have been a book-length masterpiece (based on what I had read previously) was a crushing disappointment.
Yes, the novel that I’ve so thoroughly trashed in the preceding paragraphs is the book that you hold in your hands. But before you fire off an indignant e-mail or pen the most poisoned of letters to either Fender Tucker or myself complaining of being duped out of your hard earned $20 or $40 as the case may be, allow me to elaborate . . .
The book that you hold in your hands isn’t exactly the one that I’ve reviled above. In fact, it’s a horse (or centaur) of a different colour entirely. Some years ago I became aware of the book publication of Eadie’s novel The Carnival of Death, another piece that had been published in serial form in Weird Tales. Subsequent poking around revealed that Skeffington’s had published a book version of The Trail of the Cloven Hoof in 1935; and that began a decade or so of wondering . . . Could it be that an author at the height of powers churned out such a clumsy work as what I had read in Weird Tales? Or, was it more likely that the sometimes-heavy editorial hand of Farnsworth Wright had effected a hatchet job on Eadie’s novel? After years of searching, I finally had my answer last year when an Australian bookseller turned up a copy of the book.
I’m delighted to report that the book you hold in your hands is everything that one might expect a novel by Arlton Eadie to be. Deftly plotted with the pacing that keeps the pages turning but allows for a leisurely mulling over the clues presented by the author. The pacing is true to the British mystery yarn and not the slam-bang staccato pace of the American pulp detective tales, but certainly not so slow-paced as to require the excising of some ten thousand words! Yes, the reason for the clumsiness of the Weird Tales version is easily explained by the ham-fisted editing done by Farnsworth Wright.
As no one seems to have copies of any of Eadie’s correspondence, it’s unknown whether or not he complained bitterly to colleagues, as did Clark Ashton Smith, or if he simply tolerated the mangling of his prose, secure in the knowledge that his preferred text was preserved for posterity in hardcover format.
In any event the present volume displays Eadie’s considerable skill and is the first of what we hope will be several volumes collecting all of his weird and mystery fiction. Rest assured, we are aggressively searching for the book version of The Carnival of Death, and assembling at least two volumes of his collected short fiction. In the interim, we will be releasing one of his mystery novels, The Crimson Query in the next few months. Now, enjoy The Trail of the Cloven Hoof as it was meant to be read, returned to print after nearly seventy-five years!
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