The Omnipresent Edmund Snell


There aren’t too many authors who can claim the level of popularity that Edmund Snell had throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Best known today for his novels such as The White Owl, The Yu-chi Stone, The Sound Machine, and The Back of Beyond; many readers would be surprised to learn that Snell’s output as an author of short stories and novellas far exceeded the wordage of his published novels. During the 1920s it was next to impossible to pick up a British fiction magazine and not find an Edmund Snell story therein. When the story papers came along with the format of The Thriller calling for a full-length novella every issue, Snell was really at home, producing an astonishing amount of work of mystery/adventure fiction ranging from the supernatural to tales of American gangsters to weird tales set in exotic locales such as Borneo and Singapore.

What makes Snell’s work so compelling today is the veracity of his tales from the Far East. Snell wasn’t an armchair traveler like Harold Lamb or Frank Owen, but like Talbot Mundy he wrote about places he had actually lived and incorporated local legends into his tales. What is truly surprising today is how little of his output has been preserved in book form! Not counting the present volume that was originally published in hardcover, I’ve assembled some half-dozen collections of weird and suspense tales for publication under the DTP rubric. When this is accomplished, Edmund Snell will rival Wyatt Blassingame and Mark Hansom as our flagship author, a position that is well-deserved!

One comes to Dancing Tuatara Press and/or Ramble House Publishers to find unusual books . . .Whether they be the lunatic webworks of Harry Stephen Keeler, the rare science fiction published under Dick Lupoff’s Surinam Turtle Press or the oddball British thrillers and weird menace tales here at Dancing Tuatara Press, the one constant is that the mundane and routine is eschewed in favor of the esoteric and unusual. The book that you hold in your hands is one of the most unusual that it’s been my privilege to introduce. Edmund Snell is, by any standard that one wants to apply, a Ramble House author, in fact, if you were to ask me to name a typical author in this sanctuary of the atypical, Snell would be one of the first examples that comes to mind, for he fits a lot of the criteria that one tends to associate with our books. First and foremost, he wrote “thrillers”, that wonderful anything-goes genre that existed before “mystery”, “horror”, “science fiction” became marketing categories, and books wherein these genres seamlessly melded together were the norm and not the exception. With Edmund Snell you never knew exactly what you were going to get. You might find supernatural horror such as The White Owl, straightforward gangster action, bizarre science fiction such as Kontrol or The Sound Machine or murder and mayhem in exotic locales (something that the well-traveled author was superbly equipped to write about.)

However, it was in the area of the “Asian Menace” tale that Snell really excelled, whether dealing with warring tongs or aboriginal magic, Snell’s tales of the Far East such as those collected in the present volume are of a level far surpassing the quality of most of his contemporaries. For years many of the bibliographies have published erroneous data about his books, labelling The Finger of Destiny as a novel and The Back of Beyond as a short story collection, when in fact, the reverse is true. While the collection The Finger of Destiny stands well on its own, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to expand the book by one story and include his horror tale “The Black Spider” as a bonus. Originally written for Charles Birkin’s “Creeps series”, this is one of those gems that for some reason has eluded anthologists over the years. As a matter of fact, all of Snell’s short fiction seems to have suffered the same fate, and there doesn’t seem to be any clear reason as to why . . . There’s certainly nothing to indicate that the author or his estate was ever difficult to deal with and considering the overall high quality of his work, it remains puzzling that his work has been so universally ignored in the last forty years.

That said, I have to thank our Grand Poobah, Fender Tucker for leading the charge in the Edmund Snell revival well before I came on board with the publication of Dope & Swastikas and The Sign of the Scorpion. Going forward we’ll be handling Edmund Snell much the same way that we’re dealing with Walter S. Masterman; we plan on reissuing a number of his books and issuing several new collections, the material that ventures into the weird, sfnal, or Asian Menace arenas will be issued from DTP with new introductions. The material that is more straightforward crime/mystery will come out under the Ramble House imprint. As it stands, there are at least seven novels and a half-dozen collections that seem perfect for DTP and about the same number of volumes that would be more appropriate issued by Ramble House. In any event, prepare for a major renascence of Edmund Snell. Sadly, until Mike Ashley completes his index of the British magazines, there’s really no bibliography to speak of. The Thriller has been pretty well indexed as has Detective Fiction Weekly, but there are literally dozens of fiction magazines (mostly British) that we know (or suspect) that Snell contributed to that haven’t been indexed at all and are fairly rare today. Considering how prolific the author was, it’s very likely that there exists as much quality material that I don’t know about as there is of material that we do know of . . . Sadly, one volume that is very high on my list is the collection Yellowjacket: The Return of Chanda-Lung. The Chanda-Lung stories feature the title character, one of the most memorable super-villains of the pulp era. Rather than merely another clone of Fu-Manchu, lurking in the background while assorted henchmen carry out his plans. Chanda-Lung is more closely akin to A.E. Apple’s terrifying Mr. Chang (who also stalked through the pages of Detective Fiction Weekly.) We anticipate being able to gather all the material necessary to release the Pennington trilogy sometime next year. Of course, this is just one of several projects with three or four collections already in hand and going through the editorial process. If you’re an Edmund Snell fan already, than rest assured, there’s a lot more to come; if you’re just discovering this fantastic author for the first time, do check out the other titles available here at Ramble House and stay tuned for many, many more volumes . . .


John Pelan

All Hallows 2013

Gallup, NM