Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Recently Read: Argosy Magazine, February 16, 1918

A few thoughts and notes on this issue, which begins with the first part of Lenivers Carew's "A Kashmir Abduction" - one of the better stories in the issue, with characters and banter similar to a good, pre-code film. Like many of the stories herein, WWI was an integral part of the plot. I could find no biographical info on Lenivers Carew online.

A complete novel (really, a novella), "The Sixth Domino", by Reese James was next. I found it tedious in places, partly due to too many characters (suspects) to keep track of and partly due to not caring about the characters. James creates a private detective, Rutherford Jones, whom one suspects James hoped would carry over many stories (and maybe he did), but I found the character dull. Again, I could find no biographical info on Reese James online.

Achmed Abdullah's serialized "The Trail of the Beast" is an okay political intrigue set in Paris, which makes the "bad guys" those who are trying to upset France's imperialistic ventures. Also included are the last part of a western that I found nearly unreadable, "All Man", by Rex Parson, and a section of an average action thriller, "Odds And the Man", by Varick Vanardy (Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey, famous for writing Nick Carter stories).

The best of the serialized novels was another chapter of Victor Rousseau's "Fruit of the Lamp", a very funny and fast paced whimsical fantasy that could have been the inspiration for 'I Dream of Jeannie". Rousseau is better known today for his early science fiction and Jim Anthony novels, but he's superlative at comedy here. (I recently illustrated a book collection of new Jim Anthony short stories - more about that soon.)

The accompanying short stories are of varying degrees of quality, as was always true of Argosy and similar magazines. They range from character studies to murder mysteries and jingoistic propaganda. My favorite was "A Grass Orphan", a story in which a young guy on the make discovers to his detriment that the young girl he "picked up" in the park wasn't as naive as he anticipated. It's interesting that the term "flapper" is used in the story. I thought this word wasn't coined until the '20s, but it appears to have been used, with varying meanings, for many decades previous. Likewise, I thought "hep" was a '30s or '40s-coined word, but "The Sixth Domino" features this startling sentence: "Well, early this morning he put me hep to all the headquarter's dope."

As might be expected, the protagonists are all white. Non-whites are relegated to either subservient or villainous roles. This is exasperated by fiction's tendency at the time to explain or portend people's action and character by their physical attributes - non-whites get the suspicious sounding physical descriptions. This tendency to define characters (regardless of race or ethnicity) by their physical attributes is seen in literature as worthy as Henry James' and as low as the the cheapest magazine. The patronization and derogation of "the other" even goes as far as dissing music that's not of western European origin. In "The Captain and the Miracle", Edna Wahlert McCourt describes, "From a dance-hall somewhere up the street floated insidious rag-time." and in "A Grass Orphan": "A "Jazz" band squealed and hammered..."

The letters page, as always, is insightful and entertaining, with several readers commenting that they're glad Argosy is now a weekly. One gets the impression many readers were living in isolated rural areas, giving their weekly reading of Argosy, with its exotic and varied locals, a crash course in world traveling.

I'm hoping it won't take as long to find time to read the February 23rd issue, which I don't own. Anyone have a copy for sale?
Pin It


Walker Martin said...

Thanks for this post on ARGOSY. I'm always interested in reading comments and reviews about the pulps.

Back in the 1970's and 1980's, I completed my run of ARGOSY and the issues from the teens were not rare at Pulpcon. Now you just don't see them that often and it makes you wonder where they all went to.

Michael N. said...

Thanks, Walker. In just the years I've attended PulpFest, teens issues of Argosy have gotten rarer. When they do show up on eBay, some dealers want as much as $50 for them. I'm not a collector, I'm a reader (or, I should say, I collect them in order to read them) and hate to pay that much. Ironically, the first teens issue of Argosy I bought was at a comic book convention for $5.00!