Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut, Robert E Howard trivia and Weird Tales magazine, but most importantly, women in horror. For our last post during Women in Horror Month, we visit two female authors from very different times. Welcome to Everil Worrell, a major contributor to Weird Tales magazine from 1926 onwards, and Cynthia Ward, a writer in the Here and Now. Today we’ll be mostly musing on Worrell’s ‘Canal’, and on Cynthia’s new novella Adventure of the Incognita Countess, with some of our usual odds and sod thrown in. And yes, there are female vampires (and water) involved in both…
We love many contemporary authors of weird literature and dark fantasy, However, you may have noticed that we have a mild obsession with early strange, supernatural and detective fiction. The interesting thing about hunting out women writers in the early part of the Twentieth Century is that they are there, but many are overshadowed now. Key novels and novellas by men have entered the hallowed lists as markers in the development of the weird. A number of the women in question wrote short stories which are spread out across time and different publications. Many never made single author collections, or had novels published.
We’ve picked Everil Worrell (1893-1969) to mention, as she was well-regarded at the time, and a key player in Weird Tales. She was born on November 3, 1893 in Nebraska, though her family moved a number of times. A biography of Worrell, by her daughter Jeanne Eileen Murphy, was included in the first edition of Robert Weinberg’s Weird Tales Collector in 1977.
You can find more biographical details at the informative Tellers of Weird Tales site here:
She married in 1926, and in the same year began regular appearances in Weird Tales. It’s hard to verify how many stories she wrote in total – at least twenty four titles can be found. Nineteen of them certainly appeared in Weird Tales between 1926 and 1954, one under the pen-name Lireve Monet. As Everil W Murphy she also contributed two stories to Ghost Stories, a US pulp magazine which came out between 1926 and 1932.
Trivia: Ghost Stories, if you don’t know it, ran a number of original tales and reprints, including reprints of stories by Mrs Oliphant, Agatha Christie and Charles Dickens. They even ran a Robert E Howard story, ‘The Apparition in the Prize Ring’, under the name John Taverel. This story is also known as ‘The Spirit of Tom Molyneaux’, and is one of two Howard stories about black boxer Ace Jessel, the ‘ebony giant’.
It’s a shame that you can’t get a collection of her stories. You have to search for them one by one, mostly as magazine scans or old archives, or through her infrequent presence in anthologies. Eric Davin, in his book Partners in Wonder: Women and the Birth of Science Fiction, 1926-1965, points out:
“Some of the highest reader-voted stories in the entire existence of Weird Tales were by female authors Greye La Spinya… and Everil Worrell (The Bird of Space 1926)”
She made the cover of Weird Tales three times, starting with that September 1926 story ‘The Bird of Space’, which isn’t bad considering this was in the first year she was with Weird Tales.
Her last appearance was in the March 1954 issue, only a few months before Weird Tales gave up the ghost, thus giving her one of the longest involvement with the magazine of all their regular writers.
Rather neatly, her appearance in September 1926 was twinned with ‘The Projection of Armand Dubois’ by Henry S Whitehead, one of our favourite of the ‘period weird’ writers. And a month later, her story ‘Cattle of Furos’ was in print along with ‘Jumbee’, another well-known tale by Whitehead.
Her work was spread across various speculative genres or sub-genres – supernatural and ghostly, science fiction, fantasy and horror. Our particular interest here is in her story ‘The Canal’, which is an unashamed vampire horror story, and quite a neat one.
“Past the sleeping city the river sweeps; along its left bank the old canal creeps. I did not intend that to be poetry, although the scene is poetic—somberly, gruesomely poetic, like the poems of Poe. I know it too well—I have walked too often over the grass-grown path beside the reflections of black trees and tumble-down shacks and distant factory chimneys in the sluggish waters that moved so slowly, and ceased to move at all. I have always had a taste for nocturnal prowling.”
This night-time wanderer encounters a half-sunken barge, and its strange occupants, only to find that a passing fancy becomes more complicated and horrifying than expected. If he follows his initial instincts, he may unleash something on the world beyond the canal.
First published in December 1927, ‘The Canal’ was adapted for television in an episode of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery. Rewritten a tad, the episode was called ‘Death on a Barge’, and released in March 1973. The strapline they used is a touch peculiar:
“A fishmonger ignores his friends’ warnings when he falls for a wraith-like young woman.”
More Trivia: It’s fun to note that ‘Death on a Barge was Leonard Nimoy’s directorial debut. Nimoy didn’t direct again until Vincent (1981) a one-man filmed play of his adaptation of “Van Gogh” (1979) by Phillip Stephens. The young woman was played by Lesley Ann Warren, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the 1982 film Victor/Victoria. No vampires in that, though.
‘The Canal’ story seems to be in the public domain, and you can read the whole story here:
You can also find it in Weird Vampire Tales: 30 Blood-Chilling Stories from the Weird Fiction Pulps (1992), which is available second-hand from various sources. This great thick collection happens to include “The Antimacassar” by Greye La Spina, another female author we mentioned briefly above.
THE ADVENTURE OF THE INCOGNITA COUNTESS
Right, let’s salute Everil Worrell, skip a lot of decades and come to our other work for the day. Cynthia Ward actually first came to our attention via a book she and fellow-writer Nisi Shawl wrote, Writing the Other. This is an interesting set of meditations on approaching writing and diversity:
‘Nisi and Cynthia collaborated to develop a workshop… with the aim of both increasing writers’ skill and sensitivity in portraying difference in their fiction as well as allaying their anxieties about “getting it wrong.” Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is the manual that grew out of their workshop. It discusses basic aspects of characterization and offers elementary techniques, practical exercises, and examples for helping writers create richer and more accurate characters with “differences.”‘
Cynthia herself has published a number of fantastical tales in various anthologies such as Athena’s Daughters, Wax and Wane and Sword and Sorceress.
This February, Aqueduct Press released her new novella, The Adventure of the Incognita Countess. As the novella has vampires and is set on the waters (albeit the Atlantic rather than canals and rivers), we thought we should pair her with Everil Worrell. How’s that for tenuous?
We admit to being fans of period espionage, occult and the whole caboodle, so we may not be unbiased over this one. Just read the blurb:
“It’s the easiest assignment a British intelligence agent could hope for. Lucy Harker needs only see the secret plans of the Nautilus safely across the Atlantic. As German spies are largely a fantasy of newspapers, she anticipates no activities more strenuous than hiding her heritage as Dracula’s dhampir daughter. Then among her fellow Titanic passengers she discovers the incognita Countess Karnstein—and it seems the seductive vampire is in Germany’s service. Can Agent Harker stake Carmilla before her own heart—and her loyalty to the British Empire—are subverted by questions as treacherous as a night-cloaked iceberg?”
(A dhampir or dhampyre, incidentally, is a half-breed cross between a vampire and a human, who can bear the light of the sun, and so forth, but has certain extraordinary abilities. The term comes originally from Balkan folk-stories.)
We are indeed in classic Carmilla territory – treachery, hidden secrets and lesbian vampires, but with a difference, and with some nice nods to other period sources. This is not quite Sheridan Le Fanu’s take on things. We particularly enjoyed the connections with H G Wells’s War of the Worlds, and the use of recovered Martian technology by the British Empire. Heat-rays up, girls, and at ’em.
Lucy Harker here is a rather likeable character, though ready to do what British Intelligence demands of her despite her own feelings. We were also amused by the addition of one Lord Greyborough, who may have an affection for apes in his background. We leave you to work out the links there.
“From the sudden flaring of the viscount’s nostrils and tensing of his body, it’s clear Lord Greyborough has also caught her scent. Has he recognised she’s a type of vampire? Perhaps more importantly, how did he detect her scent at all? He’s human; his scent makes that clear. And humans, compared to monsters and animals, essentially have no sense of smell.”
Add in mention of the Nautilus, international political intrigue and the fateful voyage of the Titanic, and you have plenty with which to play.
The Adventure of the Incognita Countess is available now, in paperback and Kindle formats – link below:
Women in Horror Month may be closing down for this year, but we at greydogtales don’t worry about that sort of thing too much. We will continue to salute other female writers of horror and the weird as we bumble our way along. As you do. Join us in a few days for more of our dubious scholarship, trivia and features…