Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Golden age fantasy fiction

The volume of Pearson's Magazine which I bought recently - Vol 6, July-December 1898 - has proved of interest. A book which helped encourage me to start buying these Victorian/Edwardian illustrated magazines was one Peter Haining's many: A Pictorial History of Horror Stories. It would seem that he owned Volume 6 of Pearson's himself, for the startling image I reproduce here was also reproduced by Haining in his book (click on it to view it bigger). It accompanies a particularly outre scene in a series of short stories about medieval Venice, The Monsignors of the Night by Max Pemberton.

In his book Haining also reproduced the headers from another story series in this volume, The Last of the Borgias, about a vigilante medico who bumps off undesirable people with undetectable poison. This series was written by one of the most interesting of the now forgotten fantasy writers, Fred M White. Aside from this rather surprising series about a murdering anti-hero - and indeed many others - Smith wrote several disaster stories about various dooms that might befall London, a yarn about killer trees in Meso-America [The Purple Terror] and one of my favourites, The Great White Moth.

In this tale - which appeared in Pearson's rival The Strand - adventurers try to make their fortune by securing exquisite and voluminous white feathers that would sell for a fortune to decorate ladies' hats. But, as you can guess from the title, they come not from birds but from monstrous moths. The gigantic insects live in a cave in (I think) darkest Africa, are worshipped (of course) by the locals and the plucky entrepreneurs get into all sorts of scrapes trying to secure a few plumes. I like it particularly because it could not have been written at any other time - the fashion for feathers, extensive parts of the world still unexplored, young men seeking to make their fortunes in exotic locations etc.

I'd LOVE to start reprinting some of this stuff. And one day I will.


  1. What a great picture! I love Victorian literature, but have read very little aside from the usual "big names" - permission to raid your collection of more obsure authors, sir? When I return from France (there's a clue about who I am, since I suppose HippyMidget doesn't mean much to you!)

    It's nice to see that if you want ridiculous and exaggerated tales you can always rely on a Fred Smith ;)

  2. What an outrageous slur! But yes, you're welcome to borrow soem outre literature - unfortunately most of this stuff can only be found in big part-work volumes. Guess I better get reprinting!

  3. And also it was obviously my friend Fred Smith I was thinking of because I had a brainstorm - Fred M WHITE is of course the name of this neglected writer of the fantastic.