Rediscovered: The Indecisive Farnsworth Wright, Hot Topic for PulpFest

Right now I’m packing my kit for the trip to PulpFest this coming weekend. Going in light.  Only one book, the first edition hardcover of John D. Haefele’s A Look Behind the Derleth Mythos — that one needs a John Hancock put in it. Though who can say how many books I may be lugging back?

With a universe of less than a hundred copies, the Haefele first is already rare, and the number of signed copies must be a mere handful, maybe two. If you’ve got one, I suggest bringing it along, since Haefele almost never attends conventions or does signings — his appearance on the Mythos panel will be his first ever. He’ll also be signing copies of the revised trade paperback of Derleth Mythos at Mike Chomko’s table at some point, if you just want to read the book and not get into big time collecting.

Other than hanging out talking with people in the bar, I’ll sit in on the Mythos panel, too, and another one on Weird Tales magazine, specifically how the editorial policies of Farnsworth Wright screwed over some of his best writers. Twenty or thirty years ago Wright generally was considered one of the best editors of all time from the pulp magazines, as WT regulars such as H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard emerged as world class literary figures. People gave him all the credit, but it turns out he didn’t deserve a lot of it.

Wright was incredibly, famously indecisive. He’d reject a story and ask to see it again later. He’d reject a story — for example, Lovecraft’s instant classic “The Call of Cthulhu” — and then get talked into using it (in that case by Don Wandrei). Once you get access to enough background correspondence, you realize it was a bizarre juggling act, with Wright most often dropping the balls. Lovecraft credited Wright’s rejection of “At the Mountains of Madness” with effectively ending his fiction career, though he kept plugging away from time to time. But many of us are fascinated by the fact that in the 1930s — Lovecraft would die early in 1937 — Wright didn’t use any new Lovecraft stories for about five years. And still some people credit him for publishing H. P. Lovecraft!

Surfing around the web awhile back, I came across an article that I realized applies to Wright, and may give him a much better excuse for his fickle editorial policies than others (such as: He was the editor, he knew what he was doing, because he was the editor — He had to publish complete junk instead of more stories by Lovecraft, because the WT readers wanted junk).

The fact is that Wright suffered from Parkinson’s disease, and recent research indicates that Parkinson’s is linked to being indecisive and overly cautious.

With what we know today about the history and background of Weird Tales, I can’t think of any other editor who comes across as less decisive and more cautious than Farnsworth Wright.

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