Monday, January 29, 2007

By E. Hoffman Price

Back in the 1930s and ‘40s, E. Hoffman Price was a regular contributor to Weird Tales as well as “Oriental Adventure” magazines. Though he retired from writing when the pulps were superceeded by paperbacks, in 1967 his old comrade August Derleth at Arkham House produced this collection of Price’s orietales.

As Price made no secret of his disdain for “action” stories, it should come as no surprise that while these tales are fantasies, they are rather gentle ones. That is not to say that they are devoid of conflict or even violence. Two tales (“Graven Image” and “Bones for China”) are set in Ming Tien, a Chinese setting for stories of missionaries and Chinese immigrants caught up in the Japanese invasion. Many of the stories are pure romance. “The Fire and Flesh” is a wish-tale of an American planter in Indonesia who finds his goddess in a culture not his own. “The Girl from Samarcand” is about a love affair between a man and a rug (albeit a very special rug) and stems from Price’s deep knowledge of Oriental rugs (he was a collector of note).

Other tales in the collection are more in the macabre vein, such as “The Stranger from Kurdistan” (one of Price’s early devil worship yarns) and “Tarbis of the Lake” (another romance, but an unhappy one). “Strange Gateway” is perhaps the best of the lot, mixing macabre fantasy with romance and tragedy. There is one straight up story of intrigue: “Pale Hands”, a sting-in-the-tail story if double-dealing and broken love.

While Strange Gateways doesn’t have quite the wild inventiveness of Price’s contemporaries, Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, or Clark Ashton Smith, it is a solid collection of gentle fantasy from the Golden Era of the pulps.
-Dave Hardy

No comments: