Writhe around with C.L. Moore

Sometimes when I’m bored with reading my current novel (or, more accurately, bored with reading my current two or three novels), I’ll reach into my bookcase and pull out one of the many short-story collections I own.

Years ago, I snagged a sizeable collection of books that each featured a specific writer. The one I grabbed on this day was “The Best of C.L. Moore” and was edited by sci-fi legend Lester Del Rey.

I glanced through his introduction to Moore’s work and found that when she was honored at a convention, most seemed to remember the story that starts the collection.

“Shambleau” is an innocuous enough title. The reader has no idea what it means, so they have to dive in and see for themselves.

As a blog writer, innocuous titles are a death-wish for a blog post. If you’re too vague, you’ll never get any hits.

When we title our blog posts, we consider keywords and searchable names. Every one is vital to sucking more and more search engines to our sites. For us, every word counts.

The same cannot be said for the writers of fantasy and science fiction back when it was first being published in the pulps. Back then, you bought titles of magazines, such as “Weird Tales.” Others fell for the beautiful damsel on the cover or the gun-toting gangster. Still others looked for names — the great writers of the day. Their names guaranteed a good read.

But the titles of the stories themselves, often they were a twist on a phrase. Or “the case of” such and such. Or a nonsense phrase or word, you know, something like “Shambleau.”

If I were creating the title for C.L. Moore’s short story in this here digital age, it absolutely would not be “Shambleau” it would be “Northwest Smith vs. XXXX.”

Northwest Smith, by
the way, is the hero of the piece in “Shambleau.” It’s a sci-fi story
set in a Martian frontier town, but it could have just as easily been a
cowboy story or, as the name would imply the tale of a rugged mountie
who treks through the snowy tundra. But no, this is about a man on Mars.

Anyway, my digital version of this story would have all those XXXX’s replaced by the name of “the big reveal” in the story. If I thought a million readers out there had actually read C.L. Moore’s “Shambleau,” I’d tell you “the big reveal” right now.

But I won’t.

I know that you’ve probably never read “Shambleau,” so I can’t tell you what it means. I will tell you it’s a good story. It’s a good story that made me say “A-ha! Now I know how we fell for that way back then!”

And I’ll leave my discussion of her exquisite story at that.

I will however discuss the magazine in which it appeared.

The story debuted in Weird Tales’ November 1933 issue. The cover of that magazine featured some lovely art by Margaret Brundage, whose covers are considered some of the best to ever appear on that particular magazine.

The image itself is an interesting mix of Mexican “Day of the Dead” and Hollywood starlet pinup themes, and a memorable cover indeed. I am not aware, however, whether or not it is meant to illustrate any story inside. (It definitely does not illustrate “Shambleau.”)

Below, you’ll see the actual painting for the cover, minus the trade dress.

The magazine also featured a novel from Clark Ashton Smith, and you can read about his contributions here.


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