Sunday, April 5, 2015

David Drake remembers E. Hoffmann Price

David Drake, publisher of E. Hoffmann Price’s Far Lands Other Days (Carcosa, 1975), writes:
Dear Andy,

I'm not sure what you want me to address, so I'll give you some personal background on Ed. We'd both been cavalrymen in our days --1915 and 1970. He liked to talk and I was delighted to listen.

E. Hoffmann "Ed" Price. (Credit: Will Hart,
Ed had joined the 15th Cavalry at age 16 to patrol the Philippines. He'd met an old trooper who told him that Oriental women had their vulvas crossways, so that when they spread their legs they got tighter. That sounded good to Ed.

In fact he spent only 30 days in the Philippines before the 15th Cav was recalled to the Mexican Border where Pancho Villa was raiding. Shortly after that they were shipped to France where they acted as mule skinners unloading freighters in Bayonne, France. He had stories about the prostitutes in all three continents.

When WW I was over, Ed was on garrison duty on the German border. The army created a service-wide scheme by which enlisted men could take an entrance exam for admission to West Point. Ed was one of the extremely few who gained admission through that test. He graduated in 1922 and was briefly a 2nd Lieutenant assigned to a Coast Artillery unit in NJ. He resigned ahead of a court martial because he had gotten to know the battalion commander's wife rather better than the major was pleased to learn.

I've told the story this way to make it clear that though Ed was very smart, he was also an iconoclast who was not even slightly interested in polite society or its norms. He was acting out in the introduction, but I don't doubt he meant what he said.

Ed's judgments on the stories in FLOD as he went over them were sometimes puzzling. The pro-Klan paragraph is an example of that, but his enthusiasm for “Hands of Janos” and “Bones for China” baffle me to this day. I would recommend that you read and judge stories as stories, not as examples of political correctness or of racism (as the case may be).
In particular, read “One Step from Hell.” I'll be pleased the day I think I've written its equal.
All best,

Dave, thanks for the fine letter. One of my hopes for this blog is that whenever the name of someone who (happily) is still with us gets invoked at any length, I will contact that person to invite his or her 2 cents (or 20 cents, as the case may be). You’re the first thus contacted, and your quick reply is much appreciated.

From your description, Price sounds like some of the salty old cusses I’ve known, who have one eye on their audience while doing their best to say shocking and outrageous things, often sexual in nature. I’ve known some of those in science fiction, too. On some level it’s always a test, the old cuss’s attempt to determine whether the listener (of whatever gender) is “one of the boys.” In the process, of course, the old cuss is passing or failing a test in the listener’s mind, too – and I’m sure Price already has failed the test for many 21st-century readers, just from what you and I already have said about him on this blog!

How I read and judge stories is complicated, but in part because John Gardner’s On Moral Fiction (1978) stamped me for life, I can read no fiction – for that matter, can read no text of any genre, period – without thinking about what it means. 

The works of Ed Price deserve no less. I’ll start with “One Step from Hell” (Argosy, Aug. 5, 1939), in the Carcosa collection. Thanks for the recommendation, and for writing.

And, I should add, for Carcosa!

P.S.: The fine photo of Price above is from Will Hart's CthulhuWho. I'm checking with Hart to make sure it's OK for me to use, but even if it isn't, I recommend his blog and in particular this set of links to 1940s works by Price. [Added later: Hart says, "What's mine, is yours! ... Thank You for being nice enough to ask!" Much appreciated, sir.]

1 comment:

  1. Dear Andy,

    Another bit of Ed, though this isn't going to make academics like him any better.

    I mentioned that I'd been with the 11th Cav. He said, "That was a nigger outfit, wasn't it?"

    I explained that he was thinking of the 10th Cav, a Buffalo Soldiers unit raised for the Indian Wars. They were professionals and, among other things, rescued the Rough Riders from the hole they'd dug themselves into on San Juan Hill. The 11th and 15th (Ed's regiment) were raised in 1901 to patrol the empire we'd seized from Spain.

    Truman integrated the US Army, of course; and a later member of the 10th Cav was Elvis Presley.

    One of the real benefits of reading older fiction is that you get a feeling for how people thought. I've certainly benefited by reading Greek and Latin classics--but also in reading pulp fiction.

    People of other cultures generally don't think the way we do, and understanding that would be very useful to those who formulate US foreign policy. It may be unfortunate that, say, Pathan village culture is so misogynistic; but if you've studied the literature and history of Classical Greece, you won't think you can improve that culture by passing a law.

    Pulp writers weren't thinkers. Lovecraft, a high school dropout, was focused utterly on the past. In that past his family had been well to do, and he imagined that he would have been a gentleman. I'd be as interested in the philosophy of his grocer as I would in Lovecraft's own philosophy.

    But--Lovecraft wrote some striking things. I didn't fully understand the impact till the earliest Weird Tales were reprinted and I read his Dagon in context. It was minor Lovecraft, written as fan fiction before appearing in WT, but it stands out like a beacon against the other things in the issue and previous issues.

    Consider Lovecraft as a writer. Ignore his 'thoughts' as you would those of your plumber.

    All best,