Friday, April 3, 2015

E. Hoffmann Price apologizes to the Klan

Given H.P. Lovecraft’s racism, is his bust an inappropriate likeness for the World Fantasy Award in the 21st century? It’s an excellent question, one thoughtfully dealt with in an influential 2011 blogpost by Nnedi Okorafor, the first black winner of the WFA for Best Novel. Read her post if you haven’t, and follow its links. But for now, I’m trampolining off only one of her sentences:
If this is how some of the great minds of speculative fiction felt, then let’s deal with that ... as opposed to never mention it or explain it away. [Ellipsis in original. – A.D.]
To me, this resonates with Nora Jemisin’s equally thought-provoking 2013 speech in Australia, in which she suggests ways science fiction might rectify its past errors of commission and omission. For example:
Maybe it’s time for a Truth in Reconciliation commission, in which authors and fans speak out about their misconceptions and mistakes, and make a commitment to doing better.
With these prompts in mind, I’ll occasionally post to this blog stuff that I have stumbled across, in my archival reading, that I sort of wish I hadn’t read, stuff that makes me squirm with dismay, in hopes it’ll help us realize both how far we’ve come and how far we have to go.

Which brings me to E. Hoffmann Price.

Price was hardly one of “the great minds of speculative fiction,” and is not much read today, but he was a popular and influential pulp writer of adventure stories with exotic locales. Any researcher interested in the complex set of attitudes that Edward Said dubbed Orientalism, and in how they diffused throughout U.S. pop culture, could do worse than study Price’s works.

Cover art by George Evans.
In 1975, the excellent small press Carcosa, founded by David Drake and Karl Edward Wagner to bring pulp writing back into print, published Far Lands Other Days, a nearly 600-page hardcover collection of Hoffmann’s stories, illustrated by George Evans. My first-edition copy, signed by Hoffmann and Price, is in my lap as I type this.

From his home in Redwood City, Calif., Price wrote an 11-page Foreword for the collection. The Foreword is dated October 1974, when Price was 76 years old. Toward the end of the Foreword, he states his misgivings about one of the stories reprinted in the book, “The Infidel’s Daughter” (Weird Tales, December 1927). He writes:
When the Editor included this story, I suggested that it be rewritten – so that I could correct errors of reference and terminology, wherein I’d pulled several boners, and, primarily, I wished to rebuild the narrative to eliminate my 1927 digs at the K.K.K. At that time, the organization had fallen to a self-made low and was fair game.
The following year, I moved to New Orleans, where I lived until 1934. Ever since the civil rights idiocies and extremes, I have watched, with increasing revulsion, the sorry mess which Northern and Western and Eastern meddlers have made – ultimately to their regret – of integration. This sociologically inspired silliness (based on unrealistic benevolence and good will), this disastrous idiocy leads me first to tender my apologies to the K.K.K. Without going whole hog as to that organization’s hates, I say that since the violent and vicious criminal, regardless of color or creed, has become a menace blessed by the courts, the probation and parole authorities, and a mass of simpleton citizens, some organization to protect harrassed [sic] citizens is long overdue!

Forty-seven years ago, when I lambasted the K.K.K., I had no qualms about going about of an evening, and quite unarmed. Today, I keep both car doors locked, and have ever at hand what it takes to repel boarders. At home, my shotgun is loaded and ready … [Ellipsis in original. – A.D.]

I reiterate apologies to the K.K.K. for running off at the mouth. The Editor argued against a rewrite. Perhaps that is just the thing. My whimsy of 1927 demands that I write here as I do – and in all this, I have more to say than ever I did in the story itself! (Price xx-xxi)
If I had told you, at the outset, that I had found an essay in which a popular writer of the 1920s apologizes, a half-century later, for some things he wrote back in the day involving the Klan, I bet you would have assumed that he was apologizing for backing the Klan – which in the 1920s, after all, was at the peak of its nationwide power and influence. But no, those intervening decades convinced Price that the Klan had been right all along.

The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction identifies Price as a West Point graduate, “an astrologer, a Theosophist, a practicing Buddhist and a conservative Republican.” While Price certainly wasn’t the only writer to emerge from the pulp era with a garish ragbag of strongly held and wildly contradictory ideas, I suspect he had a contrarian streak all his own.

Far lands and other days, indeed!

P.S.: No, I haven’t read “The Infidel’s Daughter” yet. It’s on my list. Also, I'm soliciting comments from David Drake, the co-founder of Carcosa, and will pass those along as I can. [Added later: Drake's Comment can be read in the Comment field below and in this subsequent post.]

Source: Price, E. Hoffmann. “Foreword.” Far Lands Other Days. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Carcosa, 1975. xi-xxi.

1 comment:

  1. 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.

    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,