All Our Yesterdays 12
by Harry Warner Jr.

Fantasy Magazine

This time, children, we are going ‘way back’, close to the very beginning of time, back to the days when hardly anyone existed except Forrest J Ackerman. In other words, this is going to be about the most famous of all fanzines, Fantasy Magazine.

Fantasy Magazine began in the depths of the nation’s depression years early in the 1930’s and it continued existence until late in 1936.

Those were the days when a complete collection of all fanzines ever issued could be fitted into a dresser drawer neatly, and all the prozines that had ever appeared would take up only two or three feet of shelf space.

Most of the people who put out Fantasy Magazine benefited by their training to become important in the prozine field. Julius Schwartz, long its managing editor, became one of the top-notch agents in the field. Ray Palmer was its literary editor. Mort Weisinger, former TWS editor, an associate editor, and Forrest J Ackerman, now agenting as madly as Schwartz, was movie editor.

There were thirty eight issues of Fantasy magazine, if my calculations are more accurate than they were for Golden Atom, printed on paper nearly the size of today’s average pulp magazine, and ranging up to sixty pages in size.

There has never been a fanzine since which came so close to representing the combined attention and interests of all fandom. It wasn’t a one man publication like all the best fanzines since. It was the corporate expression of the leading fans of the day, the average of their ideals. And when it finally collapsed, its disintegration became the official point at which First Fandom ended.

Fandom has never been the same since, despite varying attitudes from year to year, there has never been the same attention to the professional magazines and authors on the part of fans. Never quite as much dignity, earnestness and freshness of attitude.

Other big, special issues of fanzines have contained more material, better material, than the fourth anniversary issue of Fantasy Magazine.

But even today it’s hard to imagine a single fanzine containing a line-up like this: Eando Binder, Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Raymond Z. Gallun, John Russell Fearn, H.G. Wells, Walter H. Gillings, Festus Pragnell, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Raymond A. Palmer, H.P. Lovecraft, George Allan England, and most of the leading fans of the day.

More than 2,000 copies of the fourth anniversary issue were mailed out, giving it perhaps the biggest circulation of any fan publication in history. It’s still worth hunting today, for such tidings as the Weinbaum story, a short-short which isn’t fantasy but probably hasn’t been anthologised anywhere, “Graph”, Lovecraft’s long obituary for Robert E. Howard, and “The Great Illusion”, a story written by six of the top notch authors of the day, put together by writing the last section first, then sending it to the next author who wrote something to lead up to the last section, a process that was repeated five times.

The earlier issues are rarer but more typical of Fantasy Magazine. For instance, in the June 1934 issue, Ray Palmer gives a biography of himself that contains hints of the ambition that he almost fulfilled, and the mysticism that eventually emerged as Shaverism:

“At the age of seven...I jousted with a truck in the middle of the street. The truck won; and landing on my head, folded me up to a permanent height of 4’ 8”. I’m still folded. Followed years and years in hospitals. Passed the time reading thousands of books. Acquired a vocabulary thereby, and the deed was done. All I needed was a typewriter. Santa Claus brought that. Wrote “The Time Ray of Jandra” and went to the sanatorium for another year. That brought 1932... Sharpest memories of this period were: the ghastly face of a dead room-mate staring up into the full moon from where he had fallen on the floor in a flood of blood, the 1800 fish I caught in a lake where “there were no fish”, and the rendezvous with a dream I actually kept — to my horror upon realisation of the truth. Intentions: to make my living by writing, and by writing alone. (Editors please note) And to ferociously endeavour to turn out fiction worthy of comparison with the best.”

The April 1935 issue of Fantasy Magazine was dedicated to Weird Tales. Naturally, it had to include a biographical sketch of H.P. Lovecraft, still alive. F. Lee Baldwin wrote it. Some nuggets of information from this sketch. HPL’s first story was written when he was seven, entitled “The Noble Eavesdropper”, about a cave of robbers. He liked, of his fiction, “The Colour Out Of Space” better than anything else. HPL preferred Merritt, Price, Moore, Howard, Smith, and Frank Long, Jr. among his contemporaries in the fantasy writing field.

Oddly enough, he liked the realist school in non-fantasy fiction, naming Balzac, Maupassant, and Zola, but believed that the French are best equipped to do this realism. His musical preferences: Victor Herbert, and old Negro cakewalk ditties. It took an average of three days for him to write a story.

Julius Schwartz wrote a monthly column, “The Science Fiction Eye” in those days, devoted mostly to the chatter about stories that were and were not coming out in the prozines in the near future. (In those days, the authors gave him lists of stories they had sold, and also lists of stories which had bean rejected by each magazine, which he cheerfully printed.) And any of those columns is enough to make a completist collector go wild. For instance, the May 1935 issue’s column tells of a science fiction series of novels in a magazine called True Gang Life, each of them written by Ralph Milne Farley in collaboration with some other stf writer like Palmer or E. Hoffmann Price. Weinbaum was supposed to be the collaborator in the Oct. 1935 issue. British SF of those days included S. Fowler Wright’s “War of 1938” in the Sunday Dispatch, and “Boys of 2035” by Carl Hagen in the Sunday Pictorial. And a woman’s magazine called Home, was publishing an SF serial by Geo. Worts, entitled “The Last Man On Earth”.

For a bit of prophetic defining, you can turn to the April 1935 issue, and read what Donald A. Wollheim had to say about the “third class” of impossible stories which are neither SF or weird in nature. He was writing this a couple of years before John W. Campbell, Jr. got together the first issue of Unknown. Remember:

“Pure fantasy is known to everyone in its juvenile version as fairy tales. But it does not stop at the juvenile. Unknown, apparently, to most people, it extends into adult fiction in an almost pure form in a few infrequent books and authors. While it is true that science fiction and weird fiction are also derived from tie juvenile fairy tale, it is equally true that their form and style have changed greatly. This is not so with pure fantasy. Pure fantasy is that branch of fantasy which, dealing with subjects recognisable as non-existent and entirely imaginary, is rendered plausible by the reader’s desire to consider it as such during the period of reading.”

Even back in those days, some science-fiction items came high. An advertisement in the June 1934 issue, offered Black Cat magazines at $1 per copy. On the other hand, Clark Ashton Smith was trying to get rid of new copies of “Ebony and Crystal”, a collection of his writings for $1, half the original price.

Incidentally, a true, all-out fan must have originally owned most of my copies of Fantasy Magazine. I got them second-hand, and the margins are liberally bedecked with comments like “true, true”, and even a subscription expiration notice in one copy has been faithfully preserved.

Last revised: 1 March, 2006

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