" In this universe the night was falling; the shadows were lengthening towards an east that would not know another dawn. But elsewhere the stars were still young and the light of morning lingered; and along the path he once had followed, Man would one day go again"

Arthur C. Clarke Against the Fall of Night

Saturday, March 30, 2019

(Weird Tales, Pt. 2) W. S. Merwin and Weird Tales; an unlikely combination

Here is the story I selected for the second Weird Tales science fiction story.

It is quite short, six pages, has almost no action and only one character. It is the kind of future history that I enjoy. Explorers visiting a uninhabited planet and trying to piece together what happened to the civilization from the ruins. For a very different take you might look at my post for "Omnilingual" by H. Beam Piper here,


"The Red God Laughed" appeared in Weird Tales, for April 1939. The story in brief, concerns the visit to Earth by Thvall the Seeker, a kind of squishy, soft bodied alien who is visiting 21st Century Nu Yok. But while the incredible city, with four thousand foot high towers still stands, it seems Asia (the yellow races, yes we are back to the "yellow peril"), you can see my post, Weird Tales, Pt 1 for more on this topic, and America have unleashed poison gas rockets, (of course they started it), and destroyed almost all life on earth, except deep sea fishes, worms and plants. So Thvall, who is looking for a world with water for his dying planet wiggles around casting aspersions on the likelihood of a race with rigid skeletons developing intelligence. Until that is he fiddles with an unexploded canister and well, Merwin's poem sort of sums it up.

"Merwin’s great single-line poem—not the greatest short poem, but perhaps the shortest great poem, ever written—is about the converse problem, that of outliving. This is the poem in its entirety:"

"Who would I show it to"


And with Thvall's death, his people will never learn of the planet that could save their race. Earth itself will be forgotten with no one to appreciate it's accomplishments or take warning from it's stupidity. I have always been fascinated by ruins, Darwinism, evolutionary theory and tales about the end of the world or even the universe. Science fiction in the pulps has lots of these stories that appeal to me. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction has a lovely essay here;


Another thing I find interesting is the period in which a story is written or read. I can rarely prove that any particular event influenced a writer. Also editors often held stories for years before publishing them which further confuses the issue. But one can make some statements about what the original reader would have been experiencing when they read the story. In this case the story concerns the outcome of a future war between Asia and America and 1939 the year it was published was a significant date. The Sino-Japanese War had been raging since 1937. In Sept 1938, Neville Chamberlain declared we would have "Peace in Our Time and five months after this story appeared Germany would invade Poland and the Second World War would begin. So the reader would perhaps have been reading or hearing many discussions about the possibility of war during this period. 

A lot of people today like to read science fiction through the lenses of the present, which is fine. I prefer to try to understand how writers and readers embraced the themes of science fiction, within the context of their world and their daily lives. So it makes me wonder what they thought when they read "The Red God Laughed".

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