[The following is a reprint of a column which originally appeared in the January 26, 2006, issue of Hellnotes.]
Who was the most prolific contributor to Weird Tales magazine? Was it H.P. Lovecraft? No. Robert Howard? Nope. It was Seabury Quinn, who contributed 165 stories to “the unique magazine,” including the popular series featuring the French occult detective Dr. Jules de Grandin and his sidekick, Dr. Samuel Trowbridge.
Seabury Grandin Quinn was born on January 1, 1889, in Washington, D.C. He was graduated from the National University Law School (now part of George Washington University) in 1910 and practiced law in D.C.
Quinn served in the Army in World War I. Afterwards, he moved to New York, where he wrote, edited, and taught medical jurisprudence, specializing in mortuary law. He wrote the legal tome A Syllabus of Mortuary Jurisprudence (1933), and he edited many mortuary trade journals, including Casket & Sunnyside. He was married and had a son, Seabury, Jr., who went on to become a playwright and drama professor (Ohio University holds the annual Seabury Quinn, Jr., Playwrights’ Festival, celebrating the work of student playwrights).
Quinn also started writing fiction after moving to New York. His stories were enhanced by his far-ranging reading: horror, supernatural, and weird fiction, as well as non-fiction in the fields of the occult, mysticism, witchcraft, legends, Satanism, and ancient religious customs. His first published story, “The Stone Image,” appeared in the May 1, 1919, issue of The Thrill Book. This tale introduced Dr. Towbridge, who later became de Grandin’s assistant, Trowbridge.
Quinn’s association with Weird Tales began with the appearance of his story “The Phantom Farmhouse” in the October 1923 issue. The outrageously depicted de Grandin was introduced in the story “The Horror on the Links,” in the October 1925 issue, in which de Grandin and Trowbridge investigate the murder of a woman on a golf course. From 1925 through 1951, 93 stories featuring the Frenchman and his assistant were published in Weird Tales. Most of these stories, which take place mainly in haunted Harrisonville, New Jersey, feature the team’s encounters with ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural elements. But some are action stories with odd criminals, mad scientists, foreign assassins, and Nazis as the antagonists. The de Grandin stories were so popular that they almost overshadowed his other writings.
The team of de Grandin and Trowbridge is comparable to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. De Grandin was diminutive in size but a giant in knowledge and skills, even in obscure areas. No matter what the situation required–fencing ability, knowledge of medicine, familiarity with the occult, the use of a variety of firearms – de Grandin pulled it out of his sleeve. These “superman” abilities seemed a little far-fetched to some readers, but they made de Grandin a popular character. On the other hand, Trowbridge, who narrates the stories, is portrayed as loyal and intelligent but not quite as erudite or adept at deduction as his partner. A major criticism of these stories is Quinn’s depiction of minorities as foolish or evil. Quinn appears to have regretted this as later stories were more sympathetic to minorities. Another criticism is that although de Grandin and Trowbridge are well-drawn, most of the other characters are stereotypes or one-dimensional.
In 1937, Quinn moved back to Washington, D.C., to perform legal work for a chain of trade magazines, and during World War II, he was a government lawyer. He continued writing stories for pulp magazines, but he also branched off in another direction. During the 1940s and 1950s, he wrote, under the pen name Jerome Burke, a series of non-fiction pieces for The Dodge Magazine, a mortuary journal published by the Dodge Company, purveyor of embalming fluids. These human-interest stories were based on anecdotes related to him by funeral directors he had known. Nearly 150 of these articles were later collected in the three-volume This I Remember: The Memoirs of a Funeral Director (2002).
Quinn’s first novel was Roads, which is best described as a weird Christmas story. It tells the tale of Klaus the Norseman, who saved the baby Jesus and was granted eternal life. After centuries of adventures, he and his wife decide to return to his homeland in the frozen north. On the way, they run into a band of elves. They join forces and he becomes Santa Claus. This novel is also the story of the various roads we take in our lives and how the choices we make affect our destination. Roads was first published as a short story in the January 1938 issue of Weird Tales, released later that year as a pamphlet by publisher Conrad H. Ruppert, and reissued by Arkham House in a revised edition in 1948.
His only other novel, the violent, sadistic The Devil’s Bride, came out posthumously in 1976. This is a de Grandin adventure about the descendant of a Yezidee high priest who is snatched from her wedding to be the new high priestess of a satanic cult that practices human sacrifice. It is actually a collection of short stories (that originally appeared in Weird Tales in 1932) masquerading as a novel. E.F. Bleiler calls it “a clumsy juxtaposition of shorter works.”
Quinn’s final Weird Tales story, “The Scarred Soul,” appeared in the March 1952 issue. At this time, a series of strokes forced him into semi-retirement. His popularity faded after Weird Tales bit the dust in 1954 as he didn’t have a champion, like August Derleth for H.P. Lovecraft, to preserve and promote his work. Quinn’s final published story was “Master Nicholas,” which appeared in the Winter 1965 issue of Magazine of Horror. He died on December 24, 1969.
Quinn’s work was rescued from obscurity in 2001 when Battered Silicon Dispatch Box Publishers released The Compleat Adventures of Jules de Grandin. This pricey three-volume set contains every de Grandin piece, including 93 stories and one novel. This set and several other Quinn books, including This I Remember, are available from the publisher.
Available from Ash-Tree Press is the collection Night Creatures (2003), featuring 11 Weird Tales stories, but only one with de Grandin. A facsimile of the Arkham edition of Roads was published by Red Jacket Press in 2005.