Thursday, December 04, 2008

L. Patrick Greene and James B. Hendryx

Here's another posting from pulp fan and SF/fantasy writer Gerald W. Page that he originally wrote on the PulpMags e-mail list. It's about L. Patrick Greene and James B. Hendryx, two old school pulp writers, and their series characters. (Greene on the left.)

As for Finnish translations, I believe Greene has only one novel, Timanttikuilu (published by Uusi Suomi in 1944 [must be the newspaper]), but I haven't been able to determine what the book's original title is. It's set in South Africa, that much I know without looking it up. As for Hendryx, there are some short stories translated from him, and I have an entry for him in my book Kuudestilaukeavat/Six Guns.

Both "The Major" and "Black John" are exceptional series, well written and entertaining, to say nothing of highly recommended.

L. Patrick Greene's stories of The Major are set in South Africa a few years later than H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quatermain stories, which they hold a superficial and sometimes not-so-superficial resemblance to. The Major is an Illicit Diamond Buyer (IDB), active in the theft of diamonds and their smuggling out of South Africa. The adventures are varied and interesting,
with the setting and background adding a lot of flavor to stories that sometimes are rather similar to American Westerns.

The characters of both The Major and the Hottentot Jim are well-drawn and entertaining. Greene's attitude toward native Africans is worth noting. He obviously admires and respects them in many ways, but there is a racist attitude running through the stories that rises a bit above the Colonialist level. The n word occurs quite frequently in the stories -- which is probably nothing more than honest reporting of how people spoke in Rhodesia and South Afirca in the twenties, thirties and forties, but it can be jarring and offensive.

Some of the stories in Short Stories are obviously connected, with recurring villains and obvious plot connections that suggest Greene was writing with the intention of joining three or four novelettes into a book.

The Major stories, as said, began in Adventure but mainly showed up in Short Stories. (Did they appear in England first?) Later stories by Greene in Adventure, as well as in markets such as Fiction House's Jungle Stories, did not feature The Major but are set in South Africa. On the basis of what I've seen he never set a story outside South Africa.

James B. Hendryx wrote Northerns. I've seen a bare handful of westerns from him, but for all practical purposes he was a specialist in stories set in the Yukon Territory of Canada in the period of the Gold Rush of 1898.

Hendryx appeared frequently in Short Stories, Adventure, Argosy and other of the leading general fiction pulps. His Yukon stories are generally related in that he had an assortment of characters who moved from one series to another. His main characters, certainly in Short Stories, were Corporal Downey, a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, and Black John Smith, an outlaw and con man who was sort of reformed and now ran a small community close to the Canadian-Alaskan border, where outlaws were welcome so long as they obeyed the law as interpreted by Black John while there. There was also a group of Sourdoughs who appeared often in various stories and series by Hendrix. I recently read a letter by him in Short Stories' "Story Teller's Circle" where he claimed the Sourdoughs were based on actual people he met in the Yukon during the twenties.

Hendryx was a highly professional writer with a good, non-obtrusive style and a graceful way of plotting. He could handle almost any type of story. About two months ago, for example, in either Short Stories or Adventure, I read a psychological short story by him (set in the Gold Rush) that, while not supernatural, was macabre enough that it could have appeared in Weird Tales. But most of his stories seem to be adventures, mysteries, or light humor.

The Black John stories are filled with humor, much of it sly and some of it edging toward black. Black John flees the U.S. after committing a robbery and finds a small comminuty on Halfaday Creek in the Yukon where many outlaws are holed up. Since most of them have arrived under an assumed name -- and since most of them assumed the name "John Smith," descriptive nicknames are added, so that the place is populated by the likes of One-armed John Smith, Pot Bellied John Smith, Red John Smith and so on. Now Black John and Old Cush, the proprietor of Cush's Fort, the general store, have set up a coffee name with slips of paper on which they've written names cribbed from a history book, so the newcomer can draw a name that isn't John
Smith, such as Alexander Jefferson or John Washington.

While Halfaday Creek is close enough to the line between Alaska and the Yukon that a man can avoid the police simply by taking a few steps westward, Black John instigates some rules. No murder, no robbery, etc. It doesn't matter what a man does before he comes to Halfaday Creek, but once he gets there, he better be an exemplary citizen. Black John doesn't believe in going to the law with his problems, so when a man of dubious character shows up, he deals with the problem, himself. And in the event, usually finds himself acquiring the man's ill-gotten gains. These are returned if the thief stole them from some individual or family. But if they belong to a
company or corporation, the money will end up in Black John's cache. Corporal Downey by now knows it's no use trying to arrest anyone in Halfaday Creek; but it doesn't matter because the people who live there don't break the law, at least not now.

If you have access to issues of Short Stories with these stories in them, I recommend them highly.

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