Saturday 9 October 2021

Issue Review: The Story-Teller, October 1924

The Story-Teller is a British pulp, described by Mike Ashley as "the best all-round all-fiction magazine of its day" in The age of the story-tellers, his survey of British fiction magazines. This issue, from 1924, is from around the middle of the magazine's run from 1907 to 1936. The editor was Newman Flower of Cassell and Co., the publishers.

There are big names in this issue -  G.K. Chesterton with an instalment of Tales of the Long Bow and Sax Rohmer is represented by his occult detective Paul Harley while Frank Shaw (the British equivalent of the prodigious H. Bedford-Jones) contributes three stories under different names. The other stories are by authors less well-known today. There are no story illustrations and only a few pages of advertisements. Two of the stories were from American authors, only one of which was a reprint. A few poems and fillers complete the magazine. The issue I read was coverless, from a bound volume.

The Story-Teller, October 1924
The Story-Teller, October 1924

Sax Rohmer's Red Mist is a pale imitation of Sherlock Holmes' The Hound of the Baskervilles. The gigantic hound is replaced by a black monk shrouded in a deadly red mist; Baskerville Hall and Dartmoor are substituted by Stone Lacey near the ruins of Salterton Abbey, in a river valley in Devon. Harley's Watson, Knox, is sent there in the guise of Hartley. Knox takes notes, interviews people, explores the local moorlands and barrows. He is spied on by multiple people, sends daily reports to Hartley in London and is warned by a woman to leave; the woman later turns out to be the partner of the story's villain.  Hartley, meanwhile, has come to a local inn in disguise as a mineralogist and is puzzling out the case himself. Do you see the similarities? The story is collected in Black Dog Books' The Leopard Couch, their second volume of the selected stories of Sax Rohmer.

Miss Jedburys by Frank Swinnerton is a keenly observed and well written tale of two spinster sisters, one charming and the other a prickly personality, living together in their dead father's house. They have a modest income and a fixed lifestyle composed mostly of gardening and taking care of the house. Into their dessicated lives comes a young child, left in their care by a distant cousin who is dealing with two children in quarantine. They take the child in and life changes...but not in the way I expected. Very readable, believable characters and motives and more a slice of life that wouldn't have been out of place in an American "slick" magazine.

Strict grammarians call them the Misses Jedbury, but they are known in the village as Miss Jedburys. They always have been Miss Harriet and Miss Nelly, and they remain Miss Harriet and Miss Nelly. Nobody in the village now knows whether any attempt was ever made to persuade either to become anybody else. There may have been romances, hints, fears, bitter disappointments for Miss Jedburys, but if so these are long forgotten, and the sisters have been all their lives single in Marshmeadow, and look as though they would die there, still Miss Jedburys.

I have already reviewed the Chesterton story (The elusive companion of Parson White) in an earlier blog entry and will not get into detail here; I feel it is one of the weaker stories in that collection.

Coal by Bruce Beddow is a tragedy; a very British tale of social climbing followed by a comeuppance. I find the genre an irritating artifact of the past. I couldn't bring myself to like the central character, but neither did i rejoice in his downfall. Readable. The good-natured lady by journalist Philip Gibbs is the other side of the social climbing genre, where a down and out aristocrat manages to return to glory by her own efforts. Apparently success was acceptable as long as the right people had it. The main character is likable. A sample:

“ You've got the brains as well,” I told her.

“Not brains,” she said, “but character. I believe in blood still. It does count! If they can forget old traditions, early Victorian humbug, and stop grousing about high taxation and the loss of luxury, the old quality of England will come out on top. They did pretty well in the war—died in the right way, didn't they?"

Miguel the liberator by Herbert Gale is a chivalric romance. A misshapen dwarf sees a beautiful young girl, falls in love with her and vows to protect her and become worthy of her. The motives of the characters are clear but there is a tinge of unreality about the whole thing. Readable but not memorable.

Frank Shaw presents three stories in this issue; I didn't like any of them. The Hare and the Tortoise by Grenville Hammerton is a light drama/romance between two captains competing for the same woman. In the end one of them rescues the woman from death and wins. Implausible and predictable. Gayly the troubador is an implausible fairy tale - our hero sees a pretty girl eating with a swinish man, offers to help her and ends up in Russia on a secret mission to retrieve her family jewels. Impossible. Tom Laidlaw's Treachery, published under his Frank Hubert pseudonym, is the best of the lot and would have rated higher except for a deus ex machina ending. It's a story of a Newcastle collier who gets engaged and in doing so incurs the wrath of his competitor for the woman. The competitor, also a collier, plots vengeance and manages to do away with the collier without being detected, using a mine accident to cover the traces of his misdeeds. Then he slowly worms his way into the good graces of the woman and convinces her to marry him. The ending depends on a hidden passage and a coincidence bigger than Moby Dick; I couldn't swallow it.

A Canadian train caught in a blizzard is the setting for Mammon misjudges by William Dudley Pelley, a melodramatic tale of a man who sacrifices his life for his fellow men to redeem himself. The setting is well described, the story predictable.  Josephine Daskam Bacon's A different country is a romance of true soulmates who find each other in the afterlife. I didn't care for it either.

This is a package quite different from the American pulps. The mix of stories is slanted towards the entire household at a time when the American pulps were divided into clear genres, each competing for a distinct segment of readers. Swinnerton's story, the best in the collection, would not have been published in any contemporary American pulp though they might have been suitable for the Munsey Argosy or Blue Book of the 1900s. I appreciate the effort to provide variety in reading matter and can see why the magazine lasted nearly 30 years. If only it were easier to find.


  1. I will have to read this one, particularly with a story by Josephine Daskam Bailey (I have a fondness for her stories, formulaic as they may be).

    1. I think you'll enjoy it.

      Which stories by Josephine Daskam Bailey do you recommend?

  2. "The mix of stories is slanted towards the entire household"
    perhaps more akin to "People's" or "Everybody's", what some have called a "family magazine".

    1. Rick,

      I haven't read enough issues of People's to comment. Care to lend me some? :-)

      Your comment about it being closer to Everybody's is spot on, though.

  3. Interesting magazine that reminds me more of Argosy (through various permutations) than any other. Of course an Argosy from an alternate reality that most pulp collectors barely care to know exists :)

    1. Well, Rob, if anyone knows the British pulps it's you and Mike Ashley. It's good to have expert opinion here. Even better when the expert agrees with me :-)