Nitpicking in Samarcand
A fan (yes, I have fans!) very kindly sent me a copy of the reprint edition of Oriental Stories, the Summer 1932 issue. I am putting together a collection of these nice reprints from Wildside Press, and the gift was highly appreciated.
The magazine includes, among others, an Otis Adelbert Kline story in his Dragoman series, a weird mystery set in Shanghai, an August Derleth story set in Manchuria, and a “complete novel” called “Pirate Whelp”. It is quite promising.
Now, whenever I get one of these magazines, the first thing I do is go through the whole issue, checking out the illustrations, marveling at the period advertisement…
Geez, really I could get me 12 mystery novels featuring Experience Smith, master detective1, by simply subscribing to Weird Tales for four months? Sounds like a great deal!
… and then I check out the readers mail page – called The Souk.
I sometimes wonder if readers at the time did the same.
And there, in the Summer 32 issue of Oriental Stories, in the Souk page, there is a reply to a mister Francis X. Bell, that wrote to point out that Robert E. Howard blundered badly, in his Lord of Samarcand (published in a previous issue), when he described Timur celebrating his victory with a drink of wine, Timur being a Muslim and the Koran banning the faithful from drinking alcohol.
Which of course is a silly thing and it gets properly dismantled in a very detailed response (by Farnsworth Wright himself?), which is quite a nice read, really.
Of course I thought about recycling this for my worldbuilding course, about how sometimes our deep historical background checks are completely lost to (some of) our readers – and it is at the same time sad and sort-of-reassuring to see that nitpicking readers playing a game of one-upmanship with the author are not something that started with the internet.
Anyway, in case you are interested, you can check out the Howard story, Lord of Samarcand, for free, on the pages of the Gutenberg Project of Australia.
And have a drink of wine with Timur.