An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature

An Ongoing Exploration into the Many Worlds of Early 20th-Century Escapist Literature -- Crime and Adventure, Fantasy and Science-Fiction, Horror and Weird

Friday, November 8, 2013

"The Python Pit" -- George F. Worts (ARGOSY, May 6, 13 and 20, 1933) PART 1

George F. Worts' name should ring a bell - he was previously featured, under the pen name Loring Brent, with the story "The Master Magician," earlier in the book.  Under his own name, Worts also penned a series of stories following the adventures of Samuel Larkin Shay, alias "Singapore Sammy," a young man out to right a serious wrong done against him - his stepfather, Bill Shay, not only skipped out on his mother with her life savings, but with the will that would allow Sammy to collect his inheritance from his grandfather.  Sammy has spent the years since then roaming the world, searching for his stepfather's trail in hopes of confronting him and reclaiming what is rightfully his.  This story, "The Python Pit," was initially serialized across three issues of Argosy magazine, and I'm probably going to do close to the same here, because my day job is in the middle of overwhelming me this weekend and I just don't have as much time to read right now as I'd like.

"The Python Pit" finds Sammy once more on his stepfather's trail, his hunt for a man reckoned as Bill Shay's second in command interrupted by a barroom brawl that turns real ugly once a squad of Japanese sailors arrive, "[turning] the Sailors Delight into another Manchuria." Sammy narrowly escapes, lugging the barely-conscious form of his friend Lucifer "Lucky" Jones under one arm and dragging the unconscious form of the Malay lowlife by the belt behind him.  With a little "persuasion," Sammy finds his stepfather boarded a ship bound for the island of Konga, east of Celebes, last night! With the little sloop owned by Sammy and Lucky, they might just chase him down!

Lucky Jones wants nothing to do with Konga, however, adamant that the island's infested with cannibals and no white man who's ever set foot on the island has lived to tell the tale.  He changes his mind, however, when the two are approached by a young woman, Dorothy Borden, who wants to charter their go to Konga! She explains that the stories of headhunters and cannibals are simply sailor's tales, and she and her father have lived alone on the island for close to a year.  A chance encounter with a tiger has left her father injured and ill, and she needs a ship to carry her and the medicine he needs to recover to Konga.

Sammy and Jones agree to take Dorothy to Konga, only for tragedy to strike: Lucky Jones, reckoned by Sammy to be the hardest of the hard, the toughest of the tough, the meanest, fightin'est sumbitch to ever crawl out of an Shanghai opium den, falls in love with her, and becomes a weak-stomached, starry-eyed sap for her.  He moons around the ship calling her "Booful," making Sammy sick to his stomach.

The trip to Konga is further interrupted by sightings of "ghosts," first by Lucky, who spots a greenish-glowing, disembodied face rising out of the sea, and then by the deckhand, who sees a skinny shadow slinking along the decks with no one visible to have cast it.

Worts' writing, I'm finding, has a special poetry to it, a poetry of raised fists and thrown weapons.  Sink your teeth into this: "His throat was as dry as gunsmoke.  His heart had become a throbbing ache.  His muscles were striking for a five-hour day.  He brought the club crunchingly down on an upturned ear above his left foot, and the teeth disengaged themselves from his calf."

Absolutely beautiful.

I also like the "Beauty and the Beast" vibe on display with Dorothy here; and I'm thinking this must have been a running theme in pulp fiction at the time, because the same premise - the toughest tough guy in the world goes soft after one look at a pretty face - is on display in KING KONG, released the same year; not just in the general idea of Kong being in some way "weakened" by his exposure to Ann Darrow; but in dialogue, as Denham warns Jack Driscoll of the consequences of falling for Ann, and of course who could forget the "Old Arabian Proverb" that opens the film? "And the Prophet said, 'And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.'"

Or maybe Worts just had lady troubles.  I don't know.

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