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Tuesday 29 June 2004

My Friend Hugh

by Stephen Jones

Like so many of my friends and colleagues, I was introduced to Hugh B. Cave by the late Karl Edward Wagner.

Karl had "rediscovered" Hugh after the latter had been out of the genre for nearly three decades, writing for the "slick" magazines. Karl had published the massive retrospective collection of Hugh’s classic pulp stories, Murgumstrumm and Others, under his Carcosa imprint. The book justifiably won the World Fantasy Award in 1978 for Best Collection and brought Hugh back into the horror field again.

At the time, I was aware of only a small proportion of Hugh’s prolific output in Weird Tales and the so-called "shudder" pulps, as well as some of his more recent contributions to Stuart David Schiff’s Whispers magazine.

We hit if off immediately — mainly because, I believe, we were fellow Englishmen. Hugh Barnett Cave had been born in Chester, England, in 1910 before emigrating with his family to America when he was five years old.

At the time we first met, I was co-editing Fantasy Tales with David Sutton, and I approached Hugh for a story. He sent us an original tale, "A Place of No Return", which became the cover story for the Summer 1981 issue. He followed it with "After the Funeral", which was voted by the readers to be the best story in the Winter 1986 edition. Some years later, when asked to choose one of his own favourite stories for Dennis Etchison’s anthology Masters of Darkness III, this latter tale was the one he selected.

Over the years I would meet up with Hugh and his beloved Peggie at various conventions, and we would work together on a number of projects. He contributed fascinating articles to Horror: 100 Best Books and Dancing With the Dark, and I had the privilege of reprinting such classic pulp novellas of his as "Murgumstruum" and "Stragella" for a new readership in The Mammoth Book of Terror and The Mammoth Book of Vampires, respectively. In fact, the latter title was only reissued a couple of months ago in a revised edition, and Hugh told me how delighted he was to see the story back in print again.

Although he lost most of his pulp stories in a freak garden fire a long time ago, over the years friends and fans had gifted him with replacement copies of the fragile publications that contained so much of his life work.

When I revived Christine Campbell Thomson’s "Not at Night" series for PS Publishing in 2002, there was never any doubt in my mind that the first volume would lead off with a tale by Hugh, who was the only surviving author to have contributed to the original series seven decades earlier.

Hugh was enthusiastically supportive, insisting that he have a story in every volume if I was in agreement. Of course I was. I reprinted another of his pulp novellas in the second book and I had mailed him contracts for the third volume only a few days before I learned from his biographer, Milt Thomas, that he was terminally ill.

But despite all the books and magazines, perhaps my most satisfying collaboration with Hugh was getting him back to his homeland as a Special Guest of Honour at the 1997 World Fantasy Convention in London. Although he was in his late eighties by then, Hugh was ably accompanied by Milt and displayed an energy that would have been remarkable in somebody half his age. He was happy to share his time with anybody and everybody who was there, and he signed every book that was put in front of him (and trust me, there were many). As a tribute to his incredible stamina and peerless contribution to the genre, we presented him with a Special World Fantasy Convention Award.

Two years later, they made it official when he was awarded the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement (he had already received similar accolades from The Horror Writers Association and The International Horror Guild).

Following his return from London, Hugh was rushed into hospital with a previously undiagnosed illness. Fortunately, as it turned out, that near-fatal incident probably saved his life.

We regularly kept in touch through e-mail, which Hugh had mastered with all the skill of a teenager. And when I learned that he was scheduled to be a Guest of Honour at last year’s Windy City Pulp & Paperback Convention in Chicago, there was never any question that I would not be there.

As usual accompanied by the redoubtable Milt, Hugh was as lively as ever and we caught up and reminisced over copious rounds of beer. Although my father was suddenly taken ill and died back in England while I was attending the convention, I truly believe that Hugh’s presence helped me get through that difficult weekend.

That it was to be our last meeting was not entirely unexpected. Hugh was by now in his early nineties and one of our last living links with the pulp magazines of the 1930s and '40s.

Although his mind was a sharp as ever, he confided to me during one of our e-mail exchanges that his novel The Restless Dead (published in January 2003 by Leisure Books) would probably be his last. And when I tried to persuade him to attend this year’s Windy City Convention, he admitted that he was too frail to fly anymore.

Milt Thomas tells me that Hugh was alert up to the very end, which does not surprise me at all. (Although it apparently did surprise his doctors.) Now he is reunited with Peg, who predeceased him in 2001.

Hugh B. Cave has left behind a rich heritage of stories and novels that he produced during a remarkable career which spanned an incredible eight decades.

All that is left is for me now is to say goodbye, old friend. I will remember and treasure your many kindnesses to a young editor for the rest of my life; and I promise that if I have anything to do with it, your stories will remain in print for many years to come — to thrill generations of horror readers yet unborn.

— Stephen Jones

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