Morrow, W(illiam) C(hambers) 1853-1923
MORROW, W(illiam) C(hambers) 1853-1923
Born 1853, in AL; died April 3, 1923, in San Francisco, CA.
Blood-Money, Walker (San Francisco, CA), 1882.
The Ape, the Idiot, and Other People (short stories), Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1897.
A Man: His Mark, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1900.
Bohemian Paris of To-day, Lippincott (Philadelphia, PA), 1900.
The Logic of Punctuation, for All Who Have to Do with It, H. Law (San Francisco, CA), 1926.
Also contributor to periodicals, including San Francisco Examiner, Argonaut, Californian, and Overland Monthly.
Author and journalist W. C. Morrow was perhaps best remembered for the short stories he wrote for turn-of-the-twentieth-century Californian periodicals, many of which were revised and republished in his 1897 collection The Ape, the Idiot, and Other People. Some of them were borderline science fiction, but others were fairly straightforward horror stories, and still others fell into the category of contes cruel (stories of cruelty), explained St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers contributor Brian Stableford. This might help explain Morrow's relative neglect. Beginning in 1879 and continuing through the turn of the next century, he published fiction that concentrated mostly on violence and mayhem rather than the fantastic and the horrific. Morrow adopted the conte cruel for a reason, however—he saw himself as the American West's answer to European writers in the decadent genre, of whom the conte cruel was a favorite form. "Morrow was one of the West Coast Bohemians," Stableford stated, "who were as close as America ever came to a Decadent Movement. He was, in fact, the man who emphasized their cultural and ideological links with the French Decadent writers." Morrow's stories collected in The Ape, the Idiot, and Other People are perhaps the foremost example of this particular genre in the United States. His "name has been preserved," Stableford concluded, "because his stories continue to be reprinted in anthologies."
Most of the stories contained in The Ape, the Idiot, and Other People fall into the conte cruel category, including the revenge stories "His Unconquerable Enemy," "The Inmate of the Dungeon," and "An Original Revenge." Others, such as "The Resurrection of Little Wang Tai" and "Over an Absinthe Bottle," are, according to Stableford, "closer in spirit to the ironic Grand Guignol contes of Maurice Level." "'Two Singular Men' is a tale of carnival freaks, unapologetically relayed in the worst possible taste," Stableford concluded, "while 'The Faithful Amulet' is a gleefully violent black comedy of remarkable coincidences."
Perhaps the most famous of the stories in the collection, however, is "The Monster-Maker." This tale, originally published in The Argonaut on October 15, 1887, anticipates some of the work of more popular science-fiction and fantasy authors, like Edgar Rice Burroughs, while at the same time acknowledging the direct influence of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. "The Monster-Maker" tells the story of an elderly physician-surgeon who is approached by a young man wanting to commit suicide. The doctor agrees to help him in exchange for the sum of $5,000. A number of years pass. Finally, after a number of complaints, the local police raid the doctor's residence. They find there "a gorilline creature of fantastic strength—but with a silver globe where its head ought to be," explained a contributor to Everett Bleiler's compendium Science-Fiction: The Early Years. "Read individually," Stable-ford concluded, "Morrow's tales are startling; read as a series they have a collective effect which is unequalled by any other volume."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Bleiler, Everett, Science-Fiction: The Early Years, Kent State University Press (Kent, OH), 1990.
St. James Guide to Horror, Ghost, and Gothic Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.
Who's Who in Horror and Fantasy Fiction, Elm Tree Books (London, England), 1977.*