ROBERT ARTHUR: In His Own Words

Notes and quotes culled from various books and magazines.
I've additionally taken the liberty of including comments written by editors about Robert Arthur and/or his work.  I think that these help give us a more fulfilling picture of a man whom most of us never had the pleasure of meeting. If anyone reading this owns magazines or books where other such notes or commentary by Robert Arthur can be found, I would be happy to include them on this page.


Letter written to the editor concerning Robert Arthur's novelet "The Tomb of Time" published in the November 1940 issue of "Thrilling Wonder Stories".
    "The Tomb of Time" represents the incubation of some idea germspicked up in the course of browsing through the New York Public Library's volumes on the history of the world. Most intriguing though in many ways was the statement I ran across in one of the books that Nature, inflexible and remorseless, never goes back, never gives life a chance to correct an evolutionary mistake, and never grants a second chance.
    Only Man, who is already on the downgrade physically, slipping towards degeneracy if not extinction, has been able to balk her yet.  In Man, the brain has developed enough to outwit Nature so far, by compensating for the loss of physical vigor, sensory acuteness, and general animal efficiency.
    Probably it will hold her at bay for some time to come. But there is never any telling what the old lady has up her sleeve, and she may spring a surprise on us yet that will tumble Homo Sapiens into his grave before he can gather his sadly scattered wits and do anything about it. Leaving the world free for the arising of a new intelligent form, probably out of the insect kingdom.
    Mulling over these somewhat gloomy thoughts, it occurred to me that perhaps, long before the manual emerged dominant on the Earth's surface, intelligent life might have risen and fallen again. If it had, it must have been reptilian. And the great reptiles present some interesting and unsolved problems.
    They vanished, for instance, so very completely. Only a few degenerate descendants survive now of the life-forms that dominated the world for millions of years. The reasons for their complete vanishing are obscure. The rise of mammals and changing geologic conditions are the generally ascribed causes, but it is incredible that some lines, ferociously efficient, did not survive in sheltered sections of the earth.
    Speculating further, I visualized an ancient race of intelligent creatures, reptilian in nature, dying out and helpless to prevent it despite their intelligence. And from that concept rose the notion of a Time Capsule from which life itself would arise, from which a portion of the past might be recreated living, breathing, real.
    But Nature, fickle jade, has no use for old loves. Once she has discarded a line of development, it stays discarded. The recreation of the Age of Reptiles would be in direct opposition to all her established precepts. So--
    Well, there's where the story began. And here's where the story behind the story ends. The rest is up to you!
Robert Arthur


Introductory Note by The Elks Magazine assistant editor F. Richard Anderson to Robert Arthur's Satan and Sam Shay.
Robert Arthur, author of "Satan and Sam Shay", was born, a few years after the Spanish-American War, on that now uncomfortable spot, Corregidor Island.  But we'll let him tell you about it:  "In those days it was a quieter place, though I did my best to bring excitement to it by arriving, late one night, in a veritable blaze of glory.  The blaze was supplied by a mosquito netting which caught fire from a kerosene lamp, lit I presume to welcome my arrival.  By the fitful, flickering light of blazing cheesecloth I entered upon my brief stay on Corregidor.  I have never known if there was anything prophetic in this incident or not.  I have never, modesty makes it necessary to confess, set the world on fire since."
    "Of all the stories that I have written, the off-trail and fantastic have appealed to me most.  It was out of my interest in this field that Satan and Sam Shay arose, and, of them all, I like it best (I admit it)."  -Robert Arthur, August 1942.


Introductory Note by editor Ellery Queen to Robert Arthur's The Adventure of the Single Footprint which won a special prize for the Best Sherlockania in The Queen's Awards 1948 - Prize Winning Detective Stories from EQ's Magazine.
Robert Arthur was born thirty-odd years ago in the Philippine Islands -- on Corregidor Island, in fact.  His father was an army officer and young Bob was raised in various army posts.  Nevertheless, Robert Arthur cannot boast with other writers of any particularly colorful career -- no extensive globe-trotting, no fascinating variety of pre-writing occupations, not even any jail sentences.  All his mature life he has been either a writer or an editor, and that's that. 
But he is married to a beautiful Hungarian girl, and how many writers can boast that?  Mrs. Arthur,
having a happy temperament, writes serious stories; Mr. Arthur, having a morbid temperament, writes
nothing but entertainment.  They live in the country, in a fine old Colonial house with a new oil burner
which, thanks to the cracks in the house walls, efficiently heats the outdoors for a considerable
distance in all directions . . .
    Mr. Arthur's prize-winning story represents an amalgam of four ideas which floated around in the
author's mind for a long period.  These four ideas in search of a catalyst were not mere rolling stones;
consequently, they gathered a sort of mental moss, and when at last the seemingly disassociated
and unharmoniouse elements fused, they emerged in a way that surprised even the author.
    Idea Number One was a desire to evolve a new variation of the murderer-who-gets-away-with-it. 
Idea Number Two was a refinement of that theme: to write a story in which the murderer solves his
own crime.  Idea Number Three was the nostalgic notion which all detective-story writers have tucked
away in a secret corner of their hearts and which most of them succumb to sooner or later: to do a
take-off -- pastiche, burlesque, or satire -- on Sherlock Holmes.  And Idea Number Four was to exploit
the detectival possibilities in W.H. Sheldon's two amazing books, Varieties of Human Physique and
Varieties of Temperament, which Robert Arthur first learned of when he read Aldous Huxley's
summary in Harper's some years ago.
    These four heterogeneous Ideas kept stewing in their own juices --"the mental chaos," according to Mr. Arthur, "which is part of a writer's creative process."  Well, Nature being what she is, and creative precesses being what they are, the Four Ideas eventually made passes at each other; they caressed and snuggled and ultimately -- the climax of all courtships -- they embraced.
    So a marriage was arranged.
    And this consummation, so devoutly to be wished, produced a child which the author christened "The Adventure of the Single Footprint."
    And this bloodhound bambino, this criminous cub, is something of a child prodigy -- the most ingenious descendant of Sherlockian genetics and eugenics to be born in many a year.  Your Editors have only one regret: that this murderous moppet could not have been included in our suppressed anthology, The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes [requiescat in pace].
    Postscript (by Robert Arthur): It's a hard way to write a story and I don't recommend it.  -The Queen's Awards 1948, Little, Brown and Company, 1948.


Introductory Note to the story The Man in the Morgue in 20 Great Tales of Murder by Experts of the MWA.
    With the permission of my co-editor, I shall depart from the editorial "we" for a moment and strike a more personal note.
    Many years ago when Bob Arthur was editing a pocket-sized pulp at Street & Smith, he used to take a malicious (it seemed to me) delight in rejecting every story submitted to him by a tyro named Brett Halliday on the same day he received it.  I was living in Miami at that time, and it often seemed to me that Bob must have met the train at Jacksonville to snatch my manuscript from the mail-bag and send it back in the enclosed envelope (with postage attached).
    Like elephants, mystery writers do not forget.
    Comes then, 1950 and an opportunity to edit the MWA anthology.  I realized it would be a hard and probably thankless task, but with the utmost cunning I induced my wife to take on the job with me - with but one thought in mind.
    If you haven't guessed the gimmick by this time, you're not a reader of mystery stories.
    But Bob proved coy.  (I wonder, now, if he suspected my motive.)  I thought I was being quite clever about it when I approached him soon afterward and asked him to be sure and submit a story.  "What would an MWA anthology be," I argued, "without a contribution by Robert Arthur?  As a personal favor, Bob, PLEASE send us something.  Just any old thing in your files," I urged him guilefully.
    But Bob backed and filled.  He didn't know - he'd see.  Months went by and nothing from Robert Arthur.  I had been zestfully rejecting superb stories by other members of MWA right and left, but the supreme triumph was missing.
    I refused to be thus thwarted by an ex-editor.  In a battle like this, one uses what weapons one has at hand - and damn the consequences.  I appealed to my unsuspecting co-editor.  "We need a Bob Arthur story to round out the book," I cried.  "I know he must have something he could send us.  You go to work on him.  Use your sex appeal - BUT GET US AN ARTHUR STORY."
    Those who know Helen McCloy will understand why an Arthur story arrived within a week or so.
    It was "The Man in the Morgue"
    For this I will never forgive Bob Arthur.  I liked it so much I couldn't reject it.  -Brett Halliday, 1951.


Introductory Note to the story The Universe Broke Down in The Magazine of  Fantasy and Science Fiction.
In his radio programs Murder by Experts and The Mysterious Traveler (for which he recently received his second "Edgar" award from Mystery Writers of America), Robert Arthur is compelled to restrict himself to grim and grisly writing -- which is, we think, a most deplorable state of affairs.  Competent merchants of grimness are not uncommon; but the Arthur gift for plausible absurdity is a rare and enviable one, as you already know from such stories as Postpaid to Paradise.  Here we offer another revival of a delightful Arthur fantasia from Argosy, this time with a wacky science fiction slant -- and a plea to radio producers to turn him loose on creating such humorous improbabilia for the millions who now know him only as a murdermonger.  -Anthony Boucher, December 1951.


Author's Note to his novel Epitaph for a Virgin contained in Vol. 2, No.7 Mercury Mystery Magazine.
About the setting, the author says:  "All of the people and the places in this book are fictitious, except Hollywood and the State of California, both of which are real, improbable as they may seem."  -Robert Arthur, September 1956.


Introductory Note to the story Obstinate Uncle Otis in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Robert Arthur's Murchison Morks ranks with Lord Dunsany's Jorkens, P.G. Wodehouse's Mr. Mulliner and Arthur C. Clarke's Harry Purvis as a man whose life (with the lives of his friends and relations) has embraced more than the usual number of fascinating improbable events, and who knows how to relate these improbabilia with delightfully bland plausibility.  The Morks stories appeared chiefly in Argosy back before the War and have not yet (publishers please note!) been collected in book form.  We revived a couple in the early days of this magazine, . . . and now take pleasure in bringing you -- in a form especially revised for F&SF -- this tale of a stubborn Vermonter and the parlous power of disbelief.
-Anthony Boucher, April 1958.


A Note to the Reader from the Author, Ghosts and More Ghosts, 1963.
Found on the back cover of the fairly scarce dust-jacketed First Printings of this book.
Click HERE to read this fascinating personal note from Robert Arthur.


Introductory Note by editor Daniel P. McGarity to the play Moon-Up, collected in the 1968 book Upstage and Down.
Robert Arthur (1913[sic] -   ) was born on Corregidor, an island in the Philippines.  He started writing when he was in high school and sold his first story to a magazine when he was only seventeen.  Later he attended the University of Michigan where he graduated from the Department of Journalism.  His career has involved him in writing and editing in many parts of the U.S.  He has written mystery and science fiction stories, radio plays, and a few television plays.
    Moon-Up, the only play that Arthur has published, appears to be regional due to the mountain dialect which suggests a Kentucky setting.  The play was, in fact, inspired by Arthur's seeing by chance an old, deserted house on the edge of a high river-bank in Kentucky.  However, in spite of its mountain setting, Moon-Up deals with conflicts that could be felt anywhere.  It is to this that the play's great popularity and appeal may probably be attributed.
    Perhaps the most interesting features of the play are its suspense, the conflict of loyalties between family and society that it brings out, and the contrast between Harry and Tom which is developed early in the plot and strengthened by their mother's identification of them with the river and the hills.  This identification with the forces of nature in Moon-Up is extremely apt and vivid.
    The characters in Moon-Up, particularly Harry and Tom, are well-defined and believable.  Tom's slow speech enables us to feel his quiet, patient strength.  Harry's restless, impatient violence is a characteristic which makes his last contact with the frenzy of the river below the house seem all the more appropriate.  Character, events, and background all work together in this play.  Harry's escape through the window that he often used in childhood to avoid punishment, Tom's guilty complicity in what happens, Ma Holloway's unknowing comments, and the Sheriff's gradual comprehension all succeed in creating a final scene rich in tragic irony.  Arthur, then, has manged to write a play in which all the elements seem to fit together to create a unified whole. -Upstage and Down, The MacMillan Company of Canada, 1968.


Author's Note to the play Moon-Up, collected in the 1968 book Upstage and Down.
To increase the readability, the original dialect has been suggested here rather than literally transcribed.  Everyday mountain speech would use "git" for "get," "hit" for "it," "hain't" for "ain't" (but would say "hain't it," not "hain't hit") "yit" for "yet," "cain't" for "can't", etc.  For production purposes, these usages would enhance the effect of the mountain locale; but equally with a few changes in wording the play could be laid anywhere in America - for that matter, almost anywhere in the world.  For this is a story that could happen anywhere.  -Robert Arthur
Joan Vatsek,
Robert Arthur's wife.