Friday, September 30, 2011

Forgotten Books: Cave of a Thousand Tales - Milt Thomas

(This post first appeared in slightly different form on July 23, 2004)

Cave of a Thousand Tales: The Life and Times of Pulp Author Hugh B. Cave 

This biography of the legendary pulp author Hugh B. Cave was based on many personal interviews Milt Thomas conducted with Cave over several years.  Not surprisingly, it's a very intimate portrait of Cave as both a writer and a human being.  I knew very little about his childhood or personal life; all I knew was that he produced a multitude of stories that were both very well-written and very enjoyable.  Discovering that Cave was so prolific in part because he was trying to escape from some unpleasant personal circumstances gives the stories an added poignancy. 

The first half of the book covers Cave's childhood, adolescence, his first attempts at writing, and his blossoming pulp career.  Thomas's account moves on to Cave's foray into the slick magazine market, his experiences as a war correspondent during World War II (I wish I'd known that Cave was around Guadalcanal; I would have had him make a cameo appearance in one of my World War II novels), his trips to Haiti, where he learned so much about voodoo that would form the basis for many of his later works, his years as the owner of a coffee plantation in Jamaica, his mainstream novels and his later horror novels, and the rebirth of interest in his pulp work that began with Karl Edward Wagner's publication of the collection MURGUNSTRUMM in 1977.  In reading this book I discovered that Cave was at the fourth World Fantasy Convention in Fort Worth in 1978, a convention that I didn't know about until it was over.  Within a few years, though, I met quite a few people who were at that very convention, including Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale.  Paralleling the story of Cave's professional life are the varied tragedies of his personal life.  You can't help but feel a little sympathy for Cave, who was a modest, genuinely decent man. 

As for CAVE OF A THOUSAND TALES, it's a well-written, well-researched, beautifully-produced book.  I was a little unsure about Thomas's habit of fictionalizing certain incidents in the lives of Cave's parents and in Cave's early life, but the technique worked just fine.  I might have a quibble or two with certain of his comments about pulp history, but those are very minor points.  All in all, this is a highly readable account of the life and career of one of my favorite writers, and it's one of the best books I've read this year.


Walker Martin said...

Hugh Cave was the Guest of Honor at Pulpcon and very active despite his age. Unfortunately just about all the authors and artists that appeared in the pulps are now gone. In fact Pulpfest and Windy City had to cease having guests because either they are either in poor health and cannot attend or deceased.

Jerry House said...

Fascinating book. Great choice.

Anonymous said...

I've often wondered how his last name is pronounced. I guess I assumed it was "kaave" like the hole or tunnel in the ground, but I once heard it prenounced "kah-vey".

Meanwhile this looks like a terrific book, I'll be searching it out.

Tom Roberts said...


It's Cave just like the subterranean cavern.


James Reasoner said...

I always figured that was the way it was pronounced, but I wasn't sure. I never met Cave but I traded a few emails with him and he seemed like a very nice fellow (as well as a fine writer, of course).