Tuesday, March 5, 2013


"Ghost Lanterns" by Alan B. LeMay

Originally appeared in Adenture magazine December 20, 1922.  Available for free download from PulpGen.

Alan LeMay is probably best known these days as the author of The Searchers, basis for the remarkable John Ford film starring John Wayne and Jeffrey Hunter. Another fine film was based on the novel, The Unforgiven, directed by John Huston and starring Burt Lancaster and Audrey Hepburn. LeMay's work also showed up as the basis for a number of TV series episodes over the years.

LeMay's strong association with the western genre makes it surprising that he wrote outside the western field. An interesting example is "Ghost Lanterns," which appeared in Adventure magazine in 1922.

This is a nautical tale. Not surprisingly, it's climax turns on a twist ending in the O. Henry mode. The story focuses on the seven men on a schooner becalmed for three days off the coast of Brazil, out of sight of land. Men from the crew start disappearing at night. There is no sign of what happens to them, and no one is awakened by any sounds of struggle -- the men are just discovered as gone the next morning.

There is some nice build-up of tension in the course of this short story to reinforce the strangeness of the disappearances. Overall, though, the tale isn't particularly memorable, but it is well-written.

Of interest, however, are the glimpses of LeMay's eventual mastery of storytelling. He is particularly adept at describing his characters. For example . . .

Of the seven of us Cap Dorkin was the hardest boiled. He was a short, square-built man of indeterminate age, with the fishy kind of eyes that show the whites below the irises.

This is a brief tale that's diverting and provides some entertainment, and it offers a nice flavor of the mid-range type of tale that would fill in an issue of Adventure between the top-rank serials and longer stories by the high-profile authors, such as Talbot Mundy, Harold Lamb, and similar folk.

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