Tuesday, July 9, 2013


I confess that I've only read the 1969 Avon paperback publication of THE BLACK FLAME, which is actually two Stanley G. Weinbaum stories-- "Dawn of Flame" and "The Black Flame"-- which featured the same character: "Black Margot," a sultry immortal female who is sometimes called by the name "Black Flame."  The Avon publication drew upon a heavily edited version of the stories, omitting some 18,000 words from the original manuscript. 

That said, I'm skeptical that this chronicle of Black Margot's history would have been substantially improved by the additional wordage.  In both stories the plotlines owe much to Rider Haggard's SHE.  Both stories take place in post-apocalyptic America, though they're separated by a substantial span of time. 

In "Dawn of Flame," the POV character is a hunky hick named Hull Tarvish, who leaves the hills to make his fortune in the big city. He meets a cute young thing with whom he falls in love, but becomes fascinated by Black Margot, one of a small coterie of immortals who are trying to rebuild the shattered nation.  Some characters think that the immortals' efforts are basically constructive, but Hull ends up joining a rebel group that deems them tyrants.  As a result of trying to fight the immortals, Hull is temporarily enslaved by Black Margot, who is, interestingly enough, of Spanish descent and is described as having "olive" skin.  In addition to appreciating her beauty, Hull finds her courageous-- she risks her life to draw the fire of rebel conspirators-- and in most ways his intellectual superior.  However, he's put off by her history of having had many "husbands" during her immortal life.  Though some sparks flare between Hull and Margot, he ends up going back to the "nice girl" and Margot goes back to being an unhappy immortal, which partly mirrors the conclusion of Rider Haggard's "She" storyline.

"The Black Flame," however, endeavors to give Margot's story a happy ending.  This time Thomas Connor, a 20th-century man, is given the Rip Van Winkle treatment (the Van Winkle story is even directly referenced, albeit briefly).  Upon awakening and becoming acclimated to the post-apocalyptic future-- evidently several years after Hull Tarvish's time-- Connor meets Margot and her warlord brother.  Though again Margot has competition from a mortal rival, this time the rival gets less attention and author Weinbaum makes Margot more appealing, though a bit less dynamic.  Perhaps the unedited manuscript would show more vigor in her characterization, but I can't resist the hypothesis that in trying to "reform" Margot, Weinbaum divested her of some of her goddess-like aspects.  By story's end she's found a way to reverse her immortality so that she and Connor can marry and breed naturally, an ending which may please the sentiments but doesn't do much for Black Margot's reputation as a "femme formidable."

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