Gerald Kersh – The Battle of the Singing Men, and selected stories (1944)

STAPLES The Battle Of The Singing MenIt’s a rare opportunity to read such an obscure publication and enjoy it. Such was the high level of expectation.

Gerald Kersh hardly needs any introduction. You can readily GOOGLE his name in quotations marks, and find zillions of sites, mostly copycats of each other, happy to cough up information on the author. Ironically, most of the sites plagiarized data from each other (as the same wrong data appears on every site).

In a brief note, Gerald Kersh is English-born, Jewish, his autobiographical novel Jews without Jehovah was published 1934 and the novel was suppressed as libelous by his family (for failure to conceal their identities) and is subsequently quite rare, obtained broader fame with Night and the City in 1938 which led to two films, and if his death should have led to becoming an obscure footnote in literary history, author Harlan Ellison has noted that Kersh is his favorite author. This has inspired a whole new plethora of readers and created new fans of his material.

Kersh lives!

His older, earliest stories often deal with the lower echelons of humanity and, quite realistic portrayals they are; no doubt ripped from real-life experiences and as a result, fictionalized on some level. I’ve never actually read a collection of his works. A story here or there in various publications, over time, certainly.

The cover title states The Battle of the Singing Men and Selected Stories. Inside, the title page merely states Selected Stories. It was published by Staples and Staples in 1944. This yellowish-orange colored booklet contains only 9 stories.
The original publications are noted after each title, below:

7 – The Battle of the Singing MenJohn o’ London’s Weekly, December 8, 1939
13 – Will to PowerThe Star, November 5, 1938
17 – DudelsackJohn o’ London’s Weekly, October 9, 1942
20 – The Musicians
* First publication unknown
31 – The UndefeatedIllustrated, Sept 27, 1941
41 – The StoneJohn o’ London’s Weekly, June 20, 1941
47 – The Drunk and the BlindPenguin Parade #4, 1938
54 – Prometheus Evening Standard, June 23 1938
57 – The Extraordinarily Horrible DummyPenguin Parade #6, 1939

The last tale is the only “fantastic” or supernatural story present, and, fails to touch upon any new territory. Like many of its predecessors, the tale involves a ventriloquist’s dummy that has an evil spirit. That spirit turns out to be his asshole father. Earlier versions of this sort of tale often involve artists creating models from clay, marble, etc, and the form evilly coming to life and either leading the person to insanity or eventual death.

STAPLES Selected StoriesThis edition was originally preceded by a thicker digest-paperback edition, same publishers, under the title Selected Stories, being No. 2 in their Modern Reading Library (1943). This edition actually saw at least two editions, both identical, save for the copyright notice. The book also contains an acknowledgement, courtesy of Mr. Kersh, dated, November 1942. The pages are bound in “hard” paper covers, and contains 23 stories.

Confused? Perhaps not, but for collectors, or more accurately, completists, most do not know about the orange “cheap edition.” It’s not properly indexed anywhere online, this (the Internet) being universally the first place most look to for their information.

Hence my note that many (most?) online sources are plagiarists! The orange edition is often cited as having been published by Everybody’s Books! And, to further that comment, I suspect I know how that attribution came to pass. See, Everybody’s Books was also a bookstore, and often took in battered books during the war years, and gave them a new life. As you know, the war years were tough on publishers and printers, due to strict paper-rationing. So, what better way to make money than stripping off the damaged covers and re-issuing a fresh one? They did just that, and for those not in the “know,” they assume the book is a rare variant published by Everybody’s Books. But if you look closely at the covers, it clearly states “Everybody’s Re-Bound” edition. These re-bound editions are largely ignored and recorded, as thus, in error.

It is perhaps important to further note that both of these editions published by Staples and Staples predate the mid-1944 release of The Horrible Dummy and Other Stories published in England by William Heinemann.

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Gerald Kersh – The Battle of the Singing Men, and selected stories (1944)

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