CAVE OF A THOUSAND TALES : The Life And Times Of Hugh B. Cave (2004) by Milt Thomas (2004, Arkham House)
I first encountered Hugh B Cave in 1977 when I purchased a Carcosa Press edition of his works, Murgunstrumm and Others. What attracted me to the book was not the author, whom I’d never heard of before, but the great illustrations by Lee Coyne. Coyne was one of those rare illustrators who could chill your blood with a minimum of lines. If he put his name to the book, it had to be good. I wasn’t disappointed and the collection was one of the best assemblies of pulp fiction I have ever encountered.
Cave of a Thousand Tales takes us into the world of Hugh Cave the man: it’s a complex biography by writer Milt Davis on one of the greater authors of this century. Hugh Cave published his writings most of his life (1910- 2004). He was still writing well into his 80’s. Cave was one of the few pulp writers who successfully made the transition to the better-paying “slick” markets. In the meantime he raised a family and started a coffee plantation in Jamaica.
The best part of the biography descrives Cave’s average work day as a writer in the 1930’s. He eventually rented an office to achieve the kind of isolation needed for his writing. Cave managed to put in a solid day working on his short stories, his main source of income in the depression. Cave was a favourite with his editors, as he always delivered neat and clean copy. A feat which many wiriters woulod do well to emulate.
With the fall of the pulps in the late 1930’s, Cave was able to move into the larger magazine market. He served as a war correspondent in WW2 and wrote several books about combat. At the war’s conclusion, he traveled with his wife to Haiti and spent several months traveling there. Several books would come out of his experiences in Haiti, most notably The Cross and The Drum, which was optioned to be made into a motion picture.
In the 1960’s, Cave was able to resurrect an abandoned coffee plantation in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. Thousand Dreams spends quite a few chapters in his efforts to plant coffee trees, open the land up for agriculture, and produce an award winning coffee brand. Most of his research skills as a writer were put to the test. Cave maintained the coffee plantation and a full-time writers schedule until he was forced to sell the plantation in the 1970’s.
The final section of the biography traces his remergence as a novel writer and activities on the pulp conventiion circut. Cave wrote a number of horror novels through the 1980’s and into the 90’s. I remember seeing one of them in 1980, thinking :”He’s still writing?”.
The book concludes with Cave working on new projects, looking forward to telling more tales. Sadly, he passed away shortly after its publication. This is an excellent book which shows the evolution of an important american writer.