Joseph Payne Brennan (December 20, 1918 – January 28, 1990) was an American writer of fantasy and horror fiction, and also a poet. He lived most of his life in New Haven, Connecticut, and worked at the Yale Library for over 40 years.
Brennan's first professional sale came in December 1940 with the publication of the poem, “When Snow Is Hung”, which appeared in the Christian Science Monitor Home Forum, and he continued writing poetry up until the time of his death. As a horror writer, Brennan started out writing stories for Weird Tales in 1952 and then began publishing his own magazine Macabre, which ran from 1957 to 1976. Several of his short stories concern an occult detective named Lucius Leffing. His 1958 collection Nine Horrors and a Dream, with classic stories like “Slime” and “Canavan's Back Yard”, is celebrated in an essay by Stephen Gallagher in the book Horror: 100 Best Books, edited by Stephen Jones and Kim Newman.
Work and modern influence
Brennan's stories, though scarce and mostly out-of-print today, are widely considered by horror fiction enthusiasts to be classics. His best-known story, “Slime”, follows a protoplasmic life form as it ascends from its home deep within the ocean and begins to prey upon coastal residents of a small New England town. Not only has this story been re-published more than any other Brennan story, many modern horror authors seem to have borrowed heavily from it, authors such as Dean Koontz in his novel Phantoms, which features a remarkably similar creature, and Stephen King in his short novellette The Raft, which also features a blob-like, water-dwelling organism.
Probably the book that borrows most heavily from “Slime”, possibly to the point of plagiarism, is Night of the Black Horror (1962) by Victor Norwood (U.K., 1920–1983). This is a novel-length work; but for its first few chapters, the events and many of the descriptions parallel Brennan's work almost paragraph by paragraph, although the precise wording is often changed. After that it follows its own plot-line, separate from Brennan's work.
Another work featuring a similar creature is Slimer (1983) by Harry Adam Knight (a pseudonym for John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle). In this case, a group of four people are stranded on an abandoned oil rig where scientific experiments appear to have taken place, creating the blob-like creature that can consume people, whose personalities continue to remain alive inside it. This creature can change shape, and appear as any person it has consumed - which, while borrowing a similar type of creature from “Slime”, goes well beyond the scope of the earlier work.
Brennan brought a lawsuit against Paramount for copyright infringement in regards to their release of the film, The Blob (starring Steve McQueen), and apparently received a minor settlement, however, according to a watered-down version of the court proceedings, since the pulp magazine Weird Tales was not named in the suit, Brennan's claims lacked a substantive weight.Les Daniels stated in his book, Living in Fear, that since “Weird Tales was legally defunct, the author has gone virtually unrewarded”.
Another acclaimed story by Brennan, “Canavan's Back Yard”, deals with a weedy back yard that seems small and unremarkable from the outside, but quickly becomes so large for anyone unfortunate to venture in there that they soon get lost and may never find their way out.
Brennan has stated in numerous autobiographical snippets that a chance encounter with the collected works of Edgar Allan Poe is what sparked his interest and ambition to engage in writing himself. Prior to his first professional sale, it is unknown how much time and effort was invested in honing his skills, however most of the poetry that Brennan was writing in the late 1930s and late Forties (apart from the intervening World War) was certainly compressed and polished, which has been the Brennan hallmark throughout his writing career. Little is known about how Brennan went about submitting his early manuscripts, although he did work with several agencies and independent agents, including the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, and much later, agent Kirby McCauley. Recognized editors of his work include Dorothy McIlwraith, Frank Belknap Long, Charles L. Grant, Peter Haining, Helen Hoke, Robert Arthur, Les Daniels, August Derleth, Ruth Iodice, Lilith Lorraine, Gustav Davidson, F. E. S. Finn, Stuart David Schiff, Gerald W. Page, George Abbe, and Loring Williams.
Brennan's first professional sale of fiction came along in the late Forties with the western yarn “Endurance”, which appeared in the February 1950 issue of Masked Rider Western. Brennan's debut pulp western appearance came along in December 1948 with the yarn “Fast Gun Freedom”, within the pages of Western Short Stories. A total of 26 western yarns can be found in 25 pulp titles. Brennan belatedly “broke into” the pages of Weird Tales with the short-short “The Green Parrot” in the July 1952 issue of that unique magazine. In fairly quick succession this tale was followed up by his fame-tag novelette, “Slime”, the dark whimsy “On The Elevator”, and the classic “The Calamander Chest”. Much later in the cavalcade of attempted resurrections, Brennan was also collected in the Zebra Books Weird Tales #2, with the Leffing case, “The Nursing Home Horror”, retitled “Fear”. After the pulps died out Brennan brought out the first issue of the lean and legendary, Macabre, and continued with his near and dear, Essence, a bi-annual poetry soapbox which ran from 1950 to 1977. August Derleth had been an early correspondent and so, a few years later, Brennan went knocking on the door of Arkham House with a few friends—Henry Hossing, The Hypnotist and Frank, Ernest Maax, Henderson & Larrifer, Miss Meerchum, Canavan, Mr. Massington, Mr. Oricto, and Ed Hyerson with his Model-T and the mail for Juniper Hill. August Derleth assembled Brennan's first collection of Horror fiction, Nine Horrors and a Dream, from these.
Almost all of Brennan's work takes place in or around New England, especially coastal and northwestern Connecticut. Many of Brennan's best tales are localized, within the environs of New Haven and East Hartland, and feature seemingly semi-autobiographical elements throughout. He often goes to great lengths describing vast stretches of forest, scenery, small towns, and so on. His characters are often seclusive, and stick to these desolate places.
In the tradition of the psychic or paranormal detective, Brennan introduced his good friend Lucius Leffing in the story “The Case of the Haunted Housewife”, which made its debut in the Winter of 1962-63 issue of MACABRE. For several decades Brennan championed Leffing's skill, the results of which can be found in the three collections, CASEBOOK, CHRONICLES, and the ADVENTURES, as well as a full length investigation into the bizarre happenings at the First World Fantasy Convention in 1975, ACT OF PROVIDENCE.