The story was sent to Frank Armer (Spicy Adventures) on October 8, 1935. “The Girl on the Hell Ship” was sold to Spicy Adventure Stories on October 23, 1935, and published in the April 1936 issue under the title “She Devil” and the byline “Sam Walser.” Howard would sell four more stories to the magazine.

The tale is a classic high-seas adventure, filled with action, intrigue, and romance, showcasing the unpredictability of life at sea and the indomitable spirit of its characters. 

 “The Girl on the Hell Ship” is not just a story of adventure on the high seas; it is a testament to the strength and cunning of its protagonists, particularly Raquel, who navigates the dangers of her environment with wit, courage, and an unyielding will to forge her own path.

Comparing the DRAFT of “The Girl on the Hell Ship” to the final story you provided, several changes and differences are notable

Alternate title:

SHE DEVIL. Received by Kline Agencies on October 7, 1935.

From the letters

In a letter (#326) to August Derleth, November 1, 1935 Howard wrote:

P.S. I’ve made three new markets since writing you last: Western Aces, Thrilling Mystery, and Spicy Adventure, the latter under a pen name.

We learn quite a bit from a letter (#328) to H.P. Lovecraft, December 5, 1935:

In my efforts to make new markets I’ve been “splashing the field” as Price calls it. One market I tried was Spicy Adventures, a sex magazine to which Ed is the star contributor. I sold the first yarn I tried,17 but doubt if I could make that market regularly, as it requires a deft, jaunty style foreign to my natural style. However, I’ll probably try it again. Why don’t you give it a whirl? You can use a pen name if you like; I did, and I think most of its contributors do. The maximum length is about 5000 words. That sort of yarn is easy to write, if not to sell. If they reject it, you’ve only wasted a day or so. If they accept it, you’re fifty bucks to the good, and they pay promptly. They like good strong plots, but the sex element is a cinch; any man can write that part of it. Just write up one of your own sex adventures, altered to fit the plot. That’s the way I did with the yarn I sold them.

He also told Novalyne Price about his stories for the Spicys in a letter (#338) on February 14, 1936:

The tales of Sam Walser (a rugged, upright, forthright, typical American name, even if the original was a Dane from Skaggerack) appear — or will appear when they start publishing them — in a magazine called Spicy Adventure Stories. They pay one cent a word, on acceptance, and report fairly promptly. I’ve sold them four yarns so far, and fondly hope to sell regularly, if they ever start publishing my stuff and get a reaction from the readers, who, I feel, are cultured and scholarly gentlemen, who wax enthusiastic over meritous artistic efforts, he remarked with characteristic modesty. The main handicap is the necessity of keeping the wordage down — they take nothing over 5500 words, this being their limit not only for Spicy Adventures, but also for Spicy Mysteries and Spicy Detectives, which I hope to make also. A nice balance must be maintained — the stuff must be hot enough to make the readers bat their eyes, but not too hot to get the censors on them. They have some definite taboos. No degeneracy, for instance. No sadism or masochism. Though extremely fond of almost-nude ladies, they prefer her to retain some garment ordinarily — like a coyly revealing chemise. However this taboo isn’t iron-clad, for I’ve violated it in nearly every story I’ve sold them. I’ve found a good formula is to strip the heroine gradually — she loses part of her clothes in one episode, some more in the next, and so on until the climax finds her in a state of tantalizing innocence. Certain words are taboo, also, though up to a certain point considerable frankness in discussing the female anatomy is allowed. The hero should be an American, and the action should take place in some exotic clime. I’ve laid my yarns in the South Seas, in Tebessa in Algeria, in Shanghai, and in Singapore. Laid one yarn in Kentucky but they said it was too hot for them to handle. The hero doesn’t have to be a model of virtue. In fact, a favorite formula is for the hero to accomplish what only the villain attempts in conventional yarns. My character is Wild Bill Clanton, a pirate, gun-runner, smuggler, a pearl-thief and slaver, and carefully avoids all moral scruples in his dealings with the ladies. 

The stories were respectively, “The Girl on the Hell Ship” ( “She-Devil”), “Desert Blood,” “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” and “The Dragon of Kao- Tsu” and the story that was too hot to handle was “Daughters of Feud“.

Summary of the story

“The Girl on the Hell Ship,” set against the backdrop of the tumultuous South Pacific seas, is a tale of adventure, defiance, and cunning on the high seas aboard the Saucy Wench. The narrative unfolds with Captain Harrigan and Raquel O’Shane embroiled in a fierce argument, indicative of the stormy relationship between the tyrannical captain and the spirited Raquel. Despite Harrigan’s physical dominance, Raquel’s resilience and sharp tongue make her a formidable opponent.

Raquel, of mixed Celtic-Latin heritage, is portrayed as a woman of strong will, matching the ferocity of any man. Her presence on the Saucy Wench is by her own complex design, seeking escape from a previous life and ready to face or flee new challenges as they arise. Harrigan, a man known for his smuggling and piratical endeavors, sees Raquel as both a nuisance and an asset, threatening to dispose of her at the next port or sell her to the highest bidder, yet unable to break her indomitable spirit.

The plot thickens with the unexpected arrival of Wild Bill Clanton, a figure as wild and untamed as the seas themselves. His dramatic entrance, battling the ship’s mate, Buck Richardson, signals a turning point in the narrative. Clanton, with his own reasons for being aboard, quickly becomes entangled in the ship’s dynamics, particularly drawn to Raquel’s fiery character.

The story’s climax revolves around a lost chart to the island of Aragoa, believed to hold a fortune in ambergris. Raquel’s impulsive act of throwing the chart overboard amidst a confrontation with Harrigan sets off a chain of events that sees alliances formed and plans hatched for mutual survival and gain.

Clanton’s declaration of knowing the way to Aragoa without the chart is a calculated bluff, designed to protect Raquel and secure his position on the ship. This bold move leads to a tense negotiation with Harrigan, resulting in Clanton taking the helm to navigate towards the supposed location of Aragoa, under the condition that Raquel is spared any punishment.

As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Clanton’s claims about Aragoa are part of a larger ruse. The narrative culminates in a daring escape from the ship, a confrontation with the island’s natives, and a clever deception that sees Clanton and Raquel outsmarting Harrigan and claiming the Saucy Wench as their own.

Changes from the draft

Comparing the final story to Howard’s first draft shows several notable changes and differences:

  1. Ship’s Name: The ship’s name changes from the “Saucy Lass” in the draft to the “Saucy Wench” in the final version. This change might reflect a desire to enhance the ship’s character or simply a preference for the sound and connotation of the name.
  2. Character Dynamics: The interactions between Captain Harrigan and Raquel O’Shane show slight variations in dialogue and action. The draft seems to have a more detailed, extended conflict and dialogue between them, emphasizing their tumultuous relationship further.
  3. Violence and Threats: The draft contains more explicit threats and descriptions of violence, such as Harrigan’s threats to sell Raquel or set her adrift. The final story streamlines these interactions, possibly to focus more on the adventure aspect rather than their personal conflict.
  4. Introduction of Wild Bill Clanton: The arrival and introduction of Wild Bill Clanton are consistent, but the details of the fight between Clanton and Richardson are more elaborated in the draft. This provides deeper insight into Clanton’s character and capabilities.
  5. The Chart and Its Importance: Both versions highlight the importance of the chart leading to the island of Aragoa. However, the draft provides a more detailed backstory about the chart, enhancing the plot’s adventurous allure.
  6. Raquel’s Role and Characterization: Raquel’s character is portrayed with similar traits in both versions, but the draft gives more space to her interactions and reactions, providing a richer character depth.
  7. Ending and Resolution: The final resolution of both versions maintains the essence of adventure and treachery. However, the draft contains more dialogue and interactions among characters, including a clearer depiction of Clanton’s cunning plan to escape with Raquel and claim the ship.
  8. Language and Style: The draft has a rawer, more detailed approach to language and descriptions, fitting the rough and tumble world of pirate adventure. The final story seems to have been refined for pacing and clarity, making it more direct and focused on the narrative’s driving elements.
  9. Additional Scenes and Details: The draft includes additional scenes and details not present in the final story, such as the encounter with the Kanakas and the final confrontation leading to Clanton and Raquel’s escape. These additions provide more action and detail to the story but were likely streamlined for the final version to enhance pacing and focus on key plot points.

Overall, the transition from draft to final story shows a refinement of character dynamics, plot elements, and pacing, likely aimed at strengthening the narrative’s adventure and tension while ensuring a coherent and engaging flow.


  • Captain Harrigan (Bully Harrigan): The brutal and tyrannical captain of the Saucy Wench, known for his smuggling, blackbirding, pearl thieving, and piratical tendencies. His quest for ambergris leads to his downfall.
  • Raquel O’Shane: A fiery woman of Celtic-Latin descent, who ends up on the Saucy Wench after fleeing trouble in San Francisco. Her resilience, wit, and beauty make her a central figure in the story’s conflict and resolution.
  • Wild Bill Clanton: The story’s hero, a rugged and charismatic adventurer who boards the Saucy Wench by chance and quickly becomes embroiled in its affairs. His cleverness, bravery, and knack for survival enable him to outmaneuver Harrigan and win Raquel’s heart.
  • Buck Richardson: The ship’s mate, known for his ferocity and imposing presence. His defeat by Clanton marks the beginning of Clanton’s ascendancy on the ship.
  • The Bos’n: A minor character who provides information and assists in the ship’s operations. He witnesses the tumultuous events and Clanton’s rise to power.
  • The Crew of the Saucy Wench: A group of seamen who follow the orders of their superiors, contributing to the ship’s dynamics and the unfolding of the plot.

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