Science Fiction Studies

#20 = Volume 7, Part 1 = March 1980


  • George Locke. The New Bleiler and the New Clarke (I.F. Clarke. Tale of the Future; E. F. Bleiler, The Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction)
  • Patrick Parrinder. William Morris: Romantic or Revolutionary? (E.P. Thompson. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary; Richard Mathews. An Introductory Guide to the Utopian and Fantasy Writing of William Morris; Richard Mathews. Worlds Beyond the World. The Fantastic Vision of William Morris; Charlotte H. Oberg. A Pagan Prophet. William Morris)



George Locke

The New Bleiler and the New Clarke

I.F. Clarke. Tale of the Future. London: The Library Association, 1978. 357p. .50.

E. F. Bleiler, The Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction. Glen Rock, NY: Firebell Books, 1978, 266p. $20.

The end of 1978 saw the floodgates of a currently fashionable area of "fantasy" bibliography start to re-open--that of books concentrating on or covering extensively the period prior to 1950. Three important books have appeared. One, the wholly original British and American Utopian Literature 1516-1975, by Professor Lyman Tower Sargent, had not, as of this writing, landed on my desk. I must therefore restrict this review to the other two--Clarke and Bleiler--both new, revised, and expanded editions.

Professor Clarke's book has never received the accolades which I feel are due to it. The first edition, of 1961, was worthy of a high degree of praise as a pioneering bibliography of a specific subgenre of fantasy. The second, expanded, edition of 1972 was a very considerable improvement upon that, while the third edition not only brings the coverage up to the end of 1976 (and, incidentally, demonstrates how popular SF has become recently) but also adds a large number of additional titles to the earlier period. The volume, I must add, covers only books actually published or distributed in Britain. Pertinent American books which did not make it across the Atlantic are not included.

Those interested in post-1950 SF will find the book to be a curiosity of peripheral interest. This modern period is exhaustively, even exhaustingly, documented in many current and recent books and journals. The annotations for the modern entries follow the same style and reflect the same strengths and weaknesses as do those for the older titles. Therefore, the scholar will probably find Professor Clarke's comments on post-1950 titles to be quaint and not especially relevant to the development of modern SF. The book's great importance lies in its coverage of fiction of the future published before 1950. Even as early as the first edition, the author had revealed an uncanny knack for unearthing information on many obscure books and pamphlets. The two subsequent editions added a large number of additional titles, many of them so obscure that it is doubtful that more than two or three copies exist in the world today.

Arranged chronologically by year (with supporting author and title indices), the publication data given are minimal and not particularly accurate (though many of the errors are, I feel, typographical). The importance of the book lies in the single-sentence description of each title. Some of those annotations sum their subjects up perfectly. Others, however, give impressions which range from faintly inappropriate to totally erroneous.

This, I believe, is partly due to the difficulties inherent in encapsulating a book in a single sentence based, in all probability on a quick examination of the contents. It is unreasonable to expect a single bibliographer to read carefully, word for word, every one of several thousand titles--assuming, of course, that he can locate copies of them all! Thus, he has to develop a technique for skimming a book and an eye for picking out the salient features. Before attempting to develop such a technique, the researcher must, I believe, first decide what he is looking for. He must ask himself such questions as "What is the central purpose of the book?"; "Is it an adventure story? a political or sociological discussion? an exposition of religious principles?"; "Is there advanced technology?"; "Is that the background of the book or is it the basis of the plot?"; and so forth. Having asked those questions and decided which are pertinent to the study, he is then able to pick out the salient features of each title for the annotation.

I suspect that Professor Clarke had no such clear scheme when he embarked on the project. Certainly, the annotations are sometimes so far off the mark and so idiosyncratic that my reaction has been "he's read a totally different book. " And while his ideas may well have evolved and gelled in the years following 1961 (as may be evident in the newer entries), the text of the annotations which appeared in the first edition does not, extensively at any rate, appear to have been revised.

I must point out one further bone of contention: in some cases, I feel, Professor Clarke has included works which are not, by any stretch of the imagination, stories of the future. They are tales of inventions, set in unspecified but obviously contemporary times. In his introductory remarks, Professor Clarke says: "the test is a question of scale, and a title is entered here whenever the events in the story are of such national or international importance that they could have changed the course of history...." Many of the invention stories, whether describing artificial diamonds, super-aircraft, spacecraft, weapons, etc., do deal with the effects of those inventions on the world at large. There is thus every reason to describe them as tales of the future, whether the action of the story is dated or not. On the other hand, Professor Clarke has included quite a number of stories whose inventions affect only the characters directly involved. Some of those inventions, such as spacecraft, could certainly "change the course of history." But within the context of the story they do not, and are therefore, I submit, inadmissible to a study of tales of the future. A typical example is The Disintegrator by Arthur Morgan and Charles Brown (1892). Professor Clarke annotates it as follows: "A scientist runs into unexpected troubles when he seeks to control nature." It is, in fact, a detective story in its approach. Although it deals with a genuine invention, and is perfectly acceptable for inclusion in a bibliography of SF, it involves only a local group of characters and should not, in my view, have been included in Tale of the Future.

Despite its idiosyncrasies and inconsistencies, however, Tale of the Future is utterly fascinating. It is one of the half-dozen reference books on my shelves that I most frequently refer to--and that, in my opinion as a collector, researcher, and bookseller in the field, makes it a very valuable book indeed.

I'm not sure what to call the new, revised edition of E. F. Bleiler's The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. The title page calls it The Checklist of Science Fiction and Supernatural Fiction, which I suppose is the one we must go by, although the running heads of the book itself state The Checklist of Science-Fiction and Fantasy, which is a more accurate description. The term "supernatural" would suggest the exclusion of substantial areas of the fantasy genre, such as the heroic romances of William Morris and E. R. Eddison, which are included. First off, I must say that this new, revised edition of what we have come to know and love as "Bleiler" is absolutely essential to the reference shelves of anybody interested in fantastic literature, whether or not they already own the previous edition.

It drops from the first edition, according to the author, some 600 titles which Mr. Bleiler decided were irrelevant or weakly relevant. It adds some 1150 titles, extending the coverage very slightly to include everything published in 1948 (the year of publication of the first edition). It makes an attempt, largely but not entirely successful, to supply the appropriate data for the first editions of the books described (which the first "Bleiler" did not do). It drops the introductions and various informative notes which graced the first edition (to the new book's serious loss, I feel; the matter that replaces them seems to have been rather hastily conceived and executed). The original book was self-evidently a co-operative effort on the part of the owners and staff of Shasta (the publishers) and numerous collectors and researchers; the latters' contributions were fully acknowledged in the first edition but have been relegated to the status of a single and slightly off-hand general acknowledgment in the new book. Many of those pioneering contributors have since passed away; it is sad that Mr. Bleiler has allowed even their memories to pass away too.

The new edition also has a code which endeavors to indicate the subject-matter of each title; the majority of entries are so coded. Printing the code on the endpapers was a good idea. I confess myself mystified, however, as to the process of logic which was used to develop the code itself.

I was curious as to what Mr. Bleiler had dropped from the first edition, and compared the entries under the letter "H" (picked at random) in the two versions. About 80 aitches have been dropped. Many of those titles I had not seen--in which case I had no reason to agree or disagree with Mr. Bleiler's decision. A good many of the others I was quite happy to see dropped, including several Haggards, the three Mary and Thomas Hanshew detective stories, and a couple of H. F. Heard mysteries. There remained a residuum of 8 or 10 titles about whose deletion I felt a range of emotions from uneasiness to vehement opposition.

First, the ones I would protest strongly about. Surely no one would deny that the title tale in Edward Everett Hale's Sybaris (1869) is a utopian fantasy. Two Ben Hecht books, Fantozius Mallare and The Kingdom of Evil, have also been dropped. Although I suppose deletion could be justified on the grounds that they are rationalized (being the hallucinations, etc., of an insane person), the fantastic content, particularly in the second book, is so plentiful and imaginative that they have been regarded as masterpieces of the fantastic in literature. Two utopian pieces, Herbert's Newaera (1910) and Hertzka's Freeland (1891), although largely explorations of ideas, are still, in my opinion, set in a fictional form and should therefore have been retained. Although Mr. Bleiler was quite right to drop Harrington Hext's The Monster and The Thing at Their Heels, it is generally accepted that Number 87 is genuinely a fantasy (it is included in Clarke's Tale of the Future). I would also protest the dropping of William Holt-White's The World Stood Still (1912), having had occasion lo annotate the book for a work of my own; I say about it: "Thriller of high finance and intrigue in which the four wealthiest men in America and Europe (who effectively control the world) decide to retire and hand the reins over to two young reprobates, causing world-wide chaos." Surely that describes a fantasy within Mr. Bleiler's parameters. Although I could have forgiven the dropping of that title, which needed some textual excavation to establish its precise fantasy nature, the deletion of Howells's Through the Eye of the Needle (1907) is unforgivable. Fergus Hume's The Island of Fantasy should also have been retained, as it belongs to the same category of fiction as Dwyer's Hespamora, which was not dropped.

I also have misgivings about some of the other deletions: the two "ghost books" compiled by Lord Halifax, for example (although they may well be compilations of factual ghost stories and therefore quite rightly dropped; I cannot in all honesty recall). Mr. Bleiler has listed Cecily Hamilton's Lest Ye Die as merely another edition of Theodore Savage when in fact Lest Ye Die was so substantially rewritten as to constitute almost a new work. Two novels by T. Everett Harre have also been dropped, although I have the impression that elements of fantasy are to be found in each (I may be wrong, though). Also deleted are several of Laurence Housman's fairy tales. I've no objection to their being omitted, since Mr. Bleiler indicates that juveniles are, by and large, excluded. But why, then, retain Tom Hood's From Nowhere to the North Pole, which in no way could be regarded as an adult fantasy?

It would seem to me, therefore, that if this pattern, conservatively 10%, of inappropriate deletions from the first edition is maintained throughout the rest of the alphabet, then Mr. Bleiler has been guilty of not doing his homework properly. After all, none of the titles mentioned above are obscure non-entities. The subject matter of most if not all has been recorded in print sometime during the last 30 years, and Mr. Bleiler should have been in possession of most if not all of the salient facts.

Was he? In the new edition, Mr. Bleiler writes: "In 1948 when the first Checklist was published there was little further general bibliography to which the reader could be referred. The situation is still much the same."

A glance at a book like Anatomy of Wonder will demonstrate that the situation is not "still much the same"; that there has indeed been a wealth of material elucidating the contents of a very large number of old and modern works of fantasy. If one took Mr. Bleiler's words at their face value, one would suspect that he had spent the last 30 years in hermit-like isolation from all the material. Some books have penetrated the fastnesses, however; he mentions "five specialized works of interest": Summers's A Gothic Bibliography (notably unhelpful in respect of the subject matter of the titles it lists); Clarke's Voices Prophesying War and Tale of the Future (Mr. Bleiler cites the 1961 edition, not the 1972 one); Day's The Supplemental Checklist of Fantastic Literature, and my own Voyages in Space. After giving us that list (if that is the correct noun), Mr. Bleiler says: "There is a considerable overlap between those five works and the present Checklist, as well as many titles unique to each book, as is to be expected. I should add that in preparing this second Checklist, both for ethical reasons and for reasons of different definitions and delimitations, I have not raided these books." A little later, he confesses that a figure of 5,000 titles which could still be included in his Checklist would not be unreasonable. The fact that he has deliberately excluded a great deal of matter included in those (and the many other, unmentioned, books) is, in my opinion, a serious dereliction of his duty as the compiler of the Checklist.

My (admittedly limited) knowledge of patents induces me to say that a chemical compound cannot be patented, only the process by which it is produced. In the same way, surely, bibliographical knowledge cannot be copyrighted, only the precise manner of its presentation. Thus, I submit, there would have been nothing unethical about Mr. Bleiler's incorporating into his own bibliography titles listed in other works which he deems to be relevant to his own study. The authors of those other works would have cause to complain only if he reprinted word for word their annotations and made no attempt to adapt their entries to his own style. Certainly, he would have been welcome to incorporate any of the material in Voyages in Space (and my other bibliographies) that he thought was relevant. Some of the 1150 new entries were indeed previously described in Voyages in Space and my other books, so he has not deliberately excluded everything therein that was not also in the first edition of his work. And a substantial number of that 1150 have been recorded in other bibliographies.

So how, I wonder, did Mr. Bleiler arrive at his new titles. I rather suspect that the 1150 titles were based on his personal notes of titles suggested to him or examined by him probably in the first few years after the 1948 edition. It seems doubtful, also, whether he actually checked those titles against bibliographies. For example, under the entry for Barlow, The lmmortals' Great Quest (1909), he says: "This is said to be a reissue of Skorpios, Antares, History of a Race of Immortals Without a God, 1891, but it has not been possible to verify this." Why not? I describe the Skorpios title fully in Voyages in Space and describe its relationship with the reprint under Barlow's own name. Did he check the Skorpios version in Voyages in Space? If so, did he distrust my comment? If that was the case, why didn't he do the logical thing and write to me?

The original Checklist was intended as a coverall publication listing all types of fantasy within its clearly defined definitions. The new edition should have been a compilation based on that first one, dropping all the titles known not to be a fantasy, and including everything discovered afterwards that could reasonably be assumed to be relevant. That would mean including, for a start, virtually every pre-1949 entry in Clarke's Tale of the Future (1972 edition); it would mean including much of Voyages in Space and most of the listings in my two Ferret Fantasy's Christmas Annuals (1972 and 1973); it would include the relevant matter in numerous other bibliographies and non-fiction books covering various aspects of SF, supernatural fiction, and fantasy. It would also mean going beyond those formally published books. It would mean raking through the catalogues of specialist dealers in early fantasy. Although not always having the necessary publication data, the story descriptions would often be sufficient to determine that the book was relevant, and the basic publication data could almost always be picked up from other standard sources. There also certain bibliographies of fiction like Lyle H. Wright's series on American fiction and E. Morris Miller's Australian Literature, wherein to look for clues for further titles; both Wright and Miller include many informative and revealing plot summaries and annotations. Inevitably, some of the information received from such secondhand sources would be suspect. But even if were not possible to confirm the content personally, such material should still be included, with a note added to identify the source.

Mr. Bleiler, I submit, should have done all this for the new edition. He should have written round to collectors, researchers, and booksellers for information. Instead, he appears to have crawled into a bibliographical corner, and produced as the new, revised edition of the Checklist a half-cooked and half-hearted affair which, though absolutely essential to any SF and fantasy reference library, is a profound disappointment.

Patrick Parrinder

William Morris: Romantic or Revolutionary?

E.P. Thompson. William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. New York: Pantheon Books, 1977. x + 829p., $7.95 paper.

Richard Mathews. An Introductory Guide to the Utopian and Fantasy Writing of William Morris. London: William Morris Centre, 1976. 18p.

Richard Mathews. Worlds Beyond the World. The Fantastic Vision of William Morris. San Bernardino, CA: Borgo Press, 1978. 64p. $2.45 paper.

Charlotte H. Oberg. A Pagan Prophet. William Morris. Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1978. ix + 189p., $13-95.

William Morris's claim to be considered an SF writer might at first sight seem a slender one. His "utopian romance," News From Nowhere, fits only those definitions of SF which are inclusive of utopian fiction, though it is certainly allied to the genre and (in my experience) makes an excellent choice for SF courses. Morris's other late prose romances, from The House of the Woffings through The Sundering Flood, did much to create what Richard Mathews calls the "adult fantasy novel" (Worlds Beyond the World, p. 57). The revival of interest in these romances in the last few years is largely a result of the vogue for heroic fantasy, and especially for Morris's conservative Oxonian successors, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Yet the traces of Morrisian fantasy are also discernible in some contemporary SF writers who draw on the romance tradition (such as the earlier Le Guin). Moreover, News From Nowhere directly influenced Wells's Time Machine and, through it, the whole of 20th-century dystopian SF. It is worth remembering that many years ago Sir Nikolaus Pevsner acclaimed Morris as one of the pioneers of modem architecture, even though the precepts of the modern style were in many cases opposed to his and there is not a single building that can be ascribed to Morris's name. The situation is almost exactly parallel with regard to Morris's position in SF.

E. P. Thompson's William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary, now revised and reissued, is a monumental work which stands at the head of recent Morris scholarship. This is still the best general biography of Morris, as well as the authoritative source for our knowledge of his political work and beliefs as a leading member of the Social Democratic Federation and the Socialist League. It was this book which laid the foundations of Thompson's own formidable reputation as a historian of British working-class movements. Nevertheless, the first edition, published in 1955 by the Communist firm of Lawrence and Wishart, contained a number of "hectoring political moralisms" and "Stalinist pieties" (Thompson, "Postscript: 1976," p. 769) which the author (who left the CP in 1956) has now taken the opportunity to remove. The book was virtually ignored by the intellectual establishment in Britain, did not find a US publisher, and became something of a rarity, as anyone who tried to procure a library copy of it during the early 1970s can attest. It is to be hoped that the new edition will at long last have given Thompson's book the wide circulation it deserves. In his "Postscript: 1976," the author both eloquently affirms his continuing commitment to Morris-not least at those points where Morris's thought complements or conflicts with "orthodox Marxism--and gives an extensive survey of developments in Morrisian scholarship since 1955. Thanks perhaps to the revival of interest in Pre-Raphaelitism and Art Nouveau, Morris's work as a designer and craftsman is now fairly well understood. It is his position as a socialist utopian which remains the most controversial aspect of his achievement.

William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary is, fundamentally, an epic narrative of political conversion, re-telling the story that Morris himself told in his essay "How I Became a Socialist." Thompson's central metaphor for his subject's career, that of the "river of fire" of revolutionary allegiance, is taken from Morris's too-little-known volume of lectures on the arts, Hopes and Fears for Art (1884). Despite his high regard for Morris's Romantic heritage, Thompson has little time for the "evasive" and "despairing" poetry of The Earthly Paradise, written before the conversion, and he also laments the "facility" and "self-indulgence" of the late romances, relating their shortcomings to Morris's insensitivity to the merits of literary realism (pp. 661-2, 678). News From Nowhere, however, is praised (in the course of a somewhat half-hearted analysis) as a "Scientific Utopia" (p. 693).

In retrospect, Thompson shows himself to be well aware of the limitations of his earlier view of Morris's fiction. It is true that few subsequent critics have done much better. The discussion of News From Nowhere in his 1976 postscript relies heavily on the views of M.H. Abensour (discussed in Raymond Williams's essay in SFS No. 16). Thompson follows Abensour in abandoning the "scientific" label for News From Nowhere and declaring Morris a "Communist Utopian," in defiance of Engels' well-known thesis on utopian socialism. The purpose of utopianism, Thompson suggests, is not to anticipate the satisfaction of empirical human needs but to further the "education of desire"; that is, it is a projection of wishes untrammelled by the scepticism of the political pragmatists. It may be added that modern "scientific utopias, " such as those of Wells, invariably involve some degree of conflict of compromise between social fulfillment (Morris's "epoch of rest") and the realization that things ought to be still further improved. The result is not a hedonistic society like that of Nowhere, but one in which a degree of present happiness is still sacrificed to the elusive promise of the future.

Thompson notes the emergence in the last two decades of an "increased tolerance" among politically-minded critics for Morris's heroic romances (p. 764). "Tolerance" is a pale word for the emotions that the two other scholars under review bring to these works. Of Richard Mathews' two pamphlets, the first is a very brief survey published (in their usual immaculate format) by the William Morris Society, and the second a more extended critical study in the Borgo Press's Milford Series of "Popular Writers of Today" (Morris was bom in 1834!). Mathews' prose does not always make for easy reading, but his enthusiasm is genuine and Worlds Beyond the World especially is valuable for its expositions of Morris's symbolism and its observations on the general nature of his mode of fantasy. In the face of Thompson and most earlier critics, Mathews maintains that heroic fantasy was an appropriate medium for Morris to express his socialist and secularist attitudes. Moving from his early stories for the Oxford and Cambridge Magazine with their "conventional religious anxieties and moral imperatives," Morris arrives at a "creative vision of self-determination, where individual characters increasingly control their own destinies while they shape society toward embodiment of their ideals" (p. 7).

This line of thought is further endorsed by Charlotte Oberg, whose A Pagan Prophet: William Morris examines The Earthly Paradise, The Life and Death of Jason, and the late romances. Oberg points out that political activism for Morris was "his way of emulating the great heroes of his poems" (p. 93)--a nice reversal of the traditional accusations of Morris's poetic escapism. His poems and romances are "educative in the sense of inculcating heroic attitudes and behavior"; still more, they are "calls to action" (pp. 177, 180-8 1). As Mathews writes of The Sundering Flood, these works demonstrate a "vital secularism, humanism, and socialism of the highest order" (Worlds Beyond the World, p. 57).

Clearly we have come a long way since 1955, and there is no longer a danger of the "suppression" of Morris of which Thompson retrospectively complains. The danger, at least among fantasy enthusiasts, is rather one of bland acceptance and hagiography. If the prose and verse romances were really "calls to action," how do we explain the fact that they were almost universally viewed as escapist in their own time? The ascendancy of pragmatic, Fabian attitudes in the socialist movement of the 1890s will not really explain this, though Wells was notably patronizing towards the romances, and Shaw (a great admirer of Morris in general) described them as a "startling relapse into literary Pre-Raphaelitism ... nothing more or less than the resuscitation of Don Quixote's burnt library" (Thompson, p. 674).

Shaw's comment was not, of course, aimed at News From Nowhere, published serially in the socialist Commonweal and still-now that the immediate political hopes on which it was based have receded-a vital stimulus to the "education of desire" for many readers. Yet it is not News From Nowhere but the heroic fantasies which are currently fashionable again, in a variety of paperback editions (including the very comprehensive list of Morris titles in the "Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library," one of whose editors is R. Reginald of the Borgo Press). Modem scholars may be better placed to appreciate the uniqueness of these fantasies than were their early readers, brought up on the medieval dream-worlds of Tennyson, Browning, and Rossetti-themes to which Morris as a prose-writer simply seemed to be adding his own exquisite set of variations. Yet it should be remembered that, of all the readers of the original chivalric romances, there was only one who took them seriously as a "call to action"--and he went out tilting at windmills.

moonbut.gif (4466 bytes)   Back to Home