Benét, Stephen Vincent

Tagged: Author

(1898-1943) US author, mainly of poetry and stories, much published in the Saturday Evening Post; brother of William Rose Benét. He is best known after his death for a single poem, "American Names" (in Ballads and Poems, coll 1931), whose last line, "Bury my heart at Wounded Knee", gained a peculiar and singular resonance in the campaign for Amerindian rights. Although much of his other work has generally (and unfairly) been forgotten, he is also remembered for two fantasy stories, The Devil and Daniel Webster (24 October 1936 Saturday Evening Post; vt "All That Money Can Buy" in The Ghouls, anth 1971, ed Peter Haining; 1937 chap), also published with other fantasies in Thirteen O'Clock: Stories of Several Worlds (coll 1937); and Johnny Pye and the Fool-Killer (18 September 1937 Saturday Evening Post; 1938 chap), also included with other fantasies in Tales Before Midnight (coll 1939). These collections were brought together to make up Twenty-Five Short Stories (omni 1943), though most of their contents had already appeared in Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benét (coll 1942 2vols; cut vt The Stephen Vincent Benét Pocket Book 1946).

Some of Benét's work is of more direct sf interest, like "The Tinsel Heaven – a Dream", a Posthumous Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] involving Space Flight which was interpolated into his first novel, The Beginning of Wisdom (1921). More importantly, several of the poems assembled in Burning City: New Poems (coll 1936 chap) are sf visions of Ruins and Futurity as dramatized through the destruction of New York: in "Metropolitan Nightmare" (1 July 1933 The New Yorker) – whose first publication date has also been given as 1927 – metal-eating termites, generated by the heating of the globe, devour the metropolis; in "Notes to be Left in a Cornerstone" (18 April 1936 The New Yorker), the city has aeons before been destroyed by the maddening "light" of modernity itself, which is seen as "a whip and a sword" that drove humanity to self-destruction; and the slightly later "Nightmare for Future Reference" (2 April 1938 The New Yorker) describes a Ruined Earth America after World War Three has had the effect of sterilizing the human race. Benét's best-known single sf tale is "The Place of the Gods" (31 July 1937 Saturday Evening Post; vt "By the Waters of Babylon" in Thirteen O'Clock coll 1937) – a clever Ruined Earth story, much better known under its 1937 vt, about a tribal adolescent boy who, on a culture-changing vision quest, contemplates in New Zealander fashion, from across a great river, the ruins of a destroyed City, the vast metropolis in this case being New York. He soon comes to a mysterious cavern with stars on the ceiling which is clearly Grand Central Station, and other marvels that inspire him to return to his people and recreate civilization. "By the Waters of Babylon" was a major exemplar of a theme which became, after World War Two, a Clichéd subgenre in the field. From the Earth to the Moon (1958 chap) is the scenario for an unproduced film version of the Jules Verne novel. [JC]

Stephen Vincent Benét

born Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania: 22 July 1898

died New York: 13 March 1943

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