Nathan, Robert

Tagged: Author

(1894-1985) US author who began publishing work with no fantastic interest as Richard Florance, and the author under his own name of forty-two novels from Peter Kindred (1919) to Heaven and Hell and the Megas Factor (1975), in which latter (as so often in his work) good and evil – in this case God and Satan – confer and put aside their differences smilingly. The Barly Fields (omni 1938) – which contains The Fiddler in Barly (1926), The Woodcutter's House (1927) – in which the phrase "little green man" (see Little Green Men) is used to describe a "small god" whose size depends on his number of worshippers – The Bishop's Wife (1928) and its sequel There is Another Heaven (1929), plus The Orchid (1931) – fairly represents the softer-edged work of his early years. Road of Ages (1935), slightly more pointed, is a political fantasy in which the Jews are cast into a new Exile. But even in later years much of his fiction retains a wistful, melancholy, sometimes satirical sense of worlds illuminated by fantasy; and it is perhaps ironic that he is best remembered for perhaps the harshest of his tales: Portrait of Jennie (October-December 1939 Redbook; 1940), where J W Dunne's time theories frame the sentimental tale of a young girl possibly not of this Earth whose love for a human artist causes her to jump repeatedly through time in order to meet him again; at each meeting she is markedly older; the last time he sees her she is a corpse in the ocean. Other Timeslip tales include The Married Look (1950), So Love Returns (September 1958 Saturday Evening Post; 1958), The Wilderness-Stone (1960) and Mia (1970). Later came some Arthurian fantasies, including The Fair (1964), which sustains a sublimated elegiac tone in its depiction of a maiden's adventures there, and The Elixir (1971). The Summer Meadows (1973) movingly explores the nature of love in a fantasy quest for significant and telling moments in its protagonists' lives.

Of indirect sf interest is The Innocent Eve (1951), in which Satan attempts to gain control of the A-Bomb, and The Mallott Diaries (1965), which deals with Neanderthal survivals in a Lost World in Arizona. Of strong sf interest is The Weans (November 1956 Harper's Magazine as "Digging the Weans" plus April 1959 Harper's Magazine as "A Further Report on the Weans"; much exp 1960 chap), a satirical archaeological report on the long-destroyed US, or "Wean", civilization (see Ruins and Futurity), featuring the discovery of the menacing remnants of a huge hollow figure off an east-coast island, whose name is "Libby" (see Statue of Liberty). "Encounter in the Past" (July 1967 F&SF) is a Time Travel tale. Nathan's reputation is submerged at present, though authors like Peter S Beagle [for detailed entries on Beagle and Nathan see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] are explicitly influenced by him; on revaluation he may be seen as a significant creator of humanistic fantasy. [JC]

see also: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Robert Gruntal Nathan

born New York: 2 January 1894

died Los Angeles, California: 25 May 1985



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