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Bangs, John Kendrick

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1862-1922) US editor, playwright, poet and author, extremely prolific under several names from about 1880, though he increasingly used his own; most of his books are primarily of interest as humorous fantasies, though some are sf or sf-like. His editorial career with Harper's New Monthly Magazine (and its offshoots) lasted from 1888 to 1901, during which period he was involved in publishing work by Arthur Conan Doyle (whose work he parodied: see below), Rudyard Kipling, Mark Twain and others. He is now best remembered for the first volume of his Styx sequence, A House-Boat on the Styx: Being Some Account of the Divers Doings of the Associated Shades (1896), which provides a model for many stories featuring the famous dead as posthumous or Immortal protagonists in Planetary Romance venues, where endless exemplary adventures are experienced along rivers without apparent end, fantasticating and softening the end-stopped Archipelago structure of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). A suggestive line of association can be drawn through The Seen and Unseen at Stratford-on-Avon (1914) by William Dean Howells (whom he published) and the works of Thorne Smith, on to the various Riverworld tales and novels of Philip José Farmer and the Black Current trilogy by Ian Watson and the Confluence series by Paul McAuley and others (see also Dying Earth). The sequence continues with [for subtitles see Checklist] The Pursuit of the House-Boat (1897), The Enchanted Type-Writer (coll of linked stories 1899) and Mr Munchausen (coll of linked stories 1901). Alan Moore included the shade of Bangs in the House-Boat setting in one episode of his remarkable Science Fantasy Comic sequence Promethea (1999-2005), whose heroine Sophie Bangs is a descendant of the author.

Though it is clearly fantasy in its cast of fairies and the like, the Jimmieboy sequence – comprising In Camp with a Tin Soldier (1892), Half-Hours with Jimmieboy (coll of linked stories 1893), Bikey the Skicycle & Other Tales of Jimmieboy (coll of linked stories 1902) and Jimmieboy's Tool Chest (coll of linked stories 1907) – focuses on fantasticated Inventions and upon Jimmieboy's interest in how these things work, so that the series – which includes a dream trip to Saturn (see Outer Planets) – constantly resembles sf without being quite answerable, rather in the fashion of L Frank Baum, who may have been influenced by early Bangs. In the Idiot sequence – comprising Coffee and Repartee (coll 1893), The Idiot (coll 1895), both assembled as Coffee and Repartee and The Idiot (omni 1899), plus The Idiot at Home (coll 1900), The Inventions of the Idiot (coll 1904), The Genial Idiot: His Views and Reviews (coll 1908) and Half Hours With the Idiot (coll 1917) – a boarding-house resident who habitually deflates the pretensions and philosophies of his fellow boarders, in a voice that oddly prefigures Groucho Marx's, often describes, and tells Club Stories about, fantastic Inventions. The Sherlock Holmes/Raffles sequence of Parodies [see Checklist] involving Sherlock Holmes is nonfantastic.

Various singletons are of mixed fantasy/sf interest, like Emblemland (1902) with Charles Raymond Macauley (1871-1934), a Wonderland fantasy set on a desert Island, Alice in Blunderland: An Iridescent Dream (1907), or The Autobiography of Methuselah (1909). Ghost stories and other supernatural fictions are assembled in volumes like The Water Ghost and Others (coll 1894), Ghosts I Have Met and Some Others (coll 1898); The Dreamers: A Club [for subtitle see Checklist] (coll of linked stories 1899) describes with examples the formation of Club Story cohort who tell each other tales based on their dreams; Olympian Nights (coll 1902), in which the gods use Mars as a golf course; Jack and the Check Book (coll 1912) assembles Twice-Told tales [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. [JC]

John Kendrick Bangs

born Yonkers, New York: 27 May 1862

died Atlantic City, New Jersey: 21 January 1922





The Idiot

Sherlock Holmes/Raffles

Mollie and the Unwiseman

individual titles




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