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Collier, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1901-1980) UK author, poet and short-story author who spent much of his career, after about 1935, in the USA writing filmscripts. He was known mainly for his sophisticated though sometimes rather precious short stories, generally featuring the kind of acerbic snap ending often found in the disillusioned, wary kind of Slick Fantasy [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] introduced by Saki, who clearly influenced him; this kind of story predominates in The Devil and All (coll 1934), whose contents are exclusively Fantasy. Many of his stories have strong elements as well of sf, in particular No Traveller Returns (1931 chap), whose protagonist – via a mysterious London Underground station which sends him futurewards through undescribed Time Travel – visits a deadened, Dystopian Parallel World inhabited by cannibals; Satirical swipes are taken at the more overblown moments in the sf of writers like G K Chesterton. His best-known title, Fancies and Goodnights (coll 1951; cut vt Of Demons and Darkness 1965), assembles new material plus a selection of tales from Presenting Moonshine (coll 1941) and The Touch of Nutmeg, and More Unlikely Stories (coll 1943) – itself a compendium drawn from the previous volume and from The Devil and All; until the release of The John Collier Reader (coll 1972; cut vt The Best of John Collier 1975), Fancies and Goodnights remained the handiest presentation of the kind of short fiction with which Collier has been identified (many of the stories were revised here, and represent Collier's sense of how they should appear): highly polished tales, adroit, world-weary, waspish, sometimes insubstantial. It won the first International Fantasy Award. Alike in tone to his short fiction, his first novel, His Monkey Wife, or, Married to a Chimp (1930), is an Equipoisal Apes as Human tale whose treatment of the theme is conspicuously ruthless.

Radically dissimilar to his most familiar work is Tom's A-Cold (1933; vt Full Circle 1933), a remarkably effective Ruined Earth novel set in the 1990s, long after an unexplained Disaster has decimated England's (and presumably the world's) population and thrust mankind back into rural barbarism, a condition out of which the eldest survivors, who remember civilization, are trying to educate the young third generation. The simple plot plays no tricks on the reader: the young protagonist, a born leader, rises through raids and conflict to the chieftainship, undergoes a tragedy, and reconciles himself at the novel's close to the burdens of a government which will improve the lot of his people. Throughout the novel, very movingly, Collier renders the reborn, circumambient natural world with a hallucinatory visual intensity found nowhere else in his work. Along with Alun Llewellyn's The Strange Invaders (1934), Tom's A-Cold can be seen, in its atmosphere of almost loving conviction, as a genuine successor to Richard Jefferies's After London (1885). [JC]

see also: EC Comics; History of SF; Humour.

John Henry Noyes Collier

born London: 3 May 1901

died Pacific Palisades, California: 6 April 1980


collections and stories


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