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de Mille, James

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1833-1880) Canadian academic and author, born James De Mill, who began his publishing career in 1853 and was the author of considerable signed fiction; he wrote two series of boy's stories, the Brethren of the White Cross sequence which includes Fire in the Woods (1871), a boy's story with a Lost Race element; and the entirely nonfantastic The Young Dodge Club sequence. The book for which he is now remembered is the anonymous, posthumous, Antarctic Utopia, A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder (7 January-12 May 1888 Harper's Weekly; 1888), one of the best nineteenth-century Lost-Race novels, written but not submitted for publication in the late 1860s (see below), well before other authors, including Edward Bulwer Lytton, Samuel Butler and H Rider Haggard, published their own comparable tales. The cylinder's contents comprise a long manuscript by Adam More, lone survivor of a shipwreck, which is read aloud and discussed by four gentlemen within a Club Story frame, one of whom describes the tale they are hearing as a Scientific Romance. More – whose name patently evokes Sir Thomas More, and who is self-reflexive enough to compare his story to Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket (1838) – describes his discovery of a lost valley located on an Island in an inland sea surrounding the South Pole, where the climate is temperate, prehistoric animals wander about, and a Semitic people, the Kosekin, has evolved (see Evolution) a kindly, cannibalistic society physically and psychologically adapted to value darkness, poverty and clement death; visible poverty – in this prefiguring Frederik Pohl's "The Midas Plague" (April 1954 Galaxy) – is a sign of wealth. As the narrative structure of the Satire makes clear, these emphases, which reverse all normal "civilized" values, are intended by De Mille to be readable in a positive light, even though the ongoing comments of the four auditors generate a complex ambivalence about the world described, an ambivalence inherent to the Club Story when that format is employed with ambition as it is here, where the insecurities and aggressive understandings of the four commentator auditors, as they discuss the potentially threatening and/or exploitable world of the Kosekin, clearly adumbrate the sf dis-ease regarding Imperialism in later decades.

In 1875, the coming publication of a "scientific romance" called «The Sunless Land: A New World at the South Pole» was announced by the Boston firm, Lee and Shepard, which had released several other de Mille titles. Publication did not take place. This ghost title – the phrase "the Sunless Land" appears in the 1888 text – seems to represent an aborted attempt to publish A Strange Manuscript. [JC]

see also: Canada.

James de Mille

born Saint John, New Brunswick: 23 August 1833

died Halifax, Nova Scotia: 28 January 1880



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