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Grabiński, Stefan

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1887-1936) Polish author, primarily known outside Poland for his short fiction, almost all of which was written between 1908 and 1922. After the inconsequential self-published Z wyjatków. W pomrokach wiary ["From the Unusual. In the Shadow of Belief"] (coll 1909) as by Stefan Żalny, the best of these stories – most of them horror tales of great intensity and of a sexual explicitness very infrequently found in his English-language contemporaries – were assembled in six collections, Na wzgórzu róż (coll 1918; trans Miroslaw Lipinski as On the Hill of Roses 2012), Demon ruchu (coll 1919; trans Miroslaw Lipinski as The Motion Demon 2005), Szalony pątnik ["The Frenzied Pilgrim"] (coll 1920), Księga ognia ["The Book of Fire"] (coll 1922), Niesamowita opowieść ["An Uncanny Story"] (coll 1922) and Namiętność ["Passion"] (coll 1930). Selections from these titles have been published as The Dark Domain (coll trans Miroslaw Lipinski 1993) and In Sarah's House: Stories (coll trans Wiesiek Powaga 2007). As with many authors of his period who were profoundly affected by World War One, the state – the circumambient world itself – tends to impact on individual psyches as a kind of obliterating absence (see Horror in SF). The expressionist extremism of Grabiński's best work seems clearly to have influenced his near contemporary Bruno Jasieński, though without any political agenda: for him, the anxieties of aftermath existence are unsolvable. There is in his work none of the bargaining typical of most Equipoisal tales: no thrust of story, in other words, towards livable outcomes.

The stories from The Motion Demon are remarkable for their explicit use of trains (see Transportation) as engines of release, allowing escape from the immurements of provincial life in Poland: escape and motion being virtual synonyms in Grabiński's work. Moreover, the dynamics of locomotion, so widely employed and vigorously depicted throughout the collection, could also be defined as a metaphor of the everlasting flow that the stream of life undergoes, or vital energy with no cognizable origin and purpose, which under conducive circumstances manifests itself and takes over, the concept partly drawn from the philosophy of Henri Bergson. The first sentence of "In the Compartment" – "The train shot through the open country at the speed of thought" – ideally defines the zestful nature of his prose, while the whole story portrays a typical Grabinski protagonist who becomes supernaturally potent once aboard a moving train (this being a Futurist topos that surprisingly seems to have had little influence on sf, either American or European), and intoxicates a young married woman into a fatal orgy (see Sex). "The Wandering Train" features a kind of ghost train from another Dimension. Malice and savage wit typically characterize the relationship between protagonists and their Doppelgangers in tales like "Strabismus", and it is perhaps in the lurid savagery of his wit – which gives a strange objective verisimilitude to tales of projected psychosis, as though the psychoses literally extruded into the world (see Fantastika) – that Grabiński seems most remarkable.

Overtly fascinated by the possibility that the world could be a reflection of an all-powerful thought and that behind the façade of the visible there could exist another dimension, detectable via unexplained phenomena such as hypnosis and telepathy, Grabiński believed that the underlying task of art was to expose what "realistic" traditions found inexplicable. It was therefore natural for him to perceive fantastika as the highest level of artistic originality, and as a literature of ideas rather than sheer entertainment. Primarily, he defined two types of fantastic fiction: conventional or "outer fantastika", whose imagery, drawn or inherited from folklore and fairytales, romantic and neoromantic traditions, ornamented problems exposed in the text; and "inner fantastika", embedded in psychology, philosophy and metaphysics, for which he coined two distinct terms: "psychofantasy" and "metafantastika", and which scrutinized certain psychological and metapsychological phenomena still inaccessible to science in order to provide the reader with conclusions of a metaphysical nature. His theoretical views were expounded in essays written mainly in the 1920s, which, as it seems, were his most productive period; apart from stories, novels and essays he also wrote plays, of which Ciemne siły (Willa nad morzem) ["Dark Forces (The Villa by the Sea)"] (1921) was staged in Warsaw, Kraków and Lwów.

Grabiński's later career was almost exclusively devoted to novels, none translated into English, which marked his growing attraction for the occult and religious fantasy. Salamandra ["The Salamander"] (1924) – his debut as a novelist – contains a vivid account of a Sabbath and other arcane practices, yet by and large suffers from an incoherent and overwrought narrative and seems overloaded with details, apparently aimed at proving the author's unquestionable expert knowledge by exposing the entire spectrum of his sources and interests, ranging from hypnosis to demonology and magic rituals. In his last novel, Wyspa Itongo ["Itongo Island"] (1936), a man with access to spirit Zones is shipwrecked on a desert Island, where he constructs a Utopia in which different levels of reality can co-inhabit; sadly, gods blow up the island.

None of Grabiński's novels are in fact a match for his short stories, which after a period of disregard and obscurity were rediscovered and reprinted, and for a time were being steadily translated into English [see Checklist]; this short work has been rightly recognized both by academics and readers as a substantial contribution to Polish fantastika of virtually classic status. [JC/KW]

Stefan Grabiński

born Kamionka Strumiłowa upon Bug, near Lwów, Austro-Hungarian Empire [now Ukraine]: 26 February 1887

died Lwów, Poland [now Ukraine]: 12 November 1936


  • Salamandra ["The Salamander"] (Poznań-Lwów, Poland: Wydawnictwo Polskie, 1924) [binding unknown/]
  • Cień Bafometa ["Baphomet's Shadow"] (Lwów-Warsaw-Kraków, Poland: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1926) [binding unknown/]
  • Klasztor i morze ["The Cloister and the Sea"] (Warsaw, Poland: F Hoesick, 1928) [binding unknown/]
  • Wyspa Itongo ["Itongo Island"] (Warsaw, Poland: F Hoesick, 1936) [binding unknown/]


  • Z wyjatków. W pomrokach wiary ["From the Unusual. In the Shadow of Belief"] (Lwów, Poland: Maniszewski i Meinhart, 1909) as by Stefan Żalny [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Na wzgórzu róż. Nowele (Warsaw-Kraków, Poland: J Czernecki, 1918) [coll: binding unknown/]
    • On the Hill of Roses (Burgess Hill, West Sussex: Hieroglyphic Press, 2012) [coll: trans by Miroslaw Lipinski of the above: plus an additional story: hb/Eleni Tsami]
  • Demon ruchu (Warsaw-Kraków, Poland: J Czernecki, 1919) [coll: binding unknown/]
    • The Motion Demon (Ashcroft, British Columbia: Ash-Tree Press, 2005) [coll: trans by Miroslaw Lipinski of the above: hb/Chris Pelletiere]
  • Szalony pątnik ["The Frenzied Pilgrim"] (Kraków, Poland: Krakowska Spółka Wydawnnicza, 1920) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Księga ognia ["The Book of Fire"] (Łódź, Poland: Książnica Polska, 1922) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Niesamowita opowieść ["An Uncanny Story"] (Lwów, Poland: Wydawnictwo Dzieł Pogodnych, 1922) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • Namiętność (L'Appassionata) Opowieść wenecka ["Passion (L'Appassionata) A Venetian Tale"] (Warsaw, Poland: Renaissance-Universum, 1930) [coll: binding unknown/]
  • The Dark Domain (Sawtry, Cambridgeshire: Dedalus, 1993) [coll: trans by Miroslaw Lipinski from various sources: pb/from Franz von Stuck]
  • In Sarah's House: Stories (London: CB Editions, 2007) [coll: trans by Wiesiek Powaga from various sources: pb/nonpictorial]


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