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Griffith, George

Entry updated 17 June 2024. Tagged: Author.

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Pseudonym of UK traveller, journalist, poet and author born George Chetwynd Griffith-Jones (1857-1906), the son of a clergyman and one of the most influential sf writers of his time; active as a poet in the 1880s, his first book being Poems (coll 1883 chap) as by Lara; he legally became George Griffith in 1894. He appeared frequently in the pre-sf Magazines and Pulp magazines, particularly Pearson's Weekly and Pearson's Magazine, writing as Griffith; he also wrote as Levin Carnac, Lara [see above], and Stanton Morich. He was instrumental in the transformation of the Future War novel to a more sensational form, capitalizing on contemporary political anxiety; and he helped make up a literary coterie, including William Le Queux, M P Shiel and Louis Tracy, which specialized in the genre.

Griffith first established himself with the Angel of the Revolution sequence, comprising The Angel of the Revolution: A Tale of the Coming Terror (21 January-14 October 1893 Pearson's Weekly; cut 1893) and Olga Romanoff: Or, the Syren of the Skies: A Sequel to "The Angel of the Revolution" (23 December 1893-August 1894 Pearson's Weekly as "The Syren of the Skies"; rev 1894). In the first volume a revolutionary organization called The Brotherhood of Freedom which – equipped both with aerial battleships (see Airships) that have been armed with advanced Weapons and a new Power Source, and high-flying Balloons that are used to bomb Britain –mounts a sustained Invasion of Europe, and imposes socialist reforms upon the entire world. The Pax Aeronautica they have created is destined to last more than a century. Their leader, whose name is Natas [ie Satan], and who has dominated events from his armoured airship Ariel, is a vulgarized intensification of the topos of the Byronic Antihero first made popular by Jules Verne with his creation of Captain Nemo, a figure he himself apotheosized in the eponymous Robur the Conqueror (1886).

The sequel, set at the end of this period of enforced peace, describes the upheaval which transforms this Utopian state to one of total anarchy, a transformation engineered by the eponymous Olga Romanoff, a She figure with occult knowledge of mesmerism (see Hypnosis) who replaces the first angel, the daughter of Natas from the previous book. Joining forces with Islam, which had suffered defeat in the previous volume, she conducts a ruinous war with the Brotherhood, now known as Aerians, only to be interrupted by a Comet which gasses the entire planet, fatally to her. The Aerians, who have hidden deep Underground, then inherit the earth. Both are remarkable if hyperbolic examples of the Future War narrative, though a far cry from the timidities of the Battle of Dorking tale. Over and above their foresight regarding battle tactics in air warfare and for their anticipation of radar, sonar and nuclear weapons, they include further elements as well which would only later become commonplace, notably the struggle by international cartels for world domination and the apocalyptic visions of Armageddon on Earth and of Disaster from the heavens by Comet.

Variously sorted, though not often with the energy of Angel of the Revolution, these elements can be found also in The Outlaws of the Air (4 September 1894-23 May 1895 Short Stories; rev 1895), which features a different Brotherhood, a different Utopia, this time confined to an Island, a She figure, and an eventual Pax Aeronautica; in The Great Pirate Syndicate (19 February-23 July 1898 Pick-Me-Up; rev 1899) a cabal of English capitalists creates an aerial fleet of "pirates" to subdue the planet, Jews being selected out as noxious (see Race in SF); in The Lake of Gold: A Narrative of the Anglo-American Conquest of Europe (December 1902-July 1903 Argosy; 1903), a group of American industrialists, financed by the eponymous lake at the heart of a South American volcanic crater, bring about an equitable balance between capital and workers in America, though they must mount an Invasion of Europe to gain the same goal there; very similarly, The World Masters (1903) features the American use of a disintegrator Ray to force the warmongering countries of Europe to the bargaining table; The Stolen Submarine: A Tale of the Russo-Japanese War (1904) features an array of Inventions, including Airships using a new Power Source, but barely edges into the Near Future; in The Great Weather Syndicate (1906) Americans and English entrepreneurs combine to use the Invention of Weather Control is used to control Europe; The World Peril of 1910 (first version Christmas 1897 Pearson's Weekly as "The Great Crelling Comet"; 1907), much in the Battle of Dorking mode, pits the countries of Europe together, with Inventions adding to the turmoil; and in The Lord of Labour (1911) a million-strong private army is pitted against a Death Ray in German hands, but the latter are defeated by aerial drones.

From early in his career Griffith was overshadowed by H G Wells, a fact which caused him to diversify his work in search of critical acclaim. Such praise never came, although he produced notable examples of several themes, usually borrowed more conspicuously from earlier texts than was the custom then: Immortality features in Valdar the Oft-Born: A Saga of Seven Ages (2 February-24 August 1895 Pearson's Weekly; rev 1895), a drama of reincarnation very clearly indebted to Edwin Lester Arnold's The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890), Captain Ishmael (1901), an early example of the Parallel-Worlds theme; A Honeymoon in Space (January-July 1900 Pearson's as "Stories of Other Worlds"; exp 1901), whose young marrieds make a Fantastic Voyage via Space Flight to the Moon, Venus, Mars, Ganymede (see Jupiter) and further (see Outer Planets), each of these worlds, arrayed in an Archipelago sequence, providing them with feeble versions of contrasting ideal societies; and Captain Ishmael: A Saga of the South Seas (1901), in which a doomed immortal meets the Wandering Jew again and again, and in the eighteenth century invents explosive shells: but this may have happened in a Parallel World.

Other novels were more routine, including The Romance of Golden Star (1 September-21 December 1895 Short Stories as "Golden Star"; rev 1897), set partly in a Lost World and involving the revival of Incans from Suspended Animation who then successfully take back South America from its conquerors (see Imperialism); The Virgin of the Sun (1898), a nonfantastic tale about the conquest of Peru; Denver's Double: A Story of Inverted Identities (1901), where Doppelganger appearances and Identity Transfers take on a criminal coloration; The White Witch of Mayfair (1902), which again features a She figure adept at Hypnosis; Religion features in The Missionary (1902); A Criminal Croesus (1904) is a Lost-World tale set deep Underground; the criminal antagonist of A Mayfair Magician: A Romance of Criminal Science (1905) involves a kind of Telepathic Identity Exchange; and The Mummy and Miss Nitocris: A Phantasy of the Fourth Dimension (fixup 1906) brings its cast, confusedly, into the fourth Dimension, and elsewhere.

Griffith's influence on contemporary UK sf was extensive, from E Douglas Fawcett's Hartmann the Anarchist (June-September 1893 The English Illustrated Magazine; 1893) through to Cyril Seymour's Comet Chaos (1906) and John Mastin's The Stolen Planet (1906), and can still be seen today, as in Michael Moorcock's nineteenth-century pastiches. (Since Griffith's anti-US stance precluded US publication of almost all of his works, his influence there has been negligible.) Several of his novels have been reprinted in recent times, as well as a collection of unreprinted stories, The Raid of "Le Vengeur" (coll 1974) edited by George Locke. There has fortunately been little republication of Griffith's late works – some are not mentioned here but see Checklist below – which may allow the bounteous if uneasy energy of his first tales to gain their proper place in the History of SF. [JE/JC]

see also: Edisonade; End of the World; Forgotten Futures; Mercury; Nuclear Energy; Politics; Proto SF; Technology; Transportation.

George Chetwynd Griffith

born Plymouth, Devon: 20 August 1857

died Port Erin, Isle of Man: 4 June 1906



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