Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  

Johns, W E

Entry updated 10 November 2023. Tagged: Author.

Icon made by Freepik from


(1893-1968) UK air pilot, who served variously with the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force throughout World War One until shot down and captured on 16 September 1918, and later author, who began producing boys' action adventures in 1930. His normal byline was Captain W E Johns (a rank he did not in reality attain, having risen no higher than Flying Officer). His total output exceeded 200 volumes, his popularity exceeding any other twentieth-century British writer for children except Enid Blyton. Less well known is his short period as editor of Pearson's Magazine, May-November 1939.

Johns became famous in particular for the 102 books about Biggles, nickname of airman James Bigglesworth, of which two – Biggles Hits the Trail (1935) and Biggles – Charter Pilot: The Adventures of Biggles & Co on a World-Wide Cruise of Scientific Investigation (coll 1943) – have some sf content. The former features a lost Himalayan mountain rich in radium, whose inimical inhabitants have harnessed this resource for (inter alia) Invisibility and Death Rays. The latter's sixteen short stories include episodes in which Biggles encounters bizarre plants, giant animals and humans, the lost Element orichalcum, surviving dodos, troglodytes from the Hollow Earth, and vampire bats with the power of Hypnotism. Time Travel and Timeslips feature in a film based on the Biggles character: Biggles (1986; vt Biggles: Adventures in Time; vt Biggles Gets Off the Ground) directed by John Hough.

Amongst Johns's numerous other works, of particular sf interest is the Tiger and Rex Clinton sequence beginning with Kings of Space: A Story of Interplanetary Adventure (1954) and Return to Mars: A Story of Interplanetary Flight: A Sequel to Kings of Space (1955), which introduce the two Clintons, father and son, who join with the eccentric Professor Lucius Brane whose Inventions initiate the sequence (unlike the Edisonade, this very British sequence separates the warrior hero from the culture hero). In a number of constantly improving saucer-Spaceships, the companions explore various planets and Asteroids in the Solar System and eventually elsewhere, meeting Alien societies and occasionally becoming involved in interplanetary or interstellar Future War, notably in The Death Rays of Ardilla: A Story of Interplanetary Exploration (1959) (see Death Rays). For the full list of titles in this series, see Checklist. Astronomical terminology is somewhat mangled: the titular destinations in Now to the Stars: A Story of Interplanetary Exploration (1956) are in fact asteroids of our own solar system, a distant one being described as "on the outer edge of the galaxy"; in the same book the travellers are distracted by several minutes of blinding light from a nova and become stuck in "a zone of atmosphere caused by the explosion" (see Scientific Errors). Throughout, especially in such later volumes as The Quest for the Perfect Planet: A Story of Space Exploration (1961) and Worlds of Wonder: More Adventures in Space (coll 1962), Johns's anti-War sentiments, and his growing interest in the increasingly stressed Ecology of planet Earth, are clearly manifest; the series was thus never popular with Johns's usual readers, who found his concerns pessimistic. [JC/AC/DRL]

see also: Rays.

William Earle Johns

born Bengeo, Hertfordshire: 5 February 1893

died Kingston upon Thames, Surrey: 21 June 1968



Biggles (highly selected)

Tiger and Rex Clinton


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies