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Linklater, Eric

Entry updated 18 March 2024. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1899-1974) Scottish author and playwright, in active service (underage) during World War One, an experience which, he stated twenty years after its close, transformed him from a "patriot" into a thinking man. He was proficient in various genres though he is best remembered for his novels, beginning with White Maa's Saga (1929), the best-known of these being Juan in America (1931), a picaresque Satire on an America seen as essentially unhinged (see Lord Byron). Beginning with "The Dancers" (May 1929 London Mercury), much of his work is fantasy, including much of the Poetry assembled as A Dragon Laughed and Other Poems (coll 1930) and The Devil's in the News: A Comedy to Be Played with Occasional Music (first performed 1934; 1934), a play. His story collections, beginning with God Likes Them Plain (coll 1935), all contain at least some fantasy and sf. The Impregnable Women (1938) is an sf Satire set in a Near-Future Britain as World War Two breaks out with the destruction of London by the French airforce; the women of Europe then band together and go on a sexual strike, re-enacting Lysistrata (performed 411 BCE) by Aristophanes (circa 446-386 BCE), which ends the futile war (see Feminism; Women in SF). Linklater's bad guess as to the combatants may be the reason for the obscurity of this tale. Similar in attitude were his World War Two conversation plays, notably The Cornerstones: A Conversation in Elysium (1941 chap), The Raft; And, Socrates Asks Why: Two Conversations (coll 1942), The Great Ship; And, Rabelais Replies: Two Conversations (1944 chap) and Crisis in Heaven: An Elysian Comedy (1944 chap), which employed fantasy elements as didactic pointers. Much of his later career was devoted to nonfiction, but A Spell for Old Bones (1949) is a Lost Race tale set in a mythical first-century Scotland, and in A Terrible Freedom (1966) a man finds the characters of his dream world taking over the real one.

Of Linklater's three children's novels, The Wind on the Moon: A Story for Children (1944), set mostly in a private Zoo, and The Pirates in the Deep Green Sea: A Story for Children (1949), are both attractive fantasies. The former won the Carnegie Medal. In the latter, Davy Jones and his crew of retired sailors living Under the Sea (thanks to a special breathing-underwater oil) are helped by young protagonists and a talking octopus to fight against the pirates who plan to tamper with the great knots that, by tying the latitudes and longitudes together, keep the world from splitting asunder. It is a conceit that, for readers a few generations on, might be understood as directly prefiguring Steampunk. [JC]

see also: The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Eric Robert Russell Linklater

born Penarth, Glamorgan, Wales: 8 March 1899

died Aberdeen, Scotland: 7 November 1974





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