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Merritt, A

Entry updated 23 December 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1884-1943) US editor, real-estate developer and author, primarily of Fantasy and Science Fantasy though he was influential among sf writers and readers as well. His first years were occupied with newspaper journalism; he was a longtime assistant editor of The American Weekly, becoming editor-in-chief in 1937 and remaining so until his death. Though his fiction was written as a sideline to this busy career between 1917 and 1934, which may explain why his output was small compared to most authors for the Pulp magazines, his eight novels are in fact various in content and intensely conveyed. That he took his work seriously is attested by the number of revisions he made to successive iterations of some of his texts, most notably perhaps The Metal Monster (see below for details).

Merritt began publishing stories with Thru the Dragon Glass (24 November 1917 All-Story Weekly as "Through the Dragon Glass"; 1932 chap). His first novel, The Moon Pool (stories 22 June 1918, 15 February-22 March 1919 All-Story Weekly as "The Moon Pool" and "The Conquest of the Moon Pool"; fixup 1919), begins with the discovery of an insubstantial but deadly Monster known as the Shining One within a pool at the Underground heart of the Island domain of Nan-Matal in the South Pacific, and moves on to a complicated Lost Race melodrama (see Anthropology) in which the monster represents an alternate course of Evolution. (The posthumous Reflections in the Moon Pool [for subtitle see Checklist; coll 1985], edited anonymously by Sam Moskowitz, is unrelated to the novel: it contains a long biography of Merritt by Moskowitz, a few prose items by Merritt, and some poetry, letters and articles.) The Metal Monster (7 August-25 September 1920 Argosy; rev November 1927-July 1928 Science and Invention as "The Metal Emperor"; further rev August 1941 Famous Fantastic Mysteries under original title; 1946; text restored to 1920 version 2002) follows loosely from The Moon Pool, in that the original version retains the same narrator and frame-story, though the tales themselves are unconnected. The Metal Monster, a Lost-Race tale set in the Himalayas, comes as close to orthodox sf as Merritt would reach in its description of a collective Alien being, a pit-dwelling Shapeshifter comprised of millions of metal parts, a creature whose terrifyingly indifferent otherness clearly influenced H P Lovecraft's later visions of cosmic horror (see Horror in SF; Sense of Wonder; Time Abyss).

Later works back away from sf-like explanations. The Face in the Abyss (8 September 1923 Argosy plus "The Snake Mother" 25 October-6 December 1930 Argosy; fixup 1931) describes an ancient, almost extinct, semireptilian race and its considerable wisdom. In The Ship of Ishtar (8 November-13 December 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; cut 1926; text restored 1949), perhaps his most sustained tale, a man travels into a magical Parallel World and falls in love with the beautiful female captain of the ship of Ishtar; the highly coloured Planetary Romance coloration of this novel still has a strong effect on readers. 7 Footprints to Satan (2-30 July 1927 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1928), filmed in 1929, is a horror/detective mystery, "Satan" being a greedy villain. The Dwellers in the Mirage (23 January-27 February 1932 Argosy; 1932; text restored, with original intended unhappy ending, 1944) is another effective Lost Race novel, one of Merritt's best. The Dr Lowell sequence – comprising Burn Witch Burn! (22 October-26 November 1932 Argosy; exp 1933), which was filmed as The Devil-Doll (1936); plus Creep, Shadow! (8 September-20 October 1934 Argosy; 1934; vt Creep, Shadow, Creep! 1935; both assembled as Burn Witch Burn! / Creep, Shadow, Creep! omni 1996) – is supernatural fiction, focusing on witchcraft and Horror, and featuring a valiant detective. The Fox Woman and Other Stories (coll 1949) assembles short stories and uncompleted fragments, of which the title story had already been incorporated into The Fox Woman and The Blue Pagoda (coll of two stories 1946) by Merritt and Hannes Bok, "The Blue Pagoda" being by Bok but linked to Merritt's fragment with connecting passages. Bok's second completion of Merritt's work was The Black Wheel (1947), of which less than a quarter is by Merritt.

Merritt was influential upon the sf and fantasy world not primarily through his storylines, which tended to be unoriginal (he acknowledged the influence of Francis Stevens on his work), or through the excesses of his style, but because of the genuine imaginative power he displayed in the creation of estranged but hypnotically attractive alternative worlds and realities. He was extremely popular during his life, even having a Pulp magazine, A Merritt's Fantasy Magazine, named after him; and Sam Moskowitz, in Chapter 12 of Explorers of the Infinite (1963), probably represents the view of many of Merritt's original readers that he was the supreme fantasy "genius" of his day. Even though, by any absolute literary standard, Merritt's prose was verbose and sentimental, and his repeated romantic image of the beautiful evil priestess was trivial – deriving as it did from a common Victorian image of womanhood (women being either virgins or devils) and from H Rider Haggard's She – the escapist yearning for otherness and mystery that he expressed has seldom been conveyed in sf with such an emotional charge, nor with such underlying pessimism, for his tales seldom permit a successful transit from this world. His vision of a universe whose indifference to humanity reads like malice – a vision expressed most fully in The Metal Monster and later shied away from – now seems increasingly pointed. He was posthumously inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 1999. [JC/PN]

see also: Amazing Stories; Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award; Dime-Novel SF; Fantastic Voyages; Far Future; History of SF; Publishing; SF Magazines.

Abraham Grace Merritt

born Beverly, New Jersey: 20 January 1884

died Indian Rocks Beach, Florida: 21 August 1943

works (because of complex revision structure, original magazine publication data is given below)


Dr Lowell

individual titles

collections and stories


  • The Story Behind the Story (privately printed, 1942) [nonfiction: coll: essays first appeared in The American Weekly: hb/nonpictorial]

about the author


previous versions of this entry

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