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Phillpotts, Eden

Entry updated 13 February 2023. Tagged: Author, Theatre.

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(1862-1960) Indian-born author, in UK from 1865, known mainly for his work outside the sf field (see Mainstream Writers of SF), primarily the Dartmoor series of regional novels; however, his first known publication, "Original Poem" (1880 Thespis), was about a Witches's Sabbath. Over his long career (see Longevity in Writers) he was extremely prolific, publishing about 250 books and plays, including a number of fantasies, beginning with A Deal with the Devil (1895), an Anstey-esque novel about a man who grows young, and several early stories collected in The Striking Hours (coll 1901) and Fancy Free (coll 1901); fantasies appear in many further collections. Philosophical meditations are featured also in a curious early fantasy, My Laughing Philosopher (coll of linked stories 24 February-8 December 1894 Black and White; 1896), in which an ancient bust speculates on various matters, including Life on Other Worlds. Though he wrote relatively little sf in the first decades of his career, early novels with some sf content include The Golden Fetich (1903), a Lost Race tale set in Africa, and The Statue: A Story of International Intrigue and Mystery (1908) with Arnold Bennett, which involves innovative radio apparatus, and a not very clear sense that the statue could be described as a Robot; The Flint Heart: A Fairy Story (1910) is a lost-race fantasy.

Phillpotts's important fantasies, though never designated as a series (nor do we list them as such), do comprise a loose set of didactic philosophical fables, most of which are based in Greek mythology. They include The Girl and the Faun (1916 chap; exp vt as coll Circe's Island; And, The Girl and the Faun 1926), the latter title story involving metamorphosis; Evander (1919), dramatizing a dispute between the Apollonian and the Dionysian, as does Pan and the Twins (1922); The Lavender Dragon (1923), featuring a dragon who kidnaps humans to populate his Utopia; The Treasures of Typhon (1924), a philosophical conte about Epicureanism; Thoughts in Prose and Verse (coll 1924), a sidebar to the set, but whose fantasy stories include a visionary encounter with an inhabitant of Jupiter; The Miniature (1926), in which the gods watch Homo sapiens evolve until the inevitable nuclear Holocaust; The Blue Comet: A Comedy in Three Acts (performed 1927; 1927), a play set in Hampstead, where the extended Bedale family and its servants philosophize as the End of the World approaches; Arachne (1927), in which the mortal weaver bests a goddess and does not die; The Apes (1929), a fictionalized discourse on Evolution; Alcyone: A Fairy Story (1930), in which the gods again, rather tiredly, discourse; and The Owl of Athene (1936), which deploys several sf motifs, notably an Invasion of the UK by giant crabs, and serves as a link between the mythological fantasies and the Scientific Romances of Phillpotts's later career, during which period he continued to publish the occasional fantasy, including The Enchanted Wood (1948), a book-length narrative poem featuring Pan, and the tales of "witchcraft" assembled in The Hidden Hand (coll of linked stories 1952), which do not in fact invoke the supernatural.

Phillpotts's first sf novel was a thriller, Number 87 (1922) as by Harrington Hext, which revolves around a powerful new Power Source and an advanced aircraft disguised as a giant prehistoric bird; other thrillers as by Harrington Hext engage occasionally in the supernatural. Of his numerous mystery novels, some have very slight intrusions of ESP; the most interesting are The Grey Room (1921), which features a dramatic confrontation between scientific rationalism and religious mysticism in search of the solution to the mystery of a haunted room; and the rationalized-Werewolf story Lycanthrope: The Mystery of Sir William Wolf (1937; vt The Mystery of Sir William Wolf 1938), which is listed below for interest, along with the tales assembled in Loup-Garou! (coll 1899), all set in the Caribbean, some with supernatural elements. Tabletop (1939) is a treasure-island story featuring giant spiders (see Monsters).

The most notable Scientific Romances belong to a later and very different phase of his work: the excellent Saurus (1938), in which a reptilian Alien, brought to Earth by an Asteroid as an egg, hatches into an objective observer who comments upon contemporary society and the human condition; The Fall of the House of Heron (1948), a study of an amoral atomic scientist; and Address Unknown (1949) which, featuring a less attractive intruder, challenges the assumption presented in Saurus that an alien observer could pass meaningful judgment – his Communication device being Faster Than Light beams – upon human affairs, or in his case offer plausible Uplift for the human race as we enter perilous times. Though most of his work is marginal to sf, these three novels are integral contributions to the British Scientific Romance. [BS/JC]

see also: Astronomy; Satire; Sociology.

Eden Phillpotts

born Mount Abu, Rajputana, India: 4 November 1862

died Broadclyst, near Exeter, Devon: 29 December 1960

works (selected)


plays and poetry


previous versions of this entry

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