Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.
(1881-1975) UK author, mostly in the USA from long before World War Two, never again in England after his scurrilous treatment during that war; active from 1900; known mainly for his non-fantastic novels and story collections – all of them comic after about 1909 – which were published in a highly prolific, almost unbroken stream from The Pothunters (1902), a school story for boys, to the end of his life (see Longevity in Writers). The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion (1909) – whose title is taken from James Blyth's overheated The Swoop of the Vulture (1908) – spoofs the Future War genre so popular in the UK before 1914 (see Battle of Dorking), with its description of nine simultaneous Invasions, seven of which collapse, leaving the German and the Russian armies in command. Their chiefs compete with one another in music-hall recitals of their feats until Boy Scout Clarence Chugwater exposes the fact that one of them is paying a claque to boo his opponent; the invasions end in quarrels and ignominy. The Prince and Betty (1912; rev 1912), though essentially nonfantastic, is set on the Ruritanian Island of Mervo, somewhere in the Mediterranean.
Though Wodehouse's trademark Jeeves and Wooster sequence never employs sf or fantasy devices, some of his Mr Mulliner Club Stories verge on the fantastic – Mulliner being an as it were licensed teller of Tall Tales [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below] whose natural habitat is a fishing pub, the Anglers' Rest. An early example, "A Slice of Life" (August 1926 Strand Magazine), spoofs Gothic SF and Monster Movie tropes to farcical effect; there is a conversation about the unlikely predilections of Mad Scientists. One recurring device in the Mulliner stories is a potent nerve-tonic Drug called Buck-U-Uppo which produces a temporary Jekyll/Hyde personality change, allowing staid clergymen a period of riotous irresponsibility without subjecting them to anything so disrespectful as outright drunkenness. The first Mulliner collection was Meet Mr Mulliner (coll 1927); a much more substantial omnibus of these yarns is The World of Mr. Mulliner (coll 1935; exp 1972).
In Laughing Gas (1936), rival dentists' anaesthetics leave their patients' souls briefly adrift in the aether, resulting in inadvertent Identity Exchange between a British earl and an obnoxious Hollywood child star (see California) who revels in his acquisition of a tough adult body and looks forward to settling old scores by beating people up. After many complications the status quo is eventually restored when man and boy are again rendered simultaneously unconscious by a motor-cycle collision. The intervening story has all the marks of the typical Wodehouse comedy, however, and is not easy to think of as sf. [DRL/JC]
Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse
born Guildford, Surrey: 15 October 1881
died Southampton, New York: 14 February 1975
works (highly selected)
- Meet Mr Mulliner (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1927) [coll: Mr Mulliner: hb/]
- The World of Mr. Mulliner (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1935) [coll: Mr Mulliner: hb/]
- The World of Mr. Mulliner (London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1972) [coll: exp rev of the above title: Mr Mulliner: hb/]
- The Swoop! or How Clarence Saved England: A Tale of the Great Invasion (London: Alston Rivers, 1909) [illus/pb/Charles Harrison]
- The Prince and Betty (New York: W J Watt and Company, 1912) [hb/]
- The Prince and Betty (London: Mills and Boon, 1912) [rev of the above: hb/]
- Laughing Gas (London: Herbert Jenkins, 1936) [hb/]
- P G Wodehouse fan site
- Internet Speculative Fiction Database
- The Encyclopedia of Fantasy: Tall Tales
- Picture Gallery
previous versions of this entry