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Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 10:34AM
Yes, I wonder if A. Merritt was the ruling king of romantic fantasy. And other top writers, such as Burroughs, Lovecraft, Smith, Vance, Tolkien, have to settle as princes, standing at the side and below Merritt's inaccessible throne.

I base this assumption not on rational thought, and not from an analysis of Merritt's technical proficiencies compared to the others. But on my hunches, intangible hunches. Merritt seemed to have the most dreaming and essentially romantic imagination of all fantasists. Without cynical planning of the intellect. He seemed to be completely abandoned to fantasy, having turned his soul and body over. He had the kernel of fantasy in his hand. Therefore he may have been the greatest. Others have had more original, technically developed ideas, but to some extent used a rational calculating intellect and cynical planning to reach that level. He did not. He WAS his imagination. And, at the height of his creativity, wrote it down in a purified, uncorrupted, faery trance, tuned in to its very most inner and subtle qualities.

So, in all fairness, perhaps it should have been Merritt who have a rabid following, whose works are famous, and inevitably are turned into movies and merchandize? Why is it not so? Perhaps because of the natural stupidity of mankind, their coarse mentality, and inability to see the forest for all the trees, their inability to appreciate genuine qualities.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 02:17PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Yes, I wonder if A. Merritt was the ruling king of
> romantic fantasy. And other top writers, such as
> Burroughs, Lovecraft, Smith, Vance, Tolkien, have
> to settle as princes, standing at the side and
> below Merritt's inaccessible throne.
>
> I base this assumption not on rational thought,
> and not from an analysis of Merritt's technical
> proficiencies compared to the others. But on my
> hunches, intangible hunches. Merritt seemed to
> have the most dreaming and essentially romantic
> imagination of all fantasists. Without cynical
> planning of the intellect. He seemed to be
> completely abandoned to fantasy, having turned his
> soul and body over. He had the kernel of fantasy
> in his hand. Therefore he may have been the
> greatest. Others have had more original,
> technically developed ideas, but to some extent
> used a rational calculating intellect and cynical
> planning to reach that level. He did not. He WAS
> his imagination. And, at the height of his
> creativity, wrote it down in a purified,
> uncorrupted, faery trance, tuned in to its very
> most inner and subtle qualities.
>
> So, in all fairness, perhaps it should have been
> Merritt who have a rabid following, whose works
> are famous, and inevitably are turned into movies
> and merchandize? Why is it not so? Perhaps because
> of the natural stupidity of mankind, their coarse
> mentality, and inability to see the forest for all
> the trees, their inability to appreciate genuine
> qualities.

That would be one possible explanation.

Another possible explanation that springs readily to mind is that he was not as good at conveying these ideas with the clarity and artistry that some of the others achieved, and hence developed a smaller following.

A third explanation involves the Illuminati, and the fine hand of the Pope, as he sits on his throne in The Vatican; this is the explanation that I favor, personally.

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 03:47PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> Another possible explanation that springs readily
> to mind is that he was not as good at conveying
> these ideas with the clarity and artistry that
> some of the others achieved, and hence developed a
> smaller following.

Yes, that is a sad factor. Some of his prose could be better, or more distilled. Again, this was what I meant by people's inability to see the forest for all the trees.


> A third explanation involves the Illuminati, and
> the fine hand of the Pope, as he sits on his
> throne in The Vatican; this is the explanation
> that I favor, personally.

Hmm, this sounds a bit ..., I don't know what. Off topic perhaps. If you would care to elaborate more on what you mean in the general Super thread, I am willing to contemplate it.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 04:53PM
.



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 16 Oct 20 | 05:26PM by Knygatin.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 05:20PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... Some of his prose could
> be better, or more distilled.

But on the other hand, the book versions of some of the novels he is famous for were heavily cut. At least The Metal Monster and The Face in the Abyss/The Snake Mother were, I don't know about the others. Which made them choppy and much inferior to the original texts, to an extent even incomprehensible.

I am trying to find a quote by Brian Stableford about The Face In the Abyss, in which he said that the book version is awful and lacking, while the original magazine version is a very fine work. I couldn't agree more. Merritt needed the prose to flesh out his atmospheric ideas; but apparently the editors thought not.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 16 October, 2020 08:12PM
I really only know Abraham Merritt for two works - The Dragon Glass which features in The Young Magicians (an anthology already mentioned here) and which is a pulp classic, imo. The second work is Burn Witch Burn which I never read but which formed the basis for a favourite film of mine - The Devil Doll, also a classic of its kind.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 17 October, 2020 12:39PM
I have read only his short stories (almost all of them) and though I enjoyed most of them I do not think thery are any better than what Mr. Merritt‘s colleagues of the genre (Hodgson, Blackwood, Lovecraft, Machen, Doyle, Smith, Howard and many others) wrote. Some years ago I started to read "The Face In The Abyss" but never finished the book; it did not appealed to me too much. Nevertheless, one of these days I am going to read (at last) "The Metal Monster" I have been reading so many good reviews about over the years.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 17 October, 2020 05:58PM
Minicthulhu Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Nevertheless, one of these days I am going to read
> (at last) "The Metal Monster" I have been reading
> so many good reviews about over the years.

Good luck with that. And as always, try avoid having pre-expectations.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 17 October, 2020 11:26PM
In a long reading life, I've read Dwellers in the Mirage, The Ship of Ishtar, "The Woman of the Wood," his bit of "The Challenge from Beyond," and "Through the Dragon Glass" (yep, in The Young Magicians) at least, and perhaps one or both versions of The Moon Pool. I wouldn't mind reading or rereading something by him, but he has never been one of my indispensables. I've preferred Rider Haggard for adventure fiction.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 18 October, 2020 07:14AM
Cathbad Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Burn Witch Burn which I never read but which
> formed the basis for a favourite film of mine -
> The Devil Doll, also a classic of its kind.

I have seen that film, but don't remember much from it other than it being quite creepy and having some fine settings. The miniature aspect is similar to the film Dr. Cyclops. Dr. Cyclops is a film I enjoy foremost for its lush colours.

I have not read Burn Witch Burn! either (nor its sequel Creep Shadow!), from his later period. And I have not read Seven Footprints to Satan. I have focused on the books that have clear fantasy settings.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 18 October, 2020 07:23AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've preferred Rider Haggard for adventure fiction.

I have not read H. Rider Haggard. But I will try to set aside time to read She and The People of the Mist.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Minicthulhu (IP Logged)
Date: 18 October, 2020 09:26AM
I have never heard of H. Rider Haggard. Did he write any short horror or weird fiction?

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 18 October, 2020 12:28PM
It is easy, by way of rational argument, to say that other fantasy writers are better than Merritt. And smash him down. But my suggestion that he may be the greatest, rests on more subtle reasons, that go beyond literature, and which it is very difficult for me to put my finger on. It concerns the particular quality of Merritt's soul and attitude and the wholesome purity of his dreamy rich imagination. Perhaps someone else has been better able to describe it in words.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 21 October, 2020 08:24PM
Here are a few quotes from Brian Stableford's essay about A. Merritt in St. James Guide to Fantasy Writers (which can be borrowed from archive.org):

"[...] "The Moon Pool" (1918), a definite study of the teasing allure of the exotic. In the novel-length sequel he explains what lay beyond the magic doorway described in the story. Although the plot of the novel is pure pulp cliché the lush setting is crowded with the gaudy imagery which was to become Merritt's hallmark."

"The book version of The Face In the Abyss combines abridged versions of two novellas, [...] "The Face In the Abyss" (1923) and "The Snake Mother" (1930). The book version is highly unsatisfactory, the impact of the earlier story being entirely lost (as, to some extent, the impact of "The Moon Pool" was when it was combined with its sequel). The original serials, however, display some of Merritt's finest work, deploying science-fictional imagery [...] without losing any of the emotional impact o Merritt's passion for the exotic. Here the passion is fully revealed, in quasi-allegorical fashion, as a critique of the awful mundanity of human nature, ruled by the twin principles of Greed and Folly."

"It is easy enough to make fun of Merritt's idiosyncratic prose style, but there was a purpose and a philosophy behind it; like Clark Ashton Smith, Merritt used exotic language in order to convey a sense of the alien, to make every effort possible to distance the reader from mundanity. Merritt is by no means the only fantasy writer to have attempted to make escapism both a vocation and an artform, but he did so with an intensity which few others could match, and it is not surprising that readers who can attune themselves to his strategies still think of him as the best of all such writers."

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 22 October, 2020 11:21PM
So is excellence in fantasy to be understood as outstanding performance in a particular variety of escapism? I’d like a little more on that.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2020 01:03AM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> So is excellence in fantasy to be understood as
> outstanding performance in a particular variety of
> escapism? I’d like a little more on that.

In Merritt it was an escapism from mundanity, not from life. It was an exhilarated celebration of life.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2020 11:06AM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Dale Nelson Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > So is excellence in fantasy to be understood as
> > outstanding performance in a particular variety
> of
> > escapism? I’d like a little more on that.
>
> In Merritt it was an escapism from mundanity, not
> from life. It was an exhilarated celebration of
> life.

You're not in any way related to the Merritt family, by blood or marriage, are you, K?

;^)

Sawfish
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think."

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2020 03:21PM
A. Merritt worked as leading editor for an American newspaper, and on occasion he would dress in kilt and play for the other employees on some of the instruments he kept in a closet at work. Another of his wonderful expressions to alleviate dullness and mundanity.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 23 October, 2020 07:07PM
Knygatin Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Dale Nelson Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> > So is excellence in fantasy to be understood as
> > outstanding performance in a particular variety
> > of escapism? I’d like a little more on that.
>
> In Merritt the escapism was a celebration of
> life beyond mundanity.


From the opening paragraphs of Merritt's The Metal Monster:

In this great crucible of life we call the world--in the
vaster one we call the universe--the mysteries lie close
packed, uncountable as grains of sand on ocean's shores.
They thread gigantic, the star-flung spaces; they creep,
atomic, beneath the microscope's peering eye. They walk
beside us, unseen and unheard, calling out to us, asking
why we are deaf to their crying, blind to their wonder.

Sometimes the veils drop from a man's eyes, and he sees
--and speaks of his vision. Then those who have not seen
pass him by with the lifted brows of disbelief, or they
mock him, or if his vision has been great enough they
fall upon and destroy him.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2020 02:00PM
Knygatin, I don’t expect to love Merritt as you do, but this thread has encouraged me to take up The Moon Poolagain before long.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2020 03:43PM
Dale Nelson Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Knygatin, I don’t expect to love Merritt as you
> do, but this thread has encouraged me to take up
> The Moon Pool again before long.

Rather than reading the book version, I would suggest reading the original short-story "The Moon Pool" first (it is a rather finely written weird tale, which was shortly afterwards stripped into simpler pulp when joined with its longer sequel; I have compared them). And then reading the sequel novel The Conquest of the Moon Pool (I don't know if this one was also pared down for the book publication. I have not compared them yet. Perhaps someone else can answer that?). These original versions are both available online.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Cathbad (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2020 10:59PM
"Sometimes the veils drop from a man's eyes, and he sees
--and speaks of his vision. Then those who have not seen
pass him by with the lifted brows of disbelief, or they
mock him, or if his vision has been great enough they
fall upon and destroy him."

This reminds me of Kubla Khan (the final verse):

To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2020 06:11PM
I've read all of Merritt except for "Burn, Witch, Burn", and "The Snake Mother". The novelette version of "The Moon Pool" and "The Ship of Ishtar" are the best, "Creep, Shadow", and "Seven Footprints to Satan" are also excellent. Many are drawn to "The Metal Monster" for a cosmicism that is more alleged than authentic. It is a failure stylistically, with repetitive diction and overbaked sentimentality. Yet on the level of sheer fantasy, like all his fiction, it is impressive. Some fantasy novels of the Golden Age are overhyped and likely to disappoint; Jack Williamson's "Darker Than You Think" and "Golden Blood" for example. Merritt was massively popular before Weird Tales came along, and his popularity, if faded now, was deserved.

jkh

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 26 October, 2020 09:44PM
Williamson obviously wrote those two novels with a sense of homage to Merritt. Smith referenced succumbing to "the pervasive charm" of Merritt, but that letter was written well into Smith's own career in fiction. I think Merritt, Smith, Lovecraft, Machen, and William Hope Hodgson were the five greatest for imaginative genius, poetical, intense descriptive power, and macabre, fantastical atmosphere in weird fiction. Hodgson and Lovecraft were a bit more flawed or florid. Smith may have barely matched Merritt in the escape from "mundanity", but I think he surpasses him as a great prose stylist.
Merritt had a vast collection of occult literature, and was reputed to be somewhat of a hypochondriac, fairly or not. Enough of my useless maunderings.

jkh

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 03:00AM
Kipling Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> I've read all of Merritt except for "Burn, Witch,
> Burn", and "The Snake Mother". The novelette
> version of "The Moon Pool" and "The Ship of
> Ishtar" are the best, "Creep, Shadow", and "Seven
> Footprints to Satan" are also excellent.

I tried The Face In the Abyss (a book merging two novellas), but could not read very far for it didn't make much sense to me (that is because it was so heavily edited). Later on I read both the original magazine versions of "The Face In the Abyss" and "The Snake Mother", and enjoyed them very much. A blend of pulpish and fine writing, wildly spiring imagination, and has a strong perspective against dullness and mundanity.

I must read The Ship of Ishtar! I tried when younger, but could not get into it. Since then I have been lucky to find a paperback edition (Collier) that reproduces the 1949 Memorial edition with Virgil Finlay's illustrations. This version follows the original magazine serial text, and appears to be much longer than other paperback editions.


Thanks for putting Merritt into context alongside the other great writers. Encouraging that someone other than me is willing to give him credit.

I have also read Darker Than You Think, but don't remember much from it. What drew me were Edd Cartier's illustrations.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 11:18AM
here's a biography of Merritt by Sam Moskowitz:

[benny-drinnon.blogspot.com]

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: The Sojourner of Worlds (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 11:28AM
Not sure what criteria we're using but if it's the dreaminess, it's Dunsany, and if it's the sheer volume, productivity, quantity, it's Howard.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Kipling (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 12:03PM
Cartier was indeed a fine illustrator. Gerry de la Ree should have included more of his work in his 1978 volume The Art of the Fantastic, which has only two Cartier works, so I haven't seen those illos you like for Darker Than You Think. I just recall that novel as an example of an author's conception not being matched by his execution of the plot. The Ship of Ishtar is a novel that works on multiple levels to express Merritt's world view.

jkh

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 05:03PM
Kipling Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Cartier was indeed a fine illustrator. Gerry de la
> Ree should have included more of his work in his
> 1978 volume The Art of the Fantastic, which has
> only two Cartier works, so I haven't seen those
> illos you like for Darker Than You Think. I just
> recall that novel as an example of an author's
> conception not being matched by his execution of
> the plot. The Ship of Ishtar is a novel that works
> on multiple levels to express Merritt's world
> view.

I had the paperback Dell edition of Darker Than You Think, with the beautiful Rowena cover, but regrettably, because it was a very nice paperback, when younger and less wise I got rid of it. It had several small black & white illustrations by Cartier interspersed in the text. When I saw them, I decided that this story cannot be anything less than a classic. They are excellent, and were originally published in UNKNOWN, December 1940, which can be downloaded from luminist.org. It has a shorter novella version of the story, which was later expanded.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 27 October, 2020 05:16PM
The Sojourner of Worlds Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Not sure what criteria we're using but if it's the
> dreaminess, it's Dunsany, and if it's the sheer
> volume, productivity, quantity, it's Howard.

If so, agreed. However, my criteria was the quality of imaginatively rich, romantic, sparkling fantasy vision.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Geoffrey (IP Logged)
Date: 31 October, 2020 12:35PM
Where can I find copies of the original magazine versions of "The Face In the Abyss" and "The Snake Mother"?

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 31 October, 2020 02:02PM
Geoffrey Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Where can I find copies of the original magazine
> versions of "The Face In the Abyss" and "The Snake
> Mother"?

Most likely on ABE-books or Ebay.

Or download them as pdf files:
The Face in the Abyss in Famous Fantastic Mysteries, October 1940
The Snake Mother in Fantastic Novels Magazine, November 1940

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Geoffrey (IP Logged)
Date: 31 October, 2020 04:42PM
Thank you for the links! I look forward to comparing them to my paperback copy of The Face in the Abyss.

Even considering only my Merritt paperbacks, he is definitely one of my favorites.

Re: Was A. Merritt the greatest fantasist of all time?
Posted by: Geoffrey (IP Logged)
Date: 3 November, 2020 11:01AM
Do we know what Merritt's involvement was in the altering of his originally-published texts? Did he himself do the alterations? If so, did he consider them improvements, or did he grudgingly make alterations at the behest of the book publishers?



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