Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Collier, John

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(1901-1980) UK writer, screenwriter and poet best known for his highly polished, often bitterly flippant magazine stories, many of which are Slick Fantasy. The novel His Monkey Wife, or Married to a Chimp (1930) is a barbed comic fantasy whose chimpanzee heroine Emily (see Apes; Beauty and the Beast), though not a Talking Animal, has like Frankenstein's Monster learned English (and typing); when her beloved human owner is to marry an unsympathetic girl, Emily substitutes herself at the altar and the book ends – wickedly deadpan – on the brink of discreetly blissful consummation.

JC's short work has been rearranged in several collections. The Devil and All (coll 1934) is fantasy. Green Thoughts (1931 Harper's; 1932 chap), a satirical Posthumous Fantasy in which victims of a carnivorous plant become pseudo-flowers, and Variation on a Theme (1935 chap) feature in both Green Thoughts and Other Strange Tales (coll 1943 US) and the more substantial Presenting Moonshine (coll 1941 US). The Touch of Nutmeg, and More Unlikely Stories (coll 1943 US) draws on The Devil and All and Presenting Moonshine; selections from all these appear with new material as Fancies and Goodnights (coll 1951 US; cut 1965 US; differently cut vt Of Demons and Darkness 1965 UK), which won JC the International Fantasy Award. A definitive edition is The John Collier Reader (coll 1972 US; cut vt The Best of John Collier 1975 US), introduced by Anthony Burgess.

Fantastic elements regularly appear in these finely written Tall Tales and Contes Cruels – often featuring murderous wives and/or husbands and often with a sting in the tail. "Bottle Party" complicates the bottled-Genie legend; "Evening Primrose" depicts (with some pathos) a Wainscot society posing as mannequins in a department store (see also Mannequin [1987]; Shop); "Fallen Star" plays comically with an Angel and Devil subjected to psychoanalysis; in "Halfway to Hell" a suicide avoids Hell by trickery and Learns Better; "The Lady on the Grey" is a quiet Horror story of a modern Circe; "The Devil, George and Rosie" features Satan, a demented cosmological view of the Universe as a pint of beer in which the nebulae are rising bubbles (see Great and Small), and a rewrite of the Orpheus myth; in "Thus I Refute Beelzy" harsh parental scepticism about an Invisible Companion proves fatal; "Sleeping Beauty" offers a modern Sleeping Beauty who is a grave disappointment when woken; a dummy used for Ventriloquism comes unhelpfully alive in "Spring Fever" (see Pygmalion). The famous "The Chaser" is set in a magic shop whose proprietor offers a cheap Potion compelling undying, clinging Love, while talking constantly of his expensive and untraceable poison; as a besotted young man departs with the love-philtre, the farewell is "Au revoir" – encapsulating JC's smiling misanthropy.

JC's best stories are touched with poetry and real wit, sometimes reminiscent of Saki's. There are moments of outrageous Grand Guignol; the occasional sexual naughtiness is far beyond Thorne Smith in sophistication. JC remains eminently readable. [DRL]

other works: No Traveller Returns (1931 chap) and Tom's A-Cold (1933; vt Full Circle 1933 US) are sf; Defy the Foul Fiend (1934), associational; Witch's Money (1940 chap US); Pictures in the Fire (coll 1958); Milton's "Paradise Lost": Screenplay for Cinema of the Mind * (1973).

see also: Humour; Pacts with the Devil.

John Henry Noyes Collier


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.