Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Finney, Jack

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Working name of US writer Walter Braden Finney (1911-1995), whose fiction, beginning with "Such Interesting Neighbors" for Collier's Weekly in 1951, occupied several genres, including sf and fantasy. From the beginning, his style had a slick clear polish, which may be why he was sometimes treated as an impersonal creator of classic works. He is best known for The Body Snatchers (1955; vt The Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1973; rev 1978), which has been filmed as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Body Snatchers (1993); the novel and the movies can be read as fantasy. In straight fantasy, JF is remembered most for the best of his Timeslip tales, Time and Again (1970) which – with its competent sequel, From Time to Time (1995) – is one of the most important, and most moving, timeslip texts yet composed.

Though sometimes garnished with perfunctory sf explanations, timeslip (almost always pastwards) usually constitutes an act of entry into something like Eden, a movement inherent to fantasy. A number of short stories also deal with timeslips; with other tales, these are assembled in The Third Level (coll 1957; vt The Clock of Time 1958 UK) and I Love Galesburg in the Springtime: Fantasy and Time Stories (coll 1963), while About Time (coll 1986) assembles time stories from the previous two volumes. The most famous of these tales is "The Third Level" (1952), whose narrator finds the eponymous lowest platform at Grand Central Station (see New York) is a Portal to 1894, into which year he departs with a whole heart. Similar routes into the past are found in "Quit Zoomin' Those Hands Through the Air" (1952), "Second Chance" (1957) and "The Love Letter" (1959). The Woodrow Wilson Dime (1968), unusually, moves sideways into an Alternate World; and Marion's Wall (1973), filmed as Maxie (1985), clearly homages Thorne Smith in telling the tale of a 1920s flapper and silent-film starlet who possesses (see Possession) a contemporary woman.

The concept of the timeslip receives its fullest explanation in Time and Again, where it is argued (by the director of an ominous government Time-Travel project) that our Bondage to any one time is a consequence of our overwhelming sensory experience of being when we are, and that it simply requires a similar intensity of awareness of another time in order to slip the shackles of now – to think oneself into the longed-for past – to depart thence. The protagonist of the novel, once he succeeds in operating this technologized nostalgia, begins to find the New York of 1882 much preferable to the polluted, congested, deafening world of 1970. In From Time to Time the same protagonist, now in 1912, attempts to prevent World War I.

Because JF rendered his vision of timeslip with such skill and devotion, he is an important figure in modern fantasy. [JC]

other works: Five Against the House (1954); The House of Numbers (1957); Assault on a Queen (1959); Good Neighbor Sam (1963); The Night People (1977); Forgotten News: The Crime of the Century and Other Lost Stories (coll 1983); 3 by Finney (omni 1987), assembling The Woodrow Wilson Dime, Marion's Wall and The Night People.

Walter Braden Finney


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.