Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Merritt, A

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(1884-1943) US journalist – latterly editor of William Randolph Hearst's American Weekly – and writer of lush fantasies which took exotic Escapism to extremes unexplored even by Edgar Rice Burroughs. His fiction was among the most popular ever published in the pulp Magazines, and occupied such a significant place in the reprint magazines Famous Fantastic Mysteries and Fantastic Novels as to cause the founding of a companion, A. Merritt's Fantasy Magazine (1949-1950). A brief adventure, Thru the Dragon Glass (1917 as "Through the Dragon Glass"; 1932 chap), and The People of the Pit (1918; 1948 chap) were followed by "The Moon Pool" (1918), an intriguing account of the mysterious guardian of a Portal beyond which – it is implied – all the treasures of the human imagination might be found. Unfortunately, the novelette lost most of its force in the version rewritten to form a prelude to the rather pedestrian "The Conquest of the Moon Pool" (1919) in The Moon Pool (fixup 1919). Its sequel, The Metal Monster (1920; rev 1927 as "The Metal Emperor"; rev 1946) substitutes an authentic alien lifeform for the seemingly supernatural guiding entity of the earlier novel, but describes its wonders in the same lavishly purple prose; AM was never wholly satisfied with the story. "The Face in the Abyss" (1923), which recapitulates the basic theme of "The Moon Pool", is a much better evocation of the allure of the exotic.

The Ship of Ishtar (1924; 1926) foreshadows modern Heroic Fantasy in its use of a Secondary World and an ongoing struggle between Good and Evil, here personified as Ishtar and Nergal. The victory ultimately won by Good is Pyrrhic, and the happy ending seems contrived for propriety's sake. This downbeat tendency in AM's work became increasingly evident, although his editors did their utmost to thwart it. An atypical thriller in the vein of Sax Rohmer, Seven Footprints to Satan (1928), proved very popular; but AM returned to his own metier in a belated sequel to "The Face in the Abyss", "The Snake-Mother" (1930). This is the gaudiest and most elaborate of all AM's work, but the book combining the two stories, The Face in the Abyss (fixup 1931), is unsatisfactory. AM's love of the exotic is here extrapolated into a heartfelt critique of the awful mundanity of human nature, allegedly ruled by the twin principles of Greed and Folly. An effective Allegory embodying the same message is "The Woman of the Wood" (1926; vt "The Women of the Wood"; rev as The Woman of the Wood chap 1948).

Dwellers in the Mirage (1932; rev 1941) is a late Lost-Race story. Its hero's psychological conflicts are mirrored after the fashion of H Rider Haggard in two women, one a striking Femme Fatale. Unfortunately, AM was not allowed to resolve this conflict as he wished; the early versions carried a false ending grafted on by an editor and AM's preferred conclusion was not revealed until the novel was reprinted in Fantastic Novels in 1941; some subsequent paperback editions still retain the false ending. AM's subsequent work consists of thrillers with supernatural embellishments. Burn, Witch, Burn! (1933), filmed as The Devil-Doll (1936), pits a doctor and a gangster against murderous Dolls devised by a Witch; its sequel Creep, Shadow! (1934) involves an ancient Curse relating to the destruction of the legendary city of Ys.

AM left a number of fragments. Two – The Fox Woman and the Blue Pagoda (1946) and The Black Wheel (1947) – were filled out after his death by Hannes Bok; the results are not particularly Merrittesque. The first of these fragments and some others were included with the author's most notable short fiction in The Fox Woman and Other Stories (coll 1949), the remainder being reprinted, along with poetry and a biography of the author, in A. Merritt: Reflections in the Moon Pool (coll 1985) ed Sam Moskowitz. [BS]

other works: Three Lines of Old French (1919; 1937 chap); The Drone Man (1934 as "The Drone"; 1948 chap); Rhythm of the Spheres (1936; 1948 chap); Seven Footprints to Satan and Burn Witch Burn! (omni 1952); Dwellers in the Mirage and The Face in the Abyss (omni 1953).

Abraham Merritt


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.