Sunday, April 17, 2011

Turtle Men on the Moon!

So, one of the things that particularly struck me when looking through Major Warnie Lewis's diary for his fifty-day voyage home from Shanghia via America in 1930 was the reading he did over those fifty days. A detailed overview of this wd take another visit to the Wade to pull off, so for now I'll just note that he read an impressive mix of French drama (Moliere), English poetry (Thomson's The Seasons), Victorian novels (re-reading all six books in Trollope's 'Barsetshire' Chronicles), dipped into a borrowed* copy of Wells' Outline of History,** and made his way through a book on English lit. by Drinkwater (which Warnie faulted for overpraising Wordsworth, whom WHL disparages on account of the French daughter). And also, among the rest, what he described as a "Wellsian" romance about turtle-men on the moon, which he thought an inferior production.

Now this interested me, because while we know several of the Inklings (Tolkien, Lewis, and Warnie) were fond of science fiction, there's v. little record of specific titles and works they read beyond, say, A VOYAGE TO ARCTURUS. So I did a little digging and think I've now identified both work and author: THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOON by Edmond Hamilton. I'd initially been thrown off by the assumption that, since all the other things the Major mentions reading were books, this 'turtle-men' story must have been published in book form. Instead, it now seems that he was reading an issue of the new Scientifiction magazine AMAZING STORIES,*** founded just four years before (1926) by Hugo Gernsback. I don't know if this is the first direct proof that the Inklings (or at least one among them, and a core member at that****) read AMAZING STORIES, but it's certainly the first such evidence I've come across. And, as such, I thought worth sharing.

As for the story itself, I've located a good synopsis of it available online, thanks to GoogleBooks, which quotes it from Bleiler & Bleiler's SCIENCE FICTION: THE GERNSBACK YEARS: A COMPLETE COVERAGE OF THE GENRE [1998]; see the entry for book #549 on pages 161-162. Here's the link:

I don't think I've ever read a book by Hamilton (who nowadays is better know as Leigh Brackett's husband than in his own right), though I'm sure I must have read some of his comic book work in reprint digests back in the day. I hope to soon remedy that lack, however, as a copy of THE OTHER SIDE OF THE MOON shd now be on its way to me. We'll soon see how it holds up compared with, say, Gernsback's own RALPH 124C1+.

current (re)reading: THE LAST HERO [2001] by Terry Pratchett
current audiobook: THE MOONSTONE (still)

*one question I'm still working on is whether most of the books he read during this trip were his own, as seems to be the case, or were borrowed from a ship's library (unlikely, but I'm not well enough informed about whether a passenger ship of the time wd have a misc. assortment of books for passengers to read or not). None of the books he mentions reading seem to be in the CSL Library Collection of books once belonging to CSL, WHL, their parents, & JDL now at the Wade, at least on a cursory check, but many of them are just the sort of books I wd have expected not to have survived in that collection. He does mention visiting the Shanghai Club just before his departure and returning the books he'd borrowed from its library, and shortly afterwards visits the library of the American Club, but apparently not to borrow any books from for the trip.

**v. sensibly reading the sections devoted to topics he knew a lot about, like the War, the era of Louis XIV, and the British colonial far east, and finding him wanting.

***specifically, AMAZING STORIES QUARTERLY, Fall 1929 issue

****technically, of course, Warnie was a pre-Inkling at this time, since the group hadn't started meeting yet.

P.S.: And just this evening (Sunday Apr. 17th), Janice and I saw not one but two turtles in the lake while out for a walk this afternoon. Haven't seen any in the ten years we've been living in "the Lakes" development (of which Bayview is one of ten or so parts, almost all w. amusingly inappropriate names, like "Bayview" which is not on a bay, or "Cypress Cove" which is not on a cove). Hadn't been going that way on walks for quite a while, not since they cut the mimosa down (that having been my favorite tree in the neighborhood); now I've got a good reason to stretch my legs in that direction again.
Note to self: turtles don't like peanuts, even shelled ones. Good to know.


Jason Fisher said...

I think if I ever start a garage band, I'm going to have to call it "Turtle Men on the Moon". :)

Wurmbrand said...

I don't know for certain that Lewis or Tolkien ever read Amazing Stories. However, we have Lewis's own word for it that he read American sf pulp magazines from the 1930s on. It's highly probable that his Great Divorce was indebted to Donald Wandrei's "Colossus" (Astounding, 1934), etc. None of this confirms your hunch about Ed Hamilton. I've also written for the New York C. S. Lewis Society about the possibility that a mid-1930s Hamilton story, "The Accursed Galaxy," played an important role (as something Lewis reacted against) in CSL's conception of the space trilogy! American pulp magazines were available in England (vide Mike Ashley).

"Colossus" and "The Accursed Galaxy" are easy to find, today, in Asimov's anthology Before the Golden Age.

So far, then, it seems believable that Warnie would have read the story in the mag.

Captcha: eriol (!)

Wurmbrand said...

"The Other Side of the Moon" is apparently available in this reprint:

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi Jason
Yes, it's a great name. I'll have to work it into a Cthulhu adventure someday.

Hi Dale
I knew about the reprint, but was able to find an original copy of the magazine for 25% less than the reprint wd cost. It arrived yesterday (W. the 20th), and features a color cover of the Earhmen battling the Turtle-men (who simply look like pond turtles walking upright on their hind feet). It'll make for good reading sometime when I'm in the mood for OldSchool.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

P.S.: I forgot to add (despite having set the book out to remind me) that an additional piece of support comes from CSL's dedication of OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET, his first science fiction novel,

My Brother W. H. L.
a life-long critic of the space-and-time story"

--i.e., 'critic' in the sense of devotee.

I'm on double deadline (gah!) so haven't had time to dig out THE NOTION CLUB PAPERS for its WHL analogue, but that much later work shows that JRRT had a good working knowledge of science fiction.

Finally, Dale, I forgot to add that one thing I researched years ago was the possibility that the Inklings might have read and been influenced by H. P. Lovecraft.* I ended up thinking it probable but not provable at this point.


*e.g., the creatures below Moria, the octopoids of P'o-l'u, and the creatures in the abyss near the end of PERELANDRA

Wurmbrand said...

I suppose we can but wonder: did Warnie introduce his brother to American pulp sf? One concocts a scenario in which Warnie urges Jack to read some story --despite the magazine's cover -- and Jack likes it. It could be that Jack introduced Warnie to pulp sf, and perhaps it is not absolutely certain that Warnie read pulp sf at all even though we know Jack did. But the dedication that you quoted might hint that Warnie did bring some sf to his brother's attention. One might further wonder, if that were so, if Warnie first caught on to the magazines while serving in the British armed forces. Wouldn't it be delightful if some subaltern with no "class" inhibition against "trash" were the agent who introduced Warnie to American pulp sf, who then introduced Jack to it? Maybe CSL simply spotted some of the magazines in Woolworths (cf. Mike Ashley)...

I confess, though, that my imagination balks at the idea of Warnie and Jack passing copies of Weird Tales back and forth! But wouldn't it be a hoot if they had read three of HPL's best -- "The Colour Out of Space," "The Shadow Out of Time," and "At the Mountains of Madness" -- in Amazing and Astounding? I could well believe that they would tolerate the infelicities of Lovecraft's writing for the sake of his imagination.