Monday, 10 January 2011

A Shadow from the Dark Days of Fantasy "Scholarship"

Michal Wojcik of One Last Sketch and The Lurking Humour, also known as Taran in the blogosphere and beyond, is a very smart chap, and very knowledgeable. A while back, he mentioned a particular essay by Hans Joachim Alpers, which he felt may have been an encapsulation of a great deal of ill will towards fantasy fiction that had been formulating in science fiction circles.*  Rusty Burke, impressed by Taran's studiousness, suggested that he investigate the matter further, and address it.  Well, wait no longer, for "Spacesuit, Blaster, and Science(!)" has arrived, and fired a withering broadside against a hideous little piece of work masquerading as scholarship that has evaded criticism for far too long. I think Taran's done a great job here.

Alpers does not seem to realize that the authors he cites for support were opposed to fascism in their personal lives.  J.R.R. Tolkien, for instance, made his views of Nazism and “that ruddy little ignoramus Adolf Hitler,” (Letters no.45) quite obvious.  Michael Moorcock describes himself as “an anarchist and a pragmatist,” (Mythmakers & Lawbreakers: Anarchist Writers on Fiction) who goes out of his way to critique British Imperialism and yes, Nazism in many of his novels.  Robert E. Howard, whose work scholars often mislabel as latently fascistic, held a long correspondence with H.P. Lovecraft decrying fascism and Nazism; the groupthink of Nazism and obeisance to authority did not gel with Howard’s extreme individualism.  We are more likely to find empires fall than get built in Howard’s works.[*] 

Indeed, one need not look far to see what Howard truly thought of the Nazis and fascism in general. I'll have to get a "Robert E. Howard and Fascism" post for the Newcomer's Guide finished, which'll probably just consist of a bunch of quotes from the letters.

[*] Alpers’s belief that heroic fantasy’s barbarians mirror “the barbarism of concentration camps and aggressive war” comes as an unimaginative conflation; the “barbarism” he refers to and the barbarism found in sword & sorcery constitute two completely different terms, one modern, one historical.  Barbarians, in heroic fantasy, would never stoop to the excesses of the Nazis—that only becomes possible with the decadence of civilization.  I believe the Holocaust would have come as no surprise to Howard, had he lived to see it.  It is the ultimate example of modernity gone wrong.

Heh,  this reminded me of a few Howard quotes in regards to the different contexts of "barbarism":

Considering it again, I am not so sure that even cultural and artistic things will not suffer as civilization “advances” along its present lines. You seem to take it for granted that Fascism would guarantee absolute freedom of thought and mental research. I wonder if this faith is justified. I don’t notice any hilarious renaissance emanating from Germany or Italy or Austria resulting from the exhilarating freedom of dictatorship.

I’m not surprized at the massacre of helpless people, the torturing and abuse of women and children. It’s what I expect of cultured Europeans. It’s what I’ll expect of the people of this country when they get sufficiently imbued with European culture and civilization. It didn’t surprize me when Dolfuss [sic] murdered the helpless women and children of his enemies. That’s the “superior European” style. It didn’t surprize me when his enemies assassinated him; that too was in keeping with the best traditions of European culture. Reading in one of the biggest capitalistic dailies of the state - which is above all charges of “radical” - I noted the outrages committed on women by the Fascists of Germany and Austria. That too is characteristic, both of the Fascist movement and of the European character.

- Robert E. Howard, letter to H.P. Lovecraft, December 1934

Well done, Taran!

*And cheers for the clarification.


  1. Thanks! But I should clarify, I don't think "Loincloth, Double Ax and Magic" "may have been responsible for a great deal of ill will towards fantasy fiction in science fiction circles." As I say in "Spacesuit", the ideas were already circulating beforehand, Alpers just happened to write a peer-reviewed article about it that rehashes them all in one place. That Alpers would create the arguments gives him too much credit.

  2. D'oh, I totally misread that sentence! Cheerfully amended.

  3. Gorramned spambots!

    Samual, I'd like you to take a look at this gun.
    The balance is excellent. This trigger responds to a pressure of one ounce. This gun was hand crafted to my specifications, and I rarely draw it unless I mean to use it.

    (that's, wot, three times the buggers have gotten through?)

  4. I have deleted Samual's comment, but I haven't the heart to delete yours, Tex: can't understand how it got through.