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Michael Moorcock’s Dorian Hawkmoon: Fast-Paced Fantasy

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle revisits the deftly plotted fantasy novels of Michael Moorcock

It’s not as well-known as it should be that C. S. Lewis nominated his fellow Inkling, J. R. R. Tolkien, for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1961, the Chronicles of Narnia author put forward the author of The Lord of the Rings, and his one-time Oxford colleague, for the award. Although the two writers did not see eye to eye when it came to each other’s work, Lewis thought highly enough of Tolkien’s fiction to recommend him for this prestigious honour. However, the Nobel Prize committee rejected the nomination, stating that Tolkien’s work ‘has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality.’

Tens of millions of readers would disagree, but I’ve always found it difficult to enjoy The Lord of the Rings as pure storytelling. As an epic in the tradition of the Nordic and Icelandic sagas it is vast and well-realised, and the world-building – especially when it comes to Tolkien’s métier, languages and philology – is often wonderfully detailed and believable. But the Read the rest of this entry

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Flaxman Low: The First Psychic Detective

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the Victorian world of a neglected ‘psychic detective’

The popularity of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, published in The Strand magazine from 1891 until the 1920s, led to many imitators. As well as such creations as Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados, the blind detective, and the psychological detective, Dr John Dollar (created by Doyle’s own brother-in-law, Raffles creator E. W. Hornung), a mini sub-genre of fictional detective also emerged: the psychic detective or paranormal investigator. Flaxman Low was not the most successful of these, but he is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable.

Although numerous scholars of the ghost story and psychic detective tale have traced the fictional paranormal investigator back to Dr Martin Hesselius, the creation of the Irish author Sheridan Le Fanu (whose 1869 story ‘Green Tea’ remains popular), it was not until the turn of the century, and in the first few years of the twentieth century, that the fictional psychic detective really took off. This was partly, as I explore in my academic study Bewilderments of Vision, a result of Read the rest of this entry

Samuel Butler’s Erewhon: Dystopia before Dystopia

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle explores the looking-glass world of Samuel Butler’s pioneering anti-utopian novel

When I was an undergraduate English student at Loughborough fifteen years ago, I took an optional second-year module called ‘Other Victorians’. As this title implies, the module was intended as a sort of companion-piece to the core module ‘Victorian Literature’, which covered the canon of Victorian writing. On the one hand, you had George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son, and Tennyson’s In Memoriam. On the other, you had Florence Nightingale’s essays, Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland books, and Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage.

Samuel Butler’s Erewhon (1872) would stand firmly in the latter camp containing those ‘other Victorians’. His anti-utopian novel is part science-fiction, part social commentary, part adventure fantasy, part comic satire. Like many experimental Victorian works of literature, it resists easy categorisation. Is it even a dystopian work, a forerunner to Brave New World, We, and Nineteen Eighty-Four? Read the rest of this entry