Sonntag, 28. Oktober 2012

Abraham Merritt, 
a forgotten master of Fantasy and lost world adventure.


Hi folks!

     I’m going a tad bit off topic this week in covering an author who is not a writer of horror stories. I figure though, that since horror and fantasy are kissing cousins you’ll all give me a bit of leeway.
     What got me going in this direction is that a few weeks ago I made one of the best deals that I’ve ever made on Ebay. I won a complete set of “A. Merritt” books published by Avon Books back in the 1970s. I paid $15.15 for the set and they are all in fine condition. I already had 5 of these editions but I won’t complain about having a few doubles at this price.
     “Abraham Merritt” was a big deal who was continuously in print from the 1920s up until the beginning of the 1980s. I read that as of 1981 he had sold more than 10,000,000 copies! Over 5,000,000 of these were in Avon editions alone.
And this is from a man who only wrote on the side and who’s complete output is only 81/2 novels and a few short stories.
     Mr. Merritt is most well known for his fantasy/lost world adventure stories. To be lazy, I could describe his writing and stories as Edgar Rice Burroughs meets Robert E. Howard meets C.L. Moore meets H. P. Lovecraft meets Leigh Brackett. It’s not that he was inspired by these folks. All of these esteemed writers, aside from Burroughs, were partially inspired and influenced by Mr. Merritt. His stories appear at first look to be simple pulp escapism. This is not the case though. He elevated fantasy fiction up to the level of literature with out ever sacrificing the amount of entertainment that they delivered. Even when describing lost worlds, brave heroes and heroines, fantastic beings and creatures, tragedy, excitement and lastly, grand adventure did Mr. Merritt ever condescend to his readers. This stuff is truly pulp goodness written by an adult for adults. His writing is dense, but hat’s what makes it so rewarding. During his lifetime, Mr. Merritt was the highest paid newspaper editor in America and only wrote as a side profession. His stories and novels were serialized in the highest paying fiction markets of the day. This was from the late 19-teens up into the 1930s. The later reprints of these stories in book form were also world wide best sellers. I wish I knew why these wonderful stories fell out of grace with new young readers. Something happened to the reading tastes a little over 30 years ago that seems to have resigned them to the dust bin of genre writing. I’ve seen some bloggers and reviewers complain that the writing is too dense or that the stories are too old fashioned. I can’t pass judgement on the density of the writing since this is the kind of stuff I learned to read from. Of course these stories are old fashioned and slightly sexist. They were written in another world than ours. That doesn’t make them bad or poor. It makes them different. It seems that many younger readers are quick to pass judgement on anything that doesn’t fit the politically correct, post modern narrative. I think that it’s their loss though. I wish that I was talented enough of a writer to even begin to describe how powerful and moving these novels are. Especially “The Face in the Abyss”, ”The Moon Pool”, “Dwellers in the Mirage” and “The Metal Monster”.  These novels are fantasy adventure on a level that wasn’t seen before or since. That’s why the man sold 10 million+ books!  I’ll be adding some links to his writings that are still in print at the bottom of this post.

Now let’s talk about this last series of Merritt books from Avon. Avon Publishing was practically the sole publisher of Mr. Merritt’s writings. Avon published the paperbacks from the late 1940s all the way up until the early 1980s. They even published an “A. Merritt’s Fantasy Magazine” for a few years. Avon claims to have sold more than 5,000,000 Merritt editions. I guess Mr. Merritt was good business for Avon.
     The editions that Avon published during the 1970s were that rare and wonderful combination of a great author, great cover artists and perfect book design. That is a very special thing when it happens. These volumes all had a wonderful uniform look that made them recognizable from a mile away to even reader with poor eyesight.  They all sport Mr. Merritt’s name at the top in a huge arch with the title directly underneath in a large oval field. This is all in the foreground of some of the most amazing cover art that I’ve ever seen. 2 covers were done by “Stephen Fabian”. Two were done by “Rodney Mathews”. Sadly, I don’t’ know who did the other four. It’s a terrible shame that who ever painted the cover to “Dwellers in the Mirage” didn’t get credit in the book. I find that every one of these covers is so fitting to the subject matter that it is obvious that who ever was in charge of this series took their work very seriously. I think that it’s awful that you don’t see this kind of care being put into books these days. The layout of these covers alone is art in itself.

So in closing I want you to take a look at these covers, drink in their beauty, and appreciate the care, time and talent that went in to putting the series together. We will never see this kind of publishing artistry ever again.

UPDATE: 3 November
Mark Cannon of Canberra Australia sent me the following information....
"British artist Patrick Woodroffe did the "Dwellers in the Mirage" and "Seven Footprints to Satan" covers. I have a UK edition of "Dwellers" which also uses this cover. He also did the covers for Futura editions of "Satan" (with a different and much wilder cover) and "Burn Witch, Burn", and another edition of "The Ship of Ishtar".

Woodroffe illustrated huge number of British SF< Fantasy & Horror paperbacks, along with record covers, in the 1970s."


Here is the E-text to the fantasy/SF round robin that Mr. Merritt contributed to. It's a 20th century who's who of the fantastic!

 Take care and thanks for stopping by.


Here's the scans of the editions in my collection.
And thanks to Bill Crider for turning me onto "Photoscape".
Now I can do these cool wrap around scans.

Cover By Stephen Fabian.

Another Fabian cover.

Rodney Matthews!

More Rodney Matthews!

A lovely Ken Barr cover. the original recently sold for $970!

Patrick Woodroffe

Les Edwards

   Another one by Patrick Woodroffe!   Aint this one of the most amazing things that you've ever seen!

Here are my other Merritt's in my collection. These are nice but come no where near the later editions as far as beauty goes.

Here's some links Merritt books that are still in print!

"The Moon Pool"
"The Metal Monster"
"The Ship of Ishtar"

The film "Devil Doll" was based on Mr. Merritt's "Burn Witch! Burn!"

6 Kommentare:

  1. I can't believe I've never seen those Avon covers before! Thanks for posting, really.


  2. Hi Will,
    there's actualy quite a few more old Avon Merritt covers that are even crazier.

    Check these out.

    Take care.

  3. Hi Doug

    British artist Patrick Woodroffe did the "Dwellers in the Mirage" and "Seven Footprints to Satan" covers. I have a UK edition of "Dwellers" which also uses this cover. He also did the covers for Futura editions of "Satan" (with a different and much wilder cover) and "Burn Witch, Burn", and another edition of "The Ship of Ishtar".

    Woodroffe illustrated huge number of British SF< Fantasy & Horror paperbacks, along with record covers, in the 1970s. I recently found my copy of his 1976 collection "Mythopeikon", after having misfiled it for several years!

    All the best - love the blog!

    Mark Cannon
    Canberra, Australia

  4. Hi Mark,
    thanks for the info! I never made the connection with the UK edition "Mirage" . Just with a different color scheme. Shame on me. I know that edition and just because of the color scheme I never connected the dots!! It's funny how our minds/memories work. Did Woodroofe do the cover to the UK editon of "Face in the Abyss"?
    And lastly, thanks for the kind words.

    Take care.

  5. Well spotted- Woodroffe did indeed paint the cover for the UK Futura edition of "Face in the Abyss". In fact, I think that edition may well have been the first Merritt book I ever bought! I forgot to mention it, but the cover is also reproduced in his book "Mythopoeikon"

    That book is a lovely collection of Woodroffe's work, BTW. I assume that it's long out of print, but could doubtless be obtained through eBay, ABEBooks, etc.

    All the best - Mark

  6. I think I know "Mythopoeikon". It has an odd looking 2elephant" on the cover. It show up on Ebay over here every once in a while.

    take care.