Happy Birthday to A. Merritt!

Saturday , 21, January 2017 12 Comments

You already know about Robert E. Howard and H. P. Lovecraft.

You already know about Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan and John Carter.

You’ve seen Leigh Brackett’s handwork on the big screen.

There’s a strong chance you’ve missed out on the guy that combines the best elements of all of these creators into one tight package.

The guy was brilliant. Of all the grandmasters that have lapsed into obscurity the past three decades, Merritt is the best of the most forgotten.

Romance. Heroes. Wonders. Mind-bending terrors. Pitch perfect delivery of all the essential emotional beats. He’s awesome. And he had a major impact on establishing the norms of science fiction and fantasy as we think of it today.

If you don’t know where to start, I can suggest the short story Through the Dragon Glass and the novel Dwellers in the Mirage.


  • Years ago, Robert Silverberg did a column on A. Merritt for Asimov’s. He talked about how popular Merritt once was and how forgotten now. He said, evoking the fear of authors about fading into obscurity, “Because if it can happen to A. Merritt, it can happen to anyone.”

  • deuce says:

    Merritt’s influence was vast. Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Edmond Hamilton, CL Moore, Jack Williamson, Hugo Gernsback, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Leigh Brackett, Robert Bloch, Ray Bradbury, Andre Norton, Donald A. Wollheim, Gardner F. Fox, Karl Edward Wagner — all admired him. The same can be said for newer authors like Moorcock, Robert Silverberg, Brian Lumley, Robert Weinberg, Gary Gygax, Keith Taylor, Stephen Hickman, Tim Powers, Charles R. Rutledge, Adrian Cole and William Meikle.

    Merritt’s imagination was, in my opinion, mind-boggling. He essentially wrote “Lovecraftian” fiction before Lovecraft, starting with The People of the Pit. He could also write great straight-ahead fantasy adventure in novels like The Ship of Ishtar, Seven Footprints to Satan, The Face in the Abyss and The Dwellers in the Mirage — all of which influenced Robert E. Howard in my opinion (and others agree).

    • caleb says:

      “The People of the Pit” is easily the most Cthulhu mythos-like story written prior to its ascent and without any influence from Lovecraft, it’s almost uncanny. Heck, have someone who is familiar with Lovecraft and his cycle but knows nothing of Merritt read it without any knowledge about its original publication date, and they’ll most certainly assume that is written either by one of Lovecraft’s pen pals or by someone heavily inspired by his latter stories.

      • m.tin says:

        Yep. Impossibly ancient civilization that melded into folklore, lost city with utterly alien architecture, utterly alien insanity-inducing ancient race that isn’t made of matter as we know it… It must have been huge influence on Mountains of Madness or Shadow out of Time.

        It was the very first story of his that I’ve read, in that huge Weird anthology (also known a only worthwhile thing its insanely overhyped editors ever produced).

  • John E. Boyle says:

    What was lost or forgotten can be found and remembered.

    Happy Birthday to a Master of Fantasy & Science Fiction!

    To your memory, Mr. Merritt.

  • Robert says:

    The Woman of the Wood is of course his best tale and has been attested to be so by all rightful canonists.

  • PCBushi says:

    Another one I need to read sooner rather than later!

    • m.tin says:

      Better set it to be your very next read. There is a reason why so many fantastic writers adore his work, and it’s a crime that he is so completely overlooked by general readership and literary critics alike.

  • Suburbanbanshee says:

    A. Merritt is the secret ancestral city of science fiction and fantasy, influencing everything we read as thoroughly as Tolkien. The difference is that people haven’t forgotten Tolkien, whereas people copy the copies of Merritt without knowing it.

  • deuce says:

    Right on, Banshee. Even that list I provided above is only a partial one, and that is only from people who went ON RECORD about their Merritt admiration. When you count the people who grew up loving some of the authors Merritt profoundly influenced? Yeah, he’s ubiquitous.

    However, we should never forget Burroughs. His influence was just as profound.

    Both Merritt and ERB are direct literary descendants of Haggard. He is the true fountainhead and patriarch of exotic adventure fiction. The titan who stands on a mountain, looking benevolently down upon us all. I only wish I’d begun reading HRH decades ago.

  • Leave a Reply to Randy Stafford Cancel reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *