Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Moore, C L

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(1911-1987) US writer, a leading author of Science Fantasies for Weird Tales before devoting herself to sf, frequently in collaboration with her husband, Henry Kuttner. She was working as a bank secretary in Indianapolis when her first professional sale, "Shambleau", ran as the lead story in the November 1933 WT. This tale of an intergalactic soldier-of-fortune seduced and nearly destroyed by a medusa-like alien temptress (see Gorgons) blended imagery drawn from Classical Myth with a strong undercurrent of eroticism. The story met with critical and popular acclaim, and catapulted CLM instantly into the ranks of WT's foremost writers. She wrote almost exclusively for WT for the next three years and helped shape the legacy of its golden years. It was for almost two years not generally known that "C L Moore" was a woman.

"Shambleau" was the first of a dozen stories featuring Northwest Smith, whose adventures dominate the two collections Shambleau and Others (coll 1953; with 3 of 7 stories cut vt Shambleau 1958; with 1 story cut vt Shambleau UK 1961) and Northwest of Earth (coll 1954); they were collected as Scarlet Dream (coll 1981; vt Northwest Smith 1982). Through Smith, CLM helped revamp the formulae of both space opera and Heroic Fantasy. Smith's introspection and fallibility give him a more human dimension than his predecessors in heroic fantasy, and the depiction of his sexual vulnerability represented a psychological maturity uncommon in the field. He encounters Vampires in "Black Thirst" (1934) and "Scarlet Dream" (1934) and Werewolves in "Werewoman" (1938), but CLM wreaks original variations on these familiar fantasy themes by linking them to earthly and alien mythologies. Smith's universe contrasts sharply with that of most heroic fantasy and sf of the era, insofar as it presents humanity as ignorant and ill equipped to comprehend alien worlds and species. Two Smith stories were collaborations: "Nymph of Darkness" (1935), with Forrest J Ackerman (1916-2008), and "Quest of the Starstone" (1937 WT), with Kuttner. The latter featured CLM's other series fantasy character, Jirel of Joiry, a strong-willed woman living in medieval France whom CLM had introduced in "The Black God's Kiss" (1934). The first Sword-and-Sorcery saga to feature a female protagonist, the Jirel stories bear a close resemblance in their plots and themes to the Smith tales. They were collected as Jirel of Joiry (coll of linked stories 1969; vt Black God's Shadow 1977). Moore's other stories for fantasy and weird-fiction magazines include "Miracle in Three Dimensions" (1939 Strange Stories), "Fruit of Knowledge" (1940 Unknown), and "Daemon" (1946 Famous Fantastic Mysteries).

CLM published a handful of stories in sf magazines 1934-1939, all redolent of the romantic spirit of her fantasy. Following her marriage to Kuttner in 1940, she worked almost exclusively in sf, usually in collaboration with him – under their own names and also under a score of pseudonyms, notably including Lewis Padgett and Lawrence O'Donnell. Although it is assumed on the basis of their earlier work that Kuttner was responsible for the meticulous plots and frequent comedy of their co-written efforts, CLM for their characterization and atmosphere, it is impossible to single out their individual contributions. The two became regular presences in Astounding Science Fiction during WWII. Key works include "Clash by Night" (1943 as by O'Donnell) and its sequel Fury (1947 as by O'Donnell; 1950; vt Destination Infinity 1958), both set in undersea cities on the planet Venus, and the Time-Travel story "Vintage Season" (1946). Four of the O'Donnell stories were collected under CLM's name as Judgment Night (coll 1952; title novel only 1965). Collections of stories from this period in which her hand is apparent include Line to Tomorrow (coll 1954 as by Padgett), No Boundaries (coll 1955 with Kuttner), Clash by Night and Other Stories (coll 1980 UK with Kuttner), and Tomorrow and Tomorrow, and The Fairy Chessmen (coll 1951 as by Padgett; 2nd short novel vt Chessboard Planet 1956 and vt The Far Reality 1966 UK as by Padgett). The Best of C.L. Moore (coll 1975) ed Lester del Rey represents the most concerted effort to single out those stories which are primarily CLM's.

In the early postwar years CLM and Kuttner wrote a series of short novels strongly influenced by the fantasies of A Merritt, all of which but Earth's Last Citadel (1943 Argosy as by HK and CLM; 1964 as by CLM and HK) are attributed to Kuttner or Padgett. However, The Dark World (1946 Startling Stories as by Kuttner; 1965), which was included with Valley of the Flame (1946 Startling Stories as by Keith Hammond; 1964 as by HK) and Beyond Earth's Gates (1949 as "The Portal in the Picture" by Kuttner; 1954 dos as by Padgett) in The Startling Worlds of Henry Kuttner (omni 1987), portrays a character whose travel to a Secondary World liberates the dark side of his personality, a plot complication consistent with CLM's deployment of psychologically conflicted characters in her earlier fiction.

Within a few years, both writers had switched to writing for the crime and mystery market. CLM's last solo sf novel was Doomsday Morning (1957). After Kuttner's death the following year, she concentrated on screenplays for television series including Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip, and produced no more significant fantasy work. [SD]

other works: The Time Axis (1949 Startling Stories as by HK; 1965); A Gnome There Was (coll 1950 as by Padgett); Well of the Worlds (1952 Startling Stories; 1953 as by Padgett; vt The Well of the Worlds 1965 as by HK); There Shall Be Darkness (1954 chap Australia).

Catherine Lucille Moore


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.