|Born||Abraham Grace Merritt|
January 20, 1884
Beverly, New Jersey, USA
|Died||August 21, 1943 (aged 59)|
Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, USA
|Pen name||W. Fenimore (one 1923 story)|
|Genre||Speculative fiction, supernatural fiction|
|Subject||Weekly news supplement|
Born in Beverly, New Jersey, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1894. Originally trained in law, he turned to journalism, first as a correspondent and later as editor. According to Peter Haining, Merritt survived a harrowing experience while a young reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer about which he refused to ever speak, but would, as Haining claims, mark a turning point in Merritt's life. He was assistant editor of The American Weekly from 1912 to 1937 under Morrill Goddard, then its editor from 1937 until his death. As editor, he hired the unheralded new artists Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok and promoted the work done on polio by Sister Elizabeth Kenny.
His fiction, eight complete novels and a number of short stories, was only a sideline to his journalism career. One of the best-paid journalists of his era, Merritt made $25,000 per year by 1919, and at the end of his life was earning $100,000 yearly—exceptional sums for the period. His financial success allowed him to pursue world travel—he invested in real estate in Jamaica and Ecuador—and exotic hobbies, like cultivating orchids and plants linked to witchcraft and magic (monkshood, wolfbane, blue datura, peyote, and cannabis).
He was described as a hypochondriac who talked endlessly about his medical symptoms, and showed eccentric behavior like a need to try out any food, tobacco and medicine he found on his coworkers desks. Occasionally he would dress in a kilt and play serenades for his coworkers with some of his huge collection of instruments he kept in a locked closet at work. He was well liked for his fairness and inability to fire any employees.
Merritt married twice, once in the 1910s to Eleanore Ratcliffe, with whom he raised an adopted daughter, and again in the 1930s to Eleanor H. Johnson. He lived in the Hollis Park Gardens neighborhood of Queens, New York City, where he accumulated collections of weapons, carvings, and primitive masks from his travels, as well as a library of occult literature that reportedly exceeded 5000 volumes. He died suddenly of a heart attack, at his winter home in Indian Rocks Beach, Florida, in 1943.
Merritt's writings were heavily influenced by H. Rider Haggard, Robert W. Chambers, Helena Blavatsky and Gertrude Barrows Bennett (writing as Francis Stevens), with Merritt having "emulated Bennett's earlier style and themes." Merritt's stories typically revolve around conventional pulp magazine themes: lost civilizations, hideous monsters, etc. His heroes are gallant Irishmen or Scandinavians, his villains treacherous Germans or Russians and his heroines often virginal, mysterious and scantily clad.
What sets Merritt apart from the typical pulp author, however, is his lush, florid prose style and his exhaustive, at times exhausting, penchant for adjective-laden detail. Merritt's fondness for micro-description nicely complements the pointillistic style of Bok's illustrations.
Merritt's first fantasy story was published in 1917, "Through the Dragon Glass" in the November 14 issue of Frank Munsey's All-Story Weekly. Other short stories and serial novels followed in the Munsey magazines All-Story, Argosy All-Story, and Argosy:[a] The People of the Pit (1918), "The Moon Pool" (1918), The Conquest of the Moon Pool (1919), "Three Lines of Old French" (1919), The Metal Monster (1920), The Face in the Abyss (1923), The Ship of Ishtar (1924), Seven Footprints to Satan (1927), The Snake Mother (1930), Burn Witch Burn! (1932), Dwellers in the Mirage (1932), and Creep, Shadow! (1934). Meanwhile, rather few of his stories appeared elsewhere: The Pool of the Stone God (in his own American Weekly, 1923), The Woman of the Wood (Weird Tales, 1926), The Metal Emperor (Science and Invention, 1927), and The Drone Man (Fantasy Magazine, 1934).
The Fox Woman and the Blue Pagoda (1946) combined an unfinished story with a conclusion written by Merritt's friend Hannes Bok. The Fox Woman and Other Stories (1949) collected the same fragment, minus Bok's conclusion, with Merritt's short stories. The book The Black Wheel was published in 1948, after Merritt's death; it was written by Bok using previously unpublished material as well. Both these books were also illustrated by Bok and published by the small press The New Collectors Group in hardcover.
Merritt was a major influence on H. P. Lovecraft and Richard Shaver, and highly esteemed by his friend and frequent collaborator Hannes Bok, a science fiction illustrator. Karl Edward Wagner included Burn Witch Burn on his list of "The Thirteen Best Supernatural Horror Novels" in the May 1983 issue of The Twilight Zone Magazine. Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn list The Ship of Ishtar and Dwellers in the Mirage as two of the novels in their book Fantasy: the 100 Best Books, describing the former book as Merritt "at the peak of his powers", and Merritt's work as a whole being full of "memorable images". Robert Bloch also included Burn Witch Burn on his list of favourite horror novels Gary Gygax, co-creator of the game Dungeons and Dragons, listed Merritt in "Appendix N" of the Dungeon Masters Guide and often noted that he was one of his favorite fantasy authors. In the Lensman series by E. E. Smith, there is a reference to the novel Dwellers in the Mirage in which the protagonist Kimball Kinnison references the book and a quotation from it "Luka—turn your wheel so I need not slay this woman!"
Merritt's work has been adapted numerous times in film and television. These include:
Shaver's main literary model was Abraham Merritt. Merritt isn't read much today, but his fantasy novels were quite popular throughout the '20s and '30s. Beginning with The Moon Pool in 1919, he produced a series of novels about caverns, lost races, ancient ray machines, shell-shaped hovercraft, and other marvels. He was also a member of the original Fortean Society and the editor of The American Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement that often featured scientific and historical oddities. Shaver thought Merritt had seen the caves but could only mention them in fiction. One might also suspect that Merritt's novels had influenced Shaver's beliefs.
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Abraham Grace Merritt