Blogging Kuttner: A Gnome There Was

A Gnome There WasA Gnome There Was
Lewis Padgett (Henry Kuttner and C. L. Moore)
Simon & Schuster, hardcover, 276 pg., $2.50
Cover drawing by Ed Cartier

I’ve got about half a dozen posts I need to write, including one for another blog, but with the blizzard, we’ve been cooped up in the house.  That means between my wife watching TV with the volume up too loud and my son monopolizing the laptop everytime I have to do something responsible, I’ve not gotten much done as far as reading, blogging, or writing is concerned.  I’m typing this after everyone else has gone to bed.

I started A Gnome There Was just before Thanksgiving.  I tracked down a copy some years ago simply because I was trying to find a copy of the short story “Jesting Pilot”, and this was the easiest way.  Turns out there is another story in it that I discovered last night has never been reprinted since this book was published.  At the time I thought “Jesting Pilot” was the only story I hadn’t read.

Anyway, I was getting tired of some of the stuff I was being sent to review, something I’ll discuss in my year end post in a day or so.  I decided to revisit some of my favorite Kuttner stories (something like literary comfort food).  Since many of them are in this book, that’s the one I chose.  

The book starts out with the title story.  In this one, an idealistic young labor organizer trying to unionize a group of miners creates an explosion which blasts him into the realm of the gnomes and into a gnome’s body.  So he decides to unionize the gnomes.  Of course, the gnome king has other ideas.  I’d forgotten how much dry humor this one contained.

“What You Need” was adapted by Rod Serling for an episode of The Twilight Zone.  It’s an example of the magic shop type of story, and very much in the vein of what you would see on TTZ.

author-photo-kuttner-mooreIn “The Twonky”, a man from the future finds himself in a factory that makes radio-phonographs.  He doesn’t remember anything except that he makes twonkies.  So he makes  one, regains his memory, and returns to his own era.  The twonky ends up being bought a young couple, who get a lot more than they expected.  It takes care of the couple, up to and including restricting what they can read and listen to, for their own good of course.

In the dark (even for Kuttner/Moore) “The Cure”, a man having recurring dreams goes to the psychiatrist for help.  He should have ignored what the psychiatrist told him.

The next two stories, “Exit the Professor” and “See You Later”, are part of the Hogben series.  I discussed them recently here.

last mimsy“Mimsy Were the Borogoves” was fillmed about 10 years ago, give or take, as The Last Mimzy.  I didn’t see the film, so I have no idea how different it was from the story.  Here a man from the far future is testing a time machine and sends back a couple of containers of toys his son has outgrown.  Like all good toys, they educate as well as entertain.  But what if the things they teach aren’t based on the same science or psychology we use?  This one has been a favorite ever since I read it in the summer between middle school and high school.

“Jesting Pilot” concerns a city that’s been built behind a barrier to protect it from some type of apocalypse on the other side.  Now after 600 years, one man is getting restless.  In trying to prevent him from destroying the city, the people in charge of keeping everyting on track may have sealed their doom.

kuttner and moore 2“This is the House” takes its title from a nursery rhyme.  The Kuttners were fond of using children’s rhymes in their titles.  “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” is a quote, for example.  It’s fairly common practice for people to renovate a house when they move in.  In this story, a couple moves into a house that had been renovated by the previous occupant.  An occupant who wasn’t human.

The next story is “Rain Check”.  I thought I had read it before I bought the book, but it turns out I didn’t.  Or if I did, I don’t recall the story.  I think I would have remembered because it deals with a creature called the iGlann, a name that would have stuck in my memory.  And no, that name doesn’t have anything to do with Apple products.  “Rain Check” was published in 1946.  It’s something of a gimmick story, although the gimmick was timely for when it was written.  I can understand why it’s never been reprinted in any of Kuttner’s other collections or anywhere else.

“Compliments of the Author” is a fantasy novelette that ends the book.  When a blackmail attempt results in the death of a magician, the magician’s familiar promises revenge.  The blackmailer manages to make off with a small book.  He discovers that his name is embossed on the leather cover.  A note on the inside informs him that the book will give him advice ten times.  The book is only 50 pages long, each page containing a fortune cookie type saying although some of them, such as “Werewolves can’t climb oak trees” don’t make a lot of sense.  The blackmailer tries to use the book to protect him from the familiar, with results he isn’t expecting.

Overall this is a fine sampling of Kuttner’s work in the science fiction and fantasy magaines of the early to mid-1940s.  These stories were primarily published in Astounding, Unknown, Startling Stories, and Thrilling Wonder Stories.  Many of the familiar themes are there.  Time travel.  Children as mysterious creatures.  The dry humor offsets the often dark and tragic endings of many of the stories.

One thing that struck me was how often Kuttner’s characters are everymen who end up trying to solve extraordinary problems.  Typically they aren’t up to the task, and usually aren’t aware of the true nature of what they face until it’s too late.  They come to tragic ends.  Usually we’re smpathetic to these characters, but not always.

two handed engineLike I said, this collection is a sample of Kuttner and Moore’s stories from the 40s.  I think they were all originally published under the Lewis Padgett byline.  (It’s too late to look each story up on the ISFDB.)  The book’s author being listed as Padgett certainly supports this.  Many of the stories herein were reprinted in collections under Kuttner’s byline, but not all.  “Jesting Pilot” and “Rain Check” have never appeared in another Kuttner collection, and “The Cure” has only appeared in Two-Handed Engine (2005), although it’s been reprinted in other anthologies.  I don’t understand why “We KIll People” wasn’t included.  It was published under the Padgett byline in the March 1946 Astounding.  I think it’s one of Kuttner’s best, but it’s only been repprinted once in the early fifities, and not in any of Kuttner’s collections.

But I digress.  A Gnome There Was is an enjoyable collection.  It’s never been reprinted.  The best stories, however, are available in other collections.


Leave a Reply

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