Catherine Lucille Moore, better known as C. L. Moore, was born on this day in 1911. She sold her first story, “Shambleau”, in 1933. (review here)
In certain circles among science fiction and fantasy authors and fans, one can find a popular belief that women authors have been suppressed and had their voices silenced by The Patriarchy. And That Has to Change. While it is true that until recently more authors have been men than women, one has to wonder what parallel universe some of these people have fallen out of. Either that or if what they’ve been smoking is home grown or Columbian imported. Many of them act like they’ve never heard of Ursula K. Le Guin, Leigh Brackett, Kate Wilhelm, or Andre Norton, among others.
And if they mention C. L. Moore at all, they talk about how she had to hide her gender by using her initials in her byline. Something Ms. Moore herself denied. She used her initials because she was using the typewriters at the bank where she worked to practice her typing and write stories after hours. As the sole support for her aging parents, she needed both incomes. She was hiding her identity so she wouldn’t get fired for having a second income. I guess that doesn’t fit their narrative.
Jennifer Jodell does a good job of showing that Moore’s gender wasn’t the secret it’s often portrayed to be in C. L. Moore, Significance to the Genre. This forms the first chapter of Ms. Jodell’s master’s thesis, which I would love to read. Moore was part of a group that consisted of Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, Fritz Leiber, and Forrest J. Ackerman. She was well regarded by both H. P. Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard, writers of no small regard around these here parts. Both men were aware that she was a woman. Howard even sent her a story to get her opinion on it. Her first three stories were voted “best in issue” by the readers of Weird Tales, beating out stories by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Williamson, Edmund Hamilton, E. Hoffman Price, and Frank Belknap Long.
It’s hard to overstate Moore’s impact on the genre. She influenced Robert E. Howard, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert A. Heinlein, Robert Silverberg, Robert Bloch, Mike Resnick, C. J. Cherryh, Suzy McKee Charnas, and a host of others. She was one of the most popular writers in the 30s and 40s. Her popularity continued long after she left the field to write for television in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Moore brought an adult sexuality and emotional complexity to both fantasy and science fiction that was pretty nonexistent in the 1930s. I’ve mentioned this in some of my posts on Northwest Smith, the prototypical space pirate and smuggler. And long before the kickass woman warrior strode across the land trying to out-Conan Conan, Jirel of Joiry took up her sword.
Moore also brought a higher level of writing to the field, certainly better than most of what was being published in the pulps in those days. Her prose contains an elegance and poetry that makes it a joy to read.
The kickass warrior babe with a sword has become a cliche. There are so many books on the shelves with a woman holding a sword that unless I’m familiar with the author, I usually pass them by. There are exceptions, such as Joshua P. Simon’s works, but for the most part, I give them a pass these days. So many of the writers who don’t know the history of the field think they’ve created something new and unique. C. L. Moore was doing the same thing in the 1930s in the pages of Weird Tales. And doing it better.
Now there was a kickass woman writer. I’ll be observing her birthday by reading some Northwest Smith, and if the kickass woman I’m married to doesn’t have plans for me, some Jirel of Joiry as well.