Catherine Lucille Moore: Fantasy and Science Fiction Pioneer

C. L. MooreNot to mention one of the most important writers of the past century.

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.

Weird_Tales_October_1934Jennifer 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.Jirel

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.


8 thoughts on “Catherine Lucille Moore: Fantasy and Science Fiction Pioneer

  1. Charles R Rutledge

    Those first few Jirel stories are like nothing before or since. Dark and creepy and strange. If Robert E. Howard’s tales were infused with a masculine force, then Moore’s were equally saturated with feminine power. She wasn’t writing about what Lin Carter termed a ‘gal Conan’. Jirel isn’t a knock off of anyone, but a true original.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Jirel was definitely an original, Charles. The sad thing is that so many of the warrior women we see today aren’t nearly as well developed as Jirel. I’m going to take a look at Jirel here in the next few days. She’s too important a character in the development of modern S&S to ignore.

  2. Woelf Dietrich

    I’m embarrassed, I’m not aware of her. And I’m not someone who is political about who I read. I read good stories that press my buttons. I shall have to remedy this. It says a lot about her ability if she influenced Lovecraft and Howard, but then I also suspect those writers influenced each other in some way or another. Still, I’m pretty impressed. Thanks for bringing Moore to our attention, Keith.

    1. Keith West Post author

      You’re welcome, Woelf. Moore was one of the greatest writers of her generation. Sadly she fell out of print after her death in the eraly 80s. She participated in a collaboration with Howard and Lovecraft that I wrote about here: Later she married Henry Kuttner and most of her work that followed was to a lesser or greater degree a collaboration.

      The Northwest Smith stories are available in electronic format:
      I don’t know if that’s the complete collection or if a couple of the more rare stories are missing.

      I’m not aware of any electronic collection of the Jirel of Joiry stories. Those will definitely push your buttons. Look for a review of the first one later today or tomorrow.

      1. Woelf Dietrich

        Awesome! Bought a copy, thanks. Which brings me back to a previous comment on why ebooks are so practical. They are like magic portals through time and distance… Yeah, I’m pushing it, but you know what I mean.

  3. Pingback: Henry Kuttner at 100 | Adventures Fantastic

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