Happy Birthday, Avram Davidson

avram_davidsonIn addition to being Talbot Munday’s birthday (see previous post), today, April 23, is also Avrm Davidson’s birthday.  Born in 1923, Avram Davidson was one of the most original and uinque writers of fantasy in the mid-20th Century.

Davidson won multiple awards in variety of genres, including the Hguo (“All the Seas with Oysters”), an Edgar Award, and three World Fantasy Awards as well as a World Fantasy Lifetime achievement Award.  He was the editor of F&SF from 1962-1964.

He wrote novels, but I’ve always thought of him as primarily a short story writer.  His work is characterized by wit and erudition.  It’s not fluff and requires concentration.  One of his books I need to revisit is Adventures in Unhistory, a collection of essays in which Davidson speculated on the origins of myths and legneds.  I’ve never read anything else quite like it.

Unfortunately in this age five, six, or more volume “trilogies”, the type of fiction he wrote is out of style and his work is largely forgotten.  This is a shame, because he was one of the most original writers the field has ever produced.  I once heard a panel on “What Writers Will We Be Reading 100 Years From Now?” in which Neil Gaiman listed Davidson.  And when I visited with Peter S. Beagle last year, he told me how he used to visit with Davidson and listen to him.  Beagle encouraged him to talk about whatever was on his mind because it would be fascinating and educational.  I must admit I was a bit jealous when he told me that.

It’s late, but tomorrow I’m going to read some of his work.  If you would like to give him a try, much of his work is available in electronic form in reasonably priced editions.

6 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Avram Davidson

  1. Jim Cornelius

    Adventures in Unhistory sounds like something I should read.

    I’ve never quite understood why the short story fell out of favor. Perhaps e-reading is bringing it back. It’s a fine, fine form that seems to suffer from publisher prejudice.

    1. Keith West Post author

      I’m going to a little of Advenures in Unhistory this after and will be reporting back. And I’d really rather read short stories than novels simply due to their length. I’ve heard, though, that at least among fantasy fans, they want to lose themselves in a long novel because they want to escape to that world. Which probably explains the (over)emphasis on world-building you hear from so many writers and critics.

  2. Manly Reading

    Hmm, I just picked up The Phoenix and the Mirror from the local library completely by happenstance. Once I finish Offutt’s Web of the Spider I must give it a read.

  3. Manly Reading

    I’m about to put this up on Amazon – this book kinda grew on me, I have to admit.

    The Phoenix and the Mirror
    I read the Fantasy Masterworks version of this, with an introduction that advised me to read the book at least three times. Strangely, I’m almost tempted to do that – while the story never completely clicked with me while I was reading it, now that I’m not I find myself thinking about it more and more. Since the book is only about 220 pages, doing a re-read seems plausible.
    Anyway. This books is set just before the birth of Christ, in the time of Vergil Magus, known to us the poet Virgil via the Aeniad, but known to medieval man as a sorcerer. Its this alternate view that Davidson has taken, with the opening pages showing Vergil working magic and escaping dread manticores – only to stumble into a worse fate, the enslavement of his soul (or at least that part of his soul which provides him manhood). Obviously, this is a fate worse than death, and to have his soul restored to him, he must create a “virgin mirror” for a queen-widow in which she can be the first to gaze, to fulfil her heart’s desire.
    This requires obtaining rare ingredients – mineral ores – at a time before Amazon. Vergil must set out by ship – hearing tales of Scylla and Charybdis – to strange lands of Court-eunuchs and Sea-Huns, shapeshifters and monsters, and all the while being aware that things are not as they seem in his quest.
    And after that the fun really starts.
    This is not classical sword and sorcery, or high fantasy – its closest to Vance’s picaresque adventures in a lot of ways, being equally literary but in a quite different way. That’s fairly high praise – or at least, its meant to be.
    This was the first book in a series about Vergil Magus: the others appear long out of print and comparatively expensive used. If those are as good as this, then they may be worth tracking down in any event.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks for the review. I’ll definitely want to give this one a try, but when things are slow and I can savor it.


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