Introduction:

by Roger C. Schlobin


A Primary and Secondary Bibliography pt. 2

 

GK Hall, 0-8161-8044-X, 1980

re-printed (1994) Andre Norton: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography
Edited by Roger C. Schlobin and Irene R. Harrison
Published by NESFA Press, 0-915-368-64-1, PB, $12.50, 92pg

  Contined from Introduction A Primary and Secondary Bibliography ~ by Roger C. Schlobin pt.1

    

 

     In addition to these sources for individual works, one of the predominant influences in Ms. Norton’s fiction is the psychic pseudo-science of psychometry. This activity is formally defined as the detection by a sensitive of the residue that exists in an artifact that has been handled by man through the ages. This residue contains events, human emotions and experiences, and, in the case of religious or mystical objects, psychic power. The process is more fully defined by Ms. Notions female protagonist, Ziantha, in Forerunner Foray:

     For a long time it had been a proved fact that any object wrought by intelligence (or even a natural stone or similar object that had been used for a definite purpose by intelligence) could record. From the fumbling beginnings of untrained sensitives, who had largely developed their own powers, much had been learned. It had been "magic" then; yet the talent was too “wild,” because all men did not share it, and because it could not be controlled or used at will but came and went for reasons unknown to the possessors (p. 50).

 

     This concept is further dramatized in Wraiths of Time. A young Black girl has been thrown into a parallel universe where the ancient Nubian kingdom of Meroe has never fallen and has continued to develop its psychic powers for two thousand years. The young protagonist, Tallahassee Mitford, is drawn back to replace a dead princess in a struggle between good and evil. The keys to success for the virtuous advocates of the “Power” are a crystal ankh and a staff. Tallahassee is the wielder of the staff, and both talismans are the products of the concentrated psychic powers of the people of Meroe. Early in the book, another character explains the significance of such objects to Tallahassee:

     "There was a strong belief in the old African kingdoms that the soul of a nation could be enclosed in some precious artifact. The Ashanti war with England a hundred years ago came about because an English governor demanded the King’s stool to sit on as a sign of the transferral of rulership. But even the King could not sit on that. Sitting on a Floor mat, he might only lean a portion of his arm upon it while making some very important decree or when assuming the kingship. To the Ashanti people the stool contained the power of all the tribal ancestors and was holy; it possessed a deeply religious as well as a political significance--which the English did not attempt to find out before they made their demands” (Wraiths of Time, pp. 5-6).

 

     Ms. Norton's original source for this concept is the works of T. C. Lethbridge. Pertinent works include E. S. P: Beyond Time and Distance, The Monkey’s Tail: A Study in Evolution and Parapsychology, A Step in the Dark, and The Legend of the Sons of God: A Fantasy? Some of this influence is condensed in Ms. Norton’s Merlin's Mirror, and in this work, both the wizard Myrddin/Merlin and the king Arthur are the sons of the union between earthly woman and extraterrestrial artificial insemination. In combination with the novel’s account of ancient alien visits to Earth is Merlin’s ability to sense the alien residue in various objects, such as the stones of Stonehenge. To recover Excalibur, a sword made of star metal, Merlin uses a small scrap of star metal as a divining rod. Thus, through their commonality, the scrap is attracted to the sword. An even more striking example of psychometry is the basis for Forerunner Foray. Ziantha, a young sensitive and thief, is compulsively drawn to an artifact. It appears to be only a stone, but hidden within is a gem of enormous psychic power that holds the memory of and the key to a prehuman tomb containing untold wealth.

 

     Yet, as significant as Lethbridge’s books were to Ms. Norton’s initial interest in psychometry, she did not accept his premises at face value. Rather, she has herself conducted rigorous experiments with admitted sensitives. The result is that Ms. Norton now entertains a doubting acceptance of the concept. More important than the validity of psychometry to an understanding of her fiction, however, is that psychometry provides the bridge between two of her dominant interests and two of the dominant characteristics of her work: history and speculative archaeology. This bridge is defined by the character Lantee in Forerunner Foray as he explains to the protagonist Ziantha how the two of them should find themselves transported to the distant past:

     “Now what is this about the focus-stone? Apparently some trick of psychometry hurled us back into this [the past], and the more l know how and why the better” (Forerunner Foray, p. 116].

 

     Ms. Norton fully exploits this “trick” in many of her novels, far too many to list, in fact. Whether it be the artifacts of alien visits to ancient Earth or the concept of the prehuman Forerunners whose tantalizing artifacts are scattered through the universe and provide so many of Ms. Norton’s works with an epic scope and a brooding mystery, the important thing is that psychometry is one of the major ways by which Ms. Norton can exercise her inclination toward the intriguing elements of history and combine them with elements of either science fiction or fantasy. The necessity of the retention of the value of the past within Ms. Norton's aesthetic is aptly dramatized by the enigmatic and magical Miss Ashemeade, who can accurately be identified as the Norton persona in the fantasy novel Octagon Magic:

     “There was a lady in England,“ Miss Ashemeade replied, “who once said that it was as disgraceful for a lady not to know how to use a needle as it was for a gentleman to be ignorant of how to handle his sword.” She wiped her fingers on a small napkin. Lorrie did not know just what was expected of her, but she said after a moment's pause:

“Gentlemen do not have swords any more.”

“No. Nor do many ladies use needles either. But to forget or set aside any art is an unhappy thing” (p. 55).

 

     In her essay On Writing Fantasy, Ms. Norton affirms the importance of the functional use of the past in her works and further delineates the humanistic elements of history that she likes to represent.

     But the first requirement for writing heroic or sword & sorcery fantasy must be a deep interest in and a love for history itself. Not the history of dates, of sweeps and empires—-but the kind of history which deals with daily life, the beliefs, and aspirations of people long since dust (The Dipple Chronicles, p. 8) (reprinted in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton).

 

     Vivian de Sola Pinto, in his excellent study Crisis in English Poetry 1880-1940 (rev. ed., New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1958), provides a creative pattern that accurately identifies how creativity can exist in a seemingly uneventful life like Andre Norton’s. He defines two journeys by which the author can find full expression in his or her art: the outer voyage and the inner voyage. For an author of science fiction, fantasy, or any other highly fictive literature to make a strong outer or mimetic voyage to actual places or events is absurd. The very nature of such literature makes such experience clearly impossible. However, the idea of inner voyage does provide a clear means of ascertaining the nature of Ms. Norton’s Keatsian experience. De Sola Pinto quotes C. F. G. Masterman’s Condition of England (1909) for a definition of this inner voyage: “a voyage within and across distant horizons and to stranger countries than any visible to the actual senses” (p. 13). This is the nature of the innovation, scope, and settings of Ms. Norton’s fiction, and its intent is a direct indication of her mental activity. Ms. Norton's life, then, has been limited only by the parameters of her own interests, and her literary output clearly shows that her inner voyages have taken her to “distant horizons” and lands strange and vast.

 

     It is not surprising, then, that the world of Andre Norton’s fiction is cosmic in scope. At the beginning of Merlin's Mirror, Ms. Norton sets just such a scene as a backdrop for the tasks of the protagonist Myrddin:

     Time had been swallowed, was gone, and still the beacon kept to its task, while outside the cave nations had risen and decayed, men themselves had changed and changed again. Everything the makers of the beacon had known was erased during those years, destroyed by the very action of nature. Seas swept in upon the land, then retired, the force of their waves taking whole cities and countries. Mountains reared up, so that the shattered remains of once-proud ports were lifted into the thin air of great heights. Deserts crept in over green fields. A moon fell from the sky and another took its place (p. 5).

 

     Indeed, her characters range through galaxies and are embroiled in issues and conflicts of universal and elemental concern. Their quests and actions are intermingled with essential and critical patterns of being, both for themselves and others. The characters are arrayed in a cosmos filled with strange races and alien climes, and the narratives grow from a deep tradition, exist in a momentous present, and face a vital future.

 

     Surprisingly, even though many of her novels are set in the future, she has no special affection for the technological, and, in fact, science is most often the antagonist in her fiction. In the Janus series, an alien computer is the villain, and in the Witch World series, the dreaded Kolder are a scientific race from a parallel universe. Ms. Norton, as quoted in Rick Brooks’ “Andre Norton: Loss of Faith,” makes her stance quite clear:

     “Yes, I am anti-machine. The more research I do, the more I am convinced that when western civilization turned to machines so heartily with the Industrial Revolution...they threw away some parts of life which are now missing and which the lack of leads to much of our present frustration" (The Dipple Chronicles, p. 22) (reprinted in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton).

 

     However, although it is unusual that an author who writes so much science fiction should be anti-technological, it is not at all odd when one realizes what is of primary importance in Ms. Norton's fiction. The scientific and the mechanistic settings exist only to provide a context for her real emphases: plot and character. People, their lives, and their futures are her central concerns. As John Rowe Townsend points out, “Miss Norton handles her gadgetry with great aplomb. She never draws special attention to it; it is simply there”("Andre Norton", A Sense of Story: Essay on Contemporary Writers for Children, J. P. Lippencott, p. 148) Quite simply, her futuristic settings provide the often violent, comprehensive, and active arenas for her dramas. The fact that they may be set in the future is a minor part of her work. Rather, she dwells primarily on the chronicles of beings and their journeys through existence.

 

     Structurally, her stories move quickly through these settings, and there is little doubt that she is a skillful master of narrative. Her storytelling is always complete, leaving few, if any, loose ends. Her effective use of chronology and causality move the reader easily into and through events that out of context may appear implausible, and her writing is uniformly credible. In her essay On Writing Fantasy, Ms. Norton captures the effect of her own narrative when she reflects on the achievements of writers she herself admires:

     There [the combination of history and imagination] we can find aids in novels---the novels of those inspired writers who seem, by some touch of magic, to have actually visited a world of the past. There are flashes of brilliance in such novels, illuminating strange landscapes and ideas. To bring to life the firelit interior of a Pictish broch (about whose inhabitants even the most industrious of modern archeologists can tell us little) is, for example, a feat of real magic (The Dipple Chronicles, p. 8) (reprinted in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton).

 

     Much of the effectiveness of Norton's narrative structure stems from her utilization of the comic mode or the mythic patterns of spring that Northrop Frye explains so cogently in The Anatomy of Criticism. Her protagonists are involved in a struggle and must triumph over an unlawful, established society to survive. Frequently, the protagonists must undergo a rite of passage to find self-realization, and the completion of the comic mode, or “triumphant comedy,“ as Frye calls it, demands the establishment of a new order and the acquisition of freedoms and new insights into the nature of existence. Thus, in Star Gate, the half-human, half-alien Cim must deny the society of his human mother and come to terms with his own manhood and his mixed heritage to find a place in the advanced society of his alien father. Furtig, the mutated cat and protagonist of Breed to Come, discovers that his existence is dependent upon his ability to discover his own potential and confront the mythology of his long-departed human masters, especially when they suddenly return. In Star Guard, The Zero Stone, and The Stars Are Ours!, the protagonists must overcome monolithic and authoritarian societies to reach their goals, and in Judgment on Janus they must defeat the rigid bigotry of the patriarch Skywalkers to preserve the truer humanity of the alien lftcan. Thus, Ms. Norton’s fiction dwells on one of the most poignant and appealing narratives in literature: the success and elevation of the innocent. In this process, bondages and wastelands are overthrown, new and generative orders are established, and the protagonists are ennobled.

 

     The passage of Ms. Norton's characters through this process constitutes her themes, and their concerns, needs, and successes are the major ideas that her fiction presents. One of the clearest examples of her use of character to express a pattern of experience is Sorceress of the Witch World. Kaththea, the protagonist, is nearly destroyed when she mistakenly gives her love, innocence, and sorcerous powers to an evil adept, Dinzil. She must pass through the darkness of her own fear to find rebirth. To save her family, she undergoes a rite of passage and passes from a degenerate state to a generative one, the archetypal quest for salvation. Ultimately, she opens herself to the virtuous archmage Hilarion, one of the enormously powerful “Old Race” of the Witch World series, and is elevated to a new level of awareness:

     Thus I was forced to open my eyes, not on the terrible blinding chaos I had thought, but to see who stood by me. And I knew that this was not one of Dinzil’s breed, those who do not give, only take. Rather it was true that between us there was neither ruler nor ruled, only sharing. There was no need for words, or even thoughts---save a single small wonder quickly gone as to how I could have been so blind as to open the door to needless fear (Sorceress of the Witch World, p. 220).

 

     This pattern is much like the one found in certain nineteenth-century British Romantics and is especially similar to the passage from innocence to experience to higher innocence in William Blake’s prophetic books. In view of Ms. Norton’s commitment to life and generation, it is natural that Rick Brooks should observe that “… the chief value of Andre Norton's fiction may not lie in entertainment or social commentary, but in her `reenchanting’ us with her creations that renew our linkages to all life“ (The Dipple Chronicles, p. 16) (reprinted in The Many Worlds of Andre Norton). This she does accomplish, and her strong characterization is the vehicle for the humanistic themes in her work.

 

     Because Ms. Norton’s characters come in all sizes and shapes, their most important qualities are internal, and the distinctions among human, alien, and animal simply do not apply. In The Beast Master and Lord of Thunder the native and admirable Norbie race possesses horns, and the protagonist's best friends are telepathic animals. The long-lived Zacathans, a reptile race, are the honored and wise historians of the galaxy, and their studies of the pre-human Forerunner civilizations give depth to a number of Ms. Norton’s novels, most notably those in the Shann Lantee and Zero Stone series. There are also large numbers of superior telepathic animals in Ms. Norton’s fiction; frequently, they are nobler than humanity. Their roles range from the semi-sentient loyalty of Vorken, the hideous winged reptile of Star Gate, to the intelligent kinkajou, cats, and foxes of Catseye who are the salvation of the human Troy. Nowhere in Ms. Norton’s fiction is this ecumenical attitude more explicitly stated than in Star Guard, as Terran mercenaries, in conflict with their own kind, find the first sign of what will be their new allies:

     Kana eyed the slit speculatively. It was too narrow for the length if it were fashioned to accommodate a humanoid. It suggested an extremely thin, sinuous creature. He did not feel any prick of man's age-old distaste for the reptilian---any reminder of the barrier between warm-blooded and cold-blooded life which had once held on his home world. Racial mixtures after planet wide wars, mutant births after the atomic conflicts, had broken down the old intolerance against the “different.” And out in space thousands of intelligent life forms, encased in almost as many shapes and bodies, had given “shape prejudice“ its final blow (Star Guard. p. l5l).

 

     In fact, this non-prejudicial attitude in regard to types of being has been present in Ms. Norton’s cosmos from the very beginning, and it has been prophetic in its anticipation of at least one contemporary issue. Amanda Bankier, in the feminist fanzine The Witch and the Chameleon (Women in the Fiction of Andre Norton, August 1974, pp. 3-5), pays tribute to Ms. Norton’s humanistic foresight when she says:

     For a long time before concern over sexism became wide-spread, Andre Norton had been quietly providing us with strong female characters, and exploring the woman's side of sexist societies in her fantasies and science fiction (p. 3).

 

     In addition to the insignificance of shape and the importance of internal quality, Ms. Norton's leading characters are at odds with the social order. For example, Andas, in Android at Arms, stands alone against an entire royal dynasty. Also, they are frequently outcasts, disenfranchised, alone with only themselves, their ethics, and a very few close allies. Often, they are hunted or hounded by the authorities, as are Murdoc Jern and Eet in The Zero Stone and Uncharted Stars. Sometimes they have been exiled from their own kind: Fors flees his clan after he has been denied his heritage in Star Man's Son 2250 A.D. Other times, it is simply that a holocaust or a conflict has left them alone or separated, as in Storm Over Warlock and Ordeal In Otherwhere. Finally, and most often, what sets the protagonists apart are special powers. Ziantha’s distinctive psychic ability, in Forerunner Foray, has been a source of persecution and alienation for her for so long that she is still suspicious even when confronted with one of her own kind:

     But this was a man [Lantee] with a talent akin to hers, equal, she believed. And she could not forget the actions on Turan’s [Lantee’s] time level that had endangered them both, that they had shared as comrades, though he was now the enemy. He made her feel self-conscious, wary in a way she had not experienced before (Forerunner Foray, p. 266).

 

     Whatever the reasons for their separation, Ms. Norton’s characters are uniformly isolated and driven. As a result, it is not unexpected that fear is an emotion and motive common to all of them. The tragic Hosteen Storm, of The Beast Master, his native Terra destroyed, is an accurate model for the agonizing terror that almost paralyzes many of the characters:

     He would not remember. He dared not! Storm's hands balled into fists and he beat them upon his knees, feeling that pain far less than the awaking pain inside him. He was cut off--exiled--And he was also accursed, unless he carried out the purpose [revenge] that had brought him here (The Beast Master, p. 60).

 

     And the characters have good reasons to fear. As if the hostile environments and antagonistic human agencies were not enough, unseen and metaphysical dangers also exist, and they are far more threatening than the physical. In the Witch World series, the fantasy genre and its perspective allow the removal of physical appearances and demonstrate that the real fear in Ms. Norton’s fiction is not that of physical harm, but of the extinction of the self. In Witch World, Jaelithe, the female protagonist, warns of just such a danger in the blasphemous and inhuman weapon of the scientific Kolder:

     “A Man is three things.” It was the witch who spoke now. "He is a body to act, a mind to think, a spirit to feel. Or are men constructed differently in your world, Simon? I cannot think so, for you act, you think, and you feel! Kill the body and you free the spirit; kill the mind and ofttimes the body must live on in sorry bondage for a space, which is a thing to arouse man's compassion. But to kill the spirit and allow the body, and perhaps the mind to live--” her voice shook, “that is a sin beyond all comprehension of our kind. And that is what has happened to these men of Gorm. What walks in their guise is not meant for earthborn life to see! Only an unholy meddling with things utterly forbidden could produce such a death“ (Witch World, p. 51).

 

     It is undoubtedly their alien natures and their fears that govern the characters. Yet, a more subtle restlessness shapes their destinies. Just as Ms. Norton's own life has been a pursuit of knowledge, so too her characters possess a yearning for understanding. They seek a place for themselves and desire a healing and shaping of self through discovery. Gillan of Year of the Unicorn feels this unprovoked need and restlessness:

     How does one know coming good from coming ill? There are those times in life when one welcomes any change, believing that nothing can be such ashes in the mouth, such dryness of days as the never altering flood of time in a small community where the outside world lies ever beyond gates locked and barred against all change (Year of the Unicorn, p. 5).

 

     Alone, frightened, alienated, threatened, searching--Ms. Norton's characters are nevertheless always admirable, and they do have and do find positive virtues. Their own ethical systems may shake and weaken, but ultimately they are vindicated and are more attractive for their frailty. Despite their varied and mutated shapes and talents, they achieve a genuine nobility, a nobility always truer than that of the more “normal” types around them. They are healers of themselves and those around them, and they gain the freedom that only comes from the recognition of responsibility to self. Frequently, their resolutions are androgynous: within themselves or in union with another, they find the ideal combination of male and female characteristics. Most of all, they discover a sanctity of ideas and ethics, and they recognize their own places within the patterns and rhythms of elemental law and carry that recognition forward into a hopeful future. These patterns and rhythms are in nature, but nature is only one of their manifestations, only a part of the necessary interrelationships that are the foundations of a complete and proper realization of self. Hosteen Storm, in The Beast Master, feels the full power of this link between himself and elemental order when he stands alone against a group of hostile aliens:

     Storm was no singer, but somehow the words came to his tongue, fitted themselves readily together into patterns of power so that the Terran believed he walked protected by the invisible armor of one who talked with the Faraway Gods, was akin to the Old Ones. He could feel the power rise and possess him. And with such to strengthen him what need had a man for other weapons? (The Beast Master, p. 172)

 

     Ultimately, all the qualities of Ms. Norton’s settings and characters produce a fiction which realizes the value of the mystical and religious nature of the deeply personal. A natural harmony arises that is optimistic and heartening and that dwells on the small things that are valuable beyond their size. Much of the nature of Ms. Norton's deeply human writings is captured in a brief, poignant moment in Merlin's Mirror. Myrddin, the alien child, alone and without allies, must again go forth into a world that barely tolerates him and that certainly doesn't understand him. He must fulfill an immense responsibility that he didn’t ask for, barely understands, and often dislikes. As he leaves his camp, he turns and addresses the only friend he has made in his wanderings:

     “Little brother,” he said. and at his words the raven stopped its fierce tearing of the meat, looking up at him with beads of eyes which seemed more knowing than any Myrddin had ever seen set in a bird skull. “Farewell, keep safe. When I return you shall feast again” (Merlin’s Mirror, p. 91).

 

Indiana, 1980