Collecting Science Fiction

Andre Norton: An Appreciation

by Timothy Doyle

 

 

"I've seen a complete collection of Andre Norton's books and it haunts me to this day, sort of like the sight of an unscalable Everest." --C.J. Cherryh

Andre Norton, known with great affection as the Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy, died at her home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on March 17th, 2005 - and we are the poorer for her passing. Norton's fantasy and SF career spanned more than a half century and included approximately 150 novels with her full or co-authorship as well as numerous anthologies and short stories. She was a pioneer, succeeding as a female writer in a genre dominated by men, though she found it necessary to legally change her name from Alice Mary to the more masculine Andre.

Norton wrote conventional SF and fantasy. There was plenty of action and adventure, aliens and monsters, ray guns and rockets. But what makes a Norton tale live and breathe are her portrayals of friendship and loyalty, of commitment, and of willingness to sacrifice for a greater good. She brought a depth and maturity of character and personal relationships to a genre more noted for its gizmos and alien monsters.

But there is little I can add to the many descriptions of Andre Norton's contributions to the modern genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction or her legacy, so I will content myself with a more personal reflection on what her books meant to me.

I was a voracious reader of SF as a child in the 1960s, and some of my finest reading memories from that time are of books by Andre Norton. In fact, upon examining these memories I am struck by something odd. While there are many books by other SF authors that I know I read during those years, my memory of them is mainly limited to the elements of plot. But with Norton's books, I remember plot and character, scenes and snatches of dialog, even images of what I thought a particular character or place looked like. I have clear memories of what the book itself looked like, and the surroundings in which I read the book. For example, I read a big chunk of Storm Over Warlock on a long, hot summer afternoon in the Easton, Maryland public library, probably in 1968. It was a yellow hardback with a striking DJ illustration of a spaceman carrying a ray gun and a fierce wolverine with a needle-nosed rocket ship and insect-like alien in the medium background.

Another Norton title I remember vividly is Daybreak: 2250 AD (originally Star Man's Son), which I read in the Ace paperback edition, featuring one of my all-time favorite SF cover illustrations. As a kid, it really bothered me when the cover illustration bore no relationship to or actually conflicted with the story - still does to a degree, as with the Warner edition of Octavia Butler's Dawn in which the black female main character is shown in the cover art as a white woman. But I remember thinking the cover for the Ace PB edition of Daybreak 2250 AD was a perfect representation of Fors and the great hunting cat Lura as they raft across a river, the shattered ruins of the lost city in the background. I have re-read this book (literally, since I still have that same copy that I read as a child) at least six times over the years, and just thinking about it now makes me want to pull it off the shelf for yet another read.

Judgement on Janus, Victory on Janus, The Zero Stone, Witchworld, the Beast Master, the Forerunners, the Solar Queen novels, the Time War series - far too many to name or discuss in depth. If there is a common theme to a Norton book, it is that the story usually involves a young person of low social and economic status who is treated unjustly but perseveres and ultimately, through strength of character and determination, proves their worth. A consistent common element includes a special relationship between the hero and an unusual animal, very often a feline - an element that is very successfully utilized and expanded on by Philip Pullman in the remarkable His Dark Materials series. Children and adolescents identify strongly with the themes of alienation and injustice, tempered by the unconditional acceptance and even love from an unusual or magical animal friend. This formula works extremely well in the best of Norton's work, such that the writing resonates with the adult reader even after many decades have passed.

As to the buying and selling of Norton's books, I don't want to dwell overmuch on that at this time. Suffice it to say that, as discussed above, there is a tremendous interest in and emotional appeal to Andre Norton's books, particularly her earlier novels. As is typical of SF in the 1950s and 1960s, large percentages of the hardback print runs went into libraries, so collectors are far more forgiving of ex-lib faults for the more desirable titles.

Andre Norton also published several non-genre books prior to her first Fantasy and SF titles: Huon of the Horn (hardback, New York: Harcourt, Brace & Company, 1951) and Star Man's Son (hardback, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1952). Following is a list of these non-genre titles plus other later non-SF/Fantasy titles up to 1969. All of these are of interest in any condition to Norton collectors:

The Prince Commands (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Co, 1934)
Ralestone Luck (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Co, 1938)
Follow the Drum (New York: Wm. Penn Publishing Corp., 1942)
The Sword is Drawn (Cambridge, MA: Houghton Mifflin company, 1944)
Scarface (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1948)
Sword in Sheath (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1949)
At Sword's Point (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1954)
Murders For Sale (London, Hammond, 1954) Written as Allen Weston
Yankee Privateer (Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 1955)
Stand to Horse (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956)
Shadow Hawk (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960)
Ride Proud, Rebel! (Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 1961)
Rebel Spurs (Cleveland: World Pub. Co., 1962)
Bertie and May (New York: World Pub. Co., 1969)

Non-genre titles past 1969 may be of mild interest to collectors and completists, but are readily available in decent condition at low prices and so do not merit discussion here. The majority of the titles listed above are uncommon, so the odds of running across them at the Goodwill or flea market are quite low. However, they could conceivably show up in ex-lib status at library sales, as institutions de-accession their older holdings.