John Collier

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(1901 — 1980)

Born in London, John Henry Noyes Collier was privately educated by his uncle, Vincent Collier, a novelist. When, at the age of 18, John was asked by his father what he had chosen as a vocation, his reply was "I want to be a poet." His father indulged him, and over the course of the next ten years Collier lived on an allowance of two pounds a week, plus whatever he could pick up by writing book reviews.

His later genre books included His Monkey Wife: or Married to a Chimp (1930), Tom's a-Cold (1933), Green Thoughts (1932), The Devil and All (1934), Variations on a Theme (1934), Presenting Moonshine (1941), The Touch of Nutmeg (1943), Fancies and Goodnights (1951), Pictures in the Fire (1958), The John Collier Reader (1972), and The Best of John Collier (1975).

His genre short stories that were reprinted in anthologies or collections included “Bottle Party,” “The Chaser,” “Evening Primrose,” “Green Thoughts,” “Interpretation of a Dream,” “The Lady on the Gray,” “Over Insurance,” “The Steel Cat,” “Thus I Refute Beelzy,” “Man Overboard,” “Rope Enough,” and “Youth from Vienna.” Some of the anthologies in which his stories appeared were The Pocket Book of Science Fiction (1943), edited by Donald A. Wollheim; Out of This World (1944), edited by Julius Fast; Beyond the Barriers of Space and Time (1954), edited by Judith Merril; and A Decade of Fantasy & Science Fiction (1960), edited by Robert P. Mills.

SF/fantasy magazines that printed his genre stories were Avon Fantasy Reader # (“Evening Primrose,” 1947); Famous Fantastic Mysteries (“Thus I Refute Beelzy,” October 1952); Fantastic (”The Devil, George, and Rosie,” March-April 1953); The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (“After the Ball” [November 1959], “Man Overboard” [March 1960], “Meeting of Relations” [January 1959], “The Tender Age” [May 1960], and “A Word to the Wise” [September 1958]); and Shock: (“The Frog Prince,” July 1960, “Green Thoughts,” May 1960).

Collier was very popular in the United States, where his most memorable stories were collected in The John Collier Reader (1972). Like many writers of fantastic fiction, Collier was largely ignored by scholars but received high praise from the public.

Commenting on Collier, critic Anthony Burgess compared him to Saki and Mervyn Peake, but admitted that he did not belong to any known literary tradition. Clifton Fadiman wrote that Collier's humor “has nothing to do with phrases or even situations; it proceeds from a peculiar flipness of tone all his own, acetic, casual, always surprising” and his stories have “the infernal, neat touch of horror.” A. L. Furman said that there had been no writer like Collier since Saki. Anthony Boucher (writing as H. H. Holmes) also compared him to Saki. Fred Hoyle compared him to both Saki and Poe. Judith Merril compared his work to that of Al Capp, calling them both geniuses.

Commenting on his own work, Collier once wrote: "I sometimes marvel that a third-rate writer like me has been able to palm himself off as a second-rate writer."

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