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Monday, 7 February 2011

Fanthorpe's Fortean Fiction

Lionel Fanthorpe is one of Britain's most popular Fortean writers, but his fiction (of which there is a lot) is less well known. Between 1958 and 1965, under a variety of pseudonyms, he wrote most of Badger Books' supernatural and science fiction titles -- something like 170 books in all, or an average of 20 books a year. That's the sort of productivity normally associated with pulp writers of the 1930s, such as Lester Dent (Doc Savage) or Norvell Page (The Spider). Fanthorpe's novels, however, are less formulaic than the pulps, with a huge range of subjects and (it has to be said) a huge range of quality. His space adventure stories are pretty abysmal -- a fact which has given the entire Fanthorpe opus a bad reputation, although this reputation really isn't deserved by the novels that are set here on Earth (whether in the past, present or future). These stories are often highly Fortean in tone, with plenty of mad scientists, alchemists, ghosts, UFOs, mythological references and psychic phenomena. At least a couple of the novels, The X-Machine (1962, as by John Muller) and UFO 517 (1965, as by Bron Fane), even mention Charles Fort himself. The second of these is especially interesting in that it provides an "explanation" both of UFOs (as you might guess from the title) and two well-documented Fortean phenomena of the 19th century: the Creeping Coffins of Barbados and the Exe Valley "Devil's Footprints". Another Fortean event of the 1800s, the unexplained disappearance of the diplomat Benjamin Bathurst, forms the basis of Time Echo (1959, as by Lionel Roberts). But perhaps the most impressively arcane Fortean reference comes in The Negative Ones (1965, as by John Muller), which provides a rationalized explanation of the vimana flying machines of Indian mythology -- a subject imported to the West a few years earlier by Desmond Leslie in Flying Saucers Have Landed.

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