Monday, December 26, 2016

The Lost Musketeer

In compiling the list of pulp-influencing works I've taken to calling Appendix M, one observation leaped off the page.  French writers influenced English language fiction, and vice versa.  A Great Conversation of popular fiction was underway in the 1800s and early 1900s between America, Britian and her Dominions, and France.  This should have been obvious as, even today, the stories of Jules Verne, Alexandre Dumas, and The Phantom of the Opera still are celebrated and remade.  The French influence in detective pulps in unmistakable, as American hardboiled detective stories drew greedily from the well of noir.   But upon reading Appendix N, the list of fantasy works that influenced Dungeons and Dragons, French contributions are absent.  Nor can French writers be found in the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series.  With minor exceptions such as The Planet of the Apes and the Metal Hurlant comics, the French post-pulp contribution to English language science fiction has been minimal.

Unfortunately, the French abandoned science fiction after suffering the great civilization wound of World War One.  From a vantage point 100 years in the future, it is not always readily apparent the damage done to the cultures of Europe by the Great War.  World War Two is more recent, and is portrayed as the Great Crusade and the Last Good War.  Further, America was on the winning side of both wars and managed to be relatively untouched by the ravages of war, both in casualties and collateral damages.  But where World War Two invigorated America, World War One disillusioned and demoralized Europe as their best and brightest men died by the millions in a nightmare of technology, pride, and idealism.  This still haunts European cultures to this day, as writer Sarah Hoyt, a Portuguese immigrant, points out.  And, as French men died defending their country, so did hope and the desire to write science fiction.

Only in the 1950s did science fiction rekindle in France, using Campbelline and Golden Age ideas as a starting point.  But, instead of rejoining the Great Conversation of the Gilded Age with American and English writers, French writers took their science fiction in different directions, conversing instead with Germany, Italian, and Japanese writers.* (However, since French, Continental, and Japanese science fiction retain elements of the pulps expunged from the English speaking tradition, perhaps it is the English speaking tradition that is out of step with the times?)  While the reasons for the French abandonment of science fiction and fantasy are clear, the reasons for the divorce from the prior English speaking traditions are not yet clear. 

*A potential generalization about a European reception to Campbelline works might be made, as C. S. Lewis was bored by the Campbelline period, Michael Moorcock led New Wave in rebellion against it, and the French abandoned it wholesale.  However, this will require additional reading to properly prove.

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