Abraham Merritt

By: Joshua Glenn
January 20, 2013

Despite his considerable success ABRAHAM MERRITT (1884–1943) never quit his day job. From 1912 until his death, he was assistant editor and then editor of The American Weekly, a Sunday newspaper supplement which often featured scientific and historical oddities; in that capacity, he gave illustrators Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok their start. He earned a lot of money, traveled the world, accumulated an enormous occult library, cultivated exotic plants like wolfbane and peyote… and in his spare time, wrote Radium-Age fantasy and science fiction like The Moon Pool (1919), The Metal Monster (1920), and Burn Witch Burn! (1932; Tod Browning adapted it as The Devil-Doll). Michael Moorcock rightly argues that Merritt’s The Ship of Ishtar (1924) and Dwellers in the Mirage (1932) are two of the best fantasy novels ever written. Merritt’s Fortean suggestion that lost races, ancient technologies, and other far-out phenomena were to be discovered beneath the surface of everyday life influenced H.P. Lovecraft (who said that Merritt has “a peculiar power of working up an atmosphere and investing a region with an aura of unholy dread”) and Gary Gygax, and makes his prose fun to read today — despite its purple-ness. I’m particularly fond of The Face in the Abyss (1931), in which a treasure hunter in the Peruvian Andes discovers the last survivor of a race of superintelligent serpent people — whose servants, the Old Race, were once far superior to modern-day humankind, but are now obsessed with sex, hunting mutants with dinosaurs, and dream machines! Who can’t relate?


On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Juan García Esquivel and Federico Fellini.

READ MORE about men and women born on the cusp between the Psychonaut (1874–1883) and Modernist (1884–93) Generations.

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