17 June 2020

Fancies and Goodnights

The July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine hit the newsstands yesterday (are there still newsstands?) and I am delighted to report that I have a story  in it.  (After I typed that I saw the cover.  Wow!  AHMM has really been on a roll the last few years with great covers.  I am proud to benefit from that again.)

"The Library of Poisonville" is full of literary references, appropriately enough.  The title refers to Jorge Luis Borges' great story "The Library of Babel," which inspired my piece, and also to a work by Dashiell Hammett.  Most of the references are obvious, but I thought I would write about an author who my story only touches on tangentially.

John Collier was born in London in 1901.  He was reading Hans Christian Andersen by age 3.  As a teenager he told his father he wanted to be a poet.  Believe it or not, that was fine with dear old Dad, who never required him to get a job or even go to university.  (His work contains several  odd father-son relationships.)

By age thirty he had switched his emphasis to fiction which gave him the chance to show off his, um, unique imagination.  (In what way unique?  Well, his first novel was entitled His Monkey Wife, or Married to a Chimp.)  His story collection Fancies and Goodnights won both the Edgar Award and the International Fantasy Award.    And how often has one book scored both of those?

My favorite Collier story - which I list among my all-time favorite fifty crime tales - is "Witch's Money." In spite of the title this is no fantasy, but rather a tale of cross-cultural misunderstanding in which the arrival of an American painter in a village in southern France leads, with the inevitability of Greek tragedy, to utter destruction.

His writing style tended toward the flowery and sardonic, reminding me of Saki, Roald Dahl, Avram Davidson, and James Powell.  His work has been adapted for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, The Twilight Zone, and Tales of the Unexpected.  He also wrote screenplays for the Hitchcock show and movies; most importantly he was part of the team the wrote The African Queen.

Of all of his works the one that has been adapted for other media the most is probably "Evening Primrose," about a poet who rejects society by living what might be the ultimate consumer dream: dwelling secretly in a department store.  It was even turned into a TV musical starring Anthony Perkins, with songs by Stephen Sondheim!

"I sometimes marvel," Collier once wrote, "that a third-rate writer like me has been able to pass himself off as a second-rate writer."

Here are some of my favorite lines from this first-rate writer:

"Alice and Irwin were as simple and as happy as any young couple in a family-style motion picture.  In fact, they were even happier, for people were not looking at them all the time and their joys were not restricted by the censorship code." - Over Insurance

"How happy I might be if only she was less greedy, better tempered, not so addicted to raking up old grudges, more affectionate, with slightly yellower hair, slimmer, and about twenty years younger!  But what is the good of expecting such a woman to reform?" - Three Bears Cottage

Actress and screenwriter: "I think I'd like to play Juliet."
"It's been done."
"Not as I shall do it.  You shall write a new script, especially for me." - Pictures in the Fire

"So Mrs. Beaseley went resentfully along, prepared to endure Hell herself if she could deprive her husband of a little of his Heaven." - Incident on a Lake

"Annoyed with the world, I took a large studio in Hampstead.  Here I resolved to live in utter aloofness, until the world should approach me on its knees, whining it apologies." -Night! Youth! Paris! And the Moon!

"As soon as Einstein declared that space was finite, the price of building sites, both in Heaven and Hell, soared outrageously." -Hell Hath No Fury

"The young man was greatly taken aback to hear a gorilla speak.  However, common sense reminded him that he was in a city in which many creatures enjoyed that faculty, whom, at first sight, or at any hearing, one would hardly credit with sufficient intelligence to have attained it." -Variation on a  Theme

"It is the fate of those who kiss sleeping beauties to be awakened themselves."  -Sleeping Beauty

"The first cognac is utilitarian merely.  It is like a beautiful woman who has, however, devoted herself entirely to doing good, to nursing, for example.  Nothing is more admirable, but one would like to meet her sister." - Old Acquaintance

If you have read this far I have an offer for you.  As I said, my reference to Collier's work in "The Library of Poisonville" is obscure, but it should ring clear to any fan of the man.   If someone can tell me which of his stories I referred to - and where - I will send that person an autographed copy of the magazine or something of equally dubious merit.  First responder only!


  1. Wow, Rob! I stumbled across some of John Collier's stories back in the 90s when I was trying to teach myself how to write short-stories and reading all that I could! I lucked onto a copy of "Fancies and Goodnights" and devoured it in one sitting! He's always made me think a bit of Frederic Brown! Serious congratulations on the AHMM story, Rob!

  2. JOhn Collier does sound like a writer I'd enjoy!

    Thanks for the recommendation and congratulations again on your story.

  3. So looking forward to your story, Rob! And just read earlier this year John Collier's Fancies and Goodnights. Such fun to read, such fun to read about him again here!

  4. Congratulations on the AHMM story, Rob.

    I love Fancies and Goodnights. I stumbled on "Thus I Refute Beelzy" in an anthology when i was in about 8th grade and sought out the book. A battered copy still sits on my shelf between Huckleberry Finn and The Black Echo. I also like "Midnight Blue" and "Bottle Party," among many others.

    I'll have to look for your reference when my copy of Alfred finally shows up. Our mail delivery has been like a game show lately.

  5. Joseph Goodrich17 June, 2020 08:44

    Oddly enough, I've just been rereading FANCIES AND GOODNIGHTS, and it's just as good as I remembered. Collier fans may want to seek out the Columbia LP of COlier reading "Back for Christmas," "Mary,"and "De Mortuis."

  6. Congrats on another cover story, Rob! And thanks for the background on it.

  7. Congrats on the AHMM story, Rob, and the cover, too. Looking good!

    Love the info on Collier. What a fantastic writer.

  8. Congratulations on another story in AHMM! Can't wait to read it.

  9. I love John Collier - "His Monkey Wife" is the most brilliant homage/send-up of Victorian novels ever written, with a little bit of kink. And, from "Fancies and Goodnights", "If Youth Knew What Age Could" should be required reading for every adolescent.

    And also, Congratulations, Cover Boy!

  10. Congratulations on your story and thank you for the info on Collier. I haven't read him but will certainly get to it. He sounds like a writer I'd enjoy.

  11. Congratulations, Rob! And that is a great cover.

  12. Rob, you have had several cover stories. Way to go. It's a good story.

  13. Thanks for all the comments. Great to see there are so many Collier-heads out there! Steve, "Beelzy" is defintiely one of his best stories, and the one I have seen reprinted the most. I couldn't figure out a way to put it in my column, though, so thanks for doing it.

    R.T. as usual was my first reader on this one and I thank him for his contributions!

  14. Congrats on the new story and the intro to a writer with whom I wasn't previously familiar.

  15. Congratulations, Rob. I don’t know Collier as well as I clearly should, and will have to remedy that immediately!


  16. Congratulations, Robert! BTW, our local Barnes and Noble has a huge selection of magazines (still) and frequently carries EQMM and AHMM.

    bobbi c.


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