American science fiction writer 1884-1943

Abraham Merritt was born January 20, 1884 in Beverly, New Jersey. His father was William Henry Merritt and his mother was Ida Priscilla Merritt. His family relocated to Philadephia, Pennsylvania that same year. He attended Philadelphia High School.

Abraham Merritt wrote under the byline A. Merritt. His initial training was in the field of law, which then shifted toward journalism. His career began in 1902, when he began as an 18 year old correspondent with the Philadelphia Enquirer. He rose to become a night city editor with the paper. He left the paper in 1911, joining with and becoming assistant editor of The American Weekly, (a Randolph Hurst publication). This was a position he held for 25 years, from 1912 until 1937. Upon the death of the editor in chief, (Morrill Goddard), Merritt assumed that mantle. Merritt held that position until his own death in 1943. Part of Merritt's legacy as an editor was the discovery of illustrators Virgil Finlay and Hannes Vajn Bok. Merritt and Bok maintained a friendship until Merritt's demise.

Merritt also supported the work of Sister Elizabeth Kenny on a cure and treatment for polio.

Merritt's science fiction output was relatively modest, being a sideline to his substantial duties as a full time editor. His first published story was in 1917, entitled Thru the Dragon Glass. Also published in 1917 in Weird Tales was his story The People in the Pit. He followed that up in 1918 with his first novel, The Moon Pool. The sequel, The Conquest of the Moon Pool, appeared in 1919. He published The Metal Monster (1920), The Face in the Abyss (1923), The Ship of Ishtar (1924), The Woman of the Wood (1926), 7 Footsteps to Satan (1927), The Dwellers in the Mirage (1932), Burn Witch Burn (1932), Creep, Shadow (1934), and The Drone Man (1934). Merritt had been working on another novel when he died suddenly of a heart attack at his winter home, located at Indian Rock Keys, Florida. That novel, The Fox Woman and the Blue Pagoda, included the portion completed by Merritt along with a concluding portion penned by long time friend Hannes Bok. The Fox Woman and Other Stories, released in 1949, included the same fragmentary work by Merritt sans Bok's conclusion. Bok also released The Black Wheel in 1948, a work which included unpublished material by Merritt.

Two of A. Merritt's works were made into movies. 7 Footprints to Satan was released in 1929.The Devil Doll was released in 1936, a film based on Merritt's Burn Witch Burn, published in 1932.

His influence on the genre of SF was in the creation of desirable alternate realities. His writings were emotionally charged, conveying a sense of longing for that which was not.

He was extremely popular during his lifetime, to the extent he even had a pulp magazine named after him.

A. Merritt didn't confine himself to mainstream SF, but delved into fantasy and horror as well. He was one of the trailblazing pioneers who brought imaginative fiction into the sunlight, popularizing what had once been characterized as frivolous literature. He was the first fantasy author following Edgar Rice Burroughs to gain popularity, but unlike Burroughs, was regarded as a literate writer. Before Merritt, science fiction and fantasy were entertaining, were creative, but lacked respectability. Merritt brought that respectability to the genre. Perhaps Merritt was able to perform this service almost by default. He was, after all, a professional editor, and was by necessity a man of letters. Perhaps his credentials were what lent an aura of respectability so long denied to SF/fantasy.

A. Merritt wrote on subjects common to speculative fiction authors of his day. He included hollow earth themes, monsters, lost civilizations and other such common themes in his work. His forté was his rich, descriptive style which gave his works a much fuller feel than most of his contemporaries. It has been said his works haven't held up well with the passage of time. This is a view which fails to consider the depths from which the genre ascended on its way toward its modern incarnation.

other interests
During his career as an editor he was one of the most highly compensated members of his profession. He earned $25,000 per year by 1919, and his salary had increased to $100,000 by the end of his life. This income allowed Merritt to pursue other interests which included world travel, real estate investment, and more exotic hobbies such as collecting masks, weapons, and carvings which he obtained in his travels. He also cultivated orchids along with other plants associated with the dark arts such as wolfsbane, marahuana (sp), monkshood, blue datura, and peyote. He shared an interest with friend Hannes Bok in all things occult, acquiring a library devoted to the subject rumored to number over 5,000 volumes. Merritt wrote several articles on botany and discovered psychedelic drugs along with S. Weir Mitchell.

Merritt was married twice, first to Eleanore Ratcliffe during the 1910s or thereabouts, with whom he raised an adopted daughter. His second marriage was in the 1930s to Eleanor H. Johnson. Merritt maintained an estate in Hollis Park Gardens on Long Island, New York.

Several of A. Merritt's works are available free online. A search using Google will reveal them for your reading pleasure.


SciFiQuest 2107

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