Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories From “The Sun”

Once upon a time, before the proliferation of literary magazines, many stories were serialized in newspapers and other periodicals. Such was the case with many stories by Edward Page Mitchell, whose collected stories in this volume appeared in The Sun, a daily New York paper.

Many of Mitchell’s writings prior to his editorship at The Sun (and quite a few while he was with the publication) were not credited to him via by-line, so we owe much of this collection to the work of Sam Moskowitz, who did an exhaustive amount of research to publish a collection of Mitchell’s work in 1973. What made it even more tricky was that Mitchell would publish his fictional accounts intermixed with actual news articles; the fanciful tales would run right alongside articles of local fires, society happenings, labor strikes, and locally court cases.

 

Additionally, The Sun had a pre-Mitchell history of publishing fictional tales without making them stand out. In 1835, they began what was to become known as “The Moon Hoax“, publishing entirely fabricated “facts” from the journal of an assistant astronomer, spinning tales of civilizations and creatures on the surface of the moon as seen with a large telescope. Much the way the radio play of The War of the Worlds caused panic at its broadcast in 1938, the columns about the moon-dwellers caused a sensation – and increased readership and circulation of The Sun by a rather whopping amount.

The stories by Mitchell cover a range of subjects, many of which would later be expanded upon by other notable writers. H. G. Wells in particular may owe him a great debt: Mitchell published “The Crystal Man” in 1881 (Wells published The Invisible Man in 1897); “The Clock That Went Backward” also in 1881 (Wells’ The Time Machine appeared in 1895), and numerous tales about medical transformation, such as “The Professor’s Experiment” in 1880 (with The Island of Doctor Moreau not appearing until 1896).  Additionally, Mitchell covers the hollow-Earth theory in “The Inside of the Earth”; recording sound (and other things) in “The Soul Spectroscope”, and ghosts who won’t leave this mortal realm in “Back from That Bourne”.

Mitchell did try to cue his readers to the fictional nature of his articles with the particular names he chose, Dummkopf [German: dumb head] being a common player. Readers will note the great proliferation of German names in the professors, scientists, and generally learned men throughout the stories. This is due to German being the accepted language of Science for quite a long time. My own father was required to have a fundamental understanding of German in order to study chemistry at his university in the late 1960s – most of the source material being in that language.

One of my favorite stories in this collection was “The Story of the Deluge”, concerning a man in London who had found and translated some actual journals from Noah’s Ark. Mitchell uses the Assyrian flood story (mentioning Nyab in turn of Noah) as a basis, since the journal tablets are supposed to have come from Kouyunjik, a burial mound in Nineveh. Like many of Mitchell’s tales, he adds little details to again cue his readers of this being a fabrication:

“There is nothing whatever in the Assyrian account to confirm the tradition that Noah accelerated the motion of the Ark by raising his own coattails. This would have been an unnecessary as well as undignified proceeding.”

Noah would never do this. (detail from Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch)

Since this might be too veiled for modern audiences, what the man is saying is, “Noah didn’t moon the people he was leaving behind; he was above that kind of thing.” Audiences of the day would likely have smiled to themselves at Mitchell’s subtle double-entendre.

The Noah account also “quotes” from the ship’s log, with Noah himself making mention that the human inhabitants have eaten all the pterodactyl and mastodon, having failed to provision the ship for such a long journey. This readily explains extinction in the antediluvian period of sundry animals.

Mitchell makes particular note of the log entry “Hambl Hamin down with the scurvy. Must put him ashore.” He insists that Hambl was put down on the coast of Maine, as the translated log books show that to be the longitude and latitude at the time:

“We have no further record of Hambl Hamin, but it is perfectly reasonable to assume that after being landed on the rocky coast of Maine he subsisted upon huckleberries until sufficiently recovered from the scurvy, then sailed up the Penobscot upon a log, founded the ancient village of Ham-den, which he named after himself, and was immediately elected to some public position.”
Hamlin, looking thrilled

This was a reference to Hannibal Hamlin, Vice President under Lincoln, who hailed from Paris, Maine, and was a career politician.

If you would like to read the collection for yourself, Feedbooks has Sci-Fi and Fantasy Stories from “The Sun” for FREE. I recommend you keep a dictionary near you: Mitchell uses words in a similar fashion to Harlan Ellison: he chooses precise words for precise meaning, and if you don’t know what he means that’s your problem.

If you would prefer to listen, Librivox has you covered with a few of his more notable tales.

We’ve covered serialized stories on the blog a few times:

Havilah has covered The Perils of Pauline, AKA The Original Damsel in Distress.

Delias has written about The Burial of the Rats by Stoker.

Blythe has a great intro to Right Ho, Jeeves, which was first serialized in the US in the Saturday Evening Post.

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