1933 - Shambleau
1933. Two new popular leaders come into power: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and German Chancellor Adolph Hitler. Both promise to restore their countries to greatness and both are very efficient in going about this task, but only one is going to end up starting another world war and murdering six million Jews.
In his first one hundred days, Hitler delivers a secret speech to his military leaders in which he outlines his plans to rearm Germany and expand into Eastern Europe, passes the Reichstag fire decree which enables him to imprison anyone who disagrees with him, opens the concentration camp Dachau, receives dictatorial powers from the Reichstag, and passes a law dismissing all non-Aryans from the German Civil service. The last free words uttered in the German Reichstag are delivered by the Social Democratic Leader, Otto Wels: “You can take our lives & our freedom, but you cannot take our honor. We are defenseless but not honorless."
President Roosevelt’s first one hundred days are vastly different. He uses this period to pass thirteen major laws, and establish several new federal bodies to help counter the effects of the Great Depression. These include: a month long “Bank Holiday” in which all banks are closed and financial transactions are frozen until federal deposit insurance is enacted; the Federal Emergency Relief Administration to address the urgent needs of the poor; the Civilian Conservation Corps which puts 250,000 unemployed men to work on short-term conservation projects; the Agricultural Adjustment Administration which works on solving the economic crisis in rural areas by setting quotas to reduce farm production and raise crop prices; the National Industry Recovery Act which outlaws child labor and establishes the Public Works Administration, responsible for creating infrastructure projects that generate construction jobs for millions of Americans; and finally, the Tennessee Valley Authority, which builds dams on the Tennessee River to stimulate farming and generate hydroelectricity, as well as prevent flooding and deforestation.
One of the traditions that President Roosevelt begins as part of his New Deal is the Fireside Chats, a series of 30 radio addresses in which he explains to the American People, in clear language "what has been done in the last few days, why it was done, and what the next steps are going to be". Roosevelt uses these chats to quell rumors and explain his policies, and these in turn help raise public morale during times of despair and uncertainty (see video below for Roosevelt's first Fireside Chat on the banking crisis).
The contrast between President Roosevelt and Adolph Hitler is night and day, and it is this contrast that I was thinking about after I read “Shambleau”, a short story written by C. L. Moore that first appears in the November 1933 issue of Weird Tales.
Catherine Lucille Moore (1911-1987) was an American science fiction and fantasy writer, and one of the first women to write in both these genres. Her work helped pave the way for many other female speculative fiction writers. In 1998, she was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
Moore’s first professional stories were written for pulp magazines. She made the conscious decision to publish under the name “C. L. Moore”, instead of her full name so that her employers would not know she was working as a writer on the side. In 1936, she received a fan letter from Henry Kuttner, also a science fiction writer. Kuttner was under the impression that she was a man. The letter resulted in the two of them meeting, collaborating, and eventually getting married. Moore and Kuttner collaborated on many short stories, sometimes written under their own names, but more often written using one of the following joint pseudonyms: C. H. Liddell, Lawrence O'Donnell, or Lewis Padgett. Working together, the couple managed to combine Moore's style with Kuttner's more cerebral storytelling to create some pretty amazing stories including the two classics: "Mimsy Were the Borogoves" (February 1943), the basis for the film The Last Mimzy (2007), and "Vintage Season" (September 1946), the basis for the film Timescape (1992).”
One of Moore’s most famous recurring characters is Northwest Smith, a gun-toting outlaw smuggler and space pilot who was busting up bars on Mars long before anyone had heard of Han Solo’s Kessel Run record, or tried to kill Mal Reynolds. Smith has the bad habit of crossing paths with powerful alien beings, sometimes worshipped as gods, sometimes disguised as beautiful women, and sometimes both. Fortunately Smith is a quick draw with his blaster, and never far from his closest ally, Yarol, a Venusian smuggler who can usually be counted on to rescue Smith from any scrapes he can’t solve by shooting first.
Northwest Smith made his first appearance in “Shambleau”, Moore’s first professional story, and also probably her most famous. The story takes place on a remote Martian outpost colony where a young women fleeing from a mob bumps into Smith. Instinctively, he saves her from the mob who instead of reacting with hatred are disgusted by Smith’s chivalry. A confused Smith brings, the young woman back to the room where he is staying, only to later discover that he has bitten off more than he can chew.
I can see why this story is so popular. It takes a familiar plot (gentleman rescues damsel in distress from villainous mob) and twists it, giving the reader something new and unexpected. The story explores the themes of sexuality and addiction, and invokes an ancient Greek myth in a very Lovecraftian manner. All in all, I enjoyed this story pretty well and look forward to reading more of Moore’s stories, especially those she later collaborated on with Kuttner.
The Omer today is grandness in grandness, which is something worth thinking about when considering the stated aims of President Roosevelt and Hitler – to bring about this attribute in their countries. However, Roosevelt goes about this by giving and creating, and Hitler does this by consuming and taking – from the Jews, from those who are different, from those who disagree with him, and ultimately from the German people, and his own party. He consumes until there is nothing left, the illusion of grandness he created is shattered, and the whole world sees him for what truly is. And this is what I saw in “Shambleau”, a woman who after being rescued, holds herself as superior to her rescuer, and decides to take instead of give, revealing herself to be a truly pathetic being. President Roosevelt on the other hand (and Northwest Smith), succeeded in creating a legacy that lasts until this very day. Grandness is found not in what you take and destroy, but rather in what you create and give. The longer it lasts and the more it is perpetuated, the greater the grandness of what you have created.