C.L. Moore: Pioneer of Weird Fiction

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

black_godApril 4 marks the anniversary of C.L. Moore’s death. Or it might be April 7. We are not entirely sure due to a discrepancy in records. What we do know is that Catherine Lucille Moore was one of the early weird fiction writers, and one of the very-good ones. Her best-known stories are either the Jirel of Joiry tales or the Northwest Smith series.

The importance of C.L. Moore’s work has been debated and dissected by many people. Thomas Bredehoft analyzes Moore’s writing from a feminist perspective in Origin Stories: Feminist Science Fiction and C. L. Moore’s “Shambleau”, while Ryan Harvey over at Black Gate discusses the importance of Jirel in Jirel of Joiry: The Mother of Us All. All the kick-ass heroines that came after, be it Xena or Buffy, owe a nod to that sword-wielding chick with an attitude. As for Northwest Smith, his stories often combined horror and science fiction, and he is Han Solo’s great-grandfather.

One of the interesting things about Moore is the way she handles Lovecraftian themes, but often pulls us in a very different direction than Lovecraft would take. For example, Northwest Smith faces a tentacled, Medusa-like horror and lives. He is always encountering deadly foes in the outer reaches of spaces, or running into foreboding, ancient temples of sketchy origins. Creatures from ancient civilizations abound. Yet, he comes through at the end, guns blazing.

Jirel also travels to other dimensions, meets danger, but returns home safely in the end. Even when she encounter an all-powerful god in “The Dark Land”, she does not succumb to it. Her fiery temper seems to be her best asset as she is never, ever willing to stand down. One can imagine that if Jirel ever came face-to-face with Cthulhu, she’d make him into sushi rather than going nuts.
northwestMost of the Jirel of Joiry tales were hard to find under a single place, but they were collected in 2008 as Black God’s Kiss. Northwest Smith stories are available in Northwest of Earth: The Complete Northwest Smith. The rest of C.L. Moore’s fiction has not been anthologized in recent years. Miracle In Three Dimensions and Other Stories, containing nine rare tales by C.L. Moore, is one of the few books since 2000 that I could find with non-Jirel or Northwest stories.

If you haven’t encountered C.L. Moore yet, or if you wish to sink deeper into the worlds she built, there’s a whole host of resources that you can browse:

If you know of other resources related to C.L. Moore’s fiction, add them in the comments section.