Lest Darkness Fall (19391939)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
L. Sprague de Camp
Publication Date 2000
Format Leather-bound (250 x 160 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Science Fiction
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Science Fiction
No. of Pages 182
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on Amazon.com
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 11
Frontispiece/Illustrator Pat Morrissey
Introduction/Foreward Isaac Asimov
Original Details
Original Publisher Street & Smith Publications, Inc.
Original Publication Year 19391939
In Lest Darkness Fall, twentieth-century academic Martin Padway travels through time to prevent the fall of the Roman Empire.
Collector's Notes

In 535 A.D. Rome had lost its Empire to division with the Byzantine Empire and invasion by the Germanic tribes, the Goths and the Visigoths, and then the Huns from Asia. Attila had raided Gaul, Italy, and the Balkans, Rome had been sacked by the Visigoths in 410, and the last western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, had been deposed in 476. Learning was being lost, some of it preserved in monasteries, some gone forever. Soon the darkness would fall for nearly 1,000 years. Unless a man from the present can prevent it.

Alternate history is one of the major themes of science fiction, and L. Sprague de Camp's Lest Darkness Fall is one of its classics. Mark Twain's 1889 A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, to which Lest Darkness Fall has a clear relationship, is one of its earliest examples, although the earliest, "Historic Doubts Respecting Napoleon Bonaparte," was published by Richard Whately in 1819.

Alternate history allows the author - and the reader - to consider the impact on civilization and human lives of critical events in history, and some history professors have used such stories and novels as a way to get their students to think creatively about the past and the present. They also offer an opportunity for thoughtful adventure in a context whose familiarity has been slightly but meaningfully estranged.

A vogue of such speculations resulted in a 1931 anthology edited by J. C. Squire, If: Or History Rewritten, which included, among other distinguished contributions, an essay by Winston Churchill, "If Lee Had Not Won the Battle of Gettysburg." That may have inspired Ward Moore's classic 1953 alternate-history novel Bring the Jubilee, which draws in convincing detail the picture of a United States in which the South won the Civil War. Wars are crucial turning points, and Philip K. Dick chose a World War II in which the Axis powers won and divided the U.S. between them as the basis for his 1962 novel The Man in the High Castle. Both novels have been reprinted in the Masterpieces of Science Fiction series.

De Camp selected a different kind of critical event: the coming Dark Ages. Where Mark Twain sent a factory superintendent named Hank Morgan back to 6th century Britain (by being hit on the head by a crowbar) so that Twain could satirize both romantic notions of chivalry as well as Twain's own times, De Camp transported an archeologist named Martin Padway (by means of a lightning bolt) back to 6th century Italy, where he gradually assumes the burden of preventing the darkness of barbarism and the loss of civilization. In a sense Lest Darkness Fall is a critique of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, setting a realistic goal achieved by realistic means in opposition to Twain's satire, which sometimes plays fast and loose with plausibility.

Lest Darkness Fall is just as much fun, however, and perhaps more serious as speculation. Where A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is limited by the reader's knowledge that the Connecticut Yankee must fail in his effort to bring 19th century technology and civilization to 6th century Britain, the reader of Lest Darkness Fall is kept in suspense by the theory that reality is an infinite series of coexisting universes and Padway has been deposited in one in which history may happen differently than it did in the one we know.

Lest Darkness Fall was published in Unknown in December, 1939, little more than a year after the publication of the author's first stories, and reprinted as a hardcover novel in 1941. It has been frequently reprinted since, and its author has become one of science fiction's Grand Masters.

The introduction to Lest Darkness Fall, specially commissioned for this edition by The Easton Press, was written by another Grand Master, Isaac Asimov. Asimov is one of the major figures in science fiction, as well as in science popularization and publishing generally (his total number of books is approaching, or has exceeded, 400), whose new science-fiction novels appear regularly on the bestseller lists. His first story was published in 1939, just a few months before Lest Darkness Fall. He wrote an article about the novel in Astonishing Stories in 1941.