Gather, Darkness! (1950)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
Fritz Leiber
Publication Date 1996
Format Leather-bound (215 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Fantasy
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Fantasy
No. of Pages 240
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 9
No. of Reviews 3
Frontispiece/Illustrator Jill Bauman
Original Details
Original Publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
Original Publication Year 1950
In a postapocalyptic future, the Hierarchy of the Great God controls technology and, with it, the commoners. Brother Armon Jarles, a young priest, becomes enraged and speaks out against the church. When he is claimed by the forces of evil, the Hierarchy finds itself in a fight with witches--and with technology that could match its own. Stefan Rudnicki reads this story, originally serialized in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION in 1943, with deep, sinister intonations that hint of menace and a bit of devilishness. His character voices lean to the unusual, adding to the mood of an unsettling but fascinating world.

Sometimes the genre is difficult to identify. In some novels the fantastic enters the real world so gradually that for a while the story seems like a mainstream novel of character and its everyday problems; in others the fantastic and the subjective are so inextricably mixed that the reader can never be sure if the correct interpretation of events is the supernatural or illusion, or even insanity. Such authorial strategies carry a message: the fantastic lies all about us unseen and usually unsuspected; or the supernatural, because it is not bound by the laws of everyday reality, can never be ruled out; or since the human mind is self-contained and subject to delusion, illusion, and psychosis, we can never finally know the nature of the world, or the reality of what seems inexplicable.

In more contemporary fiction, fantasy and science fiction have often been intertwined in various subtle ways. Once that would have been considered heresy. The science-fiction magazines rigorously excluded fantasy on the assumption that science-fiction readers wanted their genres pure (and that fantasy did not sell, or, at least, did not sell as well), even though some of the secondary magazines regularly published adventure stories placed in space, or on alien plan ets or on fantastically changed Earths, stories that were sometimes classified as science-fantasy. And even the purest of the SF magazines, Astounding, published the science-fantasies of A. E. van Vogt. But it was not until The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction was created in 1949 that the genres were displayed within the same covers.

The publication in 1980 of The Shadow of the Torturer, the first volume of Gene Wolfe's tetralogy (later expanded into a quintology) called The Book of the New Sun, marked a daring departure in genre misdirection. The Shadow of the Torturer and its sequels evoked the reading responses of fantasy: the richly imagined and colorful far- distant future with its medieval political structures and guilds, its ancient buildings and rigid traditions, its baroque characters, its acceptance of magic, and its archaic and sometimes elevated diction, combined with a picaresque plot and a narrative reticence to encourage that acceptance of the mysterious and the inexplicable that we associate with heroic fantasy.

It was only when the series was complete that a science-fiction interpretation could be overlaid on the fantastic events - and even then some readers were confused. All of this, of course, could be rationalized in terms of Arthur C. Clarke's third law: "A sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." We might further surmise an authorial message: Inability to understand the principles underlying phenomena does not mean that the cause must be supernatural. Take religion, for instance. Some critics have, and have suggested that The Book of the New Sun is Christian parable.

Other writers have used the contradictory protocols for reading fantasy and science fiction to suggest alternative readings of future events. Jack Williamson, for instance, in Demon Moon (1994) pro vided a fantasy setting for what turned out to be a science-fiction situation, as if to illustrate the process by which reality is transmuted into myth when the past is lost. Michael Swanwick in Stations of the Tide (1991) offered a science-fiction novel that turned into fantasy, and in The Iron-Dragon's Daughter (1993), a fantasy novel that turned into science fiction. Perhaps what these authors are trying to tell us is that we live in a world in which fantasy and science fiction have become inextricably intertwined and that it behooves us to suspend our judgment until all the evidence is in. And: If you think you know what's going on, you're probably mistaken.

None of this, of course, is without precedent. In 1939, John W. Campbell, editor of Astounding Science Fiction, created a companion fantasy magazine, Unknown, which was much loved until it was terminated in 1943 because of the wartime paper shortage. For Unknown, Campbell wanted fantasy stories written as if they were science fiction - that is, granted one fantastic premise, everything proceeded rationally. In that magazine in 1939 Fritz Leiber published his first story, "Two Sought Adventure," a tale of Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, whose deeds Leiber would trace for the rest of his life and for whose subgenre Leiber would invent the term "sword and sorcery."

In fact, Leiber was better known as a fantasy writer than a science- fiction writer, although it was not until the late 1960s, with the success of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, of Le Guin's A Wizard of Earthsea, of Beagle's The Last Unicorn, and particularly of Howard's Conan novels, that the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories began to appear in book form. The series would eventually be published in ten volumes. Conjure Wife, a novel about the subtle emergence of witch craft in a college setting, was more acceptable to a general audience at the time and was reprinted in book form in 1953. First published in the April 1943 issue of Unknown, it was followed, the next month, by the initial installment, in Astounding, of Gather, Darkness!.

Gather, Darkness! reads like fantasy, with its powerful priesthood, its medieval setting and serfs, and its religious miracles and accusations of witchcraft. Throughout the novel the reader finds scientific trickery masquerading as traditional religious ceremonies and super natural manifestations. Almost immediately, however, the reader discovers, in the denunciation by Brother Jarles, that the scientists of the Golden Age, afraid that humanity was slipping into barbarism and ignorance, established a new religion whose miracles are performed by science and controlled by a priestly hierarchy that resurrected the Middle Ages for the common people.

The only force suitable for fighting this new "religious" tyranny is the traditional supernatural opponent of the established religion, witchcraft - or, in this case, superior technology in the guise of witch craft. Part of the fun of Gather, Darkness! is the way in which Leiber manipulated the traditional imagery of the supernatural to show the machinery working behind the scenes, from haunted houses, halos, angels, and manna to gods coming to life.

All of this, it turns out, came naturally to Leiber, both the ritual and the theater. Born in 1910 in Chicago, the son of a Shakespearean actor, and himself a sometime stage and motion-picture actor, Leiber earned a bachelor of philosophy degree from the University of Chicago and studied at the Washington, D.C., Episcopal General Theo logical Seminary. He served as an Episcopal minister at two New Jersey churches in 1932-33 before working as an actor, editor, college instructor, airplane inspector, and associate editor of Science Digest for 12 years.

He won six Hugo Awards for The Big Time (1957), The Wanderer (1964), "Gonna Roll Them Bones" (1967), "Ship of Shadows" (1969), "Ill Met in Lankhmar" (1970), and "Catch That Zeppelin" (1975); "Gonna Roll Them Bone," "Ill Met in Lankhmar," and "Catch That Zeppelin" also won Nebulas. Leiber was presented the World Fantasy Award for "Belsen Express" (1975) and Our Lady of Darkness (1977) and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1976; he was presented the Gandalf Grand Master award in 1980 and the SFWA Grand Master award in 1981. He was guest of honor at the World SF convention in 1951 and 1979 and of the World Fantasy Convention in 1978. He died in 1992.

The use of the church, or witchcraft, to harbor subversion has a science-fiction tradition. As Don A. Stuart, the pen name he used for his more philosophic stories, John W. Campbell wrote two stories dealing with the effort of humanity to rid itself of alien conquerors by the use of a mystical figure, "Out of Night" (1937) and "Cloak of Aesir" (1939), later published as part of a collection under the latter title. In l94l Astounding serialized Sixth Column by Robert A. Heinlein, writing as Anson MacDonald, about the overthrow of a conquering PanAsian Horde by American scientists disguised as a religious cult. Since Campbell was famous for suggesting story ideas to his authors, it seems likely that he recommended to both Leiber and Heinlein the use of a religious front for revolution.

Campbell was a notorious gadfly, and one of his favorite devices was to ask authors to imagine a situation contrary to traditional belief. Religion is traditional and conservative; to use it for revolution is the kind of mind-altering concept that Campbell liked to spring on his readers. The conjunction also provoked the reflection that religion and science may be different in their interpretations of the world but the "miracles" they perform, or claim, are indistinguishable. As Campbell liked to remark, "science is the magic that works."

Each of the uses of Campbell's insight were different. In Gather, Darkness!, called by Alva Rogers in A Requiem for Astounding "one of the top ten, or at least top twenty favorites of all time," religion assumed its traditional role, with technology as its tool, and witch craft became the force for revolution. In the process Leiber anticipated such later developments as holographic projections, which he called "telesolidographs" and mind-altering techniques years before Orwell's more celebrated 1984. He also suggested that "to the truly skeptical mind, diabolic forces are just as reasonable building blocks for the cosmos as mindless electrons."

James Gunn
Lawrence, Kansas