Donald A. Wollheim

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 835

In lists of leading science fiction writers such as might be compiled by academics or fan experts, it is probable that the name of Andre Norton would be missing, whereas such writers as Robert Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Arthur C. Clarke, John Brunner and others would be certainly present. Yet if these list compilers would take librarians and booksellers into investigation, they would discover that the name of Andre Norton would be right up there in any top ten list.

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Why then would they have omitted her in their original off-the-top-of-the-head listings? It would be for a number of reasons. For one, Andre Norton has but rarely graced the pages of the standard science fiction magazines. Her novels are not serialized in the newsstand pulps. And she has written but a handful of short stories and novelettes as compared with the others' output….

[Her] novels do not push themselves to promote any sort of special pleading of the kind likely to attract controversy and debate.

Then also the greater part of her science fiction has been composed of novels written for hard-cover publishers as works for "young adults" and not promoted or even offered among the science fiction shelves of the adult fiction sections of book shops. Yet any bookseller could tell you that wherever her science fiction books are sold, however they may be labelled, they sell well, they sell steadily, they remain in print for years and years. (p. vii)

The world of science fiction and fantasy readers, the same people who devour Anderson and Simak and Farmer and Niven, also buy and read everything by Andre Norton they can get their hands on.

While they may spend a lot of time discussing the sociology and speculations of the other writers, Andre Norton they read for pleasure. This is not to say that her works lack the depth of the others, because they do not. But it is that these depths form part of the natural unobtrusive background of her novels whereas one's nose is, as it were, forceably shoved into the special pleading that the others so often project into their novels.

Andre Norton thought of herself as writing for young people; from the start she had an instinctive understanding of modern youth that many of her contemporaries and predecessors in juvenile fiction lacked. She knew that you did not have to write down to them; she knew that you did not have to explain the elementary details of futurology or infinity or other-worldly lore to them. She knew that the youth of today was already self-oriented to what came to their older contemporaries as "future shock."

So quite calmly she could speak of colonized planets and the problems of people living on them; she could write of alien beings, friendly and unfriendly; she could bring to the imagination the feel of what an alien mind could be, of what a wholly nonhuman intelligence might desire, or what unsolved mysteries the galaxy may very well hold for us.

She does this as part of a background in which flesh and blood humans develop—young people indeed, but not so young as not to be able to assume responsibilities for themselves, their causes, their loved ones. She could place a story in the grim setting of a ghetto for the dispossessed of a cosmic war—and her readers would understand. She could bring forth the thrill and commerce of space trade, of corporations and "free traders" and do it so that it all came alive, rang true. She could set a human being down alone on an alien landscape and make that alienness felt, make the reader live just what it had to be like.

She knows and loves animals and she utilizes her own feeling for the other living beasts of our Earth to place them or their like on other worlds and other futures—and she brings the magic of communication between man and his old allies of our terrestrial heritage into a reality desired by the legendry of mankind's rise, but possibly capable of achievement only through the knowledge of the ways of genetic structuring and mental revision. (pp. viii-ix)

Andre Norton is at home telling wonder stories.

She is telling us that people are marvelously complex and marvelously fascinating. She is telling us that all life is good and that the universe is vast and meant to enhance our life to infinity. She is weaving an endless tapestry of a cosmos no man will ever fully understand, but among whose threads we are meant to wander forever to our personal fulfillment.

Basically this is what science fiction has always been about. And because she has always understood this, her audience will continue to be as ever-renewing and as nearly infinite as her subjects. (p. x)

Donald A. Wollheim, in his introduction to The Many Worlds of Andre Norton by Andre Norton, edited by Roger Elwood (copyright © 1974 by Roger Elwood; reprinted with permission of the publisher), Chilton Book Company, 1974, pp. vii-x.

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