Although Frank R. Stockton is virtually unknown today, he was so greatly esteemed in his own era that American librarians in the 1890’s reported only Mark Twain and F. Marion Crawford as more in demand. A 1928 list of great books included Stockton’s as among the two hundred best worldwide, an 1899 poll by Literature ranked him fifth among the writers of his day (ahead of Henry James and Bret Harte), and noted writers and critics have sung his praises, among them Mark Twain, William Dean Howells, Rudyard Kipling, Arthur Quiller-Couch, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edmund Gosse, Robert Browning, Gertrude Stein, Maurice Sendak, and Edmund Wilson. Stockton’s The Adventures of Captain Horn (1895) outsold all other American novels the year of its first printing, and his story “The Lady, or the Tiger?” continues to be read.
A prolific popular writer, Stockton paved the way for others in a variety of areas. As Henry L. Golemba notes, his children’s stories foreshadowed those of Mark Twain, his fairy tales influenced Maurice Sendak, his experimentation with point-of-view narration inspired Gertrude Stein’s technique, and his stories about the complexities and frustrations of ordinary middle-class life anticipated the stories of James Thurber, just as his anti-imperialist and antiwar sketches anticipated Leonard Holton’s The Mouse That Roared (1955). Some have called him the first American science-fiction novelist, and others have praised his multidimensional depictions of the frustrations of the late nineteenth century woman seeking self-fulfillment. Some of his stories were precursors of the inverted detective story, and his originality in handling ratiocination and in reversing traditional formulas of the genre paved the way for later writers.