In addition to his short fiction, John Collier wrote poetry, novels, and screenplays, as well as edited collections. Many of his works are fantasies, mysteries, parodies, or social satires. Collier joined Sandy Wilson to make Collier’s most popular novel, His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp (1930), into a musical of the same title; Wet Saturday appeared as a one-act play in 1941, first in New York City; and “Evening Primrose” (with music by Stephen Sondheim) was produced by ABC television. John Milton’s “Paradise Lost”: Screenplay for Cinema of the Mind (1973) reexamined that literary classic as a “screenplay for the cinema mind.” Collier’s motion-picture scripts were performed by cinema greats such as Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, and Charlton Heston.
A versatile writer, John Collier is best remembered for his witty and macabre short fantasies and mysteries and for his shocking and satiric novel of manners, His Monkey Wife: Or, Married to a Chimp, a story of the love and marriage of a man and a chimpanzee. Though largely ignored by scholars, Collier has achieved wide popular fame, particularly in the United States, for his cheerful, tongue-in-cheek treatment of human foibles and pretensions. His understatement can be devastating and his cynicism incorrigible. He received four awards for his poetry from This Quarter, all in 1922. He also received the 1952 Edgar Allan Poe Award from Mystery Writers of America for Fancies and Goodnights, which Ellery Queen had earlier selected for the “Queen’s Quorum,” a definitive list of outstanding mystery short-story collections, and which later won the International Fantasy Award. The best of his short stories have been compared to those of Saki (H. H. Munro), Ambrose Bierce, and Roald Dahl because they are imaginative, offbeat, and difficult to classify.
Kessel, John J. “John Collier.” In Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror, 2: A. E. Coppard to Roger Zelazny, edited by Everett Franklin Bleiler. New York: Scribner’s, 1985. A brief introduction to Collier’s fantasy fiction, commenting on selected works of fiction and placing him within a context of fantasy writers.
Lachman, Marvin S. “John Collier.” In British Mystery Writers, 1920-1939. Vol. 77 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Research, 1989. Lachman explores Collier’s skill in writing about domestic murder and malice and praises his economical style, his clever turns of speech, and his “small miracles of characterization.”
Milne, Tom. “The Elusive John Collier.” Sight and Sound 45 (Spring, 1976): 104-108. Milne discusses Collier’s career as a film writer and provides a brief analysis of his fiction.
Richardson, Betty. John Collier. Boston: Twayne, 1983. Richardson provides a comprehensive survey of Collier’s life and milieu, poetry, novels, screenplays, and short fiction to argue that Collier was a radical, a craftsman, a visionary, and a clever and iconoclastic social satirist unappreciated in his time but worthy of revaluation today. Born into a world of Victorian values, he was skeptical of twentieth century dogmas and ideologies that he feared restricted human behavior and crippled human aspirations. Richardson concludes that Collier’s “witty, jaunty, honest, and clear-sighted” writing will endure and blames his neglect on his unusual variety of literary forms, changing critical tastes, his publication in popular journals, and his own personal modesty.
Theroux, Paul. Sunrise with Sea Monsters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985. Theroux praises the heroine of His Monkey Wife, Emily the chimpanzee, as “sensitive, witty, resourceful,” and personable, and he argues that humans pale beside her. He says that Collier attacks “the jaded twenties types” as “true apes” in need of a “simian redeemer.” He finds the misogyny in Collier’s tales “wickedly cheerful” and “irresistible” and Collier himself “one of the great literary unclassifiables another synonym for genius.”
Vanatta, Dennis. The English Short Story: 1945-1980. Boston: Twayne, 1985. Brief discussion of Collier’s fantasies; including discussions of “Evening Primrose,” “Witch’s Money,” and “Three Bears Cottage”; comments on Collier’s precise style that is often marked by excessive cleverness.