Andre Norton: Creator and Guardian of Fantastic Worlds

Student workers join the Special Collections Research Center over the summer to work on focused projects and internships. For the month of August we will be highlighting student work and student research projects from summer 2019. This week, we highlight a research post from one of our graduate student workers.

By Jana Rosinski, Curatorial Assistant

book of AN: The Book of Andre Norton, original title The Many Worlds of Andre Norton, edited by Roger Elwood, DAW Books, Inc., 1974

The Book of Andre Norton edited by Roger Elwood, DAW Books, Inc., 1974

Syracuse University Libraries Special Collections’ Pulp Literature and Science Fiction Collections is home to the papers of Andre Norton (other pen names: Alex North and Allen Weston), a science fiction and fantasy phenom with enough publications to inhabit the many worlds she created. The Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, a gift from Andre Norton, contains Norton’s writing in varying stages of development, correspondence with other science fiction and fantasy authors, and a sampling of fanzines she followed.

As a writer, Norton’s some 300 titles that spanned over her epic 70 year career as a writer are awe-inspiring to me. Breaking into the largely male-inhabited realms of science fiction and fantasy in the 1940s and 50s and earning a plethora of awards for her creativity and contributions to the genre shouldn’t be overlooked—she was the first woman Gandalf Grand Master of Fantasy, the first woman to be the Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master, and the first woman inducted by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. But what is truly stellar is her immersion in the community of science fiction and fantasy enthusiasts (AKA fandom).

Two color fanzine covers

Amra: covers from issues vo.2, no.26, October 1963; vo. 2 no. 27, November 1963

Norton provided support to science fiction fan communities and other writers in several ways. Aside from trying her hand at owning and running a bookstore in 1941, reading for Gnome Press (a small publisher of what would come to be considered sci-fi classics), and working at the Library of Congress and nearly every branch within her home library system, Norton subscribed to fanzines and engaged with writers, illustrators, and readers in the community.

Fanzines (way pre-internet) were DIY publications of fan fiction, original art and pieces of writing, a space for reviews of books and movies, a means of knowing the realm’s goings-on (conventions, group activities, and other events), and analogue discussion forums. These pages allowed cross-country and even global communication and connection between humans who really loved a character, series, world, or even just an element of the genre.

SCRC has an assortment of fanzines owned by Norton that she collected as a fan, including an issue with her handwritten note about an illustrator and regular contributor, suggesting her knowledge of the publication, as well as an issue of Amra, a swordplay & sorcery fanzine about Conan the Barbarian, with a letter addressed to Norton from the zine’s editor. Since this was 1962, each issue was individually addressed and mailed to subscribers (some of the zines still have stamps and the handwritten traces of this). Noting that Norton was a patron of the publication, the editor thanks her for her support and even asks for her to contribute an original piece (while also joking about all the fanzine can offer in cents per word).

Review of one of Norton’s books from The WSFA Journal, the official organ of the Washington Science Fiction Association, no. 37, February 1967.

Continuing her support of writers, Norton went on to create a research and reference library of popular literature genres for writers, with a foundation of some ten thousand texts from her personal library. She called the research library High Hallack, named for a continent from her Witch World series. In addition to texts, Norton provided art and videos she collected, as well as support for mail and phone inquiries. Like fanzines, the library was a space for the celebration of fandom and the exploration of new worlds.

Through her fiction, fan patronage, and her amassed collections, Norton created galaxies for exploration that continue to serve as ready portals to discovery.

The Special Collections Research Center is dedicated to providing opportunities for student learning and research. Stay tuned for more updates from our students throughout the month of August.

The Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, are part of the Special Collections Research Center’s manuscript collections (Andre (Alice Mary) Norton Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

Additional Sources:

“High Hallack Library.” Andre-Norton-Books.com, 2019, www.andre-norton-books.com/andre-s-life/high-hallack-library.

Norton, Andre. “High Hallack Library: What It Is and Why.” The SFWA Bulletin, Winter 1999, pp. 24-25.

Blake’s Prints: 1789 Songs of Innocence by William Blake

By Sheridan Bishoff, Public Services Assistant

A woman is seated on a chair with two young people leaning over a book held in her lap, while whimsical tree branches curl and twist up from the right of the page forming the title, “Songs of Innocence.”

Title page from Songs of Innocence

I am an Art History graduate student at Syracuse University, so it is always an exhilarating experience to stumble upon a work of art while working in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries. SCRC holds a diverse group of rare books, including a 1789 edition of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Blake (1757-1827) was an English poet, painter, and printmaker. In 1794, Blake expanded Songs of Innocence into its final version Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). Together, they show the two contrary states of the human soul.  

The pages of our volume were removed from their binding and matted for preservation. My introduction to Blake’s Songs of Innocence came when I was asked to number the matted plates. The pages of Songs of Innocence contain a collection of poems and works of art copied from copperplate engravings and then hand-painted. I saw great care placed into each etching when I was observing the book. While prints are considered a means of duplication, every color wash by Blake gives a different life to his artwork. Some editions explore various ranges of light and shade, expanding beyond expectations of local color.

Largely dismissed in Blake’s lifetime, his work is now considered an important example in the history of English poetry. The popularity of Blake’s writing today has led to easy access of his poems in print and online. However, it is not always easy to see a full range of watercolor washes and prints integrated with his poetry.  SU’s Songs of Innocence contains unique relief etched impressions with color choices unlike other editions created during the late eighteenth century.  Today, there is even an online William Blake Archive that allows you to compare the different artistic decisions. For example, the Blake Archive contains a copy of the 1789 Songs of Innocence that is currently held at the Yale Center for British Art

When comparing Yale’s to our version from the same publication year, there are striking differences in how Blake colored each individual copy. Our edition contains darker lines from the original print while Yale’s has golden undertones. Several of our prints also depict a vivacious wash of a red to blue as seen in the lower half of “The Ecchoing Green.” That poem in Yale’s copy does not contain this coverage or vibrancy of color on the lower half of this poem.

Figures merrily playing and resting beneath a full tree fills the upper frame of the page, while the lower half of the image portrays “The Ecchoing Green” poem with two children and vines undulating through space.

“The Ecchoing Green” from Songs of Innocence

Similarly, there is a variation in the overall tone of the poem“Infant Joy.” SU’s copy of the poem places a blooming flower against a soft blue. The background leads the observer to place the plant in an environment, against the blue sky. Yale’s copy of “Infant Joy” instead contains a flattening range of colors through the sparse application of blue and green. This minimal use of tone alters the audiences’ perception of space. The use of color in Yale’s “Infant Joy” therefore becomes less of a whimsical birth and more ambiguous in its surroundings.

Whirling green vines swirl up to the rood bloom that holds a small fairy and women in yellow with a baby on her lap.

“Infant Joy” from Songs of Innocence

Blake’s skill as a craftsman and printmaker is evident in his integration of text and image in Songs of InnocencePoetry creates its own visual language just as pictures do. Poetic words form a world in your mind, and Blake provides a form to that world by interweaving the words prominently among the color and forms of his poems. As seen in “Infant Joy,” the poem is placed amidst the fluid growing form as the first letter softly touches the curving neck of the blossoming plant. The leaves bend to complement the space the plant holds, creating an integrated composition. There are examples of poems that have more separation between word and image. Even in these separated images, such as “Spring” and “The Little Boy Lost” (see below), Blake fluidly activates the space of words with intricate details of wispy trees and dancing vines. Reading Blake’s poetry in mass production, only existing as words, loses some of the complexity of his original integrated compositions. 

“Spring” from Songs of Innocence

A small haloed boy in the darkness of a looming tree, runs with arms straight out to the left of the image with the poem on the bottom half of the page surrounded by winged figures.

“The Little Boy Lost” from Songs of Innocence

It was a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with this rare work of art.  If you are interested in viewing this work, visit the Reading Room at Syracuse University’s Special Collections Research Center.

William Blake’s 1789 edition of Songs of Innocence referenced in this post is part of our rare books collection (Rare books, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries).

 

Additional Sources

“William Blake,” from the Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/william-blake

The William Blake Archive, http://www.blakearchive.org/

 

This post has been revised 7/15/2019 to reflect an updated description of printing technique.