John CollierJohn Henry Collier
) was a British-born writer best known for his short stories
, many of which appeared in the New Yorker
during the thirties
. They were collected a 1951 volume, Fancies and Goodnights
, which is still in print. Individual stories are frequently anthologized in fantasy collections.
He contributed to the screenplay of The African Queen along with James Agee and John Huston. He received the Edgar Allen Poe Award in 1951 and the International Fantasy Award in 1952.
His short story, Evening Primrose was the subject of a 1966 television musical by Stephen Sondheim.
His stories may be broadly classified as fantasies, but are really sui generis. They feature an acerbic wit and are usually ironic or dark in tone. Like the stories of P. G. Wodehouse they are perfectly constructed and feature a brilliant literary craftsmanship that can easily escape notice. His stories are memorable; people who cannot recall title or author will nevertheless remember "the story about the people who lived in the department store" (Evening Primrose) or "the story in which the famous beauties that the man magically summons all say 'Here I am on a tiger-skin again'" (Bottle Shop).
A point of his style that the titles of many of his stories reveal (or at least telegraph) what would otherwise be a surprise ending.
Two examples, both from Over Insurance, may illustrate his style. The story opens:
- Alice and Irwin were as simple and as happy as any young couple in a family-style motion picture. In fact, they were even happier, for people were not looking at them all the time and they joys were not restricted by the censorship code. It is therefore impossible to describe the transports with which Alice flew to emrace Irwin on his return from work, or the rapture with which Irwin returned her caresses.... It was at least two hours before they even thought about dinner.... Whatever was best on his plate, he found time to put it on hers, and she was no slower in picking out some dainty tidbit to put between his eager and rather rubbery lips.
They become distressed at the possibility of each others' death, and agree that their only consolation would be to cry. However, they decide that it would be better to cry in luxury. Irwin observes:
- "I would rather cry on a yacht," said he, "where my tears could be ascribed to the salt spray, and I should not be thought unmainly. Let us insure one another, darling, so that if the worst happens we can cry without interruption. Let us put nine-tenths of our money into insurance...."
- "And let us," cried she, "insure our dear bird also," pointing to the feathered cageling, whom they always left uncovered at night, in order that his impassioned trills might grace their diviner raptures.
- "You are right," said he, "I will put ten bucks on the bird."
John Collier died in 1980 in Pacific Palisades, Los Angeles, California
- ''His Monkey Wife: or Married to a Chimp (1930) (Novel)
- Fancies and Goodnights (1951) Short-story collection, paperback reprint currently in print, ISBN 1590170512
Selected Short Stories
- Another American Tragedy—A man escapes a dentist who believes that "mental derangement is caused by dental derangement" only to fall into the hands of a doctor who maintains that "mental derangement is often caused by abdominal derangement."
- Bottle Party—A jinn (genie) tricks a man into taking his place in the bottle.
- The Chaser—A young man buying a genuine love potion cannot understand why the seller sells love potions for a dollar, but also offers a colorless, tasteless, undetectable poison at a much, much higher price.
- Cancel All I Said—A couple's young daughter takes a screen test. The couple's lives are torn apart by the studio head's verbal offer to make the child a star.
- Evening Primrose—Probably his most famous; about people who live in a department store, hiding during the day and coming out at night.
- Interpretation of a Dream—A man experiences disturbing and serial dreams of falling from the thirty-ninth story of the skyscraper in which he works, passing one story every night. In his dreams he looks through the window and makes detailed and veridical observations of the real-life inhabitants as he passes.
- Over Insurance—A loving couple puts nine-tenths of their money into life insurance and becomes so impoverished that each decides to poison the other, unaware that the other has made the same decision.
- Special Delivery—A man falls into love with a department-store mannequin.
- The Steel Cat—Inventor uses his pet mouse to demonstrate his better mousetrap to an insensitive prospect who insists on seeing the mouse actually die.
- Three Bears Cottage—A man tries unsuccessfully to poison his wife with a mushroom as retaliation for serving him a smaller egg than the one she served herself.
- The Touch of Nutmeg Makes It—A man tried for murder and acquitted for lack of motive tells his story to sympathetic friends. During his telling, the surprising motive is accidentally revealed.
- Youth from Vienna—A couple, whose careers (tennis player and actress) depend on youth, are forced to deal with a gift of a single dose of rejuvenating medicine that cannot be divided or shared.
Hon. John Collier (1850-1934) is also the name of a British painter in the Pre-Raphaelite style.