Introduction by Boyd White

Lloyd's bookselling website is a treasure trove of bibliographic information that other booksellers, collectors, and bloggers refer to frequently. The website is essentially an ongoing "Guide to Fantastic Literature," an invaluable electronic reference tool that is ever changing depending upon acquisitions and sales, which is why anyone deeply interested in fantastic fiction knows to check Lloyd's listings regularly.

Recently, Lloyd wrote to me, “I get as much pleasure handling and describing the material as I do selling it. . . .  The only reason I sell books is to pay the overhead, and I use most of what’s left to buy more material.  Basically, I am a bibliographer and collector who enjoys being surrounded by interesting and curious books, art, manuscripts, and relics.”  Nowhere is Lloyd’s attitude more evident than in The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse, an electronic catalog that is an ongoing project of Lloyd’s with 371 listings and counting.  Consisting of books featured only on Lloyd’s website, the catalog is a virtual who’s who of early fantastic fiction and includes a wide range of genres—imaginary voyages, lost race novels, utopian fiction, interplanetary travels, hollow Earth adventures, fairy tales, Gothics, and ghost stories. 

To be sure, Lloyd’s catalog contains a number of high spots with which any enthusiast of science fiction, fantasy, or horror will be familiar, such as first editions of Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Uldolpho: A Romance (1794), Mary Shelly’s The Last Man (1826), Edgar Allen Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym (1838), and J. S. LeFanu’s Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery (1851).  The most fascinating books, however, are early works that very few collectors or bibliographers have actually seen in the first editions even if they have been able to read them in later reprints. 

The representative works of science fiction are almost overwhelming.  One of the earliest imaginary voyages to the moon, the first edition of Johannes Kepler’s Somnium (1634) is described as “virtually unobtainable,” and Lloyd’s listing details not only key aspects of Kepler’s dream voyage but also its publication history and the merits of currently available translations.  Images of Somnium and its title page are included.  Equally interesting are the listings for Ludvig Holberg’s Nicolai Kilmii Iter Subterraneum (1741), a journey to utopian cultures amidst an undiscovered world in the interior of the Earth, and Jane Webb’s The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century (revised edition, 1828), a futuristic romance that involves weather control, mobile houses, and a reanimated Cheops.

Some of the most compelling and entertaining content descriptions belong to the American Gothics in Lloyd’s catalog, important books that are rarely seen in any edition.  This brief excerpt from the summary of George Lippard’s The Quaker City; Or, The Monks of Monk-Hall (1845) reads like a lost film treatment written by Dario Argento and Wes Craven: “Monk Hall itself is an updated version of the infernal subterranean of the castle or abbey. Teeming with malicious creatures of every type and presided over by a crippled monster called Devilbug, Monk Hall also has a Gothic maiden-in-residence, Mabel Pyne. The plottings of Devilbug provide the occasion for live burials, necrophiliac love affairs, necromancy, satanic ritual, and other depravities embellished with nauseating scenes of Lippard's own.”  The list of plot devices in Mansfield Walworth’s Warwick: Or, The Lost Nationalities of America (1869) is equally delightful: “A sensational Gothic romance with alchemy and occult science, detection, mysterious disappearance, impersonation, dastardly deeds, murder (skeletons of killer and victim ultimately found in a hidden room), discovery of artifacts of a forgotten advanced people who inhabited America in antediluvian days and perished in the Biblical Flood, fabulous riches found in the depths of Mammoth Cave (a long fantastic and horrific sequence), and more.”

The substantial contributions of female authors to the fantastic tradition also play a significant part in Lloyd’s catalog beyond the obvious highlights by Ann Radcliffe, Mary Shelley, and Charlotte Smith.  Ann Augusta Carter’s The Great Rosy Diamond (1856) is a children’s fantasy with shape-changing elves, a hollow Earth kingdom consisting of floating islands, and life forms that are both mineral and vegetable.  Harriet Prescott Spofford’s The Amber Gods and Other Stories (1863) is a seminal collection of American short fiction that includes a number of genres, such as the detective story (“In the Cellar”), the frontier adventure (“Circumstance”), and the erotic fantasy (“The Amber Gods”).  Jane Porter’s Thaddeus of Warsaw (1803) is a legendary rarity of Gothic fiction, a superb historical novel about a young man of Polish-English descent who flees Warsaw in the 1790s to seek his fortune in London.

The Development of the Fantastic Tradition Through 1870 in Fiction and Verse is more than just a distant window into the past.  It is a celebration of the human imagination from the earliest days of fantastic fiction before genre elements codified into what we now term science fiction, fantasy, and horror.  Anyone who wants to appreciate the rich tradition from which spring contemporary works as diverse as J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (1997), Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (2001), Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes (2014), and N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season (2015) should spend some time with Lloyd’s work-in-progress.