Wednesday, January 5, 2011

C.L. Moore (1911-1987)

This month--January 2011--marks the one-hundreth anniversary of the birth of C.L. Moore, one of the great early writers of science fantasy and science fiction and an illustrator of her own work. She is remembered now for her first published story, "Shambleau" (1933), and for the story's protagonist, the clear-eyed interplanetary adventurer known as Northwest Smith. Moore is also credited with having created the first heroine in the field of heroic fantasy, Jirel of Joiry (1934), and for one the first treatments of cybernetics in science fiction with "No Woman Born" (1944). Although Moore's fame rests on her writing, she was also an illustrator. Unfortunately, her illustrations lie hidden in old copies of Weird Tales magazine and have apparently not been reprinted during the last seven decades.

Catherine Lucile (or Lucille) Moore was born on January 24, 1911, in Indianapolis, Indiana. She was a sickly child and spent her early years mostly at home. She attended Indiana University for a year and a half but was forced by the vicissitudes of the Great Depression to go to work. She found a job as a secretary to a banker in Indianapolis and spent most of the 1930s typing during the day and writing at night. Long an admirer and reader of fantastic fiction, Moore jumped for joy when Weird Tales accepted "Shambleau" for publication in its November 1933 issue. Weird Tales, "The Unique Magazine," would print fourteen more of her stories of Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry before the decade was out. Moore may have illustrated just one of them, "The Dark Land" (Jan. 1936). She also provided the illustrations for her own story, "Nymph of Darkness," for Fantasy Magazine (Apr. 1935). Weird Tales aficionado Robert Weinberg called her illustrations "very good and fairly weird in nature," and until they show up again in the public eye, we'll have to take his word for it.

In 1940, C.L. Moore left her hometown to marry science fiction writer Henry Kuttner (1915-1958). The best man at the young couple's wedding was Virgil Finlay (1914-1971), one of Kuttner's close friends and an up-and-coming illustrator in his own right. In lieu of Moore's own illustrations, I can only offer art created by others for her stories. Finlay is one of those illustrators.

Despite the fact that C.L. Moore is still widely admired and her stories are continually reprinted, her centennial year may in fact go unnoticed, except here, at Indiana Illustrators.

Catherine Moore's story, "Black God's Kiss," made the cover of Weird Tales in October 1934, less than a year after the magazine published her first story, "Shambleau." That issue was a grand slam for women inasmuch as the cover illustration was by Margaret Brundage, one of few women at work in fantasy art of the 1930s, the cover story was by C.L. Moore, and the cover character, Jirel of Joiry, was the first heroine in the genre of heroic fantasy. I should mention that it was a good issue for Hoosiers, too: both of the authors mentioned on the cover lived in Indiana at one time or another.

In 1937, Moore collaborated with her future husband, Henry Kuttner, on "Quest of the Starstone," published in the November issue of Weird Tales. The story was a collaboration of another kind: Moore's characters, Northwest Smith and Jirel of Joiry, also teamed up, despite being separated by a seemingly unbridgeable gap in time and space. The illustration is by Virgil Finlay.

By 1950, when "Earth's Last Citadel" was published, C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner had become the writingest team in science fiction. Unfortunately, within a decade, Kuttner would be in his grave and his widow's career as a writer would have almost come to its end. Once again, Virgil Finlay provided the illustration for his friends' story.

Text and captions copyright 2011 Terence E. Hanley


  1. Just found this blog while doing some research on C.L. Moore, and I wanted to leave a comment to express my appreciation for your work! Great stuff.

  2. Thanks, Alex,

    I've been doing research on C.L. Moore also. I had a look at your website and saw that you're interested in comics. Me, too. Feel free to email me at I'm always on the lookout for other artists and cartoonists.


  3. I'm a huge fan of Moore & Kuttner (but especially Moore) as of earlier this year and just wanted to let you know how wonderful all three of your posts on her are!

    Being as fascinated by her life as by her stories, I'm always on the lookout for crumbs I haven't read previously--especially since I don't have the luxury of a good thick biography on her. To that end, I was wondering if you could let me know where you got your information regarding Virgil Finlay. Anywhere I can find a little bit more about Moore, I'm happy to look. :D

  4. Tintin,

    Thanks for writing. The information on Virgil Finlay comes from Seekers of Tomorrow by Sam Moskowitz (1966). The book includes a chapter each on C.L. Moore and Henry Kuttner. Hopefully I'll have another source to recommend to you by the end of the year. I wrote an article on C.L. Moore, and it's supposed to be published soon. Keep checking. When it comes out, I'll post something on it.