Monday 26 August 2013

Science Fantasy: Thomas Burnett Swann


ANDREW DARLINGTON travels to Crete to rediscover
the work and the lost world of an unfairly neglected
American fantasist whose stories first achieved prominence
in the British ‘Science Fantasy’ magazine

“Out in the dark blue sea lies a land
called Crete - a rich and lovely land, washed
by the waves on every side...”
(Homer ‘The Odyssey’)

I never quite understood what Homer meant about the ‘wine-dark seas’ of Crete. Until I came here and saw the setting Cretan sun flame the Aegean to something as richly intoxicating. Now – in the courtyard of the Palace of Knossos, just 5km from the Heraklion airstrip, I see Thomas Burnett Swann in new illuminations too. Knossos is Swann in stone. A fusion of myth and archaeology. This, the palace of King Minos, was discovered by Greek historian Minos Kalorairinos, and controversially reconstructed by Sir Arthur Evens. But its labyrinths were planned and executed by Daedalus. Here, in Swann’s 1964 ‘Science Fantasy’ serial “The Blue Monkeys”, mythology fights its last ‘War of the Beasts’ against the encroaching forces of human rationalism. Here the hybrid man-beast Eunostos, the last ‘Bull-that-walks-like-a-man’, unites with the beast-princess Thea, niece of King Minos, in a doomed attempt to resist the island’s Achaeon conquerors. Crete is a land of thirty-million olive trees. Home to the world’s oldest viniculture. Up from Piskopiano there’s the stark limestone moonscape of the Dikti cave – birthplace of Zeus. Suddenly, here, Swann’s elegiac stories becomes tangible and real.

I don’t know a great deal about Swann’s life. Little more than fragmentary glimpses salvaged from book jackets and magazine profiles. I know he was born in Florida in 1928. That he served in the US Navy during the Korean War, but that he was an academic by nature. To the editor of his greatest fictional home – the British ‘Science Fantasy’ magazine, Swann was a ‘putter-in’ who built ‘a phrase round a ‘boss-word’, a sentence round a key-phrase, forms paragraphs of carefully-matched sentences, and inlays them with epithets until their colour and texture is exactly what (he) envisages’ (see 32). I’m also a ‘putter-in’, and this sounds about right.

Swann’s education yields impressive qualifications including an A.B. from Duke University, a Master’s from the University of Tennessee and a Ph.D from the University of Florida, which enabled him to become a Professor of English Literature at the Florida Atlantic University, a position he used to authenticate the ‘framing’ sequence for his novelisation of the “The Blue Monkeys” as ‘The Day Of The Minotaur’ (1966), his most powerful eulogy to the power of dream. Through the medium of his narrator Swann commends ‘the accurate historical framework, the detailed descriptions of flora and fauna, the painstaking fidelity to fact in costume and custom’ (13) of his own work. Other writers used mythology before him. H Warner Munn took his lost Roman legion through remnants of Arthurian, Atlantean and Toltec quasi-history as early as the ‘Weird Tales’ serial forming the novel ‘King Of The World’s Edge’ (1939). But Swann’s vision is clearer. He is more closely attuned to the roots of all story-telling in dream and wonderment. He is a writer who retains ‘an ear for the well-turned phrase, the elegant (yes, even the flowery) epithet’. His ornate enigmas of the past are located where species divisions are fluid, where history dissolves and melts into myth. He deifies the natural world. And few have done it better.

It’s possible to argue Fantasy as the cranky eccentric inferior of its more rigorously disciplined neighbouring genre, Science Fiction. At its best – restrained by the laws of physics, SF has an ability to stimulate the imagination to a degree seldom achieved by any other form of popular fiction, whereas Fantasy’s effect on the imagination is more often than not soporific. Both can be viewed as escapist forms of literature, and – of course, Fantasy is part of an eternal Bardic tradition extending back beyond Homer (and one from which SF has itself evolved). Nevertheless, the trendy-mystic catch-all of Swords-&-Sorcery, Dragons, Boy Wizards, Teen-Vampires, psi-mutants, and endearing Diskworld Hobbit-facsimiles currently infesting bookshops is a depressing place to be. There are exceptions. Lovecraft’s elaborate and mesmeric Cthulhu mythos has a snaringly compulsive breadth of vision. The sheer poetic beauty and outlandish grotesquerie of Mervyn Peake gives his work a quality that defies any attempt at limited categorisation. Fantasists CS Lewis and Leigh Brackett must get special mention too, while the degree of fascination still exerted by Tolkien must make him a candidate for any list of honourable exceptions.

And I don’t want to imply that Thomas Burnett Swann automatically qualifies for inclusion in such an elevated pantheon of Fantasy writers. Merely that his tales are quaintly individualistic and imaginatively original enough to be afforded a degree of serious consideration I’d not readily extend to many of his contemporaries. Swann produced work for a number of years, in ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy & Science Fiction’ and Ted White’s ‘Fantastic’, but most notably through the pages of the fondly remembered ‘Science Fantasy’, and later through his own slim novels. And in doing so he built up a unique stylistic identity. He used his awesomely imaginative bestiary of mythic characters as metaphors for wonderment. Michael Moorcock – himself no stranger to rich prose, recognises Swann’s “Where Is The Bird Of Fire?” as one work which ‘has shown uses to which Fantasy can be put’, one which ‘has done more than entertain on an escapist level’ (31). While even the ‘glittering adjectives’ of a much earlier story – “The Painter”, playfully animates the real into the wonderfully phantasmagoric. Here, the surreal monstrosities of Hieronymous Bosch’s ‘Garden Of Earthly Delights’ become a virtual intrusion into the artist’s actual life via hideous aliens – ‘demons exploring the sky in their fish’, amid opulently poetic prose where ‘apples glisten like Venetian goblets, twisting their fine-blown spheres to catch the moonlight’, and horror floods his body ‘like water invading a swimmer’.

The man Theodore Sturgeon describes as ‘a remarkable writer’, decided to drop academia in favour of the pen in the early 1960’s. From then on Swann lived as a poet, an essayist (publishing work on Christina Rossetti and the poet ‘HD’) and a fantasist. He died from cancer in 1976. To these bare bones of a life I add Kyril Bonfiglioli’s musings on his creative technique, ‘one could no more trim down his work without damaging it hopelessly than one could clip a few inches off the side of a good painting’ (32).

This sounds about right.

---- 2 ---

“In the tall green flame of the cypress, I see his
shadow, flickering with the swallows. In the
city that crowds the Palatine, where Fauns walk
with men and wolves are fed in the temple, I hear
the rush of his wings. But that is his shadow and
sound. The bird himself is gone. Always
his wings beat just beyond my hands, and the wind
possesses his cry. Where is the bird of fire?”

The way Tolkien plundered Anglo-Saxon mythology and language is well documented. At his best, Swann goes back further into the classical roots of mythology, to Virgil, Homer and beyond. He sculpts landscapes and texts redolent with the rural imagery of ‘the world’s great childhood before the Trojan War’, a time of ‘daffodil-whispering breeze’ and ‘leaf-cleansed air’, a time when even anger was poetic – it ‘clawed at (the) throat like an ice-encrusted branch’ (‘Green Phoenix’, 1972). A time when ‘wonders were as numerous as sparrow’s nests in spring’ (‘Will-O-The-Wisp’, 1976).

John Carnell describes Thomas Burnett Swann as an American ‘unhonoured and unsung in his own country’. But it was Carnell, as founding editor of the elegant ‘Science Fantasy’, who was largely responsible for building that first phase of Swann’s strange evolution. The earliest stories, published while Swann was still studying for his PhD, had yet to assume the enhanced mythological complexity that was to become his most hypnotically powerful form. “Viewpoints” for example (in rival ‘Nebula’, May 1959), has a contemporary setting and flirts with a kind of post-Chernobyl horror in which a radiation-blasted woman has skin of ‘weathered green brass’. But her choice to remain on the mutant’s reservation, accepting her role as part of a separate new race already anticipates Swann’s later preoccupation with a biodiversity of sentient species (there’s also, incidentally, a car called Ariel!). “The Dryad Tree” (‘Science Fantasy’, August 1960) – to Carnell, is ‘a light fantasy in a modern setting... that conjures nostalgic memories of the defunct ‘Unknown Worlds’.’ It envisages an unconventional trans-species menage-a-trois in which Cloe, an Italian Orange Tree, is jealous of John’s new wife Mari. Again, the resolution comes not with violent confrontation, but through gentle assimilation.

But it’s through the stories that follow that Thomas Burnett Swann discovers his style, and his audience. In the novel ‘Green Phoenix’ he chronicles items from the history of Aeneas’ arrival in Italy – incidents that classical Roman writer Virgil apparently forgets to mention. There are no Dryads or Fauns in Virgil’s ‘The Aeneid’ (and while Swann refers to the wandering Trojan’s son as Ascanius, his predecessor usually calls him Iulus), yet the framework of Swann’s novel can be placed without difficulty within a couple of the penultimate chapters of Virgil’s epic. Swann uses King Latinus, rescued intact from the text of ‘The Aeneid’, and also his daughter Lavinia, although her ‘Green Phoenix’ marriage to the hero of Troy is considerably more placid than in Virgil’s version. Swann omits Turnus to whom she was originally betrothed. But such nit-picking comparisons are misleading. Swann’s research is voluminous. Each of his tales come complete with a list of academic esoterica he’s consulted to aid its fabrication. But he merely uses Virgil, as he uses textbooks on Minoan or Etruscan history, as stepping stones to the creation of his own mythologies.

A qualification that can be applicable, however, relates to the exact delineation of his fantasy species, and the apparent confinement of the scope of their world. There are Dryads, Centaurs and Fauns – creatures elaborated from mythology, phantasms condensed out of superstitious rural imaginings, grown from shadow patterns across forest floors, the movement of random clusters of foliage, the rustle of leaves disturbing silence. They should be as inexact, insubstantial and as inconsistent of form as in the tales of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphosis’. Yet Swann veers close to making them endearing and decorative, defusing the elements of both mystery and menace. It’s like taking the beautifully complex draughtsmanship of a Pre-Raphaelite painting without also accepting the decadent fin-de-siecle element of evil omnipresent darkness. Anthologist and critic Judith Merril concurs. To her, Swann’s fictions are ‘a far cry from the earth-dark tragedies of such Ancient World chroniclers as the late Henry Treece, and the lighter approach inevitably diminishes the stature of the myth-figures. If, however, you prefer your blood-spilling flavoured with charm, rather than taken raw, then Swann blends these ingredients with considerable skill’ (33).

That sounds about right. But ‘Green Phoenix’ is just one element of something that should be considered as a whole. The novel was first published (in the USA) in 1972, and is a coming together of ideas Swann had been developing in short story form for a decade. Mellonia, Aeneas’ Dryad lover first appears in the 1962 short story “Where Is The Bird Of Fire?”. Written by a Faun with a reed pen, it tells of Mellonia’s relationship with Remus ‘the Wolf’, the founder of Rome, and how through him she makes good her promise to found a second Troy in Italy. The story, according to a contemporary blurb, ‘received more praise than any other in recent years’. “The Sudden Wings”, a voyage into painful beauty, follows its success. Set at the time of Roman expansion into the Eastern Mediterranean, it concerns the loneliness of the last member of a winged human species, Eros, the Dragonfly Boy. He is an ‘eternal’ who had gamed with a Princess of Ur and is ‘older than evil’. In “Dolphin And The Deep” the Etruscan Bear searches for lost Circe, while “The Murex” is set among Amazons and ant-like Myrmidons on the island of Aegina.

I know Aegina too, walking where the Doric Temple of Aphaea overlooks the Saronic Gulf – perhaps this is the ‘Bay of Coral’ where Swann’s naked Amazons dive for scarlet and lavender sponges? It’s on this island that Daphne and Loxo track a band of Myrmidon ant-boys from the walled town back towards their nest, half for gain (‘like the fabulous ants of Arabia, they were said to horde (sic) gold and emeralds, electrum and lapis lazuli’), and half for sport (‘you have the mind of a wolf’ jokes Loxo). As they stalk their prey, the ilex and linden trees are alive with spirit-presence, the sensual land haunted with stories, redolent of thyme and passed time. The Amazons are rationalised as a kind of proto-Feminist collective of abused or deserted women in revolt against patriarchy. Daphne herself was exposed to die as a baby, saved and reared by Amazon leader Gorgo. Yet their tribe had also fought Centaurs and driven them from the island. Now Gorgo leads her Amazons to raid the nest, only to become lost in its mushroom chambers and tunnels, and forced to retreat, defeated by the ant-boy’s cunning. Separated from her group, Amazon Daphne warily befriends winged Myrmidon Tychon. Together they ride a hippocampus, a giant sea-horse. Like the arm of the sea and the corner of the land, the two meet ‘in sweet apartness’, his unsettling golden-skinned maleness calling ‘a stranger out of the deeps of me, as a necromancer whistles the white-faced spirits of the tide.’ Their liaison is interrupted by returning Amazons. Punished for their transgression, despite her protests, Tychon is thrown to Orion, the great chained bear. Then the remaining Myrmidons affect a rescue, ‘they seemed to step from the sunbeams of the late afternoon; to walk with light through the green woods; to walk as light’. Daphne realises that ‘the same moon controlled our tides’ and she joins the ant-boys in polyandrous marriage, as their new queen.

There’s a strange gentleness to such stories, and little violence. ‘Most of the world’s harm, it seemed, was done by ignorant, essentially decent men’ (‘Will-O-The-Wisp’). There is much talk of love, a love that not only tames wild bears and, helped by the correct alchemaic catalyst enables mortals to sprout ‘Sudden Wings’. A love that seduces Amazons into strange marriages. A love that is romantic, maternal, paternal, or the love of comrade for comrade, or sometimes even a love with ill-defined incestuous or homosexual aspects like that of Eros and Mark (6), or Herrick and Nicholas (‘what makes a man a god is people to worship him. Even one person if he worships enough’ (26)). There’s a pleasingly androgynous ‘Satyricon’-esque ambivalence of blurred sexual identities. Rather, a feeling of universal sensuality devoid of the need for imposed gender divisions. ‘I understand’ comments Amazon Daphne ‘that men could be manly in tenderness’. The ambiguity of sexual roles, as this quote indicates, is extended to include the leading protagonists of the stories. Heroes who are not only heroic, but live up to every outmoded definition of the term. The poet Herrick for example has ‘bare legs splendid in the sun, his bare arms like those of a blacksmith, the archangel hair.’ These heroes also tend to possess a childlike youthfulness, and are given to displays of emotion and even tears that more contemporary modes – unlike those of Homer’s time, find unmanish. Probably such decompartmentalisation of roles reflects more on the sickness of our own society than upon those created by Swann. Heroines are similarly beautiful, yet complex. Matriarchal societies and ‘covens’ abound – the Amazon society is dominated by Gorgo, just as Judith, the charismatic leader of the Gubbings, and Volumna, leader of the Dryads, are her direct counterparts.

There are no villains.

---- 3 ---

“Before Romulus, the entire Mediterranean world had
abounded in Satyrs and Centaurs, Tritons had played in
the sea-pools, and even the air, it was said, had throbbed
with sudden wings as boys and girls had tumbled through
the clouds. But now, thanks to the depredations of man,
such creatures were almost extinct...” (6)

Following the eventual demise of ‘Science Fantasy’, and the publication of ‘Green Phoenix’ came further novels including ‘The Lady Of The Bees’ (1976) drawn from the same mythic sources, ‘The Day Of The Minotaur’ expanded and rewritten from “The Blue Monkeys”, and ‘The Tournament Of Thorns’ (1976). ‘Moondust’ (1968) even enters the fractured Jewish crypto-history of The Torah and ‘finds fairies in the foundations at the battle of Jericho’ (34). Swann describes the Biblical city infiltrated by the non-human wizardry of sciences older than history, with an attendant subterranean realm called Honey Heart, populated with winged females and intelligent foxes.

Thomas Burnett Swann had by now become the centre of a minor cult which climaxed with the 1976 appearance of ‘Will-O-The-Wisp’, a novel set in ‘post-Elizabethan England’. Here, the underlying sensuality of the earlier fantasies remain, but its wondering, somehow chaste innocence is a little more knowing. The sense of menace a little more fully realised. Swann writes that ‘when God had come to England with the Romans, the Pagan Gods had scuttled from field and fen, and the Devil, who gave them asylum in Hell, appeared to be permanently routed and tidily exiled.’ But the element of Puritan guilt gives evil a Freudian psychological basis, validating the mutterings of dark submerged sexuality. The attributes of sensuality are even extended to embrace the inanimate. Dartmoor, under ‘the first light of dawn had begun to flush the tors. Usually they resembled huge jagged tombstones, but now they were what they had been to her ancestors before the fall, unabashedly phallic, earth’s virility yearning to the fruitful sky.’ This is an essentially Pagan vision of the world, of Sky-Mother/Earth-Father as in virile pre-christian belief. Yet the novel lies well within the tradition of Swann’s mythos. Robert Herrick the poet, in pursuing and being captured by the remnants of a supernatural race living on Dartmoor, does for the novel what Virgil had done for ‘Green Phoenix’ (while not only Virgil but also Dryads and Satyrs are alluded to in the later work). There are other points of cross-reference that serve merely to update the outer limits of Swann’s terrain by a fistful of centuries. The research and settings are meticulously exacting, detail from Herrick’s own life, to the Devonshire Folklore of the persecuted ‘Gubbings’, to lists of furnishings and materials described in archaic or unfamiliar terminology. A list of research source material is credited.

The Gubbings, like the Myrmidons, and the Dragonfly Boy, are winged.

In “The Night Of The Unicorn” (12), written for a 1975 Arkham House Press anthology – ‘Nameless Places’ edited by Gerald W Page, Swann finally brings his location back into the twentieth century. It tells of a Mexican village which awaits the appearance of a Unicorn, an ex-whore anticipating that, although the creature will not approach her, a single glimpse will make the wait worth while. Thomas Burnett Swann is the teller of gentle mythologies in which duels are fought in ‘Trials Of Verse’. In which beautiful women of strange hybrid species woo human lovers, Mellonia is torn between her allegiance to the Dryads and to Aeneas, just as Stella is torn between Gubbings and Herrick, or Daphne between Amazons and her former prey, the Myrmidons. He uses poetic imagery to create an internal world to consistently encapsulate his vision – the moon is described as a ‘bird of fire’, the Gubbings’ diminutive wings are ‘thwarted flames’, tents are ‘grounded birds yearning for flight’ and the forest is ‘so dark that the sun was a dim constellation in the night of foliage above them.’ In Swann’s stories a youthful world of childlike innocence and purity is receding in time to be replaced by a more dour and world-weary maturity. His tales speak of a world, and of life-styles that are in harmony with the earth. A world, and a value-system that have somehow subsequently been misplaced, that simultaneously dissolve like childhood with the first pubic hair of maturity, to be destroyed by the intimations of evil that adulthood brings. An analogy perhaps, with the Judeo-Christian Fall alluded to by Swann in ‘Will-O-The-Wisp’, in which wisdom again creates the knowledge of evil. Or then again, perhaps the Eden myth itself is just a parable of lost childhood?

It’s as if he’s writing a symbolic paean to childhood and the childhood of the world. There’s ‘a great sadness, for what I had lost and more, for what I must lose, stirring in me like the grey moth of autumn. I felt the wings and a chilling dust of snow...’ (8). Perhaps he’s writing parables of the despoilation of nature by human technological pollution, for the theme of species nearing extinction recurs – the last fugitive Gubbings, the last Dragonfly Boy, the last Centaur. Or maybe he’s just writing magical tales with their own internal logics. Swann’s fiction, like the simile of the tents, yearn for flight.

Whatever the motives he weaves oddly compelling, strangely individualistic tales that even those with a bias against pure Fantasy can find charming.

The images that reach us from Minoan Crete – the bull-dancers, the ‘Prince with Lilies’, the ‘Blue Ladies’, have been painstakingly reconstructed by historians from an incomplete jigsaw of mosaic fragments found in the ruins of the Knossos Palace, their gaps imaginatively fleshed out. Splinters of what is known from the deep past, elaborated into what is conjectured. Thomas Burnett Swann worked in that way. Knossos is Swann in stone. He was here – in Crete, to research ‘Day Of The Minotaur’. Its scroll of papyrus, inscribed with its ancient manuscript, was supposedly excavated from a cave near the ‘ancient town of Phaestus’ – modern Phaistos adjacent to the Roman archaeological site of Gortys. Here there are still ‘oak trees older than Saturn’. Swann stood beneath ‘hills terraced with olive trees and vineyards, which climb gradually into the Range of Ida and the Country of the Beast’. I recognise the first. I can now believe the second. From these shores, into the wine-dark seas of Crete, the Beauty-and-the-Beast story of the Minotaur ends as Eunostos sets sail to find the Isles of the Blest, leaving Crete to human occupation.

The loss, here, is almost tangible.

“Hide it if you must, deep as the deepest
trireme crusted with coral, but beauty will
burn into light” - old Dolphin proverb

(12 October 1928 – 5 May 1976)


(1) “Winged Victory” (‘FANTASTIC UNIVERSE’ - July 1958)
(2) “Viewpoint” (‘NEBULA no.40’ - May 1959)
(3) “The Dryad Tree” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no. 42’ - August 1960)
(4) “The Painter” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no. 44’ - December 1960)
(5) “Where Is The Bird Of Fire?” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.52’ - April 1962/ then as novel ‘LADY OF THE BEES’ 1976)
(6) “The Sudden Wings” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.55’ - October 1962)
(7) “The Dolphin And The Deep” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.60’ - August 1963/ then as novel 1968) (8) “The Murex” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.63’ - February 1964)
(9) “The Blue Monkeys” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY nos.67/68/69’ - Sept 1964/Dec 1964/Jan 1965)/ then rewritten as the novel ‘DAY OF THE MINOTAUR’ (1966)
(10) “Vashti” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.72’ - May 1965)
(11) “The Weirwoods” (‘SCIENCE FANTASY nos.77/78’ - Oct/Nov 1965)
(12) “The Night Of The Unicorn” (‘NAMELESS PLACES’ edited by Gerald W Page, Arkham House Press, 1975, collected into ‘THE YEARS BEST FANTASY STORIES vol.2’ edited by Lin Carter - Daw 1976)


(13) ‘DAY OF THE MINOTAUR’ (Ace 1966 USA/Mayflower 1975 UK - a ‘slightly different’ version of “The Blue Monkeys” serial)
(14) ‘THE WEIRWOODS’ (Ace - 1967 USA)
(15) ‘MOONDUST’ (Ace - 1968 USA)
(16) ‘THE DOLPHIN AND THE DEEP’ (Ace - 1968, three short novellas, ‘The Dolphin And The Deep’, ‘The Murex’ and ‘The Manor Of The Roses’ from ‘The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction’ November 1966 from his ‘John And Stephen’ series which also includes ‘The Stalking Trees’ in the January 1973 issue)
(17) ‘WHERE IS THE BIRD OF FIRE?’ (Ace - 1970 Collection, includes ‘Where Is The Bird Of Fire (The Latium Trilogy)’, ‘Vashti’ and previously unpublished ‘Bear’)
(18) ‘THE GOAT WITHOUT HORNS’ (Ballantine - 1971)
(19) ‘FOREST OF FOREVER’ (Ace - 1971 USA/Mayflower 1975 UK
(22) ‘HOW ARE THE MIGHTY FALLEN’ (Daw - 1974)
(23) ‘THE NOT-WORLD’ (Daw - 1975)
(24) ‘THE LADY OF THE BEES’ (Daw - 1976/ sequel to ‘GREEN PHOENIX’)
(25) ‘THE TOURNAMENT OF THE THORNS’ (Daw 1976/ from ‘MAGAZINE OF FANTASY & SF’ stories 1966/1973)
(26) ‘WILL-O-THE-WISP’ (Corgi Science Fantasy - 1976 UK)
(27) ‘THE GODS ABIDE’ (Daw -1976)
(28) ‘THE MINIKINS OF YAM’ (Daw - 1976)
(29) ‘CRY SILVER BELLS’ (Daw - 1977)
(30) ‘QUEENS WALK IN THE DUSK’ (Heritage Press - 1977)


(31) ‘ASPECTS OF FANTASY Part 3’ by Michael Moorcock (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.63’ - February 1964’)
(32) Editorial by Kyril Bonfiglioli (‘SCIENCE FANTASY no.69’ - January 1965)
(33) Book review by Judith Merril (‘NEW WORLDS no.170’ - January 1967)
(34) Book review by James Cawthorn (‘NEW WORLDS no.189’ - April 1969)

There are also poems published in the ‘NORTH CAROLINA QUARTERLY’ and ‘CORNUCOPIA’ magazines, poetry collections - ‘WOMBATS AND MOONDUST’ and ‘ALAS, IN LILLIPUT’, as well as books of Literary Scholarship - ‘THE CLASSICAL WORLD OF H.D.’ and ‘CHARLES SORLEY: POET OF WORLD WAR I’
A poem (by HD?) supplies the titles for “Where Is The Bird Of Fire?” and “Only Night Heals Again”. 

The original version of this article was published in:
‘THE MENTOR no.94’ (Australia - June 1999)


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Anonymous said...

Thank you for the lovely article about the writer who changed my heart and my life when I was young. Thomas Burnett Swann was one of a kind and deserves to be remembered in a better light than he usually is -- not as a minor and ideosyncratic fantasists but as the lyic and powerful mythopoetic artist he was.

I was surprised, though, that you didn't mention his beautiful and radical "How are the Mighty Fallen?" which explores the (putative) gay relationship between David and Jonathan in an entirely sympathetic way, years before anyone else in fantasy or SF had the guts to even mention that gays existed. To Swann, love was love no matter how it manifested, and was to be cherished.

You mention the sorrow at things passing away in Swann's books, something I noticed got more pronounced as he grew older and his health failed. In a way, it was as if he took Yeats' "Celtic Twilight" and extended it to cover the entire Western mythic worldview. Fortunately, what is remembered never truly dies, and thanks to Thomas Burnett Swann, much that might have died is remembered. With love.

-- Dana Corby