Women of the Retro Hugos: 1943 and 1944 edition

Note: Fog Magic by Julie Sayer and Child of the Sun by Leigh Brackett were both longlisted, but I have yet to read these. As such I have left them out of the article here.

Best Novel 1943:

The Uninvited by Dorothy Macardle

The Uninvited

It is interesting to see a work of gothic horror make the ballot, particularly from a writer who up to this point would probably have been better known as a journalist and playwright. But I always welcome a fresh perspective and a more literary take on the genre.


The first thing that struck me was how much the mood and setting reminded me of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. And as such you could have seen this head more in that direction. Instead what we have is a haunted house story where ghosts are treated as much as a sensible part of the mystery as the human elements.


I enjoyed the spooky tale but I was left at the end wanting a little bit more. I know it is often cited as one of the best haunted house stories of all time but compared to say Shirley Jackson, Henry James or Toni Morrison it is on a much simpler level.

Grand Canyon by Vita Sackville-West (Longlisted)

Grand Canyon

Talking of literary writers, you cannot get much more highbrow than Vita Sackville-West. Missing out by the narrowest margin on being a finalist, this is a work that is much cleverer than it seems.

The concept sounds like it could easily be a piece of war time propaganda like The 49th Parallel. What Sackville-West’s skill allows it to do is transform into a much smarter study. Whilst we know that a Nazi attack is going to come eventually, it spends a long time with just the characters talking, allowing us to be lulled in.


As it goes on it becomes philosophical and nightmarish with some true weirdness at the end. It is not the easiest book to read but it is possibly the most interesting one to come out in 1943.

Best Novel 1944:

Earth’s Last Citadel by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner

Earth's Last Citadel

Moore and Kuttner’s works are usually a delight and I look forward to them. The retro Hugo voters clearly agree with me, each of them having 9 nominations apiece so far (only beaten by Asimov and Heinlein).


However, this is the first of their writings I have come across the didn’t work as well for me. The story starts off interestingly enough, with our protagonists ending up on a dying earth. And whilst this is a fast-moving fantasy story it feels very insubstantial in the end.

Judgment Night by C. L. Moore (Longlisted)

Judgement Night

This, on the other hand, was slightly more towards my tastes. This almost seems more the kind of space fantasy I would associate with Leigh Brackett. What does mark it out as distinctly Moore-ish is her characters, where she has a deep understanding of people’s motivations and she also constructs an interesting world.

The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton (Longlisted)

Magic Faraway Tree

Although I grew up on Enid Blyton books this was not one I was familiar with in its written form. Instead it was from the animated series Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Lands, the first season of which adapted these stories. Whilst I enjoyed them, I was nervous going in, as not all of Blyton’s works age well. This one thankfully lacked any majorly problematic elements I could see. However, it also was quite simplistic.


Unlike the allegorical The Land of Far Beyond or adventurous Five on Treasure Island, this seems designed for very young readers. And whilst the portal fantasy element is always a good one there doesn’t seem to be much depth outside of how fun these lands would be to visit. The main characters are also pretty thinly drawn.


The whole thing is very enjoyable for young children and the adventures run quickly but they also feel like what I would have written as a seven-year-old myself. Nothing bad but also a bit lacking.

Best Novella 1944:

The Magic Bedknob; or, How to Become a Witch in Ten Easy Lessons by Mary Norton

The Magic Bedknob

I am a big fan of Bedknobs and Broomsticks (probably near wearing the VHS out in my youth) but had never read the original book, so was interested to check it out. The biggest difference with the film is that, rather than having a single driving narrative, these are more discrete Blytonesque adventures, with the bed acting as the magic portal.


Whilst the characters are quite good and the mood is fun, the adventures themselves vary between pedestrian and offensive. It has potential but, at least in the first half, it remains largely unfulfilled.


Best Novelette 1943:

There Shall Be Darkness by C. L. Moore

There Shall be Darkness

For me this is one of the best pieces published in 1943. It is a beautifully written novelette which is incredibly clever and packs a punch at the end. Coming before the beginning of the major moves towards de-colonization in the 50s and 60s this comes across as extremely prescient and another great addition to Moore’s illustrious career.

The Sorcerer of Rhiannon by Leigh Brackett 

Sorcerer of Rihannon

Leigh Brackett was a prolific writer in the early 40s. After having her first sale in the February 1940 edition of Astounding, in the following 3 years she had published 26 short stories, a novella and 2 novels.


However, that is not the only reason she is dubbed the queen of space opera. Her tales are also very entertaining yet have a certain edge and intelligence to them, which elevates them above the standard fare. This is a perfect example, at once a fantastic tale of a magical Mars but it goes in a different direction than you would got have from many other authors.

Best Novelette 1944:

Mimsy Were the Borogoves by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner – Winner

Mimsy Were the Borogroves

Between them in this two-year span they had published almost 50 stories. And of these this is probably the most famous, being regularly reprinted since the 40s and the basis of a major film.

However, this one left me cold compared with their usual inventiveness. I think your feelings on this will likely depend on what you think of the characters of Scott and Emma. I felt like I was meant to relate to them in the way we do with the Pevensie children but they felt flat and so I struggled to enjoy it. Clearly this has a wide audience of fans but not one for me.

Citadel of Lost Ships by Leigh Brackett 

Citadel of Lost Ships

Even among Brackett’s earlier works this is one of the more interesting pieces that goes to darker places. From the appropriately swampy Venus we get a story of power struggles and prejudice that is still quite chilling even among the space hijinks.


I do have trouble with the idea of the world Romany, however. Whilst it is not as poorly drawn as other ethnic groups often are during this period, it is still done in a way that dates the piece badly. 

Thralls of the Endless Night by Leigh Brackett (Longlisted)

Thralls of the Endless Night

I have read this one several times over and I still don’t know what to make of it. I think it might be trying to make a point about racism in the US at this point in time but, if that is the case, I feel it is being done in a poor way. If this is incidental and it’s just meant to be a darker space adventure then I don’t think it works in that manner either, being quite slow and leaden. Not one for me.

Best Short Story 1943

The Twonky by C. L. Moore & Henry Kuttner – Winner

The Twonky

This is a rightly famous tale of robotic appliances gone wrong, in its short space it manages to be atmospheric and memorable. A very worthy winner.

Child of the Green Light by Leigh Brackett (Longlisted)

Child of the Green Light

Whilst this didn’t quite make my final nominating ballot it was one I definitely considered. This one seems to have a less fantastical feel to it and a slightly harder science fictional edge (although still very firmly in the mood of the space opera adventures of the rest of her Solar System stories) and ends up being one of the more memorable of her series.

Best Short Story 1944

Doorway into Time by C. L. Moore

Doorway Into Time

And with this nomination Moore has an unusual record. The only writer to be on the Hugo final ballot in the same year for novel (Earth’s Last Citadel), novella (Clash By Night), novelette (Mimsy Were the Borogoves) and short story (Doorway into Time).


This is a much slower and more ponderous tale than we often get from Moore. It is a tale told in rich prose as if we are meant to see it in slow motion. Very different from much of the work you will see during this period.

The Iron Standard by C.L. Moore & Henry Kuttner (Longlisted)

The Iron Standard

Whilst Nothing But Gingerbread and The Iron Standard didn’t quite make the final ballot they came close with the next most nominations (along with Frederic Brown’s The Geezenstacks). Which both goes to show how strong Moore and Kuttner’s writing is and the importance they have to the history of the genre.


This is a good example of their ingenuity. It is shaped like an interplanetary adventure but it is really a tale of possible economics and where humans are attempting to survive in a completely different system from which they are excluded.

Nothing But Gingerbread Left by Henry Kuttner & C. L. Moore (Longlisted)

Nothing But Gingerbread

As you can tell by now C. L. Moore was one of the defining writers of the early 40s. And after the seminal There Shall Be Darkness this was my favourite of hers from these two years.


This is a piece that is weird and humorous but also has a fascinating idea at its core; the use of a semantic virus against German speakers and the effects of it.

Best Professional Artist:

Margaret Brundage

We already covered her career in our previous piece so here I will look at her 1942 and 1943 work.

Brundage 1

Brundage 2

By this point Brundage’s career was winding down. She had the above two covers and three pieces of interior art for Weird Tales. This does not appear to be due to a lack of talent but changing environment and publishing control, leaving her in relative poverty for the rest of her life.


This is a shame because for me I actually think her work is significantly better during this period. Gone are some of the problematic and over sensationalised elements. Also the women are depicted in a wider range of poses and situations, with an interesting range of compositions. Ironically hers are some the most memorable covers of Weird Tales in this period just as her work was being used less.

Dorothy M. Wheeler (Longlisted)

Wheeler 1

Dorothy M. Wheeler appears to have started her collaboration with Blyton in 1939 but was already a well-known artist by that point due to her numerous watercolour fairytale depictions.

Wheeler 2

The work she was being nominated for this time was specifically the cover of The Magic Faraway Tree, which it cannot be denied is a stunning piece of art, with so much detail that directly conveys the sense of wonder of the story within. So many wonderful little touches and ideas go into her work you can easily get just as lot in them as you can in a book itself.

Best Editor Short Form:

Dorothy McIlwraith


Following the struggles Weird Tales had after the deaths of Howard and Lovecraft and having to go bi-monthly, we begin to see an upswing in quality. Whilst losing out on the Ffhard and Grey Mouser stories to Unknown, Lieber produced several strong horror stories for Weird. Robert Bloch continued to produce creepy tales, including his famous Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper. Otis Kline’s final work (in collaboration with Frank Bellknap Long), The Return of the Dead, came out of there in 1943.


Probably the biggest reason, however, was picking up a number of Ray Bradbury’s stories, including 3 of his most uncanny: The Scythe, The Wind and The Crowd. As such a very strong couple of years and would point the way for the future.

Mary Gnaedinger


I was very glad to see Mary Gnaedinger to get on here as her work is often overlooked. Starting in 1939 she started editing Famous Fantastic Mysteries, which would be followed by Fantastic Novels and Abraham Merrit’s Fantasy Magazine, and would continue to edit every issue.


These magazines were largely reprints, but of works that otherwise readers wouldn’t get to see at that time. In this she would reprint for the first time works by Francis Stevens, Ray Cummings, George Allan England, and Ralph Milne Farley among others, helping reintroduce older works to a new generation long before the emergence of easily available paperback editions.


In addition, however, she also began to publish some original fiction as well, with two of the short story nominees (Doorway into Time and King of the Grey Spaces) coming from these pages. This was still a minority of the content but points out the quality of some of the choices that would appear.

So, these have been good years for women getting nods, but will this continue next year? I would hope so, among others we see:

CL Moore continued to produce excellent work, in particular the superlative No Woman Born. Leigh Brackett’s Solar System keeps expanding, with her first novel in it, Shadow Over Mars, being of particular note.

For fans of the supernatural, Elizabeth Bowen released a number of stories in mainstream magazines whilst Allison V. Harding had a range in Weird Tales.

Edna Mayne Hull has a new story in the Artur Blord series as well as a new novel, The Winged Man.

Whilst for fans of Enid Blyton she continues her prolific writing with books such as Tales of Toyland and The Train That Lost Its Way.


But what will be on there? Have to wait and see.

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