Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic, Part I

Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic, Part I

The Zero Stone (Viking, November 1968), Breed to Come (Viking, April 1972), and
Galactic Derelict (World Publishing, 1959). Covers by Robin Jacques, László Gál, and Ed Emshwiller

Andre Norton (1912 -2005): between ages 12 and 16 I probably read more Andre Norton books than any other author. Our small town library didn’t have a huge selection of SF/Fantasy works but someone in their purchasing department seemed OK with Norton, and that was a happy thing for me.

As painful as it is to report, it’s also probably a good thing that Alice Mary Norton chose to write under the name Andre. I just assumed Norton was a man, and I wonder if I would have been as quick to pick up her books if I’d known it was a woman behind the covers. Nowadays it makes no difference, but it might have affected my choices as a teenage boy.

Norton wrote both SF and fantasy, although the earliest books I read by her were firmly in the SF camp. The X Factor, The Zero Stone, and Galactic Derelict. Galactic Derelict is a particular favorite of mine, and one I’ve reread several times (something I very very rarely do.)

The Crystal Gryphon (Atheneum, August 1970) and The X Factor
(Harcourt, Brace & World, August 1965). Covers by Jack Gaughan and Richard Powers

In Galactic Derelict, a young man named Travis Fox stumbles upon a group of archeologists who are planning a trip 10,000 years into the past to find a crashed alien spacecraft. Fox, who has some experience with archeology, is invited along. They discover one wrecked craft in the past and a smaller sphere-shaped craft intact. However, when the time device is accidentally activated, it takes Fox, the intact ship, and a couple of others into the future, where the ship takes off for parts unknown, its journey governed by programmed commands. A very exciting story.

Being hooked by this time on Norton, I scoured the library for more, and found some of her more fantasy oriented works, including the wonderful Breed to Come. Eventually I found my way to her primary Sword and Planet work, her Witch World series. At least the first couple fit the bill. I’m going to post about Norton over several days because there’s a lot to say. The books shown here are my copies, and I deliberately tried to buy the same ones I read way back in the day. That is, library copies.

First five novels in the Witch World saga: Witch World, Web of the Witch World,
Three Against the Witch World, Warlock of the Witch World, and Sorceress of the Witch World
(Ace paperback originals, 1963-1968). Covers by Jack Gaughan (1-4) and Jeffrey Jones (#5)

Breed to Come was my introduction to the concept of “uplift,” in which humans have raised various animals to sentience and given them bipedalism and human style hands. At the time, I’d not yet read The Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells. When I mentioned Breed to Come on the Facebook Swords & Planet League group, someone mentioned the Wells story. I’d wondered about it but couldn’t remember if it was humans raising up animals to make them more human, or taking humans and making them more animal.

Once I got home and was able to inspect my copy of Wells’ book, it became clear he had the concept of “uplift,” in mind, and further reading suggests his was the first time that concept ever appeared. This makes it likely Norton was influenced by Wells, though I can’t be sure.

Breed to Come (Ace Books, June 1981). Cover artist unknown

Norton’s main heroes in Breed to Come are from a sentient cat species. If you didn’t know anything about Norton at all, you’d suspect from reading her works that she was a “cat” person and indeed she was. Cats or cat-like beings appear in many of her stories.

I always wished I’d been first to come up with the “uplift” concept, but even though I couldn’t be first, I’ve written a book that incorporates elements of the idea. It’s my latest — called Razored Land. The background is that a genetic plague struck that hacked genes from various organisms and inserted them in other organisms through a viral process.

Razored Land (Tule Fog Press, print edition, November 9, 2023). Cover by Warren Design

This phenomenon exists and is called Lateral Gene Transfer, although it doesn’t happen so dramatically or on such a wide scale. It’s postulated to have been involved in evolution, and in my book it creates species that share human and animal genes but lean more toward the human. There’s a wolf/dog/human hybrid, called Wolfers, a feline species called Felmorphs, and a hybrid species that are mostly sentient beavers called Diggers. There also human immunes, one in particular who is searching for his wife, who was pregnant when the plague hit.

There’s a print book that contains both volumes of the story, Crimson Sacrifice, and Blackest of Hates, and the two individual volumes are available as ebooks.

Read Part II of Andre Norton: Gateway to Magic here.

Charles Gramlich administers The Swords & Planet League group on Facebook, where this post first appeared. His last article for Black Gate was Andrew Offutt’s Greatest Contribution to the Genre: Swords Against Darkness.

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Joe H.

I read a fair amount of Norton back in the day — mostly the children’s Magic books, Forerunner Foray and whatever random titles they had at the library. (None of the Witch World books — well, except for The Crystal Gryphon, which at the time I didn’t realize was part of a larger series.)

I remember having a bit of an argument with my parents, telling them that Andre Norton was actually a woman, which I might have picked up from author information on a dust jacket flap? But also at the time I didn’t realize that Andre was, in fact, normally a man’s name.

Charles Gramlich

Since most of the authors I was reading had clearly male names, like Ray, Robert, Isaac etc, I may have just assumed Andre was male without giving it any real thought. I don’t remember exactly when I found out Andre was a woman, sometime in my middle teens I think

Vince Perkins

Like yourself, I fondly remember reading a LOT of novels by Andre Norton while in my teens. Her Witch World series never really did it for me, but her SF novels certainly gave me a great deal of reading pleasure.

Charles Gramlich

I’d say I preferred the SF books too, like Galactic Derelict, but I did enjoy the Witch world books

Adrian Simmons

I read both “Star Man’s Son” and “Breed to Come” sometime in 8th and 9th grades. I remember them both being quite good, and there are parts of them I recall to this day. I’ve been tempted to re-read them, but am worried that the reality won’t live up to my memory.

Charles Gramlich

I worry about the same thing. I recently picked up one of my unread Norton’s and couldn’t get into it. But maybe it was just that book

Adrian Simmons

hah! I’m pretty much planning to do the same thing. I found an Andre Norton sci-fi book at a used bookstore this last weekend and plan to put it on my TBR list. Up toward the top of the list.

Charles Gramlich

Let us know how it goes

Jim Pederson

My favorite Norton book is “Starman’s Son” aka “Daybreak 2250 AD” and one of the few books I’ve read more than once. A great post-apocalyptic story. I read most of the Witchworld books (because a local used bookstore had a bunch) and enjoyed them. Just reread “Quag Keep” and it was a nice nostalgia trip (read it in high school 40 years ago). She writes a short, fast paced, fun story. I appreciate it. I’ve got “The Crossroads of Time” on my shelf waiting to be read. As far as picking up her books based on the “Andre” – I’m attracted to the cover art and the synopsis on the back, so it was never an issue. I love the covers you show in this article.

Charles Gramlich

Daybreak is a good one for sure

Rich Horton

I’ve told this story before, probably even on Black Gate, but why not mention it again.

A number of years ago my brother-in-law, knowing I know a lot about science fiction, told me about a book he read when he was a kid. Or partly read, I should say. It seems his father (my father-in-law, though he died before I ever met my wife), found him reading it, took it away from him, ripped it in half and threw it out, telling him he didn’t want his son reading any trashy Sci-Fi stuff, or words to that effect. My brother-in-law didn’t remember the title or author, just the cover — a guy poling a raft through ruins. And he said he always wanted to be able to finish the book. Somehow that triggered a memory in me — I was sure I knew the book.

That book, of course, was Daybreak — 2250 A.D. I went to my favorite used book store a couple of days later, and sure enough, I found a copy of Daybreak — 2250 A.D. with the right cover. I presented it to my brother-in-law the next time I saw him, to his gratifying astonishment.

Charles Gramlich

wow, that’s a great story. Although My parents didn’t really want me reading “woo woo” stuff they generally didn’t my reading closely. they monitored any TV though so I wasn’t able to watch things like TWilight Zone, Outer limits, and even Dark Shadows

Rich Horton

Norton was one of the very first SF writers I ever read. I remember finding THE ZERO STONE and UNCHARTED STARS in the children’s section of my local library when I was 10 or 11. I also read HUON OF THE HORN around the same time. I loved those books.

A little bit later there was a program, probably in 7th grade (so I was probably 12) in which students could pick these manila folder-like cards out of a big box, and read the an excerpt of a novel. Then we’d have to take a test, but really, the goal was to have us find the whole books in the library. I found GALACTIC DERELICT in that thing. (Also books like THE CURRENTS OF SPACE, THE CITY AND THE STARS, and Alan E. Nourse’s THE UNIVERSE BETWEEN.) And to find the novels, I had to go to the adult section! Which led me to lots of other SF writers.

I’ve kept reading Norton sort of intermittently ever since then. She remains a joy to read even 50 years later. I am pretty sure that 7th grade introductory thing revealed that she was a woman, so I’ve know her gender from very early on.

Charles Gramlich

I was so focused on story when I was a kid that I at first paid very little attention to the personality of the writers. I didn’t know any writers, but some names began to stand out, Bradbury, Anderson, and of course, Norton

Eugene R.

Yikes, I remember the reading folders and the big box. The folders were color-coded for different reading levels, and you needed to finish one level before “unlocking” the next one. I cannot recall to which books it might have led me, though. Though I do recall that one folder was Mr. Twain’s “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, which did lead me to his works.

Paul Connelly

Norton plainly wasn’t doing deep psychological characterizations, but she had some interesting character choices for that era. In Galactic Derelict, Travis Fox is an Apache who has faced prejudice in his academic career. And Ross Murdock is a former juvenile delinquent who has “done time” but gotten a second chance to reform himself (back when we used to allow for that) working with Dr. Ashe. Even Renfry, the fourth man in the cast of that novel is a humble technician, the kind of character that would have been considered expendable and killed off melodramatically in many other SF novels of that period.

Norton also portrayed characters from different ethnic groups with unequal status relations that sometimes had to be navigated, like the two human characters in Storm Over Warlock. So there was a gentle recognition that there were problems with the societies her characters lived in that were bigger than the characters but impinged on their individual lives. Not “woke”, but having some sort of social consciousness versus many other 1950s-1960s books for tweens and teens.

I don’t remember ever being ignorant of Norton’s being a woman, although I’m not sure what the reason for that was. Maybe the sleeve for the card in the back of the library book had “Norton, Alice Mary” typed on it? Plus the name “Andre” was not very familiar to me and so had no strict gender association in my 10 year old brain.

Charles Gramlich

I remember reading the Judgement and victory on Janus books by her, and later reading the Metamorphosis and thinking that Norton had done the “outsider” better than Kafka did. You’re absolutely right. There was some deeper stuff in her characterizations., including like in the “alien” characters of Breed to Come

Charles Dooley

My experience was similar. Norton was my gateway to science fiction and fantasy. My local library carried a good selection of her books (along with Lloyd Alexander). I eagerly looked forward to the publication of each her newest novels I still own and reread The time Traders, Star Guard, Star Gate, and Dread Companion.

John E. Boyle

A toast to Andre Norton, one of the Queens of Science Fiction and Fantasy! Thank you for a great post, Mr. Gramlich.

Charles Gramlich

Glad you enjoyed!

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