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Metropolis -75thAnniversary Edition
Thea von Harbou
Sense of Wonder Press, 242 pages

Thea von Harbou

Thea von Harbou, feminist, novelist and writer of numerous screenplays, was born in Tauperlitz, Germany (27/12/1888). In 1910 she published her first novel Die nach uns Kommen. In the 1910s she published a pair of feminist works Deutsche Frauen: Bilder stillen Heldentums and Die deutsche Frau im Weltkrieg: Einblicke und Ausblicke. In 1920 she married the legendary German film director Fritz Lang with whom she collaborated for over a decade, writing screenplays for most of his movies as well as for the top German directors of the era: J. May [the adventure classic Das indische Grabmal (The Indian Tomb)], Friedrich Murnau [Phantom, Die Austreibung (Driven from Home)], and Carl Dreyer [Michael]. Her screenplays for Lang include the film classics:

  • Der müde Tod (Between Two Worlds) - 1921;
  • Dr. Mabuse, der Spieler (Dr. Mabuse, the Gambler) - 1922;
  • Die Nibelungen - Siegfrieds Tod, Die Nibelungen - Kriemhilds Rache - 1923;
  • Metropolis 1925-6;
  • Frau im Mond (The Woman in the Moon) - 1928;
  • Spione (Spies) - 1928;
  • M - 1931;
  • Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse) - 1933.

In 1933 von Harbou joined the Nazi party, while Fritz Lang divorced her and fled to America. Interned briefly after the war, she continued to publish (Gartenstrasse 64, 1952) until close to her death in Berlin (some sources state Dresden) on 01/07/1954. Metropolis was first published in Britain in an anonymous translation (1927).

Metropolis the film
BIO: 1, 2 (in German), 3 (in German)
Publisher's page
The Girl in the Moon, cover, description
Metropolis audio-book
Thea von Harbou's original draft screenplay for Metropolis
Japanese Anime feature length film of Metropolis in current release
ISFDB listing
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Thea von Harbou Unless you are a science fiction fan who has hidden under a rock for your entire life, you will have heard of/seen Fritz Lang's Metropolis, which along with Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey are, by most estimates, the two greatest science fiction films ever made. I first saw Metropolis during a Lang retrospective on Radio-Canada some 25 years ago, no musical accompaniment, no colourization, German titles, and damn if it wasn't one of the coolest films I'd ever seen (OK, admittedly I was already a huge silent film fan). However, having no prior knowledge of the plot, the movie was exceedingly confusing -- of course the fact that close to a third of the original film had been excised and lost probably didn't help. A short time later, I discovered the Ace paperback edition of Metropolis and read it... Wow! Now I get it!

So if you haven't read Metropolis why buy this particular version? The introduction by Forrest J. Ackerman, except for a short addendum, is the same as that in the 1963 and 1973 Ace editions and gives no information whatsoever about Thea von Harbou. However, this edition, 8¼ × 11 in (21 × 28 cm) and available in hardcover and paperback editions is chock-full (>60) of full and half-page movie stills and seldom seen promotional materials from Mr. Ackerman's extensive collection. This alone is worth the price of admission.

Given the plethora of material on Metropolis the film I will simply refer you to a summary of the novel. The writing itself, by today's standards, is somewhat melodramatic with hints of propaganda, and the themes presented in what would now be viewed as a somewhat naive manner. Still, the novel is a remarkably powerful and forward-thinking dystopia, and the final scenes of the destruction of the city of Metropolis, as Mr. Ackerman points out, certainly have parallels in recent events. German authors of the first half of the 20th century, including Thea von Harbou, Hanns Heinz Ewers, Gustav Meyrink and others, whatever their later associations, deserve to be rediscovered, and this is good place to start.

Copyright © 2002 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association and maintains a site reflecting his tastes in imaginative literature.

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