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The Works of M.P. Shiel and related titles
JDS Books/Vainglory Press

Introduction Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Additional Material

The Works of M.P. Shiel
M.P. Shiel
Matthew Phipps Shiel (1865-1947), was born July 21, 1865, in Montserrat, West Indies. His father, a ship-owner, shopkeeper, and lay Methodist preacher had laid claim to the small rocky Leeward island of Redonda, of which his son was crowned king on his 15th birthday. Beginning to write at 11, Shiel was educated in Barbados, then London, England. Shiel spoke seven languages and served as an interpreter before trying his hand at medicine and teaching mathematics. Shiel was an active man, jogging six miles a day into his 70s and practicing mountaineering and yoga. Married twice, Shiel was "an eager womanizer" fathering several illegitimate children. Impressed at an early age by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, and given his knowledge of many languages, Shiel's poetic prose was idiosyncratically unique, being compared by some to improvisational jazz, by others to stylistic sound effects. Shiel has been accused by some of anti-Semitism, but others suggest he used the racist views of his time as a literary device to ultimately discredit racism an expound his own peculiar belief system. Towards the end of his life Shiel adopted an anti-Christian stance based on scientific knowledge over hope ("ignorance") and completed an analysis and retelling of the Gospel of Matthew. Several of his works toy with eugenics and the Nietzschean übermensch concept, though the latter under a communal rather than individualistic form, and not as something inherent in a race or creed, but rather a status achieved through learning. During his life Shiel wrote 25 novels and numerous short-stories, the best of which he produced between 1895 and 1905. These include Prince Zaleski (1895), Shapes of Fire (1896), Cold Steel (1899), Contraband of War (1899), The Purple Cloud (1901) and Lord of the Sea. Shiel died on February 17, 1947, at a hospital in Chichester.

ISFDB Bibliography
Kingdom of Redonda-1
Kingdom of Redonda-2
Bison Books ed. of The Purple Cloud
Shiel/Gawsworth related papers at the University of Iowa
JDS Books/Vainglory Press
A. Reynolds Morse Collection of M.P. Shiel
Shiel as a mystery writer
E-TEXT: 5 stories
E-TEXT: "Arthur Machen"
E-TEXT: "The Case of Euphemia Raphash", also here
E-TEXT: "A Torture by Hope" by Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, translated by M.P. Shiel
E-TEXT: "L'Abri" by Malcolm M. Ferguson
E-TEXT: "Dweller in the Tomb of Mausolus: The Return of Prince Zaleski" by Philip Lister
E-TEXT: "Two Kings of Redonda: M.P. Shiel and John Gawsworth" by Jon Wynne-Tyson
BOOK REVIEW: The Purple Cloud: 1, 2 (in Japanese), 3 (in Italian), 4, 5, 6 (in French), 7

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Unless you're a fairly diehard aficionado of early science fiction or detective literature, you're likely wondering who M.P. Shiel was, and why close to 1800 pages of biography, bibliography, literary criticism, reprinted magazine appearances of his stories as well as letters are being discussed here. M.P. Shiel wrote what remains among the two or three best last-man-on-Earth novels: The Purple Cloud (1901), an equally seminal collection of early detective tales: Prince Zaleski (1895), as well as classic horror short stories such as "Huguenin's Wife" and his much anthologized "The House of Sounds." H.P. Lovecraft wrote of the latter:

"Yes -- this last is a masterpiece! How can I describe its poison-grey "insidious madness"? If I say that it is very like "The Fall of the House of Usher," or that one feature mirrors my own "Alchemist" (1908), I shall not even have suggested the utterly unique delirium of arctic wastes, titan seas, insane brazen towers, centigrade malignity, frenzied waves and cataracts, and above all hideous, insistent, brain-petrifying, Pan-accursed cosmic SOUND... God! But after that story I shall never try to write another of my own."
Well in part this review is in response to my long-time admiration of Shiel's rather quirky writing, described by some as akin to jazz improvisation. His use of similes is unique, as in this description of a cold clear day in the Arctic:
"The sun was abroad like a cold spirit of light, touching the great ocean-room of floes with dazzling spots, and a tint almost of rose was on the world, as it were of a just dead bride in her spangles and white array."
But Shiel also excelled in alliteration as in his description of wild horses grazing on a moor at night:
"There grew loud and gross to him a baritone of browsing in the blackness, the crunch of their jaws that ground their gorsy grub
This rich poetic diction and erudition has perhaps, like that of Dunsany and C.A. Smith, fallen out of favour, but I would still challenge anyone to contest that Shiel's was not a brilliantly unique voice in imaginative fiction.

The material in the second, revised edition The Works of M.P. Shiel (1980) compiled by A. Reynolds Morse is in part an updating of Morse's 1948 work of the same title published by The Fantasy Publishing Co. These collect a large amount of biographical and bibliographical material on Shiel, along with numerous by or about Shiel. Also discussed below are a number of other similar materials, which while perhaps not officially a part of The Works of M.P. Shiel are by or about him and available from the same publishers as The Works...

The author wishes to thank Mr. John D. Squires of JDS Books/Vainglory Press and Rollins College which houses the A. Reynolds Morse Collection of M.P. Shiel for providing copies of the material reviewed above.

These books are all limited editions, and except for The Rajah's Sapphire are in 8½ x 11 in. format, and are available in spiral bound, paperback and hardcover editions. JDS Books/Vainglory Press also stock a number of other Shiel titles in varying numbers. So if you care to delve beneath the surface of the Shiel oeuvre, experience some of his early writings in their first published form, and decide for yourself "was he this or was he that?" this is the material you'll want to get your hands on. Certainly much of the material here could also serve to form an impression of the London literary world of the "yellow 90s" and into the early 20th century. For the Shiel neophyte, certainly the first volume of The Works can serve as a solid introduction to Shiel, at his artistic and commercial best.

Introduction Volume 1 Volume 2 Volume 3 Volume 4 Additional Material

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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