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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

M.P. Shiel and The Lovecraft Circle
This recent (2002) collection of Shieliana, subtitled "A Collection of Primary Documents Including Shiel's Letters to August Derleth 1929-1946" collects letters from Shiel to August Derleth, co-founder of Arkham House, and material from the correspondance of H.P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith and others where Shiel is mentioned. Of all the material by or about Shiel that I have read amongst the material reviewed here, it is these letters which gave me the best impression of the sort of person Shiel was. His encouraging, instructive and sometimes critical comments on the stories Derleth had sent to him show him as a polite and generous older man, distinctly British in character. While some of the later letters might suggest that Shiel, then in his 80s, was plagued with a failing memory, they remain interesting in terms of who the otherwise mysterious M.P. Shiel was.

The Rajah's Sapphire and The New King
Also included in the materials I received are a 1981 reprint of Shiel's first novel The Rajah's Sapphire (1896) and his last, posthumous novel The New King. The first, a tale of mystery and intrigue, is photo-offset from the original edition. While not a bad little novel, derived as it is from a story told Shiel vivâ voce by W.T. Stead, long-time editor of the Review of Reviews and other periodicals of the time, it has little of Shiel's pyrotechnic prose or his imaginative flair. An essay by John D. Squires, "The Curious Tale of Shiel, Stead and the Sapphire, details the circumstances under which the novel was produced and the current events which may have inspired it. The New King (1980), a tale set in a Balkan-like kingdom, presents a battle for the throne between the intellectual "good guy" legitimate heir and the nasty usurper. It has wonderful idiosyncratic Shiel prose, and while the plot is a bit tangled and obscure, it is an interesting and quite unique read. These things are pointed out by A. Reynolds Morse in his introduction. This volume also includes a portion of the title Cummings King Monk story from The Pale Ape and Other Pulses (1911) which was edited out between the manuscript and book versions. This text, a philosophical musing on such things as whether molecules have souls, is interesting, particularly in it's exposition of Shiel's unconventional theological views.

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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