James Branch Cabell

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James Branch Cabell (1879-1958) was an american author of fantasy fiction.

In his lifetime he published some fifty books, most now forgotten, but his eighth book, Jurgen, (1919) was the one that caught public attention. The eponymous hero, who considers himself a `monstrous clever fellow' embarks on a journey through ever more fantastic realms, even to hell and heaven. Everywhere he goes, he winds up seducing the local women, even the Devil's wife. The novel was denounced by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; they attempted to bring a prosecution for obscenity. The case went on for two years before Cabell and his publishers won: the `indecencies' were double entendres that also had a perfectly decent interpretation, though it appeard that what had actually offended the prosecution most was a joke about papal infallibility. Cabell took an author's revenge: the revised edition of 1926 included a previously `lost' passage, in which the hero is placed on trial by the Philistines, with a large dung-beetle as the chief prosecutor.

Other works include `Figures of earth', which introduces Manuel the Redeemer, who conquered a realm by playing on others expectations - his motto `Mundus Vult Decipi' meaning 'the world wishes to be deceived'. (Jurgen makes a minor appearance at the end of Figures, as the small boy who was the last to see the Redeemer). `The Silver Stallion' is a sequel that deals with the adventures of the knights in Manuel's company after his departure.

Though now largely forgotten by the general public, his work was very influential on later authors of fantastic fiction: Robert Heinlein's Job, A comedy of Justice has an appearance of the god Koschei (from Jurgen), and Fritz Leiber's Swords of Lankhmar was also influenced by Jurgen. Jack Vance's Dying Earth books show considerable stylistic resemblances to Cabell; Cugel the Clever in those books bears a strong resemblance, not least in his opinion of himself, to Jurgen.

Other works:

  • Something about Eve
  • The Cream of the Jest
  • Domnei
  • Smirt, Smith, Smire (trilogy)