Geek Role Models: C.L. Moore

Written by Corrina Lawson

“Cinderella and the Prince were married with great ceremony. No one approved from the first, and now more often than not there was a gleam of I-told-you-so behind the King’s spectacles, and the Queen’s three chins quivered with bitter satisfaction as her predictions were realized one by one. For Cinderella and the Prince were not happy. No one had really expected them to be. You cannot pluck a kitchen girl from the cinders and set a crown on her head and let it go at that; and small feet are not the only prerequisite of a princess.” –Happily Ever After, Catherine Moore, 1930, Vagabond student magazine.

“Cinderella never asked for a prince. She asked for a night off and a dress.” –Tumblr Meme, 2014

Corrina Lawson GeekGirlCon

In my first column about why geek role models are important, I talked briefly about Catherine Lucille Moore (C.L. Moore), best known for the Jirel of Joiry fantasy series, and who published in early days of the pulp magazines Weird Tales and Astounding Science Fiction. Her very existence inspired me because she proved not only that a woman could write this kind of story and do it well but that she could do it while writing a female protagonist.

While I knew her stories back then, I knew little about the life of Catherine Lucille Moore. What I read at the time was frustratingly brief: that she was born in 1911 and also wrote under the pseudonyms of C.H. Liddell, Lewis Padgett, and Lawrence O’Donnell.

But her life story reads like fiction. Kirkus ran a terrific short biography of her last year. Some highlights:

Moore wrote for the student run magazine at Indiana University, The Vagabond, where the story quoted above was published. She was only 19 years old then but 100 years ahead of her time.

She met her first husband, Harry Kuttner, when they corresponded about science fiction. He was unaware at first that she was a woman. After they married, they collaborated extensively and the pseudonyms I listed were the result of that partnership.

After Kuttner died of a heart attack in 1958, Moore never returned to writing science fiction. Instead, she wrote television scripts.

At the 39th World Science Fiction Convention in 1981, Moore was the Guest of Honor and the final person to receive the Gandalf Grandmaster Award. She also received the World Fantasy Lifetime Achievement Award the same year. Unfortunately, she suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1987.

As good as Kirkus is at detailing Moore’s major life events, it also only scratches the surface of who she was. I’ve read biographies of some of the other early SF/F pioneers — Asimov, Frederick Pohl, Robert Heinlein — but there’s frustratingly little about this woman.

I believe the lack of information and renown surrounding Moore certainly contributes to the fact that many today probably hadn’t heard of her. It also doesn’t help that most of her work is out of print and often hidden in anthologies where other writers are listed first.

In my research, I stumbled across The Vagabond stories and one frustratingly short tale in Project Gutenberg. Amazon currently has a collection of Jirel of Joiry with multiple used paperback copies starting at one penny. I suspect the market has been flooded recently by people with older editions in their basements. But there’s nothing extensive available online.

This makes me sad. Moore deserves to be remembered. I hope this column intrigues some of you enough to check out Jirel of Joiry and raise a glass to a woman who walked through barriers and made the path easier for the rest of us.

Corrina Lawson GeekGirlConCorrina Lawson grew up reading Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine and reading all she could order from the Science Fiction Book Club and everything she could buy from the spinner rack at her local drug store. This might be why she now writes fiction ranging from steampunk to superheroes to alternate history.

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2 responses to “Geek Role Models: C.L. Moore”

  1. Eva Caye says:

    I’m in Louisville, a couple of hours from Indiana University, my alma mater. I’ve recently thought about going to Bloomington for another matter. I can poke around campus for info, if you wish, or at least gather names of people you could write to for info.

    I wonder what the Lilly library has? They are the archivist’s dream, the special collections and rare material library. Perhaps you could find info through them?

  2. Trish Heinrich says:

    Thank you for writing this post. I think the women pioneers of Sci-Fi and Fantasy are so hidden and that saddens me. I am intrigued by this woman and will definitely look up her books. Another female author that was a pioneer in this genre is Octavia Butler; she stands out to me because she wasn’t just a woman writing in a mostly male genre, but an African American woman. Her tales are rich and complex and definitely worth checking out.

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